It needed my old Irish journalist colleague, Vincent Browne, to point out the obvious to me. With a headache as big as Afghanistan, reading through a thousand newspaper reports on the supposed "aftermath" of the Afghan war, I'd become drugged by the lies. Afghan women were free at last, "our" peacekeeping force was on its way, the Taliban were crushed. Anti-American demonstrations in Pakistan had collapsed – we'll forget my little brush with some real Afghans there a couple of weeks ago. Al-Qa'ida was being "smoked out" of its cave. Osama bin Laden was – well, not captured or even dead; but – well, the Americans had a videotape, incomprehensible to every Arab I've met, which "proves" that our latest monster planned the crimes against humanity on New York and Washington.
So it needed Vincent, breathing like a steam engine as he always does when he's angry, to point to the papers in Gemma's, my favourite Dublin newsagents. "What in Christ's sake is going on, Bob?'' he asked. "Have you seen the headlines of all this shite?'' and he pulled Newsweek from the shelf. The headline: After The Evil.
"What is this biblical bollocks?'' Vincent asked me. Osama bin Laden's overgrained, videotaped face stared from the cover of the magazine, a dark, devilish image from Dante's circles of hell. When he captured Berlin, Stalin announced that his troops had entered "the lair of the fascist beast''. But the Second World War has nothing on this.
So let's do a "story-so-far". After Arab mass-murderers crashed four hijacked aircraft into the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania, a crime against humanity which cost more than 4,000 innocent lives, President Bush announced a crusade for infinite "justice" – later downgraded to infinite freedom – and bombed Afghanistan. Using the gunmen and murderers of the discredited Northern Alliance to destroy the gunmen and murderers of the discredited Taliban, the Americans bombed bin Laden's cave fortresses and killed hundreds of Afghan and Arab fighters, not including the prisoners executed after the Anglo-US-Northern Alliance suppression of the Mazar prison revolt.
The production of the bin Laden videotape – utterly convincing evidence of his guilt to the world's press, largely, if wilfully, ignored by the Muslim world – helped to obscure the fact that Mr Evil, seemed to have disappeared. It also helped to airbrush a few other facts away. We could forget that US air strikes, according to statistics compiled by a Chicago University professor, have now killed more innocent Afghans than the hijackers killed westerners and others in the World Trade Centre. We could forget that Mullah Omar, the mysterious leader of the Taliban, has also got away.
We could ignore the fact that, save for a few brave female souls, almost all Afghan women in Kabul continued to wear the burqa. We could certainly close our eyes to the massive preponderance of Northern Alliance killers represented in the new UN-supported, pro-western Government in Kabul. We could clap our hands when a mere 50 Royal Marines arrived in Afghanistan this weekend to support a UN-mandated British-led "peace" force of only a few thousand men who will need the Kabul government's permission to operate in the city and which, in numbers, will come to about one-third of the complement of the British Army destroyed in the Kabul Gorge in 1842.
The "peace" force thinks it will have to defend humanitarian aid convoys from robbers and dissident Taliban. In fact, it will have to fight off the Northern Alliance mafia and drug-growers and warlords, as well as the vicious guerrillas sent out to strike them by bin Laden's survivors. If nothing else, the Taliban made the roads and villages of Afghanistan safe for Afghans and foreigners alike. Now, you can scarcely drive from Kabul to Jalalabad.
Presumably, the CIA will let us pay the Alliance mobsters for their war in Afghanistan. One of the untold stories of this conflict is the huge amount of money handed out to militia leaders to persuade them to fight for the US. When Taliban members changed sides for an Alliance payment of $250,000 and then attacked their benefactors, we all dwelt on their treachery. None of us asked how the Alliance – which didn't have enough money to pay for bullets a few weeks earlier – could throw a quarter of a million bucks at the Taliban in the middle of a fire site. Nor how the Pashtun tribal leaders of Kandahar province are now riding around in brand-new four-wheel drives with thousands of dollars to hand out to their gunmen. I wasn't surprised to read that a Somali warlord is now offering his cash-for-hire services to the US for the next round of the War on Civilisation.
Fortunately for us, the civilian victims of America's B52s will remain unknown in their newly dug graves. Even before the war ended, around 3,700 of them – not counting Mullah Omar's and bin Laden's gunmen – had been ripped to pieces in our War for Civilisation. A few scattered signs of discontent – the crowd that assaulted me two weeks ago, for example, outraged at the killing of their families – can be quickly erased from the record.
It is obviously perverse to note that I haven't met a single ordinary Muslim or, indeed many westerners – Pakistani, Afghan, Arab, British, French, American – who actually believe all this guff. Let's just remember that the new Kabul government is as committed to support "Islam, democracy, pluralism (sic) and social justice'' as Mr Bush is to Good (sic) and the Destruction of Evil. Roll on next year, and don't worry about bin Laden – he may be back just in time to participate in Part Two of the War for Civilisation.