The absurdities of the American War in Afghanistan -backed by their allies- are exposed here by Owen Dudley Edwards. As another view of the tragedy it is heartbreaking in its farcical detail, and recounts a sorry tale which, despite withdrawal of US and allied troops, is far from over for the people of the region.
THE SAINT IN STALEMATE
Leslie Charles Bowyer Yin (1907-93), Singapore-born, wrote as Leslie Charteris and legally adopted that name under which he had created the modern Robin Hood thriller hero Simon Templar alias the Saint, who sparkled in lucrative adventures defying crooks and police for 21 books throughout the 1930s, continuing more slowly for four subsequent decades. Unlike similar (but less philanthropic) public benefactors also complacently superior to law and order such as Bulldog Drummond (and their obvious literary descendant James Bond), the inter-war Saint was Left-wing and hostile to war and its profiteers, but entered World War 2 on the side of the USA, whither his creator had emigrated from Britain and where the postwar Saint subsequently moved Right.
The Saint variously starred in novels, novellas and short stories, and in 1932-33 Saint stories appeared weekly in the Sunday Empire News, the last nine in 1933 subsequently surviving in book form in Boodle (1934, later re-titled The Saint Intervenes), alongside ‘The Noble Sportsman’ which hadn’t appeared In that paper, nor did any more Saint stories after 1933. The Empire News like the Daily Mail was owned by Harold Harmsworth 1st Viscount Rothermere who came out as pro-Fascist in January 1934, supporting Hitler and Sir Oswald Mosley.
‘The Noble Sportsman’ is exceptional amidst the usually formulaic Saint short stories of the early 1930s, the Saint for once setting aside Robin Hood the better to provide yet another imitation of Sherlock Holmes, with his normal adversary Chief Inspector Claud Eustace Teal playing Watson.
It may be the supreme Saint story. It has no originality in its pivotal device making the supposedly threatened victim the successful murderer: Conan Doyle, G. K. Chesterton and Agatha Christie had already used that well. The noble sportsman, Lord Yearleigh, is about to introduce a Conscription Bill opposed by his wife’s cousin Maurice Vould, a victim of gas warfare in World War I intending elopement with Lady Yearleigh. The Saint realises that Yearleigh has killed Vould, staging it as though he has foiled a homicidal attack. The story ends with the Saint talking to Teal, and (most unusually) with bitter self-reproaches — for not having seen what was about to happen and preventing it:
‘… He was afraid of Vould because, in his heart, he knew that Vould was so much cleverer and more desirable, so much more right and honest than he would ever be. He was fighting the old hopeless battle of age against youth. He knew that Vould had seen through the iniquity of his bill. The bill would never touch Yearleigh. He was too old for the last war, when I seem to remember he made a great reputation by organising cricket matches behind the lines. He would be too old for the next.
He had no children. But it’s part of the psychology of life, whether you like it or not, that war is the time when the old men come back into their own, and the young men who are pressing on their heels are miraculously removed. Yearleigh knew that Vould despised him for it; and he was afraid. … Those are only the things I think, and I can’t prove any of them’, he said; and Teal turned abruptly on his heel and walked back towards the house.
Jonathan Swift it isn’t, yet Swift might accept its very remote kinship to the savagery of his own denunciations of war in The Conduct of the Allies (1711)and in the second book of Gulliver’s Travels, contextually confronted so well by Michael Foot in The Pen and the Sword (1957).
WHY THE QUEST FOR THE BLOODY GRAIL?
The Saint’s thesis may seem an improbable precedent for Prime Minister Tony Blair who took his country to war in 2001 against Afghanistan and then Iraq when in his late forties, though eight Prime Ministers have entered that office younger than he. He needed a war to distance Gordon Brown’s claim on the premiership from his own promised fulfilment of that claim. Perhaps he had to comply with American orders: Robert Harris’s novel The Ghost (2007) and its movie (2010) make its Blair-like Prime Minister sycophant to the USA whose President could blackmail him, presumably by threatening revelations of his youthful career advancement by US government finance.
George W. Bush USA President (however questionably elected in 2000-01) might seem a neater fit, since Mr Blair entered the Afghan and Iraqi wars at his demand — or command — and the 55-year-old President needed a war to affirm his electoral legitimacy, and his capacity for improvement on his father’s Gulf War effort against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in 1990-91.
Margaret Thatcher, elected UK Prime Minister in 1979 at 53, went to war with Argentina over the Falklands/Malvinas in 1982 very conscious of her need for a successful war to ensure her re-election: she pretended she was resolutely dealing with a surprise attack but her friend US President Ronald Reagan must have told her what US intelligence had learned of the Argentine invasion plans, so that it was the Argentineans who were themselves surprised. (His widely-recorded surprise at her supposedly responding to a surprise attack was obviously genuine, as were manoeuvres from US officials to call off the war, have Reagan arbitrate, or even possibly back Argentina morally if not physically.)
H. H. Asquith went into World War 1 in August 1914 thus freezing the three incipient revolutions threatening his government (Tory armed rebellion promised when Home Rule for Ireland already enacted would be enforced, violent women using arson to demand the vote, workers striking with growing police violence). Woodrow Wilson gave his message to Congress to enter that war in April 1917, yearning to be the world’s peacemaker which he had now concluded was impossible unless the USA was already a belligerent power.
Yet however impressive be the personal motives of heads of government for taking their constituents to war, the motive diagnosed by the Saint thrives below the surface. Without war, heads of government would naturally diagnose vociferous youth as their most obvious potential critic, until the Piper pipes it into the river or under the mountain or on paths of glory leading to the grave. ‘The Noble Sportsman’ was written with Hitler just come to power and the Hitler youth under Baldur von Schirach trained for war.
Readers and writers of history are sensible if they distinguish between the general causes of a specific war and the immediate cause at the time. The American civil war was caused by slavery and its possible expansion beyond its present limits, but the immediate cause took place on 11 April 1861 when Edmund Ruffin, pro-slavery and pro-secession Virginian polemicist fired at the US Federal forces in Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbour at the request of General Pierre G. T. Beauregard acting for the government of the state, South Carolina, with the support of the Confederate States of America.
A.J. P. Taylor’s The Origins of the Second World War (1961), violently denounced by chauvinists like Hugh Trevor-Roper masquerading as historians, concluded by saying that Hitler may have planned a great war all along, but the conflict begun on 3 September 1939 was caused because he took a diplomatic initiative on 29 August which he should have taken on 28 August.
The wars of the United States of America, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and over 40 allies begun against Afghanistan in 2001, and by the USA, the UK, Australia and Poland begun against Iraq in 2003, were caused by US President George W. (‘Dubya’) Bush in retaliation for the massacre of 3000 (internationally called ‘9-11’, in courtesy to the USA using the American date-notation, month first and day second). In countless foreign countries, people (myself included) identified themselves however briefly with the stricken Americans, regardless of personal dislike of US foreign policy in formulation and execution by US governments in general and by President Dubya Bush in particular.
But unlike the firing at Fort Sumter or the Japanese undeclared war attack by air against US armed forces in Pearl Harbor on December 7 1941, the 9-11 destruction of the Twin Towers in New York City by hi-jacked aircraft piloted kamikaze was the general cause of the ensuing wars, rather than the immediate. The contrast here lies in knowledge of the identity of the mass-murderers. From the moment of attack at Pearl, everyone knew that the Japanese had destroyed without warning US soldiers, civilians and vessels, arms, material, &c, just as everyone had known it was pro-slavery white southerners who attacked Fort Sumter. 9-11 was the work of enemies of all humankind, but initially their identity was a mystery to most of the world.
In 1861 and 1941 the President of the United States called his fellow-Americans to war from Washington DC. In 2001 communications were far faster: like millions across the globe I saw the planes demolish the Towers as they did it. But President ‘Dubya’ Bush disappeared for hours. Subsequent pleas of secret service instructions insisting on the priority of his safety dishonoured American Presidential traditions and functions. The US President is head of government, as is the UK Prime Minister, but is also head of state, as is the UK Queen. The latter duty has enabled the USA to survive appalling wounds with greater moral strength.
Dubya was — where?
From that disappearance the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq followed.
ALIBIS DISGUISED AND DISCARDED
President Bush learned of the attacks on the Twin Towers while visiting an elementary school at Sarasota, Florida (the ‘swing’ state where he won — or lost — Election 2000), was thence flown on the prime Presidential aircraft Air Force One to Shreveport, Louisiana, and thence to Omaha, Nebraska, where (according to himself) he ordered his return to Washington, DC, over-ruling opposition from advisers. He addressed the USA from the White House that night, roughly twelve hours after the initial attack. The worldwide rumour persisted that he had run away. Virtually nobody knew whether Air Force One was under threat on the ground or in the air, whether nearby aircraft were enemies or friends, whether another country was responsible.
In Washington DC during the afternoon Vice-President Richard Bruce Cheney was giving executive orders covering possibilities such as further air attacks, and apparently making little initial effort to communicate with the flying — or fleeing –- President. Throughout the Dubya Bush Presidency Vice-President Cheney held more power and played a greater part than any Vice-President in US history. Twice previously the US President was disabled beyond self-control, but neither Vice-President became Acting President as the Constitution required. From the assassination of President James Garfield on 2 July 1881 to his death on 20 September 1881, Vice-President Chester Arthur silently left the running of the Presidency to Secretary of State James Gillespie Blaine, and from Woodrow Wilson’s paralysis by strokes from 26 September 1919 until his term finished on 4 March 1921, his wife Edith Bolling Wilson ran the Presidency with no interference from Vice-President Thomas R. Marshall. While Reagan was under post-assassination treatment on 30 March 1981 and Vice-President George H. W. Bush was in Texas, Secretary of State General Alexander Haig (White House Chief of Staff during Nixon’s post-Watergate ill-fated cover-up) attempted to make himself Acting President but was cut down to size by Bush senior returning to Washington stating he was the Acting President, if any. Haig’s subsequent time as Secretary of State was frustrated, somewhat explosive, self-propelled, maverick and ultimately terminated on 5 July 1882. During 9/11 Dubya Bush, of all people, would have remembered Haig’s apparent coup attempt to sideline his father. But it was less easy to neutralise the Vice-President on 9/11.
It may have been now that Vice-President Cheney clinched a crucial and profitable role for himself and his career benefactor US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, in determining post-9/11 US policy. In their 60s, both qualified as old men under the Saint’s theorem: and they wanted wars, particularly for profitability given the Vice-President’s status with the armaments manufacturer Haliburton.
In retrospect President Dubya recalled thinking during those fugitive airborne hours that it was the duty of the President to protect the American people. But from whom?
From the start he anticipated criticism for his lost hours on 9/11. To determine the US national enemy seemed the credential for real US executive power.
From an early stage Dubya Bush became obsessed with the conviction the master-mind behind the murders was Saddam Hussain, the brutal dictator of Iraq, against whom his father, President George H. W. Bush, had led the successful but limited Gulf War over Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.
Any war of retaliation for 9/11 would be an all-out war.
In the days after 9/11 millions in and out of the USA thirsted for vengeance on whoever the mass-murderers had been, particularly those still alive. The man officially in command of the US response thirsted more than all of them, for personal reasons fearing shame while simultaneously competing with his own father (Freud made it fashionable). President George H. W. Bush showed misgivings about his son, Dubya, now President but former alcoholic, disaster-prone: his original hopes for a son also President revolved around John Ellis (‘Jeb’) Bush, but when both ran for Governorships in 1994, it was Dubya who got elected (in Texas) and Jeb had to wait for 1998 (to win Florida). Yet even Dubya’s successful Presidential candidacy had turned on Jeb’s manipulations to sneak pivotal Florida for him, by vote-fiddling, and disenfranchising hordes of African Americans by rapid-fire criminal indictments. President Dubya had the additional hunger to win re-election so as to defeat his father and little brother as well as the Democrats’ candidate. He wanted vengeance for 9/11 but it had to be his triumph.
Dubya back in the White House after 9/11 returned automatically to his Yexas stock-in-trade — public relations, grandiose gestures, unfettered chauvinism — in a word, demagogy. He knew that in traditional US frontier folk culture mythology and filmography action must always outsell deliberation. He promptly created a Cabinet Secretariate of Homeland Security. 9-11 seems to have been almost entirely the product of murderous aliens, but President Dubya needing to show he could and would protect the American voter promised immediate Herculean efforts. Many twentieth-century Americans had frequently believed the USA omnipotent in its wars abroad, while in perpetual danger of subversion at home.
Dubya also decreed and declared all-out war on terror. As Gore Vidal pointed out, this made as much sense as a declaration of war on dandruff, but it promised Recovery. ‘Recover’ was the real rallying-cry — Recovery of Congressional, Senatorial and Gubernatorial seats in 2002, as well as Recovery of his own Presidential prospects for 2004.
But meanwhile, Gilbert’s Lord High Executioner was the wise guide: a victim must be found.
The Politics of Revenge has its own peculiarities, seldom including the cliché that it is best consumed cold, certainly not when the injury is gigantic and the shame all too near. It is dangerous, because it can turn on its votaries and morph them into its puppets, while Cheney and Rumsfeld ensured that wars must be personally profitable as well as popular, and profit meant more than politics or Papa. Haliburton was ready and willing to supply revenge for 9/11 as widely and as expensively as possible — but where?
REVENGE IS A KIND OF WILD JUSTICE (Bacon)
Shakespeare was a philosopher of revenge far above the crassness of his contemporary fellow-dramatists, with endlessly different treatments from Titus Andronicus to Hamlet, and its ability to transform its votary into its victim is brought home through Antony, in Julius Caesar (Act III Scene 1 lines 258-275). The play’s general context is friendship: Cassius yearning to recruit his friend Brutus as fellow-assassin and then sacrificing sensible decisions to his judgment, Brutus showing his rectitude by ultimate readiness to murder his friend Caesar, Mark Antony tearing the world to pieces to avenge that murder — and show himself the better friend, the true ideal of loyalty. Antony’s personal rage at the treachery of Caesar’s murder, whatever the conspirators’ justifications, is initially quite altruistic, and ready to risk and even accept his own death. But his soliloquy over Caesar’s corpse prophesies horrific vengeance including his own transformation into a mass murderer far beyond the possible confines of Cassius’s homicidal conspiracy:
Over thy wounds now do I prophesy —
Which, like dumb mouths, do ope their ruby lips,
To beg the voice and utterance of my tongue, —
A curse shall light upon the limbs of men;
Domestic fury and fierce civil strife
Shall cumber all the parts of Italy;
Blood and destruction shall be so in use,
And dreadful objects so familiar,
That mothers shall but smile when they behold
Their infants’ quartered with the hands of war;
All pity choked with custom of fell deeds:
And Caesar’s spirit, raging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch’s voice
Cry ‘Havoc’, and let slip the dogs of war;
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.
Shakespeare’s Antony up to Caesar’s murder has seemed a likeable lightweight, prominent in public athletics, late-night drinking, instinctive Caesar-worship. The original Marcus Antonius certainly resembled Shakespeare’s crowd-pleaser and wholesale avenger, and had considerable military experience. But Antony confronted by murdered Caesar also resembled almost all Americans immediately after 9/11, and much of the white world. War against the Taliban in power over much of Afghanistan and employment of their local enemies necessarily slaughtering many Afghans went ahead for the rest of 2001 with few questions. the war against Saddam Hussein and resultant devastation of Iraq in 2003 left Revenge’s blank cheque no longer valid, and opposition to that war seemed as widespread across the world as initial popular sympathy with the victims of 9/11.
Various competing US Intelligence organisations thrust forward their own candidates for master-mind of 9/11’s mass murder. The prime suspect displayed from study of the relics of the assassins when they could be assessed, was Mohammad Atta, an Egyptian with German university education, who had obligingly scattered data and clues about himself across his Odyssey culminating in his holocaust of the Twin Towers. He seems to have been the pilot of the first annihilation aircraft. His insanity expressed itself in his entire enterprise, with lurid heat in his instructions for treatment of his body after decease, perhaps assuming that his posthumous inquisitors would comply in respect for his obvious religious devotion as exhibited in the enormity of his slaughter. No woman must be allowed to touch his body. His father subsequently complained that his mother made him too girlish, a fairly standard item in gay psychobiographies, lavatory wall inscriptions, &c. Other evidence reported recovered from his indiscriminately left luggage implied he would return unharmed, provided he had undertaken an extensive series of pieties carefully named: these also implied that he daily refreshed himself theologically by re-reading chapters of the Quran seemingly devoted to the idea of holy war. Christianity has provided its plenty of homicidal clerics down the centuries preaching comparable holy wars, notably against Muslims.
But US Intelligence naturally turned to its leading pin-up among the ‘wanted’. Osama bin Mohammad bin Awad bin Laden was wanted, though not by everyone, his father, Mohammad bin Awad bin Laden having disposed of him shortly after his birth in 1957, gift-wrapped to an apparently deserving sidekick who was also awarded Osama’s mother, now divorced, hitherto 17th wife of bin Awad’s 22, with Osama one of his 54 children (or 52, or 56). Mohammad bin Awad originally made his way to Saudi Arabia as a poor immigrant from the south Yemen coast, and when killed in an air-crash in 1967 aged 59 was worth $5 billion, some of it from extraordinarily delicate work as a construction magnate repairing the sacred city of Mecca. Osama was then 10, and his brothers happily enrolled his talents in the thriving family business Saudi Binladen whence he rapidly accumulated $15 million. He was no poverty-stricken outcast ill-used by the world, but a prosperous pup in the highest and greediest socio-economic spirals. Etonians of the Cameron-Johnson variety would be comparable. To American spymasters in Saudi Arabia, Osama sanctified his epiphany by the word ‘business’. As President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed, the business of America is business, and by natural corollary a man to serve America abroad is enhanced by being in business. That he was a devout Muslim was satisfactory, the better with his profits partly from the heartland of Muslim devotion. This at least partly accounts for the firmness with which US spokespersons from President Bush down declared him the maker of 9-11 while everyone else was mystified. Bin Laden’s creation Al Qaeda, when denounced, sounded no more real than the secret societies of Victorian popular fiction. But Osama bin Laden, however incredible, sounded real from the first. He was, in fact, an old acquaintance, unforgotten, with the probability that his relations with US activists in the Middle East had initially been in the most memorable category — employment on the American payroll, and on no charitable basis either, since a wealthy beneficiary would automatically carry more respect from the benefactors than a mere starveling. This was no mad Mullah: this was a gentleman with a price. Saudi Arabia was a natural market for American hiring for service in Afghanistan when the Russians had foolishly invaded it. His chosen role was apparently to posture and infiltrate as a Muslim Messiah, a designation perhaps inspired by John Buchan’s UK spy enthroned as a Muslim saviour in his eponymous thriller Greenmantle (1916). CIA operatives included thriller writers as well as readers, notably E. Howard Hunt of Watergate celebrity, whose CIA romances were jealously modelled on British spy fiction.
Make-believe was also topical for the Reagan Presidency (1981-89), deriving from the President’s former profession. The Soviet Union in 1979 imagined it could conquer the bewildering mountains of Afghanistan, which suicidal arrogance should have led US Intelligence, if capable of intelligence, to leave the Russians to their fate. It would take a decade for them to struggle out, and the USSR was on the eve of self-destruction by the time they did. A little reading of British imperial history should have warned Russians and Americans that Afghanistan devours its invaders. Britain’s first Afghan War (1838-42) culminated in the destruction of a British army of 20,000 in retreat from Kabul, with only one visible survivor. The second produced other UK defeats, notably at Maiwand on 27 July 1880 immortalised by the opening of Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet whose Dr Watson describes his wounding and near-death necessitating his return to London. where he — and we — first met Sherlock Holmes. It was also immortalised in the Scots Observer on 28 June 1890 where Kipling savagely concluded his satire ‘The Young British Soldier’”
When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Just roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.
Perhaps this throws a different sidelight on Mohammad Atta’s misogyny, showing he died as the supremely modern mass-murderer still living in battles fought centuries earlier.
ABSCONDING SERVANT DEMANDED
If US Intelligence recruited Osama bin Laden, they weren’t simply making sure to have a well-connected guide dishing out permissions to visit Mecca or Medina. They were conscripting a killer — and they knew it. That figures from the speed with which Osama bin Laden’s name was so rapidly supplied by US authorities when seeking 9/11’s master-mind mass murderer. President Dubya Bush, no subtle dissimulator, made the speed of discovery (or disclosure) very clear, in his impressive speech to the US Congress on 20 September 2001, nine days after the horror:
The evidence we have gathered all points to a collection of loosely affiliated terrorist organizations known as Al Qaeda … This group and its leader — a person known as Osama bin Laden …
It implied bin Laden’s guilt had been detected first, and Al Qaeda surfaced later. Future references to Al Qaeda from the US authorities made it sound much less haphazard, and more like a Bond-style mass murder SMERSH or SPECTRE. The location of the master-killer again seemed a little precipitate: Afghanistan — not Saudi Arabia, not Pakistan, not even bin Laden’s ancestral Yemen. He was not an Afghan, personally or ancestrally. Why were the US authorities so certain that he was there? Their demands on the Taliban then controlling much of Afghanistan proved catnip to satirists, such as the calypso of the Jamaican fruit-picker asking the tallyman to count his bananas magnificently parodied:
Hey, Mr Taliban, hand over bin Laden,
Or I bomb till I gotta go home!
Credibility was hardly assisted when it was suggested the Taliban would at least like to see proof of Osama bin Laden’s guilt, and relevant US generals snapped ‘we know he’s guilty’. It became increasingly likely that bin Laden had been a US agent who went sour, probably having been employed in sabotage or clandestine terrorism against the Afghan-based Russians in the late 1980s, only to be fired when they and their USSR vanished. While an American operative he was evidently fitted up with state-of-the-art equipment and know-how, encouraged to be a hero among Afghan trainees against the Russians, forming his own organizations. He would be bin Laden of Afghanistan, as exotic a transplant as Lawrence of Arabia in David Lean’s 1962 film, hypnotically omnipresent when Reagan still starred in Hollywood and was appearing in the TV Western series, Zane Grey Theatre. That movie‘s great discovery of a heart-throb was Omar Sharif as Sherif Ali ibn el Kharish, probably entrancing more ladies than any star since Rudolf Valentino in the title-role of The Sheikh (1921), Omar winning his thousands both as Sherif Ali and in the title-role of Dr Zhivago (1967), from Boris Pasternak’s Nobel-Prize-winning novel banned in the USSR and 26 weeks on the New York Times best-seller lists, identified with freedom-loving US opposition to tyrannical USSR. We may conclude that Osama bin Laden was hired as a US agent in a favourable cultural climate.
Presumably bin Laden would have undertaken propaganda, espionage, sabotage, recruitment, with the knowledge that he would be disowned by the US authorities if unmasked or captured, and may have unwisely assumed the American connection while forever secret would not be dishonoured. The Americans may have assumed his initial anger against them turned on their curtailment of funds, but the match to the powder would have been bin Laden’s posturing in power, and sudden deflation. He must have made his anger very plain to his American paymasters, so much so that when they sought the perpetrator of 9/11 he came promptly to mind with few alternatives, apart from catspaws such as Mohammad Atta. The American pursuit and demand for bin Laden, regardless of the resultant casualties, resembled an old-fashioned Anglified laird pursuing former gamekeeper turned poacher and teaching stern lessons to locals getting in his way. Or perhaps it resembled a fox-hunt whose quarry declined to remain in the coverts where the Huntsman insisted he remained. A satirical Irish ballad of one such hunt sent it from central Ireland to the east coast and then the south-west:
Reynard he started, and faced for Tullamore,
Arklow and Wicklow along the sea-shore,
Stop him! Stop him! Or keep him in your view,
For if the rocks do not stop him he’ll get in to Killaloe!
In the original Gaelic version of this, Reynard may have been code for a Jacobite outlaw.
The several communiques of the Americans in early December 2001 explained that bin Laden had almost been caught in the Battle of Tora Bora but escaped through the White Mountains. It sounded reassuringly reminiscent of C. S. Lewis’s Narnia or J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.
There seems no certainty that bin Laden was still in Afghanistan in 9/11 or at any later time until his death in Pakistan.
Twenty years after 9/11, it sounds like a war waged by Everybody in pursuit of Nobody, with unknown civilian casualties. One month after 9-11, the UK, Germany, Italy, NATO, &c were in no mood to question the implacable certainties of the berserk Americans. The UK’s subservience was the more valuable since it made full use of the cringing moron George Robertson whom Tony Blair inflicted on NATO as UK Ambassador. Admittedly ‘Dubya’ Bush had informed Congress and the world on September 20 that (apart from Pearl Harbor) the USA had not had war on its own soil since 1865 evidently forgetting frontier genocide of native Americans, but white settlers’ use of lynch law was famous across the planet. Prime Minister Tony Blair was unlikely to raise the Special Relationship’s inheritance of Trial by Jury, having his own personal reasons for going whither the USA told him from Kandahar to Kurdistan. The white world’s justifiable sympathy with the USA suspended most doubts about its sudden target, with the significant exception of France’s President Jacques Chirac whose country had seen American intervention after French defeat in Vietnam regardless of any lessons from experience.
Thus the war against Afghanistan began with the sole object of repossessing bin Laden, in the blind conviction that he must be in Afghanistan since the USA had put him there. In the next few years bin Laden claimed credit for 9-11 and any other mass-murders available. He probably was the most guilty individulal. Yet it is just possible that — as a Taliban commentator suggested — he wasn’t the supreme devil, merely a fraud clinging on to heroic stature by appropriate lies. If Dubya Bush led the lynch-mob, his target may have been only the shadow of a gunman.
In any case the Afghan war and even the contemptible bin Laden were downgraded as the President and Vice-President drummed up Iraq, the war they really wanted, although with allies now reduced to their perpetual poodle in 10 Downing Street, flanked by Poles and Australians. Afghanistan became the bloodiest mirage of our time, the war long outliving its initial war aims, the Gordian knot only capable of disentanglement by a single sword-cut. President Biden may have handled Afghanistan badly, but everyone else, on all sides, had handled it worse.