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Archive for November, 2011

Posted by The Agonist on November 17th, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

Jon Boone | Kabul | Nov 16

The GuardianAfghanistan president outlines conditions for continued presence of US troops, saying Kabul wants national sovereignty

Hamid Karzai, the Afghanistan president, addresses 2,000 elders in Kabul on the country’s most pressing issues, including its ties with the US. Photograph: Reuters
Hamid Karzai has told a national gathering of Afghan elders that he will not sign a much-delayed military pact with the US until night raids by foreign forces come to an end, a demand that threatens to complicate the deal.

In a fiery speech on Wednesday, at the opening session of a loya jirga, a grand assembly of more than 2,000 delegates held amid tight security, the Afghan president said continued US military and economic help beyond the end of the Nato combat mission in 2014 was vital to avoid civil war.

But he presented himself as the leader of a proud country whose national sovereignty must be respected and set firm conditions before any such deal could be concluded. “We want to have a strong partnership with the US and Nato, but with conditions,” he said. “We want our national sovereignty, and an end to night raids and to the detention of our countrymen.”

Night raids and Nato-run prisons have long been the main sticking points between the two sides during private negotiations. Some diplomats have predicted the president’s rhetoric on the raids could reduce room for compromise and delay the signing of a strategic partnership.

Many Afghans regard night raids and house searches as grave insults to the Afghan tradition of respect for the sanctity of private homes. However, military commanders say such operations are an effective tool against Taliban fighters, which they claim has the added advantage of minimising Afghan and Nato casualties compared with similar operations carried out in daylight.

An Afghan official said Karzai did not expect to achieve a complete end to night raids, but wanted Afghans to be put in charge of such operations. “That’s what needs to change to give true meaning to Afghan sovereignty and an equal partnership,” the official said.

In a portion of his speech that prompted applause and cheering, Karzai said western powers should not “interfere in our internal affairs”. “The relationship between us and the Americans should be like two independent countries, definitely independent.”

In recent years foreign pressure to curb corruption and to root out fraud during the 2009 presidential election has been resented by Karzai.

To the delight of his audience he said that although the US is powerful, Afghanistan was nonetheless a “lion”. “In the jungle everyone is scared, even of the sick lion,” he said. “America should treat us like a lion. We are ready to sign a strategic agreement between a lion and the US.”

Despite his denunciation of US military tactics, Karzai praised progress made in developing Afghanistan in the past 10 years and insisted the country must strike a long-term pact to avoid slipping back into civil war, as happened after the US lost interest in Afghanistan in the early 1990s.

It was a view echoed by the jirga’s chairman, Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, a former president of the country, who said a strategic partnership was vital to curb interference in Afghan affairs by Pakistan. “If Pakistan thinks the Afghan nation will be a slave and puppet government they are just dreaming,” he said.

Karzai also sought to reassure Afghanistan’s neighbours, who are wary of a long-term US presence in the country. Karzai promised the US would never be allowed to launch strikes against other regional powers from “Afghan soil”.

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Posted by alexthurston on November 14th, 2011

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.

Sometimes, just when you least expect it, symbolism steps right up and coldcocks you. So how about this headline for — in the spirit of our last president — ushering America’s withdrawal from Iraq right over the nearest symbolic cliff: “U.S. empties biggest Iraq base, takes Saddam’s toilet.” They’re talking about Victory Base, formerly — again in the spirit of thoroughly malevolent symbolism — Camp Victory, the enormous American military base that sits at the edge of Baghdad International Airport and that we were never going to leave.

If you want to measure the size of American pretensions in Iraq once upon a time, just consider this: that base, once meant — as its name implied — to be Washington’s triumphalist and eternal military command post in the oil heartlands of the planet, is encircled by 27 miles of blast walls and razor wire. (By comparison, the island I live on, Manhattan Island to be exact, is just 13.4 miles long.) So that’s big. It was, in fact, the biggest of the 505 bases the U.S. built in Iraq.

By the way, it does seem just a tad ironic that only at the moment of departure are Americans given an accurate count of just how many bases “we” built in that country to the tune of billions of dollars. Previous published figures were in the “more than 300” range. In recent months, Victory Base has been stripped of much and locked down. You can almost hear taps playing for the closing of its Burger King, Subway, Taco Bell, and Cinnabon franchises, its bottled water plant, its electric grid (which delivered power with an effectiveness the occupation was otherwise incapable of providing for the people of Baghdad), its “mother of all PXs,” its hospital, and so many of the other “improvements” now valued at $100 million or more.

Anyway, I was talking about toilets, wasn’t I? Not to belabor the point, but back in 2003 George W. Bush was given Saddam Hussein’s pistol as a trophy after the Iraqi dictator was captured by U.S. forces in his “spider hole.” Now, it seems, Americans get the ultimate trophy: the stainless steel toilet Saddam used during his imprisonment in one of his old palaces at Camp Victory for the three years before he was hanged. On the theory that we installed it, so it’s ours to keep, it was removed in August and shipped back to the United States, destined for the Military Police Museum at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. So, close enough to a trillion dollars later (with so much more to come in, among other things, bills for the care of the American war-wounded and traumatized), don’t let anyone say that the United States got nothing out of the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

When our trophy for the eight-year debacle is a commode, you know that we’re in a new era, even if that’s news in Washington, as TomDispatch regular Andrew Bacevich, author of Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War, indicates. (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Bacevich discusses how his students have come to accept perpetual American war as normalcy click here, or download it to your iPod here.) Tom

Big Change Whether We Like It or Not
Only Washington Is Clueless
By Andrew Bacevich

In every aspect of human existence, change is a constant. Yet change that actually matters occurs only rarely. Even then, except in retrospect, genuinely transformative change is difficult to identify. By attributing cosmic significance to every novelty and declaring every unexpected event a revolution, self-assigned interpreters of the contemporary scene — politicians and pundits above all — exacerbate the problem of distinguishing between the trivial and the non-trivial.

Did 9/11 “change everything”? For a brief period after September 2001, the answer to that question seemed self-evident: of course it did, with massive and irrevocable implications. A mere decade later, the verdict appears less clear. Today, the vast majority of Americans live their lives as if the events of 9/11 had never occurred. When it comes to leaving a mark on the American way of life, the likes of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg have long since eclipsed Osama bin Laden. (Whether the legacies of Jobs and Zuckerberg will prove other than transitory also remains to be seen.)

Anyone claiming to divine the existence of genuinely Big Change Happening Now should, therefore, do so with a sense of modesty and circumspection, recognizing the possibility that unfolding events may reveal a different story.

All that said, the present moment is arguably one in which the international order is, in fact, undergoing a fundamental transformation. The “postwar world” brought into existence as a consequence of World War II is coming to an end. A major redistribution of global power is underway. Arrangements that once conferred immense prerogatives upon the United States, hugely benefiting the American people, are coming undone.

In Washington, meanwhile, a hidebound governing class pretends that none of this is happening, stubbornly insisting that it’s still 1945 with the so-called American Century destined to continue for several centuries more (reflecting, of course, God’s express intentions).

Here lies the most disturbing aspect of contemporary American politics, worse even than rampant dysfunction borne of petty partisanship or corruption expressed in the buying and selling of influence. Confronted with evidence of a radically changing environment, those holding (or aspiring to) positions of influence simply turn a blind eye, refusing even to begin to adjust to a new reality.

Big Change Happening Now

The Big Change happening before our very eyes is political, economic, and military. At least four converging vectors are involved.

First, the Collapse of the Freedom Agenda: In the wake of 9/11, the administration of George W. Bush set out to remake the Greater Middle East. This was the ultimate strategic objective of Bush’s “global war on terror.”

Intent on accomplishing across the Islamic world what he believed the United States had accomplished in Europe and the Pacific between 1941 and 1945, Bush sought to erect a new order conducive to U.S. interests — one that would permit unhindered access to oil and other resources, dry up the sources of violent Islamic radicalism, and (not incidentally) allow Israel a free hand in the region. Key to the success of this effort would be the U.S. military, which President Bush (and many ordinary Americans) believed to be unstoppable and invincible — able to beat anyone anywhere under any conditions.

Alas, once implemented, the Freedom Agenda almost immediately foundered in Iraq. The Bush administration had expected Operation Iraqi Freedom to be a short, tidy war with a decisively triumphant outcome. In the event, it turned out to be a long, dirty (and very costly) war yielding, at best, exceedingly ambiguous results.

Well before he left office in January 2009, President Bush himself had abandoned his Freedom Agenda, albeit without acknowledging its collapse and therefore without instructing Americans on the implications of that failure. One specific implication stands out: we now know that U.S. military power, however imposing, falls well short of enabling the United States to impose its will on the Greater Middle East. We can neither liberate nor dominate nor tame the Islamic world, a verdict from the Bush era that Barack Obama’s continuing misadventures in “AfPak” have only served to affirm.

Trying harder won’t produce a different result. Outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates caught the new reality best: “Any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it.”

To be sure, Freedom Agenda dead-enders — frequently found under K in your phone book — continue to argue otherwise. Even now, for example, Kagans, Keanes, Krauthammers, and Kristols are insisting that “we won” the Iraq War — or at least had done so until President Obama fecklessly flung away a victory so gloriously gained. Essential to their argument is that no one notice how they have progressively lowered the bar defining victory.

Back in 2003, they were touting Saddam Hussein’s overthrow as just the beginning of American domination of the Middle East. Today, with Saddam’s departure said to have “made the world a better place,” getting out of Baghdad with U.S. forces intact has become the operative definition of success, ostensibly vindicating the many thousands killed and maimed, millions of refugees displaced, and trillions of dollars expended.

Meanwhile, al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia remains in the field, conducting some 30 attacks per week against Iraqi security forces and civilians. This we are expected not to notice. Some victory.

Second, the Great Recession: In the history of the American political economy, the bursting of speculative bubbles forms a recurring theme. Wall Street shenanigans that leave the plain folk footing the bill are an oft-told tale. Recessions of one size or another occur at least once a decade.

Yet the economic downturn that began in 2008 stands apart, distinguished by its severity, duration, and resistance to even the most vigorous (or extravagant) remedial action. In this sense, rather than resembling any of the garden-variety economic slumps or panics of the past half-century, the Great Recession of our own day recalls the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Instead of being a transitory phenomenon, it seemingly signifies something transformational. The Great Recession may well have inaugurated a new era — its length indeterminate but likely to stretch for many years — of low growth, high unemployment, and shrinking opportunity. As incomes stagnate and more and more youngsters complete their education only to find no jobs waiting, members of the middle class are beginning to realize that the myth of America as a classless society is just that. In truth, the game is rigged to benefit the few at the expense of the many — and in recent years, the fixing has become ever more shamelessly blatant.

This realization is rattling American politics. In just a handful of years, confidence in the Washington establishment has declined precipitously. Congress has become a laughingstock. The high hopes raised by President Obama’s election have long since dissipated, leaving disappointment and cynicism in their wake.

One result, on both the far right and the far left, has been to stoke the long-banked fires of American radicalism. The energy in American politics today lies with the Tea Party Movement and Occupy Wall Street, both expressing a deep-seated antipathy toward the old way of doing things. Populism is making one of its periodic appearances on the American scene.

Where this will lead remains, at present, unclear. But ours has long been a political system based on expectations of ever-increasing material abundance, promising more for everyone. Whether that system can successfully deal with the challenges of managing scarcity and distributing sacrifice ranks as an open question. This is especially true when those among us who have been making out like bandits profess so little willingness to share in any sacrifices that may be required.

Third, the Arab Spring: As with the floundering American economy, so with Middle Eastern politics: predicting the future is a proposition fraught with risk. Yet without pretending to forecast outcomes — Will Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya embrace democracy? Can Islamic movements coexist with secularized modernity? — this much can be safely said: the ongoing Arab upheaval is sweeping from that region of the world the last vestiges of Western imperialism.

Europeans created the modern Middle East with a single purpose in mind: to serve European interests. With the waning of European power in the wake of World War II, the United States — gingerly at first, but by the 1980s without noticeable inhibition — stepped in to fill the void. What had previously been largely a British sphere now became largely an American one, with the ever-accelerating tempo of U.S. military activism testifying to that fact.

Although Washington abjured the overt colonialism once practiced in London, its policies did not differ materially from those that Europeans had pursued. The idea was to keep a lid on, exclude mischief-makers, and at the same time extract from the Middle East whatever it had on offer. The preferred American MO was to align with authoritarian regimes, offering arms, security guarantees, and other blandishments in return for promises of behavior consistent with Washington’s preferences. Concern for the wellbeing of peoples living in the region (Israelis excepted) never figured as more than an afterthought.

What events of the past year have made evident is this: that lid is now off and there is little the United States (or anyone else) can do to reinstall it. A great exercise in Arab self-determination has begun. Arabs (and, arguably, non-Arabs in the broader Muslim world as well) will decide their own future in their own way. What they decide may be wise or foolish. Regardless, the United States and other Western nations will have little alternative but to accept the outcome and deal with the consequences, whatever they happen to be.

A Washington inhabited by people certain that decisions made in the White House determine the course of history will insist otherwise, of course. Democrats credit Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech with inspiring Arabs to throw off their chains. Even more laughably, Republicans credit George W. Bush’s “liberation” of Iraq for installing democracy in the region and supposedly moving Tunisians, Egyptians, and others to follow suit. To put it mildly, evidence to support such claims simply does not exist. One might as well attribute the Arab uprising to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Those expecting Egyptians to erect statues of Obama or Bush in Cairo’s Tahrir Square are likely to have a long wait.

Fourth, Beleaguered Europe’s Quest for a Lifeline: To a considerable extent, the story of the twentieth-century — at least the commonly-told Western version of that story — is one of Europe screwing up and America coming to the rescue. The really big screw-ups were, of course, the two world wars. In 1917 and again after December 1941, the United States sent large armies to deal with those who had disturbed the peace. After the first war, the Americans left. After the second, they stayed, not only providing soldiers to safeguard Western Europe, but also rejuvenating the shattered economies of the European democracies.

Even with the passing of a half-century, the Marshall Plan stands out as a singular example of enlightened statecraft — and also as a testimonial to America’s unsurpassed economic capacity following World War II. Saving continents in dire distress was a job that only the United States could accomplish.

That was then. Today, Europe has once again screwed up, although fortunately this time there is no need for foreign armies to sort out the mess. The crisis of the moment is an economic one, due entirely to European recklessness and irresponsibility (not qualitatively different from the behavior underlying the American economic crisis).

Will Uncle Sam once again ride to the rescue? Not a chance. Beset with the problems that come with old age, Uncle Sam can’t even mount up. To whom, then, can Europe turn for assistance? Recent headlines tell the story:

“Cash-Strapped Europe Looks to China For Help”
“Europe Begs China for Bailout”
“EU takes begging bowl to Beijing”
“Is China the Bailout Saviour in the European Debt Crisis?”
The crucial issue here isn’t whether Beijing will actually pull Europe’s bacon out of the fire. Rather it’s the shifting expectations underlying the moment. After all, hasn’t the role of European savior already been assigned? Isn’t it supposed to be Washington’s in perpetuity? Apparently not.

Back to the Future

In the words of the old Buffalo Springfield song: “Something’s happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.”

American politicians stubbornly beg to differ, of course, content to recite vapid but reassuring clichés about American global leadership, American exceptionalism, and that never-ending American Century. Everything, they would have us believe, will remain just as it has been — providing the electorate installs the right person in the Oval Office.

“To those nations who continue to resist the unstoppable march of human, political and economic freedom,” declares Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, “we will make clear that they are on the wrong side of history, by ensuring that America’s light shines bright in every corner of the globe, representing a beacon of hope and inspiration.”

“This is America’s moment,” insists Mitt Romney. “We should embrace the challenge, not shrink from it, not crawl into an isolationist shell, not wave the white flag of surrender, nor give in to those who assert America’s time has passed…. I will not surrender America’s role in the world.” With an unsurprising absence of originality, the title of Romney’s campaign “white paper” on national security is An American Century.

Governor Rick Perry’s campaign web site offers this important insight: “Rick Perry believes in American exceptionalism, and rejects the notion our president should apologize for our country but instead believes allies and adversaries alike must know that America seeks peace from a position of strength.”

For his part, Newt Gingrich wants it known that “America is still the last, best hope of mankind on earth.”

The other Republican candidates (Ron Paul always excepted) draw from the same shallow and stagnant pool of ideas. To judge by what we might call the C. Wright Mills standard of leadership — “men without lively imagination are needed to execute policies without imagination devised by an elite without imagination” — all are eminently qualified for the presidency. Nothing is wrong with America or the world, they would have us believe, that can’t be fixed by ousting Barack Obama from office, thereby restoring the rightful order of things.

“Is America Over?” That question adorns the cover of the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, premier organ of the foreign policy establishment. As is typically the case with that establishment, Foreign Affairs is posing the wrong question, one designed chiefly to elicit a misleading, if broadly reassuring answer.

Proclaim it from the rooftops: No, America is not “over.” Yet a growing accumulation of evidence suggests that America today is not the America of 1945. Nor does the international order of the present moment bear more than a passing resemblance to that which existed in the heyday of American power. Everyone else on the planet understands this. Perhaps it’s finally time for Americans — starting with American politicians — to do so as well. Should they refuse, a painful comeuppance awaits.

Andrew J. Bacevich is professor of history and international relations at Boston University. A TomDispatch regular, he is the author, among other works, of Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War and the editor of The Short American Century: A Postmortem, forthcoming from Harvard University Press. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Bacevich discusses how his students have come to accept perpetual American war as normalcy click here, or download it to your iPod here.

Copyright 2011 Andrew Bacevich

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Posted by alexthurston on November 8th, 2011

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.

How about a moment of silence for the passing of the American Dream? M.R.I.C. (May it rest in carnage.)

No, I’m not talking about the old dream of opportunity that involved homeownership, a better job than your parents had, a decent pension, and all the rest of the package that’s so yesterday, so underwater, so OWS. I’m talking about a far more recent dream, a truly audacious one that’s similarly gone with the wind.

I’m talking about George W. Bush’s American Dream. If people here remember the invasion of Iraq — and most Americans would undoubtedly prefer to forget it — what’s recalled is kited intelligence, Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent nuclear arsenal, dumb and even dumber decisions, a bloody civil war, dead Americans, crony corporations, a trillion or more taxpayer dollars flushed down the toilet… well, you know the story. What few care to remember was that original dream — call it The Dream — and boy, was it a beaut!

An American Dream

It went something like this: Back in early 2003, the top officials of the Bush administration had no doubt that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, drained by years of war, no-fly zones, and sanctions, would be a pushover; that the U.S. military, which they idolized and romanticized, would waltz to Baghdad. (The word one of their supporters used in the Washington Post for the onrushing invasion was a “cakewalk.”) Nor did they doubt that those troops would be greeted as liberators, even saviors, by throngs of adoring, previously suppressed Shiites strewing flowers in their path. (No kidding, no exaggeration.)

How easy it would be then to install a “democratic” government in Baghdad — which meant their autocratic candidate Ahmad Chalabi — set up four or five strategically situated military mega-bases, exceedingly well-armed American small towns already on the drawing boards before the invasion began, and so dominate the oil heartlands of the planet in ways even the Brits, at the height of their empire, wouldn’t have dreamed possible. (Yes, the neocons were then bragging that we would outdo the Roman and British empires rolled into one!)

As there would be no real resistance, the American invasion force could begin withdrawing as early as the fall of 2003, leaving perhaps 30,000 to 40,000 troops, the U.S. Air Force, and various spooks and private contractors behind to garrison a grateful country ad infinitum (on what was then called “the South Korean model”). Iraq’s state-run economy would be privatized and its oil resources thrown open to giant global energy companies, especially American ones, which would rebuild the industry and begin pumping millions of barrels of that country’s vast reserves, thus undermining the OPEC cartel’s control over the oil market.

And mind you, it would hardly cost a cent. Well, at its unlikely worst, maybe $100 billion to $200 billion, but as Iraq, in the phrase of then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, “floats on a sea of oil,” most of it could undoubtedly be covered, in the end, by the Iraqis themselves.

Now, doesn’t going down memory lane just take your breath away? And yet, Iraq was a bare beginning for Bush’s dreamers, who clearly felt like so many proverbial kids in a candy shop (even if they acted like bulls in a china shop). Syria, caught in a strategic pincer between Israel and American Iraq, would naturally bow down; the Iranians, caught similarly between American Iraq and American Afghanistan, would go down big time, too — or simply be taken down Iraqi-style, and who would complain? (As the neocon quip of the moment went: “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran.”)

And that wasn’t all. Bush’s top officials had been fervent Cold Warriors in the days before the U.S. became “the sole superpower,” and they saw the new Russia stepping into those old Soviet boots. Having taken down the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, they were already building a network of bases there, too. (Let a thousand Korean models bloom!) Next on the agenda would be rolling the Russians right out of their “near abroad,” the former Soviet Socialist Republics, now independent states, of Central Asia.

What glory! Thanks to the unparalleled power of the U.S. military, Washington would control the Greater Middle East from the Mediterranean to the Chinese border and would be beholden to no one when victory came. Great powers, phooey! They were talking about a Pax Americana on which the sun could never set. Meanwhile, there were so many other handy perks: the White House would be loosed from its constitutional bounds via a “unitary executive” and, success breeding success, a Pax Republicana would be established in the U.S. for eons to come (with the Democratic — or as they said sneeringly, the “Democrat” — Party playing the role of Iran and going down in a similar fashion).

An American Nightmare

When you wake up in a cold sweat, your heart pounding, from a dream that’s turned truly sour, sometimes it’s worth trying to remember it before it evaporates, leaving only a feeling of devastation behind.

So hold Bush’s American Dream in your head for a few moments longer and consider the devastation that followed. Of Iraq, that multi-trillion-dollar war, what’s left? An American expeditionary force, still 30,000-odd troops who were supposed to hunker down there forever, are instead packing their gear and heading “over the horizon.” Those giant American towns — with their massive PXs, fast-food restaurants, gift shops, fire stations, and everything else — are soon to be ghost towns, likely as not looted and stripped by Iraqis.

Multi-billions of taxpayer dollars were, of course, sunk into those American ziggurats. Now, assumedly, they are goners except for the monster embassy-cum-citadel the Bush administration built in Baghdad for three-quarters of a billion dollars. It’s to house part of a 17,000-person State Department “mission” to Iraq, including 5,000 armed mercenaries, all of whom are assumedly there to ensure that American folly is not utterly absent from that country even after “withdrawal.”

Put any spin you want on that withdrawal, but this still represents a defeat of the first order, humiliation on a scale and in a time frame that would have been unimaginable in the invasion year of 2003. After all, the U.S. military was ejected from Iraq by… well, whom exactly?

Then, of course, there’s Afghanistan, where the ultimate, inevitable departure has yet to happen, where another trillion-dollar war is still going strong as if there were no holes in American pockets. The U.S. is still taking casualties, still building up its massive base structure, still training an Afghan security force of perhaps 400,000 men in a county too poor to pay for a tenth of that (which means it’s ours to fund forever and a day).

Washington still has its stimulus program in Kabul. Its diplomats and military officials shuttle in and out of Afghanistan and Pakistan in search of “reconciliation” with the Taliban, even as CIA drones pound the enemy across the Afghan border and anyone else in the vicinity. As once upon a time in Iraq, the military and the Pentagon still talk about progress being made, even while Washington’s unease grows about a war that everyone is now officially willing to call “unwinnable.”

In fact, it’s remarkable how consistently things that are officially going so well are actually going so badly. Just the other day, for instance, despite the fact that the U.S. is training up a storm, Major General Peter Fuller, running the training program for Afghan forces, was dismissed by war commander General John Allen for dissing Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his generals. He called them “isolated from reality.”

Isolated from reality? Here’s the U.S. record on the subject: it’s costing Washington (and so the American taxpayer) $11.6 billion this year alone to train those security forces and yet, after years of such training, “not a single Afghan army battalion can operate without assistance from U.S. or allied units.”

You don’t have to be a seer to know that this, too, represents a form of defeat, even if the enemy, as in Iraq, is an underwhelming set of ragtag minority insurgencies. Still, it’s more or less a given that any American dreams for Afghanistan, like Britain’s and Russia’s before it, will be buried someday in the rubble of a devastated but resistant land, no matter what resources Washington choses to continue to squander on the task.

This, simply put, is part of a larger landscape of imperial defeat.

Cold Sweats at Dawn

Yes, we’ve lost in Iraq and yes, we’re losing in Afghanistan, but if you want a little geopolitical turn of the screw that captures the zeitgeist of the moment, check out one of the first statements of Almazbek Atambayev after his recent election as president of Kyrgyzstan, a country you’ve probably never spent a second thinking about.

Keep in mind that Bushian urge to roll back the Russians to the outskirts of Moscow. Kyrgyzstan is, of course, one of the former Central Asian SSRs of the Soviet Union, and under cover of the Afghan War, the U.S. moved in, renting out a major air base at Manas airport near Bishtek, the capital. It became a significant resupply station for the war, but also an American military foothold in the region.

Now Atambayev has announced that the U.S. will have to leave Manas when its lease is up in 2014. The last time a Kyrgyz president made such a threat, he was trying to extort an extra $40 million in rent from the globe’s richest power. This time, though, Atambayev has evidently weighed regional realities, taken a good hard look at his resurgent neighbor and the waning influence of Washington, and placed his bet — on the Russians. Consider it a telling little gauge of who is now being rolled back where.

Isolated from reality? How about the Obama administration and its generals? Of course, Washington officials prefer not to take all this in. They’re willing to opt for isolation over reality. They prefer to talk about withdrawing troops from Iraq, but only to bolster the already powerful American garrisons throughout the Persian Gulf and so free the region, as our secretary of state put it, “from outside interference” by alien Iran. (Why, one wonders, is it even called the Persian Gulf, instead of the American Gulf?)

They prefer to talk about strengthening U.S. power and bolstering its bases in the Pacific so as to save Asia from… America’s largest creditor, the Chinese. They prefer to suggest that the U.S. will be a greater, not a lesser, power in the years to come. They prefer to “reassure allies” and talk big — or big enough anyway.

Not too big, of course, not now that those American dreamers — or mad visionaries, if you prefer — are off making up to $150,000 a pop giving inspirational speeches and raking in millions for churning out their memoirs. In their place, the Obama administration is stocked with dreamless managers who inherited an expanded imperial presidency, an American-garrisoned globe, and an emptying treasury. And they then chose, on each score, to play a recognizable version of the same game, though without the soaring confidence, deep faith in armed American exceptionalism or the military solutions that went with it (which they nonetheless continue to pursue doggedly), or even the vision of global energy flows that animated their predecessors. In a rapidly changing situation, they have proven incapable of asking any questions that would take them beyond what might be called the usual tactics (drones vs. counterinsurgency, say).

In this way, Washington, though visibly diminished, remains an airless and eerily familiar place. No one there could afford to ask, for instance, what a Middle East, being transformed before our eyes, might be like without its American shadow, without the bases and fleets and drones and all the operatives that go with them.

As a result, they simply keep on keeping on, especially with Bush’s global war on terror and with the protection in financial tough times of the Pentagon (and so of the militarization of this country).

Think of it all as a form of armed denial that, in the end, is likely to drive the U.S. down. It would be salutary for the denizens of Washington to begin to mouth the word “defeat.” It’s not yet, of course, a permissible part of the American vocabulary, though the more decorous “decline” — “the relative decline of the United States as an international force” — has crept ever more comfortably into our lives since mid-decade. When it comes to decline, for instance, ordinary Americans are voting with the opinion poll version of their feet. In one recent poll, 69% of them declared the U.S. to be in that state. (How they might answer a question about American defeat we don’t know.)

If you are a critic of Washington, “defeat” is increasingly becoming an acceptable word, as long as you attach it to a specific war or event. But defeat outright? The full-scale thing? Not yet.

You can, of course, say many times over that the U.S. remains, as it does, an immensely wealthy and powerful country; that it has the wherewithal to right itself and deal with the disasters of these last years, which it also undoubtedly does. But take a glance at Washington, Wall Street, and the coming 2012 elections, and tell me with a straight face that that will happen. Not likely.

If you go on a march with the folks from Occupy Wall Street, you’ll hear the young chanting, “This is what democracy looks like!” It’s infectious. But here’s another chant, hardly less appropriate, if distinctly grimmer: “This is what defeat looks like!” Admittedly, it’s not as rhythmic, but it’s something that the spreading Occupy Wall Street movement, and the un- and underemployed, and those whose houses are foreclosed or “underwater,” and the millions of kids getting a subprime education and graduating, on average, more than $25,000 in hock, and the increasing numbers of poor are coming to feel in their bones, even if they haven’t put a name to it yet.

And events in the Greater Middle East played no small role in that. Think of it this way: if de-industrialization and financialization have, over the last decades, hollowed out the United States, so has the American way of war. It’s the usually ignored third part of the triad. When our wars finally fully come home, there’s no telling what the scope of this imperial defeat will prove to be like.

Bush’s American Dream was a kind of apotheosis of this country’s global power as well as its crowning catastrophe, thanks to a crew of mad visionaries who mistook military might for global strength and acted accordingly. What they and their neocon allies had was the magic formula for turning the slow landing of a declining but still immensely powerful imperial state into a self-inflicted rout, even if who the victors are is less than clear.

Despite our panoply of bases around the world, despite an arsenal of weaponry beyond anything ever seen (and with more on its way), despite a national security budget the size of the Ritz, it’s not too early to start etching something appropriately sepulchral onto the gravestone that will someday stand over the pretensions of the leaders of this country when they thought that they might truly rule the world.

I know my own nominee. Back in 2002, journalist Ron Suskind had a meeting with a “senior advisor” to George W. Bush and what that advisor told him seems appropriate for any such gravestone or future memorial to American defeat:

“The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality… That’s not the way the world really works anymore… We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”’

We’re now, it seems, in a new era in which reality is making us. Many Americans — witness the Occupy Wall Street movement — are attempting to adjust, to imagine other ways of living in the world. Defeat has a bad rep, but sometimes it’s just what the doctor ordered.

Still, reality is a bear, so if you just woke up in a cold sweat, feel free to call it a nightmare.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s as well as The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, The United States of Fear (Haymarket Books), is being published this month.

Copyright 2011 Tom Engelhardt

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Posted by The Agonist on November 6th, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

A beautiful little film. Thanks to b. I recommend full screening this.

Afghanistan – touch down in flight from Augustin Pictures on Vimeo.

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Posted by The Agonist on November 5th, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

Nov 5

BBC – A senior US commander has been dismissed after he made disparaging comments about Afghanistan’s leaders.

Maj Gen Peter Fuller, deputy commander of Nato’s Afghan training mission, said in an interview with Politico the country’s leadership was “isolated from reality”.

It is not clear whether Gen Fuller will be reassigned or will retire.

The head of US forces in Afghanistan says Gen Fuller’s comments do not represent the US-Afghan relationship.

Gen John Allen described the two countries as “solid”, adding: “The Afghan people are an honourable people, and comments such as these will not keep us from accomplishing our most critical and shared mission – bringing about a stable, peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan.”

Pentagon spokesman George Little said Defence Secretary Leon Panetta was aware of the remarks but said that Gen Fuller had been speaking for himself and not the Department of Defense.

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on November 5th, 2011

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By BJ Bjornson

There’s just so much to love about this story:

Pakistan is taking nuclear paranoia to a horrifying new low. And it’s making the world a vastly more dangerous place in the process.

Freaked out about the insecurity of its nuclear arsenal, the Pakistani military’s Strategic Plans Division has begun carting the nukes around in clandestine ways. That might make some sense on the surface: no military wants to let others know exactly where its most powerful weapons are at any given moment. But Pakistan is going to an extreme.

The nukes travel “in civilian-style vehicles without noticeable defenses, in the regular flow of traffic,” according to a blockbuster story on the U.S.-Pakistan relationship in The Atlantic. Marc Ambinder and Jeffrey Goldberg write that tactical nuclear weapons travel down the streets in “vans with a modest security profile.” Somewhere on a highway around, say, Karachi, is the world’s most dangerous 1-800-FLOWERS truck

According to the report, the Pakistani military is looking to safeguard the nukes from possible special forces raids by the U.S., which admittedly does apparently have plans to seize the weapons in the case of a coup or other disturbance they feel might jeopardize the security of Pakistan’s arsenal. You have to wonder if this counts.

Two caveats to the fear-mongering: One, shipping these weapons in such a unobtrusive way is certainly part of the plan to keep anyone, including Islamists, from being able to track them. When the shipment could be in any of the thousands of trucks trundling along the roadway, picking the right one to hit becomes much harder than if they advertise its special cargo with all sorts of special vehicles and security measures.

Two, no noticeable defenses does not equal no actual defenses. Being unobtrusive is not the same as being unprepared for trouble. Still, it is hard not to be a little concerned by this report, or disagree with Wired’s concluding paragraph.

Which sinks the U.S. into the nadir of absurdity. It funds a terrorist-sponsoring state while conducting a massive undeclared war on part of that state’s territory. It wants that state’s assistance to end the Afghanistan war while that state’s soldiers help insurgents wage it. And seeking a world without nuclear weapons while its “Major Non-NATO Ally” drastically increases the probability that terrorists will acquire a the most dangerous weapon of all.

I will note my disagreement with part of that last point. The U.S. has no issue with its other "Major Non-NATO Ally" Israel having nuclear weapons, or with the U.S. having them, or even apparently with Pakistan's neighbour India having them, to go by the selling of civilian nuclear technology to said nation without much guarantee that said technology won't end up in its weapons program as well. As with many other things, the U.S.'s commitment to a nuclear-free world looks entirely different depending on who they are talking about.

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