Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Rubin: War on Terror Madness

OK, I know this is the kind of thing that gives bloggers a bad name, but I just have to share. So I'm in LaGuardia Airport in New York waiting for my flight to Virginia for a two-day high-level conference on Afghanistan, which, in case you hadn't noticed is not doing too well. Hundreds of insurgents attacking the Kandahar jail, hundreds attacking a U.S. base on the Kunar-Nuristan frontier (there has to be something wrong with any policy that requires a U.S. army captain to understand the differences among Nuristani tribes), huge suicide bomb at the Indian Embassy, the U.S. supported Afghanistan government has cut off talks with the U.S.'s main non-NATO ally, Pakistan, on the grounds that the intelligence agency of the latter is trying to destroy the former, and I could mention a few other things too.

Anyway, how many times and how many ways have I been saying that this was going to happen for the past seven years? I cannot count the ways. I attended Karzai's inauguration in Kabul in December 2004. Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld flew in for the occasion. Afterwards we all went over to the Foreign Ministry for lunch. Rumsfeld was sitting at the head table with Karzai, Lakhdar Brahimi, the former UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General, and so on, but Cheney was eating elsewhere in an undisclosed location by himself. Poor Karzai had to eat two lunches, one with Rumsfeld, and another with Cheney.

Anyway, on the way out after the Secret Service had done its thing, I caught up with Brahimi, who was looking annoyed. He told me that Rumsfeld had only said four words the whole time: "What an amazing success!" Brahimi and I walked past all the tanks and barricades blocking the street, which was completely empty of traffic on what would otherwise have been a normal working day in Kabul. Brahimi suggested that when I got back to the U.S. I should write something indicating that holding a presidential inauguration in a shut-down city surrounded by tanks was not exactly a success.

Well I did my best. Or at least I made an effort. Anyway, we are where we are, and I am where I am, in LaGuardia going to a conference to see whether there is a way to keep Afghanistan from going where it looks like it's going. And what happened?

THEY CONFISCATED MY TOOTHPASTE!

Yes, I had a tube of toothpaste (Sensodyne) in a regulation one-quart clear plastic bag which I dutifully took out of my bag and placed in the grey plastic bin along with my jacket (required at the conference) and my loafers (special flying shoes). My computer was in another bin. When I got to the other side the TSA employee was eyeing my toothpaste suspiciously. He turned it over and peered through the sealed clear plastic bag.

"You can't take this on. This is 4 ounces, and the limit is 3.5 ounces."

I didn't say anything. Probably they will have toothpaste at the conference center. But it's good to know that at least one part of the War on Terror is being implemented flawlessly.

13 comments:

Jan Malekzade said...

Absolutely true that the transition process in Afghanistan was flawed and that substantial parts of a state-building exercise were just ignored right from the onset of the military operation against the Taliban

- However, what prevented Brahimi in 2002-04 from supporting basic principles of the rule of law and human rights? Wasn't he heading the one organization that was founded to safeguard these universal rights?

How could he believe that state institutions in Afghanistan can be built without any basis in justice and rule of law? That Cheney, Rumsfeld & consortia had no respect for these principles is hardly surprising. But the silence of the UN, at the time when these decisions were taken, was shameful!

Just contrast this with the much more principled and courageous approach of Sergio de Mello in Iraq! He paid the ultimate price with his life, but he did not sell the principles of justice, human rights and rule of law for some cheap compromises among warlords and a US administration that was determined to ignore the very basic principles of international law!

It is sad to see that the Afghan population is once more paying the price for failed and reckless international political actors.

It is a pain to travel in US airports since 9/11 - but it is even worse in Kabul now. Frankly, the Taliban were less corrupt then the border police and security forces that are operating now at KIA! People who were 'trained' with international assistance. And this is the most visible entry point in Afghanistan. How should a farmer in Helmand feel any loyalty to a government and an international community that has achieved practically nothing to improve the living conditions for the last seven years!

Don Thieme said...

I think that I would have squeezed that forbidden 0.5 ounce out on the table in front of that guy!

Fattahi said...

This kind of checking will last in airports till US start targeting Talibans in Pakistan, their homeland.

geoff said...

I've just now, Saturday morning, read this post. Thanks Professor Rubin I can't stop laughing. It should help me get through a hot humid day.

Judith Weingarten said...

Don Thieme says, "I think that I would have squeezed that forbidden 0.5 ounce out on the table in front of that guy!"

I did exactly that, Don, at Schiphol Airport on route to Nicosia. They confiscated it anyway (the tube was still too large).

The war on terror, such as it is, is nothing but a bureaucratic boondoogle.

ANJAN SENGUPTA said...

ha ha ha ha .... humor is so important during bombing and terror strikes. Reminds me of an Arab mother talking about doing her daily chores amidst bombing in Beirut (in its heydays) .. and laughing through it all. She said "If I do not smile and laugh, I will go mad."
At another level, the Yugoslav director- Emir Kusturica's movies which deals with satire on conflicts are a must watch !

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