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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