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Archive for February, 2011

Posted by Newshoggers.com on February 8th, 2011

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

If you ever wondered whether the talk of a complete withdrawal by 2015 was honest

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Tuesday that he was in talks with the United States about the possible establishment of permanent US military bases in his war-ravaged country.

"From the statements made by US officials, US senators to the media and from what they have told us, yes, they have this desire," he said.

"This is an issue that we're in talks with them about."

Then no, it isn't. To save careers, save face and avoid the word "defeat" the U.S. will be propping up the winners it picked for Afghanistan's corruption and drug-running race for decades to come.

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on February 8th, 2011

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

If you ever wondered whether the talk of a complete withdrawal by 2015 was honest

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Tuesday that he was in talks with the United States about the possible establishment of permanent US military bases in his war-ravaged country.

"From the statements made by US officials, US senators to the media and from what they have told us, yes, they have this desire," he said.

"This is an issue that we're in talks with them about."

Then no, it isn't. To save careers, save face and avoid the word "defeat" the U.S. will be propping up the winners it picked for Afghanistan's corruption and drug-running race for decades to come.

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Posted by The Agonist on February 8th, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

Saeed Shah | Camp Leatherneck | Feb 7

McClatchy – The U.S. military is applying an ancient Chinese healing technique to the top modern battlefield injury for American soldiers, with results that doctors here say are “off the charts.”

“Battlefield acupuncture,” developed by Air Force physician Col. Richard Niemtzow, is helping heal soldiers with concussions so they can return more quickly to the front lines.

At Camp Leatherneck, an enormous Marine Corps base in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province, a military doctor’s consulting room has dim little Christmas lights arranged across the ceiling and new age music playing.

Commander Keith Stuessi asks his patients to relax in his darkened chamber and then gently inserts hair-thin needles into special points on their body: between the eyebrows, in the ear lobe, on the top of the head, into the webbed part of the hand between the thumb and fingers, and on top of the feet between the first and second metatarsal. The needles may look gruesome but don’t hurt.

Stuessi, a naval doctor whose rank is equivalent to Lieutenant Colonel, treats concussions, also known as mild brain trauma.

“I’m seeing pretty incredible results,” said Stuessi, who’s based at the Marine Corps’ Camp Pendleton, near San Diego, and is originally from Wales, Wis. “In my heart I think this will, down the road, become one of the standards of care.”

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on February 7th, 2011

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

Derrick and Robert have already written about the new report today from resident Afghanistan analysts Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Keuhn (PDF here) which says that the Taliban insurgency there didn't have to happen but that US dismissiveness in 2002 prevented reconciliation then and that Petraeus' current tactics are preventing reconcilliation now. The report's conclusion, as Carlotta Gall puts it in the New York Times, is that "the Afghan Taliban have been wrongly perceived as close ideological allies of Al Qaeda, and they could be persuaded to renounce the global terrorist group."

Our Newshoggers colleague Gareth Porter has a fine piece today for his main gig at IPS looking at the 2002 Bush administration failure to accept offers of reconcilliation, and noting that veteran journalist Anand Gopal had reported exactly the same story from his own sources last year.

Citing an unidentified former Taliban official who participated in the decision, they report that the entire senior Taliban political leadership met in Pakistan in November 2002 to consider an offer of reconciliation with the new Afghan government in which they would "join the political process" in Afghanistan.

"We discussed whether to join the political process in Afghanistan or not and we took a decision that, yes, we should go and join the process," the former Taliban leader told the co-authors.

They cite an interlocutor who was then in contact with the Taliban leadership as recalling that they would have returned to Afghanistan to participate in the political system if they had been given an assurance they would not be arrested.

…The entire senior Taliban leadership, meeting in Karachi, "agreed in principle to find a way for them to return to Afghanistan and abandon the fight", Gopal wrote, but the initiative was frustrated by the unwillingness of the United States and the Afghan government to provide any assurance that they would not arrested and detained.

The Taliban continued to pursue the possibility of reconciliation in subsequent years, with apparent interest on the part of the Karzai government, according to Gopal. Delegations "representing large sections of the Taliban leadership" traveled to Kabul in both 2003 and 2004 to meet with senior government officials, according to his account.

But the George W. Bush administration remained uninterested in offering assurances of security to the Taliban.

Robert Grenier, then the CIA station chief in Islamabad, revealed in an article in al Jazeera Jan. 31, 2010 that former Taliban foreign minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil had been serving as an intermediary with the Taliban on their possible return to Afghanistan in 2002 when he was "arrested and imprisoned for his pains".

That the war and occupation of a country on the far fringe of American interests could have been over seven years ago, with the concommitant saving of thousands of US and Afghan lives, as well as enough money to make an actual dent in the budget deficit, is a shocking realization. But even more shocking is the realization that the US military is actively working to prepetuate the conflict for purely self-serving ends.

Joshua Foust notes this passage from the Strick van Linschoten/ Felix Keuhn report:

The campaign to target the mid and high-ranking leadership appears to be a key part of the U.S. strategy against the Taliban at the moment.19 Its impact has been felt. As the older generation decreases in size, the vacant positions and power vacuum are filled by two groups from younger generations: the clerics and bureaucrats involved in the Taliban’s government during the 1990s and an even younger set of commanders. These newer generations are potentially a more serious threat. With little or no memory of Afghan society prior to the Soviet war in the 1980s, this new generation of commanders is more ideologically motivated and less nationalistic than previous generations, and therefore less pragmatic. It is not interested in negotiations or compromise with foreigners.

And writes (emphasis mine):

Sadly, this is precisely what ISAF wants to do. By fracturing the movement, by decapitating it or nearly doing so, ISAF leadership hopes to force the Taliban to relent to their demands. Alex and Felix’s concerns are very real, and they should be troubling, but they also implicitly highlight one of the fundamental flaws in ISAF’s strategy: it is not a political one. What little strategy there is is purely militaristic: focused on grabbing territory and killing baddies. The very conceit behind the HVT targeting campaign is a rejection of politics and compromise—and the idea that ISAF will have to give anything for the sake of peace.

Which is why, no matter how well argued the report, it just won’t change any minds. The issues of evil, of America deciding who is best for Afghanistan, and of long-term risk management are wrapped up in so many emotions simple logic won’t unravel them. Entire careers ride on the casual assumption that all Taliban are therefore al Qaeda; that all militancy in Afghanistan is the same. Soldiers and Marines who come back from the field know this is not the case—that most of the people they fight are locals fighting for local reasons. But that basic truth, that our own leadership is choosing to get the war fundamentally wrong, just isn’t filtering upward.

It was only last month that Martine van Bijlert of the Afghanistan Analysts Network created a small storm in Afghan discussion circles by charging that the happy-talk from Petraeus' camp about success there was simply a "media and communication strategy" focussed on international preceptions rather than honest reporting about reality on the ground, and that "the gap between what policymakers believe privately and what they propagate in public is so vast that it must hurt their brains (not to mention their conscience)". Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Keuhn have done a valuable service by not only pointing out that a political deal is possible but showing that US generals are determined to stymie any such deal for reasons having to do with careerist ambitions, with Washington policymakers willing co-conspirators for their own selfish domestic political ends.

But as Joshua writes, unless we make a stink about such stuff it will not impact upon US policymaking. Be they politicians or pundits, think-tankers or journalists, the "serious people" inside the Beltway cannot accept any variation on the word "defeat". The loss of worldview, of prestige and personal pride – and most importantly for many the loss of votes from the American people they've been selling the Washington Rules to for too many years – make that a non-starter. And so we're treated to a non-sensical policy of escalation and prolongment that might be subtitled "desperately seeking every which way but lose" which even so ends up as an intensely negative result. It's cowardice of the most venal and self-serving sort. Still, as long as it can be labelled a draw or a win, that's ok by them.

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Posted by robertgreenwald on February 7th, 2011

The new report from NYU’s Center for International Cooperation is a damning description of the U.S. policies in Afghanistan since 2001, and a warning that the escalated military strategy blocks the road to peace while making the Taliban more dangerous.

Separating the Taliban from al-Qaeda: The Core of Success in Afghanistan (.pdf) is the latest in a continuous string of statements from Afghanistan experts that the U.S. war policies that were launched a year ago aren’t making us safer and aren’t worth the substantial costs: $1 million per U.S. troop in Afghanistan per year, for a total of more than $375.5 billion wasted so far. The report is written by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, Kandahar-based researchers who’ve spent more than four years researching the Taliban and the recent history of southern Afghanistan.

George W. Bush’s Leftovers: Mistaking Taliban for Al Qaeda

The main target of criticism in the report is the major conceit passed from the Bush Administration to the Obama Administration on Afghanistan: the conflation of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The authors warn that,

“The claim that the link between the Taliban and al-Qaeda is stronger than ever, or unbreakable, is potentially a major intelligence failure that hinders the United States and the international community from achieving their core objectives.” (p. 4)

Strick van Linschoten and Kuehn summarize a history of the Taliban/Al Qaeda relationship that is likely unfamiliar to most Westerners. As a movement, the Taliban rank-and-file grew out of a history almost totally isolated from the developments in political Islam that formed the experience of Al Qaeda’s leadership, and the core leadership of both groups had little interaction in their organizations’ early years.  The Taliban’s ambitions were and are plainly local, while Al Qaeda’s are oriented toward the idea of an international jihad against “Zionists and crusaders.”  While we in the Western world may find the Taliban’s program of social hyper-conservatism objectionable in its own right, they are not al-Qaeda.

We all know, however, that the mindset of George W. Bush and his administration lacked nuance. His “with us or against us” rhetoric conflated the Taliban with al Qaeda. That conflation effectively short-circuited early attempts to reintegrate Taliban elements willing to work with the new order in Afghanistan:

“The counterterrorism policies of the United States at that time threatened the security of Taliban who might have been willing to join the process, and Afghan officials with whom the Taliban communicated said they could not protect them from detention by the United States. The strong interests of neighboring countries such as Pakistan and Iran also helped steer Taliban leaders towards taking up arms once again. By 2003 they had regrouped and put command structures in place, connecting to local groups inside Afghanistan to begin an insurgency.”

In short, had the U.S. adopted a more nuanced approach in distinguishing Taliban from Al Qaeda, we might not be facing the insurgency that’s continuing its march across Afghanistan.

President Obama may have a more intellectual way of conflating the threat, “Al Qaeda and their extremist allies” who may provide “safe haven” if they retake Afghanistan, but the essential counterproductive flaw in the thinking remains. U.S. policy talks a big game about reconciling with the “small t taliban,” but our conflation of the Taliban and Al Qaeda blocks any serious attempt at a political settlement. Worse, U.S. military strategies are taking a group that’s distinct from Al Qaeda and making it more vulnerable to Al Qaeda influence.

We’re Making the Taliban More Al Qaeda-Like

Part of the new escalated military campaign in Afghanistan was a massive increase in the number of night raids and other killings of Taliban leadership. The problem is that when the older, more locally focused leaders are killed, they are replaced by a younger breed of commander who’s typically much more radical, and their slow takeover of the insurgency is making it much more dangerous to the interests of the United States.

According to the report,

“These newer generations are potentially a more serious threat. With little or no memory of Afghan society prior to the Soviet war in the 1980s, this new generation of commanders is more ideologically motivated and less nationalistic than previous generations, and therefore less pragmatic. It is not interested in negotiations or compromise with foreigners. They have never lived in an Afghanistan that was at peace. Members of the youngest generation, often raised solely in refugee camps and madrasas in Pakistan, have no experience of traditional communities, productive economic activity, or citizenship in any state; they are citizens of jihad. Al- Qaeda operatives have been known to seek out direct contact with such younger Taliban field commanders inside Afghanistan. “

In other words, the Taliban is not Al Qaeda, but the U.S. military campaign is having the unintended consequence of making it more Al Qaeda-like: decentralized, radicalized and predisposed towards jihad.

It’s Time to Change Course

The Obama Administration’s wrong-headed conflation of the Taliban with the Al Qaeda threat is an ugly relic of the “with us or against us” rhetoric from the Bush years, and it’s time we got over it. This view of the conflict is what got us into this 100,000+ troop counterinsurgency that was launched almost exactly a year ago and that’s brought us nothing but grief since. We’ve had record casualties, record civilian deaths, and record costs, all while the Taliban continued to spread across the country. Not only has the U.S. failed to reverse insurgent momentum, but we’ve managed to make the Taliban even more susceptible to Al Qaeda overtures. If that’s not a rank failure, we don’t know what is.

Bottom line: if we are serious about wanting to protect American security and about reaching a political settlement that gets our troops home, we have to talk to the Taliban. However, that requires a major shift in the Obama Administration’s view of the players in the conflict. Right now, the administration’s strategy is killing off the generation of leaders inside the Taliban that will be most willing to talk.

The president once talked about his opposition to “dumb wars.” Well, this policy in Afghanistan is making this war dumber by the minute. Strick van Linschoten and Kuehn paint a picture of an insurgency that didn’t have to happen and a policy that could lead to a deadlier insurgency with which it will be incredibly hard to reconcile. Our leaders should take a close look at this report, and then get serious about non-military solutions for the conflict. There is no reason for the war we’re fighting anymore.

If you’re tired of this war that’s not making us safer and not worth the costs, join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter.

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Posted by alexthurston on February 7th, 2011

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch

Pox Americana
Driving Through the Gates of Hell and Other American Pastimes in the Greater Middle East

By Tom Engelhardt

As we’ve watched the dramatic events in the Middle East, you would hardly know that we had a thing to do with them.  Oh yes, in the name of its War on Terror, Washington had for years backed most of the thuggish governments now under siege or anxious that they may be next in line to hear from their people.  When it came to Egypt in particular, there was initially much polite (and hypocritical) discussion in the media about how our “interests” and our “values” were in conflict, about how far the U.S. should back off its support for the Mubarak regime, and about what a “tightrope” the Obama administration was walking.  While the president and his officials flailed, the mildest of questions were raised about how much we should chide our erstwhile allies, or encourage the massed protestors, and about whether we should “take sides” (as though we hadn’t done so decisively over the last decades).

With popular cries for “democracy” and “freedom” sweeping through the Middle East, it’s curious to note that the Bush-era’s now-infamous “democracy agenda” has been nowhere in sight.  In its brief and disastrous life, it was used as a battering ram for regimes Washington loathed and offered as a soft pillow of future possibility to those it loved.

Still, make no mistake, there’s a story in a Washington stunned and “blindsided,” in an administration visibly toothless and in disarray as well as dismayed over the potential loss of its Egyptian ally, “the keystone of its Middle Eastern policy,” that’s so big it should knock your socks off.  And make no mistake: part of the spectacle of the moment lies in watching that other great power of the Cold War era finally head ever so slowly and reluctantly for the exits.  You know the one I’m talking about.  In 1991, when the Soviet Union disappeared and the United States found itself the last superpower standing, Washington mistook that for a victory most rare.  In the years that followed, in a paroxysm of self-satisfaction and amid clouds of self-congratulation, its leaders would attempt nothing less than to establish a global Pax Americana.  Their breathtaking ambitions would leave hubris in the shade.

The results, it’s now clear, were no less breathtaking, even if disastrously so.  Almost 20 years after the lesser superpower of the Cold War left the world stage, the “victor” is now lurching down the declinist slope, this time as the other defeated power of the Cold War era.

So don’t mark the end of the Cold War in 1991 as our conventional histories do.  Mark it in the early days of 2011, and consider the events of this moment a symbolic goodbye-to-all-that for the planet’s “sole superpower.”

Abroads, Near and Far

The proximate cause of Washington’s defeat is a threatened collapse of its imperial position in a region that, ever since President Jimmy Carter proclaimed his Carter Doctrine in 1980, has been considered the crucible of global power, the place where, above all, the Great Game must be played out.  Today, “people power” is shaking the “pillars” of the American position in the Middle East, while — despite the staggering levels of military might the Pentagon still has embedded in the area — the Obama administration has found itself standing by helplessly in grim confusion.

As a spectacle of imperial power on the decline, we haven’t seen anything like it since 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down.  Then, too, people power stunned the world.  It swept like lightning across the satellite states of Eastern Europe, those “pillars” of the old Soviet empire, most of which had (as in the Middle East today) seemed quiescent for years.

It was an invigorating time.  After all, such moments often don’t come once in a life, no less twice in 20 years.  If you don’t happen to be in Washington, the present moment is proving no less remarkable, unpredictable, and earthshaking than its predecessor.

Make no mistake, either (though you wouldn’t guess it from recent reportage): these two moments of people power are inextricably linked.  Think of it this way: as we witness the true denouement of the Cold War, it’s already clear that the “victor” in that titanic struggle, like the Soviet Union before it, mined its own positions and then was forced to watch with shock, awe, and dismay as those mines went off.

Among the most admirable aspects of the Soviet collapse was the decision of its remarkable leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, not to call the Red Army out of its barracks, as previous Soviet leaders had done in East Germany in 1953, Hungary in 1956, and Prague in 1968.  Gorbachev’s conscious (and courageous) choice to let the empire collapse rather than employ violence to try to halt the course of events remains historically little short of unique.

Today, after almost two decades of exuberant imperial impunity, Washington finds itself in an uncomfortably unraveling situation.  Think of it as a kind of slo-mo Gorbachev moment — without a Gorbachev in sight.

What we’re dealing with here is, in a sense, the story of two “abroads.”  In 1990, in the wake of a disastrous war in Afghanistan, in the midst of a people’s revolt, the Russians lost what they came to call their “near abroad,” the lands from Eastern Europe to Central Asia that had made up the Soviet Empire.  The U.S., being the wealthier and stronger of the two Cold War superpowers, had something the Soviets never possessed.  Call it a “far abroad.”  Now, in the midst of another draining, disastrous Afghan war, in the face of another people’s revolt, a critical part of its far abroad is being shaken to its roots.

In the Middle East, the two pillars of American imperial power and control have long been Egypt and Saudi Arabia — along, of course, with obdurate Israel and little Jordan.  In previous eras, the chosen bulwarks of “stability” and “moderation,” terms much favored in Washington, had been the Shah of Iran in the 1960s and 1970s (and you remember his fate), and Saddam Hussein in the 1980s (and you remember his fate, too).  In the larger region the Bush administration liked to call “the Greater Middle East” or “the arc of instability,” another key pillar has been Pakistan, a country now in destabilization mode under the pressure of a disastrous American war in Afghanistan.

And yet, without a Gorbachevian bone in its body, the Obama administration has still been hamstrung.  While negotiating madly behind the scenes to retain power and influence in Egypt, it is not likely to call the troops out of the barracks.  American military intervention remains essentially inconceivable.   Don’t wait for Washington to send paratroopers to the Suez Canal as those fading imperial powers France and England tried to do in 1956.  It won’t happen.  Washington is too drained by years of war and economic bad times for that.

Facing genuine shock and awe (the people’s version), the Obama administration has been shaken.  It has shown itself to be weak, visibly fearful, at a loss for what to do, and always several steps behind developing events.  Count on one thing: its officials are already undoubtedly worried about a domestic political future in which the question (never good for Democrats) could be: Who lost the Middle East?  In the meantime, their oh-so-solemn, carefully calibrated statements, still in command mode, couched in imperial-speak, and focused on what client states in the Middle East must do, might as well be spoken to the wind.  Like the Cheshire Cat’s grin, only the rhetoric of the last decades seems to be left.

The question is: How did this happen?  And the answer, in part, is: blame it on the way the Cold War officially ended, the mood of unparalleled hubris in which the United States emerged from it, and the unilaterialist path its leaders chose in its wake.

Let’s do a little reviewing.

Second-Wave Unilateralism

When the Soviet Union dissolved, Washington was stunned — the collapse was unexpected despite all the signs that something monumental was afoot — and then thrilled.  The Cold War was over and we had won.  Our mighty adversary had disappeared from the face of the Earth.

It didn’t take long for terms like “sole superpower” and “hyperpower” to crop up, or for dreams of a global Pax Americana to take shape amid talk about how our power and glory would outshine even the Roman and British empires.  The conclusion that victory — as in World War II — would have its benefits, that the world was now our oyster, led to two waves of American “unilateralism” or go-it-alone-ism that essentially drove the car of state directly toward the nearest cliff and helped prepare the way for the sudden eruption of people power in the Middle East.

The second of those waves began with the fateful post-9/11 decision of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and company to “drain the global swamp” (as they put it within days of the attacks in New York and Washington).  They would, that is, pursue al-Qaeda (and whomever else they decided to label an enemy) by full military means.  That included the invasion of Afghanistan and the issuing of a with-us-or-against-us diktat to Pakistan, which reportedly included the threat to bomb that country “back to the Stone Age.”  It also involved a full-scale militarization, Pentagonization, and privatization of American foreign policy, and above all else, the crushing of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and the occupation of his country.  All that and more came to be associated with the term “unilateralism,” with the idea that U.S. military power was so overwhelming Washington could simply go it alone in the world with any “coalition of the billing” it might muster and still get exactly what it wanted.

That second wave of unilateralism, now largely relegated to the memory hole of history by the mainstream media, helped pave the way for the upheavals in Tunisia, Egypt, and possibly elsewhere.  As a start, from Pakistan to North Africa, the Bush administration’s Global War on Terror, along with its support for thuggish rule in the name of fighting al-Qaeda, helped radicalize the region.  (Remember, for instance, that while Washington was pouring billions of dollars into the American-equipped Egyptian Army and the American-trained Egyptian officer corps, Bush administration officials were delighted to enlist the Mubarak regime as War on Terror warriors, using Egypt’s jails as places to torture terror suspects rendered off any streets anywhere.)

In the process, by sweeping an area from North Africa to the Chinese border that it dubbed the Greater Middle East into that War on Terror, the Bush administration undoubtedly gave the region a new-found sense of unity, a feeling that the fate of its disparate parts was somehow bound together.

In addition, Bush’s top officials, fundamentalists all when it came to U.S. military might and delusional fantasists when it came to what that military could accomplish, had immense power at its command: the power to destroy.  They gave that power the snappy label “shock and awe,” and then used it to blow a hole in the heart of the Middle East by invading Iraq.  In the process, they put that land, already on the ropes, onto life support.

It’s never really come off.  In the wars, civil and guerrilla, set off by the American invasion and occupation, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis undoubtedly died and millions were sent into exile abroad or in their own land.  Today, Iraq remains a barely breathing carcass of a nation, unable to deliver something as simple as electricity to its restive people or pump enough oil to pay for the disaster.

At the same time, the Bush administration sat on its hands while Israel had its way, taking Palestinian lands via its settlement policies and blowing its own hole in southern Lebanon with American backing (and weaponry) in the summer of 2006, and a smaller hole of utter devastation through Gaza in 2009.  In other words, from Lebanon to Pakistan, the Greater Middle East was destabilized and radicalized.

The acts of Bush’s officials couldn’t have been rasher, or more destructive.  They managed, for instance, to turn Afghanistan into the globe’s foremost narco-state, even as they gave new life to the Taliban — no small miracle for a movement that, in 2001, had lost any vestige of popularity.  Most crucial of all, they and the Obama adminsitration after them spread the war irrevocably to populous, nuclear-armed Pakistan.

To their mad plans and projects, you can trace, at least in part, the rise to power of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza (the only significant result of Bush’s “democracy agenda,” since Iraq’s elections arrived, despite Bush administration opposition, due to the prestige of Ayatollah Ali Sistani).  You can credit them with an Iran-allied Shiite government in Iraq and a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan, as well as the growth of a version of the Taliban in the Pakistani tribal borderlands.  You can also credit them with the disorganization and impoverishment of the region.  In summary, when the Bush unilateralists took control of the car of state, they souped it up, armed it to the teeth, and sent it careening off to catastrophe.

How hollow the neocon quip of 2003 now rings: “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad.  Real men want to go to Tehran.”  But remember as well that, however much the Bush administration accomplished (in a manner of speaking), there was a wave of unilateralism, no less significant, that preceded it.

Our Financial Jihadis

Though we all know this first wave well, we don’t usually think of it as “unilateralist,” or in terms of the Middle East at all, or speak about it in the same breath with the Bush administration and its neocon supporters.  I’m talking about the globalists, sometimes called the neoliberals, who were let loose to do their damnedest in the good times of the post-Cold-War Clinton years.  They, too, were dreamy about organizing the planet and about another kind of American power that was never going to end: economic power.  (And, of course, they would be called back to power in Washington in the Obama years to run the U.S. economy into the ground yet again.)  They believed deeply that we were the economic superpower of the ages, and they were eager to create their own version of a Pax Americana.  Intent on homogenizing the world by bringing American economic power to bear on it, their version of shock-and-awe tactics involved calling in institutions like the International Monetary Fund to discipline developing countries into a profitable kind of poverty and misery.

In the end, as they gleefully sliced and diced subprime mortgages, they drove a different kind of hole through the world.  They were financial jihadis with their own style of shock-and-awe tactics and they, too, proved deeply destructive, even if in a different way.  The irony was that, in the economic meltdown of 2008, they finally took down the global economy they had helped “unify.”  And that occured just as the second wave of unilateralists were facing the endgame of their dreams of global domination.  In the process, for instance, Egypt, the most populous of Arab countries, was economically neoliberalized and — except for a small elite who made out like the bandits they were — impoverished.

Talk about “creative destruction”!  The two waves of American unilateralists nearly took down the planet.  They let loose demons of every sort, even as they ensured that the world’s first experience of a sole superpower would prove short indeed.  Heap onto the rubble they left behind the global disaster of rising prices for the basics — food and fuel — and you have a situation so combustible that no one should have been surprised when a Tunisian match lit it aflame.

That this moment began in the Greater Middle East should be no surprise either.  That it might not end there should not be ruled out.  This looks like, but may not be, an “Islamic” moment.  If the second wave of American unilateralists ensured that this would start as a Middle Eastern phenomenon, conditions for people’s-power movements exist elsewhere as well.

The Gates of Hell

Nobody today remembers how, in September 2004, Amr Musa, the head of the Arab League, described the post-invasion Iraqi situation.  “The gates of hell,” he said, “are open in Iraq.”  This was not the sort of language we were used to hearing in the U.S., no matter what you felt about the war.  It read — and probably still reads — like an over-the-top metaphor, but it could as easily be taken as a realistic depiction of what happened not just in Iraq, but in the Greater Middle East and, to some extent, in the world.

Our unilateralists twice drove blithely through those gates, imagining that they were the gates to paradise.  The results are now clear for all to see.

And don’t forget, the gates of hell remain open.  Keep your eyes on at least two places, starting with Saudi Arabia, about which practically no one is yet writing, though one of these days its situation could turn out to be shakier than now imagined.  Certainly, whoever controls the Saudi stock market thought so, because as the situation grew more tumultuous in Egypt, Saudi stocks took a nosedive.  With Saudi Arabia, you couldn’t get more basic when it comes to U.S. policy or the fate of the planet, given the amount of oil still under its desert sands.  And then don’t forget the potentially most frightening country of all, Pakistan, where the final gasp of America’s military unilateralists is still playing itself out as if on a reel of film that just won’t end.

Yes, the Obama administration may squeeze by in the region for a while.  Perhaps the Egyptian high command — half of which seems to have been in Washington at the moment the you-know-what hit the fan in their own country — will take over and perhaps they will suppress people power again for a period. Who knows?

One thing is clear inside the gates of hell: whatever wild flowers or weeds turn out to be capable of growing in the soil tilled so assiduously by the victors of 1991, Pax Americana proved to be a Pox Americana for the region and the world.

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 for TomDispatch Readers: Paul Woodward of the War in Context website has been offering remarkable ongoing coverage of the fast developing story in Egypt and the Middle East (including striking visuals and video clips).  Not surprisingly, the updates and analysis of Juan Cole at his Informed Comment blog has been invaluable, as has been the collecting of relevant reporting at Antiwar.com.  For three provocative pieces on the Obama administration and developing events, you might check out Jonathan Schell on the U.S. government versus people power, Gareth Porter on why the U.S. clings to an illusory quest for dominance in the Middle East, and Eric Margolis on America's crumbling Mideast Raj.]

Copyright 2011 Tom Engelhardt

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on February 5th, 2011

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Robert Greenwald

Cutting the deficit is all the rage in Washington, D.C., these days, and members of both parties are all too willing to put vital public structures like Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block. The implication is that we can’t afford to fund luxurious programs that do extravagant, outlandish things like preventing the elderly from slipping back into a 50-percent poverty rate. This implication is a lie. We have plenty of money. See the so-called “defense” budget for proof.

Here’s what Andrew Bacevich had to say about this situation in his most recent column:

The Pentagon presently spends more in constant dollars than it did at any time during the Cold War — this despite the absence of anything remotely approximating what national security experts like to call a “peer competitor.” Evil Empire? It exists only in the fevered imaginations of those who quiver at the prospect of China adding a rust-bucket Russian aircraft carrier to its fleet or who take seriously the ravings of radical Islamists promising from deep inside their caves to unite the Umma in a new caliphate.

What are Americans getting for their money? Sadly, not much. Despite extraordinary expenditures (not to mention exertions and sacrifices by U.S. forces), the return on investment is, to be generous, unimpressive. The chief lesson to emerge from the battlefields of the post-9/11 era is this: the Pentagon possesses next to no ability to translate “military supremacy” into meaningful victory.

To illustrate Bacevich’s point: We’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of the invasion of Marjah by U.S. forces, a move that began the escalated military campaign enabled by President Obama’s huge troop increase. What have we gained in that year in Afghanistan?

  • Country-wide, 2010 was the most violent year of the war so far. Ten thousand people died in war-related violence, including roughly 500 U.S. troops, thousands of civilians and who knows how many insurgents.
  • We spent roughy 20 million on killing each enemy fighter in Afghanistan. Yet, Taliban growth is such that despite reportedly losing more than 5,000 fighters this year, NATO estimates their numbers remain steady across the country.
  • Numerous polls show that opposition to the war is at an all-time high, with 63 percent opposing the war. When you do the math, that’s more than 196 million Americans who want our troops to come home.

Now, ask yourself, “Are these results worth the $2 billion per week we spent on the Afghanistan War last year?” The answer is very clearly, “No.”

Americans have been asking themselves this question this year, if the latest polling from The New York Times and CBS News is any indication. The pollsters were interested in Americans’ feelings about whether and how to cut the national budget. The results show that when forced to pick from among various big-ticket government programs, people in the U.S. very clearly prefer cuts to military budgets before items like Social Security and Medicare. Here’s the percentages of people who favored cuts in various programs:

  • military spending: 55 percent
  • Medicare: 21 percent
  • Social Security: 13 percent

Here’s how they’d prefer to do it, too:

  • Reduce troops in Europe/Asia: 55 percent
  • Eliminate weapons programs 19 percent
  • Reduce pay of veterans: 12 percent
  • Reduce size of military branches: 7 percent

In other words, if Congress forced the American people to choose how to cut spending, Americans would choose to save money by bringing troops home. If policymakers really wanted to play it safe, they’d start by cutting funds intended to be used to deploy troops to Afghanistan. A whopping 63 percent of Americans now say they oppose that particular war, making it the perfect place to cut first.

It’s been almost a year since President Obama launched his escalated military campaign, and we’ve seen no progress towards our strategic goals in the region. If our policymakers were really serious about cutting wasteful government spending, they’d start with this war that’s not making us safer and not worth the costs. Significant troop reductions from Afghanistan this year would not only bring down the deficit in the long run, but also would give the American people what they’ve been asking for for months: an end to this brutal, futile war.

Follow Robert Greenwald on Twitter.

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Posted by robertgreenwald on February 5th, 2011

Cutting the deficit is all the rage in Washington, D.C., these days, and members of both parties are all too willing to put vital public structures like Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block. The implication is that we can’t afford to fund luxurious programs that do extravagant, outlandish things like preventing the elderly from slipping back into a 50-percent poverty rate. This implication is a lie. We have plenty of money. See the so-called “defense” budget for proof.

Here’s what Andrew Bacevich had to say about this situation in his most recent column:

The Pentagon presently spends more in constant dollars than it did at any time during the Cold War — this despite the absence of anything remotely approximating what national security experts like to call a “peer competitor.” Evil Empire? It exists only in the fevered imaginations of those who quiver at the prospect of China adding a rust-bucket Russian aircraft carrier to its fleet or who take seriously the ravings of radical Islamists promising from deep inside their caves to unite the Umma in a new caliphate.

What are Americans getting for their money? Sadly, not much. Despite extraordinary expenditures (not to mention exertions and sacrifices by U.S. forces), the return on investment is, to be generous, unimpressive. The chief lesson to emerge from the battlefields of the post-9/11 era is this: the Pentagon possesses next to no ability to translate “military supremacy” into meaningful victory.

To illustrate Bacevich’s point: We’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of the invasion of Marjah by U.S. forces, a move that began the escalated military campaign enabled by President Obama’s huge troop increase. What have we gained in that year in Afghanistan?

  • Country-wide, 2010 was the most violent year of the war so far. Ten thousand people died in war-related violence, including roughly 500 U.S. troops, thousands of civilians and who knows how many insurgents.
  • We spent roughy 20 million on killing each enemy fighter in Afghanistan. Yet, Taliban growth is such that despite reportedly losing more than 5,000 fighters this year, NATO estimates their numbers remain steady across the country.
  • Numerous polls show that opposition to the war is at an all-time high, with 63 percent opposing the war. When you do the math, that’s more than 196 million Americans who want our troops to come home.

Now, ask yourself, “Are these results worth the $2 billion per week we spent on the Afghanistan War last year?” The answer is very clearly, “No.”

Americans have been asking themselves this question this year, if the latest polling from The New York Times and CBS News is any indication. The pollsters were interested in Americans’ feelings about whether and how to cut the national budget. The results show that when forced to pick from among various big-ticket government programs, people in the U.S. very clearly prefer cuts to military budgets before items like Social Security and Medicare. Here’s the percentages of people who favored cuts in various programs:

  • military spending: 55 percent
  • Medicare: 21 percent
  • Social Security: 13 percent

Here’s how they’d prefer to do it, too:

  • Reduce troops in Europe/Asia: 55 percent
  • Eliminate weapons programs 19 percent
  • Reduce pay of veterans: 12 percent
  • Reduce size of military branches: 7 percent

In other words, if Congress forced the American people to choose how to cut spending, Americans would choose to save money by bringing troops home. If policymakers really wanted to play it safe, they’d start by cutting funds intended to be used to deploy troops to Afghanistan. A whopping 63 percent of Americans now say they oppose that particular war, making it the perfect place to cut first.

It’s been almost a year since President Obama launched his escalated military campaign, and we’ve seen no progress towards our strategic goals in the region. If our policymakers were really serious about cutting wasteful government spending, they’d start with this war that’s not making us safer and not worth the costs. Significant troop reductions from Afghanistan this year would not only bring down the deficit in the long run, but also would give the American people what they’ve been asking for for months: an end to this brutal, futile war.

Follow Robert Greenwald on Twitter.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on February 2nd, 2011

Last year was the worst year for civilian deaths in the war so far, and irregular armed groups backed by the U.S. and by the Afghan government are preying on the population while recruiting and abusing children. Go team.

I’m almost numb from continually relaying reports like this, but every time I get an email update or a news alert from ISAF or the U.S. government, it contains claims of “progress,” so I’m compelled to keep highlighting alternative reporting when it comes in. Frankly, I’m so disgusted by the “progress” talk that I’m having trouble holding anyone who spouts it in any regard other than the most utter contempt.

Here’s the latest assessment from the Afghanistan Rights Monitor (.PDF):

Almost everything related to the war surged in 2010: the combined numbers of Afghan and foreign forces surpassed 350,000; security incidents mounted to over 100 per week; more fighters from all warring side were killed; and the number of civilian people killed, wounded and displaced hit record levels.

…From 1 January to 31 December 2010, at least 2,421 civilian Afghans were killed and over 3,270 were injured in conflict-related security incidents across Afghanistan. This means everyday 6-7 noncombatants were killed and 8-9 were wounded in the war.

…In addition to civilian casualties, hundreds of thousands of people were affected in various ways by the intensified armed violence in Afghanistan in 2010. Tens of thousands of people were forced out of their homes or deprived of healthcare and education services and livelihood opportunities due to the continuation of war in their home areas.

Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) are widely considered as the most lethal tools which killed over 690 civilians in 2010. However, as you will read in this report, there is virtually no information about the use of cluster munitions by US/NATO forces. Despite Afghanistan’s accession to the international Anti-Cluster Bomb Treaty in 2008, the US military has allegedly maintained stockpiles of cluster munitions in Afghanistan.

A second key issue highlighted in this report is the emergence of the irregular armed groups in parts of Afghanistan which are backed by the Afghan Government and its foreign allies. These groups have been deplored as criminal and predatory by many Afghans and have already been accused of severe human rights violations such as child recruitment and sexual abuse.

Compare this with the weasel words in President Obama’s State of the Union address:

In Afghanistan, our troops have taken Taliban strongholds and trained Afghan security forces. Our purpose is clear: By preventing the Taliban from reestablishing a stranglehold over the Afghan people, we will deny al Qaeda the safe haven that served as a launching pad for 9/11.

Thanks to our heroic troops and civilians, fewer Afghans are under the control of the insurgency. There will be tough fighting ahead, and the Afghan government will need to deliver better governance. But we are strengthening the capacity of the Afghan people and building an enduring partnership with them. This year, we will work with nearly 50 countries to begin a transition to an Afghan lead. And this July, we will begin to bring our troops home. (Applause.)

This is just another version of General Petraeus’ empty “taking the fight to the enemy” rhetoric that tells you nothing about the outcomes of the strategy and tactics used by U.S. forces. The ARM data above makes it clear that the president would be more accurate if he said, “fewer Afghans were living outside the crossfire.” The fact is, one year after the new escalated military campaign began in Marjah, things are much worse for the people of Afghanistan. Blame the escalation for the continued increase, or be more generous and say that the escalation simply failed to prevent further deterioration. But please, spare us the lie that “progress” is being made.

If you’re tired of this war that’s not making us safer and that’s not worth the cost, join us at Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter.

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