The Reasoned Review

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Posts Tagged ‘military

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

Tax Day!

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I know I’m a day late for tax day, but I wanted to re-post the War Resisters League’s pie-chart on where these tax dollars are being spent. You can download a detailed PDF here.

I hope everyone had a happy filing.

Written by pavanvan

April 16, 2010 at 11:36 pm

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

Military Dictatorships: Friendly and Not-So

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The Times’ front page today: ‘Clinton Fears Iran Is Headed For Military Dictatorship

An excerpt:

DOHA, Qatar — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said on Monday that the United States feared Iran was drifting toward a military dictatorship, with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps seizing control of large swaths of Iran’s political, military, and economic establishment.

“That is how we see it,” Mrs. Clinton said in a televised town hall meeting of students at the Doha campus of Carnegie Mellon University. “We see that the government in Iran, the supreme leader, the president, the Parliament, is being supplanted and that Iran is moving towards a military dictatorship.”

A brief list of US-sponsored military dictators:

Gen. Augusto Pinochet – Chile, 1974-1990

Ferdinand Marcos – Philippines, 1965-1986

Gen. Fulgenco Batistia – Cuba, 1933-1944, 1952-1959

Marshall Castillo Branco – Brazil, 1964-1967

Gen. Medici – Brazil, 1969-1974

Gen. Geisel – Brazil, 1974-1979

Gen. Figueiredo – Brazil, 1979-1985

Gen. Mobutu Sese-Seko – The Congo, 1965-1997 (guilty of genocide)

Gen. Sani Abacha – Nigeria, 1993-1998

Gen. Redondo – Argentina, 1976-1981 (guilty of genocide)

Col. Hugo Banzer – Bolivia, 1971-1978

Bolivian Military Junta – Bolivia, 1978-1989

Gen. Maximilliano Martinez – El Salvador, 1931-1944

Alfredo Christiani – El Salvador, 1980-1994 (guilty of genocide)

Gen. Francois Duvalier – Haiti, 1957-1971

Gen. Jean-Claude Duvalier – Haiti, 1971-1986

Gen. Manuel Noriega – Panama, 1983-1989

Gen. Suharto – Indonesia, 1967-1998 (guilty of genocide)

Turgut Ozal – Turkey, 1983-1993

Gen. Yahya Khan – Pakistan, 1969-1971 (guilty of genocide)

Gen. Muhammad Zia – Pakistan, 1976-1988

Gen. Musharraf – Pakistan, 1999-2008

Saparmurat Atayevich Niyazov – Turkey, 1990-2006

Gen. Somoza Senior – Nicaragua, 1957-1967

Gen. Somoza Junior and subsequent Junta – Nicaragua, 1967-1980 (guilty of genocide)

Alfredo Stroessner – Paraguay, 1954-1988

Gen. Efrain Rios Montt – Guatemala, 1982-1983 (guilty of genocide)

I wonder if The Times has a sense of irony. Or shame. What they meant to write in their headline, obviously, is that Secretary Clinton fears Iran might be headed for an unfriendly military dictatorship. Otherwise, I fail to see her problem with the concept.

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

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

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

Ezra Klein and the Deficit

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Ezra Klein gives us some of his famous Washington Post logic in a recent post regarding the deficit. He says:

I’ve got no problem with the White House making some real moves to cut the deficit. But the devil is in the details. It would be insane, for instance, to sharply cut spending in the midst of a recession. But it makes sense to build out policies to increase revenues in 2012 or after.

Similarly, there are good ways of decreasing the deficit and bad ways. Cutting Medicaid spending, for instance, would be a bad way. But I’d be glad to see the estate tax restored. Or relatively more of the Bush tax cuts left to expire. Obama should have the courage to say that the promise to avoid raising taxes on people making less than $250,000 was made before the economy collapsed, and that tax rates might have to rise in a couple of years.

His post, of course, begs the question: What about “defense” (war) spending? Would it also be “insane” to cut that in the midst of a recession? The question is not trivial; President Obama signed last month a $680 billion (680,000 million) defense bill while ludicrously lauding the fact that he happened to shave “tens of billions of dollars” from it.

Come to think of it, is it not equally “insane” to be spending such unthinkable sums on murder and deceit in Afghanistan “in the midst of a recession?” Klein, the Post’s resident wunderkind, has absolutely nothing to say on the matter. Instead, he waxes philosophical on the estate tax, and has the audacity to suggest that the middle class (those making less than $250,000 per annum) ought to pony up some more cash to relieve the deficit – which really means they should cough up some dough to fund these ill-conceived wars. I believe the phrase for this sort of logic is “missing the forest for the trees”.

“Economic and Domestic Policy, and lots of it” indeed!

Written by pavanvan

November 16, 2009 at 2:41 pm

Fresh Horror in Pakistan

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Some grim news today in Pakistan – more than 38 civilians and security officers  met their grisly end in coordinated attacks around Islamabad. This is the seventh such attack this month, each growing more vicious than the last. The story was sixth-page news for the American and European journals, but east of Suez it gained considerably more attention. Which is a shame, because except for Pakistan and India, there is no one for whom these developments mean more than the United States. Between President Obama’s escalation of the bombing campaign and his $7.5 Billion military-bribe package, the US has placed more than one bet on Pakistan.

But it is a curious feature of our discourse that these developments will invariably be framed as a suggestion that we keep on investing in Pakistan. “If we stop now,” the argument would surely run, “then we’d be explicitly condoning these acts, and would probably invite more.” Left unexamined is the possibility that our efforts to slow or stop terror attacks have actually had the opposite of their intended effect.

A definite strain of thought exists among policy circles that US troops are all that stands between Afghanistan, Pakistan and Chaos – it forms a “conventional wisdom” from which our leaders never diverge. The fact that Obama refuses to even consider withdrawing troops from Afghanistan stands in full evidence of this. However it is not yet clear that US efforts in Pakistan and Afghanistan are having any effect on the rate of terrorism, except perhaps one of encouragement. When one considers that post-9/11 US policy has led to a sevenfold-increase in the rate of fatal jihad attacks or that Pakistan’s epidemic of terrorism began only after we enlisted them as a serious ally, the question assumes significant importance.

In particular, it is important to remember that most of the targets in this recent spate of terrorism have been military targets – barracks, training centers, etc – specifically of anti-Taliban forces armed by US aid. The United States can hardly be said to have such scruples; their attacks fall largely upon the village population of Pakistan, who are blasted by unmanned missiles from across the border with Afghanistan.

If the United States were actually concerned with the rate of terrorism in Pakistan, they would take a long, hard look at their current strategy and ask themselves if it might be to blame. The “drone” bombings, which occur weekly to the tune of 20 or so dead villagers, cannot seriously be thought of as reducing “terror”. Similarly, our continuous “aid” and bribery to leaders who are viewed as corrupt and incompetent, who routinely steal elections, and who receive our support against the express wishes of their population, do not have an easing effect on terrorism.

On the other hand, if the United States were only interested in new bases for its military, an expanded presence in the oil-rich Middle East, and unquestioned military dominance, they would not only cease their operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in fact expand those efforts. Which is, of course, exactly what they are doing.

America and Pakistan: A Love Story

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The Boston Globe picks up on a massive new influx of US cash into Pakistan, a story which the New York Times and Washington Post considered beneath their purview. All told, an extra $7.5 Billion will be bestowed upon that poor desert.

While the bill promises that:

The aid would seek to strengthen Pakistan’s legislative and judicial systems; its public education system, emphasising access for women and girls; its healthcare system; and its human rights practices with particular attention to women as well as ethnic and religious minorities,

it also authorizes “such sums as are necessary” for military purposes, provided they use them to “combat terrorism”. A veritable blank check.

This new influx of aid comes on the heels of a previous $10 Billion to the disgraced Musharraf government, and seeks the reduction of anti-American sentiment in Pakistan. But if that be the case, our strategy planners might have done well to check this opinion poll by the International Republican Institute.

In it, one finds an overwhelming rejection on the part of Pakistan’s citizens, not only to US bombing of their country, but of the US as an ally against terrorism.

Fully 80% answered “No” to the question: “Do you think that Pakistan should cooperate with the United States on its war against terror?”, whereas 76% said “No” to the question: “Should Pakistan partner with the United States in conducting drone attacks against extremists”? 50% of those responding thought religion should play a “dominant role” in politics.

Amid such dismal approval ratings, it is easy to see why our policy planners should wish to buy off the Pakistanis off. But that we should force military aid and assistance against a people who so manifestly do not want it is still rather puzzling. As best as one can tell this aid influx appears a half-hearted apology for our continued attacks on Pakistani villages (close to 15 villagers per week die by our Predator Drones), and would likely serve to insure further cooperation, should ground troops prove necessary.


Written by pavanvan

October 1, 2009 at 5:16 pm

Still more on Blackwater

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From a local source in the Philippines: Blackwater is apparently training the Filipino military (for “counter-terrorism” purposes, of course).

Might this not have been relevant information for the Times‘ recent declamation of the Philippine military’s widespread human-rights abuses?

It looks as though the Philippines are learning from the best.

Written by pavanvan

September 2, 2009 at 12:38 am

Even More on Blackwater

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New Blackwater Crimes Surface

Jeremy Scahill’s journalism on Blackwater has been indispensable to the average man trying to make sense of this shadow organization. Now, in addition to Nisour Massacres, an assassination scheme with the CIA and illegal deployment to Mexico for the “War on Drugs”, it turns out that Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater USA “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe.”

This has been independently confirmed by several ex-Blackwater USA employees. Mr. Prince really believes himself to be a “Christian Crusader”

Score one for religious extremism.

Written by pavanvan

August 29, 2009 at 3:26 pm

Overcrowded Philippine Classrooms!

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The Times on Philippine classroom overcrowding

The article begins by relating the story of an unfortunate teacher who must shout herself hoarse to be heard by her 100-student class.

Then we are told that an “exploding population” has combined with “an education budget so small that it cannot find space to teach its children” to create these conditions.

The rest of the piece goes on to detail the sordid conditions of Philippine education – the over crowded classrooms, the dearth of teachers, the students sharing seats. We are told that the Philippines spends only 2.18% of its budget on education, and that despite promises of change from President Ayorro, the situation has not improved.

Once again, The New York Times fails to include the most basic facts about this situation: that the Philippine education budget is largely sacrificed to the military, and that the US provides massive military aid with an almost negligible educational counterpart.

I mentioned this before, but it bears repeating that the US is the largest benefactor of the Philippines’ military, and they receive the 12th largest military gift of any US-sponsored dictatorship. (Source: The Philippines Embassy, May 13, 2009) The aid has recently increased to $680 million, much of it for the military, and represents “the appreciation and value the Obama Administration gives to the US-Philippines partnership”

Could some of that that money be spent on improving the Philippines’ educational system? Easily, of course – but then that wouldn’t be in our “national interest”.

Ask the New York Times why.

Written by pavanvan

August 25, 2009 at 2:23 pm

Two Views of the Philippines

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In today’s issue of the Times one can read an article detailing gross human rights abuses in the Philippines. The opening anecdote is of a Filipino-American who traveled to her homeland in order to get in touch with her ancestral roots. Once there, she found herself under arrest, tortured, and repeatedly accused of “communism”. Her torture was lessened once the authorities learned of her American citizenship – indeed, that likely saved her life – but they continued to lash her for some time afterward, releasing her only after six full days.

After detailing such horrific treatment, the Times attributes the blame to the Filipino military, and particularly to president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Ms. Arroyo has “come under fire”, as the Time puts it, for “alleged human-rights violations” which have “hounded” the Arroyo presidency since 2001. Rights organizations in the Philippines estimate over 1,000 tortured or dead in “anti-communist” actions. Human Rights Watch claims “deep concern about routine and widespread use of torture and ill-treatment of suspects in police custody.”

One cannot, after reading the above article, come away with a positive picture of the Philippine government. It is therefore all the more surprising to see the below image, of President Obama laughing with the perpetrator of such “alleged human-rights violations”. Though the New York Times dares not mention it, our government has heavily invested in the Philippine military, and likely supplies the aforementioned torturers’ paychecks.

President Obama laughing with Philippine President Arroyo

President Obama laughing with Philippine President Arroyo

Here are a few more facts The New York Times considers beneath its notice. This is straight from the Embassy of the Philippines website, May 13, 2009:

“In the proposed budget, an estimated total amount of US$667 million is to be allocated to the Philippines”

“The U.S. is the Philippines’ only mutual defense treaty partner and is the largest source of foreign military financing.”

“U.S. Foreign Military Financing to the Philippines, which contributes to the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ modernization efforts, is the 12th largest in the world.”

To be fair, I should mention the above article also makes mention of various “poverty-alleviation” donations, but it is clear from both its substance and tone that military expenditures comprise the bulk of US aid.  That is, for the same military The New York Times accuses of torturing “communists”.

The frightening aspect of all of this is the fact that if one were only to read the Times for their foreign news, they would be totally unaware of US support for the atrocities now occurring in the Philippines. The article I cite makes absolutely no mention of it. Eerily, however,  it quotes a Filipino Army Colonel, describing the communists: “They have perfected the art of deception”.

One could say no less of The New York Times.

Written by pavanvan

August 13, 2009 at 12:41 am

The Other Side

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In the spirit of fairness I feel I should give a proper display to the arguments I have heard against the ideas expressed in my previous post.

Usually when the standard “US dissident” line (that Republicans and Democrats are in fact the same party, that they constitute a modern aristocracy, that our horrific foreign policy is totally divorced of public opinion, that public opinion itself is manipulated via conglomerate control of media, that the cost of running for office ensures loyalty to corporate and imperialist interests, etc, etc.) is repeated to a person with a lucrative position within the current establishment, a smirk with the phrase “conspiracy theory” follows. However when pressed, such persons can be counted upon to employ one or several of these standard techniques:

1) “Valid points”, “Unfortunate mistakes, “Tough issues”, etc.

Often the first line of defense. I briefly mentioned this technique’s use in an earlier post, but I think it merits elaboration. Politely dismissive, these phrases can end a conversation without causing offense, and indeed, with the appearance of concession. They also encourage the belief that so-called “abuses” of the US government are isolated instances, and not symptomatic of a larger illness. There is a marked tendency describe criticisms as “issues” that are “being worked on”, never as characteristic to our system of government. The fact that these “mistakes” have continued unabated for several generations apparently escapes notice.

2) “Name one country that does it better”

“It”, of course, is never exactly specified. If you press an establishment figure (government official, investment banker, industrial engineer, etc.) for long enough, the conversation can take a combative edge, wherein they will usually offer some form of the above challenge. Their argument essentially boils down to the fact that most US citizens would rather not live anywhere else, so its government can’t be all that bad. But such claims ignore the fact that many countries have been rendered uninhabitable by US policy and many more found themselves in economic ruin by the same token. There is no denying the effect that IMF policies have had on Central and South America, and there is no getting away from the ruins of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Central Asia is rife with US dictatorships, and Africa is currently experiencing the effects of three centuries’ enslavement, much of it at the hands of the US and Europe. Even countries lucky enough not to have come directly under the Washington Yoke (India, China, etc.) still deal with the effects of European “colonization” (that happy euphemism!) .Thus they are not much comparison.

With such a track record, it is difficult to find a country that has truly been able to adopt and keep an indigenous governmental structure with which to compare our own. History provides some help, but very little. The history of Eurasia is relatively well-documented, but west of the Atlantic we have very little. The Europeans who came to the Americas slaughtered at a far faster rate than they learned. By the time they became civilized enough to be curious of other cultures, entire civilizations had been wiped out. So we truly don’t know if a better way of doing things is possible. European civilization, and its American successor, have spread throughout the globe.

Thus, the argument that US crimes may be excused because it’s still “the best country” in which to live is a trick, designed to deflect attention from the fact that our crimes are the very cause of our high standard of living.

3) “Well, then what would you do?”

Further up the confrontation scale, this is a game wherein the establishment figure will throw various scenarios and demand to know, on the spot, how you would respond to them. If they are gracious these will be current affairs and not wholly hypothetical. For instance, “Say you’re Obama. What do you do about Afghanistan?” Invariably the answer is mocked as “unrealistic”, “idealistic”, or simply “naive”. In the Afghani example, if one were to say that we should cease combat operations, issue a heartfelt apology to the Afghan nation for 30 years of atrocities, and award reparations for the destruction we caused, the suggestion would be met with a scoff and a chuckle. Such actions would either “increase terrorism” or “reduce our national standing”.

If, again, one is asked how to deal with the Palestine-Israel question, one cannot give the simple answer that we should adhere to the UN resolution regarding the matter: Israel retreats to 1967 borders, lifts the blockade on Gaza, and allows a Palestinian state. “Impractical”, would be the standard response.

You see that whether or not a course of action is the right thing to do never occurs to them. The National Interest, apparently, is the only morality. When someone asks “what would you do in so-and-so’s place?” they should usually add “and it has to be in the interest of only the US”

A piece of errata on “national interest”: it apparently occurs only to a very few that what is said to be in the “national interest” is really only in the interest of a select group. None of our actions abroad have done anything to relieve inequality within America – if anything our foreign policy exacerbates class differences in the US. It has, however, also made a few rich industrialists orders of magnitude richer.

4) “What’s the solution?”

After the recitation of so many negative aspects of our current rulers, an irritated admission of guilt will follow, and then a demand for a master solution to all our government’s ills. I would think this is usually a last resort, for it is truly unanswerable. Our governing system is so large, so complex, and in the last analysis, so unbelievably powerful, that it is hard to imagine how such deeply entrenched issues could be solved, or even brought to light. The media is a powerful force for stupefaction. Few citizens even know of our recurring adventures abroad – far fewer care.

In the face of such odds, most are quick to assume the prospect for real reform to be hopeless, and the best one can do is get their share (usually more) of our ill-gotten riches. Many from whom I have heard these arguments do quite well at this, and have attained for themselves positions which nearly everyone would describe as success.

And I admit, there are no easy solutions, though I think a good start would be to admit what the US has done over the past decades and to acknowledge from where it derives its income. For many Americans, it is directly on the backs of the Third World

After such acknowledgment, I think it only fair to expect people not to directly participate in such horrors as they would not which visited upon themselves. Signing an order for 1500 bombs, knowing for what they will be used, is not a nice act. Direct non-participation would entail not taking a job for a corporation whom you know to perform actions undesirable for humanity, not taking a job for a government which you know has nefarious intentions at its root. There are many, many ways to eke out an existence without violating basic ethical principles. But it will not be a lucrative existence

5) “Change the system from the inside”

This happy bit of idealism is most often heard from young recruits of the establishment. They are cognizant of all of our government’s flaws and its essentially undemocratic nature, but they believe that once they attain a high enough position they can work to enact real change.

One need look no further than President Obama to see how often this turns out. It cost him $650 million to run for president. From whom do you think he had to borrow in order to finance that campaign? None other than America’s favorite street: Wall. The sad fact of the matter is that in order to attain a position of power in our Government one necessarily must be a multi-millionaire. Senate elections cost tens of millions of dollars, and a seat in the House has an ever-inflating price tag. Once you attain a position of power, you are by extension indebted to a variety of interests, all of whom treat you as a mere investment on which they expect a handsome return. I am having much difficulty in thinking of anyone who has successfully changed the US government by becoming part of it.

Written by pavanvan

August 11, 2009 at 2:41 am

A Baghdadi Conundrum

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The Times on this week’s Baghdad Bombings

On the same page one can view an image of Jay Leno smiling in a convertible with the headline “Life needs more laughter”. More laughter indeed!

Two parallel narratives of Iraq currently populate our mainstream media, each claiming to represent the truth, yet both mutually exclusive of one another. On the one hand the Obama Administration claims (and our newspapers echo) that the situation in Iraq has markedly improved. We are endlessly informed of the “remarkable turnaround” in Iraq – the quiet streets, the reduced violence, and the returning refugees. As I mentioned earlier, Secretary Gates has committed to withdrawing 15,000 troops by the end of the year, with all “combat brigades” to exit by 2011. Publicly, our administration has stated that Iraq has begun to “take care of itself” and that US troops are no longer needed. Privately, they admit that the real focus of our Mid-East adventures has shifted to Afghanistan and that the reason for the Iraqi drawdown is to provide infantry for an Afghani buildup (17,000 extra soldiers already deployed with more on the way).

The Times, The Post, and various other newspapers have lent credibility to the idea of Iraqi stability with endless human-interest pieces on the resurgence of civil life in Iraq, now that the guns have fallen silent. View, for instance, this delightful little story on the finer points of Iraqi fish-roasting. And, of course, the endless op-ed pieces which begin with the premise that “the surge has worked” and continue their arguments from there. Ross Douhat gives a memorable line in a recent Times article: “Plenty of war-skeptics are unconvinced that Iraq’s recent stabilization will deliver a happy outcome in the long run. But the surge smoothed the way for withdrawal, which is what the war’s critics have wanted all along — so why rock the boat?” It is important to note here the assumption of “recent stabilization” and the bald assertion that “the surge smoothed the way for withdrawal”, as if those were facts only the most staid contrarian would dispute. Later he speaks of the “current [Iraqi] consensus” in much the same tone.

And yet the actual dispatches coming from Iraq paint a far different picture. Every week we hear of a new string of bombings in Iraq, “apparently intended to inflame sectarian passions”, as the Times puts it. (Here is a list of all major attacks in Iraq this year.) I think it safe to say such “passions” have long since been inflamed. So on one hand we have the official line espoused by the Obama Administration that we’ve seen “real improvement” in Iraq and that “the surge worked”. On the other we have the bombs that are still going off with alarming frequency. Taken together they paint a rather confusing picture of Iraq in 2009.

The key to deciphering these cryptic reports – indeed, to deciphering nearly all US dealings in the Middle East – is oil, always oil. The violence in Iraq concerned us in 2005-2008 because the US-installed Maliki government was still unsure of itself and still a bit wary to make deals regarding oil. Well Maliki has since fallen nicely into place, the lucrative oil contracts have already been made, and most importantly, Maliki has shown resilience to the various forces attempting to depose him. He’s our man in Iraq, and he’s not going anywhere. So let the Iraqis carry on their bloody feud! Let them blow one another up! As long as our man is in power and the oil still flows into US hands, what does it matter?

Afghanistan, however, tells a different story. The oil there flows through the geopolitically vital, and now precariously placed, Central Asia Pipeline. The Karzai government has not shown a tenth of the resilience of Maliki, though he has surely made up for that in obedience. Clearly he needs help. And so we put a veneer  over Iraq, ignoring the reality that nothing has been solved there, in order that we may draw soldiers out to help our friend in Afghanistan.

The contempt for life which the US government displays on a daily basis is nothing short of appalling. But even more insidious, if a bit less deadly, is its continuous contempt for the truth.

Written by pavanvan

August 8, 2009 at 3:15 am

Somewhere in Pakistan, a militant has no wife

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A Taliban finds himself single once again, courtesy of the United States

Apparently we now consider the US slaying of a militant’s wife newsworthy enough to make the Times front page. Three others were also killed in the attack with four children wounded – but as Donald Rusmfeld famously said, “stuff happens”. Whatever nefarious actions this woman may have committed (given the status of women in traditional Islamic societies, I think it safe to assume such deeds as washing, cooking, and cowed obedience), we can rest assured that she will perform them no longer. Mr. Meshud will have to find someone else to wash his rags – but maybe this will induce him to go unwashed for a while. Victory!

Every so often the Times or the Post will trot out an article such as this in order to prove the efficacy of our continued unmanned attacks upon Pakistan. Lately standards have fallen – from killing highly-placed militants to grunt workers to mere passersby. Now, if today’s front page is any indication, we are content with killing their wives.  Every such article is taken as evidence of our “drone” attacks’ efficacy. Bomb enough villages, and surely they’ll desist!

It is worth taking a look, however, at what these cross-border attacks actually do. Though each one kills  or cripples several (usually up to ten)  civilians, only around one in five actually ends up killing a militant. Usually our intelligence is at least a day behind – by the time coordinates are fixed and an attack ordered, the intended target is long gone. And even a ‘direct hit’ is nothing to boast over. The defining characteristic of the Islamic movement, as described by Mark Sageman in his excellent book, “Leaderless Jihad” is its complete de-centralization. Often the “terrorist leaders” who we proudly claim to have dispatched end up leading only a small band of disgruntled misfits. The large-scale “terror networks” of yester-decade have been replaced, according to Sageman, by what he terms “bunches of guys” – pocket cells of less than ten. It is not difficult to see how combating such cells by pilot-less rockets would prove rather difficult.

On the flip side, our rockets have undeniably inflamed anti-American sentiment. It is a truism that every civilian killed spawns two or three (or ten?) new militants.  Given our vocal support of the Zardari government, our rockets have the unintended effect of causing extreme instability within Pakistan. People don’t like it when their government allows a foreign nation to fire rockets upon them all willy-nilly. Ask the Israelis.

So why do we continue this mis-begotten campaign of destruction, which serves no purpose and acts to the detriment of many noble ones? Why, to fill the pocketbooks of a few large arms manufacturers! I recently spoke with a former engineer of a prominent arms company who said that these drones are essentially their bread and butter.

Written by pavanvan

August 5, 2009 at 8:24 pm

Posted in Policy, War

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