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Archive for May, 2013

Posted by The Agonist on May 23rd, 2013

From our partners at The Agonist

actor rpgIt may, in fact, not be the Assad government using chemical weapons. It may actually be the rebels:

Carla del Ponte told Swiss TV there were “strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof”.

However, she said her panel had not yet seen evidence of government forces using chemical weapons.

This all sounds suspiciously, or eerily, depending on your point of view, like the Hans Blik/Scott Ritter warnings that Saddam Hussein possessed no chemical or biological weapons and that there was no evidence he was even trying to obtain them. In the building drumbeat towards committing war with Syria, including Israeli airstrikes over the weekend, a lone dissenter of not unsubstantial authority and credibility steps forward to try to thwart the onset of war.

Which of course puts Democrats and liberals in a quandary: for the past decade or so, we’ve been chiding neo-cons and their fellow travelers about committing what amounts to a war crime, ginning up false charges then invading a sovereign nation that, while her leader may have wished us harm, was in no position to do anything to harm us.

This warning even amps that by one: Blik and Ritter stated Hussein had none. Del Ponte is suggesting the other side is the tyrannical aggressor here.

Long-time readers of my writing know that I stand foursquare against nearly all wars: unless our very existence is threatened or we are under a clear diplomatic mandate (e.g. a pact like NATO – but even then, we ought to be holding back), we should not be committing combat troops anyplace, anytime, anyhow. So it will come as no surprise that I would oppose Barack Obama’s potential deployment of troops to Syria.

And yet, I don’t envy President Obama’s position here between Iraq and a hard case. It’s hard to stand idly by, even as a pacifist liberal as myself, and let citizens of a nation die from attacks by their own government using weapons banned by treaty.

And yet, I’m concerned about where this heads if we do commit troops. After all, there’s an uptick in confrontation in the Middle East, South Asia and Africa, some of it involving rival Islamist factions it seems, that speak to treading very very carefully.

Which makes del Ponte’s report all the more vital for consideration. We clearly should not be treading in a place where both sides “do it.”

And yet, what happens in Syria might not stay in Syria. It certainly will spill over into Lebanon and Israel, and might spread into Jordan and Iraq. And from there? Who knows.

The post Should We Be Taking This Syrias? appeared first on The Agonist.

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Posted by DownWithTyranny on May 11th, 2013

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

And what happens if we stay?

I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that the same week the CIA reassured Hamid Karzai that nothing– including the Sequester here– would slow down the cascade of bribes for him and his circle, he assured the Pentagon they could keep 9 bases in Afghanistan after the occupation officially “ends.”

The C.I.A.’s station chief here met with President Hamid Karzai on Saturday, and the Afghan leader said he had been assured that the agency would continue dropping off stacks of cash at his office despite a storm of criticism that has erupted since the payments were disclosed.

The C.I.A. money, Mr. Karzai told reporters, was “an easy source of petty cash,” and some of it was used to pay off members of the political elite, a group dominated by warlords.

The use of the C.I.A. cash for payoffs has prompted criticism from many Afghans and some American and European officials, who complain that the agency, in its quest to maintain access and influence at the presidential palace, financed what is essentially a presidential slush fund. The practice, the officials say, effectively undercut a pillar of the American war strategy: the building of a clean and credible Afghan government to wean popular support from the Taliban.

Instead, corruption at the highest levels seems to have only worsened. The International Monetary Fund recently warned diplomats in Kabul that the Afghan government faced a potentially severe budget shortfall partly because of the increasing theft of customs duties and officially abetted tax evasion.

Fancy that! Well, “we” get the 9 bases (if Karzai isn’t hung by his heels the day the U.S. flies out of Kabul– if he isn’t on that last helicopter or already living comfortably in Dubai or New York).

The U.S. wants to keep nine bases in Afghanistan after American combat troops withdraw in 2014 and the Afghan government will let them as long as it gets “security and economic guarantees,” President Hamid Karzai said Thursday in his first public offer in talks about the future relationship between the two uneasy allies.

Not long ago, I got into a friendly argument with a couple of progressive congresswomen who are unambiguously antiwar. And they both vote that way. But they had mixed feelings about withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan “yet.” Their concern, an understandable– if wrongheaded– one, was that “we” needed to help liberate Afghan women. Don’t get me started. I lived in Afghanistan twice– in 1969 and, for a briefer time in 1972– and not just in Kabul, but in smaller towns and in the countryside in a settlement with two family compounds. Afghan women need help, all right– but it’s not coming at the end of a bayonet… or a drone strike.

I arrived in Delhi last year on the day of the horrific gang rape that shut the city down for a week. On local TV I noticed that everyone was angry about the rape– very angry. But eventually I figured out that there were two distinct camps with anger pointed in very different directions. At first all the man-in-the-street interviews were with folks in Delhi, men and women, and they were outraged that their society was still so primitive and backward and conservative that gang rapes like this happen frequently. Eventually the man-in-the-street interviews started including unpaved streets. In the villages the anger was directed towards the victims of these sexual assaults. “How dare these women dress like that or go out without a brother or father accompanying them?” These women were ruining India. 

India is at least a century ahead of Afghanistan by any measure. So are longtime American allies Morocco and Jordan. Right now I’m in the middle of Rana Husseini’s heartbreaking book, about “honor” killings in Jordan, Murder in the Name of Honor. I’ll be talking at greater length about Husseini’s book in the future but I was started today when I read the reaction to her activism on behalf of women by a Member of Parliament who is the former Justice Minister, Abdul Karim Dughmi: “All women killed in cases of honor are prostitutes. I believe prostitutes deserve to die.” Believe me, if relatively modern, westernized countries like India, Morocco and Jordan have this kind of mindset– watch the video below– the U.S. doesn’t have the attention span or the will to help the women in far more backward, xenophobic and conservative Afghanistan.

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Posted by DownWithTyranny on May 1st, 2013

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

What do you know… the same cheerleaders for the disastrous war in Iraq, the endless, draining occupation of Afghanistan and the intervention in Libya are the very same people and special interests urging– demanding– that we attack Syria. Israeli dreams coming true! And believe me, Lindsey Graham and John McCain don’t give a rat’s ass that the new CBS/NY Times poll shows that the majority of Americans– across the political spectrum– don’t want anything to do with the mess in Syria.

Sixty-two percent of Americans continue to say the United States does not have a responsibility to intervene in the fighting in Syria, while 24 percent of Americans think the United States does have a responsibility to do something about the fighting between government forces and anti-government groups there– a four point increase since last month.

These are the same people who think the only way the GOP can defeat Hillary Clinton in 2016 is by inventing and perpetuating a false narrative called “Benghazi!” when intervention in Syria would, in all likelihood, make the Libya mess look positively utopian in comparison. Exactly two months ago I suggested that Obama call a plebiscite to get direction from the American people– instead of the Military-Industrial Complex special interests, Israel and their shills– on what to do about Syria. At the time, an always disgruntled McCain was bitching to the press (about Kerry’s announcement that the U.S. would send “non-lethal” aid to the Syria insurgents): “It’s a half measure. And I know from my sources that many of those weapons [provided by other countries in] are not getting through… are going to the wrong people, these jihadist outfits. And here we are 23 months into it, 70,000 dead, so it’s a small half-measure.” But Republicans in Congress are a hot mess and pulling in a million directions. Rubio joined Lindsey Graham in demanding the Administration start sending weapons to Syria, while House Armed Services Committee chairman Buck McKeon muttered darkly that arming groups “doesn’t work very well for us. At some point, they start using bullets to shoot back at us.”

Aside from the Likud, AIPAC and a bunch of crackpot evangelicals who want to bring Jesus back, who wants to see Americans fighting in Syria (or against Syria’s ally, Iran)?

Are there any “good guys” in this civil war? I heard Mouaz al-Khatib, head of the Syrian Opposition Coalition, yelling at that time that the U.S. should stop measuring the beards of the fighters and just arm them. That means– stop trying to figure out who’s a terrorist and who isn’t. And he’s right… about that. Ultimately, they’re almost ALL terrorists, at least by the U.S. definition. Any weapons or resources the U.S. gives these people will be eventually used against the U.S. and against Israel, (which is now illegally drilling for gas in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights). That’s a knowable known, to paraphrase one of Chuck Hagel’s recent predecessors even if there is no strategy and the U.S. is riding a tiger.

And in light of the Austerity agenda being imposed on the country by the Republicans and Obama’s conservative wing of the Democratic Party, we have a right to ask for an analysis of how things have gone in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya before we take the plunge into Syria, potentially the most devastating of all. I would love that analysis to be in the form of war crimes trials for Bush, Cheney, McCain, and their cronies. But that’s not going to happen. So why not just look throw one of hundreds of tiny little windows into what have happened over in the Middle East since someone seems to have given the Likud the keys to the family car. At the NY Times< this week, Matthew Rosenberg took a look at the role of bribery in our Afghan “strategy.” Not a very noble endeavor, but one that goes back to ancient times, the CIA has been doling out tens of millions of dollars to our crooked Afghan “allies.”

Former and current advisers of the Afghan leader have said the C.I.A. cash deliveries have totaled tens of millions of dollars over the past decade and have been used to pay off warlords, lawmakers and others whose support the Afghan leader depends upon.

The payments are not universally supported in the United States government. American diplomats and soldiers expressed dismay on Monday about the C.I.A.’s cash deliveries, which some said fueled corruption. They spoke privately because the C.I.A. effort is classified.

Others were not so restrained. “We’ve all suspected it,” said Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah and a critic of the war effort in Afghanistan. “But for President Karzai to admit it out loud brings us into a bizarro world.”

…The C.I.A. money continues to flow, Mr. Karzai said Monday. “Yes, the office of national security has been receiving support from the United States for the past 10 years,” he told reporters in response to a question. “Not a big amount. A small amount, which has been used for various purposes.” He said the money was paid monthly.

Afghan officials who described the payments before Monday’s comments from Mr. Karzai said the cash from the C.I.A. was basically used as a slush fund, similarly to the way the Iranian money was. Some went to pay supporters; some went to cover other expenses that officials would prefer to keep off the books, like secret diplomatic trips, officials have said.

…The C.I.A. payments open a window to an element of the war that has often gone unnoticed: the agency’s use of cash to clandestinely buy the loyalty of Afghans. The agency paid powerful warlords to fight against the Taliban during the 2001 invasion. It then continued paying Afghans to keep battling the Taliban and help track down the remnants of Al Qaeda. Mr. Karzai’s brother Ahmed Wali, who was assassinated in 2011, was among those paid by the agency, for instance.

But the cash deliveries to Mr. Karzai’s office are of a different magnitude with a far wider impact, helping the palace finance the vast patronage networks that Mr. Karzai has used to build his power base. The payments appear to run directly counter to American efforts to clean up endemic corruption and encourage the Afghan government to be more responsive to the needs of its constituents.

“I thought we were trying to clean up waste, fraud and abuse in Afghanistan,” said Mr. Chaffetz, whose House subcommittee has investigated corruption in the country. “We have no credibility on this issue when we’re complicit ourselves. I’m sure it was more than a few hundred dollars.”

This is part of the Afghanistan way of life in a way that few Americans who haven’t spent time there will ever fathom. We shouldn’t be there– not in Afghanistan, not in Iraq… and certainly not in Syria. I thought Obama’s legacy would just be how he opened the door to killing Social Security. It looks like it may also be starting a war of choice in Syria as well. Will anyone be able to make a case that there’s still a discernible difference between the Democrats and the Republicans after that?

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