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Archive for February, 2012

Posted by Tom Engelhardt on February 28th, 2012

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Blown Away
How the U.S. Fanned the Flames in Afghanistan

By Tom Engelhardt and Nick Turse

Is it all over but the (anti-American) shouting — and the killing? Are the exits finally coming into view?

Sometimes, in a moment, the fog lifts, the clouds shift, and you can finally see the landscape ahead with startling clarity. In Afghanistan, Washington may be reaching that moment in a state of panic, horror, and confusion. Even as an anxious U.S. commander withdrew American and NATO advisors from Afghan ministries around Kabul last weekend — approximately 300, military spokesman James Williams tells TomDispatch — the ability of American soldiers to remain on giant fortified bases eating pizza and fried chicken into the distant future is not in doubt.

No set of Taliban guerrillas, suicide bombers, or armed Afghan “allies” turning their guns on their American “brothers” can alter that — not as long as Washington is ready to bring the necessary supplies into semi-blockaded Afghanistan at staggering cost. But sometimes that’s the least of the matter, not the essence of it. So if you’re in a mood to mark your calendars, late February 2012 may be the moment when the end game for America’s second Afghan War, launched in October 2001, was initially glimpsed.

Amid the reportage about the recent explosion of Afghan anger over the torching of Korans in a burn pit at Bagram Air Base, there was a tiny news item that caught the spirit of the moment. As anti-American protests (and the deaths of protestors) mounted across Afghanistan, the German military made a sudden decision to immediately abandon a 50-man outpost in the north of the country.

True, they had planned to leave it a few weeks later, but consider the move a tiny sign of the increasing itchiness of Washington’s NATO allies. The French have shown a similar inclination to leave town since, earlier this year, four of their troops were blown away (and 16 wounded) by an Afghan army soldier, as three others had been shot down several weeks before by another Afghan in uniform. Both the French and the Germans have also withdrawn their civilian advisors from Afghan government institutions in the wake of the latest unrest.

Now, it’s clear enough: the Europeans are ready to go. And that shouldn’t be surprising. After all, we’re talking about NATO — the North Atlantic Treaty Organization — whose soldiers found themselves in distant Afghanistan in the first place only because, since World War II, with the singular exception of French President Charles de Gaulle in the 1960s, European leaders have had a terrible time saying “no” to Washington. They still can’t quite do so, but in these last months it’s clear which way their feet are pointed.

Which makes sense. You would have to be blind not to notice that the American effort in Afghanistan is heading into the tank.

The surprising thing is only that the Obama administration, which recently began to show a certain itchiness of its own — speeding up withdrawal dates and lowering the number of forces left behind — remains remarkably mired in its growing Afghan disaster. Besieged by demonstrators there, and at home by Republican presidential hopefuls making hay out of a situation from hell, its room to maneuver in an unraveling, increasingly chaotic situation seems to grow more limited by the day.

Sensitivity Training

The Afghan War shouldn’t be the world’s most complicated subject to deal with. After all, the message is clear enough. Eleven years in, if your forces are still burning Korans in a deeply religious Muslim country, it’s way too late and you should go.

Instead, the U.S. command in Kabul and the administration back home have proceeded to tie themselves in a series of bizarre knots, issuing apologies, orders, and threats to no particular purpose as events escalated. Soon after the news of the Koran burning broke, for instance, General John R. Allen, the U.S. war commander in Afghanistan, issued orders that couldn’t have been grimmer (or more feeble) under the circumstances. Only a decade late, he directed that all U.S. military personnel in the country undergo 10 days of sensitivity “training in the proper handling of religious materials.”

Sensitivity, in case you hadn’t noticed at this late date, has not been an American strong suit there. In the headlines in the last year, for instance, were revelations about the 12-soldier “kill team” that “hunted” Afghan civilians “for sport,” murdered them, and posed for demeaning photos with their corpses. There were the four wisecracking U.S. Marines who videotaped themselves urinating on the bodies of dead Afghans — whether civilians or Taliban guerrillas is unknown — with commentary (“Have a good day, buddy… Golden — like a shower”). There was also that sniper unit proudly sporting a Nazi SS banner in another photographed incident and the U.S. combat outpost named “Aryan.” And not to leave out the allies, there were the British soldiers who were filmed “abusing” children.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how Afghans have often experienced the American and NATO occupation of these last years. To take but one example that recently caused outrage, there were the eight shepherd boys, aged six to 18, slaughtered in a NATO air strike in Kapisa Province in northern Afghanistan (with the usual apology and forthcoming “investigation,” as well as claims, denied by Afghans who also investigated, that the boys were armed).

More generally, there are the hated night raids launched by special operations forces that break into Afghan homes, cross cultural boundaries of every sort, and sometimes leave death in their wake. Like errant American and NATO air operations, which have been commonplace in these war years, they are reportedly deeply despised by most Afghans.

All of these, in turn, have been protested again and again by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. He has regularly demanded that the U.S. military cease them (or bring them under Afghan control). Being the president of Afghanistan, however, he has limited leverage and so American officials have paid little attention to his complaints or his sense of what Afghans were willing to take.

The results are now available for all to see in an explosion of anger spreading across the country. How far this can escalate and how long it can last no one knows. But recent experience indicates that, once a population heads for the streets, anything can happen. All of this could, of course, peter out, but with more than 30 protesters already dead, it could also take on a look reminiscent of the escalating civil war in Syria — including, as has already happened on a small scale in the past, whole units of Afghan security forces defecting to the Taliban.

Unfolding events have visibly overwhelmed and even intimidated the Americans in charge. However, as religious as the country may be and holy as the Koran may be considered, what’s happened cannot be fully explained by the book burning. It is, in truth, an explosion a decade in coming.

Precursors and Omens

After the grim years of Taliban rule, when the Americans arrived in Kabul in November 2001, liberation was in the air. More than 10 years later, the mood is clearly utterly transformed and, for the first time, there are reports of “Taliban songs” being sung at demonstrations in the streets of the capital. Afghanistan is, as the New York Times reported last weekend (using language seldom seen in American newspapers) “a religious country fed up with foreigners”; or as Laura King of the Los Angeles Times put it, there is now “a visceral distaste for Western behavior and values” among significant numbers of Afghans.

Years of pent up frustration, despair, loathing, and desperation are erupting in the present protests. That this was long on its way can’t be doubted.

Among the more shocking events in the wake of the Koran burnings was the discovery in a room in the heavily guarded Afghan Interior Ministry in Kabul of the bodies of an American lieutenant colonel and major, each evidently executed with a shot in the back of the head while at work. The killer, who worked in the ministry, was evidently angered by the Koran burnings and possibly by the way the two Americans mocked Afghan protesters and the Koran itself. He escaped. The Taliban (as in all such incidents) quickly took responsibility, though it may not have been involved at all.

What clearly rattled the American command, however, and led them to withdraw hundreds of advisors from Afghan ministries around Kabul was that the two dead officers were “inside a secure room” that bars most Afghans. It was in the ministry’s command and control complex. (By the way, if you want to grasp some of the problems of the last decade just consider that the Afghan Interior Ministry includes an area open to foreigners, but not to most Afghans who work there.)

As the New York Times put it, the withdrawal of the advisors was “a clear sign of concern that the fury had reached deeply into even the Afghan security forces and ministries working most closely with the coalition.” Those two dead Americans were among four killed in these last days of chaos by Afghan “allies.” Meanwhile, the Taliban urged Afghan police and army troops, some of whom evidently need no urging, to attack U.S. military bases and American or NATO forces.

Two other U.S. troops died outside a small American base in Nangarhar Province near the Pakistani border in the midst of an Afghan demonstration in which two protestors were also killed. An Afghan soldier gunned the Americans down and then evidently escaped into the crowd of demonstrators. Such deaths, in a recent Washington Post piece, were termed “fratricide,” though that perhaps misconstrues the feelings of many Afghans, who over these last years have come to see the Americans as occupiers and possibly despoilers, but not as brothers.

Historically unprecedented in the modern era is the way, in the years leading up to this moment, Afghans in police and army uniforms have repeatedly turned their weapons on American or NATO troops training, working with, or patrolling with them. Barely more than a week ago, for instance, an Afghan policeman killed the first Albanian soldier to die in the war. Earlier in the year, there were those seven dead French troops. At least 36 U.S. and NATO troops have died in this fashion in the past year. Since 2007, there have been at least 47 such attacks. These have been regularly dismissed as “isolated incidents” of minimal significance by U.S. and NATO officials and, unbelievably enough, are still being publicly treated that way.

Yet not in Iraq, nor during the Vietnam War, nor the Korean conflict, nor even during the Philippine Insurrection at the turn of the twentieth century were there similar examples of what once would have been called “native troops” turning on those training, paying for, and employing them. You would perhaps have to go back to the Sepoy Rebellion, a revolt by Indian troops against their British officers in 1857, for anything comparable.

In April 2011, in the most devastating of these incidents, an Afghan air force colonel murdered nine U.S. trainers in a heavily guarded area of Kabul International Airport. He was reportedly angry at Americans generally and evidently not connected to the Taliban. And consider this an omen of things to come: his funeral in Kabul was openly attended by 1,500 mourners.

Put in the most practical terms, the Bush and now Obama administrations have been paying for and training an Afghan security force numbering in the hundreds of thousands — to the tune of billions dollars annually ($11 billion last year alone). They are the ones to whom the American war is to be “handed over” as U.S. forces are drawn down. Now, thanks either to Taliban infiltration, rising anger, or some combination of the two, it’s clear that any American soldier who approaches a member of the Afghan security forces to “hand over” anything takes his life in his hands. No war can be fought under such circumstances for very long.

Apologies, Pleas, and Threats

So don’t say there was no warning, or that Obama’s top officials shouldn’t have been prepared for the present unraveling. But when it came, the administration and the military were caught desperately off guard and painfully flatfooted.

In fact, through repeated missteps and an inability to effectively deal with the fallout from the Koran-burning incident, Washington now finds itself trapped in a labyrinth of investigations, apologies, pleas, and threats. Events have all but overwhelmed the administration’s ability to conduct an effective foreign policy. Think of it instead as a form of diplomatic pinball in which U.S. officials and commanders bounce from crisis to crisis with a limited arsenal of options and a toxic brew of foreign and domestic political pressures at play.

How did the pace get quite so dizzying? Let’s start with those dead Afghan shepherd boys. On February 15th, the U.S.-led International Security Force (ISAF) “extended its deep regret to the families and loved ones of several Afghan youths who died during an air engagement in Kapisa province Feb 8.” According to an official press release, ISAF insisted, as in so many previous incidents, that it was “taking appropriate action to ascertain the facts, and prevent similar occurrences in the future.”

The results of the investigation were still pending five days later when Americans in uniform were spotted by Afghan workers tossing those Korans into that burn pit at Bagram Air Base. The Afghans rescued several and smuggled them — burnt pages and all — off base, sparking national outrage. Almost immediately, the next act of contrition came forth. “On behalf of the entire International Security Assistance Force, I extend my sincerest apologies to the people of Afghanistan,” General Allen announced the following day. At the same time, in a classic case of too-little, too-late, he issued that directive for training in “the proper handling of religious materials.”

That day, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was on the same page, telling reporters that the burning of the Muslim holy books was “deeply unfortunate,” but not indicative of the Americans’ feelings toward the religious beliefs of the Afghan people. “Our military leaders have apologized… for these unintentional actions, and ISAF is undertaking an investigation to understand what happened and to ensure that steps are taken so that incidents like this do not happen again.”

On February 22nd, an investigation of the Koran burnings by a joint ISAF-Afghan government team commenced. “The purpose of the investigation is to discover the truth surrounding the events which resulted in this incident,” Allen said. “We are determined to ascertain the facts, and take all actions necessary to ensure this never happens again.”

The next day, as Afghan streets exploded in anger, Allen called on “everyone throughout the country — ISAF members and Afghans — to exercise patience and restraint as we continue to gather the facts surrounding Monday night’s incident.”

That very same day, Allen’s commander-in-chief sent a letter to Afghan President Hamid Karzai that included an apology, expressing “deep regret for the reported incident.” “The error was inadvertent,’’ President Obama wrote. “I assure you that we will take the appropriate steps to avoid any recurrence, to include holding accountable those responsible.’’

Obama’s letter drew instant fire from Republican presidential candidates, most forcefully former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who called it an “outrage” and demanded instead that President Karzai issue an apology for the two Americans shot down by an Afghan soldier. (Otherwise, he added, “we should say goodbye and good luck.”)

Translated into Washingtonese, the situation now looked like this: a Democratic president on the campaign trail in an election year who apologizes to a foreign country has a distinct problem. Two foreign countries? Forget it.

As a result, efforts to mend crucial, if rocky, relations with Pakistan were thrown into chaos. Because of cross-border U.S. air strikes in November which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, ties between the two countries were already deeply frayed and Pakistan was still blocking critical resupply routes for the war in Afghanistan. With American war efforts suffering for it and resupply costs sky-high, the U.S. government had put together a well-choreographed plan to smooth the waters.

General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was to issue a formal apology to Pakistan’s army chief. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would then follow up with a similar apology to her Pakistani counterpart.

Fearing further Republican backlash, however, the Obama administration quickly altered its timetable, putting off the apology for at least several more weeks, effectively telling the Pakistanis that any regrets over the killing of their troops would have to wait for a time more convenient to the U.S. election cycle.

Trading apologies to Afghans for those to Pakistanis, however, turned out to mean little on the streets of Afghanistan, where even in non-Taliban areas of the country, chants of “Death to America!” were becoming commonplace. “Just by saying ‘I am sorry,’ nothing can be solved,” protester Wali Mohammed told the New York Times. “We want an open trial for those infidels who have burned our Holy Koran.”

And his response was subdued compared to that of Mohammed Anwar, an officer with the U.S.-allied Afghan police. “I will take revenge from the infidels for what they did to our Holy Koran, and I will kill them whenever I get the chance,” he said. “I don’t care about the job I have.”

A day later, when Anwar’s words were put into action by someone who undoubtedly had similar feelings, General Allen announced yet another investigation, this time with tough talk, not apologies, following. “I condemn today’s attack at the Afghan Ministry of Interior that killed two of our coalition officers, and my thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of the brave individuals lost today,” he said in a statement provided to TomDispatch by ISAF. “We are investigating the crime and will pursue all leads to find the person responsible for this attack. The perpetrator of this attack is a coward whose actions will not go unanswered.”

Allen also took the unprecedented step of severing key points of contact with America’s Afghan allies. “For obvious force protection reasons, I have also taken immediate measures to recall all other ISAF personnel working in ministries in and around Kabul.”

Unable to reboot relations with allies in Islamabad due to the unrest in Afghanistan (which was, in fact, already migrating across the border), the U.S. now found itself partially severing ties with its “partners” in Kabul as well. Meanwhile, back home, Gingrich and others raised the possibility of severing ties with President Karzai himself. In other words, the heat was rising in both the White House and the Afghan presidential palace, while any hope of controlling events elsewhere in either country was threatening to disappear.

As yet, the U.S. military has not taken the next logical step: barring whole categories of Afghans from American bases. “There are currently no discussions ongoing about limiting access to ISAF bases to our Afghan partners,” an ISAF spokesperson assured TomDispatch, but if the situation worsens, expect such discussions to commence.

The Beginning of the End?

As the Koran burning scandal unfolded, TomDispatch spoke to Raymond F. Chandler III, the Sergeant Major of the U.S. Army, the most senior enlisted member of that service. “Are there times that things happen that don’t go exactly the way we want or that people act in an unprofessional manner? Absolutely. It’s unfortunate,” he said. “We have a process in place to ensure that when those things don’t happen we conduct an investigation and hold people accountable.”

In Afghan eyes over the last decade, however, it’s accountability that has been sorely lacking, which is why many now in the streets are demanding not just apologies, but a local trial and the death penalty for the Koran burners. Although ISAF’s investigation is ongoing, its statements already indicate that it has concluded the book burnings were accidental and unintentional. This ensures one thing: those at fault, whom no American administration could ever afford to turn over to Afghans for trial anyway, will receive, at best, a slap on the wrist — and many Afghans will be further outraged.

In other words, twist and turn as they might, issue what statements they will, the Americans are now remarkably powerless in the Afghan context to stop the unraveling. Quite the opposite: their actions are guaranteed to ensure further anger among their Afghan “allies.”

Chandler, who was in Afghanistan last year and is slated to return in the coming months, said that he believed the United States was winning there, albeit with caveats. “Again, there are areas in Afghanistan where we have been less successful than others, but each one of those provinces, each one of those districts has their own set of conditions tied with the Afghan people, the Afghan government’s criteria for transition to the Afghan army and the Afghan national police, the Afghan defense forces, and we’re committed to that.” He added that the Americans serving there were “doing absolutely the best possible under the conditions and the environment.”

It turns out, however, that in Afghanistan today the “best” has not been sufficient. With even some members of the Afghan parliament now calling for jihad against Washington and its coalition allies, radical change is in the air. The American position is visibly crumbling. “Winning” is a distant, long-faded fantasy, defeat a rising reality.

Despite its massive firepower and staggering base structure in Afghanistan, actual power is visibly slipping away from the United States. American officials are already talking about not panicking (which indicates that panic is indeed in the air). And in an election year, with the Obama administration’s options desperately limited and what goals it had fast disappearing, it can only brace itself and hope to limp through until November 2012.

The end game in Afghanistan has, it seems, come into view, and after all these fruitless, bloody years, it couldn’t be sadder. Saddest of all, so much of the blood spilled has been for purposes, if they ever made any sense, that have long since disappeared into the fog of history.

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), has just been published.

Nick Turse is associate editor of TomDispatch.com. An award-winning journalist, his work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, and regularly at TomDispatch. His new TomDispatch series on the changing face of American empire is being underwritten by Lannan Foundation. You can follow him on Twitter @NickTurse, on Tumblr, and on Facebook.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook.

Copyright 2012 Tom Engelhardt and Nick Turse

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Posted by The Agonist on February 26th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Glenn Greenwald, spot on about the current violent protests in Afghanistan:

It’s comforting to believe that these violent protests and the obviously intense anti-American rage driving them is primarily about anger over the inadvertent burning of some religious books: that way, we can dismiss the rage as primitive and irrational and see the American targets as victims. But the Afghans themselves are making clear that this latest episode is but the trigger for — the latest symbol of — a pile of long-standing, underlying grievances about a decade-old, extremely violent foreign military presence in their country. It’s much more difficult to dismiss those grievances as the by-product of primitive religious fanaticism, so — as usual — they just get ignored.

But it’s worth noticing that the “by-product of religious fanaticism” narrative only flies, in large part, because Westerners have been thoroughly bamboozeled about Afghanistan by a constant military media push which is, to put it bluntly, a lie. If there is “momentum” towards a safer and more peaceful nation, if the Taliban are hated by all rather than seen as resisting a violent occupation, then what conclusion is left but that the natives are revolting over a mere book?

A NATO report from last month, State of the Taliban, shows just how much of a lie the tale of a safer, more secure Afghanistan is. As The NYT’s “At War” blog noted:

the Taliban assessment that they can take over much of the country contradicts sharply NATO’s insistence that the Taliban have been demoralized and their fighting capability seriously degraded by the surge, night raids and the kill or capture tactics of special operations forces.

While it is very difficult to know what the Taliban really think, it would seem that they are less discouraged than the military is willing to admit in public statements.

Every year of the occupation has seen more individual instances of violence, more civilian deaths and more US troop deaths than the preceeding one, yet the military continues to push the “momentum” tale and the Western media largely continues to stenographize it. Moreover, a large portion – possibly even a majority – of the Afghan population feel exactly as the Taliban in this report say they feel: they hate the occupation, not “our freedoms”. It’s easy to see why. Back to Glenn:

The U.S. has violently occupied their country for more than a decade. It has, as Gen. Stanley McChrystal himself explained, killed what he called an “amazing number” of innocent Afghans in checkpoint shootings. It has repeatedly — as in, over and over — killed young Afghan children in air strikes. It continues to imprison their citizens for years at Bagram and other American bases without charges of any kind and with credible reports of torture and other serious abuses. Soldiers deliberately shot Afghan civilians for fun and urinated on their corpses and displayed them as trophies.

If ISAF were honest in their rosy public assessments – if those assessments matched the ones circulating in private and those of independent analysts who say at best there’s a stalemate then the current rioting would fit into a context of resistance to an occupation at gunpoint where the burning of Korans is only the catalyst for an upsurge of frustrated protest over a whole slew of underlying insults and atrocities. Instead, because of those rose-colored tales, it is left to appear as an isolated and irrational event.

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Posted by The Agonist on February 25th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Hamid Shalizi and Amie Ferris-Rotman | Kabul, Afgnanistan | Febrauary 25

Reuters – KABUL (Reuters) – Two American officers were shot dead at close range inside Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry on Saturday, a U.S. official said, as rage gripped the country for a fifth day over the burning of the Muslim holy book at a NATO base.

NATO recalled all staff working at ministries in the Afghan capital Kabul following the attack, with its top commander in Afghanistan calling the killer a “coward”.

“For obvious force protection reasons, I have also taken immediate measures to recall all other ISAF personnel working in ministries in and around Kabul,” said General John Allen, adding that the attacker’s actions “will not go unanswered”.

The two American officers, advisers to the ministry, were fired on at close range, a U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the shootings, which it said were in retaliation for the desecration of copies of the Koran by foreign troops at NATO’s Bagram air base. Afghan security sources said the two dead were a U.S. colonel and major with NATO forces.

U.S. President Barack Obama has sent a letter to his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai, apologizing for what Washington says was the unintentional burning of the Korans, after Afghan laborers found charred copies while collecting rubbish.

The Koran burnings ignited anti-Western fury. Thousands have taken to the streets and at least 27 people have been killed in the protests. Two American soldiers were shot dead on Thursday by an Afghan national army soldier who joined the rallies.

HIGH SECURITY CLEARANCE

An Afghan security source said the American officers killed on Saturday had been found dead with gunshot wounds deep inside the heavily fortified Interior Ministry.

“There is CCTV there and special locks. The killer would have had to have the highest security (clearance) to get to the room where they were killed,” the source told Reuters.

NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) confirmed two of its servicemen had been killed in Kabul but declined to say if the shooter was a member of the Afghan security forces.

If the shootings are linked to Afghan forces, new questions will arise about Taliban infiltration as well as their ability to secure Afghanistan once NATO combat forces withdraw in 2014.

NATO is supposed to be moving away from a combat role to an advise-and-assist mission as early as next year. That will require NATO to place more staff in ministries.

“The fact that NATO is recalling staff from ministries suggests they are worried about a deep malaise in the Afghan security forces, that they expect more of these attacks,” said Kamran Bokhari at STRATFOR global intelligence firm.

The Koran burnings have underscored the deep cultural mistrust between Afghans and the foreign troops who invaded a decade ago to oust the Taliban from power.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement four high-ranking Americans had been killed. The Islamist group often exaggerate and inflate claims of casualties.

“A devoted Mujahid hero, Abdul Rahman, killed four high-ranking Americans,” he said.

“The attack came from the mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate in revenge for the American soldiers’ repeated desecration of our religion, especially the latest intentional incident in the Bagram airfield which they burnt Korans,” he added, using another name the group call themselves.

DESECRATION

An Afghan security source said the shooting of the two Americans in the Interior Ministry could be connected to the burning of the Korans.

Muslims consider the Koran to be the literal word of God and treat each copy with deep reverence. Desecration is considered one of the worst forms of blasphemy.

Hundreds of people tried to overrun a compound in the northern Kunduz province housing workers from the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, but were held back by police, Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said.

In April last year protesters angry over the burning of Korans by an obscure pastor in the United States stormed a U.N. compound in northern Balkh province, killing seven people.

The protests could dent plans for a strategic pact that Washington is considering with Kabul which would allow a sharply reduced number of Western troops to stay in the country well beyond their combat exit deadline.

There have been several instances of Afghan troops and forces turning on NATO troops. NATO servicemen and staff live and work primarily at their bases, but also frequent the barricaded Afghan ministries dotted around Kabul on official business.

General Allen said an investigation had been launched. A U.S. official described the pullout of staff from Afghan ministries as a precaution.

(Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni in Kabul and Phil Stewart in Washington, Writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Michael Georgy and Andrew Roche)

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Posted by Peace Action West on February 23rd, 2012

From our partners at Peace Action West

Last week, your messages helped convince 87 members of the House, Democrats and Republicans, to sign on to a letter to the president saying that it’s time to get out of Afghanistan.  Great work!

Now we need to get the Senate to join the call. Please click here to tell your senators to sign a bipartisan letter calling for an end to the war.

Last week, NATO admitted that their bombs killed eight Afghan children.

This war is a disaster, and for the Afghan civilians and soldiers in daily danger, this couldn’t be more urgent.

In just a few months, NATO countries will meet in Chicago to talk about what’s next for Afghanistan, and with your help, we’ll make sure that our leaders can’t ignore the momentum for ending this disastrous war.

Please, act now to tell your senators to sign the letter before the deadline a week from today.

I remember just three years ago when hardly any members of Congress wanted to draw attention to the war in Afghanistan. Our progress in Congress is a testament to your tenacity. Please join us in keeping the fire going. Take action today.

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Posted by Tom Engelhardt on February 23rd, 2012

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Remotely Piloted War
How Drone War Became The American Way of Life

By Tom Engelhardt

In the American mind, if Apple made weapons, they would undoubtedly be drones, those remotely piloted planes getting such great press here. They have generally been greeted as if they were the sleekest of iPhones armed with missiles.

When the first American drone assassins burst onto the global stage early in the last decade, they caught most of us by surprise, especially because they seemed to come out of nowhere or from some wild sci-fi novel. Ever since, they’ve been touted in the media as the shiniest presents under the American Christmas tree of war, the perfect weapons to solve our problems when it comes to evildoers lurking in the global badlands.

And can you blame Americans for their love affair with the drone? Who wouldn’t be wowed by the most technologically advanced, futuristic, no-pain-all-gain weapon around?

Here’s the thing, though: put drones in a more familiar context, skip the awestruck commentary, and they should have been eerily familiar. If, for instance, they were car factories, they would seem so much less exotic to us.

Think about it: What does a drone do? Like a modern car factory, it replaces a pilot, a skilled job that takes significant training, with robotics and a degraded version of the same job outsourced elsewhere. In this case, the “offshore” location that job headed for wasn’t China or Mexico, but a military base in the U.S., where a guy with a joystick, trained in a hurry and sitting at a computer monitor, is “piloting” that plane. And given our experience with the hemorrhaging of good jobs from the U.S., who will be surprised to discover that, in 2011, the U.S. Air Force was already training more drone “pilots” than actual fighter and bomber pilots combined?

That’s one way drones are something other than the futuristic sci-fi wonders we imagine them to be. But there’s another way that drones have been heading for the American “homeland” for four decades, and it has next to nothing to do with technology, advanced or otherwise.

In a sense, drone war might be thought of as the most natural form of war for the All Volunteer Military. To understand why that’s so, we need to head back to a crucial decision implemented just as the Vietnam war was ending.

Disarming the Amateurs, Demobilizing the Citizenry

It’s true that, in the wake of grinding wars that have also been debacles — the Afghan version of which has entered its 11th year — the U.S. military is in ratty shape. Its equipment needs refurbishing and its troops are worn down. The stress of endlessly repeated tours of duty in war zones, brain injuries and other wounds caused by the roadside bombs that have often replaced a visible enemy on the “battlefield,” suicide rates that can’t be staunched, rising sexual violence within the military, increasing crime rates around military bases, and all the other strains and pains of unending war have taken their toll.

Still, ours remains an intact, unrebellious, professional military. If you really want to see a force on its last legs, you need to leave the post-9/11 years behind and go back to the Vietnam era. In 1971, in Armed Forces Journal, Colonel Robert D. Heinl, Jr., author of a definitive history of the Marine Corps, wrote of “widespread conditions among American forces in Vietnam that have only been exceeded in this century by the French Army’s Nivelle mutinies of 1917 and the collapse of the Tsarist armies [of Russia] in 1916 and 1917.”

The U.S. military in Vietnam and at bases in the U.S. and around world was essentially at the edge of rebellion. Disaffection with an increasingly unpopular war on the Asian mainland, rejected by ever more Americans and emphatically protested at home, had infected the military, which was, after all, made up significantly of draftees.

Desertion rates were rising, as was drug use. In the field, “search and evade” (a mocking, descriptive accurate replacement for “search and destroy”) operations were becoming commonplace. “Fraggings” — attacks on unpopular officers or NCOs — had doubled. (“Word of the deaths of officers will bring cheers at troop movies or in bivouacs of certain units.”) And according to Col. Heinl, there were then as many as 144 antiwar “underground newspapers” published by or aimed at soldiers. At the moment when he wrote, in fact, the antiwar movement in the U.S. was being spearheaded by a rising tide of disaffected Vietnam veterans speaking out against their war and the way they had fought it.

In this fashion, an American citizen’s army, a draft military, had reached its limits and was voting with its feet against an imperial war. This was democracy in action transferred to the battlefield and the military base. And it was deeply disturbing to the U.S. high command, which had, by then, lost faith in the future possibilities of a draft army. In fact, faced with ever more ill-disciplined troops, the military’s top commanders had clearly concluded: never again!

So on the very day the Paris Peace Accords were signed in January 1973, officially signaling the end of U.S. involvement in Vietnam (though not quite its actual end), President Richard Nixon also signed a decree ending the draft. It was an admission of the obvious: war, American-style, as it had been practiced since World War II, had lost its hold on young minds.

There was no question that U.S. military and civilian leaders intended, at that moment, to sever war and war-making from an aroused citizenry. In that sense, they glimpsed something of the future they meant to shape, but even they couldn’t have guessed just where American war would be heading. Army Chief of Staff General Creighton Abrams, for instance, actually thought he was curbing the future rashness of civilian leaders by — as Andrew Bacevich explained in his book The New American Militarism — “making the active army operationally dependent on the reserves.” In this way, no future president could commit the country to a significant war “without first taking the politically sensitive and economically costly step of calling up America’s ‘weekend warriors.’”

Abrams was wrong, of course, though he ensured that, decades hence, the reserves, too, would suffer the pain of disastrous wars once again fought on the Eurasian mainland. Still, whatever the generals and the civilian leaders didn’t know about the effects of their acts then, the founding of the All-Volunteer Force (AVF) may have been the single most important decision made by Washington in the post-Vietnam era of the foreshortened American Century.

Today, few enough even remember that moment and far fewer have considered its import. Yet, historically speaking, that 1973 severing of war from the populace might be said to have ended an almost two-century-old democratic experiment in fusing the mobilized citizen and the mobilized state in wartime. It had begun with the levée en masse during the French Revolution, which sent roused citizens to the front to save the republic and spread their democratic fervor abroad. Behind them stood a mobilized population ready to sacrifice anything for the republic (and all too soon, of course, the empire).

It turned out, however, that the drafted citizen had his limits and so, almost 200 years later, another aroused citizenry and its soldiers, home front and war front, were to be pacified, to be put out to pasture, while the empire’s wars were to be left to the professionals. An era was ending, even if no one noticed. (As a result, if you’re in the mood to indulge in irony, citizen’s war would be left to the guerrillas of the world, which in our era has largely meant to fundamentalist religious sects.)

Just calling in the professionals and ushering out the amateurs wasn’t enough, though, to make the decision truly momentous. Another choice had to be married to it. The debacle that was Vietnam — or what, as the 1970s progressed, began to be called “the Vietnam Syndrome” (as if the American people had been struck by some crippling psychic disease) — could have sent Washington, and so the nation, off on another course entirely.

The U.S. could have retreated, however partially, from the world to lick its wounds. Instead, the country’s global stance as the “leader of the free world” and its role as self-appointed global policeman were never questioned, nor was the global military basing policy that underlay it. In the midst of the Cold War, from Indonesia to Latin America, Japan to the Middle East, no diminution of U.S. imperial dreams was ever seriously considered.

The decision not to downsize its global military presence in the wake of Vietnam fused with the decision to create a military that would free Washington from worry about what the troops might think. Soon enough, as Bacevich wrote, the new AVF would be made up of “highly trained, handsomely paid professionals who (assuming that the generals concur with the wishes of the political leadership) will go anywhere without question to do the bidding of the commander-in-chief.” It would, in fact, open the way for a new kind of militarism at home and abroad.

The Arrival of the Warrior Corporation

In the wake of Vietnam, the wars ceased and, for a few years, war even fled American popular culture. When it returned, the dogfights would be in outer space. (Think Star Wars.) In the meantime, a kind of stunned silence, a feeling of defeat, descended on the American polity — but not for long. In the 1980s, the years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, American-style war was carefully rebuilt, this time to new specifications.

Reagan himself declared Vietnam “a noble cause,” and a newly professionalized military, purged of malcontents and rebels, once again began invading small countries (Grenada, Panama). At the same time, the Pentagon was investing thought and planning into how to put the media (blamed for defeat in Vietnam) in its rightful place and so give the public the war news it deserved. In the process, reporters were first restrained from, then “pooled” in, and finally “embedded” in the war effort, while retired generals were sent into TV newsrooms like so many play-by-play analysts on Monday Night Football to narrate our wars as they were happening. Meanwhile, the public was simply sidelined.

Year by year, war became an ever more American activity and yet grew ever more remote from most Americans. The democratic citizen with a free mind and the ability to rebel had been sent home, and then demobilized on that home front as well. As a result, despite the endless post-9/11 gab about honoring and supporting the troops, a mobilized “home front” sacrificing for those fighting in their name would become a relic of history in a country whose leaders had begun boasting of having the greatest military the world had ever seen.

It wasn’t, however, that no one was mobilizing. In the space vacated by the citizen, mobilization continued, just in a different fashion. Ever more mobilized, for instance, would be the powers of big science and the academy in the service of the Pentagon, the weapons makers, and the corporation.

Meanwhile, over the years, that “professional” army, that “all volunteer” force, began to change as well. From the 1990s on, in a way that would have been inconceivable for a draft army, it began to be privatized — fused, that is, into the corporate way of war and profit.

War would now be fought not for or by the citizen, but quite literally for and by Lockheed Martin, Halliburton, KBR, DynCorp, Triple Canopy, and Blackwater (later Xe, even later Academi). Meanwhile, that citizen was to shudder at the thought of our terrorist enemies and then go on with normal life as if nothing whatsoever were happening. (“Get down to Disney World in Florida. Take your families and enjoy life the way we want it to be enjoyed,” was George W. Bush’s suggested response to the 9/11 attacks two weeks after they happened, with the “war on terror” already going on the books.)

Despite a paucity of real enemies of any substance, taxpayer dollars would pour into the coffers of the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex, as well as a new mini-homeland-security-industrial complex and a burgeoning intelligence-industrial complex, at levels unknown in the Cold War years. Lobbyists would be everywhere and the times would be the best, even when, in the war zones, things were going badly indeed.

Meanwhile, in those war zones, the Big Corporation would take over the humblest of soldierly roles — the peeling of potatoes, the cooking of meals, the building of bases and outposts, the delivery of mail — and it would take up the gun (and the bomb) as well. Soon enough, even the dying would be outsourced to corporate hirees. Occupied Iraq and Afghanistan would be flooded with tens of thousands of private contractors and hired guns, while military men trained in elite special operations units would find their big paydays by joining mercenary corporations doing similar work, often in the same war zones.

It was a remarkable racket. War and profit had long been connected in complicated ways, but seldom quite so straightforwardly. Now, win or lose on the battlefield, there would always be winners among the growing class of warrior corporations.

The All-Volunteer Force, pliant as a military should be, and backed by Madison Avenue to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars to insure that its ranks were full, would become ever more detached from most of American society. It would, in fact, become ever more foreign (as in “foreign legion”) and ever more mercenary (think Hessians). The intelligence services of the national security state would similarly outsource significant parts of their work to the private sector. According to Dana Priest and William Arkin of the Washington Post, by 2010, about 265,000 of the 854,000 people with top security clearances were private contractors and “close to 30% of the workforce in the intelligence agencies [was] contractors.”

No one seemed to notice, but a 1% version of American war was coming to fruition, unchecked by a draft Army, a skeptical Congress, or a democratic citizenry. In fact, Americans, generally preoccupied with lives in which our wars played next to no part, paid little attention.

Remotely Piloted War

Although early drone technology was already being used over North Vietnam, it’s in another sense entirely that drones have been heading into America’s future since 1973. There was an eerie logic to it: first came professional war, then privatized war, then mercenary and outsourced war — all of which made war ever more remote from most Americans. Finally, both literally and figuratively, came remote war itself.

It couldn’t be more appropriate that the Air Force prefers you not call their latest wonder weapons “unmanned aerial vehicles,” or UAVs, anymore. They would like you to use the label “remotely piloted aircraft” (RPA) instead. And ever more remotely piloted that vehicle is to be, until — claim believers and enthusiasts — it will pilot itself, land itself, maneuver itself, and while in the air even chose its own targets.

In this sense, think of us as moving from the citizen’s army to a roboticized, and finally robot, military — to a military that is a foreign legion in the most basic sense. In other words, we are moving toward an ever greater outsourcing of war to things that cannot protest, cannot vote with their feet (or wings), and for whom there is no “home front” or even a home at all. In a sense, we are, as we have been since 1973, heading for a form of war without anyone, citizen or otherwise, in the picture — except those on the ground, enemy and civilian alike, who will die as usual.

Of course, it may never happen this way, in part because drones are anything but perfect or wonder weapons, and in part because corporate war fought by a thoroughly professional military turns out to be staggeringly expensive to the demobilized citizen, profligate in its waste, and — by the evidence of recent history — remarkably unsuccessful. It also couldn’t be more remote from the idea of a democracy or a republic.

In a sense, the modern imperial age began hundreds of years ago with corporate war, when Dutch, British and other East India companies set sail, armed to the teeth, to subdue the world at a profit. Perhaps corporate war will also prove the end point for that age, the perfect formula for the last global empire on its way down.

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), has just been published.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook.

Copyright 2012 Tom Engelhardt

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Posted by Peace Action West on February 21st, 2012

From our partners at Peace Action West

Last Friday, 87 House members sent a letter to President Obama stating support for a plan to accelerate the end of combat operations in Afghanistan (as announced by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta earlier this month). The letter pointed out the growing support for an end to the war in Congress and the public:

The majority of Americans want a safe and orderly military withdrawal from Afghanistan as quickly as possible, as recent public opinion polls indicate. The desire by the American people for an accelerated transition in Afghanistan was reflected in votes taken in Congress last year, in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate during their respective debates on amendments offered by Representatives McGovern and Jones and by Senator Merkley to the FY 2012 National Defense Authorization Act. These votes show there is strong bipartisan political support to take bold steps regarding U.S. policy in Afghanistan.

The letter points out that many of the signers support a more rapid withdrawal than announced by Panetta. While we want to keep pushing for a quicker transition and more clarity around the plan, it is important that we reinforce this major step in the right direction. With pressure from the supporters of endless war in Afghanistan, the administration could be tempted to backtrack. This letter offers an important counterweight and gives the president political space to stand his ground and take even bolder steps to end the war.

Many thanks to all of you who took action to urge your representatives to sign the letter. You can read the entire letter and see the list of signers here.

 

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Posted by The Agonist on February 21st, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Literally…

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan —Deeply angered over reports that U.S. troops had burned copies of the Koran, Islam’s holy text, thousands of protesters on Tuesday tried to storm the largest U.S. base in Afghanistan.

The protests erupted early in the morning, after Afghans working inside the Bagram air base reported to local residents that a number of copies of the Koran had been burned. The incident prompted the top U.S. military officer in Afghanistan, Gen. John R. Allen, to offer a public apology and order a prompt investigation.

“When we learned of these actions, we immediately intervened and stopped them,” Allen said in a statement. “We are taking steps to ensure this does not ever happen again. I assure you … I promise you … this was NOT intentional in any way.”

It’s not hard to find out that the proper way to dispose of a Koran is by burying it or releasing it into flowing waters. You can burn it, but there had better be no other option available.

It seems to me that, in the largest military base in South Asia, there’s a front loader lying around idle somewhere.

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Posted by The Agonist on February 20th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Gareth Porter reports that any deal to allow the US to keep a presence in Afghanistan after 2014 is hung up on the US tactic of night raids, part of the special-forces run “assassination” phase that Bacevich identifies as the latest phase of the perpetual war America has waged for over a decade. Afghan president Karzai wants the US to hand leadership of the raids to Afghans, complaining about infringements of Afghan sovereignty, while the US flatly refuses. One military source told Gareth that “They’re not going to give them up,”…”This is the last offensive tactic we will have available.”

That word “offensive” could be taken two ways.

Afghan anger at U.S. night raids has continued to grow as the pace of those raids has risen steeply in recent years, and thousands of families still suffer the consequences of long-term detention because of the raids.

Haji-Niaz Akka, 48, a shopkeeper in Kandahar city, told IPS about a two a.m. raid on his home almost eight months ago in which U.S. forces tied up all four males in the house and took them away. Two of them were released two days later, but the other two, his nephew and son-in-law, were taken to Bagram air Base and remain in detention.

“These night raids violate our customs,” Akka said, expressing a common Afghan view. “It’s better to be killed than to be searched at night while sleeping with (one’s) wife and kids. This is absolutely unacceptable.”

Zahir Jan Ustad, a resident of Kandahar’s Panjwai district, is still angry about two of his brothers being detained in two separate night raids in Kandahar City and in Panjwai last September.

“We don’t know why the Americans are disturbing us by night raids which we hate,” he told IPS in an interview. “They are coming at night and searching our women. Our women are our honour, and we really hate (the U.S.) for that,” Usted said.

The Afghan anger at night raids is also a major factor in the antagonism felt by Afghan army officers and soldiers as well as police toward foreign troops that has resulted in 40 attacks by Afghan security personnel on U.S. troops since 2007, three-fourths of them in the past two years. Nearly 100 U.S. and NATO personnel have been killed or wounded in such attacks.

A study done for the U.S. military by behavioural scientist Jeffrey Bordin in late 2010 and early 2011 revealed that night raids and house searches were mentioned more frequently than any other issue by Afghan troops as a reason for serous altercations with U.S. forces.

By contrast, there have been exactly three cases of “green on blue” fire in all the years of a US presence in Iraq, and all three were in and around the insurgent hotbed city of Mosul. US-led night raids in Afghanistan look very like an offensive option that’s more offensive to the Afghans than it is useful to America.

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Posted by Tom Engelhardt on February 20th, 2012

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three days a week, click here .

If all goes as planned, it will be the happiest of wartimes in the U.S.A.  Only the best of news, the killing of the baddest of the evildoers, will ever filter back to our world.

After all, American war is heading for the “shadows” in a big way.  As news articles have recently made clear, the tip of the Obama administration’s global spear will increasingly be shaped from the ever-growing ranks of U.S. special operations forces.  They are so secretive that they don’t like their operatives to be named, so covert that they instruct their members, as Spencer Ackerman of Wired’s Danger Room blog notes, “not to write down important information, lest it be vulnerable to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.”  By now, they are also a force that, in any meaningful sense, is unaccountable for its actions.

Although the special ops crew (66,000 people in all) exist on our tax dollars, we’re really not supposed to know anything about what they’re doing — unless, of course, they choose the publicity venue themselves, whether in Pakistan knocking off Osama bin Laden or parachuting onto Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard to promote Act of Valor. In case you somehow missed the ads, that’s the new film about “real terrorist threats based on true stories starring actual Navy SEALs.” (No names in the credits please!)

Of course, those elite SEAL teams are johnnies-come-lately when compared to their no less secretive “teammates” in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Somalia — our ever increasing armada of drones.  Those robotic warriors of the air (or at least their fantasy doppelgangers) were, of course, pre-celebrated — after a fashion — in the Terminator movies.  In Washington’s global battle zones, what’s called our “traditional combat role” — think big invasions, occupations, counterinsurgency — is going, going, gone with the wind, even evidently in Afghanistan by 2013.  War American-style is instead being inherited by secretive teams of men and machines, both hunter-killers who specialize in assassination operations, and both of whom, as presented to Americans, just couldn’t be sexier.

And we’ll all be just so happy — as a recent poll indicates we are — with our robotic warriors and their shadowy special ops teammates, if with nothing else in our fraying world.  They present such an alluring image of the no-pain, all-gain battlefield and are undoubtedly a relief for many Americans, distinctly tired — so the polls also tell us — of wars that aren’t covert and don’t work.  So who even notices that, as Andrew Bacevich, bestselling author and (most recently) editor of The Short American Century: A Postmortem, points out, we’re being plunged into a real-life war novel that has no plot and no end.  How post-modern!  How disastrous, if only we have the patience to wait!  (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Bacevich discusses the changing face of the Gobal War on Terror, click here, or download it to your iPod here.)  Tom

Scoring the Global War on Terror
From Liberation to Assassination in Three Quick Rounds
By Andrew Bacevich

With the United States now well into the second decade of what the Pentagon has styled an “era of persistent conflict,” the war formerly known as the global war on terrorism (unofficial acronym WFKATGWOT) appears increasingly fragmented and diffuse.  Without achieving victory, yet unwilling to acknowledge failure, the United States military has withdrawn from Iraq.  It is trying to leave Afghanistan, where events seem equally unlikely to yield a happy outcome.

Elsewhere — in Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia, for example — U.S. forces are busily opening up new fronts.  Published reports that the United States is establishing “a constellation of secret drone bases” in or near the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula suggest that the scope of operations will only widen further.  In a front-page story, the New York Times described plans for “thickening” the global presence of U.S. special operations forces.  Rushed Navy plans to convert an aging amphibious landing ship into an “afloat forward staging base” — a mobile launch platform for either commando raids or minesweeping operations in the Persian Gulf — only reinforces the point. Yet as some fronts close down and others open up, the war’s narrative has become increasingly difficult to discern.  How much farther until we reach the WFKATGWOT’s equivalent of Berlin?  What exactly is the WFKATGWOT’s equivalent of Berlin?  In fact, is there a storyline here at all?

Viewed close-up, the “war” appears to have lost form and shape.  Yet by taking a couple of steps back, important patterns begin to appear.  What follows is a preliminary attempt to score the WFKATGWOT, dividing the conflict into a bout of three rounds.  Although there may be several additional rounds still to come, here’s what we’ve suffered through thus far.

The Rumsfeld Era

Round 1: Liberation. More than any other figure — more than any general, even more than the president himself — Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld dominated the war’s early stages.  Appearing for a time to be a larger-than-life figure — the “Secretary at War” in the eyes of an adoring (if fickle) neocon fan club — Rumsfeld dedicated himself to the proposition that, in battle, speed holds the key to victory.  He threw his considerable weight behind a high-tech American version of blitzkrieg.  U.S. forces, he regularly insisted, were smarter and more agile than any adversary.  To employ them in ways that took advantage of those qualities was to guarantee victory.  The journalistic term adopted to describe this concept was “shock and awe.”

No one believed more passionately in “shock and awe” than Rumsfeld himself.  The design of Operation Enduring Freedom, launched in October 2001, and of Operation Iraqi Freedom, begun in March 2003, reflected this belief.  In each instance, the campaign got off to a promising start, with U.S. troops landing some swift and impressive blows.  In neither case, however, were they able to finish off their opponent or even, in reality, sort out just who their opponent might be.  Unfortunately for Rumsfeld, the “terrorists” refused to play by his rulebook and U.S. forces proved to be less smart and agile than their technological edge — and their public relations machine — suggested would be the case.  Indeed, when harassed by minor insurgencies and scattered bands of jihadis, they proved surprisingly slow to figure out what hit them.

In Afghanistan, Rumsfeld let victory slip through his grasp.  In Iraq, his mismanagement of the campaign brought the United States face-to-face with outright defeat.  Rumsfeld’s boss had hoped to liberate (and, of course, dominate) the Islamic world through a series of short, quick thrusts.  What Bush got instead were two different versions of a long, hard slog.  By the end of 2006, “shock and awe” was kaput.  Trailing well behind the rest of the country and its armed forces, the president eventually lost confidence in his defense secretary’s approach.  As a result, Rumsfeld lost his job.  Round one came to an end, the Americans, rather embarrassingly, having lost it on points.

The Petraeus Era

Round 2: Pacification. Enter General David Petraeus.  More than any other figure, in or out of uniform, Petraeus dominated the WFKATGWOT’s second phase.  Round two opened with lowered expectations.  Gone was the heady talk of liberation.  Gone, too, were predictions of lightning victories.  The United States was now willing to settle for much less while still claiming success.

Petraeus offered a formula for restoring a semblance of order to countries reduced to chaos as a result of round one.  Order might permit the United States to extricate itself while maintaining some semblance of having met its policy objectives.  This became the operative definition of victory.

The formal name for the formula that Petraeus devised was counterinsurgency, or COIN.  Rather than trying to defeat the enemy, COIN sought to facilitate the emergence of a viable and stable nation-state.  This was the stated aim of the “surge” in Iraq ordered by President George W. Bush at the end of 2006.

With Petraeus presiding, violence in that country did decline precipitously. Whether the relationship was causal or coincidental remains the subject of controversy.  Still, Petraeus’s apparent success persuaded some observers that counterinsurgency on a global scale — GCOIN, they called it — should now form the basis for U.S. national security strategy.  Here, they argued, was an approach that could definitively extract the United States from the WFKATGWOT, while offering victory of a sort.  Rather than employing “shock and awe” to liberate the Islamic world, U.S. forces would apply counterinsurgency doctrine to pacify it.

The task of demonstrating the validity of COIN beyond Iraq fell to General Stanley McChrystal, appointed with much fanfare in 2009 to command U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.  Press reports celebrated McChrystal as another Petraeus, the ideal candidate to replicate the achievements already credited to “King David.”

McChrystal’s ascendency came at a moment when a cult of generalship gripped Washington.  Rather than technology being the determinant of success as Rumsfeld had believed, the key was to put the right guy in charge and then let him run with things.  Political figures on both sides of the aisle fell all over themselves declaring McChrystal the right guy for Afghanistan.  Pundits of all stripes joined the chorus.

Once installed in Kabul, the general surveyed the situation and, to no one’s surprise, announced that “success demands a comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign.”  Implementing that campaign would necessitate an Afghan “surge” mirroring the one that had seemingly turned Iraq around.  In December 2009, albeit with little evident enthusiasm, President Barack Obama acceded to his commander’s request (or ultimatum).  The U.S. troop commitment to Afghanistan rapidly increased.

Here things began to come undone.  Progress toward reducing the insurgency or improving the capacity of Afghan security forces was — by even the most generous evaluation — negligible.  McChrystal made promises — like meeting basic Afghan needs with “government in a box, ready to roll in” — that he proved utterly incapable of keeping.  Relations with the government of President Hamid Karzai remained strained.  Those with neighboring Pakistan, not good to begin with, only worsened.  Both governments expressed deep resentment at what they viewed as high-handed American behavior that killed or maimed noncombatants with disturbing frequency.

To make matters worse, despite all the hype, McChrystal turned out to be miscast — manifestly the wrong guy for the job.  Notably, he proved unable to grasp the need for projecting even some pretence of respect for the principle of civilian control back in Washington.  By the summer of 2010, he was out — and Petraeus was back in.

In Washington (if not in Kabul), Petraeus’s oversized reputation quelled the sense that with McChrystal’s flame-out Afghanistan might be a lost cause.  Surely, the most celebrated soldier of his generation would repeat his Iraq magic, affirming his own greatness and the continued viability of COIN.

Alas, this was not to be.  Conditions in Afghanistan during Petraeus’s tenure in command improved — if that’s even the word — only modestly.  The ongoing war met just about anyone’s definition of a quagmire.  With considerable understatement, a 2011 National Intelligence Estimate called it a “stalemate.” Soon, talk of a “comprehensive counterinsurgency” faded.  With the bar defining success slipping ever lower, passing off the fight to Afghan security forces and hightailing it for home became the publicly announced war aim.

That job remained unfinished when Petraeus himself headed for home, leaving the army to become CIA director.  Although Petraeus was still held in high esteem, his departure from active duty left the cult of generalship looking more than a little the worse for wear.  By the time General John Allen succeeded Petraeus — thereby became the eighth U.S. officer appointed to preside over the ongoing Afghan War — no one believed that simply putting the right guy in charge was going to produce magic.  On that inclusive note, round two of the WFKATGWOT ended.

The Vickers Era

Round 3: Assassination. Unlike Donald Rumsfeld or David Petraeus, Michael Vickers has not achieved celebrity status.  Yet more than anyone else in or out of uniform, Vickers, who carries the title Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, deserves recognition as the emblematic figure of the WFKATGWOT’s round three.  His low-key, low-profile persona meshes perfectly with this latest evolution in the war’s character.  Few people outside of Washington know who he is, which is fitting indeed since he presides over a war that few people outside of Washington are paying much attention to any longer.

With the retirement of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Vickers is the senior remaining holdover from George W. Bush’s Pentagon.  His background is nothing if not eclectic.  He previously served in U.S. Army Special Forces and as a CIA operative.  In that guise, he played a leading role in supporting the Afghan mujahedeen in their war against Soviet occupiers in the 1980s.  Subsequently, he worked in a Washington think tank and earned a PhD in strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University (dissertation title: “The Structure of Military Revolutions”).

Even during the Bush era, Vickers never subscribed to expectations that the United States could liberate or pacify the Islamic world.  His preferred approach to the WFKATGWOT has been simplicity itself. “I just want to kill those guys,” he says — “those guys” referring to members of al-Qaeda. Kill the people who want to kill Americans and don’t stop until they are all dead: this defines the Vickers strategy, which over the course of the Obama presidency has supplanted COIN as the latest variant of U.S. strategy.

The Vickers approach means acting aggressively to eliminate would-be killers wherever they might be found, employing whatever means are necessary.  Vickers “tends to think like a gangster,” one admirer comments. “He can understand trends then change the rules of the game so they are advantageous for your side.”

Round three of the WFKATGWOT is all about bending, breaking, and reinventing rules in ways thought to be advantageous to the United States.  Much as COIN supplanted “shock and awe,” a broad-gauged program of targeted assassination has now displaced COIN as the prevailing expression of the American way of war.

The United States is finished with the business of sending large land armies to invade and occupy countries on the Eurasian mainland.  Robert Gates, when still Secretary of Defense, made the definitive statement on that subject.  The United States is now in the business of using missile-armed drones and special operations forces to eliminate anyone (not excluding U.S. citizens) the president of the United States decides has become an intolerable annoyance.  Under President Obama, such attacks have proliferated.

This is America’s new MO.  Paraphrasing a warning issued by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a Washington Post dispatch succinctly summarized what it implied: “The United States reserved the right to attack anyone who it determined posed a direct threat to U.S. national security, anywhere in the world.”

Furthermore, acting on behalf of the United States, the president exercises this supposed right without warning, without regard to claims of national sovereignty, without Congressional authorization, and without consulting anyone other than Michael Vickers and a few other members of the national security apparatus.  The role allotted to the American people is to applaud, if and when notified that a successful assassination has occurred.  And applaud we do, for example, when a daring raid by members in SEAL Team Six secretly enter Pakistan to dispatch Osama bin Laden with two neatly placed kill shots.  Vengeance long deferred making it unnecessary to consider what second-order political complications might ensue.

How round three will end is difficult to forecast.  The best we can say is that it’s unlikely to end anytime soon or particularly well.  As Israel has discovered, once targeted assassination becomes your policy, the list of targets has a way of growing ever longer.

So what tentative judgments can we offer regarding the ongoing WFKATGWOT?  Operationally, a war launched by the conventionally minded has progressively fallen under the purview of those who inhabit what Dick Cheney once called “the dark side,” with implications that few seem willing to explore.  Strategically, a war informed at the outset by utopian expectations continues today with no concretely stated expectations whatsoever, the forward momentum of events displacing serious consideration of purpose.  Politically, a war that once occupied center stage in national politics has now slipped to the periphery, the American people moving on to other concerns and entertainments, with legal and moral questions raised by the war left dangling in midair.

Is this progress?

Andrew J. Bacevich is professor of history and international relations at Boston University.  A TomDispatch regular, he is the author most recently of Washington Rules: The American Path to Permanent War and the editor of the new book The Short American Century: A Postmortem, just out from Harvard University Press. To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Bacevich discusses the changing face of the Gobal War on Terror, click here, or download it to your iPod here.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook.

Copyright 2012 Andrew Bacevich

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Posted by Tom Engelhardt on February 15th, 2012

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

On Tuesday, Part 1 of Noam Chomsky’s piece on American decline, “‘Losing’ the World” was posted at this site. It can be read by clicking here. Now, Part 2 begins. When you’re done, you might check out Chomsky’s earlier TomDispatch piece, “Who Owns the World?” which could be considered a companion to this one. (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Chomsky offers an anatomy of American defeat in the Greater Middle East, click here, or download it to your iPod here.) Tom

The Imperial Way
American Decline in Perspective, Part 2

By Noam Chomsky

In the years of conscious, self-inflicted decline at home, “losses” continued to mount elsewhere. In the past decade, for the first time in 500 years, South America has taken successful steps to free itself from western domination, another serious loss. The region has moved towards integration, and has begun to address some of the terrible internal problems of societies ruled by mostly Europeanized elites, tiny islands of extreme wealth in a sea of misery. They have also rid themselves of all U.S. military bases and of IMF controls. A newly formed organization, CELAC, includes all countries of the hemisphere apart from the U.S. and Canada. If it actually functions, that would be another step in American decline, in this case in what has always been regarded as “the backyard.”

Even more serious would be the loss of the MENA countries — Middle East/North Africa — which have been regarded by planners since the 1940s as “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history.” Control of MENA energy reserves would yield “substantial control of the world,” in the words of the influential Roosevelt advisor A.A. Berle.

To be sure, if the projections of a century of U.S. energy independence based on North American energy resources turn out to be realistic, the significance of controlling MENA would decline somewhat, though probably not by much: the main concern has always been control more than access. However, the likely consequences to the planet’s equilibrium are so ominous that discussion may be largely an academic exercise.

The Arab Spring, another development of historic importance, might portend at least a partial “loss” of MENA. The US and its allies have tried hard to prevent that outcome — so far, with considerable success. Their policy towards the popular uprisings has kept closely to the standard guidelines: support the forces most amenable to U.S. influence and control.

Favored dictators are supported as long as they can maintain control (as in the major oil states). When that is no longer possible, then discard them and try to restore the old regime as fully as possible (as in Tunisia and Egypt). The general pattern is familiar: Somoza, Marcos, Duvalier, Mobutu, Suharto, and many others. In one case, Libya, the three traditional imperial powers intervened by force to participate in a rebellion to overthrow a mercurial and unreliable dictator, opening the way, it is expected, to more efficient control over Libya’s rich resources (oil primarily, but also water, of particular interest to French corporations), to a possible base for the U.S. Africa Command (so far restricted to Germany), and to the reversal of growing Chinese penetration. As far as policy goes, there have been few surprises.

Crucially, it is important to reduce the threat of functioning democracy, in which popular opinion will significantly influence policy. That again is routine, and quite understandable. A look at the studies of public opinion undertaken by U.S. polling agencies in the MENA countries easily explains the western fear of authentic democracy, in which public opinion will significantly influence policy.

Israel and the Republican Party

Similar considerations carry over directly to the second major concern addressed in the issue of Foreign Affairs cited in part one of this piece: the Israel-Palestine conflict. Fear of democracy could hardly be more clearly exhibited than in this case. In January 2006, an election took place in Palestine, pronounced free and fair by international monitors. The instant reaction of the U.S. (and of course Israel), with Europe following along politely, was to impose harsh penalties on Palestinians for voting the wrong way.

That is no innovation. It is quite in accord with the general and unsurprising principle recognized by mainstream scholarship: the U.S. supports democracy if, and only if, the outcomes accord with its strategic and economic objectives, the rueful conclusion of neo-Reaganite Thomas Carothers, the most careful and respected scholarly analyst of “democracy promotion” initiatives.

More broadly, for 35 years the U.S. has led the rejectionist camp on Israel-Palestine, blocking an international consensus calling for a political settlement in terms too well known to require repetition. The western mantra is that Israel seeks negotiations without preconditions, while the Palestinians refuse. The opposite is more accurate. The U.S. and Israel demand strict preconditions, which are, furthermore, designed to ensure that negotiations will lead either to Palestinian capitulation on crucial issues, or nowhere.

The first precondition is that the negotiations must be supervised by Washington, which makes about as much sense as demanding that Iran supervise the negotiation of Sunni-Shia conflicts in Iraq. Serious negotiations would have to be under the auspices of some neutral party, preferably one that commands some international respect, perhaps Brazil. The negotiations would seek to resolve the conflicts between the two antagonists: the U.S.-Israel on one side, most of the world on the other.

The second precondition is that Israel must be free to expand its illegal settlements in the West Bank. Theoretically, the U.S. opposes these actions, but with a very light tap on the wrist, while continuing to provide economic, diplomatic, and military support. When the U.S. does have some limited objections, it very easily bars the actions, as in the case of the E-1 project linking Greater Jerusalem to the town of Ma’aleh Adumim, virtually bisecting the West Bank, a very high priority for Israeli planners (across the spectrum), but raising some objections in Washington, so that Israel has had to resort to devious measures to chip away at the project.

The pretense of opposition reached the level of farce last February when Obama vetoed a Security Council resolution calling for implementation of official U.S. policy (also adding the uncontroversial observation that the settlements themselves are illegal, quite apart from expansion). Since that time there has been little talk about ending settlement expansion, which continues, with studied provocation.

Thus, as Israeli and Palestinian representatives prepared to meet in Jordan in January 2011, Israel announced new construction in Pisgat Ze’ev and Har Homa, West Bank areas that it has declared to be within the greatly expanded area of Jerusalem, annexed, settled, and constructed as Israel’s capital, all in violation of direct Security Council orders. Other moves carry forward the grander design of separating whatever West Bank enclaves will be left to Palestinian administration from the cultural, commercial, political center of Palestinian life in the former Jerusalem.

It is understandable that Palestinian rights should be marginalized in U.S. policy and discourse. Palestinians have no wealth or power. They offer virtually nothing to U.S. policy concerns; in fact, they have negative value, as a nuisance that stirs up “the Arab street.”

Israel, in contrast, is a valuable ally. It is a rich society with a sophisticated, largely militarized high-tech industry. For decades, it has been a highly valued military and strategic ally, particularly since 1967, when it performed a great service to the U.S. and its Saudi ally by destroying the Nasserite “virus,” establishing the “special relationship” with Washington in the form that has persisted since. It is also a growing center for U.S. high-tech investment. In fact, high tech and particularly military industries in the two countries are closely linked.

Apart from such elementary considerations of great power politics as these, there are cultural factors that should not be ignored. Christian Zionism in Britain and the U.S. long preceded Jewish Zionism, and has been a significant elite phenomenon with clear policy implications (including the Balfour Declaration, which drew from it). When General Allenby conquered Jerusalem during World War I, he was hailed in the American press as Richard the Lion-Hearted, who had at last won the Crusades and driven the pagans out of the Holy Land.

The next step was for the Chosen People to return to the land promised to them by the Lord. Articulating a common elite view, President Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes described Jewish colonization of Palestine as an achievement “without comparison in the history of the human race.” Such attitudes find their place easily within the Providentialist doctrines that have been a strong element in popular and elite culture since the country’s origins: the belief that God has a plan for the world and the U.S. is carrying it forward under divine guidance, as articulated by a long list of leading figures.

Moreover, evangelical Christianity is a major popular force in the U.S. Further toward the extremes, End Times evangelical Christianity also has enormous popular outreach, invigorated by the establishment of Israel in 1948, revitalized even more by the conquest of the rest of Palestine in 1967 — all signs that End Times and the Second Coming are approaching.

These forces have become particularly significant since the Reagan years, as the Republicans have abandoned the pretense of being a political party in the traditional sense, while devoting themselves in virtual lockstep uniformity to servicing a tiny percentage of the super-rich and the corporate sector. However, the small constituency that is primarily served by the reconstructed party cannot provide votes, so they have to turn elsewhere.

The only choice is to mobilize tendencies that have always been present, though rarely as an organized political force: primarily nativists trembling in fear and hatred, and religious elements that are extremists by international standards but not in the U.S. One outcome is reverence for alleged Biblical prophecies, hence not only support for Israel and its conquests and expansion, but passionate love for Israel, another core part of the catechism that must be intoned by Republican candidates — with Democrats, again, not too far behind.

These factors aside, it should not be forgotten that the “Anglosphere” — Britain and its offshoots — consists of settler-colonial societies, which rose on the ashes of indigenous populations, suppressed or virtually exterminated. Past practices must have been basically correct, in the U.S. case even ordained by Divine Providence. Accordingly there is often an intuitive sympathy for the children of Israel when they follow a similar course. But primarily, geostrategic and economic interests prevail, and policy is not graven in stone.

The Iranian “Threat” and the Nuclear Issue

Let us turn finally to the third of the leading issues addressed in the establishment journals cited earlier, the “threat of Iran.” Among elites and the political class this is generally taken to be the primary threat to world order — though not among populations. In Europe, polls show that Israel is regarded as the leading threat to peace. In the MENA countries, that status is shared with the U.S., to the extent that in Egypt, on the eve of the Tahrir Square uprising, 80% felt that the region would be more secure if Iran had nuclear weapons. The same polls found that only 10% regard Iran as a threat — unlike the ruling dictators, who have their own concerns.

In the United States, before the massive propaganda campaigns of the past few years, a majority of the population agreed with most of the world that, as a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has a right to carry out uranium enrichment. And even today, a large majority favors peaceful means for dealing with Iran. There is even strong opposition to military engagement if Iran and Israel are at war. Only a quarter regard Iran as an important concern for the U.S. altogether. But it is not unusual for there to be a gap, often a chasm, dividing public opinion and policy.

Why exactly is Iran regarded as such a colossal threat? The question is rarely discussed, but it is not hard to find a serious answer — though not, as usual, in the fevered pronouncements. The most authoritative answer is provided by the Pentagon and the intelligence services in their regular reports to Congress on global security. They report that Iran does not pose a military threat. Its military spending is very low even by the standards of the region, minuscule of course in comparison with the U.S.

Iran has little capacity to deploy force. Its strategic doctrines are defensive, designed to deter invasion long enough for diplomacy to set it. If Iran is developing nuclear weapons capability, they report, that would be part of its deterrence strategy. No serious analyst believes that the ruling clerics are eager to see their country and possessions vaporized, the immediate consequence of their coming even close to initiating a nuclear war. And it is hardly necessary to spell out the reasons why any Iranian leadership would be concerned with deterrence, under existing circumstances.

The regime is doubtless a serious threat to much of its own population — and regrettably, is hardly unique on that score. But the primary threat to the U.S. and Israel is that Iran might deter their free exercise of violence. A further threat is that the Iranians clearly seek to extend their influence to neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan, and beyond as well. Those “illegitimate” acts are called “destabilizing” (or worse). In contrast, forceful imposition of U.S. influence halfway around the world contributes to “stability” and order, in accord with traditional doctrine about who owns the world.

It makes very good sense to try to prevent Iran from joining the nuclear weapons states, including the three that have refused to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty — Israel, India, and Pakistan, all of which have been assisted in developing nuclear weapons by the U.S., and are still being assisted by them. It is not impossible to approach that goal by peaceful diplomatic means. One approach, which enjoys overwhelming international support, is to undertake meaningful steps towards establishing a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East, including Iran and Israel (and applying as well to U.S. forces deployed there), better still extending to South Asia.

Support for such efforts is so strong that the Obama administration has been compelled to formally agree, but with reservations: crucially, that Israel’s nuclear program must not be placed under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Association, and that no state (meaning the U.S.) should be required to release information about “Israeli nuclear facilities and activities, including information pertaining to previous nuclear transfers to Israel.” Obama also accepts Israel’s position that any such proposal must be conditional on a comprehensive peace settlement, which the U.S. and Israel can continue to delay indefinitely.

This survey comes nowhere near being exhaustive, needless to say. Among major topics not addressed is the shift of U.S. military policy towards the Asia-Pacific region, with new additions to the huge military base system underway right now, in Jeju Island off South Korea and Northwest Australia, all elements of the policy of “containment of China.” Closely related is the issue of U.S. bases in Okinawa, bitterly opposed by the population for many years, and a continual crisis in U.S.-Tokyo-Okinawa relations.

Revealing how little fundamental assumptions have changed, U.S. strategic analysts describe the result of China’s military programs as a “classic ’security dilemma,’ whereby military programs and national strategies deemed defensive by their planners are viewed as threatening by the other side,” writes Paul Godwin of the Foreign Policy Research Institute. The security dilemma arises over control of the seas off China’s coasts. The U.S. regards its policies of controlling these waters as “defensive,” while China regards them as threatening; correspondingly, China regards its actions in nearby areas as “defensive” while the U.S. regards them as threatening. No such debate is even imaginable concerning U.S. coastal waters. This “classic security dilemma” makes sense, again, on the assumption that the U.S. has a right to control most of the world, and that U.S. security requires something approaching absolute global control.

While the principles of imperial domination have undergone little change, the capacity to implement them has markedly declined as power has become more broadly distributed in a diversifying world. Consequences are many. It is, however, very important to bear in mind that — unfortunately — none lifts the two dark clouds that hover over all consideration of global order: nuclear war and environmental catastrophe, both literally threatening the decent survival of the species.

Quite the contrary. Both threats are ominous, and increasing.

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor emeritus in the MIT Department of Linguistics and Philosophy. He is the author of numerous best-selling political works. His latest books are Making the Future: Occupations, Intervention, Empire, and Resistance, The Essential Chomsky (edited by Anthony Arnove), a collection of his writings on politics and on language from the 1950s to the present, Gaza in Crisis, with Ilan Pappé, and Hopes and Prospects, also available as an audiobook. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Chomsky offers an anatomy of American defeats in the Greater Middle East, click here, or download it to your iPod here.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook.

Copyright 2012 Noam Chomsky

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