Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What A Tangled Web!

Reading Charlie Wilson's War is a disorienting experience, for though it is only one side of the 1980s covert story [for instance, explicitly depicting all conservatives as froth-mouthed ideologues with extraordinary foreign relations niavete at the same time that it rejoices in Congressman Wilson's singleminded focus on arming the anti-Soviet "freedom fighters", the mujihadeen (I hoped I spelled it approximately right this time around!)], what new facts it does present about back-alley American alliances with all sorts of other nasty characters makes me wonder how we've remained solvent, and sovereign, for so long!

For example, the United States really bolstered the communist Chinese military hardware business during the 1980s, pitting them in supply bidding wars against the Egyptians. The Swiss and the Israelis were also making deals to arm this decade-long jihad, despite the former (at least on a governmental level) being ostensibly neutral and the latter being in a theorectical position of perpetual war with most of the Arab world. Meantime, the Saudis were providing hundreds of millions of dollars in matching grants to bankroll the whole enterprise.

I kept thinking about Igor (for all you non-Russian speakers, that's pronounced "eager") every time the protagonists in CWW cheerfully discussed the many ways they were plotting to kill Russians.  Igor was a bit older than the traditional undergrad at the small liberal arts college I attended in the early 1990s--originally from Moscow, he wore cowboy boots and bluejeans all the time, and talked with a Western drawl, because he had learned to speak English mainly from watching old John Wayne movies. He also frequently used a cane, because his back had been injured when he'd been serving a mandatory tour as a young recruit in Afghanistan.  So, although the hell around Kandahar was of the Politburo's making, I have a nasty sensation in my gut when I read about the American-supplied mullahs repeatedly sodomizing captured Russian troops and then killing them in imaginatively cruel ways.  Hating communism, I get. Wanting to bankrupt the Soviet war machine and block its seemingly inexorable march, I understand. Wanting revenge for the black eye the Soviets had given the American military by proxy in Vietnam, with this I can sympathize. But did even those practical realpolitik souls who recognized the Afghans for the radical Islamic tribalists they were, who sought to distance themselves from the convoluted trading scheme that was Iran-Contra, not think that they might not be sowing dragon's teeth (pun inadvertent, but appropriate, given the Beijing connection) by kissing up to the non-democratic Saudis, dealing with the dictator-led Pakistanis, schmoozing with the Egyptians and the Israelis, and providing a vibrant market for Swiss and Chinese weapons manufacturers?

I am well aware of Bismark's remark about politics and sausages--frequently, it seems, our government staffers--both elected and unelected--must choose to make decisions in international relations that involve choosing the lesser of two evils. They, and by federal principles, we frequently support this or that distateful character because he seems more favorably disposed to us than the prospective alternative.  Often, this is little less than a diplomatic good ol' boys network, where like personalities and social backgrounds appeal to each other's love of luxury, rather than caring about the real conditions of people (frequently women and the poor) on the ground. I am also reading a book on economics, and the puzzle of how things are valued.  It seems to me that instead of pure monetary value, there must needs be a moral value for human rights; but the problem is determining the exchange rate between the two valuation systems...

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