If James Bond embodied the spirit of MI6’s cloak and dagger during World War II, Mark Mazzetti’s book, The Way of the Knife has been described as the tragicomic account of the CIA’s handling of the USA’s by-now famous slogan — The War on Terror.
Presented by Hindustan Times, the session, named after Mazzetti’s book, had policy expert Barnett Rubin, Adrian Levy, who has written on the Mumbai attack, Mazzetti and television journalist Ben Anderson, best known for his film, Taking on the Taliban, discuss various aspects of the CIA’s shape-shifting since the 1970s.
“The 70s were the time of coups, espionage. Since 9/11, it has transformed into a paramilitary service that does lethal, targeted killing of those perceived to be hostile to American interests. It found it had less legal controversies on its hands over killing rather than if it chose the method of capture and interrogation,” said Mazzetti pointing to the drone attacks in Pakistan and the pre-dawn raid that killed Osama Bin Laden in 2011. The definition of the battlefield had expanded to include the world; soldiers had become spies.
American policy under George W Bush and Barack Obama, however, seemed to be more a difference of form than content. Drones, for example, have been accepted by both presidents as “effective.”
Rubin, an adviser to Obama’s election campaign in 2008, talked of the contradictions that lay at the heart of successive American policies on the region. “Bush had databases made on Afghan tribes, a strategy bound to fail. When I considered Obama’s policy on Pakistan, each point seemed to have been written by different people.”
The ‘speak’ on War, also gave birth to romantic fantasies. Anderson recalled how many 19-year-olds eager to be off to Afghanistan, talked of wanting to do battle with “Taliban guerrillas”.
The session, moderated by The Guardian journalist Jason Burke, ended with an open-ended question, thrown by Mazzetti, as it were, to the audience. “There are repercussions to strategies. Are we creating more terrorists by killing?”
Societies that use the instrument of state violence in the name of counter-terror operations are still answering that one.