Mark well the sequence. On the morning of November 10, President George W. Bush
addressed the U.N. General Assembly and spoke words that warmed the hearts of
human rights activists the world over:
“For every regime that sponsors terror, there is a price to be paid and it
will be paid.... [Nations that support terror] are equally guilty of murder and
equally accountable to justice... We must unite in opposing all terrorists, not
just some of them. No national aspiration, no remembered wrong can ever justify
the deliberate murder of the innocent. Any government that rejects this principle,
trying to pick and choose its terrorist friends, will know the consequences....
The Afghan people do not deserve their present rulers.... I make this promise
to all the victims of that regime: The Taliban’s days of harboring terrorists,
and dealing in heroin, and brutalizing women are drawing to a close.”
That evening, during a joint press conference with Pakistani President Pervez
Musharraf, Bush described the Northern Alliance as “our friends.” (“We will encourage
our friends to head south across the Shumali Plains, but not into the city of
Moments later, Musharraf branded Bush’s “friends” terrorists:
“Why I have been recommending that Kabul should not be occupied by the Northern
Alliance basically is because of the past experience that we’ve had when the various
ethnic groups were ahold of Kabul after the Soviets left. There was total atrocities,
killings and mayhem within the city. And I think if the Northern Alliance enters
Afghanistan -- enters Kabul -- we’ll see the same kind of atrocities being perpetuated
against the people there....”
A reporter followed up by asking Bush if he agreed with Musharraf’s assessment
of the Alliance. Bush replied, “Only, only, I said one question. Now you’re going
with three.” No other reporter put the question to Bush.
Now that is a disciplined press corps. In the morning, President Bush takes
a strong stand against those who terrorize the innocent and brands governments
that support such terrorists “equally guilty of murder and equally accountable.”
In the evening he hails as “our friends” an alliance that has terrorized the innocent
(and, by the way, dealt heroin) both as a government (1992-96) and as an opposition
For a sampling of Northern Alliance atrocities, see the October 2001 “Background”
report from Human Rights Watch. Since 1992, the various Alliance factions have
killed tens of thousands of civilians every bit as innocent as America’s 9-11
victims; their rap sheets includes rape, torture, summary executions and “disappearances.”
“To date,” states HRW, “not a single Afghan commander has been held accountable
for violations of international humanitarian law.” (http://www.hrw.org/backgrounder/asia/afghan-bck1005.htm)
Saturday night is followed by Sunday morning, so it was just a matter of time
before a Bush administration official would have to explain why the president
would describe forces that fit his own definition of terrorists as “our friends,”
why he was backing them, and what he intended to do to bring his own administration
to justice for supporting Alliance terrorists.
Secretary of State Colin Powell looked cool November 11 in the Meet the Press
hot seat. His inquisitor, Tim Russert, can be relentless when the topic is a stained
blue dress, but he simply is intellectually and emotionally incapable of raising
moral questions about U.S. foreign policy. He missed the obvious disconnect between
Bush’s words and policy.
Thus, Powell never had to say, “I endorse what the president said at the U.N.,
and as soon as we crush al-Qaida, whether it’s next year or next decade, we’ll
base our foreign policy on his words.” He never had to relinquish any moral high
ground for a more pragmatic (and defensible) realpolitik position.
On ABC, Slammin Sam Donaldson did indeed hold National Security Advisor
Condoleezza Rices feet to the fire on state sponsorship of terrorism. Outflanking
the Bush administration on the right, Donaldson put on the screen the State Departments
list of states that sponsor terror (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Cuba, North Korea,
Sudan) and asked why we arent taking it to those governments like were
taking it to the Taliban.
Note that Donaldson, in theory, represents ABC’s “liberal” wing. For two decades
he’s been cast as a counterweight to George Will, the staunch conservative of
“This Week.” Donaldson could have asked why Cuba was on the terror-sponsor list.
He could have asked why Colombia was not, given that its army collaborates with
and protects a right-wing death-squad federation on the State Department’s list
of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. He could have quoted from Bush’s U.N. speech
and the Human Rights Watch report on the Northern Alliance -- or cited the massive
U.S. aid to the terror-facilitating Colombian army -- and asked why the U.S. wasn’t
on the terror-sponsor list.
To ask any of those questions, Donaldson wouldn’t necessarily have to be a
liberal. He could just as well be a moderate or conservative, many of whom disapprove
of selective morality and alliances with cutthroats. But he would have to be informed.
Like most everyone else posing questions on Sunday morning, Donaldson is bright,
articulate and ignorant. All are prerequisites: Smarts and a way with words lend
an air of credibility; ignorance ensures the avoidance of embarrassing questions
about “principles” that seem to be honored more often in the breach.
To gain a coveted seat as a network foreign-policy interviewer, you must be
incapable of thinking outside the parameters of bogus State Department lists.
Your knowledge must be sufficiently superficial that you cannot recognize an evasive
answer or demolish a dishonest one. Mix in an abiding faith in the fundamental
decency of U.S. foreign policy and you could be the next Russert, Donaldson or
Dennis Hans is a freelance writer whose essays have appeared in the New
York Times, Washington Post, National Post (Canada) and online at TomPaine.com,
Slate and The Black World Today (tbwt.com), among other outlets. He has taught
courses in mass communications and American foreign policy at the University of
South Florida-St. Petersburg, and can be reached at Hans_D@popmail.firn.edu