|Date:||October 4, 2001|
|Purpose:||Written just days before the U.S. started bombing Afghanistan, the "point" of the following drivel was to get people I knew thinking about how the U.S. might influence Afghanistan without (necessarily) resorting to heavy weapons. This was totally naïve, of course, and written after a few too many beers, but I still think some of this would have actually worked.|
|The surprising thing to me, though, was the response it got. I e-mailed it to most of the people in my address book, and more than a few of them sent it to their friends. I have no idea how far it drifted across the net, but I do know that I got feedback on it from some unexpected places.|
Much has been made in the media of late of the U.S. being in “a new kind of war”. While this is true, I’ve heard very few suggestions as to how to fight this kind of war and, without them, we risk sliding into the “old kind of war”, and a long, depressing one at that. I offer here some suggestions for strategies for this new kind of war, on the off chance that anyone cares. Distribute at will.
Some of these strategies are mutually exclusive; some can be mixed. Most are suggestions for the government; some are for citizens. Season to taste.
By the way, this mail contains a number of words that are likely to trigger Carnivore, so hello to any federal agents reading this.
Just about all of a America and most of the world is completely convinced that Osama bin Laden is behind the attacks on September 11, in spite of the fact that no proof of this, of any kind, has been publicly released. Setting aside the point that Americans are easily manipulated by media, the longer the proof remains hidden the worse the U.S. looks. Publish it.
There are some very legitimate reasons the U.S. might be unwilling to release proof. The most likely are a) they are protecting the source of certain information until it can be fully milked or b) certain information was retrieved via mechanisms the U.S. does not want to admit exist (e.g. decryption of systems thought to be secure, etc.). There are other possibilities; however, the longer they hold back, the more it looks like they have nothing.
If there were a group of fanatical, militant Christians, tied together by and preaching a version of Christianity that warped the Bible as badly as bin Laden has warped the Koran, the press, public and government would have immediately branded them: “Cult”.
The government should to the same with bin Laden. The media would pick up the use of the word within days. The public would soon follow.
There are two reasons to do this. The first is that calling al-Quada a cult would instantly separate it from the rest of Islam in the minds of the public. This is something that I feel is a good idea but, though they pay lip service to it, the government does not really seem that interested in. Though they make a show of trying to avoid it, the phrase “Islamic fundamentalists” had been coming up a whole lot. Was Koresh a “fundamentalist”? Technically, yes, but no one calls him that. To America, he led a cult. It was easier for Americans to wrap their minds around “cult” than “Christian fundamentalist”. This was done intentionally (though subconsciously) to make a clear separation between “normal” Christianity and the rantings of a psychopath. We need to do the same with bin Laden. Americans are already confused about Islam and that will continue if we continue to lump together the homicidal sociopaths with “normal” Muslims.
The government is more likely to care about the second reason to call al-Quada a cult: you can militarily defeat a cult, you cannot militarily defeat an idea. Declaring “war on terrorism” was an extremely stupid thing for Bush to do. He might as well have declared “war on fire” or “war on stubbornness”. You can’t win a war on something that can’t be quantified. You can, however, waste a bunch of yahoos in the mountains. By calling al-Quada a cult now, the U.S. will much more easily be able to extricate itself from this “war” when, inevitably, it goes on much longer than the U.S. public and the rest of the world can stand. You can, at pretty much any time, say “hey, we nabbed the last cultist, we’re going home”. You cannot say the same about the last terrorist.
A lot of people have been spouting the phrase “we should bomb Afghanistan back into the stone age”. Please smack anyone you hear saying this. Not that I am a Dove or anything. It’s just that the Russians have already bombed Afghanistan back into the stone age. Churning rubble with million dollar bombs is about the dumbest thing we could do, on about every level.
Every war features at least one point that can be seized and, if handled well, exploited to make victory possible. Interestingly, unlike many of history’s twists, these “golden moments” are often recognized as such at the time they happen, at least by those who wind up properly exploiting them. For example, when the U.S. decoded Japanese traffic indicating an attack on a place called “AF”, Nimitz immediately recognized that this presented a huge, unique opportunity to turn the tide of the war in the Pacific. One brilliant intelligence ploy later, the Battle of Midway is won, and it is the beginning of the end for Imperial Japan.
This “war on terrorism” will be no different. It, too, will have the perfect moment that need only be exploited to reach victory.
The only problem is that this moment already happened, and the U.S. pissed it away. More specifically, the first Bush administration pissed it away.
First Regan and, later, Bush funded and armed the Afghani resistance (the Mujahadeen) to the Soviet invasion in the 1980’s. This was one of the few “hot” battles of the Cold War and, against pretty much every prediction, the Mujahadeen actually won (largely thanks to American Stinger missiles), driving out the Russians.
In the end, a handful of Americans had been killed and about 15,000 Russians were dead. The Afghanis, however, acting as proxy in defeating our enemy for us, lost over a million people. Over a million. In a country of only 20 million at the time.
It was when the Russians pulled out that the “golden moment” came. The Bush administration could have said “we are very grateful for your sacrifice and know you have suffered greatly. The Russians have bombed you back to the stone age, but you have driven them out. What can we do to help you rebuild?” or even “Thanks for your help”. Instead, the U.S. just vanished out of Afghanistan, tossing them over our shoulder like used newspaper. Golden moment lost.
This turned out to be a huge mistake. When you hear people say things like “these attacks are just the chickens coming home to roost” or “America had this coming”, this kind of policy is what they are talking about. Some respond “how can you say that? Nothing can justify the kind of violence on September 11.” I suppose not. On the other hand, nothing can justify leaving millions of people to starve either, especially after they just embarrassingly defeated your sworn enemy.
While the conditions in Afghanistan after the war are not direct causes of groups like the al-Quada, they certainly contributed to the situation. Maybe the Taliban would have taken over anyway, but I doubt it.
The really irritating thing is that, when the Russian invasion first happened, elements of the state department were very excited about the potential for assisting Afghanistan, because it presented an opportunity to garner the good will of a deeply Islamic nation. I submit that we’d be living in a much different world if that had happened.
I guess there is no specific strategy in this point. Just a note to Shrub: smack your father for this incredibly stupid policy decision. While you’re at it, give him a big kick in the ass for the equally insipid way he ran the CIA during the Vietnam War.
America is often accused of “cultural imperialism”. The thing about this claim that I find fascinating is that it is at once completely true and completely false. It is absolutely true in the sense that American culture (such as it is) infects just about all it contacts. It alters a native culture rapidly, turning the culture into a strange hybrid. When the hybrid reaches a critical mass, it becomes noticed by American culture and often incorporated back into the stew. (Take, for example, how U.S. animation influenced Japanese animae which then influenced U.S. comic books.)
It is absolutely false in the sense that, unlike most empires, the spread of the “empire of culture” is not really intentional. It is more of a side effect of a free market. There isn’t some government cabal plotting the cultural invasion of a new target just to increase the U.S. hegemony.
But what if there was? What if we intentionally decided to corrupt the culture of a country?
Why would we want to do this? Think about all of the rich countries in the world. I don’t mean just countries that happen to have some really rich people (like Saudi Arabia), but countries that are really rich GNP-wise (France, Germany, Japan). How many of them hate America? I mean really hate America. Not that French distain thing, but flag burning sort of hate. Can you think of any? I can’t.
Some would say that this is because these rich countries share a common heritage and ideals and so on. Possibly, but I think there is a more fundamental reason: rich countries have realized that what is bad for America is bad for them. If something hurts America’s economy, they suffer.
The trick, then, is to turn Afghanistan into a rich country and, in the process, turn it into a province of the American cultural empire. Afghanistan is about the hardest place to try something like this. It would never happen by accident there. We need to help it along.
The thing that would be most satisfying about doing this is that this is what bin Laden fears most: the cultural corruption of Islam. If we could do this, if we could, say, open a Disneyland in Kabul, we could pretty much declare total victory over al-Quada. (And, hey, even if it doesn’t work, at least we’ll provide targets far away from our homeland to keep the terrorists off of our soil.)
The first step in this strategy is to secretly back some businesses within Afghanistan. Initially, these would probably have to be to sell anti-American products to the few rich in Afghanistan or strictly Islamic products at very low prices. In this wave, the goal is to raise employment and production. These companies could be a rabidly anti-West as needed, so long as the U.S secretly backed them. Profit would not be a huge concern, as long as more jobs are created, production rises and people start getting some money in their pockets, at least in the cities.
We should be able to increase GDP by an order of magnitude within a year or so. (This sounds difficult, but realize that Afghanistan is so poor that even increasing per capita GDP by 10 times would only raise them to the standards of such economic powerhouses as Somoa and Anguilla.)
The next stage would involve creating some kind of export. Carpets seem likely. It would probably need to be something cultural. Again, no departures from Islam. [After writing this, a friend reminded me that Afghanistan already has such a product: before the al-Quada, Afghanistan produced about 75% of the world’s heroin.]
After that, two stages would come whenever the time seemed right. The first would be a business (again, backed by U.S. secretly) that produces something for export that is slightly questionable to rigid interpretation of the Koran, but not completely offensive.
At the same time, an underground campaign would start to sell a locally manufactured product that was a bit questionable to rigid Islam, but everyone wanted anyway. Ideally, it would be the type of thing that most people actually owned, but no one ever admitted to owning. Some sort of sex item (vibrators maybe, or even lingerie) would probably be the best bet. The actual product doesn’t matter much as long as a) many people buy and own it in secret, b) it is fairly un-Islamic. As sales increased, the product would become more and more public. Eventually, it would break out, and would probably be officially repressed.
If this happened, the plant making these items would immediately stop, creating a black market for them. Another plant would open, making a different product, along the same vein.
By now, the standard of living (in cities at least) would have risen substantially. Population in cities would have grown. At this point comes the risky phase of the plan: slow introduction of television. This will be very difficult. It might require a media company willing to act as the total lapdog of the government. I’m not sure how it would be done, but it is imperative to get TVs into homes at this stage, or else we would be making Afghanistan rich without corrupting its culture.
Once TV is integrated, it is only a matter of time.
I don’t really endorse the following strategy, but it does have a sort of brutal logic to it. It goes like this: America has about 300 million people. About 6500 were killed in the attacks. This is about 0.0023% of the population. Terrorist groups are of necessity small (larger groups are easier to infiltrate and expose). There are probably several hundred al-Quada or so. For the sake of the argument, say there are 500. In the attacks, 19 terrorists died. That’s nearly 4% of their whole force.
Using only extrapolation, you can project that the entire al-Quada would wipe itself out with 24 more attacks, claiming a total of 162,500 casualties. In point of fact, the actual losses would likely be much less. In the first place, there are not many targets around with the potential for civilian casualties as the World Trade Center. The death toll in the Pentagon, for example, which is practically a city, was only 250 or so. In addition, it is quite likely that attacks using the same methods as those on September 11 would never reach their targets. Now that people know what happened, it is very likely that anyone hijacking a plane in the US will meet the same fate as the flight that crashed in Pennsylvania: the passengers will revolt. If you are on a hijacked plane, I think you will pretty much assume that it will be crashed into a building, so the only way you can possibly live is to seize control of the plane. Not everyone will come to this conclusion, but many (probably most) will. There is no way a group of terrorists can control 200 people who are convinced they are going to die.
Anyway, the extrapolation above is also flawed in that the al-Quada probably would not continue hurling attacks at us until they all died. Though, each attack would likely feature their best (remaining) men, so in theory they would continually become more inept.
In any case, if we were ants instead of human beings, losing 0.057% of our population in order to completely exterminate the enemy would be an acceptable strategy.
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