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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.

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Written by pavanvan

January 30, 2010 at 2:59 pm

Still More Death in Pakistan

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Oh my God, not again! What kind of headline is this, New York Times? “Taliban Leader May Have Been Target of Drone Strike”. What does that mean, may have been? You really don’t even know who the target was supposed to be?

But nonetheless it killed “at least” 10 civilians.

Several Pakistani security officials said there was no word on the Taliban leader. “The important thing for us is whether Hakimullah is among those killed,” said a Pakistani official in South Waziristan. A Pakistani intelligence official added that he believed Mr. Mehsud was “definitely targeted” on Thursday.

Right, that’s the “most important thing” – getting this one guy who may or may not have been the target of this recent strike. Well, according to this guy he was “definitely targeted”. But the state department has other ideas.

A United States intelligence official said he could not confirm that Mr. Mehsud had been killed.

Great! Anyway, we’ve been trying to kill this guy before, right NYT?

American officials have been trying to kill Mr. Mehsud with drone strikes, but there was no immediate confirmation from American authorities that he had been the target of this attack, which struck a compound in a remote region near the border of the South Waziristan and North Waziristan tribal areas about 7 a.m. on Thursday.

In April of last year he escaped unhurt when an American drone struck a militant training camp in northwest Pakistan.

So that’s our strategy? Just play whack-a-mole with these killer flybot drones and hope we nail this guy? What about, you know, the civilians in the area? I guess they don’t matter.

Written by pavanvan

January 14, 2010 at 9:44 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

Just Kidding!

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You may recall Obama’s war speech last week wherein he set a definite timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan. Specifically, his words were:

And as Commander-in-Chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.

Straight, direct, no real room for ambiguity there. “After 18 months our troops will (not “might”, not “could”) come home.”

How, then, to explain this article in today’s New York Times with the headline “No Firm Plans for a US Exit From Afghanistan”? Well, let’s see:

In a flurry of coordinated television interviews, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other top administration officials said that any troop pullout beginning in July 2011 would be slow and that the Americans would only then be starting to transfer security responsibilities to Afghan forces under Mr. Obama’s new plan.

Clever, clever Obama! The soldiers will begin coming home in July 2011, but he never specified how quickly! By this logic our presence in Afghanistan could still be unlimited. We only have to send one soldier home per year.

Here’s some justification from an important-sounding General:

“We have strategic interests in South Asia that should not be measured in terms of finite times,” said Gen. James L. Jones, the president’s national security adviser, speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We’re going to be in the region for a long time.”

See, it’s okay! We’ve got “strategic interests” in South Asia, apparently so important that they must be measured in infinite terms. Just don’t bother trying to find out what those “interests” might be.

Mr. Gates said that under the plan, 100,000 American troops would be in Afghanistan in July 2011, and “some handful, or some small number, or whatever the conditions permit, will begin to withdraw at that time.”

When Obama thundered to West Point that US troops will begin coming home in 2011, he neglected to mention that “handful” bit. But who can blame him – the speech sounded so much better with the deception left in.

Well at least we might have a chance at catching Osama Bin Laden. Isn’t that right, Mr. Gates?

Mr. Gates said it had been “years” since the United States had had reliable intelligence about Mr. bin Laden, but he said it was still the assumption of American intelligence agencies that he was hiding in North Waziristan, in Pakistan.

Awesome.

Written by pavanvan

December 7, 2009 at 10:58 am

An Unspoken Surge

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Curiously missing from Obama’s speech last week, save for some vague references to our “success” in Afghanistan being “inextricably linked to Pakistan”, was the increase in “drone” attacks that shall be visited upon that unfortunate desert.

Obama thinks most of “Al Qaeda” (or perhaps “The Taliban”) is hiding out in Pakistan. But Obama cannot “go in and get ‘im” like his cowboy predecessor because of the small issue of Pakistan’s sovereignty. So instead he pummels them with flying death machines (euphemistically, “drones”), indiscriminately bombing villages and murdering, on average, 10 civilians per strike.  So long as he can claim that some “terror leaders” were killed (no need to specify whom – nobody’s checking anyway), the civilian deaths can conveiently fall under that humanitarian heading of “collateral damage”.

The Pakistani government officially speaks out against flying death machines attacking its citizens, but privately they have come to an agreement with the US military that so long as the dollars keep flowing, they won’t register any serious complaints. After all, the US just tripled aid to Pakistan, mainly to keep the Pakistani government quiet while the US butchers its citizens.

What a fantastic war.

Written by pavanvan

December 6, 2009 at 2:35 pm

Still Crazy After All These Years

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The Obama gave his much-anticipated military escalation speech yesterday, and while our mainstream pundits were busy falling over themselves to provide “strategic analysis” as to whom he pandered to when, they paid very little attention to what he actually said.

For those who are interested then, a brief dissection of Obama’s remarks last night. He begins:

We did not ask for this fight. On September 11, 2001, 19 men hijacked four airplanes and used them to murder nearly 3,000 people. They struck at our military and economic nerve centers. They took the lives of innocent men, women, and children without regard to their faith or race or station.

As opposed to the way the US took the lives of innocent men, women and children with regard to their faith/race/station? Specifically, we “took the lives” of oh, 100,000 Iraqis and who knows how many Afghans, the majority of whom are poor and Muslim. So let it not be said that the US murders indiscriminately! We tend to prefer the poor, the Arab, and the Muslim.

A cheap shot with which to begin this discussion, but it sets the tone for the rest of Obama’s speech. He follows that gem with:

Under the banner of this domestic unity and international legitimacy — and only after the Taliban refused to turn over Osama bin Laden — we sent our troops into Afghanistan. Within a matter of months, al Qaeda was scattered and many of its operatives were killed.

Such mendacity appalls. As The Smoking Gun revealed in October 2001, the Taliban did agree to “turn over” bin Laden – that is, they agreed to extradite him to a third country (Pakistan), where we would later pick him up. The deal never went through because the US refused to show the Taliban the evidence it had gathered against bin Laden, asking them, in effect, to “trust us.”

In their words:

Taliban Ambassador Zaeef said, ‘We are not ready to hand over Osama bin Laden without evidence’.

One wonders what the outcome would be if, say, Saudi Arabia demanded we turn over one of our wealthiest citizens while refusing to give us any evidence of his culpability. I imagine we would say “No.”

Not to mention, of course, that under NATO law the Afghan war is illegal, as Afghanistan didn’t attack anybody.

Later, Obama gushes over how we’ve come a long way, baby:

Since then, we’ve made progress on some important objectives. High-ranking al Qaeda and Taliban leaders have been killed, and we’ve stepped up the pressure on al Qaeda worldwide. In Pakistan, that nation’s army has gone on its largest offensive in years. In Afghanistan, we and our allies prevented the Taliban from stopping a presidential election, and — although it was marred by fraud — that election produced a government that is consistent with Afghanistan’s laws and constitution.

Wait… What? The election was “marred by fraud”, yet is still “consistent with Afghanistan’s laws and constitution”? Surely you jest, Mr. President! And the Afghan election deserves a stronger verb than “marred”, I think. Fully one-third of Karzai’s votes were fakes, according to the CS Monitor, and the United States blatantly pressured Karzai’s rival to drop out of the race, essentially making it a one-candidate ballot. Is that what Obama means by “consistent with Afghanistan’s laws and constitution”?

Apropos his decision to escalate the war by 35,000 extra soldiers, Obama remarks:

So, no, I do not make this decision lightly. I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the epicenter of violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak. This is no idle danger; no hypothetical threat.

Sure. Except that none of the 9/11 hijackers were from Afghanistan (15 of them were from Saudi Arabia – you know, our best friend in the Middle East – and two were from the United Arab Emirates, our other best friend).

So anyway, according to Obama:

These facts compel us to act along with our friends and allies. Our overarching goal remains the same: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future.

That’s a nice bit of alliteration: but what does it mean? “Disrupt, dismantle, and defeat” – is Al Qaeda some sort of nefarious robot or something? Actually, according to Marc Sageman (whose recent book, Leaderless Jihad, caused quite  a stir last year), “Al Qaeda” and “The Taliban” don’t even exist, as such. Instead of cohesive, top-down organizations, these catch-all terms refer instead to what Sageman calls “bunches of guys”, decentralized pockets with no general leadership and wide, disparate goals. If Sageman is correct our entire “counter-terrorism” paradigm is wrong, and our efforts to “kill or capture Al-Qaeda leaders” have almost no effect on “their” ability to operate. And 35,000 soldiers can do nothing about that.

And now, we must come together to end this war successfully. For what’s at stake is not simply a test of NATO’s credibility — what’s at stake is the security of our allies, and the common security of the world.

With evidence that our actions in Iraq and Afghanistan have precipitated a seven-fold increase in worldwide terrorism, one wonders exactly what Obama is talking about.

The days of providing a blank check are over. President Karzai’s inauguration speech sent the right message about moving in a new direction.

His speech sent the right message? Well what kind of message did his massive electoral fraud send? Shouldn’t we listen to that one?

The Obama ends (finally!) with:

America — we are passing through a time of great trial. And the message that we send in the midst of these storms must be clear: that our cause is just, our resolve unwavering. We will go forward with the confidence that right makes might, and with the commitment to forge an America that is safer, a world that is more secure, and a future that represents not the deepest of fears but the highest of hopes. (Applause.)

*Sigh* Well, what more can one say?

Written by pavanvan

December 2, 2009 at 2:46 pm

If We Do That, the Terrorists Win

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The Obama-Karzai tag team has come up with a novel method for “winning” the war in Afghanistan…… wait for it…… Bribery! Well, not that exactly; we’re just offering them jobs!

One begs for clarification. Are the Taliban dangerous terrorists who pose an “existential threat” to the United States and will provide a “safe haven” for Al-Qaeda because they “hate our freedoms”™? Or are they just wayward souls, essentially good but led astray, whose allegiance can be purchased for a few jobs? (I should mention, in passing, that we could use a few jobs in America also.) Maybe this is just the last-ditch effort of an exhausted fighting-force to exit their quagmire without completely losing face.

The article details how our Generals have struck deals with various “tribal elders” to persuade their supposed constituents to lay down their arms and respect the Afghan Constitution. The strategy stinks of the so-called “surge” in Iraq during 2006-2007, though the latter might have been better named “surge-and-pay”. Along with a massive influx of new troops, President Bush’s “surge” strategy entailed making huge cash payments to former militants, bribing them, essentially, into going along with the Maliki government.

One problem, though. It didn’t work. In 2009, the year after President Bush declared the surge a “success” and Obama used that line in his campaign, Iraq has seen 76 suicide bombings, including the horrific bombing of their foreign ministry last month, which left upwards of 800 casualties, and in which US-sponsored security forces are alleged to have participated.

So what seems to have happened is that Iraq quieted down just enough for the US to rest assured that its oil deals will be honored (our exit strategy formulated mere months after the first deal was signed). Political reconciliation, an end to suicide attacks, any semblance of peace – the surge brought none of these to Iraq.

Now Obama, who has repeatedly claimed that the Iraq surge “exceeded [his] expectations”, evidently wishes to try for the same success in Afghanistan.

God help them.

Written by pavanvan

November 28, 2009 at 7:05 pm