Category Archives: Bowe Bergdahl

Why the Taliban Will Regain Power

Zaeef freed from Guantanamo

We are fed a load of tripe about the Taliban in the western press. They are portrayed as crude, illiterate, opium traffickers and murders. They are quite the opposite. They are, in the first place, a legend, which began in the 1980s when a movement to resist the lawlessness left by the collapse of the secular regime was formed by brave, uncorrupt ‘talibs’ like Abdul Salam Zaeef, one of the founders of the Taliban, coined by the BBC in 1994.

The ‘students’ were the educated branch of the native Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s, though there was never any interest or need for western style formal parties. Good, educated Muslim leaders were respected and consulted by all. Sectarian politics is alien to Muslim society, seen as divisive and even authoritarian, as proven time and again by majority-rule pseudo-democracies, as developed to meet the needs of regulating modern-day imperialism from the 19th century on.

Freedom fighters

Afghan society at a tribal-village level has traditionally operated on sharia law and consensus. When something needed to be done (i.e., a governance issue), people in the village worked out how to accomplish it and got on with it, albeit within limitations of tribal customs.

Technologically-driven capitalism doesn’t recognize this truly ‘democratic’ rule. So, apart from a handful of settler colonies, three centuries of colonialism were a spectacular failure. And the settler colonies? The natives were mostly exterminated, and ‘democracy’ of poor (mostly British) settlers gelled, with generous financial help from the mother country. Culminating in the absurdity, if not outright fascism, of US politics today, a settler colony gone berserk.

As Trump ponders how to extract the last of the troops from (hopefully) the last US colonial adventure, what to do with Reagan’s “freedom fighters” is a dilemma.

Reagan embraced the mujahideen in the heady 1980s, when the Cold War was at its peak, and the Islamic forces briefly were in sync with US imperialist objectives. As Ibrahim Haqqani1 told US journalist Jere Van Dyk, explaining why the once revered Taliban suddenly became the enemy, and have been murdered nonstop for almost two decades, “We haven’t changed, only the US has changed.”

Not strictly true, as Van Dyk points out in The Trade: My Journey into the Labyrinth of Political Kidnapping (2017). ‘You have suicide bombers and kidnappings as a racket.’ To which Haqqani could argue, ‘Yemenis have kidnapped people for centuries and kamikaze fighters are as old as warfare itself. We adopted them as tactics out of necessity.’ When all you have is your life to give, you give it. And kidnapping is certainly better than murder.

In The Trade, Van Dyk looks at the kidnappings by Islamists (including his own) in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. While kidnappings by Iraqi insurgents from 2004 on, and ISIS from 2014, have resulted in dozens of deaths of hostages, only a few dozen foreign hostages have been taken in Afghanistan, resulting in only a handful of deaths. Van Dyk points out that the Haqqani network, kidnapping-central, has not killed any foreign hostages. Kidnapping is called ‘the Trade’, and is to produce revenue and to get the release of Taliban prisoners. The risk is more of botched rescue missions and the pretense of ‘no negotiations with terrorists’.

The Taliban are more like the North American natives, who were mowed down by racist, greedy settlers. Those Americans like Van Dyk who admire these ‘freedom fighters’, even after his own harrowing two months as a hostage, are also rediscovering the real North American ‘freedom fighters’: not the storybook colonial militiamen fighting the nasty Brits, but the natives who resisted the invaders, those very colonists, and the abolitionist colonials, who fought against slavery.

If we add in the many Muslim immigrants to North America, we have the making of a cultural shift against the whole colonial narrative. No wonder Trump tried to ban all Muslims, and hounds and tortures Muslims at home and abroad. He senses the beginning of the end of the colonial confidence trick, and lashes out blindly.

The real plot line is not ‘we come to Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, wherever, to liberate natives from tyranny,’ but ‘we invade for geopolitical reasons to oppose those who resist US hegemony.’ And the fallout is the hordes of economic refugees trying to get a piece of the pie, now waiting impatiently at the colonial doorway to their stolen wealth.

Westerners who can join the dots will look for ways to help the underdog, the ‘good guys’. Some of these efforts are misguided (joining ISIS), but some, like Van Dyk’s, struggle to make sense of the new narrative, and even accept what the media depicts as ‘terrorism’ as legitimate forms of struggle, given the way the cards are stacked to favour the ‘bad guys’.

So we have John Lindh, who joined up with the Taliban in 2000 and was caught in the invaders’ crosshairs in 2001. His crime? Liking the Taliban, trying to help them build an Islamic society in the face of US hostility. Finally out of prison after 17 years, as pro-Taliban as ever.

Then there’s Bowe Bergdahl, who seems to have joined the army with the unconscious motive of defecting to the Taliban, bringing the invaders’ killing to a halt, and risking his life as a hostage to help give them a helping hand. It worked. He liberated 5 Taliban leaders from Guantanamo, and exposed the madness of the occupation, as documented in his biography, which is a litany of military cruelty, cynicism, infighting between the Pentagon, the CIA and FBI, and incredible waste. His 4 years of captivity kept the army et al busy looking for him, arguably making life under occupation more bearable for Afghans and even for US soldiers, who didn’t have to press the agenda of terror so forcefully.

There are other unsung western heroes of resistance to the US wars in the Muslim world, some of whom convert to Islam, just as some of the colonists in North America ‘went native’, embracing the native way of life, rejecting their appointed role as invader-colonizer.

The fact that the Afghans have continued to resist the invaders, despite the overwhelming military force opposing them, is an inspiration, not only to the other resistance forces in the West and the Muslim world, but to wealthy Gulf Arabs, who continue to finance the Taliban (and who despise their own Saudi overlords). A Taliban official told Van Dyk: Arabs respect us because we gave up everything to protect bin Laden and fight for our country. We have never given in and we are an inspiration to them.

Even as Obama hurriedly spirited the five Taliban officials out of Guantanamo to ensure the safe return of Bergdahl in 2016, he boasted of assassinating (by drone) Mullah Akhtar Mansour, leader of Taliban. Hold on. By initiating direct negotiations with the Taliban and making the prisoner exchange, doesn’t that mean you’re officially recognizing the Taliban and the Afghan Emirate? Is assassinating their leader a good way to instill confidence?

Founding an Islamic state

Abdul Salam Zaeef, who last served as ambassador to Pakistan (i.e., Afghanistan’s public face), lived through the Soviet and US invasions, capture by his Pakistani ‘brothers’, and Guantanamo hell. He came back to Afghanistan in 2006, but chose to live in Kabul in obscurity, insisting he was no longer interested in politics, and politely declining giving any advice to US occupiers or Afghan officials. They wouldn’t leave him in peace, and, fearing for his life, he fled to to the United Arab Emirates in 2012.

But if things move quickly, he and others like him will be able to step in and finally allow Afghanistan to heal. In any case, we can thank Zaeef for his courage both as a ‘good’ Taliban and as a chronicler. We are allowed inside the Taliban experience and can appreciate it for its basic sense of justice, divine justice.

In My Life with the Taliban (2010), Zaeef recounts his adventures as a mujahid. So many seemingly miraculous close-calls with bombs, snipers, ambushes, runaway tractors, duplicitous Pakistani officials … He is a methodical thinker and his story rings true. Taliban history is colourful enough without resorting to exaggeration.

They are the stuff of legend, like the Vietnamese a half century ago. They are the only uncorrupt force Afghanistan has left after 40 years of US meddling. Why don’t we know this? Because the Taliban are not following (and never have) the American agenda. Iran gets the same treatment. You can call yourself an Islamic state — as long as you follow US instructions (Saudi Arabia, Pakistan). In any case, our cynical culture would laugh at the simple ‘straight path’ narrative and worldview of Zaeef.

The last real Afghan leader before the Taliban’s Mullah Omar was Mohammad Najibullah, a sincere communist. He was educated as a doctor in Moscow and knew and respected Soviet (and progressive western) culture. And his lurking mujahideen enemy, waiting to pounce, knew and respected that, grudgingly. He could easily have left along with the Soviet troops in 1989, or later in 1992 when it was clear that without the Soviet Union, he was doomed. But he chose to stay, to die with honour. He was no wallflower.

On the contrary, he took the initiative and negotiated “cash-for-compliance”, self-government to local tribal leaders, financing them to work not against him, but with him. In western political jargon, a coalition government. Essentially, an alliance between the urban intelligentsia and the rural farmers.

No talk of land reforms or anti-niqab/birqa stuff. Just basic, uncorrupt law and order. For a while, it was a success. (Ask almost any Afghan who is old enough what the least-bad time was, and they will say ‘after the Russian troops left when Najibullah was the leader.’) A truce with the insurgent mujahideen remnants. Many fighters were tired of endless war and were happy to get on with life.

The pressure from the US-Pakistan-backed anti-communist crusade finally forced Najibullah to cede power in 1992, and he was eventually assassinated in 1996. Communism was dead, but the collapse of order meant a collapse not only of the economy but of morality, as looting, extortion, sexual license and rape took over. Having successfully destroyed Afghanistan, the American ‘allies’ lost interest.

What happened next reads like a modern day hijrah. Zaeef and friends  Abdul Qudus and Neda Mohammad decided to form a kind of citizens militia to resist the protection racket in their village. They appealed to others, distancing themselves from the decadent, chaotic post-communist nightmare.

Soon they had their own checkpoint and scared the village’s bandits away. Volunteers joined and began to unite with others as Muslims. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) brought about their peaceful return to Mecca (629–630), involving no plunder, and granting amnesty to their enemies.

What happened in 1994-6 was a repeat of that 7th century religious-political moment, redeeming a society out of violence and chaos, no less astounding in its speed of transformation, and resulting — in an instant — in the rule of peace (sharia).

The Taliban had given beauty to the region just as a flower can brighten even the most barren desert. Soon dozens of volunteers came to join us, and only a few days after the movement started it had over four hundred members. Many businessmen and traders began to donate money.

Suddenly thrust into western-style political power, the Taliban had neither the experience nor even the interest in state-building. They forged on, declared Afghanistan to be an emirate and used a literal application of sharia according to the Hanafi school.

After close to two decades of war, millions of lives lost, their public executions, stonings, etc shocked the West. But their successes in bringing peace, disarming the population, ending opium production were ignored. They faced sanctions from outside and opposition from the Dari ethnicity in the north and the Hazara. They struggled to suppress these rebellions. They were never implicated in bin Laden’s terrorism, but their efforts to reach an accommodation with the US were ignored, and the US used 9/11 as a pretext to invade.

Lessons

So the most obvious lesson is that Afghans will continue to look to the Taliban as the only honest force in Afghanistan, promising peace and sharia law. Mirwais Yasini, head of Hezb-i-Islami Khalis, now parliament’s first deputy speaker, told Van Dyk: I am positive they will return. I know the blood of our people. We need to bring civilizations closer together.

Zaeef hints at past mistakes and the actual program of the Taliban today. While the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhist cliff statues was “within the letter of the Islamic law,” he says it was “unnecessary”. As a loyal Taliban, he will not denounce his then-leader and friend, Mullah Omar, but he had no part of this decision.

Zaeef admires Ismail Khan, the Hazara warlord and sworn enemy of the Taliban, as the only warlord who used revenues to help his people. But he insists

In Afghanistan each ethnic group may only prosper if there is unity. No one can protect their national honour with selfishness … Afghans need to unite. Not let themselves and their children serve the Americans, killing other Afghans and being killed themselves.

Lesson two: Pakistan is the ‘gray eminence’ at work in Afghanistan. The Taliban are walking a minefield between Pakistan and the US with its puppet government in Kabul.

Pakistan is obsessed with India. During the 1980s, Pakistan used the jihad groups to wipe out Indian influence in Afghanistan. They were happy with the Taliban and with bin Laden. The stars of the Twin Towers bombings in 1993 and 2001 were  Pakistanis Ramzi Yusef and Ahmed Omar Sheikh, and there are lots of fingerprints, including harbouring bin Laden for a decade after 9/11.

So while Pakistan publicly announced that it was siding with the US-led coalition in Afghanistan, in reality it is keeping the Taliban alive, gambling on the eventual collapse of the Karzai-Ghani government, and its ability to control Afghanistan as their patron.

Their only betrayal was the 2010 capture of Taliban’s top military commander, Mullah Baradar. But many believe Baradar’s removal from the scene suited elements in the Pakistani establishment, as he had been acting outside Pakistan’s control, holding secret peace talks with the Afghan government, and drifting closer to India.

The Taliban are not fools, and in power, will not follow Pakistan’s intrigues. The spectre of Pashtunistan will never go away. And just in case Trump thinks his faux peace talks are paying off, a suicide attack in early May 2019 in Pul-e-Khumri blew up the police station and killed 13 when talks produced nothing. And Kandahar police stations have been under constant attack since April 2019.

How sharia law will be practiced will be debated. In public statements, the Taliban have renounced support for al-Qaeda, and accepted girls’ education. The only way the West can help is through reconstruction under control of the uncorrupt Taliban.

Making peace with the Taliban

The US must give up its insistence on trying to push its own blanket electoral agenda on the Afghans. To not only respect Islam, but welcome it. “The Taliban was now a part of our family,” said Bowe Bergdahl’s mother Jani, as she waited stoically for news of her son. And she was just stating a fact and dealing with it, not rejecting or despising it.

Those embracing or at least admiring Islam in the West have seen through the moral swamp that they are growing up in. Lindh’s parents’ divorce was a turning point, his father announced he was gay, pushing John to look for a moral anchor in Islam. Our PC ‘cultural Marxism’ has produced a flat, dead world. Lindh and Bergdahl’s quests are a tonic, not something to belittle or, worse, punish.

The victory in Afghanistan will be when the US acknowledges its colonial sins, not only in Afghanistan, but around the world, and most importantly, at home, where the remnants of the real Americans, the natives, must be acknowledged, and their wisdom of loving and working in harmony to honour nature integrated into what remains of Turtle Island.

  1. Brother of Jalaluddin Haqqani, the Taliban’s senior military leader in Afghanistan. He approached the NATO forces in 2002 at the behest of Jalaluddin Haqqani and Abdul Jalil with an offer of peace, but was instead arrested and tortured. Upon his release, Ibrahim Haqqani was appointed a governor by Hamid Karzai.

Reluctant Soldier, Confused Peacenik

Bowe Bergdahl captured the American imagination in 2009 when he disappeared from what had become his living hell. His battalion commander, Lt Baker, was not only an obnoxious tyrant (handing out Field-Grade Article 15s, just short of a court martial, supposedly for being out of uniform, but in fact for complaining about the mission to a Guardian photo-journalist in a video broadcast), but he had ordered them to build the OB (observation post) Mest on a cemetery, defiling, even defecating on gravestones near the FOB (forward operating base) Sharana.

He was as much a victim of the latest American COIN (counterintelligence) strategy as a deserter. Taken captive by the enemy (Taliban) under the protection of an ally (Pakistan), embodying the self-enforcing illogic of the entire war.

The FOB’s OP (army talk is littered with acronyms and abbreviations, quickly reducing any text or conversation to gobbledygook) would transfer authority to Afghan troops operate under US troops, the idea being to eventually leave the Afghans in sole charge. They would establish security, identify the Taliban, separate them from the local population, show the villagers they were better off with Karzai and the Americans in charge. Abracadabra. The Taliban would just disappear, as they very well ought to.

But it’s not the Taliban who have disappeared. Between 2006 and 2014, 20,000 soldiers have deserted from Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 2001 the army pressed charges against less than 2,000, half pleaded guilty, 78 were tried and convicted. That pales in comparison to more than half a million Vietnam draft resisters/ deserters from 1966 to 1973. Desertion is as American as apple pie.

Bergdahl’s 4 weeks of hell sent him over the edge. He forgot the most important rule about the army. Don’t think. Just obey orders. Your superior is always right. It’s not clear what exactly B decided he was going to do, but he snuck away in the night, careful not to be noticed and headed for … hmmm. I guess he hadn’t really decided anything other than giving himself over to the Taliban, which was pretty easy. Hours after dawn, the word got out and Taliban equivalent of UPS picked up their load and whisked him across the border into FATA (federal administrative tribal areas) in Pakistan, just out of reach of the US army.1

Domino or butterfly effect?

His desertion (he eventually ignored his defence lawyer and pleaded guilty) set in motion a domino effect on a massive scale, but not the one the prosecution tried to pin on him: that B’s desertion led to soldiers’ deaths. The early angry accusations soon melted under examination, leaving B’s actions as a butterfly effect in a chaotic world.

Even his hated superior Baker later admitted that DUSTWUN (missing soldier alert), while difficult, had also produced some of the greatest disruptions of Taliban networks that he had seen at any point during the war. Commanders in the field used the search for Bergdahl as a justification for more aggressive tactics to achieve stability in the area.

It was a great way to motivate troops — rescuing a soldier was more ‘fun’ that just terrorizing hostile Afghans. It was a real mission, not the phony one they would be doing otherwise. “Everyone knew it was going on.”

Baker sounds like a real SOB (making all the troops shave 6 times in a row because one missed a stray hair, screaming two inches from their faces). Insisting the OB be built on a cemetery and desecrating graves set off an alarm in B’s mind. Afghan soldiers were known to turn their guns on their American comrades for less. But, what the hell, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,2 Afghanistan is FUBAR.3

In American Cipher: Bowe Bergdahl and the US Tragedy in Afghanistan, Farwell and Ames don’t need any purple prose. Hard facts do the trick. For instance, in 2007 a soldier in B’s 2nd Platoon, Blackfoot Company, 1/501, Evan Vela, killed an unarmed captive Iraqi on orders from his superior, staff sergeant Hensley. He was court-martialed and sentenced to 10 years. Rather than murder, Henley was acquitted, charged only with a minor infraction.

It would be hard to beat Sergeant Robert Bales who slipped off base in Kandahar twice in one night in 2012 and shot 16 civilians in their homes in front of their families. At least he got life. It’s a miracle that B’s handlers didn’t string him up in response when they heard of this.

B enlists in 2008  and he is deployed in May 2009. At the end of training (Fort Richardson, Alaska), Command Sergeant Major Wolfe told them: I know you all joined because you want to rape, pillage and kill. That’s why I joined. But you need to think about COIN, winning over local farmers, merchants, drivers.

The training screams of cognitive dissonance. During training, they would chant ‘trained to kill, kill we will.’ Sex assaults and rapes were rampant at Fort Richardson.

FOB Sharana was built on a Soviet base. A/C barracks, dvd players, internet, lots of video games, hot showers, porcelain toilets, a basketball court, coffee shops, as much food as they wanted any time. But a strict dress code and shaving regime. Logistics brought in steak and lobster dinners for officers.

B’s one mission was in an MRAP (mine-resistant ambush-protected) armored vehicle, sent to retrieve an EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) team’s truck but the mountain road was too narrow, they hit an IED (improvised explosive device), another vehicle was disabled, they came under Taliban fire, and were saved by air support.

What should have been a few hours to retrieve a damaged truck had become a week-long ordeal. And to top it off, Baker glared at them when they returned. “What, you couldn’t shave?”

B’s instincts were right.  He and his only real friend, Joseph Coe ate dinner with the Afghan soldiers up the hill most evenings. Coe grew up in a missionary family in the highlands of Venezuela, and refused to be party to Bergdahl’s later vilification by his fellow soldiers. B and Coe realized befriending the Afghans was the right thing to do, and a commonsense precaution against ‘green on blue’ (Afghan soldier/ police killing Americans). The Afghan soldiers were friendly and welcomed them. The soldiers never learned their names, nicknaming them ‘ice cream’, ‘crazy eyes’. They called their translators John or Jack.

Bergdahl respected the Afghans, realized the occupiers had to respect their culture, i.e., the cemetery. Eating with the Afghans was like having a meal with his neighbours on the prairies in Idaho, Peruvian Quechua shepherds. He didn’t want to die fighting them, when he knew they were in the right. “These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid, that they have no idea how to live.”

What he was supposed to do for the next two years had nothing to do with helping them. So he put his fate in their hands. He knew he would survive. His rash, quixotic decision became an important symbolic gesture pointing to the way out of this latest imperial deadend.

Behind the scenes, there are human terrain teams (anthropologists), provincial reconstruction teams (a hydra of military, state department and USAID NGOs), tactical human intelligence teams (liquor and porn as bribes). The disconnect with the ‘kill we will’ foot soldiers, the face of the occupiers to most Afghan, makes their existence meaningless.

B lasted a month before he wrote a scathing email to his folks:

We don’t even care when we hear each other talk about running their children down in the dirt streets with our armored trucks… We make fun of them in front of their faces, and laugh at them for not understanding we are insulting them […] I am sorry for everything. The horror that is America is disgusting.

Then left his weapon and night vision goggles on his neatly made cot, and fled to the arms of the Taliban.

Peace on Earth

B’s captors immediately offered a deal: 25 Taliban prisoners and $9m. The offer was rejected without any attempt to negotiate. The Taliban continued to offer a deal but the mantra from Bush and Obama was ‘we don’t negotiate with terrorists.’

There were over 100 kidnappings from 2001–11, mostly journalists and missionaries. All were released with a quiet negotiations and a ransom. B was a test case for both sides, as a prisoner exchange would give the Taliban de facto recognition. It wasn’t the puppet Karzai/ Ghani but the US president negotiating with the Taliban.

The authors dismiss the possibility that Bergdahl might have converted to Islam, that his anti-imperialist lecture, delivered on Christmas day 2009  courtesy of his captors and social media, was surely just a forced confession, though it was quite articulate, not “absurd”, as Farwell and Ames state.  He mentions the indignities suffered by Muslim prisoners in Bagram, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and other secret prisons around the world, “but the Taliban treated me as human being with dignity. Aren’t our leaders simply the puppets of the lobbies that pay for their election campaigns?”

He (or rather his Taliban minders) refer to Veterans for Peace activist and ex-Marine Matthew Hoh, who resigned from his  foreign service posting in Kabul interview, and in an interview with CNN‘s Wolf Blitzer in November 2009 read from his resignation letter: American combat troops are not defeating al-qaeda by their presence in Afghanistan. All they are doing is just fighting people who are fighting us because we’re occupying them.

B’s testimony “grows more dogmatic–and more absurd.” Come on! Give the Taliban at least an A for crafting a coherent agitprop video showing MRAPs, dead ISAF soldiers, a video of an improvised IED. Ok, “We have forced them to strap large amounts of explosives to their precious bodies, to leave their homes and children to kill us.” — is a bit over the top. But it’s a lot closer to the truth than the US version of events.

A few days after B’s bombshell, CIA agent Hamam al-Balawi blew himself and his US minders up at the CIA base in nearby Khost, leaving behind his martyr video. Both Bs were under the direction of the Haqqani network,4 with the knowledge (and help) of Pakistan’s ISI (Inter-services Intelligence). For newly arrived Major General Michael Flynn, director of intelligence for NATO’s ISAF coalition, not a Christmas to remember.

B became a lightning rod for the increasing frustration over this unending war. Fox news interviewed spy novelist and  retired lt col Ralph Peters:

This private is a liar. We’re not sure if he’s a deserter. Collaborating with the enemy. The Taliban can save us a lot of legal hassles and legal bills.

Whew! Carte blanche to slice B’s head off. The interview was censored, but only for fear it served the Taliban. Flynn called him a jihadi. 23 veteran Congressmen published an open letter reminding McCain and others that they made statements contrary to their beliefs to stay alive.

B’s mother: the Taliban was now a part of our family

After years of stonewalling, B’s father Bob realized the government was incapable of diplomacy and he decided to go to Pakistan to give himself in exchange for his son. He used twitter, quoting from the Koran, with a message of radical peace. He travelled to visit a mosque in Washington, where the imam taught him to pray. He wore a kufi and grew his beard, knowing that the Taliban would see him on social media, trying to appeal to the Pashtun values and customs. B’s mother Jani told him, “the Taliban was now a part of our family.”

He talked with his pastor about overlaps between Calvinism and Islam. He realized peace would only come by understanding the men who held his son. Without peace, his son would never come home. The Bergdahls respected, embraced the enemy. The Christological overtones are everywhere. B’s 40 days in the wilderness, suffering for our sins, resurrection from the dead, love thine enemy …

For Bob and Jani, their prayers were answered. Obama had to wrap this up, and though he should have got Congressional approval, he just quietly released ‘the Taliban 5’ to Qatar and sent a SEAL rescue team to scoop up B, filmed by his captors for the world to see. Obama “broke the law by not informing Congress,” fumed Republican House Armed Services Committee Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon.

Obama was getting his own back. He had vowed in 2009 that he would close Guantanamo and had been shafted. Convincing him was Holbrooke’s adviser Barney Rubin who reminded Obama that of the 5 Taliban, 3 had surrendered, 2 were detained after they showed up for appointments saying they wanted to help us.

Vietnam

No doubt others who were traumatized by the war in Afghanistan will find healing as have the Bergdahls, by acknowledging the guilt of being part of this invasion and destruction of a country and its people. This happened — is still happening — after the liberation of Vietnam.

One of many Vietnam vets who have returned to Vietnam looking for closure, Chuck Searcy moved to Vietnam in 1995 as representative of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, and helped launch Project RENEW in Quang Tri Province, to clean up UXO (unexploded ordnance) and provide medical assistance, rehabilitation, and income generation for UXO victims. Like Hoh, Searcy is active in Veterans For Peace, based in Vietnam. In 2003 Searcy was awarded Vietnam’s National Friendship Medal.

Bergdahl hoped to cause an emergency, a Goliath moment which would give him the chance to bring his commanding officer Baker’s leadership failures to light, to steer the US intervention towards the truth. A DUSTWUN was the most powerful weapon B had.

The day after he shipped his things home, he sent an email from Sharana to a group of friends in Idaho quoting Atlas Shrugged‘s John Galt:

It is not the being of value who fails the system. It is the system that has failed the man. The system should be remade to fit the man who holds value as worth.

B aimed to bring the gears of system to a halt, his own personal (nonviolent) 9/11, and remake it.

It worked, sort of. When the dust finally settled, Bowe was handed a dishonorable discharge (instead of life), and a few pay deductions, but awarded two good conduct medals for service in captivity. Even Trump had stopped calling for his execution, and started negotiating with the Taliban, which is exactly what Bergdahl’s very brave, but also very risky, act was all about.

In a March 1, 2019 interview on C-Span, ex-Marine and foreign service official Matthew Hoh makes the point that the war actually began in 1973 with the overthrow of the king. He doesn’t make the point that the logical secular trajectory led to socialism, nor does he point to the US arming and supporting the Islamists as the real crime.

But Bergdahl’s trajectory is the logical one today — looking to the enemy for an answer. Whether or not Bowe took the shuhada and became a Muslim, his reaching out to the Taliban and his father and mother’s realization that “the Taliban are part of our family,” says it all.

An earlier version of B’s monkey-wrench-into-the-killer-machine, during the Vietnam war, is Christopher Boyce,  who worked for the National Reconnaissance Office in the 1970s, and discovered the CIA were deposing Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in Australia for wanting to close US military bases and withdraw Australian troops from Vietnam. Boyce saw that the CIA was undermining not just Australia but other democratic, industrialized allies. Boyce figured the press was useless. The media’s earlier disclosure of CIA involvement in the 1973 Chilean coup d’état had not changed anything for the better.

If he was going to make a splash, he’d have to turn to the ‘enemy’. Then, it was the Soviet Union. Despite his solidly conservative upbringing, he, like B, came to realize that the ‘enemy’ was almost by definition the ‘good guy’. His crossing the line and spying for the Soviet Union was much like B’s — very risky, harrowing, to say the least, life-changing.

He spent 25 years in prison as penance, and now lives quietly in Oregon, not so far from the Bergdahls. Another gripping story of defying the empire and living to tell the tale.

Now if only Boyce’s wildly idealistic expose had saved Whitlam and brought down US imperialism back in the 1970s. Or at least if we could rewind our tape to 1979, and see the Soviet Union and its attempt to shore up the faltering secular socialist government in Afghanistan, as “part of our family”, to be embraced, not vilified and destroyed. If only our present was the counterfactual history, not the peaceful, secular Afghanistan of yore.

Boyce and Bergdahl sensed who the real enemy is. They aimed for Goliath’s eye with their stone and hit it, but to no avail. Boyce’s logic pointed to socialism. Bergdahl’s saga points to Islam. The best thing in the 1970s was to make peace with the Soviet Union, not to destroy it. Now, it is for the US to embrace Islam’s message of peace. There Is No Alternative.

  1. There are at least four spying agencies all at cross-purposes. The oldest the army’s, which was supposed to close when the CIA was created but secretly kept working. Under the army was also a special unofficial service which carried out very secret things like Iran-contra. Then there’s the FBI, responsible for any American in a non-combat country. Also the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). All had their claim to Bergdahl. The search for Bergdahl was as much a war between the CIA (secretly allowed to do things in Pakistan) against the army’s spymasters, the FBI and the DEA. The army ‘won’. Sort of.
  2. Army jargon for WTF (what the f&#k)
  3. ‘Fucked Up Beyond All Repair.’
  4. Jalaluddin Haqqani, who visited the Reagan White House and was once described by Texas politician Charlie Wilson as “goodness personified.”