October 29, 2001
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I need to build a tall flag pole from which to fly an American flag, upside down; an internationally recognized distress symbol.
First, the windup, . . . again.
My nice, philosophical side will say that the nature of actuality is paradox.
My street fighter self yells, "Hey, man, that fuckin' emperor is buckass naked!" I mean, naked, without clothing, birthday suit or any stuff at all covering his scrawny body. You know, like in that old fairy tale. And I'm just this silly little kid pointing a finger and yellin' out the obvious. Dumb. OK, so what? Darned if I know.
The emperor has been naked ever since I can remember. Gone through skin a long time back and working through bone right now. Still naked, in a skeletal sort of way, though (All Hallows night is soon upon us.) Standing and pointing is about as useless as ever. I've been on more 'shitlists' and hitlists than most folks can imagine. Never learned a thing. Damn it, that emperor is still naked.
I listened to WWII on my little radio. Every night I pulled up the covers to con my mom about being asleep and listened to Ed Murrow from London and other correspondents from all over tell it what they were supposed to tell us so that we would do what we were supposed to do. I collected pots and pans to turn in for airplane parts. I collected tin cans to make ammo boxes and such. I helped knit strange looking socks for soldiers. My buddies and I played junior commandos and became proficient aircraft spotters. The gung was definitely and defiantly ho!
I was in college when Korea got sprung on us. Truman's Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, put Korea outside US national interest and guess what? We wouldn't see another quite so open set of stuff until the US Ambassador to Iraq suggested to Saddam Hussein that Kuwait was, indeed, within the old boundaries of Iraq. The McCarthy epidemic caught us all by surprise. He went after one of the most respected faculty members at Williams College. Some colleagues muttered sotto voce about "Academic Freedom" while other faculty members and very important, very influential, big money alumni demanded his scalp. I was puzzled and uneasy.
My honors thesis at Williams was about Argentine politics under Peron, denigrated as a "populist," Evita in person and such. Back then, most of South and Central America and Mexico existed under governments comfortable with authority and power fully supported and encouraged from Washington D.C. U.S.A.
The Poly Sci word for the controlling South American and Central American elites was "Oligarchy." The blinders were beginning to be lifted a fraction. However, as a budding member of the American Power Elite, I ploughed on toward a higher rung on the ladders available to me. And I climbed fast as such things are measured. Yet, every time I got to the top of a particular heap, I found that shit smelled the same there as down below.
My troubles began in the later years of my career as jet set shavetail, ace corporate fighter pilot for what was then America's largest employer: The Once and Mighty Bell System. Hey, took me a while but I figured out that the guys who did the right things, as I saw it, almost always got passed over by guys who did the wrong things. I didn't get that I wasn't seeing very well. I noticed that the supreme management skill was personal survival and didn't get it. Those who got ahead were those whose more apparent and dominant skill was brown nosing. A skill I never managed to figure out. Dilbert was not a known factor then. The Organization Man was just published. Grey flannel may be out at any given time, but grey flannel behavior is always in. Look at the military types whose obsession is career. War is great for career advancement. And corporate profits. And economic indicators.
In retrospect, I think the right families, the right prep schools and the right colleges, high skill in chug-a-lug and skirt chasing along with a gentlemanly C average are much better determinants of future success than any outlined in countless books to the contrary. And the prime ingredient is coming from a right family or, as an alternative, being mentored by someone who was i.e., assimilating totally. Will any lurking Powells and C. Smiths (sp?) speak up?
Off on the wrong foot, I kept putting my feet firmly in my mouth again and again. Never managed the assimilation gig, either. I will say, however, that I got to see at lot of America's big business plus frequent glimpses into government, education and other organizations.
Trouble is I can and I do read. Trouble is I have some grasp of history over time. Gets me into some pretty weird spots. Hard to take propaganda and collective ignorance very well as a result. Low tolerance for fools. Admire curmudgeons and such too much.
I spent more than twenty years traumatized by indirect involvement in the grand disaster called Viet Nam. Which was pushed on top of experiences from the Civil Rights struggles of the early '60s given sharp definition by four assassinations: Kennedy One, Kennedy Two, Martin and Malcolm. Added weight came from working in the War on Poverty, which once had potential to garland Lyndon Johnson's presidency, as it was dismantled and bogged into impotence by first a war and then a Republican. Didn't help much to work on rural community and economic development either.
The Bush I war for oil was an exercise in demonstrating arrogant and effective political control of masses. And now, the Bush II monarchy finds political rescue in war. The tools of mass hysteria are fully in play, yet again. The bastards will get you down and assassination, which has many forms, works. Don't get me wrong. There are a lot of quite unpleasant folks out there with high determination and demonstrated skills in going after the collective us. Trouble may be that there are as many inside as outside who are after the collective us outside the oligarchy.
My early '60s time in top management roles within a newspaper and media empire showed me the near total unreliability of publishers in terms of truth, justice and other nice illusions. And, yes, we have more than most in that regard which is a pretty poor commentary on what passes for journalism elsewhere. That there are very courageous people still attempting to report with reasonable standards is a standing miracle. Where are they here and now? See World Press Review and Columbia Journalism Review for continuous coverage of journalism in process.
Hang in, here comes the pitch.
Peter Arnett, AP and then CNN reporter famed for his staying in Baghdad during the Bush I war to protect oil ten years ago, wrote a book published in 1994: Live from the Battlefield, from Vietnam to Baghdad, 35 years in the World's War Zones. Throughout his many years in Vietnam (ending up as the probably longest serving reporter, 1962-1975, who covered that process), Arnett and his colleagues were harassed and lied to by everyone from President to infantry company PIO types (Public Information Officer, U.S. military version of Soviet political officer attached to every unit). He was vilified for his reporting from Baghdad by compliant journalists, government officials and politicians who scant months earlier had lauded Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein made the mistake of assuming that chits earned during eight years of pulverizing Khomeni's Iran (primarily with our weaponry) would be honored when he took over Kuwait. After all, he was planning to keep on selling the oil to us.
Arnett's book ends in 1993 when he went back to Afghanistan. In eighteen pages of 12 point type, he lays out the keys to grokking that situation currently bedeviling us. He went there shortly following the first attacks on the World Trade Center in February 1993.
"I was joining a reporting team looking into Afghanistan's ruinous civil war and its links to the February 1993 bombing of New York's World Trade Center, an act of spectacular terrorism that American officials charged was part of a wider conspiracy by Islamic radicals to launch attacks on the mainland United States. Some of the Arab bombing suspects had fought in Afghanistan's war against the Russian occupation army during the 1980s, a conflict I had covered from both sides." 1993, for heaven's sake! Whoa, the emperor is naked, right? If not naked, then not very bright, right? Survivor, Right? American elitist, right? Right! Is there another script out there? Conspiracy worthy of a Tom Clancy treatment?
Just because it took six months to get ready to take apart Iraq where at least Saddam collected some portion of his chits by being kept in power, why should it take more than a couple weeks to get ready to pulverize Afghani rubble into sand? Was that really a SEG on Bush's face while he sat in that silly chair safely in a Florida classroom? Do we really intend to capture or kill Osama bin Laden or will he be spirited to some brainwashing dungeon for deprogramming and reprogramming? We need his brains, after all. See Quinn's Beyond Civilization.
In reference to Peshawar, the northwestern Pakistan center through which most American and other aid had reached Afghanistan's various guerrillas (just imagine transshipping billions and billions of dollars of stuff through remote Pakistan and then into Afghanistan), Arnett comments: ". . . Peshawar's dusty bazaars and steamy slums and sinister associations were perfectly cast for its role as a center of clandestine activities and the city had since become a nightmare for the United States. Islamic radicals from Arab lands that had supported the Afghanistan struggle were using their wartime connections to plan a terrorist campaign on an international scale. The World Trade Center bombing suspects had connections in Peshawar and reportedly had traveled freely to and from the city." This was in 1993, yet!
He continues: "The furtive nature of Western involvement in the war against the Russians had also allowed drug traders to flourish. They were using the profusion of obscure overland routes from Afghanistan to bring harvests of opium and hashish to the region, turning Peshawar into a major center for international drug trade. Narcotics and terrorism were a deadly combination."
Elsewhere, commentators and on-scene observers in Peshawar during the '80s reported a large contingent from the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) stationed there. As some noted then, The DEA folks appeared more involved in facilitating than thwarting the traffic. In early 2001, DEA reported that Afghanistan had superceded the famous Golden Triangle of Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, China and Laos, as number one in heroin traffic. The Taliban may be wrecking the countryside but they also know how to keep the poppies growing in the midst of the troubles. No dummies either in getting distribution throughout the world. Were those guys going to pilot school to learn to fly cargo planes to distribution centers as an alternative to plowing airliners into tall buildings and such? Did some of the $40,000,00 plus recently given to the Taliban by the Bush II folks to suppress heroin end up in flight simulators?
". . . I talked with influential Pakistanis in Peshawar who blamed the chaotic situation on a mercurial American foreign policy that had wholeheartedly supported the Islamic rebels while they fought the Russians, but abandoned them afterward." 'The chickens are coming home to roost,' was the comment of a newspaper editor on the  bombing of the World Trade Center. 'All you cared about was destroying communism, and you welcomed extremists to the struggle, and trained them to kill. But many of those people don't like you either, and you're the next target."
"History was repeating itself once again in Afghanistan," Arnett notes, "Stability had always been a scarce commodity there because of its location at the crossroads between Central and South Asia. . . . Even in peaceful times when no invasion was underway, political control in Afghanistan was of necessity loosely administered from the capital of Kabul, the tribal groups always indifferent, often hostile to supervision. But what made Afghanistan's instability now so dangerous was that the remote land was being recast into the Lebanon of the 1990s. It had no national security force capable of maintaining order. It was becoming a hub of international terrorism and narcotics production."
Arnett then goes on to describe his experiences as he toured around the various fiefdoms, tribal centers and warlord camps. He reports on massive devastation throughout much of the country. What little had survived of Kabul was then being destroyed by the civil war in process.
We have this grand illusion that civil wars typically involve two contending forces. In Afghanistan, hands and toes all together are inadequate to the counting of contenders. We have the expectation that once the civil war is settled, things will come together again in due time. In Afghanistan then, now and ever since anyone has been recording such history it has never settled down into any form of coherent state as we generally assume when visualizing a state. There has never been anything other than continuous civil war among contending tribal affiliations, sometimes muted, other times not.
As has been noted by many commentators, US policy in the 1990s was to maintain instability in Afghanistan. Our success may be more accident than design. Apparently, however, our equation of instability to mean impotence missed something critical.
One of the Afghani so-called tribal groupings about which very little has been heard in the present brouhaha is known as Ismaili, headed by the Aga Khan. The Aga Kahn also heads one of the world's greatest cultural and education foundations a world beacon of "liberal social attitudes" to use Arnett's expression. You can check their many websites.
The Ismaili in 1993 still physically controlled a key strategic swath of central Afghanistan -- Baslan Province. Its governor in 1993 was Said Jeffer Naderi. Naderi spent his early twenties roaring around New Jersey with a biker gang, which may have been excellent preparation for the job he was holding. Baslan then had one of the few intact local economies still existing in Afghanistan. Ismaili, under the Aga Khan, had managed to keep a small area under relatively stable conditions throughout the Soviet years primarily because of their international reputation. Sacrificed now. Wahabi Sunni Saudi are not friendly with the Ismaili nor are the Pakistani military. Aga Khan has little use for either Saudi Arabian Royalists or military dictators of Pakistan.
A reasonable question: why did succeeding US administrations avoid the quite moderate and very well established Ismaili as a focus for US efforts? Rhetorical question? For sure!
Arnett went on to interview most of the then key players of the various contenders for power. The recently assassinated Ahmed Shah Massoud, leader of the presently uplifted Northern Alliance being built up to succeed, maybe, somewhat, possibly, an expected fall of Taliban, was Tajik. Tajik tribes control the northeastern segments of Afghanistan including the thin poke of Pamir toward the Chinese border.
Other Afghani factions, including and perhaps especially those looking toward Pakistani and Russian governments, want little to do with the Tajiks for many reasons which may become apparent in coming weeks and months. At times during the '80s, Massoud had allied himself with the most rabid of radical Islamic fundamentalists, Gulbuddin Hekmatyr. Hekmatyr, according to Massoud and quoted by Arnett, ". . . was 'made into a Frankenstein' by receiving preferential CIA weapons shipments during the war, which allowed him to turn against the United States." If there is any consensus available from the many books and other research readily available on the Soviet years in Afghanistan, it that Hekmatyr was absolutely the worst possible choice to receive preferential US and Pakistani treatment. Choose him we did.
Arnett interviewed Hekmatyr. "Hekmatyr has never hidden his distaste for Western society, despite his willing acceptance of weapons from the CIA to fight the Russians. In a visit to United Nations headquarters in New York during the war, he refused to meet with his most influential patron, President Ronald Reagan. His hostile attitude to the West remains. . . . [He] blames the West with siding with his [then] enemies in Kabul." Parenthetical note: Read Taliban for Hekmatyr and search for his tracks in the emergent Afghanistan of the 1990s. Remember that he was "our" boy then.
Several writers who wrote of their experiences in Afghanistan during the Soviet years, 1979-89, reported that Hekmatyr's faction(s) received preferential shipments of arms while fighting the Soviets the least of all the factions. Apparently, he was saving up for taking over after the Soviets were banished. His groups, meaning Pushtun or Pathans now concentrated and identified as Taliban succeeded perhaps too well. His American and Pakistani ISI advisers may have had a part in devising this perfectly devious and cunning strategy. Yet. Maybe he came by devious and cunning naturally.
Arnett concludes: ". . . The collapse of the Soviet empire, the end of the Cold War, had not brought any harmony to Afghanistan, merely bitter conflict and criminality. And the United States would reap a bitter harvest from the seeds of the Islamic revolution it helped seed."
His last on-camera shot from the Khyber Pass: "For centuries the Khyber Pass has been the gateway between central and southern Asia. Today, it is the gateway for drugs, Islamic radicals and terrorists."
Having sowed, what are we now to reap?
Oh, yes, in the same book, Arnett tells about his experiences in Laos in 1960. He was doing the English language weekly, "The World," there. Seems there was a very large American presence in Laos. Hundreds was the number he used to count CIA and others. Air America, the CIA air arm of the time in the area, was transshipping Golden Triangle heroin for worldwide distribution even then. A pattern which connects?
Too long, as always. No simple way other than to point yet again at a naked emperor going by.
Milo Clark, a founding member of Swans, had it all: Harvard MBA, big house, three-car garage, top management... Yet, once he had seemingly achieved the famed American dream he felt something was missing somewhere. As any good executive he decided to investigate. Since then, he has become a curmudgeon and, after living in Berkeley, California, where he was growing bamboos, making water gardens, listening to muses, writing, cogitating and pondering, he has moved on to the Big Island in Hawaii where he creates thought forms about sunshine. Milo can be reached at Swans.
Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted, © Milo G. Clark 2001. All rights reserved.
This Week's Internal Links
Mind Control in the New Kind of War - by Jan Baughman
Softening Public Opinion For All Out War On Iraq - by Stephen Gowans
Osama Bin Laden: Convenient Scapegoat? - by Gilles d'Aymery
Antiterrorism As A Cover For....Terrorism - by Edward S. Herman
Think About It - by Charles Buffalo
U.S. Attacks Vanuatu! Wins Stunning Victory! - by Edward S. Herman
Terrorism And The Ozone Layer - by Gilles d'Aymery
California State Proposed Legislation - by Helen L.H. Mader
Differences That Make Differences. . . Patterns Which Connect - by Milo Clark
Two areas of commentary: Barbarism and Joinin' 'em - by Milo Clark
Unnecessary Losses - by Sandy Lulay
Conversation With a Psychiatrist - by D. W. Buffa
Milo Clark's Commentaries on Swans
Essays published in 2001
Essays published in 2000
Essays published in 1999
Essays published in 1997
Essays published in 1996