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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

Tasers and Ray Guns – The “Soft-Kill” Option

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Harper’s has a sublime report on the Army’s latest weaponry, unfortunately accessible only to subscribers. Over the past decade and more, weapons manufacturers have been pushing the Pentagon on what they call “soft-kill”, non-lethal “crowd dispersal” machines. They can utilize sound (via ear-drum shattering frequencies), or, as Ando Arike describes in his report, intense microwave beams that heat one’s skin to 130 degrees, causing mortal pain – but, as the Pentagon hastens to point out, “non-lethal” pain.

The implications of a device of this nature are enormous. Ando cites a 60 Minutes piece, what he rightly calls “essentially a twelve-minute Pentagon infomercial” emphasizing the “huge numbers of  lives that could be saved” via this technology – the riots in Iraq we could quell peacefully, the protests we could “disperse” without firing a shot, etc. You know those darn Iraqis are always rioting over some fool thing or another.

More troubling is the recent deployment of the 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team from Iraq to various American cities to help with “crowd control” in the coming social unrest as oil and other resources become scarce.

The obvious danger of these weapons, and what almost no mainstream outlet has bothered to mention, is that they will eventually be used against the American populace. The First Amendment rather explicitly states our right to assemble, but these weapons render that right obsolete. Who decides which gatherings have become “unruly”, for which “limited force is necessary”?

Unless the nature of their “movement” changes radically, I have little doubt the “Tea Party” protesters will have very much to worry about, but what of the anti-war protesters? One needs only to recall the various “anti-globalization” protests on which the US government employed tear gas, rubber bullets, and sound guns to see how far the government is willing to go.

In earlier days, governments often had no choice to break up a gathering except by lethal violence, and an arms race has developed for the most effective method to disperse crowds without killing them. As Ando remarks, the proliferation of digital media has given truth to the phrase “the world is watching.” – and no one likes a massacre.

Enter the “Ray Gun”. That rather slavish MSNBC article presents it in the brightest possible light, but the result still looks pretty grim. The thing makes you feel like you’re on fire, as Fox News enthusiastically reports. You have no time to think or decide what to do. Your only instinct is “Run.”

The practical value of this for totalitarianism must be enormous, but our press has shown it nothing but enthusiasm. This article from Gizmodo must be read to be believed (emphasis mine):

The U.S. military has developed a non-lethal ray gun that makes people feel like they’re on fire. Yes! It’s supposed to be used in places like Iraq and Afghanistan (where else?) in order to disperse crowds and get people to cooperate. It uses millimeter electromagnetic waves to penetrate the skin and raises body temperature to 130 degrees Fahrenheit near instantly. Combine this with other top notch U.S. military technology and it’s pretty easy to see why we’re number one, now and forever.

“Where else” indeed. I can just imagine some Pentagon hack writing with special care to inject some colloquialisms – to appeal to the kids, of course.

But even our hallowed institutions have succumbed to the Ray Gun’s unnatural charms, like the BBC, whose only quote is of a military flunky describing the device by saying:

“This is a breakthrough technology that’s going to give our forces a capability they don’t now have,” defence official Theodore Barna told Reuters news agency.

“We expect the services to add it to their tool kit. And that could happen as early as 2010.”

Anyone who thinks these devices will only be used in Iraq or Afghanistan has some serious optimism. If the Army has already deployed several contingents to the US, and they have added this device to their repertoire, then I think it’s only reasonable to assume they will use it.

I’m not sure Ando mentions this in his article, but we can also drop this whole bit about the weapon being “non-lethal” and “harmless”. Anyone with a high-school knowledge of chemistry or physics knows that microwave frequencies are carcinogenic.

Written by pavanvan

March 6, 2010 at 10:14 pm

Posted in War

Tagged with , , , , , ,

Profiles in Idiocy: Thomas Friedman

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Here we go again! Another evasive, revisionist piece of trash from none other than our favorite warmonger, Thomas Friedman! I hasten to point out that Friedman was one of the Iraq War’s biggest cheerleaders, once exhorting the starving Iraqi masses to “Suck. On. This.” (i.e. our bombs). That linked YouTube video comes highly recommended because it reveals, for all the world to see, just what a slimy reptile Mr. Friedman really is. But no, he’s not finished! In his February 24th New York Times column he takes his complete lack of ethics, his shifting morality, and his base “intellectualism” to a new low.

Tongue-twistingly entitled “Iraq’s Known Unknowns, Still Unknown” (a ‘clever’ play, I suppose, on Rumsfeld’s famous quote), his article begins with one of the most poorly written, eurocentric, history-denying openings I’ve ever seen:

From the very beginning of the U.S. intervention in Iraq and the effort to build some kind of democracy there, a simple but gnawing question has lurked in the background: Was Iraq the way Iraq was (a dictatorship) because Saddam was the way Saddam was, or was Saddam the way Saddam was because Iraq was the way Iraq was — a collection of warring sects incapable of self-rule and only governable with an iron fist?

Maybe Iraq was “the way it was” because the Untied States actively funded Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship for decades. Has this man ever read a history book? We supported Saddam all through the ’80s, and then after his failed adventure in Kuwait we imposed “sanctions” on Iraq which had the net effect of strengthening his regime, albeit at the cost of 500,000 Iraqi children (what Madeline Albright called “a price worth paying”). Does he think that may have something to do with it? Nah, it’s much easier to just be a racist and tar Iraq as a “collection of warring sects incapable of self-rule and only governable with an iron fist”. That way the US invasion almost seems justified!

It’s hard to imagine anyone topping that astounding bit of stupidity, but really, Friedman is just getting started:

Ironically, though, it was the neo-conservative Bush team that argued that culture didn’t matter in Iraq, and that the prospect of democracy and self-rule would automatically bring Iraqis together to bury the past. While many liberals and realists contended that Iraq was an irredeemable tribal hornet’s nest and we should not be sticking our hand in there; it was a place where the past would always bury the future.

But stick we did, and in so doing we gave Iraqis a chance to do something no other Arab people have ever had a chance to do: freely write their own social contract on how they would like to rule themselves and live together.

Oh boy! I’m sure the Iraqis were just thrilled that we gave them the chance to “freely write their own social contract” – I mean, sure, it was at the barrel of US artillery, but it’s not nice to talk about that, right, Friedman? And I think you’re missing something here. Do you remember something called “WMDs”? You know, the ones that we never found? I think that was the real reason we attacked Iraq, in blatant violation of international law. All this talk of “supporting democracy” came afterward.

Also, the “liberals and realists” did not contend that Iraq was an “irredeemable tribal hornet’s nest”, you miserable racist. We said that America shouldn’t “stick [its] hand there” because attacking a country that was not actively preparing to declare war would be a monstrous act of aggression and an express violation of international law. It’s “irredeemable” to “contend” otherwise.

Then Mr. Friedman talks about his latest meeting with Gen. Odierno, who, along with Joe Biden, has apparently done the most to “coax, cajole, and occasionally shove Iraq away from the abyss”. You know, the abyss that we opened up. The Iraqis sure are lucky they had Uncle Sam around to “cajole” them away from it!

I found the general hopeful but worried. He was hopeful because he has seen Iraqis go to the brink so many times and then pull back, but worried because sectarian violence is steadily creeping back ahead of the elections and certain Shiite politicians, like the former Bush darling Ahmed Chalabi — whom General Odierno indicated is clearly “influenced by Iran” and up to no good — have been trying to exclude some key Sunni politicians from the election.

Wrong, you colossal ass, a thousand times wrong! Jesus Christ, I can’t believe you work for the New York Times. The real reason “some key Sunni politicians” are being excluded from the Iraqi election is because of a specific order by our own Paul Bremer that banned former Ba’ath party members from contesting elections. Your own newspaper reminded us of this just five days before your column ran. Don’t you read newspapers? But it’s so much easier to shift the blame onto our scapegoat Chalabi, isn’t it? Facts are just too cumbersome.

How does Friedman think the elections might play out? Well…

The ideal but least likely scenario is that we see the emergence of an Iraqi Shiite Nelson Mandela. The Shiites, long suppressed by Iraq’s Baathist-led Sunni minority, are now Iraq’s ruling majority. Could Iraq produce a Shiite politician, who, like Mandela, would be a national healer — someone who would use his power to lead a real reconciliation instead of just a Shiite dominion? So far, no sign of it.

Okay, you want to see a “Shiite Nelson Mandela”. What has the US been doing to promote this? Well, we’ve been arbitrarily arresting and throwing Shiites in jail on false pretexts for a while now. Didn’t Nelson Mandela go to jail? We’ve brutally occupied their country and left it swarming with mercenaries. I guess that’s kind of like South Africa? I don’t know. Maybe Mr. Friedman could just drop this dishonest comparison to Nelson Mandela and try and give some real solutions. Nah, that’s too hard.

So tell us what you don’t want, Mr. Friedman:

The two scenarios you don’t want to see are: 1) Iraq’s tribal culture triumphing over politics and the country becoming a big Somalia with oil; or 2) as America fades away, Iraq’s Shiite government aligning itself more with Iran, and Iran becoming the kingmaker in Iraq the way Syria has made itself in Lebanon.

Again with the racial overtures! Good lord, what kind of human being are you? “Iraq’s tribal culture”, eh? “A big Somalia with oil”? Did you really write that with a straight face? You “pundits” are all the same. If a country doesn’t have cars and multinational corporations in it, then its automatically a “tribal” culture. Man, you would have fit right in with the European imperialists laying waste to Asia and South America. You were born in the wrong century, Mr. Friedman!

As to your second scenario: forgive me, but why? Why shouldn’t Iraq be friends with its neighbor, Iran? Just because you, personally, wouldn’t like it? What do you mean by “kingmaker”? Iraq’s culture is predominantly Shi’a – so to a reasonable observer it should make sense that Iraq and Iran would be friends. Mr. Friedman, however, is not a reasonable observer.

He ends with a parting shot, and a last bit of historical revisionism:

Why should we care when we’re leaving? Quite simply, so much of the turmoil in the region was stoked over the years by Saddam’s Iraq and Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran, both financed by billions in oil revenues. If, over time, a decent democratizing regime could emerge in Iraq and a similar one in Iran — so that oil wealth was funding reasonably decent regimes rather than retrograde ones — the whole Middle East would be different.

Mr. Friedman, unlike myself, was actually alive to remember the Iran-Contra scandal, and thus has no excuse for this spectacular display of ignorance. “So much of the turmoil” in the region was not stoked by “billions in oil revenues”, as it was by billions in CIA dollars, paid to both sides, with express instructions to keep fighting. I mean Jesus, how can he not remember this? The United States gave arms and funding to both sides of the Iraq-Iran conflict, and used the proceeds to illegally fund a terrorist group in Nicaragua. Doesn’t he think that “stoked” some turmoil in the region? I guess when you’re Thomas Friedman, history just doesn’t matter.

I simply cannot believe this guy is writing for The New York Times while tens of millions of Americans are out of work. Anyone who has graduated from high school has a firmer grasp of history than Thomas Friedman. Anyone short of a Ku Klux Klan member has more ethical integrity. Thomas Friedman is a joke.

Profiles in Idiocy: Anne Applebaum

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Anne Applebaum has won major accolades for her Gulag: A History, for which she owes a huge debt of gratitude to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and which constitutes the poor man’s history of the Soviet Union – for when you want your histories dull and without universal insights into human nature. Her work for The Washington Post, however, has been singularly atrocious, and one wonders what, exactly, she learned from all her research into the depths of evil.

Her columns consistently and unapologetically disavow international law, human rights, or any concern for civilian casualties – each week brings a new and more forceful call to “defend our allies” and “defeat our enemies”, usually with only the most token concern for anyone who might stand in our way.

Her latest article, horrifically entitled: “Prepare for War With Iran – In Case Israel Strikes” displays all of her odious tendencies, and is worth discussing in detail.

She starts by observing that President Obama is unlikely to launch a pre-emptive strike on Iran. Why?

The president will not bomb Iran’s nuclear installations for precisely the same reasons that George W. Bush did not bomb Iran’s nuclear installations: Because we don’t know exactly where they all are, because we don’t know whether such a raid could stop the Iranian nuclear program for more than a few months, and because Iran’s threatened response — against Israelis and U.S. troops, via Iranian allies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Lebanon — isn’t one we want to cope with at this moment.

Apparently this lady hasn’t heard of a little thing called international law. You see, under normal circumstances, countries aren’t allowed to go mindlessly bombing each other on flimsy pretexts. This constitutes “aggression”, and the Nuremberg Principles (to which we supposedly subscribe) consider it “the supreme international crime”. I mean, I get that we basically threw that idea out the window long ago, but isn’t Ms. Applebaum supposed to be a scholar who specializes in international relations? What kind of scholar thinks the only reason we don’t go around bombing other countries is because it probably wouldn’t work?

After this bald refutation of the basic principles of international law, Ms. Applebaum raises another specter of war. Even though we may consider it inconvenient to bomb Iran, that doesn’t mean other countries won’t. Other countries like Israel. As she remarks:

The defining moment of his presidency may well come at 2 a.m. some day when he picks up the phone and is told that the Israeli prime minister is on the line: Israel has just carried out a raid on Iranian nuclear sites. What then?

Yes, “what then” indeed? Well, a reasonable observer might note that such a “raid” would be an act of sheer aggression, not to mention one supremely unjustified. After all, Israel boasts of its nuclear weapons every chance it gets, and Iran hasn’t carried out any “raids” on its nuclear sites.  A country truly interested in the rule of law would chastise Israel for its wanton aggression, cut off the extravagant military aid ($2.5 billion per year) it currently supplies the aggressor, and maybe even impose those sanctions everyone likes to talk about so much. The same sanctions we’re currently threatening Iran with. I don’t remember Israel getting any sanctions when it got the bomb. Oh, that’s right. We gave it to them.

The rest of the article serves as a justification for such Israeli “raids”. As she says:

Many Israelis regard the Iranian nuclear program as a matter of life and death. The prospect of a nuclear Iran isn’t an irritant or a distant threat. It is understood directly in the context of the Iranian president’s provocative attacks on Israel’s right to exist and his public support for historians who deny the Holocaust. If you want to make Israelis paranoid, hint that they might be the target of an attempted mass murder. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad does exactly that.

I have a hard time believing she wrote this passage with a straight face. Perhaps she remembers a little speech given by President Bush, charmingly nicknamed the “Axis of Evil” speech. In it, he specifically named Iran to the eponymous “axis”, and then punctuated that slur by invading another member of said axis. The US mainstream press is is full of naked suggestions that President Obama attack Iran, including this endearing piece by Mr. Daniel Pipes, ludicrously entitled How to Save the Obama Presidency: Bomb Iran. “The American people would support it,” Mr. Pipes contends.

For crying out loud, Ms. Applebaum’s own article is entitled “Prepare for War with Iran”! I wonder if she thinks that might make the Iranians “paranoid”.

Of course, Ms. Applebaum doesn’t want war with Iran. But a country’s gotta do what a country’s gotta do:

I do hope that this administration is ready, militarily and psychologically, not for a war of choice but for an unwanted war of necessity. This is real life, after all, not Hollywood.

And here we see, finally, in what an alternate reality our mainstream punditry operates. Defending an Israeli war of aggression is no longer a choice, but a necessity. Should Israel, without consulting us, begin a unilaterial bombing campaign on Iran, the United States has no choice but to fight Israel’s war for it. I mean, does Ms. Applebaum expect us to buy this nonsense?

Next she’ll be telling us that it’s necessary for the US to remain the “sole superpower” for the indefinite future. Oh wait…

Investigative Journalists Are Better Spies Than CIA

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From The Washington Post:

KABUL — On their first day of class in Afghanistan, the new U.S. intelligence analysts were given a homework assignment.

First read a six-page classified military intelligence report about the situation in Spin Boldak, a key border town and smuggling route in southern Afghanistan. Then read a 7,500-word article in Harper’s magazine, also about Spin Boldak and the exploits of its powerful Afghan border police commander.

The conclusion they were expected to draw: The important information would be found in the magazine story. The scores of spies and analysts producing reams of secret documents were not cutting it.

Hilarious.

Written by pavanvan

February 23, 2010 at 3:12 pm

Re-Branding the Iraq War – A PR Offensive

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Lilliana Segura of Alternet turns us on to an upcoming change in Obama’s war policy:

In a one-page memo dated Feb. 17, 2010 and signed by Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense officially requested that U.S. Central Command “change the name of Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn.”

“The requested operation name change is approved to take effect 1 September, 2010, coinciding with the change in mission for U.S. forces in Iraq,” Gates wrote to CENTCOM Commander Gen. David Petraeus, noting that this would send “a strong signal that Operation Iraqi Freedom has ended and our forces are operating under a new mission.”


“The DoD’s latest attempt to sell what we’re doing in Iraq to the people and international community simply highlights the tenuous position they’ve committed our forces to,” Jose Vasquez, executive director of Iraq Veterans Against the War, told AlterNet. “Their latest misnomer, Operation New Dawn, has all the qualities of a George Orwell novel. Perhaps ‘Operation Imperial Sunset’ is more appropriate. No one is fooled by their attempts to spin what is happening over there, namely permanent bases, lopsided oil deals and serious breaches of international law. Let’s bring the troops home and let Iraq enjoy its sovereignty.”

“Operation Imperial Sunset”! That’s a good one.

Written by pavanvan

February 21, 2010 at 11:16 am

Priorities

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U.S. Economic Stimulus spending per month: $32 billion.

U.S. War Expenditures per month: $56 billion.

Written by pavanvan

February 18, 2010 at 7:41 am

A Confusing Afghan Offensive

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C.J. Chivers of The New York Times has generally provided solid reporting out of Afghanistan, if a bit overshadowed by his more accomplished colleague, Dexter Filkins. But today’s non-story on the front page, entitled “Snipers Imperil US Troops in Offensive in Afghanistan” is a rather perplexing.

First, I’m a bit unclear as to how this constitutes news, as such. Did we expect not to be “imperiled” as we forced our way into unfriendly territory? Was it the snipers that were unexpected? But that can’t be it, because the article mentions snipers in a matter-of-fact way – no quotes from generals saying something to the effect that “we just didn’t expect them to shoot at us!” or anything like that.

The story unfolds predictably – US and “Afghan” forces are in danger, they’ve had “close calls”, and then they retaliated with mortars, helicopters and airplanes. This, of course, is absurd in and of itself (countering small arms fire with massive gunships), but we’ve been hearing this for a while, so it fails to shock (or awe).

But then things get even more confusing, as Mr. Chivers attempts to have it both ways:

Over all, most Taliban small-arms fire has been haphazard and ineffective, an unimpressive display of ill discipline or poor skill. But this more familiar brand of Taliban shooting has been punctuated by the work of what would seem to be several well-trained marksmen.

So the Taliban is both “haphazard and ineffective” as well as “well-trained”. Later he mentions the Taliban executing a “complex ambush”. Which is it? Are they ill-disciplined or well-trained?

Then we get the dumbest quote in the whole article.

First the company fired its 60-millimeter mortars, but the Taliban kept firing. Company K escalated after the Third Platoon commander reported by radio that several insurgents had moved into a compound near the canal.

The forward air controller traveling with Company K, Capt. Akil R. Bacchus, arranged for an airstrike.

About a minute later, a 250-pound GPS-guided bomb whooshed past overhead and slammed into the compound with a thunderous explosion.

“Good hit!” said Capt. Joshua P. Biggers, the company commander. “Good hit.”

Yeah, that’s some great sharpshooting with that 250-pound bomb. I feel like I’m in a Kafka novel.

So finally, in the end, we learn that despite being isolated and “constantly challenged” by the Taliban, the K company was able to hold their position until reinforcements arrived yesterday. I guess I just don’t see how any of this is surprising, or warrants a 1,500 word article. And what was the ultimate point of the article? That the Taliban don’t like American soldiers in their country? That the Marja offensive isn’t going well? The first should be self-evident – and the second, if true, wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the article. All we found out is that the Army is encountering “difficulties”, and a few throwaway quotes from officers – quotes that tell us nothing about the situation or how they feel about it.

I mean, I get that we’re supposed to root for the ‘good guys’ here (the US troops) and invest our emotions in their eradication of those bad ol’ Taliban – but that’s why I watch movies. From a newspaper I want, y’know, news.

Written by pavanvan

February 18, 2010 at 7:30 am

Trillions to Burn?

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(c/o Kevin Drum)

The Project for Defense Alternatives has just put up its 2011 guide to Pentagon spending, entitled Trillions to Burn – complete with nine handy charts which excruciatingly detail the United States’ military dominance of the world. We will be hearing a lot in the coming months about the US budget deficit – how this or that proposal will be “unfeasible” because of its budgetary implications, or how we must reduce social spending (via education, social security, medicare, etc.) in order to show “fiscal responsibility”. Just know that all of those statements are hogwash and bullshit (or hogshit, if you like).

In reality, the single biggest contributor to the United States budget deficit is so-called “defense spending”. We spend upwards of $5000 per second in Iraq (source) and spend a similar amount per unit time in Afghanistan. This spending does nothing for anybody. It does not make us “more safe”, it does not help these impoverished people “achieve democracy”, and it certainly hasn’t made oil any cheaper. The only thing – and I do mean the only thing – it does is transfer the nation’s wealth from the taxpayer to a select group of war profiteers.

That’s it. That’s all our “defense spending” does. The next time you hear some “Republican” or “Democrat” spout off about how we need to spend this money in order to “defeat our enemies”, check to see who their campaign contributors are (via OpenSecrets), and ask yourself if these people would still be our “enemies” if we weren’t spending the equivalent of South Korea’s GDP every year attempting to bomb them out of their homes. Remember the Fort Hood shooter, who specifically stated that his motivation was outrage over US massacres of Iraqi and Afghan civilians? Or the so-called “shoe bomber” who similarly claimed he was compelled to attack the US because of its ongoing support for Israeli atrocities in Gaza?  (Aid to Israel = “Defense spending”, in the eyes of our budget office). Osama bin Laden himself, assuming he was responsible for 9/11, repeatedly cited the US occupation of Saudi Arabia and its continued ‘aid’ to Israel as his primary beefs with the United States.

It is clear that the gargantuan sums of money we allocate for ‘defense’ have precisely the opposite of their intended effect. That we should spend our time squabbling over whether or not health care reform should “add to the deficit” demonstrates just how far removed from reality our discourse has become. Anyone who claims to worry about the deficit yet still thinks we need to prosecute our foreign adventures is either an idiot or in the pay of our ‘defense contractors’. Either way, we should all benefit from their swift and timely death.

Written by pavanvan

February 11, 2010 at 10:31 pm

Zardari Regularly Sacrifices Goats

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Our man in Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, the bumbling ex-con who now has his finger on the nuclear button, regularly sacrifices goats to “ward off the evil eye”

“It has been an old practice of Mr Zardari to offer Sadqa (animal sacrifice). He has been doing this for a long time,” spokesman Farhatullah Babar told Dawn on Tuesday.


One thing is certain: Hundreds of black goats have been sacrificed since Mr Zardari moved into the President’s House in September 2008. His trusted personal servant Bai Khan buys goats from Saidpur village. The animal is touched by Mr Zardari before it is sent to his private house in F-8/2 to be sacrificed.

Man, US policy planners sure can pick ’em.

Written by pavanvan

February 4, 2010 at 10:57 am

POV: America’s Afghan Torture Stations

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Anand Gopal takes a heart-wrenching look at America’s secret prisons in Afghanistan. He writes from the perspective of the Pashtun villagers who find themselves subject to violent and senseless American raids. This is definitely worth reading:

The foreign soldiers, most of them tattooed and bearded, then went on to the main compound. They threw clothes on the floor, smashed dinner plates and forced open closets. Finally they found the man they were looking for: Habib-ur-Rahman, a computer programmer and government employee. Rahman was responsible for converting Microsoft Windows from English to the local Pashto language so that government offices could use the software. The Afghan translator accompanying the soldiers said they were acting on a tip that Rahman was a member of Al Qaeda.

They took the barefoot Rahman and a cousin to a helicopter some distance away and transported them to a small American base in a neighboring province for interrogation. After two days, US forces released Rahman’s cousin. But Rahman has not been seen or heard from since.

“We’ve called his phone, but it doesn’t answer,” said his cousin Qarar, the agriculture minister’s spokesman. Using his powerful connections, Qarar enlisted local police, parliamentarians, the governor and even the agriculture minister himself in the search for his cousin, but they turned up nothing. Government officials who independently investigated the scene in the aftermath of the raid and corroborated the claims of the family also pressed for an answer as to why two of Qarar’s family members were killed. American forces issued a statement saying that the dead were “enemy militants [who] demonstrated hostile intent.”

Weeks after the raid, the family remains bitter. “Everyone in the area knew we were a family that worked for the government,” Qarar said. “Rahman couldn’t even leave the city, because if the Taliban caught him in the countryside they would have killed him.”

Written by pavanvan

January 31, 2010 at 9:53 am

Talkin’ Taliban

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Kai Eide is the UN “special representative” in Afghanistan, and his former student, Peter Galbraith, has repeatedly accused him of corrupt influence within the Karzai administration, including allegations of vote rigging in last year’s elections (which were widely seen as a fraud). Galbraith was later fired for his accusations.

Now the Times reports Mr. Eide has engaged in high-level talks with Taliban leaders.

Kai Eide, the United Nations’ special representative in Afghanistan, met with a group of Taliban leaders in the days leading to this week’s international conference in London, where President Hamid Karzai invited the Taliban to enter peace talks.

It’s unclear at this point what sort of game Mr. Eide is playing, especially since no details of the meeting (where/when it was held, who represented the Taliban, what was said, etc) are available. But I think it’s pretty clear that the UN – and by extension, the US – are rapidly shifting their strategy from “we don’t negotiate with Terrorists” to “Hey guys, let’s talk about this”.

The plan seems simple enough. To use the overwrought war-as-football metaphor, the US would seem to have “moved the goalposts”. It now appears that we are resigned to some portion of Afghanistan being ruled by the Taliban – perhaps even most of Afghanistan – but at the same time we are unwilling to let go of Hamid Karzai. If I could divine the strategy of our oh-so-wise policy planners, I would think they envision some form of power-sharing arrangement wherein the Karzai government controls Kabul and the heroin-producing regions of Afghanistan and the Taliban take the outlying desert. That way the US can extricate itself with some “credibility” left intact while leaving in place its “stooge” for whatever future plans they have for Afghanistan (permanent military bases, of course, but perhaps a natural-gas pipeline as well).

Eide’s role in all of this is still a bit mysterious. It is clear, from numerous previous statements, that Mr. Eide is very close to the Karzai regime and is willing to invest quite a lot to see it saved. That he fired his subordinate for leaking the Afghan election fraud is further evidence of this. It seems likely Mr. Eide is using his role as a UN envoy to prop up the Karzai regime and shield it from international criticism.

It’s still unclear whether the Taliban will be willing to negotiate a power-sharing agreement. This must be a very difficult decision for them. On one hand, the Americans are on the run and lack the resources to prosecute their effort for more than another year. Just holding out for a few more months can get them a better deal – and if (as our planners fear) the Taliban have the resources to resist indefinitely, control of Afghanistan is almost assured to them. On the other hand, if the Taliban find themselves running low on resources, morale or income, the smart thing to do would be to negotiate now. They might not get a better deal later.

But given the string of audacious attacks on Kabul, I think it safe to say the Taliban’s operations proceed unhindered. So I expect they will reject the offer of negotiation and press on.

The Karzai regime is immensely unpopular, and the only thing between him and an angry mob are American soldiers. Unless he can secure some sort of deal with the Taliban, it looks as though his days are numbered.

Written by pavanvan

January 30, 2010 at 2:59 pm

The State of the Union: An Annotated Response

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One year into his prophesied presidency, Mr. Obama addressed the nation on the issues he thinks plague it the most. The speech was 5 parts economy, two parts health care, one part budget, and a few throwaway references to “national security” and Haiti thrown in as well (for spice). Unsurprisingly, the speech was a hit with the mainstream commentariat. The inimitable Joe Klein seemed to think this was “Obama at his best“; Yglesias, of course, thought it was “just great”; and Greg Sargent praised its “mix of charm and good humor”. As we all know, the main things our belaguered republic lacks at this juncture are “charm” (and/or) “good humor”.

I guess nobody took notes on what Mr. Obama said, as the reactions I’ve seen are based on qualitative nonsense (“How did he look? Was he friendly? Did he get the Republicans’ goat?”) A shame, because a close reading of the text of the speech reveals evasions, inconsistencies, and, at times, willful manipulation of data. Let’s dive in, shall we?

As Mr. Obama said early on, “It begins with the economy”.

Our most urgent task upon taking office was to shore up the same banks that helped cause this crisis. It was not easy to do. And if there’s one thing that has unified Democrats and Republicans, and everybody in between, it’s that we all hated the bank bailout. I hated it — (applause.) I hated it. You hated it. It was about as popular as a root canal. (Laughter.)

So I supported the last administration’s efforts to create the financial rescue program. And when we took that program over, we made it more transparent and more accountable. And as a result, the markets are now stabilized, and we’ve recovered most of the money we spent on the banks. (Applause.) Most but not all.

To recover the rest, I’ve proposed a fee on the biggest banks. (Applause.) Now, I know Wall Street isn’t keen on this idea. But if these firms can afford to hand out big bonuses again, they can afford a modest fee to pay back the taxpayers who rescued them in their time of need. (Applause.)

Did you really hate it so much, Mr. Obama? I mean, the largest contributors to your campaign were financial institutions, and they certainly didn’t hate it. And your Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, was practically appointed by Goldman Sachs, and went on to distribute trillions of untraceable dollars to unknown banks. He certainly didn’t hate it. Especially when your read about how Geithner willfully colluded with AIG to defraud the taxpayers of billions, it just seems like you’re making up all this populist “oh I hated it but it had to be done” nonsense ex post facto.

You’re well aware that the largest banks consider your so-called “bank fee” a joke, and that the $90 billion you plan to extract from them doesn’t cover 1/100th of the total money their malfeasance lost our economy. Also, paying back the government was stipulated in the TARP to begin with. When the banks accepted the money back in September ’08, they did so with the knowledge that they’d eventually have to pay it back. So all this “fee” does is force the banks to uphold the contract they already signed.

Moreover, you are well aware what $90 Billion won’t even cover the current outstanding bank debt. As Propublica reports, the net outstanding in the TARP program is $316 Billion. Not $90 Billion.

Concerning the “Recovery Act”:

The plan that has made all of this possible, from the tax cuts to the jobs, is the Recovery Act. (Applause.) That’s right -– the Recovery Act, also known as the stimulus bill. (Applause.) Economists on the left and the right say this bill has helped save jobs and avert disaster. But you don’t have to take their word for it.

Talk to the small business in Phoenix that will triple its workforce because of the Recovery Act.Talk to the window manufacturer in Philadelphia who said he used to be skeptical about the Recovery Act, until he had to add two more work shifts just because of the business it created. Talk to the single teacher raising two kids who was told by her principal in the last week of school that because of the Recovery Act, she wouldn’t be laid off after all.

Or you can talk to this guy, who got a $24 million stimulus award after numerous accusations of bribery. Or you could talk to this crumbling school district unable to access its stimulus funds for “bureaucratic red tape”. Or, again, these six companies, currently under criminal investigation, who nevertheless received $30 million from your free money giveaway. As Mr. Obama says in his speech,

There are stories like this all across America.

Right.

But what about clean energy? Well, he’s glad you asked:

But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. And that means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. (Applause.) It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. (Applause.) It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies. (Applause.) And, yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America. (Applause.)

You clearly aren’t a scientist, Mr. Obama, because those suggestions don’t make a lick of sense. As I’m sure you’re aware, no nuclear plant has ever been built on time or on budget. Ever. “Breeder Reactors” are still an experimental technology, and there is no safe way to dispose of the waste current reactors produce. What should we do with “zombie reactors” – those crumbling ’70s-era nuclear plants we can’t find the budget to inspect? They constantly break down, and constitute a major public health risk.  Shouldn’t we do something about those, first? Oh yeah, “Spending Freeze”. Well, I guess we can do like the French and just dump our N-waste in Russia.

As for “Clean Coal”, your colleague Al Gore called that a “lie” months ago. There is no such thing as clean coal. You know it and I know it. But, as you and the coal lobby so fervently hope, the American public doesn’t know it. And let’s not even mention the world food crisis your vaunted “advanced biofuels” had a hand in creating. Or the massive deforestation now going on in Brazil and Indonesia to meet our “advanced biofuels” demand. That technology is wasteful, inefficient, and impracticable. Europe would have to use 70% of its landmass exclusively for biofuel crops in order to meet its energy demands. America doesn’t even have enough landmass to grow enough biofuels to meet its demands. And never mind that the distillation of biofuels requires orders of magnitude more energy than we get from them.

We move on to Health Care:

After nearly a century of trying — Democratic administrations, Republican administrations — we are closer than ever to bringing more security to the lives of so many Americans. The approach we’ve taken would protect every American from the worst practices of the insurance industry. It would give small businesses and uninsured Americans a chance to choose an affordable health care plan in a competitive market. It would require every insurance plan to cover preventive care.

It would also require every American to purchase health insurance, whether they want it or not (indeed, whether or not they can afford it) – but that’s not a popular aspect of the bill, so we better not mention that. In fact, given your recent defeat in Massachusetts, it’s probably better we move on altogether.

So now let’s talk about… the deficit!

Starting in 2011, we are prepared to freeze government spending for three years. (Applause.) Spending related to our national security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will not be affected. But all other discretionary government programs will. Like any cash-strapped family, we will work within a budget to invest in what we need and sacrifice what we don’t. And if I have to enforce this discipline by veto, I will. (Applause.)

So your plan is to cut everything but the three biggest contributors to the deficit? How is that a good idea? And is “national security” really something we “need” at this point? You are aware, I’m sure, that we spend on the order of $1 trillion per year prosecuting our misbegotten murder rampages in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and whomever else wish to inflict misery upon.This spending benefits no one, and it demonstrably makes us less safe. You think that might be something we would “cut” if we were trying to save money. I really can’t stress this point enough. We spend the equivalent of South Korea’s GDP murdering Arabs. This is completely baffling to me. Would a “cash-strapped family” really refuse to “sacrifice” its largest and most wasteful expenditure that also happens to actively harm it?

But it’s not just a “deficit of dollars” – it’s also a deficit of… trust. Getting that trust surplus back is what Mr. Obama came to Washington, apparently, to do.

That’s what I came to Washington to do. That’s why -– for the first time in history –- my administration posts on our White House visitors online. That’s why we’ve excluded lobbyists from policymaking jobs, or seats on federal boards and commissions.

But we can’t stop there. It’s time to require lobbyists to disclose each contact they make on behalf of a client with my administration or with Congress. It’s time to put strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal office.

Actually, that bolded statement turned out not to be true. When you said “we have excluded lobbyists”, you might have added, “except for the ones I personally approve of.” You know you’ve given waivers to several former lobbyists to work for your administration. Why lie about it? Oh yeah, you’re doing the populist thing. But it kind of detracts from the whole “honesty” message if you have to lie while you’re making it.

So then while he’s on a roll, Mr. Obama attacks the Supreme Court bribery decision, even though the idea that “campaign donations are free speech” was a major reason why he got elected.

With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests –- including foreign corporations –- to spend without limit in our elections. (Applause.) I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. (Applause.) They should be decided by the American people.

Is this some kind of joke? You raised $680,000,000 in the most expensive presidential campaign ever. You took money from every major financial institution, including some of the biggest beneficiaries of the Geithner-Bernanke giveaway. I’m really at a loss for words here.

Finally we come to the part about terrorism. I think he’s almost done.

Since the day I took office, we’ve renewed our focus on the terrorists who threaten our nation. We’ve made substantial investments in our homeland security and disrupted plots that threatened to take American lives. We are filling unacceptable gaps revealed by the failed Christmas attack, with better airline security and swifter action on our intelligence. We’ve prohibited torture and strengthened partnerships from the Pacific to South Asia to the Arabian Peninsula. And in the last year, hundreds of al Qaeda’s fighters and affiliates, including many senior leaders, have been captured or killed — far more than in 2008.

No you haven’t. Well, maybe you have, but – wink! – we’ll never know, right? The “black site” at Bagram air base is expanding; Guantanamo hasn’t closed; you believe in extra-legal kidnapping and assassinations (even of American citizens!) And given that you refuse to prosecute Bush-era torturers, even though their actions constitute high crime under the Geneva Conventions, the Nuremberg Code, and our own World War II legal precedent, it’s hard to believe you’re really against torture. Oh, and by the way, I know of a massive plot to take American lives. In fact, it’s killed more than 5,000 Americans already, almost twice as many as 9/11 did. Do you know what it is?

Aaaaand that about does it. A few more references to the “heroic” American response to Haiti (our decidedly ‘un-heroic’ IMF loansharking, of course, went unmentioned), a throwaway reference to some random lady who says “we are tough, we are American”, one last “God Bless America!”, and we’re clear! Another logically inconsistent, factually dubious, rabble-rousing excuse of abuse that managed to tell us nothing. Congratulations, Mr. Obama.

Afghanistan: Hearts and Minds

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This is how the US wins hearts and minds in Afghanistan. Courtesy of PSYOPS – the CIA’s propaganda wing – a leaflet dropped in the thousands over Afghansitan:

Does anyone know what the Arabic says?

Written by pavanvan

January 26, 2010 at 10:09 pm

US Ambassador to Afghanistan Against War

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From The Times, Mike Eikenberry, a retired US lieutenant-general:

Sending additional forces will delay the day when Afghans will take over, and make it difficult, if not impossible, to bring our people home on a reasonable timetable,” he wrote Nov. 6. “An increased U.S. and foreign role in security and governance will increase Afghan dependence, at least in the short-term.”

And:

President Karzai is not an adequate strategic partner. The proposed counterinsurgency strategy assumes an Afghan political leadership that is both able to take responsibility and to exert sovereignty in the furtherance of our goal — a secure, peaceful, minimally self-sufficient Afghanistan hardened against transnational terrorist groups.“Yet Karzai continues to shun responsibility for any sovereign burden, whether defense, governance or development. He and much of his circle do not want the U.S. to leave and are only too happy to see us invest further,” Mr. Eikenberry wrote. “They assume we covet their territory for a never-ending ‘war on terror’ and for military bases to use against surrounding powers.”

Maybe someone should inform Mr. Obama of this.

Written by pavanvan

January 26, 2010 at 11:28 am

Posted in War

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Pentagon Officially Endorses Biblical Jihad

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A few days ago the story broke that US soldiers in Afghanistan use gun-sights with biblical verses inscribed on them. Naturally this caused some discomfort among our “enemies”, who did not enjoy being killed in the name of Jesus. But this was just an oversight, right?

Not quite. ABC reported that Trijcon, a major arms supplier to the US Army and Marines, had been inscribing the verses on its product – to give our soldiers that fightin’ edge, one assumes – since at least 2005. This has been going on for years. But now that they’re aware, I’m sure the Pentagon denounces this, right? I mean how would it look, sending our soldiers to fight with Jesus-branded weaponry?

Well, the Raw Story reported today that the Pentagon is A-OK with Jesus on the weapons, likening it to the phrase “In God we Trust” on money.

“This situation is not unlike the situation with US currency,” Maj. Redfield said. “Are we going to stop using money because the bills have ‘In God We Trust’ on them? As long as the sights meet the combat needs of troops, they’ll continue to be used.”

How do biblical verses meet the “combat needs” of our soldiers? Oh, he didn’t say.

And also:

“Well if that were true, then we would not be allowed to display the Declaration of Independence in the National Archives, because of its explicit reference to a creator,” Sasser said.

Yeah, ’cause it’s the same thing. Do you think this might have something to do with the belief among “terrorists” that America is engaging in a crusade against Islam?

In fact, Bush once specifically told Jacques Chirac that God wanted to “erase” his enemies “before a new age begins”, quoting an old testament prophecy:

“And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.”

Bush believed the time had now come for that battle, telling Chirac:

“This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins”.

The story of the conversation emerged only because the Elyse Palace, baffled by Bush’s words, sought advice from Thomas Romer, a professor of theology at the University of Lausanne.

Baffling indeed. It looks like we’ll be continuing this misbegotten murder rampage for the time being, but can we at least dispense with all this rhetoric against “islamofascism” and these crazy, irrational, religious Muslims? Someone is engaging in a holy war here, but I’m not sure it’s them.

Written by pavanvan

January 23, 2010 at 6:38 pm

CIA Revenge

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Well it looks like the good ol’ CIA is busy getting revenge for those 8 members who were killed in Afghanistan back in December. The Times gave this some pretty good coverage, certainly emphasizing the “revenge” aspect of these new US attacks – but in the process gives us some darkly funny quotes.

Bill Roggio, for instance, likens this dispute to a schoolyard fight – with bombs:

“For the C.I.A., there is certainly an element of wanting to show that they can hit back,” said Bill Roggio, editor of The Long War Journal, an online publication that tracks the C.I.A.’s drone campaign.

An unnamed official apparently thinks he’s in an action movie:

After the Khost bombing, intelligence officials vowed that they would retaliate. One angry senior American intelligence official said the C.I.A. would “avenge” the Khost attack. “Some very bad people will eventually have a very bad day,” the official said at the time, speaking on the condition he not be identified describing a classified program.

But leave it to the CIA to get the message right (except for that part about “lawful, precise and effective):

A C.I.A. spokesman, Paul Gimigliano, declined to comment on the drone strikes. But he said, “The agency’s counter-terrorism operations — lawful, aggressive, precise and effective — continue without pause.”

Now that’s more like it.

In describing the US strikes, The Times also evokes some bizarre imagery:

The assault has included strikes on a mud fortress in North Waziristan on Jan. 6 that killed 17 people and a volley of missiles on a compound in South Waziristan last Sunday that killed at least 20.

Let that sink in a bit. The US is using Predator Drones

in order to attack mud huts

Does this seem crazy to anyone else?

Written by pavanvan

January 23, 2010 at 11:34 am

Bagram Detainee List Revealed

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The State Department has finally decided to reveal the names of those being held indefinitely, without trial, at our infamous prison complex in Bagram, Afghanistan. The move toward “transparency” comes after numerous Freedom of Informaion Act (FOIA) requests on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union. The list of 645 names can be downloaded from the ACLU website here.

The New York Times, in its article, finds someone to state the obvious:

“While it’s very important in terms of U.S. government transparency, it means very little to the individuals named because the U.S. government still maintains that everybody whose name appears on that list is not entitled to any human rights under U.S. law,” Ms. Foster said.

Bingo! And given that the ACLU had to employ extraordinary persistence to gain what should be public knowledge – the names of those held illegally by the US government – it seems unlikely we will ever learn the real strategic information in this detention-imbroglio: why the ‘detainees’ are there in the first place.

Soon after 9/11 the most horrifying stories emerged of lawless bounty-hunters kidnapping whomever was convenient and selling them to the Americans as “enemy combatants” while receiving a hefty reward for their trouble. This ‘bounty scheme’ resulted in thousands of innocent citizens being falsely imprisoned for no reason other than unfortunate luck.  And once imprisoned they had to stay in jail – it looks very bad, after all, for a country to kidnap and torture innocent citizens and then let them go. The citizens have a tendency to tell stories, and that, of course, “wouldn’t do”. As long as the US government keeps the so-called ‘crimes’ of its detainees secret, they can forever trumpet that they only imprison “the worst of the worst”, as they had in Guantanamo. If it came out that a sizable portion of the detainees were actually innocent – well, that would be the real scandal.

Hats off to the ACLU for its tenacity in pursuing this, but the fight for justice for those illegally detained and tortured by US forces is still far from over. Should we be surprised the Obama Administration is opposed to releasing the names?

Written by pavanvan

January 17, 2010 at 3:13 pm

War of Attrition (against Terror)

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If, as we are led to believe, Osama Bin Laden truly perpetrated the 9/11 attacks, and is now alive and in hiding, I think we can be sure he regards this past decade as an unqualified success. His whole plan was to draw America into an expensive and pointless war with no clear end, and to be fair he said as much in his various audio and video statements, once going so far as to cackle: “All I must do is send a brother to the furthest mountain east and unfurl an Al Qaeda flag. The Americans will come running!” When one views the trillion-dollar deficits, the open-ended troop commitment (each soldier costs $1 million dollars) and the mass of cash printed to sustain these expenditures culminating in a financial crisis unthinkable in 2001, it seems Mr. Bin Laden could not have wished for better results. Keep in mind, of course, that he cares very little for the lives of his own countrymen (he demonstrated as much when he sacrificed the lives of those 11 WTC hijackers), and indeed, so far as one can tell from his cryptic and contradictory statements, his primary motivation was an outrage at the global power of the US and a desire to diminish that power by any and all means.

9/11 was a trap, and the US did exactly what was expected of it. We are now in our 9th year of war, and a significant portion of the Muslim world has hardened against us. What may once have been seen as a war against the Taliban or Al-Qaeda, is now increasingly seen as a war against Islam itself. How we came to be in this state of affairs, what we might have done differently and where to go now are the pressing questions of this decade.

It is always dangerous to anthropomorphize international relations, to expect whole countries to act as an individual would, but some useful parallels can still be drawn between the behavior of individuals and states. Let us say, for example, you are a member of the popular elite at your high school. On your climb to the top, you have often had to snub others and at times, even openly humiliate some people. It is all a part of governance, as it were – a part of staying on top. Now one of those people you snubbed – perhaps you gave him a scathing insult in the lunchroom, and the whole room stopped eating and laughed at him – he wants revenge. He knows there are others you have so treated, seeks them out, and devises a plan. Every so often, he, or one of his compatriots, will randomly walk up to you, punch you in the face, and run away. He knows how strong you are (in fact, that is a major reason your clique remains loyal), and that he cannot win in an open (“conventional”) battle, but by a series of a thousand pin-pricks he believes he can whittle away your resources.

The plan begins, and your adversary delivers the first sucker punch. Being bigger and stronger, you of course catch and beat him. But curiously, it does not end there; once every two weeks or so, someone runs up to you and hits you in the face. Sometimes it’s your main adversary, sometimes one of his few friends. It begins to tax you, constantly having to chase these hooligans down, and often you can’t; and this begins to fade the aura of dominance you  have concocted around yourself, what the US calls it’s “credibility”. You become paranoid, lashing out (pre-emptively) on those you suspect are plotting to punch you. After a while, the sucker punches stop, but their effect lingers on. You remain consumed with jealousy and anger for the injuries sustained, your security irrevocably damaged.

I do not wish to over-state the significance of this crude analogy, but I think it roughly describes the United States’ response. One particularly notices a strain of machismo in our propaganda, constant repetition of tough-guy statements like, “You cannot run; you cannot hide. We will defeat you.” – this from Barack! And lest we forget, President Bush once professed that his strategy was to “smoke ’em [the Iraqis] out”, whatever that means. And we have remained in these dual quagmires, Iraq and Afghanistan, for no discernible reason, pursuing an ill-defined and probably impossible goal (making us perpetually “safe”) in large part to save face. Mr. Bin Laden saw, with apparent clarity, that the US would not be able to shrug off his blow, and would instead spend untold resources in attempting to retaliate.

Going back to the schoolyard analogy, if you were both popular and wise, you would not have reacted violently to the first sucker punch, and would instead have asked an audience with your adversary and attempted to set things right. You might have said something like, “Look, I’m sorry if I mistreated you in the past. I don’t seek to excuse my actions, but I hope you can forgive me. This fighting won’t do either of us any good; instead, let’s talk about it, and maybe we can come away friends, or at least not bitter enemies.”

That the US leadership, corrupted by 60 years of total victory (plus one forgotten defeat), could not see such a clear and obvious trap speaks, I think, to the nature of their power and the cunning of Mr. Bin Laden. And their refusal, after nearly a decade of fiscal hemorrhage, to stop these misbegotten and absurd “military actions” speaks volumes of the shallow origins of their foreign policy.

Written by pavanvan

January 13, 2010 at 4:02 pm