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Archive for February, 2012

Posted by Tom Engelhardt on February 14th, 2012

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

Back in May 2007, I stumbled across online sketches at the website of a Kansas architectural firm hired to build a monster U.S. embassy-cum-citadel-cum-Greater-Middle-Eastern command center on 104 acres in the middle of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.  They offered an artist’s impressions of what the place would look like — a giant self-sufficient compound both prosaic (think malls or housing projects) and opulent (a giant pool, tennis courts, a recreation center).

Struck by the fact that the U.S. government was intent on building the largest embassy ever in the planet’s oil heartlands, I wrote a piece, “The Mother Ship Lands in Iraq” about those plans and offered a little tour of the project via those crude drawings.  From TomDispatch, they then began to run around the Internet and soon a panicky State Department had declared a “security breach” and forced the firm to pull the sketches off its website.

Now, more than five years later, we have the first public photos of the embassy — a pool, basketball court, tennis courts, and food court to die for — just as the news has arrived that the vast boondoggle of a place, built for three-quarters of a billion of your tax dollars, with a $6 billion State Department budget this year and its own mercenary air force, is about to get its staff of 16,000 slashed.  In a Washington Post piece on the subject, Senator Patrick Leahy is quoted as saying: “I’ve been in embassies all over the world, and you come to this place and you’re like: ‘Whoa. Wow.’ All of a sudden you’ve got something so completely out of scale to anything, you have to wonder, what were they thinking when they first built it?”

The answer is: in 2004, when planning for this white elephant of embassies first began, the Bush administration was still dreaming of a Washington-enforced Pax Americana in the Greater Middle East and saw it as its western command post.  Now, of course, the vast American mega-bases in Iraq with their multiple bus routes, giant PXes, Pizza Huts, Cinnabons, and Burger Kings, where American troops were to be garrisoned on the “Korean model” for decades to come, are so many ghost towns, fading American ziggurats in Mesopotamia.  Similarly, those embassy photos seem like snapshots from Pompeii just as the ash was beginning to fall.  Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the news is similarly dismal with drawdowns and withdrawals suddenly the order of the day.  Something’s changing.  It feels tectonic.  Certainly, we’re receiving another set of signs that American imperial plans on the Eurasian mainland have crashed and burned and that the U.S. is now regrouping and heading “offshore.”

What a moment then for Noam Chomsky to weigh in on the subject of American decline.  (His earlier TomDispatch post “Who Owns the World?” might be considered a companion piece to this one.)  For him, a TomDispatch first: a two-day, back-to-back two-parter on imperial hegemony and its discontents. (To catch 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.) Tom

“Losing” the World
American Decline in Perspective, Part 1

By Noam Chomsky

Significant anniversaries are solemnly commemorated — Japan’s attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, for example.  Others are ignored, and we can often learn valuable lessons from them about what is likely to lie ahead.  Right now, in fact.

At the moment, we are failing to commemorate the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s decision to launch the most destructive and murderous act of aggression of the post-World War II period: the invasion of South Vietnam, later all of Indochina, leaving millions dead and four countries devastated, with casualties still mounting from the long-term effects of drenching South Vietnam with some of the most lethal carcinogens known, undertaken to destroy ground cover and food crops.

The prime target was South Vietnam.  The aggression later spread to the North, then to the remote peasant society of northern Laos, and finally to rural Cambodia, which was bombed at the stunning level of all allied air operations in the Pacific region during World War II, including the two atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  In this, Henry Kissinger’s orders were being carried out — “anything that flies on anything that moves” — a call for genocide that is rare in the historical record.  Little of this is remembered.  Most was scarcely known beyond narrow circles of activists.

hen the invasion was launched 50 years ago, concern was so slight that there were few efforts at justification, hardly more than the president’s impassioned plea that “we are opposed around the world by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy that relies primarily on covert means for expanding its sphere of influence” and if the conspiracy achieves its ends in Laos and Vietnam, “the gates will be opened wide.”

Elsewhere, he warned further that “the complacent, the self-indulgent, the soft societies are about to be swept away with the debris of history [and] only the strong… can possibly survive,” in this case reflecting on the failure of U.S. aggression and terror to crush Cuban independence.

By the time protest began to mount half a dozen years later, the respected Vietnam specialist and military historian Bernard Fall, no dove, forecast that “Vietnam as a cultural and historic entity… is threatened with extinction…[as]…the countryside literally dies under the blows of the largest military machine ever unleashed on an area of this size.” He was again referring to South Vietnam.

When the war ended eight horrendous years later, mainstream opinion was divided between those who described the war as a “noble cause” that could have been won with more dedication, and at the opposite extreme, the critics, to whom it was “a mistake” that proved too costly.  By 1977, President Carter aroused little notice when he explained that we owe Vietnam “no debt” because “the destruction was mutual.”

There are important lessons in all this for today, even apart from another reminder that only the weak and defeated are called to account for their crimes.  One lesson is that to understand what is happening we should attend not only to critical events of the real world, often dismissed from history, but also to what leaders and elite opinion believe, however tinged with fantasy.  Another lesson is that alongside the flights of fancy concocted to terrify and mobilize the public (and perhaps believed by some who are trapped in their own rhetoric), there is also geostrategic planning based on principles that are rational and stable over long periods because they are rooted in stable institutions and their concerns.  That is true in the case of Vietnam as well.  I will return to that, only stressing here that the persistent factors in state action are generally well concealed.

The Iraq war is an instructive case.  It was marketed to a terrified public on the usual grounds of self-defense against an awesome threat to survival: the “single question,” George W. Bush and Tony Blair declared, was whether Saddam Hussein would end his programs of developing weapons of mass destruction.   When the single question received the wrong answer, government rhetoric shifted effortlessly to our “yearning for democracy,” and educated opinion duly followed course; all routine.

Later, as the scale of the U.S. defeat in Iraq was becoming difficult to suppress, the government quietly conceded what had been clear all along.  In 2007-2008, the administration officially announced that a final settlement must grant the U.S. military bases and the right of combat operations, and must privilege U.S. investors in the rich energy system — demands later reluctantly abandoned in the face of Iraqi resistance.  And all well kept from the general population.

Gauging American Decline

With such lessons in mind, it is useful to look at what is highlighted in the major journals of policy and opinion today.  Let us keep to the most prestigious of the establishment journals, Foreign Affairs.  The headline blaring on the cover of the December 2011 issue reads in bold face: “Is America Over?”

The title article calls for “retrenchment” in the “humanitarian missions” abroad that are consuming the country’s wealth, so as to arrest the American decline that is a major theme of international affairs discourse, usually accompanied by the corollary that power is shifting to the East, to China and (maybe) India.

The lead articles are on Israel-Palestine.  The first, by two high Israeli officials, is entitled “The Problem is Palestinian Rejection”: the conflict cannot be resolved because Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state — thereby conforming to standard diplomatic practice: states are recognized, but not privileged sectors within them.  The demand is hardly more than a new device to deter the threat of political settlement that would undermine Israel’s expansionist goals.

The opposing position, defended by an American professor, is entitled “The Problem Is the Occupation.” The subtitle reads “How the Occupation is Destroying the Nation.” Which nation?  Israel, of course.  The paired articles appear under the heading “Israel under Siege.”

The January 2012 issue features yet another call to bomb Iran now, before it is too late.  Warning of “the dangers of deterrence,” the author suggests that “skeptics of military action fail to appreciate the true danger that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose to U.S. interests in the Middle East and beyond. And their grim forecasts assume that the cure would be worse than the disease — that is, that the consequences of a U.S. assault on Iran would be as bad as or worse than those of Iran achieving its nuclear ambitions. But that is a faulty assumption. The truth is that a military strike intended to destroy Iran’s nuclear program, if managed carefully, could spare the region and the world a very real threat and dramatically improve the long-term national security of the United States.”

Others argue that the costs would be too high, and at the extremes some even point out that an attack would violate international law — as does the stand of the moderates, who regularly deliver threats of violence, in violation of the U.N. Charter.

Let us review these dominant concerns in turn.

American decline is real, though the apocalyptic vision reflects the familiar ruling class perception that anything short of total control amounts to total disaster.  Despite the piteous laments, the U.S. remains the world dominant power by a large margin, and no competitor is in sight, not only in the military dimension, in which of course the U.S. reigns supreme.

China and India have recorded rapid (though highly inegalitarian) growth, but remain very poor countries, with enormous internal problems not faced by the West.  China is the world’s major manufacturing center, but largely as an assembly plant for the advanced industrial powers on its periphery and for western multinationals.  That is likely to change over time.  Manufacturing regularly provides the basis for innovation, often breakthroughs, as is now sometimes happening in China.  One example that has impressed western specialists is China’s takeover of the growing global solar panel market, not on the basis of cheap labor but by coordinated planning and, increasingly, innovation.

But the problems China faces are serious. Some are demographic, reviewed in Science, the leading U.S. science weekly. The study shows that mortality sharply decreased in China during the Maoist years, “mainly a result of economic development and improvements in education and health services, especially the public hygiene movement that resulted in a sharp drop in mortality from infectious diseases.” This progress ended with the initiation of the capitalist reforms 30 years ago, and the death rate has since increased.

Furthermore, China’s recent economic growth has relied substantially on a “demographic bonus,” a very large working-age population. “But the window for harvesting this bonus may close soon,” with a “profound impact on development”:  “Excess cheap labor supply, which is one of the major factors driving China’s economic miracle, will no longer be available.”

Demography is only one of many serious problems ahead.  For India, the problems are far more severe.

Not all prominent voices foresee American decline.  Among international media, there is none more serious and responsible than the London Financial Times.  It recently devoted a full page to the optimistic expectation that new technology for extracting North American fossil fuels might allow the U.S. to become energy independent, hence to retain its global hegemony for a century.  There is no mention of the kind of world the U.S. would rule in this happy event, but not for lack of evidence.

At about the same time, the International Energy Agency reported that, with rapidly increasing carbon emissions from fossil fuel use, the limit of safety will be reached by 2017 if the world continues on its present course. “The door is closing,” the IEA chief economist said, and very soon it “will be closed forever.”

Shortly before the U.S. Department of Energy reported the most recent carbon dioxide emissions figures, which “jumped by the biggest amount on record” to a level higher than the worst-case scenario anticipated by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  That came as no surprise to many scientists, including the MIT program on climate change, which for years has warned that the IPCC predictions are too conservative.

Such critics of the IPCC predictions receive virtually no public attention, unlike the fringe of denialists who are supported by the corporate sector, along with huge propaganda campaigns that have driven Americans off the international spectrum in dismissal of the threats.  Business support also translates directly to political power.  Denialism is part of the catechism that must be intoned by Republican candidates in the farcical election campaign now in progress, and in Congress they are powerful enough to abort even efforts to inquire into the effects of global warming, let alone do anything serious about it.

In brief, American decline can perhaps be stemmed if we abandon hope for decent survival, prospects that are all too real given the balance of forces in the world.

“Losing” China and Vietnam

Putting such unpleasant thoughts aside, a close look at American decline shows that China indeed plays a large role, as it has for 60 years.  The decline that now elicits such concern is not a recent phenomenon.  It traces back to the end of World War II, when the U.S. had half the world’s wealth and incomparable security and global reach.  Planners were naturally well aware of the enormous disparity of power, and intended to keep it that way.

The basic viewpoint was outlined with admirable frankness in a major state paper of 1948 (PPS 23).  The author was one of the architects of the New World Order of the day, the chair of the State Department Policy Planning Staff, the respected statesman and scholar George Kennan, a moderate dove within the planning spectrum.  He observed that the central policy goal was to maintain the “position of disparity” that separated our enormous wealth from the poverty of others.  To achieve that goal, he advised, “We should cease to talk about vague and… unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization,” and must “deal in straight power concepts,” not “hampered by idealistic slogans” about “altruism and world-benefaction.”

Kennan was referring specifically to Asia, but the observations generalize, with exceptions, for participants in the U.S.-run global system.  It was well understood that the “idealistic slogans” were to be displayed prominently when addressing others, including the intellectual classes, who were expected to promulgate them.

The plans that Kennan helped formulate and implement took for granted that the U.S. would control the Western Hemisphere, the Far East, the former British empire (including the incomparable energy resources of the Middle East), and as much of Eurasia as possible, crucially its commercial and industrial centers.  These were not unrealistic objectives, given the distribution of power.  But decline set in at once.

In 1949, China declared independence, an event known in Western discourse as “the loss of China” — in the U.S., with bitter recriminations and conflict over who was responsible for that loss.  The terminology is revealing.  It is only possible to lose something that one owns.  The tacit assumption was that the U.S. owned China, by right, along with most of the rest of the world, much as postwar planners assumed.

The “loss of China” was the first major step in “America’s decline.” It had major policy consequences.  One was the immediate decision to support France’s effort to reconquer its former colony of Indochina, so that it, too, would not be “lost.”

Indochina itself was not a major concern, despite claims about its rich resources by President Eisenhower and others.  Rather, the concern was the “domino theory,” which is often ridiculed when dominoes don’t fall, but remains a leading principle of policy because it is quite rational.  To adopt Henry Kissinger’s version, a region that falls out of control can become a “virus” that will “spread contagion,” inducing others to follow the same path.

In the case of Vietnam, the concern was that the virus of independent development might infect Indonesia, which really does have rich resources.  And that might lead Japan — the “superdomino” as it was called by the prominent Asia historian John Dower — to “accommodate” to an independent Asia as its technological and industrial center in a system that would escape the reach of U.S. power.  That would mean, in effect, that the U.S. had lost the Pacific phase of World War II, fought to prevent Japan’s attempt to establish such a New Order in Asia.

The way to deal with such a problem is clear: destroy the virus and “inoculate” those who might be infected.  In the Vietnam case, the rational choice was to destroy any hope of successful independent development and to impose brutal dictatorships in the surrounding regions.  Those tasks were successfully carried out — though history has its own cunning, and something similar to what was feared has since been developing in East Asia, much to Washington’s dismay.

The most important victory of the Indochina wars was in 1965, when a U.S.-backed military coup in Indonesia led by General Suharto carried out massive crimes that were compared by the CIA to those of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.  The “staggering mass slaughter,” as the New York Times described it, was reported accurately across the mainstream, and with unrestrained euphoria.

It was “a gleam of light in Asia,” as the noted liberal commentator James Reston wrote in the Times. The coup ended the threat of democracy by demolishing the mass-based political party of the poor, established a dictatorship that went on to compile one of the worst human rights records in the world, and threw the riches of the country open to western investors.  Small wonder that, after many other horrors, including the near-genocidal invasion of East Timor, Suharto was welcomed by the Clinton administration in 1995 as “our kind of guy.”

Years after the great events of 1965, Kennedy-Johnson National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy reflected that it would have been wise to end the Vietnam war at that time, with the “virus” virtually destroyed and the primary domino solidly in place, buttressed by other U.S.-backed dictatorships throughout the region.

Similar procedures have been routinely followed elsewhere.  Kissinger was referring specifically to the threat of socialist democracy in Chile.  That threat was ended on another forgotten date, what Latin Americans call “the first 9/11,” which in violence and bitter effects far exceeded the 9/11 commemorated in the West.  A vicious dictatorship was imposed in Chile, one part of a plague of brutal repression that spread through Latin America, reaching Central America under Reagan.  Viruses have aroused deep concern elsewhere as well, including the Middle East, where the threat of secular nationalism has often concerned British and U.S. planners, inducing them to support radical Islamic fundamentalism to counter it.

The Concentration of Wealth and American Decline

Despite such victories, American decline continued.  By 1970, U.S. share of world wealth had dropped to about 25%, roughly where it remains, still colossal but far below the end of World War II.  By then, the industrial world was “tripolar”: US-based North America, German-based Europe, and East Asia, already the most dynamic industrial region, at the time Japan-based, but by now including the former Japanese colonies Taiwan and South Korea, and more recently China.

At about that time, American decline entered a new phase: conscious self-inflicted decline.  From the 1970s, there has been a significant change in the U.S. economy, as planners, private and state, shifted it toward financialization and the offshoring of production, driven in part by the declining rate of profit in domestic manufacturing.  These decisions initiated a vicious cycle in which wealth became highly concentrated (dramatically so in the top 0.1% of the population), yielding concentration of political power, hence legislation to carry the cycle further: taxation and other fiscal policies, deregulation, changes in the rules of corporate governance allowing huge gains for executives, and so on.

Meanwhile, for the majority, real wages largely stagnated, and people were able to get by only by sharply increased workloads (far beyond Europe), unsustainable debt, and repeated bubbles since the Reagan years, creating paper wealth that inevitably disappeared when they burst (and the perpetrators were bailed out by the taxpayer).  In parallel, the political system has been increasingly shredded as both parties are driven deeper into corporate pockets with the escalating cost of elections, the Republicans to the level of farce, the Democrats (now largely the former “moderate Republicans”) not far behind.

A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, which has been the major source of reputable data on these developments for years, is entitled Failure by Design.  The phrase “by design” is accurate.  Other choices were certainly possible.  And as the study points out, the “failure” is class-based.  There is no failure for the designers.  Far from it.  Rather, the policies are a failure for the large majority, the 99% in the imagery of the Occupy movements — and for the country, which has declined and will continue to do so under these policies.

One factor is the offshoring of manufacturing.  As the solar panel example mentioned earlier illustrates, manufacturing capacity provides the basis and stimulus for innovation leading to higher stages of sophistication in production, design, and invention.  That, too, is being outsourced, not a problem for the “money mandarins” who increasingly design policy, but a serious problem for working people and the middle classes, and a real disaster for the most oppressed, African Americans, who have never escaped the legacy of slavery and its ugly aftermath, and whose meager wealth virtually disappeared after the collapse of the housing bubble in 2008, setting off the most recent financial crisis, the worst so far.

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.

[Note: Part 2 of Noam Chomsky’s discussion of American decline, “The Imperial Way,” will be posted at TomDispatch tomorrow.]

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

Copyright 2012 Noam Chomsky

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Posted by Peace Action West on February 13th, 2012

From our partners at Peace Action West

Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta revealed that the US plans to end combat operations in Afghanistan in 2013, far ahead of schedule.  The New York Times called it a “a major milestone toward ending a decade of war.”

But proponents of endless war aren’t going to give up, so we can’t either. Urge your representative to sign a letter to President Obama before Friday supporting this plan to accelerate the transition in Afghanistan.

We can’t rest on our laurels. Sen. John McCain, who yelled an ornery “NO!” during a vote on ending the war last year, said this decision gives “reassurance to our enemies.” And he’s not alone.

Your refusal to stop fighting for an end to this war brought us to where we are today. Now our voices must drown out the hawks who refuse to accept that it’s time to leave Afghanistan, and we have to act before the week is over. Urge your representative to show public support by signing on to the bipartisan McGovern/Jones letter on Afghanistan.

The administration’s decision is smart policy and smart politics. We need to make sure they don’t backtrack. That means pushing for an ever quicker, complete withdrawal so we can welcome our troops and tax dollars home. The deadline for the letter is only a few days away. Take action today.

Thank you.

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Posted by Tom Engelhardt on February 13th, 2012

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

In Afghanistan, “victory” came early — with the U.S. invasion of 2001.  Only then did the trouble begin.

Ever since the U.S. occupation managed to revive the Taliban, one of the least popular of popular movements in memory, the official talk, year after year, has been of modest “progress,” of limited “success,” of enemy advances “blunted,” of “corners” provisionally turned.  And always such talk has been accompanied by grim on-the-ground reports of gross corruption, fixed elections, massive desertions from the Afghan army and police, “ghost” soldiers, and the like.

Year after year, ever more American and NATO money has been poured into the training of a security force so humongous that, given the impoverished Afghan government, it will largely be owned and paid for by Washington until hell freezes over (or until it disintegrates) – $11 billion in 2011 and a similar figure for 2012.  And year after year, there appear stories like the recent one from Reuters that began: “Only 1 percent of Afghan police and soldiers are capable of operating independently, a top U.S. commander said on Wednesday, raising further doubts about whether Afghan forces will be able to take on a still-potent insurgency as the West withdraws.”  And year after year, the response to such dismal news is to pour in yet more money and advisors.

In the meantime, Afghans in army or police uniforms have been blowing away those advisors in startling numbers and with a regularity for which there is no precedent in modern times.  (You might have to reach back to the Sepoy Mutiny in British India of the nineteenth century to find a similar sense of loathing resulting in similarly bloody acts.)  And year after year, these killings are publicly termed “isolated incidents” of little significance by American and NATO officials — even when the Afghan perpetrator of the bloodiest of them, who reportedly simply wanted to “kill Americans,” is given a public funeral at which 1,500 of his countrymen appeared as mourners.

Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to pursue a war in which its supply lines, thousands of miles long, are dependent on the good will of two edgy “allies,” Russia and Pakistan.  At the moment, with the cheaper Pakistani routes to Afghanistan cut off by that country’s government (in anger over an incident in which 24 of their troops were killed by American cross-border air strikes), it’s estimated that the cost of resupplying U.S. troops there has risen six-fold.  Keep in mind that, before that route was shut down, a single gallon of fuel for U.S. troops was cost at least $400!

Admittedly, just behind the scenes, the latest intelligence assessments might be far gloomier than the official talk.  A December 2011 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, for instance,suggested that the war was “mired in stalemate” and that the Afghan government might not survive an American and NATO withdrawal.  But it’s rare that the ranks of the military are broken publicly by a straight-talking truth-teller. This has just happened and it’s been bracing.  After a year in Afghanistan spending time with (and patrolling with) U.S. troops, as well as consulting Afghan military officers and local officials, Lt. Col. Daniel Davis published a breathtakingly blunt, whistleblowing piece in Armed Forces Journal.  It stated baldly that, in Afghanistan, the emperor was naked. (“What I saw bore no resemblance to rosy official statements by U.S. military leaders about conditions on the ground… I did not need to witness dramatic improvements to be reassured, but merely hoped to see evidence of positive trends, to see companies or battalions produce even minimal but sustainable progress. Instead, I witnessed the absence of success on virtually every level.”)

Given all this, here’s what remains doggedly remarkable, as Nick Turse reports in the latest post in his TomDispatch series on the changing face of empire (supported by Lannan Foundation): the U.S. military continues to build in Afghanistan as if modest progress were indeed the byword, limited success a reality, and corners still there to be decisively turned — if not by a giant army of occupation, then by drones and special operations forces.  Go figure. Tom

450 Bases and It’s Not Over Yet
The Pentagon’s Afghan Basing Plans for Prisons, Drones, and Black Ops
By Nick Turse

In late December, the lot was just a big blank: a few burgundy metal shipping containers sitting in an expanse of crushed eggshell-colored gravel inside a razor-wire-topped fence.  The American military in Afghanistan doesn’t want to talk about it, but one day soon, it will be a new hub for the American drone war in the Greater Middle East.

Next year, that empty lot will be a two-story concrete intelligence facility for America’s drone war, brightly lit and filled with powerful computers kept in climate-controlled comfort in a country where most of the population has no access to electricity.  It will boast almost 7,000 square feet of offices, briefing and conference rooms, and a large “processing, exploitation, and dissemination” operations center — and, of course, it will be built with American tax dollars.

Nor is it an anomaly.  Despite all the talk of drawdowns and withdrawals, there has been a years-long building boom in Afghanistan that shows little sign of abating.  In early 2010, the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) had nearly 400 bases in Afghanistan.  Today, Lieutenant Lauren Rago of ISAF public affairs tells TomDispatch, the number tops 450.

The hush-hush, high-tech, super-secure facility at the massive air base in Kandahar is just one of many building projects the U.S. military currently has planned or underway in Afghanistan.  While some U.S. bases are indeed closing up shop or being transferred to the Afghan government, and there’s talkof combat operations slowing or ending next year, as well as a withdrawal of American combat forces from Afghanistan by 2014, the U.S. military is still preparing for a much longer haul at mega-bases like Kandahar and Bagram airfields. The same is true even of some smaller camps, forward operating bases (FOBs), and combat outposts (COPs) scattered through the country’s backlands.  “Bagram is going through a significant transition during the next year to two years,” Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Gerdes of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Bagram Office recently told Freedom Builder, a Corps of Engineers publication.  “We’re transitioning… into a long-term, five-year, 10-year vision for the base.”

Whether the U.S. military will still be in Afghanistan in five or 10 years remains to be seen, but steps are currently being taken to make that possible.  U.S. military publications, plans and schematics, contracting documents, and other official data examined by TomDispatch catalog hundreds of construction projects worth billions of dollars slated to begin, continue, or conclude in 2012.

While many of these efforts are geared toward structures for Afghan forces or civilian institutions, a considerable number involve U.S. facilities, some of the most significant being dedicated to the ascendant forms of American warfare: drone operations and missions by elite special operations units.  The available plans for most of these projects suggest durability.  “The structures that are going in are concrete and mortar, rather than plywood and tent skins,” says Gerdes. As of last December, his office was involved in 30 Afghan construction projects for U.S. or international coalition partners worth almost $427 million.

The Big Base Build-Up

Recently, the New York Times reported that President Obama is likely to approve a plan to shift much of the U.S. effort in Afghanistan to special operations forces.  These elite troops would then conduct kill/capture missions and train local troops well beyond 2014.  Recent building efforts in the country bear this out.

A major project at Bagram Air Base, for instance, involves the construction of a special operations forces complex, a clandestine base within a base that will afford America’s black ops troops secrecy and near-absolute autonomy from other U.S. and coalition forces.  Begun in 2010, the $29 million project is slated to be completed this May and join roughly 90 locations around the country where troops from Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan have been stationed.

Elsewhere on Bagram, tens of millions of dollars are being spent on projects that are less sexy but no less integral to the war effort, like paving dirt roads and upgrading drainage systems on the mega-base.  In January, the U.S. military awarded a $7 million contract to a Turkish construction company to build a 24,000-square-foot command-and-control facility.  Plans are also in the works for a new operations center to support tactical fighter jet missions, a new flight-line fire station, as well as more lighting and other improvements to support the American air war.

Last month, Afghan President Hamid Karzai orderedthat the U.S.-run prison at Bagram be transferred to Afghan control.  By the end of January, the U.S. had issued a $36 million contract for the construction, within a year, of a new prison on the base.  While details are sparse, plans for the detention center indicate a thoroughly modern, high-security facility complete with guard towers, advanced surveillance systems, administrative facilities, and the capacity to house about 2,000 prisoners.

At Kandahar Air Field, that new intelligence facility for the drone war will be joined by a similarly-sized structure devoted to administrative operations and maintenance tasks associated with robotic aerial missions.  It will be able to accommodate as many as 180 personnel at a time.  With an estimated combined price tag of up to $5 million, both buildings will be integral to Air Force and possibly CIA operations involving both the MQ-1 Predator drone and its more advanced and more heavily-armed progeny, the MQ-9 Reaper.

The military is keeping information about these drone facilities under extraordinarily tight wraps.  They refused to answer questions about whether, for instance, the construction of these new centers for robotic warfare are in any way related to the loss of Shamsi Air Base in neighboring Pakistan as a drone operations center, or if they signal efforts to increase the tempo of drone missions in the years ahead. The International Joint Command’s chief of Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) operations, aware that such questions were to be posed, backed out of a planned interview with TomDispatch.

“Unfortunately our ISR chief here in the International Joint Command is going to be unable to address your questions,” Lieutenant Ryan Welsh of ISAF Joint Command Media Outreach explained by email just days before the scheduled interview. He also made it clear that any question involving drone operations in Pakistan was off limits. “The issues that you raise are outside the scope under which the IJC operates, therefore we are unable to facilitate this interview request.”

Whether the construction at Kandahar is designed to free up facilities elsewhere for CIA drone operations across the border in Pakistan or is related only to missions within Afghanistan, it strongly suggests a ramping up of unmanned operations.  It is, however, just one facet of the ongoing construction at the air field.  This month, a $26 million project to build 11 new structures devoted to tactical vehicle maintenance at Kandahar is scheduled for completion.  With two large buildings for upkeep and repairs, one devoted strictly to fixing tires, another to painting vehicles, as well as an industrial-sized car wash, and administrative and storage facilities, the big base’s building boom shows no sign of flickering out.

Construction and Reconstruction

This year, at Herat Air Base in the province of the same name bordering Turkmenistan and Iran, the U.S. is slated to begin a multimillion-dollar project to enhance its special forces’ air operations.  Plans are in the works to expand apron space — where aircraft can be parked, serviced, and loaded or unloaded — for helicopters and airplanes, as well as to build new taxiways and aircraft shelters.

That project is just one of nearly 130, cumulatively valued at about $1.5 billion, slated to be carried out in Herat, Helmand, and Kandahar provinces this year, according to Army Corps of Engineers documents examined by TomDispatch.  These also include efforts at Camp Tombstone and Camp Dwyer, both in Helmand Province as well as Kandahar’s FOB Hadrian and FOB Wilson.  The U.S. military also recently awarded a contract for more air field apron space at a base in Kunduz , a new secure entrance and new roads for FOB Delaram II, and new utilities and roads at FOB Shank, while the Marines recently built a new chapel at Camp Bastion.

Seven years ago, Forward Operating Base Sweeney, located a mile up in a mountain range in Zabul Province, was a well-outfitted, if remote, American base.  After U.S. troops abandoned it, however, the base fell into disrepair.  Last month, American troops returned in force and began rebuilding the outpost, constructing everything from new troop housing to a new storage facility.  “We built a lot of buildings, we put up a lot of tents, we filled a lot of sandbags, and we increased our force protection significantly,” Captain Joe Mickley, commanding officer of the soldiers taking up residence at the base, told a military reporter.

Decommission and Deconstruction

Hesco barriers are, in essence, big bags of dirt.  Up to seven feet tall, made of canvas and heavy gauge wire mesh, they form protective walls around U.S. outposts all over Afghanistan.  They’ll take the worst of sniper rounds, rifle-propelled grenades, even mortar shells, but one thing can absolutely wreck them — the Marines’ 9th Engineer Support Battalion.

At the beginning of December, the 9th Engineers were building bases and filling up Hescos in Helmand Province.  By the end of the month, they were tearing others down.

Wielding pickaxes, shovels, bolt-cutters, powerful rescue saws, and front-end loaders, they have begun “demilitarizing” bases, cutting countless Hescos — which cost $700 or more a pop — into heaps of jagged scrap metal and bulldozing berms in advance of the announced American withdrawal from Afghanistan.  At Firebase Saenz, for example, Marines were bathed in a sea of crimson sparks as they sawed their way through the metal mesh and let the dirt spill out, leaving a country already haunted by the ghosts of British and Russian bases with yet another defunct foreign outpost.  After Saenz, it was on to another patrol base slated for destruction.

Not all rural outposts are being torn down, however.  Some are being handed over to the Afghan Army or police.  And new facilities are now being built for the indigenous forces at an increasing rate.  “If current projections remain accurate, we will award 18 contracts in February,” Bonnie Perry, the head of contracting for the Army Corps of Engineers’ Afghanistan Engineering District-South, told military reporter Karla Marshall.  “Next quarter we expect that awards will remain high, with the largest number of contract awards occurring in May.”  One of the projects underway is a large base near Herat, which will include barracks, dining facilities, office space, and other amenities for Afghan commandos.

Tell Me How This Ends

No one should be surprised that the U.S. military is building up and tearing down bases at the same time, nor that much of the new construction is going on at mega-bases, while small outposts in the countryside are being abandoned.  This is exactly what you would expect of an occupation force looking to scale back its “footprint” and end major combat operations while maintaining an on-going presence in Afghanistan.  Given the U.S. military’s projected retreat to its giant bases and an increased reliance on kill/capture black-ops as well as unmanned air missions, it’s also no surprise that its signature projects for 2012 include a new special operations forces compound, clandestine drone facilities, and a brand new military prison.

There’s little doubt Bagram Air Base will exist in five or 10 years.  Just who will be occupying it is, however, less clear.  After all, in Iraq, the Obama administration negotiated for some way to station a significant military force — 10,000 or more troops — there beyond a withdrawal date that had been set in stone for years.  While a token number of U.S. troops and a highly militarized State Department contingent remain there, the Iraqi government largely thwarted the American efforts — and now, even the State Department presence is being halved.

It’s less likely this will be the case in Afghanistan, but it remains possible.  Still, it’s clear that the military is building in that country as if an enduring American presence were a given.  Whatever the outcome, vestiges of the current base-building boom will endure and become part of America’s Afghan legacy.

On Bagram’s grounds stands a distinctive structure called the “Crow’s Nest.”  It’s an old control tower built by the Soviets to coordinate their military operations in Afghanistan.  That foreign force left the country in 1989.  The Soviet Union itself departed from the planet less than three years later.  The tower remains.

America’s new prison in Bagram will undoubtedly remain, too.  Just who the jailers will be and who will be locked inside five years or 10 years from now is, of course, unknown.  But given the history — marked by torture and deaths — of the appalling treatment of inmates at Bagram and, more generally, of thebrutality toward prisoners by all parties to the conflict over the years, in no scenario are the results likely to be pretty.

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

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Posted by The Agonist on February 11th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Is there anyone in the world who thinks the people in this photo didn’t know what they were standing in front of?

Photobucket

The Nazi SS symbol has to be one of the most recognized of all time, certainly rivaling CocaCola and the McDonald’s Golden Arches, but the Marine Corps tried to spin the facts anyway.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the Marine Corps on Friday to re-investigate and take appropriate action against the Marine snipers who posed with a logo resembling a notorious Nazi symbol.

…An initial Marine investigation into the matter concluded that the troops would not be disciplined because there was no malicious intent. The Marines mistakenly believed the “SS” in the shape of white lightning bolts on the blue flag were a nod to sniper scouts – not members of Adolf Hitler’s special unit that murdered millions of Jews, Catholics, gypsies and others, said Maj. Gabrielle Chapin, a spokeswoman at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

And for $10 at CPAC you can buy a T-shirt immortalizing Marines pissing on corpses. Hearts and minds, dude.

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Posted by The Agonist on February 10th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Glenn Greenwald | Feb 9

SALON – The New York Times‘ Scott Shane reported this morning on the Bureau of Investigative Journalism study I wrote about yesterday, detailing that the U.S. drone program, as the NYT put it, “repeatedly targeted rescuers who responded to the scene of a strike, as well as mourners at subsequent funerals.” Shane’s article contains this paragraph:

A senior American counterterrorism official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, questioned the report’s findings, saying “targeting decisions are the product of intensive intelligence collection and observation.” The official added: “One must wonder why an effort that has so carefully gone after terrorists who plot to kill civilians has been subjected to so much misinformation. Let’s be under no illusions — there are a number of elements who would like nothing more than to malign these efforts and help Al Qaeda succeed.”

Also see how our piloted flights are continuing to win hearts and minds:
Afghan children killed in NATO air strike

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Posted by The Agonist on February 8th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Greg Miller | Washington D.C. | February 7

WaPo – The CIA is expected to maintain a large clandestine presence in Iraq and Afghanistan long after the departure of conventional U.S. troops as part of a plan by the Obama administration to rely on a combination of spies and Special Operations forces to protect U.S. interests in the two longtime war zones, U.S. officials said.

U.S. officials said that the CIA’s massive stations in Kabul and Baghdad will probably remain the agency’s largest overseas outposts for years, even if they shrink from record staffing levels set at the height of American efforts in those nations to fend off insurgencies and install capable governments.

The withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq in December has moved the CIA’s emphasis there toward more traditional espionage — monitoring developments in the increasingly antagonistic government, seeking to suppress al-Qaeda’s affiliate in the country and countering the influence of Iran.

In Afghanistan, the CIA is expected to have a more aggressively operational role. U.S. officials said the agency’s paramilitary capabilities are seen as tools for keeping the Taliban off balance, protecting the government in Kabul and preserving access to Afghan airstrips that enable armed CIA drones to hunt al-Qaeda remnants in Pakistan.

As President Obama seeks to end a decade of large-scale conflict, the emerging assignments for the CIA suggest it will play a significant part in the administration’s search for ways to exert U.S. power in more streamlined and surgical ways.

As a result, the CIA station in Kabul — which at one point had responsibility for as many as 1,000 agency employees in Afghanistan— is expected to expand its collaboration with Special Operations forces when the drawdown of conventional troops begins.

More at link

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Posted by Peace Action West on February 7th, 2012

From our partners at Peace Action West

All Americans have the right to hear the truth from our government and military leaders so we can make informed decisions about whether to invest lives and tax dollars in military entanglements. Our soldiers especially deserve this candor, as they are expected to risk their lives in service of a mission they are told is both achievable and necessary. Many of us who have been calling for a new strategy in Afghanistan have noted that the optimistic picture painted by the military does not square with many reports on the ground. Now we have a clear message that the situation in Afghanistan is far worse than military commanders would have us know, courtesy of Lt. Col. Daniel Davis—a whistleblower who, at great risk to his long military career, has exposed how the reality in Afghanistan doesn’t match the military’s trumped up progress reports.

Davis discusses the report he wrote (as of now, Army Public Affairs has not decided whether he can release the unclassified version publicly) in a piece in Armed Forces Journal. He shares incidents he witnessed traveling 9,000 miles around Afghanistan last year:

In August, I went on a dismounted patrol with troops in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province. Several troops from the unit had recently been killed in action, one of whom was a very popular and experienced soldier. One of the unit’s senior officers rhetorically asked me, “How do I look these men in the eye and ask them to go out day after day on these missions? What’s harder: How do I look [my soldier’s] wife in the eye when I get back and tell her that her husband died for something meaningful? How do I do that?”

One of the senior enlisted leaders added, “Guys are saying, ‘I hope I live so I can at least get home to R&R leave before I get it,’ or ‘I hope I only lose a foot.’ Sometimes they even say which limb it might be: ‘Maybe it’ll only be my left foot.’ They don’t have a lot of confidence that the leadership two levels up really understands what they’re living here, what the situation really is.”

While he is limited in what he can share with the public, Davis shares some representative experiences that bring him to the conclusion that the mission in Afghanistan is failing [emphasis mine]:

In all of the places I visited, the tactical situation was bad to abysmal. If the events I have described — and many, many more I could mention — had been in the first year of war, or even the third or fourth, one might be willing to believe that Afghanistan was just a hard fight, and we should stick it out. Yet these incidents all happened in the 10th year of war.

Davis ends his piece by condemning military leaders for withholding the truth from the American people:

If Americans were able to compare the public statements many of our leaders have made with classified data, this credibility gulf would be immediately observable. Naturally, I am not authorized to divulge classified material to the public. But I am legally able to share it with members of Congress. I have accordingly provided a much fuller accounting in a classified report to several members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, senators and House members…

…Likewise when having to decide whether to continue a war, alter its aims or to close off a campaign that cannot be won at an acceptable price, our senior leaders have an obligation to tell Congress and American people the unvarnished truth and let the people decide what course of action to choose. That is the very essence of civilian control of the military. The American people deserve better than what they’ve gotten from their senior uniformed leaders over the last number of years. Simply telling the truth would be a good start.

Davis’ report highlights how deference to the military in the public and Congress can be detrimental to US security and our ability to make the right decisions about war, as Martin Cook notes in the New York Times’ coverage of the report:

But Martin L. Cook, who teaches military ethics at the Naval War College, says Colonel Davis has identified a hazard that is intrinsic to military culture, in which a can-do optimism can be at odds with the strictest candor when a mission is failing.

“You’ve trained people to try to be successful even when half their buddies are dead and they’re almost out of ammo,” he said. “It’s very hard for them to say, ‘can’t do.’ ”

Lt. Col. Davis recognizes the potential backlash he faces, telling the Times, “I’m going to get nuked.” Davis briefed several members of Congress, and hopefully they will be able to shield Davis to some extent, and more importantly to ensure that these revelations get the attention they deserve and the leadership is held accountable. Republican Rep. Walter Jones (R-SC), one of the members who was briefed on the report, said “For Colonel Davis to go out on a limb and help us to understand what’s happening on the ground, I have the greatest admiration for him We owe a debt of gratitude to Davis for his brave stand.

The big question now is what the media and our political leaders do with this information. For the good of our nation, they should take Lt. Col. Davis’ message to heart: “How many more men must die in support of a mission that is not succeeding?”

 

 

 

 

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Posted by The Agonist on February 6th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Lt. Col Daniel L. Davis has caused a bit of a stir by taking to the pages of the Armed Forces Journal to accuse America’s political and military leadership of lying about how well things are going in Afghanistan. His public statements are unusual in the extreme for a serving officer.

During his deployment last year, he writes:

I saw the incredible difficulties any military force would have to pacify even a single area of any of those provinces; I heard many stories of how insurgents controlled virtually every piece of land beyond eyeshot of a U.S. or International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) base.

I saw little to no evidence the local governments were able to provide for the basic needs of the people. Some of the Afghan civilians I talked with said the people didn’t want to be connected to a predatory or incapable local government.

From time to time, I observed Afghan Security forces collude with the insurgency.

I anybody really surprised?

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Posted by Tom Engelhardt on February 6th, 2012

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

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Just a reminder for those planning their week: Jeremy Scahill, one of the best investigative journalists in the business, and I will be talking together on stage at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute on Friday, February 10th, 6-8pm. Click here for details and directions.  It’s for the official launch of my book, The United States of Fear (Haymarket Books), which you can buy by clicking here.  For a contribution of $75 or more to TomDispatch, you can get a signed, personalized copy of the book with my thanks to you.  (Visit our donation page by clicking here.)  If you buy the book, or anything else, via any of our book links that take you to Amazon.com, this website gets a modest percentage of your purchase, which is a good way to contribute at no extra cost to you. Tom]

Offshore Everywhere
How Drones, Special Operations Forces, and the U.S. Navy Plan to End National Sovereignty As We Know It

By Tom Engelhardt

Make no mistake: we’re entering a new world of military planning.  Admittedly, the latest proposed Pentagon budget manages to preserve just about every costly toy-cum-boondoggle from the good old days when MiGs still roamed the skies, including an uncut nuclear arsenal.  Eternally over-budget items like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, cherished by their services and well-lobbied congressional representatives, aren’t leaving the scene any time soon, though delays or cuts in purchase orders are planned.  All this should reassure us that, despite the talk of massive cuts, the U.S. military will continue to be the profligate, inefficient, and remarkably ineffective institution we’ve come to know and squander our treasure on.

Still, the cuts that matter are already in the works, the ones that will change the American way of war.  They may mean little in monetary terms — the Pentagon budget is actually slated to increase through 2017 — but in imperial terms they will make a difference.  A new way of preserving the embattled idea of an American planet is coming into focus and one thing is clear: in the name of Washington’s needs, it will offer a direct challenge to national sovereignty.

Heading Offshore

The Marines began huge amphibious exercises — dubbed Bold Alligator 2012 — off the East coast of the U.S. last week, but someone should IM them: it won’t help.  No matter what they do, they are going to have less boots on the ground in the future, and there’s going to be less ground to have them on.  The same is true for the Army (even if a cut of 100,000 troops will still leave the combined forces of the two services larger than they were on September 11, 2001).  Less troops, less full-frontal missions, no full-scale invasions, no more counterinsurgency: that’s the order of the day.  Just this week, in fact, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta suggested that the schedule for the drawdown of combat boots in Afghanistan might be speeded up by more than a year.  Consider it a sign of the times.

Like the F-35, American mega-bases, essentially well-fortified American towns plunked down in a strange land, like our latest “embassies” the size of lordly citadels, aren’t going away soon.  After all, in base terms, we’re already hunkered down in the Greater Middle East in an impressive way.  Even in post-withdrawal Iraq, the Pentagon is negotiating for a new long-term defense agreement that might include getting a little of its former base space back, and it continues to build in Afghanistan.  Meanwhile, Washington has typically signaled in recent years that it’s ready to fight to the last Japanese prime minister not to lose a single base among the three dozen it has on the Japanese island of Okinawa.

But here’s the thing: even if the U.S. military is dragging its old habits, weaponry, and global-basing ideas behind it, it’s still heading offshore.  There will be no more land wars on the Eurasian continent.  Instead, greater emphasis will be placed on the Navy, the Air Force, and a policy “pivot” to face China in southern Asia where the American military position can be strengthened without more giant bases or monster embassies.

For Washington, “offshore” means the world’s boundary-less waters and skies, but also, more metaphorically, it means being repositioned off the coast of national sovereignty and all its knotty problems.  This change, on its way for years, will officially rebrand the planet as an American free-fire zone, unchaining Washington from the limits that national borders once imposed.  New ways to cross borders and new technology for doing it without permission are clearly in the planning stages, and U.S. forces are being reconfigured accordingly.

Think of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden as a harbinger of and model for what’s to come.  It was an operation enveloped in a cloak of secrecy.  There was no consultation with the “ally” on whose territory the raid was to occur.  It involved combat by an elite special operations unit backed by drones and other high-tech weaponry and supported by the CIA.  A national boundary was crossed without either permission or any declaration of hostilities.  The object was that elusive creature “terrorism,” the perfect global will-o’-the-wisp around which to plan an offshore future.

All the elements of this emerging formula for retaining planetary dominance have received plenty of publicity, but the degree to which they combine to assault traditional concepts of national sovereignty has been given little attention.

Since November 2002, when a Hellfire missile from a CIA-operated Predator drone turned a car with six alleged al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen into ash, robotic aircraft have led the way in this border-crossing, air-space penetrating assault. The U.S. now has drone bases across the planet, 60 at last count.  Increasingly, the long-range reach of its drone program means that those robotic planes can penetrate just about any nation’s air space.  It matters little whether that country houses them itself.  Take Pakistan, which just forced the CIA to remove its drones from Shamsi Air Base.  Nonetheless, CIA drone strikes in that country’s tribal borderlands continue, assumedly from bases in Afghanistan, and recently President Obama offered a full-throated public defense of them.  (That there have been fewer of them lately has been a political decision of the Obama administration, not of the Pakistanis.)

Drones themselves are distinctly fallible, crash-prone machines.  (Just last week, for instance, an advanced Israeli drone capable of hitting Iran went down on a test flight, a surveillance drone — assumedly American — crashed in a Somali refugee camp, and a report surfaced that some U.S. drones in Afghanistan can’t fly in that country’s summer heat.)  Still, they are, relatively speaking, cheap to produce.  They can fly long distances across almost any border with no danger whatsoever to their human pilots and are capable of staying aloft for extended periods of time.  They allow for surveillance and strikes anywhere.  By their nature, they are border-busting creatures.  It’s no mistake then that they are winners in the latest Pentagon budgeting battles or, as a headline at Wired’s Danger Room blog summed matters up, “Humans Lose, Robots Win in New Defense Budget.”

And keep in mind that when drones are capable of taking off from and landing on aircraft carrier decks, they will quite literally be offshore with respect to all borders, but capable of crossing any.  (The Navy’s latest plans include a future drone that will land itself on those decks without a human pilot at any controls.)

War has always been the most human and inhuman of activities.  Now, it seems, its inhuman aspect is quite literally on the rise.  With the U.S. military working to roboticize the future battlefield, the American way of war is destined to be imbued with Terminator-style terror.

Already American drones regularly cross borders with mayhem in mind in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen.  Because of a drone downed in Iran, we know that they have also been flying surveillance missions in that country’s airspace as — for the State Department — they are in Iraq.  Washington is undoubtedly planning for far more of the same.

American War Enters the Shadows

Along with those skies filled with increasing numbers of drones goes a rise in U.S. special operations forces.  They, too, are almost by definition boundary-busting outfits.  Once upon a time, an American president had his own “private army” — the CIA.  Now, in a sense, he has his own private military.  Formerly modest-sized units of elite special operations forces have grown into a force of 60,000, a secret military cocooned in the military, which is slated for further expansion.  According to Nick Turse, in 2011 special operations units were in 120 nations, almost two-thirds of the countries on Earth.

By their nature, special operations forces work in the shadows: as hunter-killer teams, night raiders, and border-crossers.  They function in close conjunction with drones and, as the regular Army slowly withdraws from its giant garrisons in places like Europe, they are preparing to operate in a new world of stripped-down bases called “lily pads” — think frogs jumping across a pond to their prey.  No longer will the Pentagon be building American towns with all the amenities of home, but forward-deployed, minimalist outposts near likely global hotspots, like Camp Lemonnier in the North African nation of Djibouti.

Increasingly, American war itself will enter those shadows, where crossings of every sort of border, domestic as well as foreign, are likely to take place with little accountability to anyone, except the president and the national security complex.

In those shadows, our secret forces are already melding into one another.  A striking sign of this was the appointment as CIA director of a general who, in Iraq and Afghanistan, had relied heavily on special forces hunter-killer teams and night raiders, as well as drones, to do the job.  Undoubtedly the most highly praised general of our American moment, General David Petraeus has himself slipped into the shadows where he is presiding over covert civilian forces working ever more regularly in tandem with special operations teams and sharing drone assignments with the military.

And don’t forget the Navy, which couldn’t be more offshore to begin with.  It already operates 11 aircraft carrier task forces (none of which are to be cut — thanks to a decision reportedly made by the president).  These are, effectively, major American bases — massively armed small American towns — at sea.  To these, the Navy is adding smaller “bases.”  Right now, for instance, it’s retrofitting an old amphibious transport docking ship bound for the Persian Gulf either as a Navy Seal commando “mothership” or (depending on which Pentagon spokesperson you listen to) as a “lily pad” for counter-mine Sikorsky MH-53 helicopters and patrol craft.  Whichever it may be, it will just be a stopgap until the Navy can build new “Afloat Forward Staging Bases” from scratch.

Futuristic weaponry now in the planning stages could add to the miliary’s border-crossing capabilities.  Take the Army’s Advanced Hypersonic Weapon or DARPA’s Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2, both of which are intended, someday, to hit targets anywhere on Earth with massive conventional explosives in less than an hour.

From lily pads to aircraft carriers, advanced drones to special operations teams, it’s offshore and into the shadows for U.S. military policy.  While the United States is economically in decline, it remains the sole military superpower on the planet.  No other country pours anywhere near as much money into its military and its national security establishment or is likely to do so in the foreseeable future.  It’s clear enough that Washington is hoping to offset any economic decline with newly reconfigured military might.  As in the old TV show, the U.S. has gun, will travel.

Onshore, American power in the twenty-first century proved a disaster.  Offshore, with Washington in control of the global seas and skies, with its ability to kick down the world’s doors and strike just about anywhere without a by-your-leave or thank-you-ma’am, it hopes for better.  As the early attempts to put this program into operation from Pakistan to Yemen have indicated, however, be careful what you wish for: it sometimes comes home to bite you.

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.

[Note: I couldn’t have written this piece without the superb reportage of TomDispatch Associate Editor Nick Turse on bases, drones, and special operations forces.  I offer him a deep bow of thanks. Tom]

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

Copyright 2012 Tom Engelhardt

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on February 5th, 2012

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

It just goes on and on my friends.

The United States’ plan to wind down its combat role in Afghanistan a year earlier than expected relies on shifting responsibility to Special Operations forces that hunt insurgent leaders and train local troops, according to senior Pentagon officials and military officers. These forces could remain in the country well after the NATO mission ends in late 2014.

…Under the emerging plan, American conventional forces, focused on policing large parts of Afghanistan, will be the first to leave, while thousands of American Special Operations forces remain, making up an increasing percentage of the troops on the ground; their number may even grow.

Three things.

1) You just knew this whole new "combat mission ends in 2013, troops out by 2014" was election-year spin, didn't you?

2) This is yet another example of how special forces are becoming the mover-and-shaker of the military, with consequently rising budgetary and bureaucratic clout (as well as ever closer ties to the CIA, now run by SOF-fan General Petraeus.)

3) The Green Beret's real mission, no matter what is being said now, is going to turn into refereeing the next Afghan civil war.

With Afghanistan's three major political blocs and three major insurgent groups moving in opposite directions, the country is facing the prospect of total fragmentation. Here's the worst-case scenario: The U.S. military reaches a settlement with the Afghan Taliban that does not address the country's political future, Karzai holds on to power illegitimately while pressing for his own peace deal with the Taliban, non-Pashtuns rise in opposition to both Karzai and the Taliban, and the national security forces fracture along ethnic lines. At the same time, the three insurgent factions turn against one another as the Haqqani network exploits the chaos and maintains a rear defensive position in Pakistani safe havens. Meanwhile, Pakistan's own domestic Taliban resurges and Islamabad faces yet another wave of terrorism and Afghan refugees.

Arif Rafiq's plan to avoid this catastrophic scenario for Afghanistan involves "improving the quality, not the quantity, of the Afghan national army and police" and "the army professionalized to serve as a bulwark against fragmentation". He doesn't explicitly say so in his piece, but it's pretty obvious from there who could form the most stable government. Rafiq's course for Afghanistan most likely leads to a military junta running a U.S.-friendly dictatorship. We've plenty of experience at dealing with those.

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