Operation Endless War: The Fog of Afghanistan

A funny thing happened on the way to remote Central Asia following the events of 9/11.  The militarists who spawned this modern “crusade,” the invasion of Afghanistan, decided to call it “Operation Infinite Justice.”  Unfortunately for the philosophers at the Pentagon and their neo-con-liberal friends, this initial title was a resounding failure; further, it was also a telling mis-step foreshadowing the unspectacular disaster that this conflict would soon become and, to this very day, remains, as the third Afghan War administration now considers the Taliban to be legitimate international negotiating partners, just like in the pre-9/11 Clinton era.

The operational phrase itself, “Infinite Justice,” only lasted for the remarkably brief span of 2 weeks before the W. Bush administration stepped down from God’s throne to re-label their exercise in post-9/11 revenge “Operation Enduring Freedom.”  So, what was wrong with a little “Infinite Justice”?  Just about everything.  On the optics side, it was completely offensive to the greater Islamic community, not least because of its crusaderly air of infinite presumption:  “Bad optics, meet even worse manners!”  What were the “War on Terror” architects thinking?  Not very clearly, apparently.  In retrospect, the “Infinite Justice” hiccup was the first sign that the Afghan War project would not end well — if, indeed, it would ever end at all…

However, this operational name fiasco links to something more than mere foggy-headed thinking by Pentagonal metaphysicians; it underscores the deep interconnectedness of the W. Bush and Clinton administrations in the so-called “War on Terror.”

On August 20, 1998, in the midst of the Monica Lewinsky crisis, President Clinton authorized simultaneous cruise missile strikes against “non-state actors” in both Sudan and Afghanistan.  These attacks were code-named “Operation Infinite Reach.”  From a functionally nominal point of view, “Infinite Reach” was the etymological precursor to the ill-fated and bunglingly thought-out “Infinite Justice.”  On a policy level, “Infinite Reach,” despite its oxymoronically limited objectives, set up several key precedents for not only the following Bush administration, but the Obama and Trump administrations as well.

The cruise missile strikes hit an al-Qaeda training facility in Khost, Afghanistan, and the El-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum, which was reported to be manufacturing precursor chemicals for chemical weapons use.  Interestingly enough, “Infinite Reach” was explicitly framed as a “pre-emptive” attack; pre-emption, of course, would move on to become the doctrinal signature of Iraq-Attack-Two, with “curve-balled” intelligence about alleged Iraqi WMD playing the role of Exhibit A.  In another foreshadowing, the intelligence on the Sudanese pharmaceutical plant has proven to be just another curve-ball.  The twin attacks were also justified with reference to an “imminent threat” from al-Qaeda, the same language used most recently by Trump officials to frame the drone strike against Iran’s General Qassem Soleimani at the Baghdad airport.

At the time, “Infinite Reach” was judged a “success” by a suddenly fawning Press that otherwise had fangs dripping with blood over the Lewinsky scandal.  Despite the rather obvious “Wag the Dog” optics of the operation, a Newsweek article at the time (August 30, 1998) went so far as to say that Clinton “looked presidential again,” just as the mainstream press has praised Trump on each occasion that he’s authorized cruise missile strikes against Syrian “targets” over dubious claims of chemweaps use by the al-Assad government.  The Newsweek article goes on to quote then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: “we are involved in a long-term struggle,” another familiarism from the “War on Terror” — or “terra,” as Bush Junior always, and un-ironically, pronounced it.  Clinton himself is quoted as saying “our target was terror,” while the Newsweek staff writers specifically place their piece in the context of “the war on terrorism.” The entire scaffolding for the soon-to-be “War on Terror,” then, was already in place during Clinton’s second term.  Clinton even set up phase two of the coming conflict, the invasion of Iraq, by signing into law “regime change” as official United States policy towards Iraq on Halloween, 1998.  Spookily enough, the Regime Changelings have been with us ever since, haunting…

It is worth noting, in this connection, that the Clinton administration initially welcomed the Taliban with open arms (so to speak) when they rose to still-contested power in that geopolitical expression of a country known as Afghanistan.  There once was a pipeline deal with a fossil fuel company called Unocal that the Clintonites were presumably quite eager to cash in on by dealing with the upsurgent Taliban, back in 1996.  As unlucky fate would have it, the deal fell through when the Taliban rejected the Unocal bid in favor of an offer for the same by an Argentinian outfit called Bridas, apparently on the advice of — who would have guessed? — Osama bin Laden, the ex-pat Saudi son-of-a-billionaire, himself.  Of course, this story may be the Thousand and First Arabian Night’s Tale, or even the Arab-Afghan Night’s nine-eleventh one…

The Clinton administration, by the way, never officially recognized the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan; in fact, only 3 countries did:  Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and, of course, Pakistan, where the Taliban was born and raised.  However, much like the Trump administration today, the Clinton regime then recognized the Taliban as the “non-state actors” in charge of the country, loosely defined.  The recent Trump deal with the Taliban is entirely Clintonesque, and is as fuzzy as it is lukewarm.

But to return to the foggy “Infinite,” as the mathematicians say:  the Barack Obushma administration managed to extend the poor promise of “Infinite Reach” to Libya and Syria, with predictably disastrous results.  Not only do these wars not end well:  they seemingly never end at all.  With all due respect to the Neo-fascist flu now known as the “novel Coronavirus,” the United States has been suffering from an absurdly serious case of Roman Legionnaires disease for decades, with no cure in sight.  Coughing, sneezing, wheezing; wizening yet not wisening, epidemiologists everywhere should take precautionary note:  War is not just a symptom of the disorder, but most likely the cause…

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» Operation Endless War: The Fog of Afghanistan | Todd Smith | Radio Free | https://www.radiofree.org/2020/03/17/operation-endless-war-the-fog-of-afghanistan/ | 2021-09-17T23:13:45+00:00
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