As I watched bin Laden yukking it up with those other cherubic imams on that grainy Pentagon video, I thought I was having an acid flashback. I hadn’t heard so much giddy rapping about dreams, visions and hallucinations of wild running horses and flaming, falling buildings since a certain acid-laced after-hours party following a Captain Beefheart concert back in the summer of ’67.
But of course psychoactive drugs play no role in the Technicolor reveries of Osama and friends. Their delusional psyches seem hard-wired. At least, that’s the principal conclusion I draw from viewing that video a dozen times or so.
In that one grubby room, presumably in Kandahar, two completely different worlds met and melded: a primitive obscurantism mixed with superheated, iron-melting 21st-century jet fuel. That cocktail, in turn, produced the equally bizarre event of September 11: one that leveraged a couple of medieval-age tools — box-cutters — into the most futuristic of holocausts.
What I didn’t see in that video was any trace of what you might call politics. “There were no politics present,” agrees Hisham Melhem, U.S. correspondent for the Lebanese paper As-Safir. “What we saw was only terror, absolute and metaphysical . . . a purely atavistic view.” There was no remorse for the human toll of the airplane-bombs that bin Laden gleefully illustrated with his graceful, effeminate hand gestures. No second thoughts. Not even an argument of political expediency as to why the selected target was a soft hive of civilians.
On that tape I saw no “aggrieved parties” — as some of my peacenik friends have dared to call al Qaeda. I saw no victims of American imperialism. I saw no champions of the poor or oppressed. (On the contrary. On another video, we saw Taliban capo Mullah Omar’s personal palace to be appointed with crystal chandeliers, pink tile, imported bathroom faucets, and discarded and emptied bottles of very Western antidepressants.)
All of which brings us to the question posed by the “know-nothing” faction of the anti-war movement. Did our foreign policy — past or present — play a role in provoking the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.?
The answer is unequivocally no. Unless, that is, one wants to argue that American policy is so evil that it literally drove bin Laden bonkers. That’s not to say that there isn’t, indeed, much wrong with the course of U.S. foreign policy. Nor that Americans should have been so self-indulgent as to believe they were immune to such violence. Those who have opposed this war have failed to understand that, to paraphrase Che Guevara: Two, three or many evils can coexist simultaneously and never quite intersect.
They have also failed to understand that blowback is a malaise that afflicts not only the powerful. U.S. funding and training, two decades ago, of some of the very same Islamo-fascists who attack us today has its undeniably ironic aspects. But on the anti-war side of the fence, continued ideological investment in timeworn and ossified nostrums has also come back to haunt — and with a vengeance. Looking at every use of American military power as an echo of Vietnam makes about as much sense as the State Department having once declared bin Laden to be a freedom fighter.
In that vein, it was barely a month ago that my colleague Charles Rappleye wrote in these pages: “Our current military misadventure in the hostile environs of Afghanistan is bogging down on the eve of the holiest days of the Muslim calendar . . . The U.S. should seize the high ground and stop the bombing for Ramadan.” Which means that the bombing would have been halted for 30 days — right up until last weekend.
The U.S. military, fortunately, ignored his advice. Instead of a bombing pause, we have collapsed the Taliban, driven them from power and wiped out their military. Al Qaeda’s operative base in Afghanistan has been dismembered, and its fighters have been defeated in their last holdouts.
Just about every other dire prediction made by the anti-war folks has also failed to materialize: Fundamentalist demonstrations in Pakistan have withered, not grown, and that country’s fragile government has not collapsed. The fabled “Arab street” has not erupted, and there are no new legions of pro-Osama fighters mushrooming in the region.
Nor did the Afghan people rally to unite and defeat the American invaders. Instead, they came into the streets flying kites, unearthing their Tali-banned radios and phonographs, and sending their daughters to re-register in the medical schools from which they had been barred. So much for predictions of a “U.S. genocide.” For the first time in more than a decade, the Afghan refugee flow seems to be reversing as the diaspora starts trickling home and sensing a scintilla of hope — or at least improved European and American economic assistance.
The collateral damage inflicted by this war is nevertheless real, and it surpasses mere body counts of civilian deaths (numerous and lamentable but nowhere near the bogus figure of 3,700 being circulated by some activists). Riding high in the polls, the Bush administration has recklessly ripped up the ABM treaty and — with its military tribunals — has taken a bite into the Bill of Rights. Both parties have joined in passing an inflated military-spending appropriation, and the Democrats continue to play dead on Bush’s boondoggle star-wars missile defense. The mutual terror on the West Bank escalates, and the U.S. continues to tilt too far in the direction of Ariel Sharon. All of these issues demand not only our attention but also our firm opposition to the Bush administration. But none of them impeaches the basic justice of the American military response against those who insouciantly dreamed of collapsing the Twin Towers and incinerating as many innocents as possible.
Public adoration of patriotic symbols — flags and flattops — even in time of war is, as George Carlin says, an activity that should be reserved only for the “symbol-minded.” But likewise, resorting to knee-jerk ideological sloganeering in the face of terribly complex — and lethal — threats, should be left to . . . well . . . jerks.