Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Passing the Buck to Pakistan

Without fanfare, last January, and at the insistence of Attorney General Eric Holder, the FBI rounded up more than 100 suspects in a series of early morning raids that spanned three states: New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.

As the Associated Press reported, the suspects were all believed to be members of the Gambino and Colombo crime families, and were accused of organized crime activities, as well as what Holder called "truly senseless murders."

You might recall the image of these Mafia "high value detainees" being rounded up, and led off during the raid in New Jersey. The federal agents who led the mission didn't look all that different from the Navy Seals in Pakistan credited with taking down Osama bin Laden.

Instead, we deployed some of our most highly trained servicemen to take the life of one fragile, middle-aged man thousands of miles away from home. No one doubts that bin Laden was dangerous in his day, but few would consider him to have been more than a figurehead, a Don Corleone without the Corleone.

Setting any moral or legal considerations aside, what it boils down to is, the Navy Seals were employed for what could well have been treated as a criminal matter from the outset. Not only would prosecuting those who perpetrate acts of terror on the domestic front the same way organized crime families are prosecuted have saved us money, it would have saved many lives; more American lives than were lost on that fateful day in September.

In the end, the United States spent billions, arguably trillions of dollars, and more than nine and a half years, on what amounts to a glorified FBI raid.

There is also another important analogy between the round-up of about 100 organized crime operatives and the hunt for al Qaeda in Afghanistan. As the president himself has admitted, back in 2009,, there are maybe 100 members of al Qaeda currently in Afghanistan. Yet, we have more than 100,000 service members stationed there at a ratio of about 1000 to 1. Does it really take a thousand trained U.S. forces to take down one member of al Qaeda? Does it also take more than the $100 billion spent for war in Afghanistan, according to U.S. News, in 2010 alone?

Yes, of course, that's right. We're not in Afghanistan to fight al Qaeda anyway. They were in Iraq, remember? Oh, wait a minute. There were no al Qaeda in Iraq until after the U.S. invaded and occupied that country, and intelligence sources have said that the presence of al Qaeda has continued to grow, esp. since it was bin Laden who originally went to Afghanistan in the 1980's as a "freedom fighter," with great accolades from President Reagan and funding from the CIA, to train what is now known as the Taliban.

It wasn't until the 1990's that bin Laden reportedly became disenchanted with his former boss, and formed al Qaeda whose mission was to express that disenchantment. The first bombing of the World Trade Center, in 1994, was attributed to bin Laden.

The son of a wealthy Saudi family who made its money in construction, bin Laden was believed to have planted himself in a cave on somewhere on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In the Bush years following 9/11, and after the invasion of Iraq in 2002, the narrative that bin Laden was hiding out in Tora Bora seemed to work just fine. Bush didn't seem to think finding bin Laden was all that important. After all, the al Qaeda leader served his purpose just fine. His role was to provide a pretext for the invasion and occupation of a previously sovereign state. Mission accomplished. Iraq was effectively
deconstructed, only instead of getting the bin Laden family involved in reconstruction, those defense contracts went to Halliburton, Blackwater (now XE), and the oil barons. Bush and company reckoned there may be even more money to be made in Iraqi reconstruction as there is in oil.

But, now that the narrative has changed, and we learn that for the past several months, maybe even years, Osama bin Laden was living in a compound he had built only a short distance away from a military installation, not on the border of Pakistan, but well within the interior, there is outrage from the U.S. How could anyone think for a moment that bin Laden live so close to a military installation in a fortress like that without collusion from the Pakistani government, administration officials now ask. It seems only reasonable that someone should have known. Why didn't they report it to the U.S.? Senator Feinstein, Secretary of State Clinton, and others think it might be time to cut off Pakistan's allowance.

But, until recently, the CIA and the ISI appear to have been on the same page. Taking out bin Laden was not rocket science for either intelligence agency. For cripe's sake, the guy had family members, and even a courier. The U.S. knew about bin Laden's whereabouts, but timing is everything. Perhaps the Pentagon was waiting for hostilities between the U.S. and Pakistan to percolate to such a degree that we would find it in our national security interest to take him out.

When he was alive, Osama bin Laden was a convenient excuse for our invasion of Iraq and, now that he's dead, he's just as likely to be the pretext for racheting up our ongoing military campaign against Pakistan.

Clearly, blaming Pakistan for not providing intelligence if they knew where bin Laden is passing the buck. Why not blame U.S. intelligence, during the George W. Bush years, for being lackluster in their pursuit, and limiting their target to the region between Afghanistan and Pakistan which, conveniently, just happens to have provided a pretext for the invasion of both countries.

More importantly, consider the rank incompetence on the part of elected officials who, in the months immediately preceding the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, had credible intelligence that a major landmark was going to destroyed by a bomb planted on an airline, and they did nothing about it?

Would the FBI had succeeded in finding more than 100 members of organized crime families in three different states if they narrowed their search to the border that separates New York from New Jersey?

The covert drone operation, which has been roundly condemned in Pakistan for months now, was only phase one of a deliberate campaign to expand U.S. influence from Iraq to Afghanistan, and now to Pakistan. This was evident when Musharraf was forced to step down.

If the U.S. mission in the region was anything other than an exercise in empire-building, the so-called war on terror would have been treated, deservedly, as a criminal matter, and not an excuse for military expansionism.

Now, we need to be looking not at the corpse of Osama bin Laden, but instead at the cost of these gruesome wars.