Saturday, July 31, 2010

Rattling the Cage: One man’s terrorist

H/T to Paul Woodward at War in Context for spotlighting this excellent piece from the Jerusalem Post's Larry Derfner.  The lede:

The greatest denouncers of Palestinian violence against Israel also tend to be the greatest defenders of pre-state Zionist violence against Britain.

Indeed.



Ominous news from Afghanistan; even worse news from Iraq

A number of notices have appeared in the last day or two about this just-ended July being the worst month ever for US troop deaths (66 dead) in Afghanistan.  Not good . . . but at least it's being duly noted here in the US, and people are talking about it, at least in Congress and at the think-tanks.

Not being noted - at least in the updates I'm getting from various sources - is a statistic that's even more frightening, in my opinion: the number of violent deaths this month in Iraq was the highest in more than two years.  More specifically,

A total of 396 civilians, 89 policemen and 50 soldiers died in attacks in July, data compiled by the health, defence and interior ministries showed.

The death toll is the highest for a single month since May 2008 when 563 people were killed in violence. July's figure is significantly higher than that for June, when 284 people died, and is nearly double the death toll from the same month a year ago, when 275 people were killed.

Saturday's figures also showed that 1,043 people -- 680 civilians, 198 policemen and 165 soldiers -- were injured in attacks this month, the highest such number this year.

The data also showed that 100 insurgents were killed and 955 were arrested.


Let's remember that the US does have a way of reducing US military casualties in Afghanistan - by getting out.  Despite all the White House insistence that the US military presence - including the ongoing "surge" of US forces into the region - is necessary, any number of well-informed observers have begged to differ, and have pointed out the reasons why withdrawal makes sense.  No, Mr. Obama chose to send in more Americans.

And let's not forget: the US Army and Marines are all-volunteer forces.  Bottom line: they may not have asked to be sent to Afghanistan, but they chose to enlist, knowing (some of them hoping) that they might be put in harm's way.

Of the Iraqis who were killed this month, 198 were policemen and 165 were soldiers: professionals who understand that their professions entail some risk (especially these days).  But the vast majority of the Iraqis who were killed  - the 680 civilians - were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, caught up in re-accelerating violence that was brought upon them (if I may borrow a line from the 2001 "hit" of country singer Toby Keith) "courtesy of the Red White and Blue."

You can bet that more deaths - exponentially more than the number of US soldiers and marines who will be killed in Afghanistan - are in store.  And the poor Iraqis involved have no way out except fleeing, joining the 4 million of their countrymen who've already been forced into either internal or foreign exile.  They can't be "withdrawn.  Indeed, they're being used as pawns in a struggle over which they have no control.

Again, my friends, Iraq is not "over."  And if it spins out of control, the consequences may be much more dire than those of any withdrawal from Afghanistan.




Friday, July 30, 2010

Another Israeli P.R. Coup

not really.  The Guardian reports on another settler+IDF eviction of a Palestinian family from Jerusalem's Old City.  45 people, of a family that had occupied the dwelling for 70 years:

According to Mohammed Kirresh, 22, a member of the Palestinian family, "Jewish people and Israeli soldiers with weapons" came at 2am, when most of the family was at a wedding.

He said the family, which had rented the property since 1936, had won two previous court cases challenging eviction orders. He claimed the Israelis had broken furniture and damaged belongings.

"Everything we own is inside – our money, ID papers, clothes, food," he said. Armed police were guarding the entrance to the house.

Around 20 members of the Kirresh family pledged to stay on the narrow street outside the house. "We are staying here," said Mohammed Kirresh. "We hope the court will rule in our favour."

The new occupants of the house refused to speak to the press.


Well, keep pushing for those peace talks, Mr. Obama.  I'm sure they'll fix everything.



Want to learn something about the history of Jerusalem?

. . . and specifically, why East Jerusalem does not belong to Israel?  Check out Prof. Juan Cole in Tuesday's Salon. And then, drop by his Informed Comment blog to see his comments ("The Closing of the Zionist Mind") on the over-the-top screed by the Jerusalem Post's Caroline Glick  in which she tries to lambaste Cole (who undoubtedly has forgotten more about the history of Jerusalem - and of Israel - than Glick will ever know.)

Iraq's Violence is Down? There's No Chance of Iraq Sliding Back into Sectarian Slaughter?

For decades, from the standpoint of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," the people of Iraq have deserved much better than what they've received.  Mr. Bush launched his little adventure there more than seven years ago, with the implicit understanding that Iraq was to be re-made as a model of democracy and stability, as part of the shiny "new Middle East."

Now the US is heading for the exit (well, why not?  John McCain reassures us that "we've won there.") And Admiral Mullen and others are oh so sure that Iraq's on the right road, that it's all gonna be all right.

They need to read this piece by Liz Sly and Raheem Salman, about Thursday's "brazen assault" in the Adhamiya section of Baghdad that killed 16, ten of them members of the security forces.  They might take special note of the following:
In scenes reminiscent of the worst years of the insurgency, when militants ruled supreme in the neighborhood, gunmen overran an army checkpoint on a busy street around 3 p.m., killing three soldiers and setting their bodies ablaze. Then, as police and army vehicles raced to the rescue, the assailants detonated five explosive devices in quick succession and pinned down the stricken forces with automatic weapons.

Shops closed, residents raced for home, and gunfire rattled through the deserted streets as the neighborhood seemed to be spiraling out of control. Police said about 35-40 insurgents were involved in the assault, operating in groups of four or five and hiding in surrounding houses. Some were wearing masks, but others were not, suggesting they had no fear of being recognized by locals.

As the battle raged, army and police officials said, the militants pulled down the Iraqi flag from the checkpoint and raised in its place the black banner of the insurgent group Al Qaeda in Iraq, recalling the time before the area was pacified by U.S. troops and members of the Awakening movement in the fall of 2007.

By nightfall, the security forces had sealed off the area, imposed a curfew and began carrying out widespread arrests, moving house to house detaining suspects amid sporadic bursts of gunfire. . . .

The ease with which insurgents appeared to overwhelm the army, albeit briefly, was a chilling reminder of the potential for an insurgent comeback as the political stalemate over the formation of a new government drags on. The country's political factions have not even agreed which bloc should lead the government, leaving wide open the question of who will be the next prime minister. . . .

Officials say U.S. troops remain on track to complete their drawdown to 50,000 noncombat forces by Aug. 31. Visiting Baghdad this week to prod Iraqi leaders into speeding up their negotiations, U.S. Adm. Michael G. Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he saw "absolutely nothing to negatively impact that." All U.S. troops are scheduled to leave by the end of 2011.

U.S. officials say the drawdown will have little practical effect because Iraqi security forces have been responsible for most of the nation's hotspots since U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq's cities in June of last year.

Adhamiya has been under Iraqi army control for most of the last three years, and although it has been mostly calm, relations have long been strained between the mostly Shiite Muslim security forces and the mostly Sunni Muslim residents, who complain of discriminatory behavior by the soldiers.

Those sectarian tensions surfaced during Thursday's battles. A policeman in Adhamiya who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the matter said some residents came onto the streets during the initial assault to applaud the gunmen as the bodies of the dead soldiers burned.

Another officer, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said the security forces did not dare take their injured to the hospital for fear that Sunni doctors would not treat them well. Instead, the officer said, they took their injured to more distant facilities, and one policeman bled to death on the way.




Thursday, July 29, 2010

Clinton's Camp David talks, 10 years after

Fine essay by Ben White in the Christian Science Monitor (republished in Gulf Times). The "peace process" is a joke; as is the "two-state solution."  The settlements are too many and too big; the settlers are too entrenched (and  a substantial percentage of them are violently anti-Arab racists); and any significant move back to the 1967 borders would bring civil war, with large parts of the Israeli army defecting to the pro-settler side.  Meanwhile, East Jerusalem is now home to 200,000 Jewish colonists whom the Israeli government has been encouraging to settle there for years.

And the US has let it happen - and more specifically (although our leaders are much too blame), ordinary Americans whose ignorance of history is matched only by their idiotic insistence on treating "Biblical promises" as historical imperatives.

Israel can't survive without the settlements

Noticed this headline from the Desertpeace site.  It's a bit misleading, in that it what it actually reports is that Netanyahu told the Spanish foreign minister that his government cannot survive any continuation of the settlement freeze after the scheduled 26 September expiration.  In other words, "Bibi"'s putative motive for rejecting a continuation of the freeze is political expediency - ensuring his political survival.

Meanwhile, PA president Mahmud Abbas is under a lot of pressure from the Obama administration to enter direct negotiations with the Israelis, even though Obama has to know by this point that for Abbas to do so would completely destroy whatever tattered shreds of credibility he might still have in the West Bank. Abbas has gotten nothing - nothing - for the Palestinians after several years now of fruitless meetings with Ariel Sharon, George Bush, Ehud Olmert, except for a bunch of smiley-face photos of him looking "presidential" in their presence.

Obama's motive for the push?  How about political expediency? - his need to shore up support for Democrats as November elections approach.  By pressuring Abbas back to the table, Obama gets at least some small peg upon which to hang his "I'm committed to Israel's security" hat.  In the eyes of Israel's supporters here in the US, Obama scuffed up that hat with his Cairo outreach speech and his subsequent demands for the settlement freeze.  Now the elections are coming - and Democratic congressmen are facing an electorate that's angry about so much with the Democrat-led government, and - as at least one major recent poll has shown - that overwhelmingly supports Israel against Palestinian claims to the West Bank.

This, of course, despite the fact that international law comes down strongly against Israel when it comes to their ever-expanding occupation of the West Bank.  Meanwhile, as the WaPo recently reported, Israel's overtly racist foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman (who is himself a settler), only a few days ago "was planting a tree in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank -- an indication of permanence that few Palestinians would welcome." He also reassured his audience:
"When we took the decision on the settlement freeze, we said explicitly that it was only for 10 months and that afterward life would return to the way it was. We think people here, who were sent here by previous Israeli governments to live, have a right to live normal lives."
That right to normal lives evidently must include the "right" of Jewish  settler hooligans to torch Palestinians' olive trees.  (The WaPo noted that "From the bulletproof window of his bus, Lieberman could see Palestinian olive trees burning on a hillside that settler youths had torched.")  Adding more fuel to that fire, Lieberman also told one of the settlers of his intention to bring mobile homes to the settlement to house new immigrants from Russia (who, in Lieberman's view, have more of a right to live in the West Bank than do Palestinian families who have lived there for generations.

Meanwhile, around the same time that Lieberman was encouraging those West Bank settlers, in the Negev Desert,
Israeli bulldozers, flanked by helicopters and throngs of police, demolished the entire Bedouin village of al-Araqib in the northern Negev desert. Despite their land rights cases still pending in the court system, hundreds of al-Araqib villagers were instantly made homeless a month after Israeli police posted demolition orders.

Eyewitness reports say the police were accompanied by several busloads of right-wing Israeli civilians who cheered during the demolitions.
An Arab opposition group has stated:
"The destruction's declared aim is to facilitate plans by the Jewish National Fund to plant a [forest] on the site. We regard this demolition as a criminal act. Bedouin citizens of Israel are not enemies, and forestation of the Negev is not a reasonable pretext for destroying a community which is more than 60 years old, dispossessing its residents and violating the basic rights of hundreds of Israeli civilians, men, women and children."

"This act by the state authorities is no 'law enforcement' -- it is an act of war, such as is undertaken against an enemy. This act cannot be dissociated from yesterday's statement by Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, who at the cabinet meeting sounded a warning about 'a situation in which a demand for national rights will be made from some quarters inside Israel, for example in the Negev, should the area be left without a Jewish majority. Such things happened in the Balkans, and it is a real threat.' Presenting the Bedouin citizens of Israel as 'a real threat' gives legitimacy to the expulsion of Israel's Bedouin citizens from the Negev in order to 'Judaize' it. We call on all who care for democracy to give their support to this threatened community."

It's not only local Arabs who protest Israel's shabby, arguably racist treatment of Arabs who live either in Israel itself or in the West Bank.  (I won't even mention the prison camp into which Israel has turned Gaza.)  Note the case of this American Jewish student who, while visiting Israel, decided to act:
A macabre legal wrangle is under way over who should pay the hospital bill for an American art student who lost an eye after being struck by a tear-gas canister fired by an Israeli border police officer at a Palestinian-led protest in the West Bank.

The student, Emily Henochowicz, 21, was injured on May 31 after she joined Palestinian and foreign activists protesting that morning’s deadly raid by Israeli naval commandos on a Turkish boat trying to breach the blockade of Gaza. Israeli security forces fired tear gas to disperse the demonstration after a few Palestinian youths threw rocks.

Witnesses at the protest, by the Qalandiya checkpoint near Ramallah, said that a border police officer had fired the tear-gas directly at the demonstrators, rather than into the air in line with regulations. The Israeli police have begun a criminal investigation.

But the lawyer representing Ms. Henochowicz, Michael Sfard, recently received a letter from the Israeli Ministry of Defense rejecting any demand for compensation or payment of hospital costs. The reason, the ministry stated, was that the protest was violent and that the tear-gas canister was not fired directly but had ricocheted off a concrete barricade.


Ms. Henochowicz, who is Jewish and is a student at the Cooper Union in New York, arrived in Israel in February for what was supposed to be a six-month student exchange. Her father was born in Israel to Holocaust survivors whom he described as “ardent Zionists.”
Ms. Henochowicz, who was treated at Hadassah University Medical Center in Ein Kerem, had her left eye removed and suffered fractures that required the insertion of titanium plates. She returned to the United States in early June, where she is continuing to visit doctors and specialists.

But more than the cost of the treatment in Israel, which amounted to about $10,000, there are clearly legal principles and interests at stake.

The student’s father, Dr. Stuart Henochowicz, said by telephone that he had not yet explored the question of whether his daughter’s insurance would cover the bill, because he was under the impression that it would be paid by the Ministry of Defense.

On Tuesday, the ministry stated that according to preliminary checks, the border police dealt lawfully with the “violent protest at Qalandiya,” and that the firing of tear gas was justified. While expressing sorrow over Ms. Henochowicz’s injury, the ministry added that it did not cover hospitalization expenses in circumstances such as these.

After her arrival in Israel, Ms. Henochowicz, who came to Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, got involved with the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement after meeting activists at a demonstration in Sheikh Jarrah, an East Jerusalem neighborhood where settlers have won court cases and evicted several Palestinian families from their homes.

From Sheikh Jarrah, Ms. Henochowicz frequented the regular Palestinian protest spots in the West Bank like Bilin, Nilin and Nabi Saleh. The late May protest was her first at Qalandiya. “I did not know what it would be like,” she said.

The demonstration came hours after Israel’s raid on an aid flotilla. Violent clashes broke out on the Turkish boat and nine activists — eight Turks and an American-Turkish youth — were killed.

Ms. Henochowicz said she was not standing near the stone throwers. She was holding a Turkish and an Austrian flag when she was struck.

Avi Issacharoff, an Israeli journalist from the newspaper Haaretz, was watching the demonstration. “The police fired a tear-gas grenade, and then another and another,” he wrote in June “I remember that what surprised me was the volley of grenade fire directly aimed directly at the demonstrators, not at the sky. After the fourth grenade, if I am not mistaken, a shout was heard about 100 meters away.”

Unusual for a foreign activist in a conflict where battle lines are often starkly drawn, Ms. Henochowicz says she feels a certain affinity with both sides. She said she had wanted to help the Palestinians, but because of her background, she said she also felt “very attached” to Israel “in lots of ways.”

She added, “If I did not really care about what was happening in the country, I would have hung out on the beach all day.”






Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Hans Blix on Bush-Blair

The NYT's John Burns reports on Hans Blix's testimony before the British commission of inquiry into the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  Mr. Blix, as you recall (please, tell me that you do indeed recall), led the UN team scouring Iraq for those tons of WMDs that, we were sure, Saddam had hidden all over his country.  Blix's team found nothing; said so; wanted more time; but Bush-Blair had already decided on their timetable, so Hans' team had to go . . . and the useful idiots at Fox News, the Heritage Foundation, AEI thought Hans to be oh, so silly, for actually entertaining the ludicrous notion that Saddam just might not have any WMDs.  You know the rest of the story. 

Notes Burns:
Mr. Blix. . . used the word “absurd” on several occasions to describe American arguments for going to war. He also described Britain, the United States’ main ally in the invasion, as “a prisoner on the American train.”

Mr. Blix concluded three hours of testimony by saying that Iraqis had suffered worse from the “anarchy” that followed the invasion in March 2003 than it had under Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. Iraq was already “prostrate” under Mr. Hussein, he said, and the impact of economic sanctions, and the invasion and its aftermath, made things worse.

Mr. Blix, 82, is customarily courtly, in the way of the Cambridge-educated international lawyer he was before he became Sweden’s foreign minister in the late 1970s. But appearing before the British inquiry as the first non-British witness to speak in a public session, his quiet, detailed account of the weapons inspections — and the decision to go to war before inspections were completed — was punctuated by acerbic observations about the American role.

He repeatedly referred to the American president as “Bush,” without using his title or an honorific, while referring to Tony Blair, the British prime minister who joined the invasion, as “Mr. Blair.” He criticized both leaders, as he has before, for resting their case for going to war on intelligence about Iraq’s weapons programs that he described as poor.

“I have never questioned the good faith of Mr. Blair, or Mr. Bush,” he said at one point. “What I questioned was the good judgment, particularly of Bush, but also about Mr. Blair to some extent.”

As for Mr. Hussein, Mr. Blix said he attributed Iraq’s failure to comply fully with United Nations inspection teams in the years before the invasion to a refusal by Mr. Hussein to undergo what he viewed as “humiliation” at the hands of the West.

Burns also notes that the commission's final report is scheduled to appear by end of 2010.  You can expect to hear it announced by one of CNN's oh-so-gorgeous lipsticked + hair-frozen news-babes, sandwiched between the latest bulletin on Lindsay Lohan's escapades and Michelle Obama's New Years party outfit.





McCain on Iraq: "We already won that one."

Read it and weep . . . or throw something.

Roger Cohen on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla . . and the US's Double Standard

By my lights, absolutely a must-read.  And I'm sure that Abe Foxman will be commenting soon.  Roger Cohen has become a favored whipping-boy for the Likudist elements in the US.  I only wish his courage were more contagious.

And his point here is right on.  An American gets killed by Israeli commandos - but because he's Muslim, and has a Turkish name . . . well, he can't be a real American, can he?

I wonder if Barack Hussein Obama has anything to say?

Iraq Simmers . . .

There's so much being written these days about how wonderful it is that violence is down in Iraq (and it truly is wonderful), but bombings and killings that would be big-headlines news if they were happening here are still everyday occurrences in Iraq.  And as the US withdrawal (which is apparently "on schedule") continues, the Iraqi security forces are going to be hard put to deal with the coming "surge" of new bombings.

And make no mistake . . . it is coming.


Monday, July 26, 2010

Time Mag on the Wikileaks Doc Dump

Michael Crowley notes that most of the "revelations" aren't new, but their relatively unvarnished, unspun accounts will have impact.  Joe Klein compares it to the 1968 Tet offensive of the Vietnam War = a reality check for the American public at the time that exposed the war's futility and finally turned Walter Cronkite against the war.  Klein finishes his essay:

A successful outcome in Afghanistan always was dependent on two local factors, no matter how brilliantly the U.S. military performed: an honest, competent Afghan government and a true ally in Pakistan, which ceased its support for the Afghan Taliban elements operating from Pakistani soil. In the past year, we've learned that an honest, competent Afghan government is a fantasy. The Wikileaks gusher will now direct attention to the Pakistani side of the equation--and increase the public sense that the Afghan war is an exercise in futility. It remains to be seen whether the Obama Administration can wait until December, as planned, to reevaluate its Afghan strategy.

A big difference between the Tet offensive then and the Wikileaks dump now is that, then, people were paying attention, because of the draft (We then-college-kids knew that we might be the next ones funneled into the maw of Vietnam once we graduated; and the poor shmucks who weren't in college might be going sooner).  And the casualties were much higher.  Up to now, the Afghan war has for most Americans been wallpaper - for that matter, wallpaper in the basement bedroom into which most folks don't care to venture.

So . . . I expect Fox News, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh - and some of CNN's commentators as well (gotta keep up with Fox) to do their thing - condemn Julian Assange, cushion the blow of any "revelations," and, when the chance comes, divert attention to something else - like bombing Iran, or whatever.  With the 24-hour news cycle, they can always find some new shiny bauble with which to mesmerize the public eye.




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Update - The Great Wikileaks leak . . .

After stirring a lot of concern (and anger from the US military) by its leak of film of civilians in Baghdad being mowed down by a US copter pilot, now Wikileaks seems to have hit the motherlode: 92,000 intelligence documents that, perhaps once and for all, blow the lid off the US-Pakistan relationship by detailing how the Pakistani army's intelligence service - the ISI - has been working hand-in-hand with the Taliban (and perhaps al-Qaeda) against Karzai and the US military effort.  The leaked documents were leaked to 3 papers: the NYT, Guardian, and Der Spiegel.

Stories and commentary are all over the net: here's the NY Times' coverage, the Guardian's, (which also notes that these docs also "reveal the hand of Osama bin Laden"). The ISI is, of course, furious about the leak and denies any alleged link to the Taliban; and the White House is furious, and claims that the leak "put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk."

Josh Mull at Firedoglake puts it plainly, and well:

If you need further evidence of why our war in Afghanistan is so de-stabilizing for Pakistan, or how Pakistan’s "Strategic Depth" is a threat to the United States, or, of course, why General Kayani’s "silent coup" in Pakistan means we need to accelerate our withdrawal, then look no further than this New York Times article:

    The documents. . . suggest that Pakistan, an ostensible ally of the United States, allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders.[...]

    Some of the reports describe Pakistani intelligence working alongside Al Qaeda to plan attacks. Experts cautioned that although Pakistan’s militant groups and Al Qaeda work together, directly linking the Pakistani spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, with Al Qaeda is difficult. [...]

    The man the United States has depended on for cooperation in fighting the militants and who holds most power in Pakistan, the head of the army, Gen. Parvez Ashfaq Kayani, ran the ISI from 2004 to 2007, a period from which many of the reports are drawn. American officials have frequently praised General Kayani for what they say are his efforts to purge the military of officers with ties to militants.

Get it? Not only are we fighting a civil war in Afghanistan, which has nothing to do with Al-Qa’eda, but we are also fighting a proxy war against Pakistan. They don’t care about our US interests, they care about their own country’s interests, and it is in their interest to kill Americans in Afghanistan, as well as aiding Al-Qa’eda. All so that Pakistan can control Afghanistan and battle against India.

The US must stop escalating in Pakistan and end the war in Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s future government is already taking shape, and Pakistan has enough of a powerful progressive movement that they can stabilize their country, and bring their government into line, provided that we end our war in both countries. Our troops should not be dying for General Kayani’s proxy war with India and they should not be dying in a civil war on behalf of President Karzai.

Meanwhile, the Independent reports that the docs may reveal thousands of war crimes. . . . perhaps  another of which is also being reported today (although it's likely to be lost in all the Wikileaks furor).  At least 45 civilians (men, women, and children) were killed in a village in Helmand province, apparently by rockets fired from helicopter gunships. according to witness accounts.  The ISAF spokesman denies involvement; but last I heard, the Taliban had no helicopter gunships.

UPDATE: Wikileaks founder Julian Assange on US military reporting in Afghanistan (I think we have a  candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize . . . or perhaps our once-upon-a-time-shiny-brite president should hand his over to Mr. Assange.):
"The real story of this material is that it is war, it's one damn thing after another," he said.

"It's the continuous small events, the continuous deaths of children, insurgents, allied forces, the millions of people."

"You will find that the US military units when self-reporting of course often speak in self-exculpatory language, redefine civilian casualties as insurgent casualties, downplay the number of casualties.

"And we know this by comparing these reports to the public record for where there has been comprehensive investigation."

"The revelation of abuse by the US and coalition forces may cause Afghans to be upset, and rightly so.

"If governments don't like populations being upset, they should treat them better, not conceal abuses that have been undertaken."





The Great Wikileaks leak . . .

After stirring a lot of concern (and anger from the US military) by its leak of film of civilians in Baghdad being mowed down by a US copter pilot, now Wikileaks seems to have hit the motherlode: 92,000 intelligence documents that, perhaps once and for all, blow the lid off the US-Pakistan relationship by detailing how the Pakistani army's intelligence service - the ISI - has been working hand-in-hand with the Taliban (and perhaps al-Qaeda) against Karzai and the US military effort.  The leaked documents were leaked to 3 papers: the NYT, Guardian, and Der Spiegel.

Stories and commentary are all over the net: here's the NY Times' coverage, the Guardian's, (which also notes that these docs also "reveal the hand of Osama bin Laden"). The ISI is, of course, furious about the leak and denies any alleged link to the Taliban; and the White House is furious, and claims that the leak "put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk."

Josh Mull at Firedoglake puts it plainly, and well:

If you need further evidence of why our war in Afghanistan is so de-stabilizing for Pakistan, or how Pakistan’s "Strategic Depth" is a threat to the United States, or, of course, why General Kayani’s "silent coup" in Pakistan means we need to accelerate our withdrawal, then look no further than this New York Times article:

    The documents. . . suggest that Pakistan, an ostensible ally of the United States, allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders.[...]

    Some of the reports describe Pakistani intelligence working alongside Al Qaeda to plan attacks. Experts cautioned that although Pakistan’s militant groups and Al Qaeda work together, directly linking the Pakistani spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, with Al Qaeda is difficult. [...]

    The man the United States has depended on for cooperation in fighting the militants and who holds most power in Pakistan, the head of the army, Gen. Parvez Ashfaq Kayani, ran the ISI from 2004 to 2007, a period from which many of the reports are drawn. American officials have frequently praised General Kayani for what they say are his efforts to purge the military of officers with ties to militants.

Get it? Not only are we fighting a civil war in Afghanistan, which has nothing to do with Al-Qa’eda, but we are also fighting a proxy war against Pakistan. They don’t care about our US interests, they care about their own country’s interests, and it is in their interest to kill Americans in Afghanistan, as well as aiding Al-Qa’eda. All so that Pakistan can control Afghanistan and battle against India.

The US must stop escalating in Pakistan and end the war in Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s future government is already taking shape, and Pakistan has enough of a powerful progressive movement that they can stabilize their country, and bring their government into line, provided that we end our war in both countries. Our troops should not be dying for General Kayani’s proxy war with India and they should not be dying in a civil war on behalf of President Karzai.

Meanwhile, the Independent reports that the docs may reveal thousands of war crimes. . . . perhaps  another of which is also being reported today (although it's likely to be lost in all the Wikileaks furor).  At least 45 civilians (men, women, and children) were killed in a village in Helmand province, apparently by rockets fired from helicopter gunships. according to witness accounts.  The ISAF spokesman denies involvement; but last I heard, the Taliban had no helicopter gunships.



Sunday, July 25, 2010

Obama's friend Rashid Khalidi raising funds for new Gaza aid ship

Reported in today's Haaretz.  I say, bravo, Rashid - and anyone else who contributes.  (Where do I sign up?) 

Unfortunately, this is going to buy Obama - and his supporters - a world of hurt in the right-wing blogosphere, especially as elections approach.  And to the extent that Obama feels compelled by them to disavow any former association with Prof. Khalidi (a fine historian who's also a major advocate for the Palestinians' cause), he only winds up undercutting even more the promise of his 2009 Cairo speech (which seems like an aeon ago - well, for that matter, do any Muslims around the world really take that speech - or Obama - all that seriously any more?).

The US's "Moral Obligations" in Afghanistan

Andrew Bacevich's recent exchange with Andrew Exum (at The New Republic's web site) on the morality of American foreign policy is extremely well worth noting.  By my lights, Bacevich make a compelling argument that objections to the US leaving Afghanistan that are based on our "moral obligation" to the Afghan people are deeply flawed.  To do so, Bacevich poses (and answers) four questions to advocates of basing US policy on moral obligations . . . and he expands his purview well beyond Afghanistan by reference to a broader and deeper historical perspective:
To the extent that U.S. officials should take moral considerations into account, which comes first—the government’s obligation to provide for the well-being of the American people or the government’s obligation to provide for the wellbeing of people who are not Americans?

To the extent that the United States government has a moral obligation to people who are not Americans, why does the moral obligation to the people of Afghanistan qualify as a particular priority?
To the extent that the United States government has a specific and pressing moral obligation to Afghanistan, why does open-ended war qualify as the preferred way to acquit that obligation?

To the extent that fulfilling America’s moral obligation to the Afghan people requires the perpetuation of war, what should we make of the fact that responsibility for fulfilling that obligation falls on the backs of a small segment of our fellow citizens while the rest carry on as if there were no war?

On the first question, my own view is that U.S. officials have a moral obligation to the American people that takes precedence over all others. Those officials take an oath to the Constitution. That document does not commit the United States to saving or policing the world. It declares that the purpose of our union is to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to Ourselves and our Posterity.” Although not necessarily evident to those who make their living in well-heeled Washington think tanks, that obligation remains unfulfilled. (Were foreign policy analysts to set up shop in downtown Detroit or Cleveland, they might reach different conclusions.) Indeed, with military adventurism helping to swell our trillion dollar annual federal deficits, posterity is in for a rude awakening: By the time members of Exum’s generation get around to filing for social security and Medicare, there won’t be any. When the coffers are bare, that failure will be moral as well as fiscal.

On the second question, if the United States does have an obligation to others, it’s not at all clear why the Afghans should come first. Does anyone think that America’s moral debt to the Iraqi people has been paid in full? How about the Vietnamese? Iranians? Filipinos? Nicaraguans? Guatemalans? Cubans? The list goes on. On this score, my personal favorite is Mexico–a near-neighbor used and abused for most of two centuries. We stole Texas. We launched a war of naked aggression to seize California and the southwest. We’ve pillaged Mexico’s resources. We’ve meddled in their revolution. We’ve a long track record of siding with kleptocratic elites against the Mexican people. Today the American demand for drugs along with our lax gun laws is transforming Mexico into a violence-riddled narco-state. Sure, Mexican institutions (like Afghan institutions) are weak, inept, and thoroughly corrupt. But does that provide a moral justification for treating Mexico like a footnote? If the U.S. Treasury has extra billions available for nation-building, doesn’t simple justice demand that we ship the money south of the border before attending to Central Asia?

And even if Afghanistan deserves to be first in line, why does it follow that war provides the best means of doing right by the Afghan people? The truth is that few of the resources that Washington expends in Afghanistan actually benefit the people. Instead, most dollars go to arms merchants and private security contractors, a.k.a., mercenaries, who couldn’t care less about the people’s wellbeing. Meanwhile U.S. operations routinely kill and maim innocent civilians: our commanders may regret that fact, but regret hasn’t ended the practice. Were the United States serious about actually doing something for Afghans, we’d spend less on munitions and more on economic assistance and social development. Better still, we’d offer interested Afghans the chance to get out of Afghanistan altogether and pursue the American dream, welcoming any and all to settle in the Land of Liberty. Carving an Afghan enclave out of a few million unused acres of Montana and Wyoming would show that U.S. expressions of solidarity with suffering Afghans go beyond mere rhetoric.

And finally, even if perpetuating a war already nearly a decade old really does provide the best way to meet some overriding collective U.S. obligation toward Afghanistan, it would seem to follow that the burden of service and sacrifice should be equitably distributed among Americans. Rather than passing the bill to Exum’s children, the present generation of Americans should pay for the war through higher taxes or by reducing domestic spending. They should also pay by changing the socioeconomic composition of the American military, ensuring that the U.S. forces sent off to Afghanistan “look like” America itself. Surely, it cannot be moral to pursue a policy of endless war, when the burden of service and sacrifice falls on the shoulders of 0.5 percent of the population.





“Mother Nature always bats last, and she always bats 1.000"

That's Thomas Friedman, quoting environmentalist Rob Watson.  Here's more:
“Mother Nature is just chemistry, biology and physics. That’s all she is.” You cannot sweet-talk her. You cannot spin her. You cannot tell her that the oil companies say climate change is a hoax. No, Mother Nature is going to do whatever chemistry, biology and physics dictate. . . ."

As so many of us (although way too few of us) fret and steam about the black hole tar-baby that is Afghanistan, Friedman's piece reminds us that, in the greater, long-duree scheme of things, Afpak is but "evenement" (to borrow historian Fernand Braudel's now-famous concepts).  Climate change caused by global warming will, in the end, take a much greater toll on humanity.

Not that it isn't perhaps having some impact on Afpak.  Notes Friedman:
Making our country more energy efficient is not some green feel-good thing. Retired Brig. Gen. Steve Anderson, who was Gen. David Petraeus’s senior logistician in Iraq, e-mailed to say that “over 1,000 Americans have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan hauling fuel to air-condition tents and buildings. If our military would simply insulate their structures, it would save billions of dollars and, more importantly, save lives of truck drivers and escorts. ... And will take lots of big fuel trucks (a k a Taliban Targets) off the road, expediting the end of the conflict.
Do ya thing that our collectively cowering congressmen are taking note?

Don't  hold your breath waiting.





Saturday, July 24, 2010

Is Informed Opinion on the Afghanistan Mission Shifting?

Excellent post by Michael Cohen at Democracy Arsenal.  An increasing number of foreign policy mainstream realists (Richard Haas, Fareed Zakaria, Robert Blackwill, and perhaps now David Kilcullen, who was one of Petraeus' gurus for the COIN "Surge" in Iraq) are arguing that the US counter-insurgency mission in Afghanistan has no realistic chance to succeed.  Some, in fact, are arguing that the US needs to get on board with the effort to reconcile the Karzai government with the Taliban, stabilize the mostly Tajik-Hazara north of Afghanistan, and leave the mostly Pashtun south and west to the Taliban (whose support derives, after all, mostly from the Pashtun). 

This seems to make much sense.  There seems to be no way that the US military can "defeat" the Taliban, especially in their heartland, without incurring unsustainable expense and US casualties, as well as an unacceptable level of "collateral damage" - in the form of slaughtered civilians and destroyed villages, as well as new jihadists created in Iraq and elsewhere by the perception that the US is set on killing as many Muslims as necessary in order to defend its "national interests."

On the other hand, would the Taliban be content to be left with an Afghan Pashtunistan?  Would the minority Tajiks and Hazaras be content to see Afghanistan be thus (for all intents and purposes) partitioned?  Or, as has been suggested recently in both the LA Times and Washington Post, would Afghanistan devolve into an ethnic civil war of the kind that devastated the country after the Soviet withdrawal more than 20 years ago?

And if the south and west of Afghanistan were to be handed over to the mostly Pashtun Taliban, how would the Pashtuns in Pakistan (where they likewise are a huge percentage of the populations) respond? 

And none of these questions take into account that we can't assume that all the Pashtuns would be happy to be lumped into some kind of "Pashtunistan."  The clan and tribal divisions are very strongly entrenched within this (and all the other) broadly define ethnic groups in the region.

All of which, of course, reminds us of how grossly ignorant the US diplomatic and military establishments were about the realities of Afghan society (or for that matter, Iraqi society) when they decided to launch their missions of "enduring freedom."
 


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Brouhaha over the Ground Zero Mosque

Excellent essay from Robert Wright at the NYT Opinionator site.

Sickens me that all the Palinistas/Baptist preachers/Tea Party/Glenn Beck wannabes are so troubled by the prospect of a mosque near Ground Zero.  FDR had it dead on: "we have nothing to fear but . . . fear itself."  Yet these hyper-American The-World-Belongs- to- Jesus types (who seem to be intent on the conversion of Kurdistan, and whom the Kurdish leadership seem to be playing for suckers) play the fear trump-card like college kids playing pinochle.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Death of Iraq's Religious Diversity

Short but illuminating piece from Middle East Online, about the emigration of the Sabeans/Mandeans of Iraq, an Aramaic-using sect with ties to both early Judaism and early Christianity.  In one episode of his pre-Gulf War series "Legacy" (which I've been showing to my classes for almost 20 years), Michael Wood featured a Mandean wedding.  Now the community seems to be nearing extinction, at least in Iraq, courtesy of Messrs. Saddam Hussein and Bush pere et fils.

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Patrick Cockburn on the Retreat from Afghanistan

The inimitable Mr. Cockburn (who, I'd venture to say, has always known more about what's truly going on - and what's possible - in both Iraq and Afghanistan than does the vast majority of the US State Department - or White House, or Congress) nails it in re what the US is facing in Afghanistan - and, for that matter, what Petraeus actually achieved in Iraq.  In essence, it was a retreat that he was able to dress up as a success (and thereby mollify American voters), courtesy of the Sunni Awakening.  Remember them?  Those brave men who were subsequently disowned by the (Shii) Iraqi government after the US left them out on a limb?  Those same Sunnis whom the next government needs desperately if Iraq is to have any chance at enduring stability?  Those same Sunnis who today were targeted in attacks that killed at least 60, and wounded 65 more?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

'The very existence of Iraq is in danger'

For any of you who still think that the Petraeus "Surge" somehow fixed Iraq, this report from Michael Jansen in the Jordan Times ought to be a reminder that it may have brought down the level of violence (which is nonetheless much higher that any "stable" state would countenance), but its underlying problems remain unsolved.  Months after the election, there is no government (and Jansen lays out the reasons very well).  And, there remains (both inside Iraq and outside) a Baath-party-based resistance that is intent on bringing down the Shii-based government in Baghdad.
. . . . the cause of four months of political deadlock is Maliki's refusal to step down as head of government.

Iyad Allawi, whose Iraqiya coalition won most seats in parliament, insists that he should be called on first to form a government. He has little chance of doing so because his party represents secularists and Sunnis while the post-war regime was founded on ethno-sectarianism and has been dominated by sectarian Shiites and separatist Kurds for the past seven years.

Under Iranian pressure, Maliki's sectarian State of Law bloc joined forces with the Iraqi National Alliance, comprising the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council headed by Ammar Al Hakim and the party loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr. Tehran clearly hoped that given the fact that this grouping is just four short of the 163 majority needed to form a government, the new super-Shiite alliance would agree on a premier and get on with the job of choosing ministers.

However, Sadr absolutely refuses to countenance Maliki's return as premier because he was responsible for the neutralisation of the Sadrist militia in the spring of 2008 and the arrest of hundreds of followers. Hakim does not share Maliki's political agenda and has his own candidate for the top job.

In a bid to weaken him, Maliki's super-bloc partners engineered the fall of the minister of electricity by organising mass protests over the lack of power in Basra and other southern cities as temperatures climbed to 50 degrees centigrade. The shortfall in electricity production has been a particularly hot issue since the fall of the Baathist regime. Iraqis simply cannot understand why the US occupation administration and Iraqi government have not been able to restore power to pre-war levels. Many Iraqis blame Maliki for failing to rein in widespread corruption which, they believe, is a major cause of the electricity crisis.

What is more surprising, senior SIIC figures met last month with three pro-Baath Iraqi exiles based in Damascus, in spite of the fact that the former ruling party has been outlawed in Iraq since 2003. All three of the pro-Baath interlocutors attended a conference held by one wing of the Baath party in Damascus on April 29. This wing, led by Muhammad Younis Al Ahmad, a former governor of Mosul, is seeking to unite with the wing led by Ezzat Ibrahim Al Duri, Saddam Hussein's deputy who is believed to be conducting resistance operations inside Iraq.

Following a series of deadly bombings of government sites in Baghdad, beginning with last August, Maliki blamed Syria for the attacks and demanded the extradition of former officials, including Ahmad, who was accused of organising the bombings.

Damascus-based Khalid Al Maeny, civil engineer and political scientist, is involved in political resistance. He told this correspondent that he and other Iraqi exiles seek to establish a "national political movement" to work "against the occupation as political resistance" and "save Iraq". He stated: "There are many [Iraqi] technocrats in Syria, independents who do not belong to any party, who are interested in joining in the struggle in Iraq.”

He said the US occupation has failed at all levels. The military failed because armed resistance continues. A US political presence in Iraq is unwelcome once Washington withdraws its troops.

"After seven years, there is no real government and the economy is in very bad shape."

His group is prepared to work with Baathists but "we will not repeat the Baathist government. We refuse all religious parties. We don't want [Sunni] Al Qaeda or [Shiite] Muqtada Al Sadr. We want to separate religion and state.... The first stage is reconciliation. We must forge a new national, political contract and substitute military resistance with a political project."

He said the sectarian constitution of 2005, written under US guidance, has produced only "violence and division".

An independent who left Iraq 30 years ago and now dwells in the Syrian capital, Fadhil Al Rubaiee observed that the post-war "political process is at a dead end… Iraqis were deluded into thinking the [March parliamentary] election would bring change. The question of who is next prime minister is a detail. We are drowning in details. The very existence of Iraq is in danger.... A national conference should be called and Iraqis should prohibit division or federalism and insist on a secular state for all its citizens."

Unfortunately, he remarked, "there is no political will for such an effort.

All of this, of course, has come in the wake of the attempt by George W. Bush and his entourage to make a "new Middle East," starting with Iraq in 2003 (and then - they hoped - Lebanon in 2006, courtesy of the supposedly invincible Israeli military).  Many of the same politicians and think-tank "scholars" who set the Iraq debacle in motion are now demanding that the US bomb Iran.  Its nuclear installations are supposedly the target (although some, such as Amitai Etzioni, advocate bombing civilian infrastructure as well) - but as with Iraq, regime change is surely envisioned as a possible result.

But the consequences of such an attack will likely be dire.  I highly recommend the just-published report by Paul Rogers of Open Democracy and the Oxford Research Group, who lays out a probable scenario.  It's not pretty.  And, I might also note, Prof. Rogers published in 2002 a report outlining the very negative consequences of a then-looming attack on Iraq.




Friday, July 16, 2010

Make of this what you will . . .

From today's NYT . . .

Speak No Evil: A Post-McChrystal Press Clampdown
By TIM ARANGO

BAGHDAD – On Tuesday night at an air base in Baghdad a unit of soldiers from the Second Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division waited for a flight that would take them first to Anbar Province, then to Germany, then to Fort Drum in upstate New York.

The soldiers were going home, this time for good.

Reporters were invited to visit, to speak to soldiers and take pictures of packed rucksacks and troops boarding the plane, images that would convey the military’s message that the United States is leaving Iraq. The press was told that the waiting area was theirs to work in.

So I started to chat up soldiers. Just as I had finished the formalities of name, age, rank and hometown with a young private from Michigan, I was interrupted by an officer who explained that a handful of soldiers had been chosen to speak to the press, and that the remainder of the group was off limits.

He pointed to a group of four or five soldiers, who awaited media interviews.

The Pentagon’s new dictum to control news coverage, issued in the wake of the controversy over a Rolling Stone article that resulted in the dismissal of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal as the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, seems to have reached the lower levels of the chain of command in Iraq.

The United States military is drawing down its forces in Iraq and is still eager to engage with the press to show that President Obama’s promise to reach 50,000 troops by the end of August will be met. Gen. Ray Odierno, the top commander in Iraq, held a briefing with reporters this week. The military opened a prison transfer ceremony to reporters on Thursday. And embeds with units are still available.

But there appears to be a clamping-down on spontaneous interactions between soldiers and the news media.

Recently my colleague Steven Lee Myers visited Forward Operating Base Mahmudiya, which the Americans transferred to Iraqi control on Thursday, and was told he could not interview soldiers during his visit because the chain of command had not authorized “formal interviews” with the soldiers there, part of the First Brigade of the Third Infantry Division.

The company commander at the base explained that his superiors wanted the focus of the visit to be on the process of the transfer — principally with only photographs and video — and not on the soldiers. (An Iraqi lieutenant colonel who showed up with trucks to haul away the detritus of KBR’s operations there also declined to be interviewed or to allow photographs.)

A civilian spokesman for the brigade, Tom Conning, later apologized, saying that the visit to the troops at Mahmudiya had not been properly organized.

In June I was embedded with a unit in northern Iraq when the McChrystal news broke. The soldiers who I was encamped with in the desert, on a mission to search for insurgents, were eager to talk about most anything: the war, the vicious fighting in prior tours, buddies killed, women back home.

But a question about the Rolling Stone article that resulted in President Obama firing General McChrystal was met with silence.

“How about the World Cup?” said an officer with the Third Squadron, Seventh Cavalry Regiment of the Third Infantry Division’s Second Brigade.

The reason for the reticence: a gag order had come down from division headquarters, the soldiers said, forbidding them from speaking about General McChrystal.

See also the At War post See No Evil, about the difficulties photographers have working under the restrictions imposed by the Iraqi government.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Turkey's continuing emergence

Rami Khouri writes today of "Turkey's Superb Balancing Act":

The tensions with Israel due to the Gaza war and the Israeli attack on the flotilla of humanitarian aid ships represent a new element in the region: truly independent Muslim-majority states that will not allow themselves to be pushed around and insulted by Israel or Western powers, as most Arab states allow. . . .

Turkey’s relations with Israel today comprise only one aspect of its multi-faceted regional strategy, which also includes good relations and diplomatic activism with foes of Israel like Syria and Iran. The emergence of a stronger Turkey that is more directly engaged with all in the region is a positive development, and any one party that thinks it can win Turkey totally to its side is probably engaged in wishful thinking.

More than anything, I suspect, people in the Middle East - as opposed to the often corrupt regimes that govern them - have wanted to be allowed to conduct their own affairs without decisions being imposed upon them by Israel or stage-managed by the U.S.  Turkey, at long last, seems to be achieving that.  The US Congress, of course, sees that purely in terms of Turkey falling under the sway of "Islamic radicals" hell-bent on destroying Israel.  In so doing, they drive away from the US a proud democratic state - and people - whose continued friendship could still do much for Obama's outreach to the Muslim world - not that the Israel lobby finds that of any real import.



Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Afghanistan-Iraq-Iran: A three-front war?

Arnaud de Borchgrave raises an interesting calculus:

The temptation for Obama to double down on Iran will grow rapidly as he concludes that Afghanistan will remain a festering sore as far as anyone can peer into a murky future, hardly a recipe for success at the polls in November. With a war in Afghanistan, which is bound to get worse, and a military theater in Iraq replete with sectarian violence, the bombing of Iran may give Obama a three-front war -- and a chance to retain both houses of Congress.
(And along these lines, be sure to check out this recent essay from the Leveretts.)

But then, as Iran retaliates - e.g., against oil supplies through the Straits of Hormuz (You think you saw a recession before?), against US troops in Iraq (and perhaps against Iraqi politicians deemed too cooperative with the US?) - then what about his re-election chances in 2012?

And as the "Arab street" across the Middle East reacts to the US's bombing and slaughtering of even more Muslims?  What are the prospects then for US "allies" like Mubarak in Egypt, or Abdullah in Jordan, or even Abdullah in Saudi Arabia?

And what about the legacy then of our shiny-bright president himself?  Remember him?  The one who was going to get the US out of Iraq in good shape, and limit the US's time and expense in Afghanistan, and reassure the Muslim world that the US is indeed not ought to wage an endless Crusade?



Sunday, July 11, 2010

RECOMMENDED! The lost cause in Afghanistan

Pulitzer-Prize winner Douglas Brinkley on why Afghanistan is a "lost cause":
To win the war in Afghanistan, the United States must turn a nation that stands as a model of bald-faced thievery into a clean, honest institution that cares for its people, now the most neglected in the world.

It can't be done.

America's self-mythologizing, on which so many of us were brought up, imbued us with a sense that we Americans - and especially, the American military, the military of that "Greatest Generation" era - can do anything, can fix anything, will always prevail.  Why?  "Because we're Americans!"  Like a mantra . . .

I have to wonder: how many of our Congressmen and women (or, for that matter, Fox News "all-stars" and Limbaugh/Beck wannabees) have adopted this mantra - completely, totally unquestioningly - as some sort of existential truth?  How many of them insist on pressing on in Afghanistan, simply out of the belief that America can and must always prevail, and that no sacrifice of American blood and treasure is too much?

Have they never cracked a history book of any depth beyond heroic accounts of men in battle?




Saturday, July 10, 2010

RECOMMENDED! Petraeus runs into resistance from Karzai over village defense forces

Very informative report in today's WaPo.  Karzai's concern (which is shared, by the way, by the European Union's special rep in Afghanistan) is that these "local defense forces" will become warlord or tribal militias that will undercut Karzai's ability to form a more centralized state in Afghanistan. 

Karzai's concerns are anything but groundless, especially given the facts that (1) Afghanistan has never really had a strongly centralized state, and (2) most Afghans view his government as corrupt and illegitimate.  The US's chief concern, meanwhile, is to smash the "Taliban" with whatever means it can devise and then get the US military out before the US Treasury, public support for the war, Obama's re-election chances, and perhaps Petraeus' reputation as a military genius, are all bled dry.

But the US seems to want to have it both ways: sustain Karzai's government, but also crush the Taliban by creating local military forces that will likely be beyond his control as head of state.

Does this make sense to anyone else?

What's to come in Iraq

Well, perhaps we need be more specific, especially when we recognize that "Iraq" seems more and more to be almost a figment of our imagination.  This CSM report from Mosul indicates that things in "Iraq"'s north are set to become very nasty as the US pulls out.  The Sunni insurgency is alive and quite well; the local Sunni population do not trust the central government in Baghdad; and the local police force is poorly trained, corrupt, and prone to alcohol and drug abuse.

Some of the locals interviewed assert that what the country needs is a new Saddam Hussein - in other words, a Sunni strongman who can take charge of the country, crush the Shia who currently control the government in Baghdad, and in the process put a dent in Iran's aspirations to dominate Iraq.

Of course, what we're going to hear stateside are exclamations from the Obama administration and the US military brass along the lines of the US army colonel (Texan, no less) in charge of training the local police:
"We're starting to see the fruits of [our] labors . . . . Victory! I'm starting to taste it!"
The increasingly clueless American public (most of whom seem more concerned with the fates of Lebron James and Lindsay Lohan than with the fates of fellow citizens serving in Iraq and Afghanistan) have had their collective awareness of what's happening in Iraq numbed by the mainstream media's decision to more or less blow off covering the situation there.  (After all, the "Surge" worked, right?  Aren't we just mopping up there?) (Along these lines, see this interesting post to The Atlantic by Dominic Tierney.)

I'm afraid they're in for a very rude awakening - if, of course, most of them notice at all.


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Thursday, July 8, 2010

Rami Khouri - and Octavia Nasr - on the Death of Grand Ayatollah Fadlallah

Rami Khouri pens a typically eloquent piece on Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, a towering figure in Lebanese Shii society as well as an "object of emulation" for Shia not only in Lebanon, but worldwide - including Iraq, where one of his many followers is Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Of course, because he encouraged popular resistance to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and had ties to Hezbollah, the US neocon right are celebrating his death, as well as vilifying those who might express some admiration for him.  One of the latter is Octavia Nasr, a journalist of Lebanese origin who was a senior editor for CNN until she committed the "mortal sin" of twittering some comments about her admiration for Fadlallah, who spoke out for women's rights in Lebanon, and specifically against "honor killing."

A number of pro-Israel hard-liners screamed foul over Nasr's "tweet."  The result?  CNN has let her go.  And she may not be the only journalist who'll fall.  As the Daily Star reports,
an Israeli Foreign Ministry official told the Israeli Ynet website it would be “interesting” to see how the UK Foreign Office reacts to the newest praise of Fadlallah by UK Ambassador to Lebanon Frances Guy who eulogized Fadlallah on her personal blog. . . . 

Guy had written Fadlallah was one of the figures she respected and enjoyed to meet the most in Lebanon.

Here's hoping that the UK Foreign Office has more courage and integrity than CNN, the self-proclaimed news leader that features a former top AIPAC official (Wolf Blitzer) as one of its "stars."



Marine General Mattis as new Centcom Commander

The NYT reports that Marine Corps general James Mattis has been chosen to replace David Petraeus as commander of US Central Command, which oversees US military operations across the Middle East as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Bluntly put, the man seems to be a hard-ass redneck type.  The NYT resurrects some of his comments in 2005:

"Actually, it's a lot of fun to fight. . . . ''You know, it's a hell of a hoot. . . . It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right upfront with you. I like brawling.''

''You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.''

This walking caricature  is the best Gates can line up for this job?




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