"Operation Enduring Freedom is ostensibly being fought to uphold the
American Way of Life. It'll probably end up undermining it completely,"
the Indian writer Arundhati Roy wrote in 2001, in "The Algebra of Infinite Justice."
Roy took a lot of grief for that piece from American public opinion,
hijacked at the time by a blind desire for violent revenge (and the
silencing of dissenters) that would prove to be far worse than 9/11's
mass murders. Far worse, because we're living its consequences still,
though far less in the West than in the Middle East: Iraq, Iran (yes,
even Iran), Afghanistan and Pakistan as Roy's words have been
unfortunately and terribly vindicated many times over, with no end in
Yesterday there was this headline in The Times: "U.S. Tightens Airstrike Policy in Afghanistan," over a Dexter Filkins
story quoting the new U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A.
McChrystal, saying that "Air power contains the seeds of our own
destruction if we do not use it responsibly," and pledging, "Even in
the cases of active firefights with Taliban forces," in Filkins'
paraphrase, that "airstrikes will be limited if the combat is taking
place in populated areas - the very circumstances in which most Afghan
civilian deaths have occurred. The restrictions will be especially
tight in attacking houses and compounds where insurgents are believed
to have taken cover."
Then this headline, barely 24 hours later: "Suspected U.S. Strike Kills at Least 60 in Pakistan." The attack was carried out by a CIA or Pentagon drone--killing people attending a funeral in South Waziristan. Dawn, the Pakistani newsper, puts the death toll at 50 and describes most of the victims as "militants." The Times is less categorical:
Details of the attack, which occurred in Makeen, remained
unclear, but the reported death toll was exceptionally high. If the
reports are indeed accurate and if the attack was carried out by a
drone, the strike could be the deadliest since the United States began
using the aircraft to fire remotely guided missiles at members of the
Taliban and Al Qaeda in the tribal areas of Pakistan. The United States
carried out 22 previous drone strikes this year, as the Obama
administration has intensified a policy inherited from the Bush
It begs the question. What's Stanley A. McChrystal doing differently?
What's the Obama administration doing differently? McChrystal's words
sounded strangely similar to those of Mike Mullen, the chairman of the
Joint Chiefs, who told a congressional committee in September 2008, "We can't kill our way to victory." Only to let the killing continue.
Sometime this summer, the United States will register its 5,000th
American soldier killed as a result of wars in either Iraq or
Afghanistan. The media, if there's still any interest in casualties of
any sort Stateside, will write the mournful editorial or two, missing,
as always, the larger problem: the day-in-and-day-out devastation
visited on local populations by the very forces ostensibly dispatched
to protect them, at a price far, far heavier than the one sustained by
That one strike today killed more people in Pakistan than the death
toll of American soldiers in Iraq since March. That many, maybe most,
of the victims may turn out to be "militants" won't diminish the
ripples of the attack in Pakistan, precisely the kind of ripples
McChrystal was claiming to want to control from here on.
It's no longer the American Way of Life American deployments are
fighting to preserve. The wind went out of that shameless bit of
flag-waving years ago. But it hasn't been clear for years, either, what
the deployments are fighting for. Or against. Except for the one
recurrent target that never fails to take a hit, even when all else