SAO PAULO – The New Afghan War is intimately linked to the power and counterpower struggle represented these past few days by New York and Porto Alegre.
The New Afghan War was the apex of the American strategy of “zero death” plus operational liquidation. Tora Bora, allegedly the last – and only – battle against Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, was nothing but a staged B-52 showpiece. The mushroom clouds created by the B-52 bombs were an extremely symbolic smokescreen. The American media regurgitated and swallowed the myth perpetrated by obscure “intelligence sources” telling of giant James Bond-style caves and Osama in hiding like a bearded version of Dr. No – or even Satan himself. The so-called “immense tunnel complex,” a network with its own water supply and electricity, mosques and lifts, has never been seen by any independent source to this day.
Osama himself was invisible. Those of us in Afghanistan could not advance to the main frontline because the mujahideen, now empowered with bulging suitcases full of Central Intelligence Agency dollars, would not let us. Otherwise we would report about the presence of American Special Forces. We saw the Special Forces anyway, even though they assumed they were invisibile under their scarves and shalwar-kameezes.
The three mujahideen groups around Tora Bora largely benefited from the windfall – all the time issuing fake “victory communiques.” Osama and the al-Qaeda leadership, of course, were nowhere to be seen even before the assault on Tora Bora. But subsequently there were a lot of bodies – conveniently kept away from the TV cameras.
An unimpeachable witness told Asia Times Online he had seen “hundreds” of bodies of minor al-Qaeda members, who had all surrendered. They were killed in cold blood by mujahideen mostly loyal to commander Hazrat Ali, with the complicity of US Special Forces. The source figures about 1,000 Arabs were killed. Between the impotence of the media circus and the Pentagon obsession with secrecy, truth was a certified victim in the affair. Nobody will ever know how many were actually killed at Tora Bora. But it is absolutely certain their number, plus the number of Afghan civilian victims of the American bombing, is greater than the number of victims in the World Trade Center.
The post-Afghan scenario looks increasingly murky. The United States’ treatment of the non-prisoners-of-war – all of them minor players – in Guantanamo continues to provoke revulsion around the world. Globetrotting “Gucci Guerrilla” Hamid Karzai’s main claim to fame so far is to have lifted Afghanistan from the media war specials to the fashion spreads – he has been proclaimed “most elegant man on the planet” by Gucci’s Tom Ford. Globetrotting Foreign Minister Dr. Abdullah Abdullah is now seen hobnobbing with U2’s Bono Vox on one of the panels at the World Economic Forum.
The US was spending US$2 billion a month in Afghanistan. It won’t be so generous rebuilding what it has bombed. The US pledged only $296 million over three years for reconstruction of the country. The European Union, on the other hand, pledged $487 million for 2002 alone, and Japan pledged $500 million for two-and-a-half years. Even Iran pledged $560 million over five years. The United Nations estimates that Afghanistan will need $10 billion over the next five years. It’s impossible to ascertain whether and who in Afghanistan will get the money, and how it will be distributed and spent without further bloodshed between rival warlords. The fighting in Gardez this week was just a prelude of further horrors to come. The country is in fact balkanized, again, with fierce regional warlords controlling vast pockets of territory and not sparing a thought about who’s in charge in Kabul.
And as far as September 11 is concerned, the American establishment still doesn’t get it.
The best analysis of September 11 so far is arguably by French thinker Jean Baudrillard. In L’Esprit du terrorisme (Ed Galilee, Paris, 2002), Baudrillard writes: “It’s the system itself that created the objective conditions of this brutal retorsion. By monopolizing all the cards to itself, it forces The Other to change the rules of the game.” Baudrillard identifies the New Hot War not as a clash of civilizations, or a religious clash, or even a clash between Islam and America: “It is a fundamental antagonism that designates, through the specter of America [which is maybe the epicenter but not the only incarnation of globalization], and through the specter of Islam [which is not the incarnation of terrorism], triumphant globalization fighting itself.”
Baudrillard indeed recognizes we are engaged in a “world war.” But it’s not the third; it’s the fourth, “the only one that is really global, because it involves globalization itself.” The First World War, in Baudrillard’s reading, “ended the supremacy of Europe and the colonial era. The second ended Nazism. The third – which already happened, under the form of Cold War and dissuasion – ended communism.” So we have been walking further and further towards a single global order. Now, according to Baudrillard, we are in a “fractal war of all the cells, of all the singularities that revolt in the form of antibodies.”
Baudrillard states that “the spirit of terrorism” is “never to attack the system in terms of relation of forces” (that would be reverting to the old revolutionary imagination), but instead to “displace the struggle to the symbolic sphere.” The struggle for a more just globalization process is being fought in the symbolic sphere as well: in this sense, Porto Alegre is the anti-Davos (or anti-New York). That’s why the American neoconservative effort to demonize all the different and peaceful strands of the anti-globalization movement is doomed to failure.
But the greatest danger, also identified by Baudrillard, is the fact that “the idea of freedom is in the process of being obliterated.” Washington now is selling freedom as war. Glitterati now marvel at Vanity Fair magazine splashing on its cover a power shot of the White House-Pentagon centerfold warriors – as if they had won the invisible war: it is never enough to remind them that the “enemy” – Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda leadership – is still armed, dangerous, and on the loose.
Baudrillard’s judgment is gloomy, but realistic. He sees globalization being implemented in reverse – as “police globalization, total control, security terror”: “Deregulation finishes in a maximum of constraints and restrictions, equivalent to the ones imposed by a fundamentalist society.” Merchants are usually right when reading the signs of society. No wonder it’s now possible to buy T-shirts on the streets of Bangkok with bin Laden and Bush depicted as “The Twin Terrors.”
Is there a solution? Not really, says Baudrillard, “especially not war, which offers nothing but a situation of deja-vu, with the same onslaught of military forces, phantom information, pathetic discourses, technological deployment and intoxication.” For all of us who have been there – and for everyone who watched the soap opera on TV – this is an extremely accurate depiction of the New Afghan War: a non-event, just like the Gulf War.
A geopolitical realignment indeed took place – but not on a post-World War II scale, as some commentators are suggesting. Onetime Evil Empires like Russia and especially China now are US allies – but only in the very short term. Pakistan indeed abandoned its client Taliban regime in Afghanistan, but there are no assurances President General Pervez Musharraf and his modernizing gang can contain the Islamist drive. Iran remained neutral during the Afghan War – but now is demonized, at Israel’s insistence, as part of the “axis of evil”: so the Iranians will try even harder to build an alliance with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to counterbalance US interference. Tajikistan and Uzbekistan offered bases for the US during the Afghan War, but there’s not much they can do without Russian consent.
Moscow sources tell Asia Times Online that what Russia really wants is to rearrange the North Atlantic Treaty Organization into an East-meets-West military-political organization. What the American unilateralist obsession will make of all this in the uproar around “permanent revolution” is open to discussion. One thing is certain: the “revolution” will be highly selective. Strikes against “failed states” like Somalia, yes: strikes against Saudi Arabia, a haven of disgruntled and vengeful wahhabis, unthinkable. All sorts of operations to destabilize dictators like Satan Hussein, yes. Intimidations against dictators like Uzbekistan’s Karimov, unthinkable.
One does not have to be a Greek oracle – or a Tibetan oracle in Dharamsala – to see Iraq in the next line of fire. America wants to repeat the Afghan syndrome: a cheap (maximum $2 billion a month) and quick attack with a high probability of toppling Satan Hussein. The European Union – apart from pit bull Tony Blair – may not tag along, but in America under permanent revolution, Europe simply does not matter. Iraq could break up, though, and suddenly an independent Kurdistan could emerge on the world map – a nightmare not only to neighbors Turkey and Syria. In this case – and anathema to Washington – Iran would certainly have something to gain.
Still in the not-so-farfetched department, the US could protect its oil and gas interests by moving deeper into Central Asia – where it has already established a substantial presence – and at the same time withdrawing its troops from Saudi Arabia in exchange for a non-Satan Hussein regime in Baghdad, the whole proposition brokered by Russia, which is owed billions of dollars by Iraq. But there’s a little snag: Satan Hussein will never go down quietly.
So it’s all about unfinished business. Myopic analysts are pitting a “prosperous democratic West” against “Islamic extremists.” But it’s all much more complex. They ought to read some Baudrillard.
The myopic analysts are now very fond of quoting conservative orientalist Bernard Lewis, who cleverly shifts the blame in the current Apocalypse Now scenario in Palestine to “the peoples of the Middle East” – indiscriminately accused of “hate and spite, rage and self-pity, poverty and oppression.” But if “the suicide bomber will become a metaphor for the whole region” – as Lewis suggests, and as is already the case – it’s not due to a masochistic impulse, but to a desperate human reaction to state terrorism, namely Israel’s. The World Economic Forum (WEF) was discussing whether poverty breeds terrorism. The audience just had to book a flight to the Middle East.
Colin Powell rhetorically assured the WEF that the US will combat poverty to eliminate terrorism. European Union foreign-policy supremo Javier Solana went a step further: he said we simultaneously have to fight poverty and regional conflicts – like Israel-Palestine. That’s exactly what Noam Chomsky has been saying all along – upping the ante when he associates the proliferation of regional conflicts to the spread of globalization. The US invests about $350 billion a year in its defense industry, but only $10 billion on aid to development: it’s the lowest proportion of any industrialized country.
Take an American Airlines jet – no suicide bombers included – to Sao Paulo, a gigantic urban nebula of 18 million where civil war is a way of life. Even the Sao Paulo middle class is subjected to daily terrorism. There were more than 500 kidnappings in 2001, and 47 during this past January alone. They are perpetrated by individuals, local organized gangs, and even cross-border international gangs. They include kidnapping-light – an ordeal that lasts only for a few hours while the victim is taken on a night cruise extracting cash from scattered automated teller machines.
Sao Paulo lives daily an undeclared civil war. A few weeks ago, a helicopter flew in and kidnapped two inmates inside a Sao Paulo maximum-security prison: next time they will probably leave through the main gate. A famous advertising executive was kidnapped from his bulletproof car in a fake police blitz and held captive for almost two months in a cubicle in a middle-class neighborhood.
In Sao Paulo, as in many developing countries, an oligarchy – under the aegis of Market Utopia – has fomented the failure of the state. When the state is minimal or absent, the corruption of bureaucracies in charge of pacifying powers is total. Anybody who has any wealth in Sao Paulo pretends to be living on New York’s Park Avenue or Paris’s Avenue Foch, while the streets are an orgy of violence – from gross crimes by desperados to instances of mass rebellion. Revolt and antisocial behavior proliferate due to the absolute absence of the state.
Environics International research commissioned by the WEF in 25 countries where 67 percent of the world population lives yielded some fascinating results. Let’s examine Brazil – one of the “Big Five” of the 21st century according to the World Bank, alongside China, India, Russia and Indonesia. Brazil is one of a handful of countries that attracted a lot of foreign direct investment since the mid-’90s. It enjoyed the benefits of openness. It’s part of the so-called low-income “globalizers,” along with China, India and Argentina.
Most Brazilians – 62 percent – believe globalization has positive effects. But 52 percent believe workers’ rights, work conditions and salaries deteriorate with globalization. Fifty percent believe that the notion of equality around the world is suffering due to globalization. Fifty-four percent believe it is responsible for the increase of poverty and homelessness. To sum it all up: 59 percent believe rich countries benefit much more from globalization than poor countries. These figures are practically the same in the other 24 countries surveyed. Even the majority of people in the Group of Seven industrialized countries don’t believe people in poor countries will get as many benefits as they do from globalization.
One wonders whether the globalization elite at the WEF are listening. If they aren’t, the whole world will become a huge Sao Paulo: 24 hours a day of undeclared civil war, a “fractal war of all the cells.”