It's interesting to contrast the failed Taliban attack on Dick Cheney with the nearly successful mortaring of a whole delegation of Western ambassadors in Sri Lanka on a UN-sponsored trip, which is presented as a triumph for Turtle Bay's prestige. Der Spiegel depicts a suicide attempt on Bagram airbase as an assassination attempt on Dick Cheney and suggests the Talibanization is now getting the upper hand in Afghanistan. While nothing actually happened to Cheney the reportage suggests that the media, now sure that America will leave Iraq, have turned their sights on what was formerly the "good war" in Afghanistan. One down, another to go.
Cheney reported he heard a "loud bang" at about 10 a.m., adding that Secret Service agents briefly took him to a bunker before he continued working. ... Despite countless checkpoints on the road to Bagram, the attacker managed to drive his carload of explosives all the way to the base's outermost security perimeter. The bomb in his car caused a tremendous explosion that could be seen from kilometers away. In addition to the attacker himself, the bomb killed at least 12 Afghans -- and possibly more -- in addition to two international soldiers, though casualty reports varied widely.
Although Der Spiegel isn't sure the Taliban was responsible it pretty much gives them the credit.
Not even an hour had passed before the radical Islamists from the Taliban had proudly taken credit for the attack. Their myriad press spokesmen went into action, contacting wire services by sat-phone make sure credit was given where credit was due. "We knew Cheney had remained at the base overnight," said Kari Yousef Ahmadi, adding that "our man wanted to get through to him and kill him." As if to prove his words, Ahmadi also cited the identity of the attacker. It is still unclear, however, whether the identity given is correct. But even if the Taliban's claims don't prove 100 percent accurate, the incident on Tuesday morning is disconcerting news for the troops in Afghanistan. ... It was clearly "a planned attack," the [NATO] officer said, since the planners knew "that Cheney was still in the base" -- and even if the goal was not achieved, the message was understood.
And News 24, largely on subcontinental sources goes on to conclude that the Islamists had penetrated the highest circles in the host countries.
"This shows how much the militants have penetrated the intelligence of the Afghan security forces. It is a most shocking attack," retired Pakistani general turned analyst Talat Masood told AFP. Cheney's visits to Pakistan and Afghanistan were unannounced and shrouded in even tighter secrecy than when US President George W Bush travelled to the two countries in March 2006. Author Ahmed Rashid, who has written a book on the Taliban, said the bombing was a "very provocative" move by the Taliban. "They were waiting for a high-level visit to carry out an attack. This visit, although highly secretive, was known in circles in Kabul and Islamabad," he said.
Which wouldn't surprise anyone and why, perhaps, Cheney kept his travel plans close and stayed at Bagram Air Base rather than a host-provided guest house. The hosts themselves are divided. Coalition operations in Afghanistan takes place amidst a low-level civil war within both societies. And just as America could not avoid becoming embroiled in the rivalries between Sunni and Shi'a by its mere presence in Iraq, it is probably unlikely to expect the US to stay completely aloof from the internal squabbles of Pakistan and Afghanistan. It will always be a factor, however indirectly.
Pakistan in particular is both enemy and friend. Bill Roggio, in an online exchange with Kathy Gannon of the AP at the Council for Foreign Relations doubts Pakistan is doing all it can to secure the borders. Gannon agrees, but seems to advocate changing sides in the internal conflicts in both countries as the key to mission success. It is ludicrous to attempt military operations in such a vast region, she says. "The much bigger issue is Washington’s choice of partners in Pakistan and in Afghanistan. The institutional and political changes that will bring stability to both sides of the Durand line that separates Pakistan and Afghanistan depends on who is running those countries." Ergo, change who's running the show on both sides of the border.
"In Pakistan, Washington has partnered with the military, having learned nothing from history. The last time it partnered with the military was with [former dictator] Zia-ul Haq, who embraced and nurtured Islamic extremists. President Pervez Musharraf might not want Islamic extremists to dictate governance but he wants the military in power, and in Pakistan that means a partnership with the country’s Islamic right wing. That’s a fact of life in Pakistan."
Actually, Washington has learned contradictory things from history. Not very long ago in the Middle East, America was constantly criticized for "partnering" with despots like Saddam Hussein which supposedly generated the resentments against the US which culminated in 9/11. So it toppled the despot and has spent the last four years trying to build a democratic society in Iraq, complete with elections. Gannon never spells out just which democrats and civilians in Pakistan or tribal leaders in Afghanistan should be the right American partners to replace the wrong ones. Or how they are to be replaced. The other notion which is apparently respectable with Gannon in Southwest Asia is the idea of taking sides. One reason given for evacuating Iraq immediately is that any further stay will force America to "take sides" and yet Gannon, in critiquing the Southwest Asian theater of operations, chastises the US for taking the wrong side in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The tension between dealing with strongmen in power and subverting them is a longstanding dilemma in American foreign policy. The first has been called "realism" but the second, Gannon may be surprised to discover, once went by the name colonialism not so long ago. It was common in the 19th century for His Majesty's Government to change a local leader when he proved too inefficient, corrupt or intractable to "bring stability". Today the United States may still have to do both. On most occasions, it should deal with existing governments, however unsavory because they are the result of the actual political processes within that country. Whatever their Constitutions say on paper, the people of Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan may employ larger quantities of ammunition and explosive in the leadership selection process than the West is commonly accustomed. However, as both Roggio and Gannon note, there will be times when America will be sore tempted to act more intrusively. After all, if some elements in the "host" countries fail to seal the border, provide sanctuary for al-Qaeda or collaborate in assassination attempts on the American Vice President then even "realism" requires one to recognize the fact. In the 21st century must be both a "normal" country and hegemon; depending on the situation. The key foreign policy choice is know when to be one or the other and where on the continuum to lie.
BTW, for styalistic contrast, the Guardian describes a mortar attack on a diplomatic helicopter landing in Sri Lanka as a triumph of prestige for the United Nations, which organized the ambassador's trip to an area torn apart by fighting with the Tamil Tigers. It really illustrates how the small and medium sized powers can do no better than America. By any standard, the Congo, Sudan and Sri Lanka must rank as among the worst fiascos in international "peacemaking". Perhaps the reason many people continue to think so highly of the UN is that we never trust them with anything important. And this last failure in Sri Lanka can be dismissed with an amused shrug. But American involvements are of an existential nature. And in both cases, the struggle goes on to find a formula for success.
Italy's ambassador to Sri Lanka was treated for shrapnel injuries to the head today after three aircraft ferrying members of a high-level delegation came under artillery and mortar attack from Tamil Tiger rebels. ... Besides the Italian envoy, Pio Mariani, the delegation included ambassadors from the US, Germany, France, the EU and Japan, as well as the Canadian high commissioner and UN officials. ...
The rebels began firing minutes after the first helicopter had landed. Shortly after the diplomats had disembarked, a mortar shell exploded close to the helicopter, causing some damage to the aircraft. "It would have been a catastrophic blunder by the Tamil Tigers if they had scored a direct hit while the western envoys were inside the helicopter," said Jehan Perera, the director of the Colombo-based National Peace Council. "It was a very lucky escape." ...
While owning up to the mortar attack, the rebels blamed the Sri Lankan government for not informing them that a high-level international delegation was being flown to Batticalao. "We are shocked by the grave negligence of the security arrangements for the diplomats by the Sri Lankan government," the Tamil Tiger's military spokesman, Irasiah Ilanthirayan, said on the rebel's website. "We immediately ceased fire as soon as we were notified of the presence of foreign diplomats by a UN official." The UN announced later that the assistance mission had been cancelled and the envoys flown back to Colombo.