"I am shocked -- shocked! -- to find gambling is going on in here" -- Captain Renault at the gaming tables in Casablanca.
The much ballyhooed dump of intelligence and
diplomatic files concerning the Afghan War has been trumpeted as some
kind of shocking expose, "painting a different picture" than the
official version of events -- revelations that are sure to rock the
Anglo-American political establishments to their foundations.
The New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel were given 92,000 reports by Wikileaks, including thousands of pages of raw "human intelligence" (i.e., uncorroborated claims and gossip from interested parties and anonymous sources pushing a multitude of agendas), and diplomatic notes passed between the promulgators of the occupation in Washington and their factotums "in country" -- reports which you might imagine also purvey a multitude of agendas ... not least the supreme agenda of all officials involved in a dubious enterprise: ass-covering.
Yet these reports are being treated as if they are the "grim truth" behind the shining picture of official propaganda. But what do these stories in the NYT and Guardian actually "reveal"? Let's see:
- That the occupation forces kill lots of civilians at checkpoints and botched raids, then lie about it afterward.
- That these killings make Afghans angry and fuel the insurgency.
- That elements of Pakistani intelligence are involved with some elements of the many resistance groups known collectively (and incorrectly) in the West as the Taliban.
- That the Americans are using more and more robot drones to kill people.
- That the Americans are running death squads in Afghanistan aimed at Taliban leaders.
- That Afghan officials are corrupt, and that Afghan police and military forces are woefully inadequate.
Is there anything in these breathless new recitations that we did not
already know? For example, the NYT offers a few short vignettes from the
leaked documents concerning botched raids and errant missiles that
slaughter civilians. But in almost every case, these have already been extensively reported
-- in the Times itself and other mainstream venues -- in much greater
detail, with quotes and evidence from the victims and local
eyewitnesses, and not just the self-interested, ass-covering perspective
of official occupation reports. And the "revelation" that occupation
forces are killing "an amazing number of people" who have "never proven
to be a threat" at checkpoints was confirmed months ago by no less than Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the erstwhile commander of the whole shebang.
Likewise, the entanglement between Pakistani intelligence services and some elements of violent resistance in Afghanistan has been a constant theme of mainstream reportage on the Afghan War since the very beginning -- not to mention a relentless drumbeat of official "concern" in Washington. It is a rare week indeed when some Washington bigwig is not hinting darkly -- or declaring outright -- that Pakistan needs to "get with the program" in one way or another.
The increasing use of drones is also no secret; indeed, it is frequently featured in giddy press reports about these neat gizmos our boys are using to bravely blast villages on the other side of the world from comfortably padded chairs in Nevada control rooms.
As for the corruption and incompetence of the Afghan "government" installed by the foreign occupiers, and the untrustworthiness of the Afghan police and military being trained by the foreign occupiers to do their dirty work for them -- again, this too has been a running theme not only of media coverage but a plethora of official pronouncements. Has a month gone by in recent years when some top-level Washington figure has not scolded the powerless Afghan government for its manifold failings? Has a month gone by without long, detailed stories -- usually in the New York Times itself -- outlining the venality and brutality of the warlords, gangsters, religious extremists and corruptocrats that the United States has empowered in the occupied land?
Where then are the "revelations"? Anyone who has regularly read, well, the New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel could not remotely be surprised by any of the facts (as opposed to the oceans of spin and supposition) buried in this mountain of leakage. These are not the Pentagon Papers or the Downing Street Memos; they do almost nothing to alter the public image of the war, and tell almost nothing that we don't already know.
In fact, the overall effect of the multi-part coverage of the documents is to paint a portrait of plucky, put-upon Americans trying their darnedest to get the job done despite the dastardly dealings and gooberish bumblings of the ungrateful little brown wretches we are trying to save from themselves. The NYT is quite explicit in this spin:
[T]he documents sketch a war hamstrung by an Afghan government, police force and army of questionable loyalty and competence, and by a Pakistani military that appears at best uncooperative and at worst to work from the shadows as an unspoken ally of the very insurgent forces the American-led coalition is trying to defeat.So you see, if our noble enterprise is failing, it's because the Afghans are idiots, the Pakistanis are backstabbers ... and the Iranians are behind it all, training Taliban fighters, making their bombs and bankrolling the political opposition to America's appointed satrap, Hamid Karzai.
Ah, here we get down to it. Here's
metal more attractive for our militarists. The treachery of Iran is a
constant theme in the leakage -- both in the raw, unsifted,
uncorroborated "humint" and in the diplomatic cables of puzzled
occupiers who cannot fathom why there should be any opposition to their
enlightened rule. It must the fault of those perfidious Persians!
One can only imagine the lipsmacking and handclapping now rampant among the Bomb Iran crowd as they pore over these unsubstantiated rumors and Potomac ass-coverings which are being doled out -- by the "liberal" media, no less! -- as the new, grim truth about Afghanistan. The Guardian helpfully compiles the incendiary material for them:
Iran is engaged in an extensive covert campaign to arm, finance, train and equip Taliban insurgents, Afghan warlords allied to al-Qaida and suicide bombers fighting to eject British and western forces from Afghanistan, according to classified US military intelligence reports contained in the war logs.
The secret "threat reports", mostly comprising raw data provided by Afghan spies and paid informants, cannot be corroborated individually. Even if the claims are accurate, it is unclear whether the activities they describe took place with the full knowledge of Tehran or are the work of hardline elements of the semi-autonomous Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, ideological sympathisers of the Taliban, arms smugglers or criminal gangs ....
Yes, no doubt there are a great many "ideological sympathisers" of the
Taliban's Shiite-hating Sunni extremists among the, er, Shiites in Iran.
But such nuances don't matter; all that matters is that you get some
headlines out there about "Iran's covert operations in Afghanistan."
[Because, as we all know, it is an unmitigated evil for any nation to
conduct covert operations in another country -- unless, of course, that
nation is run by nice, clean, English-speaking people.]
The Guardian details a number of raw humint reports on Iranian dastardy, then makes a curious claim for its other sources:
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