Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only ask one time of year, but when we do, we mean it. Without your support we can’t continue to bring you the very best material, day-in and day-out. CounterPunch is one of the last common spaces on the Internet. Help make sure it stays that way.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

All Dressed Up and No Place to Go

by Steve Perry

The table is set, at least so far as the tools of war are concerned; enormous quantities of American men, machines, and ordnance now stand ready to strike at any number of potential targets around the Middle East. Any day now is the word from Washington. But meantime there is no public sign that the Bush administration is any closer to plotting a course past the many complications that attend its retaliation for the September 11 bombings. Two things seem clear: Bush puts a premium on acting soon, and bin Laden country in eastern Afghanistan is a primary target. The rest, by all appearances, remains up for grabs even on the eve of attack. Air strikes on Afghanistan? Land war there? Secondary theaters of battle in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon?

All those questions are being weighed now, out of view of the public and the U.S.’s ostensible allies, give or take Britain. You know the refrain: National security and the exigencies of war demand the utmost secrecy. In this case it means handing the administration a blank check in the naming of enemies and targets. When Colin Powell intimated a more moderate course by suggesting the U.S. would release its evidentiary brief against bin Laden, he was quickly rebuked by the president himself. So much for coalition-building, not to mention the informed consent of the American citizenry.

So why hasn’t Bush gone ahead? For starters any initial strike has to include bin Laden, and the U.S. apparently has no idea where he is at the moment-somewhere in east central Afghanistan, they think, but without more specific knowledge it’s hard to cast an attack on Afghanistan as a mission to get bin Laden. This is not a very big stumbling block in the end. They would prefer to find him and kill him with a minimum of wasted effort, for face-saving reasons; Bush does not want another embarrassment like the one Clinton sustained in going after bin Laden in 1998. But if it has to, the U.S. can simply make up news regarding his whereabouts, the workings of intelligence services being what they are. And it may well come to this, because American forces face a fairly intractable deadline in the coming of winter in Afghanistan. Snow is already falling in the Khyber Pass, Britain’s The Telegraph noted on Wednesday, and “ground operations by special forces [will be] almost impossible in a few weeks.”

Winter in the Afghan mountains is hardly the sharpest spur to quick military action. Pakistan, the state most indispensable to the U.S. as a military staging area and fly zone, is already in a state of near-revolt following waves of anti-U.S. protests in the past week. The Musharraf government likely will not stand for long in the event of a protracted U.S. presence. Nor is the U.S. in a position to count on getting much from its alliances with the moderate governments of the region. The case of Saudi Arabia is emblematic: That country severed all diplomatic ties with the Taliban on Tuesday, but not before instructing the U.S. it would not be permitted to use its Saudi air bases to mount attacks in Afghanistan. The Americans are on a short fuse with their putative Arab allies, and Bush’s refusal to make public the evidence against bin Laden has only cut it shorter.

The biggest wild card in all this is Israel, though you would never know it from most of the timorous think pieces in American media. Unless the Israelis can be restrained from using the situation to press their advantage against the Palestinians, any U.S. pretense at maintaining the so-called coalition of moderate Arab states will collapse sooner rather than later. And Israel, accustomed to the unconditional love and heavy-handed support of its patron, is not inclined to make accommodations. “Just look at what Mr. Sharon has done since the bombing of the World Trade Center and Pentagon,” wrote an editorialist in Wednesday’s London Independent. “Immediately, he intensified attacks on the Palestinians, thinking the West would turn a blind eye. He sent his forces into the towns of Jenin, Jericho and Ramallah, which are supposed to be under Palestinian self-rule, launched helicopter missile assaults on the Gaza Strip and tightened Israel’s grip on mainly Arab east Jerusalem. Admittedly, there were provocations for these actions, but they also suited Mr. Sharon’s temperamental desire to defeat the Palestinians rather than negotiate with them.”

Wednesday’s resumption of peace talks between Israel and the PLO was an entirely pro forma gesture; no further meetings were scheduled and the two principals, Peres and Arafat, refused so much as a glance at each other when they shook hands for the cameras. Meanwhile Israel is openly lobbying the U.S. to include Iran, Syria, and Lebanon-backers of Hamas and Hezbollah forces-on its hit list of prospective military targets.

And the Pentagon is inclined to agree in principle, though the enemies of choice there tend toward Iraq and Iran. For the past week-plus, there have been regular dispatches in U.S. and U.K. papers detailing the split in the Bush administration between a moderate Powell-led faction and a band of Pentagon hawks led by defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz. As mentioned here previously, the Powell group wants to move slowly, cement alliances, and limit the scope of initial military actions; the Pentagon crowd wants to launch war on multiple fronts in quick succession. This week the tilt has been decidedly to the Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz side. Bush’s public reversal of Powell on Monday was not only a personal slap; in flouting international calls for disclosure of the evidence against bin Laden, it amounted to an embrace of the Pentagon line that what the U.S. needs now in the Middle East is fewer partners and more targets.

It’s hard to believe Bush will want to launch wars on multiple fronts as a first resort, given the enormous difficulties he already faces in pursuing bin Laden through the mountains of Afghanistan. Then again, how better to distract attention from that likely fiasco than by resurrecting efforts to get Saddam, or the sponsors of Hamas and Hezbollah? CP

Steve Perry writes frequently for CounterPunch and is a contributor to the excellent cursor.org website, which offers incisive coverage of the current crisis. He lives in Minneapolis, MN.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
David Swanson
Turn the Pentagon into a Hospital
Ralph Nader
Are You Ready for Democracy?
Chris Martenson
Hell to Pay
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Debate Night: Undecided is Everything, Advantage Trump
Frank X Murphy
Power & Struggle: the Detroit Literacy Case
Chris Knight
The Tom and Noam Show: a Review of Tom Wolfe’s “The Kingdom of Speech”
Weekend Edition
September 23, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Meaning of the Trump Surge
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: More Pricks Than Kicks
Mike Whitney
Oh, Say Can You See the Carnage? Why Stand for a Country That Can Gun You Down in Cold Blood?
Chris Welzenbach
The Diminution of Chris Hayes
Vincent Emanuele
The Riots Will Continue
Rob Urie
A Scam Too Far
Pepe Escobar
Les Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes, Obfuscation and Propaganda in Syria
Timothy Braatz
The Quarterback and the Propaganda
Sheldon Richman
Obama Rewards Israel’s Bad Behavior
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail