The Swap of the Taliban Five


Ft. Hunter GS

I usually write analysis. I identify important points left out of the conversation (Ukrainian gas pipelines; the Koch brothers’ shadow governments in the states, race in the halls of power). I explain how these ideas and forces play out and their potential for unexpected turns. I keep open a global eye, especially in finance (recently, Argentina) and military force multipliers (the Navy’s AEGIS destroyer fleet). My slant is more German, the idea that the world has organic, multi-leveled interconnections, rather than English with its view of the sanctity of contracts or the French faith in rationalism.

I think the South wrote the book on how to leverage denial. And that Americans for Prosperity (AFP) has turned denial and fear into a major capital industry to direct politics without creating jobs. AFP just defeated a zoo levy in Columbus, Ohio by calling a slight increase in the zoo levy a “105 percent property tax hike,” calling their effort “education.”

By no means am I an Austrian, the counter flag for conservative ideology about government and markets whose views Paul Krugman describes as cockroach ideas—no matter how many times the ideas are defeated, proven wrong by experience, meticulously deconstructed by theory, they keep crawling back.

I admit I use the I Ching and find dialectical materialism, properly used, produces powerful insights. My thinking revisits the delta—not in Mississippi—but the eight grade algebraic function that calculates and expresses the rate of change, how fast and in what direction change is accelerating or slowing. My 10-year record of writings shows I’m usually a little ahead of the curve.

But today, I am writing head on. As an African-American, I understood the power of emotion and its power to color perspectives—I have witnessed six years of reactions to Barack (and Michele and the children). Frederick Douglass spoke of this emotional power to color and shape discussions in which race was a factor in his time. So did Rev. Henry Highland Garnet, who warned of those who “stand in the most sacred places on earth, and beneath the gaze of the piercing eye of God, the universal Father of all men, and declare that ‘the best possible condition of the Negro is slavery.’”

The emotional distortion at the heart of race and power in a different form is at the unspoken center of the nation’s latest firestorm and to understand it, we must return to Aristotle, to his ideas of equality. Aristotle identified two main forms of equality; the relevant one is based on proportion, which for Aristotle meant looking at distribution. How will the effects of an action be distributed? To whom? When? Why; for what end?

So, can a political party who shut down the entire US government and all of its functions—the certifications that maintain the smooth flow of commerce, its payments to small businesses, its legal protections and inspections, its funds to education, hindering the operation of the national defense—who tried to kill health care and leave the poor and elderly to die in states claiming the sanctity of balance sheets–can this party and a rabid Congress convince a nation the Republic is at Defcon One because of the release of five “high ranking” Taliban from Guantanamo in Cuba, to a year’s vacation in Qatar?

I get the anger. I don’t get the threat.

Those men organized and plotted to kill Americans, fought against our forces, and have never repented. Twelve years is a short spurt of memory. We just opened the Memorial museum to commemorate those who died on 9/11, and within weeks the President swaps out five unreconstructed leaders who would do it all again—the anger is justified. It was bad timing and ambushed the public and the Congress.

But that’s no reason to misread the principle behind the release or to overreact to the potential threat. Here, Aristotle comes in. These are five guys. Five. Assume the worst. The five return to the hills of Afghanistan, to the lawless territories where they thrive against the local populations. Then what?

Will they send out a fundraising letter? Will they improve the production of the poppy trade that is their main source of income? Will they sign new letters of credit for increased shipments of AK-47s? Other than their own emotions of visceral hatred, which earned them their initial leadership spots, what do they bring to the table? Keen insights about American intelligence? Awareness of vulnerable targets?

If I were chosen as a leader because of the ferocity of my hate, am I really a leader? Yet a bigger issue among the Taliban looms: the current leadership, in place during the period of the five’s imprisonment, have firm hands on whatever power and command structure the Taliban has. Will this leadership embrace five old-school guys, passed by by time, or see them as rivals and threats?

And there’s a part of me that thinks the luxury of Qatar will have a greater pull than the barren steppes of Afghanistan.

Think Aristotle: will they have an outsize role in directing Taliban operations? Remember the Taliban has no rules of succession. Think of the pathetic efforts to blow up American targets with shoe and underwear bombs. Using proportion, think of how many of the threats to domestic safety now begin on domestic soil. Those five don’t have that kind of reach. Others do.

Those five couldn’t have initialed the bombings, deaths and injuries in Boston. Others did. Those five don’t have the capacity to move and launder illicit millions for terrorism around the world, through banking channels. The British-based bank HSBC and its Mexican operations did.

Those five can’t spill uncounted pages of American secrets and spy documents; they can’t hack American computer networks, steal millions of credit card numbers, poison the water for millions, create fire hazards that burn hundreds of workers alive, kidnap hundreds of students, or marshal military forces on national borders while annexing sovereign territory from a nation that had not fired significant shots, even as it supports the state killings of hundreds of thousands in Syria. A paid US intelligence worker, Russian and Chinese hackers, Asian sweat shop operators, Nigerian extremists Boko Haram, and Russia did.

Credit Suisse just paid the largest fine in history for aiding and abetting tax evasion; not one of its officials will spend a single day in jail. Ruggedly handsome Patrick Cannon, Charlotte’s mayor who rose from the city’s public housing projects, in office less than four months, was arrested and resigned for taking bribes, including $20,000 delivered in a briefcase to his mayoral office, in an FBI sting.

Yet outrage is growing over the luxury surrounding the released terrorists even as it diminishes over American children living in poverty, surrounded  by blame.

The five who were never brought to trial by two administrations are symbols at best. Emotional symbols. Powerful reminders of our need for vigilance. But they also signal a need for a reset. They are targets for anger, but as a poet once said, “all of this is regret.” Did terrorism distribute to us a need for blood lust and vengeance? It’s time to move on. My sense of proportion tells me we have bigger worries and bigger fish to fry.

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