The White House Whitewash Job

Forked tongues are part of the political arsenal, therefore what the White House says and what the White House does rarely meet even the facile “Read my lips” dictum.

Hamid Karzai was the fattened cat of American foreign policy that intervened to transform their version of a tribal society into their feudal Afghan version of a democracy. As strategies go, it worked as well as LSD.

Cut to the new airbrushed initiative. While the Bush Doctrine underlined National Security Strategy in the document that stated, “The struggle against militant Islamic radicalism is the great ideological conflict of the early years of the 21st century,” it was upfront about its limited idea of ideology. It meant ‘Attack’ and it did. George W. Bush had no clue about history and no vision for the future. He was not even attempting ‘change’ and was rather complacent about the status quo as much as Bill Clinton was with the blue dress.

All was not well and the world knew it. They had put Islamic nations, which included those who were beleaguered, being forced out of their own land or battling internal strife, into a shoebox to consecrate their febrile memory.

The shoebox was a metaphor for beneath the boots, unshod, in short of as much value as skeletons in the cupboard.

Tagged along with it was Islamophobia. We fell for it, at least the term. No one seemed to realise that phobias are about fears. If you are phobic, then you hide away. You do not taunt, tease or challenge unless you want to exorcise that fear.

Now Barack Obama is attempting the first two. He, like the aggressors, knows that there never was any fear. The Islamophobia construct was not the doing of Islamists but their opponents. It was to create the fear of fear.

Obama’s band of boys has decided that phrases such as “Islamic radicalism” should be deleted from the shoebox. A report states that there will be a “new version to emphasize that the US does not view Muslim nations through the lens of terrorism, counterterrorism officials say…The revisions are part of a larger effort to change how the US talks to Muslim nations.”

Notice how counterterrorism officials are issuing such statements and how it is about the US talking to Muslim nations. One wonders whether there will be any real attempt at altered perspective. If the idea is not to get trapped in linguistics, then it does not qualify as a diplomatic manoeuvre and need not be emphasised. However, it is being dangled as a huge carrot not only of political correctness but empathy, and therefore is too cunning a ploy for Obama to be anointed as statesman. For, had there be any genuine intent, then there would be no need for the use of the words ‘Muslim nations’.

This is mere playing with terminology. What the United States and a large section of the western world wishes to engage with is not Muslim nations, but to create a fear so that the demons can be exorcised, and exorcised only partially. If you do so completely then there will be no shoebox.

They wanted to bring peace and democracy to Iraq? Rubbish. Besides the hallucinations and the ground level war, they managed to get local insurgents to fight the Al Qaida in Iraq. Was there any Al Qaida in Iraq, to begin with? A group of Sunnis, members of Sahwa, Awakening Councils, thought they were on to become big-time US allies. It did not work that way. Last week, gunmen dressed as Iraqi officers killed 25 people in a Sunni village; the victims were handcuffed and shot dead.

The forked tongues work wonderfully to prop up this idea of internal turmoil as a ruse for ‘preventive war’. Hamid Karzai announces that he might join the Taliban, as though it is like signing up at the local gym, and there is concern. This is fake. Quoting a minister, Farooq Marenai, who mentioned that the President said “rebelling would change to resistance”, the report helpfully added that he was “apparently suggesting the militant movement would then be redefined as one of resistance against a foreign powers rather than a rebellion against an elected government”.

Karzai works best under pressure; in fact, that is the only way he works. The Taliban has always been a resistance to foreign powers or puppets of foreign powers. Their method of resistance may be questioned but Karzai’s grouse is personal, that Parliament reduced his powers over the electoral process. Since he cannot hold the Taliban responsible, he accused foreign powers. The simple fact is that it is true. He is making noises with the purpose of gaining extra rights for himself within the US-controlled system he heads.

His comments should not have alarmed anyone. They have. Peter Galbraith, a former UN envoy to Afghanistan, appeared on television and said, “He’s prone to tirades. He can be very emotional, act impulsively. In fact, some of the palace insiders say that he has a certain fondness for some of Afghanistan’s most profitable exports.”

Since President Obama is on language, he ought to make note of this. Forget what alterations are made on paper, this buffers the image of backward societies. If Karzai accused the US of fraud in the Afghan elections, then why is Mr. Galbraith out to limit his powers to appoint officials until he proves himself to be a reliable partner to the US? It just does not make sense. Wanting to reduce his clout is in effect an admission that it is possible to do so and might have been done since Galbraith himself states that the US had got him a second term!

One wonders who is tripping on what.

And while talking about reliable partnerships, is America going to decide the nature of it alone? Is a partnership not about two sides?

FARZANA VERSEY is a Mumbai-based author-columnist. She can be reached at



Farzana Versey can be reached at Cross Connections