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Afghanistan Is Obama’s Gordian Knot

Posted on Sep 27, 2011
U.S. Air Force / Staff Sgt. Angelita Lawrence

U.S. Air Force pararescuemen carry an injured patient after receiving him from coalition forces in the Helmand province of Afghanistan.

By William Pfaff

Useful advice can be found in the past. Gordius, King of Phrygia (in modern Turkey), tied an intricate knot, ever since called the Gordian knot. An oracle told Alexander the Great that whoever could untie it would master Asia.

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Alexander drew his sword and slashed the knot. He then conquered the lands between Persia and Afghanistan, pushing on as far as the Punjab. There his exhausted troops rebelled, and his retreat from Asia began. The oracle should have known that the mastery of Asia ultimately belongs to Asians.

Barack Obama has promised a withdrawal of many or most American troops from Afghanistan in the months to come. He has not promised the departure of the enormous State Department and mercenary force of state-builders and democracy-creators and defenders already there. This, at least, is the plan—a bad and dangerous one that can be relied upon to fail because it refuses to face reality.

The Gordian knot by which this American project is bound is the simultaneous conflict and collaboration of the United States and nuclear Pakistan, certain to end in a wounded American withdrawal, if only because Pakistan lives, and has lived since antiquity, in this particular place in Central Asia, and the United States lives in a different world—geographically, psychically and morally—having arrived in Central Asia yesterday, and being destined to leave tomorrow.

The Gordian knot may be described as follows: The United States and Pakistan are formally allies. They are both at war in Afghanistan, the United States officially, to defeat (or come to a settlement that cannot be interpreted as a “defeat”) the Taliban, radical Muslim nationalist and fundamentalist fighters, and members of the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, the Pashtuns, who live on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier. The Taliban are held responsible by Washington for collaboration with al-Qaida (or what is left of it) against America-in-Asia. At the same time, Washington is held responsible by the Taliban for invading and attempting to control their country, which they want to control themselves.


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The United States and Pakistan are actually enemies, with opposed national interests. The Pakistani army clandestinely supports the Taliban, and has done so for many years, so that Afghanistan can eventually be ruled by their clients. Pakistan’s leaders look upon Afghanistan as furnishing strategic depth to their army in case of war with India—their great enemy since the partition of British India in 1947. The United States, in recent years, has been cultivating close relations and nuclear cooperation with India.

The United States and Pakistan are even close to declaring their enmity. The New York Times and The International Herald Tribune reported as much on September 27. There have been repeated Pakistani attacks on U.S. troops, “incidents” considered to be retaliation for American drone attacks inside Pakistan. The drones have targeted individuals and assets thought to be linked to the Taliban or enemies of the CIA.

Civilians have also been killed. The American command says civilians killed in drone attacks are accidental victims. The target selection system for the drones reportedly functions on visual- and radio-surveillance of suspected sites, which identifies everyone connected with these sites, including innocents. The drones are reputed to be considerably less accurate and discriminating than advertised.

The Haqqani network, another target, once part of the Northern Alliance in the war against the Russians, is currently described by some Americans as a group of criminals exploited by Pakistani army intelligence. The Haqqani have been accused of responsibility for the September 13 assault on the U.S. Embassy inside its fortified compound in Kabul. Last Sunday, there was also an attack, fatal to one victim, on Americans inside the CIA annex to the Embassy, by “an Afghan employee” of the CIA.

What is all of this accomplishing for the American taxpayers who are paying millions to finance both Afghan and Pakistani governments, while supporting their own expeditionary force, plus the Afghan army, and part of the NATO force which is inconclusively warring with the Taliban?

What American or Western interests are served in this Gordian entanglement of conflicting interests and useless casualties?

Obama has not dared to challenge the Pentagon because it holds him hostage politically due to his lack of military service. The military will not break off the war because they will not accept “defeat,” and they are driven by a confused geo-strategic notion of America’s need to dominate global energy resources for the future. Even a Republican president could find himself in Obama’s position, for which Republican politician has served in combat?

I can only imagine a noble self-sacrifice by a president, to save his country and people. Who will seize Alexander’s sword and slash the knot, ordering American troops, ships, spies, mercenaries, diplomats, aid workers and democracy promoters all home?

The United States since the Cold War has stubbornly resisted the principle that people must be responsible for themselves. The Afghans must settle their own national destiny. Pakistan and India know their own interests and must be responsible for them. An American president is accountable to the American people.

Visit William Pfaff’s website for more on his latest book, “The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America’s Foreign Policy” (Walker & Co., $25), at

© 2011 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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blogdog's avatar

By blogdog, September 29, 2011 at 8:07 pm Link to this comment

Poole: your discussion of the proxy war issue is confused - the US fostered a
Jihadist proxy war against the USSR in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Russia isn’t
currently fostering a proxy war against the US - they have their interests -
primarily in Iran and Syria - but even after their Afghan-Vietnam, which lead
directly to the collapse of the USSR, Russia has suffered al queda (former
muhahideen) in Chechnya… e.g.

Mike Ruppert in Crossing the Rubicon… concluded:

“Given the degree of documented intelligence penetration of al Qaeda; the fact
that Osama bin Laden had been a CIA asset during the first Afghan conflict
against the Soviets; the fact that a number of the so-called hijackers and/or al
Qaeda members had been trained in CIA training camps in Chechnya; had
fought in CIA/US-sponsored guerrilla conflicts (e.g. in Kosovo with the KLA in
2000), or had received military training at US installations; given all that, it is
reasonable to assume that one or more top al Qaeda officials were in fact
double or triple agents…”

Anglo/American intelligence has an interest in keeping the global war of terror
smoldering somewhere at all times - the absolute necessity for war must be
maintained, and self-determinant states must be failed, especially those in
strategic geopolitical locals and those in proximity to vital minerals - for this
reason they run a terror-on-demand network… e.g.

In April WikiLeaks released diplomatic cables and torture reports from
Guantanamo Bay. A file on an Al-Qaeda terrorist named Adil Hadi al Jazairi Bin
Hamlili, who was released from Guantanamo on January 20, 2010, revealed his
connections to Britain’s MI6 and Canada’s CSIS. The Guardian reported on April
26, 2011:

An al-Qaida operative accused of bombing two Christian churches and a luxury
hotel in Pakistan in 2002 was at the same time working for British intelligence,
according to secret files on detainees who were shipped to the US military’s
Guantánamo Bay prison camp.

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By John Poole, September 29, 2011 at 6:37 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Re:  blogdog’s view of a proxy war in the Middle East. Serious payback for our
Charlie Wilson’s war scenario would be easy for the Russians but having the USA
be thoroughly humiliated and bested by Islamic jihadists means they have
empowered the very people who threaten their own borders. It must frustrate
them knowing that payback would be eventual “blowback” for them.

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blogdog's avatar

By blogdog, September 29, 2011 at 2:47 pm Link to this comment

RE: ...They probably share a common fantasy…-  the common assumption
is that once they might have done - in fact US operatives were involved in the
provocations which drew them into Afghanistan in 1979 - easy to look up

the jihadist mujahideen, built to oppose them was largely a CIA/ISI project -
radical madrassas were an essential aspect - many continue and feed new fighters
to the cause - when Adm. Mullins accuses the ISI of aiding the Taliban, he knows
what he’s talking about, he just fails to cite the CIA and Blackwater XE’s roles

as for Russia, they’re biding their time, building for the future with their own
astronomical oil revenues and probably taking comfort in seeing the American Empire
unravel at the seems in the hands of psychopaths

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By John Poole, September 29, 2011 at 10:21 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

To blogdog. Your premise of a proxy war between the USA and USSR is only
something I do not agree with currently. I can’t help but think the Ruskies could
easily help the jihadists in the Middle East take down our drones but that wouldn’t
help them in the long run. They probably share a common fantasy of a
depopulated and eventually defunct Muslim world since they are surrounded by
Muslim lands.

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blogdog's avatar

By blogdog, September 29, 2011 at 9:23 am Link to this comment

if the suggestion is that were there no Kubrick there’d be no global war of terror,
are we to believe that ubiquitous use of DU throughout the Middle East, in
particular when there is virtually no armored equipment (for which we’re told they
were designed) to target, is a purely added-value-profit incentive?

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By John Poole, September 29, 2011 at 7:06 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

To Blogdog:  I don’t buy into the Master Plan conspiracy you propose.  It’s a little
too Kubrickish with Drs. Brzezinski and perhaps Kissinger? jerking us all off from
the shadows. Bankers and Wall Street benefit from War Inc. but don’t own it or
control it.  The beribboned gangsters at the Pentagon shill for the weapons makers
and suppliers with their brilliant shake down “protection” racket (“you’ll be
“needing” our services if you want to stay safe”).  They pocket their protection
payments via Congress who are the middle men in the deal. We hapless tax payers
were warned by Ike about this huge shakedown ruse.

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blogdog's avatar

By blogdog, September 29, 2011 at 12:42 am Link to this comment

William Pfaff, like all pundits, can’t write it like it is, or he’d be out of a job - his fantastical
imagination, as to the ‘sturm und drang’ of POTUS 44’s travail, seems intended for entry into
an collegiate essay competition

so, what is it he can’t write? simply that 44 is merely the current in a long line of puppets - Pfaff
suggests the Pentagon calls the shots, while any serious study leads to Wall Street and City of

his thesis, hinged on the Afghan debacle and endless conundrum, misses the essential heart
of it, that the chaos, overflowed to the entire Middle East and beyond, is the direct result of
Carter’s NSA chief Z-Big and office-boy Gates

their master plan: inciting, funding, directing (through jihadist schools, charitable
organizations, training and arming) the clash of civilizations, to wage proxy war on the USSR
has ultimately turned into a massive project to fail states and depopulate the region of
troublesome populations

there is no other explanation for wholesale use of depleted uranium munitions against forces
utterly without armor - the targets for which they were designed

DU poisoning effects all - allied soldiers (Gulf War Syndrome); civilians in theater (skyrocketing
birth defects and cancers) - make no mistake, to the oligarchy (Obomber’s task masters)
they’re all cannon fodder

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By balkas, September 28, 2011 at 12:50 pm Link to this comment

put another way, if u want to miseducate an
american child u hire a teacher. to cheat/rob a
worker u use a banker. to kill a person u need a
soldier. to interpret or write a law u need a

to place wrong information u need a journalist or
for a false flag operation u need a cia agent. and
so on.
so banking has one assigned task to perform;
media, army, cia, lawyers their own specific tasks
to do; however, the telos is always the same; it
never ever changes.

role of a prez appears merely of symbolic/cultic
and ?all peoples seem to think they must have
one leader and not two or more.
which is not a bad idea if s/he’d be
honest/knowledgable joe and respectful to all of
his/her people.
however, that is seldom if ever the case. tnx

Report this

By balkas, September 28, 2011 at 12:29 pm Link to this comment

there is, as far as i can make out, only one u.s and one
constitution. one cannot split u.s [and, thus, its one and
only stance] into parts: such as presidential, judiciary,
media, public education, army, cia, fbi, city police,
banking parts;
each with own [and differing] policies, wishes, strategic
goals, etc.

the fact that none of the parts of u.s governance i just
enumerated ever doubts judicial interpretation of the
constitution concerning what u.s does to her enemies
[real or chosen] alone proves that all of its parts are part
of one entity; while each having a specific role to play.

it is clear to me that the role of u.s supreme court [fully
supported by other branches of u.s governance [system
of rule] is to interpret u.s constitution so that no matter
what a prez, cia, army does to its enemies in not only
constitutionally ok, but a moral and legal imperative or

one needs only to remember u.s destruction of
hiroshima and nagasaki by the two atom bombs to
evaluate that it had been constitutionally ok to do so.

how about indigenes, korea, vietnam, nicaragua, cuba,
panama, chile, palestine, lebanon, libya? wasn’t
judiciary either totally silent about these aggressions
[silence being also an interpretation of the constitution]
or offered an explanation [in secret or otherwise] for
them; just as expected by the administration. tnx

Report this

By RDNZL, September 28, 2011 at 11:16 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

““I’ve learned an immense amount from Dr. Brzezinski.””

That is a shame, Mr. President.

I like the “Gordian knot” analogy pertaining to USA/ Afghanistan relations.

Actually, I would rather hear the band Gordian Knot, which can be found on YouTube, as should all our politicians and their financial backers.  Listening to music may help them not be so uptight.

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thecrow's avatar

By thecrow, September 28, 2011 at 4:30 am Link to this comment

“I’ve learned an immense amount from Dr. Brzezinski.”

- Barack Obama, 2007

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By Michael Muury, September 27, 2011 at 11:53 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Neither Abraham Lincoln nor Franklin Delano Roosevelt—both of whom directed the two most significant military victories of the past two centuries—ever served in the military. America has had many presidents with prior military service and few have distinguished themselves in the White House. As Marine General Smedley Butler said: I never had an original thought till I got out of the military.”

On the other hand, many of us who have had active duty military experience find ourselves ostracised and ridiculed for our refusal to endorse the phoney debacles and quagmires urged on our country by brain-dead, stud-hamster politicians who have served a few weekends in the Texas Air National Guard, for example.

Any President who lets the self-interested, careerist military caste give him orders instead of the other way around has more intellectual and character problems than he can possibly imagine. If our military brass knew what to do, they would have long since done it already. If they could have, they would have; but they didn’t, so they can’t. Fire the lot of them.

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By John Poole, September 27, 2011 at 5:47 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It is a puzzlement for me that Obama didn’t figure even before he enrolled in
college that a short military hitch -perhaps in the US Air Force - might be
mandatory if he were to make a serious run for the US presidency at some point. It
implies to me that he is pathologically narcissistic and figured his vocal
persuasiveness and mixed race would earn him a pass

Bill Clinton sleazed out of serving but such behavior fits Clinton’s jive and slip
sliding style.

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