By Tom Engelhardt and cross-posted from Asia Times
He left Air Force Two behind and, unannounced, “shrouded in secrecy,” flew on an unmarked C-17 transport plane into Bagram Air Base, the largest US garrison in Afghanistan. All news of his visit was embargoed until an hour before he was to depart the country.
More than 16 years after a US invasion “liberated” Afghanistan, he was there to offer some good news to an American troop contingent once again on the rise. Before a 12-meter US flag, addressing 500 American troops, Vice-President Mike Pence praised them as “the world’s greatest force for good,” boasted that US air strikes had recently been “dramatically increased,” swore that their country was “here to stay,” and insisted that “victory is closer than ever before.”
As an observer noted, however, the response of his audience was “subdued.” (“Several troops stood with their arms crossed or their hands folded behind their backs and listened, but did not applaud.”)
Think of this as but the latest episode in an upside-down geopolitical fairytale, a grim, rather than Grimm, story for our age that might begin:
Once upon a time – in October 2001, to be exact – Washington launched its “war on terror.” There was then just one country targeted, the very one where, a little more than a decade earlier, the US had ended a long proxy war against the Soviet Union during which it had financed, armed or backed an extreme set of Islamic fundamentalist groups, including a rich young Saudi by the name of Osama bin Laden.
By 2001, in the wake of that war, which helped send the Soviet Union down the path to implosion, Afghanistan was largely (but not completely) ruled by the Taliban. Osama bin Laden was there too, with a relatively modest crew of cohorts. By early 2002, he had fled to Pakistan, leaving many of his companions dead and his organization, al-Qaeda, in a state of disarray. The Taliban, defeated, were pleading to be allowed to put down their arms and go back to their villages, an abortive process that Anand Gopal vividly described in his book No Good Men among the Living.
It was, it seemed, all over but the cheering and, of course, the planning for yet greater exploits across the region. The top officials in the administration of US president George W Bush and vice-president Dick Cheney were geopolitical dreamers of the first order who couldn’t have had more expansive ideas about how to extend such success to – as defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld indicated only days after the attacks of September 11, 2001 – terror or insurgent groups in more than 60 countries.
It was a point Bush would re-emphasize nine months later in a triumphalist graduation speech at the US Military Academy in West Point, New York.
At that moment, the struggle they had quickly, if immodestly, dubbed the Global War on Terror was still a one-country affair. They were, however, already deep into preparations to extend it in ways more radical and devastating than they could ever have imagined…