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Archive for December, 2010

Posted by Peace Action West on December 30th, 2010

From our partners at Peace Action West

Check out this great post from Juan Cole: Top Ten Myths about Afghanistan, 2010.

My personal favorite:

# 9. Afghans want the US and NATO troops to stay in their country because they feel protected by them.

  • Fact: In a recent [pdf] poll, only 36% of Afghans said they were confident that US troops could provide security. Only 32% of Afghans now have a favorable view of the United States’ aid efforts in their country over-all.

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on December 30th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

Commentary By Ron Beasley

The quote of the day comes from Dave Cohen:

As 2010 winds down, I am reminded that there is no Imperial policy more reprehensible and shameful than the war in Afghanistan. This war is constantly presented to Americans as an integral part of the War On Terrorism, but it is no such thing. The Afghan war is a pointless, expensive, destructive exercise in futility whereby American power is projected into southern Asia for God Only Knows what purpose at this point. Those who remember the Vietnam War, which was a much, much bigger senseless, destructive exercise in futility, know what I'm talking about.

I do remember Vietnam.  While I never saw action in that war I am a Vietnam era veteran and knew many who did.  I had friends and relatives who died for nothing.  I had friends who survived but didn't because they could never put the horrors of Vietnam behind them. 

As we now know LBJ knew that the Vietnam war could not be won as early as 1965.

 

It's going to be difficult/or us to… prosecute …a war that far away from home with the divisions we have here. …I'm very depressed about it. Be- cause I see no program from either Defense or State that gives me much hope of doing anything, except just praying and gasping to hold on …and hope they'll quit. I don't believe they're ever going to quit. And I don't see .. . any .. . plan for a victory—militarily or diplomatically.

~LBJ to ROBERT MCNAMARA, June 21, 1965

——–

We know ourselves, in our own conscience, that when we asked for this [Gulf of Tonkin] resolution, we had no intention of committing this many ground troops. We're doing so now, and we know it's going to be bad. And the question is, Do we just want to do it out on a limb by ourselves? I don't know whether those [Pentagon] men have ever [calculated] whether we can win with the kind of training we have, the kind of power, and… whether we can have a united support at home.

~LBJ to ROBERT MCNAMARA, July 2,1965

Are these same conversations going on in the Obama White House?  My guess would be yes.  Let's hope they remember that 55,000 of America's finest died after the above conversations.  Frankly I have little hope that they do. 

People were protesting the Vietnam war in 1965.  Few are protesting Afghanistan today and and as Dave Cohen points out for the most part they are the same people that were protesting Vietnam 45 years ago. 

Some folks old enough to remember Vietnam chained themselves to the White House fence earlier this month to protest the Afghan war. If you didn't hear about it, that's no surprise, as Dave Lindorff reports at the website This Can't Be Happening

There was a black-out and a white-out Thursday and Friday [December 16th and 17th] as over a hundred US veterans opposed to US wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world, and their civilian supporters, chained and tied themselves to the White House fence during an early snowstorm to say enough is enough.

Washington Police arrested 135 of the protesters, in what is being called the largest mass detention in recent years. Among those arrested were Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst who used to provide the president’s daily briefings, Daniel Ellsberg, who released the government’s Pentagon Papers during the Nixon administration, and Chris Hedges, former war correspondent for the New York Times.

No major US news media reported on the demonstration or the arrests. It was blacked out of the New York Times, blacked out of the Philadelphia Inquirer, blacked out in the Los Angeles Times, blacked out of the Wall Street Journal, and even blacked out of the capital’s local daily, the Washington Post, which apparently didn't even think it was a local story worth publishing an article about (they simply ran a photo of Ellsberg with a short caption)…

Clearly, in the US the corporate media perform a different function [than real reporting]. It’s called propaganda. And the handling of this dramatic protest by American veterans against the nation’s current war provides a dramatic illustration of how far the news industry and the journalism profession has converted itself from a Fourth Estate to a handmaiden to power.

Yes, it's true, the press in the US resembles Pravda and Izvestia in the old Soviet Union.  Pravda in Russian roughly means truth and Izvestia roughly means news.  It was said there was no truth in Pravda and no news in Izvestia.  That's where we are at in the United States.  The end of empire may be be when the press becomes a tool of the government and the oligarchs who control it.  All roads it seems lead to oligarchy.  The Soviet Union was not a Marxist state when it fell – it was an oligarchy.  The United States is no longer a capitalist Republic but an oligarchy.

Note:

The above LBJ quotes are from Reaching For Glory by Michael Beschloss.

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Posted by Peace Action West on December 29th, 2010

From our partners at Peace Action West

Check out this great post from Juan Cole: Top Ten Myths about Afghanistan, 2010.

My personal favorite:

# 9. Afghans want the US and NATO troops to stay in their country because they feel protected by them.

  • Fact: In a recent [pdf] poll, only 36% of Afghans said they were confident that US troops could provide security. Only 32% of Afghans now have a favorable view of the United States’ aid efforts in their country over-all.

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Posted by The Agonist on December 29th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

David Frances | Kandahar City | Dec 27

The Fiscal Times
In its bid to win the hearts and minds of Afghanistan’s teeming population, the United States has spent more than $55 billion to rebuild and bolster the war-ravaged country. That money was meant to cover everything from the construction of government buildings and economic development projects to the salaries of U.S. government employees working closely with Afghans.

Yet no one can say with any authority or precision how that money was spent and who profited from it. Most of the funds were funneled to a vast array of U.S. and foreign contractors. But according to a recent audit by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), there is no way of knowing whether the money went for the intended purposes.

…the United States is not demanding accountability
for outgoing funds from U.S. companies
which have little incentive to fully disclose
where the U.S. money is going.

The audit shows that navigating the confusing labyrinth of government contracting is difficult, at best,” SIGAR said in releasing the audit. “USAID, the State Department and the Pentagon are unable to readily report on how much money they spend on contracting for reconstruction activities in Afghanistan.”

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Posted by DownWithTyranny on December 28th, 2010

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

Yes, Obama promised to pursue the war and mayhem in Afghanistan during the 2008 election campign– as did his opponent, crazy John McCain– and many anti-war progressives overlooked that fatal flaw in Obama, or convinced themselves he was only kidding, and voted for him anyway. America’s costly and more and more obviously doomed efforts against the Pathans come into sharper focus with each extra billion Obama wastes on the effort, each Afghan or Pakistani civilian the U.S. murders for the great glory of collateral damage, each U.S. soldier coming home needlessly in a body bag.

Military and civilian fatalities and casualties are at all-time highs, and yesterday’s Wall Street Journal reported that internal United Nations maps show a marked deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan during this year’s fighting season, countering the Obama administration’s optimistic assessments of military progress since the surge of additional American forces began a year ago. That’s a weasely way of saying we’re losing.
Many nongovernment organizations operating in Afghanistan dispute that any progress has been made by the coalition this year. According to preliminary statistics compiled by the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, which provides advice and coordination to NGOs working in the country, the number of insurgent-initiated attacks rose 66% in 2010 from the previous year.

“The country as a whole is dramatically worse off than a year ago, both in terms of the insurgency’s geographical spread and its rate of attacks,” said Nic Lee, director of the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office. “Vast amounts of the country remain insecure for the unarmed civilians, and more and more areas are becoming inaccessible.”

Meanwhile, whether it’s a series of stolen elections making a farce out of the concept of democracy in a land where America is absurdly trying to graft our institutions onto a 12th-century mindset or Kazai’s now-undeniable personal corruption, the U.S. is once again on the wrong side of history. One of the untold numbers of WikiLeaks embarrassments for governments shows growing concern for Karzai’s M.O. of releasing, condoning and pardoning major drug traffickers: “Karzai’s frequent interventions have undermined public trust in the judicial system– such as there is one…” One diplomat’s cable sums up the situation: ‘The meeting with [Karzai's brother] highlights one of our major challenges in Afghanistan: how to fight corruption and connect the people to their government, when the key government officials are themselves corrupt’.”

President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly released well-connected officials convicted of or charged with drug trafficking in Afghanistan, frustrating efforts to combat corruption and providing additional evidence that the United States’ top ally in the country is himself corrupt.

“On numerous occasions we have emphasized with Attorney General Aloko the need to end interventions by him and President Karzai, who both authorize the release of detainees pre-trial and allow dangerous individuals to go free or re-enter the battlefield without ever facing an Afghan court,” reads a diplomatic cable obtained by WikiLeaks and provided to the New York Times. “Despite our complaints and expressions of concern to the [government], pre-trial releases continue.”

Yesterday Amanda Terkel reported renewed efforts in Congress to do what Obama refuses: to cut off funds for expanding U.S. aggression. And it isn’t only progressive Democrats who are eyeing the bloated defense budget as a way to do it. More and more Republicans no longer feel the tug of zombielike partisanship towards Bush to just keep supporting an unwinnable war.

Barney Frank is at the forefront.
“These kind of restrictions on domestic spending with unlimited spending for the war– and you always have to talk about both– is a great mistake,” Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) told the Huffington Post last week. “And the liberal community’s got to focus more on Afghanistan, Iraq, NATO. NATO is a great drain on our treasury and serves no strategic purpose.”

Lawrence J. Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who has argued that the defense budget can be cut without harming military readiness, said Frank’s idea has merit. “Barney Frank has a good point,” said Korb. “We ought to rethink the whole idea of NATO.”

The FY 2010 defense budget was $533.8 billion– excluding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you add those in, it comes out to a whopping $663.8 billion, which is “more than the combined defense expenditures of the next 17 countries.”

Korb estimates that approximately 20 percent of the baseline defense budget is NATO-related, resulting in about $100 billion in spending each year. (Pinpointing the exact number is tricky, however, since many of the assets the United States provides NATO are used for other purposes.) Interestingly, that amount is the same figure that House Republicans have pledged to cut from the federal budget next year, representing approximately one-fifth of the domestic discretionary budget. The GOP instead plans to slash spending for education, firefighters and cancer research.

As Nicholas Kristof recently wrote in the New York Times, “The U.S. will spend more on the war in Afghanistan this year, adjusting for inflation, than we spent on the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War and the Spanish-American War combined.”

…Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has specifically advocated looking at cutting the defense budget, saying, “In order to address the deficit the only compromise that I think we can have is you have to look at the whole budget. We’ve always excluded the military and said we’re not going to look at the military. Or the Democrats exclude the social and domestic welfare spending. Everything has to be on the table. We have to do this intelligently.”

He joins fellow Republicans– many of whom strongly identify with the Tea Party movement– such as Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.), Rep. Johnny Isakson (Ga.), Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), Rep.-elect Allen West (Fla.), Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.) and Sen. Mark Kirk (Ill.), as well as Democrats like Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.).

However, while these officials are singing the right tune, a few of them (including Sarah Palin) have nevertheless continued to support programs the Pentagon does not want, such as the second engine for the F-35 program, which Gates has called “costly and unnecessary.” During his campaign, Sen.-elect Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) chided Congress for “voting on systems the Pentagon doesn’t even want.”

Earlier this year, Frank, along with Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), put together a Sustainable Defense Task Force (SDTF), a commission of military and budget experts who recommended nearly $1 trillion in cuts over the next 10 years. Recommendations included steps such as reducing the U.S. nuclear arsenal, pulling troops out of Europe and Asia, and canceling programs like the MV-22 Osprey.

“We are asking that a closer look be taken at our national security,” said Jones. “If we do not need the 652 overseas bases that we have currently, then we should take that money and put it back into our own country. We should take that money and use it to take care of our wounded men and women returning from war.”

I’m afraid Ron Paul is making a lot more sense than Barack Obama on this issue! He sounds like… Digby!

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on December 28th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

Commentary By Ron Beasley

There are many who say Social Security is the third rail of American politics.  If you were talking about the average American voter they are probably right but if you are talking about the people who actually direct policy they are wrong.  One of the groups that make policy is The Project for the New American Century.  Their goal is an American Empire.  History tells us that empires are rarely defeated militarily – they fail because they simply go broke.  In spite of that the real third rail of American politics is "defense" spending.  With all the talk of deficit reductions few talk about reigning in America's imperial dreams and slashing defense spending.  One exception is Nicholas Kristof.

We face wrenching budget cutting in the years ahead, but there’s one huge area of government spending that Democrats and Republicans alike have so far treated as sacrosanct.

It’s the military/security world, and it’s time to bust that taboo. A few facts:

  • The United States spends nearly as much on military power as every other country in the world combined, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. It says that we spend more than six times as much as the country with the next highest budget, China.
  • The United States maintains troops at more than 560 bases and other sites abroad, many of them a legacy of a world war that ended 65 years ago. Do we fear that if we pull our bases from Germany, Russia might invade?
  • The intelligence community is so vast that more people have “top secret” clearance than live in Washington, D.C.
  • The U.S. will spend more on the war in Afghanistan this year, adjusting for inflation, than we spent on the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War and the Spanish-American War combined.

This is the one area where elections scarcely matter. President Obama, a Democrat who symbolized new directions, requested about 6 percent more for the military this year than at the peak of the Bush administration.

Osama bin Laden's goal of course was not to defeat the United States militarily but to have the US respond militarily and overextend.  The Bush administration gave him exactly what he wanted and the Obama administration has continued the same policy.  It was someone a rarely agree with, Pat Buchanan, who wisely said they don't hate us for who we are the hate us because of where we are.  Where is that where?

After the first gulf war, the United States retained bases in Saudi Arabia on the assumption that they would enhance American security. Instead, they appear to have provoked fundamentalists like Osama bin Laden into attacking the U.S. In other words, hugely expensive bases undermined American security (and we later closed them anyway).

But the dream of empire dies hard for some and they are the ones calling the shots.  The New American Century will only last a little over a decade and then face the fate of all empires and would be empires.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on December 27th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

Our Guest Voice today is Blue Girl, who blogs at They Gave Us A Republic.

There is a group of people who have done their part, stepped up, served, gone to war and done everything that has been asked of them without question or hesitation, only to find themselves homeless once that DD-214 is in hand. The Departnent of Veterans Affairs estimates that the number of homeless veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq numbers between nine and ten thousand, but Paul Reickhoff, the director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, believes that is an extremely conservative estimate.

The seeds of the problems our veterans face were planted several years ago and myriad factors have come together and now we are looking at harvesting a bumper crop of effed up. Part of the problem is repeated deployments and the devastation that inflicts on families, especially when those repeated deployments come with inadequate dwell time in between combat rotations, and when combat tours are stacked as close together as regulations will permit, important things fall by the wayside — like teaching war ethics — so we have soldiers repatriating that we  have  misused, abused and damaged psychically. Part of the problem is the pervasiveness of PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injuries and that pervasiveness is due to…wait for it…repeated deployments.

A lot of the veterans who end up homeless are eligible for VA benefits, but the approval process is cumbersome and puts the onus on the vet to prove they have a legitimate claim. Even though 86% of all claims are eventually approved it is not at all uncommon for a veteran to end up homeless while they wait for their benefits to be approved. It doesn't help that without an address, the process can be slowed down considerably.

So what can we do about it? Linda Bilmes, a researcher with the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard has some ideas on that, and she has gone before Congress repeatedly and told them how to fix it for a large number of these veterans, and everyone nods in agreement with her, then they do nothing she consistently recommends.

But not everyone qualifies for benefits from the VA.

One of the factors that contributes to the skyrocketing number of homeless female veterans is the disintegration of families that crumble under the stress of repeated deployments.

Tara Henry was a chemical weapons specialist with the 101st Airborne and served two deployments to Iraq. Her second tour of duty came only four months after her son was born, but while in Iraq her husband filed for divorce and was granted custody of their two kids.

"When I found out about court and everything else, I said, 'You know what? I gotta get a lawyer." Henry says. "So, I was trying to deal with those things while I was in Iraq. So that's where my money was going."

Henry has lived in shelters, hotels, even in a car on the street. She hasn't told her children that she's homeless. "I don't really think they would understand that," she says.

[ ... ]

Tara Henry, the former chemical weapons specialist whose husband filed for divorce while she was on duty in Iraq, has also found a shelter. She lives in a cubicle at the Borden Avenue Veterans Shelter in Queens. And although she hasn't told her children that she is homeless, her eight-year-old daughter knows something isn't right.

"She took all the money that she had and said, 'Hey Mommy, this'll help you buy a house.' So I guess she knows that it costs."

The military has entire JAG offices on every base. Expand the services they offer so Soldiers in Tara Henry's position, be they women or men, don't have to spend every dime they have on legal representation to keep access to their kids — kids that they likely joined up to provide for.

I think it is time to do everything Bilmes has recommended, especially the provisional approval of benefits for all applicants. That would take a serious whack at the number of homeless veterans, but I think it is time to go her one better and add a step to the outprocessing everyone goes through when they leave the military. Not everyone has a family to go back to. It would behoove us as a society to identify those veterans during the outprocessing phase and help them secure housing and the unemployment benefits they are entitled to.

Back in 2007 right after my friend Alex outprocessed, he and I were chatting via email one evening and I asked him if he had applied for his unemployment insurance yet. He responded back something like "Oh yeah! I guess I better do that."

It hadn't even been mentioned as he was outprocessing. That's one damned sentence to utter, fercryinoutloud, but I would go one better. I would make the application for benefits part of the process, and eliminate any "waiting weeks" requirements for repatriating soldiers, since the unemployment rate for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is 20% — just over twice what it is for the population at large.

I look at it this way — it costs a million bucks a year to keep a soldier in Afghanistan. Anyone willing to step up and serve deserves to come home to a roof over their head and the security of knowing not only where their next meal is coming from, but that they have choice in what it will be. That could be achieved for about $30 – 45,000 a year, and you can throw an education or vocational training in the mix at that price tag as well.

I don't know about you, but I believe that would be money well spent. In fact, it would completely redefine the old expression about "spending good money after bad."

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Posted by The Agonist on December 21st, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Richard N Haass | Dec 20

WSJThe current policy is diverting scarce military resources when threats like Iran and North Korea loom. We can prevent the return of al Qaeda with far fewer troops.

The Obama administration has completed its third review in two years of U.S. policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan. It argues the current approach is making progress, with success defined as building up Afghan national army and police forces until they can hold their own against a Taliban that is being weakened by ongoing combat. Some officials also believe that several more years of military pressure will persuade many Taliban fighters to switch sides rather than fight.

There are good reasons to be skeptical. While the situation on the ground in Afghanistan should improve in areas where U.S. military forces are operating in strength, the gains are likely to fade in the wake of their departure. The inherent weakness of central government institutions in Afghanistan, the tenacity of the Taliban and their ties to Afghanistan’s many Pashtuns, and the reality that the Taliban will continue to enjoy a sanctuary in neighboring Pakistan all work against what we seek to achieve.

It is possible that doubters will be proven wrong. But the more fundamental problem with the policy depends less on its prospects than its costs and benefits. What the United States is doing in Afghanistan is not justified even if the policy succeeds.

The costs of the policy are considerable. There are just under 100,000 U.S. troops in the country. This year alone nearly 500 American soldiers have lost their lives. Ten times that many suffered casualties. It is costing U.S. taxpayers between $100 billion and $125 billion a year. The commitment is tying down a significant portion of military and intelligence assets, and it is absorbing significant time and energy of U.S. officials in Washington and abroad.

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Posted by The Agonist on December 19th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Dec 18

BBC – Suicide attacks have targeted Afghan military bases in two cities, leaving 13 members of the security forces dead, along with at least five assailants.

In the northern city of Kunduz, suicide bombers stormed an army recruitment centre in the centre of town, where a gunbattle raged for several hours.

On the outskirts of Kabul, attackers ambushed an army bus outside the country’s main recruitment centre.

A Taliban spokesman reportedly claimed responsibility for that attack.

The recruitment centre in Kunduz came under attack from at least four suicide bombers.

Foreign and Afghan soldiers surrounded the building, in which about 100 people were trapped.

Gunfire and explosions could be heard and the recruitment centre – which is in the centre of the city – was set alight.

In Kabul the attackers opened fire on a bus filled with Afghan army soldiers.

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Posted by The Agonist on December 19th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Gareth Porter | Washington | Dec 17

IPS – The Barack Obama administration’s claim of “progress” in its war strategy is based on the military seizure of three rural districts outside Kandahar City in October.

But those tactical gains have come at the price of further exacerbating the basic U.S. strategic weakness in Afghanistan – the antagonism toward the foreign presence shared throughout the Pashtun south.

The military offensive in Kandahar, which had been opposed clearly and vocally by the local leadership in the province, was accompanied by an array of military tactics marked by increased brutality. The most prominent of those tactics was a large-scale demolition of homes that has left widespread bitterness among the civilians who had remained in their villages when the U.S.-NATO offensive was launched, as well as those who had fled before the offensive.

The unprecedented home demolition policy and other harsh tactics used in the offensive suggest that Gen. Petraeus has abandoned the pretense that he will ever win over the population in those Taliban strongholds.

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