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Archive for September, 2009

Posted by Derrick Crowe on September 17th, 2009

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal. You can learn more about the dangers posed to U.S. national security by the war in Afghanistan by watching Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six): Security, or by visiting http://rethinkafghanistan.com/blog.

United For Peace & Justice, CODEPINK, Peace Action, MADRE, and other groups have teamed up to promote an online petition to, among other things, end the war in Afghanistan. The groups will deliver signatures to President Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Here’s a copy of the petition, which you can sign here.

(more…)

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on September 17th, 2009

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal. You can learn more about the dangers posed to U.S. national security by the war in Afghanistan by watching Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six): Security, or by visiting http://rethinkafghanistan.com/blog.

“People loved [the Taliban]–a lot of people did, anyway, at least at first. you’d ask someone about the Talibs and the first thing they’d say is they tamed the warlords. You couldn’t drive across town, they’d say. The warlords would be fighting it out in the middle of the city, slugging it out for turf, like gangsters do, for the right to tax and steal.”

“Talking to Wali that day, and Mohammedi and other Talibs, it seemed obvious enough that what lay at the foundation of the Taliban’s rule was fear, but not fear of the Taliban themselves, at least not in the beginning. No: it was fear of the past. Fear that the past would return, that it would come back in all its disaggregated fury. That the past would become the future. The beards, the burqas, the whips, the stones; anything, anything you want. Anything but the past.”

–Dexter Filkins, The Forever War, p. 27, 33-34.

U.S. policy in Afghanistan seems hell-bent on recreating the conditions that led to the rise of the Taliban. Not only are we backing a government comprised of the same warlords and drug kingpins responsible for some of the worst depredations in the post-Soviet era, but we’ve taken to hiring and arming war criminals and their militias as security teams. (By the way: Can someone explain to me why we’re hiring guards for soldiers? Why are the soldiers not guarding the soldiers?)

The Guardian (UK):

Nato forces in Afghanistan are increasingly reliant on illegal militias, often run by warlords responsible for human rights abuses and drug trafficking, according to an independent report published tomorrow.

“Many of these private security providers serve as ready-made militias that compete with state authority and are frequently run by former military commanders responsible for human rights abuses or involved in the illegal narcotics and black market economies.”

“Financing armed, alternative power structures fulfils security needs in the short term at the cost of consolidating government authority in the long term,” the CIC report says. It gives examples of private paramilitary groups hired by US, Australian, Canadian and German forces, and refers to an incident in June in which 41 militia fighters hired by US special forces in Kandahar killed the provincial police chief and five other police officers in a gun battle to free a militia member who had been arrested earlier the same day.

Jake Sherman, one of the report’s authors…argued that once Nato leaves, the militias are likely to return to drug trafficking and other black market activities, better trained and better armed. “Once they are set up and armed, they are never disarmed,” Sherman said. “They become new threats to the state.”

As if to underscore that the point is not an academic one, the local Afghans hired as security contractors and the ANA started shooting at each other. BBC via Military.com:

KANDAHAR — A clash has taken place between Afghan National Army [ANA] troops and Afghan guards of U.S. troops.

He said three soldiers of the ANA were killed, one injured and two of the U.S. troops’ special Afghan guards were killed and two others sustained injuries as a result.

Golab Shah said that the fighting took place between the ANA troops and the workers of LG company, which provides guards for the U.S. troops. He said he was unaware of the cause of the incident and that a team had been sent to the area to carry out an investigation.

So to sum up: concurrent with an increase in foreign forces, the coalition is backing a horror-movie-level corrupt government and rearming war criminals to provide security.

All this makes me wonder: are our policymakers even literate? Seriously, can they read? I only ask because they’ve had more than a month to read and digest the UK’s Department for International Development study of radicalization in Afghanistan:

Religious motivation is only one of several reason for joining or supporting the Taliban or Hizb-i Islami. A religious message does resonate with the majority but this is mainly because it is couched in terms of two keenly felt pragmatic grievances: the corruption of government and the presence of foreign forces.

It would be lovely if we could decide to make policy based on the U.S. capabilities and the Afghanistan that actually exist rather than the fantasies that pass for sober policy pronouncements.

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Posted by Jeremy Scahill on September 16th, 2009

Rubin joins a chorus of discredited neocons and out of touch Democrats in selling Obama’s war.

By Jeremy Scahill, RebelReports

Jamie Rubin, one of the leading Democratic Party hawks, was on MSNBC’s Morning Joe Wednesday to discuss Afghanistan policy. Rubin, who served as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s top deputy in the 1990s, was a major figure in shaping and refining Clinton’s “military humanism” doctrine. He was a passionate advocate for war against Iraq, which Clinton waged militarily and economically throughout the 1990s; he was a central player in the US-led NATO bombing of Yugoslavia and, significantly, US support for the Kosovo Liberation Army, which a senior US official, Richard Gelbard, had labeled “without any questions, a terrorist group.”

Rubin is a famed cruise missile liberal who has seldom seen a war he didn’t like. It is no surprise that he would be hitting the cable shows to support the war in Afghanistan at a time when public opinion is increasingly against US involvement. Democratic lawmakers are finally questioning the Obama administration’s escalation there. Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Select Committee on Intelligence and hardly a radical anti-war voice, said Sunday: “I believe the mission should be time limited, that there should be no, ‘Well, we’ll let you know in a year and a half, depending on how we do.’ I think the Congress is entitled to know, after Iraq, exactly how long are we going to be in Afghanistan.” On Sunday, Senator Richard Durbin, one of Obama’s closest friends, said, “I think at this point sending additional troops would not be the right thing to do.” And it is not just powerful Democrats asking questions. Prominent conservative George Will recently wrote in the Washington Post that it is “time to get out of Afghanistan.” While Congress is not even considering cutting off funds (only 30 House Democrats voted against war funding last round and only Senator Russ Feingold (and independent Bernie Sanders) in the Senate), the tide is changing ever so slowly.

Rubin is predictably finding himself on the side of a band of discredited neoconservatives led by William Kristol who have launched a campaign to support the US war in Afghanistan. He is not alone among Democrats. Howard Dean recently got along swimmingly with Newt Gingrich and Chris Wallace on FOX News discussing his support for the war in Afghanistan and the Center for American Progress has issued pro-war reports and done events with neoconservatives. Rubin, who is married to CNN’s Christianne Amanpour, is currently an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s School of International Politics and Public Affairs. Rubin remains an informal advisor to President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

On Morning Joe, Rubin laid out what can only be described as a crude plan to hypnotize Americans into believing falsehoods about the Afghan war. “We need to really really put to bed the issue that I think is behind everybody here, which is that this is another Vietnam,” Rubin said. “And I think that Vietnam is a terribly debilitating analogy for our country. Every time something is difficult, we say, “Uh, it’s Vietnam.’ Afghanistan and Vietnam have nothing to do with each other. The whole world is on our side in Afghanistan. The whole world was clearly not on our side in Vietnam. The people in Afghanistan prefer an outcome that is not the Taliban, while in Vietnam as you know, the situation was different. So, let’s take that analogy, throw it out the window, and deal with the facts on the ground.”

Perhaps Rubin may want to listen to Nir Rosen, the great war correspondent who actually knows from first-hand experience about those facts.

Among the many problems with Rubin’s statement is the glaring lie that the “whole world is on our side.” Quite the contrary. NATO countries are facing growing calls for disengagement from what is increasingly viewed as an American quagmire. Canadians are weary of their nation’s involvement. Remember what Rep. John Murtha said recently? “The Europeans aren’t doing a damn thing” to support the Afghan war. Perhaps Rubin missed this comment by Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House and a member of his own party: “I don’t think there is a great deal of support for sending more troops to Afghanistan in the country or in Congress.”

Moreover, Rubin’s illogical connection of support for the US occupation and a rejection of the Taliban is dishonest acrobatics.

President Obama, Rubin says, “has to begin to build this case for what I would call resetting the clock. The reason why so many Americans are discouraged and feeling like additional troops are unwise is because they believe the clock started eight years ago when we first when into Afghanistan.”

Is Rubin serious? This sounds like someone trying to trick a kid into eating vegetables. His silliness then continued:

I think if the president, along with his generals, and the key diplomats like Richard Holbrooke can begin to lay the groundwork for a resetting of the clock and saying that it’s really now for the first time that we’ve devoted the diplomatic, military and political resources to focus on Afghanistan, to get the mission completed and that the clock should be reset for a realistic period of time–several years with a substantial military forces are going to be needed if we are going to accomplish this mission. And, anything short of that I think will be the kind of muddling through that we did in Afghanistan and in Iraq in the first five years and I think that’s the worst outcome.

Right, because a discredited US-backed election rife with fraud, escalating US troop deaths and a widening of Taliban control doesn’t look anything like muddling. Returning to the theme of hypnotism, Rubin said:

The fundamental question that the Congress is going to face and I think administration officials are struggling with is: Is Iraq a reasonable analogy now? Will the surge that worked in Iraq, is there an analogous situation in Afghanistan? If we have top level effort, if the president focuses on it, if we have additional surge of military forces, if we reset the objectives–because we lowered the objectives in Iraq, where we began working with Sunni warlords that previously we weren’t prepared to work with. So if we lower the objectives and increase the resources, I believe that we can achieve this mission.

In other words, do what the Bush folks did with their carnival of ever evolving justifications for these wars. Moreover, Rubin never did mention what “mission” he believes “we can achieve.” Unless, of course, the mission is to hypnotize people into believing that Afghanistan has nothing in common with Vietnam.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on September 15th, 2009

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal. You can learn more about the dangers posed to U.S. national security by the war in Afghanistan by watching Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six): Security, or by visiting http://rethinkafghanistan.com/blog.

A new CNN poll shows another large drop in public support for war in Afghanistan:

A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey released Tuesday morning indicates that 39 percent of Americans favor the war in Afghanistan, with 58 percent opposed to the mission.

Support is down from 53 percent in April, marking the lowest level since the start of the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan soon after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Especially notable–the hard core supporters are starting to flake:

“Most of the recent erosion in support has come from within the GOP,” said Keating Holland, CNN’s polling director. “Unlike Democrats and independents, Republicans still favor the war, but their support has slipped eight points in just two weeks.”

…”The Afghan war is almost as unpopular as the Iraq war has been for the past four years,” Holland said, noting that support for the war in Iraq first dropped to 39 percent in June 2005 and has generally remained in the low to mid-30s since.

Danger ahead, Mr. President.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on September 14th, 2009

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal. You can learn more about the dangers posed to U.S. national security by the war in Afghanistan by watching Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six): Security, or by visiting http://rethinkafghanistan.com/blog.

The U.S. is pinwheeling its arms on the edge of a very deep abyss in Afghanistan. In a Nixon-like display of corruption and paranoia, Hamid Karzai and his cronies, who would likely have won a legitimate election, engaged in such widespread vote fraud that Afghanistan likely faces either renewed civil conflict or a constitutional death spiral. These factors render General Stanley McChrystal’s strategic assessment, which refers to its own “most important component” as “a strong partnership with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) that will build the capacity needed to provide Afghanistan with a stable future,” myopic in the extreme. In this context, a review that includes such useless prescriptions as “Promote a more capable, accountable, and effective government in Afghanistan that serves the Afghan people,” shows how far into fantasy land U.S. “strategic thinking” has strayed.

Simply put, the political is killing us in Afghanistan. The self-inflicted wounds in the political arena we’ve bestowed upon ourselves since 2002 may be irreversible and terminal. One thing is certain: if the president can’t break out out of the imaginary Afghanistan his advisers are creating for him, we are dead, and we won’t be the only ones.

Recall the threat made by Abdullah supporters prior to the election:

Even before the August 20 poll, Abdullah’s supporters were predicting Iran-style protests “with Kalashnikovs” if President Hamid Karzai won in the first round, insisting he could do so only by cheating.

Apparently, this was no idle threat:

The price of Kalashnikovs has doubled in Afghanistan. For a country awash with arms, the fact that the weapons are now fetching $600 apiece is a cause of some surprise, but a surge of demand is to blame for the increase, with a steady stream of weapons said to be heading for the north.

This is the Tajik constituency of Abdullah Abdullah, the presidential candidate who claims the election is being stolen by the incumbent Western-backed President, Hamid Karzai.

Despite international pressure, Abdullah has flatly stated he would not accept a position in a unity government. Instead, he wants a second round vote, and a leaked report from the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights shows he’s likely justified in his demands:

The Sunday Times has obtained a report by monitors from the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, completed yesterday, which said 1,253,806 votes — 23% of the total counted so far — could be fraudulent.

According to the analysis, if all these votes were cancelled then Abdullah’s share would increase by almost 4 percentage points to 32.03%. Karzai’s share would drop by 6.62 points to 47.48%, triggering a second round. The share of Ramazan Bashardost, the third-placed candidate, would rise to 10.7%.

But the fine print is a killer. Consider the following somber assessment from ICOS:

The Afghan Electoral Law states an election run-off must be held “within 2 weeks after the announcement of the election results”. However, a modified schedule had been organised stipulating a second round in the first days of October. As a result of the Electoral Complaints Commission stipulating recounts and audits, this schedule cannot be maintained and final results may well not be known for several weeks.

If a run-off or revote is necessary, this would not be hampered in the next months by the harsh winter conditions in many areas of northern Afghanistan. This would delay the second round until spring – leaving Afghanistan in a constitutional vacuum for months. There are no provisions in the Afghan Constitution to allow President Karzai to continue in the Presidency in such circumstances.

“This raises the possibility of both a lack of legal authority in the Presidency and resulting political instability and government paralysis dragging on for many months,” said MacDonald. “There are a lot of questions to be asked at the moment and no good answers being offered. Great uncertainties lie ahead.”

So, let’s review:

  • We validated a corrupted loya jirga outcome in 2002 that put thugs, warlords, and drug lords in charge of Afghanistan and that silenced democratic reformers.
  • We put our stamp of approval on a corrupted 2004 election, which further normalized vote fraud in the Afghan “democracy.”
  • The corruption infesting the Afghan government came to full flower in this past month’s election, resulting not only in political unrest, but causing an extended vote verification process that will likely delay a certification of the election beyond the climate’s point of no return for a recount.

Now, there are only two obvious ways forward:

  1. The election commission moves forward with a certification of Karzai’s win, setting off the “protests with Kalashnakovs,” i.e., civil war between the Tajiks and the Pashtuns (welcome back to problem to which the Taliban were the solution).
  2. The election commission declares a runoff that must be delayed until spring to make it possible for the Tajiks to cast their votes. This delay will mean that the constitutional mandate for the Karzai government will expire before the results of the runoff can be certified, which is to say that the government, legally, will cease to exist.

If #1 happens, the counterinsurgents (that’s us) will be put in the position of defending an illegitimate government against patriots rejecting the theft of their government by people largely seen as U.S. stooges. If #2 happens, then counterinsurgency is not possible because the vote fraud which the incumbents participated in triggered a process that annihilated their own legitimacy.

Regardless of whether you think this war is just or unjust; regardless of whether you think COIN was the right strategy; regardless of whether you believed prior to the election that we need more troops or less troops; whether you think 9/11 required a military response or any of a number of alternatives; the United States has poured massive amounts of blood and treasure into giving the Kabul government a chance to take root, and that investment has not been answered by good faith efforts to create a democratic future for the Afghan people. Instead, it’s been answered by actions so base and self-serving on the part of Karzai and his cronies that following the only legal processes for untangling their mess without risking a bloody civil war will drive a legal paradox that revokes their constitutional mandate.

This paradox has one bright, shining meaning: the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan failed democracy’s test. They are not worth one more drop of U.S. blood. They are certainly not worth the accidental killing of one more Afghan civilian on the conscience of troops put in a no-win situation by U.S. policymakers unwilling to read the writing on the wall.

It’s over. It’s done. Kobayashi Maru. It’s no longer a question of whether Afghanistan is “worth it.” The only question left to answer is, “how much more Hell will we put our young men and women through because we don’t have the political courage to admit the truth, and act?”

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on September 10th, 2009

November 2008: ICOS releases a map showing Taliban presence in Afghanistan, with a “permanent” presence found in 72 percent of the country:

Taliban Presence in Afghanistan, November 2008

Taliban Presence in Afghanistan, November 2008

January 2009: Carnegie Institute for International Peace’s Giles Dorronsoro:

The mere presence of foreign soldiers fighting a war in Afghanistan is probably the single most important factor in the resurgence of the Taliban.

February 2009: President Obama orders a major escalation of U.S. military presence in Afghanistan:

WASHINGTON — President Obama said Tuesday that he would send an additional 17,000 American troops to Afghanistan this spring and summer, putting his stamp firmly on a war that he has long complained is going in the wrong direction.

July 2009: Troops sent to Afghanistan as part of President Obama’s escalation make their move:

Thousands of US Marines stormed into an Afghan river valley by helicopter and land early today, launching the first major military offensive of Barack Obama’s presidency with an assault deep into Taleban-held territory.

August 2009: UK’s Department for International Development compiles a study of radicalization in Afghanistan that finds that the presence of foreign forces is one of the key motivators for joining the Taliban:

Religious motivation is only one of several reason for joining or supporting the Taliban or Hizb-i Islami. A religious message does resonate with the majority but this is mainly because it is couched in terms of two keenly felt pragmatic grievances: the corruption of government and the presence of foreign forces.

September 2009: ICOS releases a new map of the Taliban/insurgent presence in Afghanistan, with a “permanent” presence in 80 percent of the country and a significant presence in 97 percent of the country:

Taliban Presence in Afghanistan, September 2009

Taliban Presence in Afghanistan, September 2009

I’ll have more on this later, but the short version is: troop increases have failed to arrest the spread of the Taliban in Afghanistan; in fact, they are a key factor in growing the insurgency.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on September 9th, 2009

Bruce Riedel at Brookings says we have a vested interest in shoring up Karzai’s legitimacy. That’s not surprising, given that Riedel certainly has such a vested interest. From The New York Times:

“Even if we get a second round of voting, the odds are still high that Karzai will win,” said Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who advised the administration on its Afghan policy. “We have a fundamental interest in building up the legitimacy of the Karzai government.”

“This requires delicacy and a deft hand,” he said. “You don’t want to create a downward spiral in U.S.-Afghan relations.”

The U.S. has a vested interest only insofar as we’re willing to sink our moral standing and our regional credibility into building up a national security apparatus to be left at the disposal of a group of warlords, drug lords and human rights abusers. That’s the ugly fine print hiding in the poor choice by the Obama Administration to continue to view Afghanistan through the poisonous counterinsurgency (COIN) paradigm. See El Salvador during the Carter/Reagan era for an example of what “success” looks like according to the COIN manual.

But Riedel’s vested interest in legitimizing this mockery of an election is far more personal than the fate of a people halfway around the world, sure to suffer under a narco-state armed to the teeth by the U.S. As I wrote this past weekend:

…[T]he president has surrounded himself with advisers who counsel escalation when they ought to know better. These advisers know full well all of the information described above. They’ve also engaged in severe intellectual dishonesty to avoid reckoning with the failure of strategies they helped construct.

Foremost among these advisers is Bruce Riedel, who chaired the last policy review that resulted in the prior escalation. Riedel co-wrote a recent article in which he claimed that the results of an Afghan public opinion poll conducted July 16-26, 2009, prior to the Afghan elections, indicated “a fresh burst of hopefulness among Afghans.” On that basis, Riedel claimed we had one last “fresh start” in Afghanistan, tied by the pollsters and by Riedel to the success of the vote.

Just a few days before the election, Riedel wrote an articled titled “Obama’s Afghan Test,” in which he said that “Thursday’s election in Afghanistan is a critical early test of America’s new strategy in the war,” and that “[t]he ‘metrics’ to measure Obama’s war—which many are calling for—will be in Thursday’s votes.”

The election was a disaster, marked by pervasive vote fraud, intimidation and violence. Thousands of fraud accusations surfaced, hundreds serious enough to flip the election results. Officials in the Shobarak district assert that some 23,900 votes were stuffed on President Hamid Karzai’s behalf. Up to 70,000 fraudulent votes may have been cast in a cluster of polling stations east of Kabul. Officials responsible for ensuring vote integrity sold voter cards for cash. Political alliances made to swing large voting blocs will likely increase the power of Afghanistan’s narcotics-fueled warlords. According to The Washington Post’s Pamela Constable, the elections left Afghans “confused, jittery and bracing for street violence — or at least a protracted period of political polarization and drift.”

So much for the fresh start.

Despite this failure of the test Riedel set up for the Afghanistan strategy and the obliteration of the hypothetical opening offered by a legitimate election, he continues to assert the existence of a new start. Five days after the election, when reports already indicated massive election fraud, he told a panel audience, “[T]his really is the last chance.” Riedel now says we need another 12-18 months before we can assess the President’s new strategy. He has not acknowledged the failure of a strategy he helped to craft nor explained how the supposed “fresh start” persists after the collapse of the legitimacy of the election.

Lest anyone think I’m over-hyping the degree to which the Afghan elections were in fact a failure, here’s counterinsurgency blogger Andrew Exum, himself a supporter of continued military action in Afghanistan, on the situation [h/t Eric Martin]:

Before the Afghan elections, every assessment you could read and every opinion you could solicit from policy-makers was the same: the worst outcome of the Afghan elections would be one that, in either the first or second round of voting, delivered the election to Hamid Karzai with a narrow margin of victory amidst wide-spread allegations of corruption and ballot box-stuffing. The overwhelming fear was of “another Iran” — only with our fingerprints all over it.

The worst-case scenario now appears to have been realized.

But remember: If we don’t legitimize these elections, Riedel might have to face the music for the failure of all his clever theorizing. Hate to see that happen.

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Posted by Tom Engelhardt on September 8th, 2009

Cross-posted at TomDispatch.com.

Here may be the single strangest fact of our American world: that at least three administrations — Ronald Reagan’s, George W. Bush’s, and now Barack Obama’s — drew the U.S. “defense” perimeter at the Hindu Kush; that is, in the rugged, mountainous lands of Afghanistan. Put another way, while Americans argue feverishly and angrily over what kind of money, if any, to put into health care, or decaying infrastructure, or other key places of need, until recently just about no one in the mainstream raised a peep about the fact that, for nearly eight years (not to say much of the last three decades), we’ve been pouring billions of dollars, American military know-how, and American lives into a black hole in Afghanistan that is, at least in significant part, of our own creation.

Imagine for a moment, as you read this post, what might have happened if Americans had decided to sink the same sort of money — $228 billion and rising fast — the same “civilian surges,” the same planning, thought, and effort (but not the same staggering ineffectiveness) into reclaiming New Orleans or Detroit, or into planning an American future here at home. Imagine, for a moment, when you read about the multi-millions going into further construction at Bagram Air Base, or to the mercenary company that provides “Lord of the Flies” hire-a-gun guards for American diplomats in massive super-embassies, or about the half-a-billion dollars sunk into a corrupt and fraudulent Afghan election, what a similar investment in our own country might have meant.

Ask yourself: Wouldn’t the U.S. have been safer and more secure if all the money, effort, and planning had gone towards “nation-building” in America? Or do you really think we’re safer now, with an official unemployment rate of 9.7%, an underemployment rate of 16.8%, and a record 25.5% teen unemployment rate, with soaring health-care costs, with vast infrastructural weaknesses and failures, and in debt up to our eyeballs, while tens of thousands of troops and massive infusions of cash are mustered ostensibly to fight a terrorist outfit that may number in the low hundreds or at most thousands, that, by all accounts, isn’t now even based in Afghanistan, and that has shown itself perfectly capable of settling into broken states like Somalia or well functioning cities like Hamburg.

(more…)

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Posted by Jeremy Scahill on September 8th, 2009

The neoconservative Project for a New American Century laid much of the groundwork for the foreign policy of the Bush administration. Its members received important postings in the White House, Department of Defense and other institutions. But what is seldom mentioned is that PNAC achieved its first great political victory during the Clinton administration when PNAC pushed Clinton to sign the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998. In January 1998, the group wrote to Clinton: “[Y]ou have an opportunity to chart a clear and determined course for meeting this threat. We urge you to seize that opportunity, and to enunciate a new strategy that would secure the interests of the U.S. and our friends and allies around the world. That strategy should aim, above all, at the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime from power.” The Iraq Liberation Act, backed overwhelmingly by Democrats and Republicans and signed by Clinton, made regime change in Iraq official US policy and set the course for the eventual invasion and occupation.

PNAC recently re-branded itself under the new name of the Foreign Policy Initiative. The three major figures behind FPI are well-known neocons William Kristol, Robert Kagan and Dan Senor. “The United States remains the world’s indispensable nation,” the group’s missionstatement reads—“indispensable to international peace, security, and stability, and indispensable to safe-guarding and advancing the ideals and principles we hold dear.”

On September 7, the FPI sent a letter to President Obama about Afghanistan, eerily similar to the one PNAC sent Clinton calling for regime change in Iraq in 1998. It praises Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan before calling on him to expand the war even further:

You’ve called Afghanistan an “international security challenge of the highest order, ” and stated that “the safety of people around the world is at stake.”  Last month you told a convention of veterans, “Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is fundamental to the defense of our people.”

We fully agree with those sentiments. We congratulate you on the leadership you demonstrated earlier this year when you decided to deploy approximately 21,000 additional troops and several thousand civilian experts…

Since the announcement of your administration’s new strategy, we have been troubled by calls for a drawdown of American forces in Afghanistan and a growing sense of defeatism about the war… There is no middle course. Incrementally committing fewer troops than required would be a grave mistake and may well lead to American defeat.  We will not support half-measures that repeat the errors of the past.

The list of signators to the FPI letter is a predictable cast of neocon characters who somehow make a living showing how little they know about so much. But there are some new names. Perhaps most comical among them: Sarah Palin, that famed foreign policy visionary. If Palin could see Russia from her backyard, she clearly missed the part where the Red Army got chased back to the Motherland after being defeated in Afghanistan.

With recent polls indicating that the American people are increasingly questioning the US presence in Afghanistan and leading conservatives like George Will saying it’s “time to get out of Afghanistan,” the White House is desperate to find support for its deteriorating war. What is emerging is a sort of neocon alliance with some partisan Democrats backing the White House. The Center for American Progress has teamed up with neocons at public forums supporting the war (and FPI has promoted these events) and has put out pro-war reports supporting the surge in Afghanistan. On Fox News Sunday—hosted by Dick Cheney’s little BFF, Chris Wallace—Howard Dean fumbled his way through a defense of Obama’s Afghan war policy (and went so low as to use neocon talking points about the war being for women’s rights) and found himself in agreement with a table of discredited right-wingers, including Newt Gingrich:

WALLACE: All right. Let me get into one more subject.Governor Dean, the president will reportedly decide in the next few weeks whether or not to send more troops to Afghanistan. As a leader of the anti-war movement when it came to Iraq, will the liberal wing of the Democratic Party — will you — support the president if he deepens our commitment in that war?

DEAN: I’m not so sure I’m the liberal wing, but I guess I’m the — I’m appointed by you the head of the liberal wing or whatever. No, I — look, I’ve supported the president on this one. I think this is different than Iraq. I think there are people who mean the United States harm over there.

I think — I was very pleased to say the — hear the president a few months ago say, “Look, we can’t win this war militarily.” He gets what we have to do here. And it is true that American public opinion is not supportive of the war effort anymore.

I think this does have something to do with security to the United States. I do believe it has something to do with the role of women in these kinds of societies. I think we ought to be supportive of the role of women and their ability to get an education and things like that. I don’t think that’s the only reason we’re there.

But I’m supportive of the president, and I’m going to continue to be supportive of the president on Afghanistan.

WALLACE: Well, I’m glad we were able to reach these cross-party…

DEAN: Yeah.

WALLACE: … and intra-party divide.

DEAN: You see, it can work. It can work.

WALLACE: I brought — I helped bring you all together.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on September 7th, 2009

Apparently U.S. forces in Afghanistan hadn’t had enough outrage from the Afghanistan public after blowing up two fuel tanks surrounded by civilians, because the soldiers operating as part of ISAF went and raided a hospital, violating both the Geneva Conventions and agreements governing interactions between the military and humanitarian organizations.

KABUL (Reuters) – U.S. troops burst into a Swedish charity-run hospital in Afghanistan and tied up patients’ relatives and staff, the charity said on Sunday, in what it called a breach of deals between the military and aid groups.

The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan operates the hospital. According to their statement (emphasis mine):

[U.S. troops from the 10th Mountain Division] entered the hospital compound, reportedly without giving any reason or justification for entering the hospital compound. They searched all rooms, even bathrooms, male and female wards. Rooms that were locked were forcefully entered and the doors of the malnutrition ward and the ultrasound ward were broken by force to gain entry. Upon entering the hospital they tied up four employees and two family members of patients at the hospital. SCA staffs as well as patients (even those in beds) were forced out of rooms/wards throughout the search.

On leaving the hospital at around 12 pm, IMF issued verbal “orders”/instructions; that on receiving any patient that could be an insurgent the hospital staff has to report to the Coalition Forces who would then determine if the hospital would be permitted or not of treating such patient.

Let that sink in for a second. U.S. troops barged into a hospital, forced patients out of beds, burst into maternity and women’s wards in a super-conservative Muslim country, and tried to order civilians over which they have no command authority to delay treatment for patients while they wait for a potential order from the coalition to let them die.
(more…)

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