February 16, 2004
Among the many forces in array around us, two are moving in parallel. I
can give them several names, say Islam and Judeo/Christianity. Their
shared ideological and religious grounds are monotheistic. As God
controls, therefore those who control God control. If those who believe
they control God assert that God told them to do something, who will
There are also those who hold long view and those who hold short view. Longer view people tend to favor stiletto, jab and feint. Be patient. Wait for opportunity. Shorter view people like cruise missiles, blast away everything within range. Take charge now. Either way and in all ways, death and suffering for others. Either way and in all ways, those who arrogate God, they are brothers under the skin.
Let's look at two such brothers. Both come from highly privileged families very prominent in their societies. Both families have, at one time or another, worked closely together.
One has little perspective of history and a short view. The other is deeply nested in historical perspective and a long view.
Both have become religious fundamentalists. Both order death and suffering for others. One from the midst of death and suffering. The other isolated, separated and unaware of suffering. As brothers will, they declare each other "mortal enemy" with a profound emphasis on mortal.
How about names? Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush will do. Those names are flashes of forces long at odds in history. For the moment and perhaps for the future, stiletto is ahead on points. Neither can win other than by destroying the fabrics of world societies. Both are willing, eager to do so.
For seventy years, the United States of America and its allies devoted major resources to destroying the "Evil Empire" of Soviet Communism. At the peak of the Cold War, so named because neither went hotly at each other directly, America's sheer physical strength ate away at the foundations of Soviet Communism until it imploded in the late 1980s. As morphed into Soviet Communism, Marx's ideas lost.
For all the Cold War's unconventional aspects, the core of that enduring conflict was totally conventional: massive forces arrayed against massive forces in apparent stalemate. To maintain the wars on each other, both ordained death and suffering primarily for others on countless days, in countless ways. For each, people at home suffered, too, perhaps more.
Step-by-step, from cavalry to cruise missile, point and counter-point, through thousands of variations of The Great Game, the two juggernauts faced, roared, snarled, gnashed teeth and backed up a little before pushing ahead some more.
"They" were sometimes better at getting surrogates to twist "our" lion's tail. Korea and Vietnam are examples where blood of their satellites matched (and overflowed) the blood of American cannon fodder. Korea ended in stalemate. Vietnam ended in defeat. We are told that an enemy is held off nevertheless. They assert that local control is finally asserted. Death and destruction, however gruesome for those afflicted, still offered reconstruction contracts. Jobs for survivors. Profits, prestige, perquisites for insiders.
In a corner pocket of The Great Game, Central Asia simmered and then once again boiled over in the early 1980s. Soviet Communism sided with those who would modernize the feudal, tribal, quasi-Islamic Afghanistan. However, for the Soviets, indirectly asserted pressures proved ineffective. Local allies failed. To keep control, Soviets invaded and ten years later limped back across their then borders into the ". . .stans" of Central Asia, the great swath from Bering Sea to Mediterranean. They failed. Now it is our turn.
With domination attested by cruise missiles, we now assert that Afghanistan, at last (but, more accurately, again) will modernize. Agenda: similar, but this time ours, not theirs. In the 1800s, Great Britain aimed to modernize Afghanistan. In the 1970s-1980s, Soviets attempted to modernize Afghanistan in its models. Early 21st century, America determines to modernize Afghanistan.
During the Soviet attempts, in support of Afghan tribals warring to protect their societies against outside modernizers, America and its allies poured in vast sums of money, huge supplies of armaments, advisers, trainers, and combatants. When the Soviets retreated, tribals went back to status quo ante bellum (i.e., fighting amongst themselves). In the early 1990s, what hadn't been destroyed fighting the Soviets or by the Soviets was then demolished by tribals going at each other.
From the rubble made dust emerged Taliban, the students of the madrasas, Islamic schools following starkly fundamentalist Islamic perspectives. Using the vast supplies of leftover and new armaments willingly provided, Taliban forces took control of all Afghanistan except for the thin wedge along the northern river separating Tajikistan from Afghanistan. The stubborn Tajik tribals of Northern Alliance then became the American-favored tribals. Cruise missiles rained to clear the situation. Illusion.
History knows otherwise. Whenever raw power has appeared to overwhelm the tribals, they have melted into their hills patiently to await opportunities to strike back. Jab and feint. Took care of Alexander and staved off Genghis Khan.
Pakistan's ruling elites, Islamic to varying degrees, through governmental and non-governmental agencies strongly supported tribal oppositions to Soviet domination in Afghanistan. For many of them, it was not only a case of opposing Soviet Communism. Rather, they also were fighting attempts to modernize their societies, to allow others to control.
At one level, all parties, to varying degrees, are playing a present-time role in the long-standing Great Game for influence and control of the strategic trade, invasion and conquest routes across and along the central Asian swath. The old Silk Road of gory and romantic history has its real-time equivalents.
Pakistan's combination FBI, CIA, DIA and SS, the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence aka The Services), were conduits for American aid and personnel in the region. The ISI appeared to run the show. Following the well-worn model from Vietnam, the US supplied money, armaments and staff. When the Soviets moved back north, Afghanistan was dropped as priority, Pakistan shunned as PRChinese tool. Other business took precedence. Left over money and armaments remained to fuel again tribalized wars. Déjà vu all over again.
The U.S. wanted area stability within which to get on with business. As late as 1998-99, American aid supported the stability represented by Taliban emergence. Taliban representatives negotiated in Texas with global oil companies, The apolitical, amoral oil companies are eager to build a pipeline south from Caspian oil and gas fields to Pakistan's coast near Karachi and then outward to their Asian markets by tankers.
Well-supported by American Drug War dollars, Taliban also worked to control the flow of heroin from Afghan poppy fields to western markets, especially the USA. During the peak of the Soviet-Afghan wars, America's Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) maintained as many as 400 agents in the area. History may reveal they were there to outflank the Southeast Asian Golden Triangle by making Afghanistan the world's number one heroin source. The War on Drugs, another stiletto v. cruise missile conflict, may actually be more about elimination of competition and control of markets. The stiletto folks are ahead in that war, too.
Afghan's tribals were and are willing to accept help from anyone to keep out imperialists and social modernizers. Playing their millennially consistent roles as buffers between historical shifts of power from their north, west, east and south; the Afghans tribals want no one to boss them around. They tend to be adherents of stiletto and long view. The long view shows that Afghans have been willing and even eager to sacrifice again and again to gain their objectives. Leave us alone!
It is a great mistake to lump the many tribals of Afghanistan into any convenient generalization. Within the nominal borders of Afghanistan are rivers and streams of peoples with histories going back far, far into time. Waves of invaders from east and west, north and south have left their blood on the barren lands and seeds within the peoples found there. Islam is only a thin and recent veneer over these powerful blood forces. The Islams of Afghanistan have proven their enmity to each other time and time again. Anyone who holds ambitions to dominate here ignores this history at their peril.
Brother one, Osama bin Laden, knows this history and seeks shelter within it, is sheltered within it. He survives by stiletto and long view. He endures with a firm belief that his fundamentalism will triumph. On the ruins, a new society will emerge. Like Phoenix arisen, bin Laden family construction conglomerates will get reconstruction contracts.
Brother two, George W. Bush, knows little of history. He seems to believe and act as though he is above history or immune to its processes. He attempts to prevail through cruise missile power and short view. After all, no one lives more than those few years which seem a lifetime. He endures with a firm belief that his fundamentalism will triumph. On the ruins, a new society will emerge. Bush family conglomerates and associates will get reconstruction contracts.
For both brothers, God is on their side. God will prevail. Devious and cunning are their ways to control God, to win their temporal control, their domain here.
Presently, the US spends more and commits more resources to its War on Terror than was committed to blocking Soviet ambitions during the seventy years of Cold War. Military budgets are no longer restrained. Civil liberties are slashed to reinforce the security state. The tilt toward making the rich richer and the poor poorer gets steeper. Treasury is raped. Restraints are abandoned on pollution, globalization, environment and ecological depredations, etc. and so forth and so on. All excesses are being exceeded. Lots of folks love it. Other folks simply die and suffer.
There are limits to resource exhaustion which science may not be able to overcome. With less to be shared by more, the few will take more and condemn the more to less and less. Actuality is that workers aren't much needed and are becoming less so. The haunting specters of desolate sci-fi futures merge with actualities of less for the more. Armageddon, Apocalypse, Rapture and various versions of end-times seen by Judeo-Christian fundamentalists creep closer. Meanwhile, there are profits to be made and domains to control.
Up close, a stiletto is a better weapon than a cruise missile. It takes guts to use a stiletto. However dedicated, sacrificing, well-paid or patriotic cruise missile folks may be, they stand back, push buttons, observe happy hours, file stories.
The brothers bin Laden and Bush rush headlong toward a future of theocracy. Their theocracies appear mutually exclusive yet are equally intolerant. Whether by faith or by force, the few will control the many ever more narrowly. Given the great destructions in process, reconstruction contracts will be abundant.
Most folks will suffer and die, others will endure, some will prosper and party.
I don't want to endure either theocracy. I will, nevertheless, take bets that stiletto and long view are more likely to prevail. Assuming history is any guide, of course.
In perspective, parallel lines do converge.
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America the 'beautiful' on Swans
Milo Clark on Swans (with bio).
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