Here's the way the game works. First you get the outright lie, then later, in dribs and drabs, you get a few, grudging crumbs of the truth.
For example, first you get: "No, there are no Blackwater operatives in Pakistan. None. That's just a conspiracy theory, terrorist propaganda. These kinds of lies just make it harder for us to do good in the region." Then later: "Well, yes, we do have Blackwater operatives in Pakistan. But, uh, we don't actually cut their checks directly in the Pentagon."
Or what about this more recent example? First: "The United States has no troops in Pakistan. None. We are not going to send troops to Pakistan. That's just wild talk, a conspiracy theory. And it makes it harder for us to do good in the region."
Then later: "Well, yes, we do have a few troops in Pakistan. All right, a couple hundred. But that's it. We promise. And they're just training their counterparts in Pakistan's military. Oh yeah, and also working alongside paramilitary militias in the frontier regions. And maybe, you know, following up on some of our drone strikes. That is, our alleged drone strikes, because we are not, as you know, officially admitting that we are carrying out an ever-accelerating campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan, although if we were, these strikes would be very surgical, and the hundreds of people who might have been killed in just the past few months by these strikes, if they happened, would have all been vicious savage murdering 9/11! 9/11! 9/11! terrorists. But other than these 200 troops we have in Pakistan now, we have no troops in Pakistan. Never have. Except, of course, for the 12 American troops who have been killed in, well, battle, in, er, Pakistan since 2001. But that's it. Look me in the eye; would I lie to you?"
Yes, yet another aspect of what must be the most unsecret secret war in history has been rumbled. American troops are on the ground in Pakistan – and getting killed there. As the world now knows, three American soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing (which also killed six Pakistanis, as if anyone cares) in a remote frontier province in Pakistan this week. The bombing took place in an area that had supposedly been cleared in the savage, swoopstake "counterinsurgency" operations launched by Pakistan at America's insistence. (Operations which, we were told at the time, had no American involvement whatsoever.)
Yet as the Pakistani paper The News points out, this massive "clearing" operation – which cleared more than a million people from their homes as they fled the fighting – could not stop the insurgents from placing a huge 70kg bomb "in an area that had reportedly been 'cleared' and moreover plant it on such a high-profile target that should have been guarded as closely as possible given that 'foreign visitors' were on their way. Nobody noticed a 70kg bomb being buried in the road?"
All this might suggest to a cynic that our much-ballyhooed "counterinsurgency doctrines" (and they are indeed treated as holy writ, handed down by St. David Petraeus) are not, perhaps, as entirely effective as they might be – especially considering the vast cost in innocent life they exact, and the hatred and extremism they engender.
Noel Shachtman at Wired has a couple of useful roundups (here and here) on the latest revelations of our sure-enough war in Pakistan. But equally revealing are some of the remarks he passes along from readers, and his own response: exchanges which demonstrate that, sadly, it is not only our elites who are marinated in "a sense of imperial entitlement and dominance" (as we noted here the other day).
Shachtman notes how the new revelations give the glaring lie to the solemn promises made by Obama's "special envoy" to the region, Richard Holbrooke. Speaking in Brussels last May, Holbrooke declared:
"The heart of the problem for the West is in western Pakistan. But there are not going to be US or NATO troops on the ground in Pakistan. There is a red line for the government of Pakistan and one which we must respect," he said.
(Parenthetically, isn't it rather strange that the "heart of the problem" for our militarist mandarins always seems to lie outside the borders of the country they are ravaging? So the "real problem" in Afghanistan lies in Pakistan. And, as we were told repeatedly for years, the "real problem" in Iraq was actually Iran, whose nuke-mad mullahs kept stirring up our lazy, docile darkies in Iraq. Tony Blair stuck to this line, well, religiously in his recent canard-o-rama at the Iraq inquiry in London. It was Iran who caused all our problems in Iraq, he said over and over; in fact, he mentioned Iran 58 times in the course of his testimony, much of which was aimed at fomenting new war fever against Tehran.)
Shachtman also notes the fact that the Americans killed in Pakistan this week were not, by the Pentagon's own admission, super-duper secret agents, but part of a straightforward "counterinsurgency" program: "a widening war," as he says, rightly.
Then comes a pushback from various warbloggers. First, the pseudonymous Islamophobe armchair warrior "Rusty Shackleford" (I guess cowardice in the service of virtue is no vice, eh, Rusty?) weighs in:
“Admitting that we have troops on the ground engaged in combat roles would — literally — lead to a civil war in Pakistan. .. It is a catch-22, ironic, and duplicitous: but calling this a war is the same thing as losing it. Me, I’m willing to be called two-faced for sake of winning a war. Those that prefer consistency over victory are misguided.”
This is wilful ignorance with a vengeance. Obviously, Pseudo-Warrior believes that Pakistanis are too stupid to notice foreign troops fighting on their own soil. So as long as we don't admit "that we have troops on the ground engaged in combat roles," then those dumb Pakis will never know! Man, that's some crafty, subtile strategy there.
Shachtman then gives us the views of "Uncle Jimbo" at Blackfive:
It is fair to point out that the ops in Pakistan are more tightly tied to a shooting war than many others, but does that mean we should take them and shine a bunch of bright lights on them? ... There is plenty of oversight operating where it belongs in classified briefings... The political environment in Pakistan is delicate as Hell so we properly tread lightly. A bunch of breathless stories about the mere possibility that we are cooperating more w/ Pakistan or that heaven forbid the evil Blackwater mercenaries are helping load drones doesn’t make doing any good there easier... It is smart and a proper use of Special Forces. Now let’s stop making their jobs harder by acting like something nefarious is going on.
Shachtman replies, reasonably, that, as noted, the Pakistanis already know what's going on in their own country, and that "secrecy is only fueling the paranoia and conspiracy theories — not to mention depriving Americans of their right to know how their blood and treasure is being spent." Shachtman also, perhaps out of courtesy, refrains from commenting on Jimbo's touching naiveté that our always wise and competent leaders will provide all the necessary "oversight" in their secret briefings.
But despite this display of common sense, Shachtman feels compelled to establish his own "tough realist" credentials. In response to Jimbo's claim that telling the truth about the U.S. war in Pakistan "doesn’t make doing any good there easier," Shachtman hastens to reply:
I hear that. And if this were some other, relatively small-scale SF operation (cough Yemen cough), I’d agree 100%.
And there you have it: the quintessential, unconscious response of the fully marinated modern American. Shachtman is not at all opposed to imperial agents carrying out deadly attacks in foreign lands at peace with the United States. The principle of unlimited violence -- the right of America to kill people anytime, anywhere in the world -- is never questioned. The only argument that "serious" people can have concerns the application of this principle; i.e., is it in our best interest to kill these people now, or wait until later, or maybe kill some other people instead, or build a few more schools while we're killing people or -- and this is as radical as our "serious" discourse allows -- should we even maybe hold off on killing people for just a little while, to let the lesser breeds cool down a bit, and rebuild our busted finances?
As we noted here the other day:
Our elites and their courtiers [and their commentators] literally cannot imagine life without a permanent war for global dominance, fueled by a gargantuan war machine spread across hundreds and hundreds of bases implanted in more than 100 countries.
And so these debates between chest-beating militarists and more thoughtful "moderates" over the proper application of imperial violence in foreign lands will go on. Because until the empire is dismantled -- until we bring America home -- there will be no end to these wars and op and "interventions," secret, open, two-faced or otherwise. And no end to the blowback of violence and retrogression they produce.
This column is republished here with the permission of the author.
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This story was published in the Baltimore Chronicle on February 6, 2010.