The Devil in
By Bill Fletcher, Jr.
May 28, 2009 - It is fairly unusual for the immediate past President or Vice President of the United States to attack the standing Administration. Some pundits describe it as a violation of protocol. That is not of particular relevance to this commentary.
Dick Cheney's attack against the Administration needs to be understood at both the political / psychological level as well as at the level of new right-wing politics in the era of Obama. At the psychological level, think about a barking dog. In a contest with other dogs, the one that considers itself the top dog must insist on getting the last bark before any silence is tolerated. Cheney wants the last bark. He simply cannot help himself. This has been true throughout the eight years of the Bush / Cheney administration. When compromise or even silence would have been the proper and more diplomatic course, one could count on Cheney to open his mouth. He could also always be counted upon to twist the facts in such a calm, yet decisive way, that one could not help but wonder about the truth.
In Cheney's recent attack dog appearance in defense of torture it was fascinating to watch him become the defender of the Central Intelligence Agency. One does not have to be a great historian to remember that Cheney was a constant opponent and degrader of the CIA, but when it was convenient, Cheney was able to flip the script and become the defender of his former adversaries. It was also interesting to watch Cheney suggest, despite ALL evidence to the contrary, that President Obama does not wish to talk about terrorists.
Let's add to this Cheney's slight of hand when it came to attacking former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
When asked about Powell's political affiliations, Cheney - very calmly - suggested that he did not even know that Powell still considered himself a Republican.
Unless Cheney has morphed from an attack dog into Rip Van Winkle he would have to have known that Powell remains a Republican, but clearly the facts do not matter here. The objective is the sound-bite, the insult and the impression left in the minds of the listener.
Yet the devil's horns do not emerge simply because of Cheney as an unprincipled debater. The significance of Cheney's emergence as the 2009 rabid attack dog revolves around right-wing strategy. From almost the moment of Obama's election, but certainly following his Inauguration, the right-wing has been engaged in an interesting effort at a combination of destabilization along with obfuscation. An interesting example was the way that the right-wing attempted to portray - about 30 minutes after Obama was inaugurated - the economic crisis as now being an Obama crisis. They have systematically worked to twist the actual facts and play to fears, particularly the fears of the white electorate.
Cheney's appearance is aimed at strengthening the stamina of what could be called the "revanchist Right,"
that is the revenge-seeking Right; the Right that is absolutely furious not only that they lost the 2008 elections, but that they lost to a Black man. The revanchist Right is that segment of the political Right (which actually overlaps different right-wing political
tendencies) that supported the unilateralism of the Bush / Cheney administration against the notion of any sort of multi-lateral imperial world domination (more akin to the politics of Clinton and Obama).
Cheney is extremely good at ignoring facts. Actually, Cheney goes beyond ignoring facts; he disputes them or dismisses them entirely. Cheney will never admit that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He will never cease to imply an alleged Iraqi connection with 11 September 2001. Whether he believes any of these myths is secondary to the political purposes that these myths serve. In each case Cheney has moved to strengthen the authoritarianism of the State; in fact, to shift the democratic capitalist state into a more neo-liberal authoritarian capitalist state. Cheney knows that the key to such a shift is playing upon the fears of the populace generally, and the white, conservative populace in particular.
The matter of torture, then, becomes an excellent tactic in the efforts towards greater authoritarianism.
Cheney can argue that the methods used by the USA against alleged terrorists stopped further assaults.
The problem is that this cannot ever be proven any more than one can prove the existence of vampires by suggesting that one's consumption of garlic has kept vampires away. The point is that any number of factors can account for the fact that, at least until today, there has not been a further attack on the scale of 11 September 2001.
Cheney's aim is to strengthen the irrationalism on the part of the political Right. He ignores why governments have established treaties over the centuries regarding the treatment of prisoners of war, for example. The treatment of prisoners of war and the issue of torture have little to do with high-minded morals. Rather it revolves around the question of how one's own will be treated as prisoners by any enemy should they be captured as well as whether barbaric treatment can be used to isolate an opponent. The classic example of this, of course, was Hitler's failure to use chemical weapons during World War II, which was certainly not about moralism, but concerned the potential for various forms of blow-back - literally and figuratively.
Cheney's `horns' should not be dismissed as representing the anger of a dysfunctional and evil personality. The demonism represented by Cheney is not mainly personal. Rather it represents the efforts of a segment of the Right to save itself from annihilation and to regain the upper hand. Appealing to fear and prejudice has often been a useful instrument to accomplish this. After all, the extreme political Right never has to be constrained by the truth.
[BlackCommentator.com Executive Editor, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum and co-author of, Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice (University of California Press), which examines the crisis of organized labor in the USA.]
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
By Don Rose
Politics is always the art of compromise. Barack Obama is a politician. Ergo, Barack Obama is a compromiser.
The term politicians prefer is "pragmatist"--more macho, less namby-pamby.
The question at hand, however, is not what term we use, but what principles are compromised--and what level of compromise is acceptable. Therein lies my concern.
What I am seeing in the president I supported is a history--not quite a pattern--of compromise on civil liberties. This I find not only uncomfortable, but potentially dangerous. I dislike using that cliché about the slippery slope, but it applies.
The immediate issue is preventive detention--or, as he put it last week--"prolonged" detention without trial of certain terror suspects imprisoned in Guantanamo. Essentially, Obama would lock up and throw away the key for about 100 prisoners deemed lethally dangerous-some trained in terrorist tactics.
They would not be brought to trial either because there is insufficient evidence against them or because the evidence is tainted-likely obtained by torture.
Obama, a constitutional law teacher, understands preventive detention is unconstitutional--unlike his predecessor, who used the constitution for toilet paper. Obama therefore says that one man should not make the detention decision for a prisoner, but suggests a process through which a panel of judges or other officials would be involved.
Back in the early '70s congress considered preventive detention as part of a draconian anticrime bill proposed for the District of Columbia, but thought better of it. National security in today's world, however, might make it more palatable.
Let's be clear: Obama is not, as some critics charge, simply reverting to the Cheney-Bush policies he previously condemned. He is introducing a host of constitutional protections for the Gitmo prisoners, which would apply either in criminal trials or the military tribunals he now favors.
Virtually all proceedings against these prisoners would be more fair than anything that transpired in the past six years, but no matter how he dresses it up rhetorically we have a basic constitutional principle at stake. A principle shared by almost all our allies--with the exception of Israel and India.
It's an exceptionally knotty problem because quarantining dangerous actors is a legitimate concern. No one wants these characters roaming free to rejoin terrorist cells. What we must do is find a way to bring them to trial--a way to refine the search for untainted evidence and develop new evidence to make a legitimate case against them, if indeed it is warranted.
We have the legal talent in this country to find a way to protect us from jihadists while respecting the constitution. In the long run, when we're seen violating our own principles it helps our enemies inflame their argument against us and create more terrorists.
Beyond that, I worry about Obama's willingness to elide civil liberties. Back when he was a state senator he dropped his opposition to a censorship measure to be imposed in public libraries in the name of protecting children. Why? Apparently because the bill was backed by State Sen. James Meeks, a Southside colleague whose support he needed on other matters.
In the U.S. Senate he wound up voting for the revised Patriot Act, drawing condemnation from the American Civil Liberties Union--which gives him a "lifetime" senatorial rating of 80 percent.
His most notorious flip during the presidential campaign was voting for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which included immunity for telecom companies that went along with Cheney-Bush in eavesdropping on Americans at home.
Candidate Obama pledged he would vote against the bill if it included telecom immunity, but reversed himself and voted for it. Some make the case that the phone companies were themselves victims of presidential pressure. But apart from letting telecoms off the hook, the bill--now law--expanded and legalized warrantless eavesdropping in violation of the Fourth Amendment. It opened the door to more governmental spying on us all.
Obama recently reversed himself on pledges of transparency by supporting "state secrecy" measures he previously assailed. Later he flipped on releasing torture photos.
Perhaps after review, Attorney General Eric Holder will conclude that those secrecy measures are the bunk. Perhaps the courts will permit publication of the photos and halt preventive detention. Perhaps, after reconsideration, the president will again reverse himself on some questionable measures. He is capable of rethinking issues and changing course in healthy directions as well as flip-flopping negatively.
But that slope still looks mighty slippery to me.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Obama Meets Netanhayu:
What Needs To Be Said
By Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Black Commentator Executive Editor
May 21, 2009
Dear President Obama:
I know that you did not ask my opinion, but in light of your meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu I wanted to humbly offer a few thoughts and suggestions.
No US Presidential administration since President Eisenhower has taken a really tough stand towards Israel and its violations of international law and precedent. You may remember that after the Israelis joined with the British and French in 1956 in invading Egypt, the US took a firm position and insisted that all three aggressors withdraw from Egypt. Interestingly enough, all three did.
Nevertheless, since that time, almost irrespective of Israeli violations of human rights, international law, and common decency, US administration after administration has found any way to excuse the Israelis and put the burden on the Palestinians.
Mr. President, the Palestinians have lived under an occupation for more than 40 years. International law says that a people who are under occupation have a right to resist the occupation. International law does not recognize occupations that violate United Nations resolutions. Perhaps, after some study, you could explain how is it that discussions of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories almost always focus on what the Palestinians are doing rather than questioning why the Israelis are still there, and why they keep building settlements.
Prime Minister Netanyahu clearly recognizes that you are not George Bush, but in traveling to Washington, DC his objective was to secure your silence, if not support, for minimal action on the part of the Israeli government to address the needs and demands of the Palestinian people. What many of us want to know, Mr. President, is whether you will be more like Eisenhower, or whether the Palestinians will be allowed to be blamed yet again for their own occupation.
I don’t want to push this too far, Mr. President, but when Prime Minister Netanyahu asked you to join forces with him to threaten Iran, why didn’t you ask him when was the last time that Iran invaded and occupied someone else’s territory? When Prime Minister Netanyahu asked you about the alleged nuclear threat from Iran, perhaps you could have fleshed out your answer to the question regarding nuclear threats in the Middle East that you were asked by Helen Thomas in one of your first press conferences after the November election, when you failed to mention--perhaps it was an oversight--that the only nuclear power in the Middle East/Western Asia is Israel?
Needless to say, my hope is that you would have chosen to be more like President Eisenhower with regard to Israel, and informed Prime Minister Netanyahu that if Israel does not pull out of the Occupied Territories within a given amount of time, the US will cut off aid. But then you might be concerned that some of your domestic supporters might accuse you of being a bad ally to Israel. So, how about, just to get things started, you suggest:
* That Netanyahu needs to get down to real negotiations with the leaders of the Palestinian people--including but not limited to Hamas--towards a final and just resolution of the conflict.
* That Netanyahu needs to deep-six his ideas about building the Palestinian economy while ignoring Palestinian national self-determination.
* That Netanyahu needs to address the peace proposal that the Arab League floated for years which would bring about peace and security for Israel and the Palestinians.
* Oh, and of course, that immediately Israel must end the blockade of Gaza, repair the damage they caused through their aggression, and cease and desist from any further selective assassinations of Palestinian leaders.
Mr. President, there is so much more to cover, but I think that the bottom line is that the people of the world are looking at you and wondering whether you are truly interested in shifting US foreign policy or whether you are more concerned about US image. There are those around you who believe that the problems that the USA faces overseas are largely the result of George Bush and bad public relations, rather than recognizing that the USA has a history of being on the wrong side, particularly when it comes to issues facing people in the global South.
There are many of us who supported your candidacy who believe that the true test of the democratic and just aspirations of your administration will be judged by whether the US remains complicit in the oppression of the Palestinian people. We are counting on you, sir, to the do the right thing.
Bill Fletcher, Jr.
[Bill Fletcher Jr. is a founder of Progressives for Obama.]
Saturday, May 16, 2009
The New Counterinsurgency
as a Return to the Indian Wars
By Tom Hayden
A "Long War" may be underway in South and Central Asia and the Middle East that could last fifty years. Only a fifty-year commitment to peace can prevent it.
The concept of the "Long War" is attributed to former CENTCOM Commander Gen. John Abizaid, speaking in 2004. Leading counterinsurgency theorist John Nagl, an Iraq combat veteran and now the head of the Center for a New American Security, writes that "there is a growing realization that the most likely conflicts of the next fifty years will be irregular warfare in an 'Arc of Instability' that encompasses much of the greater Middle East and parts of Africa and Central and South Asia." The Pentagon's official Quadrennial Defense Review (2005) commits the United States to a greater emphasis on fighting terrorism and insurgencies in this "arc of instability."
The Center for American Progress repeats the formulation in arguing for a troop escalation and ten-year commitment in Afghanistan, saying that the "infrastructure of jihad" must be destroyed in "the center of an 'arc of instability' through South and Central Asia and the greater Middle East."
The implications of this doctrine are staggering. The very notion of a fifty-year war assumes the consent of the American people, who have yet to hear of the plan, for the next six national elections. The weight of a fifty-year burden will surprise and dismay many in the antiwar movement. Most Americans living today will die before the fifty-year war ends, if it does. Youngsters born and raised today will reach middle age. Unborn generations will bear the tax burden or fight and die in this "irregular warfare."
There is a chance, of course, that the Long War can be prevented. It may be unsustainable, a product of imperial hubris. Public opinion may tire of the quagmires and costs--but only if there is a commitment to a fifty-year peace movement.
In this perspective, Iraq is only an immediate front, with Afghanistan and Pakistan the expanding fronts, in a single larger war from the Middle East to South Asia. Instead of thinking of Iraq like Vietnam, a war that was definitively ended, it is better to think of Iraq as a setback, or better a stalemate, on a larger battlefield where victory or defeat are painfully hard to define over a timespan of five decades.
I propose to begin by examining the military doctrines that give rise to notions of the Long War. The peace movement often adopts the biblical commitment to "study war no more," but in this case it may prove useful to become students of military strategies and tactics. (Those wishing to become students of Long War theory should consult the bibliography at the end of this essay.)
1. The New Counterinsurgency Is a Return to the Indian Wars.
In a September 24, 2007 article in The Nation, "The New Counterinsurgency," I wrote that the Petraeus plan for Iraq was as old as our nation's long Indian wars. That thesis was confirmed in the writings of the neo-conservative Robert Kaplan, in his September 21, 2004, article in the Wall Street Journal, "Indian Country."
Kaplan is obsessed with the anarchy loosed on the world by post-colonial, tribal-based societies, and emphasizes the need for small wars carried on "off camera," so to speak. Kaplan approvingly quotes one US officer as opining that "you want to whack bad guys quietly and cover your tracks with humanitarian aid projects." The comparison Kaplan makes between today's Long War and our previous Indian wars is that the "enemies" were highly decentralized tribal nations who had to be defeated in one campaign after another. He realizes that conventional war against the Plains and western tribes was an unsustainable strategy and that the native people were overwhelmed by an inexhaustible supply of white settlers and superior technology like the railroad. Fighting the new Indian wars today, he advises, means "the smaller the American footprint and the less notice it draws from the international media, the more effective is the operation." In this sense, Iraq is a strategic setback for Kaplan, "a mess that no one wants to repeat."
2. Strategic Military Framework: The Fifty-Year Long War.
Like the Indian wars, winning the Long War will require taking advantage of the deep divisions that exist in tribal societies, along lines of religion, ethnicity, race and geography. The efforts of many Indian leaders to form effective confederations against US expansion never succeeded. On the other hand, US army strategies to pay tribes to deploy "scouts" who would inform on and fight other tribes were successful. The main strategy of the Long War is to attract one tribal or ethnic group to fight their rivals on behalf of the foreign occupier. Nagl accurately predicted that "winning the Iraqi people's willingness to turn in their terrorist neighbors will mark the tipping point in defeating the insurgency."
Counterinsurgency is portrayed to the public as a more civilized, even intellectual, form of war directed by Ivy League professionals, with a proper emphasis on human rights, political persuasion and protection of the innocents. Every civilian insulted by a door knocked down, it is said, is lost to the cause, thus creating a military motive to be respectful to local populations. The new Marine-Army counterinsurgency manual is filled with such suggestions.
But this "hearts and minds" approach downplays what Vice President Dick Cheney called the use of "the dark side." Before a local population will turn in its neighbors, to use Nagl's image, the occupying army must be seen as defeating those "neighbors," killing and wounding the alleged insurgents in significant numbers; weakening or destroying the infrastructure in their villages, and creating an exodus of refugees (in Vietnam, this was known as "forced urbanization," a term of the late Harvard professor Samuel Huntington). In the meantime, the population considered "friendly" is tightly guarded in what used to be called strategic hamlets and, in Iraq, became known as "gated communities": behind concertina wire, blast walls and watch towers, and with everyone subject to eye scanners. The lines between enemy, friendly and neutral in this context are fluid, guaranteeing that many people will be targeted inaccurately as "irreconcilable" sympathizers with the insurgents. Profiling and rounding up people who "look the type" will lead to detention camps filled individuals lacking any usable evidence against them. As one Taliban operative told the New York Times, perhaps over-confidently:
I know of the Petraeus experiment out there. But we know our Afghans. They will take the money from Petraeus, but they will not be on his side. There are so many people working with the Afghans and the Americans who are on their payroll, but they inform us, sell us weapons. (May 5, 2009)
The truth is that conventional warfare by US troops against Muslim nations is politically impossible, for two reasons that suggest an inherent weakness. First, the local people become inflamed against the foreigners, creating better conditions for the insurgency. Second, the American people are skeptical of ground wars involving huge casualties, costs, and possibly the military draft. Counterinsurgency becomes the fallback military option of the unwelcome occupier. Counterinsurgency is low-visibility of necessity, depending on stealth, psychological and information warfare, both abroad and at home.
3. What Happened on the Dark Side in Iraq
In Iraq, the dark side first involved the 2003-2004 American-sponsored round-ups and torture, only leaked to the American public and media by a US guard in Abu Ghraib. In addition, as many as 50,000 young Iraqis, mostly Sunnis, have been held in extreme conditions in detention centers across the country (some of them now being released under the pact negotiated between Baghdad and Washington). Then there were the unreported, top-secret extrajudicial killings described chillingly in Bob Woodward's The War Within, which were so effective that they reportedly gave "orgasms" to Gen. Petraeus's top adviser, Derek Harvey. Woodward writes that these killings, in which the Pentagon was the judge, jury and executioner, based heavily on local informants, were "very possibly the biggest factor in reducing" Iraq's violence in 2007. It is likely that death squads were carrying out the revived version of a "global Phoenix program," as advocated by Gen. Petraeus's leading counterinsurgency adviser, David Kilcullen, in the Small Wars Journal (November 30, 2004). Jane Mayer, in The Dark Side, confirms that Phoenix became a model after 9/11, despite the fact that military historians called it massive, state-sanctioned murder, and clear evidence that 97 percent of its Vietcong victims were of "negligible importance."
It is far more widely known that Gen. Petraeus reduced the Sunni insurgency by hiring some 100,000 Sunnis, mostly former insurgents, to protect their communities and battle Al Qaeda in Iraq. This was in accord with the strategy proposed by another top Petraeus adviser, Steven Biddle, in 2006:
Use the prospect of a US-trained and US-supported Shiite-Kurdish force to compel the Sunnis to come to the negotiating table [and] in order to get the Shiites and the Kurds to negotiate too, it should threaten to either withdraw prematurely, a move that would throw the country into disarray, or to back the Sunnis. (Foreign Affairs, March-April 2006)
Now those so-called "Sons of Iraq," first known as the "Kit Carson Scouts," are increasingly frustrated by the refusal of the US-supported al-Maliki government to integrate them into the state structure and pay them living wages. It is unclear what the future holds for Iraq as US troops begin to withdraw. Elements of the military, perhaps including Gen. Raymond Odierno, are known to be unhappy with the pace of withdrawal, and already are negotiating with the Iraqi government to delay the six-month deadline for redeploying American troops to barracks outside Iraqi cities. It is apparent that neither conventional warfare (2003-2006) nor counterinsurgency (2006-2009) have solved the fundamental problem of pacifying an insurgent nationalism which was mobilized by the 2003 invasion itself.
In Iraq, the US strategy was to speed up the Iraqi clock while slowing down the American one, Petraeus was fond of saying. That meant accelerating a political compromise between Shi'a, Sunnis and Kurds in Iraq, along the lines of the 2007 Baker-Hamilton Report, while cooling American voter impatience with promises that peace was just around the corner of the 2008 elections. It was around this time that the Center for a New American Security was formed among Democratic national security advocates deeply worried that a voter mandate could end the war "prematurely."
The key operative in CNAS was Michelle Flournoy, who went on to vet Pentagon appointments for the Obama transition team and now serves as an assistant secretary of defense. Contrary to the views of many in the antiwar movement and Democratic Party, Petraeus's 2007-08 troop surge was successful in its political mission of sharply reducing both US and Iraqi casualties. However, the US military surge included the massive wave of extrajudicial terror chronicled by Woodward, as well as paying tens of thousands of Sunni insurgents not to shoot at American troops. Neither approach could be counted on to stabilize Iraq for long.
At the end of 2008, the Bush administration was forced to accept what the al-Maliki government described as "the withdrawal pact," according to which the United States would gradually withdraw all troops by late 2011. Since the US forces have not "won" the war militarily, there is little evidence that Iraq will become the stable pro-Western model some seek for their Long War. Even if another insurgency or civil war is averted, Iraq will be aligned with Iran's regional interests for some time to come. President Obama will be under serious pressure from US military officials in Iraq and their allies among the neo-conservatives in Washington, to delay his promised withdrawal or be accused of "losing" Iraq.
The Iraqi security forces now consist of 600,000 soldiers, including 340,000 members of a largely-Shi'a force often described as sectarian or dysfunctional. At present, the US continues to face the dilemma described by James Fallows in 2005:
The crucial need to improve security and order in Iraq puts the United States in an impossible position. It can't honorably leave Iraq--as opposed to simply evacuating Saigon-style--so long as its military must provide most of the manpower, weaponry, intelligence systems and strategies being used against the insurgency. But it can't sensibly stay when the very presence of its troops is a worsening irritant to the Iraqi public and a rallying point for nationalist opponents--to say nothing of the growing pressure in the United States for withdrawal."
4. The Long War Moves from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan
The same counterinsurgency strategies are being transferred to Afghanistan and Pakistan, with US troop levels destined to reach 70,000 this year, bringing the overall Western force level closer and closer to the declining total in Iraq. In Afghanistan, the expanded American forces will concentrate on destroying the poppy fields and villages dominated by the Taliban in southern Kandahar and Helmund provinces, a resource-denial strategy from the Indian wars. Many Americans are expected to be killed or wounded in this effort to secure and inoculate the rural population against the Taliban. Many Taliban are likely to be killed along with along with local civilians, while the core cadre may retreat to redeploy elsewhere.
The Bagram prison is being massively expanded as a detention facility where President Obama's Guantánamo orders do not apply. Bagram now holds an estimated 650 prisoners who, unlike those in Guantánamo, have "almost no rights," including access to lawyers. "Human rights campaigners and journalists are strictly forbidden there," according to a January 28, 2009, report by Der Spiegel International.
According to a RAND report using World Bank data, Afghanistan has perhaps the lowest-ranking justice system in the world. "In comparison to other countries in the region--such as Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Ukbekistan--Afghanistan's justice system was one of the least effective." Bagram is only one of many detention facilities that will be filled across the country; the Taliban "liberated" over 1,000 inmates, including 400 of their cadre, from a Kandahar prison just last year.
Counterinsurgency theory, based on the British experience in Malaysia, requires a period of ten to twelve years to impose enough suffering and exhaustion to force the population into accepting the peace terms of the dominant power. This is precisely the timetable laid out by Kilcullen before Sen. John Kerry's Senate Armed Services Committee on February 5:
[It will take] ten to fifteen years, including at least two years of significant combat up front.... thirty thousand extra troops in Afghanistan will cost around 2 billion dollars per month beyond the roughly 20 billion we already spend; additional governance and development efforts will cost even more.... [but] If we fail to stabilize Afghanistan this year, there will be no future.
Kilcullen and others support the current plan to expand the total Afghanistan security forces from 80,000 to a total of 400,000 overall, costing $20 billion over six to seven years.
In Pakistan, where torture and extrajudicial abuse also are prevalent, the US spent $12 billion during the past decade on a [Musharraf] military dictatorship, compared with one-tenth that amount on development schemes. These policies only deepened the Muslim nation's anti-Americanism, alienated the middle-class opposition, and left the poor in festering poverty. In addition to these self-imposed problems, the Pentagon is engaged in a frantic uphill effort to change Pakistan's strategic military doctrine from preparation for another conventional (or even nuclear) war against India to a counterinsurgency war against the Taliban embedded amid its own domestic population, especially in the extremely impoverished federally administered tribal areas that border Afghanistan.
The likelihood of the United States' convincing Pakistan to view the domestic threat as greater than that from India is doubtful. Pakistan has fought three wars with India, and views the US as supporting the expansion of India's interests in Afghanistan, where the Pakistan military has supported the Taliban as a proxy against India. The Northern Alliance forces of Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks were strongly supported by India in 2001 against Pakistan's Taliban's allies, and the fall of Kabul to the Northern Alliance was a "catastrophe" for Pakistan, according to Juan Cole. Since 2001, India has sent hundreds of millons in assistance to Afghanistan, including funds for Afghan political candidates in 2004, assistance to sitting legislators, Indian consulates in Jalalabad, Heart and Kandahar, and road construction designed, according to the Indian government, to help their countries' armed forces "meet their strategic needs."
Polls show that a vast majority of Pakistanis view the United States and India as far greater threats than the Taliban, despite the Taliban's unpopularity with much of Pakistan's public. While it is unlikely that the Taliban could seize power in Pakistan, it may be impossible for anyone to militarily prevent Taliban control of the tribal areas and a growing base among the Pashtun tribes (28 million in Afghanistan, 12 million in Pakistan).
The remaining options begin to make the United States look like Gulliver tied down among the Lilliputians.
The US will demand that Pakistan's armed forces fight the Taliban, which the American military has driven into Pakistan. Pakistan will demand billions in US aid without giving guarantees that they will shift their security deployments in accord with Washington's will. The US will make clear that it will go to extreme lengths to prevent a scenario in which Pakistan's nuclear arsenal falls into the Taliban's hands. No one on the US side acknowledges that this spiraling disaster was triggered by US policies over the past decade.
5. The Quagmire of Crises
To summarize, the "arc of crisis" is turning into a "quagmire of crises." The current US military strategy in Pakistan is contradictory mix of an air war by Predators combined with US special forces trying to organize a tribal war in search of Al Qaeda. US policies already have driven Al Qaeda out of Afghanistan, partly with covert support from Pakistan's army. As a result, both Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters have taken up havens in the remote wilderness of Pakistan's tribal areas. So far the US has budgeted $450 million for the tribal-based "Frontier Corps" in the frontier region. This strategy has not only failed to prevent the Taliban from taking virtual control of the tribal region, but the effort has killed hundreds of civilians, provoked deeper public opposition, and driven the Taliban insurgency further east into Pakistan.
The US faces a military crisis which Secretary Hillary Clinton recently called "a mortal threat" to America's security, the possibility of Taliban or Al Qaeda's access to Pakistan's nuclear stockpile in the eventuality that the situation deteriorates further. This will trigger an intense political campaign to "do something" about the very threat that US policies have created.
The US and NATO can barely invade Afghanistan, which has 32 million people spread over 250,000 square miles, larger than Iraq. Pakistan, with 172 million people living over 310, 000 square miles, simply cannot be invaded. But in a crisis, it is conceivable that American advisers, even ground troops, might be sent to occupy the 10,000 square miles on Pakistan's side of the border. That might result in an anti-American revolution in the streets across Pakistan.
So what has counterinsurgency achieved thus far? At most, a stalemate of sorts in Iraq after six years of combat on top of a brutal decade of sanctions. Nothing much in Afghanistan, where conventional warfare pushed Al Qaeda over the border into Pakistan. Nothing much in Pakistan, where the Pakistan army is resistant to shift its primary focus away from India.
Kilcullen's war plan for Afghanistan covers ten to twelve years, starting in 2009. The war on the Pakistan front is only beginning, meaning that the Obama administration is managing three wars within the Long War, not including secret battlegrounds like the Philippines or what may happen in Iran or Israel-Palestine, nor the controversial expansion of NATO to the borders of Russia, Iran, China and other hotspots along the Arc of Instability. Some in the intelligence community would even like to expand the "terrorist" threat to include the immigrant and drug routes through Central and Latin America as well.
Even if President Obama wishes to carry out a strategic retreat from "the sorrows of empire," he will be faced with significant pressure from elements of the military-industrial complex, and the lack of an informed public. The path of least resistance, it may appear to Obama in the short run, is incremental escalation (sending 20,000 additional Americans) while stepping up the search for a patchwork diplomatic fix. But incremental escalation can be like another drink for an alcoholic, and even that strategy would require a stepping back from the doctrine of the Long War. Hawks at the American Enterprise Institute and their allies like John McCain and Joe Lieberman are pushing for victory instead of face-saving diplomacy.
The deeper sources of this crisis certainly involve the American and Western quest for oil, the historic inequalities between the global North and South, the West and the Muslim world. But it is important to emphasis the strategic military dimension, particularly the guiding strategic vision of a fifty-year war. The Long War now has a momentum of its own. The impact of the Long War on other American priorities, like healthcare and civil liberties, is likely to be devastating. Since most Americans, especially those supportive of peace and justice campaigns, are well aware of domestic issues and general issues of war and peace, it is important to begin concentrating on the great deficit in popular understanding, that the Long War is already here, building from the previous the cold war dynamic and the Bush era's nomenclature about the "global war on terrorism."
To be continued... thoughts on The Long Peace Movement.
BIBILIOGRAPHY AND READINGS.
The older classics. For those with serious time, I would recommend Sun-Tzu and Carl Von Clausewitz for an introduction to opposing doctrines, still studied widely.
For the classic Western take on the Arab world, T.E. Lawrence's The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
The recent classics include Che Guevara and Mao Tse-Tung. On the Western side, I suggest the writings of Sir Robert Thompson on Defeating Communist Insurgency; Frank Kitson, Low Insurgency Operations; David Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare; Robert Taber, The War of the Flea; and the lengthy but brilliant study of Algeria by Alistair Horne, A Savage War of Peace (the cover of Horne's reissued book announces that it's "on the reading list of President Bush and the US military," and a blurb by the Washington Post's Thomas Ricks that it should be read "immediately").
For immediate works of importance: John Nagl, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife (the phrase is from Lawrence); and David Petraeus, Nagl et al., The US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual (in collaboration with Harvard's Carr Center). A brilliant counterpoint to these works is William R. Polk's Violent Politics (see also his Sorrows of Empire).
Important books on Al Qaeda and Islam include Robert Dreyfuss's The Devil's Game; Jason Burke's Al Qaeda, Michael Scheuer's Marching to Hell; Bruce Lawrence, ed., Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama Bin Laden; and Ahmed Rashid, The Taliban.
Other critical books include Rashid Khalidi, Resurrecting Empire and Sowing Crisis; Juan Cole, Engaging the Muslim World; Ahmed Hashim, Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Iraq; Mamood Mamdani, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim; Tariq Ali, The Duel; and Rashid's Descent into Chaos.
To follow the counterinsurgency discussions among US security strategists, go to the smallwarsjournal.com blog or the Center for American Progress.
Monday, May 4, 2009
Photo: Islamist Party in Pakistan Opposing Use of 'Drones'
Ten More Things You Can Do
to Oppose War in Afghanistan
Editor's Note: Peace activist Tom Hayden adds his ideas to Z.P. Heller's April 8 piece, and Walter Mosley's 'Ten Things You Can Do to Oppose the War in Afghanistan,' which is included here after Tom's piece.
By Tom Hayden
April 30, 2009 -This early period of Obama's presidency is an opportunity to rebuild Afghanistan. It is a chance to become clearer than "out now," while still using the same force in opposing the war. In addition to education on the specifics of the administration's plan and the after-effects in Afghanistan, take these concrete steps to build infrastructure from the bottom up.
1. The immediate demands should be opposition to more troops, predator attacks, human rights abuses and escalating budget costs.
2. Support a regional diplomatic solution (exit strategy), including withdrawal of US/NATO troops and bases. Read Tariq Ali's book, The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power.
3. Demand of Congress and President the same accountability that was demanded of Bush and never won: verifiable casualty figures, transparent budgeting, oversight of contractors, compliance with human rights standards, including women's rights--clear metrics to measure progress towards a defined exit strategy.
4.With these focuses in mind and using United for Peace and Justice as an organizational base:
• assist in doubling their membership
• build a local e-mail list of at least 300 names
• build a coalition (at least a letterhead or leadership alliance) of clergy, academic, human rights, environmentalists, African-Americans and Latinos, labor and other progressive organizations.
5. Criticize Obama's war from within the Obama structure and MoveOn.org. (Since neither of these structures have a focus on the war, contact them or start on a discussion on Afghanistan under another heading).
6. Start or join a group against military recruiters.
7. Build a visible network in your Congressional district. Buy and wear antiwar buttons, T-shirts and banners.
8. Build a local media list and meet with the editorial board.
9. Start Friday night streetcorner pickets. These are the hundreds of groups in every region that hold up placards on Friday nights. This is the heart of the antiwar movement.
10. Support other organizations, such as American Friends Service Committee, Military Families Speak Out, Code Pink etc.
[Tom Hayden is a founder of 'Progressives for Obama' and the author of The Other Side (1966, with Staughton Lynd), The Love of Possession Is a Disease With Them (1972), Ending the War in Iraq (2007) and Writings for a Democratic Society: The Tom Hayden Reader (2008).]
Ten Things You Can Do to
Oppose the War in Afghanistan
By Walter Mosley
The war in Afghanistan is a quagmire bordering on a catastrophe. With a current price tag of $2 billion a month, this drawn-out conflict took the lives of 155 American soldiers and 2,118 Afghan civilians last year--the bloodiest year of the war to date. Western airstrikes alone killed 522 civilians, fueling hostility toward the United States and causing more Afghans to join and support the Taliban insurgency that has spread into Pakistan.
President Obama has escalated our military presence by committing an additional 17,000 US troops and 4,000 trainers to work with Afghan security forces.
Where is the public outcry? The Nation and Z.P. Heller, editorial director of Brave New Films, have put together a list of things you can do to oppose the war.
1 Watch parts one and two of Brave New Films' documentary Rethink Afghanistan, which explores many fundamental questions.
2 Read up on the war. Anand Gopal's coverage for the Christian Science Monitor has been insightful; see also Ann Jones's Kabul in Winter and articles like Gilles Dorronsoro's "Focus and Exit: An Alternative Strategy for the Afghan War". The Nation's own Robert Dreyfuss has more "For Your Reading Pleasure."
3 Check out the coalition of bloggers and activists seeking nonmilitary alternatives to escalation at Get Afghanistan Right.
4 Demand Congressional oversight hearings. It is Congress's duty to challenge policy-makers and inform the public about everything from the overall mission to the efficiency of military agencies. Sign a petition calling on Senator John Kerry and Representative Howard Berman to hold hearings immediately.
5 What question would you ask at a Congressional hearing on Afghanistan? Take a video of yourself or a friend asking your question and e-mail it to Brave New Foundation via YouTube. For help on recording and uploading your video to YouTube, watch the tutorial video and follow the Quick Capture instructions and then go to Rethink Afghanistan to submit the video.
6 Contact your senators and representative directly to demand Congressional oversight hearings. If you can't visit their offices, a phone call or e-mail to voice your opinion can be just as effective.
7 Write to your local paper's editorial board and your favorite political blogs to raise concerns about the war. Don't let the mainstream media remain silent as they did before the Iraq War!
8 Support anti-escalation Afghan groups working for women's rights and social justice. You can aid organizations like the Afghan Women's Mission, MADRE and the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) by buying them equipment from their Amazon "wish list" that helps them document and spread the news about their efforts. Stay updated with the Afghan Women's Mission newswire.
9 Join the Campus Antiwar Network and hold teach-ins, debates, talks, demonstrations and walkouts on college campuses across the country.
10 Get involved in the peace movement with groups like Win Without War and Peace Action West, which are devoted to finding nonviolent alternatives to military escalation in Afghanistan. Follow Peace Action West on Twitter.
CONCEIVED by WALTER MOSLEY
with research by Rae Gomes
[ZP Heller is the Editorial Director for Brave New Films. He has written for The Huffington Post, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and The Philadelphia Inquirer.]
Saturday, May 2, 2009
Why Obama Is
Pissed at the
By Ezra Klein
One of the interesting threads in the Chrysler bankruptcy was Obama's evident fury at the hedge funds and investment banks that refused the deals the government offered. The reason for their reluctance was simple enough: Bondholders don't want to lose money. But the strategy behind their intransigence proved poor: They didn't think the government would send Chrysler into bankruptcy. And that gave them leverage. Out-of-court debt restructurings generally require consensus. But they were wrong. Not only did the administration let Chrysler fall to the bankruptcy courts, but Obama called the investors out by name:
While many stakeholders made sacrifices and worked constructively, I have to tell you some did not. In particular, a group of investment firms and hedge funds decided to hold out for the prospect of an unjustified taxpayer-funded bailout. They were hoping that everybody else would make sacrifices, and they would have to make none. Some demanded twice the return that other lenders were getting.
I don't stand with them. I stand with Chrysler's employees and their families and communities. I stand with Chrysler's management, its dealers, and its suppliers. I stand with the millions of Americans who own and want to buy Chrysler cars. I don't stand with those who held out when everybody else is making sacrifices.
You're seeing, some say, the hidden hand of Ron Bloom here. Bloom is an inside player often called Labor's investment banker. A Harvard Business School grad who spent a decade in private finance, he eventually joined the labor movement as a special assistant to the president of the United Steelworkers. Now he's one of the key players on Obama's automobile task force. And you can see his perspective informing some of Obama's decisions. ron_bloom_0217.jpg
New Yorker writer Peter Boyer recalls a talk Bloom gave three years ago to a group of insolvency lawyers and accountants. In it, he described a hypothetical restructuring, and argued that you needed to think of both the workers and the bondholders as having made the equivalent of "loans" to the company. The difference was that the bondholder had settled on clear terms. They could end the relationship at any time by selling the bond on the open market. Labor's "loan," however, could not be cashed out. If the company failed to honor future obligations to workers, the money was, for labor, simply lost. Bloom explained:
They worked a lifetime and deferred a significant amount of current compensation in exchange for the company’s promise that, upon their retirement, they would be paid a fixed stream of cash and provided with help with their medical bills. Then, without their knowledge or consent, the company chose to not set aside enough money to honor that promise. In effect, the company borrowed money from them without even discussing the terms of the loan....So what we have is a bunch of old men and widows being forced to lend the company, for whom they worked a lifetime, some portion of the value of their pension and their health care. This loan was made on terms on which they have no input and they have no ability to liquidate their position.
Labor, in other words, has no ability to liquidate. The hedge funds do. And in the case of Chrysler, the workers have seen their position brutally and quickly reduced, with very little input from them. The hedge fund, conversely, refused to liquidate their own position, and demanded ever more favorable terms from the government. And Obama, it seems, quickly grew to judge their position repellent.
The other piece of the puzzle is that Chrysler was something of a trial run. The really consequential negotiations are still to come. They'll happen when the administration sits down with GM. One of the apparent miscalculations made by Chrysler's bondholders was that the government desperately wanted to avoid letting Chrysler go into bankruptcy. But by showing its capability to be ruthless in the Chrysler negotiations, the administration might have just improved its bargaining position in the GM negotiations, as it is now harder for various stakeholders to predict exactly how risk averse the government will, or won't, be.
The Hedge Funds' Chrysler Gamble
The NYT discussed President Obama's feud with several hedge funds who refused to agree to the same write-down terms as other major bond holders. While the article points out that the hedge funds had purchased the debt for around 30 cents on the dollar, it would have also been useful to point out why the debt was selling for 30 cents on the dollar.
Other investors assessed both Chrysler's economic situation and the politics around the bailout and concluded that they were unlikely to get more than 30 cents on the dollar. The hedge funds that refused to accept the deal offered by the Obama administration were speculating that they could pressure the Obama administration into giving them a better deal. That is why they were prepared to pay more for this debt than other investors.