Taki Le Maître
Picking on Pinochet Even by British standards, the fog of hypocrisy surrounding Gen. Pinochet's case is breathtaking enough to kill every pigeon in Central Park. Tony Blair and his motley crew of phonies make Bill and Hillary Clinton seem almost honest. This is a case of frustrated 1970s radical nonentities getting their own back. It has as much to do with human rights as I do with Monica Lewinsky. Let's cut the crap and take it from the top.
In 1973, when the military coup took place and Salvador Allende was overthrown, the number of people allegedly murdered and tortured by the Allende regime was considerably greater than the number of people alleged to have been murdered and tortured under Gen. Pinochet. What the left conveniently fails to mention is that there were thousands of armed Cuban paramilitaries roaming the Chilean countryside, a treasonable act that led to the Pinochet coup. This is never mentioned by the Western press. More important, those who died or were imprisoned by the Pinochet regime were hardly innocent, peace-loving people pulled out of their homes arbitrarily by the Chilean police. Most of them had committed violent crimes like arson and murder, or had fought with the Cubans against their own countrymen.
Very few remember what Chile was like in 1973. The Marxists, with the knowledge and approval of Allende, had brought into Chile innumerable arsenals of weapons, which they kept in private houses, offices and warehouses. These armaments were superior in number and quality to those of the army, enough for 30,000 men. Civil war was imminent when the executive and judicial branches publicly denounced Allende for his trampling of the constitution.
Here's what the Vice-President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and others from Eastern Europe had to say in a letter to the London Times about Pinochet's arrest: "All of us are senior political figures in Poland and the Czech Republic, many of whom in the past have experienced imprisonment, violence and other abuses of human rights? The actions of General Pinochet in 1973 were instrumental in rescuing his country from the horrors of communist dictatorship...that cause was one many of us fought in Central Europe too, forming a common front with others across the world. Many of those opposed to Gen. Pinochet are those who in the 1960s and 1970s were notably mute in the face of suffering by Central Europeans, and who were then quick to offer apologia for the numerous invasions, military coups and internment camps of the Soviets and their puppets in the heart of Europe..." It was signed by Polish and Czech Republic officials, such as Marcin Libicki, Vaclav Benda, Ryszard Czarnecki, Viktor Dobal, Aleksander Hall, Marek Jurek, Stefan Niesiolowski and others. Talk about double standards and hypocrisy!
The key principle that has been deliberately neglected during the attempts by an opportunistic Spanish judge to extradite the General is that of equal justice. Pinochet's alleged crimes were no worse, were less extensive and, in the long run, less destructive of order and democracy than those of the many dictators and totalitarian officials and terrorists who regularly travel in and out of Europe with impunity. There has never been an attempt to arrest or extradite these gross violators of human rights. To the contrary, they enjoy considerable sympathy among left-wing elites. Pinochet was picked on only because he was a hated figure of the left. "Heroic" figures from North Korea, Cuba and China, not to mention Africa, are free to come and go despite the fact they?unlike Pinochet?have not given law and order and unprecedented economic growth to their countries.
For leftists, it is acceptable to commit "necessary murders"?as Auden and others of his ilk called genocide?in order to establish a socialist tyranny like Lenin's. Not so when it comes to Chile, Spain, Portugal or Greece. But don't get me wrong. I am in favor of freedom and liberty, and defend the General only because what he did was necessary to preserve such freedoms.
Although there are countless allegations of torture against Pinochet, what has passed under silence is the fact that there has not been a single instance of evidence connecting any of the allegations to Pinochet personally. Simultaneously, the warrant for the General's arrest issued by a communist judge was legally defective when it arrived in London and had to be sent back to Spain to be corrected. Yet the duplicitous Brits continue to pretend that they're treating Pinochet's case on its "legal merits." What a crock!
And do you want more hypocrisy? Easy. Pinochet is 84 and dying. Nothing like a Stalinist show trial to please socialists the world over. The crowning hypocrisy is, of course, that in the week that Pinochet was first arrested in London, the butcher of Havana was on a state visit to Spain. Castro has never held an election. Pinochet stepped down voluntarily. Castro's record of human rights violations far outweighs Pinochet's alleged transgressions. In 1973 the military coup that brought the General to power was sanctioned by Chile's Supreme Court. In a referendum in 1978, 75 percent of Chileans showed their support for Gen. Pinochet. Last but not least, about the same time as the clownish Home Secretary of Blair's government, Jack Straw, was turning down Pinochet's appeal, the leader of Communist China, a monstrous regime that has imprisoned and murdered millions, dined with the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
By the time you read this, it's possible that the General might be on his way home on grounds of ill health. Personally, I doubt it. I know the Brits and their hypocrisy better than most. The timing was all-important. And the announcement did influence the Chilean election. Hypocrisy rules okay, as they say in Blighty.
George Szamuely The Bunker
Out of Africa Last week, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright?who seems to get more idiotic each day?went before the UN Security Council to discuss a truly inane idea: dispatching U.S. troops into the jungles of darkest Africa. Apparently, U.S. troops could soon be stationed in the Democratic Republic of Congo as members of a UN peacekeeping mission.
There are few issues on which President Clinton has exhaled as much hot air as on Africa. Remember his lachrymose musings when he visited the continent two years ago? He began by announcing that slavery was "wrong": "Going back to the time before we were even a nation," he sniffed, "European Americans received the fruits of the slave trade." Then he apologized for the Cold War: Too often, we "dealt with countries in Africa?more on how they stood in the struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union than how they stood in the struggle for their own people's aspirations to live up to the fullest of their God-given abilities." As if that were not enough, he apologized for having done nothing to stop the 1994 massacres in Rwanda: "It may seem strange to you here?but all over the world there were people like me sitting in offices...who did not fully appreciate the depth and the speed with which you were being engulfed by this unimaginable terror."
Thus began the administration's Africa obsession. Clinton repeatedly referred to something called an "African renaissance." He raved about a new generation of leaders: "A decade ago, business was stifled," he rhapsodized. "Now Africans are embracing economic reform. Today from Ghana to Mozambique, from Cote d'Ivoire to Uganda, growing economies are fueling a transformation in Africa." Wherever he looked he saw "growing respect for tolerance, diversity and elemental human rights." Evidence? None whatsoever.
January 2000 has been Africa month at the UN. It was the idea of Richard Holbrooke, U.S. ambassador to the UN and currently president of the 15-member Security Council. "The simplest answer to why we are concentrating on Africa is because it is there," he explained recently. "I say that, with all respect, because so many people think that it isn't... Africa's problems, though undeniably daunting, must be addressed or else they will get worse." But Africa's problems are forever "daunting," and forever must be "addressed" immediately. Why? Many countries face "daunting" problems. Russia, Pakistan, Mexico, Colombia, Afghanistan and Nepal come to mind. Yet no one suggests that "we" must drop everything to solve their problems immediately.
Africa alone demands the paternal colonial solution. What is so uniquely terrible about Africa's crises? Yes, there is war between Ethiopia and Eritrea; civil wars rage in Sudan, Sierra Leone, Angola, Rwanda, Burundi, Namibia and Congo. These wars drag into other countries. Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola, Libya are slogging it out in the Congolese jungles. The war in Sudan has sucked in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Egypt and the U.S. Yet Africa is hardly unique. The fighting in Chechnya is quite nasty. As is the war between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, the irredentist struggles in Georgia, the terrorism in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, not to mention the fighting engulfing the Indonesian archipelago. The wars in the Balkans have been as savage as any taking place in Africa. As in Africa they were largely sponsored by interested outside powers.
The worst possible fate for Africa would be U.S. intervention. Look no further than the hideous harridan's speech at the UN Security Council last week. "The most disturbing aspect of the conflict," she explained, "has been the horrific abuse of fundamental human rights by all sides." How terrible! If only others could wage war like us: bomb like mad, then lie brazenly that no harm has been inflicted on anyone! "There is no rationale of past grievance," she droned on, "that excuses murder, torture, rape or other abuse. Here, today, together, we must vow to halt these crimes and to bring those who commit them to justice under due process of law." Thus the Clinton administration: anxious to intervene somewhere, it ratchets up its fraudulent moralizing rhetoric. There is to be yet another "international" tribunal where the United States calls all the shots.
Then there is Africa's supposed poverty. Africa is indeed poor, but the last thing it needs is Western economic assistance. In the old days, Western governments poured in money. This served to enrich politicians and destroy local manufacturing and agriculture. The new panacea is international trade. Assistant Secretary of State Susan E. Rice talks of "accelerating Africa's integration into the global economy." Albright waffles about a "new and forward-looking Africa...that is eager to participate fully in the world economy." Clinton urges the Senate to approve the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which would cut tariffs on African textiles: "Barriers to trade are barriers to opportunity for Africans working hard to catch up to the global economy and for Americans who want to work with them." This twaddle is the mantra of the Clinton administration.
Why would Africans want to take part in the "global economy"? Foreign investment destroys local initiative. Foreign manufactures destroy local manufactures. And why should the U.S. import cheap manufactures from Africa if it only serves to throw Americans out of work? Why is it good for us if U.S. corporations switch their operations to Africa, pay workers there 50 cents an hour and then import these products back home? If U.S. corporations want to make money in Africa?fine. But it should be made clear to them that they cannot import their products back into the U.S. Once again U.S. corporations and our humanitarian watchdogs are trying to sell us a bill of goods. We must say no to the latest variant of the "white man's burden."
John O'Sullivan Traveling Light
Europe's Watergate began with the revelation that former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl had received secret and illegal payments, some made to his associates in the form of cash in suitcases, which he used to build up a network of political support. In other words, instead of corrupting himself, he had corrupted his party, the Christian Democrat Union, his colleagues, elections and the procedures of democracy.
Matters declined further when Wolfgang Schaeuble, Kohl's successor as head of the CDU, confessed that he, too, had received cash in envelopes from Karlheinz Schreiber, the controversial businessman who dislikes being described as an arms dealer and who is at present in Canada resisting extradition to Germany. Schaeuble, however, claimed innocence, or at least naivete: he had not realized such payments were illegal.
Throughout these suppurating revelations, Kohl has been striking a noble pose. He refuses to name the secret donors on the grounds that he gave his word their gifts would remain confidential. That might be because of the unrespectable character of the donors?arms dealers and so on. Yet the latest twist in the story suggests, still more embarrassingly, that the donors might be very respectable indeed.
A joint investigation by two German and French television stations alleged last week that the late François Mitterrand, when president of France, had ordered the undercover payment of $15 million by the French government to the CDU in order to help Kohl win the 1994 elections. Mitterrand's justification, according to an unnamed aide, was that the payments were for "state interests for Europe." And the money was transferred by French intelligence agents to German intelligence agents in Switzerland.
More will come out. But the main lines of the scandal are becoming clear: Kohl and his colleagues at the top of the CDU accepted very large funds from foreign governments and other sources to keep a firm grip on power. And the money was paid to ensure that Germany pushed ahead with European integration and the single European currency.
This tarnishes not just the CDU but also the bright new structures of German democracy. Thus, although the Social Democrats in Hesse are seeking to cancel the state elections on the grounds that they were won with "dirty money," their own Chancellor Schroeder has been pleading with the public not to allow the scandal to become a national crisis of confidence. The scandal also draws aside a veil that had obscured the undemocratic methods used to advance the "European" idea. It now appears that both men conspired to bribe Germans to give up their sacred mark and try their luck with the euro. Above all, however, it threatens to reshape European politics?and in particular the European right. After 1945 Christian Democrats were the mainstay of center-right politics in continental Europe. Only in France and Britain were they overshadowed by other conservative parties. And Christian Democrats felt themselves to be both more "European" than the nationalistic Gaullists and more progressive socially than the free-market Tories.
In fact Christian Democrats never considered themselves conservatives at all. They always argued that they were to the left of parties like the classical liberal Free Democrats in Germany or the (classical) Liberals in Italy. And they maintained with a mixture of vehemence and incoherence that they were really centrists or even center-leftists. Thus Georges Bidault, the French Christian Democrat and onetime foreign minister, described the Christian Democrat purpose as follows: "To govern in the center, and pursue, by the methods of the right, the policies of the left."
Nor was this just rhetoric. All Christian Democrat parties, even the CDU, favored higher levels of social welfare and economic intervention than did classical conservatives. They were distrustful of the nation-state and early converts to the idea of a European federalism.
Christian Democrats were seen as right-wing only because in the Cold War they were the parties of anti-communism and Atlanticism. And in the end, it was the Cold War that undid them. Because they were almost permanently in power, they fell victim to its temptations, became corrupt and have been in trouble since the end of the Cold War. Italy's Christian Democrats were the first to be destroyed in the "tangentopoli" set of scandals. They are now splintered in several small parties supporting the left coalition. Now even the mighty CDU is imploding?discrediting in the process the "European" ideology that, in the post-Cold War era, mainly distinguishes Christian Democrats from conservatives.
The Christian Democrat moment is drawing to its close. What might fill the vacuum? In Italy two forces vie for power: the Thatcherite Forza Italia (in which the principal theorist is Chicago university economist Antonio Martino) and the "post-fascist" National Alliance, which stresses nationalism and social welfare. And that is the pattern all over the advanced world. In Australia, Canada, Austria, France, Denmark, New Zealand, etc., we see a battle for control of the right between economic nationalists and free-market conservatives. For the moment that division keeps the social-democratic left in power. It will not be long, however, before a new right synthesis emerges from this ideological flux. And when it does, post-Cold War politics will begin in earnest.
Jim Holt The Tired Hedonist
I'm Content It is mid-morning. Reclining on my day bed, still attired in my damask dressing gown and having just smoked my after-breakfast pipe, I decide to compose a poem. A villanelle. Nothing comes of my effort; I sink into a lethargy. I rise and go to the kitchen. There, mixing some red and white wine leftover from last night's dinner, I contrive a vin rose as a pick-me-up. But the libation fails to dispel the matutinal gloom. I think I am unhappy.
Perhaps I need a woman. For company, you understand. I can do without the other thing. Not, mind you, that I haven't done myself well in my time. And I will do again, I hope. But I can take it or leave it. I'm above sex. You have to be, living alone in the mountains of Maine, or it gets a grip on you.
It's been such a long time?more than a month in fact?since I enjoyed the company of a woman. I am referring, of course, to my New Year's Eve "date" with Christina Aguilera, about which so much has already been written, most of it ill-informed and motivated, it seems to me, purely by malice. For one thing, the "sandwiching" incident, in which I supposedly acted in tandem with Andy Dick (a man I've never met), was a pure fabrication on the part of the gutter press. It was put about by a silly, squinny-eyed old fart?or "social reporter," as he likes to style himself?whose name I will not dignify with a mention. For another thing, I have never owned, much less worn, a prosthesis.
What to do with this desire for a woman? Must I gratify it if I am to be happy? But desire, by its very nature, can only yield unhappiness. It springs from a lack and consists of a dissatisfaction. When it encounters obstacles, it produces frustration. And when it attains its object, it produces only boredom, for the desire ceases with fulfillment and one is left with the now-undesired object, who often wishes to spend the night. On the heels of rapture comes torpor. According to the Buddhist law of karma, selfish desire causes rebirth in painful forms. And as Proust observed, the desires that clamor most for satisfaction?the desire to "do just one more line," for example?rarely have anything to do with happiness. The only situation in which all desires are simultaneously fulfilled is in the womb, and that archaic bliss can never be recaptured. Desires are stupid and enslaving. As a character in one of Susan Sontag's stories said, "I don't want to satisfy my desire, I want to exasperate it."
But how to extinguish desire? Origen, a third-century Alexandrian theologian, emasculated himself in order to ward off unwelcome sexual yearnings. That is going a bit far. It is sager, I think, to heed the counsel of Oscar Wilde: the only way to get rid of a temptation is to give in to it. Once I have given in to all my desires?in some stubborn cases, I suspect, repeated indulgence will be necessary?they will all be annihilated. Then I shall have achieved the state of nirvana, defined as having just enough life to enjoy being dead.
I seem to have come full circle in these tedious and unprofitable reflections. The noon hour approaches; soon, Moto, my valet and "bodyguard," will be bringing in luncheon. I look forward to pronging some truffled quail's wings into my mouth. That will afford pleasure. Pleasure must be good, Eudoxus observed, since all animals want it. Pleasure is an impulse by which we know and feel and love and move, an impulse from the vernal woods that teaches us more than all the sages can. That, at least, is what Lady Morpeth says (it sounds like a quotation). As a soi-disant hedonist, I suppose I am obliged to agree.
But can a congeries of momentary pleasures add up to happiness? The Bloomsburies thought so?the pleasures of friendship, of beauty?and they ended up artistically constipated or mad. Opium seemed the very soul of happiness to romantic poets like Coleridge, De Quincey and Crabbe; all three were plagued by horrid nightmares as a side effect, and Crabbe in particular found his dreams haunted by nasty phantasms he called "the Leather Lads." Exercising despotic power afforded a measure of happiness to Nero, Hitler and Warhol, yet they all came to a sticky end. The Victorians thought highly of love, but now we have come to see through it. Work is the real source of happiness, said Freud?an hypothesis the testing of which I will leave to Fran Lebowitz. Does virtue bring happiness? Plato called this "the noble lie," but I know of at least one case where it worked?that of Warren Beatty. "I was looking for someone to make me good," he once said of his wife Annette Bening. "When I met her, I felt relief." Money, we know, cannot buy happiness, for, as Dr. Freud pointed out, money is not the object of any infantile desire. Then again, have you ever tried to buy happiness without money?
Anyway, money and virtue are at the moment as remote from me as women are. My close companions are envy and resentment. I warm to the definition that Ambrose Bierce gave in his Devil's Dictionary: "Happiness: n. An agreeable sensation arising from contemplating the misery of another." Happiness really is relative. Unfortunately, that relativity cuts both ways. Happiness in others is not a beautiful thing to see. "Every time a friend of mine succeeds, a little something inside me dies," Gore Vidal once said. La Rochefoucauld put it even more succinctly: "It is not enough that I succeed; my friends must fail."
Enough of this piffle. Who needs happiness? Le bonheur est mediocre, says Proust's Swann. Tonight, at any rate, I'll be content. A nice supper in the evening, a bit of telly, a warm milky drink, then lights off, and dreams of Britney Spears.
Toby Young Arriviste
Farewell, Manhattan Well, I'm going back to the old country. My ex-girlfriend has agreed to go out with me provided I move to London. We'll live together on a "trial basis" in my flat in Shepherd's Bush. If it doesn't work out, I'll be back here like a bullet out of Puff Daddy's gun. I still love New York, it's just that I love Caroline more. If I don't go, I'll lose her and that prospect is even harder to bear than leaving this beautiful city. I'll continue to write this column, providing a blow-by-blow account of the difficulties I'm having adjusting to life in the slow lane. In the meantime, here is my list of the things I'm going to miss most about the best city in the world:
Rudolph Giuliani. London is holding its first mayoral elections this year since Margaret Thatcher abolished the Greater London Council around 15 years ago, but whoever wins you can bet they won't be a patch on Giuliani. Crotchety, pugnacious, draconian, abrasive, snippy?has a city ever had a mayor who so perfectly embodies its character? Missing his epic bun fight with Hillary Clinton is what I regret most about leaving.
Kozmo.com. Kozmo.com, which delivers videotapes and more to your door in an hour, perfectly sums up the extraordinary quality of service in this city. Service personnel are well-trained in New York. If they perform badly you complain, if they perform well you tip. In London, we never complain and we never tip and as a consequence we have the service culture of a banana republic.
Obento. In Shepherd's Bush there are no sushi restaurants, let alone a sushi takeout restaurant like Obento. The last time I flew to New York from London, I shared a taxi from the airport with an artist who'd just spent six months in Germany. "What's the first thing you're going to do when you get home?" I asked him. "Order some sushi takeout," he replied. If I ever come back here, the first thing I'll do is call Obento (807-7630).
Lucy Sykes. British twins Lucy and Plum Sykes, who both work for Conde Nast fashion magazines, may not be everyone's cup of tea but it's time to nail my colors to the mast: I love Lucy. In Britain, we like to tell ourselves that charm is a quality that doesn't exist outside the British Isles, but that will be untrue so long as Lucy is in New York. With her outsized, theatrical presence, her squeaky, Minnie Mouse voice and her WASP-princess good looks, she's the perfect celebrity wrangler. I've never known anyone capable of saying no to her.
Patrick McMullan. It sounds stupid, but I'll miss the society photographer. I don't think I've ever been to an event in New York that he hasn't been at. Patrick's the one thing that can always be relied upon to be there. He's been incredibly good to me, too. Whenever I've been with a girl, he's taken my picture. He tells me to pose with my arm around her and, when the flashbulb goes off, I whisper in her ear that there's no film in the camera. She thinks I'm joking. Needless to say, no picture of me he's taken has ever appeared anywhere.
My ISDN Line. My computer here is rigged up to a router and an ISDN line, giving me one kickass system. I can download naked pictures of Elizabeth Hurley in 30 seconds flat. In London, it takes, well, seven minutes and 33 seconds, as a matter of fact. Back in Blighty, ISDN is only available for residential households at an enormous price and in Shepherd's Bush they don't even have cable. I've got a satellite dish on my roof that only works when the sun is shining. In other words, it doesn't work.
Sophie Dahl. Sophie is the 6-foot British model who I'm proud to call my roommate. In London she's a superstar, but in New York no one's ever heard of her. Thanks to her hard work, that's about to change: among other things, she's just been confirmed for the cover of W. My roommate has just been elevated to the ranks of supermodeldom, and I'm moving back to London! If my 16-year-old self came face-to-face with my 36-year-old self in a dark alley, he'd beat the crap out of me.
Tartine. This little French restaurant in the West Village is seconds from my apartment. Not fancy, just a cute little neighborhood place, and for my money the city's best restaurant. I've been going there three or four times a week for brunch for five years. I pretty much always have the same thing: chicken pot pie. With a bowl of soup, a Diet Coke, a spinach salad and a tip it comes to $18. I've eaten at Nobu, Bouley, Patroon and EQ, but I've never had a better meal. The service is absolutely outstanding, too: quick, efficient, faultless. Places like this just don't exist in London. Come to think of it, places like Tartine don't exist outside New York City.
Cabdrivers. I can pinpoint the exact moment I fell in love with New York cabbies. I was standing on a corner in the meatpacking district and a cab pulled up. I was about to tell the driver I didn't need a ride when he cracked open his door and poured out the contents of a receptacle filled with what I could only assume was urine. He was literally too busy chasing fares to stop to piss. New York cabdrivers are a constant reminder that this is a country of immigrants who've muscled their way out of their Third World shantytowns, scraped up the money to travel to America and now they're duking it out on the streets of Manhattan. In 10 years they'll own their own store and in 20 they'll have a condo on the Jersey Shore and two kids in college. How can we Brits ever hope to compete against that kind of energy?
Melik Kaylan The Spy
Bill Laden I first heard about Osama bin Laden some 13 years ago. I'd forgotten all about it. It came back to me when I had to do a story near the Pak-Afghan border some months ago. I recalled that journalist friends who'd covered the Afghan-Soviet conflict in the 80s had told me about him. Bin Laden had promised to help them finance documentaries and even a feature film illustrating the heroism of Afghan resistance. It never bore fruit, for whatever reason, but they ran around together for a while from the subcontinent to the Gulf, and I believe to the U.S. too. Bin Laden meant it, I don't doubt. I suspect Hollywood wasn't ready.
Mary Anne Weaver's recent New Yorker article reminded us that bin Laden served as a U.S. ally and asset in those years and that bin Laden remains extremely well connected with Saudi royalty and aristocracy. It's worth being reminded. I applaud her. But why on Earth won't she take the next step? If, as she implies, the Saudis still support him in part, then they must be hindering American efforts to get him. They're certainly obstructing the other investigation of the truck bombs against the U.S. Army barracks in Saudi.
What does it mean when your closest allies help the killers of your soldiers and citizens?are they no longer allies? Obvious rule, you'd think, but not in the Middle East. (The Israeli air force bombed a U.S. Navy communications ship for many hours during the Six Day War, killing or wounding most of the crew, in a protracted attempt to sink it.) Still, the uninterrupted French kiss of U.S.-Saudi relations raises the obvious question: Does the U.S. really want bin Laden? Weaver's apparent central point?one she never quite makes clearly?is one we've all heard before: bin Laden's more a symbol than a practicing terrorist-in-chief. But she doesn't ask: why, then, does the U.S. want him? I've seen the phone-book-size indictments put out by the U.S. There's nothing concrete there. (Weaver said the same on Charlie Rose.) Again, the question: does the U.S. really want him?
When I was on the Pak-Afghan story, I met top Talibanists. What they told me they've also told Weaver, yet she doesn't mention it. So I will. Please pay attention everyone, because this is an exclusive and a humdinger. The Taliban claim that Bill Clinton had to know the missiles he fired into eastern Afghanistan in August 1998 would get nowhere near bin Laden, their supposed target. They say the miscue was no mistake. Their evidence: Clinton's intelligence folk can monitor bin Laden's cellphone. Indeed, the indictments wouldn't exist otherwise. Therefore, say the Talibanists, Clinton's cruise-controllers knew that bin Laden had left the area days before.
In fact, Clinton famously locked out key intelligence agencies?CIA and FBI chiefs?from the critical strategy meetings before ordering the missile strikes. In theory, they could have corrected his aim. Christopher Hitchens did sterling work on this in Vanity Fair and in his anti-Clinton book, arguing that both the timing and targeting had more to do with Monica than counterterrorism?with distraction, not policy.
Hitchens is right as far as he goes. The question is: why those targets? The Taliban and the Pakistanis believe that Clinton's intended target wasn't bin Laden at all: he actually succeeded in knocking out numerous cadres of the Harkat-ul-Ansar, the Muslim fundamentalists in training for the invasion of Indian-held Kashmir. The Paks are convinced that Clinton tried to prevent or delay that invasion of Kashmir?that his target choices were no accident.
Now to put in a few extra pieces of the jigsaw. A congressman I know, who sits on a crucial committee, believes that elements of the CIA actually help the Taliban and their allies to some degree. He's seen the documents, he says. I heard similar things out there on the Pak-Afghan border. Might that explain why Clinton locked out the CIA?
Recently, The New York Times has abounded with stories of how Pakistan's government perhaps planned and supported the recent Indian Airlines hijackers, who were none other than the notorious Harkat-ul-Ansar group now known as Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. The U.S. asked the Pak strongman Gen. Musharraf to suppress them and he demurred, it seems. The Clinton administration has all but accused the Paks of sponsoring terrorism. The Paks in turn accused the U.S. of tilting in favor of India?very strange, since Pak-U.S. military-intelligence links go way back to the Cold War. They're institutionalized. It's almost impossible to reverse that kind of embrace overnight.
Here's what I make of all this. I think the U.S. military-intelligence establishment is at odds with Clinton loyalists on policy in the region. I'd say that's why Clinton locked them out of the missile meetings. I'd say also that, at some point, they had all agreed to tolerate a policy of insurrection in Kashmir. The U.S. (like the Soviets, once) has done this kind of thing worldwide: foment insurrection, exhaust the protagonists, chair the peace deal. (Desert Storm?) Then Clinton suddenly broke ranks without warning. Overnight he favored India, and perhaps continues to do so.
But it's all very odd. Bill's the president. He owns foreign policy. He doesn't need to skulk around backstairs and trick his own people. He can sack them if they don't agree.
Yes, but only in a perfect world. In reality, say if Bill suddenly decided to favor Syria over Israel, all the pro-Israeli U.S. institutions and employees would fight him. The Pak lobby is hardly as formidable, but surely includes various generals and top CIA personnel leftover from anti-Soviet days.
I'd like to think finally that here's an example of Bill taking risks on highly principled issues and using his wily political smarts along the way. It won't wash. He overthrew what was probably a highly meticulous strategy, and he did it with his usual impress-Jodie-Foster impulsiveness. More likely, he realized that there's no money for the Dems in the pro-Pakistan lobby. Perhaps opposing money came in from somewhere. Either way, I suspect, bin Laden has nothing to do with it.