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Archive for April, 2012

Posted by The Agonist on April 30th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

An AP exclusive report today says that the US-led coalition has been consistently under-reporting the consequences of “green-on-blue” incidents, where Afghan allies fire on NATO servicemen training or partnering with them, by the simplest method possible – it’s only been reporting incidents that cause fatalities.

So how many wounded might we not be hearing about?

Well, icasualties.org has overall figures for both fatalities and wounded to date and although the US fatality to casualty ratio has historically been lower than, say, the UK’s experience we can get some approximation. There have been 1954 US troops killed and 15322 wounded in Operation Enduring freedom, a ratio of 1:7.8. Given that “green on blue” attacks are at short ranges, launched by surprise, they are probably more deadly than the usual course of combat so let’s say 1:8. (EDIT: my math is faulty there, as JPD points out more deadly means a lower ratio. But 1:8 or 1:7.5 it’s still 900 to 1,000 total casualties of which we’re only being told about a fraction.)

Three days ago, the NYT reported:

So far this year, there have been 11 attacks by Afghan security forces against coalition soldiers, resulting in the deaths of 18 people, 10 of them Americans, according to a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. That is 20 percent of the total of NATO combat fatalities this year. In 2011 there were 21 such attacks leading to 35 deaths, he said. Last year, a classified study commissioned by the American military found that 58 American combat fatalities, 6 percent, came in 26 green-on-blue attacks from May 2007 to May 2011.

The pre-2011 figures don’t seem to include coalition allies but again we’re approximating in lieu of firm NATO figures so that’s a total of 109 deaths – which means somewhere in the region of 872 wounded for a total toll of around a thousand or more shot by their ostensible allies.

That beggars the notion that “they will stand up so we can stand down”. More likely, when they stand up they will shoot at us. But as Joshua Foust wrote in 2011, after a decade of trying, and producing feel-good statements about success just around the corner, “that the Afghan Police still don’t operate in a minimally effective way is a stinging indictment not of them, but of the people training them” – that is, the US.

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Posted by Tom Engelhardt on April 30th, 2012

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

The Obama Contradiction
By Tom Engelhardt

He has few constraints (except those he’s internalized). No one can stop him or countermand his orders. He has a bevy of lawyers at his beck and call to explain the “legality” of his actions. And if he cares to, he can send a robot assassin to kill you, whoever you are, no matter where you may be on planet Earth.

He sounds like a typical villain from a James Bond novel. You know, the kind who captures Bond, tells him his fiendish plan for dominating the planet, ties him up for some no less fiendish torture, and then leaves him behind to gum up the works.

As it happens, though, he’s the president of the United State, a nice guy with a charismatic wife and two lovely kids.

How could this be?

Crash-and-Burn Dreams and One That Came to Be

Sometimes to understand where you are, you need to ransack the past. In this case, to grasp just how this country’s first African-American-constitutional-law-professor-liberal Oval Office holder became the most imperial of all recent imperial presidents, it’s necessary to look back to the early years of George W. Bush’s presidency. Who today even remembers that time, when it was common to speak of the U.S. as the globe’s “sole superpower” or even “hyperpower,” the only “sheriff” on planet Earth, and the neocons were boasting of an empire-to-come greater than the British and Roman ones rolled together?

In those first high-flying years after 9/11, President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and their top officials held three dreams of power and dominance that they planned to make reality. The first was to loose the U.S. military — a force they fervently believed capable of bringing anybody or any state to heel — on the Greater Middle East. With it in the lead, they aimed to create a generations-long Pax Americana in the region.

The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was to be only the initial “cakewalk” in a series of a shock-and-awe operations in which Washington would unilaterally rearrange the oil heartlands of the planet, toppling or cowing hostile regimes like the Syrians and the Iranians. (A neocon quip caught the spirit of that moment: “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran.”) This, in turn, would position the U.S. to control the planet in a historically unique way, and so prevent the rise of any other great power or bloc of nations resistant to American desires.

Their second dream, linked at the hip to the first, was to create a generations-long Pax Republicana here at home. (“Everyone wants to go to Kansas, but real men want to go to New York and LA.”) In that dream, the Democratic Party, like the Iraqis or the Iranians, would be brought to heel, a new Republican majority funded by corporate America would rule the roost, and above it all would be perched a “unitary executive,” a president freed of domestic constraints and capable — by fiat, the signing statement, or simply expanded powers — of doing just about anything he wanted.

Though less than a decade has passed, both of those dreams already feel like ancient history. Both crashed and burned, leaving behind a Democrat in the White House, an Iraq without an American military garrison, and a still-un-regime-changed Iran. With the arrival on Bush’s watch of a global economic meltdown, those too-big-not-to-fail dreams were relabeled disasters, fed down the memory hole, and are today largely forgotten.

It’s easy, then, to forget that the Bush era wasn’t all crash-and-burn, that the third of their hubristic fantasies proved a remarkable, if barely noticed, success. Because that success never fully registered amid successive disasters and defeats, it’s been difficult for Americans to grasp the “imperial” part of the Obama presidency.

Remember that Cheney and his cohorts took power in 2001 convinced that, post-Watergate, post-Vietnam, American presidents had been placed in “chains.” As soon as 9/11 hit, they began, as they put it, to “take the gloves off.” Their deepest urge was to use “national security” to free George W. Bush and his Pax Americana successors of any constraints.

From this urge flowed the decision to launch a “Global War on Terror” — that is, a “wartime” with no possible end that would leave a commander-in-chief president in the White House till hell froze over. The construction of Guantanamo and the creation of “black sites” from Poland to Thailand, the president’s own private offshore prison system, followed naturally, as did the creation of his own privately sanctioned form of (in)justice and punishment, a torture regime.

At the same time, they began expanding the realm of presidentially ordered “covert” military operations (most of which were, in the end, well publicized) — from drone wars to the deployment of special operations forces. These were signposts indicating the power of an unchained president to act without constraint abroad. Similarly, at home, the Bush administration began expanding what would once have been illegal surveillance of citizens and other forms of presidentially inspired overreach. They began, in other words, treating the U.S. as if it were part of an alien planet, as if it were, in some sense, a foreign country and they the occupying power.

With a cowed Congress and a fearful, distracted populace, they undoubtedly were free to do far more. There were few enough checks and balances left to constrain a war president and his top officials. It turned out, in fact, that the only real checks and balances they felt were internalized ones, or ones that came from within the national security state itself, and yet those evidently did limit what they felt was possible.

The Obama Conundrum

This, then, was what Barack Obama inherited on entering the Oval Office: an expanding, but not yet fully expansive, commander-in-chief presidency, which, in retrospect, seemed to fit him like a… glove. Of course, he also inherited the Bush administration’s domestic failures and those in the Greater Middle East, and they overshadowed what he’s done with that commander-in-chief presidency.

It’s true that, with President Truman’s decision to go to war in Korea in 1950, Congress’s constitutional right to declare war (rather than rubberstamp a presidential announcement of the same) went by the boards. So there’s a distinct backstory to our present imperial presidency. Still, in our era, presidential war-making has become something like a 24/7 activity.

Once upon a time, American presidents didn’t consider micro-managing a permanent war state as a central part of their job description, nor did they focus so unrelentingly on the U.S. military and the doings of the national security state. Today, the president’s word is death just about anywhere on the planet and he exercises that power with remarkable frequency. He appears in front of “the troops” increasingly often and his wife has made their wellbeing part of her job description. He has at his command expanded “covert” powers, including his own private armies: a more militarized CIA and growing hordes of special operations forces, 60,000 of them, who essentially make up a “covert” military inside the U.S. military.

In effect, he also has his own private intelligence outfits, including most recently a newly formed Defense Clandestine Service at the Pentagon focused on non-war zone intelligence operations (especially, so the reports go, against China and Iran). Finally, he has what is essentially his own expanding private (robotic) air force: drones.

He can send his drone assassins and special ops troops just about anywhere to kill just about anyone he thinks should die, national sovereignty be damned. He firmly established his “right” to do this by going after the worst of the worst, killing Osama bin Laden in Pakistan with special operations forces and an American citizen and jihadi, Anwar al-Awlaki, in Yemen with a drone.

At the moment, the president is in the process of widening his around-the-clock “covert” air campaigns. Almost unnoted in the U.S., for instance, American drones recently carried out a strike in the Philippines killing 15 and the Air Force has since announced a plan to boost its drones there by 30%. At the same time, in Yemen, as previously in the Pakistani borderlands, the president has just given the CIA and the U.S. Joint Operations Command the authority to launch drone strikes not just against identified “high-value” al-Qaeda “targets,” but against general “patterns of suspicious behavior.” So expect an escalating drone war there not against known individuals, but against groups of suspected evildoers (and as in all such cases, innocent civilians as well).

This is another example of something that would be forbidden at home, but is now a tool of unchecked presidential power elsewhere in the world: profiling.

As with Bush junior, the only thing that constrains the president and his team, it seems, is some set of internalized checks and balances. That’s undoubtedly why, before he ordered the successful drone assassination of Awlaki, lawyers from the Pentagon, State Department, National Security Council, intelligence agencies, and the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel held meetings to produce a 50-page memorandum providing a “legal” basis for the president to order the assassination of a U.S. citizen, a document, mind you, that will never be released to the public.

In truth, at this point the president could clearly have ordered those deaths without such a document. Think of it as the presidential equivalent of a guilty conscience, but count on this: when those drones start taking out “behaviors” in Yemen and elsewhere, there will be no stream of 50-page memorandums generated to cover the decisions. That’s because as you proceed down such a path, as your acts become ever more the way of your world, your need to justify them (to yourself, if no one else) lessens.

That path, already widening into a road, may, someday, become the killing equivalent of an autobahn. In that case, making such decisions will be ever easier for an imperial president as American society grows yet more detached from the wars fought and operations launched in its name. In terms of the president’s power to kill by decree, whether Obama gets his second term or Mitt Romney steps into the Oval Office, the reach of the commander-in-chief presidency and the “covert” campaigns, so secret they can’t even be acknowledged in a court of law, so public they can be boasted about, will only increase.

This is a dangerous development, which leaves us in the grip — for now — of what might be called the Obama conundrum. At home, on issues of domestic importance, Obama is a hamstrung, hogtied president, strikingly checked and balanced. Since the passage of his embattled healthcare bill, he has, in a sense, been in chains, able to accomplish next to nothing of his domestic program. Even when trying to exercise the unilateral powers that have increasingly been invested in presidents, what he can do on his own has proven exceedingly limited, a series of tiny gestures aimed at the largest of problems. And were Mitt Romney to be elected, given congressional realities, this would be unlikely to change in the next four years.

On the other hand, the power of the president as commander-in-chief has never been greater. If Obama is the president of next to nothing on the domestic policy front (but fundraising for his second term), he has the powers previously associated with the gods when it comes to war-making abroad. There, he is the purveyor of life and death. At home, he is a hamstrung weakling, at war he is — to use a term that has largely disappeared since the 1970s — an imperial president.

Such contradictions call for resolution and that should worry us all.

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 is The United States of Fear (Haymarket Books).

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

Copyright 2012 Tom Engelhardt

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Posted by The Agonist on April 27th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

For those unwilling to pony up for a TIME sub to bypass the Great Paywall of Luce, the New America Foundation has kindly posted the full text of Peter Bergen’s big OBL last days of disco cover piece. Where does the line between truth & fiction fall? That, dear friends, is above my pay grade, though I’m sure there are many here who can/will do their goddamndest to liberate subtextural reality from the margins.

A brief excerpt to whet your appetites:

Bin Laden was always scheming about how to grab more media attention. He instructed his team, “The 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attack is coming and due to the importance to this date, the time to start preparing is now. Please send me your suggestions on this.” He proposed reaching out to the correspondents of both al-Jazeera English and al-Jazeera Arabic and wondered if he could get a hearing on an American TV network: “We should also look for an American channel that can be close to being unbiased such as CBS.”

Until the end, bin Laden remained fixated on mounting another large-scale attack on the U.S., prodding one deputy, “It would be nice if you could nominate one of the qualified brothers to be responsible for a large operation against the U.S. It would be nice if you would pick a number of the brothers not to exceed 10 and send them to their countries individually without any of them knowing the others to study aviation.”

Have at it, Agonist massif.

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Posted by The Agonist on April 26th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, Canuckistan:

Stephen Harper is leaving the door open once again to extending Canada’s military participation in the costly Afghanistan war.

When the Official Opposition NDP pressed the Prime Minister on Wednesday about reports the United States has asked Canada to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014, Mr. Harper said the government would “examine all options.”

[...]

If the Prime Minister extended Canada’s military deployment beyond 2014, it would be the fourth time he has prolonged the soldiering commitment to Afghanistan – including 2006, 2008 and 2010.

Speaking in the Commons on Wednesday, Mr. Harper denied reports the United States has asked Canada to keep special forces soldiers in Afghanistan past 2014, his latest promised date for withdrawal.

As our new Leader of the Official Opposition aptly noted during Question Period yesterday, Canadians “want this mission to end. It was supposed to end in 2006. It was supposed to end in 2009. It was supposed to end in 2011. It is supposed to end in 2014. When will it finally end?””

Oh, and that last excerpted bit I highlighted, where the PM denies reports that Uncle Sam is trying to keep Canada in the Great Game for another Friedman or three? Methinks Mr. Harper is being a little coy. Mealsothinks that it’s a damn good thing Afghanistan is (for now, anyway) almost completely under the Campaign 2012 Village radar.

Because, considering the collective combat exhaustion of the USian polity, the last thing the Obama team needs are ill-timed reports that it’s secretly planning to continue America’s excellent (and highly unpopular) imperial Central Asian misadventure past it’s latest expiration date.

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Posted by Tom Engelhardt on April 26th, 2012

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

Last December, a super-secret RQ-170 Sentinel, part of a far-reaching program of CIA drone surveillance over Iran, went down (or was shot down, or computer-jacked and hacked down) and was recovered intact by the Iranian military.  This week, an Iranian general proudly announced that his country’s experts had accessed the plane’s computer — he offered information he claimed proved it — and were now “reverse-engineering” the drone to create one of their own.

Most or all of his claims have been widely doubted, derided, or simply dismissed in our world, and for all I know his was indeed pure bluster and bluff.  But if so, it still managed to catch an urge that lay behind a couple of hundred years of global history: to adapt the most sophisticated aspects of the West to resist the West.  That urge has been essential to the way our planet has developed. After all, much of the last two centuries might well be headlined in technological, economic, and even political terms, “The History of Reverse-Engineering.”

Starting in the eighteenth century, whether you were in the Ottoman Empire or China, wherever, in fact, cannon-mounted European ships appeared to break down doors and conquer countries or subject them to an alien will, the issue of reverse-engineering was always close at hand.  For endless decades, the preeminent question, the crucial thing to debate, was just what could be adapted from the Western arsenal of weapons, politics, technology, and ideas, and how it could be melded with local culture, how it could be given Ottoman, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, or [fill in the blank] “characteristics” and made to check or reverse the course of events.  The rise of Japan in the nineteenth century and the more recent spectacular growth of China are, without any doubt, cases of the history of reverse-engineering.

Whatever the successes and failures of that process, the question today — as the U.S. declines, Europe stagnates, and the explosive BRICS countries head for center stage — is perhaps this: Can reverse-engineering really take us any farther, or will it in the end simply take us down?  Isn’t it time for something new in the engineering universe or perhaps for the coming of reverse-reverse-engineering somewhere on this weather-freaky, overtaxed planet of ours?

Who better to offer us a little rundown on that planet, end to end, top to bottom in its moment of global stress than Asia Times and TomDispatch’s own peripatetic author Pepe Escobar?  He’s seen it all.  Now, you will, too. Tom

A History of the World, BRIC by BRIC
Neoliberal Dragons, Eurasian Wet Dreams, and Robocop Fantasies

By Pepe Escobar

Goldman Sachs — via economist Jim O’Neill — invented the concept of a rising new bloc on the planet: BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa). Some cynics couldn’t help calling it the “Bloody Ridiculous Investment Concept.”

Not really. Goldman now expects the BRICS countries to account for almost 40% of global gross domestic product (GDP) by 2050, and to include four of the world’s top five economies.

Soon, in fact, that acronym may have to expand to include Turkey, Indonesia, South Korea and, yes, nuclear Iran: BRIIICTSS?  Despite its well-known problems as a nation under economic siege, Iran is also motoring along as part of the N-11, yet another distilled concept.  (It stands for the next 11 emerging economies.)

The multitrillion-dollar global question remains: Is the emergence of BRICS a signal that we have truly entered a new multipolar world?

Yale’s canny historian Paul Kennedy (of “imperial overstretch” fame) is convinced that we either are about to cross or have already crossed a “historical watershed” taking us far beyond the post-Cold War unipolar world of “the sole superpower.” There are, argues Kennedy, four main reasons for that: the slow erosion of the U.S. dollar (formerly 85% of global reserves, now less than 60%), the “paralysis of the European project,” Asia rising (the end of 500 years of Western hegemony), and the decrepitude of the United Nations.

The Group of Eight (G-8) is already increasingly irrelevant. The G-20, which includes the BRICS, might, however, prove to be the real thing. But there’s much to be done to cross that watershed rather than simply be swept over it willy-nilly: the reform of the U.N. Security Council, and above all, the reform of the Bretton Woods system, especially those two crucial institutions, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

On the other hand, willy-nilly may prove the way of the world.  After all, as emerging superstars, the BRICS have a ton of problems.  True, in only the last seven years Brazil has added 40 million people as middle-class consumers; by 2016, it will have invested another $900 billion — more than a third of its GDP — in energy and infrastructure; and it’s not as exposed as some BRICS members to the imponderables of world trade, since its exports are only 11% of GDP, even less than the U.S.

Still, the key problem remains the same: lack of good management, not to mention a swamp of corruption. Brazil’s brazen new monied class is turning out to be no less corrupt than the old, arrogant, comprador elites that used to run the country.

In India, the choice seems to be between manageable and unmanageable chaos. The corruption of the country’s political elite would make Shiva proud. Abuse of state power, nepotistic control of contracts related to infrastructure, the looting of mineral resources, real estate property scandals — they’ve got it all, even if India is not a Hindu Pakistan. Not yet anyway.

Since 1991, “reform” in India has meant only one thing: unbridled commerce and getting the state out of the economy. Not surprisingly then, nothing is being done to reform public institutions, which are a scandal in themselves. Efficient public administration? Don’t even think about it. In a nutshell, India is a chaotic economic dynamo and yet, in some sense, not even an emerging power, not to speak of a superpower.

Russia, too, is still trying to find the magic mix, including a competent state policy to exploit the country’s bounteous natural resources, extraordinary space, and impressive social talent.  It must modernize fast as, apart from Moscow and St. Petersburg, relative social backwardness prevails. Its leaders remain uneasy about neighboring China (aware that any Sino-Russian alliance would leave Russia as a distinctly junior partner).  They are distrustful of Washington, anxious over the depopulation of their eastern territories, and worried about the cultural and religious alienation of their Muslim population.

Then again the Putinator is back as president with his magic formula for modernization: a strategic German-Russian partnership that will benefit the power elite/business oligarchy, but not necessarily the majority of Russians.

Dead in the Woods

The post-World War II Bretton Woods system is now officially dead, totally illegitimate, but what are the BRICS planning to do about it?

At their summit in New Delhi in late March, they pushed for the creation of a BRICS development bank that could invest in infrastructure and provide them with back-up credit for whatever financial crises lie down the road. The BRICS know perfectly well that Washington and the European Union (EU) will never relinquish control of the IMF and the World Bank. Nonetheless, trade among these countries will reach an impressive $500 billion by 2015, mostly in their own currencies.

However, BRICS cohesion, to the extent it exists, centers mostly around shared frustration with the Masters of the Universe-style financial speculation that nearly sent the global economy off a cliff in 2008. True, the BRICS crew also has a notable convergence of policy and opinion when it comes to embattled Iran, an Arab Sprung Middle East, and Northern Africa. Still, for the moment the key problem they face is this: they don’t have an ideological or institutional alternative to neo-liberalism and the lordship of global finance.

As Vijay Prashad has noted, the Global North has done everything to prevent any serious discussion of how to reform the global financial casino. No wonder the head of the G-77 group of developing nations (now G-132, in fact), Thai ambassador Pisnau Chanvitan, has warned of “behavior that seems to indicate a desire for the dawn of a new neocolonialism.”

Meanwhile, things happen anyway, helter-skelter.  China, for instance, continues to informally advance the yuan as a globalizing, if not global, currency. It’s already trading in yuan with Russia and Australia, not to mention across Latin America and in the Middle East. Increasingly, the BRICS are betting on the yuan as their monetary alternative to a devalued U.S. dollar.

Japan is using both yen and yuan in its bilateral trade with its huge Asian neighbor. The fact is that there’s already an unacknowledged Asian free-trade zone in the making, with China, Japan, and South Korea on board.

What’s ahead, even if it includes a BRICS-bright future, will undoubtedly be very messy.  Just about anything is possible (verging on likely), from another Great Recession in the U.S. to European stagnation or even the collapse of the eurozone, to a BRICS-wide slowdown, a tempest in the currency markets, the collapse of financial institutions, and a global crash.

And talk about messy, who could forget what Dick Cheney said, while still Halliburton’s CEO, at the Institute of Petroleum in London in 1999: “The Middle East, with two-thirds of the world’s oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies.” No wonder when, as vice president, he came to power in 2001, his first order of business was to “liberate” Iraq’s oil. Of course, who doesn’t remember how that ended?

Now (different administration but same line of work), it’s an oil-embargo-cum-economic-war on Iran. The leadership in Beijing sees Washington’s whole Iran psychodrama as a regime-change plot, pure and simple, having nothing to do with nuclear weapons. Then again, the winner so far in the Iran imbroglio is China. With Iran’s banking system in crisis, and the U.S. embargo playing havoc with that country’s economy, Beijing can essentially dictate its terms for buying Iranian oil.

The Chinese are expanding Iran’s fleet of oil tankers, a deal worth more than $1 billion, and that other BRICS giant, India, is now purchasing even more Iranian oil than China. Yet Washington won’t apply its sanctions to BRICS members because these days, economically speaking, the U.S. needs them more than they need the U.S.

The World Through Chinese Eyes

Which brings us to the dragon in the room: China.

What’s the ultimate Chinese obsession? Stability, stability, stability.

The usual self-description of the system there as “socialism with Chinese characteristics” is, of course, as mythical as a gorgon. In reality, think hardcore neoliberalism with Chinese characteristics led by men who have every intention of saving global capitalism.

At the moment, China is smack in the middle of a tectonic, structural shift from an export/investment model to a services/consumer-led model. In terms of its explosive economic growth, the last decades have been almost unimaginable to most Chinese (and the rest of the world), but according to the Financial Times, they have also left the country’s richest 1% controlling 40%-60% of total household wealth. How to find a way to overcome such staggering collateral damage? How to make a system with tremendous inbuilt problems function for 1.3 billion people?

Enter “stability-mania.” Back in 2007, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao was warning that the Chinese economy could become “unstable, unbalanced, uncoordinated, and unsustainable.” These were the famous “Four Uns.”

Today, the collective leadership, including the next Prime Minister, Li Leqiang, has gone a nervous step further, purging “unstable” from the Party’s lexicon.  For all practical purposes, the next phase in the country’s development is already upon us.

It will be quite something to watch in the years to come.

How will the nominally “communist” princelings — the sons and daughters of top revolutionary Party leaders, all immensely wealthy, thanks, in part, to their cozy arrangements with Western corporations, plus the bribes, the alliances with gangsters, all those “concessions” to the highest bidder, and the whole Western-linked crony-capitalist oligarchy — lead China beyond the “Four Modernizations”? Especially with all that fabulous wealth to loot.

The Obama administration, expressing its own anxiety, has responded to the clear emergence of China as a power to be reckoned with via a “strategic pivot” — from its disastrous wars in the Greater Middle East to Asia.  The Pentagon likes to call this “rebalancing” (though things are anything but rebalanced or over for the U.S. in the Middle East).

Before 9/11, the Bush administration had been focused on China as its future global enemy number one.  Then 9/11 redirected it to what the Pentagon called “the arc of instability,” the oil heartlands of the planet extending from the Middle East through Central Asia.  Given Washington’s distraction, Beijing calculated that it might enjoy a window of roughly two decades in which the pressure would be largely off.  In those years, it could focus on a breakneck version of internal development, while the U.S. was squandering mountains of money on its nonsensical “Global War on Terror.”

Twelve years later, that window is being slammed shut as from India, Australia, and the Philippines to South Korea and Japan, the U.S. declares itself back in the hegemony business in Asia. Doubts that this was the new American path were dispelled by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s November 2011 manifesto in Foreign Policy magazine, none too subtly labeled “America’s Pacific Century.” (And she was talking about this century, not the last one!)

The American mantra is always the same: “American security,” whose definition is: whatever happens on the planet.  Whether in the oil-rich Persian Gulf where Washington “helps” allies Israel and Saudi Arabia because they feel threatened by Iran, or Asia where similar help is offered to a growing corps of countries that are said to feel threatened by China, it’s always in the name of U.S. security. In either case, in just about any case, that’s what trumps all else.

As a result, if there is a 33-year Wall of Mistrust between the U.S. and Iran, there is a new, growing Great Wall of Mistrust between the U.S. and China.  Recently, Wang Jisi, Dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University and a top Chinese strategic analyst, offered the Beijing leadership’s perspective on that “Pacific Century” in an influential paper he coauthored.

China, he and his coauthor write, now expects to be treated as a first-class power.  After all, it “successfully weathered… the 1997-98 global financial crisis,” caused, in Beijing’s eyes, by “deep deficiencies in the U.S. economy and politics. China has surpassed Japan as the world’s second largest economy and seems to be the number two in world politics, as well… Chinese leaders do not credit these successes to the United States or to the U.S.-led world order.”

The U.S., Wang adds, “is seen in China generally as a declining power over the long run… It is now a question of how many years, rather than how many decades, before China replaces the United States as the largest economy in the world… part of an emerging new structure.”  (Think: BRICS.)

In sum, as Wang and his coauthor portray it, influential Chinese see their country’s development model providing “an alternative to Western democracy and experiences for other developing countries to learn from, while many developing countries that have introduced Western values and political systems are experiencing disorder and chaos.”

Put it all in a nutshell and you have a Chinese vision of the world in which a fading U.S. still yearns for global hegemony and remains powerful enough to block emerging powers — China and the other BRICS — from their twenty-first century destiny.

Dr. Zbig’s Eurasian Wet Dream

Now, how does the U.S. political elite see that same world? Virtually no one is better qualified to handle that subject than former national security adviser, BTC pipeline facilitator, and briefly Obama ghost adviser, Dr. Zbigniew (“Zbig”) Brzezinski.  And he doesn’t hesitate to do so in his latest book, Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power.

If the Chinese have their strategic eyes on those other BRICS nations, Dr. Zbig remains stuck on the Old World, newly configured.  He is now arguing that, for the U.S. to maintain some form of global hegemony, it must bet on an “expanded West.”  That would mean strengthening the Europeans (especially in energy terms), while embracing Turkey, which he imagines as a template for new Arab democracies, and engaging Russia, politically and economically, in a “strategically sober and prudent fashion.”

Turkey, by the way, is no such template because, despite the Arab Spring, for the foreseeable future, there are no new Arab democracies. Still, Zbig believes that Turkey can help Europe, and so the U.S., in far more practical ways to solve certain global energy problems by facilitating its “unimpeded access across the Caspian Sea to Central Asia’s oil and gas.”

Under the present circumstances, however, this, too, remains something of a fantasy.  After all, Turkey can only become a key transit country in the great energy game on the Eurasian chessboard I’ve long labeled Pipelineistan if the Europeans get their act together.  They would have to convince the energy-rich, autocratic “republic” of Turkmenistan to ignore its powerful Russian neighbor and sell them all the natural gas they need.  And then there’s that other energy matter that looks unlikely at the moment: Washington and Brussels would have to ditch counterproductive sanctions and embargos against Iran (and the war games that go with them) and start doing serious business with that country.

Dr. Zbig nonetheless proposes the notion of a two-speed Europe as the key to future American power on the planet.  Think of it as an upbeat version of a scenario in which the present Eurozone semi-collapses.  He would maintain the leading role of the inept bureaucratic fat cats in Brussels now running the EU, and support another “Europe” (mostly the southern “Club Med” countries) outside the euro, with nominally free movement of people and goods between the two. His bet — and in this he reflects a key strand of Washington thinking — is that a two-speed Europe, a Eurasian Big Mac, still joined at the hip to America, could be a globally critical player for the rest of the twenty-first century.

And then, of course, Dr. Zbig displays all his Cold Warrior colors, extolling an American future “stability in the Far East” inspired by “the role Britain played in the nineteenth century as a stabilizer and balancer of Europe.”  We’re talking, in other words, about this century’s number one gunboat diplomat.  He graciously concedes that a “comprehensive American-Chinese global partnership” would still be possible, but only if Washington retains a significant geopolitical presence in what he still calls the “Far East” — “whether China approves or not.”

The answer will be “not.”

In a way, all of this is familiar stuff, as is much of actual Washington policy today.  In his case, it’s really a remix of his 1997 magnum opus The Grand Chessboard in which, he once again certifies that “the huge Trans-Eurasian continent is the central arena of world affairs.” Only now reality has taught him that Eurasia can’t be conquered and America’s best shot is to try to bring Turkey and Russia into the fold.

Robocop Rules

Yet Brzezinski looks positively benign when you compare his ideas to Hillary Clinton’s recent pronouncements, including her address to the tongue-twistingly named World Affairs Council 2012 NATO Conference.  There, as the Obama administration regularly does, she highlighted “NATO’s enduring relationship with Afghanistan” and praised negotiations between the U.S. and Kabul over “a long-term strategic partnership between our two nations.”

Translation; despite being outmaneuvered by a minority Pashtun insurgency for years, neither the Pentagon nor NATO have any intention of rebalancing out of their holdings in the Greater Middle East.  Already negotiating with President Hamid Karzai’s government in Kabul for staying rights through 2024, the U.S. has every intention of holding onto three major strategic Afghan bases: Bagram, Shindand (near the Iranian border), and Kandahar (near the Pakistani border). Only the terminally naïve would believe the Pentagon capable of voluntarily abandoning such sterling outposts for the monitoring of Central Asia and strategic competitors Russia and China.

NATO, Clinton added ominously, will “expand its defense capabilities for the twenty-first century,” including the missile defense system the alliance approved at its last meeting in Lisbon in 2010.

It will be fascinating to see what the possible election of socialist François Hollande as French president might mean.  Interested in a deeper strategic partnership with the BRICS, he is committed to the end of the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency.  The question is: Would his victory throw a monkey wrench into NATO’s works, after these years under the Great Liberator of Libya, that neo-Napoleonic image-maker Nicolas Sarkozy (for whom France was just mustard in Washington’s steak tartar).

No matter what either Dr. Zbig or Hillary might think, most European countries, fed up with their black-hole adventures in Afghanistan and Libya, and with the way NATO now serves U.S. global interests, support Hollande on this. But it will still be an uphill battle. The destruction and overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi’s Libyan regime was the highpoint of the recent NATO agenda of regime change in MENA (the Middle East-Northern Africa). And NATO remains Washington’s plan B for the future, if the usual network of think tanks, endowments, funds, foundations, NGOs, and even the U.N. fail to provoke what could be described as YouTube regime change.

In a nutshell: after going to war on three continents (in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Libya), turning the Mediterranean into a virtual NATO lake, and patrolling the Arabian Sea non-stop, NATO will be, according to Hillary, riding on “a bet on America’s leadership and strength, just as we did in the twentieth century, for this century and beyond.” So 21 years after the end of the Soviet Union — NATO’s original raison d’etre — this could be the way the world ends; not with a bang, but with NATO, in whimpering mode, still fulfilling the role of perpetual global Robocop.

We’re back once again with Dr. Zbig and the idea of America as the “promoter and guarantor of unity” in the West, and as “balance and conciliator” in the East (for which it needs bases from the Persian Gulf to Japan, including those Afghan ones). And don’t forget that the Pentagon has never given up the idea of attaining Full Spectrum Dominance.

For all that military strength, however, it’s worth keeping in mind that this is distinctly a New World (and not in North America either).  Against the guns and the gunboats, the missiles and the drones, there is economic power.  Currency wars are now raging. BRICS members China and Russia have cordilleras of cash. South America is uniting fast. The Putinator has offered South Korea an oil pipeline. Iran is planning to sell all its oil and gas in a basket of currencies, none dollars. China is paying to expand its blue-water Navy and its anti-ship missile weaponry. One day, Tokyo may finally realize that, as long as it is occupied by Wall Street and the Pentagon, it will live in eternal recession. Even Australia may eventually refuse to be forced into a counterproductive trade war with China.

So this twenty-first century world of ours is shaping up right now largely as a confrontation between the U.S./NATO and the BRICS, warts and all on every side. The danger: that somewhere down the line it turns into a Full Spectrum Confrontation. Because make no mistake, unlike Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi, the BRICS will actually be able to shoot back.

Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times, a TomDispatch regular, and a political analyst for al-Jazeera and RT. His latest book is Obama Does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

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

Copyright 2012 Pepe Escobar

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Posted by The Agonist on April 25th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Nick Turse | Apr 25 | Asia Times

Recently, after insurgents unleashed sophisticated, synchronized attacks across Afghanistan involving dozens of fighters armed with suicide vests, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms, as well as car bombs, the Pentagon was quick to emphasize what hadn’t happened.

“I’m not minimizing the seriousness of this, but this was in no way akin to the Tet Offensive,” said George Little, the Pentagon’s top spokesman. “We are looking at suicide bombers, RPG [rocket propelled grenade], mortar fire, etcetera. This was not a large-scale offensive sweeping into Kabul or other parts of the country.”

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta weighed in similarly. “There were,” he insisted, “no tactical gains here. These are isolated attacks that are done for symbolic purposes, and they have not regained any territory.” Such sentiments were echoed by many in the media, who emphasized that the attacks “didn’t accomplish much” or were “unsuccessful”.

Even granting the need to spin the assaults as failures, the official American reaction to the coordinated attacks in Kabul, the Afghan capital, as well as at Jalalabad air base, and in Paktika and Logar provinces, reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of guerrilla warfare and, in particular, of the type being waged by the Haqqani network, a crime syndicate transformed by the conflict into a leading insurgent group.

Here’s the “lede” that should have run in every newspaper in America: More than 40 years after the Vietnam War’s Tet Offensive, after more than a decade of war in Afghanistan, even after reviving counter-insurgency doctrine (only to see it crash-and-burn in short order), the US military still doesn’t get it.

Think of this as a remarkably unblemished record of “failure to understand” stretching from the 1960s to 2012, and undoubtedly beyond.

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Posted by Tom Engelhardt on April 24th, 2012

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

Call it a mantra, a litany, or a to-don’t list, but the drip, drip, drip of Afghan disaster and the gross-out acts accompanying it have already resulted in one of those classic fill-you-in paragraphs that reporters hang onto for whenever the next little catastrophe rears its ugly head. Here’s how that list typically went after the Los Angeles Times revealed that troops from the 82nd Airborne had mugged for the camera with the corpses or body parts of Afghan enemies:The images also add to a troubling list of cases — including Marines videotaped urinating on Taliban bodies, the burning of Korans, and the massacre of villagers attributed to a lone Army sergeant — that have cast American soldiers in the harshest possible light before the Afghan public.”

That is, of course, only a partial list. Left out, for instance, was the American “kill team” that hunted Afghan civilians “for sport,” took body parts as trophies, and shot photos of their “kills,” not to speak of the sniper outfit that posed with an SS banner, or the U.S. base named “Combat Outpost Aryan.” (For Afghans, of course, it’s been so much worse. After all, what Americans even remember the obliterated wedding parties, eviscerated baby-naming ceremonies, blown away funerals, or even the eight shepherd boys “armed” with sticks recently slaughtered by helicopter, or any of the “thorough investigations” the U.S. military officially launched about which no one ever heard a peep, or the lack of command responsibility for any of this?)

When a war goes bad, you can be thousands of miles away and it still stinks like rotting cheese. Hence, the constant drop in those American polling numbers about whether we should ever have fought the Afghan War. Yes, war strain will be war strain and boys will be boys, but mistake after mistake, horror after horror, the rise of a historically rare phenomenon — Afghan soldiers and policemen repeatedly turning their guns on their American “allies” — all this adds up to a war effort increasingly on life support (even as the Obama administration negotiates to keep troops in the country through 2024).

In the Vietnam era, when a war went desperately wrong for desperately long, a U.S. draft army began to disintegrate into rebellion and chaos. In Afghanistan, an all-volunteer “professional” army may instead be slowly descending into indiscipline, stress-related trauma, drug use, and freak out. The simple fact is that defeat, however spun, affects everything in countless, often hard to quantify ways.

In war, as in everything else, there is, or should be, a learning curve. In the Afghan War, as TomDispatch Associate Editor Nick Turse points out, the U.S. high command, the Pentagon, and the White House remain stuck in a rut at least four decades old. There should be some command responsibility for that, too. Tom

Wars of Attrition
Green Zones of the Mind, Guerrillas, and a Technical Knockout in Afghanistan
By Nick Turse

Recently, after insurgents unleashed sophisticated, synchronized attacks across Afghanistan involving dozens of fighters armed with suicide vests, rocket-propelled grenades, and small arms, as well as car bombs, the Pentagon was quick to emphasize what hadn’t happened. “I’m not minimizing the seriousness of this, but this was in no way akin to the Tet Offensive,” said George Little, the Pentagon’s top spokesman. “We are looking at suicide bombers, RPG [rocket propelled grenade], mortar fire, etcetera. This was not a large-scale offensive sweeping into Kabul or other parts of the country.”

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta weighed in similarly. “There were,” he insisted, “no tactical gains here. These are isolated attacks that are done for symbolic purposes, and they have not regained any territory.” Such sentiments were echoed by many in the media, who emphasized that the attacks “didn’t accomplish much” or were “unsuccessful.”

Even granting the need to spin the assaults as failures, the official American reaction to the coordinated attacks in Kabul, the Afghan capital, as well as at Jalalabad airbase, and in Paktika and Logar Provinces, reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of guerrilla warfare and, in particular, of the type being waged by the Haqqani network, a crime syndicate transformed by the conflict into a leading insurgent group. Here’s the “lede” that should have run in every newspaper in America: More than 40 years after the Vietnam War’s Tet Offensive, after more than a decade of war in Afghanistan, even after reviving counterinsurgency doctrine (only to see it crash-and-burn in short order), the U.S. military still doesn’t get it.

Think of this as a remarkably unblemished record of “failure to understand” stretching from the 1960s to 2012, and undoubtedly beyond.

The Lessons of Tet

When Vietnamese revolutionary forces launched the 1968 Tet Offensive, attacking Saigon, the South Vietnamese capital, as well as four other major cities, 35 of 44 provincial capitals, 64 district seats, and 50 other hamlets nationwide, they were hoping to spark a general uprising. What they did instead was spotlight the fact that months of optimistic talk by American officials about tremendous strategic gains and a foreseeable victory had been farcical in the extreme.

Tet made the top U.S. commander, General William Westmoreland, infamous for having claimed just months earlier that an end to America’s war was on the horizon. As he stood before TV cameras on the battle-scarred grounds of the U.S. embassy compound in Saigon — after a small team of Vietcong sappers breached its walls and shot it out with surprised U.S. forces — pronouncing the offensive a failure, he appeared to Americans at home totally out of touch, if not delusional.

Since that moment, it should have been clear that tactical success, even success in any usual sense, is never the be-all or end-all of insurgent warfare. Guerrillas the world over grasped what had happened in Vietnam. They took its lessons to heart, and even took them a step further. They understood, for instance, that you don’t need to lose 58,000 fighters, as the Vietnamese did at Tet, to win important psychological victories. You need only highlight your enemy’s vulnerabilities, its helplessness to stop you.

The Haqqanis certainly got it, and so just over a week ago sacrificed 57,961 fewer fighters to make a similar point. Striking a psychological blow while losing only 39 guerrillas, they are distinctly living in the twenty-first century in global war-making terms. On the other hand, whether its top civilian and military commanders realize it or not, the Pentagon is still stuck in Saigon, 1968.

Case in point: Secretary of Defense Panetta belittled the Haqqani fighters for not taking “territory.” It’s a claim that, in its cluelessness, is positively Westmorelandish.

What territory, after all, could a relatively weak and lightly armed force like the Haqqani militants have been out to “regain” by attacking Kabul’s heavily defended diplomatic quarter? The German Embassy? And then what would they have done? À la U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine, launch an oil-spot strategy, spreading out slowly from there to secure the American Embassy, the British Embassy, and NATO headquarters? While Panetta at least granted that the attacks were geared toward symbolic effect, he remained strangely focused on their “tactical” significance.

As was the case in Vietnam, the U.S. military in Afghanistan regularly attempts to prove it’s winning via metrics like the number of enemies captured and body counts from “night raids.” No less frequently, its spokespeople create rules and measures for its enemies in an effort to prove they’re not succeeding. This Westmoreland-ian mindset was evident last week in those statements that the Haqqanis didn’t accomplish much of anything because they didn’t take territory, sweep into Kabul en masse, or carry out a sufficiently “large-scale offensive” — as if the Pentagon were the war’s ringside judge (as well as one of the fighters) and the conflict could be won on points like a boxing match.

In the Vietnam years, Westmoreland and other top U.S. officials were forever seeking an elusive “crossover point” — the moment when their Vietnamese foes would be losing more fighters than they could replace and so (they were convinced) would have to capitulate. That crossover point was the Pentagon’s El Dorado and to achieve it, the U.S. military fought a war of attrition, just as in recent years the Pentagon has been trying to capture and kill its way to victory in Afghanistan through night raids and conventional offensives.

More than a decade after its own forces swept into Kabul, however, what began as a rag-tag, remnant insurgency has grown stronger and continues to vex the most heavily armed, most technologically advanced, best-funded military on the planet. All of America’s “tactical gains” and captured territory, especially in the Taliban heartland of Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan, however, haven’t led to anything close to victory, and one after another its highly publicized light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel offensives, like the much-hyped 2010 Marjah campaign, have faded away and been forgotten.

Afghan and American “Green Zones”

As the Haqqanis meant to underscore with their coordinated attacks, America’s trillion-dollar military and the hundreds of thousands of allied local security forces are still incapable of fully securing a small “green zone” in the heart of the Afghan capital, no less the rest of the country.

The conflict in Afghanistan began with its American commander declaring, “We don’t do body counts,” but a quick glance at recent U.S. military press releases touting supposed “high-value kills” or large numbers of dead insurgents indicates otherwise. As in Vietnam, the U.S. is once again waging a war of attrition, even as America’s Afghan enemies employ their own very different attrition strategy. Instead of slugging it out toe-to-toe in large suicidal offensives, they’ve planned a savvy, conservative campaign meant to save fighters and resources while sending an unmistakable message to the Afghan population, and simultaneously exposing the futility of the conflict to the American public.

The attrition of U.S. support for the war is unmistakable. As late as 2009, according to a poll by ABC News and the Washington Post, 56% of Americans believed the Afghan War was still worth fighting. Just days before the Haqqanis’ coordinated attacks, that number had sunk to 35%. Over the same span, the number of Americans convinced that the war is not worth fighting jumped from 41% to 60%. Whatever the Pentagon’s spin, the latest Haqqani offensive is likely to contribute to these trends, and Pentagon press releases about enemy dead are powerless to reverse them.

In the era of an all-voluntary military, of the “warrior corporationrdquo; and its warzone mercenaries, breaching the “green zone” of American public opinion matters less than in the Vietnam era, but it still makes a difference. The Haqqanis and their Taliban allies may be taking no territory, but in this guerrilla war it turns out that the territory that really matters, on all sides of the battle lines, is the territory inside people’s heads — and there the Pentagon is losing.

On April 12th, the same day that the ABC News/Washington Post poll was released, U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel James Routt flew his last combat mission in Afghanistan. It was a noteworthy flight. After all, Routt began his career flying B-52 bombers at the end of the Vietnam War, and was even involved in support efforts for Operation Linebacker II, President Richard Nixon’s infamous “Christmas bombing” of North Vietnam.

Just a few years after those raids, Nixon was a disgraced ex-president and America’s Vietnamese enemies had won the war. Decades later, the U.S. stands on the brink of another, more devastating defeat at the hands of far lesser foes, a minority insurgency with weaker allies (and no great power backers). It’s an enemy that has fought far fewer battles and lost far fewer fighters, despite facing off against a far more sophisticated American war machine.

While Routt is hanging up his bomber jacket and walking away from another American defeat in Asia, the Pentagon continues its efforts to conjure up, if not victory then something other than failure, out of a mélange of money, dead bodies, and rosy press releases. The Haqqanis and their allies, on the other hand, having evidently learned the lessons of the Vietnam War, will undoubtedly continue their carefully controlled war of attrition, while Washington pursues the losing variant it’s been clinging to for years.

The Pentagon might have swapped the Vietnam Syndrome for an Afghan one, but its playbook remains mired in the Vietnam era. It seems intent on proving that channeling William Westmoreland is the least effective way imaginable to win a war on the Eurasian mainland.

Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch.com. An award-winning journalist, his work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, and regularly at TomDispatch. This article is the latest article 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 on Facebook.

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

Copyright 2012 Nick Turse

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Posted by The Agonist on April 23rd, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Ewen MacAskill/Washington & Emma Graham-Harrison/Kabul | Apr 22

The GuardianRenewed tension between Washington and Kabul after Afghan president tells Dana Rohrabacher he would not be welcome

Relations between the US and Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, came under renewed strain after a senior Congressman highly critical of the Kabul government was barred from entering Afghanistan.

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, Republican chairman of the House foreign affairs subcommittee on oversight and investigation, has been an outspoken opponent of Karzai. Rohrabacher has engaged with other Afghan leaders about a more decentralised form of government for Afghanistan and called for a US investigation into alleged government corruption.

He had been leading a delegation to Afghanistan but was stopped in Dubai on Friday on his way to Kabul. The other members of the delegation had visas for Afghanistan but Rohrabacher did not.

Tara Olivia Setmayer, communications director for Rohrabacher, said: “Karzai told the state department he was not welcome and secretary Clinton personally conveyed that sentiment to Mr Rohrabacher and asked him not to continue on to Kabul with his fellow members. Out of respect, he obliged.”

.

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Posted by The Agonist on April 22nd, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

The NY Times, BBC and others are reporting that the U.S. and Afghanistan have “agreed on drafts of the strategic partnership agreement that pledges American support for Afghanistan for 10 years after the withdrawal of troops at the end of 2014″ in what both governments are hailing as an important step ahead of a NATO summit in May. However, it’s unclear what exactly is agreed in the agreement, other than an agreement to disagree later – raising suspicions that it’s merely an attempt to paper over the cracks ahead of that summit.

The New York Times writes:

The document promises American economic development support for Afghanistan and help in fields like agriculture and education, as well as security. It does not include any specific commitment of foreign aid because that amount must be authorized and appropriated by Congress and can not be committed by the executive branch.

However, the United States is already anticipating that it will make a substantial contribution toward paying for Afghanistan’s security forces beyond 2014 and is searching for contributions from its NATO partners. The amount is not settled, but a figure of $2.7 billion a year has been under discussion. There would be additional foreign aid for civilian fields.

At some point, a security agreement will detail if, and under what circumstances, American troops would be positioned in the country in the post-2014 period, according to senior American officials.

The Afghan government have floated the figure of $4 billion a year in total assistance, according to Al Jazeera and there’s obviously a coming disagreement over just how much Western nations will pay over the ten years this and any subsequent agreements will remain in force. Today, the Afghan government was indicating that any decision on troop and base numbers after 2014 wouldn’t be made until next year, after the US and possibly after the Afghan presidential election too if Karzai succeeds in bringing it forward a year.

If this new agreement doesn’t cover hard dollar amounts of assistance or hard troop numbers, it doesn’t cover the most important matters at all. So what does it cover? We don’t know. The BBC says “No details were released, with the deal to be reviewed by both presidents.” Politico adds “Some of the most contentious issues were removed from the broader pact into separate memorandums of understanding.”

Some? More like all. Other than a commitment from the US to stay and pay in Afghanistan until at least 2024, this agreement is more a PR document than a framework. And by producing such an empty deal in an attempt to signal all is going swimmingly with the transition, the US and Afghan governments have only succeeded in signalling the opposite.

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Posted by Just Foreign Policy on April 19th, 2012

From our partners at Just Foreign Policy

Afghans showing that they are not altogether pleased with a recent Koran burning incident at a US base in Afghanistan.

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