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Archive for June, 2010

Posted by The Agonist on June 27th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Al Jazeera | June 27

Al Jazeera – Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, has met Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of a major anti-government faction, in face-to-face talks, Al Jazeera has learned.

Haqqani, whose network is believed to be based across the border, is reported to have been accompanied to the meeting earlier in the week by Pakistan’s army chief and the head of its intelligence services, according to Al Jazeera’s sources.

Karzai’s office, however, denied on Sunday that any such meeting took place.

Major-General Athar Abbas, the Pakistani army spokesman, also said he had “no knowledge of such a meeting taking place”.

The Haqqani network is described by the US as one of the three main anti-government armed groups operating in Afghanistan, alongside the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

It is thought to be responsible for the most sophisticated attacks in Kabul and across the country.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on June 26th, 2010

Rethink Afghanistan video thumbnail

Yes, the Afghanistan War is a brutal, costly disaster, but hey, according to McChrystal’s inner circle, there’s a silver lining! At least the American people aren’t paying attention.

Here’s a quote from Michael Hastings’ explosive Rolling Stone article:

Even those closest to McChrystal know that the rising anti-war sentiment at home doesn’t begin to reflect how deeply fucked up things are in Afghanistan. “If Americans pulled back and started paying attention to this war, it would become even less popular,” a senior adviser to McChrystal says.

Right now, about 53 percent of Americans think the war isn’t worth the cost. Here we have a senior military official telling us that the only reason that even more people don’t feel that way is because they’re not paying attention. Got it.

Hastings has done us a great service. Thanks to his reporting, the architect of a failed, vicious war policy is out the door, and Americans are paying attention. A nation fatigued by war in Iraq and Afghanistan and battered by disaster after disaster is finally swinging its focus back to what’s happening in our name overseas, and we don’t like what we see. The war is killing thousands of Afghans and Americans alike, it’s not making us safer and it’s not worth the cost.

Next week, during General Petraeus’ confirmation hearing, you’ll see politicians calling for delaying American withdrawal from Afghanistan. You’ll hear cold-blooded armchair generals decrying protections for civilians in the war zone. But these vicious chest-thumpers are dangerously misreading the public mood about the war. You can prove them wrong and prove McChrystal’s inner circle wrong by joining the 35,000 of us organizing against the war on Rethink Afghanistan’s Facebook page.

If this latest fiasco in the Afghanistan War got your attention and you’re ready to do something to end it, join us today and get moving.

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on June 26th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

The CSM says Americans are finally realising that Obama's occupation of Afghanistan is a quagmire.

Most Americans agree with Obama that McChrystal had to go, polls show. But they’re far less supportive of the conflict itself, weary of what’s become the longest war in US history.

A recent Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely voters finds that just 41 percent “now believe it is possible for the United States to win the nearly nine-year-old war in Afghanistan.” More to the point, a plurality of 48 percent now say ending the war in Afghanistan is a more important goal than winning it.

Meanwhile, 53 percent of those polled by Newsweek disapprove of how Obama is managing the war – a sharp reversal since February when 55 percent supported Obama on Afghanistan and just 27 percent did not. (Put another way, the percentage of Americans who disapprove of Obama’s Afghan policy has nearly doubled in four months.)

The same Newsweek poll finds that “46 percent of respondents think America is losing the war in Afghanistan (26 percent say the military is winning). A similar plurality think the US is losing the broader war on terrorism (43 percent vs. 29 percent)…”

Part of this has to do with the nature of a counterinsurgency (COIN) effort – a phrase and acronym which has been around at least since the early days of Vietnam. Even when it works, counterinsurgency can take years. And the two most recent major examples – France in Algeria and the United States in Vietnam – hardly worked.

Imagine what those poll numbers will look like by the time 2015 – the G8's new withdrawal date - rolls around.

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Posted by Peace Action West on June 25th, 2010

From our partners at Peace Action West

Most of the press and the politicians have been fawning over Obama’s recent decision to replace Gen. McChrystal with Gen. Petraeus. Following the publication of the Rolling Stone article, President Obama accepted General Stanley McChrystal’s resignation on Wednesday, calling it “the right thing for our mission in Afghanistan, for our military, and for our country.”

Ironically, it was only three years ago when President Obama, back then Senator Obama, questioned General Petraeus, during the 2007 Senate hearings, about the “disastrous foreign policy mistake” in Iraq and called for troop withdrawals.

[Excerpt starts around 1:40, emphasis mine.] It is to suggest that if the American people and the Congress had understood then that after devoting $1 trillion, which is what this thing optimistically will end up having cost, thousands of American lives, the creation of an environment in which Al Qaida in Iraq could operate because it didn’t exist prior to our invasion, that we have increased terrorist recruitment around the world, that Iran has been strengthened, that bin Laden and Al Qaida are stronger than at any time since 2001, and that the process of Iraqi reconstruction and their standard of living would continue to be lower than it was pre- invasion, that if that had been the deal, I think most people would have said that’s a bad deal, that does not make sense, that does not serve the United States’ strategic interests.

And so I think that some of the frustration you hear from some of the questioners is that we have now set the bar so low that modest improvement in what was a completely chaotic situation […] is considered success, and it’s not. This continues to be a disastrous foreign policy mistake.

[...] the general theory has been that we will draw down when Iraqi security forces stand up and or the Iraqi government stands up.

General Petraeus, in the counterinsurgency manual that you wrote, it says that even the strongest U.S. commitment will not succeed if the populace does not perceive the host nation government as having similar will and stamina to our own. The question, I think, that everybody is asking is, how long will this take? And at what point do we say enough?”

Three years later, and we are still asking the same questions about Afghanistan. How much longer? How many more lives do we sacrifice and how much more money do we spend on these wars that are not serving the American people’s interests? At what point do we say enough is enough?
With all the commotion over General McChrystal’s resignation and the nomination of General Petraeus as the new commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, let’s not lose sight of the more serious issue, and that is the current strategy in Afghanistan.  As best put by Senator Obama, “the question is one of strategy, not tactics.”

Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA-10) provided a welcome voice of skepticism, and had this to say in an interview with Politico:

Politico: President Obama said this doesn’t mean a change in policy in Afghanistan – what is your reaction to that? Do you believe there needs to be a change?

Garamendi: My view is that our policy is inappropriate, that we will not be able to succeed with the program and with the policy in place, and that it’s time for us to leave Afghanistan and continue the civilian engagement there. Al Qaeda is the problem and our focus should be on that.

P: Since Gen. Petraeus was behind the surge strategy in Iraq and you oppose the current strategy in Afghanistan, are you dissatisfied with the decision to choose Gen. Petraeus?

G: The president made it clear [that Petraeus] will continue the present policies with which I disagree … I think those policies will ultimately fail.

If not the current strategy in Afghanistan, what do you want to see?
I do not believe that we will be successful in Afghanistan with a military strategy and that a different strategy based on economic and social development … and with a clear, laser-like focus on al Qaeda, that those three things [have] a greater chance of success. And the sooner we leave behind the military strategy, the better we’ll be.”

Another right thing for our mission in Afghanistan, for our military, and for our country is a change in the policy in Afghanistan. Keeping the military strategy in place can only guarantee more years trapped in never-ending wars. There are better alternatives.

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on June 25th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

Commentary By Ron Beasley

I am once again going to disagree with my partners here at Newshoggers.  I may not like General Petraeus but I do think he is a very smart man.  Smart enough to realize that Afghanistan is a no win war.  I believe his mission is to find a face saving exit from the graveyard of empires.  Unlike John's links below I think Thomas Ricks gets it right.

This week's confrontation between a senior Army general and the
president of the United States may have signaled the beginning of the
end of the war in Afghanistan. In a year or two, President Obama will be
able to say that he gave the conflict his best shot, reshaping the
strategy and even putting in charge his top guy, the general who led the
surge in Iraq — but that things still didn't work out. 

Then he can begin pulling out.

Now I don't agree with much of anything else Ricks has to say but I think this is important:

Petraeus is much more like Obama than he was like Bush. The Dutch
American general and the African American commander in chief are oddly
similar. Both are the sons of immigrant fathers; both are intelligent
and ambitious; both are more cool, cerebral and distant than most of
their peers.

And they both know Afghanistan is a potential dead end for both of them.  Look for a face saving exit within a year.

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Posted by DownWithTyranny on June 25th, 2010

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!


I lost a wager yesterday. Amato was certain Obama had no choice but to fire McChrystal after the now infamous Rolling Stone feature showed the Afghanistan War disaster was being run by a gaggle of arrogant, insubordinate, disloyal overgrown frat boys.

Since McChrystal took over a year ago, the Afghan war has become the exclusive property of the United States. Opposition to the war has already toppled the Dutch government, forced the resignation of Germany’s president and sparked both Canada and the Netherlands to announce the withdrawal of their 4,500 troops. McChrystal is in Paris to keep the French, who have lost more than 40 soldiers in Afghanistan, from going all wobbly on him.

“The dinner comes with the position, sir,” says his chief of staff, Col. Charlie Flynn.

McChrystal turns sharply in his chair.

“Hey, Charlie,” he asks, “does this come with the position?”

McChrystal gives him the middle finger.

…”I’d rather have my ass kicked by a roomful of people than go out to this dinner,” McChrystal says.

He pauses a beat.

“Unfortunately,” he adds, “no one in this room could do it.”

With that, he’s out the door.

“Who’s he going to dinner with?” I ask one of his aides.

“Some French minister,” the aide tells me. “It’s fucking gay.”

…Even though he had voted for Obama, McChrystal and his new commander in chief failed from the outset to connect. The general first encountered Obama a week after he took office, when the president met with a dozen senior military officials in a room at the Pentagon known as the Tank. According to sources familiar with the meeting, McChrystal thought Obama looked “uncomfortable and intimidated” by the roomful of military brass. Their first one-on-one meeting took place in the Oval Office four months later, after McChrystal got the Afghanistan job, and it didn’t go much better. “It was a 10-minute photo op,” says an adviser to McChrystal. “Obama clearly didn’t know anything about him, who he was. Here’s the guy who’s going to run his fucking war, but he didn’t seem very engaged. The Boss was pretty disappointed.”

That sounds fucking gay to me.

Amato thought right from the start that Obama would have no choice but to fire McChrystal. My take was that Obama is a wobbly leader who wants everybody to just get along and will always compromise to avoid a noisy kerfuffle. Who wants to face another firestorm from a bunch of drooling militarist psychopaths looking for charged, politicized excuses to force him to abandon his timeline? But I was wrong. Obama did the right thing, and I’ll be happy to take Amato out for a nice raw vegan dinner– probably at the new place in Echo Park, Mooi Food.

Alan Grayson was one of the first members of Congress to call for McChrystal to resign after the Rolling Stone story leaked. Actually, he first called for McChrystal’s ouster last October. But, of course, Grayson knows that what’s really important is ending the war– and ending it now. “The ultimate issue is not McChrystal’s job. It’s McChrystal’s strategy. We need peace, not an endless war… We have to make our decisions on war and peace based on what’s right for America, not what’s right for the generals, or Halliburton, or Blackwater. Not what’s right for the military-industrial complex. But rather, what’s right for us.” Grayson hits it out of the ballpark again.

Another Florida Democrat, this one a career naval officer running for Congress, Doug Tudor, is more concerned about the way forward in extricating the U.S. out of this no-win conflict than about McChrystal per se. He said McChrystal’s firing was bittersweet. “I was proud to see President Obama assert a basic tenet of our republic– civilian control of the military. I was saddened to see him recommit our country to the same failed strategy of counter-insurgency in Afghanistan. In the President’s words, ‘This is a change in personnel, but it is not a change in policy.’”

Tudor knows what he’s talking about when it comes to this war far more than most people already in Congress. He deployed to Afghanistan 33 times. He worked on the personal staff of three commanders– General Tommy Franks, General John Abizaid and Admiral William Fallon. I was in Afghanistan long before Tudor– and under very different circumstances– but our impressions of the place– and of what must be done– are pretty much identical:

Though I have traveled throughout the world, Afghanistan is without a doubt the most desolate, undeveloped country I have ever seen. As a member of our traveling team used to say as we flew from Islamabad, Pakistan to Bagram, Afghanistan, “This is the only time you can fly for two hours and go back nine centuries.”

The policy President Obama affirmed today is called counter-insurgency. Counter-insurgency is a very complicated strategy where we try to win “hearts and minds” via military action and overall nation-building. In other words, if we kill bad guys and build roads, the overall population will decide to support us.

Counter-insurgency won’t work in Afghanistan. Anyone who believes it will does not understand the lives, time, and money that must be committed. I also contend supporters of counter-insurgency do not actually support the vast investment America must make. Counter-insurgency will cost America trillions of dollars, thousands of lives, and an untold amount of international goodwill.

When elected to Congress, I will vote against any and all funding that continues the war in Afghanistan. Plain, simple, and period!

I like the clarity. You won’t get that from most candidates for office– and certainly not from the Blue Dog shill Debbie Wasserman Schultz has running against Doug in the primary. But it isn’t only Grayson and Tudor who are offering clarity (and hope). Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI): “The comments of General McChrystal and his aides were very troubling, and the president’s decision to accept his resignation is appropriate. But I continue to have strong concerns about our misguided policy in Afghanistan. The massive, open-ended military operation in Afghanistan will cost a hundred billion dollars this year with no end in sight. Meanwhile, al Qaeda continues to operate and recruit around the world. After nine years, it is time to give the American people, as well as the people of Afghanistan, a timetable to end this war so our nation is better able to focus on the global threat posed by al Qaeda and its affiliates.”

Regardless of empty-headed TV talking heads with silly questions, Grayson knows how to get his points out. Ignore the foolish questions, but pay close attention to what Grayson wants to say:

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Posted by Josh Mull on June 24th, 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.

Supporter’s of General McChrystal’s counterinsurgency policy are heart-broken over his firing. Not that they don’t agree with it, very few COINdinistas took the position that McChrystal should be permitted to undermine civilian control of policy as he did so plainly in the Rolling Stone piece. Support for McChrystal came instead in the form of “he’s our only hope” and warnings about ruining the war effort. Nevertheless, McChrystal was fired, and now his supporters want revenge.

The target of this vengeance is quite clear: Karl Eikenberry, US Ambassador to Afghanistan. Take a look at these snippets from across the blogosphere, keeping mind that this is just a sample of the anti-Eikenberry sentiment out there.

Josh Shahryar:

When McChrystal finally got troops, he had to figure out a way around Eikenberry’s meddling into what was supposed to be his operation.

Bouhammer:

So now I am waiting for that POS Eikenberry to be fired along with that ineffective Holbrooke. The relationship between the military and civilian leadership in Afghanistan is a two-way street. If the Ambassador and Special Envoy don’t get along with Karzai and cannot influence him or even get a meeting with him then they need to be FIRED asap and some people need to be put into place that can be effective at their job and get along with the military leadership.

Anonymous at Danger Room:

In fact, one e-mails: “It would be a travesty if we fired McChrystal and kept Eikenberry.”

Not only is McChrystal the “only one with any sort of relationship with [Afghan president Hamid] Karzai,” says this civilian advisor to the McChrystal-led International Security Assistance Force. Eikenberry “has no plan, didn’t get COIN [counterinsurgency] when he was the commander and still doesn’t.” Plus, the advisor adds: “The Embassy hates Eik. That’s not necessarily an indictment (I’m no fan of the Embassy). But it contributes to the dysfunction and it means that half the Embassy is focused on keeping Eik in line.”

Streetwise Professor:

Eikenberry was a backstabber from day one.

See the narrative building? McChrystal was doing a good job (they’ve leaked red meat to give pro-McChrystal progressives some lefty cover), it was that “POS Eikenberry” and his “meddling” that are really at fault. He’s a backstabber and dysfunctional. McChrystal’s violation of the relationship between civilian government and the military is no longer at issue, it’s practically ignored.  They’ve moved on to the blame game.

So McChrystal’s supporters want a scalp of their own, and they’ve chosen Eikenberry as their target. McChrystal and Eikenberry have been feuding for some time now, so it’s no surprise he draws the most wrath from the general’s dismissal. But if we actually look closer at the tension between Eikenberry and McChrystal, we see that the Eikenberry-haters are way off base. Their attacks are, at best, childish displays of sour grapes, and at worst, a fundamental misunderstanding of their own strategy. Ambassador Eikenberry is not at fault here. In fact, Eikenberry was right all along. (more…)

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on June 24th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

Chair of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mullen, has just revealed the key metric being used by the White House and Pentagon to claim that there's slow progress being made in Afghanistan.

"The indicators are moving in the right direction," he said. "It gets darkest right before the dawn in these kinds of operations.

WTF? Have you ever heard a more faith-based metric? Sometimes, the reason it's getting darker is because you've dropped yourself into a really deep hole.

This idiocy is on a par with Holbrooke's infamous claim that success would require taking a “Supreme Court test” — “We’ll know it when we see it.”

Mullen also said that "The strategy hasn't changed and the policy hasn't changed," which gets perilously close to making him Mr. Redundant Man. Can we have him tested for senility?

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Posted by alexthurston on June 24th, 2010

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

Note for TomDispatch Readers: Check out Inter Press Service reporter Daniel Luban’s review of my new book, The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s, which can be ordered by clicking here.  And while you’re at it, don’t miss Timothy MacBain’s first TomCast video interview with me about the book by clicking here.  I was also on Laura Flanders GRITtv show yesterday, while the McChrystal resignation was happening and you can check that out here.  As you may remember, about a week ago I offered a signed copy of the book to anyone who gave TomDispatch a contribution of $75 or more.  The response was little short of overwhelming, and a real boon for the future of this website.  For those of you now waiting patiently for your book, I’m heading into the Nation Institute soon to sign all of them.  If you want an autographed book in this batch of send-outs be sure to get your contribution in quickly!  Tom]

America Detached from War
Bush’s Pilotless Dream, Smoking Drones, and Other Strange Tales from the Crypt

By Tom Engelhardt

Admittedly, before George W. Bush had his fever dream, the U.S. had already put its first unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drone surveillance planes in the skies over Kosovo in the late 1990s.  By November 2001, it had armed them with missiles and was flying them over Afghanistan.

In November 2002, a Predator drone would loose a Hellfire missile on a car in Yemen, a country with which we weren’t at war.  Six suspected al-Qaeda members, including a suspect in the bombing of the destroyer the USS Cole would be turned into twisted metal and ash — the first “targeted killings” of the American robotic era.

Just two months earlier, in September 2002, as the Bush administration was “introducing” its campaign to sell an invasion of Iraq to Congress and the American people, CIA Director George Tenet and Vice President Dick Cheney “trooped up to Capitol Hill” to brief four top Senate and House leaders on a hair-raising threat to the country.  A “smoking gun” had been uncovered.

According to “new intelligence,” Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had in his possession unmanned aerial vehicles advanced enough to be armed with biological and chemical weaponry.  Worse yet, these were capable — so the CIA director and vice president claimed — of spraying those weapons of mass destruction over cities on the east coast of the United States.  It was just the sort of evil plan you might have expected from a man regularly compared to Adolf Hitler in our media, and the news evidently made an impression in Congress.

Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, for example, said that he voted for the administration’s resolution authorizing force in Iraq because “I was told not only that [Saddam had weapons of mass destruction] and that he had the means to deliver them through unmanned aerial vehicles, but that he had the capability of transporting those UAVs outside of Iraq and threatening the homeland here in America, specifically by putting them on ships off the eastern seaboard.”

In a speech in October 2002, President Bush then offered a version of this apocalyptic nightmare to the American public.  Of course, like Saddam’s supposed ability to produce “mushroom clouds” over American cities, the Iraqi autocrat’s advanced UAVs (along with the ships needed to position them off the U.S. coast) were a feverish fantasy of the Bush era and would soon enough be forgotten.  Instead, in the years to come, it would be American pilotless drones that would repeatedly attack Iraqi urban areas with Hellfire missiles and bombs.

In those years, our drones would also strike repeatedly in Afghanistan, and especially in the tribal borderlands of Pakistan, where in an escalating “secret” or “covert” war, which has been no secret to anyone, multiple drone attacks often occur weekly.  They are now considered so much the norm that, with humdrum headlines slapped on (“U.S. missile strike kills 12 in NW Pakistan”), they barely make it out of summary articles about war developments in the American press.

And yet those robotic planes, with their young “pilots” (as well as the camera operators and intelligence analysts who make up a drone “crew”) sitting in front of consoles 7,000 miles away from where their missiles and bombs are landing, have become another kind of American fever dream.  The drone is our latest wonder weapon and a bragging point in a set of wars where there has been little enough to brag about.

CIA director Leon Panetta has, for instance, called the Agency’s drones flying over Pakistan the only game in town when it comes to destroying al-Qaeda; a typically anonymous U.S. official in a Washington Post report claims of drone missile attacks, “We’re talking about precision unsurpassed in the history of warfare”; or as Gordon Johnson of the Pentagon’s Joint Forces Command told author Peter Singer, speaking of the glories of drones: “They don’t get hungry. They are not afraid. They don’t forget their orders. They don’t care if the guy next to them has been shot. Will they do a better job than humans? Yes.”

Seven thousand of them, the vast majority surveillance varieties, are reportedly already being operated by the military, and that’s before swarms of “mini-drones” come on line.  Our American world is being redefined accordingly.

In February, Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post caught something of this process when he spent time with Colonel Eric Mathewson, perhaps the most experienced Air Force officer in drone operations and on the verge of retirement.  Mathewson, reported Jaffe, was trying to come up with an appropriately new definition of battlefield “valor” — a necessity for most combat award citations — to fit our latest corps of pilots at their video consoles.  “Valor to me is not risking your life,” the colonel told the reporter. “Valor is doing what is right. Valor is about your motivations and the ends that you seek. It is doing what is right for the right reasons. That to me is valor.”

Smoking Drones

These days, CIA and administration officials troop up to Capitol Hill to offer briefings to Congress on the miraculous value of pilotless drones: in disrupting al-Qaeda, destroying its leadership or driving it “deeper into hiding,” and taking out key figures in the Taliban.  Indeed, what started as a 24/7 assassination campaign against al-Qaeda’s top leadership has already widened considerably.  The “target set” has by now reportedly expanded to take in ever lower-level militants in the tribal borderlands.  In other words, a drone assassination campaign is morphing into the first full-scale drone war (and, as in all wars from the air, civilians are dying in unknown numbers).

If the temperature is again rising in Washington when it comes to these weapons, this time it’s a fever of enthusiasm for the spectacular future of drones (which the Air Force has plotted out to the year 2047), of a time when single pilots should be able to handle multiple drones in operations in the skies over some embattled land, and of a far more distant moment when those drones should be able to handle themselves, flying, fighting, and making key decisions about just who to take out without a human being having to intervene.

When we possess such weaponry, it turns out, there’s nothing unnerving or disturbing, apocalyptic or dystopian about it.  Today, in the American homeland, not a single smoking drone is in sight.

Now it’s the United States whose UAVs are ever more powerfully weaponized.  It’s the U.S. which is developing a 22-ton tail-less drone 20 times larger than a Predator that can fly at Mach 7 and (theoretically) land on the pitching deck of an aircraft carrier.  It’s the Pentagon which is planning to increase the funding of drone development by 700% over the next decade.

Admittedly, there is a modest counter-narrative to all this enthusiasm for our robotic prowess, “precision,” and “valor.”  It involves legal types like Philip Alston, the United Nations special representative on extrajudicial executions.  He recently issued a 29-page report criticizing Washington’s “ever-expanding entitlement for itself to target individuals across the globe.”  Unless limits are put on such claims, and especially on the CIA’s drone war over Pakistan, he suggests, soon enough a plethora of states will follow in America’s footprints, attacking people in other lands “labeled as terrorists by one group or another.”

Such mechanized, long-distance warfare, he also suggests, will breach what respect remains for the laws of war.  “Because operators are based thousands of miles away from the battlefield,” he wrote, “and undertake operations entirely through computer screens and remote audio-feed, there is a risk of developing a ‘PlayStation’ mentality to killing.”

Similarly, the ACLU has filed a freedom of information lawsuit against the U.S. government, demanding that it “disclose the legal basis for its use of unmanned drones to conduct targeted killings overseas, as well as the ground rules regarding when, where, and against whom drone strikes can be authorized, and the number of civilian casualties they have caused.”

But pay no mind to all this.  The arguments may be legally compelling, but not in Washington, which has mounted a half-hearted claim of legitimate “self-defense,” but senses that it’s already well past the point where legalities matter.  The die is cast, the money committed.  The momentum for drone war and yet more drone war is overwhelming.

It’s a done deal.  Drone war is, and will be, us.

A Pilotless Military

If there are zeitgeist moments for products, movie stars, and even politicians, then such moments can exist for weaponry as well.  The robotic drone is the Lady Gaga of this Pentagon moment. 

It’s a moment that could, of course, be presented as an apocalyptic nightmare in the style of the Terminator movies (with the U.S. as the soul-crushing Skynet), or as a remarkable tale of how “networking technology is expanding a homefront that is increasingly relevant to day-to-day warfare” (as Christopher Drew recently put it in the New York Times).  It could be described as the arrival of a dystopian fantasy world of one-way slaughter verging on entertainment, or as the coming of a generation of homegrown video warriors who work “in camouflage uniforms, complete with combat boots, on open floors, with four computer monitors on each desk… and coffee and Red Bull help[ing] them get through the 12-hour shifts.” It could be presented as the ultimate in cowardice — the killing of people in a world you know nothing about from thousands of miles away — or (as Col. Mathewson would prefer) a new form of valor.

The drones — their use expanding exponentially, with ever newer generations on the drawing boards, and the planes even heading for “the homeland” — could certainly be considered a demon spawn of modern warfare, or (as is generally the case in the U.S.) a remarkable example of American technological ingenuity, a problem-solver of the first order at a time when few American problems seem capable of solution.  Thanks to our technological prowess, it’s claimed that we can now kill them, wherever they may be lurking, at absolutely no cost to ourselves, other than the odd malfunctioning drone.  Not that even all CIA operatives involved in the drone wars agree with that one.  Some of them understand perfectly well that there’s a price to be paid.

As it happens, the enthusiasm for drones is as much a fever dream as the one President Bush and his associates offered back in 2002, but it’s also distinctly us.  In fact, drone warfare fits the America of 2010 tighter than a glove.  With its consoles, chat rooms, and “single shooter” death machines, it certainly fits the skills of a generation raised on the computer, Facebook, and video games.  That our valorous warriors, their day of battle done, can increasingly leave war behind and head home to the barbecue (or, given American life, the foreclosure) also fits an American mood of the moment.

The Air Force “detachments” that “manage” the drone war from places like Creech Air Force Base in Nevada are “detached” from war in a way that even an artillery unit significantly behind the battle lines or an American pilot in an F-16 over Afghanistan (who could, at least, experience engine failure) isn’t.  If the drone presents the most extreme version thus far of the detachment of human beings from the battlefield (on only one side, of course) and so launches a basic redefinition of what war is all about, it also catches something important about the American way of war.

After all, while this country garrisons the world, invests its wealth in its military, and fights unending, unwinnable frontier wars and skirmishes, most Americans are remarkably detached from all this.  If anything, since Vietnam when an increasingly rebellious citizens’ army proved disastrous for Washington’s global aims, such detachment has been the goal of American war-making.

As a start, with no draft and so no citizen’s army, war and the toll it takes is now the professional business of a tiny percentage of Americans (and their families).  It occurs thousands of miles away and, in the Bush years, also became a heavily privatized, for-profit activity.  As Pratap Chatterjee reported recently, “[E]very US soldier deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq is matched by at least one civilian working for a private company. All told, about 239,451 contractors work for the Pentagon in battle zones around the world.”  And a majority of those contractors aren’t even U.S. citizens.

If drones have entered our world as media celebrities, they have done so largely without debate among that detached populace.  In a sense, our wars abroad could be thought of as the equivalent of so many drones.  We send our troops off and then go home for dinner and put them out of mind.  The question is: Have we redefined our detachment as a new version of citizenly valor (and covered it over by a constant drumbeat of “support for our troops”)?

Under these circumstances, it’s hardly surprising that a “pilotless” force should, in turn, develop the sort of contempt for civilians that can be seen in the recent flap over the derogatory comments of Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal and his aides about Obama administration officials.

The Globalization of Death

Maybe what we need is the return of George W. Bush’s fever dream from the American oblivion in which it’s now interred.  He was beyond wrong, of course, when it came to Saddam Hussein and Iraqi drones, but he wasn’t completely wrong about the dystopian Drone World to come.  There are now reportedly more than 40 countries developing versions of those pilot-less planes.  Earlier this year, the Iranians announced that they were starting up production lines for both armed and unarmed drones.  Hezbollah used them against Israel in the 2006 summer war, years after Israel began pioneering their use in targeted killings of Palestinians.

Right now, in what still remains largely a post-Cold War arms race of one, the U.S. is racing to produce ever more advanced drones to fight our wars, with few competitors in sight.  In the process, we’re also obliterating classic ideas of national sovereignty, and of who can be killed by whom under what circumstances.  In the process, we may not just be obliterating enemies, but creating them wherever our drones buzz overhead and our missiles strike.

We are also creating the (il)legal framework for future war on a frontier where we won’t long be flying solo.  And when the first Iranian, or Russian, or Chinese missile-armed drones start knocking off their chosen sets of “terrorists,” we won’t like it one bit.  When the first “suicide drones” appear, we’ll like it even less.  And if drones with the ability to spray chemical or biological weapons finally do make the scene, we’ll be truly unnerved.

In the 1990s, we were said to be in an era of “globalization” which was widely hailed as good news.  Now, the U.S. and its detached populace are pioneering a new era of killing that respects no boundaries, relies on the self-definitions of whoever owns the nearest drone, and establishes planetary free-fire zones.  It’s a nasty combination, this globalization of death.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, just published, is The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s (Haymarket Books).  Watch a Timothy MacBain TomCast video of him discussing the American way of war by clicking here.

Copyright 2010 Tom Engelhardt

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Posted by The Agonist on June 24th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Bing West | June 24

NY Daily NewsWest, a former assistant secretary of defense and combat Marine, is writing a book about the war in Afghanistan. He has written five books about irregular warfare.

First, at the strategic level, Afghanistan can be stable only when Pakistan moves against the Taliban. The major technical problem is the 1,600-mile border with Pakistan that provides the Taliban and other terrorist groups with a sanctuary. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Adm. Mike Mullen, has cultivated a sound working relationship with the head of the Pakistani Army. …

The second task Petraeus faces is at the operational level of war. He authored the Field Manual on Counterinsurgency, or COIN, that has become the textbook for waging this conflict. Its key premise was a two-sided social contract. On one side, we provide protection, projects and reasonably decent local administrators to support the civilian population; on the other side, the people reject the cause of the insurgents and point out the subversives. …

The third task awaiting Petraeus is at the tactical level. He must be very careful about the morale of his troops, who feel the rules of engagement have become too onerous. The worst outcome would be for our soldiers or Marines to avoid the hard areas because they felt they couldn’t fight aggressively.

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