March 11, 2003
Ted Rall, Illustrator, Columnist, Radio Commentator and Author of "Gas War: The Truth Behind the American Occupation of Afghanistan."
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
Ted Rall, America's hardest-hitting editorial cartoonist for Universal Press Syndicate, is an award-winning commentator who also works as an illustrator, columnist, and radio commentator. Nationally known for his editorial cartoons, Rall is a modern day renaissance man.
From August 1998 to August 2000, Ted hosted his highly-rated, twice-weekly talk show on KFI Radio in Los Angeles. Highlights of Ted's show included "Stan Watch: Breaking News from Central Asia," which was simulcast by both National Public Radio and the BBC, and caustic interviews with such figures as former Klansman David Duke. Ted often broadcast his radio show from overseas, and made American radio history by airing the first live talk radio shows from Cuba, Uzbekistan and war-torn Kashmir Province. Most recently, Ted's live from Afghanistan reports for KFI Radio and written dispatches for the Village Voice have been called "some of the best war reporting from Afghanistan" by The Nation. Ted continues to travel to political hot spots around the world.
He is the author of "To Afghanistan and Back" (described as "the first-ever instant graphic travelogue chronicling Ted's harrowing experiences covering the war for the Village Voice and KFI Radio) and "Gas War: The Truth Behind the American Occupation of Afghanistan." (BuzzFlash will be offering "Gas War" as a premium in the near future.)
Many BuzzFlash readers are most familiar with Ted's irreverent, trenchant and outraged political commentaries that BuzzFlash often links to.
Much of this background material is from Ted's website at: http://www.rall.com/.
BuzzFlash was pleased to recently interview Ted about the aftermath of the Afghanistan war and what it portends for Iraq.
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BUZZFLASH: Bush made a commitment to rebuild Afghanistan and turn it into a democracy. Has that happened?
TED RALL: Bush welched. The experts who managed the original Marshall Plan say Afghanistan needs a commitment of at least $5 to $10 billion over 5 to 10 years, coupled with occupation forces of 250,000 Allied soldiers to keep the peace throughout the country. We now have about 9,000 troops, with plans for reductions, with an annual commitment of $300 million for the next two years. Trying to rebuild Afghanistan on the cheap has left the country in the hands of warlords and an impotent Northern Alliance puppet regime that runs Kabul and nothing else. The New York Times reports that not a single house has been rebuilt, even in Kabul, and that not a single inch of roadway has been paved throughout the country. Sharia law, which keeps women in burqas, remains in full force, still enforced by the same old Taliban-era judges.
Democracy? Far from it. Warlords have divvied up the nation into medieval fiefdoms. And even in Kabul, Karzai has no plans to call for a true election. And let's not forget -- Karzai is a former Unocal executive appointed by Bush. The Afghans attending the loya jirga in 2002 wanted King Zahir Shah to lead a British-style representative monarchy.
BUZZFLASH: Laura Bush, just before the Afghan war, was brought out to plead for the liberation of the women of Afghanistan. Have the women of Afghanistan been liberated?
RALL: Part of the trouble is cultural. But neither Bush nor Karzai have taken steps to replace Sharia law with a Western-style legal code that would emancipate Afghan women. The images we see in the media of women shedding burqas while leading their daughters to school are taking place exclusively in Kabul, where such scenes were not all that rare under the Taliban. Kabul is a big, metropolitan city, where things have always been relatively liberal. The outlying areas remain in the hands of conservative hard-line mullahs, former Talibs and feral warlords and their thugs. For women, the Northern Alliance equals the Taliban minus the law and order.
BUZZFLASH: Bush has been claiming that we will also liberate Iraq and turn it into a democracy? What can the Iraqis expect based on the Afghanistan experience?
RALL: While the two situations are not identical, it's fair to say that the Bushies will not want to stick around very long to help rebuild, and they won't want to spend much money on the problem. In next year's budget, Bush actually FORGOT to include aid to Afghanistan. (Some GOP congressman rectified the oversight.) Since Iraq is already fractured into three fly and no-fly zones, a separate Kurdish enclave and further riven by clan and Shia vs. Sunni rivalries, it's likely that the country will, like Afghanistan, disintegrate into civil war and warlordism. The way to stop this is to insert an enormous occupation force, but Bush will doubtlessly prefer to deploy those forces to, say, Libya or North Korea.
BUZZFLASH: If Afghanistan was, in part, a war for a trans-Caspian oil pipeline route, is Iraq "The War for Oil Part 2?"
RALL: Well, you be the judge. The North Koreans HAVE nukes and they're threatening to vaporize the West Coast. But they don't have oil. Why do you think we're going after Iraq rather than Kim Jung-Il?
BUZZFLASH: What is the current state of the government in Afghanistan? We have read reports that outside of Kabul it's up for grabs, except for occasional U.S. troop forays to go after some Al-Qaeda on the Pakistan border. Is Afghanistan now, effectively, divided into warlord fiefdoms?
RALL: Absolutely. Ishamel Khan runs the northwest region near Herat, Rashid Dostum controls north-central Afghanistan near Mazar-e-Sharif and Mohammad Daoud has the northeast near Taloqan. The southern central area west of Kabul still belongs to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. And these areas are further subdivided into separate sub-regions controlled by so-called "commanders."
BUZZFLASH: The two countries who financially and logistically did the most to support Al-Qaeda were Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. How did they get off scott-free?
RALL: Saudi Arabia, of course, is the world's largest oil-producing state. And they let us post our troops there. Pakistan is truly the surprising choice for a friend; Gen. Musharraf is practically a Talib himself -- the guy came to power thanks to Taliban support and he uses these militants to fight India in Kashmir. On the ground, Pakistan is the most virulently anti-American state on the planet. What is clear is that the Bushies have little if any interest in bringing the perpetrators of 9/11 to justice.
BUZZFLASH: Most Americans, polls show, believe the 9/11 hijackers were Iraqis, yet none of them were? How did the Bush cartel propaganda trump the facts, especially since 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis?
RALL: That's incredible. And the other 4 were Egyptian. It all goes to show that the more often you repeat a lie, the more people will believe it. Many Americans still believe that there's a link between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda even though it's been 100% proven to be bullshit. Why does the Administration have to make stuff up about Saddam? I mean, it's not like he's a lovable character. But the Bushies always opt for overkill -- and it always seems to work.
BUZZFLASH: A recent BBC article has reported that heroin production in Afghanistan has skyrocketed since the U.S. kicked out the Taliban. Is the Bush Cartel turning a blind eye to the increase in heroin production to buy the support warlords who benefit from drug sales?
RALL: I'd say so. Opium cultivation is currently the only economic activity in Afghanistan, and there's hardly any international aid coming in. So people have to eat. But it's more a part of the general atmosphere of lawlessness and anarchy that allowed the warlords to reemerge in the post-Taliban era in the first place.
BUZZFLASH: Do you think the American people would support a war for oil and American domination of the Middle East if the Bush Cartel honestly revealed their goals?
RALL: Without a doubt, some people would. But many other Americans are moral, good people, who would prefer to pay a couple bucks per gallon than subsidize cheap gas with the blood and tears of innocents overseas, not to mention the Americans killed by resentful terrorists trying to put a stop to our government's depredations.
BUZZFLASH: You don't go into the religious component of Bush's justification for war. But clearly he views this as a Crusade. Isn't that another factor driving his desire to conquer the non-believers?
RALL: You know, George W. Bush clearly does not believe in God. He's an atheist. He throws God's name around a lot, as do most hypocrites and charlatans, to appeal to people of faith. If George W. Bush truly believed that he was going to be judged for all eternity after his death for his deeds, he wouldn't act the way he does. But there are obviously those in his administration, like Ashcroft, who really do believe that they're engaged in an epic clash of civilizations and cultures. Religion is a part of that, but faith isn't. You can't really believe in God and pursue the kind of actions this administration is.
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
otherwise noted, all original