The Trappers and the Trapped

By Maniza NaqviWardakandstan

This is about fat and no-fat Generals.

But before I get to them here’s a little gem about a way to catch wild monkeys: The trapper takes a glass bottle with a long neck and a wide body. You know, like a good old vodka bottle. Then he finds a nut that monkeys consider a treat and drops it into the bottle. Then the trapper cements the bottom of the bottle to the jungle ground. Monkey arrives and sees the nut. Immediately with no second thought, sticks his elongated paw and pinched fingers through the neck of the bottle—and wraps his fist around the nut. Then the trapper comes along. The monkey can see the trapper coming but the monkey doesn’t run away. The monkey won’t run away though he is trying to pull away. The monkey is pulling and tugging and wriggling but he can’t get away—he’s stuck to the bottle. He can’t get his paw out. Why? After all he got it in, he should be able to get it out, right? He can’t get his paw out because he’s got it around a nut and now his fist is too large to come back out through the narrow neck of the bottle. But he won’t let go! He won’t let go of the nut—- and so there he is, fist clenched in the bottle staring at the advancing, trapper. The monkey can see the trapper coming at him wielding a club—yet the monkey won’t let go of the nut. The monkey just isn’t programmed to let go. The trapper clubs the monkey’s brains out, he clubs the monkey to death but the monkey has his fist still wrapped stubbornly around the nut. It just won’t unclench that fist. It isn’t programmed to unclench. Doesn’t know how to. Stupid monkey! Greedy monkey!

Is the US not able to let go? Is the US programmed to be trapped in Afghanistan? Is the US trapped in Afghanistan while many players in the region state and non-state look on patiently and contentedly all the while providing supplies and supply lines for its war? In its war in Afghanistan this non regional and chief warrior, the US military’s, cost per gallon of fuel is US$400 and cost per US military soldier is US$1,000,000. Somebody is bleeding and being clubbed and someone is getting rich.

I think about this story of a monkey in a bottle when I read the news and I think of platitudes such as, “Government in a Box”, a concept that the United Nations rejects of using development and humanitarian aid as a military strategy and therefore as a weapon. If anything the US military is involved in opening one Pandora’s box after another which is evidence of an unrestrained military out of the box. The nut can be a metaphor for an idea and a concept driven by power, greed, hubris and overreach.

I think about the monkey trap story when I consider the attitudes and motivations of those who make and take the decisions on war, its continuation and troop surges. Chris Hedges, the war correspondent and author of “War Gives Us Meaning”, urges us to write about the victims of war and not focus our interest on its perpetrators. The perpetrators should be condemned to ignominy. But if we don’t keep the light on the perpetrators won’t they continue to thrive in the shadows? Won’t they continue to be portrayed and worshipped as heroes by a flirtatious and mealy mouthed media rather than to be exposed? Won’t they continue to have society’s fashionistas emulate their clothes? We must constantly keep them in the light for what they are. They are the emperors without clothes. They are predators, they are grim reapers. I don’t think it will help much but at least we won’t go forward pretending we didn’t know. Of them Hedges writes recently:

“The warlords we champion in Afghanistan are as venal, as opposed to the rights of women and basic democratic freedoms, and as heavily involved in opium trafficking as the Taliban. The moral lines we draw between us and our adversaries are fictional. The uplifting narratives used to justify the war in Afghanistan are pathetic attempts to redeem acts of senseless brutality. War cannot be waged to instill any virtue, including democracy or the liberation of women. War always empowers those who have a penchant for violence and access to weapons. War turns the moral order upside down and abolishes all discussions of human rights. War banishes the just and the decent to the margins of society. And the weapons of war do not separate the innocent and the damned. An aerial drone is our version of an improvised explosive device. An iron fragmentation bomb is our answer to a suicide bomb. A burst from a belt-fed machine gun causes the same terror and bloodshed among civilians no matter who pulls the trigger.”

General Stanley McChyrstal , is the US military Commander in Afghanistan. The General can be defined by his record and through whom he chooses to quote in his reports and his speeches. He is a man who finds compelling only those who agree with him or egg him on in the momentum he is in. We learn that he doesn’t suffer fools gladly, which if you read not even between the lines, means he doesn’t care for those who disagree with him. In making his 66 page case for the surge of troops and escalation of war in Afghanistan (a report leaked to the media before the White House saw it in September 2009) General McChyrstal wrote:

“During consultations with Afghan Defense Minister Wardak, I found some of his writings insightful: Victory is within our grasp, provided we recommit ourselves based on lessons learned and provided that we fulfill the requirements needed to make success inevitable..I reject the myth advanced in the media that “Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires” and the US and NATO effort is destined to fail. Afghans have never seen you as occupiers, even though this has been the occupiers even though this has been the major focus of the enemies propaganda campaign. Unlike the Russians, who imposed a government with an alien ideology you enabled us to write a democratic constitution and chose our own government. Unlike the Russians who destroyed our country, you came to rebuild it.” Given that this conflict and country are his to win—not mine—General Wardak’s assessment were part of my calculus”

General Wardak the Defence Minister of Afghanistan who General McChrystal finds insightful and whose views he computes into his calculus of war is better understood in an article in The Nation in December 2009 by Aram Roston. In this article Roston informs us that General Wardak’s son owns the largest trucking company NLC that carries supplies to the American Military from the Port in Karachi to Afghanistan. The route supplies over eighty percent of the US military supplies. The Washington DC educated and Washington DC based son also assists in maintaining a media campaign about the war and situation in Afghanistan. An excerpt from the article in the Nation:

“In interviews with The Nation, Afghan government officials, security contractors and trucking company executives outlined a giant protection racket, funded by US taxpayers, which raises millions for the Taliban. With no US military forces protecting their supply lines, contractors had to protect routes by other means: payoffs. As one trucking company official told The Nation, “If you tell me not to pay these insurgents in this area, the chances of my trucks getting attacked increase exponentially.”

“At the heart of the scandal is the Defense Department's $2.2 billion Host Nation Trucking contract, a military logistics operation launched with six major contractors, a number that has since risen to eight. One of the contractors under investigation is NCL Holdings, a US firm headed by Hamed Wardak, the Afghan-American son of Afghanistan's defense minister, Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak. (NCL denies ever having made payments, directly or indirectly, to the Taliban.)”

But it seems Hamed Wardak was more than just a defense contractor with a budding business. Parallel to his business ventures, he's been running an aggressive foreign policy campaign in Washington to keep the US heavily vested in Afghanistan. A confidential lobbying memo obtained by The Nation shows that Wardak commissioned a blue-chip lobbying firm to push for an extended US presence in Afghanistan–a potentially lucrative outcome for NCL.”

General Pervaiz Musharraf and other Pakistani Generals are similarly understood when we, read Jeremy Scahill’s article in the Nation about Xe (Blackwater) and its CEO Erik Prince and his Pakistani partner Liaqat Ali Baig and his company Kestral. Now who is this Mr. Liaqat Ali Baig? What is his company’s connection to the Pakistan Army? If we dig deeper we find that almost all defense deals in Pakistan are done through Kestral Trading which is allegedly a proxy owned by Pervaiz Musharraf’s son Bilal Musharraf who lives in the Unites States. Kestral CEO Mr. Liaqat Ali Baig is a front for Bilal Musharraf’s “ father in law”, Brig. (retired) Aftab Siddiqui. It’s all in the family

It is the age of celebrity predators. The age of smooth operators such as the ubiquitous General McChyrstal who seemed to be on every news channel, newspaper, news magazine before the decision for the increase in troops was finally made. General McChyrstal is the gaunt, skull faced ascetic, strutting on the catwalk of the new century’s rulers.

To read General McChyrstal’s assessment of the war in Afghanistan and the case he made for a troop surge go to this article and to where it says The short answer is no and you can also watch this video of him speaking in London about the troop surge and out of turn a day after a video conference with his Commander and Chief President Obama and before the President had taken a decision on this issue. The General delivered an Afghanistan war policy speech in London. A speech, for which, as the press reported, he was reprimanded by his superiors because General McChrystal was speaking out of turn when his Commander and Chief, the President of the United States was in the process of making a decision and secondly because he should not have delivered a war policy speech at all or out of turn let alone on foreign land. The General seems to behave like an Army Chief of Staff in Pakistan and not like what we would expect of someone who reports to the President of his country. Watch in the video how the media of the venerated press flirt with him and constantly refer to him as Sir.

Nevertheless, he did speak out of turn. The General making an icebreaker joke to his fawning audience in London, began by saying:

“I am humbled to be here because I do not claim to be in the same category as people who have been talking here, such as Prime Minister Brown and President Zardari, who expressed their views on this complex subject. I do, however, believe that I can offer some perspectives and will try to do that today. I will start by posing seven questions before attempting to answer them. If this works according to my plan, it will totally exhaust your appetite for this issue and I will leave the room to wild cheers and lucrative job offers. If my plan fails, as most of mine do, I will be happy to field any questions that we have time for.”

As most of his plans fail? He jokes. The audience titters. People die. In his speech his seven questions are more statements about how Afghans do not view the United States Military as an occupier. The lucrative job offers that General McChyrsal jokes about referring to his salesmanship skills may not be forth coming but they may not be desired by him either. What need for a wage when empire awaits. General McChyrstal does not consider the idea: “We have seen the enemy and it is us.” He is playing the role of the ascetic Emperor warrior. His speech demonstrates that for him and those he listens to the United States military apparatus never was and is not part of the problem in Afghanistan’s present or its past.

In his speech on what Afghans need, arguing for a troop increase in Afghanistan—the General sounds like an Emperor—unaware that he presides over an occupying force. He refers to the people of Afghanistan as the enemy or as the elderly or as unable to think for themselves or as people unable to help themselves. He confuses his role from that of a war fighter to a well digger. His words resonate from a century and centuries ago of those of Empire builders. The text of the speech was in British English (text available on the New York Times site). A detail. General McChrystal seems to rely more on his British advisors then it seems on his fellow compatriots.

There have been a number of articles profiling General Stanley McChrystal so we do have a sketch of him. General McChrystal is painted out in the media to be an intellectual, a monk, an ascetic, a priest really. He hardly eats. Sleeps and rises early. Reads a lot. Runs a lot. Not a social man. We get this from the recent CBS profile of General McChyrstal on 60 minutes. The advertisements in between at least on the online version were for Viagra.

The New York Times in profiling General Stanley McChrystal says:

“One spot on his generally sterling military record came in 2007, when a Pentagon investigation into the accidental shooting death in 2004 of Cpl. Pat Tillman by fellow Army Rangers in Afghanistan held General McChrystal accountable for inaccurate information provided by Corporal Tillman's unit in recommending him for a Silver Star. The information wrongly suggested that Corporal Tillman, a professional football player whose decision to enlist in the Army after the Sept. 11 attacks drew national attention, had been killed by enemy fire.”

He runs a lot says The New York Times.

“One other thing to know about General McChrystal: when he was a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in 2000, he ran a dozen miles each morning to the council's offices from his quarters at Fort Hamilton on the southwestern tip of Brooklyn. If you asked me the first thing that comes to mind about General McChrystal,'' said Leslie H. Gelb, the president emeritus of the council, ''I think of no body fat.”

In fact when he was at the Council for Foreign Relations while living on the military base in Brooklyn, he would run at least 12 miles from the base to the Council located in midtown Manhattan in New York. This was the year 2000. The World Trade Center towers would have been in the view of this sharp shooter, this no fat runner, every day as he came across the bridge listening to a book on his walkman. A sharp shooter, one would imagine, a sniper, might see only one solution to all obstacles and problems and one way or means to achieving a goal.

Most of the General’s career is classified. But what we can glean from all that is written about him is that he excels at killing. Death squads are his specialty. His special skill appears to be to successfully stay in the shadows and create political will for war by killing civilians for the execution of military objectives. General Stanley A. McChrystal, was the commander of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) who ran all special operations in Iraq responsible for carrying out assassinations. Or in other words decapitating the insurgency’s or the opposition’s leadership. The JSOC a secret special assassination unit—was created by and reported to Dick Cheney. Perhaps that’s why Dick Cheney arrived in Washington in mid October 2009 to beat the drums in support of the General’s campaign for a troop surge in Afghanistan.

Dick Cheney made a recent appearance in Washington to ostensibly pick up his award “Keepers of the Flame” and to take the opportunity to admonish the Administration for delaying making good on General Stanley’s request for an escalation of troops. Dick Cheney obviously considers General McChyrstal his man: on his team. To what extent does General McChrystal still consider himself as part of Dick Cheney team?

In Iraq he headed the death squads that are credited to have broken the back of the insurgency. Predator drones and assassinations were no doubt involved. In the war and occupation of Afghanistan, spilling into Pakistan, it would appear by all recent events that the strategy is the same and run by the same man. There are predator attacks, albeit CIA run and not by the military (all very odd and confusing, as to who is in charge). And all this begs the question about who is in control in the US. Every time there is resistance by the Pakistanis to the plans that US military establishment wants them to undertake—it seems that a bomb goes off somewhere amongst civilians to break the Pakistanis’ resolve to cause division, to cause confusion. It usually happens, just after or before—a major discussion between the Pakistanis and the Americans. The timing is always perfect. The insurgents, the so called Taliban must be very stupid indeed to always make the perfect supporting case for the central thesis of their adversary.

Are the Generals out of the box? Or can it be, that maybe, just maybe, finally, the American policy makers get it? Is Marja just a face saving exercise for getting out of Afghanistan and getting out of a war that cannot be won? A strategy that recognizes that a trap has been laid which with each action as time goes becomes more elaborate. A trap which the US fell into too easily due to its hubris in a region where there are scores to be settled with the US by all sorts of trappers all around. Is the US finally devising a plan on how to get out without the getting out looking like the US and its military are surrendering, cutting and running? Could Marja be the unfolding of a face saving strategy? A face saving for capitulating to the Taliban? A well filmed scene with a script about clearing out the Taliban in a place called Marja. In a story line that shows that an ultimatum has been given to the Taliban to surrender or else. An ultimatum that says accept our wellington boots and our polyester blankets or else die ( pathetically shown on BBC the distribution of wellington boots and blankets to a listless community gathering). Taliban listen up, goes the story, be killed or surrender and become part of the government . The story line ends with power handed over to those who choose not to fight. We are supposed to believe that the foreign troops are in a position to give an ultimatum to the Taliban. The same Taliban who by all accounts, including the collapse of the Dutch government recently on the matter of keeping their troops in Afghanistan, have the upper hand in Afghanistan. It’s a good storyboard for the Breaking News crowd. And for the celebrity Generals who like these sorts of things:

Ultimatum! The Battle for Marja, Honey, get the popcorn! The Battle for Marja is starting on CNN!! Shall we watch it in hi-def on BBC?

Almost a decade of killing, countless dead, all of that and all of this to bring the Taliban back to power? Yes. It’s called a business cycle.

So monkey, bottle, nut and trapper: Militaries, war, power, greed and mafias.

Maybe the title of this piece should have been “Generals out of the Box”.

(AP Photo above: Afghanistan's Defense MInister Abdul Rahim Wardak, left, gestures while speaking with U.S. Commander of Forces in Afghanistan General Stanley McChrystal during a round table meeting of NATO defense ministers in Bratislava, Friday Oct. 23, 2009. General Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, planned an unexpected appearance Friday at a meeting of NATO defense ministers focused on making Afghan security forces responsible for fighting the war there.)

More Writings by Maniza Naqvi here

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