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A Failure of Democracy - In America
Dr. Subodh Atal
November-December 2001: Window Opens for Defeating Terror
Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and their Pakisani advisers are backed into a few corners in Afghanistan. Many fighters from around the world who had come to the region to help the Taliban against American-led forces and their Northern Alliance partners are in sight of being overrun and neutralized. The prospects look good to finish the first phase of the response to September 11. Once the key figures and their support base is neutralized, Pakistan could then be pressured to give up key figures such as ISI chief Lt. Gen. Mahmud Ahmed, Abu Zubaidah, Omar Shiekh and others for questioning for their suspected roles in 9-11.
The Al Qaeda-nuclear establishment dealings in Pakistan are also coming to light during this period. A nuclear catastrophe can be visualized some time in the future if Pakistani jihadis get hold of nuclear material or weapons. And no one outside Pakistan can figure out where the dividing line is between jihadis and "moderates" - in the ISI, the nuclear establishment, the military, even inside the brain of Musharraf himself. Musharraf makes his characteristic 400% guarantee that Pakistan's nuke's are in "safe" hands, but given his long history of unfulfilled promises and guarantees, one can readily divide that number by 10 and get the actual figure.
The next steps should have beeen clear - lead the world in putting pressure on Pakistan regarding its jihadis and leaking nukes, and pressure the Saudis to end their funding of Wahhabi fundamentalism around the globe. Recognizing that Bin Laden was using religious concepts to rile up Muslims around the world, another next step would be to encourage reform within Islam. A critical pre-condition of this reform would be to prevent significant portions of the 1.4 billion-strong Muslim population of the world from paying attention to the extremist calls of Islamic clerics that championed concepts feeding into Bin Laden's aims.
May 2004: Window Closed, Rubicon Crossed
Two and a half years later, instead of having accomplished these aims, we find the US Marines retreating under fire from Fallujah, with a ragtag group of RPG and assault rifle-toting locals having fought off a trillion dollar military equipped with smart bombs, AC-130s, Apaches, and terabytes of coimputing power in and outside the battlefield. Fallujah is destined to become a legendary rallying cry for anti-American forces around the world - having exposed and spotlighted vulnerabilities of an uber-power. Shiite cities such as Najaf, Karbala and Kufa have been under at least temporary control of anti-American forces, and the US still does not dare enter Najaf despite Shia cleric Moqtada al Sadr's open rebellion against the occupation.
The entire Mideast is a powder keg, and multitudes of Muslims around the world are paying much closer attention to fire-spewing Islamic clerics who want Sharia established all over the world. Musharraf and his friends are still milking US taxpayer-funded billions, while key "high-value" figures disappear down tunnels. No one can say for certainty whether any of the millions of jihadis in Pakistan has access to nuclear material. Anti-American figures with links to Al Qaeda, such as Mahmud Ahmed, Masood Azhar, Fazlur Khalili, Hanid Gul and many others are biding their time in Pakistan. While prior to September 11 only a few Islamic radical groups co-championed Bin Laden's cause, a number of organizations around the world are doing so today. Terrorist networks across the world are being created, and funds continue to flow to such networks.
Instead of focusing on reform in Islam and on terrorist groups, the global focus has shifted: there is much more talk about American imperialism as exemplified by its brutal occupation of Iraq. The perfect storm comes with a confluence of events, not all of which were outside US control during April 2004. Talking out of both sides of its mouth in calling for democracy but trying to fine tune the political outcome in Iraq, the US triggered a standoff with Moqtada al-Sadr, even as US Marines were testing the mettle of Fallujah's insurgents, and President Bush was openly siding with Israel. The scary hint that America is in great peril is evident from the silence of most nations around the world on many of these issues. Many countries, including a large number of erstwhile US-allies, are sitting back and watching America operate in self-destruct mode in Iraq and the Mideast. North Korea has built up to eight nuclear weapons, and Iran is playing hide and seek with the IAEA, betting that possession of nuclear weapons will head off regime change.
So What Went Wrong?
While the US administration has used the "democratization" rationale as one of its main rallying cries for its Iraqi adventure, the ironic fact is that it was precisely the failure of democracy within the United States that has led us to this point. A main pillar of democracy is an informed and engaged electorate. But that is far from the case in America. A recent article by a top reporter of Time (J. Stacks, World Policy Journal, Winter 2003/2004) discusses in detail the failure of media and the dangerous extent of misinformation and lack of information in the country. The failure of the media, in combination with the the ability and willingness of the Bush administration to milk this situation in the past two and a half years, leads one to question the future of American democracy. Incredibly, Vice President Cheney was still talking about a Saddam-Al Qaeda link as late as fall of 2003, but will not bother to mention the ISI-Al Qaeda links.
In November-December 2001, the administration secretly transferred $700 million from the Afghanistan conflict to planning for Iraq. The secret transfer of funds was only a small part, even more important were the decisions taken by the US on the ground in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and words spoken, or not spoken by the administration. A large number of Al Qaeda, Taliban, and more importantly, their Pakistani advisers, who were trapped in Kunduz in Northern Afghanistan in November 2001, were allowed to escape on nightly Pakistani transport flights. That was only the beginning. With Pakistan ironically anointed as the key US ally against terror, and Americans contracting out capture of key Al Qaeda and Taliban figures to Northern Alliance warlords and the Pakistani military, the results were predictable. As the Bush administration shifted its gears to invading Iraq, Musharraf became a tight ally, no one from President Bush down made any mention of the nuclear-jihadi volcano bubbling in Pakistan, or the fact that America wasn't even pressuring Pakistan to hand over 9/11 suspects such as Mahmud Ahmad and Omar Sheikh. Instead one heard an endless repeat of Saddam-Al Qaeda-WMDs. Meanwhile, the American public was clueless about the nuclear Walmart that Pakistan was running, even as it rallied behind President Bush in his quest for Saddam's WMDs, and cheered the mission accomplished.
Given the gullibility of the public and the acquiescence of the media, it is little wonder that the Bush administration was able to turn reality on its head. Of course the administration was fooling itself too, but that's besides the point: in a robust democracy, institutions should be able to check the tendencies of the government to lead itself and the nation over the cliff. What is worse is that many in the US foreign policy circles did not speak out - their failure is even more unforgivable because they ought to have the analytic ability to have predicted what is happening today. These circles read and understand beyond the 30-second sound bite that the average joe can fathom. But both rightist think tanks and those associated with the Democrats, with very few exceptions, threw caution and common sense to the winds when they tasted imperial blood in the Iraq adventure.
What is scary is that 57% of the American public still believes the Saddam-Al Qaeda yarn, and very likely a miniscule minority know anything about the extent of Al Qaeda penetration of the Pakistani military, intelligence, nuclear and political establishments. And the prognosis for democracy in the world's sole superpower, and by corollary the ability of the world to fend off and survive the terrorism cancer, is very, very poor when Vice President Dick Cheney endorses one media channel - Fox News. Tellingly, Time reporter J. Stacks discusses, in his article on the failure of media, the presence of 'minders' in all interviews granted by cabinet officials and their deputies. I have never heard that term used previously, other than with reference to communist and dictatorial nations.
While the proverbial rubicon may have been crossed in Fallujah April 2004, that is only a symptom of a much deeper malaise. The implications are clear, when democracy sputters and fails, no trillion dollar military is going to be able to head off Fallujahs, Najafs, and god forbid, more September 11s.