Thursday, December 31, 2009

Did US forces execute Afghan children?

The Times of London is reporting that American-led troops were accused yesterday of dragging innocent school-children from their beds and shooting them (after hand-cuffing some of them) during a night raid that left ten people dead.  Protests erupted in Kabul and Jalalabad, with burning of a US flag as well as an effigy of Mr. Obama.

Impossible, you say?  Bear in mind:
  • US Marines and soldiers were accused of similar attacks in Iraq.  In some cases the evidence was pretty much overwhelming, but the soldiers involved generally got off with a slap on the wrist, at worst.  (Google "Haditha massacre" if you want more info.)
  • One of the not-so-often cited reasons for the "success" of the "Surge" in Iraq was the use of Special Forces operations to quickly and brutally "eliminate bad guys."  The general who oversaw those operations was none other than Stanley McChrystal, who was brought in by Obama to head up a "more aggressive and innovative" US military effort in Afghanistan precisely because of his effectiveness in Iraq.
The operation described in the London Times is just the kind of operation in which McChrystal excels.

US stepping up aid to Yemen

As reported by AFP.  I have no problem with the concept of stepping up military and economic aid to Yemen, but in a way it's typically "us" (or "U.S."): throw money at treating the symptoms rather than make the tough decisions to change the policies that have largely fed the problem  -- i.e.,
  • unstinting support for the ongoing Israeli bullying of the West Bank's and Gaza's people
  • unstinting support for corrupt, often brutal regimes that suppress popular Muslim movements (see Egypt, Afghanistan)
  • unrelenting assertions from US politicians and mainstream media that what the American way of life offers is inherently superior to what is offered by any other way of life, especially if it's rooted in Islam.
Meanwhile, word is that the Obama people are mulling target lists in Yemen, even as they want to step up the aid there.  I won't be at all surprised to see reports of Predator strikes in Yemen in the days immediately ahead.  Predator strikes usually produce "collateral damage" - i.e., new enemies made, more hearts and minds lost, more angry Muslims who might be convinced to try to blow up American passenger jets.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

American Zealots in the West Bank settlements

McClatchy has an interesting report on the American Jews (supported by American money, including funds from Christian Zionist groups) who've been adding both their numbers and their zealotry to the burgeoning West Bank illegal settlement enterprise.  (And BTW, in re the legality/illegality of these settlements - and the consensus view of international law definitely finds them illegal - have a look at David Phillips' recent piece, which was first published in Commentary and then reposted via Canada's National Post, to get a sense of the sophistries to which defenders of the settlements will resort.  And take note of the comments in support of Phillips if you want to plumb some of the deeper pools of ignorance about Palestinian history.)

The author might have done well to note that an American Jew, Dr. Baruch Goldstein, who transplanted himself to the West Bank in the 1990s, perpetrated one of the most horrific settler atrocities on West Bank Palestinian Arabs: the Ibrahimi Mosque/Cave of the Patriarchs massacre in Hebron, where he walked in with a sub-machine gun and killed 29 worshipers as well as wounded 150.

Unfortunately, these zealots have legions of fans in the US . . . including the thousands who showed up at the New York Mets' stadium several weeks ago to support the Hebron Fund, which supplies megabucks to their activities.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Zakaria channels Obama: "Yes We Can" [in Iraq]. But We Probably Can't.

In today's WaPo piece, Fareed Zakaria provides a good overview of Iraq's persisting political fault lines (especially Sunni-Shii, Arab-Kurd) and includes the important reminder that the Bush/Petraeus "Surge" had some military success and provided a respite of sorts, but did not solve the more important problem of political reconciliation.  Now, says FZ, the US needs to go the diplomatic equivalent of a full-court press, to persuade the various factions in Iraq to sit down and resolve their differences.

Do we actually have the power to do that?  I honestly don't believe so.  Why not?

If I may channel Billy Joel, it's a matter of trust.  Even before the US invasion of 2003, Sunni and Shii, Arabs and Kurds in Iraq had found precious little reason to trust each other.  Indeed, even before Saddam had killed thousands of Shii and Kurds in the 1980s and 1990s, there truly had been no love lost between these groups.  And since 2003, with the Sunni insurgency (still ongoing), and the Shii death squads who cleansed Baghdad of most of its Sunni inhabitants, the possibility that these groups can create trust among themselves, especially over the short term before the US clears out of Iraq, has eroded to practically nil.

As Patrick Cockburn noted months ago, only time can heal some of Iraq's wounds.  Two years won't be enough - and as the US exits Iraq, we will likely see the scabs that have formed to come open.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Flashpoint for revolution in Iran?

The response to the death of Ayatollah Montazeri bears watching, as thousands of pro-reformists are reportedly flocking to Qom for his funeral.  (And remember as well the traditional commemoration that takes place 40 days after a death - another possible flash-point.  The basiji will be out in force on both occasions.  And the demands on Mr. Obama to weigh in will be high.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Former neocon darlings biting the dust

The WaPo reports that the Iraqi government has ordered the evacuation of the Iranian rebel group Mujahidin i-Khalq (MEK) from Camp Ashraf.

So may be ending a sorry - and sordid - tale of a terrorist group once beloved by Bush's neocon set.  The MEK are an Iranian dissident group that at one time opposed the Shah's regime, then turned against the newly installed Islamic regime and wound up in exile in Iraq, where they lined up with Saddam's forces against Iran in the 1980-1988 war.  Over the years they engaged in acts that can only be classified as terrorism in almost anyone's book - and they made it onto various lists of terror groups.

But once the US conquered Iraq in 2003, people like Dick Cheney and neocon luminary Richard Perle (known in DC circles as the "Prince of Darkness") saw them as potential allies whom the US might co-opt in the fight for "regime change" (a favorite neocon expression a few years ago) in Iran.  (OK, they might be terrorists, but they'd be our terrorists.  You got a problem with that?)  As Gary Sick once noted:
"They get all sorts of people to sign their petitions. Many times the Congressmen don't know what they're signing." But others "are quite aware of the fact that this is a designated terrorist organization, and they are quite willing to look the other way for a group that they think is a democratic alternative to the Iranian regime."
The US set them up in Camp Ashraf, and had been shielding them there for the last few years.

But no more.

The US is headed for exit from Iraq; the Shii-dominated government in Iraq and Shii Iran now have very close ties; and the Iranian government has more than one bone to pick with the MEK.  Note at the end of the WaPo's report:
As others debate the MEK's fate, the group appears more isolated than ever. It recently broke off communications with the International Committee of the Red Cross. The European Commission has begun distributing a white paper to lawmakers, many of whom support the MEK, in an effort to taper their support for the group.

"We're trying to educate them," said a senior Western diplomat involved in the efforts, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of diplomatic rules. "We collectively tend to forget what bad guys the MEK are."

American officials say they can do little under the terms of a bilateral agreement other than urge the Iraqis to act humanely.

"We not only have no obligation to protect them, we cannot intervene," said Philip Frayne, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy.

MEK members say the United States owes them more.

"I am afraid of these soldiers," said Maryam Zoljalali, 28, who moved to the camp eight years ago from Sweden. "I don't know what they will do in the future."

After standing by uncomfortably for a few minutes as camp residents waved placards and photos around journalists, Iraqi troops ordered the reporters back to their vehicles.

Inside one bus, an Iraqi soldier scoffed as he looked out the window.

"They had satellite dishes before anyone in Iraq," he said, a reference to the preferential treatment accorded to the MEK under Hussein. "We used to come here as laborers when they were the commanders."

Asked whether the turned tables were an opportunity for revenge, another soldier laughed.

"I have nothing to do with this," he said. "But their state wants them back."
I'll be curious to see if, say, a John Bolton, a John Hannah, or a Douglas Feith - or, what the heck!  Where are you, Bill Kristol? - feverishly pens an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal about how America ought not abandon such allies.

Or, perhaps they'll all prefer to keep their heads down and wait till it all goes away.

Pakistan court kills amnesty that covers president

As I mentioned yesterday, a revoking of the amnesty that was covering Pakistan PM Zardari could put the US's efforts in "AfPak" in a major bind.  The supreme court has indeed revoked it, which means that Zardari is facing possible prosecution for . . .
six graft cases dating back to the late 1990s. One case alleges he misappropriated $1.5 billion.
But not only the prime minister is on the hook:
The court decision apparently also leaves thousands of other officials, including Cabinet ministers loyal to Zardari, facing reopened corruption and other criminal cases. That prospect is sure to further weaken the U.S.-backed leader, who is unpopular and under pressure to give up much of his power.

More Iran Paranoia

The Iranians test a longer-range missile, and the White House responds with words about how they've undermined trust, and the NY Times (courtesy of the AP) graces us with a breakdown of Iran's "missile arsenal."

Obviously, no one's especially happy to see Iran (or any other country, for that matter) working on missile programs (unless they're to boost payloads for space exploration, which personally I'm all for, when we can afford it), but the obvious insinuation is that the evil Iranians - those "mad mullahs" -  are just itching for, even craving, the opportunity to launch their someday-nukes against Israel and finish the job that Ahmadinejad's precursor, Adolf Hitler (which is exactly how Benjamin Netanyahu styles him), began.  I'm sure that editors are combing their files now to resurrect that (mis)quote of Ahmadinejad to the effect that Israel should be "wiped off the face of the earth."  (As Juan Cole has discussed - repeatedly - he said no such thing, but the mistranslation has nonetheless made it into the store of lore about Iran's inherent evil and irrationality.)

Before the West collectively begin to hyperventilate, let's remember that Iranians are very aware of their history of being messed with by the West, that the US currently has them surrounded with armies and fleets (with another 30,000 troops - plus almost twice that many "contractors" - en route to Afghanistan), and that Israel has missiles and nukes aplenty and has been threatening - very vocally - to use its military in a strike against Iran, in the very foreseeable future.

If I were the Iranians, why wouldn't I be working on longer-range missiles, or even a nuclear deterrent?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Is the U.S.'s Ally Zardari on the Ropes in Pakistan?

The NY Times reports that Pakistan PM Asif Ali Zardari is being pilloried in Pakistan's Supreme Court, on the suspicion that he has tried to hang onto $60 million that ought to have been returned to the state's coffers. 

This is hardly the first time that Zardari has had legal problems of this nature.  As the husband of slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, his nickname was "Mr. Ten Percent," for the slice of the action he received from various government-related deals.  He became prime minister in his own right largely as the standard-bearer for his wife's legacy after her death, but he has never been regarded as a model of clean, effective leadership.  His days as PM seems to be numbered.

But, such as he is, he's been "our guy" in Islamabad - and, he represents the current, but very fragile, primacy re-established in Pakistan's governance by civilians over the previously long-dominant, still powerful military.  Bear in mind that his predecessor, Pervez Musharraf (now living in exile), was Pakistan's military chief when he became prime minister, and retained that control throughout most of his tenure.  The Bush administration was a big fan of Musharraf (well, at least to the extent that Bush supported him as long as he played ball with what the US wanted in the region) - and that put the US, in the eyes of many Pakistanis, on the wrong side of the cause of civilian-based democracy.

But what if Zardari is ousted (it seems truly only a matter of time)?  What if the military - perhaps in the form of current Chief of Staff Gen. Ashraf Kayani - then tries to reassert its authority by taking effective control of the government?  This is the same military that has become increasingly irked by the US's insistence that it do more to go after the Afghan Taliban, allegedly holed up in Quetta, in the very restive province of Baluchistan.  This is also the same military that - especially within its intelligence service, the ISI - has long regarded and sustained the Afghan Taliban as an asset in Pakistan's seemingly existential struggle with India.

If Zardari is forced out and no truly effective civilian leader replaces him (and there are few on the horizon), and the military reasserts control, does the US embrace them -  and thereby put itself, in the eyes of the people of Pakistan (and the Pakistan Taliban's propaganda meisters), once again on the wrong side of democracy?  Or does the US insist on a more democratic process, and thereby alienate even more the military whose assistance it so desperately needs if Mr. Obama's "Surge" is to have any chance of success?

The Washington Post's double-dip on the Iranian nuclear "threat"

The WaPo's Joby Warrick uses the Times of London's weekend report of a leaked memo about Iran's scientists conducting tests on a neutron initiator, to describe how much progress Iran has made in the science and technology of nuclear physics, including the final technical hurdles in making a nuclear warhead.

In the same issue, Danielle Pletka (a vice president at the American Enterprise Institute; need we say more? You can guess what's coming.) argues that a policy of containment of Iran's "aggressive nuclear weapons program" will not work, and that Obama needs to consider stronger actions.  She doesn't exactly spell it out, but since she has no faith in "weak reeds in Europe and Arabs deeply hesitant to act," and believes that "subcontracting American national security to Israel is an appalling notion," well. . .  that doesn't leave much else than military strike or blockade.  In either instance, an act of war.

And let's not forget: Pletka and her neocon colleagues were among the loudest voices in the chorus that in 2002 and 2003 was singing hosanna's for W.'s imminent attack to snuff out Saddam's WMDs, but were adding to their song the ultimate alleluia,  that "real men go to Tehran."

Today's Trifecta of Devastation and Lives Snuffed Out

The sad beat of the car bombs goes on:  in Pakistan (20 dead),in  Afghanistan (at least 8 dead, 40 wounded), and in Baghdad and Mosul (4 dead. more wounded).

Israel summons British envoy to protest Livni arrest warrant

Haaretz reports that Israeli officials across the board are up in arms over a London court's issuing of an arrest warrant for Tzipi Livni for her role (as then Israeli Foreign Minister) in the IDF's  devastation of Gaza a year ago.  Vice-Premier Silvan Shalom has even had his own "I'm Spartacus" moment:
"We are all Tzipi Livni," he said. "The time has come for us to move from the defensive to the offensive. We must use real diplomacy here, to tell Britain, Spain and all those other states that we will not stand for this anymore."
This, of course, is hardly the first time a British court has taken such action:
In 2005, a retired Israeli general, Doron Almog, returned to Israel immediately after landing in London because he was tipped off that British police planned to arrest him. The warrant against Almog - who oversaw the bombing of a Gaza home in which 14 people were killed - was later canceled.

Other Israeli leaders, including former military chief Moshe Ya'alon and ex-internal security chief Avi Dichter, have also canceled trips to Britain in recent years for the same reason.
That a US court would do something like this is unthinkable.  But if one were to do so, and make it stick, the repercussions in forcing Israel to do a serious re-appraisal of its policies might be significant.

Monday, December 14, 2009

US ramping up threat of sanctions on Iran

Paul Woodward provides a nice round-up in The National, including a recent essay from Tony Karon

My view?
  • Sanctions are not going to accomplish much without Russia and China on board, and they have their own reasons to not go too far to alienate Iran.
  • According to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has the right to proceed with uranium enrichment.  For Obama to persist with the Bush administration's hard-nosed stance that Iran must desist from all enrichment is (1) illegal and (2) non-productive.  Mr. el-Baradei puts it well: The Iranians have the knowledge to enrich uranium, and you can't bomb knowledge.
  • Much of the US's policy is being driven by Netanyahu's hype (which gets all too much traction among the US public and in the halls of Congress) about Iran's "existential threat" to Israel, the "mad mullahs," and that "crazy" Holocaust-denier Ahmadinejad.  Are the latter's views repulsive? Absolutely.  Is the current regime in Iran repressive? Indeed; no argument.  But even if the Iranians were to develop a nuclear-weapons capability (which is likely a long way off, despite all the commotion about the revelations in today's Times of London), they're not going to launch some nuclear strike to wipe out Israel.  But they would be able to counter the nuclear-reprisal threat that Israel has monopolized in the region so far.

Paranoia and the Zionist state

Many thanks to Tony Karon for posting to his Facebook site this post by Lily Sussman, whom I don't know, but whose terror at what almost happened to her at the hands of overzealous Israeli security guards is easy to relate to.  They put three bullets through her laptop, evidently for no better reason than she had some images on it that either concerned or offended them.

Consider the paranoia entailed in such a ridiculous act.  Consider that former Israeli minister Tzipi Livni just had to scrub plans to travel to the UK because she might have been arrested there (presumably for possible war crimes during the Gaza "Cast Lead" campaign a year ago.

Consider that even though Israel has been officially recognized by the US and other countries for more than 60 years, it has consistently embraced policies that  have left it with rogue status and is far from achieving full international acceptance and legitimacy.

Doesn't this beg the question: Without the security umbrella and diplomatic cover that the US has provided Israel, could a homeland for Jews even survive in Palestine without the state of Israel drastically reorienting its Judeo-centric, Arabophobic approach to its neighbors?

A gut-wrenching report from the Times of London

To borrow the description from the Afpak Channel's daily report, a truly "gut-wrenching" piece about young British soldiers seriously wounded in Afghanistan.  I'm sure that a report just as gut-wrenching could be written for the US Marines and soldiers who've shared their fate. One can only admire these young men for their courage and their sense of duty.

 But what about the hundreds of "Taliban" men similarly maimed, except that many of them have no hospitals to go to, no pain-killers to ease their wounds, no chance of receiving prosthetic limbs to replace those that our weapons have blown offf, no government-sponsored social services to cushion their re-entry into "civilian" life?  Many of those men - perhaps a majority - are simply after a paycheck (as, surely, were many of the American and British wounded, in this time of economic ruin for so many).  Many of those "Taliban" that the British and US forces are fighting are young men, like themselves, who feel a duty, like themselves, to defend their homes and families from a threat from foreign invaders, to (as we say so often of our troops) "protect our freedom."  Not all of them, by any means, are religious zealots impelled by some desire to stone adulterers or hack off the hands of thieves.

We have already killed and maimed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of such men - and as Mr. Obama's "Surge" unfolds, hundreds, perhaps thousands more are going to follow.  Their mothers, fathers, wives, brothers, sisters and children are not going to bless America for it, nor ought we expect them to.

To borrow again David Petraeus' famous comment as the Iraq "Surge" was starting in 2007, "Tell me how this ends."

Friday, December 11, 2009

State Department to Detroit's Chaldeans: Fuhgetaboutit

The Detroit Free Press reports on a forum in Warren, MI, where Michael Corbin, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, spoke to a crowd of about 300 mostly Chaldean residents who were angry that the US hadn't done more to protect Iraqi Christians during the US occupation in Iraq post-2003.  The article notes:
Corbin said he couldn't comment on whether Iraqi Christians were hurt by the U.S.-led war.

"I can't answer that," Corbin told the Free Press. "Let's leave that to the historians."

Leave that to the historians?!  That's the best a State Department official could do for such an important question?  More or less say, Fuhgetaboutit?!

The article also notes that Iraqi-Americans at the forum also criticized the U.S. for denying entry to needy Iraqi refugees they said were forced to flee because of the war. 

West Bank settlers vandalize mosque

Reported today in Haaretz (but not a word yet in the NY Times).  PA president Mahmud Abbas is demanding that Israel rein in the settlers "after assailants vandalized a mosque in the West Bank village of Yasuf, torching furniture and spraying Nazi slogans in Hebrew on the premises."   The Haaretz report goes on:
The assailants entered the village of Yasuf before dawn Friday, according to Israel Police and Munir Abushi, the Palestinian governor of the district where the village is located.

They burned prayer carpets and a book stand with Muslim holy texts, and left graffiti on the floor reading, "Price tag - greetings from Effi". Effi is a Hebrew name.

The vandals escaped. The IDF said it views the incident gravely and is investigating along with the police.

After villagers discovered the damage, they briefly threw stones at Israeli forces that entered Yasuf, Abushi said. He said two villagers were hurt in the skirmish.

Abushi met with Israeli police and army officers and expressed his dismay over repeated settler attacks.

"Israeli security forces have done little to protect Palestinian civilians from the settlers," he said.

 But the Netanyahu/Lieberman government rode into power on the votes of hooligans like these, who've been carrying on like this for years.  And now, says Haaretz,
Netanyahu has proposed including tens of thousands of settlers, including many living in isolated settlements deep in the West Bank, in a government program that bestows monetary incentives on residents and businesses.
In other words, the settlers are angry about the temporary settlement freeze; the Netanyahu government will express its concern (as well it should; these people are a direct threat to the power of the Israeli state); but the settlers will feel pretty well enabled to carry on, and keep on carrying on, as they have for so many years.

After yesterday's Oslo speech, this is a perfect opportunity for Mr. Obama to weigh in, maybe with a second from Mrs. Clinton.

For some reason, I'm not holding my breath.  And I'm still waiting for that NYT report.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

EU waffles on Jerusalem

Only a few days ago, the EU foreign ministers made a strong statement on the need for Jerusalem to serve as a capital for both Israel and a future Palestinian state.

The Israeli government protested.

Now, the EU has "softened" its call.

Such courage.

Monday, December 7, 2009

US officials face pro-Israel background check

The US about to poke a hornets' nest in Baluchistan?

The NY Times reports this evening that the US is putting heavy pressure on the Pakistani government to go after the Afghan Taliban who, the US says (and most experts seem to agree, even if the Pakistani military deny it), are ensconced in Pakistan, outside the tribal areas - and specifically, in Baluchistan and its chief city, Quetta.  Supposedly the US has not issued an ultimatum, but the message seems to be, you do it, or else we'll do it for you.

The only ways that the US could do this "for them" are (1) by inserting US forces, or (2) drone attacks.  The last time US troops crossed into Pakistan to go after "bad guys," the Pakistani response was vehement; it came perilously close to Pakistani copters firing on US troops.  Inserting US forces would not go down well.  Officially, Pakistani officials also oppose drone strikes; unofficially, they seem to be tolerated, if not encouraged.  But to this point, those strikes have been limited to the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan.  The Afghan Taliban whom the US wants "taken out" are in Quetta, which lies in Baluchistan, a province on the other side of the country that extends eastward into  Iran.  Baluchistan is also the home of another Sunni radical group, Jundullah, that has launched terror attacks into Shiite Iran.  So far, Jundullah has mostly preferred to keep itself somewhat apart from the fight of the Pakistani Taliban against the Pakistan government.  But as a report in Asia Times last summer noted,
Jundullah has now become an active internal security threat for Pakistan. A raid mounted on a safe house by Pakistani police in January 2008 . . . unexpectedly captured several cadres of the TTP and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a well-known anti-Shi’ite sectarian group. Jundullah has also been implicated in narcotics smuggling across the border.

Pakistani media recently quoted analysts who feel that given the Pakistani army's ongoing offensive against [the now deceased] Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan, his cadres may flee into Balochistan and join forces with Jundullah to mount a stand there against Pakistani troops. In fact, of all the groups in Pakistan's border region, it is Jundullah which has the terrain knowledge, tactical capacity and ideological indoctrination that could even render true Pakistan's fears that the US-led operation in Helmand province of Afghanistan could lead to a spillover of some of the Afghan Taliban into Balochistan.
It seems not at all a stretch to assume that if the US launches drone attacks in Quetta, (1) there will be considerable "collateral damage" to other residents of what is in fact a densely populated city, and (2) Afghan Taliban might leave Quetta and flee into Baluchistan. Will the US then launch drone attacks into Baluchistan?  Will such an act bring Jundullah into direct confrontation with an already weakened Pakistani government and an already over-stretched Pakistani military?  Could Pakistan's leadership survive this, as well as the outcry that such an obvious breach of Pakistani sovereignty would raise from a Pakistani public that has by and large turned very anti-US (as Hillary Clinton discovered so rudely during her recent visit)?

This is a hornets' nest that Mr. Obama ought to be very wary of poking.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Washington Post's editorial chief on the "Surges"

Fred Hiatt spouting nonsense, to the effect that the "Surge" in Iraq produced a "win."  The implication is that the "Surge" in Afghanistan is going to work out to be just as peachy, that the US is likely to leave Afghanistan oh so much better than we found it, just like we did in Iraq.

How about those tens of thousands - maybe hundreds of thousands - of Iraqis whose deaths were caused by our intervention to begin with?  How about the 2 million or more who remain in foreign exile or are internally "displaced" because of Mr. Bush's great idea to re-make the Middle East?

The Surge in Iraq was A contributor to - not the chief reason for - the damping down of violence that is now making it possible for the US to leave.  But Iraq is not "fixed."  Anyone who entertains such a hubristic notion need only google Kirkuk, or Mosul, or Baghdad for that matter - and check out the stories date-lined there over the last year since the Surge wound down.

If this is the kind of state in which we will eventually exit Afghanistan, then I pity even more the young Americans - and the Afghans - whose lives are soon to be wasted there.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Take the War to Pakistan(?)

. . . or, at least, thus recommends RAND analyst Seth Jones, who advocates stepping up raids and drone attacks against the Afghan Taliban leadership reportedly holed up in Baluchistan:
The United States and Pakistan must target Taliban leaders in Baluchistan. There are several ways to do it, and none requires military forces.

The first is to conduct raids to capture Taliban leaders in Baluchistan. Most Taliban are in or near Baluchi cities like Quetta. These should be police and intelligence operations, much like American-Pakistani efforts to capture Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other Qaeda operatives after 9/11. The second is to hit Taliban leaders with drone strikes, as the United States and Pakistan have done so effectively in the tribal areas.

But, as so many commentators have noted, powerful elements in Pakistan's military (especially the ISI intelligence arm) see the Afghan Taliban as a strategic necessity in preserving Afghanistan as a "strategic-depth" insurance policy vis-a-vis India, Pakistan's existential enemy.  And drone strikes are (1) invasions of Pakistan's sovereignty that serve to exacerbate already rampant anti-Americanism in Pakistan (as Hillary Clinton learned in her recent visit there), and (2) producers of "collateral damage" - i.e., killing of innocent bystanders - that - let's say it again - serve to exacerbate already rampant anti-Americanism in Pakistan.

And today's suicide bombing at a mosque in Rawalpindi (as many as 40 killed) only makes that worse. As Reuters notes:
In outlining his Afghanistan strategy in a speech on Tuesday, U.S. President Barack Obama made a plea to Pakistan to fight the "cancer" of extremism and said Washington would not tolerate Pakistan allowing its territory to be a safe haven for militants.
That request may be unrealistic in a country where anti-U.S. feelings and suspicions run high. Many say Pakistan should not be fighting the United States' war against militants. Failure in Afghanistan could heavily damage Obama's presidency.
"This is not our war. This is America's war and as long as we continue to stay in the American bloc things will not change," said Rawalpindi resident Mujtaba Abbasi.

Nonetheless, as today's NYT reports, Obama seems to be listening to people like Jones: the CIA is indeed going to expand the use of drones in Pakistan.

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Obama's Surge: What Exactly is the Mission

or so asks this Army lieut. colonel.  Worth reading, and contemplating. . .

Meanwhile, in Iraq . . .

The  controversy over the election law continues, with outcome and repercussions (including impact on the US withdrawal, and subsequent redeployment of forces to Afghanistan) to be determined . . .

Obama's Afghan Surge

I'd love to weigh in, although a brief comment is all I've time for right now.

 But in fact, I weighed in on this last January, in a piece that got a nice mention in The Nation magazine's TomDispatch site.

And I still stand by what I wrote then.  You could see this coming a year ago.  And it's a huge mistake, for more reasons than I could possibly enumerate in a brief paragraph.  But to try:

1. The US can't afford it.  Our domestic economy is hurting; infrastructure is crumbling; schools are in decline; people are without jobs - and we're now running a huge deficit (which does indeed need to be paid for, sooner or later), and China's continuing infusion of money is keeping us afloat.

2.  The military is way overstretched, and exhausted.  Before the recession hit, they were scraping the bottom of the barrel by reducing qualifications for enlistment - taking people with medical and emotional problems and substandard intellectual capabilities.  Now, enlistments are up because there are no jobs, plus the military offers a nice signing bonus.

3. There is simply no way that in the space of the 18 months Obama has specified, a sufficiently large Afghan military and police force can be "trained up" that will be either competent or uncorrupted.  The burden is going to fall on US forces.  And by the military's own recommendations for counter-insurgency, the 100,000 US soldiers and marines (plus the several thousand NATO forces, many of whom are not permitted to engage in combat owing to their countries' rules of involvement) are no more than one-fourth of what's required.

In 18 months, the US-NATO forces may (I repeat, MAY) be able to secure Kabul and Kandahar, but the Taliban (whose numbers likely include - and now will likely attract - more anti-occupation resistance fighters [dare we call them "freedom fighters"?] than hard-core Islamists) will still control the countryside, and will be strong enough to move toward the cities again if the US decides to leave on schedule.  The Afghan "national army" won't be ready; the "tribal militias" that the US is already arming against the Taliban will be as likely to resist the Kabul (presumably Karzai) government as to side with them; so, . . . the US will need to stay on longer, and longer.  And the US and NATO forces will be chalking up both their own casualties, as well as hundreds of Afghans (mostly Pashtuns) as "collateral damage." 

How Obama and the Democrats reconcile all that with the 2012 (or even the 2010) elections remains to be seen.

And Osama bin Laden is undoubtedly thrilled.  What he wanted all along was to bring down the Great Satan by bleeding it to death. Mr. Bush and his pals unwittingly (or dim-wittedly) accommodated him.  It's sad to see Mr. Obama and his pals now rushing to hasten the demise.

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Setback for Sunni-Shii Reconciliation in Iraq

According to this AFP analysis, the veto of the election law by Sunni VP Tareq al-Hashemi has backfired.  His veto was intended to secure more votes for the Sunnis of Iraq, especially those who were forced into exile (either internal or external) by the sectarian blood-letting of 2006-2008.  Instead, the parliament went ahead with an amendment that will likely leave the Sunnis with even less representation.

Meanwhile, in another development that may exacerbate some Sunnis' frustration, a "mysterious" new Saddam Hussein channel is popping up on Iraqis' TV screens.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Ratcheting Up the Pressure on Iran

The WaPo reports on the IAEA censure of Iran for not being more forthcoming on its nuclear program.  At least Ray Takeyh sounds a voice of reason:
Ray Takeyh, a Council on Foreign Relations scholar who until recently was a senior adviser on Iran policy in the State Department, said, "There is a certain degree of impatience in American diplomacy. We have elevated Iran to a level of extreme danger, which it is not, and created a crisis atmosphere, which is unwise." When President Richard M. Nixon first reached out to China, it took that country a year and half to respond positively, he noted.

"The Iranians may come back in March with a counterproposal," he said. "No deal ever dies in Tehran. The Iranians never say yes or no."
Meanwhile, Iran has responded with a threat to leave the Non-Proliferation Treaty.  Not exactly a hopeful sign as Obama prepares to escalate the Afghan war.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Netanyahu's "settlement freeze"

The ever-so-magnanimous Mr. Netanyahu has declared a 10-month freeze in settlement construction in the West Bank.  Predictably, he's being hammered from the Right, including the pro-settlement portion of his electoral base, who are screaming betrayal and, ominously indeed, are saying it's time to go after him the way they went after earlier PMs who entertained compromise on the issue of Jewish settlements.  (One of those PMs, of course, was Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated by a pro-settlement extremist.)

But please read the fine print on this magnanimous declaration:
  • existing construction will continue
  • there will be no halt to construction of schools, synagogues, and similar infrastructure
  • there will be no halt in construction in East Jerusalem, which is part of "our sovereign capital."

This is a joke.

But the timing is perfect for Mr. Obama, who now can say that his patience and policies have helped bring about "progress" in the "peace process" - at a time, of course, when he desperately needs to embellish his foreign-policy creds, now that he's about to announce (from West Point, no less) a major escalation of the US military effort in Afghanistan.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Obama's Mega-Crapshoot

End of semester crunch (and looming book deadline) leave me little time for blogging, but I might recommend this piece from Dan Balz in Sunday's WaPo. Obama has no good options, at least among the ones evidently up for serious consideration.  He's going to get hammered politically, no matter what he decides on the size of his "surge."  But I'm afraid that once he boosts troop numbers - unless some measurable "progress" is made soon, with little loss of life, and a big light starts shining at the end of the proverbial tunnel - his Afghan war is going to become "in for a dime, in for a dollar."  If Lyndon Johnson were still alive, he could tell Obama all about that.  Speaking of which . . .

A must-read is William Polk's magisterial guest contribution at Juan Cole's Informed Comment site . . .

Friday, November 20, 2009

Hillary and warlord Dostum party together

OK, perhaps I'm being a bit flippant in putting it this way, but the fact of the matter is that many citizens of Afghanistan are going to be repulsed by the fact that the Secretary of State of the USA is a guest at a (post-Karzai-inauguration) "gala" where another of the guests is Abdul Rashid Dostum, whom this McClatchy report describes as
the Afghan warlord who's become a symbol of cronyism and government corruption" and who "was stripped of his top military post after he was accused of war crimes and investigated for enacting vigilante justice on the streets of Kabul."
Not a problem for Hillary though.  As today's AfPak report from Foreign Policy notes:
when asked whether the U.S. would support a Karzai administration with warlords, she said, "Well, there are warlords and there are warlords."

Meanwhile, after weeks of hammering "re-elected" President Karzai on corruption and poor leadership, the US now seems to be trying a new approach = making nice with him, including getting Richard Holbrooke out of his face and replacing him with Hillary herself as chief contact. (See today's WaPo and NY Times for related stories.)

So here we are, snuggling up even tighter with warlords and crooks in Kabul, even as we encourage the arming of local tribal militias in the Afghan countryside - many of whose members will have no love lost for either the warlords or the crooks.

Again, channeling General Petraeus: "Tell me how this ends."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Odierno says Al-Qaeda in Iraq now More Iraqi

Noteworthy report from Reuters, and if accurate, a disturbing development, especially if AQI people are working with Baathist hold-overs. I have to say, I don't completely trust Odierno's motives here.  For months he's been making statements to the effect that Obama ought to reconsider the withdrawal timetable in Iraq because the Iraqi security forces aren't ready to take over, and because the threat from AQI and Baathists is still significant.

Iraq is by no means home free.  I'll say it again: the Surge didn't "work" to do anything more than dampen down the violence that was raging, especially around Baghdad.  The ethnic and sectarian fissure are still there, and parties that are not happy with the status quo are going to try to widen them.

Plan for Expanded Jewish Settlement in Jerusalem "Angers" US

Thus reads the headline in today's NY Times, but the actual word used by Obama's press secretary Robert Gibbs is "dismayed."

"Dismayed."  Oh my goodness!  The US must be really angry.  Better watch out, Mr. Netanyahu.

(Actually, as Haaretz correspondent Akiva Eldar notes today, Netanyahu knows that when it comes to construction in East Jerusalem, he can do just about whatever he wants.  His history with Bill Clinton during the late 1990s, when he had his first term as PM,  tells him so.  And besides, Israel need to do what it needs to do, because, after all, says Netanyahu, it's "the most threatened country in the world"   Hey, did you hear that, Mr. Karzai?  How about you, Ahmadinejad?  You listening, Mr. Zardari?  Huh, what'd you say, Nuri al-Maliki?  No worries about your new Iraq being torn apart when the US forces leave?. 

(Well, that's actually IF they leave.  One of Iraq's VPs has just vetoed the much-ballyhooed new election law - which could slow down US withdrawal.)

Obama did at least say to Fox News that such settlement expansion would not make Israel safer, and would only embitter the Palestinians and make it tougher to achieve peace.  Bu then, of course, he hastened to add:
I've said repeatedly and I'll say again, Israel's security is a vital national interest to the United States, and we will make sure they are secure."
Whew!  Thank goodness!  That statement that you were actually dismayed really had us worried that you might really do something about it, like not have the US veto the attempt to bring a Palestinian statehood proposal to the UN Security Council.


Speaking of which, the usual suspects are piling on to thwart the Palestinian proposal to unilaterally declare an independent state - although Palestinian negotiator Saab Erekat has clarified their intention, which is ". . .to take to the United Nations Security Council a request that the international community re-endorse the two-state solution based on the pre-Jun. 5, 1967 borders." Netanyahu has one-upped Mahmud Abbas' move by threatening to annex parts of the West Bank.

And it seems that an ever-larger part of the IDF will be ready to help.  Six soldiers have refused orders to evacuate settlers from illegal outposts.  Perhaps understandable, when  rabbis are telling them that soldiers are not allowed to take part in such operations. Take note:

An extremist right-wing group calling itself the Organization for Saving the Nation and the Land has already announced that it will pay each soldier NIS 1,000 for every day they spend in military prison.

IDF sources said that in both incidents, the soldiers were egged on and abetted by right-wing activists from outside the army: Both acts were filmed, and the material was disseminated by right-wing activists and settlers involved in the efforts to reestablish the West Bank settlement of Homesh, which was evacuated during the disengagement in the summer of 2005.

The soldiers' commanders believe the protesters were also prepared in advance for the ensuing trials. For example, the officers noted, the soldiers all reiterated the same arguments in support of their actions.

And in both instances, some of the soldiers came from the two extremist hesder yeshivas: The most recent protest was the work of graduates of the Elon Moreh yeshiva, while the previous one was carried out by graduates of Har Bracha. Both yeshivas are located in settlements in the Nablus area.

The book published by Rabbi Melamed of Har Bracha was entitled "Revivim." In it, he offered answers to halakhic questions pertaining to "nation, land, army."

Melamed has repeatedly urged troops to refuse to obey orders during the evacuation of settlements, and he reiterated this in his book.

"A simple halakha [law] is that it is forbidden for any person, whether a soldier or an officer ... to participate in the strictly forbidden act of expelling Jews from their homes and handing over any portion of the Land of Israel to enemies," he wrote. "Those who violate this violate several commandments of the Torah ... Moreover, anyone who considers the situation realistically knows with certainty that any such action encourages those who hate us and endangers the lives of many in Israel."

In another part of the book, Melamed wrote in favor of serving in the IDF, "in order to carry out the extremely important commandment of defending the nation and the land. However, we must reiterate that an order that facilitates an expulsion must be refused."

In response to the question, "What if many soldiers refuse; will that not cause the army to collapse?" Melamed wrote: "If many refuse, no such order will be given. At most, senior commanders will have to resign. On the contrary, it would be good if this happened. The majority of the senior officers are contaminated by politics. They are not commanders who can lead the army to victory, as was shown in the Second Lebanon War."

Monday, November 16, 2009

Have the UN Security Council Declare a Palestinian State

Isn't this something?  The Palestinians are saying they've had it up to here with the nonsense of the "peace process" (BRAVO!).  Mahmud Abbas is fed up with being run around by both the Israelis and the US, and is saying he won't run for the presidency of the Palestinian Authority - and may even resign and just walk away.  Which means the entire PA may fall apart, which means no handy stooge for Netanyahu to bully - and which means no more inernational donors ponying up money for the PA, no more PA security forces to be paid (because there'll be no money to pay them, or bureaucracy to handle it all) - and which means that the entire mess gets dumped in Israel's lap.

This also means that Obama has a few more balls in the air.  Unfortunate, given the stakes in Afghanistan/Pakistan/Iraq/Iran plus the health-care reform issues, etc. - but Obama has brought this one on himself, by punking out on holding Netanyahu's feet to the fire on the settlement issue, and then for trying to force Abbas to join the US in keeping the Goldstone report from going forward at the UN, and then letting Hillary stand beaming next to Netanyahu and talking about his "unprecedented concessions."  Not your most shining moments, Mr. President.

But now the Palestinians are actually upping the stakes, by pushing for the UN Security Council to recognize officially the independence of a Palestinian state.  Netanyahu's upset, saying
"There is no substitute for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority...any unilateral path will only unravel the framework of agreements between us and will only bring unilateral steps from Israel's side."
Shimon Peres is outraged (his line being, essentially, "What!  If there's an official independent Palestinian state, then what happens to our precious negotiations?"  To quote him,
 "A Palestinian state cannot be established without a peace agreement. It's impossible and it will not work. It's unacceptable that they change their minds every day. Bitterness is not a policy."
  Right.  There was a beautiful line in an essay in Haaretz today, by Akiva Eldar:
For 16 years, the soft murmur of the "peace process" that has been leading nowhere has drowned out the roar of the bulldozers that are deepening the occupation.
That Peres would lugubriously be bemoaning the demise of what's been essentially a sham ever since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin beggars credulity.

Anyway, The Independent has an excellent report on this new development.  It will more or less demand of an international community that says it wants an independent Palestinian state, "Here's a chance to do something about it."  There's also an interesting parallel between such a course of action by the UN, on the one hand, and the process whereby the new state of Israel was created and recognized in 1948:
 a UN resolution endorsing it in November 1947, the Declaration of Independence by David Ben Gurion in May 1948 and the subsequent swift recognition by the US and Soviet Union.
 Israel's only veto in the Security Council is the one that the US has so automatically cast for it in recent decades.  As The Independent notes, for the US to veto this - if it can get that far, of course - would expose once again the US's extreme bias.  As Palestinian negotiator Saab Erekat noted:
 "We have taken an Arab foreign ministers' decision to seek the help of the international community," Mr Erekat told Reuters, adding that the US and other leading international players would be consulted before any UN move. "If the Americans cannot get the Israelis to stop settlement activities, they should also not cover them when we decide to go to the Security Council," he added.
It will be extremely interesting to see how much traction this proposal develops in the days ahead.  I imagine that, besides the Israelis, the US State Dept is furious that Palestinian leaders are taking matters so much into their own hands.  I can also imagine that Hillary's people will be pushing every guilt button and pressure point they can find to get them to back down.  I hope the Palestinian leaders can hold their ground.  Because it ought to be more than obvious by now that until Mr. Obama and his crew summon the courage to exert real pressure on Netanyahu/Lieberman/Peres et al., the US has nothing for them anymore.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Problem with Iraq's New Elections Law

One of Iraq's vice-presidents, the Sunni Arab Tareq al-Hashemi, is now insisting that the newly passed elections law be changed.  More important, he has the veto power to be able to stop the law in its tracks, thereby causing a postponement of the election (which has already been pushed back to later in January 2010 than was originally intended) and, as a result, some delay in the schedule for Obama's withdrawal of US combat forces from the country.

You can bet that Mr. al-Hashemi is taking some heat from Iraqi legislators, not to mention the US ambassador and other representatives of the US government.  But he has a point.

The new elections law makes no provision for representation for the 2 million Iraqis who have left the country since 2003, most of them Sunni Arabs, most of them forced into exile because of the threats they faced from Shii Arabs in Baghdad and the south.  And let's face it: Iraq as a political entity has about zero chance of survival if its Sunni citizens, who dominated Iraq's political establishment from the creation of the Hashemite kingdom in 1921 down to the ouster of Saddam and the mostly-Sunni Baath in 2003, feel as if they've not been given sufficient representation.

Coming up with a formula to do that will be difficult, but necessary if there's to be any chance for the new Shii-dominated government to stay on its feet.  On the other hand, the Shii, long disadvantaged in the Iraqi political system, now have the upper hand, know they have the upper hand, and are fearful that any significant concessions to Sunni representation will undercut their own new ascendancy.  Nor will Iran be happy to see concessions made to a Sunni element whose former leaders launched the devastating Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988.

Stay tuned.

The Wall Street Journal's Sliming of Two Superb Archaeologists

Yesterday's WSJ published a horrendously sourced "report" accusing two prominent archaeologists, John Curtis and Elizabeth Stone, of falsely accusing the US of damaging Babylon and promoting the looting of archaeological sites in Iraq.

FWIW, I posted a response this morning in the piece's comments section:

A new low for the Wall Street Journal, to publish such a thinly sourced piece of garbage. Profs. Stone and Curtis have devoted their lives to the study of Iraq's ancient civilizations, and know as much about them, and about the current state of their remains, as anyone on the planet. Prof. Stone has dedicated the last several years to helping Iraq prepare a new generation of its own archaeologists, assisted by a federal grant (awarded under Bush, not Obama). Furthermore, Curtis and Stone are not the only archaeologists who have weighed in on this matter. Even the most basic Google search would have led Kaylan to other reports, sources, and images. (If he needs some help, have him google "Matthew Bogdanos" - a Marine officer who has been intensely involved in this issue, and who would know a hell of a lot more about it than Chaplain Marrero; or "Warka vase" - a famous stone vase, dating ca. 3200 BCE, broken during the looting of the Baghdad Museum; or "Isin" - an important site for which one can find post-2003 images of looters smiling for the camera. I, or anyone else who studies Ancient Iraq, could go on and on.)

Did Saddam inflict some damage? Yes. But the fact of the matter is that the 2003 invasion opened the floodgates for looting at a number of sites. Looted objects have appeared on eBay and elsewhere. Reports of attempts to smuggle collections out of Iraq appear regularly in the mainstream press.

Profs. Stone and Curtis have been working tirelessly to counter this damage. Iraq and the world owe them a debt of gratitude. Instead, the WSJ publishes a slanderous report that attempts to slime their reputation, based on the thinnest of sources - i.e., one Marine Chaplain, who spent only 3 months at Babylon, and who represents an organization called "Faith Walk" (gosh, no agenda there).

I might suggest that the WSJ repudiate Kaylan's "report" and publish instead a letter of apology - and even an expression of gratitude - to Drs. Curtis and Stone.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

An Offer from Turkey - a Dilemma for the West?

The BBC reports that Turkey and the IAEA are discussing a proposal that would allow Iran to store some of its enriched uranium in Turkey.  The original deal, of course, was that Iran would ship that uranium to Russia, who might then send some of it to France for processing for use in Iran's medical reactor.  Iran has been backing away from that one, for reasons not completely transparent to Western diplomats, but including some degree of fear that once they sent it out, the US - Europeans - Israel just might make sure that Iran would never see it again.

But now Turkish PM Erdogan may be riding to the rescue with a mediating proposal.  Question is, will the US - Euros - Israel go for it?  Highly debatable.  Turkey and Iran are growing closer, Turkey and Israel have grown farther apart, especially since the Gaza invasion and Erdogan's subsequent public berating of Shimon Peres at the Davos Conference - followed by Turkey's backing out of a planned joint military exercise with the IDF a few weeks ago.  France and Germany have decided to oppose Turkey's proposed entry into the EU, and an appropriately miffed Turkey has lately been telling them to go stuff themselves.  Add to all this the fact that Turkey is emerging not only as a neo-Ottoman regional power, but also as a major player in the pipeline politics of the region . . . .

Would the US - Euros - Israel want Turkey to be the keeper of Iran's uranium if Turkey won't play ball in re their plans to keep Iran down?  On the other hand, would the US - Euros - Israel dare to say no to Erdogan's offer, and thereby risk alienating Turkey even more?

Stay tuned . . .

The Ever-Mounting Human Cost of Our Wars

The Washington Post reports on a story that's getting more and more traction, especially in the aftermath of the attacks at Fort Hood.  The morale of US troops in Afghanistan is down (even as morale of troops in Iraq is touted as on the rise), and soldiers dealing with emotional-health issues are having great difficulty getting help because the military is understaffed with mental-health professionals.  Combine that with the continuing stigma in the military for soldiers who admit to problems and seek help, and it's obvious that these guys are in a world of hurt.

And that's just the tip of the ice-berg.

Kelly Vlahos reported recently on the number of US casualties from both the Iraq and the Afghanistan wars.  The total: 90,000.
That includes a tire-screeching 75,134 dead, wounded-in-action, and medically evacuated due to illness, disease, or injury in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), and 14,323 and counting in Afghanistan, or Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).
These numbers do not include suicides:
196 servicemembers took their own lives while serving in Iraq between March 2003 and Oct. 31, 2009, and there were 35 such suicides in Afghanistan. (These figures, of course, do not include the skyrocketing cases of suicides among all active-duty soldiers and veterans and cases of self-inflicted injury outside both war zones.)
And consider this:
some 454,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have already sought medical care from the Veterans Administration (VA) when they came home. That’s 40 percent of the total OIF/OEF veteran population, which is a number that is of course in flux, considering that the war has no end and veterans have five years to apply for care after the end of their service.

As of this summer, of those veterans who sought healthcare at the VA, 45 percent were diagnosed with a mental health condition, according to VA statistics. Twenty-seven percent of these had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Based on available resources from the DOD and research by the RAND Corporation, VCS estimates that an estimated 370,000 (or 19.5 percent of) veterans have a traumatic brain injury (TBI) thanks to the high rate of accidents, roadside bombs, and other battlefield explosions and events – plus repeated deployments – in the war. VCS also estimates that some 18.5 percent of veterans come home with PTSD.

And consider the costs to come:
Looking at it in monetary terms – more numbers – may seem cold, but again, it puts the taxpayers’ burden into shocking perspective. Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz have identified two scenarios in their book, The Three Trillion Dollar War (2008). One scenario estimates a long-term cost of $422 billion to the federal government for veterans’ health care and disability compensation (given 1.8 million men and women deployed and troop levels falling below 55,000 by 2012). In the other scenario, the U.S. stays in Iraq and Afghanistan another eight years and 2.1 million men and women are deployed, with a price tag of $717 billion
And not mentioned here are the social costs: lives ruined, families destroyed, children either without a parent or burdened with a parent who may be deeply emotionally disturbed, emotionally unstable men and women who, to some extent, are walking, ticking time-bombs re-introduced into an American society that goes on playing its video games and generally trying hard to ignore the evidence of the destruction its government's actions are wreaking.

And, of course, so many of us are in complete denial of the even larger human cost of those actions: the tens (perhaps hundreds) of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans who've been maimed or killed by US intervention - and the (surely) hundreds of thousands of internal and external refugees, widows, orphans, families who have lost husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters.  Again, most Americans are oblivious to their loss, their personal catastrophes. 

Of course, when the US president who launched these wars insists that we're fighting people who don't value life like "we" do, it's easy for Americans to buy into some misguided notion that "their" lives don't really count, and that their feelings about all this need not be reckoned with.

Wanna bet?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Well, call me a terrorist

The LA Times reports (as do AFP  and the New York Times) on the federal government's seizure of the assets of the Alavi Foundation, which they refer to as a front for the government of Iran and accuse of various perfidious activities.  Somehow though I get the sense that this is harassment and pressuring of Iran in re the nuclear issue more than anything else.

But in the interests of full disclosure, I've sent about $12 a year to the Alavi Foundation.  Every year, they offer beautiful calendars, in exchange for a small donation.  The calendars feature gorgeous pictures of artworks, mosques, and historical sites in Iran, as well as parallel daily calendars that show how the Western and Muslim lunar calendars align.  They also list important dates in the Muslim calendar: Ramadan, Eid, birthdays of Muhammad as well as various Shii imams.  I've found the calendars to be useful teaching tools, both for the historical information and for the pictures.  I've even given one to a graduate assistant as a gift. 

Really scary terrorist stuff.

Guess I better prepare an action plan for when the big black SUV with Federal government license plates pulls up.

How the U.S. Funds the Taliban

Escalating (dare I say, "surging") into a situation like this?!  Words fail me . . .

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Predictable cheer-leading from Bush's former speechwriter

From one of the neocon luminaries who brought you the Iraq follies . . . Michael Gerson now encourages Mr. Obama to get fired up (with a transfusion of red corpuscles, as he puts it) and to fire all of us up, stir all of us to valor, when he announces the (expected by everyone) upcoming "surge" in Afghanistan.  I suppose we ought to be grateful that Gerson adopted a tone at least  slightly less disgusting that David Brooks' man-up urgings to Obama. 

But, please . . . .

Didn't we already let ourselves get sucked down this road in 2002?  How many times did we hear such stuff as (to cite Gerson's concluding lines),
In Afghanistan and other distant places, America's sons and daughters are saving the liberty of the world.
What drivel, what absolute nonsense.  I suppose he figures he can get away with this garbage on Veterans Day  - and with his ham-handed attempt to equate the Afghanistan war with the efforts of US doughboys at places like Belleau Wood during World War I.  I by no means mean to disparage the sacrifices being made by the members of the US military in Afghanistan, but Gerson does them no good service by cheerleading the US public into believing that an unwinnable war being waged in a place where we don't belong is remotely to be equated with the First World War.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

David Brooks' myopia on the Ft. Hood shootings

David Brooks, that uber-warrior and steadfast defender of the uniqueness of American  goodness and virtue, reflects on Major Nidal Malik Hasan and the Fort Hood shootings:

. . . over the past few decades a malevolent narrative has emerged.

That narrative has emerged on the fringes of the Muslim world. It is a narrative that sees human history as a war between Islam on the one side and Christianity and Judaism on the other. This narrative causes its adherents to shrink their circle of concern. They don’t see others as fully human. They come to believe others can be blamelessly murdered and that, in fact, it is admirable to do so.

This narrative is embraced by a small minority. But it has caused incredible amounts of suffering within the Muslim world, in Israel, in the U.S. and elsewhere. With their suicide bombings and terrorist acts, adherents to this narrative have made themselves central to global politics. They are the ones who go into crowded rooms, shout “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great,” and then start murdering.

Hmmm, okay.  What Major Hasan did was an atrocity, yes; it reflects a minority within Islam, yes.

But why restrict his focus to Muslims?  Why not even the slightest of nods to the Christian warriors of the US military and the White House, who from the moment those planes hit the World Trade Center on 9-11 saw the upcoming confrontation as one between God's Christian America and Satan's world of Islam.

Like President George W. Bush, who so famously in the days right after 9-11explicitly described the upcoming war in Afghanistan as a  "crusade" (until his advisers told him to cool it)?

Or like US Army General Jerry Boykin, the deputy undersecretary of Defense for intelligence in 2003, who said of his encounter with a Muslim warlord in Somalia: "I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol" - and who said in 2002, after 9-11, "We in the army of God, in the house of God, kingdom of God have been raised for such a time as this," and declared that radical Islamists hate the US "because we're a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christian ... and the enemy is a guy named Satan."

Or the US soldiers who operated a tank in Iraq with "New Testament" emblazoned on the barrel of their cannon?

Is Brooks too obtuse - or too much in denial - to bring to mind, and to his writing, such men as these, who surely took pride that, for every "hajji" they "took out," they were striking a blow for "the Lord.?

Monday, November 9, 2009

More on the Ft Hood shooting and the American response

Marc Lynch has a superb piece on this at the Foreign Policy website, responding to some on the Right who seem to find the Obama team's response as too "politically correct."

Also, see al-Jazeera for a report on the abuse that Major Hasan was taking within the US military (h/t to Pat Gordon on this).

The inner conflicts of the Fort Hood shooter

As reports like this one begin to appear about Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychotherapist who killed 13 and wounded 29 at Fort Hood, questions are being raised again about the loyalties of Muslims in the US, and especially in the US military.  Evidently a number of people - both fellow officers and fellow Muslims - had talked with him in the months before and could see that he was agitated about the conflict between his religion and his citizenship.  He's quoted in one report as saying that he felt himself to be a Muslim first, and an American second.

I suppose that we're supposed to be shocked by that.  But, tell me, if you asked them, how many US military officers do you think would identify themselves as Christians - or Jews - first, and Americans second? 

I also wonder about the impact on Hasan's thinking when (as the Salon report notes) a fellow soldier tore up his "Allah is Love" bumper-sticker?  Hasan evidently took a lot of abuse from his fellow soldiers because he is Muslim.

Complicated, no?  I had hoped that Americans had begun to ratchet down the Islamophobia that was so rampant in the months right after 9-11.  I fear that we may be in for a new round of ethnic profiling and demonization of Muslims, or of anyone whose name doesn't sound like that of a "real American."  More fuel, then, for anti-American sentiment all over the Muslim world - including, of course, Pakistan, the security of whose nuclear weapons is again under scrutiny with the appearance of Seymour Hersh's latest investigative piece in the New Yorker.

Unfortunately, Hasan's emotional breakdown is also likely to ramp up the old canards about Muslims as "fanatics."   I'll leave it to all of you to connect the dots between that and the Hersh report.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

General Casey backs Afghanistan Surge

Reuters reports that Gen. George Casey, US Army Chief of Staff, now backs a troop surge in Afghanistan.  This, by the way, is the same Gen. Casey who was the US commander in Iraq during the nadir of US military fortunes there in 2007, when the talk was of looming defeat - at which point Bush brought in David Petraeus, whose "Surge" brought the US "success" in Iraq.

In speaking with CNN, Casey also noted, in re the ongoing strain on US forces, that

"The Army remains out of balance. But we started in 2007 with a program to get ourselves back in balance by 2011. And since 2007, we have added 40,000 soldiers to the active force, which is a significant step forward,

Those added soldiers are, of course, largely a product of new enlistments.  And many of those new enlistments, of course, are a product of the US's economic downturn, with the jobless rate now over 10 percent (and by some measures, actually as high as 17 percent) and the military offering both a steady wage and a sizable bonus for signing on.

We all want the economy to improve, and for new jobs to be created . . . don't we?

The Approaching "Surge" in Afghanistan?

Both the NY Times and McClatchy report that all of the Afghanistan "solutions" now under consideration by Mr. Obama entail significant increases in US troops.  McClatchy says that a "middle" option of 34,000 troops is preferred at this point, while the NYT suggests that Obama may be leaning toward that option but others (including a high-end option of 45,000; what they call the "medium-risk" option) are still on the table.  Taking either of those options would push the US presence in Afghanistan to more than 100,000 troops, with 42,000 from other countries still there.  Public opinion in the second-largest contributor, the UK, is running heavily against the British presence, despite Gordon Brown's insistence that the British troops must stay.

But, as McClatchy notes, the US Army's counter-insurgency manual suggests that an all-out (i.e., properly resourced) effort would require 600,000 troops.  That kind of effort simply is impossible now or in the foreseeable future.

Some on the Right have been raising the cry that the Afghanistan situation resembles Vietnam 40 years ago, but that the US could/would/should have "won" there were it nor for the lily-livered liberals who undercut the military's efforts and denied them victory.  Obama surely is hearing from that side, loud and clear.  I do hope that he takes into consideration the pointed replies of people like John Kerry, whose recent piece in Newsweek is worth a read.  But I fear that Kerry's essay may be too little, too late.

And in this instance I fear that Mr. Obama's relative youth and inexperience when he was elected president are indeed coming back to haunt the US.  David Brooks recently challenged Obama to man up on the Afghanistan issue (I weighed in on his piece here, FWIW), and all of us will remember that one of the concerns raised about him during the 2008 campaign was that he'd never served in the military, had no real trials under fire (be they in military or long-term political combat), and therefore ought not be trusted in a crisis such as Afghanistan has become.  How can he not feel deep down that he now has something to prove in terms of toughness?

But not all of us will remember - because we're not old enough to remember - the run-up to the US escalation in Vietnam.  But those of us who are indeed old enough to remember have a visceral, gut feeling about it all (whether we were in combat or not; and John Kerry was indeed one of those in combat, on the ground), an everlasting sadness about that episode in our country's history that Mr. Obama (or for that matter, Sarah Palin) cannot have, because they either weren't around, or were too young to appreciate what was going on at the time.

The Vietnam-Afghanistan parallels have been discussed ad nauseam, by people perhaps better qualified than am I (for a few of the discussions, see here, here, and here).  But if Obama does indeed opt for a "Surge" in Afghanistan, I can see the road ahead opening up in a manner all too Vietnam-like.  30,000 added troops will not be enough; calls for more will be forthcoming; the John McCains and Lindsay Grahams in Congress will scream for more troops (so as to not "waste the sacrifices" of those who'd been killed, and because for US forces to come home without "victory" means without "honor" . . . many of us know the drill) . . . and so it goes, on and on.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Big oil's foot is now in Iraq's door. Now what?

This morning's LA Times reports that an Exxon Mobil-led consortium has inked a deal "to develop a  major oil field in southern Iraq,marking the first entry by an American-dominated group into Iraq's oil industry since it was nationalized in 1972."  One expert cites it as a coup for the Iraqi government, as the deal is only a service contract - i.e., fixed fee, with no percentage of the yield.  Big Oil doesn't like that, but seem to feel that they needed to get their foot in the door.

The question now becomes: Might a renewed insurgency blow that foot off?

Perhaps the biggest test that the Iraqi government will face as US troops are withdrawn (assuming that that indeed proceeds on schedule) will be their ability to provide security throughout the country.  Lately they've been failing that test - miserably - in Baghdad, with the two horrific bombings of recent months that killed hundreds.  Even with only a service contract, we can expect that a visible presence of US oil companies (both on-field installations and corporate offices) in southern Iraq is going to be a prime target of groups - both Sunni and Shii - that resent and resist any kind of American presence, that fear the US wants to rob Iraqis of their oil patrimony, and that also want to discredit the central government in Baghdad by showing up the ineffectiveness of its security forces.

There will be blood.  And that's a shame, not only on the obvious loss-of-life level, but also because the people of Iraq need so much in terms of rebuilding infrastructure - sewage systems, clean water, electricity, roads, information-technology infrastructure - and profits from oil and natural gas sales are by far the largest contributor to Iraq's GNP.

Another wrinkle: If Iraqi security forces aren't up to the job of protecting US interests in Iraq, it's likely that, given the US military drawdown, Big Oil will look to provide security on its own dime.  That could be private security contractors, or that could be locals.  Either way, more guns in more hands.  And that could be trouble.


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