Julian Assange may have killed the rationale for the Afghanistan occupation
July 26th 2010
In the long run, the little-noted news report that the Kepler space probe has produced evidence that terrestrial planets (small, solid, and cool, like earth) are widespread in the galaxy may prove to be a more important story than the announcement that Wikileaks had 90,000 US military documents detailing what a hopeless clusterfuck Afghanistan was, which has produced “Moon type” headlines around the world.
For the sake of humanity, I hope the Kepler story proves to be more important. It offers humanity a future; the Afghanistan story questions whether humanity is entitled to a future, or capable of surviving into it.
The Kepler story isn’t very sexy. It’s just slight variations of light in stars captured by a space camera. No images of steaming alien jungles with six-legged purple brontosauri munching palm fronds unconcernedly, or aerial shots of vast cities with flying cars and transportation pods. Just pinpricks of light that get slightly dimmer and stay that way for a while, and the amount it dims, times the length of time it dims, tells us how far out from the star the planet is, and how big it is. Even Spielberg would have trouble making that dramatic.
The Afghanistan documents relate stories of double dealing, of a vastly superior invading military force stymied by men with little more than handmade explosives and weapons left 25 years earlier by a different set of invaders. It depicts double-dealing from a “trusted ally”, one the western coalition has done much to destabilize and which now, unsurprisingly, is riddled with double agents.
Even the army of the nation we are “saving from itself” is similarly riddled, and even before Wikileaks came out with a flood of articles the military didn’t want the public seeing, there were lots of stories of trainees and even seasoned officers in the military turning and shooting their western mentors, or assassinating members of the government or blowing up their own “fellow” troops.
The New York Times cautions, “Much of the information — raw intelligence and threat assessments gathered from the field in Afghanistan — cannot be verified and likely comes from sources aligned with Afghan intelligence, which considers Pakistan an enemy, and paid informants. Some describe plots for attacks that do not appear to have taken place.” That’s fair enough. Much of the information in the documents was intelligence-gathering, and 99% of all intelligence is “noise” – meaningless, if not deliberately misleading, all part of the Spy vs. Spy game of buggering what your opponent thinks he knows.
Here’s a prediction: somewhere in all that noise, unbeknownst to all of us, is a intelligence diamond on the level of “Bin Laden determined to strike within United States”. I have no idea what it might be, but I’m quite sure it’s there, and in a few years, we’ll all be asking ourselves why we ignored it at the time. I hope a lot of people with the requisite know-how are combing through the released data, without the constraints that working in a military or State Department bureaucracy will usually impose.
In the meantime, the most surprising thing about the documents is how unsurprising they really are. We have revelations of betrayals by allies that at best are reluctant and worst double-agents. There are reports of actions that surely qualify as war crimes, couched in the inhuman bureaucratic jargon of the military.
It shows the western allies in a strange and forbidding land, where nobody is their friend and every shadow may contain a member of the resistance or an innocent child or both. Frightened and exhausted soldiers have to watch everyone, even their orderlies and the very Afghani soldiers they’ve helped to train. The documents portray the allies as lumbering, confused giants, friendless, alienated, and losing a war of small cuts.
It shows the short-sightedness of Reagan training the mujahedeen to resist superior military forces and knock helicopters out of the sky with heat-seeking missiles. Now, with the Soviets long gone, some of the same people are using the same weapons to knock our helicopters out of the sky.
The role of the Pakistani ISI, their version of the CIA, is particularly interesting. Even as the Bush administration loudly praised them for ridding themselves of personnel with ties to the Taliban or al Qaida, the Taliban especially made gains in infiltrating the ISI. At least one report (unconfirmed) notes a plot within the ISI to assassinate Hamid Karzai, the Afghani leader. Another might have been a gem had the right people seen it: it was a warning, forwarded from the ISI to, of all people, Polish intelligence, warning of widespread attacks in Bombay a week before they happened.
Then there is Task Force 373. This was a joint Army/Navy effort of American commandos where were sent out to assassinate Taliban leaders, suspected double agents, and the like. Unfortunately, they often killed people who turned out to be innocent civilians, further stoking Afghanistani resentment of the invaders.
The use of drone aircraft in Afghanistan is both are more widespread and considerably less effective than the military had portrayed. Like the SCUD missiles of the Gulf War, they turned out to be far less fearsome than the military let on. I’m not criticizing the military for that; indeed, if they weren’t overselling the ferocity and infallibility of their weapons, I would be wondering what was wrong with them.
But those same drones are angering civilians in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, further eroding confidence in the Islamabad government, and in light of this, the question of whether they are doing American interests more harm than good needs to be raised again.
America’s hard-nosed tactics have been questionable from the beginning, and British and Canadian allies have openly condemned the Americans for alienating the populace to no useful end, thereby making the efforts of the Brits and Canadians to pacify the region that much more difficult. In Iraq, one British general openly ordered his soldiers not to patrol with the Americans because the Americans have so angered the locals.
The reports show a Taliban that is vicious and perfectly willing to slaughter and punish Afghani civilians far more harshly than the worst of the western allies, knowing that they are widely seen as the resistance and the westerners as the alien invaders, and that the West, not the Taliban, will be blamed for the very atrocities that the Taliban is committing. The war has stripped the Taliban of what little moral underpinning it once had. It had received grudging praise in the 1980s for cracking down effectively on the opium production, and stopping Afghanistan’s hideous child sex-slave industry dead in its tracks. Now, at the very least, it finances itself with a resurgent poppy trade, and the sexslave industry has returned to Kandahar.
The reports show what was already widely known, that the Karzai regime is one of the most utterly corrupt governments on earth. Double agents can easily buy their way into positions of trust, cops and judges dispense law and justice to the highest bidder, and the only reason Karzai wasn’t assassinated a long time ago is that he turns a completely blind eye to it, shafting his allies and enemies alike. There’s nothing like non-partisan corruption to prop up a failed narcostate.
There have been eruptions of fury in official Washington over the leaks, and to a lesser degree, in London and Ottawa. The usual suspects are huffing that this provides aid and comfort to the enemy, and endangers the troops. Obama has condemned the leaks, and right wing commentators are demanding that the respective governments investigate the New York Times, the London Guardian, and Germany’s Der Spiegel for running major news stories on the leaks after having the information for a week or more.
But the fact is that it’s unlikely there’s anything in those documents that endangers troops. Will any Canadian soldiers die if a document discloses where they will be positioned in October 2005? Does anyone think the resistance doesn’t already know drones can be brought down and cannibalized for weapons, or are unaware that they have heat-seeking missiles left over from those we gave them to fight the Soviet invasion? Does -anybody- feel surprised that the Afghani regime is corrupt, or that Pakistan’s government is unstable and riddled with double agents? Nobody on the ground in Afghanistan is going to be surprised by descriptions of bungled raids and atrocities by the western military.
About the only thing an Afghani freedom fighter might not already know that’s in those documents is just how cold, vicious, calculating and bereft of any actual religious authority the Taliban actually are, and it’s kind of hard to see how the Taliban can turn that to their advantage.
Kudos to Wikileaks for getting these leaks, and to the Times, the Guardian, and Der Spiegel for running the stories.
The information they disclose won’t be a surprise to the people in central Asia, or to the regimes and resistances that control their lives. But it will shine a light here in the allegedly “free” west, where people have the darkest blindness of all — the refusal to see.
In the meantime, the galaxy is just going to have to wait for us to sort out our own priorities — and hopefully, we will before we inflict them on any of those other planets.
“We all only live once. So we are obligated to make good use of the time that we have, and to do something that is meaningful and satisfying. This is something that I find meaningful and satisfying. That is my temperament. I enjoy creating systems on a grand scale, and I enjoy helping people who are vulnerable. And I enjoy crushing bastards. So it is enjoyable work.”
JulianAssange, owner of Wikileaks.