Afghanistan: The Cause and Effect of 9/11

On TV, it’s Saigon all over again.

You see them pleading, help me!, take me with you to a better place. Kids we’ve regaled with ironical Che tee shirts and stonewashed Levi jeans, some of them the offspring of soldiers mixing with the local women, who the GIs promised to set free with equality and Western style lovin’. Some of them will return to America with the soldiers, make it out alive with tales of Tali terror, bless their lucky stars and stripes. Local channels will air stories of their plight and desperation and of American heroism.  The Last Desperate Hours. Another Noble Cause. Their children will be given preferential tick boxes when they apply to colleges (you know, like Elizabeth Warren, from the Cherokee nation). We won’t begrudge, publicly.

In communities across America, veterans of various wars fought in the last few decades will come together to talk and bring along their ‘trophy’ wives — frauleins, girls from Krakow, girls rescued from melancholy Korea, girls raised from the dust of Somalia, girls from basketcase Bosnia, mail order girls from Russia (I just threw that in), burka-less girls from Afghanistan, looking like peace pipe squaws from the Indian Wars. None of this is a reflection on the soldiers or the girls. We bring our Who We Are with us to foreign lands, wed to our Why We Fight — our bravado (even from punks escaping dead end lives), our materialism (uniforms to die for), our color TVs (to watch our timeless culture preen), our Idealism (lefty ‘progressive’ talk, gagged and tied up, but still handsome, like Warren Beatty in Bulworth), and, yes, the charm of our expressive freedoms.

It’s a package deal of values, a dropped pallet of the neoliberal/neoconservative American Dream lifestyle that we crow about on the MSM (and search for all our lives back home), that we plop in the center of someone else’s culture like an outpost in Sioux country, and, as then, we tame by handing out rifles, whiskey, false-comfort blankets, and empty blusterous promises of Good Will.  If we make it that far, we will drop such packages on the Moon, Mars, and every other exoplanet out there in the galaxy, and beyond, that we want to colonize and begin economic growth operations.  But it’s all empty. Like space itself.

The longest war in American history was, like Vietnam, no Noble Cause.  Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers about the futility of the Vietnam War put the lie to that, and Wikileaks’ Afghan War Diary, 2004-2010, have testified against the nobility and dignity of the doings in ‘Ghan. The ignoble developments in ‘Nam were known before Ellsberg’s leaks, even if largely symbolically.  As Robert Dallek put in his Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1961-1973:

But Johnson found it difficult to sustain his rationality in dealing with war critics. During a private conversation with some reporters who pressed him to explain why we were in Vietnam, Johnson lost his patience. According to Arthur Goldberg, “LBJ unzipped his fly, drew out his substantial organ, and declared, ‘This is why!’”

We’ve yet to have that moment from a standing president with regards to Afghanistan.

Joe Biden’s bromides just won’t cut it, and nobody wants him to stand up and unzip and show us his corn pop and tell a tale of the world as a swimming pool America’s lifeguard at and how armed blackfellas, who won’t wear caps, will be confronted with a length of chain that will trigger them.  Nevertheless, we should be thankful he’s largely ended the goddamned thing, leaving behind soldiers of fortune who won’t leave until flies are strutting across Taliban eyeballs, and who we’re all too glad to see elsewhere.

As more than one pundit has noted in the now distant past, the occupation of Afghanistan, following the chase-out of Osama bin Laden, allegedly through caves of Tora Bora and into Pakistan, was about oil, gas, and rare minerals. Nobody, but the package soldiers (see above), gave a shit about the people of Afghanistan, and they still don’t, minus those who were affected by the American Dreamsters Union who occupied and dropped down wads of pallet cash for 20 years. (There are neighborhoods in America that could use a pallet drop or two.)

Commonly known as the Graveyard of Empires, American hubris, or just plain psychopathology (Rumsfeld, Cheney), drove the notion that the Exceptionalists could do what’s never been done before — manhandle the tribals (I guess we didn’t learn anything from Nam) and tip-toe away with their Nibelungen gold and leave them debt slaves, like back at home.  But to expend exorbitant piles of cash on a war in Asia required a real big Talk Up, because nobody gives a shit about the Afghans, in America. And who would risk their lives for the profits of oil, gas, and minerals?

America’s longest war moved through seven administrations, from roughly 1979 through last week. It began with “‘sucking the Soviets into a Vietnamese quagmire.’” and it ends with us yet again being hoisted on our own petards.  Nam was supposedly a noble attempt to stop the domino effect of communism spreading throughout Asia. America lost the war in Vietnam and today there are Domino’s Pizza joints in Hanoi. Likewise in Kabul. Domino’s effect will be in play long after departing soldiers are home and crying in their beers. It appears that Americans are not really good at fighting wars for the whims of capitalism, as opposed to evil.  As with Nam vets, there have been an atrocious number of suicides among the troops. And the distant saga of Bowe Bergdahl seems now emblematic and a crucial moral crossroads.

Another thing that points to the real aim of the occupation of Afghanistan is the privatization of the war. Soldiers of fortune will now be brought in to protect the interests of Oil Men who still see big bucks to be extracted from the backward country (think: The Beverly Hillbillies, who sold their “bubbling crude” for a mil to oilers who made a bil. Remember the fellating banker, Mr. Drysdale?). A piece in Military Times puts such privatization into perspective:

In 2016, one in four U.S. personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan was a private contractor. This means that the war is already being outsourced, yet scholars, the media and the general public know almost nothing about it…Because contractors operate in the shadows, without effective public oversight, they allow policymakers to have their cake and eat it too – by appearing to withdraw, while keeping proxy forces in theater.

But who they are is an open question. What is for sure is that they are beholden to political players behind the scenes, while still getting wages from taxpayers — without representation.

(Former Bush aide Condoleeza Rice having a supertanker named after her by Chevron tells all you need to know about her value to the oil men.)

According to Steve Coll’s Pulitzer-winning Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, the director of the CIA in the 80s, Bill Casey, reintroduced the practice of using businessmen as information-collecting assets.  In 1997, Unocal, a California oil company, interested in building a Trans-Afghan pipeline from the Caspian Sea to Pakistan, began bribing ascending Taliban officials to groom their presumed greed, and training facilities for future pipeline jobs were established by Unocal in Kandahar — just a couple of clicks from bin Laden’s compound, according to Coll.

And Gail Sheehy, reporting for the New York Observer, Julie Sirrs, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) whistleblower, had information that showed that “Unocal had provided money that helped the Taliban take Kabul [in 1996].” This partnership arrangement between Unocal and the CIA, recalls Ed Snowden’s self-described role (Permanent Record) as a titular employee of Dell Computers, but actually working for the NSA and later the CIA. Kind of puts you off Dell thereafter. Similarly, when you discover that you are actually fighting for Halliburton, it can put you off warfighting — unless you want to make some big bucks as a mercenary.

In 1997, officials from the Taliban were invited by Unocal execs to the aptly named Sugarland, Texas, for a taste of the sweetness.  Unocal sold their plans as a ‘peace pipe’ plan. There was so much gosh-darn trouble in the region, brother fighting against brother, Unocal said it could bring everybody together with a pipeline; the Taliban, running Afghanistan, could realize $400m per annum “doubling their current budget.”  Here is Marty Miller mansplaining in an excerpt from Taliban Gas:

Unocal Explains the Peace Pipe

Unocal was ready to sign the pipeline deal, but Taliban held out for official Washington acknowledgement of their legitimacy. Unfortch for Unocal, bin Laden got busy in Africa blowing up US embassies and then fleeing to the protection of the Taliban in Afghanistan, where Clinton chased him with cruise missiles, missing his target. Unocal soon thereafter withdrew from the pipeline pursuit, knowing that they’d get nothing done with a war underway, which is what the Clinton cruise missiles unilaterally declared.

Taliban Gas also makes the case that the Taliban were given an ultimatum in the summer of 2001 to either sign a binding contract or else — “According to sources, Taliban officials were told they could accept a ‘carpet of gold’ or a ‘carpet of bombs.’”  Plans were underway for an autumn invasion before 9/11, but those events provided the pretext for going after that oil and gas. (Just five months after 9/11 GW Bush told a TV audience that he didn’t much think about bin Laden any more “to tell you the truth.”) The short film ends with Nancy Solderberg, former US ambassador at the United Nations, prophetically telling the viewer,

It is not impossible that the Taliban will come back to power. They are an element, they’re not going away, and in order to have peace – not necessarily yet prosperity in Afghanistan, they’re going to have to be part of that fabric of society.

And, indeed, Hamid Karzai and Zalmay Khalilzad, with ties to Unocal, were soon appointed caretakers of Afghanistan, while the military went about mowing some grass to civilize the place. And, as Gail Sheegy notes above, it didn’t hurt none nohow noway to have war criminal Henry Kissinger on board as a Unocal consultant to sprechen der Realpolitik.

I wouldn’t mind hearing from Dr. K about how it makes sense to spend $2 trillion and lose all those lives and waste all those years just to make the place safe for drilling and gassing.  Will the $2 trillion be recovered by the exploiters on behalf of Americans who footed the bill?  In other words, Dr. K, what will taxpayers realize from these ventures that they unknowingly paid for?

The relationship of the Taliban with American sponsors goes back to the 1984-94 publication and distribution of textbooks by the University of Nebraska at Omaha that were funded by USAID and the CIA.  According to link-sourced History Commons,

“The textbooks [were] “filled with violent images and militant Islamic teachings, part of covert attempts to spur resistance to the Soviet occupation.” For instance, children [were] “taught to count with illustrations showing tanks, missiles, and land mines.” Lacking any alternative, millions of these textbooks [were] used long after 1994; the Taliban will still be using them in 2001.

Later iterations featured the jolly good guys from America with gifts for everyone, boys, and girls with burkas.

But on the morning of  9/11, president GW Bush was teaching children in Sarasota, Florida about how to spot and prosecute a scapegoat. He read “The Pet Goat” by Siegfried Engelmann and Elaine C. Bruner. There is a story immediately following on, “The Goat Stops the Robber.”  This book is now freely available at for the reader interested in seeing the text of what Bush was reading that fateful morn. In addition, two newly translated Goat stories have surfaced, “The Robber Calls the Cops” and “The Pet Goat Does Time.” These are available for parsing within my review of “The Pet Goat.”  Here they are.

The best symbolic microcosm of the American failure to get it when it comes to these false flag wars is encapsulated in a scene from Spike Lee’s film Da 5 Bloods. Coming out of a contemporary Hanoi bar, four Bloods returned to Nam to find stashed gold and retrieve a war buddy’s body are ambushed by firecrackers that have them diving for cover. A one-legged boy (you know, who stepped on a mine left behind) laughs at their eating dirt move. Check it out:

Hahaha, GIs. They’re funny.

War has been baaad for America since 1945.  In the other hand, as Admiral James Stavridis pointed out in a recent webinar sponsored by the right-wing publication, The Cipher Brief, Climate Change brings new opportunity in the soon-to-be-disputed and thawed out Arctic Circle.  Word is, says the Commander, there’s lots of oil to be had there, and we mean to have us some, and no varminty Russian’s gonna stop us. But where will the money come from?

Expect more firecrackers ahead.

John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelancer based in Australia.  He is a former reporter for The New Bedford Standard-Times.