Get Rethink Afghanistan Updates
Join us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us on Twitter Get E-Mail Updates
You can help

Archive for February, 2011

Posted by Derrick Crowe on February 27th, 2011

Rethink Afghanistan is organizing a worldwide Meetup Day in two weeks! Here are the details:

March 12, 2011: Rethink the Cost, a worldwide Meetup day organized by Rethink Afghanistan. Get together with other people in your area who are fed up with the huge cost of the Afghanistan War and who want to do something about it. Help jumpstart the fight to end the war in your community by organizing or attending a local Meetup on Saturday, March 12. Use the hashtag #RethinktheCost on Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.

Sign up now to join your local Meetup!

Bookmark this blog post, as we’ll be adding resources on the cost of war for local Meetups to use in their communities.

Meet Rethinkers Near You

Meeting other people in your community who support the Rethink Afghanistan campaign is a great way to tap into the power of the movement to end the war. All over the world, people are gathering in local groups over a coffee or a beer and figuring out how to act locally to bring our troops home. Rethink the Afghanistan War Meetups give you a place to find others in your community ready to start local projects, or even just find and meet like-minded people in your hometown. Find one (or start one!) near you today.

Meeting up is easy. You just need to take three simple steps.

1) Find your town.

Take a look and see if there’s a Rethink the Afghanistan War Meetup happening soon in your area.

If there are already others in your area interested, you’ll see their communities on the list. Click on the link for your city and then click on the “Count me in” button. You’ll be able to log in by either creating a new Meetup account or by just using your Facebook profile.

If there’s not an event scheduled in your town, just create your own. Type in your suggestion for a Meetup into the field at the top. You just put in a date, place, and a little information, and you’re set. For a Meetup to happen, someone needs to volunteer as the organizer. It’s really easy to be an organizer: all you have to do is pick a place to meet. (Editing any of the information on the page for your event makes you an organizer, by the way.) Let Derrick know you’ve got an event coming up, and we’ll help you promote it.

2) Join the conversation.

Once you’ve told your neighbors, “I’m in,” you’ll be able to share comments on the page for your local Meetup. You and your neighbors can figure out together what you want to do during the Meetup, where and when you want to meet, etc.

3) Spread the word.

Use your social media profiles to spread the word! Use the #RethinkAfghanistan hastag in your tweets, Flickr photos and YouTube videos, and make sure to share your event with your Facebook friends!

UPDATE: We’ve just added two new one-pagers that groups can use to educate people in their hometowns. If your Meetup group is looking for a quick and easy way to push back against the Afghanistan War in your neighborhood, consider using these one-pagers to leaflet!

*Special thanks to Ali Selvi, a Rethink Afghanistan Facebook fan, for suggesting the name for the Meetup and designing an awesome graphic for event materials!

Share this:
Comments Off
Bookmark and Share
Posted by The Agonist on February 26th, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

Thom Shanker | West Point, NY | February 25

New York Times – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates bluntly told an audience of West Point cadets on Friday that it would be unwise for the United States to ever fight another war like Iraq or Afghanistan, and that the chances of carrying out a change of government in that fashion again were slim.

“In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it,” Mr. Gates told an assembly of Army cadets here.

That reality, he said, meant that the Army would have to reshape its budget, since potential conflicts in places like Asia or the Persian Gulf were more likely to be fought with air and sea power, rather than with conventional ground forces.

“As the prospects for another head-on clash of large mechanized land armies seem less likely, the Army will be increasingly challenged to justify the number, size, and cost of its heavy formations,” Mr. Gates warned.

Share this:
Comments Off
Bookmark and Share
Posted by Newshoggers.com on February 26th, 2011

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Robert Greenwald and Derrick Crowe

The latest general to find himself excoriated in the pages of Rolling Stone, Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, should resign immediately for using psychological operations, commonly known as "psy-ops" against U.S. lawmakers visiting Afghanistan. If he will not resign immediately, President Obama should fire him.

Sign our petition calling for Lt. General William Caldwell to be removed from his post in Afghanistan.

Caldwell is one of the most pivotal military officers in President Obama's failing escalation strategy in Afghanistan and is charged with training the Afghan National Security Forces. According to Rolling Stone, he pressured reluctant psy-ops personnel into putting their talents to use to try to manipulate lawmakers into providing more funds and troops for a war that Americans don't support.

First of all, it doesn't matter whether anything Caldwell tried succeeded in changing legislators' minds. The use of funds and resources dedicated to psychological/information operations to influence any American citizens, much less those who control the purse strings for your pet project, is illegal on its face. It doesn't matter if they used the most advanced techniques available to influence behavior or simply working on beefing up PowerPoint slides and handouts. If Caldwell directed people paid and trained out of the propaganda purse to help influence U.S. citizens, he broke the law. And breaking that law intentionally, even defiantly (his spokespeople reportedly shouted "It's not illegal if I say it's not!" when challenged.), is alone worthy of his dismissal.

Beyond the simple matter of a pivotal ISAF official breaking a very clear law even when he and his staff were made aware of their behavior's illegality, Caldwell's actions convey a dangerous and disturbing attitude towards Members of Congress and Senators. The Rolling Stone article reports that Caldwell wanted "pressure points" on lawmakers that he could "leverage" to "get inside their heads." His staff wanted to know how they could "secretly manipulate" legislators "without their knowledge." This behavior and mentality goes way beyond advocating for one's preferred projects and policies. Caldwell in his staff seem to view the civilian branch of the government as a kind of target.

The alarming disrespect and aggression in Caldwell's and his staff's reported behavior may not have provided as many sensational quotes as those given by McChrystal and his staff prior to his canning, but their posture toward civilian control of the military is far, far worse. That posture comes with a serious amount of resources that could do real harm to our democracy. According to a 2009 report by the Associated Press,

This year [2009] the Pentagon will employ 27,000 people just for recruitment, advertising and public relations — almost as many as the total 30,000-person work force in the State Department… [T]he Pentagon's rapidly expanding media empire… is now bigger in size, money and power than many media companies.

$547 million goes into public affairs, which reaches American audiences. And about $489 million more goes into what is known as psychological operations, which targets foreign audiences.

Just for comparison, petroleum giant BP spent "only" $7.3 million on lobbying Congress last year. If behavior like Caldwell's isn't forcefully curtailed, the Pentagon could potentially spend well over 135 times that amount with a State-Department-sized specialized workforce to promote this ugly war that Americans don't support, and our voices will be washed out of the democratic process.

Brave New Foundation's Rethink Afghanistan campaign is calling for Caldwell's immediate resignation (or firing, if he will not resign). If we can get 10,000 signatures, we'll deliver the petition to Congress and the White House next week. With Congress out of session this week, it's up to us to speak out on this before it gets swept off the front pages and under the rug. Please help us stand up to the misuse of our dollars on propaganda and sign our petition today.

If you're fed up with this war that's not making us safer and that's not worth the cost, join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter, and Meetup with others who want this war to end.

Share this:
Comments Off
Bookmark and Share
Posted by Peace Action West on February 25th, 2011

From our partners at Peace Action West

Flickr photo via Medill DC.

The New York Times reports today that the US military has begun pulling back from the Pech Valley, an area they once considered crucial to their counterinsurgency strategy. At least 103 American soldiers have been killed in the area, and many more wounded. While the piece doesn’t include statistics on Afghan deaths and injuries, one can only assume they were also significant. While American officials are portraying this step as a natural evolution of their counterinsurgency strategy and a move that allows them to better protect Afghan civilians, one American official questions the reasoning behind expending time and resources in the valley in the first place (emphasis mine):

Ultimately, the decision to withdraw reflected a stark — and controversial — internal assessment by the military that it would have been better served by not having entered the high valley in the first place.

“What we figured out is that people in the Pech really aren’t anti-U.S. or anti-anything; they just want to be left alone,” said one American military official familiar with the decision. “Our presence is what’s destabilizing this area.”

Gen. Mohammed Zaman Mamozai, a former commander of the region’s Afghan Border Police, agreed with some of this assessment. He said that residents of the Pech Valley bristled at the American presence but might tolerate Afghan units. “Many times they promised us that if we could tell the Americans to pull out of the area, they wouldn’t fight the Afghan forces,” he said.

It’s tragic to think of the many lives lost in pursuit of a strategy that was doomed to fail. And even more so that this tragedy continues to play out on a larger scale as Americans and Afghans are still sacrificing their lives with little to show for it almost ten years into the war in Afghanistan.

As Stephen Walt points out in response to the allegations that a general wanted to perform “psychological operations” on visiting senators, it is almost impossible for us to get a realistic sense of how things are going on the ground in Afghanistan since the people in a position to report on the conditions have a vested interest in portraying the war as successful. However, Bing West, a former infantry officer in Vietnam and assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, embedded with troops in Afghanistan to bring a very different perspective on the strategy. In reviewing West’s book, “The Wrong War,” Dexter Filkins of the New York Times describes it as a “seemingly irrefutable critique” of the plan in Afghanistan and the “new religion” of counterinsurgency:

Time after time, West shows the theory of counterinsurgency scraping up against the hard and jagged ground of the real Afghanistan. In one instance, he examines the work of a group of American soldiers and civilians, known as a provincial reconstruction team, whose job was to provide development assistance to Afghan locals in Asadabad (A-Bad to the Americans) in eastern Afghanistan. It was overseen by a battalion known as the 1-32 and commanded by a lieutenant colonel named Mark O’Donnell. In June 2009, after the reconstruction team had been working there for three years, an American supply truck blew a tire on the main road. A crowd of Afghans gathered, and then suddenly a grenade exploded, killing and maiming several Afghans. A riot ensued. “Kill the Americans!” the Afghans shouted. “Protect Islam!” Only later did a videotape of the incident show clearly that an Afghan had tossed the grenade.

About this, West writes:

“For three years, the provincial reconstruction team had lived in a compound a few blocks from the scene of the tragedy. The P.R.T. had paid over $10 million to hire locals, who smiled in appreciation. Every time a platoon from 1-32 patrolled through town, they stopped to chat with storekeepers and to buy trinkets and candy to give to the street urchins. Yet the locals had turned on the soldiers in an instant. That the townspeople in A-Bad who profited from American protection and projects would believe the worst of O’Donnell’s soldiers — whom they knew personally — suggested that the Americans were tolerated but not supported, regardless of their good works and money.”

This reality does not seem to have hit the major decision makers on US Afghanistan policy. President Obama has reiterated his promise to begin a troop withdrawal in July, but has given no indication whether that withdrawal will be a meaningful step toward winding down the war. It appears that Defense Secretary Robert Gates doesn’t view the withdrawal that way. He sees the promise as more of a Jedi mind trick on unsuspecting Taliban fighters:

First, Gates believes there may be a “payoff” when the July 2011 deadline passes without any substantial drawdown of US troops. The idea, apparently, is that the Taliban will have the rug pulled out from under them when our troops aren’t gone by August. As Secretary Gates puts it:

“The Taliban were messaging that we were leaving in July of ‘11. It seemed to me that if we were willing to be patient we could do some judo on them. Because if the Taliban were all persuaded we were going to be gone by the end of July ‘11, they were going to be in for a really big surprise in August, September, October, November and so on, because we are still going to have a huge number of forces there.”

This certainly would be news to anyone who is taking President Obama seriously about viewing July as a significant milestone. And as Will Keola Thomas points out, the Taliban’s ranks have increased, along with American, NATO and civilian casualties, cost to taxpayers and corruption. Robert Gates is going to need more than judo moves to turn this failing war around.

Apparently, Gates at least understands, like the American military official commenting on Pesh Valley offensive, that the major mistake is starting wars like those in Iraq and Afghanistan in the first place:

“In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it,” Mr. Gates told an assembly of Army cadets here.

Does his recommendation apply to defense secretaries who insist on continuing deadly, costly wars in the face of mountains of evidence that the strategy has no hope of succeeding?

Share this:
Bookmark and Share
Posted by Derrick Crowe on February 25th, 2011

By Robert Greenwald and Derrick Crowe

The latest general to find himself excoriated in the pages of Rolling Stone, Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, should resign immediately for using psychological operations, commonly known as “psy-ops” against U.S. lawmakers visiting Afghanistan. If he will not resign immediately, President Obama should fire him.

Sign our petition calling for Lt. General William Caldwell to be removed from his post in Afghanistan.

Caldwell is one of the most pivotal military officers in President Obama’s failing escalation strategy in Afghanistan and is charged with training the Afghan National Security Forces. According to Rolling Stone, he pressured reluctant psy-ops personnel into putting their talents to use to try to manipulate lawmakers into providing more funds and troops for a war that Americans don’t support.

First of all, it doesn’t matter whether anything Caldwell tried succeeded in changing legislators’ minds. The use of funds and resources dedicated to psychological/information operations to influence any American citizens, much less those who control the purse strings for your pet project, is illegal on its face. It doesn’t matter if they used the most advanced techniques available to influence behavior or simply working on beefing up PowerPoint slides and handouts. If Caldwell directed people paid and trained out of the propaganda purse to help influence U.S. citizens, he broke the law. And breaking that law intentionally, even defiantly (his spokespeople reportedly shouted “It’s not illegal if I say it’s not!” when challenged.), is alone worthy of his dismissal.

Beyond the simple matter of a pivotal ISAF official breaking a very clear law even when he and his staff were made aware of their behavior’s illegality, Caldwell’s actions convey a dangerous and disturbing attitude towards Members of Congress and Senators. The Rolling Stone article reports that Caldwell wanted “pressure points” on lawmakers that he could “leverage” to “get inside their heads.” His staff wanted to know how they could “secretly manipulate” legislators “without their knowledge.” This behavior and mentality goes way beyond advocating for one’s preferred projects and policies. Caldwell in his staff seem to view the civilian branch of the government as a kind of target.

The alarming disrespect and aggression in Caldwell’s and his staff’s reported behavior may not have provided as many sensational quotes as those given by McChrystal and his staff prior to his canning, but their posture toward civilian control of the military is far, far worse. That posture comes with a serious amount of resources that could do real harm to our democracy. According to a 2009 report by the Associated Press,

This year [2009] the Pentagon will employ 27,000 people just for recruitment, advertising and public relations — almost as many as the total 30,000-person work force in the State Department… [T]he Pentagon’s rapidly expanding media empire… is now bigger in size, money and power than many media companies.

$547 million goes into public affairs, which reaches American audiences. And about $489 million more goes into what is known as psychological operations, which targets foreign audiences.

Just for comparison, petroleum giant BP spent “only” $7.3 million on lobbying Congress last year. If behavior like Caldwell’s isn’t forcefully curtailed, the Pentagon could potentially spend well over 135 times that amount with a State-Department-sized specialized workforce to promote this ugly war that Americans don’t support, and our voices will be washed out of the democratic process.

Brave New Foundation’s Rethink Afghanistan campaign is calling for Caldwell’s immediate resignation (or firing, if he will not resign). If we can get 10,000 signatures, we’ll deliver the petition to Congress and the White House next week. With Congress out of session this week, it’s up to us to speak out on this before it gets swept off the front pages and under the rug. Please help us stand up to the misuse of our dollars on propaganda and sign our petition today.

If you’re fed up with this war that’s not making us safer and that’s not worth the cost, join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter, and Meetup with others who want this war to end.

Share this:
Bookmark and Share
Posted by Newshoggers.com on February 25th, 2011

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Dave Anderson:

Most people don't like heavily armed foreigners who have at best a minimal clue of the local cultural norms and power arrangements.  This localized resentment creates accidental guerrillas and a quagmire where the foreigners won't leave until everyone who dislikes the foreigners is either dead or now likes the foreigners. 

The New York Times reports that the US military is starting to get this basic dynamic as the US is leaving a heavily fought over valley where the US presence was the impetous of the violence:

“What we figured out is that people in the Pech really aren’t anti-U.S. or anti-anything, they just want to be left alone,” said one American military official familiar with the decision. “Our presence is what’s destabilizing this area.”

 

 

Share this:
Comments Off
Bookmark and Share
Posted by Peace Action West on February 24th, 2011

From our partners at Peace Action West

General Caldwell and one of his psy ops targets. (photo courtesy of Rolling Stone via AP)

Michael Hastings, the reporter famous for bringing down General McChrystal, is back in Rolling Stone with another explosive story. Hastings exposes “another runaway general” (there seem to be too many of these) who instructed soldiers in a “psychological operations” team to manipulate key visitors, including US senators, into supporting the war and sending more resources their way:

The orders came from the command of Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, a three-star general in charge of training Afghan troops – the linchpin of U.S. strategy in the war. Over a four-month period last year, a military cell devoted to what is known as “information operations” at Camp Eggers in Kabul was repeatedly pressured to target visiting senators and other VIPs who met with Caldwell. When the unit resisted the order, arguing that it violated U.S. laws prohibiting the use of propaganda against American citizens, it was subjected to a campaign of retaliation.

“My job in psy-ops is to play with people’s heads, to get the enemy to behave the way we want them to behave,” says Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes, the leader of the IO unit, who received an official reprimand after bucking orders. “I’m prohibited from doing that to our own people. When you ask me to try to use these skills on senators and congressman, you’re crossing a line.”

The list of targeted visitors was long, according to interviews with members of the IO team and internal documents obtained by Rolling Stone. Those singled out in the campaign included senators John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Jack Reed, Al Franken and Carl Levin; Rep. Steve Israel of the House Appropriations Committee; Adm. Mike Mullen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Czech ambassador to Afghanistan; the German interior minister, and a host of influential think-tank analysts.

(It’s hard to imagine that John McCain and Joe Lieberman need ideas planted in their heads to support wars. It’s more or less their favorite pastime.)

Aside from the outrageousness (and illegality according to Hastings) of these actions, they smack of desperation. Members of Congress on official visits to Afghanistan clearly know they are getting sold a specific perspective on the war—watching flashy PowerPoint presentations trumpeting progress while ensconced in well-protected military bases. As former congressman Tom Andrews writes, “As a Member of the House Armed Services Committee, I was cognizant of the Pentagon’s use of spin to get the result that they wanted. I was in office for less than a month when I was invited for a personal ‘consultation’ with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I am certain that Chairman Powell was less interested in my views of military strategy than he was of my vote.”

But planting ideas in their heads to “get these guys to give us more people” is a whole other game. If their normally elevated level of spin isn’t sufficient to make an evidence-based case that the war is worth supporting, perhaps it’s time to abandon the strategy? Most of the American public thinks it is, along with many members of Congress, which I suppose is what pushed General Caldwell to this level of absurdity.

Rather than pursue the complaint about General Caldwell’s misdeeds, the military turned to dubious investigations of Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes, who reported the violation. (The military has a particularly maddening way of dealing with people who report crimes—see their infuriating responses to sexual assault).

Following the investigation, both Holmes and Levine were formally reprimanded. Holmes, believing that he was being targeted for questioning the legality of waging an IO campaign against U.S. visitors, complained to the Defense Department’s inspector general. Three months later, he was informed that he was not entitled to protection as a whistleblower, because the JAG lawyer he consulted was not “designated to receive such communications.”

Levine, who has a spotless record and 19 service awards after 16 years in the military, including a tour of duty in Kuwait and Iraq, fears that she has become “the collateral damage” in the military’s effort to retaliate against Holmes. “It will probably end my career,” she says. “My father was an officer, and I believed officers would never act like this. I was devastated. I’ve lost my faith in the military, and I couldn’t in good conscience recommend anyone joining right now.”

I am very curious to see how members of Congress will respond publicly to this news, especially those on Caldwell’s target list. Hopefully this will give them another reason to raise their voices against this wasteful war in Afghanistan. Thanks to Michael Hastings for another important scoop that reveals the truth behind the war.

Update: The Washington Post has comments from some of the alleged targets and reports that General Petraeus has ordered an investigation.

Share this:
Comments Off
Bookmark and Share
Posted by The Agonist on February 24th, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

C. J. Chivers, Alissa J. Rubin & Wesley Morgan | Kabul | February 24

NYT – After years of fighting for control of a prominent valley in the rugged mountains of eastern Afghanistan, the United States military has begun to pull back most of its forces from ground it once insisted was central to the campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The withdrawal from the Pech Valley, a remote region in Kunar Province, formally began on Feb. 15. The military projects that it will last about two months, part of a shift of Western forces to the province’s more populated areas. Afghan units will remain in the valley, a test of their military readiness.

While American officials say the withdrawal matches the latest counterinsurgency doctrine’s emphasis on protecting Afghan civilians, Afghan officials worry that the shift of troops amounts to an abandonment of territory where multiple insurgent groups are well established, an area that Afghans fear they may not be ready to defend on their own.

And it is an emotional issue for American troops, who fear that their service and sacrifices could be squandered. At least 103 American soldiers have died in or near the valley’s maze of steep gullies and soaring peaks, according to a count by The New York Times, and many times more have been wounded, often severely.

Share this:
Bookmark and Share
Posted by alexthurston on February 24th, 2011

This article originally appeared on TomDispatch

All-American Decline in a New World
Wars, Vampires, Burned Children, and Indelicate Imbalances 
By Tom Engelhardt

This is a global moment unlike any in memory, perhaps in history.  Yes, comparisons can be made to the wave of people power that swept Eastern Europe as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989-91.  For those with longer memories, perhaps 1968 might come to mind, that abortive moment when, in the United States, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Brazil, and elsewhere, including Eastern Europe, masses of people mysteriously inspired by each other took to the streets of global cities to proclaim that change was on the way.

For those searching the history books, perhaps you’ve focused on the year 1848 when, in a time that also mixed economic gloom with novel means of disseminating the news, the winds of freedom seemed briefly to sweep across Europe.  And, of course, if enough regimes fall and the turmoil goes deep enough, there’s always 1776, the American Revolution, or 1789, the French one, to consider.  Both shook up the world for decades after.

But here’s the truth of it: you have to strain to fit this Middle Eastern moment into any previous paradigm, even as — from Wisconsin to China – it already threatens to break out of the Arab world and spread like a fever across the planet.  Never in memory have so many unjust or simply despicable rulers felt quite so nervous — or possibly quite so helpless (despite being armed to the teeth) — in the presence of unarmed humanity.  And there has to be joy and hope in that alone.

Even now, without understanding what it is we face, watching staggering numbers of people, many young and dissatisfied, take to the streets in Morocco, Mauritania, Djibouti, Oman, Algeria, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Yemen, and Libya, not to mention Bahrain, Tunisia, and Egypt, would be inspirational.  Watching them face security forces using batons, tear gas, rubber bullets, and in all too many cases, real bullets (in Libya, even helicopters and planes) and somehow grow stronger is little short of unbelievable.  Seeing Arabs demanding something we were convinced was the birthright and property of the West, of the United States in particular, has to send a shiver down anyone’s spine.

The nature of this potentially world-shaking phenomenon remains unknown and probably, at this point, unknowable.  Are freedom and democracy about to break out all over?  And if so, what will that turn out to mean?  If not, what exactly are we seeing?  What light bulb was it that so unexpectedly turned on in millions of Twittered and Facebooked brains — and why now?  I doubt those who are protesting, and in some cases dying, know themselves.  And that’s good news.  That the future remains — always — the land of the unknown should offer us hope, not least because that’s the bane of ruling elites who want to, but never can, take possession of it.

Nonetheless, you would expect that a ruling elite, observing such earth-shaking developments, might rethink its situation, as should the rest of us.  After all, if humanity can suddenly rouse itself this way in the face of the armed power of state after state, then what’s really possible on this planet of ours?

Seeing such scenes repeatedly, who wouldn’t rethink the basics?  Who wouldn’t feel the urge to reimagine our world?

Let me offer as my nominee of choice not various desperate or dying Middle Eastern regimes, but Washington.

Life in the Echo Chamber

So much of what Washington did imagine in these last years proved laughable, even before this moment swept it away.  Just take any old phrase from the Bush years.  How about “You’re either with us or against us”?  What’s striking is how little it means today.  Looking back on Washington’s desperately mistaken assumptions about how our globe works, this might seem like the perfect moment to show some humility in the face of what nobody could have predicted.

It would seem like a good moment for Washington — which, since September 12, 2001, has been remarkably clueless about real developments on this planet and repeatedly miscalculated the nature of global power — to step back and recalibrate.

As it happens, there’s no evidence it’s doing so.  In fact, that may be beyond Washington’s present capabilities, no matter how many billions of dollars it pours into “intelligence.”  And by “Washington,” I mean not just the Obama administration, or the Pentagon, or our military commanders, or the vast intelligence bureaucracy, but all those pundits and think-tankers who swarm the capital, and the media that reports on them all.  It’s as if the cast of characters that makes up “Washington” now lives in some kind of echo chamber in which it can only hear itself talking.

As a result, Washington still seems remarkably determined to play out the string on an era that is all too swiftly passing into the history books.  While many have noticed the Obama administration’s hapless struggle to catch up to events in the Middle East, even as it clings to a familiar coterie of grim autocrats and oil sheiks, let me illustrate this point in another area entirely — the largely forgotten war in Afghanistan.  After all, hardly noticed, buried beneath 24/7 news from Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, and elsewhere in the Middle East, that war continues on its destructive, costly course with nary a blink.

Five Ways to Be Tone Deaf in Washington

You might think that, as vast swathes of the Greater Middle East are set ablaze, someone in Washington would take a new look at our Af/Pak War and wonder whether it isn’t simply beside the point.  No such luck, as the following five tiny but telling examples that caught my attention indicate.  Consider them proof of the well-being of the American echo chamber and evidence of the way Washington is proving incapable of rethinking its longest, most futile, and most bizarre war.

1. Let’s start with a recent New York Times op-ed, “The ‘Long War’ May Be Getting Shorter.”  Published last Tuesday as Libya was passing through “the gates of hell,” it was an upbeat account of Afghan War commander General David Petraeus’s counterinsurgency operations in southern Afghanistan.  Its authors, Nathaniel Flick and John Nagl, members of an increasingly militarized Washington intelligentsia, jointly head the Center for a New American Security in Washington.  Nagl was part of the team that wrote the 2006 revised Army counterinsurgency manual for which Petraeus is given credit and was an advisor to the general in Iraq.  Flick, a former Marine officer who led troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and then was a civilian instructor at the Afghanistan Counterinsurgency Academy in Kabul, recently paid a first-hand visit to the country (under whose auspices we do not know).

The two of them are typical of many of Washington’s war experts who tend to develop incestuous relationships with the military, moonlighting as enablers or cheerleaders for our war commanders, and still remain go-to sources for the media.

In another society, their op-ed would simply have been considered propaganda.  Here’s its money paragraph:

“It is hard to tell when momentum shifts in a counterinsurgency campaign, but there is increasing evidence that Afghanistan is moving in a more positive direction than many analysts think. It now seems more likely than not that the country can achieve the modest level of stability and self-reliance necessary to allow the United States to responsibly draw down its forces from 100,000 to 25,000 troops over the next four years.”

This is a classic Washington example of moving the goalposts.  What our two experts are really announcing is that, even if all goes well in our Afghan War, 2014 will not be its end date.  Not by a long shot.

Of course, this is a position that Petraeus has supported.  Four years from now our “withdrawal” plans, according to Nagl and Flick, will leave 25,000 troops in place.  If truth-telling or accuracy were the point of their exercise, their piece would have been titled, “The ‘Long War’ Grows Longer.”

Even as the Middle East explodes and the U.S. plunges into a budget “debate” significantly powered by our stunningly expensive wars that won’t end, these two experts implicitly propose that General Petraeus and his successors fight on in Afghanistan at more than $100 billion a year into the distant reaches of time, as if nothing in the world were changing.  This already seems like the definition of obliviousness and one day will undoubtedly look delusional, but it’s the business-as-usual mentality with which Washington faces a new world.

2.  Or consider two striking comments General Petraeus himself made that bracket our new historical moment.  At a morning briefing on January 19th, according to New York Times reporter Rod Nordland, the general was in an exultant, even triumphalist, mood about his war.  It was just days before the first Egyptian demonstrators would take to the streets, and only days after Tunisian autocrat Zine Ben Ali had met the massed power of nonviolent demonstrators and fled his country.  And here’s what Petraeus so exuberantly told his staff: “We’ve got our teeth in the enemy’s jugular now, and we’re not going to let go.”

It’s true that the general had, for months, not only been sending new American troops south, but ratcheting up the use of air power, increasing Special Operations night raids, and generally intensifying the war in the Taliban’s home territory.  Still, under the best of circumstances, his was an exultantly odd image.  It obviously called up the idea of a predator sinking its teeth into the throat of its prey, but surely somewhere in the military unconscious lurked a more classic American pop-cultural image — the werewolf or vampire.  Evidently, the general’s idea of an American future involves an extended blood feast in the Afghan version of Transylvania, for like Nagl and Flick he clearly plans to have those teeth in that jugular for a long, long time to come.

A month later, on February 19th, just as all hell was breaking loose in Bahrain and Libya, the general visited the Afghan presidential palace in Kabul and, in dismissing Afghan claims that recent American air raids in the country’s northeast had killed scores of civilians, including children, he made a comment that shocked President Hamid Karzai’s aides.  We don’t have it verbatim, but the Washington Post reports that, according to “participants,” Petraeus suggested “Afghans caught up in a coalition attack in northeastern Afghanistan might have burned their own children to exaggerate claims of civilian casualties.”

One Afghan at the meeting responded: “I was dizzy. My head was spinning. This was shocking. Would any father do this to his children? This is really absurd.”

In the American echo-chamber, the general’s comments may sound, if not reasonable, then understandably exuberant and emphatic: We’ve got the enemy by the throat!  We didn’t create Afghan casualties; they did it to themselves!  Elsewhere, they surely sound obtusely tone deaf or simply vampiric, evidence that those inside the echo chamber have no sense of how they look in a shape-shifting world.

3.  Now, let’s step across an ill-defined Afghan-Pakistan border into another world of American obtuseness.  On February 15th, only four days after Hosni Mubarak stepped down as president of Egypt, Barack Obama decided to address a growing problem in Pakistan.  Raymond Davis, a former U.S. Special Forces soldier armed with a Glock semi-automatic pistol and alone in a vehicle cruising a poor neighborhood of Pakistan’s second largest city, Lahore, shot and killed two Pakistanis he claimed had menaced him at gunpoint.  (One was evidently shot in the back.)

Davis reportedly got out of the vehicle firing his pistol, then photographed the dead bodies and called for backup.  The responding vehicle, racing to the scene the wrong way in traffic, ran over a motorcyclist, killing him before fleeing.  (Subsequently, the wife of one of the Pakistanis Davis killed committed suicide by ingesting rat poison.)

The Pakistani police took Davis into custody with a carful of strange equipment.  No one should be surprised that this was not a set of circumstances likely to endear an already alienated population to its supposed American allies. In fact, it created a popular furor as Pakistanis reacted to what seemed like the definition of imperial impunity, especially when the U.S. government, claiming Davis was an “administrative and technical official” attached to its Lahore consulate, demanded his release on grounds of diplomatic immunity and promptly began pressuring an already weak, unpopular government with loss of aid and support.

Senator John Kerry paid a hasty visit, calls were made, and threats to cut off U.S. funds were raised in the halls of Congress.  Despite what was happening elsewhere and in tumultuous Pakistan, American officials found it hard to imagine that beholden Pakistanis wouldn’t buckle.

On February 15th, with the Middle East in flames, President Obama weighed in, undoubtedly making matters worse: “With respect to Mr. Davis, our diplomat in Pakistan,” he said, “we’ve got a very simple principle here that every country in the world that is party to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations has upheld in the past and should uphold in the future, and that is if our diplomats are in another country, then they are not subject to that country’s local prosecution.”

The Pakistanis refused to give way to that “very simple principle” and not long after, “our diplomat in Pakistan” was identified by the British Guardian as a former Blackwater employee and present employee of the CIA.  He was, the publication reported, involved in the Agency’s secret war in Pakistan.  That war, especially much-ballyhooed and expensive “covert” drone attacks in the Pakistani tribal borderlands whose returns have been overhyped in Washington, continues to generate blowback in ways that Americans prefer not to grasp.

Of course, the president knew that Davis was a CIA agent, even when he called him “our diplomat.”  As it turned out, so did the New York Times and other U.S. publications, which refrained from writing about his real position at the request of the Obama administration, even as they continued to report (evasively, if not simply untruthfully) on the case.

Given what’s happening in the region, this represents neither reasonable policy-making nor reasonable journalism.  If the late Chalmers Johnson, who made the word “blowback” part of our everyday language, happens to be looking down on American policy from some niche in heaven, he must be grimly amused by the brain-dead way our top officials blithely continue to try to bulldoze the Pakistanis.

4.  Meanwhile, on February 18th back in Afghanistan, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on one of that country’s “largest money exchange houses,” charging “that it used billions of dollars transferred in and out of the country to help hide proceeds from illegal drug sales.”

Here’s how Ginger Thompson and Alissa J. Rubin of the New York Times contextualized that act: “The move is part of a delicate balancing act by the Obama administration, which aims to crack down on the corruption that reaches the highest levels of the Afghan government without derailing the counterinsurgency efforts that are dependent on Mr. Karzai’s cooperation.”

In a world in which Washington’s word seems to travel ever less far with ever less authority, the response to this echo-chamber-style description, and especially its central image — “a delicate balancing act” — would be: no, not by a long shot.

In relation to a country that’s the prime narco-state on the planet, what could really be “delicate”?  If you wanted to describe the Obama administration’s bizarre, pretzled relationship with President Karzai and his people, words like “contorted,” “confused,” and “hypocritical” would have to be trotted out.  If realism prevailed, the phrase “indelicate imbalance” might be a more appropriate one to use.

5.  Finally, journalist Dexter Filkins recently wrote a striking piece, “The Afghan Bank Heist,” in the New Yorker magazine on the shenanigans that brought Kabul Bank, one of Afghanistan’s top financial institutions, to the edge of collapse.  While bankrolling Hamid Karzai and his cronies by slipping them staggering sums of cash, the bank’s officials essentially ran off with the deposits of its customers.  (Think of Kabul Bank as the institutional Bernie Madoff of Afghanistan.)  In his piece, Filkins quotes an anonymous American official this way on the crooked goings-on he observed: “If this were America, fifty people would have been arrested by now.”

Consider that line the echo-chamber version of stand-up comedy as well as a reminder that only mad dogs and Americans stay out in the Afghan sun.  Like a lot of Americans now in Afghanistan, that poor diplomat needs to be brought home — and soon. He’s lost touch with the changing nature of his own country.  While we claim it as our duty to bring “nation-building” and “good governance” to the benighted Afghans, at home the U.S. is being unbuilt, democracy is essentially gone with the wind, the oligarchs are having a field day, the Supreme Court has insured that massive influxes of money will rule any future elections, and the biggest crooks of all get to play their get-out-of-jail-free cards whenever they want.  In fact, the Kabul Bank racket — a big deal in an utterly impoverished society — is a minor sideshow compared to what American banks, brokerages, mortgage and insurance companies, and other financial institutions did via their “ponzi schemes of securitization” when, in 2008, they drove the U.S. and global economies into meltdown mode.

And none of the individuals responsible went to prison, just old-fashioned Ponzi schemers like Madoff.  Not one of them was even put on trial. 

Just the other day, federal prosecutors dropped one of the last possible cases from the 2008 meltdown.  Angelo R. Mozilo, the former chairman of Countrywide Financial Corp., once the nation’s top mortgage company, did have to settle a civil suit focused on his “ill-gotten gains” in the subprime mortgage debacle for $67.5 million, but as with his peers, no criminal charges will be filed.

We’re Not the Good Guys

Imagine this: for the first time in history, a movement of Arabs is inspiring Americans in Wisconsin and possibly elsewhere.  Right now, in other words, there is something new under the sun and we didn’t invent it.  It’s not ours.  We’re not — catch your breath here — even the good guys.   They were the ones calling for freedom and democracy in the streets of Middle Eastern cities, while the U.S. performed another of those indelicate imbalances in favor of the thugs we’ve long supported in the Middle East.

History is now being reshaped in such a way that the previously major events of the latter years of the foreshortened American century — the Vietnam War, the end of the Cold War, even 9/11 — may all be dwarfed by this new moment.  And yet, inside the Washington echo chamber, new thoughts about such developments dawn slowly.  Meanwhile, our beleaguered, confused, disturbed country, with its aging, disintegrating infrastructure, is ever less the model for anyone anywhere (though again you wouldn’t know that here).

Oblivious to events, Washington clearly intends to fight its perpetual wars and garrison its perpetual bases, creating yet more blowback and destabilizing yet more places, until it eats itself alive.  This is the definition of all-American decline in an unexpectedly new world.  Yes, teeth may be in jugulars, but whose teeth in whose jugulars remains open to speculation, whatever General Petraeus thinks.

As the sun peeks over the horizon of the Arab world, dusk is descending on America.  In the penumbra, Washington plays out the cards it once dealt itself, some from the bottom of the deck, even as other players are leaving the table.  Meanwhile, somewhere out there in the land, you can just hear the faint howls.  It’s feeding time and the scent of blood is in the air.  Beware!

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.

Copyright 2011 Tom Engelhardt

Share this:
Bookmark and Share
Posted by The Agonist on February 24th, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

Michael Hastings | Feb 24

Rolling Stone – The U.S. Army illegally ordered a team of soldiers specializing in “psychological operations” to manipulate visiting American senators into providing more troops and funding for the war, Rolling Stone has learned – and when an officer tried to stop the operation, he was railroaded by military investigators.

The orders came from the command of Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, a three-star general in charge of training Afghan troops – the linchpin of U.S. strategy in the war. Over a four-month period last year, a military cell devoted to what is known as “information operations” at Camp Eggers in Kabul was repeatedly pressured to target visiting senators and other VIPs who met with Caldwell. When the unit resisted the order, arguing that it violated U.S. laws prohibiting the use of propaganda against American citizens, it was subjected to a campaign of retaliation.

“My job in psy-ops is to play with people’s heads, to get the enemy to behave the way we want them to behave,” says Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes, the leader of the IO unit, who received an official reprimand after bucking orders. “I’m prohibited from doing that to our own people. When you ask me to try to use these skills on senators and congressman, you’re crossing a line.”

The list of targeted visitors was long, according to interviews with members of the IO team and internal documents obtained by Rolling Stone. Those singled out in the campaign included senators John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Jack Reed, Al Franken and Carl Levin; Rep. Steve Israel of the House Appropriations Committee; Adm. Mike Mullen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Czech ambassador to Afghanistan; the German interior minister, and a host of influential think-tank analysts.

The incident offers an indication of just how desperate the U.S. command in Afghanistan is to spin American civilian leaders into supporting an increasingly unpopular war. According to the Defense Department’s own definition, psy-ops – the use of propaganda and psychological tactics to influence emotions and behaviors – are supposed to be used exclusively on “hostile foreign groups.” Federal law forbids the military from practicing psy-ops on Americans, and each defense authorization bill comes with a “propaganda rider” that also prohibits such manipulation. “Everyone in the psy-ops, intel, and IO community knows you’re not supposed to target Americans,” says a veteran member of another psy-ops team who has run operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. “It’s what you learn on day one.”

Share this:
Comments Off
Bookmark and Share
Peacemakers take action to lead the charge to end the war. Join forces with the over 100,000 people who make a difference.
FACT SHEETS

BLOG POSTS FROM DERRICK CROWE
BLOG POSTS FROM ROBERT GREENWALD
RECENT POSTS

SEARCH THE BLOG
Subscribe via RSS
Become a Peacemaker



Bronze Telly Award
QUESTIONS
For general questions, email us here.
For technical issues regarding this site, contact us here.

PRESS

For Press inquiries, please contact Kim at: bravenewfoundation.press@gmail.com



CREDITS
Director: Robert Greenwald - Executive Director: Jim Miller - Producer: Jason Zaro - Associate Producer: Dallas Dunn, Jonathan Kim, and Kim Huynh - Researcher: Greg Wishnev - Editor: Phillip Cruess - Political Director: Leighton Woodhouse - VP Marketing & Distribution: Laura Beatty - Production Assistant: Monique Hairston

LEGAL
Anyone is allowed to post content on this site, but Brave New Foundation 501(c)(3) is not responsible for that content. We will, however, remove anything unlawful, threatening, libelous, defamatory, obscene, racist, or that contains other material that would violate the law. By posting you agree to this.





Brave New Foundation | 10510 Culver Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232