Bush's Pakistan Paradox
As Iraq continues to disintegrate, and our top generals and in-country ambassador predict that U.S. troops will need to die there for decades in order to prevent a full-scale regional blood bath, it is important to recall the reasons why we got into this mess. The marker of what will go down in history as "Bush's folly" is that this idiot of a president invaded a country that had absolutely nothing to do with terrorist attacks on the United States or WMD threats to America while coddling the military junta in Pakistan, which was guilty on both counts.
(For newspaper editors inclined to strike my reference in this syndicated column to our "idiot president" as excessively pejorative, I refer them to one definition of idiot in Webster's New Riverside University Dictionary: "being unable to guard against common dangers and being incapable of learning connected speech.")
Two news stories this week underscore the extreme irrationality and utter moral depravity of the Bush administration in exploiting the 9/11 attack to justify the invasion of Iraq. They both concern Pakistan, the close ally of the Taliban government when Afghanistan hosted Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida terrorist network. And, as opposed to Iraq, Pakistan did have weapons of mass destruction and facilitated their proliferation to "rogue nations." Both examples provide damning evidence that Bush cared not a whit about WMD or about preventing another 9/11-style attack, because the danger of both existed in Pakistan, which he befriended, rather than in Iraq, which he invaded.
The first report details that Pakistan has effectively lifted the minimal house arrest restraints imposed on A.Q. Khan, the father of the "Islamic bomb," who presided over the transfer of nuclear technology to North Korea, Libya and Iran. The second is a devastating New York Times report that the United States failed to attack an important al-Qaida gathering in Afghanistan at which top terrorist leaders were present, out of fear of alienating Pakistan's dictator, Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
Recall that Bush boasted in his 2004 presidential debate with Democratic candidate John Kerry that "we busted the A.Q. Khan network," when, in fact, neither Khan nor any of the top ringleaders of his nukes-for-sale operation have ever been brought to trial. Some had to hold high positions in the Pakistani government in order for the shipment of Pakistan's most highly valued nuclear technology to go unimpeded. Perhaps it is for that reason U.S. agents have never been allowed to interview Khan, let alone subject him to the waterboarding torture reserved for those who wouldn't know a nuke if it hit them upside the head.
While American agents still aren't allowed to talk to Khan, an AP reporter had no difficulty interviewing him this week, reporting that the minimal restraints of his house arrest have been lifted. Thus, he is now, echoing that Southwest Airlines commercial, free to move about the country-if not the world. So, Bush did not bust Khan's network, but on the contrary he allowed it to function for years out of fear of embarrassing Musharraf at a time when Bush was cozying up to the dictator who had quickly pardoned Khan of all possible crimes.
Not offending Musharraf also led the Bush administration in 2005 to jettison a planned attack on a high-level al-Qaida gathering in Pakistan that U.S. intelligence had learned of. Bin Laden's No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was in attendance, and the capture of the man thought to be actually running al-Qaida would have allowed Bush to begin making good on his promise to get the perpetrators of 9/11 "dead or alive."
Instead, as The New York Times reported, the mission was abandoned in the final moments, as Navy SEALs in parachute gear sat on C-130 cargo planes, because "it could jeopardize relations with Pakistan." The Times quoted Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University, as saying, "The reluctance to take risk or jeopardize our political relationship with Musharraf may well account for the fact that five-and-a-half years after 9/11, we are still trying to run bin Laden and Zawahiri to ground."
No wonder that top U.S. officials charged with defeating al-Qaida feel frustrated. As the Times reported, "Their frustration has only grown over the past two years, they said, as Al Qaeda has improved its ability to plan global attacks and build new training compounds in Pakistan's tribal areas, which have become virtual havens for the terrorist network."
Heckuva job, Bushie.
Robert Scheer is editor of Truthdig.com and a regular columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.
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