Thursday, August 10, 2006

When good things happen because of bad people.

There's an interesting article by Fred Kaplan in yesterday's Slate that reveals the source of at least much of the information Britain's MI5 relied on to thwart the transatlantic airliner bombing plot as being the Pakistani military intelligence agency. Kaplan also refers to a New Yorker piece by Seymour Hersh, which I somehow missed, that described Syria as a valuable source of information about al-Qaeda in the period following the September 11 attacks. However, this helpful connection was cut after the invasion of Iraq, and a Syrian offer to rein in Hezbollah in return for continued exchanges of intelligence was allowed to expire.

Of course, the government of Bashar Assad wasn't being munificent out of sympathy with this country over the September 11 tragedy. The Baathists who rule Syria, as Kaplan explains, are no friends of al-Qaeda, which is allied with their principal internal opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood. It was simply a case of the enemy of my enemy being, perforce, if not my friend, at least someone with whom I'll cooperate. Similarly, Pervez Musharraf's military regime is, no doubt, less concerned about loss of innocent life than the consequences concerning substantial U.S. and British aid likely to ensue from massive loss of life caused by a plot hatched at least partially in Pakistan.

Kaplan's point is that an excessively Manichaean world view, which he ascribes to the Bush administration, can be unhelpful in coping with real world problems. This is something any fan of noir fiction can appreciate. To put it another way, the real lesson of Munich is not "Don't do deals with bad people", it's "Don't do bad deals with bad people."