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Archive for July, 2011

Posted by The Agonist on July 17th, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

Bamyan, Afghanistan | July 17

RFI – Afghanistan has begun handing over responsibility for security from Nato soldiers to its own troops in a process designed to leave the country free of international combat forces by 2014. Seven parts of the country will be transferred over the week in a move that could take up to two years to complete.

“A ceremony was held in Bamyan police headquarters today to mark the official transition of responsibilities from foreign forces to Afghan forces,” said interior ministry spokesman Siddiq Siddiqi.

The ceremony was attended by the head of the national transition committee, former finance minister Ashraf Ghani, along with national ministers of interior, defence and public works. The deputy head of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency also attended and the New Zealand ambassador to Kabul, representing his troops who have been based in the area.

The central mountainous province of Bamyan is a devoutly anti-Taliban area populated by the ethnic Hazara minority and home to two sixth century Buddhist statues that were blown up by the Islamists during their brutal reign.

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Posted by The Agonist on July 16th, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

Kabul | July 15

DPA – The United States has withdrawn 650 of its soldiers from Afghanistan, in accordance with a drawdown plan announced by President Barack Obama last month, US military confirmed Friday.

The move sets in motion a gradual 15-month withdrawal of 33,000 soldiers, of whom 10,000 are to leave the country before the end of the year.

Around 650 US army troops, deployed in Parwan province northwest of Kabul, had flown out on Wednesday, the US military confirmed Friday.

‘As part of the drawdown, the first US troops have left Afghanistan,’ the military said in a statement. ‘These units, the 113th and 134th Cavalry (Iowa National Guard) left this week and will not be replaced.’

One of the units transferred its mission to another team, the army said, while another unit was involved in a mentoring mission that had ended. Its security responsibility, in Kabul province, has been handed to Afghan National Security Forces.

‘These units were always scheduled to return home at this time. However, it wasn’t until late last month that they found out they wouldn’t be replaced by incoming units,’ the military said.

Afghanistan is preparing for a security handover from international forces to Afghan forces, starting in seven areas next week.

Security analysts are sceptical about the capability of Afghan forces to deal with ongoing violence, which has been increasing in the past few weeks.

The United Nations said on Thursday that the first six months of 2011 had seen more security incidents, while conflict-related civilian casualties increased by 15 per cent.

There are around 140,000 foreign troops fighting the Taliban insurgency in war-ravaged Afghanistan, of whom around 97,000 are Americans.

US and NATO forces have committed to stay in the country until 2014.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on July 15th, 2011

On his way out of Afghanistan, General David Petraeus continues to throw out deceptive spin about the direction of the conflict in that country. The general wants to use cherry-picked numbers and vague characterizations to paint the insurgents as reeling under an assault by his pet counterinsurgency campaign, but big-picture “progress” exists only in his imagination. The truth is that security for Afghans is much, much worse than it was when Petraeus and his protege, General McChrystal, arrived.

Here’s Petraeus’ most recent attempt to put lipstick on the counterinsurgency pig, from The New York Times:

…[T]he general said signs of progress were beginning to appear. Insurgent attacks were down in May and June compared with the same months in 2010, and July is showing the same trend, he said.

“This just means that they have less capacity; they have been degraded somewhat,” he said of the insurgents. “This is the first real indicator — for the first time since 2006 — compared to the previous year, insurgent attack numbers are lower.”

First of all–General Petraeus has been claiming at least since the launch of the Marjah offensive in early 2009 that “the inputs…are about right, and now we’re starting to see the first of the outputs.” So what is Petraeus telling us in the New York Times’ piece quoted above? Surely he wasn’t telling Congress that we were making progress without any “real indicators” of such progress, was he?

Second: General Petraeus, as always, loves his cherry-picked statistics. Here’s a chart showing insurgent-initiated attacks over time from the Afghan NGO Safety Office’s latest bi-weekly report (.pdf):

ANSO Chart, country wide

Here’s another chart from the same report, showing the rate of attacks in Helmand province, where Petraeus’ counterinsurgency project focused over his and McChrystal’s tenure:

Helmand Attacks

See all that progress? I don’t, either.

The increased rate of attacks by insurgents and the escalated NATO response to it means that Petraeus’ counterinsurgency campaign has failed in one of its primary objectives: to protect the Afghan population. From the L.A. Times:

The Afghan war claimed 15% more civilian lives in the first half of this year than in the same period a year ago, the United Nations said in a report Thursday that painted a picture of deteriorating safety across the country.

The grim figures contrasted with relatively upbeat recent security assessments presented by senior U.S. military officials as an American troop drawdown gets underway.

The U.N. said it had documented 1,462 civilian deaths from January to June, four-fifths of them caused by insurgents. The report singled out the “dramatic growth” in the use of improvised explosive devices whose pressure plates can be tripped even by the weight of a child.

This snippet at the end of today’s New York Times article sums up the disconnect between Petraeus’ continued deceptions on the situation in Afghanistan and the true state of the conflict:

“There is no plan,” said Thomas Ruttig, a co-director of the Kabul-based Afghanistan Analysts Network, a research group.

“What we have is a public relations strategy — ‘Everything is improving; it’s hard but we’re making progress,’ ” Mr. Ruttig said, quoting Western officials here. “But for the president, the picture is gloomy. For Afghanistan, the picture is gloomy.”

For a recap of Petraeus’ unhinged P.R. campaign, see this video.

More Afghans are dying. Violence in Afghanistan is at the highest levels observed in the 10-year conflict. The simple fact is that security for Afghans is worse now than it was before the Obama Administration’s repeated escalations. Afghanistan is more dangerous for Afghans than it was before counterinsurgency enthusiasts turned it into a laboratory to test a now-discredited doctrine of war. And Petraeus, on his way out the door, is just as deceptive in his spin as ever.

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

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on July 15th, 2011

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

David Pratt, the Foreign Editor at the Scottish Herald, is a veteran of Afghanistan reporting, having worked there for Reuters, Agence France Presse and the BBC over the decades as well has his present employer. He may not be as well known to American readers as reporters for their own newspapers, but his experience is worth listening to. He fears a new civil war in Afghanistan, mainly promulgated by those the coalition has sheltered and enabled.

Four things in my view are currently conspiring to potentially drive Afghanistan into another internal conflict.

The first is a widespread dislike, and in some cases outright hatred, of President Hamid Karzai and his regime. The second is a rapid resurgence of ethnic divisions that are beginning to manifest themselves at the moment when the third factor, the withdrawal of coalition forces, gains pace. Then of course there is the fourth and perhaps most controversial factor, certainly when viewed from this side of the world: the way in which our presence in Afghanistan has helped create powerful and wealthy individuals who would fight to defend the privilege and profit they have accumulated from our military presence.

During recent visits most ordinary Afghans I’ve spoken to can’t understand why the international community continues to do business with Mr Karzai and those like him, such is the alleged corruption with which they are associated. The answer is simple enough and was illustrated by reaction to the assassination of his younger half-brother Ahmad Wali Karzai.

That the so-called strongman of Kandahar province was involved in a complex patronage network inextricably linked to the lucrative illegal drugs trade and burgeoning security apparatus was generally accepted by coalition officials, who readily turned a blind eye to such misdemeanours. What, after all, do such trifling things matter provided he does our bidding in the fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda?

…Time and again warlords like these have shown that ethnic and tribal loyalties or simply an allegiance to profit or power for its own sake is what matters over any concern for Afghanistan as a whole.

Just a few weeks ago a few of these same warlords who helped the US and Britain topple the Taliban regime in 2001 launched a political alliance against Mr Karzai’s rule. This opposition group, the first to comprise leaders from across Afghanistan’s Uzbek, Hazara and Tajik communities, say they are concerned that Karzai – himself an ethnic Pashtun – will try to consolidate greater power without the check of the international community in place as coalition troops begin to withdraw.

It’s their way of saying how determined they are to ensure they have a piece of the power-brokering action in Afghanistan’s future as the influence of the international community wanes. How spookily reminiscent this is of that terrible time in the 1990s when under their respective ethnic banners much the same men tore Kabul apart in their battle for dominance.

Back then General Dostum was one of those who played a key role. Today his prominence again among the ranks of the leaders in the new opposition alliance stands as a depressing and troubling reminder of how little the political scene has changed for the good in Afghanistan over the last two decades.

If, as many of my long-term Afghan friends and associates fear, the country is heading towards another civil war, we should not be surprised. Should such a nightmare occur it will involve not only the likes of the Taliban but those we have cosied up to while ignoring their violent and predatory behaviour in pursuit of our own short-term foreign policy interests.

Yesterday, a new UN report confirmed the first six months of 2011 were the deadliest for civilians in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001. After more than 10 years of war that statistic stands as an awful indictment of how our mission in Afghanistan has failed. The biggest fear now is that worse may come and not only at the hands of the Taliban, but from mercenary, power-hungry individuals who have pretended to be out friends.

Read the whole thing.

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Posted by Peace Action West on July 14th, 2011

From our partners at Peace Action West

In his speech last month announcing plans for a disappointingly small withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, President Obama declared,

America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home.

The elected leaders of our local municipalities could not agree more. In a resolution passed at the annual US Mayor’s Conference in Baltimore, the nation’s mayors have called on Obama to redirect funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to struggling American communities.  The resolution, which passed with an overwhelming majority, called to:

end the wars as soon as strategically possible and bring these war dollars home to meet vital human needs, promote job creation, rebuild our infrastructure, aid municipal and state governments, and develop a new economy based upon renewable, sustainable energy and reduce the federal debt.

This is the first time since the Vietnam War that the Mayor’s Conference has passed a resolution addressing U.S. foreign policy, when it then urged President Nixon to end the war within 6 months. While the current resolution is a bit more sedate, it sends a strong message to the administration that the American people are well aware of the connection between $4 trillion spent on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to date and the lack of funding for domestic programs and job creation here at home. In a country where 75 of 366 metropolitan areas expect to have double digit unemployment rates by the end of the year and 53% of its metropolitan areas expect levels over 8%, local communities are anxious to see not only their brothers and sisters but their tax dollars come home.

USCM President and mayor of Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa put it this way:

It’s time for Congress to get on with the serious business of legislating short and long-term solutions to our jobs crisis…. We need to stand for a new world order in federal spending. It’s time to bring our investments back home. We can’t be building roads and bridges in Baghdad and Kandahar, and not Baltimore and Kansas City. Not when we when we spend $2.1 million on defense every single minute. Not after nearly $1.2 trillion spent and over 6,000 lives lost in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ironically, the lead sponsor of the bill, Eugene, OR mayor Kitty Piercy was not able to attend the conference, explaining in an interview on Democracy Now:

the last three years, we’ve cut $20 million from our city budget. And when we’re asking our employees to take furlough days and make all kinds of sacrifices, I’ve really limited my travel to necessity.

Nonetheless, she has been outspoken in her promotion of local organizing to end the war:

I think the mayors of this country, who see everyday people every day and see how federal policies affect families’ lives and the struggles that people are having, I think they are just the voices that need to be heard and to join together to work hand in hand with our federal government to try to find a way to get this country back on track.

Obama’s planned drawdown is a small move in the right direction, but it is still completely out-of-step with the record number of Americans who want our troops home NOW. Reducing troop levels to 68,000 by the end of 2012 is simply not going to cut it. Last month we heard President Obama say,

Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war, at a time of rising debt and hard economic times. Now, we must invest in America’s greatest resource – our people. We must unleash innovation that creates new jobs and industry, while living within our means. We must rebuild our infrastructure and find new and clean sources of energy.

In the coming months leading up to the 2012 elections it will be up to us to hold him to such statements and be clear about what it will take to make them meaningful: a far more rapid, substantial and complete withdrawal of our troops from the region, and complete abandonment of a counterinsurgency strategy that has not and will not work.

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Posted by The Agonist on July 13th, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

Carlotta Gall & Ruhllah Khapalwak | Kabul | July 13

NYT – President Hamid Karzai wept as he buried his half brother in the family graveyard just south of the city of Kandahar on Wednesday morning, but moved swiftly to nominate another brother in his place within an hour to reinforce family and political pre-eminence in his ancestral homeland of Kandahar.

The death of Ahmed Wali Karzai, the head of Kandahar’s provincial council and the most powerful figure in southern Afghanistan, has shaken much of Afghanistan and is a severe blow to the president, who relied on him as a critical source of political and financial power for the last ten years. He was receiving guests at his Kandahar home Tuesday morning when he was shot in the head by a longtime associate, a police commander, for reasons that remain unclear.

Thousands of mourners attended the funeral, including senior ministers, governors and tribal chieftains closely flanking the president in a show of solidarity at the graveyard in Karz, which also holds the Karzais’ father, a towering tribal figure who was assassinated by the Taliban in 1999. As President Karzai knelt to kiss his brother’s face at the graveside, a dozen hands reached forward to hold him steady.

After the funeral Mr. Karzai made a conciliatory gesture to over a thousand tribal elders and officials from all over southern Afghanistan who had gathered in a government palace, asking them to recognize Shah Wali Karzai, a brother of Ahmed Wali, as the appointed elder of the family and leader of his Populzai tribe, to which the Karzais belong. It was a moment to unite both the tribes and political support around him in the face of the continuing insurgency. But it was also a signal that the Karzais would be a continuing force in Kandahar, some of those who attended said.

“If you want a developed and prosperous Afghanistan, you have to accept sacrifice,” the president told the somber gathering, according to several elders who were present. He recalled by name a number of senior officials and tribal leaders, including Gen. Daoud Daoud and Gen. Khan Muhammad Mujahid, police officials who had supported the opposition, and were killed in recent months in insurgent attacks around the country. “We have to have a strong commitment and decisiveness to move forward,” he said.

Then in accordance with Pashtun tribal tradition, he called on senior tribal elders, including from Kandahar’s most powerful tribes, to tie one round each of a long silk turban on Shah Wali’s head.

Among the first was Gul Agha Shirzai, the powerful former governor of Kandahar and a known rival of the president’s slain brother. He also called on Hajji Agha Lalai and Hajji Karimullah Naqibi, prominent leaders of the Alikozai tribe, whose members have in the past blamed Ahmed Wali Karzai for a series of assassinations against their tribal leaders.

“We all agreed with it,” said Hajji Hafizullah, an elder from the Alikozai tribe who uses only one name. “This is a very traditional society and whenever someone dies, his brother or son fills his position. All the ministers were there and he called on Shirzai first to show we are all united,” he said.

Yet many of those present said that Shah Wali Karzai, a businessman who manages a property development in Kandahar city but has avoided the political life, would be a pale shadow of his elder brother Ahmed Wali and that the Karzais’ power in Kandahar would likely suffer as a result, they said.

“Karzai will face challenges in the south,” Hajji Hafizullah said. “Ahmed Wali Khan was playing a very important role for Karzai in the south. He had very close contact with tribal leaders and the people, and I personally think there will be challenges ahead.”

Shah Wali Karzai, who is a full brother of Ahmed Wali and a half brother of the president, spent much of the time that Afghanistan was at war in the United States but returned to assist his brother when he became Afghanistan’s leader in 2001. He worked alongside President Karzai in the presidential palace for a year but left after a falling out.

He moved to Kandahar and became the manager of a property development Ayno Mena, that another brother, Mahmood Karzai, and two business partners set up. Despite controversy over the low-cost purchase of the government land, the development has become a model of a modern and well-run development for Kandahar’s emerging middle class.

He lives in the same house as Ahmed Wali Karzai, although his own family lives outside Afghanistan, and is expected to continue running the same kind of open house for petitioners, tribal elders and residents of Kandahar who come forward with requests.

Yet it is Shah Wali’s lack of political experience that makes him different from his brother and engenders concern among residents of Kandahar that he will not be able to manage the complicated tribal relations as his brother did.

“He can lead on family issues but I do not expect him to lead the people of Kandahar,” said Hajji Atta Muhammad Alikozai, who heads a council of veteran resistance fighters in Kandahar.

Shah Wali Karzai also does not have the fearsome reputation of his brother Ahmed Wali and will not have the same iron grip over the local administration and the population, several elders in Kandahar said. “Ahmed Wali was very effective and strong — people were scared of him,” Hajji Alikozai said. “I could not say anything in front of Ahmed Wali but I can before Shah Wali Khan,” he said. That loss of fear alone could herald the decline of the Karzais’ power in Kandahar, he added.

Even as Kandaharis respected the traditional three days of mourning and declined to speak bad of the dead, a few began wondering if the tragedy might open up an opportunity.

“The administration will be more independent now, and if they are clean and straight with the people and serve for the people, things could work out,” Hajji Alikozai said.

“We need new individuals, new faces for the future,” he added. “The Americans need to focus on new people who can deliver.”

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on July 12th, 2011

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

Afghan president Hamid Karzai has confirmed that his brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, or AWK as he was known to the D.C. think-tank Twitterati, has been killed in the city of Kandahar by a close confident, Sardar Mohammed who was the commander of the police post near his home, during a private meeting. The security chief pulled out a pistol – that he was allowed armed into a one-on-one with the city powerbroker shows how trusted he was – and shot Karzai twice. The powerbroker's security then burst into the room and killed the assassin. The Taliban have claimed credit for organising the killing, yet the consensus is that the motive was more likely personal.

Today, just about every Afghanistan-watcher agrees that the younger Karzai's death leaves a gaping hole in U.S. claims of momentum, in Western plans for transition to Afghan-led security and in Kandahar's political power structure. Yet they also agree that the president's brother was a strongman, accused of drug trafficking, of profiteering from private security companies and of being an agent for the CIA.

The best commentary on Karzai's past and Kandahar's future come from Joshua Foust and Matt Taibbi respectively. Karzai was entirely a construct of the U.S.' "we broke it, we own it" attitude; he would still have been living in exile in the U.S. if not for the 2002 invasion and could not have come to power without U.S. backing. A 2009 cable revealed by Wikileaks read:

"The meeting with AWK (Wali Karzai) highlights one of our major challenges in Afghanistan: how to fight corruption and connect the people to their government, when the key government officials are themselves corrupt."

But as Josh points out, the U.S. had the opportunity to do things otherwise and decided to give its patronage to corrupt officials instead.

Four years ago, ISAF had the opportunity to start developing the fundamentals of the institutions of government in the area, a system of rule based not on personality or thuggery, but laws, regulations, and structure. They chose, instead, to go through Ahmed Wali Karzai.

When your entire modus operandi is based on friendly local strongmen,you rise and fall on their backs. AWK reaped what he sowed in Kandahar: A vicious rule by thug, gently papered over with the veneer of respectability and Western-friendliness. Among the Americans, his loss is devastating; among the Afghans, he will barely be missed.

Matt Taibbi agrees that Ahmed Wali Karzai was in large part a construct of the West:

As the West began looking ahead to transition and political reconciliation, the hope was that Ahmed Wali would be able to consolidate a stable political order, despite the fact that he and his associates had grown vastly wealthy off the conflict and the U.S. military presence. Two weeks ago, in an indication of how far this process had gone, there was a high-level push to make Ahmed Wali the next governor of Kandahar province.

But disagrees that Karzai won't be missed by the locals – if only because now there is now likely to be a protracted period of infighting among the other corrupt strongmen to see who can snatch his regional crown.

His death leaves a massive hole in the fabric of Kandahari power politics and shows how dangerous a strategy of relying on individual power brokers can be. Ahmed Wali was the linchpin of the Loya Kandahar pro-Karzai network, a pan-tribal alliance brought together by money and mutual security that included figures like Aref Noorzai, Agha Lalai Dastagiri, Fazluddin Agha, and the current chief of police, Brig. Gen. Abdul Raziq.

There is now no clear successor to Ahmed Wali, and certainly no one can combine his vast influence and closeness to the president. Any figure other than a Popalzai might upset the delicate balance between the pro-government elements of Kandahar's various tribes, and so his two brothers, Qayum and Shah Wali, are seen as potential candidates who could step into the role of the president's power broker in the south.

…Ahmed Wali was never popular in Kandahar among the ordinary locals. Street vendors and schoolteachers alike would blame him for the criminality and corruption that have only grown since 2001. But the Kandahari friends I've spoken with since his death have shown no joy, only apprehension for what the future might bring.

"The city is locked down; there are checkpoints everywhere and helicopters overhead," said one. "We are afraid of what will happen next."

Yet again I'm reminded that the real Pottery Barn rule was always "You broke it, now pay up and get the f**k out of our store!" and that the U.S. perversion of that to "We broke it, we own it (and so get to fix it our way)" has never yet benefitted either the locals upon which that perversion is forcibly impressed nor U.S. national security, despite the recalcitrance of an American policy elite that was convinced of it by neocon shills back in 2003.

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Posted by The Agonist on July 12th, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

July 12

Asia Times – Pakistan has no need to be too concerned over the United States suspending payment of US$800 million in military assistance. The Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline is going ahead, with or without India’s participation. The heart of the matter is that the pipeline will do more than any form of US “aid” (or outright interference) to stabilize the Pakistan half of Washington’s AfPak theater of operations.
- Pepe Escobar (Jul 12, ‘11)

Islamabad takes a shot at US drones

The decision by the United States to withhold US$800 million in security aid to Pakistan is the culmination of a series of disagreements between the “war on terror” allies. Islamabad has shrugged off the loss in revenue, while stepping up its drive to curtail Washington’s drone strikes inside Pakistan that have claimed 2,587 lives in the past 10 years. – Amir Mir (Jul 12, ‘11)

An $800 million teaser
The money that Washington is withholding from Pakistan will not make much difference in material terms to Pakistan’s military. It will, though, be a test to see just how far the generals are prepared to go in substantially escalating the growing crisis in bilateral relations.
- Jim Lobe (Jul 12, ‘11)

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Posted by alexthurston on July 12th, 2011

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.

Obama’s Bush-League World
Is the Obama National Security Team a Pilotless Drone?

By Tom Engelhardt

George W. who?  I mean, the guy is so over.  He turned the big six-five the other day and it was barely a footnote in the news.  And Dick Cheney, tick-tick-tick.  Condoleezza Rice?  She’s already onto her next memoir, and yet it’s as if she’s been wiped from history, too?  As for Donald Rumsfeld, he published his memoir in February and it hit the bestseller lists, but a few months later, where is he?

And can anyone be surprised?  They were wrong about Afghanistan.  They were wrong about Iraq.  They were wrong about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.  They were wrong about what the U.S. military was capable of doing.  The country imploded economically while they were at the helm.  Geopolitically speaking, they headed the car of state for the nearest cliff.  In fact, when it comes to pure wrongness, what weren’t they wrong about?

Americans do seem to have turned the page on Bush and his cronies.  (President Obama called it looking forward, not backward.)  Still, glance over your shoulder and, if you’re being honest, you’ll have to admit that one thing didn’t happen: they didn’t turn the page on us.

They may have disappeared from our lives, but the post-9/11 world they had such a mad hand in creating hasn’t.  It’s not just the Department of Homeland Security or that un-American word “homeland,” both of which are undoubtedly embedded in our lives forever; or the Patriot Act, now as American as apple pie; or Guantanamo which, despite a presidential promise, may never close; or all the wild, overblown fears of terrorism and the new security world that goes with them, neither of which shows the slightest sign of abating; or the National Security Agency’s surveillance and spying on Americans which, as far as we can tell, is ongoing. No, it’s scores of Bush policies and positions that will clearly be with us until hell freezes over.  Among them all, consider the Obama administration’s updated version of that signature Bush invention, the Global War on Terror.

Yes, Obama’s national security officials threw that term to the dogs back in 2009, and now pursue a no-name global strategy that’s meant not to remind you of the Bush era.  Recently, the White House released an unclassified summary of its 2011 “National Strategy for Counterterrorism,” a 19-page document in prose only a giant bureaucracy with a desire to be impenetrable could produce.  (Don’t bother to read it.  I read it for you.)  If it makes a feeble attempt to put a little rhetorical space between Obama-style counterterrorism and what the Bush administration was doing, it still manages to send one overwhelming message: George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, et al., are still striding amongst us, carrying big sticks and with that same crazed look in their eyes.

The Global War on Terror (or GWOT in acronym-crazed Washington) was the bastard spawn of the disorientation and soaring hubris of the days after the 9/11 attacks, which set afire the delusional geopolitical dreams of Bush, Cheney, their top national security officials, and their neocon supporters.  And here’s the saddest thing: the Bush administration’s most extreme ideas when it comes to GWOT are now the humdrum norm of Obama administration policies — and hardly anyone thinks it’s worth a comment.

A History Lesson from Hell

It’s easy to forget just how quickly GWOT was upon us or how strange it really was.  On the night of September 11, 2001, addressing the nation, President Bush first spoke of winning “the war against terrorism.”  Nine days later, in an address to a joint session of Congress, the phrase “war on terror” was already being expanded.  “Our war on terror,” Bush said, “begins with al-Qaeda, but it does not end there.  It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated.”

In those early days, there were already clues aplenty as to which way the wind was gusting in Washington.  Top administration officials immediately made it plain that a single yardstick was to measure planetary behavior from then on: Were you “with us or against us”?  From the Gulf of Guinea to Central Asia, that question would reveal everything worth knowing, and terror would be its measure.

As the New York Times reported on September 14th, Bush’s top officials had “cast aside diplomatic niceties” and were giving Arab countries and “the nations of the world a stark choice: stand with us against terrorism or face the certain prospect of death and destruction.”  According to Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage took that message directly to his country’s intelligence director: either ally with Washington in the fight against al-Qaeda, or prepare to be bombed “back to the Stone Age,” as Armitage reportedly put it.

Global War on Terror?  They weren’t exaggerating.  These were people shocked by what had happened to iconic buildings in “the homeland” and overawed by what they imagined to be the all-conquering power of the U.S. military.  In their fever dreams, they thought that this was their moment and the apocalyptic winds of history were at their backs.  And they weren’t hiding where they wanted it to blow them either.  That was why they tried to come up with names to replace GWOT – World War IV (the third was the Cold War) and the Long War being two of them — that would be even blunter about their desire to plunge us into a situation from which none of us would emerge in our lifetimes.  But to the extent anything stuck, GWOT did.

And if everything is in a name, then the significance of that one wasn’t hard to grasp.  Bush’s national security folks focused on an area that they termed “the arc of instability.”  It stretched from North Africa to the Chinese border, conveniently sweeping through the major oil lands of the planet.  They would later dub it “The Greater Middle East.”  In that vast region, they were ready to declare hunting season open and they would be the ones to hand out the hunting licenses.

Within weeks of 9/11, top administration officials like Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz were speaking of this vast region as a global “swamp,” an earthly miasma that they were going to “drain” of terrorists.  As the U.S. military had declared whole areas of enemy-controled rural Vietnam “free fire zones” in the 1960s, so they were going to turn much of the planet into such a zone, a region where no national boundary, no claim of sovereignty would stop them from taking out whomever (or whatever government) they cared to.

Within days of 9/11, administration officials let it be known that, in their war, they were preparing to target terrorist groups in at least 60 countries.  And if they were that blunt in public, in private they were exuberantly extreme.  Top officials spoke with gusto about “taking off the gloves” or “the shackles” (the ones, as they saw it, that Congress had placed on the executive branch and the intelligence community in the wake of the Vietnam War and the Watergate affair).

As journalist Ron Suskind reported in his book The One Percent Doctrine, in a “Presidential Finding” on September 17, 2011, only six days after the World Trade Center towers went down, Bush granted the CIA an unprecedented license to wage war globally.  By then, the CIA had presented him with a plan whose name was worthy of a sci-fi film: the “Worldwide Attack Matrix.”  According to Suskind, it already “detailed operations [to come] against terrorists in 80 countries.”

In other words, with less than 200 countries on the planet, the president had declared open season on nearly half of them.  Of course, the Pentagon wasn’t about to be left out while the CIA was given the run of the globe.  Soon enough, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld began building up an enormous CIA-style secret army of elite special operations forces within the military.  By the end of the Bush years, these had reportedly been deployed in — don’t be surprised — 60 countries. In the Obama era, that number expanded to 75 — mighty close to the 80 in the Worldwide Attack Matrix.

And one more thing, there was a new weapon in the world, the perfect weapon to make mincemeat of all boundaries and a mockery of national sovereignty and international law (with little obvious danger to us): the pilotless drone.  Surveillance drones already in existence were quickly armed with missiles and bombs and, in November 2002, one of these was sent out on the first CIA robot assassination mission — to Yemen, where six al-Qaeda suspects in a vehicle were obliteratedwithout a by-your-leave to anyone.

CT to the Horizon

That CIA strike launched the drone wars, which are now a perfectly humdrum part of our American world of war.  Only recently, the Obama administration leaked news that it was intensifying its military-run war against al-Qaeda in Yemen by bringing the CIA into the action.  The Agency is now to build a base for its drone air wing somewhere in the Middle East to hunt Yemeni terrorists (and assumedly those elsewhere in the region as well).  Yemen functionally has no government to cooperate with, but in pure Bushian fashion, who cares?

Similarly, as June ended, unnamed American officials leaked the news that, for the first time, a U.S. military drone had conducted a strike against al-Shabab militants in Somalia, with the implication that this was a “war” that would also be intensifying.  At about the same time, curious reports emerged from Pakistan, where the CIA has been conducting an escalating drone war since 2004 (strikes viewed “negatively” by 97% of Pakistanis, according to a recent Pew poll).  Top Pakistani officials were threatening to shut down the Agency’s drone operations at Shamsi air base in Baluchistan.  Shamsi is the biggest of the three borrowed Pakistani bases from which the CIA secretly launches its drones.  The Obama administration responded bluntly.  White House counterterrorism chief John O. Brennan insisted that, whatever happened, the U.S. would continue to “deliver precise and overwhelming force against al-Qaida” in the Pakistani tribal areas.

As Spencer Ackerman of Wired’s Danger Room blog summed things up, “The harsh truth is that the Pakistanis can’t stop the drone war on their soil. But they can shift its launching points over the Afghan border. And the United States is already working on a backup plan for a long-term drone war, all without the Pakistanis’ help.” In other words, permission from a beleaguered local ally might be nice, but it isn’t a conceptual necessity.  (And in any case, CIA flights from Shamsi still evidentlycontinue uninterrupted.)

In other words, if Bush’s crew is long gone, the world they willed us is alive and well.  After all, there are reasonable odds that, on the day you read this piece, somewhere in the free-fire zone of the Greater Middle East, a drone “piloted” from an air base in the western United States or perhaps a secret “suburban facility” near Langley, Virginia, will act as judge, jury, and executioner somewhere in the “arc of instability.”  It will take out a terrorist suspect or suspects, or a set of civilians mistaken for terrorists, or a “target” someone in Washington didn’t like, or that one of our allies-cum-intelligence-assets had it in for, or perhaps a mix of all of the above.  We can’t be sure how many countries American drones, military or CIA, are patrolling, but in at least six of them — Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Iraq — they have launched strikes in recent years that have killed more “suspects” than ever died in the 9/11 attacks.

And there is more — possibly much more — to come.  In late June, the Obama administration posted that unclassified summary of its 2011 National Strategy for Counterterrorism at the White House website.  It’s a document that carefully avoids using the the term “war on terror,” even though counterterrorism advisor Brennan did admit that the document “tracked closely with the goals” of the Bush administration.

The document tries to argue that, when it comes to counterterrorism (or CT), the Obama administration has actually pulled back somewhat from the expansiveness of Bush-era GWOT thinking.  We are now, it insists, only going after “al-Qaeda and its affiliates and adherents,” not every “terror group” on the planet.   But here’s the curious thing: when you check out its “areas of focus,” other than “the Homeland” (always capitalized as if our country were the United States of Homeland), what you find is an expanded version of the Bush global target zone, including the Maghreb and Sahel (northern Africa), East Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, South Asia, Central Asia, and — thrown in for good measure — Southeast Asia.  In most of those areas, Bush-style hunting season is evidently still open.

If you consider deeds, not words, when it comes to drones the arc of instability is expanding; and based on the new counterterrorism document, the next place for our robotic assassins to cross borders in search of targets could be the Maghreb and Sahel.  There, we’re told, al-Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), with roots in Algeria, but operatives in northern Mali, among other places, potentially threatens “U.S. citizens and interests in the region.”

Here’s how the document puts the matter in its classically bureaucratese version of English:

“[W]e must therefore pursue near-term efforts and at times more targeted approaches that directly counter AQIM and its enabling elements.  We must work actively to contain, disrupt, degrade, and dismantle AQIM as logical steps on the path to defeating the group.  As appropriate, the United States will use its CT tools, weighing the costs and benefits of its approach in the context of regional dynamics and perceptions and the actions and capabilities of its partners in the region…”

That may not sound so ominous, but best guess: the Global War on Terror is soon likely to be on the march across North Africa, heading south.  And recent Obama national security appointments only emphasize how much the drone wars are on Washington’s future agenda.  After all, Leon Panetta, the man who, since 2009, ran the CIA’s drone wars, has moved over to the Pentagon as secretary of defense; while Bush’s favorite general, David Petraeus, the war commander wholoosed American air power (including drone power) in a massive way in Afghanistan, is moving on to the CIA.

On his first visit to South Asia as secretary of defense, Panetta made the claim that Washington was “within reach of strategically defeating al-Qaeda.”  Perhaps it won’t surprise you that such news signals not a winding down, but a ratcheting up, of the Global War on Terror.  Panetta, as Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post reported, “hinted of more to come, saying he would redouble efforts by the military and the spy agency to work together on counterterrorism missions outside the traditional war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq.”

More to come, as two men switching their “civilian” and military roles partner up.  Count on drone-factory assembly lines to rev up as well, and the military’s special operations forces to be in expansion mode.  And note that by the penultimate page of that CT strategy summary, the administration has left al-Qaeda behind and is muttering in bureau-speak about Hizballah and Hamas, Iran and Syria (“active sponsors of terrorism”), and even the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

On the Bush administration’s watch, the U.S. blew a gasket, American power went into decline, and the everyday security of everyday Americans took a major hit.  Still, give them credit.  They were successful on at least one count: they made sure that we’d never stop fighting their war on terror.  In this sense, Obama and his top officials are a drone national security team, carrying out the dreams and fantasies of their predecessors, while Bush and his men (and woman) give lucrative speechesand write books, hundreds or thousands of miles away.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The End of Victory Culture, 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).

Copyright 2011 Tom Engelhardt

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Posted by Peace Action West on July 11th, 2011

From our partners at Peace Action West

The last week in June, Peace Action West joined with groups around Oregon to present two wonderful speakers on Afghanistan: Matthew Hoh, Director of the Afghanistan Study Group and former Marine and State Department employee who resigned in protest of the war in Afghanistan; and Dr. Zaher Wahab, a professor at Lewis & Clark college who grew up in Afghanistan and returns there regularly to train teachers.

We had wonderful turnouts for our events in Eugene and Portland. Many thanks to the groups who made the events possible.

For those of you who weren’t able to join us in person, you can watch video of Matthew and Zaher from the Portland event below.




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