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Archive for April, 2010

Posted by Peace Action West on April 16th, 2010

From our partners at Peace Action West

Daniel Ellsberg, famed whistleblower and powerful voice of the antiwar movement, has a message for you. Peace Action West is proud to stand with Daniel, and I hope you’ll read his message and share it with your friends.

As someone who took a stand against the Vietnam War, I ask you to support peace candidate Marcy Winograd in her campaign to replace Jane Harman in southern California’s 36th District.

I know Marcy personally. She worked as a legal researcher on the Pentagon Papers trial.  She was in college then, on a summer break, when she answered the call for volunteers to work on one of the most controversial cases in history.  She believed the American people had a right to know the truth about the war in Vietnam.

Today I am reminded of Vietnam when I consider our government’s military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mass civilian casualties that function as a recruiting tool for a growing insurgency. Thousands of years of history of ejecting foreign invaders. Overconfident military leaders who promise success in a hopeless situation. This sounds like Vietnam to me. In fact, I think of it as Vietnamistan.

Unfortunately, our government lacks the courage to avoid the mistakes we made in Vietnam as it continues a totally counterproductive and unwinnable war in Afghanistan. But one person who understands the hard lessons of that tragic mistake is Marcy Winograd. Like you and other Peace Action West supporters, she won’t stay silent while our country continues on a disastrous course with endless misguided wars. Please join me in supporting Marcy Winograd’s campaign to replace Jane Harman in southern California’s 36th District. Click here to donate.

Congress members like Jane Harman went along with one of the worst foreign policy decisions in American history despite the fact that Harman had a duty to provide oversight on the House Intelligence Committee.  She had ample evidence that we were headed for disaster. We must send a message to Harman and others whose complicity brought us where we are today.

Marcy Winograd isn’t afraid to speak out when our government is squandering innocent lives. She’ll have the courage to vote against wasting billions of tax dollars on wars and occupations that multiply our enemies. We need Marcy Winograd to get us out of this mess.  She needs you to support her campaign.

In the end, I was compelled by my oath to the Constitution and loyalty to the American people to reveal the Pentagon Papers.  My decision, of which I am proud, helped end the war in Vietnam.  Unlike most politicians, Marcy Winograd will stay true to her convictions, regardless of the political consequences. Please join me in supporting her brave effort.

Sincerely,

Daniel Ellsberg

Pentagon whistleblower and subject of the Oscar-nominated documentary “The Most Dangerous Man in America”

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Posted by The Agonist on April 16th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Hilary Andersson | Bagram | April 15

BBC – Afghan prisoners are being abused in a “secret jail” at Bagram airbase, according to nine witnesses whose stories the BBC has documented.

The abuses are all said to have taken place since US President Barack Obama was elected, promising to end torture.

The US military has denied the existence of a secret detention site and promised to look into allegations.

Bagram was the site of a controversial jail holding hundreds of inmates, who have now been moved to another complex.

[...]

“They call it the Black Hole,” said Sher Agha who spent six days in the facility last autumn.

“When they released us they told us we should not tell our stories to outsiders because that will harm us.”

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on April 15th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

Our pal Gareth Porter with the news that General Stanley McChrystal isn't just a liar, he doesn't mind making Hamid Karzai a liar in front of over a thousand of his tribal leaders either.

The U.S. military has now officially backtracked from its earlier suggestion that it would seek the consent of local shuras, or consultative conferences with those elders, to carry out the coming military occupation of Kandahar city and nearby districts – contradicting a pledge by Afghan President Hamid Karzai not to carry out the operation without such consent.

Lt. Col. Tadd Sholtis, a spokesman for Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, told IPS Tuesday that local tribal elders in Kandahar could "shape the conditions" under which the influx of foreign troops operate during the operation, but would not determine whether or where NATO troops would be deployed in and around the city.

Asked whether the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is committed to getting local approval before introducing more troops into Kandahar and surrounding districts, the McChrystal spokesman said, "We're not talking about something as simple as a referendum."

At a Mar. 29 briefing in Kabul on plans for the Kandahar operation, however, an unnamed senior U.S. military official told reporters that one of the elements of the strategy for gaining control over the Taliban stronghold is to "shura our way to success" – referring to the Islamic concept of consultative bodies. In those conferences with local tribal elders, the officials said, "The people have to ask for the operation… We're going to have to have a situation where they invite us in."

Those statements clearly suggested the intention to get the support of local tribal elders before going ahead with the large-scale military operation scheduled to begin in June.

That is what President Karzai said to a shura of between 1,000 and 2,000 Kandahar province tribal elders Apr. 4. Karzai said NATO's Kandahar operation would not be carried out until the elders themselves were ready to support it, according to a number of press reports.

According to the report by RTA, Afghanistan's state television service, Karzai actually said, "I know you are worried about this operation," before asking their opinion. He also said that the shuras to be organised at the district level were for the purpose of "getting approval and deciding" on the operation, according to the RTA report.

And the assembled elders made it known that they didn't want the operation.

So much for claims that Karzai was the "commander in chief" in Afghanistan. As Gareth notes, in a sardonic bit of understatement, "McChrystal must now worry about how the Kandahar campaign can succeed in the face of opposition from both local leaders and President Karzai."

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Posted by Josh Mull on April 15th, 2010

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

It’s Tax Day, and here at Rethink Afghanistan we thought it best not to follow the crowd and bum you out with all the nightmarish stuff you’re paying for over in Afghanistan. Instead, we think today should be an occasion for positivity and constructiveness, and that’s why we’ve launched “War Is Not Free

This is another Tax Day in the middle of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and our country is still in trouble. Many are still out of work. Times are tough. People are hurting.

We don’t have hundreds of billions of dollars to waste, but we are wasting them anyway–on the Afghanistan war.

How has the Afghanistan war affected you? What would you want to fix if we could spend those funds here at home, instead of wasting them on a war that’s not making us safer?

Tell us your story. Send us a picture or write your story below. We’ll pick one community and feature it in a future video to show the world how much better off we’d be if we ended this costly, brutal war.

Remember the “Peace Dividend?” That was the idea that at the end of the Cold War, we could take all that extra money we were spending on weapons to fight the Soviets and instead spend it here at home. We want to look at the same idea again in the context of Afghanistan. As President Obama’s escalation is slowly dismantled by a congress facing intense public pressure, there will very soon come a real opportunity to re-allocate war funds toward desperately needed projects here at home. In other words, an all new Peace Dividend from Afghanistan. (more…)

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Posted by The Agonist on April 15th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Julian E. Barnes | Washington | April 15

LATSecretive buildup of elite teams reflects view that time is short to degrade Afghanistan opposition

The Pentagon has increased its use of the military’s most elite special operations teams in Afghanistan, more than doubling the number of the highly trained teams assigned to hunt down Taliban leaders, according to senior officials.

The secretive buildup reflects the view of the Obama administration and senior military leaders that the U.S. has only a limited amount of time to degrade the capabilities of the Taliban. U.S. forces are in the midst of an overall increase that will add 30,000 troops this year and plan to begin reducing the force in mid-2011.

Operations aimed at Taliban leaders have intensified as the military also gears up for an expected offensive this summer in Kandahar, the southern Afghan city that is the Taliban’s spiritual heartland. Afghan President Hamid Karzai wants to negotiate with the Taliban, and U.S. and allied forces are trying to lure rank-and-file fighters away from extremist leaders. By hunting Taliban leaders, the specialized units hope to increase pressure on foot soldiers to switch sides.

With such an abbreviated timeline, the elite manhunt teams are the most effective weapon for disrupting the insurgent leadership, senior officials said. The officials contend that stepped-up operations by teams inserted in recent months already have eroded the Taliban leadership. Defense officials specifically single out the work of special operations forces in eliminating mid-level Taliban leaders before the February offensive in the Helmand province town of Marja. They say the forces have begun similar operations in nearby Kandahar province.

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Posted by Just Foreign Policy on April 15th, 2010

From our partners at Just Foreign Policy

Senator Feingold, Representative McGovern and Representative Walter Jones have announced the introduction of legislation that would require the President to establish a timetable for the redeployment of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

In the Senate, S. 3197; in the House, H.R. 5015.

Feingold’s announcement is here.

The bill can be read here.

You can ask your Representative and Senators to co-sponsor it here.

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Posted by alexthurston on April 15th, 2010

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

Over the past several years, when he complained again and again about American attacks in his country that were killing civilians in surprising numbers and remarkably often, he was generally humored and dealt with as an irrelevance or an annoyance.  Now, given the rampant drug trade, the corruption, the “tantrums,” the emotional outbursts, the threats to join the Taliban, and his embracing of the Iranians and the Chinese, he is dealt with in Washington as a cross between a big baby, an unstable adult, an overemotional drug-taker, and a prime danger to the American project in Afghanistan.  He was given a lot of TLC by the previous resident of the White House, while being studiously ignored or reproved by this one.  American officials have lavished praise — and scorn — on him.  They have brandished hard power — and laid on the soft power — to tame him.  They have regularly tried “new tacks” in dealing with him, and then tacked — and tacked again.  I’m talking, of course, about Hamid Karzai, the American-installed president of Afghanistan, our man in Kabul, as Alfred McCoy so aptly dubs him.  He’s our boy, our nemesis, the definition of our problem in Afghanistan, our worst mistake, and our missing conscience all wrapped in one.

McCoy, a historian at the University of Wisconsin and an expert on the Vietnam War, the CIA, and the drug trade, offers a powerful reminder that we’ve been here before.  And he’s not the only one who knows it.  After all, Richard Holbrooke, the president’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, spent his first six years in government service in, or focused on, Vietnam during the war years.  And as the Obama administration was setting its Afghan course in the fall of 2009, a number of key figures in the White House, including the president, took time out to study Gordon Goldstein’s book, Lessons in Disaster:  McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam, which recounts, among other things, the grim tale of Ngo Dinh Diem, the Hamid Karzai of that moment, and the CIA plot that led to his overthrow and assassination, as well as a wider, more disastrous war for the U.S.

As McCoy makes clear, however, the history lesson in all this goes deeper than Karzai and Diem, despite the unbelievably eerie parallels between them.  As that old Seinfeld break-up line goes: It’s not you, it’s me.  And whatever Karzai’s problems are, it’s not, in the end, him, it’s us.  It’s a problem that goes to the riven imperial heart of the matter.  Tom

America and the Dictators
From Ngo Dinh Diem to Hamid Karzai

By Alfred W. McCoy

The crisis has come suddenly, almost without warning. At the far edge of American power in Asia, things are going from bad to much worse than anyone could have imagined. The insurgents are spreading fast across the countryside. Corruption is rampant. Local military forces, recipients of countless millions of dollars in U.S. aid, shirk combat and are despised by local villagers. American casualties are rising. Our soldiers seem to move in a fog through a hostile, unfamiliar terrain, with no idea of who is friend and who is foe.

After years of lavishing American aid on him, the leader of this country, our close ally, has isolated himself inside the presidential palace, becoming an inadequate partner for a failing war effort. His brother is reportedly a genuine prince of darkness, dealing in drugs, covert intrigues, and electoral manipulation. The U.S. Embassy demands reform, the ouster of his brother, the appointment of honest local officials, something, anything that will demonstrate even a scintilla of progress.

After all, nine years earlier U.S. envoys had taken a huge gamble: rescuing this president from exile and political obscurity, installing him in the palace, and ousting a legitimate monarch whose family had ruled the country for centuries. Now, he repays this political debt by taunting America.  He insists on untrammeled sovereignty and threatens to ally with our enemies if we continue to demand reforms of him. Yet Washington is so deeply identified with the counterinsurgency campaign in his country that walking away no longer seems like an option.

This scenario is obviously a description of the Obama administration’s devolving relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul this April. It is also an eerie summary of relations between the Kennedy administration and South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem in Saigon nearly half a century earlier, in August 1963. If these parallels are troubling, they reveal the central paradox of American power over the past half-century in its dealings with embattled autocrats like Karzai and Diem across that vast, impoverished swath of the globe once known as the Third World.

Our Man in Kabul

With his volatile mix of dependence and independence, Hamid Karzai seems the archetype of all the autocrats Washington has backed in Asia, Africa, and Latin America since European empires began disintegrating after World War II. When the CIA mobilized Afghan warlords to topple the Taliban in October 2001, the country’s capital, Kabul, was ours for the taking — and the giving. In the midst of this chaos, Hamid Karzai, an obscure exile living in Pakistan, gathered a handful of followers and plunged into Afghanistan on a doomed CIA-supported mission to rally the tribes for revolt.  It proved a quixotic effort that required rescue by Navy SEALs who snatched him back to safety in Pakistan.

Desperate for a reliable post-invasion ally, the Bush administration engaged in what one expert has called “bribes, secret deals, and arm twisting” to install Karzai in power.  This process took place not through a democratic election in Kabul, but by lobbying foreign diplomats at a donors’ conference in Bonn, Germany, to appoint him interim president. When King Zahir Shah, a respected figure whose family had ruled Afghanistan for more than 200 years, returned to offer his services as acting head of state, the U.S. ambassador had a “showdown” with the monarch, forcing him back into exile.  In this way, Karzai’s “authority,” which came directly and almost solely from the Bush administration, remained unchecked. For his first months in office, the president had so little trust in his nominal Afghan allies that he was guarded by American security.

In the years that followed, the Karzai regime slid into an ever deepening state of corruption and incompetence, while NATO allies rushed to fill the void with their manpower and material, a de facto endorsement of the president’s low road to power. As billions in international development aid poured into Kabul, a mere trickle escaped the capital’s bottomless bureaucracy to reach impoverished villages in the countryside. In 2009, Transparency International ranked Afghanistan as the world’s second most corrupt nation, just a notch below Somalia.

As opium production soared from 185 tons in 2001 to 8,200 tons just six years later — a remarkable 53% of the country’s entire economy — drug corruption metastasized, reaching provincial governors, the police, cabinet ministers, and the president’s own brother, also his close adviser. Indeed, as a senior U.S. antinarcotics official assigned to Afghanistan described the situation in 2006, “Narco corruption went to the very top of the Afghan government.”  Earlier this year, the U.N. estimated that ordinary Afghans spend $2.5 billion annually, a quarter of the country’s gross domestic product, simply to bribe the police and government officials.

Last August’s presidential elections were an apt index of the country’s progress. Karzai’s campaign team, the so-called warlord ticket, included Abdul Dostum, an Uzbek warlord who slaughtered countless prisoners in 2001; vice presidential candidate Muhammed Fahim, a former defense minister linked to drugs and human rights abuses; Sher Muhammed Akhundzada, the former governor of Helmand Province, who was caught with nine tons of drugs in his compound back in 2005; and the president’s brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, reputedly the reigning drug lord and family fixer in Kandahar. “The Karzai family has opium and blood on their hands,” one Western intelligence official told the New York Times during the campaign.

Desperate to capture an outright 50% majority in the first round of balloting, Karzai’s warlord coalition made use of an extraordinary array of electoral chicanery. After two months of counting and checking, the U.N.’s Electoral Complaints Commission announced in October 2009 that more than a million of his votes, 28% of his total, were fraudulent, pushing the president’s tally well below the winning margin. Calling the election a “foreseeable train wreck,” the deputy U.N. envoy Peter Galbraith said, “The fraud has handed the Taliban its greatest strategic victory in eight years of fighting the United States and its Afghan partners.”

Galbraith, however, was sacked and silenced as U.S. pressure extinguished the simmering flames of electoral protest.  The runner-up soon withdrew from the run-off election that Washington had favored as a face-saving, post-fraud compromise, and Karzai was declared the outright winner by default. In the wake of the farcical election, Karzai not surprisingly tried to stack the five-man Electoral Complaints Commission, an independent body meant to vet electoral complaints, replacing the three foreign experts with his own Afghan appointees. When the parliament rejected his proposal, Karzai lashed out with bizarre charges, accusing the U.N. of wanting a “puppet government” and blaming all the electoral fraud on “massive interference from foreigners.” In a meeting with members of parliament, he reportedly told them: “If you and the international community pressure me more, I swear that I am going to join the Taliban.”

Amid this tempest in an electoral teapot, as American reinforcements poured into Afghanistan, Washington’s escalating pressure for “reform” only served to inflame Karzai. As Air Force One headed for Kabul on March 28th, National Security Adviser James Jones bluntly told reporters aboard that, in his meeting with Karzai, President Obama would insist that he prioritize “battling corruption, taking the fight to the narco-traffickers.” It was time for the new administration in Washington, ever more deeply committed to its escalating counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan, to bring our man in Kabul back into line.

A week filled with inflammatory, angry outbursts from Karzai followed before the White House changed tack, concluding that it had no alternative to Karzai and began to retreat.  Jones now began telling reporters soothingly that, during his visit to Kabul, President Obama had been “generally impressed with the quality of the [Afghan] ministers and the seriousness with which they’re approaching their job.”

All of this might have seemed so new and bewildering in the American experience, if it weren’t actually so old.

Our Man in Saigon

The sorry history of the autocratic regime of Ngo Dinh Diem in Saigon (1954-1963) offers an earlier cautionary roadmap that helps explain why Washington has so often found itself in such an impossibly contradictory position with its authoritarian allies.

Landing in Saigon in mid-1954 after years of exile in the United States and Europe, Diem had no real political base.  He could, however, count on powerful patrons in Washington, notably Democratic senators Mike Mansfield and John F. Kennedy. One of the few people to greet Diem at the airport that day was the legendary CIA operative Edward Lansdale, Washington’s master of political manipulation in Southeast Asia. Amid the chaos accompanying France’s defeat in its long, bloody Indochina War, Lansdale maneuvered brilliantly to secure Diem’s tenuous hold on power in the southern part of Vietnam.  In the meantime, U.S. diplomats sent his rival, the Emperor Bao Dai, packing for Paris. Within months, thanks to Washington’s backing, Diem won an absurd 98.2% of a rigged vote for the presidency and promptly promulgated a new constitution that ended the Vietnamese monarchy after a millennium.

Channeling all aid payments through Diem, Washington managed to destroy the last vestiges of French colonial support for any of his potential rivals in the south, while winning the president a narrow political base within the army, among civil servants, and in the minority Catholic community. Backed by a seeming cornucopia of American support, Diem proceeded to deal harshly with South Vietnam’s Buddhist sects, harassed the Viet Minh veterans of the war against the French, and resisted the implementation of rural reforms that might have won him broader support among the country’s peasant population.

When the U.S. Embassy pressed for reforms, he simply stalled, convinced that Washington, having already invested so much of its prestige in his regime, would be unable to withhold support. Like Karzai in Kabul, Diem’s ultimate weapon was his weakness — the threat that his government, shaky as it was, might simply collapse if pushed too hard.

In the end, the Americans invariably backed down, sacrificing any hope of real change in order to maintain the ongoing war effort against the local Viet Cong rebels and their North Vietnamese backers. As rebellion and dissent rose in the south, Washington ratcheted up its military aid to battle the communists, inadvertently giving Diem more weapons to wield against his own people, communist and non-communist alike.

Working through his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu — and this should have an eerie resonance today — the Diems took control of Saigon’s drug racket, pocketing significant profits as they built up a nexus of secret police, prisons, and concentration camps to deal with suspected dissidents. At the time of Diem’s downfall in 1963, there were some 50,000 prisoners in his gulag.

Nonetheless, from 1960 to 1963, the regime only weakened as resistance sparked repression and repression redoubled resistance.  Soon South Vietnam was wracked by Buddhist riots in the cities and a spreading Communist revolution in the countryside. Moving after dark, Viet Cong guerrillas slowly began to encircle Saigon, assassinating Diem’s unpopular village headmen by the thousands.

In this three-year period, the US military mission in Saigon tried every conceivable counterinsurgency strategy.  They brought in helicopters and armored vehicles to improve conventional mobility, deployed the Green Berets for unconventional combat, built up regional militias for localized security, constructed “strategic hamlets” in order to isolate eight million peasants inside supposedly secure fortified compounds, and ratcheted up CIA assassinations of suspected Viet Cong leaders. Nothing worked. Even the best military strategy could not fix the underlying political problem. By 1963, the Viet Cong had grown from a handful of fighters into a guerrilla army that controlled more than half the countryside.

When protesting Buddhist monk Quang Duc assumed the lotus position on a Saigon street in June 1963 and held the posture while followers lit his gasoline-soaked robes which erupted in fatal flames, the Kennedy administration could no longer ignore the crisis. As Diem’s batons cracked the heads of Buddhist demonstrators and Nhu’s wife applauded what she called “monk barbecues,” Washington began to officially protest the ruthless repression. Instead of responding, Diem (shades of Karzai) began working through his brother Nhu to open negotiations with the communists in Hanoi, signaling Washington that he was perfectly willing to betray the U.S. war effort and possibly form a coalition with North Vietnam.

In the midst of this crisis, a newly appointed American ambassador, Henry Cabot Lodge, arrived in Saigon and within days approved a plan for a CIA-backed coup to overthrow Diem. For the next few months, Lansdale’s CIA understudy Lucien Conein met regularly with Saigon’s generals to hatch an elaborate plot that was unleashed with devastating effect on November 1, 1963.

As rebel troops stormed the palace, Diem and his brother Nhu fled to a safe house in Saigon’s Chinatown. Flushed from hiding by promises of safe conduct into exile, Diem climbed aboard a military convoy for what he thought was a ride to the airport. But CIA operative Conein had vetoed the flight plans.  A military assassin intercepted the convoy, spraying Diem’s body with bullets and stabbing his bleeding corpse in a coup de grâce.

Although Ambassador Lodge hosted an embassy celebration for the rebel officers and cabled President Kennedy that Diem’s death would mean a “shorter war,” the country soon collapsed into a series of military coups and counter-coups that crippled army operations. Over the next 32 months, Saigon had nine new governments and a change of cabinet every 15 weeks — all incompetent, corrupt, and ineffective.

After spending a decade building up Diem’s regime and a day destroying it, the U.S. had seemingly irrevocably linked its own power and prestige to the Saigon government — any government. The “best and brightest” in Washington were convinced that they could not just withdraw from South Vietnam without striking a devastating blow against American “credibility.” As South Vietnam slid toward defeat in the two years following Diem’s death, the first of 540,000 U.S. combat troops began arriving, ensuring that Vietnam would be transformed from an American-backed war into an American war.

Under the circumstances, Washington searched desperately for anyone who could provide sufficient stability to prosecute the war against the communists and eventually, with palpable relief, embraced a military junta headed by General Nguyen Van Thieu. Installed and sustained in power by American aid, Thieu had no popular following and ruled through military repression, repeating the same mistakes that led to Diem’s downfall. But chastened by its experience after the assassination of Diem, the U.S. Embassy decided to ignore Thieu’s unpopularity and continue to build his army. Once Washington began to reduce its aid after 1973, Thieu found that his troops simply would not fight to defend his unpopular government. In April 1975, he carried a hoard of stolen gold into exile while his army collapsed with stunning speed, suffering one of the most devastating collapses in military history.

In pursuit of its Vietnam War effort, Washington required a Saigon government responsive to its demands, yet popular with its own peasantry, strong enough to wage a war in the villages, yet sensitive to the needs of the country’s poor villagers.  These were hopelessly contradictory political requisites. Finding that civilian regimes engaged in impossible-to-control intrigues, the U.S. ultimately settled for authoritarian military rule which, acceptable as it proved in Washington, was disdained by the Vietnamese peasantry.

Death or Exile?

So is President Karzai, like Diem, doomed to die on the streets of Kabul or will he, one day, find himself like Thieu boarding a midnight flight into exile?

History, or at least our awareness of its lessons, does change things, albeit in complex, unpredictable ways.  Today, senior U.S. envoys have Diem’s cautionary tale encoded in their diplomatic DNA, which undoubtedly precludes any literal replay of his fate. After sanctioning Diem’s assassination, Washington watched in dismay as South Vietnam plunged into chaos. So chastened was the U.S. Embassy by this dismal outcome that it backed the subsequent military regime to a fault.

A decade later, the Senate’s Church Committee uncovered other U.S. attempts at assassination-cum-regime-change in the Congo, Chile, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic that further stigmatized this option. In effect, antibodies from the disastrous CIA coup against Diem, still in Washington’s political bloodstream, reduce the possibility of any similar move against Karzai today.

Ironically, those who seek to avoid the past may be doomed to repeat it. By accepting Karzai’s massive electoral fraud and refusing to consider alternatives last August, Washington has, like it or not, put its stamp of approval on his spreading corruption and the political instability that accompanies it.  In this way, the Obama administration in its early days invited a sad denouement to its Afghan adventure, one potentially akin to Vietnam after Diem’s death.  America’s representatives in Kabul are once again hurtling down history’s highway, eyes fixed on the rear-view mirror, not the precipice that lies dead ahead.

In the experiences of both Ngo Dinh Diem and Hamid Karzai lurks a self-defeating pattern common to Washington’s alliances with dictators throughout the Third World, then and now.  Selected and often installed in office by Washington, or at least backed by massive American military aid, these client figures become desperately dependent, even as they fail to implement the sorts of reforms that might enable them to build an independent political base. Torn between pleasing their foreign patrons or their own people, they wind up pleasing neither. As opposition to their rule grows, a downward spiral of repression and corruption often ends in collapse; while, for all its power, Washington descends into frustration and despair, unable to force its allies to adopt reforms which might allow them to survive. Such a collapse is a major crisis for the White House, but often — Diem’s case is obviously an exception — little more than an airplane ride into exile for the local autocrat or dictator.

There was — and is — a fundamental structural flaw in any American alliance with these autocrats. Inherent in these unequal alliances is a peculiar dynamic that makes the eventual collapse of such American-anointed leaders almost inevitable. At the outset, Washington selects a client who seems pliant enough to do its bidding. Such a client, in turn, opts for Washington’s support not because he is strong, but precisely because he needs foreign patronage to gain and hold office.

Once installed, the client, no matter how reluctant, has little choice but to make Washington’s demands his top priority, investing his slender political resources in placating foreign envoys. Responding to an American political agenda on civil and military matters, these autocrats often fail to devote sufficient energy, attention, and resources to cultivating a following; Diem found himself isolated in his Saigon palace, while Karzai has become a “president” justly, if derisively, nicknamed “the mayor of Kabul.”  Caught between the demands of a powerful foreign patron and countervailing local needs and desires, both leaders let guerrillas capture the countryside, while struggling uncomfortably, and in the end angrily, as well as resentfully, in the foreign embrace.

Nor are such parallels limited to Afghanistan today or Vietnam almost half a century ago. Since the end of World War II, many of the sharpest crises in U.S. foreign policy have arisen from just such problematic relationships with authoritarian client regimes. As a start, it was a similarly close relationship with General Fulgencio Batista of Cuba in the 1950s which inspired the Cuban revolution.  That culminated, of course, in Fidel Castro’s rebels capturing the Cuban capital, Havana, in 1959, which in turn led the Kennedy administration into the catastrophic Bay of Pigs invasion and then the Cuban Missile Crisis.

For a full quarter-century, the U.S. played international patron to the Shah of Iran, intervening to save his regime from the threat of democracy in the early 1950s and later massively arming his police and military while making him Washington’s proxy power in the Persian Gulf. His fall in the Islamic revolution of 1979 not only removed the cornerstone of American power in this strategic region, but plunged Washington into a succession of foreign policy confrontations with Iran that have yet to end.

After a half-century as a similarly loyal client in Central America, the regime of Nicaragua’s Anastasio Somoza fell in the Sandinista revolution of 1979, creating a foreign policy problem marked by the CIA’s contra operation against the new Sandinista government and the seamy Iran-Contra scandal that roiled President Reagan’s second term.

Just last week, Washington’s anointed autocrat in Kyrgyzstan, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, fled the presidential palace when his riot police, despite firing live ammunition and killing more than 80 of his citizens, failed to stop opposition protesters from taking control of the capital, Bishkek. Although his rule was brutal and corrupt, last year the Obama administration courted Bakiyev sedulously and successfully to preserve U.S. use of the old Soviet air base at Manas critical for supply flights into Afghanistan. Even as riot police were beating the opposition into submission to prepare for Bakiyev’s “landslide victory” in last July’s elections, President Obama sent him a personal letter praising his support for the Afghan war. With Washington’s imprimatur, there was nothing to stop Bakiyev’s political slide into murderous repression and his ultimate fall from power.

Why have so many American alliances with Third World dictators collapsed in such a spectacular fashion, producing divisive recriminations at home and policy disasters abroad?

During Britain’s century of dominion, its self-confident servants of empire, from viceroys in plumed hats to district officers in khaki shorts, ruled much of Africa and Asia through an imperial system of protectorates, indirect rule, and direct colonial rule. In the succeeding American “half century” of hegemony, Washington carried the burden of global power without a formal colonial system, substituting its military advisers for imperial viceroys.

In this new landscape of sovereign states that emerged after World War II, Washington has had to pursue a contradictory policy as it dealt with the leaders of nominally independent nations that were also deeply dependent on foreign economic and military aid. After identifying its own prestige with these fragile regimes, Washington usually tries to coax, chide, or threaten its allies into embracing what it considers needed reforms. Even when this counsel fails and prudence might dictate the start of a staged withdrawal, as in Saigon in 1963 and Kabul today, American envoys simply cannot let go of their unrepentant, resentful allies, as the long slide into disaster gains momentum.

With few choices between diplomatic niceties and a destabilizing coup, Washington invariably ends up defaulting to an inflexible foreign policy at the edge of paralysis that often ends with the collapse of our authoritarian allies, whether Diem in Saigon, the Shah in Tehran, or on some dismal day yet to come, Hamid Karzai in Kabul. To avoid this impending debacle, our only realistic option in Afghanistan today may well be the one we wish we had taken in Saigon back in August 1963 — a staged withdrawal of U.S. forces.

Alfred W. McCoy is the J.R.W. Smail Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author of The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, which probes the conjuncture of illicit narcotics and covert operations over the past 50 years. His latest book, Policing America’s Empire: The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State, explores the influence of overseas counterinsurgency operations on the spread of internal security measures here at home.

Copyright 2010 Alfred W. McCoy

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Posted by Peace Action West on April 15th, 2010

From our partners at Peace Action West

What would you buy if you had a million dollars?

As people struggle to stay in their homes and provide health care for their families, we can all think of ways that a million dollars could do a lot of good in our communities. But the Obama administration is spending $1 million per year for each and every soldier in Afghanistan. They’ve asked Congress for another $33 billion to send 33,000 more troops into a failing war.

Enough is enough. Call your representative at 202-224-3121 and ask him or her to vote against additional funding for the war and to call for an end to the war in Afghanistan.

That $33 billion, on top of $130 billion that was already passed in the budget, isn’t making Americans and Afghans safer. It’s been spent to wreak havoc on the small rural town of Marja only to install a “government in a box,” led by an Afghan exile who went to jail for stabbing his stepson. It’s being spent on ammunition that US troops are firing at innocent civilians.

Meanwhile, the US is neglecting investments in development that could actually help Afghans – and Americans. Compared to that $1 million spent on every soldier, we are spending just $93 per Afghan on development aid. We could end the war, increase the kind of development spending proven to help stabilize communities and improve living conditions in Afghanistan, and still have billions of dollars left over to rebuild our communities here at home.

But only if you take action. Please call your representative at 202-224-3121 and say it’s time to say no to more money for war.

Building opposition to this funding is a difficult task, which is why we are teaming up with organizations around the country in this national call-in week to flood Congress with phone calls. We want to make sure our message is clear now, before the administration and members of Congress start back-room deals to gain votes. The more people we can get on the record opposing this funding, the more we show that momentum is on our side and opposition to the war is only getting stronger.

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on April 14th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

Today's must-read is by Robert Wright at the NYT (h/t Balkanization). He presents evidence from a statistical studt by Jenna Jordan of the University of Chicago that "decapitation" strikes on terrorist leaders – drone attacks, for example – actually increase the viability and prestige of a terror group:

When an executive leaves a company — whether through retirement, relocation or death — what happens? Exactly: He or she gets replaced. And about half the time (in my experience, at least) the successor is more capable than the predecessor. There’s no reason to think things would work differently in a terrorist organization.

Maybe that’s why newspapers keep reporting the death of a “high ranking Al  Qaeda lieutenant”; it isn’t that we keep killing the same guy, but rather that there’s an endless stream of replacements. You’re not going to end the terrorism business by putting individual terrorists out of business.

And as he notes, "the belief that death in a holy war gets you to heaven can’t hurt when you’re looking for someone to replace an assassinated leader."

This apparent policy fail, which also alienates and radicalizes civilians, also comes with too big a price to pay both foreign and domestic:

If Harold Koh — the State Department lawyer assigned the job of justifying Obama’s strategy — carries the day, America will be telling the world that it’s O.K. to lob missiles into countries that haven’t attacked you, as long as you think a terrorist may live there. Do we really want to send that message to, for example, Russia and China, both of which have terrorism problems? Or India or Pakistan?

And are we sure we want to say that, actually, due process of law isn’t really guaranteed all American citizens so long as there’s a war on terrorism — which, remember, is a war that may continue for eternity?

No, we don't.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on April 13th, 2010

In case you hadn’t heard, the next stop in General McChrystal’s counterinsurgency plan is Kandahar, the ideological heart of the Taliban. Using the spadework done in advance of the Marjah operation as a template, McChrystal says the plan is to:

“…do the political groundwork, so that when it’s time to do the military operation, the significant part of the population is pulling us in and supporting us, so that we’re not only doing what they want, but we’re operating in a way that they’re comfortable with.”

Remember that:

  1. “what they want,” and
  2. “operating in a way that they’re comfortable with.”

“What They Want”

That was March, and it sure sounded nice. But this is April, and the people who live in Kandahar are telling the Kabul government and McChrystal’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), “Not so much.”

Earlier this month, McChrystal travelled with Karzai to a shura in Kandahar, presumably to get the kind of rubber-stamp for the upcoming operation that the Marjah elders gave them prior to Operation Moshtarak. It didn’t go as planned.

Visiting last week to rally support for the offensive, the president was instead overwhelmed by a barrage of complaints about corruption and misrule. As he was heckled at a shura of 1,500 tribal leaders and elders, he appeared to offer them a veto over military action. “Are you happy or unhappy for the operation to be carried out?” he asked.

The elders shouted back: “We are not happy.”

“Then until the time you say you are happy, the operation will not happen,” Karzai replied.

General Stanley McChrystal, the Nato commander, who was sitting behind him, looked distinctly apprehensive. The remarks have compounded US anger and bewilderment with Karzai, who has already accused the United States of rigging last year’s presidential elections and even threatened to switch sides to join the Taliban.

Presumably, ISAF and the Karzai government will keep working the shuras until they get what they need in the way of a signed and sealed invite to flood the region with international and Afghan National Security Forces military and police personnel. But as it stands, it’s clear that a military offensive in Kandahar is not “what they want.”

“Operating In A Way That They’re Comfortable With”

If the shura harangue were not enough, yesterday a U.S. troop fired on a civilian passenger bus in Kandahar, killing at least 4 people and injuring 18.

Here’s how ISAF described the incident (take with grain of salt, given their recent propensity for spin):

Before dawn this morning, an unknown, large vehicle approached a slow-moving ISAF route-clearance patrol from the rear at a high rate of speed. The convoy could not move to the side of the road to allow the vehicle to pass due to the steep embankment.

The ISAF patrol warned off the approaching vehicle once with a flashlight and three times with flares, which were not heeded.

Perceiving a threat when the vehicle approached once more at an increased rate of speed, the patrol attempted to warn off the vehicle with hand signals prior to firing upon it. Once engaged, the vehicle then stopped.

However, at least one eyewitness who credibly claimed to be the bus driver had a different story:

Abdul Ghani, an Afghan man who told The Washington Post in a telephone interview that he was the driver of the bus, said the soldiers “didn’t give me any kind of signal. . . . They just opened fire. No signal at all.”

Ghani’s account could not be independently confirmed, and other news organizations quoted a different person who said he was the driver. But Ghani, 35, related to The Post specific details about the bus and the incident that suggest he knew what had occurred.

He said the green and white 1984 German vehicle left a Kandahar city bus depot at 4:30 a.m., bound for Nimruz province, seven hours away. Half an hour into the trip, the bus drove up behind the U.S. convoy. The gunfire erupted when the bus was 80 to 100 meters behind the convoy, he said.

The bullets tore into the passenger side of the windshield and struck several rows. The American soldiers walked around the bus after the shooting stopped, Ghani said, then climbed on board without speaking to him. “They saw the people who were killed and left them there. And then they took the injured ones and started doing first aid immediately.”

Ghani said he was eventually was able to drive the bus back to the city. “Why we are being killed by these people?” he said. “They are here to protect us, not to kill us.”

The locals were understandably enraged, and hundreds of them gathered around the bus shouting, “Death to America!” and related anti-Western phrases. The local NATO commander, Maj. General Nick Carter (no, not that Nick Carter) tried to apologize, but just couldn’t seem to help himself and got a dig in at the local hicks in the course of the apology (Skip to 1:56 in the video below). Apparently, when you shoot up a civilian bus at a checkpoint, “it’s a two-way street” when it comes to responsibility.

Right.

“We have shot an amazing number of people [at military checkpoints], but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat,” said McChrystal during a recent video-conference with troops…

But hey, at least he could rattle off “salaam alaikum” at the beginning of the “apology.”

Here’s what one local had to say about this incident:

“Zhari [district in Kandahar Province] is where they were planning to do an operation,” Haji Wali Jan said. “Now the people there are furious with the Americans, and everyone knows that without local support from the people, it’s very hard to do an operation.” Haji Jan Mohammed, another elder who lives in Kandahar city, said: “These incidents have a bad effect. Already, most people didn’t trust the foreign troops. With this incident, foreign troops lost all their trust.

“All the elders, everyone knows, if the operation starts, there will be lots of civilian casualties.”

Somehow I doubt that this qualifies as “operating in a way that they’re comfortable with.”

Sending more troops to Kandahar will not make us safer. The president should decrease, not increase, the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Had enough? Join us on Rethink Afghanistan’s Facebook page.

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