Saturday, February 14, 2009
History is fascinating because of its continuous progression through time. Events that have already taken place will combine themselves with events yet to occur. This combination will create future outcomes that will then be discussed and written about as history. Three major, international events are unfolding before our eyes without any foreseeable end in sight. Their story is yet to be completed, their history not yet ready to be declared. The link which connects Iraq, Afghanistan and the financial crisis is how each are in some form a consequence of how the United States has managed itself and viewed the world after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
So much of our past has up until now been condensed into historic episodes - The Great Depression, World War II, Vietnam & 1968, The Cold War. How will the episode we are currently living through be later defined? What overarching conclusions, yet to be drawn, will weave these three events together? These are questions I have been asking myself with greater regularity.
I have found it interesting to see Ronald Reagan's name emerging with greater frequency in the international media when discussing the Financial crisis. An icon of fiscal conservatives, his disdain for government involvement in the market has within the last year been called into question like never before. From a military and foreign policy perspective we have seen how those from the Reagan school, i.e. Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz, struggled to see the world through a Post-Cold War lens when orchestrating their military strategies in the Middle East. This school had viewed the world up until 1989 in terms of good and evil. As a result, it was easier to mount a military and propaganda-based war against a single, devilish individual than it was to understand and make understood the country of Afghanistan. Once again, September 11, 2001 was carried out by the Al-Qaeda members located at camps in Afghanistan. Iraq had no involvement in it.
"Ghost Wars - The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001", will certainly be consulted for years to come as an essential read for those seeking a historic context behind September 11th. The book is laid out in a perfect chronological sequence. It does an excellent job of tying in the numerous individuals who in some way played a significant role in the developments of Afghanistan over the last 30 years. And it does so by adequately introducing the individuals, something that was not accomplished in the book, Paris 1919, for example.
To summarize Afghanistan from the US perspective, the CIA was heavily involved in the country as it was battling the Soviets in the early 1980's. Unable to conquer this incredibly difficult country, the USSR withdrew which led to a decline in US interest in the region. From that point up until September 2001, the US did not take a position on the country due to several complicated relationships it had in place with Pakistani and Saudi intelligence as well as one particular warlord in Northern Afghanistan.
The U.S. was well aware of Bin Laden's presence in the country. Its failure to capture him can be hailed as a truly bi-partisan effort. Clinton was too often bogged down with his own personal issues and with different poorly timed election campaigns. The eight months Bush was in office prior to September 11th, showed a cabinet wide lack of interest in terrorism and Bin Laden even though the CIA was ringing the alarm bells months before the attacks.
However, in the end, Ghost Wars proves that blame cannot be placed on one person. September 11th was a result of a series of mistakes and several instances of bad luck which accumulated over two decades to finally detonate with the attacks on the Twin Towers and Pentagon. the book also hints that "the system" in place regarding international law on such issues as assassination, had been constructed before the rules of war were turned on their head with the introduction of a new, more deadly form of international terrorism.
I fully recommend this book and strongly urge people to read it especially considering the critical juncture we find ourselves at in the start of 2009 with a new president. Obama will be forced to make the decision whether to drastically increase the troop presence, and therefore causalities, or to withdraw from the country all together as the Soviets did thirty years ago. Our current approach is simply not working.