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Obama Moves to Massively Expand Covert Military Abroad

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Via The New York Times, President Obama has just ordered a “broad expansion of clandestine military operations” in an attempt to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda”. The ‘covert operations’ will likely include anything from target assassinations, ‘drone’ attacks in Pakistan, secret bombing campaigns, money transfers to client states (a la Karzai and Maliki), and many things in-between. This is a significant move for a variety of reasons, not least of which stands the utter lack of public consultation for such a policy.

Mr. Greenwald has a timely essay on why Mr. Obama can undertake such extreme actions in the absence not only of opposition to his imperial policy, but indeed, any discussion whatsoever. Our major news outlets have reported the order in classic ‘objective’ style, assigning as little controversy to it as possible and treating it instead as a run-of-the-mill executive action. But it is interesting to examine why, in this year 2010, after nine continuous years of war, public opinion is such that a unilateral expansion of our secret military complex can occur with as little discussion as imaginable.

First, Mr. Greenwald notes, because this military expansion is taking place under a “Democratic” President, it creates the illusion of so-called ‘bipartisan support’. Back when President Bush was carrying out covert operations in Yemen, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc., they were painted as the actions of an ‘extremist’ administration, one which regards the opposition with disdain and made a point of treating international law with utter contempt. However, after 18 months of military escalation, these wars are as much Mr. Obama’s (that is, “Democratic” wars), as they were Mr. Bush’s. As such, the number of “Democrats” willing to risk their political futures by opposing military action has dropped precipitously, as have the number of war-opposers in the general population. Specifically, the subset of people for whom Mr.Obama can do no wrong will automatically agree with his war policy – or if they disagree, put forth some excuse as to how Mr. Obama ‘has no choice’.

The biggest reason Mr. Greenwald identifies, however, is the complete lack of documented impact these wars have on our livelihood. It has been often mentioned that, unlike in Vietnam, very few Americans have had to go to war against their will. Our press is largely censored as to the true cost of our warfare not only on the beleaguered people of Iraq and Afghanistan, but even our own soldiers. Recall the recent dust-up when our Secretary of War, Robert Gates, “harshly condemned” the media’s display of a flag-draped coffin. And that was just one soldier, who had admittedly died in combat, but whose grisly death we had been totally shielded from.  As much as possible, we citizens are encouraged not to think about our military “commitments” abroad, and instead to simply carry on with our daily lives, a few dollars shorter than the day before, a little more ragged perhaps, but still inestimably “proud” of our “commitment” to “democracy in the Middle East”. One wonders just how far that pride would take us if more than 1% of the US population was involved in our military escapades, as the statistic stands now.

But beyond that, what Mr. Greenwald hints at but never explicitly states, is the psychology of powerlessness to which we citizens are routinely subjected. We literally have no say in what our government does abroad, and we have less and less of a say in even its domestic policies. In the 2008 elections, both candidates were unabashedly pro-war, Mr. Obama more so than even his most fervent supporters might have dreamt. For whom are we to vote if we wish to exit Iraq and Afghanistan immediately? Which Congressman, which Senator would even entertain such a possibility? To whom do we donate that we can be sure our paltry $50 will not be rendered irrelevant by the millions of dollars industry interests donate in order to keep these wars going? It is an implacable question, one made all the more urgent by President Obama’s dramatic escalation of our already over-stretched ‘commitments’.

The feeling of powerlessness can lead to apathy, but also to fear. When one recalls the brutality to which previous “anti-war protesters” have been subjected in the US, including savage beatings with nightsticks, water-cannons, ear-splitting sound emitters, tear gas and rubber bullets, it is not hard to imagine from whence this fear of dissent arises. Recall, also, that since the Homegrown Terrorism Act of 2007 passed, civil disobedience – the mere act of peaceful protest – has been defined as ‘terrorism’. And once you are accused of ‘terrorism’, citizen or no, you are immediately stripped of every right you think you have.

This latest move towards military hegemony is particularly insidious, and I suppose it follows that Mr. Obama merely announced his policy, in true decree style, with little or no discussion. With one stroke of a pen, Mr. Obama has resserved the right to carry out military operations anywhere around the globe, from “surgical strikes”, bombing campaigns, ground incursions, assassinations, or, indeed, anything his enigmatic mind may wish. It is worth remembering at this point that Mr. Obama also reserves the right to assassinate US citizens in their beds (that is, far from a battlefield), and ‘render’ accused terrorists to a global prison complex where no defense attorney dares enter. There, they can be beaten, tortured, or even murdered, far from the watchful eye of the Red Cross.

It is easy to imagine this latest move on the part of Mr. Obama is merely a continuation of Mr.  Bush’s odious policies. It is that, of course, but its implications go far deeper. Mr. Bush’s covert actions were largely piecemeal: an assassination here, a few ‘drone’ attacks there, maybe some ‘cash assistance’ to some friendly dictator or another for spice. In contrast, Mr. Obama’s new ‘national security strategy‘ systematizes these covert acts of aggression, and sets up, in essence, a new governmental body, with no congressional or popular oversight, to carry out his murderous will around the globe. It is difficult to overstate the significance of this ‘overhaul’, yet it is even more difficult to convince anyone of that significance.

Mr. Hitler once coined the term for the Germans as a ‘sleep-walking people’, but the same could easily be said of Americans (or, for that matter, anyone else). We face, in our generation, a confluence of crises of which we are only just beginning to see the magnitude, and unfortunately the first step to solving a crisis is to realize it exists, something for which, at least with regards to our present constitutional crisis, we still have quite some ways to go.

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Written by pavanvan

May 27, 2010 at 10:05 pm

Hamid Karzai: The NYT’s Faithful Client

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The New York Times has a rather fluffy article in today’s issue about how Abdullah Abdullah, the gentlemen from whom Hamid Karzai stole last year’s election in Afghanistan, was given a “cold shoulder” from the White House.  The United States, it seems, did not want to give an impression of “doubt” that Mr. Karzai, whose brother is Afghanistan’s biggest drug kingpin, is serious about “combating drugs and corruption”. A more clear and direct vote of confidence for our faithful client in Afghanistan, one can hardly envision.

The article stands as a tract to justify Karzai’s illegitimate rule in Afghanistan, but it does more than that. The most interesting quote comes halfway through the piece:

“There is no point in rolling out the red carpet for a guy who is wanting recognition for being himself,” said a senior European diplomat who is involved in Afghanistan. “The world doesn’t work that way. Karzai is the elected leader of Afghanistan.”

Forgive me, but why did this “senior European diplomat” need anonymity to state such a trite banality? Did they really need to hide his identity so that he could spout the US governnment’s “line” with an air of objectivity? And who is this mystery diplomat anyway?

A clue comes in his final statement: “Karzai is the elected leader of Afghanistan”. Now, it should be clear to anyone who has even loosely followed the debacle of Afghanistan’s election last August that Hamid Karzai is not the rightfully elected leader of Afghanistan, that he fabricated at least one-third of his votes, that he engaged in widespread voter intimidation and ballot-box stuffing, and that nearly every international monitoring agency declared the election in which Karzai won a sham.

The only “senior European diplomat” who has consistently apologized for Karzai’s election “engineering” is Kai Eide, who summarily fired his subordinate, Peter Galbraith, for breaking the story that one-third of Karzai’s votes were fraudulent last October. Kai Eide is one of the most odious UN officials working for Afghanistan, one who has consistently and repeatedly covered up for Hamid Karzai’s staggering corruption, his lawless reprisals against dissent, and his slavish devotion to the US occupation of Afghanistan. It would make perfect sense for him to lend his “expertise” to the New York Times for a hit-piece on his best buddy Karzai’s biggest rival.

But the article is even more insidious than that. Nowhere does it even mention that Karzai’s August 2009 victory was fradulent, save for a single mention that Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai’s vanquished rival, “accused the Karzai government of profound corruption and electoral fraud“, a sling which could be interpreted as mere sour grapes, if it didn’t happen to be true. An uninformed reader, after digesting this one-sided pap, would come away with the clear impression that Hamid Karzai legitimately won the August 2009 election, and that the United States is correct in giving his losing rival the “cold shoulder”. This is a falsehood and a fallacy. Karzai did not legitimately win the election, and the US is wrong and undemocratic to deny the rightful victor, Abdullah Abdullah, an audience with President Obama, who, after all, is leading a vicious occupation of his country.

A sad showing from the once-venerable Gray Lady.

Written by pavanvan

May 21, 2010 at 6:02 pm

Lieberman Wants to Revoke NYC Bomb Suspect’s Citizenship

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At Harper’s, Scott Horton makes a great catch:

Senator Joseph Lieberman has developed a knack for craven fearmongering. His latest proposal was born from the police operation by New York’s finest that led to the capture of Faisal Shahzad last weekend. Shahzad, a financial analyst, is a United States citizen and, as a long-time resident of Bridgeport, one of Lieberman’s constituents, which Lieberman considers a troublesome complication. Lieberman says he will sponsor legislation under which the president will be given the power to deprive a person of his citizenship simply by bringing certain charges.

Lieberman is vague about the proposals, and he offers no explanation of how a citizen could be stripped of his citizenship by executive fiat consistently with the Constitution,a step that would have all the traditional badges of tyrannical government. He also apparently believes, incorrectly, that only U.S. citizens have a right to receive aMiranda warning. (That’s the sort of mistake that a young lawyer sitting for the bar would never make, although Lieberman has been a lawyer since 1967 and was a former Connecticut attorney general.)

Though obviously legislative adventures such as those of Mr. Lieberman should be avoided at all costs, I think it is important to remember that the “facts” of the Times Square incident are now murky and inconclusive at best. We have a “suspect”, but no idea if he actually did it; we have a confession, but no idea how it was extracted. For all the front-page accusations of his supposed “links” to “The Taliban”, we know only for sure that

1) – A crude, incompetent bomb consisting of M-88 firecrackers (the sort children play with), a sealed tank of propane, and a couple bags of fertilizer was placed at the back of an SUV in Times Square. This is not how you make a bomb, and given that the sort of firecracker he bought cannot undergo self-reignition (one M-88 can’t set off another M-88 with its detonation), I have real doubts that the “explosion” would have even broken through the car. It was hardly the sort of device one envisions upon hearing the phrase “car bomb”, particularly as the citizens of Baghdad have come to know it.

2) – A Pakistani-American citizen was picked up at an airport attempting to leave the country with a ticket he paid for in cash. The Times sent its reporters scurrying to find his relatives the moment the NYPD released his name, and they emerged with a hit piece on how the suspect, Mr. Shahzad, “fit the profile of a Terrorist”. Rife with circumstantial evidence, the article describes his “‘money woes”, his newfound “zeal for Islam”, his “strong religious identity” and so forth. The article does not mention the evidence against Mr. Shahzad, and takes his guilt as a foregone conclusion.

3) – The suspect confessed. But I should stress emphatically that that is all we know of his confession. Mr. Shahzad has been accused of five terrorism-related charges, according to the New Statesman, and apparently gave his interrogates “the goods” – that is, he confessed to having trained in Pakistan, having “links” with “The Taliban”, etc – precisely what our policy planners might have wanted. The AFP was kind enough to note that Mr. Shahzad has not been in a court, and has in fact, “disappeared” since his “dramatic arrest” 4 days ago. We don’t know where he was taken, who interrogated him, or what exactly he confessed to.

I do not wish to be called a “conspiracy theorist”, but it is well known (and given the tone of coverage, tragically well accepted) that if you are accused of the crime of Terrorism, you will be interrogated in secret and tortured at the very least by days or weeks of sleeplessness (try it, reader!). I have no idea how Mr. Shahzad was interrogated, except that it was done by the military. Unless I see documentary evidence to suggest otherwise, I think that given the military’s past experiences with interrogation, we can assume Mr. Shahzad was tortured.

Then what is his confession worth? Very little, it would seem, and even less given the almost hilarious nature of his “crime”. The contents of his car were essentially inert. Is it a crime to have firecrackers, a sealed propane tank, and a few bags of fertilizer in your car at Times Square on a Saturday night? Evidently, if you happen to be on a particular list, everything is a crime.

It would be difficult to overstate the danger of Mr. Lieberman’s proposal and those like it. By classifying a certain class of crime (“Terrorism”) as one for which normal rules do not apply, one creates a dangerous precedent. Who, after all, is a Terrorist? Mostly Muslims, for now, but the Administration has given indications for years that it plans on expanding the definition to, say, civil disobedience.

This is an unhealthy trend, and ought to be stopped. To have two sets of laws – one for people accused of “Terrorism” and the other for everyone else – is illogical and absurd; and worse, it demolishes the idea of whether or not we can conclusively ascertain a “Terrorist’s” guilt. Precisely because Mr. Shahzad likely confessed under torture, we shall never know whether or not he was actually guilty.

Written by pavanvan

May 7, 2010 at 9:20 pm

“Warrior Transition”

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The Times is out today with an excellent article on the military’s so-called “Warrior Transition Units”, wherein our traumatized soldiers who return from Iraq and Afghanistan can “unwind” in warehouses across the country. They’re given free drugs and told not to think about things so much. There are, of course, too many ex-soldiers who have been permanently scarred by the things they saw on duty to adequately counsel all of them, but the military makes up for it in painkillers, anti-depressants, and sleeping pills.

The article has some pretty juicy examples:

He was prescribed a laundry list of medications for anxiety, nightmares, depression and headaches that made him feel listless and disoriented. His once-a-week session with a nurse case manager seemed grossly inadequate to him. And noncommissioned officers — soldiers supervising the unit — harangued or disciplined him when he arrived late to formation or violated rules.

Oh, and:

Sgt. John Conant, a 15-year veteran of the Army, returned from his second tour of Iraq in 2007 a changed man, according to his wife, Delphina. Angry and sullen, he reported to the transition unit at Fort Carson, where he was prescribed at least six medications a day for sleeping disorders, pain and anxiety, keeping a detailed checklist in his pocket to remind him of his dosages.

“They didn’t want to do anything but give him medication,” she said.

Also:

“These kids change their medication like they change their underwear,” said a psychotherapist who works with Fort Carson soldiers and asked that his name not be used because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the transition unit. “They can’t even remember which pills they’re taking.”

Two points emerge which The Times clearly hints at, but doesn’t come out and say:

1) These cases are bound to happen when you force 18-year-old kids fresh out of high school to travel to a godforsaken desert they know nothing about, kill people for basically no reason, watch their best friends die, and come home to a country that barely even knows they’re at war.

2) There has to be some kind of agreement with the pharmaceutical industry at work here to defraud taxpayers. We’re prescribing these kids pills like they’re candy, and there’s hardly any evidence as to these drugs’ efficacy. How much is the pharmaceutical industry making off of these prescription-happy doctors and the taxpayers who are footing the bill?

Those two points aside, a really excellent effort out of The New York Times.

Written by pavanvan

April 26, 2010 at 7:23 pm

Posted in War

Kyrgyzstan Clients and the Afghan War

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Aram Roston is out with another fantastic investigation in this week’s The Nation about how no-bid contracts and an obedient client-dictator in Kyrgyzstan has allowed one company to control virtually all the oil that enters into Afghanistan:

This is the story of two interlinked and secretive offshore companies run by a former Army intelligence officer. The firms run a specialized monopoly of massive proportions. Their niche: supplying aviation fuel for US military operations in Afghanistan–enough to fill two Olympic-size swimming pools each and every day of the year.

The companies’ names are Red Star Enterprises and Mina Corp. In Afghanistan, Red Star Enterprises has a sole source contract worth more than $1 billion, won without competition, to deliver fuel to Bagram Air Base, that central hub of the war effort.The Nation has obtained an unusual “memorandum of agreement” between Red Star and the US military authorities, giving the firm exclusive ownership of a fuel pipeline that feeds directly into the base.

Written by pavanvan

April 23, 2010 at 11:10 pm

Posted in War

Tagged with , ,

Prime Minister Ayad Allawi

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I mentioned previously that the Iraq election was a sham not because it was rigged (though it certainly was) but because the Iraqis had to choose between two pro-occupation candidates, Al-Maliki and Allawi.

The vote was inconclusive, but those two candidates were widely trumpeted as the “frontrunners”, and many of our newspapers expressed the US government’s opinion on the matter by claiming Allawi won. But few have very much to say about him, now that the initial excitement is over. To fill the silence, I wanted to point out a curious fact about him that Ron Suskind revealed in his latest book, The Way of the World.

Apparently Allawi was involved in the manufacture of false evidence connecting Saddam to 9/11. He was at the CIA headquarters immediately before President Bush gave the order to the CIA to “manufacture evidence” that Al-Qaeda had training camps in Iraq. I cannot dismiss the coincidence of a major Iraqi politician meeting with the CIA immediately before they set to work manufacturing evidence. On some level at least, Allawi was a collaborator.

And he still is.

Written by pavanvan

April 18, 2010 at 10:46 pm

Posted in War

Tagged with , , ,

How The US Funds the Taliban

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I want to draw attention to this article by legendary investigative journalist Aram Roston in last November’s The Nation, which gives some pretty compelling evidence that the US plans Afghanistan to be an endless war. The US taxpayer is apparently the Taliban’s single biggest donor.

Now, many would argue that we’re merely ending the war through monetary means, but you have to really think about what this implies. The Taliban may decide not to shoot at us for the time being, but this money being  given to them now can be used against us at any future date. The Taliban are evidently a cheap organization to run, and with millions of US dollars they can continue resisting forever.

This is simply not rational behavior for a country who’s avowed goal is to “defeat the Taliban”. It is rational for a country who wishes always to have a “Taliban” around to fight.

As one of the truck drivers on the route we pay the Taliban not to fire upon says:

Hanna explained that the prices charged are different, depending on the route: “We’re basically being extorted. Where you don’t pay, you’re going to get attacked. We just have our field guys go down there, and they pay off who they need to.” Sometimes, he says, the extortion fee is high, and sometimes it is low. “Moving ten trucks, it is probably $800 per truck to move through an area. It’s based on the number of trucks and what you’re carrying. If you have fuel trucks, they are going to charge you more. If you have dry trucks, they’re not going to charge you as much. If you are carrying MRAPs or Humvees, they are going to charge you more.”

We have been pursuing the same strategy as part of our “Surge” in Iraq with the so-called “Sunni Awakening”, and while every pundit to the right of an anarchist crows that “The Surge Worked”, we have not seen any political reconciliation there, no disarmament, and no end to suicide attacks (an average of 1.5 of which occurred every week in 2009).

I have no doubt that the “Afghan Surge” or whatever it is they’re calling it nowadays will be trumpeted from every news outlet within six months as the greatest victory since Julius Caesar. But, as in Iraq, I think we will find a full withdrawal to be still in the infinite future.

Written by pavanvan

April 18, 2010 at 9:07 pm