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Archive for January, 2011

Posted by Newshoggers.com on January 23rd, 2011

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

Today, the NYT's Mark Mazzetti decided to burn what appears to have been one of the newspapers – and the U.S. government's – prime sources on all things lurid in Af/Pak. Ex- Iran/Contra liar Duane “Dewey” Clarridge, a former head of the CIA’s Latin American operations who was the first chief of the CIA’s counterterrorism center, has been running the shadowy Eclipse Group since 2009. During that time he's fed stories to the media and the government which have heaviliy influenced policymakers.

Hatching schemes that are something of a cross between a Graham Greene novel and Mad Magazine’s “Spy vs. Spy,” Mr. Clarridge has sought to discredit Ahmed Wali Karzai, the Kandahar power broker who has long been on the C.I.A. payroll, and planned to set spies on his half brother, the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, in hopes of collecting beard trimmings or other DNA samples that might prove Mr. Clarridge’s suspicions that the Afghan leader was a heroin addict, associates say.

Mr. Clarridge, 78, who was indicted on charges of lying to Congress in the Iran-contra scandal and later pardoned, is described by those who have worked with him as driven by the conviction that Washington is bloated with bureaucrats and lawyers who impede American troops in fighting adversaries and that leaders are overly reliant on mercurial allies.

His dispatches — an amalgam of fact, rumor, analysis and uncorroborated reports — have been sent to military officials who, until last spring at least, found some credible enough to be used in planning strikes against militants in Afghanistan. They are also fed to conservative commentators, including Oliver L. North, a compatriot from the Iran-contra days and now a Fox News analyst, and Brad Thor, an author of military thrillers and a frequent guest of Glenn Beck.

For all of the can-you-top-this qualities to Mr. Clarridge’s operation, it is a startling demonstration of how private citizens can exploit the chaos of combat zones and rivalries inside the American government to carry out their own agenda.

It also shows how the outsourcing of military and intelligence operations has spawned legally murky clandestine operations that can be at cross-purposes with America’s foreign policy goals. Despite Mr. Clarridge’s keen interest in undermining Afghanistan’s ruling family, President Obama’s administration appears resigned to working with President Karzai and his half brother, who is widely suspected of having ties to drug traffickers.

Wikileaks documents confirm that the U.S. military, in particular, and intelligence community have spent an inodinate amount of time, energy and money following up Clarridge's rumors, to no avail. To date, no-one has proof that Karzai is a junkie or that his brother is a dug dealer, despite the latter charge in particular entering the "conventional wisdom" on Afghanistan. Given Mazzetti's piece, it seems the conventional wisdom will have to be revisited.

In Pakistan, too, Clarridge has alleged major stories, such as that Mullah Omar had been arrested by Pakistan's ISI in April or, more recently, that the Taliban leader had emergency heart surgery in an ISI-supported facility under the Pakistan intelligence agency's protection. "Mr. Clarridge, determined to make the information public, arranged for it to get to Mr. Thor, a square-jawed writer of thrillers, a blogger and a regular guest on Mr. Beck’s program on Fox News." Clarridge also funneled videos to Ollie North at Fox.

Over at FDL, emptywheel writes:

All that said, Mazzetti doesn’t yet answer what I consider to be the biggest part of this story: Clarridge’s funders.

Several times, Mazzetti explains that after DOD cut Clarridge off last year, he has been funded by unknown private donors.

Who are the donors that would support efforts to get select information and disinformation into the hands of Ollie North, Glenn Beck, and a bunch of other paid propagandists? It’s the old Iran-Contra gang back together again, now magnified with the help of Fox News. So who’s paying for this latest incarnation of Iran-Contra?

The Pentagon was meant to have stopped paying Clarridge's group back in May after the Pentagon official who arranged the contract, Michael D. Furlong, was put "under investigation for allegations of violating Defense Department rules in awarding that contract". Furlong's operation "set up a network of private contractors in Afghanistan and Pakistan to help track and kill suspected militants" according to the NYT's report in March. Clarridge now claims to have a group of 50 or so clients, including some European intelligence agencies.

It's in all our interests to know who they all are, which are corporate players, which are media outlets, and which intelligence agencies may be repeating Clarridge's agenda-driven rumors into the world's press. Maybe Wikileaks, which so far has only released one percent of the diplomatic cables dump it began in November last year, will have more on this subject for us as time goes on. But Clarridge's ultimate backers, given his choice of friends when he really wants information to be released, are likely to turn out to be the same couterie of neocon warmongers he associated with back in his Iran/Contra days.

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Posted by The Agonist on January 22nd, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

Ben Arnoldy | New Delhi | January 21

CSM – Monitors are warning that 2011 may see a surge in Afghanistan’s poppy production as high prices at the farm gate, coupled with a crippling drought that has ravaged wheat production, provide powerful incentives for farmers to grow the outlawed crop.

While poppy provides Afghan farmers some security net from war and drought, money from the trafficking helps finance insurgents and fuel corruption inside the government. Sap from the colorful bulbs is used to make narcotics such as opium and heroin.

Afghan farmers planted the same amount of poppy in 2010 as the previous year, but the United Nations raised concerns this week that rising poppy prices will push up production in 2011. The farm-gate price of dry opium jumped 164 percent in 2010.

“We cannot continue business as usual,” Yuri Fedotov, executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said in a statement accompanying the Jan. 20 release of his office’s 2010 opium survey. “If this cash bonanza lasts, it could effectively reverse the hard-won gains of recent years.”

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Posted by The Agonist on January 21st, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

Dubai | Jan 21

AFP – Osama bin Laden said the release of French hostages depends on a pullout of France’s soldiers in Afghanistan and warned Paris of a “high price” for its policies, in a tape broadcast on Friday.

“We repeat the same message to you: The release of your prisoners in the hands of our brothers is linked to the withdrawal of your soldiers from our country,” said the speaker on the audiotape broadcast on Al-Jazeera television.

The satellite channel said Osama was referring to two French journalists held in Afghanistan, although he did not specify if it also covered France’s hostages seized in Africa.

The foreign ministry in Paris reacted swiftly, stressing it would not bow to such threats.

“We are determined to pursue our action in favour of the Afghan people with our allies” in the NATO-led force fighting their ousted Taliban rulers, ministry spokesman Bernard Valero told reporters in Paris.

Separately, Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said: “France stands beside her allies at the request of the UN to help the Afghan people.

“I think about our two hostages in Afghanistan and we are working every day to have them freed,” she said during a visit to Israel.

Cameraman Stephane Taponier and reporter Herve Ghesquiere, who work for France 3 public television, were seized along with three Afghan colleagues in December 2009 in the mountainous and unstable Kapisa province, east of Kabul.

The Al-Qaeda chief, addressing the French people, said: “The refusal of your president to withdraw from Afghanistan is the result of his obedience of America, and this refusal is a green light to kill your prisoners …

“But we will not do this at a timing that suits him,” he said, adding the warning that French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s stand would “cost him and you a high price on different fronts, inside and outside France.”

Osama, in the tape whose authenticity was not immediately possible to determine, warned in a mocking tone that Paris “with its debt and budget deficit does not need new fronts.”

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on January 20th, 2011

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Robert Greenwald

Next month will mark the one-year anniversary of the launch of President Obama’s escalated military campaign in Afghanistan. One year later, violence is still getting worse and costs are skyrocketing. After more than nine years, it’s time to end this war.

Take a strong public stand against the war by posting your picture and comment on Rethink Afghanistan’s new “Because It’s Time” feature.

Rethink Afghanistan Because It's Time

On February 13, 2010, NATO troops launched Operation Moshtarak in the Marjah district of Helmand Province. It was the first major military action enabled by President Obama’s 30,000-troop escalation, and was supposed to be proof-of-concept for Generals McChrystal’s and Petraeus’ counterinsurgency doctrine. The military hype said Afghan forces would be in the lead as coalition forces invaded Taliban-controlled areas. They’d deliver “government in a box, ready to roll.” Over and over, military officials repeated their mantra that the new troops would enable them to “protect the population.”

What followed was a fiasco that still hasn’t ended.

In Marjah, “government in a box” turned out to be “government with a rap sheet,” as it turned out the U.S.-backed district governor was a convicted felon. (He did, however, fit in just fine in the corrupt Karzai regime.) A misfired munition from a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) killed a house full of civilians in the first few days of the offensive. Afghan troops trained by the Americans proved often unreliable and inept. All throughout 2010, Marjah remained a danger zone for U.S. troops as the Taliban forces who seemed to flee revealed themselves to be competent guerrillas, melting away before superior firepower only to slowly filter back in to plant roadside bombs and take potshots at troops. Eventually, military officials had to admit that they’d over-promised and under-delivered.

The pattern of hype and embarrassment repeated itself across Afghanistan all throughout 2010, as U.S. military officials repeatedly asserted that an influx of troops would bring security and protect the population, only to see those areas remain violent hot-spots where civilians were rarely safe. NATO similarly invaded Kandahar in force later in the year, and that area remains hotly contested and violent. In fact, violence in Kandahar and Helmand account for more than half of insurgent-initiated attacks for all of Afghanistan. Worse, areas that were previously relatively secure suddenly saw a spike in the number of insurgent attacks at the Taliban continued their relentless expansion across the country.

So. President Obama has had a full year now to prove that his new strategy is worth the costs. What are the results?

While we were wasting $100 billion on this war per year, Americans fought to stay above water in a horrible economy. Unemployment has now topped 9 percent for 20 months straight. Groups like the Salvation Army are reporting an alarming shortfall in resources to help the hungry. And state budgets all across the country are considering huge draconian cuts to their public structures and social safety nets that millions of people rely upon. Not only do most Americans oppose the war, but they rightly worry that it’s making it harder for us to fix these problems here at home.

After a year of escalated fighting across the country–after more than nine years of this war!–it’s absolutely clear that military solutions won’t work in Afghanistan, and they’re certainly not worth the cost. More than 195 million Americans want this war to end, yet their faces don’t seem to be reflected among elected officials to timid to take the morally courageous action of forcing this war to a close. So we’re giving people a chance to put their face and their opposition to the war in full public view.

Today, we’re launching “Because It’s Time” on Rethink Afghanistan to help Americans who oppose this war to make their voices heard. On this page, you can post your photo and a reason why it’s time to bring troops home.

Starting next Wednesday, you’ll have the chance to vote on your favorite comments. Those who get the most votes will get to star in an upcoming Rethink Afghanistan video.

As the one-year anniversary of “Obama’s War” approaches, please take a moment to call for our troops to come home–because it’s time.

Follow Robert Greenwald on Twitter: http://twitter.com/robertgreenwald

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Posted by The Agonist on January 20th, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

. . . is right here (click photo for story):

Of course, that’s not how the Canadians do it.

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Posted by robertgreenwald on January 20th, 2011

Next month will mark the one-year anniversary of the launch of President Obama’s escalated military campaign in Afghanistan. One year later, violence is still getting worse and costs are skyrocketing. After more than nine years, it’s time to end this war.

Take a strong public stand against the war by posting your picture and comment on Rethink Afghanistan’s new “Because It’s Time” feature.

Rethink Afghanistan Because It's Time

On February 13, 2010, NATO troops launched Operation Moshtarak in the Marjah district of Helmand Province. It was the first major military action enabled by President Obama’s 30,000-troop escalation, and was supposed to be proof-of-concept for Generals McChrystal’s and Petraeus’ counterinsurgency doctrine. The military hype said Afghan forces would be in the lead as coalition forces invaded Taliban-controlled areas. They’d deliver “government in a box, ready to roll.” Over and over, military officials repeated their mantra that the new troops would enable them to “protect the population.”

What followed was a fiasco that still hasn’t ended.

In Marjah, “government in a box” turned out to be “government with a rap sheet,” as it turned out the U.S.-backed district governor was a convicted felon. (He did, however, fit in just fine in the corrupt Karzai regime.) A misfired munition from a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) killed a house full of civilians in the first few days of the offensive. Afghan troops trained by the Americans proved often unreliable and inept. All throughout 2010, Marjah remained a danger zone for U.S. troops as the Taliban forces who seemed to flee revealed themselves to be competent guerrillas, melting away before superior firepower only to slowly filter back in to plant roadside bombs and take potshots at troops. Eventually, military officials had to admit that they’d over-promised and under-delivered.

The pattern of hype and embarrassment repeated itself across Afghanistan all throughout 2010, as U.S. military officials repeatedly asserted that an influx of troops would bring security and protect the population, only to see those areas remain violent hot-spots where civilians were rarely safe. NATO similarly invaded Kandahar in force later in the year, and that area remains hotly contested and violent. In fact, violence in Kandahar and Helmand account for more than half of insurgent-initiated attacks for all of Afghanistan. Worse, areas that were previously relatively secure suddenly saw a spike in the number of insurgent attacks at the Taliban continued their relentless expansion across the country.

So. President Obama has had a full year now to prove that his new strategy is worth the costs. What are the results?

While we were wasting $100 billion on this war per year, Americans fought to stay above water in a horrible economy. Unemployment has now topped 9 percent for 20 months straight. Groups like the Salvation Army are reporting an alarming shortfall in resources to help the hungry. And state budgets all across the country are considering huge draconian cuts to their public structures and social safety nets that millions of people rely upon. Not only do most Americans oppose the war, but they rightly worry that it’s making it harder for us to fix these problems here at home.

After a year of escalated fighting across the country–after more than nine years of this war!–it’s absolutely clear that military solutions won’t work in Afghanistan, and they’re certainly not worth the cost. More than 195 million Americans want this war to end, yet their faces don’t seem to be reflected among elected officials to timid to take the morally courageous action of forcing this war to a close. So we’re giving people a chance to put their face and their opposition to the war in full public view.

Today, we’re launching “Because It’s Time” on Rethink Afghanistan to help Americans who oppose this war to make their voices heard. On this page, you can post your photo and a reason why it’s time to bring troops home.

Starting next Wednesday, you’ll have the chance to vote on your favorite comments. Those who get the most votes will get to star in an upcoming Rethink Afghanistan video.

As the one-year anniversary of “Obama’s War” approaches, please take a moment to call for our troops to come home–because it’s time.

Follow Robert Greenwald on Twitter: http://twitter.com/robertgreenwald

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Posted by alexthurston on January 20th, 2011

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch

In New York City, my hometown, as in so many cities across the country, a hard-pressed local government and a desperate transit authority are cutting back on services while hiking prices for a deteriorating subway and bus system.  For night workers and those out in the lonely, dark early morning hours, some bus lines are simply being eliminated.  Meanwhile, in one small settlement of 14,000 people in embattled Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan, a single marine platoon is spending on average $400,000 a month on “reconstruction projects.” The Marines have, according to a BBC reporter who visited, “put up street lights, cleaned irrigation channels, handed out radios, paved the bazaar, built bridges, and are currently building a new school.”  Do I feel safer? 

In the U.S., policemen and firemen are being laid off, and the budgets of police and fire departments cut back or, in a few small places, eliminated.  In Afghanistan, the U.S., having already invested $20 billion in building up the Afghan police and military, is now planning to spend $11.6 billion more this year alone, $12.8 billion in 2012, and more than $6 billion a year thereafter.  According to Washington’s latest scheme, the Afghan security forces will be increased to 378,000 men in a poverty-stricken land, which means committing U.S. tax dollars to the project into the distant future.  Do you feel safer?

In the United States, teachers are being laid off, class-sizes are on the rise, and tuition at public colleges is soaring.  In Afghanistan, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) claims to have built or refurbished 524 schools and to be completing another 130 of them.  Do you feel safer now?

In the U.S., basic infrastructure has been fraying, bridges collapsing, natural gas pipelines exploding, and projects like a commuter-rail tunnel connecting New Jersey to New York City are being canceled or put off.  In Afghanistan and Pakistan, giant American-funded building projects are revving up (for which locals are being hired), especially a giant embassy/citadel in Kabul at the cost of $511 million (with nearly $200 million more going to the expansion of consular establishments elsewhere in that country).  Meanwhile in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, another monster U.S. citadel-cum-regional-command-center is being built for nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars.  Do you feel safer yet?

In the United States, according to the director of the Argonne National Laboratory, the aging national power grid “resembles the patchwork of narrow, winding, badly maintained highways of the 1920s and 1930s” before they were rebuilt as the interstate highway system and cries out for “strategic upgrading.”  In Afghanistan, USAID has just awarded the Black & Veatch Corporation “a no-bid contract worth $266 million… to pump more power into Kandahar and Helmand provinces.” Meanwhile the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is investing $227 million in diesel-generator power plants and electrical-system upgrades for southern Afghanistan.  Finally feeling a little safer?

Oh, and in case you think that these reconstruction projects are actually making Afghans feel safer, many of them are ill-built, visible boondoggles, and already crumbling.  The cost of 15 large-scale reconstruction programs in Afghanistan studied by McClatchy News ballooned from slightly more than one billion dollars to just under three billion dollars “despite the government’s questions about effectiveness or cost.”  A previous Black & Veatch project to build a diesel-fueled power plant in Kabul for $100 million, for instance, ended up costing $300 million and was a year behind schedule.  Schools have reportedly been constructed so shoddily that they would have no hope of withstanding an earthquake and, according to theWashington Post, “roads, canals, and schools built… as part of a special U.S. military program are crumbling under Afghan stewardship.” Does anyone feel safer? 

Think about this as TomDispatch regular Ira Chernus explores what he calls America’s myth of national insecurity.  (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest superb TomCast audio interview in which Chernus discusses “us versus them” and “us with them” myths, click here or, to download it to your iPod, here.) Tom

How the Power of Myth Keeps Us Mired in War 
Why Are We Still in Afghanistan? 

By Ira Chernus

When I try to figure out why we are still in Afghanistan, though every ounce of logic says we ought to get out, an unexpected conversation I had last year haunts me. Doing neighborhood political canvassing, I knocked on the door of a cheerful man who was just about to tune in to his favorite radio show: Rush Limbaugh.  He was kind enough to let me stay and we talked.

Conservatives are often the nicest people — that’s what I told him — the ones you’d like to have as neighbors. Then I said: I bet you’re always willing to help your neighbors when they need it.  Absolutely, he replied.

So why, I asked, don’t you to want to help out people across town who have the same needs, even if they’re strangers? His answer came instantly:  Because I know my neighbors work hard and do all they can to take care of themselves. I don’t know about those people across town.

He didn’t have to say more (though he did). I knew the rest of the story: Why should I give my hard-earned money to the government so they can hand it out to strangers who, for all I know, are good-for-nothing loafers and mooches? I want to be free to decide what to do with my dough and I’ll give it to responsible people who believe in taking care of themselves and their families, just like me. I’ll give my money to the government only to protect us from strangers in distant lands who don’t believe in the sacred rights of the individual and aim to take my freedom and money away.

What a story it is — a tale of mythic proportions! As an historian of religions, I was trained to appreciate, even marvel at the myths people tell to make sense out of the chaos of their lives. So I can’t help admiring the conservative myth: so simple yet all encompassing, offering clear and easy-to-grasp answers that cut through the everyday complexities besetting us all. 

Of course, the answers are far too simplistic, as stupid (in my opinion) as they are dangerous. But I was also trained to be non-judgmental and to admire the power of a myth even when I find it morally abhorrent. And this one is impressive, with its classic good-guys-versus-bad-guys plot line turned into a stark political tale of freedom versus slavery.

White Americans, going back to early colonial times, generally assigned the role of “bad guys” to “savages” lurking in the wilderness beyond the borders of our civilized land. Whether they were redskins, commies, terrorists, or the Taliban, the plot has always remained the same.

Call it the myth of national security — or, more accurately, national insecurity, since it always tells us who and what to fear.  It’s been a mighty (and mighty effective) myth exactly because it lays out with such clarity not just what Americans are against, but also what we are for, what we want to keep safe and secure: the freedom of the individual, especially the freedom to make and keep money.

The President Trapped in a Myth and a War

No politician who aspires to real influence on the national level can afford to reject that myth or even express real doubts about it, at least in public, as Barack Obama surely knows. Not surprisingly, President Obama has embraced the myth in his most important speeches: The bad guys are always out there. (“Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world.”) The good guys have no choice but to fight against the evildoers. (“Force may sometimes be necessary.”)

Because every myth has variants, though, politicians can still make choices. In Obama’s version of the myth, the federal government can be a force for good. So he has a domestic fight on his hands every day against right-wingers who cast the government as an agent of darkness.

He’s not likely to stand a chance of winning that battle if he tries to take on the myth of national security as well.  Bill Clinton once put it all-too-accurately: “When people are insecure” — which is exactly when they rely most on their myths — “they’d rather have somebody [in the White House] who is strong and wrong than someone who’s weak and right.”

That’s a truth everyone in the room undoubtedly had in mind back in the fall of 2009 when the top military field commanders came to the White House to talk about Afghanistan. Where else, after all, could our military act out the drama of civilized America staving off the savages? And what better-cast candidates for the role of savages could there be than the Taliban and al-Qaeda?

The generals who run the war also had to confront another vital question: Could they still act out some contemporary version of the myth of good against evil? They’ve given up on the possibility of victory in Afghanistan.  So there’s no real chance to go for the classic version of the myth in which the good guys totally vanquish the bad guys.

But since the Cold War era, the myth has demanded only that the good guys don’t lose — that they merely “contain” the evildoers who “hate our freedoms” (especially our freedom to make and keep money) and will swoop down to destroy us if we give them the chance.

These days the generals must sense that even the containment version of the myth is in trouble. Their predecessors failed to enact it in Vietnam, and though the judgment of history is still out on the Iraq War, it’s looking ever more dim, too. If the U.S. loses in Afghanistan, the American public might abandon the myth that justifies the military establishment and its gargantuan budget.  As a result, the generals prefer to fight on eternally.

President Obama is trapped at this point. He risks losing both a war and a presidency. Yet if he tries to ease up on the war accelerator, he knows he’ll be pilloried by an alliance of military and right-wing forces as a “cut-and-run” weakling.

If he’s ever tempted to forget that domestic political reality, the mass media are always ready to remind him. Just glance at the 145,000 Google hits on “Obama wimp.” Even his liberal friends at the New York Times have asked in a prominent headline, “Is Obama a Wimp or a Warrior?”

Within the confines of the national insecurity myth, of course, those are the only two options. If pressure is ever going to develop to get U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, progressives will have to offer a new option that actually speaks to Americans.

To Myth or Not to Myth

And there’s the problem.  Myths are like scientific theories. No mountain of facts and logic, however convincing, can change believers’ minds — until a more convincing myth comes along.

A handful of progressive political thinkers are trying to persuade the American left to understand this truth and start offering new political myths (their technical term is “framing narratives”). George Lakoff is probably the best known. His books are bestsellers. His articles on websites invariably go to the top of “most read” and “most emailed” lists. Yet he can’t seem to make much of a dent in the actual policies and practices he’d like to change.

Progressives still shower the public with facts and arguments that are hard to refute, as (in the case of the Afghan War) the American people know.  After all, more than 60% of them now tell pollsters that the war was a “mistake.” Yet the war goes on and progressives remain the most marginal of players in the American political game because they don’t have a great myth to offer. In fact, they’ve hardly got any good ones.

Political scientist David Ricci claims there’s not much progressives can do about it, precisely because they already have one very successful myth that prevents them — oh, the irony! — from taking the power of myths seriously.  The progressive heritage, as he tells it, goes back to the eighteenth century Enlightenment, when the radicals of the day decided that fact and logic were the source of all truth and the only path to peace and freedom.

The Bible and all the other ancient tales bind us to the past, they argued.  As a result, humanity was letting dead people lock us into the injustices that bred endless war and suffering. It was time to let human reason open up a better future.

If progressives believe they are myth-less, though, they’re blind to the one mythic plot they share with the rest of America: good against evil. Progressives act out that myth on the political battlefield every day, passionately fighting to defeat right-wing evildoers.

The problem is (and forgive me for repeating an old anti-left cliché of the 1960s, but it’s true here): the progressives’ political myth tells only what they’re against, not what they’re for.

In fact, deep down, most progressives do have a dim sense of their deepest principles: the Enlightenment ideals of peace, freedom, and equality based on the Romantic ideal of what Lakoff calls empathy, extended to all humanity and the biosphere as well.

But progressives don’t wrap their policy prescriptions in mythic language that says clearly, simply, and patriotically what they’re for. As a result, they can’t compete with the myth of national insecurity.  They’ve got nothing to offer in its place, which is at least one reason why, despite growing opposition to the Afghan War, they can’t build a strong enough constituency to help — or force — Obama to end it.

All they can do is demand that he sacrifice his domestic agenda, and — no small matter for any politician — his second-term chances, on the altar of principle. As a result, they end up in a political never-never-land, which might feel good but isn’t going to save a single Afghan life.

No individual, much less a committee, can sit down and create a new myth. Myths grow organically from the life of a community.  Progressives would find their myth emerging spontaneously if they just spent a lot more time thinking and talking about their most basic worldview and values, the underlying premises that lead them to hold their political positions with such passion.

A strong progressive myth could make it safer for a president to change course and perhaps save his presidency. Failure to stave off the bad guys destroyed Lyndon Johnson and gravely wounded George W. Bush. I suspect Obama would love to have a great progressive myth keep him from a similar fate. He won’t create it, but he’d probably be delighted to see it appear on the horizon.

Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of Monsters To Destroy: The Neoconservative War on Terror and Sin. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest superb TomCast audio interview in which Chernus discusses “us versus them” and “us with them” myths, click here or, to download it to your iPod, here.  He can be reached at Chernus@colorado.edu.

Copyright 2011 Ira Chernus

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Posted by Peace Action West on January 19th, 2011

From our partners at Peace Action West

 

Congressional staff gathered on the Capitol steps Monday for the moment of silence honoring the victims of the Arizona shooting.

Our political team spent a couple of days last week making the rounds of key congressional offices to strategize, feel out the new political landscape, and push for action on ending the war in Afghanistan, taking further steps to eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons, and building out the development and diplomatic tools we need to deal with conflict peacefully.

Being so early in the year, and with committee assignments not even settled yet, there was still a lot up in the air. Here are a few of the interesting questions that surfaced and that will inform our organizing and lobbying in 2011.

Where will new Republicans stand on the war in Afghanistan?

Because the war in Afghanistan received little attention in the 2010 election, there is some mystery around where the new crop of Republicans stands on the war. Thus far, there have been a handful of Republicans who have spoken out or voted in favor of antiwar measures, but the opposition has been dominated by Democrats—a dynamic that has complicated our work to pressure a Democratic president to change course. Many Democratic staffers I talked to were interested in identifying and picking off some Republicans to support measures to end the war in 2011.

There are some signs that a split on the right could be on the horizon. Prominent conservative Grover Norquist recently called for debate on the right about the war in Afghanistan, implying that the conversation would likely lead to the conclusion that we should end the war. Conservative Republican Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) had this to say late last year:

“There’s a great opportunity for a Republican to distinguish themselves by taking a strong position on bringing the troops home from Afghanistan,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), a strong critic of the war who has advocated — and voted for — redeployment. “It’s a very conservative position. It will unite the right and the left, and it would certainly play well to independents.”

The Afghanistan Study Group, a bipartisan group of experts calling for a scaled down approach, just released polling showing that conservatives support troop reductions.

There’s no question of where much of the Republican leadership stands on the conflict. House Armed Services Committee Chair Buck McKeon just released a plan to scrutinize the Afghanistan strategy, including “ensur[ing] that these requirements are not negatively affected by the president’s planned troop draw-downs starting in July 2011.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell just wooed new Republican senators on a trip to Afghanistan, and they all came back calling for an indefinite commitment.

The question now is how many new Republicans will be brought into the fold by leadership, and how many will break off and join the growing number of people speaking out against the war.

Organizers and our allies on the Hill will be looking to identify potential allies on both sides of the aisle. I also heard increased skepticism from some Democratic offices who have not been willing yet to take a strong stand on the war, so we will likely see new Democratic recruits as the unpopularity of the war continues to grow.

Will Tea Party members and deficit hawks walk the walk on cutting military spending?

A lot of staffers are looking for opportunities to take advantage of the fixation on spending and the deficit. The need to scale back dominated the election debate, and reasonable people acknowledge that you can’t address the problem seriously without taking a hard look at the bloated military budget. Many people see an opportunity to unite progressives and conservatives to push for real cuts, as opposed to the $78 billion of “cuts” (largely reprogramming) proposed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

There have been some encouraging comments, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor saying military spending is on the table. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is supposedly working up a proposal to cut $500 billion that would include as yet undefined military cuts.

I remain somewhat skeptical given the willingness Republicans have shown to create giant loopholes for spending on pet projects like tax cuts for the wealthy and health care reform repeal. It is certainly worth pursuing a possible alliance, and at the very least it gives proponents of cutting the military budget a wedge to hold Republicans accountable and make an argument in what is probably the most favorable rhetorical environment for these cuts in years.

Is the “deal” for $85 billion in nuclear weapons complex funding set in stone?

While our supporters and staff worked tirelessly to ratify New START, an amazing victory for arms control in a challenging political environment, we have been clear to our supporters and to members of Congress that we strongly oppose the $85 billion in additional funding for the nuclear weapons complex that the administration offered to appease Republicans and garner their votes for ratification. Given that the administration and its Senate allies want to be seen as people who keep their promises, we wondered how much room there is to chip away at this funding, much of which is unnecessary and counterproductive.

Going after this funding will definitely be an uphill battle, but there is room to maneuver. While more than one staffer described the funding as a “bitter pill to swallow” in exchange for New START, some on the House side think appropriators will feel less obligation to uphold a deal that was made on the Senate side. With spending cuts on the horizon across the board, some thought it possible that Republican appropriators on the Energy & Water Subcommittee might be open to cuts to the nuclear budget to make room for district water projects that get them more love from their districts than funding for nuclear facilities.

There will certainly be pressure to keep the National Nuclear Security Administration funding steadily increasing, but there are members of Congress who are appalled by the exorbitant amount of money promised in the budget, which will give us opportunities to push back and make the case for specific cuts. Our first steps will be congressional education about what this funding really means, followed by grassroots pressure to spend money on priorities most beneficial to the American people.

What does the July 2011 Afghanistan transition date mean and how do we hold the Obama administration accountable?

We have been concerned about the mixed messages coming from the Obama administration about the length of the US commitment in Afghanistan—from President Obama reiterating his plan to start a transition in July of this year to Vice President Biden saying the US would be willing to stay in Afghanistan past 2014. Talking to congressional staff just emphasizes how vague the messaging has been, since I heard a variety of opinions about what July 2011 will actually mean and how significant a turning point it will be. This offers us an opportunity to have members of Congress and the public push the administration to concretely define what its plans are for Afghanistan.

Some members of Congress have already taken advantage of the July 2011 milestone as a way to hold the administration accountable and push them to actually scale down the military presence in a meaningful way, as he led many people to believe he would. Whatever the administration’s intentions in floating that date, it provides us a target for encouraging the administration to stick to that date and to build a drumbeat of support for changing course in Congress between now and then. Some of our allies will be out with legislation and other initiatives to get people on the record, and we will work to strengthen our allies’ voices and provide opportunities for people who have been quiet on the war to find their voice and create the political space for the administration to change course. With the 2012 election already looming and the war incredibly unpopular with the Democratic base (and also independents), we will have increased leverage to push on the president and members of Congress to catch up with the American people.

After surviving more than five years of working for Peace Action West under the Bush administration, I know from experience that we can have an impact even in challenging political environments. We’ll be working to use every opportunity to our advantage, and these lingering questions could resolve in interesting ways that make room for progress on peace.

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Posted by alexthurston on January 18th, 2011

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch

In the Crosshairs
Tucson-Kabul

By Tom Engelhardt

Slowly a humped shape rose out of the pit, and the ghost of a beam of light seemed to flicker out from it.  Forthwith flashes of actual flame, a bright glare leaping from one to another, sprang from the scattered group of men.  It was as if some invisible jet impinged upon them and flashed into white flame.  It was as if each man were suddenly and momentarily turned to fire.

“Then, by the light of their own destruction, I saw them staggering and falling, and their supporters turning to run…

That, as H.G. Wells imagined it in 1898, was first contact with a technologically superior and implacable alien race from space, five years before humanity took to the air in anything but balloons.  And that was how the Martians, landing in their “cylinders,” those spaceships from a dying planet, ready to take over ours, responded to a delegation of humans advancing on them waving a flag of peace and ready to parlay.  As everyone knows who has read The War of the Worlds, or heard the 1938 Orson Welles radio show version that terrified New Jersey, or watched the 1953 movie or the Stephen Spielberg 2005 remake, those Martians went on to level cities, slaughter masses of humanity using heat-rays and poison gas, and threaten world domination before being felled by the germs for which they were unprepared.

Germs aside, Wells’s Martians did little more than what earthly powers would do to each other and various “lesser” peoples in the 112 years that followed the publication of his book.  Now, a group of scientists writing in an “extraterrestrial-themed edition” of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A in Great Britain warn us that we should ready ourselves for the possibility of alien contact.  We should, in fact, “prepare for the worst” which, according to contributor Simon Conway Morris, could be summed up this way: thanks to neo-Darwinian laws of evolution assumedly operative anywhere, such aliens, should they exist, would probably be more or less like us.

Long before Morris, Wells understood that the most dangerous aliens weren’t in space, but right here on planet Earth, and concluded that he lived among them.  When he wrote his ur-alien-invasion novel, he was evidently using the British “war of extermination” against the Tasmanians as his model.

Of course, we in the United States have few doubts about who the aliens on this planet are: Them! (the title of a classic 1954 sci-fi movie about monstrous mutant ants that infest the sewer system of Los Angeles). In my childhood, “them” was “the commies,” of course.  Now, it’s certainly Muslims or jihadists or Islamo-fascists.

When one of them commits some nightmarish act, whether a slaughter at Fort Hood in Texas, the planting of a car bomb in New York City’s Times Square, or the donning of an underwear bomb for a flight to Detroit on Christmas day, our response is a shudder of fear and loathing, followed by further repression.  After all, each of those acts is imagined as part of a barbaric and fiendish pattern inimical to our safety.  Perhaps because it’s assumed that they are mentally ill (“fanatic”) en masse, that being “a loner” isn’t part of their culture, and that individuality is not one of their strong points, the heinousness of the act is focused upon rather than the potentially damaged nature of the individual who acted.

It’s only when a Timothy McVeigh or a Jared Loughner emerges from the undergrowth that problems arise and reactions change.  (Keep in mind that McVeigh’s crime, the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City which killed 168 people, was initially blamed on Arab terrorists and that, had Loughner gotten away from that Safeway in Tucson, similar warnings might have been raised.)  It’s only then that the bizarre individuality, even the twisted humanity, of such acts comes to the fore and so mental illness becomes a possible explanation.  It’s only then that, instead of fear and panic, we “grieve” as a nation and engage in a “conversation” about the state of ourselves.

Not surprisingly, the police mug shot of Loughner featured on the front-page of my hometown paper (and probably every other paper in America) was the equivalent, for the American conversation, of manna from heaven: a smiling maniac, the Grim Reaper gone bonkers, someone who had visibly absorbed left, right, and every kind of fringe into his dream world and conveniently come out a “nihilist.”

In the Crosshairs

Whether it’s obvious or not, all of this avoids a different kind of conversation about slaughter and mania.  After all, thought of from a Wellsian perspective, it’s always possible that the Martians could actually be us (or us, too, at least) — and not just the madmen among us either.  Welles was a rarity on this issue.  When it comes to thinking of ourselves as “them,” normally it just doesn’t come naturally.

At a moment when a single horrific incident, the killing of six Americans and the wounding of 13, including a member of Congress, looms so much larger than life and has for days become “the news,” when our world has been abuzz with media discussions about civility in U.S. politics, crosshairs and where they were placed, the president’s role as “national healer,” and various profiles in courage among the living and dead, when the focus, in other words, is so overwhelming, you have to wonder what’s hidden from sight.

One out-of-sight matter to consider might be those crosshairs — not on a symbolic political map but over actual humans beings, resulting in multiple deaths.  I’m talking about our war in Afghanistan.

To give an example, on January 10th, according to a New York Times report, a “team” (whether American or NATO we don’t know) “conducting a patrol” in the village of Baladas in central Afghanistan “spotted ‘nine armed individuals setting up what appeared to be an ambush position.’”  That team called in a helicopter strike, killing three Afghans and wounding three others.  According to a statement from “a coalition spokesman,” the six casualties turned out to be “innocent people… mistakenly targeted.”  According to local Afghan figures, they were members of “a local police team… on their way to meet a unit of the American Special Forces for a joint patrol.”  Condolences have since been offered and a NATO “assessment team” was sent to the site to “investigate.”

Classified as a case of “friendly fire,” the incident represents one small-scale slaughter that got no attention here.  Like almost all such reports from Afghanistan, the names of the dead and wounded were not recorded (undoubtedly because there was no reporter on the ground to ask).  And it goes without saying that no one in our world will grieve for those dead, or praise them, or offer “healing” words about what their example should mean to the rest of us.  About their fate, there will be no TV reports, no conversation on underlying issues, not a shred of discussion, not here.

Tucson-Kabul

A week ago, it’s reasonable to assume, 99.9% of Americans had never heard of Congressional Representative Gabrielle Giffords; even fewer knew of federal judge John Roll who died in that Safeway parking lot; and none (other than family and friends) had heard about nine-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, tragically shot down while learning firsthand how U.S. politics works, or Daniel Hernandez, the congresswoman’s intern, who ran towards the gunshots to offer help.  Now, we all “know” them as if they were neighbors or friends.  Victims of a nightmare, they have been memorialized repeatedly, giving us the feeling that there is something better to American life than Jared Loughner.

In the process, the coverage of the Tucson massacre has been, to say the least, unrelenting.  From a media point of view, it’s also had its ghoulish side: Think of it as the OJ momentthe discovery that focusing on a high-profile nightmare 24/7 glues eyeballs — meets the more recent massive downsizing of newspapers and TV news.  All of this makes “flooding the zone” (covering a single, endlessly reported event) cheaper, less labor intensive, and far more appealing than blanketing the world.

On the other hand, the coverage of the “friendly fire” incident in Afghanistan has been, to put it politely, relenting.

Close to 100% of Americans knew nothing about that incident when it happened and close to 100% know nothing about it now.  Of course, in the fog of war tragic mistakes are made, intelligence gets screwed up, targeting goes awry, deadly mishaps occur.  So six local Afghan police mistakenly killed or wounded by a helicopter hardly turn us into slaughtering maniacs (though imagine the attention, had six policemen been shot down anywhere in the United States).

To put this incident in perspective, however, consider five similar “friendly fire” incidents reported from Afghanistan in the five weeks preceding January 10th, none of which got significant attention here.

On December 8th in Logar Province, two missiles from a U.S. air strike “mistakenly killed” two Afghan National Army soldiers and wounded five as they were moving to help NATO troops under attack.  The Afghan Defense Ministry “condemned” the strike.  (“As a result of a bombardment by international forces… two soldiers… were martyred…”)

On December 16th in Helmand Province, another air strike killed four Afghan soldiers as they were leaving their base, yet again a case identified as mistaken targeting.  Typically, an investigation was launched (though the results of such investigations are almost never reported).

On December 23rd, “in an attempt to intercept suspected insurgents,” a “NATO helicopter” reportedly strafed a car in a convoy heading for “an event hosted by the head of a local council in [Faryab Province in] northern Afghanistan.”  A policeman and the brother of former parliament member Sarajuddin Mozafari, a local politician, were killed.  Two policemen and a civilian were reported wounded.  The governor of the province, Abdul Haq Shafaq, was among the guests and aided the wounded.  Associated Press reporter Amir Shah quoted the governor this way: “‘We are so angry about this,’ Shafaq said, describing the dead as innocents. He called for an investigation into the incident by the attorney general.” (Said U.S. Air Force Col. James Dawkins in response to the event: “While we take extraordinary care in conducting operations to avoid civilian casualties, unfortunately in this instance it appears innocent men were mistakenly targeted… we deeply regret this incident.”)

On December 24th, there was a “night raid” in Kabul.  (The government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai regularly condemns such American night raids.)  Evidently thanks to mistaken intelligence, two private guards were killed and three wounded when commandos from coalition forces raided the headquarters of the Afghan Tiger Group, “a supplier of vehicles to the United States military.”  (From the New York Times report on the incident comes the following quote: “’It was murder,’ said Col. Mohammed Zahir, director of criminal investigations for the Kabul police, who arrived at the scene shortly after the raid began and said both victims had been shot in the head.”)

On January 5th in Ghazni province, another night raid resulted in the deaths of three Afghans whose bodies were paraded through Ghazni City by angry fellow tribesmen shouting “Death to America.”  Local officials indicated that the three were indeed innocent civilians; the Americans claimed they were “insurgents.”

Massacres like the one in Tucson are more common than Americans like to imagine, but still reasonably rare.  The repetitious deaths of “innocents” in Afghanistan are commonplace in a way that Americans generally don’t care to consider.  Add up the casualties from all six of these incidents between December 8th and January 10th and you get 16 dead (and 13 wounded).

Next, put together the mistaken targetings, the American denials or expressions of condolence, the predictable announcements of investigations whose results never seem to surface, as well as the minimalist coverage in the U.S., and you have a pattern: that is, something you can be sure will happen again and again on as yet unknown days in 2011 to as little attention here.

And keep in mind that such “incidents” have been the norm of our wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Pakistani tribal borderlands for years.  There have been hundreds or (who knows?) even thousands of them (not that anyone is counting).  And yet, let’s face it, if we were to look in the mirror, one thing is certain: we would not see a grinning, demented monster staring back at us.

Identifying Barbarians

Here’s a question: Why don’t the dead of our foreign wars register on us, particularly the civilians killed in numbers that, if attributed to our enemies or past imperial armies, would be seen as the acts of barbarians?  After all, when a Taliban suicide bomber kills 17 Afghans and wounds 23 in a bathhouse, including a senior police border-control officer, we know just what to think.  It wouldn’t matter if those who sent the bomber claimed that he had made a “mistake” in targeting, or if they declared the other deaths regrettable “collateral damage.”  When we attack with similar results, we hardly think about it at all.

I can imagine at least three factors involved:

Tribalism: Yes, we consider them the tribal ones, but we have our own tribal qualities, including a deep-seated feeling that what’s close at hand (us) is more valuable than what’s far away (them).  The valorizing of your own group and the devaluing of those outside it undoubtedly couldn’t be more human.  Who doesn’t know, for instance, that when it comes to media coverage, one blond American child kidnapped and murdered is worth 500 Indonesians drowned on a ferry?

Racism/The Superiority Factor:  This subject is no longer raised in connection with American wars, and yet it’s obviously of importance.  If 16 Americans had been killed and 13 wounded in six mistaken-targeting incidents even in distant Afghanistan, we would be outraged.  There would be news coverage, Congressional hearings, who knows what.  If there had been the same number of dead Canadians or Germans, there would still have been an outcry.  But Afghans?  Dark-skinned peoples from an alien culture in the backlands of the planet?  No way.  Our condolences every now and then are the best we have on tap.

The American Way of War: Once upon a time, we Americans responded to air war, especially against civilian populations, as barbaric and, shocked by its effects in Guernica, Shanghai, London, and elsewhere, denounced it.  That, of course, was before air war became such an integral part of the American way of war.  In recent years, American military spokespeople have regularly boasted of the increasingly “surgical” and “precise” nature of air power.  The most impressively surgical thing about air war, however, is the way it has been excised from the category of barbarism in our American world.  The suicide bomber or car bomber is a monster, a barbarian.  Drones, planes, helicopters?  No such thing, despite the stream of innocents they kill.

No wonder when we look in the mirror, we don’t see the grinning face of a maniac; sometimes we see no face at all, quite literally in the case of the Pakistani tribal borderlands where hundreds have died (always “militants” or “suspected militants”) thanks to pilotless drones and video-game-style war.

Blown Away

In a safe in Jared Loughner’s parents’ house, investigators from the Pima County Sheriff’s Department found documents with the words “I planned ahead,” “My assassination,” and “Giffords.”  The words of a madman.  When a Taliban suicide bomber strikes, we know that we are staring off-the-charts brutality in the face.  When it comes to our killings, it’s always another matter.

And yet, even if every one of those Afghan deaths was “mistaken,” there was nothing innocent about the killings.  If something happens often enough to be a predictable horror, then those who commit the acts (and those who send them to do so, as well as those who have the luxury of looking the other way) are responsible, and should be accountable.  

After all, week after week, month after month, year after year since September 11, 2001, the deaths have piled up relentlessly.  Towers and towers of deaths.  Barely reported, seldom named, hardly noted, almost never grieved over in our world, those dead Afghans, Iraqis, and Pakistanis had parents who assumedly loved them, friends who cared about them, enemies who might have wanted to target them, colleagues and associates who knew their quirks. We’re talking so many Safeways’ worth of them that it’s beyond reckoning.

Civilians repeatedly killed at checkpoints; 12 Afghans including a four-year-old girl, a one-year-old boy, and three elderly villagers shot down near the city of Jalalabad when Marine Special Operations forces, attacked by a suicide bomber, fired wildly along a ten-mile stretch of road in April 2007; at least 12 Iraqi civilians (including two employees of Reuters) slaughtered by an Apache helicopter on a street in Baghdad in July 2007; at least 17 Iraqi civilians murdered by Blackwater contractors protecting a convoy of State Department vehicles in Nisour Square, Baghdad, in September 2007.

Any recent year has such “highlights”: a popular Kabul Imam shot to death in his car from a passing NATO convoy with his 7-year-old son in the back seat in January 2010; at least 21 Afghan civilians killed when U.S. jets mistakenly fired on three mini-buses in Uruzgan Province in February 2010; five civilians killed and up to 18 wounded when U.S. troops raked a passenger bus with gunfire near Kandahar in southern Afghanistan in April 2010; and 10 Afghan election workers killed and two wounded last September in a “precision air strike” on a “militant’s vehicle.”

And that, of course, is just to scratch the surface of such incidents.  Wedding parties have repeatedly been obliterated (at least seven in Afghanistan and Iraq), naming ceremonies for children wiped out, and funerals blown away. 

Bodies and more bodies.  All “mistakes.”  And yet, knowing the mistakes that have happened and assured of the mistakes to come, our leaders are still talking about U.S. “combat troops” staying in Afghanistan through 2014; our vice-president is pledging us to remain “well beyond” that year; one of our senators is calling for “permanent bases” there; our trainers are expecting to conduct training exercises in 2016; and in the meantime, our Afghan war commander is calling in more air power, more night raids, and more destruction.

Nowhere do we see the face of a madman grinning, but the toll across the years is that of a cold-blooded killer.  It’s the mark of barbarism, even if we’re not fanatics.   

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

[Note: Let me offer a small bow of special thanks to three invaluable websites: Juan Cole’s Informed Comment, Antiwar.com (including the prodigious Jason Ditz), and Paul Woodward’s War in Context.  Without them, it would be so much harder to follow the news about America’s distant wars.]

Copyright 2011 Tom Engelhardt

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Posted by Josh Mull on January 17th, 2011

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

A few weeks ago, Rep. Darrell Issa, the new Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the House GOP’s self proclaimed “chief watchdog,” released his agenda for upcoming investigations in the new congress. Some of the issues he intends to focus on are dubious and partisan, but others slated for investigation are very serious.

One of these serious issues is the war in Afghanistan. Politico reported at the time:

Rep. Darrell Issa is aiming to launch investigations on everything from WikiLeaks to Fannie Mae to corruption in Afghanistan in the first few months of what promises to be a high-profile chairmanship of the top oversight committee in Congress. [...]

The sweeping and specific hearing agenda shows that Issa plans to cut a wide swath as chairman, latching onto hot-button issues that could make his committee the center of attention in the opening months of the 112th Congress. By grabbing such a wide portfolio — especially in national security matters — Issa is also laying down a marker of sorts, which could cement his panel as the go-to place for investigations.

Great, if there’s one thing we need, it’s a “go-to place for investigations” in congress, especially concerning national security.  And certainly most everyone agrees that “corruption in Afghanistan”, referring here to waste, fraud, and abuse by US military contractors, could benefit from much stronger oversight in congress.

But here’s the problem: the bloody occupation of Afghanistan has been dragging on for ten long years now, the long-term cost is estimated to be in the trillions. The catastrophes we’re facing are much, much worse than losing a million or two here or there in graft.

Take a look at what Paula Broadwell, a close advisor to General Petraeus, wrote about one mission on Tom Ricks’ blog.

The artillery unit, acting as a provisional infantry battalion, went on the offensive to clear a village, Tarok Kalache, where the Taliban had conducted an intimidation campaign to chase the villagers out, then create a staging base to attack 1-320th’s outposts. The village of Tarok Kalache was laden with IEDs and homemade explosives (HME) comprised of 50-gal drums of deadly munitions. Special Operations forces conducted a successful clearing raid on the village. Then Flynn introduced the Mine Clearing Line Charge (MICLIC), a rocket-projected explosive line charge which provides a “close-in” breaching capability for maneuver forces. The plan was for one team to clear a 600-meter path with MICLICs from one of his combat outposts to Tarok Kalache. “It was the only way I could give the men confidence to go back out.”

On October 6, Flynn’s unit approved use of HIMARS, B-1, and A-10s to drop 49,200 lbs. of ordnance on the Taliban tactical base of Tarok Kalache, resulting in NO CIVCAS. Their clearance of Babur, Khosrow Sofla, Charqolba Sofla, and other villages commenced October 7, aided by USSF, ABP, and an additional infantry company from B/1-22 IN. Not long after, Flynn shared one insight into the burden of command: “I literally cringed when we dropped bombs on these places — not because I cared about the enemy we were killing or the HME destroyed, but I knew the reconstruction would consume the remainder of my deployed life.”

Basically, they completely obliterated entire villages in order to “save” them. That’s disgusting and horrifying on a purely human level, but it doesn’t end there.

Joshua Foust, Research Fellow at the American Security Project, writes that these horrors might be even worse:

Nowhere in this account is there a sense that the villagers felt any ill-will toward the Americans beforehand—rather, Broadwell explicitly describes the village as being victimized by the Taliban first, then being completely obliterated by the Americans. In other words, rather than actually clearing the village—not just chasing away the Taliban but cleaning up the bombs and munitions left over—the soldiers got lazy and decided to destroy the entire settlement… “to give the men confidence.” This sounds bad enough—like a nightmare from before there was a Fourth Geneva Convention that prohibited the collective punishment and expulsion of civilians from conflict zones—but it gets worse. [...]

Look, war is hell. I have no illusions about that. But what is happening right now in Southern Afghanistan is inexcusable. There were rumors of this policy of collective punishment in the Arghandab before (see this overwrought Daily Mail story that stops right before the village actually was destroyed for an idea of what is going on), and I’m really struggling to see how such behavior does not violate Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention—that is, how this behavior is not a war crime, especially given the explicit admission that such behavior is merely for the convenience of the soldier and not any grander strategy or purpose.

This sort of abhorrent behavior is not limited to the Arghandab, either. Broadwell explicitly states that it has the Petraeus stamp of approval, and Pahjwok has reported U.S. Marines in Helmand province explicitly warning local villagers of collective punishment if insurgents hide out in their settlements. It is probably a safe assumption to say that this is a widespread phenomenon.

Staggering, isn’t it? We’re not talking about one bad moment, one soldier losing his cool and committing a crime. We might be looking at a top-down, leadership-approved policy of violating the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan. War crimes.

We have to be careful to keep this in context. Petraeus has dramatically escalated the violence of the occupation, increasing special forces raids, air strikes, and even deploying tanks and other heavy weapons. But again, this doesn’t appear to be an isolated incident amidst the fog of war, it looks like policy.

Broadwell has attempted to walk back her piece, of course, but it just doesn’t stand up to the facts. And frankly, it’s too late for that anyway. You can’t un-tell a story, and Broadwell’s glib recounting of a village razing has already succeeded in raising serious and disturbing questions about our policy in Afghanistan.

What exactly is our policy on village razing in Afghanistan, and how does it reconcile with our stated “hearts and minds” approach to counter-insurgency? How does it reconcile with the Geneva Conventions dealing with collective punishment and expulsion of non-combatants?

Who is responsible, and accountable, for this policy in Afghanistan? Did President Obama, Secretary Gates, or General Petraeus approve the collective punishment of Afghan civilians? If not, who did? As Foust notes, “you do not call in 20+ air strikes on an uninhabited village to turn it into dust without some higher approvals.” Who’s giving these approvals?

Which brings us back to Rep. Issa and his oversight committee. He has claimed national security and our war in Afghanistan as part of his portfolio, and now it’s time to live up to that responsibility.

Our soldiers are not toys for politicians and hacks, they are not to be ordered into these situations for the sake of someone’s career, or for flashy headlines about “progress” and “rebuilding”. The people need a “chief watchdog” to investigate the occupation and ensure that anyone issuing or approving orders to commit war crimes is held accountable.

This is not about scoring political points or shaving a few bucks off the budget deficit. This is about politicians, our elected representatives, committing “waste, fraud, and abuse” of our soldiers. We need to know what’s happening, why it’s happening, and who is responsible for it.

We have clear evidence that there may be an ongoing policy of collective punishment and expulsion, war crimes under international and US law, happening in Afghanistan, and it’s time for the House oversight committee to investigate.

Contact Representative Issa here, post this article on his Facebook wall, link him to it on Twitter, or just call his office at (202) 225-3906. Tell him we need this issue investigated, and as “chief watchdog”, it’s his responsibility.

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