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Posts Tagged ‘afghanistan

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.

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

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

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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

Why Ben Metcalf Pays His Taxes

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Harper’s has just made for free an outstanding essay by their literary editor, Ben Metcalf, entitled “Why I Pay My Taxes“. It was first published in April, 2008, and should be required reading for everyone on tax day.

Excerpts:

Who has nottoppled republics and tyrannies alike so that a corporation he took no personal interest in might enhance by meaningless increment an already criminal profit? Who has notwatched on his television set as a bomb or a tank he helped personally to pay for made a charred and limbless stump out of what previously was an innocent (if un-American) child? I might also ask, if only out of curiosity: just how many of these children needed to be chopped up and burnt before at last my fellow citizens thought to stop payment on the meat grinder and the furnace? One hundred? One thousand? Ten thousand? More?

Does not a single such death constitute a villainy no latter-day tax protest could hope to overcome? Was even that one small tragedy not predicted by our military accountants well in advance of any physical war, to be folded neatly into their projections of “collateral damage”? And have we not all of us long understood this phrase to be but a transparent attempt to log beforehand a formal regret over the slaughter to come while implying also that said slaughter will be accidental and therefore, magically, unforeseen?

_____

In 2007, to take but my most recent foray, I paid something on the order of $20,000 into the federal pail. Of this sum, I can be assured that 31 percent, or $6,200, was put toward current military expenses (which would strike me as almost miserly if it did not far surpass what I have given at any one time to any other cause). Of this $6,200, I know that roughly 23 percent, or $1,400 (also more than I have given at any one time to any other cause), went immediately to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which our current administration, the second Bush, claims already to have won.

_____

Surely, though, I can say with some certainty that the $1,400 I sent last year to the wars abroad scored at least on occasion. That unassuming sum, after all, would have paid for 5,000 M16 machine-gun bullets at 28 cents per. Five thousand bullets! Is notone of these now lodged in a foreign corpse on my tab and my behalf? True, the price has gone up since then (by a whopping 2 cents), but that still promises a good 4,666-bullet year, and with luck I might get a cost-of-living raise to make up the difference.

The whole thing is grimly hilarious, and well worth reading.

Written by pavanvan

April 16, 2010 at 10:09 am

‘Penny Pinching’ in Afghanistan

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The Times has a blatantly pro-war screed masquerading as unbiased news today, as they attempt to bully Britain into providing more money for Afghanistan. Just look at this lede:

Has a “penny pinching” approach to defense spending by Prime Minister Gordon Brown kept British troops in Afghanistan disastrously short of the helicopters and other equipment their commanders have long demanded, causing unnecessarily heavy combat losses to the Taliban’s most devastating weapon, roadside bombs?

“Disastrously short of helicopters”, “commanders have long demanded”, “unnecessarily heavy combat losses”, “most devastating weapon” – Gee, I wonder if the author thinks Britain ought to invest more money in this black hole of a war! (the answer is yes.)

Then it gets even worse. The author, John F. Burns, decides his best source for this matter is a retired British general – one who was Britain’s top military officer back in 2001:

Gen. Charles Guthrie, Britain’s top military officer until 2001, has spoken bitterly of Mr. Brown’s paring of budgets for helicopters and other defense priorities. “Gordon never cared” about defense, he said in an interview last summer with the Times of London. “It’s no good the prime minister one moment saying success is all important, and then for the sake of a few extra helicopters and 2,000 men allowing the mission in Afghanistan to fail.

You can’t go to war in a penny-pinching way,” he said.

What exactly is the “mission” I hear everyone talking about? What does “success” even mean in this context? And isn’t ‘penny-pinching’ a rational policy if your country is totally broke? I know we live in a culture that worships success, but this is going a little too far.

I guess the point of the article is that Conservative leader David Cameron is using this “issue” to score some quick points against Labour in the upcoming election. Mr. Burns writes:

Mr. Cameron quoted a former British paratroop commander in Afghanistan as saying that “repeated demands for more helicopters fell on deaf ears” with the Brown government, and that troops ended up “driving into combat when they should have been flying.

Why don’t they just leave? They would neither have to drive nor fly into combat in that case. The BBC and several other opinion polls all show the war to be deeply unpopular with the British public. But since all of America’s so-called ‘allies’ are shying away from this insane and endless conflict, we have to rely once again on our ‘oldest ally’ to fill the gap – and that often means having to bully them a bit on the front page of our leading newspaper.

Written by pavanvan

April 15, 2010 at 11:23 am

How Not to End the War in Afghanistan

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A rather disappointing article in The New York Review of Books by British Labour politician David Miliband this week entitled “How to End the War in Afghanistan” prominently displays all the hang-ups our ‘coalition forces’ suffer when contemplating that quagmire of a war. It would be interesting to discuss this article because it contains within it the genealogy of orientalist Western thought toward that unfortunate desert; from British gamesmanship during the 19th century to hedge against Russia to the 21st century Anglo-American occupation of the same desert, ostensibly to hedge against Iran and China. Astoundingly, it seems we have learned nothing of imperialism, of cultural imposition and brute coercion in the intervening centuries. Then, as now, we marched in and expected the Afghans to listen to us because, after all, it was in their best interest to do so. Then, as now, we expressed our bewilderment that they could not grasp so easy a concept. And then (as now) we wrung our hands and lamented that we wish there were another way, but we must, unfortunately, continue our occupation until we achieve a “stable” “friendly” “democracy” in that far-off, warlord-plagued desert.

For an article with such a direct title, Mr Milibrand chooses a roundabout method of answering his implied question. After all, “How to End the War in Afghanistan” could be summed up in about a paragraph: NATO-led coalition forces should immediately cease all combat operations, issue an apology to the Afghan people for using them as pawns in macabre game of geopolitical chess, withdraw all troops and war material, and extend some manner of reparations for the thirty years of horrific destruction the US and Britain collectively wrought upon their land.

From the first sentence of his article, we can see Mr. Milibrand rejects that method of “ending the war”. He repeats, with no sense of irony, the prevailing narrative which brought us into the war in the first place, a narrative which has been shown to be false, and which goes directly against the stated aim of Milibrand’s article (‘ending the war’). In his opening paragraph below, I have bolded the most dubious claims:

In the 1990s that country’s Taliban government provided a safe haven and support for al-Qaeda. In return Osama bin Laden provided the Taliban with money and fighters. Afghanistan became the incubator for the September 11 attacks. The international intervention in response to those attacks had widespread support around the world. But we never meant for our militaries to be there forever. Eight years later, with al-Qaeda pushed into Pakistan, it is not enough to explain to people why the war started. We need to set out how it will be ended—how to preserve what has been achieved and protect South Asia from a contagion that would affect us all.

Now, it is clear that one would not begin an article with such fantastic mendacity if one were serious about “ending the war”. As Milibrand well knows, 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, not Afghanistan; the US provided far more dollars to the Taliban than Osama Bin Laden (and continues to do so); the 2001 invasion saw massive, worldwide protests that were the largest yet seen (but were surpassed two years later against the Iraq War); and the so-called “contagion” that would “affect us all” has neither been defined nor genuinely demonstrated.

And so on. The article continues to detail the pernicious “insurgent” problem that threatens the “stability” of Hamid Karzai’s US-imposed dictatorship, the opium which continues to be a “major problem” for Afghanistan (even though the premier opium kingpin in Afghanistan is on the CIA’s payroll), and the problems of “corruption” (even though the US-supported Karzai regime is widely considered to be one of the most corrupt in the world.)

The mendacity displayed here is astonishing, but it is the natural result of the inherent contradictions in Mr Miliband’s position. On one hand, like all politicians seeking election, he wants this unpopular war to “end”. On the other hand, like all geopolitical power players, he wants a US-friendly regime in Afghanistan, one which will act precisely as we wish it to act and will acquiesce to the permanent stationing of US troops, should China, Pakistan or Iran begin to act uppity. Now, obviously, imposing an illegitimate, unelected government like that of Mr Karzai would tend to make a few of his citizens upset, and just as obviously, the US would have to use force, perhaps indefinite force, to defend its client. Hence the contradiction. “Ending the War” implies letting go of our client state in Afghanistan, something which Mr Miliband and our US policy planners are evidently unwilling to do.

Hence the vague threats of “contagion”, the constant apology for the Karzai dictatorship (He has, after all, “promised to tackle corruption”), the rancid bellicosity toward “extremists” (“They must be beaten back”, says Miliband, which sounds pretty “extreme” to me), etc.

The most astounding line in the whole essay comes when Mr Miliband says: “The idea of anyone reaching out to political engagement with those who would directly or indirectly attack our troops is difficult.” The lack of self-awareness in such a pronouncement is almost too much to be believed. Let us imagine that Britain had been invaded by Germany in 1940, as was then thought to be a serious possibility. The British had been preparing for guerrilla warfare to repel the Nazis, but, under Milibrand’s logic, any British resistance would have been illegitimate! After all, the German general could say, “The idea of reaching out to those who would attack our troops is difficult.” How dare those British attack good German soldiers? And likewise, how dare those dastardly Afghans attack our stalwart American forces, who only invaded their country and installed a corrupt and unpopular dictator in order to bring them Peace™ and Democracy™ !

So, in the end, despite a confused list of policy suggestions that happen not to make a lick of sense (how the hell does he expect to “eradicate corruption” while supporting stolen elections and massive payments to drug kingpins?!), Mr Miliband’s essay argues cogently in favor of the Afghan war. If there is one thing we are meant to take away from this essay, it is that these desert wogs simply have no idea how to govern themselves and need constant oversight from their best friends in the United States and Britain. Doing so, of course, requires a long-term military presence (something which Mr Miliband curiously appears to support). He ought to have titled it “How not to End the War in Afghanistan”.

Written by pavanvan

April 12, 2010 at 1:11 pm