Posts Tagged 'Pakistan'

Pakistan, at crossroads of rivalry between Russia, China, and the US, refuses to satisfy US demands on Taliban and Afghanistan

Pakistan, at crossroads of rivalry between  Russia, China, and the US, refuses to satisfy US demands on Taliban and Afghanistan.  US support for India also a factor.

The New York Times December 15 article, “Rebuffing U.S., Pakistan Balks at Crackdown” emphasizes a geo-political importance of Pakistan beyond its hosting pipelines bring Central Asia’s oil and gas to Western and/or Chinese capitalists:

Demands by the United States for Pakistan to crack down on the strongest Taliban warrior in Afghanistan, Siraj Haqqani, whose fighters pose the biggest threat to American forces, have been rebuffed by the Pakistani military, according to Pakistani military officials and diplomats.

The core reason for Pakistan’s imperviousness is its scant faith in the Obama troop surge, and what Pakistan sees as the need to position itself for a regional realignment in Afghanistan once American forces begin to leave.

It considers Mr. Haqqani and his control of large areas of Afghan territory vital to Pakistan in the jostling for influence that will pit Pakistan, India, Russia, China and Iran against one another in the post-American Afghan arena, the Pakistani officials said.

Pakistan is particularly eager to counter the growing influence of its archenemy, India, which is pouring $1.2 billion in aid into Afghanistan. “If America walks away, Pakistan is very worried that it will have India on its eastern border and India on its western border in Afghanistan,” said Tariq Fatemi, a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States who is pro-American in his views.

In the 1980s, Jalaluddin Haqqani (Siraj’s father) received money and arms from the C.I.A. routed through Pakistan’s spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, to fight the Soviets, according to Ahmed Rashid, an expert on the Afghan Taliban and the author of “Descent Into Chaos.” In the 1990s, when the Taliban ran Afghanistan, Jalaluddin Haqqani served as governor of Paktia Province. The relationship between the Haqqanis and Osama bin Laden dates back to the war against the Soviets in the 1980s, according to Kamran Bokhari, the South Asia director for Stratfor, a geopolitical risk analysis company.

When the Taliban government collapsed at the end of 2001 and Qaeda operatives fled from Tora Bora to Pakistan, the Haqqanis relocated their command structure to North Waziristan and welcomed Al Qaeda, Mr. Bokhari said.

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California Democratic Party to says to Obama, Get Out of Afghanistan

Common Dreams,  November 16, 2009

Biggest State Party to Obama: Get Out of Afghanistan

By Norman Soloman

This week begins with a significant new straw in the political wind for President Obama to consider. The California Democratic Party has just sent him a formal and clear message: Stop making war in Afghanistan.

Overwhelmingly approved on Sunday by the California Democratic Party’s 300-member statewide executive board, the resolution is titled “End the U.S. Occupation and Air War in Afghanistan.”

The resolution supports “a timetable for withdrawal of our military personnel” and calls for “an end to the use of mercenary contractors as well as an end to air strikes that cause heavy civilian casualties.” Advocating multiparty talks inside Afghanistan, the resolution also urges Obama “to oversee a redirection of our funding and resources to include an increase in humanitarian and developmental aid.”

While Obama weighs Afghanistan policy options, the California Democratic Party’s adoption of the resolution is the most tangible indicator yet that escalation of the U.S. war effort can only fuel opposition within the president’s own party — opposition that has already begun to erode his political base.

Participating in a long-haul struggle for progressive principles inside the party, I co-authored the resolution with savvy longtime activists Karen Bernal of Sacramento and Marcy Winograd of Los Angeles.

Bernal, the chair of the state party’s Progressive Caucus, said on Sunday night: “Today’s vote formalized and amplified what had been, up to now, an unspoken but profoundly understood reality — that there is no military solution in Afghanistan. What’s more, the vote signified an acceptance of what is sure to be a continued and growing culture of resistance to current administration policies on the matter within the party. This is absolutely huge. Now, there can be no disputing the fact that the overwhelming majority of California Democrats are not only saying no to escalation, but no to our continued military presence in Afghanistan, period. The California Democratic Party has spoken, and we want the rest of the country to know.”

Winograd, who is running hard as a grassroots candidate in a primary race against pro-war incumbent Rep. Jane Harman, had this to say: “We need progressives in every state Democratic Party to pass a similar resolution calling for an end to the U.S. occupation and air war in Afghanistan. Bring the veterans to the table, bring our young into the room, and demand an end to this occupation that only destabilizes the region. There is no military solution, only a diplomatic one that requires we cease our role as occupiers if we want our voices to be heard. Yes, this is about Afghanistan — but it’s also about our role in the world at large. Do we want to be global occupiers seizing scarce resources or global partners in shared prosperity? I would argue a partnership is not only the humane choice, but also the choice that grants us the greatest security.”

Speaking to the resolutions committee of the state party on Saturday, former Marine Corporal Rick Reyes movingly described his experiences as a warrior in Afghanistan that led him to question and then oppose what he now considers to be an illegitimate U.S. occupation of that country.

Another voice of disillusionment reached party delegates when Bernal distributed a copy of the recent resignation letter from senior U.S. diplomat Matthew Hoh, sent after five months of work on the ground in Afghanistan. “I find specious the reasons we ask for bloodshed and sacrifice from our young men and women in Afghanistan,” he wrote. “If honest, our stated strategy of securing Afghanistan to prevent al-Qaeda resurgence or regrouping would require us to additionally invade and occupy western Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, etc. Our presence in Afghanistan has only increased destabilization and insurgency in Pakistan where we rightly fear a toppled or weakened Pakistani government may lose control of its nuclear weapons.”

Hoh’s letter added that “I do not believe any military force has ever been tasked with such a complex, opaque and Sisyphean mission as the U.S. military has received in Afghanistan.” And he wrote: “Thousands of our men and women have returned home with physical and mental wounds, some that will never heal or will only worsen with time. The dead return only in bodily form to be received by families who must be reassured their dead have sacrificed for a purpose worthy of futures lost, love vanished, and promised dreams unkept. I have lost confidence such assurances can anymore be made.”

From their own vantage points, many of the California Democratic Party leaders who voted to approve the out-of-Afghanistan resolution on Nov. 15 have gone through a similar process. They’ve come to see the touted reasons for the U.S. war effort as specious, the mission as Sisyphean and the consequences as profoundly unacceptable.

Sometime in the next few days, President Obama is likely to learn that the California Democratic Party has approved an official resolution titled “End the U.S. Occupation and Air War in Afghanistan.” But will he really get the message?

Norman Solomon is a journalist, historian, and progressive activist. His book War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death has been adapted into a documentary film of the same name. His most recent book is “Made Love, Got War. ” He is a national co-chair of the Healthcare NOT Warfare campaign. In California, he is co-chair of the Commission on a Green New Deal for the North Bay; http://www.GreenNewDeal.info .

CIA, Heroin Still Rule Day in Afghanistan

RAWA: Since 2001 the opium cultivation increased over 4,400%. Under the US/NATO, Afghanistan became world largest opium producer, which produces 93% of world opium.

RAWA News, November 24, 2008

CIA, Heroin Still Rule Day in Afghanistan

“U.S. Army planes leave Afghanistan carrying coffins empty of bodies, but filled with drugs.”

By Victor Thorn

Opium fields in Afghanistan

Afghanistan now supplies over 90 percent of the world’s heroin, generating nearly $200 billion in revenue. Since the U.S. invasion on Oct. 7, 2001, opium output has increased 33-fold (to over 8,250 metric tons a year).

The U.S. has been in Afghanistan for over seven years, has spent $177 billion in that country alone, and has the most powerful and technologically advanced military on Earth. GPS tracking devices can locate any spot imaginable by simply pushing a few buttons.

Still, bumper crops keep flourishing year after year, even though heroin production is a laborious, intricate process. The poppies must be planted, grown and harvested; then after the morphine is extracted it has to be cooked, refined, packaged into bricks and transported from rural locales across national borders. To make heroin from morphine requires another 12-14 hours of laborious chemical reactions. Thousands of people are involved, yet—despite the massive resources at our disposal—heroin keeps flowing at record levels.

Common sense suggests that such prolific trade over an extended period of time is no accident, especially when the history of what has transpired in that region is considered. While the CIA ran its operations during the Vietnam War, the Golden Triangle supplied the world with most of its heroin. After that war ended in 1975, an intriguing event took place in 1979 when Zbigniew Brzezinski covertly manipulated the Soviet Union into invading Afghanistan.Behind the scenes, the CIA, along with Pakistan’s ISI, were secretly funding Afghanistan’s mujahideen to fight their Russian foes. Prior to this war, opium production in Afghanistan was minimal. But according to historian Alfred McCoy, an expert on the subject, a shift in focus took place. “Within two years of the onslaught of the CIA operation in Afghanistan, the Pakistan-Afghanistan borderlands became the world’s top heroin producer.”   (Read Wikipedia on Alfred McCoy.)

Soon, as Professor Michel Chossudovsky notes, “CIA assets again controlled the heroin trade. As the mujahideen guerrillas seized territory inside Afghanistan, they ordered peasants to plant poppies as a revolutionary tax. Across the border in Pakistan, Afghan leaders and local syndicates under the protection of Pakistan intelligence operated hundreds of heroin laboratories.

Eventually, the Soviet Union was defeated (their version of Vietnam), and ultimately lost the Cold War. The aftermath, however, proved to be an entirely new can of worms. During his research, McCoy discovered that “the CIA supported various Afghan drug lords, for instance Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The CIA did not handle heroin, but it did provide its drug lord allies with transport, arms, and political protection.”

By 1994, a new force emerged in the region—the Taliban—that took over the drug trade. Chossudovsky again discovered that “the Americans had secretly, and through the Pakistanis [specifically the ISI], supported the Taliban’s assumption of power.”

These strange bedfellows endured a rocky relationship until July 2000 when Taliban leaders banned the planting of poppies. This alarming development, along with other disagreements over proposed oil pipelines through Eurasia, posed a serious problem for power centers in the West. Without heroin money at their disposal, billions of dollars could not be funneled into various CIA black budget projects. Already sensing trouble in this volatile region, 18 influential neo-cons signed a letter in 1998 which became a blueprint for war—the infamous Project for a New American Century (PNAC).

Fifteen days after 9-11, CIA Director George Tenet sent his top-secret Special Operations Group (SOG) into Afghanistan. One of the biggest revelations in Tenet’s book, At the Center of the Storm, was that CIA forces directed the Afghanistan invasion, not the Pentagon.

In the Jan. 26, 2003, issue of Time magazine, Douglas Waller describes Donald Rumsfeld’s reaction to this development. “When aides told Rumsfeld that his Army Green Beret A-Teams couldn’t go into Afghanistan until the CIA contingent had lain the groundwork with local warlords, he erupted, ‘I have all these guys under arms, and we’ve got to wait like little birds in a nest for the CIA to let us go in?’”

ARMITAGE A MAJOR PLAYER

But the real operator in Afghanistan was Richard Armitage, a man whose legend includes being the biggest heroin trafficker in Cambodia and Laos during the Vietnam War; director of the State Department’s Foreign Narcotics Control Office (a front for CIA drug dealing); head of the Far East Company (used to funnel drug money out of the Golden Triangle); a close liaison with Oliver North during the Iran-Contra cocaine-for-guns scandal; a primary Pentagon official in the terror and covert ops field under George Bush the Elder; one of the original signatories of the infamous PNAC document; and the man who helped CIA Director William Casey run weapons to the mujahideen during their war against the Soviet Union. Armitage was also stationed in Iran during the mid-1970s right before Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini overthrew the shah. Armitage may well be the greatest covert operator in U.S. history.

On Sept. 10, 2001, Armitage met with the UK’s national security advisor, Sir David Manning. Was Armitage “passing on specific intelligence information about the impending terrorist attacks”? The scenario is plausible because one day later—on 9-11—Dick Cheney directly called for Armitage’s presence down in his bunker. Immediately after WTC 2 was struck, Armitage told BBC Radio, “I was told to go to the operations center [where] I spent the rest of the day in the ops center with the vice president.”

These two share a long history together. Not only was Armitage employed by Cheney’s former company Halliburton (via Brown & Root), he was also a deputy when Cheney was secretary of defense under Bush the Elder. More importantly, Cheney and Armitage had joint business and consulting interests in the Central Asian pipeline which had been contracted by Unocal. The only problem standing between them and the Caspian Sea’s vast energy reserves was the Taliban.

Since the 1980s, Armitage amassed a huge roster of allies in Pakistan’s ISI. He was also one of the “Vulcans”—along with Condi Rice, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and Rabbi Dov Zakheim—who coordinated Bush’s geo-strategic foreign policy initiatives. Then, after 9-11, he negotiated with the Pakistanis prior to our invasion of Afghanistan, while also becoming Bush’s deputy secretary of state stationed in Afghanistan.

Our “enemy,” or course, was the Taliban “terrorists.” But George Tenet, Colin Powell, Porter Goss, and Armitage had developed a close relationship with Pakistan’s military head of the ISI—General Mahmoud Ahmad— who was cited in a Sept. 2001 FBI report as “supporting and financing the alleged 9-11 terrorists, as well as having links to al Qaeda and the Taliban.”

The line between friend and foe gets even murkier. Afghan President Hamid Karzai not only collaborated with the Taliban, but he was also on Unocal’s payroll in the mid-1990s. He is also described by Saudi Arabia’s Al-Watan newspaper as being “a Central Intelligence Agency covert operator since the 1980s that collaborated with the CIA in funding U.S. aid to the Taliban.”

Capturing a new, abundant source for heroin was an integral part of the U.S. “war on terror.” Hamid Karzai is a puppet ruler of the CIA; Afghanistan is a full-fledged narco-state; and the poppies that flourish there have yet to be eradicated, as was proven in 2003 when the Bush administration refused to destroy the crops, despite having the chance to do so. Major drug dealers are rarely arrested, smugglers enjoy carte blanche immunity, and Nushin Arbabzadah, writing for The Guardian, theorized that “U.S. Army planes leave Afghanistan carrying coffins empty of bodies, but filled with drugs.” Is that why the military protested so vehemently when reporters tried to photograph returning caskets?

Why Afghanistan? It’s pipelines, not terrorism.

San Francisco Gray Panthers Newsletter, October 2009

Why Afghanistan?

Afghanistan lies in the path of a new proposed gas pipeline

Afghanistan lies in the path of a new proposed gas pipeline

In a nod to reality on the ground, the Obama administration put clearing al Qaeda from Pakistan high on the list of 46 benchmarks for tracking success in the war in Afghanistan. There are 68,000 US combat troops, 40,000 NATO troops, and 74,000 mercenaries in Afghanistan, with more expected to come. If al Qaeda has moved to Pakistan, why don’t the troops follow them?

One answer, rarely talked about in the US media, is—you guessed it!—oil and natural gas, this time in the Caspian Basin, and a planned pipeline that would carry natural gas from land-locked Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan, where it could be shipped to the West. To accomplish this, a strong centralized government willing to make deals with the West is needed, hence the attempts to prop up Hamid Karzai with US/NATO military assistance against the Taliban and war lords and with fraudulent elections.

Will this plan succeed? Probably not, given the Afghan opposition. Taliban attacks increased 59% in the first five months of this year over the same period last year. Death tolls are rising. Billions of dollars have already been spent. Bruce Riedel, a 30-year CIA veteran and adviser to four presidents, said, “Anyone who thinks that in 12 to 18 months we’re going to be anywhere close to victory is living in a fantasy.”

NO MORE ENERGY WARS!

The Biden and Clinton Mutinies

CounterPunch, July 31, 2009

The Biden and Clinton Mutinies

By Alexander Cockburn

Time bombs tossed seemingly casually in the past month by his vice president and his secretary of state disclose president Obama, in the dawn of his first term, already the target of carefully meditated onslaughts by senior members of his own cabinet.

At the superficial level Obama is presiding over an undisciplined administration; on a more realistic and sinister construction, he is facing mutiny, publicly conducted by two people who only a year ago were claiming that their qualifications to be in the Oval Office were far superior to those of the junior senator from Illinois .

The great danger to Obama posed by Biden’s and Clinton’s “time bombs” (a precisely correct description if we call them political, not diplomatic time bombs) is not international confusion and ridicule over what precisely are the US government’s policies, but a direct onslaught on his presidency by a domestic Israeli lobby that is so out of control that it renders ridiculous Obama’s puny attempt to stop settlements–or to curb Israeli aggression in any other way.

Take Joe Biden. Three weeks ago he gave Israel the green light to bomb Iran, only to be swiftly corrected by his boss. At the time it seemed yet another,somewhat comical mile marker in a lifetime of gaffes, perpetrated in the cause of self-promotion and personal political advantage.

But Biden’s subsequent activities invite a darker construction. In the immediate aftermath of Obama’s Moscow visit, the air still soft with honeyed words about a new era of trust and cooperation, Biden headed for Ukraine and Georgia, harshly ridiculing Russia as an economic basket case with no future. In Tbilisi he told the Georgian parliament that the U.S. would continue helping Georgia “to modernize” its military and that Washington “fully supports” Georgia’s aspiration to join NATO and would help Tbilisi meet the alliance’s standards. This elicited a furious reaction from Moscow, pledging sanctions against any power rearming Georgia.

Georgia could play a vital, enabling role, in the event that Israel decides to attack Iran’s nuclear complex. The flight path from Israel to Iran is diplomatically and geographically challenging. On the other hand, Georgia is perfectly situated as the take-off point for any such raid. Israel has been heavily involved in supplying and training Georgia’s armed forces. President Saakashvili has boasted that his Defense Minister, Davit Kezerashvili and also Temur Yakobashvili , the minister responsible for negotiations over South Ossetia, lived in Israel before moving to Georgia, adding “Both war and peace are in the hands of Israeli Jews.”

On the heels of Biden’s shameless pandering in Tbilisi, Secretary of State Clinton took herself off to Thailand for an international confab with Asian leaders and let drop to a tv chat show that “a nuclear Iran could be contained by a U.S. ‘defense umbrella,’” actually a nuclear defense umbrella for Israel and for Egypt and Saudi Arabia too.

The Israel lobby has been promoting the idea of a US “nuclear umbrella” for some years, with one of its leading exponents being Dennis Ross, now in charge of Middle Eastern policy at Obama’s National Security Council. In her campaign last year Clinton flourished the notion as an example of the sort of policy initiative that set her apart from that novice in foreign affairs, Barack Obama.

From any rational point of view the “nuclear umbrella” is an awful idea, redolent with all the gimcrack theology of the high cold war era, about “first strike”, “second strike”, “stable deterrence” ,“controlled escalation” and “mutual assured destruction”, used to sell US escalations in nuclear arms production, from Kennedy and the late Robert McNamara(“the Missile Gap”) to Reagan (“Star Wars”).

Indeed, as one Pentagon veteran remarked to me earlier this week, “the Administration’s whole nuclear stance is turning into a cheesy rerun of the Cold War and Mutually Assured Destruction, all based on a horrible exaggeration of one or two Iranian nuclear bombs that the Persians may be too incompetent to build and most certainly are too incompetent to deliver.”

The Biden and Clinton “foreign” policy is: 1) to recreate the same old Cold War (with a new appendage, the US versus Iran nuclear confrontation) for the same old reasons: to pump up domestic defense spending; and 2) to continue sixty years of supporting Israeli imperialism for the same reasons that every president from Harry to Dubya (perhaps barring Ike) did so: to corner Israel lobby money and votes. Regarding the latter, Obama did the same by grabbing the Chicago-based Crown and Pritzker family money very early in his campaign and by making Rahm Emanuel his very first appointment (the two are hardly unrelated).

So right from the start Obama was already an Israel lobby fellow traveler. The Mitchell appointment and the toothless blather about settlements were simply cosmetic, bones tossed to the increasing proportion of the American electorate that’s grossed out by the ethnic cleansing of the Arabs from the Holy Land. Obama does have a coherent strategy: keep the defense money flowing and increasing, but without making so much noise as the older generation did about ancient Cold War enemies (e.g. Russia and Cuba). The F-22 — to date, the one and only presidential issue on which he’s shown any toughness at all — is in no sense a departure from keeping the money flowing, since he is indeed increasing the defense budget, in part by using the F-22 cancellation to push spending on the even worse F-35 and to hide his acquiescence to all the other pork in the Congressional defense budget.

The window for any new president to impose a decisive change in foreign policy comes in the first three months, before opposition has time to solidify. Obama squandered that opportunity, stocking his foreign policy team with tarnished players such as Ross. As the calculated indiscretions of Biden and Clinton suggest, not to mention the arrogance of Netanyahu and his political associates, the window of opportunity has closed.

Would it have been that hard to signal a change in course? Not really. Obama could have excited the world by renouncing the Bush administration’s assertion, in the “National Defense Strategy of the United States” of 2002 — preserved in its essence in ensuing years — of the right and intention of the United States to preëmptively attack any country “at the time, place, and in the manner of our choosing.” As William Polk, the State Department’s middle east advisor in the Kennedy era, wrote last year: “As long as this remains a valid statement of American policy, the Iranian government would be foolish not to seek a nuclear weapon.”

But Obama, surrounded with Clinton-era veterans of NATO expansionism and, as his Accra speech indicated, hobbled with an impeccably conventional view of how the world works, is rapidly being overwhelmed by the press of events. He’s bailed out the banks. He’s transferred war from Iraq to Afghanistan. The big lobbies know they have him on the run.

Hence Biden and Clinton’s mutinies, conducted on behalf of the Israel lobby and designed to seize administration policy as Obama’s popularity weakens. When the results of the latest Rasmussen presidential poll were published, showing Obama’s declining numbers, there were news reports of cheering in Tel Aviv. And remember two useful guiding principles: first, it is impossible to overestimate the vanity of politicians, particularly of Joe Biden. Maybe he secretly entertains some mad notion of challenging Obama in 2012, propelled by Israel Lobby money withheld from Obama. Maybe Bill is reminding HRC that he reached the White House in 1992 partly because the Israel lobby turned against George Bush Sr. Second principle: there is no such thing as foreign policy, neither in democratic governments nor in dictatorships. As Thalheimer’s Law* decrees. All policy is domestic.

John Pilger: Empire, Obama and the Last Taboo

johnpilger.com July 9, 2009

Adapted from an address, Empire, Obama and the Last Taboo, given by John Pilger at Socialism 2009 in San Francisco on 4th July

Barack Obama is the embodiment of this “ism”. From his early political days, Obama’s unerring theme has been not “change”, the slogan of his presidential campaign, but America’s right to rule and order the world. Of the United States, he says, “we lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good… We must lead by building a 21st-century military to ensure the security of our people and advance the security of all people.” And: “At moments of great peril in the past century our leaders ensured that America, by deed and by example, led and lifted the world, that we stood and fought for the freedoms sought by billions of people beyond their borders.”

Mourn on the fourth of July

In an essay for the New Statesman, John Pilger argues that while liberals now celebrate America’s return to its “moral ideals”, they are silent on a venerable taboo. This is the true role of Americanism: an ideology distinguished by its myths and the denial that it exists. President Obama is its embodiment.

The monsoon had woven thick skeins of mist over the central highlands of Vietnam. I was a young war correspondent, bivouacked in the village of Tuylon with a unit of US marines whose orders were to win hearts and minds. “We are here not to kill,” said the sergeant, “we are here to impart the American Way of Liberty as stated in the Pacification Handbook. This is designed to win the hearts and minds of folks, as stated on page 86.”

Page 86 was headed WHAM. The sergeant’s unit was called a combined action company, which meant, he explained, “we attack these folks on Mondays and we win their hearts and minds on Tuesdays”. He was joking, though not quite. Standing in a jeep on the edge of a paddy, he had announced through a loudhailer: “Come on out, everybody. We got rice and candy and toothbrushes to give you.”

Silence. Not a shadow moved.

“Now listen, either you gooks come on out from wherever you are, or we’re going to come right in there and get you!”

The people of Tuylon finally came out and stood in line to receive packets of Uncle Ben’s Long Grain Rice, Hershey bars, party balloons and several thousand toothbrushes. Three portable, battery-operated, yellow flush lavatories were kept for the colonel’s arrival. And when the colonel arrived that evening, the district chief was summoned and the yellow flush lavatories were unveiled.

“Mr District Chief and all you folks out there,” said the colonel, “what these gifts represent is more than the sum of their parts. They carry the spirit of America. Ladies and gentlemen, there’s no place on earth like America. It’s a guiding light for me, and for you. You see, back home, we count ourselves as real lucky having the greatest democracy the world has ever known, and we want you good folks to share in our good fortune.”

Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Davy Crockett got a mention. “Beacon” was a favourite, and as he evoked John Winthrop’s “city upon a hill”, the marines clapped, and the children clapped, understanding not a word.

It was a lesson in what historians call “exceptionalism”, the notion that the United States has the divine right to bring what it describes as liberty and democracy to the rest of humanity. That this merely disguised a system of domination, which Martin Luther King described, shortly before his assassination, as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world”, was unspeakable.

As the great people’s historian Howard Zinn has pointed out, Winthrop’s much-quoted description of the 17th-century Massachusetts Bay Colony as a “city upon a hill”, a place of unlimited goodness and nobility, was rarely set against the violence of the first settlers, for whom burning alive some 400 Pequot Indians was a “triumphant joy”. The countless massacres that followed, wrote Zinn, were justified by “the idea that American expansion is divinely ordained”.

Not long ago, I visited the American Museum of History, part of the celebrated Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. One of the popular exhibitions was “The Price of Freedom: Americans at War”. It was holiday time and lines of people, including many children, shuffled reverentially through a Santa’s grotto of war and conquest where messages about their nation’s “great mission” were dispensed. These ­included tributes to the “exceptional Americans [who] saved a million lives” in Vietnam, where they were “determined to stop communist expansion”. In Iraq, other true hearts ­“employed air strikes of unprecedented precision”. What was shocking was not so much the revisionist description of two of the epic crimes of modern times as the sheer scale of omission.

“History without memory,” declared Time magazine at the end of the 20th century, “confines Americans to a sort of eternal present.. They are especially weak in remembering what they did to other people, as opposed to what they did for them.” Ironically, it was Henry Luce, founder of Time, who in 1941 divined the “American century” as an American social, political and cultural “victory” over humanity and the right “to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit”.

None of this is to suggest that vainglory is exclusive to the United States. The British presented their often violent domination of much of the world as the natural progress of Christian gentlemen selflessly civilising the natives, and present-day TV historians perpetuate the myths. The French still celebrate their bloody “civilising mission”. Prior to the Second World War, “imperialist” was an honoured political badge in Europe, while in the US an “age of innocence” was preferred. America was different from the Old World, said its mythologists. America was the Land of Liberty, uninterested in conquest. But what of George Washington’s call for a “rising empire” and James Madison’s “laying the foundation of a great empire”? What of slavery, the theft of Texas from Mexico, the bloody subjugation of central America, Cuba and the Philippines?

An ordained national memory consigned these to the historical margins and “imperialism” was all but discredited in the United States, especially after Adolf Hitler and the fascists, with their ideas of racial and cultural superiority, had left a legacy of guilt by association. The Nazis, after all, had been proud imperialists, too, and Germany was also “exceptional”. The idea of imperialism, the word itself, was all but expunged from the American lexicon, “on the grounds that it falsely attributed immoral motives to western foreign policy”, argued one historian. Those who persisted in using it were “disreputable purveyors of agitprop” and were “inspired by the communist doctrine”, or they were “Negro intellectuals who had grievances of their own against white capitalism”.

Meanwhile, the “city on the hill” remained a beacon of rapaciousness as US capital set about realising Luce’s dream and recolonising the European empires in the postwar years. This was “the march of free enterprise”. In truth, it was driven by a subsidised production boom in a country unravaged by war: a sort of socialism for the great corporations, or state capitalism, which left half the world’s wealth in American hands. The cornerstone of this new imperialism was laid in 1944 at a conference of the western allies at Bretton Woods in New Hampshire. Described as “negotiations about economic stability”, the conference marked America’s conquest of most of the world.

What the American elite demanded, wrote Frederic F Clairmont in The Rise and Fall of Economic Liberalism, “was not allies but unctuous client states. What Bretton Woods bequeathed to the world was a lethal totalitarian blueprint for the carve-up of world markets.” The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Asian Development Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the African Development Bank were established in effect as arms of the US Treasury and would design and police the new order. The US military and its clients would guard the doors of these “international” institutions, and an “invisible government” of media would secure the myths, said Edward Bernays.

Bernays, described as the father of the media age, was the nephew of Sigmund Freud. “Propaganda,” he wrote, “got to be a bad word because of the Germans… so what I did was to try and find other words [such as] Public Relations.” Bernays used Freud’s theories about control of the subconscious to promote a “mass culture” designed to promote fear of official enemies and servility to consumerism. It was Bernays who, on behalf of the tobacco industry, campaigned for American women to take up smoking as an act of feminist liberation, calling cigarettes “torches of freedom”; and it was his notion of disinformation that was deployed in overthrowing governments, such as Guatemala’s democracy in 1954.

Above all, the goal was to distract and deter the social democratic impulses of working people. Big business was elevated from its public reputation as a kind of mafia to that of a patriotic force. “Free enterprise” became a divinity. “By the early 1950s,” wrote Noam Chomsky, “20 million people a week were watching business-sponsored films. The entertainment industry was enlisted to the cause, portraying unions as the enemy, the outsider disrupting the ‘harmony’ of the ‘American way of life’… Every aspect of social life was targeted and permeated schools and universities, churches, even recreational programmes. By 1954, business propaganda in public schools reached half the amount spent on textbooks.”

The new “ism” was Americanism, an ideology whose distinction is its denial that it is an ideology. Recently, I saw the 1957 musical Silk Stockings, starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. Between the scenes of wonderful dancing to a score by Cole Porter was a series of loyalty statements that the colonel in Vietnam might well have written. I had forgotten how crude and pervasive the propaganda was; the Soviets could never compete. An oath of loyalty to all things American became an ideological commitment to the leviathan of business: from the business of armaments and war (which consumes 42 cents in every tax dollar today) to the business of food, known as “agripower” (which receives $157bn a year in government subsidies).

Barack Obama is the embodiment of this “ism”. From his early political days, Obama’s unerring theme has been not “change”, the slogan of his presidential campaign, but America’s right to rule and order the world. Of the United States, he says, “we lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good… We must lead by building a 21st-century military to ensure the security of our people and advance the security of all people.” And: “At moments of great peril in the past century our leaders ensured that America, by deed and by example, led and lifted the world, that we stood and fought for the freedoms sought by billions of people beyond their borders.”

Since 1945, by deed and by example, the US has overthrown 50 governments, including democracies, crushed some 30 liberation movements and supported tyrannies from Egypt to Guatemala (see William Blum’s histories). Bombing is apple pie. Having stacked his government with warmongers, Wall Street cronies and polluters from the Bush and Clinton eras, the 45th president is merely upholding tradition. The hearts and minds farce I witnessed in Vietnam is today repeated in villages in Afghanistan and, by proxy, Pakistan, which are Obama’s wars.

In his acceptance speech for the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature, Harold Pinter noted that “everyone knew that terrible crimes had been committed by the Soviet Union in the postwar period, but “US crimes in the same period have been only superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognised as crimes at all”. It is as if “It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening, it wasn’t happening… You have to hand it to America… masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.”

As Obama has sent drones to kill (since January) some 700 civilians, distinguished liberals have rejoiced that America is once again a “nation of moral ideals”, as Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times. In Britain, the elite has long seen in exceptional America an enduring place for British “influence”, albeit as servitor or puppet. The pop historian Tristram Hunt says America under Obama is a land “where miracles happen”. Justin Webb, until recently the BBC’s man in Washington, refers adoringly, rather like the colonel in Vietnam, to the “city on the hill”.

Behind this façade of “intensification of feeling and degradation of significance” (Walter Lippmann), ordinary Americans are stirring perhaps as never before, as if abandoning the deity of the “American Dream” that prosperity is a guarantee with hard work and thrift.. Millions of angry emails from ordinary people have flooded Washington, expressing an outrage that the novelty of Obama has not calmed. On the contrary, those whose jobs have vanished and whose homes are repossessed see the new president rewarding crooked banks and an obese military, essentially protecting George W Bush’s turf.

My guess is that a populism will emerge in the next few years, igniting a powerful force that lies beneath America’s surface and which has a proud past. It cannot be predicted which way it will go. However, from such an authentic grass-roots Americanism came women’s suffrage, the eight-hour day, graduated income tax and public ownership. In the late 19th century, the populists were betrayed by leaders who urged them to compromise and merge with the Democratic Party. In the Obama era, the familiarity of this resonates.

What is most extraordinary about the United States today is the rejection and defiance, in so many attitudes, of the all-pervasive historical and contemporary propaganda of the “invisible government”. Credible polls have long confirmed that more than two-thirds of Americans hold progressive views. A majority want the government to care for those who cannot care for themselves. They would pay higher taxes to guarantee health care for everyone. They want complete nuclear disarmament; 72 per cent want the US to end its colonial wars; and so on. They are informed, subversive, even “anti-American”.

I once asked a friend, the great American war correspondent and humanitarian Martha Gellhorn, to explain the term to me. “I’ll tell you what ‘anti-American’ is,” she said. “It’s what governments and their vested interests call those who honour America by objecting to war and the theft of resources and believing in all of humanity. There are millions of these anti-Americans in the United States. They are ordinary people who belong to no elite and who judge their government in moral terms, though they would call it common decency. They are not vain. They are the people with a wakeful conscience, the best of America’s citizens. They can be counted on. They were in the South with the civil rights movement, ending slavery. They were in the streets, demanding an end to the wars in Asia. Sure, they disappear from view now and then, but they are like seeds beneath the snow. I would say they are truly exceptional.”


Gen. McChrystal, Obama’s New Afghan Commander Will Send Death Toll Soaring

Gen. McChrystal, Grim Reaper: Obama’s New Afghan Commander Will Send Death Toll Soaring

By Tom Engelhardt, Tomdispatch.com
Posted on May 22, 200

Yes, Stanley McChrystal is the general from the dark side (and proud of it). So the recent sacking of Afghan commander General David McKiernan after less than a year in the field and McChrystal’s appointment as the man to run the Afghan War seems to signal that the Obama administration is going for broke. It’s heading straight into what, in the Vietnam era, was known as “the big muddy.”

General McChrystal comes from a world where killing by any means is the norm and a blanket of secrecy provides the necessary protection. For five years he commanded the Pentagon’s super-secret Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which, among other things, ran what Seymour Hersh has described as an “executive assassination wing” out of Vice President Cheney’s office. (Cheney just returned the favor by giving the newly appointed general a ringing endorsement: “I think you’d be hard put to find anyone better than Stan McChrystal.”)

McChrystal gained a certain renown when President Bush outed him as the man responsible for tracking down and eliminating al-Qaeda-in-Mesopotamia leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The secret force of “manhunters” he commanded had its own secret detention and interrogation center near Baghdad, Camp Nama, where bad things happened regularly, and the unit there, Task Force 6-26, had its own slogan: “If you don’t make them bleed, they can’t prosecute for it.” Since some of the task force’s men were, in the end, prosecuted, the bleeding evidently wasn’t avoided.

In the Bush years, McChrystal was reputedly extremely close to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The super-secret force he commanded was, in fact, part of Rumsfeld’s effort to seize control of, and Pentagonize, the covert, on-the-ground activities that were once the purview of the CIA.

Behind McChrystal lies a string of targeted executions that may run into the hundreds, as well as accusations of torture and abuse by troops under his command (and a role in the cover-up of the circumstances surrounding the death of Army Ranger and former National Football League player Pat Tillman). The general has reportedly long thought of Afghanistan and Pakistan as a single battlefield, which means that he was a premature adherent to the idea of an Af-Pak — that is, expanded — war. While in Afghanistan in 2008, the New York Times reported, he was a “key advocate… of a plan, ultimately approved by President George W. Bush, to use American commandos to strike at Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan.” This end-of-term Bush program provoked such anger and blowback in Pakistan that it was reportedly halted after two cross-border raids, one of which killed civilians.

All of this offers more than a hint of the sort of “new thinking and new approaches” — to use Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’s words — that the Obama administration expects General McChrystal to bring to the devolving Af-Pak battlefield. He is, in a sense, both a legacy figure from the worst days of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld era and the first-born child of Obama-era Washington’s growing desperation and hysteria over the wars it inherited.

Hagiography

And here’s the good news: We luv the guy. Just luv him to death.

We loved him back in 2006, when Bush first outed him and Newsweek reporters Michael Hirsh and John Barry dubbed him “a rising star” in the Army and one of the “Jedi Knights who are fighting in what Cheney calls ‘the shadows.'”

It’s no different today in what’s left of the mainstream news analysis business. In that mix of sports lingo, Hollywood-ese, and just plain hyperbole that makes armchair war strategizing just so darn much fun, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, for instance, claimed that Centcom commander General David Petraeus, who picked McChrystal as his man in Afghanistan, is “assembling an all-star team” and that McChrystal himself is “a rising superstar who, like Petraeus, has helped reinvent the U.S. Army.” Is that all?

When it came to pure, instant hagiography, however, the prize went to Elisabeth Bumiller and Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times, who wrote a front-pager, “A General Steps from the Shadows,” that painted a picture of McChrystal as a mutant cross between Superman and a saint.

Among other things, it described the general as “an ascetic who… usually eats just one meal a day, in the evening, to avoid sluggishness. He is known for operating on a few hours’ sleep and for running to and from work while listening to audio books on an iPod… [He has] an encyclopedic, even obsessive, knowledge about the lives of terrorists… [He is] a warrior-scholar, comfortable with diplomats, politicians…” and so on. The quotes Bumiller and Mazzetti dug up from others were no less spectacular: “He’s got all the Special Ops attributes, plus an intellect.” “If you asked me the first thing that comes to mind about General McChrystal… I think of no body fat.”

From the gush of good cheer about his appointment, you might almost conclude that the general was not human at all, but an advanced android (a good one, of course!) and the “elite” world (of murder and abuse) he emerged from an unbearably sexy one.

Above all, as we’re told here and elsewhere, what’s so good about the new appointment is that General McChrystal is “more aggressive” than his stick-in-the-mud predecessor. He will, as Bumiller and Thom Shanker report in another piece, bring “a more aggressive and innovative approach to a worsening seven-year war.” The general, we’re assured, likes operations without body fat, but with plenty of punch. And though no one quite says this, given his closeness to Rumsfeld and possibly Cheney, both desperately eager to “take the gloves off” on a planetary scale, his mentality is undoubtedly a global-war-on-terror one, which translates into no respect for boundaries, restraints, or the sovereignty of others. After all, as journalist Gareth Porter pointed out recently in a thoughtful Asia Times portrait of the new Afghan War commander, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld granted the parent of JSOC, the Special Operations Command (SOCOM), “the authority to carry out actions unilaterally anywhere on the globe.”

Think of McChrystal’s appointment, then, as a decision in Washington to dispatch the bull directly to the China shop with the most meager of hopes that the results won’t not be smashed Afghans and Pakistanis. The Post’s Ignatius even compares McChrystal’s boss Petraeus and Obama’s special envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke, to “two headstrong bulls in a small paddock.” He then concludes his paean to all of them with this passage — far more ominous than he means it to be:

“Obama knows the immense difficulty of trying to fix a broken Afghanistan and make it a functioning, modern country. But with his two bulls, Petraeus and Holbrooke, he’s marching his presidency into the ‘graveyard of empires’ anyway.”

McChrystal is evidently the third bull, the one slated to start knocking over the tombstones.

An Expanding Af-Pak War

Of course, there are now so many bulls in this particular China shop that smashing is increasingly the name of the game. At this point, the early moves of the Obama administration, when combined with the momentum of the situation it inherited, have resulted in the expansion of the Af-Pak War in at least six areas, which only presage further expansion in the months to come:

1. Expanding Troop Commitment: In February, President Obama ordered a “surge” of 17,000 extra troops into Afghanistan, increasing U.S. forces there by 50%. (Then-commander McKiernan had called for 30,000 new troops.) In March, another 4,000 American military advisors and trainers were promised. The first of the surge troops, reportedly ill-equipped, are already arriving. In March, it was announced that this troop surge would be accompanied by a “civilian surge” of diplomats, advisors, and the like; in April, it was reported that, because the requisite diplomats and advisors couldn’t be found, the civilian surge would actually be made up largely of military personnel.

In preparation for this influx, there has been massive base and outpost building in the southern parts of that country, including the construction of 443-acre Camp Leatherneck in that region’s “desert of death.” When finished, it will support up to 8,000 U.S. troops, and a raft of helicopters and planes. Its airfield, which is under construction, has been described as the “largest such project in the world in a combat setting.”

2. Expanding CIA Drone War: The CIA is running an escalating secret drone war in the skies over the Pakistani borderlands with Afghanistan, a “targeted” assassination program of the sort that McChrystal specialized in while in Iraq. Since last September, more than three dozen drone attacks — the Los Angeles Times put the number at 55 — have been launched, as opposed to 10 in 2006-2007. The program has reportedly taken out a number of mid-level al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders, but also caused significant civilian casualties, destabilized the Pashtun border areas of Pakistan, and fostered support for the Islamic guerrillas in those regions. As Noah Shachtman wrote recently at his Danger Room website:

“According to the American press, a pair of missiles from the unmanned aircraft killed ‘at least 25 militants.’ In the local media, the dead were simply described as ’29 tribesmen present there.’ That simple difference in description underlies a serious problem in the campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. To Americans, the drones over Pakistan are terrorist-killers. In Pakistan, the robotic planes are wiping out neighbors.”

David Kilcullen, a key advisor to Petraeus during the Iraq “surge” months, and counterinsurgency expert Andrew McDonald Exum recently called for a moratorium on these attacks on the New York Times op-ed page. (“Press reports suggest that over the last three years drone strikes have killed about 14 terrorist leaders. But, according to Pakistani sources, they have also killed some 700 civilians. This is 50 civilians for every militant killed, a hit rate of 2 percent — hardly ‘precision.'”) As it happens, however, the Obama administration is deeply committed to its drone war. As CIA Director Leon Panetta put the matter, “Very frankly, it’s the only game in town in terms of confronting or trying to disrupt the al Qaeda leadership.”

3. Expanding Air Force Drone War: The U.S. Air Force now seems to be getting into the act as well. There are conflicting reports about just what it is trying to do, but it has evidently brought its own set of Predator and Reaper drones into play in Pakistani skies, in conjunction, it seems, with a somewhat reluctant Pakistani military. Though the outlines of this program are foggy at best, this nonetheless represents an expansion of the war.

4. Expanding Political Interference: Quite a different kind of escalation is also underway. Washington is evidently attempting to insert yet another figure from the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld era into the Afghan mix. Not so long ago, Zalmay Khalilzad, the neocon former American viceroy in Kabul and then Baghdad, was considering making a run for the Afghan presidency against Hamid Karzai, the leader the Obama administration is desperate to ditch. In March, reports — hotly denied by Holbrooke and others — broke in the British press of a U.S./British plan to “undermine President Karzai of Afghanistan by forcing him to install a powerful chief of staff to run the Government.” Karzai, so the rumors went, would be reduced to “figurehead” status, while a “chief executive with prime ministerial-style powers” not provided for in the Afghan Constitution would essentially take over the running of the weak and corrupt government.

This week, Helene Cooper reported on the front page of the New York Times that Khalilzad would be that man. He “could assume a powerful, unelected position inside the Afghan government under a plan he is discussing with Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, according to senior American and Afghan officials.” He would then be “the chief executive officer of Afghanistan.”

Cooper’s report is filled with official denials that these negotiations involve Washington in any way. Yet if they succeed, an American citizen, a former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. as well as to Kabul, would end up functionally atop the Karzai government just as the Obama administration is eagerly pursuing a stepped-up war against the Taliban.

Why officials in Washington imagine that Afghans might actually accept such a figure is the mystery of the moment. It’s best to think of this plan as the kinder, gentler, soft-power version of the Kennedy administration’s 1963 decision to sign off on the coup that led to the assassination of South Vietnamese autocrat Ngo Dinh Diem. Then, too, top Washington officials were distressed that a puppet who seemed to be losing support was, like Karzai, also acting in an increasingly independent manner when it came to playing his appointed role in an American drama. That assassination, by the way, only increased instability in South Vietnam, leading to a succession of weak military regimes and paving the way for a further unraveling there. This American expansion of the war would likely have similar consequences.

5. Expanding War in Pakistan: Meanwhile, in Pakistan itself, mayhem has ensued, again in significant part thanks to Washington, whose disastrous Afghan war and escalating drone attacks have helped to destabilize the Pashtun regions of the country. Now, the Pakistani military — pushed and threatened by Washington (with the loss of military aid, among other things) — has smashed full force into the districts of Buner and Swat, which had, in recent months, been largely taken over by the Islamic fundamentalist guerrillas we call “the Pakistani Taliban.”

It’s been a massive show of force by a military configured for smash-mouth war with India, not urban or village warfare with lightly armed guerrillas. The Pakistani military has loosed its jets, helicopter gunships, and artillery on the region (even as the CIA drone strikes continue), killing unknown numbers of civilians and, far more significantly, causing a massive exodus of the local population. In some areas, well more than half the population has fled Taliban depredations and indiscriminate fire from the military. Those that remain in besieged towns and cities, often without electricity, with the dead in the streets, and fast disappearing supplies of food, are clearly in trouble.

With nearly 1.5 million Pakistanis turned into refugees just since the latest offensive began, U.N. officials are suggesting that this could be the worst refugee crisis since the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Talk about the destabilization of a country.

In the long run, this may only increase the anger of Pashtuns in the tribal areas of Pakistan at both the Americans and the Pakistani military and government. The rise of Pashtun nationalism and a fight for an “Islamic Pashtunistan” would prove a dangerous development indeed. This latest offensive is what Washington thought it wanted, but undoubtedly the old saw, “Be careful what you wish for, lest it come true,” applies. Already a panicky Washington is planning to rush $110 million in refugee assistance to the country.

6. Expanding Civilian Death Toll and Blowback: As Taliban attacks in Afghanistan rise and that loose guerrilla force (more like a coalition of various Islamist, tribal, warlord, and criminal groups) spreads into new areas, the American air war in Afghanistan continues to take a heavy toll on Afghan civilians, while manufacturing ever more enemies as well as deep resentment and protest in that country. The latest such incident, possibly the worst since the Taliban was defeated in 2001, involves the deaths of up to 147 Afghans in the Bala Baluk district of Farah Province, according to accounts that have come out of the villages attacked. Up to 95 of the dead were under 18, one Afghan lawmaker involved in investigating the incident claims, and up to 65 of them women or girls. These deaths came after Americans were called into an escalating fight between the Taliban and Afghan police and military units, and in turn, called in devastating air strikes by two U.S. jets and a B-1 bomber (which, villagers claim, hit them after the Taliban fighters had left).

Despite American pledges to own up to and apologize more quickly for civilian deaths, the post-carnage events followed a predictable stonewalling pattern, including a begrudging step-by-step retreat in the face of independent claims and reports. The Americans first denied that anything much had happened; then claimed that they had killed mainly Taliban “militants”; then that the Taliban had themselves used grenades to kill most of the civilians (a charge later partially withdrawn as “thinly sourced”); and finally, that the numbers of Afghan dead were “extremely over-exaggerated,” and that the urge for payment from the Afghan government might be partially responsible.

An investigation, as always, was launched that never seems to end, while the Americans wait for the story to fade from view. As of this moment, while still awaiting the results of a “very exhaustive” investigation, American spokesmen nonetheless claim that only 20-30 civilians died along with up to 65 Taliban insurgents. In these years, however, the record tells us that, when weighing the stories offered by surviving villagers and those of American officials, believe the villagers. Put more bluntly, in such situations, we lie, they die.

Two things make this “incident” at Bala Baluk more striking. First of all, according to Jerome Starkey of the British Independent, another Rumsfeld creation, the U.S. Marines Corps Special Operations Command (MarSOC), the Marines’ version of JSOC, was centrally involved, as it had been in two other major civilian slaughters, one near Jalalabad in 2007 (committed by a MarSOC unit that dubbed itself “Taskforce Violence”), the second in 2008 at the village of Azizabad in Herat Province. McChrystal’s appointment, reports Starkey, has “prompted speculation that [similar] commando counterinsurgency missions will increase in the battle to beat the Taliban.”

Second, back in Washington, National Security Advisor James Jones and head of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen, fretting about civilian casualties in Afghanistan and faced with President Karzai’s repeated pleas to cease air attacks on Afghan villages, nonetheless refused to consider the possibility. Both, in fact, used the same image. As Jones told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos: “Well, I think he understands that… we have to have the full complement of… our offensive military power when we need it… We can’t fight with one hand tied behind our back…”

In a world in which the U.S. is the military equivalent of the multi-armed Hindu god Shiva, this is one of the truly strange, if long-lasting, American images. It was, for instance, used by President George H. W. Bush on the eve of the first Gulf War. “No hands,” he said, “are going to be tied behind backs. This is not a Vietnam.”

Forgetting the levels of firepower loosed in Vietnam, the image itself is abidingly odd. After all, in everyday speech, the challenge “I could beat you with one hand tied behind my back” is a bravado offer of voluntary restraint and an implicit admission that fighting any other way would make one a bully. So hidden in the image, both when the elder Bush used it and today, is a most un-American acceptance of the United States as a bully nation, about to be restrained by no one, least of all itself.

Apologize or stonewall, one thing remains certain: the air war will continue and so civilians will continue to die. The idea that the U.S. might actually be better off with one “hand” tied behind its back is now so alien to us as to be beyond serious consideration.

The Pressure of an Expanding War

President Obama has opted for a down-and-dirty war strategy in search of some at least minimalist form of success. For this, McChrystal is the poster boy. Former Afghan commander General McKiernan believed that, “as a NATO commander, my mandate stops at the [Afghan] border. So unless there is a clear case of self-protection to fire across the border, we don’t consider any operations across the border in the tribal areas.”

That the “responsibilities” of U.S. generals fighting the Afghan War “ended at the border with Pakistan,” Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt of the Times report, is now considered part of an “old mind-set.” McChrystal represents those “fresh eyes” that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates talked about in the press conference announcing the general’s appointment. As Mazzetti and Schmitt point out, “Among [McChrystal’s] last projects as the head of the Joint Special Operations Command was to better coordinate Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency efforts on both sides of the porous border.”

For those old enough to remember, we’ve been here before. Administrations that start down a path of expansion in such a war find themselves strangely locked in — psychically, if nothing else — if things don’t work out as expected and the situation continues to deteriorate. In Vietnam, the result was escalation without end. President Obama and his foreign policy team now seem locked into an expanding war. Despite the fact that the application of force has not only failed for years, but actually fed that expansion, they also seem to be locked into a policy of applying ever greater force, with the goal of, as the Post’s Ignatius puts it, cracking the “Taliban coalition” and bringing elements of it to the bargaining table.

So keep an eye out for whatever goes wrong, as it most certainly will, and then for the pressures on Washington to respond with further expansions of what is already “Obama’s war.” With McChrystal in charge in Afghanistan, for instance, it seems reasonable to assume that the urge to sanction new special forces raids into Pakistan will grow. After all, frustration in Washington is already building, for however much the Pakistani military may be taking on the Taliban in Swat or Buner, don’t expect its military or civilian leaders to be terribly interested in what happens near the Afghan border.

As Tony Karon of the Rootless Cosmopolitan blog puts the matter: “The current military campaign is designed to enforce a limit on the Taliban’s reach within Pakistan, confining it to the movement’s heartland.” And that heartland is the Afghan border region. For one thing, the Pakistani military (and the country’s intelligence services, which essentially brought the Taliban into being long ago) are focused on India. They want a Pashtun ally across the border, Taliban or otherwise, where they fear the Indians are making inroads.

So the frustration of a war in which the enemy has no borders and we do is bound to rise along with the fighting, long predicted to intensify this year. We now have a more aggressive “team” in place. Soon enough, if the fighting in the Afghan south and along the Pakistani border doesn’t go as planned, pressure for the president to send in those other 10,000 troops General McKiernan asked for may rise as well, as could pressure to apply more air power, more drone power, more of almost anything. And yet, as former CIA station chief in Kabul, Graham Fuller, wrote recently, in the region “crises have only grown worse under the U.S. military footprint.”

And what if, as the war continues its slow arc of expansion, the “Washington coalition” is the one that cracks first? What then?

Tom Engelhardt, editor of Tomdispatch.com, is co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The End of Victory Culture.


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