Af-Pak: Obama’s War

3 04 2009

As Obama ups the war rhetoric and tries to rally support at NATO for war in Afghanistan Immanuel Wallerstein, a sociologist and world-systems scientist, assesses his motivations, the details of the situation and the potential situation in six months time.

Af-Pak is the new acronym the U.S. government has invented for Afghanistan-Pakistan. Its meaning is that there is a geopolitical concern of the United States in which the strategy that the United States wishes to pursue involves both countries simultaneously and they cannot be considered separately. The United States has emphasized this policy by appointing a single Special Representative to the two countries, Richard Holbrooke.

It was George W. Bush who sent U.S. troops into Afghanistan. And it was George W. Bush who initiated the policy of using U.S. drones to bomb sites in Paklstan. But, now that Barack Obama, after a “careful policy review,” has embraced both policies, it has become Barack Obama’s war. This comes as no enormous surprise since, during the presidential campaign, Obama indicated that he would do these things. Still, now he has done it.

This decision is likely to be seen in retrospect as Obama’s single biggest decision concerning U.S. foreign policy, one that will be noticed by future historians as imprinting its stamp on his reputation. And it is likely to be seen as well as his single biggest mistake. For, as Vice-President Biden apparently warned in the inner policy debate on the issue, it is likely to be a quagmire from which it will be as easy to disengage as the Vietnam war.

There are therefore two questions. Why did he do it? And what are likely to be the consequences during his term of office?

Let us begin with his own explanation of why he did it. He said that “the situation is increasingly perilous,” that “the future of Afghanistan is inextricably linked to the future of its neighbor, Pakistan,” and that “for the American people, [Pakistan’s] border region [with Afghanistan] has become the most dangerous place in the world.”

And why is it so dangerous? Quite simply, it is because it is a safe haven for al-Qaeda to “train terrorists” and to “plot attacks” – not only against Afghanistan and the United States but everywhere in the world. The fight against al-Qaeda is no longer called the “war on terrorism” but is hard to see the difference. Obama claims that the Bush administration had lost its “focus” and that he has now installed a “comprehensive, new strategy.” In short, Obama is going to do this better than Bush.

What then are the new elements? The United States will send more troops to Afghanistan – 17,000 combat troops and 4000 trainers of the Afghan forces. It will send more money. It proposes to give Pakistan $1.5 billion a year for five years to “build schools and roads and hospitals.” It proposes to send “agricultural specialists and educators, engineers and lawyers” to Afghanistan to “develop an economy that isn’t dominated by illicit drugs.” In short, Obama says that he believes that “a campaign against extremism will not succeed with bullets or bombs alone.”

However, implicitly unlike Bush, this will not be a “blank check” to the two governments. “Pakistan must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out al Qaeda and the violent extremists within its borders.” As for Afghanistan, the United States “will seek a new compact with the Afghan government that cracks down on corrupt behavior.” The Afghan and Pakistani governments are pleased to be getting the new resources. They haven’t said that they will meet Obama’s conditions. And Obama hasn’t said what he will do if the two governments don’t meet his conditions.

As for the way forward, Obama asserts that “there will be no peace without reconciliation with former enemies.” Reconciliation? Well, not with the “uncompromising core of the Taliban,” or with al-Qaeda, but with those Taliban “who’ve taken up arms because of coercion, or simply for a price.” To do this, Obama wants assistance. He proposes to create a new Contact Group that will include not only “our NATO allies” but also “the Central Asian states, the Gulf nations and Iran, Russia, India and China.”

The most striking aspect of this major commitment is how little enthusiasm it has evoked around the world. In the United States, it has been applauded by the remnants of the neo-cons and McCain. So far, other politicians and the press have been reserved. Iran, Russia, India, and China have not exactly jumped on the bandwagon. They are particularly cool about the idea of reconciliation with so-called moderate Taliban. And both the Guardian and McClatchy report that the Taliban themselves have reacted by creating unity within their hitherto divided ranks – presumably the opposite of what Obama is trying to achieve.

So, where will we probably be six months from now? There will be more U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and the U.S. commanders will probably say that the 21,000 Obama is sending are not enough. There will be further withdrawals of NATO troops from there – a repeat of the Iraq scenario. There will be further, perhaps more extensive, bombings in Pakistan, and consequently even more intensive anti-American sentiments throughout the country. The Pakistani government will not be moving against the Taliban for at least three reasons. The still very influential ISI component of the Pakistani army actually supports the Taliban. The rest of the army is conflicted and in any case probably too weak to do the job. The government will not really press them to do more because it will only thereby strengthen its main rival party which opposes such action and the result may be another army coup.

In short, the “clear and focused goal” that Obama proposes – “to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future” – will probably be further than ever from accomplishment. The question is what can Obama do then? He can “stay the course” (shades of Rumsfeld in Iraq), constantly escalate the troop commitment, while changing the local political leadership (shades of Kennedy/Johnson and Ngo Dinh Diem in Vietnam), or he can turn tail and pull out (as the United States finally did in Vietnam). He is not going to be cheered for any of these choices.

I have the impression that Obama thinks that his speech left him some wiggle room. I think he will find out rather how few choices he will have that are palatable. I think therefore he made a big, probably irreparable, mistake.

Source: agenceglobal.com





Baghdad in a time of cholera

24 03 2009




Confidential NATO report reveals rise in civilian deaths from war in Afghanistan

17 02 2009

Wikileaks, a site that allows whistleblowers to anonymously post sensitive or confidential information exposing the activities of governments and corporations, has released a confidential NATO report on civilian deaths in Afghanistan. A Wikileaks press release states that:

“civilian deaths from the war in Afghanistan have increased by 46% over the past year…

The report [titled ‘Metrics Brief 2007 – 2008’] shows a dramatic escalation of the war and civil disorder. Coalition deaths increased by 35%, assassinations and kidnappings by 50% and attacks on the Kabul based Government of Hamid Karzai also more than doubled, rising a massive 119%.

The report highlights huge increases on attacks aimed at Coalition forces, including a 27 % increase in IED [Improvised Explosive Device] attacks, a 40%. rise in rifle and rocket fire and an increase in surface to air fire of 67%.

According to the report, outside of the capital Kabul only one in two families had access to even the most basic health care, and only one in two children had access to a school”

Futhermore:

“NATO is not likely to find Wikileaks’ source so readily. The site uses state of the art anonymization technologies, and the identity of its sources are protected under the Swedish Press Freedom Act.”

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Israeli war propaganda

14 01 2009

An excerpt from Medialens’s latest alert “An eye for an eyelash: The Gaza Massacre” exposes some of the distortions we are subject to in the media:

Well in advance of the invasion, Israel developed plans to counter the inevitable images of bloodied children and tiny, dismembered bodies. Avi Pazner, Israel’s former ambassador to Italy and France, drafted in to support the propaganda component of the offensive, commented:

“Whenever Israel is bombing, it is hard to explain our position to the world. But at least this time everything was ready and in place.” (Anshel Pfeffer, ‘Israel claims success in the PR war,’ Jewish Chronicle, December 31, 2008; http://www.thejc.com/articles/ israel-claims-success-pr-war)

Eight months ago, the perfectly named National Information Directorate was formed within the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office. This is now coordinating media operations across the various government departments. The Directorate began preparing for a Gaza offensive some six months ago. Yarden Vatikay, director of the National Information Directorate, told reporters:

“One of our lessons from the Lebanon War [2006] was that there were too many uniforms in the coverage, and that doesn’t come over very positively.”

As a result, there are now: “Fewer military officers; more women; tightly controlled messages; and ministers kept on a short leash.” (Ibid.)

A press centre was set up in the Israeli town of Sderot, near the border with Gaza, so that foreign reporters would spend as much time as possible in the main civilian area affected by Hamas rockets.

Israeli ministers have also been ordered not to give unauthorised interviews to avoid a repeat of last year’s PR disaster when Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai threatened the Palestinians with a “holocaust”.

“The more Qassam [rocket] fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they will bring upon themselves a bigger shoah because we will use all our might to defend ourselves.” (‘Israeli minister warns of Palestinian “holocaust”,’ The Guardian, February 29, 2008; http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/ 2008/feb/29/israelandthepalestinians1)

‘Shoah’ is the Hebrew word normally used to refer to the Jewish Holocaust at the hands of the Nazis.

A key deception promoted by the National Information Directorate involves the claim that the latest cycle of violence began when Hamas broke a four-month ceasefire agreed last June. In fact, Israel broke the ceasefire when it launched a raid into Gaza on November 4, killing six people. On November 5, the Guardian reported:

“A four-month ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza was in jeopardy today after Israeli troops killed six Hamas gunmen in a raid into the territory.

“Hamas responded by firing a wave of rockets into southern Israel, although no one was injured. The violence represented the most serious break in a ceasefire agreed in mid-June, yet both sides suggested they wanted to return to atmosphere of calm.” (Rory McCarthy, ‘Gaza truce broken as Israeli raid kills six Hamas gunmen,’ The Guardian, November 5, 2008; http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008 /nov/05/israelandthepalestinians)

The Guardian added:

“Until now it had appeared both Israel and Hamas, which seized full control of Gaza last summer, had an interest in maintaining the ceasefire. For Israel it has meant an end to the daily barrage of rockets landing in southern towns, particularly Sderot.”

On December 27, at the start of the latest attacks, Reuters reported that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had “blamed Hamas for breaking a cease-fire with Israel, which launched air strikes on Gaza killing more than 200 people.” Rice commented:

“The United States strongly condemns the repeated rocket and mortar attacks against Israel and holds Hamas responsible for breaking the cease-fire and for the renewal of violence in Gaza.” (Tabassum Zakaria, ‘Rice: Hamas broke cease-fire,’ News24, December 27, 2008; http://www.news24.com/News24/World/News/0,,2-10-1462_2446278,00.html)

Alan Dershowitz wrote in the Telegraph on January 10:

“Hamas deliberately broke the ceasefire by firing rockets into southern Israel from densely populated cities, using the areas around schools and mosques as launching points.” (Dershowitz, ‘Don’t play into the hands of Hamas,’ Daily Telegraph, January 10, 2009)

The BBC’s version of events from January 9 was more subtly deceptive:

“The ceasefire, brokered by the Egyptians, was often broken in practice… Events began to come to a climax after the Israelis raided southern Gaza on 4 November 2008 to destroy smuggling tunnels.” (BBC online, January 9, 2009;
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/ world/middle_east/7818022.stm)

No mention was made of the six human lives also destroyed in the attack. The same BBC article, “Q&A: Gaza conflict,” asked:

“What casualties have the Hamas rockets caused?

“Since 2001, when the rockets were first fired, more than 8,600 have hit southern Israel, nearly 6,000 of them since Israel withdrew from Gaza in August 2005. The rockets have killed 28 people and injured hundreds more. In the Israeli town of Sderot near Gaza, 90% of residents have had a missile exploding in their street or an adjacent one.” (Ibid.)

The article noted that “Palestinian medical sources say that about 700 people have been killed in Gaza during Israel’s current campaign there.” Again, curiously, despite mentioning that Hamas rockets have killed 28 Israelis since 2001, the BBC made no mention of the fact that 5,000 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli strikes over the same period prior to the current Israeli offensive – a figure fast approaching 6,000.





Israeli F-16 bombers kill over a hundred Palestinians

27 12 2008

Vodpod videos no longer available.





Nixon and Kissinger transcripts released

24 12 2008

The transcript of the April 15, 1972, phone conversation is one of over 15 500 documents in a unique, comprehensively-indexed set of the telephone conversations of Henry A. Kissinger—perhaps the most famous and controversial U.S. official of the second half of the 20th century. Unbeknownst to the rest of the U.S. government, Kissinger secretly taped his incoming and outgoing phone conversations and had his secretary transcribe them. After destroying the tapes, Kissinger took the transcripts with him when he left office in January 1977, claiming they were “private papers.” In 2001, the National Security Archive initiated legal proceedings to force the government to recover the telcons, and used the freedom of information act to obtain the declassification of most of them. After a three year project to catalogue and index the transcripts, which total over 30,000 pages, this on-line collection was published by the Digital National Security Archive (ProQuest) this week.

The President/Mr. Kissinger 11:30 — April 15, 1972

Kissinger:

Well, they are just reporting it — it’s just the first wave there. It’s wave after wave of planes. You see, they can’t see the B-52 and they dropped a million pounds of bombs…

Nixon:

That shock treatment of cracking them. The only thing I regret is that when we made this plan, we didn’t take out the power plants. The power plants, that can really demoralize a person.

“A casualty of Watergate”

Kissinger/Reston 4:30 p.m. — April 16 1975

Kissinger:

The big problem we have now is to change the world – there is nothing we can do about the world’s perception of Vietnam, but there is a lot we can do about changing the world’s perception about our reaction to it and that is our big problem right now.

Reston:

Well, sure but it is a perception of ours and what we are and what we stand for.

— —

If you havn’t seen it, there is an interesting documentary called “The Trials of Henry Kissinger” by Christopher Hitchens that examines evidence of Kissinger’s involvement with war crimes perpetrated in Indochina, Bangladesh, Chile, Cyprus and East Timor.





How biology explains war.

22 11 2008

Malcom Potts and Thomas Hayden have wirtten a book called ‘Sex and War’, it seems to present an interesting exploration into the evolution of humatiy’s violent tendencies for war. They also cover the issue of how population growth, resource use and violence intersect. This point relates well to my previous post on military expenditure and ecological footprints. I would like not to think of a barbarized future in which millions of people try to migrate to northern latitudes.sexandwar_5inch_bright_op_400_600

“Today’s most brutal wars are also the most primal. They are fought with machetes in West Africa, with fire and rape and fear in Darfur, and with suicide bombs and improvised explosive devices in Israel, Iraq, and elsewhere. But as horrifying as these conflicts are, they are not the greatest threat to our survival as a species. We humans are a frightening animal. Throughout our species’s existence, we have used each new technology we have developed to boost the destructive power of our ancient predisposition for killing members of our own species. From hands and teeth tearing at isolated individuals, to coordinated raids with clubs and bows and arrows, to pitched battles, prolonged sieges, and on into the age of firearms, the impulse has remained the same but as the efficiency of our weapons has increased, the consequences have grown ever more extreme…The evidence of history is that no advance which can be applied to the killing of other human beings goes unused. As scientific knowledge continues to explode, it would be naïve, to expect any different. As if we needed any more reasons to confront the role of warfare in our lives, the present supply and future potential of WMDs should convince us that the time has come once and for all to bring our long, violent history of warring against each other to an end.”

“…all team aggression, all raiding, and all wars are ultimately about resources, even if the combatants aren’t consciously aware of it. All life, in fact, at its most fundamental level is about competition for resources. Evolution has been driven by this competition for billions of years, and today’s animals, plants, bacteria, protozoa, and fungi all exist because they competed successfully with their rivals in the past. If we are to have any chance of avoiding the wars of tomorrow, as the destructive power of today’s weapons tells us we must, then we have to address this most basic of biological problems: The fact that as the population of any species grows, the pressure on its natural resources increases and competition becomes more severe…Biology has invented a million ways for plants and animals to compete with each other. A tree may compete for light by growing taller; early mammals competed with dinosaurs by only coming out at night; humans and chimpanzees—especially the males—compete for food, space, and reproductive opportunities by fighting with each other. Human wars may come wrapped in a veneer of religion or political philosophy, but the battle for resources is usually just below the surface…In World War II, the need for land and resources was expressed as Hitler’s concept of lebensraum, or “living space.” “The aim [of] the efforts and sacrifices of the German people in this war,” he wrote, “must be to win territory in the East for the German people.” The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor because they knew they had to destroy the American Pacific fleet if they were to access the Indonesian oil they needed to supply their industries.”

“The population of Rwanda was two million people in 1950, and on average each woman had almost 8 children. By 1994, average family size had fallen slightly to 6.2, but the population had quadrupled to almost eight million, resulting in a population density of 292 people per square kilometer, the highest in all of Africa. James Fairhead, an anthropologist from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, adds an economic dimension to the analysis. Preceding the Rwanda genocide, Fairhead points out, agricultural land prices had reached an astronomical $4,000 per hectare in a country where many people lived on less than $500 a year. “Land,” Fairhead concludes, “is worth fighting for and defending.” Tragically, the fighting which took place in 1994 left between 500,000 and one million dead. It was cast as an ethnic conflict, and senseless. Once its roots in resource competition are laid bare, however, the violent extermination of an identifiable outgroup takes on the all-too familiar logic of team aggression.”

“For billions of years, evolution has been driven by competition caused by the simple fact that, left unchecked, all living things can reproduce faster than their environment can sustain. Our population growth today is largely unchecked by hunger, disease, or predators, and it is highly likely that our numbers and industrial demands have already exceeded the environment’s capacity to support them. Mathias Wackernagel in California, Norman Myers in England, and others calculate that we may have exceeded Earth’s carrying capacity as long ago as 1975. According to these calculations, we already need a planet 20 percent larger than the one we have. Such estimates are difficult to make and open to criticism. But it doesn’t take much more than an open set of eyes to realize that current human population growth and economic expansion are going to be impossible to sustain in the long term. competition for resources is about to increase markedly.”

Check Wired.com for more.