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Vol. 23 No. 9 · 10 May 2001

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Shocking News about the CIA

Tariq Ali on Kashmir (LRB, 19 April) is, for this non-expert, very persuasive in every respect but one. His Indians and Pakistanis, and Kashmiris too, desire one thing and get another – the common fate of all who engage in politics and war. Their circumstances and personal proclivities combine with institutional shortcomings to ensure that aims and achievements remain widely separated. But his Americans are different. They achieve ‘a remarkable hat-trick: in the space of a decade three populist politicians’ (Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, Indira Gandhi), ‘each hostile to US interests in the region, had been eliminated’. Ali prefaces that remark by noting that ‘the US may or may not have been involved’ but by then he has cited ‘many people in Bangladesh’ to the effect that the CIA overthrew Sheikh Mujibur Rehman; he himself has defined Zia-ul-Haq, who executed Bhutto, as a ‘Washington implant’; and on Mrs Gandhi’s elimination he informs us: ‘A civil servant I met in Delhi told me they had evidence linking the assassination with Sikh training camps in Pakistan set up with US assistance with a view to destabilising the Indian Government. He was sure the US had decided to eliminate Mrs Gandhi in order to prevent a strike against Pakistan that would have derailed the West’s operation in Afghanistan.’

Bhutto antagonised many US officials, Indira Gandhi was both respected and resented, and only a handful of specialists were likely to have had any view at all of Mujibur Rehman. But if any US officials, including the President with his panoply of chief advisers, had set out to knock off Bhutto, Gandhi or Rehman, the chances are that they would have been roughly as successful as they were in their attempt to kill Castro with an exploding cigar. Once, long ago, an elite service manned by Ivy League graduates and capable of overthrowing governments, the CIA still gets by on the Intelligence side because only routine skills are needed to extract routine information from overhead photography and electronic collection (analysis is another matter), but its Operations directorate is so inept that, to avoid guaranteed failure, the CIA’s top managers routinely deflect requests for any action that requires any talent at all. Assassinations are no problem for them, because they are illegal under US law and so no policy official can request one, but their memo-writing skills are strained by the need to explain why the simplest things cannot be done – things as simple as collecting a soil sample from outside an unguarded factory in Sudan, for example. Whatever cannot be done by supplying money or arms – and that, too, clumsily – cannot be done at all. Bush père had to resort to a full-scale military invasion just to overthrow Noriega, truly a small-timer among dictators, and that was in Panama, a very small country where the US still had large military bases. Clinton had to send cruise missiles after Osama Bin Laden, then living semi-openly in Afghanistan, a country that lacks any kind of border controls, and where cut-throats loyal enough till pay day are easily hired. The US did not do what Tariq Ali implies it did, because it cannot even do things a thousand times easier than killing national leaders without leaving fingerprints. He should take my word for it, but if he will not, he can consult any cognisant member of the Iraqi opposition. Saddam Hussein’s more active enemies believed that there was some dark and sinuous plot at work when they were first exposed to the CIA operators who were supposed to help them. It was only after years of bitter experience that they finally accepted the simpler truth that behind the façade of unbelievable incompetence there was only unbelievable incompetence.

Edward Luttwak
Chevy Chase, Maryland

It is not true that Gandhi ‘acted as an efficient recruiting-sergeant for the British during the First World War’. Gandhi had returned to India from South Africa on the eve of the war and, on the advice of his mentor, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, maintained a public silence for a year or so until he felt acquainted with the Indian political scene. It was not Gandhi, but the other nationalist leaders who encouraged Indians to enlist in the hope that the British Government would reward such loyalty after the war with sympathetic consideration of India’s wish for Dominion status, or with some constitutional provision that would meet Indian political aspirations. Gandhi had taken part in the Boer War, on the British side, as the leader of an ambulance unit.

Ali claims that Nehru betrayed Sheikh Abdullah, but the Kashmiri leader made things difficult for himself and his friend because of his intrigues with the Americans, who were sold on the idea of an independent Kashmir modelled on Switzerland. In the aftermath of Partition fears and suspicions were rife, and Nehru’s difficulties with Indian public opinion should be recognised.

Ali could also have mentioned the much-hyped bus journey to Lahore made by India’s BJP Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in February 1999 in an attempt to make a durable peace with Pakistan. After Vajpayee returned to Delhi, he discovered that, while he was being wined and dined by his Pakistani hosts, the Pakistan military had breached the Line of Control in Kashmir and occupied the Kargil heights.

Premen Addy
London W9

I was disturbed to see that the article on Kashmir by that old anti-imperialist Tariq Ali was illustrated by a map on which Tibet was labelled as ‘China’.

Peter Godfrey

Sink the ‘Bismarck’!

Lawrence Hogben’s lucid account (LRB, 19 April) of the naval action against Bismarck in May 1941 left me uncertain about one detail. His account, supported by a chart, allows an inference that the battle-cruiser Hood sailed from Scapa Flow ahead of Admiral Tovey’s main force and went directly in search of the German battleship. Is this an accurate account of Hood’s movements? Days before the action developed, the battle-cruiser was in Hvalfjord, on the west coast of Iceland, where my own ship happened to be, and I went on board her, invited to lunch by a young officer of my acquaintance. Lunch was just ending when the ship was ordered to sea. Guests, including me, were hurried over the side and away. Those who remained on board were well aware of the reason for the summons, and were not sanguine about the probable outcome.

Unfortunately I can’t remember whether Prince of Wales was also in the fjord at this time, I guess around 19-20 May; I think not, but Hood certainly was, evidently waiting in this post – far closer than Scapa Flow to the Germans’ course through the Denmark Strait – to waylay the enemy. Mr Hogben says the two ships were despatched westward on 21 May and his chart shows them bypassing Hvalfjord (marked on the chart). Yet Hood was at anchor in Iceland, and even finding time to be sociable, some days before 23 May, the date when Tovey, as Hogben reports, correctly guessed the German route and set out with his own force from Scapa Flow. Can it be that somebody had guessed correctly earlier, or had good intelligence even before the Swedes on 22 May sighted and reported the German force heading north?

Frank Kermode

Freud Memorial Lecture

In the months following the Balfour Declaration in 1917 a frequently voiced reason for satisfaction among pro-Zionist gentiles was that the existence of a National Home would ‘lift the imputation of divided loyalty from the shoulders of the Jew’. Israel has now been an independent state, with its own nationality, for over half a century. Why should Lois Oppenheim (Letters, 19 April), writing from New Jersey, regard Edward Said’s silly gesture of chucking a stone at an empty Israeli guardhouse as ‘deeply insulting to the Jewish community at large’? I don’t remember that before the advent of majority rule in South Africa critics of apartheid had to be wary of giving offence to the Dutch.

J.S.F. Parker

The Baader-Meinhof Gang

Peter Wollen’s contextualisation of the deaths in Stammheim on 18 October 1977 of Andreas Baader, Jan-Carl Raspe and Gudrun Ensslin is incomplete (LRB, 5 April). The sequence was roughly this: the President of the Employers’ Association, Hanns Martin Schleyer, had been kidnapped on 5 September in order to secure the release of the three terrorists. After this had apparently failed, on 13 October a Lufthansa jet on its way from Majorca to Frankfurt was hijacked by a Palestinian group who also demanded the release of the Stammheim prisoners. These parallel actions were the culmination of a campaign of high-profile assassinations on the imprisoned terrorists’ behalf. The future of Helmut Schmidt’s Social Democrat-led Administration now hung in the balance; the successful storming of the Lufthansa jet as it stood on a runway in Mogadishu has since often been cited as the real ‘founding act’ of the Federal Republic, a moment everyone looks back on with pride. It was in the small hours after the freeing of the Lufthansa hostages that Baader, Ensslin and Raspe killed themselves in such a way as to make it seem they had been murdered – hence no suicide note. Schleyer’s body was found shortly afterwards. The evidence for suicide assembled by Stefan Aust, whose book Wollen mentions, is so overwhelming as to rule out the murder theory. The circumstances surrounding Ulrike Meinhof’s death 17 months earlier were, however, entirely different and a satisfactory explanation of how she committed suicide has never been provided.

Julian Preece
University of Kent, Canterbury

Infra Dig

John Lloyd’s piece about brass bands (LRB, 5 April) reminded me of a discussion about music funding at the Arts Council in 1980. I made the mistake of asking why we didn’t make any financial provision for brass bands. After a moment of shocked silence someone replied in tones rather like Lady Bracknell’s: ‘Brass bands?’ Another said: ‘Here at the Arts Council we are concerned with the high arts, not brass bands.’

David Buckle
Abingdon, Oxfordshire

Leur Pays

David Kennedy omits an important adjective when he describes California’s Proposition 187 as ‘a ballot initiative which in 1994 sought to deny immigrants access to public services such as hospitals and schools’ (LRB, 22 February). The omitted qualifier is ‘illegal’. One argument for the initiative was that, while ‘undocumented aliens’ cost each legal household in California $1178 per year (not ‘per native-born California household’, as Kennedy writes), these ‘illegals’ pay no taxes. Of course, many of them provide services, but it is a criminal offence for Americans to employ them, as some aspiring politicos have learned.

Gwynne Nettler
San Diego, California

Begging in Tokyo

Murray Sayle, who is perhaps a little cut off from the world in his mountain retreat, may wish to know that one reason the ‘cardboard shelters of the Tokyo homeless are well out of sight’ (LRB, 5 April) is that the cardboard boxes have been swapped for the blue tarpaulins so visible in Ueno Park and other public spaces around the city. It is difficult for anyone visiting the Ueno museums, or viewing the cherry-blossom, to turn a blind eye to the colony of tents spread under the trees; difficult to turn a deaf ear as the homeless are made to sing for their supper just across from the National Museum by a particularly obnoxious group of evangelicals. And while there may be no European-style begging in the stations, the filthy, matted-haired men – and occasionally women – who spend their days circling the city on the Yamanote line provide a pungent reminder to their salaried co-passengers of the horrific free fall awaiting many of the victims of the dread risutora – or ‘restructuring’.

Phillip Brown
Gakushuin University, Tokyo

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