Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan’

China tries to draw Afghanistan into its orbit

December 30, 2017

China’s ancient Silk Road

China’s modern Silk Road

The U.S. government for 15 years has been trying to pacify Afghanistan, without success.

During these same 15 years, the Chinese government has been extending its power and influence into the interior of Asia by investing in railroads, oil and gas pipelines and other infrastructure across the region at the invitation of local governments..

The Chinese call this the “Belts and Roads Initiative”—the belts being the oil and gas pipelines. Others call it the New Silk Road.

Recently China made an agreement with Pakistan to create an economic development corridor, culminating in a port giving China direct access to the Indian Ocean near the Persian Gulf.   Now China and Pakistan are trying to draw Afghanistan into their economic alliance.

I don’t know how all this will turn out.  Many things can go wrong.

But it seems clear that Beijing has been more effective in extending its power by offering material benefits than Washington has by means of military intervention and economic sanctions.

Furthermore China’s policies have made it economically stronger while U.S. policies have depleted U.S. strength.

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China’s new route to the Middle East?

December 9, 2015

China-Beijing-to-Persian-Gulf-sea-route-vs-Kashgar-Gwadar-CPEC

China and Pakistan have announced a new $46 billion project called the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor-Route-Map

Click to enlarge.  Source: Express-Tribune, Pakistan

It will include a new railroad connecting the Chinese city of Kashgar with Pakistan’s port of Gwadar, extensive development of the port and construction of new oil and gas lines connecting China, Pakistan and Iran.

Other benefits to Pakistan are highway construction projects, improvements to the Gwadar airport, and a number of coal, wind, solar and hydro-electric plants.  China in return gets to control Gwadar port for 43 years.  Pakistan gets highway construction and energy  reportedly is negotiating with China for purchase of eight attack submarines.

I think this is a good example of how China uses infrastructure investment to expand its power.  Instead of trying to bend countries to its will by economic sanctions and threats of military force, as the USA is now trying to do, China offers projects of mutual benefit but under Chinese control.

CPEC20150606_ASM987

Click to enlarge.

The benefit to China is that it gets access to Iranian oil without having to transport it through the Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea, where it would be vulnerable to disruption by India, Japan or the United States.  The new route is 6,000 miles shorter.  Ultimately China may have a direct pipeline connection to Iran, without having to go to sea at all.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor passes along areas controlled by the Pakistan Taliban.  This gives the Pakistan government a strong incentive to bring its wing of the Taliban under control.

WO-AW155A_PAKCH_9U_20150416170335

Click to enlarge

The corridor goes through the portion of the disputed territory of Kashmir occupied by Pakistan, which means China thinks this project is important enough to take sides against India.

Previously Pakistan covertly supported the Taliban, and Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai allied with Pakistan’s enemy, India.  But the new President, Ashraf Ghani, has aligned with China and Pakistan, which, I think, is bad news for the Taliban and a good reason to think the corridor plan is feasible.

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How the USA helps ISIS, AQ and the Taliban

December 7, 2015

syrianrebels

The U.S. government provides arms to ISIS, al Qaeda and the Taliban.  It sometimes does this directly, as in Afghanistan in the 1970s and 1980s and Bosnia during the 1990s.  Other times it arms ineffective and corrupt governments, warlords or insurgents who then give the arms of ISIS, al Qaeda and the Taliban.

The U.S. government is an enemy of the nations fighting ISIS, al Qaeda and the Taiban.   These include Syria, Iran and Russia and, in the past, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.  I’m not praising these nations’ governments.  I’m just pointing out they are the enemies of the terrorists the U.S. government supposedly is making war on.

The U.S. government declines to confront nations from which ISIS, al Qaeda and the Taliban draw support.   I’m thinking of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates and Turkey.   Oil flows out and money and arms flow in.

U.S. military intervention creates the kind of environment in which ISIS, al Qaeda and the Taliban flourish.   When the structure of civil government and civil society are smashed, as happened in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, only criminal, religious or military groups can flourish, or criminal religious warlords such as ISIS, al Qaeda or the Taliban.

One motive for joining ISIS is to take revenge for killing of bystanders in U.S. military operations.
Drone operations, bombing campaigns and support for oppressive governments create more terrorists than they eliminate.

Many Americans support the claims of ISIS, al Qaeda and the Taliban to be true representatives of Islam.   Presidents Obama and George W. Bush distinguished between terrorists and mainstream Islam, but many American politicians and journalists seem to be intent on turning a struggle against a tiny group of terrorists into a crusade against the world’s more than 1 billion Muslims.

Ironically, many Iranians and Iraqis believe that Americans intentionally created ISIS.   I’m sure there was no such intention.  I just think that certain people in the U.S. government sought to use the war on terror as a screen to achieve other geopolitical objectives which they gave higher priority.

One of these objectives was to be the dominant military power in the Greater Middle East.  Another was to control oil, gas and pipeline routes.  A third was to back Israel, Saudi Arabia and other allies against their enemies and rivals.

They neither achieved these objectives (unless waging war is a goal in itself) nor effectively fought terrorism.

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If we Americans are serious about waging a war on terror, we should stop doing things that make the terrorists stronger.

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The American failure at nation-building.

November 19, 2015

If you attempt the impossible, you will fail.
        ==One of the Ten Truths of Management

If a problem cannot be solved, it may not be a problem, but a fact.
        ==One of Rumsfeld’s Rules

mason.strategiclessons.PUB1269Why was the United States so successful in building up Germany, Japan and South Korea as independent nations after World War Two, and such a failure in building up South Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan?

Chris Mason, in his book Strategic Lessons, wrote that the reason is that while it is possible to help an existing nation build up a stable government, it is not possible for outsiders to create a national consciousness among a people who lack it.

That is the reason for the failures in South Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan—not any lack of valor or professionalism among American troops, but the fact that they were given a mission equivalent to trying to make water flow uphill.

He said the U.S. military is well-suited for carrying out two kinds of missions:

  1. Defending allies from invasion by use of “intense lethality” against the aggressor.
  2. Intervening in a foreign country to protect American lives or interests by striking hard at a military target, and then leaving—preferably within 90 days.

If the American government is considering intervening in a country for an extended length of time, it should summon the best academic experts to assess whether the people of that country have a sense of nationhood.  If not, the only unity those people will have is in resisting the invader.

Actually there were people inside the government who understood what would happen in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, and said so, but they were ignored, Mason said.   Instead decisions were made by people who knew nothing about those countries, but knew what to do and say in order to advance their careers.

Those are harsh words.  The fact that the Army War College has published his book shows that there are some people in the military who value intelligent dissent.

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Click on The Strategic Lessons Unlearned from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan: Why the Afghan National Security Forces Will Not Hold and the Implications for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan for the text of Chris Mason’s book in PDF form.  I thank Craig Hanyan for suggesting it.

Click on America’s Future in Afghanistan for interviews by ARRA News Service giving the opposing viewpoints of Chris Mason and General John R. Allen, USMC-Ret.  [added 11/20/2015]

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U.S. decision-makers ignored Afghan realities

November 19, 2015

Military expert M. Chris Mason thinks the U.S. effort in Afghanistan was probably doomed from the start.  But two early-on decisions by the Bush administration destroyed what little chance there was for success.

The first was the decision to browbeat King Mohammad Zahir Shah, the only leader capable of uniting Afghanistan, into abdicating his throne in favor of a U.S. puppet.

The second was the decision to disband all existing Afghan armed forces and create a new army from scratch, consisting of recruits selected precisely because of their lack of any previous military experience.

mason.strategiclessons.PUB1269The results were a government that had no legitimacy in the eyes of the Afghan people, and an army that is incapable of fighting.

Mason, citing the great sociologist Max Weber, wrote in his current book that there are three things—two old and one new—that can make a government legitimate in the eyes of its people.  The two old ones are tradition and religion, which the Afghan people accept.  The new one is the democratic process, which, he said, they don’t understand.

Historically, he said, the only times Afghanistan was united is under the rule of kings.  Afghanistan has been in a continuing state of civil war since the king was overthrown in 1973.  Public opinion polls taken after the U.S. invasion indicated that 75 percent of the Afghan people wanted their king back.  He could have played a ceremonial role similar to the Emperor Hirohito under General MacArthur’s rule in Japan.

But American policy-makers didn’t want him.

The CIA had in mind to install a puppet, Adbul Haq, whom they could control.  Haq was betrayed by Pakistan’s intelligence service, and assassinated by the Taliban, Mason wrote.  So the CIA turned to the only other person on their payroll, the non-entity Hamid Karzai, who was respected by nobody.

The Taliban, on the other hand, exercise religious authority, which, according to Mason, is a more legitimate source of authority than election results.  The Taliban may not be popular, he wrote, but they are regarded as legitimate, which is something different.

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Chris Mason

Chris Mason

Mason said the other bad decision was to exclude from the Afghan armed forces anyone who had ever previously served in a military-type capacity, such as former mujahideen, former communist Afghan army troops and members of warlord militias.  Recruits in 2002, as part of a standard questionnaire, were asked, “Have you ever used a rifle before?”  If the answer was affirmative, they were disqualified.

Much the same thing happened in Iraq.  The armed forces were disbanded, but allowed to keep their weapons, a perfect formula for violent chaos.  Mason did not speculate as to what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had in mind.  Maybe he had some idea of starting over with a clean slate.

The result in both Iraq and Afghanistan was the recruitment of young unemployed men whose main motivation was pay.  They were mostly illiterate, but expected to master sophisticated American military technology.   The army’s problems included

lack of an air force, extreme over-reliance on weak and static police forces, nonexistent logistics, pervasive drug abuse … [and] the attrition that runs 50 percent per year in combat units in the south.

But the worse problem was lack of motivation.  The Taliban believe in what they’re fighting for.  Afghan government troops generally care only about themselves and their tribal groups.   It is not within the power of Americans to change this.

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Click on The Strategic Lessons Unlearned from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan: Why the Afghan National Security Forces Will Not Hold and the Implications for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan for the text of Chris Mason’s book in PDF form.  I thank Craig Hanyan for suggesting it.

Afghan civil war predates U.S. invasion

November 19, 2015

The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 was an episode in an ongoing Afghan civil war that began 40 years ago and will probably continue after American forces leave the country.

The basic conflict is between the Pushtu-speaking people of southern Afghanistan and the Dari- and Uzbek-speaking people of northern Afghanistan.

The Soviet-backed government that was installed in 1979 mainly represented Dari and Uzbek speakers.  The rebellion against that government, backed by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United States, was mainly Pustu speakers.  The Taliban are mainly Pustu speakers.  The U.S.-backed government in Kabul represents the same ethnic groups as the old Soviet-backed government.

mason.strategiclessons.PUB1269This is the analysis of Chris Mason, a military expert familiar with Afghanistan, whose latest book is available free on-line in PDF form from the United States Army War College.

Mason wrote that there are many ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, such that the English language cannot do justice to their complexity.

There are religious conflicts among the Taliban, moderate Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims.  There are ongoing conflicts the various ethnic groups—Pushtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmen and Hazaras.  There are conflicts between tribes and clans.  If one clan supports the Taliban, the other is likely to look for help from the Americans, and vice versa.

The only time Afghanistan has enjoyed any kind of unity was been under its kings, who exercised a loose authority over diverse ethnic and religious groups.

This unity was broken, Mason wrote, when the Pushtun Afghan King Zahir Shah was overthrown by his cousin, Mohammad Daud, in 1973.  Instead of installing himself as king, Daud abolished the monarchy and tried to rule without traditional authority.  He was overthrown and killed in 1978 by the Afghan army, with the support of Afghan Communists—the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA).

bellaigue-map_102810_png_600x540_q85The PDPA had two factions, the predominantly Tajik Parcham faction and the predominantly Pushtun Khalq faction.  With the help of Soviet Spetznaz commandos, the Parcham faction overthrew the Khalq faction.  The PDPA attempted reforms, such as redistribution of land and emancipation of women, which, although enlightened, were resisted by traditional Afghan religious leaders.

An uprising against the Soviet-backed government consisted mainly of Pustuns, Mason wrote.  Members of the other Afghan ethnic groups continued to serve loyally in the government’s conscript army.

From 1979 to 1989, the Soviets fought all-out against the insurgents.  They destroyed thousands of Pustun villages and massacred as many as a million Pustuns, he wrote.

The Soviets were merciless, murderous and went all-out to win.  I think their experience shows that mass killing is not the key to victory..

The Pushtun insurgents were backed by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI), which armed them with weapons provided by the CIA and paid for by Saudi Arabia.

Pakistan supported the Afghan Pustuns partly because many Pushtuns live in Pakistan’s northwest frontier area.  But the main reason Pakistan backed the Pustuns was the fear that their enemies would ally themselves with India, leaving Pakistan will have to face its main enemy on two fronts—Afghanistan and Kashmir.

The Afghan civil war continued after the Soviets withdrew.   Pakistan supported the Taliban, and provided its forces with air support and military advisers.  The opposing Northern Alliance—consisting of Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and Turkmen—retreated until October, 2001, when the United States entered the Afghan civil war on their side.

The Bush administration authorized Operation Evil Airlift in November 2001 to rescue Pakistan troops trapped in Afghanistan.  Mason said Pakistan’s ISI used this as an opportunity to rescue key Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders as well.  Maybe one of them was Osama bin Laden.  Who knows?

The U.S.-backed government in Kabul is a Northern Alliance government, Mason wrote.  There are hardly any Pushtuns in the government or the army.  Official statistics to the contrary are bogus, he said.

When the United States finally withdraws, Mason expects Afghanistan to divide into a southern part controlled by the Taliban and a northern part controlled by the Northern Alliance, with neither side achieving a decisive victory in the foreseeable future.   Presumably the United States will try to aid the Northern Alliance and Pakistan will aid the Taliban.   It will be up to the various Afghan peoples, not any outsiders, to decide when they want to make peace.

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Click on The Strategic Lessons Unlearned from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan: Why the Afghan National Security Forces Will not Hold and the Implications for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan for the text of Chris Mason’s book in PDF form.  I thank Craig Hanyan for suggesting it.

 

The real surge in Afghanistan

October 25, 2015

Opium-Afghanistan-chartSource: United Nations Afghanistan Opium Survey 2014.

The United Nations estimates that Afghan farmers produce an estimated 90 percent of the world’s opium poppies, the raw material for heroin, and production is steadily rising.

Much of it is in provinces controlled by the Taliban rebels.  They tax farmers, based on their potential revenue from growing opium, and most farmers have no practical alternative to raising opium, even if they wanted one.

American sources, however, claim that more than 90 percent of U.S. heroin originates in Latin America.   Most of the heroin made from Afghan opium goes to Europe.

U.S. efforts to eradicate opium production or encourage legal crops have been of little avail.  Jonah Blank, an Afghanistan expert for the RAND Corporation, said it isn’t practical to conduct a counter-insurgency campaign and an anti-narcotics campaign at the same time (which is probably true), and the counter-insurgency campaign is more important.

Back in 2000, the Taliban announced a ban on opium poppy farming as contrary to Islam, and this actually took effect in 2001.  This created great hardship and even starvation.  Although Secretary of State Colin Powell announced $43 million emergency aid to help them out, the Taliban leaders were reportedly disappointed about the lack of a positive response from world leaders.  All this changed after Sept. 11, 2001.

LINKS

The Real Afghanistan Surge Is In Heroin Production And Tripled Opium Cultivation Since the US Military Arrived by Meryl Naas, M.D., for her blog (via naked capitalism).  Excellent article with many useful links.

As Heroin Use Grows In U.S., Poppy Crops Thrive in Afghanistan by Elizabeth Chuck for NBC News.

Afghanistan Is Home to 400,000 Football Fields Worth of Opium by Lucy Westcott for Newsweek.

Taliban’s Ban On Poppy A Success, U.S. Aides Say by Barbara Crossette for the New York Times in 2001.

The passing scene – links & comments 10/21/2015

October 21, 2015

The Secret to Winning the Nobel Peace Prize: Keep the U.S. military out by Rebecca Gordon for TomDispatch.

Tunisia was the one country where the Arab Spring movement succeeded.  Four Tunisian organizations devoted to human rights deservedly won the latest Nobel Peace Prize.

Tunisia was the one country in which the U.S. government did not interfere, either militarily or politically, and it is the one country where the Arab Spring movement resulted in a stable, democratic government.

Rebecca Gordon, after reviewing U.S. policy in Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain and Syria, concludes that this is not a coincidence.  There’s a lesson to be learned here.

Obama Just Signed a Blank Check for Endless War in Afghanistan by John Nichols for The Nation.

Rep. Barbara Lee

Rep. Barbara Lee

Rep. Barbara Lee, a California Democrat, says it’s time to repeal the open-ended 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force and have Congress decide whether to continue military intervention in Afghanistan and other countries.

How Credit Scores Treat People Like Numbers by Frank Pasquale for The Atlantic.

I commented on how Chinese credit card companies and maybe the Chinese government are linking all kinds of human behaviors to credit scores, and how this can be a subtle means of suppressing nonconformity.  Well, it seems the same thing is going on in the United States—maybe not with that conscious intent, but with the same result.

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The origins of ISIS in U.S. policy

October 19, 2015

The supposed legal authority for American military interventions is a resolution by Congress authorizing the President to use military force to root out terrorists who attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

But after 14 years, radical terrorists such as Al Qaeda and its successors, including the so-called Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL and Da’esh), are stronger than ever.  Why?

It is because the American military is invincible in destroying the governmental and economic structures of nations, but is incapable of establishing order.

noam-chomsky-terrorism1This is partly by design.  The so-called revolution in military thinking inaugurated under Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld called for use of small, highly-mobile, highly-trained special forces with high firepower, instead of the mass armies of the World War Two area.   Such forces are effective at killing people and breaking things but not at long-term occupations.

The other is that the U.S. government, being averse to committing sending large numbers of Americans into battle, supports extremist Islamic terrorists when they are fighting other designated enemies.  This is what happened in Libya, and is the real reason for the Benghazi tragedy.  It is what is going on in Syria now.

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The passing scene – October 6, 2015

October 6, 2015

TPP: It’s Not a Deal, It’s Not a Trade Deal and It’s Not a Done Deal by Lambert Strether for naked capitalism.

Alabama Makes Photo IDs Mandatory for Voting, Then Shutters DMV Offices in Black Counties by Andrea Germano for Common Dreams.

It’s more dangerous to be black than to be a cop by Peter Moskos for Cop in the Hood.  Literally!

Saudi Arabia and the price of royal impunity by Richard Falk for Middle East Eye.  (Hat tip to my expatriate friend Jack)

Burundi’s solar plans forge ahead despite political unrest by David Smith for The Guardian.  (Hat tip to Jack)

The Radically Changing Story of the U.S. Airstrike on Afghan Hospital: From Mistake to Justification by Glenn Greenwald for The Intercept.

CNN and the NYT Are Deliberately Obscuring Who Perpetrated the Afghan Hospital Attack by Glenn Greenwald for The Intercept.  (Hat tip to Jack)

A story of hope: the Guardian launches phase II of its climate change campaign by James Randerson for The Guardian (Hat tip to Hal Bauer).

Glimpses of Asia – October 1, 2015

October 1, 2015

Hat tip for these links to my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack and his friend Marty.

Go Delhi Go | Hyperlapse (2 min)

Colonial Photography in British India
http://dissertationreviews.org/archives/12586

Where Do Languages Go to Die? – The tale of Aramaic, a language that once ruled the Middle East and now faces extinction
http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/09/aramaic-middle-east-language/404434/

Mount Everest to be declared off-limits to inexperienced climbers, says Nepal
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/28/mount-everest-to-be-declared-off-limits-to-inexperienced-climbers

Map: Where the East and the West meet
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/04/28/map-where-the-east-and-the-west-meet/

Zen and the Art of Bonsai Maintenance
http://www.slate.com/blogs/behold/2015/09/20/stephen_voss_photographs_bonsai_trees_at_the_national_bonsai_penjing_museum.html

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More glimpses of Asia – September 23, 2015

September 23, 2015

Links from my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack and his friend Marty

Japan’s Yakuza: Inside the syndicate

Malaysia arrests eight in connection with Bangkok shrine bombing
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/23/malaysia-arrests-eight-bangkok-shrine-bombing

Sumatran rhinos likely to become extinct, conservationists warn
http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/sep/22/sumatran-rhinos-likely-to-become-extinct-warn-environment-experts

Secret Missionaries and Smuggled Bibles: China’s Religious Boom
http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/secret-missionaries-and-smuggled-bibles-chinas-religious-boom

25 Of The Most Dangerous And Unusual Journeys To School In The World  [24 in Asia -M]
http://www.boredpanda.com/dangerous-journey-to-school/

We’re All Mispronouncing Mount Everest’s Name  [Interesting trivia! Of course those of us who have lived/visited Nepal or Tibet, call it Sagarmatha or Chomolungma -M]
http://mentalfloss.com/article/68822/were-all-mispronouncing-mount-everests-name

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Glimpses of Asia – September 19, 2015

September 19, 2015

I received the following links from my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack and his friend Marty.

2000

The Kabul college turning street children into musicians, a photo story in The Guardian.

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This Vietnamese University Is Turning Its Campus Into a Forest by Shaunacy Ferro for Mental Floss.

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bathroomhed

This Simple Toilet Can Improve Health and Safety by Kirstin Fawcett for Mental Floss.

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How the hijab has made sexual harassment worse in Iran by a Tehran Bureau correspondent for The Guardian.

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The Cookie Monster in the White House

February 11, 2015

cookies

No end yet to the long war in Afghanistan

December 31, 2014

As we enter a new year, the United States is still entangled in Afghanistan, and as far from accomplishing any positive objectives as it always was.

President Obama’s declaration that the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan is over is as hollow as President George W. Bush’s declaration of “mission accomplished” in Iraq.

My guess is that President Obama is in the same situation as President Richard M. Nixon in regard to Vietnam.  Nixon and Henry Kissinger realized the war was not winnable, but were unwilling to be the ones who admitted defeat.  So the war went on.

As Lt. John Kerry said back then, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

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Hat tip for the following links to Iraq Veterans Against the War and my e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey.

U.S. formally ends war in Afghanistan by Lynne O’Donnell for the Associated Press.

Signed agreement locks in ten more years of Afghan war by Sarah Lazare for Common Dreams.

1,000 paratroopers to deploy to Iraq by Michelle Tan in Army Times.

 

The passing scene: Links & comments 11/18/14

November 18, 2014

Why US fracking companies are licking their lips over Ukraine by Naomi Klein for The Guardian (hat tip to Bill Harvey)

American oil and gas companies are using the Ukraine crisis to press for an increase on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas and construction of LNG (liquified natural gas) terminals at U.S. seaports.

Supposedly this will enable the United States to export gas to Europe as a substitute for Russian gas cut off by sanctions.  The problem with this, as Naomi Klein pointed out, is that the Ukraine crisis probably will be long over by the time the LNG terminals are constructed.

This is an example of what Klein calls the “shock doctrine”—use of crises by special interests to manipulate people into agreeing to do things they don’t want to do.

The siege of Julian Assange is a farce by Australian journalist John Pilger.

Julian Assange has been living in a room in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for two years to avoid extradition to Sweden to answer questioning in a sexual misconduct case because he fears re-extradition to the United States for prosecution on his Wikileaks disclosures.

Pilger showed the case against Assange is bogus and his fears are well-founded.  Assange’s alleged victims haven’t accused him of any crime nor did the original investigators.  There is ample precedent for Swedish investigators to come to London to question Assange if they wish.  And the U.S. and Swedish governments have discussed his re-extradition.

Afghan Opium Production Hits All-Time High by Mike Whitney for Counterpunch.

The CIA would rather see Afghanistan dominated by drug lords than by the Taliban.

A look back at a former U.S. ally

October 16, 2014
Osama bin Laden in 1993.  Click to enlarge.

Osama bin Laden in 1993.  Double click to enlarge.

Some time after this interview, the Clinton administration and other governments pressured Sudan to expel Osama bin Laden as a terrorist.

Osama then relocated to Afghanistan, and the rest is history.

Robert Fisk is still reporting from the Middle East.  Click on The Independent for recent reporting and commentary.

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What I learned from being wrong

September 17, 2014

obama.foreignpolicy

A blogger named Lance Mannion issued this challenge to all those critics who think they’re smarter than President Obama.

Arguments [of many Internet doves] seem to me to be based on the assumption that we should get ourselves out of the Middle East no matter what because there’s basically nothing we can do to make things better and just by being in there we make them worse by stirring up suspicions and hatreds.  Those are the smart ones.  But I would think that since I’m inclined to agree.

I’m inclined to agree.  That doesn’t mean I necessarily agree.

There are others, though, who’ve based their case on the bumper sticker-profound idea that War is Never the Answer and plenty of others whose arguments are based on a vague and circular logic: “This reminds me of what George Bush did in some way I can’t put my finger on but it must be wrong because of that or else I wouldn’t be reminded of George Bush.”

17-40f10I’m not bothering with any arguments that are based on the assumption that whatever we do is wrong because we’re the ones doing it.

So I’m asking for help.

Should we do nothing?  Why or why not?  What should we do and how would that work?  And what I want to know, more than that you were right about Iraq in 2002, is if you think Bill Clinton failed morally and geo-politically when he did nothing about Rwanda.

Also what are your thoughts on Kuwait, the Kurds, Kosovo, Tora Bora, killing bin Laden, and Libya?

via Smarter than the President?  Not me.  I’m too smart not to know how dumb I am.

 I’ve been wrong more often than I’ve been right on all the issues Mannion mentions.  My claim is that, while it has taken longer than it should have done, I have learned something from my mistakes.

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Afghans unaware U.S. invasion sparked by 9/11

September 15, 2014

When the United States invaded Afghanistan, I thought that at least the invasion would be an object lesson to any government who thought of harboring terrorists who attacked the United States.

But Ted Rall, a writer and cartoonist who has visited and toured Afghanistan twice without protection of the U.S. military, said no such lesson was ever learned.   In an interview with Salon about his new book, After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back as Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan, Rall said this:

I’ve never met a single Afghan who had any understanding of the relationship between 9/11 and the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. 

In fact, I’ve never met a single Afghan who even understood what happened on 9/11, understood the scale of it.

SONY DSCI was repeatedly having to explain it to people, having to explain these buildings and how big they were and how many people were in them and how it affected the American psyche and so on.

Whenever you asked [Afghans], regardless of their age or their politics or their tribal affiliation, they’d all say the same thing: The only reason the U.S. was in Afghanistan was because the U.S. was the dominant superpower in the world; and from their point of view, whoever is the dominant superpower in the world at any given time invades Afghanistan.

So we’re just there because we could — they all think that.

If Americans think Afghans understand that whatever suffering they’re going through is somehow tied to 9/11, no; they should be disabused of that, because Afghans just don’t think that.  That’s just universally true.

They think we’re there because we hate Islam or because we want to steal Afghanistan’s natural resources or because it’s strategically important or “I don’t know, but they’re here, and I just have to deal with them!”

… … They always call us “the foreigners,” which just refers to the inevitable foreign presence that’s always there, whether it’s Soviet advisers in the 1960s and ’70s or the Red Army in the ’80s or whatever it is.

“There’s always foreigners here. We’re a weak country. We can’t defend our borders.  The foreigners come and go; we shoot a lot of them, and then they leave.”

Black humor is absolutely a huge survival tool for people who live in stressful circumstances — and Afghans are very, very funny people.

via Ted Rall’s “uncomfortable truths” – Salon.com.

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Unilateral disarmament in the war of ideas

September 10, 2014

The struggle against the radical Muslim jihadis, as in the Cold War against Communism, is more than a struggle for power.  It also is a war of ideas.

We Americans have disarmed ourselves in that war.  We don’t advocate foundational American ideas—the ideas contained in the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address—because we no longer have confidence in them.

We are so paralyzed by our internal culture conflicts that our official spokesmen dare not speak of religious or moral principles.   About the only ideals they can uphold unequivocally are feminism, gay rights and recycling.

Andrew Doran reported, in an article in the current issue of The American Conservative, reported on how this played out.  His article is largely based on interviews with two Army offices he calls Joseph and Brian about their service in Afghanistan.

“We lacked the confidence even to say, ‘You may not rape little boys.’  All we had to offer was administration and technology, and they sensed this.”

AmericanConservative2014.0910Cover-125x160Joseph believes that, in a peculiar way, this parallels America’s institutional system. “We have no consensus either. Nobody can agree on any normative reason to do anything,” he says. “So we default to an institutional structure.  Our tribalism is institutional. Afghanistan was an encounter between these two systems.  The first lieutenant leading a foot patrol stands square at the pressure point between these two tribal systems: one fluid, personal and violent; the other rigid, impersonal and violent.  A quarter mile away from any soldier is a guy in a grape hut who wants to cut his head off.  Nine thousand miles away is a guy in an air-conditioned room with video screens contemplating his pension who wants to drop a bomb on the guy in the grape hut.”

[snip]

“We were there writing checks and shooting people,” says Joseph.  “It was as incoherent to me as it was to the Afghans. But building a soccer field isn’t building a civilization.  The foundations for civilization, for reason, for the common good, for law, for science—all of it was missing.  It’s still missing and no one seems to have a sense of how to build it.”

[snip]

“The Afghans wanted to talk to us about what we value,” says Joseph, “But we had to censor ourselves.”  They both recall the Afghan perception of Americans, largely shaped by the entertainment industry.  “They thought we all lived in porno films,” Brian says with a chuckle. “One time they asked if I prayed. When I said ‘Yes,’ they laughed because they thought I was joking.”  America’s institutional culture did nothing to alter this impression.

“If I’d been part of the British navy in the 19th century,” says Joseph, “civilizing would’ve been part of our mission. But for us, it was dialoguing about nothing, about projects, using words that mean nothing—sustainability, dynamism, governance, implementation, transparent, relevant, outreach, consolidate, force multiplier, cross-pollinate, trust-gap, legitimacy, capitalize, mobilize, incentivize, mandate, aftermathing, liaisoning, conflict-mapping, indices, unity of action. You see what I mean—the antiseptic, PowerPoint sociology speech.”

There are two ways a confident civilization spreads its values.  One is by conquest, as was done by the Greeks, the Romans, the Chinese, the Arabs, the Spanish and, to a lesser extent, other European colonial powers.  The other is by setting an example of a way of life that others want to imitate.  The American way of life once had a strong appeal to the world’s peoples, and there is still an afterglow from that.

I don’t think we Americans are capable, at present, of spreading our civilizational values either by conquest (which I do not advocate) or by example.  The answer to al Qaeda, the Taliban, ISIS and like movements will have to be in the best traditions of Muslim civilization itself.

Click on Absurd in Afghanistan: the Islamic world needs Avicenna, not America to read the entire article by Andrew Doran in The American Conservative.  (Hat tip to Robert Heineman)

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A weekend to share Afghan love of kite-flying

March 11, 2014

 

Hat tip for this to Mike Connelly

Putin and Obama on the world stage

November 24, 2013

obama-putin_16

President Vladimir Putin’s diplomacy has increased Russia’s influence in the Middle East and beyond.  He made Russia the go-to broker for peace in Syria and maybe also in Iran, while increasing Russia’s influence in Eygpt and Turkey and (outside the region) binding Ukraine to Russia instead of the European Union.

In contrast to the hypocritical idealism of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Putin pursues a frankly Machiavellian policy of self-interest.  He does not seek to promote regime change.  He accepts any existing government as legitimate, no matter what its internal policies.  This is less threatening than the policy of  the United States, which in the past decade became the Soviet-style revolutionary power, invading and subverting other countries in quest of world domination.

President Barack Obama is the heir to this foreign policy, which has proven itself bankrupt and left the United States isolated in the world.   The elder George H.W. Bush was able to marshal the United States and virtually the whole world in the first Gulf War, driving Iraqi troops out of Kuwait.  The younger George W.Bush got substantial international support for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.  But the world’s willingness to get behind the  United States has been exhausted, as has the willingness of the American people to support military action.

President Obama deserves credit for recognizing reality and for attempting to make peace with Iran.  His success is not a foregone conclusion.  He faces strong opposition from war hawks of both parties in the U.S. Congress, and from Israel and Saudi Arabia.  The Iranian government may not agree to his terms.  This would leave the United States with the worst possible outcome—alienated from its old allies, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates, and unable to make Iran a new ally.

Then again, what benefit is there for the American people in American dominance of the Middle East?  It doesn’t lower the price of gasoline at the pump.  It doesn’t guarantee U.S. access to oil.  Our whole policy for the past 20 years has been to try to prevent countries such as Iraq (from 1991 to 2003) and Iran (from 1979 to the present) from selling their oil.

The Russian people might ask the same question about their government’s policy.  Vladimir Putin has made Russia strong militarily and diplomatically, and crushed his domestic opposition with an iron fist, but his policies do not help to restore Russia to the ranks of great industrial nations.

Russia is not an exporter of computers or automobiles; it is not an exporter of textiles or electronics components; it is an exporter of energy derived from fossil fuels.  Its future prosperity depends on developing the oil and gas of a melting Arctic and dominating the former Soviet republics in Central Asia.  Unless something changes, Russia’s destiny is to become a resource colony of China.

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The passing scene: Headlines & links 11/22/13

November 22, 2013

China Tests First Combat Stealth Drone by Agence France Presse.

PROC Says No Longer in China’s Interest to Increase Reserves by Bloomberg News.

The Chinese government is developing its military technology and increasing military spending.  At the same time the Peoples Bank of China announced it will no longer increase its dollar reserves, which was done to hold down the exchange rate for the Chinese yuan.  This means U.S. imports from China will cost more in dollars.  This may mean that China intends to reduce its holdings in U.S. Treasury Bonds, since their value would be less in terms of Chinese money.  China is the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt.

Turkey pushes crossroads politics by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to make Turkey the crossroads between Europe and Asia for oil and gas pipelines.  This means keeping in the good graces of the governments of Iran and Iraq.

Ukraine Won’t Sign EU Agreement by Michael Kelley for Business Insider.

By rejecting an invitation to join the European Union and instead joining a customs union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, the government of Ukraine has decided to align itself with Russia rather than the West.

Japan’s Losing Battle Against ‘Goldman Sachs With Guns’ by Willliam Pesek for Bloomberg News.  Hat tip to naked capitalism.

The Yakuza, Japan’s crime syndicate, operates opening and controls a large and growing part of the Japanese economy.

UN surveillance resolution goes ahead despite attempts to dilute language by Ewen MacAskill and James Ball for The Guardian.

The United Nations General Assembly is ready to go ahead with a strong resolution condemning unlawful and arbitrary surveillance and asserting a basic right of privacy, despite efforts by the U.S., British and Australian delegations to water it down.  Those three nations, plus Canada and New Zealand, are part of the “five eyes” to share surveillance data.

Hamid Karzai urges Afghans to let US forces stay another decade by Emma Graham-Harrison for The Guardian.

United States gives Afghanistan year-end deadline for crucial security deal by Hamid Shalizi and Jessica Donati for Reuters.  Hat tip to naked capitalism.

As the old proverb goes, there’s many a slip twixt the cup and the lip.

At home & abroad: Links & comments 11/21/13

November 21, 2013

The Wahhabi-Likudnik war of terror by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

Sandbagging Negotiations between U.S. and Iran by M.J. Rosenberg for the Washington Spectator.

The Coming Drone Wars: Iran Unveils Its Own Drone, With a 1,200-Mile Range by Juan Cole.

President Obama deserves credit for responding to Iranian peace overtures, but he faces greater obstacles both at home and abroad than did Presidents Reagan and Nixon did in making peace with the USSR and China.

Iran embassy bombing scene

Iran embassy bombing scene in Beirut

Foreign correspondent Pepe Escobar speculates on who was behind the suicide bombing of the Iranian embassy in Beirut, an act of terrorism that left 170 wounded and at least 23 dead.  M.J. Rosenberg discusses the forces in Washington that oppose U.S.-Iran peace negotiations.  And Juan Cole notes that Iran is developing its own flying killer drones, probably based on reverse-engineering a U.S. surveillance drone that was captured in Iranian air space.

U.S.-Afghan Security Pact in Doubt After Hamid Karzai Rejects Provision by Reuters.  Hat tip to Psychopolitik.

Kerry, Karzai put pact before jirga by Radio Free Europe.  [added later]

Kerry, Karzai reach Afghan security agreement by the Deutsche Welle broadcasting network.  [added later]

The U.S. government won agreement of Afghan President Hamad Karzai to allow 13,000 U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan indefinitely, without being subject to the jurisdiction of Afghan courts.  Their mission will be to advise and assist Afghan forces in resisting a Taliban return to power.  Before the agreement goes into effect, it must receive approval from the loya jirga, a traditional Afghan council, for approval, and then ratification by the official Afghan parliament.  [rewritten to reflect the Kerry Karzai agreement].

Obama Meets Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki as Terror Rages Across Country by Stephen Collinson of Agence France Presse.

Two years after the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, Prime Minister Al-Maliki asks for U.S. high-tech armaments to put down an insurgency which he says is led by Al Qaeda.  What will happen if his request is turned down?  Will he get the weaponry he wants from Russia or China?  From the U.S. standpoint, there are no good options, except to try to minimize U.S. involvement in other nations’ conflicts to begin with.  Getting-out-of is always harder than getting-into.  [revised]

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‘This Is What Winning Looks Like’

May 22, 2013

This three-part documentary by filmmaker Ben Anderson for Vice magazine is heartbreaking.  It shows American troops and some brave Afghans attempting to do the impossible—to organize effective resistance to the Taliban out of a force riddled with grafters, racketeers, drug traffickers and sexual abusers of young boys.

To me, the most shocking part of the documentary was the part about “chai boys”—how certain Afghan commanders regard it as part of their privilege of rank to have underage boys kidnaped to serve as sex slaves.   It is no wonder that an ordinary Afghan would prefer to be ruled by murderous fanatics such as the Taliban or would not care which side won.

The hero of the video, if there is one, is a Marine Major Steuber.  He is dedicated to duty and, as Anderson said, incapable of lying.  There is one segment in which Major Steuber wants to throw a sheet around a dead Taliban teenager, as respect due to a warrior, and he is prevented from doing it.   There is nothing in these videos that makes me, as an American, to be anything less than proud of our troops, but it shows that what they are doing is an exercise in futility.

The title of the video is taken from a speech by President Obama, claiming that the American war effort in Afghanistan was a success.   The truth is that the only goal of the current war effort is to save face and avoid the appearance of defeat, much like President Nixon’s war effort in Vietnam.

For more, click on ‘This Is What Winning Looks Like’: Ben Anderson’s War Diary and or view the videos below.

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