Pakistan’s Secret Service as Minderbinder

John Voight as Milo Minderbinder

I’m not normally a Christopher Hitchens fan (if you want to know why, you can read this post), but I appreciated his reference to Catch 22 and Milo Minderbinder in a recent Slate column.  The post is about retiring Admiral Mullen’s testifmony to Congress that the Pakistan Inter-Service Intelligence agency (the ISI), which receives billions from the United States, has used some of that money to sponsor an organization that attacked the U. S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.  Here’s Hitchens:

In Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, Lt. Milo Minderbinder transforms the mess accounts of the American airbase under his care into a “syndicate” under whose terms all servicemen are potential stakeholders. But this prince of entrepreneurs and middlemen eventually becomes overexposed, especially after some incautious forays into Egyptian cotton futures, and is forced to resort to some amoral subterfuges. The climactic one of these is his plan to arrange for himself to bomb the American base at Pianosa (for cost plus 6 percent, if my memory serves) with the contract going to the highest bidder. It’s only at this point that he is deemed to have gone a shade too far.

In his electrifying testimony before Congress last week, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has openly admitted to becoming the victim of a syndicate scheme that makes Minderbinder’s betrayal look like the action of a small-time operative. In return for subventions of millions of American dollars, it now turns out, the Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence agency (the ISI) can “outsource” the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, and several other NATO and Afghan targets, to a related crime family known as the Haqqani network. Coming, as it does, on the heels of the disclosure about the official hospitality afforded to Osama Bin Laden, this reveals the Pakistani military-intelligence elite as the most adroit double-dealing profiteer from terrorism in the entire region.

Yes, Heller has captured the insanity of war as well as any contemporary novelist. I remember once asking my wife’s stepfather Bill Walker about Catch 22 after learning that he had been part of the U.S. invasion of southern Italy in World War II, as had Heller. Although the novel reads as a satiric set of caricatures, Bill said that every word in the book is true.

President Obama has vowed to start bringing our troops home—at which point Afghanistan will devolve into a regional power struggle involving Pakistan, India, Iran, maybe China, and God knows who else.  In other words, the insanity will not end with our departure. The fact that Pakistan has nuclear warheads and that its intelligence service has ties with terrorists can’t have anyone feeling very comfortable. Heller would understand.


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