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While Republicans in America were babbling about the Obama Administration’s “weakness” in battling terrorist groups, U.S. forces on the ground, now in the midst of a major military operation to ferret out the Taliban, were scoring a dramatic success. Mark Mazzetti and Dexter Filkins at the New York Times report:
The Taliban’s top military commander was captured several days ago in Karachi, Pakistan, in a secret joint operation by Pakistani and American intelligence forces, according to American government officials. The commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, is an Afghan described by American officials as the most significant Taliban figure to be detained since the American-led war in Afghanistan started more than eight years ago. He ranks second in influence only to Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban’s founder and a close associate of Osama bin Laden before the Sept. 11 attacks.
Mullah Baradar has been in Pakistani custody for several days, with American and Pakistani intelligence officials both taking part in interrogations, according to the officials.
The focus will now be on interrogation. “It was unclear whether he was talking, but the officials said his capture had provided a window into the Taliban and could lead to other senior officials. Most immediately, they hope he will provide the whereabouts of Mullah Omar, the one-eyed cleric who is the group’s spiritual leader.”
How long will we have to wait before Republicans call for Mullah Baradar to be waterboarded? Given that he’s in Pakistani hands, we can expect he will face rough treatment whatever the Americans decide to do. Still, the Republicans now take it as an article of faith, despite evidence to the contrary, that only torture techniques will bring in useful data. Why would they wait a second before applying torture techniques to a religious leader? Or to a military commander? Who cares that the Taliban were once broadly recognized as the government of Afghanistan and the forces that Mullah Baradar commands as its armed forces? Why should we be concerned that the torture of a prominent public figure may inflame the population and lead to recruitment that offsets our recent victories?
These are questions that American military commanders, working with established military doctrine and the new counter-insurgency doctrine for Afghanistan, would have to parse carefully. Their immediate objective would be to gain intelligence to aid the military effort, including the whereabouts of Mullah Omar and other leaders. But they have longer range strategic considerations to keep in mind as well. Contrast that with the political chatterboxes who populate our Sunday talk shows, starting with Dick Cheney and his daughter. Are they really concerned about a long-term struggle with the Taliban, or about bringing stability and security to Afghanistan? I’m far from persuaded that they are. They’re engaged in a cheap political game in which they hope to position themselves as “more aggressive” on national security issues.
One other point needs to be made. The White House knew it was holding an ace as the weekend talk shows came around, and with them the predictable attacks from Cheney. Obviously, they could have scored some easy points with the announcement of Mullah Baradar’s capture. They elected not to do this. As the Times notes, Washington pleaded with them to hold back on reporting it to enable the military the maximum advantage from information gained before knowledge of his capture surfaced. That shows the right priorities: national security first, and political PR trailing off in the distance. It’s what we should expect from political leaders in office, and it has been very little in evidence over the eight years of the Bush-Cheney Administration.
More from Scott Horton:
Conversation — March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm
Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.
i. stand with israel
I listen to a lot of conservative talk radio. Confident masculine voices telling me the enemy is everywhere and victory is near — I often find it affirming: there’s a reason I don’t think that way. Last spring, many right-wing commentators made much of a Bloomberg poll that asked Americans, “Are you more sympathetic to Netanyahu or Obama?” Republicans picked the Israeli prime minister over their own president, 67 to 16 percent. There was a lot of affected shock that things had come to this. Rush Limbaugh said of Netanyahu that he wished “we had this kind of forceful moral, ethical clarity leading our own country”; Mark Levin described him as “the leader of the free world.” For a few days there I yelled quite a bit in my car.
The one conservative radio show I do find myself enjoying is hosted by Dennis Prager. At the Thanksgiving dinner of American radio personalities (Limbaugh is your jittery brother-in-law, Michael Savage is your racist uncle, Hugh Hewitt is Hugh Hewitt) Dennis Prager is the turkey-carving patriarch trying to keep the conversation moderately high-minded. While Prager obviously doesn’t like liberals — “The gaps between the left and right on almost every issue that matters are in fact unbridgeable,” he has said — he often invites them onto his show for debate, which is rare among right-wing hosts. Yet his gently exasperated take on the Obama–Netanyahu matchup was among the least charitable: “Those who do not confront evil resent those who do.”
Pairs of moose-dung earrings sold each year at Grizzly’s Gifts in Anchorage, Alaska:
An Alaskan brown bear was reported to have scratched its face with barnacled rocks, making it the first bear seen using tools since 1972, when a Svalbardian polar bear is alleged to have clubbed a seal in the head with a block of ice.
A former prison in Philadelphia that has served as a horror-movie set was being prepared as a detention center for protesters arrested at the upcoming Democratic National Convention, and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump fired his campaign manager.
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“Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'”