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Archive for April, 2012

Posted by The Agonist on April 18th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

It remains true that both Obama and Romney, echoing the consensus of their partys’ powerful, have the same strategy for Afghanistan: declare victory and get mostly out, leaving a rump force to hold bases to try to ensure that things don’t fall apart too soon.

Now that Mr. Romney has emerged as the likely Republican nominee and Afghanistan is again being tested by a Taliban offensive, his position on the war is likely to come under more scrutiny after a primary fight that gave him few opportunities to offer nuanced national security positions. Even so, analysts say he has reasons to be less than precise on Afghanistan: The war’s declining support among voters means there is little space for him to stake out a policy that provides both a sharp political contrast with Mr. Obama and keeps the war’s unpopularity at a distance.

“He doesn’t want to own this war in the event he gets elected, but by the same token he can’t look like he’s advocating a precipitous withdrawal for all sorts of reasons, including alienating the Republican base, and yet he cannot take the same position as the president,” said Stephen Biddle, a military expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. “It’s difficult to square the circle and meet all those constraints at the same time.”

The reason behind the strategy is clear and has nothing to do with counter-terrorism. Both parties (probably rightly) believe that while 66% of Americans want out of Afghanistan, the American electorate will punish any party that is seen to lose the war there. Never mind that the war is already de facto lost and has been for years, the point is that there still be a domestic figleaf of plausible deniability to hide behind. Thus we’re going to see a lot more spin about the legitimacy of Afghan elections and the readiness of Afghan security forces to “stand up as we stand down” between now and 2014 no matter who wins in November. And once there’s a decent interval between “withdrawal” and the inevitable Afghan crash, lines about “if they don’t want to grasp the freedoms we brought them then it’s not our fault” will duly be trotted out.

This is the only real reason America is still at war in Afghanistan. Clausewitz never said that war couldn’t be the continuation of domestic electibility politics by other means.

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Posted by DownWithTyranny on April 17th, 2012

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

All hell is breaking loose in Afghanistan. I love the place. But the U.S. shouldn’t be occupying it. The latest attack on Kabul and in other centers across the country turned into a terrifying day and a half long seige in the capital city which the Afghan Army eventually brought under control.

Politically, however, the attack was suitably laden with symbolism and carried an obvious message to the government of Hamid Karzai and his international supporters, which include India and the West.

The message: the Taliban and its allies are in a position to attack the physical heart of the Karzai government at will. Doubly important because of an expected steady US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan through this year and into the next. It has additional import because of the continuing  and chaotic attempts to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table and prepare a strong negotiating position if and when the talks actually begin.

So far it seems that the hard core of the Taliban, the Haqqani network included, is simply opposed to any negotiations of any kind. Attacking Kabul would help underline their argument that the US is on its way out, Karzai’s days are, thus, numbered and, therefore, the talks can only be about Kabul’s total capitulation. The Kabul attacks will probably be a precursor to other attempts to violently undermine the credibility of the Karzai government.

Karzai blamed NATO and the U.S. for allowing the attacks. Others blame the ferocity of opposition to Karzai’s startlingly corrupt, predatory regime.

[T]he most insidious threat to Afghanistan’s future is not posed by teams of brainwashed young men in search of martyrdom, but by the kleptocratic political order that has sprouted in the decade since the US invasion.

Unless Afghanistan’s allies start to ask harder questions about how the country is governed, then the handover to Afghan forces in 2014 will be the starting gun for another phase of bloodshed.

…The US and its allies have long been guilty of placing far more weight on the military wing of their campaign than on fostering Afghan governance. It is time to reverse the imbalance. Perhaps power needs to be devolved to provinces to foster accountability; certainly more needs to be done to train civil servants and tackle an entrenched culture of bribery and embezzlement. Unless a real attempt is made to shut down the drivers of 30 years of conflict, 2014 may be one more milestone on a path of perpetual war.

Or perhaps, as Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley said last week, it’s just time to go. “With thousands of lives lost and hundreds of billions spent pursuing nation-building in Afghanistan, it is long past time to end the war in Afghanistan and bring our troops home with dignity as soon as possible.”

Many Republicans agree– as do 78% of Americans now, according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll. So why are we still there? A lot of politicians– but more than anyone else, Armed Services Committee Chair Buck McKeon (R-CA) has a career underwritten by private military contractors and war industries. They want the war to continue… it’s how they get richer and richer. And then there are the estimates of a trillion dollars in minerals. None of that would devolve to us but it could make some very wealthy families in America a lot wealthier– and they have their bought-and-paid for politicians, corrupt conservatives on both sides of the aisle– in the bag. So the war drags on. Yesterday, in comparing progressive North Carolina congressional candidate, Cecil Bothwell, with the reactionary war-monger holding that seat now, Heath Shuler, we saw the only correct answer to what to do about the occupation Afghanistan: “Out of Afghanistan yesterday.” Shuler and his handpicked successor, Hayden Rogers– Shuler is going to work as a lobbyist– are big supporters of U.S. imperialism. Over the weekend Mike Miles did an interesting post on The Future of Imperialism at his blog, The Dialectic. He worries that a new post-modern form of AU.S. imperialism is even uglier than it was in the bad old days.

In the past, it meant extracting natural resources from a colony and selling them finished goods, with a little bit of tribute collection thrown in for good measure. More recently– after enslaving indigenous populations fell out of favor– imperial countries settled for financial control through loans and free trade agreements. Certainly this form of neocolonialism continues, but new imperial drivers have appeared that are assuming precedence over the old.

After the invasion of Iraq was announced, many people (mostly on the left) claimed that the real motive for war was to control Iraq’s oil reserves. This was a reasonable assertion, given the nature of colonialism and Paul Wolfowitz’s comment that oil revenues would reimburse the cost of the war. But that reasoning dissolved quickly, and was never applicable in Afghanistan. Instead, both conflicts were used to maintain power domestically. A number of imperial behaviors are now exhibited within our own borders by our own government.

The machinery of empire drives the myth of American Exceptionalism, a myth asymmetrically utilized by the right-wing in domestic politics. The myth is the finished good that we are forced to buy after the resource extraction of money and blood to fuel the machine. And, not unlike the Andean peoples forced to work the mines of Potosí, our youth (who are disproportionately underprivileged) are sent to war as tribute. The population at large gives up improvements to domestic infrastructure, a robust social safety net, and future financial security in exchange for funding the business of war (for more on this, consider Andrew Bacevich’s Washington Rules.) Like a colony, this represents a huge transfer of payments to a small group of elites.

Extending this model is even more depressing. The colonial “Other” becomes one’s domestic political adversaries, and their value falls far below that of accomplishing political objectives. This makes it not only easy, but necessary, for the imperial elites to marginalize political opponents. Even the sitting President is treated as Other: he is Kenyan, he is Muslim, he does not believe that America is exceptional. It is not a model for democratic society.

Look no further than the whole drone question. This week Michael Hastings dealt with the military/international aspects at Rolling Stone while Gaius Publius took on the domestic political aspects at AmericaBlog:

Rep. McKeon Praises Drone Manufacturers At Conference After They Lavish His Wife With Donations

Last week, Republic Report’s Lee Fang revealed that leading defense contractors, including the manufacturers of military drones, were lavishing Rep. Buck McKeon’s (R-CA) wife Patricia– who is running for a state legislature seat in California– with campaign donations. McKeon is Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and received $339,000 from the defense industry himself in 2010, so it’s reasonable to suspect that arms manufacturers and others are donating to his wife’s state race in order to please him.

Now, it appears that these donations are paying off. This morning at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C., Rep. McKeon delivered a “Special Address” for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), a drone industry lobbying organization.

Republic Report gained access to the event– which hosted hundreds of attendees from unmanned systems industry, including military drone manufacturers like Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.

Blue America is attempting to help progressive Democrat Lee Rogers hold McKeon accountable for his perfidy and corruption. If you’d like to kick in to that effort, you can find Lee on the Blue America ActBlue page. And if you’re waiting to hear how Lee Rogers, who is campaigning on ending the occupation of Afghanistan at once, differs from McKeon’s endless war agenda, this is what he told us. “McKeon has shown that his constituency is not the people of the 25th district of California, but the war industries. When given the opportunity to help his district, by preventing an unpopular mine or by helping the father of a Army medic killed in Afghanistan, he fails. But at every instance he stands up for the war industries. Before McKeon was chair of the House Armed Services Committee, he voted in agreement with defense industries 25%. In 2011, he became chair and subsequently voted 100% in agreement with them. He was richly rewarded with an increase of contributions by 450%, now taking in hundreds of thousands of dollars from defense industries. These contributions support his lifestyle. He has paid his wife over $550,000 to be his campaign treasurer in addition to paying other family members for services. It’s time to elect someone whose campaign and personal wealth isn’t tied to putting our troops into harms way.”

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Posted by Tom Engelhardt on April 17th, 2012

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

Chalk it up to the genuine strangeness of our second Afghan War. Americans, according to the latest polls, are turning against the conflict in ever greater numbers, yet it’s remarkable how little — beyond a few obvious, sensational events — they know about what’s actually going on there in their name.

Take as an example the cost of the war and a startling development of the last four-plus months that has driven it significantly higher. Keep in mind that the Afghan War is being fought by a fuel-guzzling U.S. military in a landlocked, impoverished South Asian country with almost no resources of any sort. Just about everything it needs or wants — from fuel, ammunition, and weaponry to hamburgers and pizzashas to be shipped in by tortuous routes over thousands of exceedingly expensive miles.

Up until last November, more than 30% of the basic supplies for the war came by ship to the Pakistani port of Karachi and were offloaded onto trucks to begin the long journey to and across the Pakistani border into Afghanistan. Late last November, however, angry Pakistani officials — as Dilip Hiro describes below — slammed that country’s border crossings shut on American and NATO war supplies. Those crossings have yet to reopen and whether they will any time soon, despite optimistic U.S. press reports, remains to be seen.

The result has undoubtedly been a resupply disaster for the American military, but you would never know it from the startling lack of coverage in the mainstream media here. All supplies now have to be flown in at staggering cost or shipped, also at great expense, via the Northern Distribution Network from the Baltic or the Caspian seas through some portion of the old Soviet Union.

Soon after this happened, there were brief reports indicating that the costs of shipping some items had gone up by a factor of six, depending on the route chosen. Back in 2009, it was estimated that a gallon of fuel cost $400 or more by the time it reached the U.S. military in Afghanistan, and that was by the cheaper Pakistani route. How much is it now? $600, $800, $2,400?

We don’t know, largely because coverage of the Afghan war has been so patchy and evidently no reporter bothered to check for months. Only in the last week have we gotten a Pentagon estimate: a rise in shipping costs of about 2½ times the Pakistani price. (And even such estimates are buried in wire service stories on other topics.) In other words, for months no reporter considered the border-closing story important enough to make it a feature piece or to follow it seriously.

In an America where financing is increasingly unavailable to fire departments, police departments, schools, and the like, is it really of no significance what money we pour into our wars? Is no one curious about what the Pakistani decision has meant to the American taxpayer?

Think about that as you read the latest piece by Dilip Hiro, expert in South Asia and the Greater Middle East, a TomDispatch regular, and the author of the just-published book Apocalyptic Realm: Jihadists in South Asia. Is it really in this country’s interest to get held up by our “friends” repeatedly to continue to fight a disastrous war in a country in which we’re now negotiating to keep military trainers, special operations forces, and possibly others a decade beyond 2014 (another subject barely covered by our media)? Do you really want to be going through a version of this with Pakistan 10 years from now? Is your greatest desire to be supplying American military personnel with gas and hamburgers at earth-shaking prices in the second decade of a no-longer-new century? Tom

Taking Uncle Sam for a Ride
How Pakistan Makes Washington Pay for the Afghan War
By Dilip Hiro

The following ingredients should go a long way to produce a political thriller. Mr. M, a jihadist in an Asian state, has emerged as the mastermind of a terrorist attack in a neighboring country, which killed six Americans. After sifting through a vast cache of intelligence and obtaining a legal clearance, the State Department announces a $10 million bounty for information leading to his arrest and conviction. Mr. M promptly appears at a press conference and says, “I am here. America should give that reward money to me.”

A State Department spokesperson explains lamely that the reward is meant for incriminating evidence against Mr. M that would stand up in court. The prime minister of M’s home state condemns foreign interference in his country’s internal affairs. In the midst of this imbroglio, the United States decides to release $1.18 billion in aid to the cash-strapped government of the defiant prime minister to persuade him to reopen supply lines for U.S. and NATO forces bogged down in the hapless neighboring Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

Alarmingly, this is anything but fiction or a plot for an upcoming international sitcom. It is a brief summary of the latest development in the fraught relations between the United States and Pakistan, two countries locked into an uneasy embrace since September 12, 2001.
Mr. M. is Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, a 62-year-old former academic with a tapering, hennaed beard, and the founder of the Lashkar-e Taiba (the Army of the Pure, or LeT), widely linked to several outrageously audacious terrorist attacks in India. The LeT was formed in 1987 as the military wing of the Jammat-ud Dawa religious organization (Society of the Islamic Call, or JuD) at the instigation of the Pakistani army’s formidable intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The JuD owes its existence to the efforts of Saeed, who founded it in 1985 following his return to his native Lahore after two years of advanced Islamic studies in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, under the guidance of that country’s Grand Mufti, Shaikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz.

On its formation, the LeT joined the seven-year-old anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan, an armed insurgency directed and supervised by the ISI with funds and arms supplied by the CIA and the Saudis. Once the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, the Army of the Pure turned its attention to a recently launched anti-Indian jihad in Indian-administered Kashmir and beyond. The terrorist attacks attributed to it range from the devastating multiple assaults in Mumbai in November 2008, which resulted in 166 deaths, including those six Americans, to a foiled attack on the Indian Parliament in New Delhi in December 2001, and a successful January 2010 attack on the airport in Kashmir’s capital Srinagar.

In January 2002, in the wake of Washington’s launching of the Global War on Terror, Pakistan formally banned the LeT, but in reality did little to curb its violent cross-border activities. Saeed remains its final authority. In a confession, offered as part of a plea bargain after his arrest in October 2009 in Chicago, David Coleman Headley, a Pakistani-American operative of LeT involved in planning the Mumbai carnage, said: “Hafiz Saeed had full knowledge of the Mumbai attacks and they were launched only after his approval.”

In December 2008, the United Nations Security Council declared the JuD a front organization for the banned LeT. The provincial Punjab government then placed Saeed under house arrest using the Maintenance of Public Order law. But six months later, the Lahore High Court declared his confinement unconstitutional. In August 2009, Interpol issued a Red Corner Notice, essentially an international arrest warrant, against Saeed in response to Indian requests for his extradition. Saeed was again put under house arrest but in October the Lahore High Court quashed all charges against him due to lack of evidence.

It is common knowledge that Pakistani judges, fearing for their lives, generally refrain from convicting high-profile jihadists with political connections. When, in the face of compelling evidence, a judge has no option but to order the sentence enjoined by the law, he must either live under guard afterwards or leave the country. Such was the case with Judge Pervez Ali Shah who tried Mumtaz Qadri, the jihadist bodyguard who murdered Punjab’s governor Salman Taseer for backing an amendment to the indiscriminately applied blasphemy law. Soon after sentencing Qadri to capital punishment last October, Shah received several death threats and was forced into self-exile.

Aware of the failures of the Pakistani authorities to convict Saeed, U.S. agencies seemed to have checked and cross-checked the authenticity of the evidence they had collected on him before the State Department announced, on April 2nd, its reward for his arrest. This was nothing less than an implied declaration of Washington’s lack of confidence in the executive and judicial organs of Pakistan.

Little wonder that Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani took umbrage, describing the U.S. bounty as blatant interference in his country’s domestic affairs. Actually, this is nothing new. It is an open secret that, in the ongoing tussle between Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and his bête noire, army chief of staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Obama administration has always backed the civilian head of state. That, in turn, has been a significant factor in Gilani’s stay in office since March 2008, longer than any other prime minister in Pakistan’s history.

How to Trump a Superpower

Given such strong cards, diplomatic and legal, why then did the Obama administration commit itself to releasing more than $1 billion to a government that has challenged its attempt to bring to justice an alleged mastermind of cross-border terrorism?

The answer lies in what happened at two Pakistani border posts 1.5 miles from the Afghan frontier in the early hours of November 26, 2011. NATO fighter aircraft and helicopters based in Afghanistan carried out a two-hour-long raid on these posts, killing 24 soldiers. Enraged, Pakistan’s government shut the two border crossings through which the U.S. and NATO had until then sent a significant portion of their war supplies into Afghanistan. Its officials also forced the U.S. to vacate Shamsi air base, which was being used by the CIA as a staging area for its drone air war in Pakistan’s tribal areas along the Afghan border. The drone strikes are exceedingly unpopular – one poll found 97% of respondents viewed them negatively — and they are vehemently condemned by a large section of the Pakistani public and its politicians.

Furthermore, the government ordered a comprehensive review of all programs, activities, and cooperation arrangements with the U.S. and NATO. It also instructed the country’s two-tier parliament to conduct a thorough review of Islamabad’s relations with Washington. Having taken the moral high ground, the Pakistani government pressed its demands on the Obama administration.

An appointed Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS) then deliberately moved at a snail’s pace to perform the task on hand, while the Pentagon explored alternative ways of ferrying goods into Afghanistan via other countries to sustain its war there. By contrast, a vociferous campaign against the reopening of the Pakistani supply lines led by the Difa-e Pakistan Council (Defense of Pakistan), representing 40 religious and political groups, headed by Hafiz Saeed, took off. Its leaders have addressed huge rallies in major Pakistani cities. It was quick to condemn Washington’s bounty on Saeed, describing it as “a nefarious attempt” to undermine the Council’s drive to protect the country’s sovereignty.

Meanwhile, the loss of the daily traffic of 500 trucks worth of food, fuel, and weapons from the Pakistani port of Karachi through the Torkham and Chaman border crossings into Afghanistan, though little publicized in U.S. media, has undermined the fighting capability of U.S. and NATO forces.

“If we can’t negotiate or successfully renegotiate the reopening of ground lines of communication with Pakistan, we have to default and rely on India and the Northern Distribution Network (NDN),” said a worried Lieutenant General Frank Panter to the Readiness Subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives on March 30th. “Both are expensive propositions and it increases the deployment or redeployment.”

The main part of the NDN is a 3,220-mile rail network for transporting supplies between the Latvian port of Riga and the Uzbek town of Termez (connected by a bridge over the Oxus River to the Afghan settlement of Hairatan). According to the Pentagon, it costs nearly $17,000 per container to go through the NDN compared to $7,000 through the Pakistani border crossings.

Moreover, U.S. and NATO are allowed to transport only “non-lethal goods” through the NDN.

Other military officials have warned that the failure to reopen the Pakistani routes could even delay the schedule for withdrawing American “combat troops” from Afghanistan by 2014. That would be bad news for the Obama White House with the latest Washington Post/NBC News poll showing that, for the first time, even a majority of Republicans believe the Afghan War “has not been worth fighting.” A CBS News/New York Times survey indicated that support for the war was at a record low of 23%, with 69% of respondents saying that now was the time to withdraw troops.

In the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, the PCNS finally published a list of preconditions that the U.S. must meet for the reopening of supply lines. These included an unqualified apology for the air strikes last November, an end to drone attacks, no more “hot pursuit” by U.S. or NATO troops inside Pakistan, and the taxing of supplies shipped through Pakistan. Much to the discomfiture of the Obama administration, a joint session of the National Assembly and the Senate called to debate the PCNS report took more than two weeks to reach a conclusion.

On April 12th, the Parliament finally unanimously approved the demands and added that no foreign arms and ammunition should be transported through Pakistan. The Obama administration is spinning this development not as an ultimatum but as a document for launching talks between the two governments.

Even so, it has strengthened Prime Minister Gilani’s hand as never before. Furthermore, he has to take into account the popular support the Saeed-led Difa-e Pakistan Council is building for keeping the Pakistani border crossings permanently closed to NATO traffic. Thus, Saeed, a jihadist with a U.S. bounty on his head, has emerged as an important factor in the complex Islamabad-Washington relationship.

Squeezing Washington: The Pattern

There is, in fact, nothing new in the way Islamabad has been squeezing Washington lately. It has a long record of getting the better of U.S. officials by identifying areas of American weakness and exploiting them successfully to further its agenda.

When the Soviet bloc posed a serious challenge to the U.S., the Pakistanis obtained what they wanted from Washington by being even more anti-Soviet than America. Afghanistan in the 1980s is the classic example. Following the Soviet military intervention there in December 1979, the Pakistani dictator General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq volunteered to join Washington’s Cold War against the Kremlin — but strictly on his terms. He wanted sole control over the billions of dollars in cash and arms to be supplied by the U.S. and its ally Saudi Arabia to the Afghan Mujahedin (holy warriors) to expel the Soviets from Afghanistan. He got it.

That enabled his commanders to channel a third of the new weapons to their own arsenals for future battle against their archenemy, India. Another third were sold to private arms dealers on profitable terms. When pilfered U.S. weapons began appearing in arms bazaars of the Afghan-Pakistan border towns (as has happened again in recent years), the Pentagon decided to dispatch an audit team to Pakistan. On the eve of its arrival in April 1988, the Ojhiri arms depot complex, containing 10,000 tons of munitions, mysteriously went up in flames, with rockets, missiles, and artillery shells raining down on Islamabad, killing more than 100 people.

By playing on Ronald Reagan’s view of the Soviet Union as “the Evil Empire,” Zia ul-Haq also ensured that the American president would turn a blind eye on Pakistan’s frantic, clandestine efforts to build an atom bomb. Even when the CIA, the National Security Agency, and the State Department determined that a nuclear weapon assembled by Pakistan had been tested at Lop Nor in China in early 1984, Reagan continued to certify to Congress that Islamabad was not pursuing a nuclear weapons program in order to abide by a law which prohibited U.S. aid to a country doing so.

Today, there are an estimated 120 nuclear bombs in the arsenal of a nation that has more Islamist jihadists per million people than any other country in the world. From October 2007 to October 2009, there were at least four attacks by extremists on Pakistani army bases known to be storing nuclear weapons.

In the post-9/11 years, Pakistan’s ruler General Pervez Musharraf managed to repeat the process in the context of a new Afghan war. He promptly joined President George W. Bush in his Global War on Terror, and then went on to distinguish between “bad terrorists” with a global agenda (al-Qaeda), and “good terrorists” with a pro-Pakistani agenda (the Afghan Taliban). Musharraf’s ISI then proceeded to protect and foster the Afghan Taliban, while periodically handing over al-Qaeda militants to Washington. In this way, Musharraf played on Bush’s soft spot — his intense loathing of al-Qaeda — and exploited it to further Pakistan’s regional agenda.

Emulating the policies of Zia ul-Haq and Musharraf, the post-Musharraf civilian government has found ways of diverting U.S. funds and equipment meant for fighting al-Qaeda and the Taliban to bolster their defenses against India. By inflating the costs of fuel, ammunition, and transport used by Pakistan’s 100,000 troops posted in the Afghan-Pakistan border region, Islamabad received more money from the Pentagon’s Coalition Support Fund (CSF) than it spent. It then used the excess to buy weapons suitable for fighting India.

When the New York Times revealed this in December 2007, the Musharraf government dismissed its report as “nonsense.” But after resigning as president and moving to London, Musharraf told Pakistan’s Express News television channel in September 2009 that the funds had indeed been spent on weapons for use against India.

Now, the widely expected release of the latest round of funds from the Pentagon’s CSF will raise total U.S. military aid to Islamabad since 9/11 to $14.2 billion, two-and-a-half times the Pakistani military’s annual budget.

There is a distinct, if little discussed, downside to being a superpower and acting as the self-appointed global policeman with a multitude of targets. An arrogance feeding on a feeling of invincibility and an obsession with winning every battle blind you to your own impact and even to what might be to your long-term benefit. In this situation, as your planet-wide activities become ever more diverse, frenzied, and even contradictory, you expose yourself to exploitation by lesser powers otherwise seemingly tied to your apron strings.

Pakistan, twice during America’s 33-year-long involvement in Afghanistan made a frontline state, is a classic example of that. Current policymakers in Washington should take note: it’s a strategy for disaster.

Dilip Hiro, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of 33 books, the most recent being the just-published Apocalyptic Realm: Jihadists in South Asia (Yale University Press, New Haven and London).

Copyright 2012 Dilip Hiro

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Posted by The Agonist on April 16th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

The US military is gearing up for its last full-on summer offensive in Afghanistan – clearing militants from Ghazni province. We’ve only tried that at least six times before, including last year and the year before that, so the plan’s surely golden!

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Posted by Tom Engelhardt on April 16th, 2012

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

Of course, it wasn’t Barack Obama’s fault. He didn’t nominate himself for the Nobel Peace Prize back in 2009 when he was already on a distinct war trajectory in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Nobel committee did it in what, even then, was visibly a vote for the idea that “peace” was anything but George W. Bush.

After all, the new president had run a campaign against a “stupid” war in Iraq, but for prosecuting “the right war,” and by the time he was awarded the prize in October 2009, as an incipient peace president he had already escalated the war in Afghanistan and his administration was deep in a fierce debate over just how many more troops to send there in what would, by December of that year, become a “surge.”

By the time the president accepted his award in March 2010 in a speech entitled “A Just and Lasting Peace” — which might more accurately have been titled “On the Necessity of War” — he had significantly increased troop levels in Afghanistan and similarly upped the levels of CIA personnel, private contractors, special operations forces, State Department personnel, and so on. In addition, he was already overseeing a spreading drone air campaign in the Pakistani borderlands.

Give him credit. He stood on the Nobel podium and gave a speech that, read today, looks remarkably like a rousing defense of American-style war and little short of an attack on the limited ability of nonviolence to make a real difference in a violent world. Among other things, he made clear that he wouldn’t be bound in any way by the examples of Gandhi or King, trumpeted his willingness to act “unilaterally,” and plunked for the necessity of war. (“I raise this point because in many countries there is a deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter the cause. At times, this is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the world’s sole military superpower.”)

Honest (and predictive) as it may have been, he did not have to go to Oslo at all. He had an honorable alternative, and there was even a precedent — though one no American president would ever have cited — for what he didn’t do. In 1973, the Nobel Committee offered its peace prize to two men, American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and North Vietnamese diplomat Le Duc Tho for negotiating the Paris Peace Accords. Kissinger accepted. Le Duc Tho refused, saying that “peace has not yet really been established… In these circumstances, it is impossible for me to accept the prize.”

Obama did not take that path, of course, and now, his Nobel Prize largely forgotten, he will be campaigning for reelection as a successful war president, the man who launched the attack that killed Osama bin Laden, and whose administration has fed the U.S. military machine in a manner similar to that of his predecessor. At the same time, it has fiercely prosecuted and, in the case of Private First Class Bradley Manning among others, persecuted a range of American whistleblowers who have dared to reveal the real story of our eternal state of war and the war state that goes with it.

Manning, accused of passing secret U.S. military and State Department documents on to the website WikiLeaks, is now in military prison awaiting a trial whose verdict is essentially a foregone conclusion. Everyone knows that after military “justice” is done under pressure from an administration led by a president who has already publicly stated — at a $5,000 a head fundraiser in San Francisco, no less — that Manning “broke the law,” they will throw away the keys and leave him to rot in prison till hell freezes over.

Manning is already in danger of being forgotten (though not at this website) for an alleged act that was aimed at stopping war, an act that — as a matter of amends — should bring him a nomination for the Nobel Prize, if not the prize itself. TomDispatch regular and lawyer Chase Madar has, at least, done his best to make sure Manning will not be America’s forgotten hero with his provocative, invaluable new book, The Passion of Bradley Manning (OR Books), on the case and its many ramifications. In a half-reasonable world, it would keep a spotlight on him. (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest two-part Tomcast audio interview in which Madar discusses the Manning case and his new book, click here for part 1 and here for part 2, or download it to your iPod here.) Tom

What the Laws of War Allow
Do the WikiLeaks War Logs Reveal War Crimes — Or the Poverty of International Law?

By Chase Madar

Anyone who would like to witness a vivid example of modern warfare that adheres to the laws of war — that corpus of regulations developed painstakingly over centuries by jurists, humanitarians, and soldiers, a body of rules that is now an essential, institutionalized part of the U.S. armed forces and indeed all modern militaries — should simply click here and watch the video.

Wait a minute: that’s the WikiLeaks “Collateral Murder” video! The gunsight view of an Apache helicopter opening fire from half a mile high on a crowd of Iraqis — a few armed men, but mostly unarmed civilians, including a couple of Reuters employees — as they unsuspectingly walked the streets of a Baghdad suburb one July day in 2007.

Watch, if you can bear it, as the helicopter crew blows people away, killing at least a dozen of them, and taking good care to wipe out the wounded as they try to crawl to safety. (You can also hear the helicopter crew making wisecracks throughout.) When a van comes on the scene to tend to the survivors, the Apache gunship opens fire on it too, killing a few more and wounding two small children.

The slaughter captured in this short film, the most virally sensational of WikiLeaks’ disclosures, was widely condemned as an atrocity worldwide, and many pundits quickly labeled it a “war crime” for good measure.

But was this massacre really a “war crime” — or just plain-old regular war? The question is anything but a word-game. It is, in fact, far from clear that this act, though plainly atrocious and horrific, was a violation of the laws of war. Some have argued that the slaughter, if legal, was therefore justified and, though certainly unfortunate, no big deal. But it is possible to draw a starkly different conclusion: that the “legality” of this act is an indictment of the laws of war as we know them.

The reaction of professional humanitarians to the gun-sight video was muted, to say the least. The big three human rights organizations — Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, and Human Rights First — responded not with position papers and furious press releases but with silence. HRW omitted any mention of it in its report on human rights and war crimes in Iraq, published nearly a year after the video’s release. Amnesty also kept mum. Gabor Rona, legal director of Human Rights First, told me there wasn’t enough evidence to ascertain whether the laws of war had been violated, and that his organization had no Freedom of Information Act requests underway to uncover new evidence on the matter.

This collective non-response, it should be stressed, is not because these humanitarian groups, which do much valuable work, are cowardly or “sell-outs.” The reason is: all three human rights groups, like human rights doctrine itself, are primarily concerned with questions of legality. And quite simply, as atrocious as the event was, there was no clear violation of the laws of war to provide a toehold for the professional humanitarians.

The human rights industry is hardly alone in finding the event disturbing but in conformance with the laws of war. As Professor Gary Solis, a leading expert and author of a standard text on those laws, told Scott Horton of Harper’s Magazine, “I believe it unlikely that a neutral and detached investigator would conclude that the helicopter personnel violated the laws of armed conflict. Legal guilt does not always accompany innocent death.” It bears noting that Gary Solis is no neocon ultra. A scholar who has taught at the London School of Economics and Georgetown, he is the author of a standard textbook on the subject, and was an unflinching critic of the Bush-Cheney administration.

War and International “Humanitarian” Law

“International humanitarian law,” or IHL, is the trying-too-hard euphemism for the laws of war. And as it happens, IHL turns out to be less concerned with restraining military violence than licensing it. As applied to America’s recent wars, this body of law turns out to be wonderfully accommodating when it comes to the prerogatives of an occupying army.

Here’s another recent example of a wartime atrocity that is perfectly legal and not a war crime at all. Thanks to WikiLeaks’ Iraq War Logs, we now know about the commonplace torture practices employed by Iraqi jailers and interrogators during our invasion and occupation of that country. We have clear U.S. military documentation of sexual torture, of amputated fingers and limbs, of beatings so severe they regularly resulted in death.

Surely standing by and taking careful notes while the Iraqi people you have supposedly liberated from tyranny are getting tortured, sometimes to death, is a violation of the laws of war. After all, in 2005 General Peter Pace, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, publicly contradicted his boss Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld by commenting into a live mike that it is “absolutely the responsibility of every American soldier to stop torture whenever and wherever they see it.” (A young private working in Army Intelligence named Bradley Manning, learning that a group of Iraqi civilians handing out pamphlets alleging government corruption had been detained by the Iraqi federal police, raised his concern with his commanding officer about their possible torture. He was reportedly told him to shut up and get back to work helping the authorities find more detainees.)

As it turned out, General Pace’s exhortation was at odds with both official policy and law: Fragmentary Order 242, issued by Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon, made it official policy for occupying U.S. troops not to interfere with ongoing Iraqi torture. And this, according to some experts, is no violation of the laws of war either. Prolix on the limits imposed on the acts of non-state fighters who are not part of modern armies, the Geneva Conventions are remarkably reticent on the duties of occupying armies.

As Gary Solis pointed out to me, Common Article 1 of the Fourth Geneva Convention assigns only a vague obligation to “ensure respect” for prisoners handed over to a third party. On the ground in either Iraq or Afghanistan, this string of words would prove a less-than-meaningful constraint.

Part of the problem is that the laws of war that aspire to restrain deadly force are often weakly enforced and routinely violated. Ethan McCord, the American soldier who saved the two wounded children from that van in the helicopter video, remembers one set of instructions he received from his battalion commander: “Anytime your convoy gets hit by an IED, I want 360 degree rotational fire. You kill every [expletive] in the street!” (“That order,” David Glazier, a jurist at the National Institute for Military Justice, told me, “is absolutely a war crime.”) In other words, the rules of engagement that are supposed to constrain occupying troops in places like Afghanistan and Iraq are, according to many scholars and investigators, often belittled and ignored.

Legalized Atrocity

The real problem with the laws of war, however, is not what they fail to restrain but what they authorize. The primary function of International Humanitarian Law is to legalize remarkable levels of “good” military violence that regularly kill and injure non-combatants. IHL highlights a handful of key principles: the distinction between combatant and civilian, the obligation to use force only for military necessity, and the duty to jeopardize civilians only in proportion to the military value of a target.

Even when these principles are applied conscientiously — and often they aren’t — they still allow for remarkable levels of civilian carnage, which the Pentagon has long primly (and conveniently) referred to as “collateral damage,” as if it were a sad sideline in the prosecution of war. And yet civilian deaths in modern war regularly are the central aspect of those wars, both statistically and in other ways. Far from being universally proscribed, the killing of high numbers of civilians in a battle zone is often considered absolutely legal under those laws. In the pungent phrase of Professor David Kennedy of Harvard Law School, “We should be clear — this bold new vocabulary beats ploughshares into swords as often as the reverse.”

The relative weakness of the laws of war when it comes to preventing atrocities is not simply some recent debasement perpetrated by neoconservative Visigoths. Privileging the combatant and his (it’s usually “his”) prerogatives has been the historical bone marrow of those laws. In the Vietnam War, for instance, the declaration of significant parts of the South Vietnamese countryside as “free-fire zones,” and the “carpet bombing” of rural areas by B-52s carrying massive payloads were also done under cover of the laws of war.

IHL has certainly changed in some respects. A century ago, the discourse around the laws of war was far more candid than today. Jurists once regularly referred to “non-uniformed unprivileged combatants” simply as “savages” and the consensus view in mainstream scholarly journals of international law was that a modern army could do whatever it wanted to such obstreperous, lawless people (especially, of course, in what was still then the colonial world). On the whole, the history of IHL is a long record of codifying the privileges of the powerful against lesser threats like civilians and colonial subjects resisting invasion.

Even though the laws of war have usually been one more weapon of the strong against the weak, a great deal of their particular brand of legalism has seeped into antiwar discourse. One of the key talking points for many arguing against the invasion of Iraq was that it was illegal — and that was certainly true. But was the failure to procure a permission slip from the United Nations really the main problem with this calamitous act of violence? Would U.N. authorization really have redeemed any of it? There is also a growing faith that war can be domesticated under a relatively new rubric, “humanitarian intervention,” which purports to apply military violence in precise and therapeutic dosages, all strictly governed by international humanitarian law.

Here is where the WikiLeaks disclosures were so revealing. They remind us, once again, that the humanitarian dream of “clean warfare” — military violence that is smoothly regulated by laws that spare civilians — is usually a sick joke. We need to wean ourselves from the false comfort that the law is always on the side of civilians. We need to scrap our tendency to assume that international law is inherently virtuous, and that anything that shocks our conscience — that helicopter video or widespread torture in Iraq under the noses of U.S. soldiers — must be a violation of this system, rather than its logical and predictable consequence.

Let’s be clear: what killed the civilians walking the streets of Baghdad that day in 2007 was not “war crimes,” but war. And that holds for so many thousands of other Afghan and Iraqi civilians killed by drone strikes, air strikes, night raids, convoys, and nervous checkpoint guards as well.

Regulatory Capture

Who, after all, writes the laws of war? Just as the regulations that govern the pharmaceutical and airline industries are often gamed by large corporations with their phalanxes of lobbyists, the laws of war are also vulnerable to “regulatory capture” by the great powers under their supposed rule. Keep in mind, for instance, that the Pentagon employs 10,000 lawyers and that its junior partner in foreign policy making, the State Department, has a few hundred more. Should we be surprised if in-house lawyers can sort out “legal” ways not to let those laws of war get in the way of the global ambitions of a superpower?

It’s only fair that the last words on the laws of war go to Private Bradley Manning, now sitting in a prison cell in Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, awaiting court-martial for allegedly passing troves of classified material to WikiLeaks, documents that offer the unvarnished truth about the Afghan War, the Iraq War, and Guantánamo. They are taken from the instant-message chatlogs he wrote under the handle of “bradass87” to the informant who turned him in. The young private saw very clearly what so many professors and generals take pains to deny: that the primary function of the laws of war is not to restrain violence, but to justify it, often with the greatest lawyerly ingenuity.

(02:27:47 PM) bradass87: i mean, we’re better in some respects… we’re much more subtle… use a lot more words and legal techniques to legitimize everything…

(02:28:19 PM) bradass87: but just because something is more subtle, doesn’t make it right

Chase Madar, a TomDispatch regular and author of a new book, The Passion of Bradley Manning (OR Books), is a lawyer in New York. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest two-part Tomcast audio interview in which Madar discusses the Manning case and his new book, click here for part 1 and here for part 2, or download it to your iPod here. Madar tweets @ChMadar!/chmadar.

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

Copyright 2012 Chase Madar

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Posted by The Agonist on April 15th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Only five days ago, NATO’s PR spinners were boosting talk of a successful security transition in Afghanistan by saying that there was no sign of a Taliban Spring offensive this year.

Today, the Taliban launched a highly co-ordinated attack on government buildings in Kabul and across the country.

A statement by the Taliban called the attacks the start of their spring offensive, adding: “It is also a message to those foreign commanders who claim that the Taliban have lost their momentum. We have just showed that we are here and we can stage an attack whenever we want.”

A NATO spokesman confirmed that multiple attacks had occurred across Kabul, potentially in as many as seven locations.

As I write fighting continues in Kabul, where it is now night, with RPG rounds and small arms fire being heard by tweeters in the embassy district who are being kept in their offices by their security details. Questions will have to be asked about NATO intelligence being caught so flatfooted.

An ISAF statement has downplayed the attacks, saying they are “largely ineffective” but they succeeded in their purpose: to show that the government and security forces cannot secure even their own highest security zone. The ISAF statement also notes that Afghan forces dealt with the attacks on their own – if you count having ISAF mentoring teams with them. Even so, the Guardian reports that the Afghan police’s response may have been…haphazard.

A high profile Afghan MP called Wazhma Frogh who was caught up in the attacks near the British Embassy gave a scathing verdict of the response of police.

“I was nearly shot in the back as I was walking down the street, not by a terrorist but by the Afghan police who were just shooting at everything,” she said. “They had no idea where they were firing.”

She said the attacks cast doubt on NATO’s “transition” plan that aims to hand over full responsibility for security to the Afghan government by the end of 2014,

“This shows just how ridiculous the transition policy is. I’ve never seen a street battle before, but what I saw today was the fragility of these police officers. It really shows how poor police training has been.”

If the Taliban can follow up these attacks with another summer of escalating violence – as they’ve done every year since 2003 – then any chance the West’s withdrawal can be spun as any kind of victory will evaporate.

Meanwhile, in other “momentum!” news: just four days ago noted mil-blogger and CNAS senior fellow Andrew Exum was taking an Army-run survey at face value and using it to announce that the US Army had not been broken by a decade of counter-productive war. Today, however, the NYT reports on the high suicide rate of US military veterans.

An American soldier dies every day and a half, on average, in Iraq or Afghanistan. Veterans kill themselves at a rate of one every 80 minutes. More than 6,500 veteran suicides are logged every year — more than the total number of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined since those wars began.

…Estimates of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury vary widely, but a ballpark figure is that the problems afflict at least one in five veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq. One study found that by their third or fourth tours in Iraq or Afghanistan, more than one-quarter of soldiers had such mental health problems.

Preliminary figures suggest that being a veteran now roughly doubles one’s risk of suicide. For young men ages 17 to 24, being a veteran almost quadruples the risk of suicide, according to a study in The American Journal of Public Health.

If that’s not broken, I don’t know what is.

Vietnam is now one for the ages. After so many years, Afghanistan has finally emerged as a quagmire beholden to no other war. What an achievement! Our moment, Afghanistan included, has proven so extreme, so disastrous, that it’s finally put the unquiet ghost of Vietnam in its grave. And here’s the miracle: it has all happened without anyone in Washington grasping the essence of that now-ancient defeat, or understanding a thing.


Update Journalists on Twitter say they are still hearing RPG explosions and gunfire in Kabul more than 12 hours after the attacks began

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Posted by The Agonist on April 14th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Paul Harris | Apr 14

The ObserverSoldier wrote detailed report claiming US generals ‘have so distorted the truth … the truth has become unrecognisable’

“I am – how do you say it? – persona non grata,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Daniel Davis, as he sat sipping a coffee and eating a chocolate sundae in a shopping mall, just a subway stop from the Pentagon.

The career soldier is now a black sheep at the giant defence department building where he still works. The reason was his extraordinarily brave decision to accuse America’s military top brass of lying about the war in Afghanistan. When he went public in the New York Times, he was acclaimed as a hero for speaking out about a war that many Americans feel has gone horribly awry. Later this month he will receive a Ridenhour prize, an award given to whistleblowers that is named after the Vietnam war soldier who exposed the My Lai massacre.

Davis believes people are not being told the truth and said so in a detailed report that he wrote after returning from his second tour of duty in the country. He had been rocketed, mortared and had stepped on an improvised explosive device that failed to explode. Soldiers he had met were killed and he was certain that a bloody disaster was unfolding. So he spoke out. “It’s like I see in slow motion men dying for nothing and I can’t stop it,” he said. “It is consuming me from the inside. It is eating me alive.”

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Posted by The Agonist on April 13th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Apr 12

WaPo – This country’s Parliament unanimously demanded Thursday that the United States end its long campaign of drone strikes in Pakistani territory, a vital component of President Barack Obama’s strategy against al-Qaida and other militant groups.

But lawmakers, acting after weeks of debate, tacitly allowed the passage of oil, food and other nonlethal goods across the country’s borders to supply NATO troops fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Pakistan has barred NATO convoys for several months in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes that killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers.

Reflecting anger over the war in Afghanistan, drone attacks and other elements of U.S. policy, about 440 lawmakers supported the recommendations of a national security committee that set out to reconfigure what it called Pakistan’s “terms of engagement” with the U.S. The two countries entered into a counterterrorism partnership shortly after the 9/11 attacks.

The proposals also seek to bar private security contractors and intelligence operatives from working in the country and to ban the shipment of arms and ammunition through Pakistani territory or airspace into Afghanistan.

** The ball is back in the executive’s court
** Pakistan Gives U.S. a List of Demands, Including an End to C.I.A. Drone Strikes
** We blinked, and maybe it’s good
** Supply route closure impedes Afghan withdrawal

From Stars&Stripes

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Posted by Just Foreign Policy on April 11th, 2012

From our partners at Just Foreign Policy

Just yesterday, Santorum announced the suspension of his presidential campaign, leaving Mitt Romney the presumptive Republican candidate for president. The Obama campaign has moved quickly, announcing today it’s on (no, really, they said this) by releasing a factsheet on Facebook about their likely opponent, entitled, “Five Things You Need to Know About Mitt Romney.” The image has become a viral sensation, with over 15,000 likes, 2,800 comments, and 7,000 shares at the time of writing. I’ve embedded a copy to the right. Take a look.

Okay, first fact is predictable.

Second one … wait, what?

He opposes the President’s plan to end the war in Afghanistan and would leave troops there indefinitely.

Does this mean that Obama is NOT planning to leave troops in Afghanistan indefinitely? How did I miss the President announcing a date for full withdrawal from Afghanistan? Did I black out or something? When did this happen? What great news!

read more

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Posted by The Agonist on April 11th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

This is how an actual party of the left does it:

France’s Socialists will pull all combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2012, a year ahead of an accelerated withdrawal planned by the government, and has already discussed this with Britain and the United States, their chief defence adviser says.

…Le Drian, tipped as probable defence minister in a left-wing government, said Hollande believed French combat troops had no business in Afghanistan now and a pullout should be executed within eight months if he wins an election where the final runoff takes place on May 6.

“NATO has announced a withdrawal date of 2014. We believe it’s time to leave now,” said Le Drian, who visited Washington and London in the past few weeks to discuss the message with France’s main NATO partners as election day looms.

“I can’t say I was greeted with cheers of applause in London or the United States but I don’t think on the other hand that either of those two parties was surprised either,” he said. “This is the position and it will be implemented.”

Meanwhile, here in the US, the party that supposedly represents the left is planning to occupy Afghanistan militarily for many years to come, and is bending the truth all out of shape to accomplish that goal. The latest deal on night raids, for example, is a “largely symbolic document that eases United States-Afghan relations, while having little effect on the U.S. military’s ability” to carry out unilateral raids with no Afghan oversight.

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