Saturday, December 05, 2009
Thursday, December 03, 2009
Yesterday, David Reynolds, a CUNY Graduate Center professor who wrote a courageous, groundbreaking biography of John Brown published in 2005, emphasized the necessity of rehabilitating John Brown:
Reynolds concludes with a request that Brown receive a posthumous presidential pardon, and you can go here to sign a petition encouraging Obama to issue it. Despite the passage of time,the life of John Brown still touches upon the rawest of nerves in the American experience.
It's important for Americans to recognize our national heroes, even those who have been despised by history. Take John Brown.
Today is the 150th anniversary of Brown’s hanging — the grim punishment for his raid weeks earlier on Harpers Ferry, Va. With a small band of abolitionists, Brown had seized the federal arsenal there and freed slaves in the area. His plan was to flee with them to nearby mountains and provoke rebellions in the South. But he stalled too long in the arsenal and was captured. He was brought to trial in a Virginia court, convicted of treason, murder and inciting an insurrection, and hanged on Dec. 2, 1859.
It’s a date we should hold in reverence. Yes, I know the response: Why remember a misguided fanatic and his absurd plan for destroying slavery?
There are compelling reasons. First, the plan was not absurd. Brown reasonably saw the Appalachians, which stretch deep into the South, as an ideal base for a guerrilla war. He had studied the Maroon rebels of the West Indies, black fugitives who had used mountain camps to battle colonial powers on their islands. His plan was to create panic by arousing fears of a slave rebellion, leading Southerners to view slavery as dangerous and impractical.
Second, he was held in high esteem by many great men of his day. Ralph Waldo Emerson compared him to Jesus, declaring that Brown would “make the gallows as glorious as the cross.” Henry David Thoreau placed Brown above the freedom fighters of the American Revolution. Frederick Douglass said that while he had lived for black people, John Brown had died for them. A later black reformer, W. E. B. Du Bois, called Brown the white American who had “come nearest to touching the real souls of black folk.”
Du Bois was right. Unlike nearly all other Americans of his era, John Brown did not have a shred of racism. He had long lived among African-Americans, trying to help them make a living, and he wanted blacks to be quickly integrated into American society. When Brown was told he could have a clergyman to accompany him to the gallows, he refused, saying he would be more honored to go with a slave woman and her children.
While subsequent revisionist historians succeeded in stigmatizing him as part of a broader project to justify the emergence of the New South and the segregation that replaced slavery, many people, such as myself, have always known better, and held him in our hearts. Many of us preserved a different, almost folkloric, rememberance of Brown at odds with mainstream historical accounts. The intensity of the stigmatization merely reflected the desperation of those who recognized that they could never erase his shining example as a man who, despite his flaws, never shrank from confronting the most horrific injustice of his time.
Make no mistake. Brown retains enemies to this day, not because of his recourse to violence, after all, if there is one common thread that runs through much of American history, it is violence, violence to seize lands from Native Americans, violence to bring African Americans here as slaves and maintain control over them, violence to expand the frontier from the Appalachians to the Pacific Ocean and beyond, violence to impose a neoliberal economic order upon peoples and states who resist it.
Indeed, violence is, as H. Rap Brown once said, as American as apple pie. If Barack Obama proved anything by his decision to send more troops to Afghanistan, it is the continuing accuracy of this acid assessment. So, no, John Brown was not maligned because he was violent, because to do so would have required the condemnation of many of the most prominent American social and political figures of the last 233 years. Non violence is for the opponents of American imperial designs, not for those who facilitate them.
Instead, Brown is considered beyond the pale because he ultimately determined that violence was the only means to achieve the liberation of the slaves, and acted upon that belief. And, more than that, he did not insist upon a white monopoly upon the use of violence for this purpose, but sought to empower the slaves to free themselves by seizing the arsenal at Harper's Ferry in order to distribute weapons to them. Brown believed that enslaved African Americans had the ability to free themselves and should be assisted in the endeavor.
In this respect, as well as his reliance upon the past examples of black rebels like Toussaint L'ouverture in Haiti, Brown foreshadowed the national liberation movements of the 20th Century. Not surprisingly, Toussaint L'ouverture also finds himself exiled to the same circle of historical oblivion as Brown because his life runs counter to the modernization mythology that still infuses much of our perspective about US and European imperialism. Brown was no socialist, but, in a sense, he was actually more radical than many leftists of the time, because he embraced the notion of a multicultural society wherein capital did not exploit racial and class divisions to its advantage, similar to the sort of polyglot social formations described by historians like Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker.
Paradoxically, if one believes that Brown made the Civil War inevitable, he accelerated the transformation of the US from an agrarian economy to an industrial one, one in which his utopian vision of white, black, red, brown and yellow struggling together on the frontier as individualists bound together collectively was overwhelmed by the emergence of a working class in the mill and in the slaughterhouse. The steam engine, the railroad and the manufacturing processes that emerged during the war rendered his vision obsolete. As Brown stood on the scaffold, he was frozen in that moment when the workers of America were about to be proletarianized on a massive scale.
But Brown not only rejected the white monopoly on violence, he challenged the state monopoly on it as well. He did not, like the Project for a New American Century, petition the government to launch a war to achieve his end, the eradication of slavery. He trained and provisioned his own group for this purpose, a 19th Century example of an affinity group, as it were, with a well thought out plan for igniting a slave insurrection. In this, he prefigures propaganda by the deed, much as his earlier life, such as his homesteads, his attempt to break the wool monopoly, his farming in an integrated community in upstate New York and his participation in the underground railroad, prefigured the anarchist emphasis upon the creation of social institutions independent of the government, mutual aid and free agreement. No one had to explain the concept of direct action to John Brown, he was too busy living it.
Remember the old line, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me," the point being that after you are conned once you should never again be so gullible as to be taken in a second time? Well, by that standard the American public and media should be ashamed of themselves as they are about to be fooled again. It is hard to ignore the fact that Washington is marching towards a confrontation with Iran that will surely lead to war that is being orchestrated by the same players that brought about Iraq.
Consider for a moment how the argument to use military force against Iran is being shaped in a way that is very similar to the arguments that were used to prepare for war with Iraq. First of all, Iran is regularly vilified as being led by a homicidal and genocidal maniac in the form of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad is described as a threat to world peace and he is alleged to be intent on establishing Iranian hegemony over the entire Persian Gulf region. Ahmadinejad has repeatedly been compared to Hitler by the US and Israeli media.
Back in 2002-2003 the narrative was similar. Saddam Hussein was likewise described as a homicidal and genocidal maniac threatening world peace and seeking to establish Iraqi hegemony over the Persian Gulf. He also was compared to Hitler.
But the reality in both cases was and is quite different. Saddam’s army was, after 1991, an empty shell and his country was crippled by sanctions. Ahmadinejad does not control his own country’s armed forces and does not have the authority to start a war even if he wanted to do so. Ahmadinejad has never personally threatened to attack anyone except in retaliation and Iran has not started a war of aggression since 1747. Neither Ahmadinejad nor Saddam Hussein have anything in common with Hitler, who led a major world military and industrial power, apart from flights of hyperbole on the part of some journalists and politicians.
And then there are the nuclear weapons. Saddam was alleged to be developing them, threatening a "mushroom cloud" over American cities, and the same claims are being made about Iran. The fact is that Saddam had no nuclear weapons program when the US attacked him and Iran doesn’t currently have a program either. Iran insists on its right to peaceful nuclear energy supervised by UN inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, a right that all countries that are signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) enjoy. The United States admits that Iran has a right to electricity generation but agrees with Israel that Tehran should not be able to control the uranium enrichment process. Meanwhile Israel, Pakistan, and India, all American "friends" and non-signatories of the NPT, are free to enrich uranium and use it to make bombs without so much as a harsh word from Washington.
In 2002 the Bush administration asserted that Iraq was virtually a nation on a war footing with a major clandestine weapons industry that included conventional weapons, chemical and biological weapons, and delivery systems to include pilotless drones that could cross the Atlantic. Photos were displayed in the UN "proving" Washington’s assertions. It is now alleged by many of the same experts that Iran is building itself up into a regional superpower with missiles that can one day strike Europe.
Again, the facts contradict the propaganda. Saddam had none of the weapons attributed to him. The UN, the US, and other western intelligence agencies knew that Iraq had been effectively disarmed and had not reconstituted its capabilities but chose to ignore the facts that did not fit the agenda. Iran is being tarred with the same brush in spite of its having a military budget equivalent to only 1% of that of the US and less also than that of its nuclear armed neighbor Israel. Its army is large but poorly trained and equipped and cannot even think of invading any of its neighbors, let alone strike the US. Its navy is capable only of patrolling its coastal waters and would be overwhelmed if it were to confront even a small portion of the US Navy. Its air force would be destroyed by the first day of fighting with the US or with any of its better armed neighbors and its missile program is reported to be more bluster than reality, beset with technical problems and lack of funding.
In 2002 it was widely reported, based on fabricated evidence, that Saddam would likely turn his weapons of mass destruction over to terrorists to use. Currently, it is being claimed that Iran will develop a nuclear weapon and then provide it to radical groups to detonate somewhere in the world. The fact is that the terrorist scenario is a fiction, highly implausible unless one assumes that both Saddam’s Iraq and today’s Iran are intent on suicide. The detonation of a nuclear device is not an anonymous act. It has a technical signature that tells what kind of weapon it was and, from that information, it can be determined who made it. A nuclear attack by a radical group would face tremendous logistical problems in moving the heavy device to a target and making it work, but even if it could be done it would immediately be traced to Iran and Iran would be obliterated on the following day by either the United States or Israel.
Back in 2002-3 it was widely reported that Iraq was a "threat to Israel." Nowadays Israel repeats the same claim over and over again regarding Iran and is echoed by its minions in the media and the US Congress. In reality, Iraq’s threat to Israel consisted of Saddam’s regime sending payments to support families of Palestinians who had been killed by the Israelis, which some might actually consider a humanitarian gesture even though it surely delivered a political message. Today’s Iran has no ability to strike a heavily armed and militarily overwhelming Israel in any serious way and repeated claims that Tehran has threatened to wipe Israel off the map are deliberate mistranslations. Iran has never threatened to attack anyone while Israel, on the contrary, and the United States have repeatedly asserted their right to take military action against Iran.
American politicians frequently claimed in 2002 that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was seeking to destabilize its neighbors. Saddam reportedly had clandestine groups operating in neighboring Kuwait, in Saudi Arabia, and in the Palestinian territories. The same claims are now made about Iran, that it controls militias in Iraq, is assisting the Taliban in Afghanistan, insurgents in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in Gaza. It has been claimed that the Mullahs are "killing our soldiers" in Iraq and Afghanistan by providing weapons to the several insurgencies. All such claims are either false or overstated. Saddam, of course, had no international ambitions after his army was largely destroyed in 1991. Iran understandably has concerns about what is going on along its borders and has relationships of various kinds with political groups and government leaders, but the claim that it controls proxies in many countries is greatly exaggerated. The allegation that it is supplying weapons to insurgents is largely bogus, based on the capture of a small number of Iranian produced weapons that are marked in English rather than Farsi, suggesting that they come from the international arms market rather than from an Iranian arsenal. Iran’s ability to destabilize an entire region is greatly exaggerated. Ironically, it is the United States that is undeniably supporting armed insurgencies inside Iran including Baluchistan separatists and Arabs in the provinces bordering Iraq.
In 2002-3 the neocons who were behind the Iraq war repeatedly claimed triumphantly that Iraq would be a military cakewalk. The same claims are being made about Iran, i.e., that the vast US advantage in firepower would end the war quickly, with all of Iran’s known military and nuclear targets knocked out. But the neocons were wrong about Iraq’s ability to resist unconventionally, resulting in the United States still maintaining a huge military presence in that unhappy land six years later. Iran is even more formidable than Iraq, being physically larger and having had time and resources to prepare for an expected attack. Since it holds the geographical center between US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan it is able to dictate events from its interior lines, using irregular forces to strike where it wants to and when it wants to. It could easily cut the tenuous 344 mile long supply line for US troops in Iraq that snakes up from Kuwait. It could close the Straits of Hormuz and, in the narrow and shallow waters of the Persian Gulf, it might even get lucky and hit a US aircraft carrier with one of its Chinese silkworm cruise missiles. It could quickly make the US position in both Afghanistan and Iraq untenable and send world oil prices soaring.
Finally, one should recall that the bottom line justification for the war with Iraq was the repeated somewhat generic message that Iraq was a threat to the United States. That message was deliberately fabricated and was known to be false by the criminals in the Bush Administration and the media who led the march to war. That same song is being played again regarding Iran. Iraq’s government in 2003 was in reality a threat to no one but the country’s own people. Iran, troubled by a poor economy, political dissension, and civil unrest, is in no position to attack anyone. If anything, its leadership might welcome an attack by Israel or the United States to unite its people against a foreign aggressor. It would be the ultimate irony if a military attack by Israel or the US or a combination of the two were to accomplish little beyond strengthening Iran’s political conservatives and accelerating the drive to obtain a nuclear weapon for self defense.
Read more by Philip Giraldi
During a late November 29 Oval Office meeting with top Pentagon brass, "Obama issued orders to send about 30,000 additional American troops to Afghanistan (over the next six months in) what may be one of the most defining decisions of his presidency." Compounding months of public betrayal, it's perhaps another outrage that will make him a one-term president, the way Vietnam ended Lyndon Johnson's hope for a second term.
An additional 30,000+ will raise US forces to about 100,000 plus whatever additional numbers NATO countries provide that at best will be small and come grudgingly for a war no one believes can be won, and some feel never should have been waged.
To these numbers, add a shadow footprint consisting of tens of thousands of private contractors - 73,968 according to a September 21, 2009 Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report as of June 2009. Included are familiar names like Kellogg, Brown and Root, Fluor Corp, Lockheed Martin and hired guns like DynCorp and Xe (formerly Blackwater USA) costing tens of billions of dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan for lack of oversight so scandalous that rampant waste, fraud, and abuse go unmonitored and will worsen with more troops.
In addition, CRS reports that supporting each soldier costs $1 million a year, partly because private contractors replaced US troops at a far higher expense plus no oversight giving them license to steal for over eight years and do it as well in Iraq. Yet policy going forward will worsen things and greatly increase costs, already over-stretched by America's largest ever military budget at a time the country has no enemies.
Worse still, besides earlier in the year reinforcements, more buildup "represents a high-stakes gamble by a new commander in chief that he can turn....an eight-year old" quagmire into victory, a possibility many in the Pentagon think unlikely to impossible and other experts agree.
According to Schmitt, Obama will test "his ability to rally an American public that according to polls has grown sour on the war, as well as (vice president Joe Biden and) his fellow Democracts in Congress" - like Senator Carl Levin, Armed Services Committee chairman, as well as Colin Powell, and his Afghan ambassador, Karl Eikenberry.
On condition of anonymity, a senior Defense Department official told The Times that "the first additional troops would be thousands of Marines sent to opium-rich Helmand Province, a Taliban stronghold in the south....(They'll begin arriving) in January (to be) followed by a steady flow of tens of thousands."
A November 25 Washington Post Scott Wilson article titled, "War speech to outline escalation and exit" strategies will "outline plans for ending it. (He'll) outline a modest endgame (to) allow US forces to leave and set a general time frame" in 2011, according to some, and after what's announced, beginning in July 2011, over a decade after American forces arrived.
Timelines are always flexible, and Obama hedged by saying withdrawal depends on "conditions on the ground," with further interventions likely because "The struggle against violent extremism will not be finished quickly. (It) extends well beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan," meaning Iran, Somalia, and perhaps Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and/or Cuba, given the Pentagon's growing presence in Colombia as a regional garrison for waging hemispheric conflicts.
Yet he said America can't afford and shouldn't shoulder an open-ended commitment - which, among others, begs these questions:
-- besides the situation in Iraq, why are we in Afghanistan at all; and
-- why for an unwinnable, illegal war over-stretching the federal budget toward bankruptcy while ignoring vital homeland needs.
Also, opposition is increasing, including among congressional Democrats. The situation is unstable and much depends on uncontrollable factors and a growing conviction that after eight years, the war is lost and withdrawal, not escalation is advised.
Others fear imperial madness, perpetual wars, the illusion of Pax Americana, and the nation transitioning toward tyranny, already entrenched with a strong foothold, but who'll tell the public when the media won't, and everyone knows politicians lie, especially the president and others with power.
Nonetheless, Obama told West Point cadets he'll "bring this war to a successful conclusion," and added:
"America, we are passing through a time of great trial. And the message that we send in the midst of these storms must be clear: that our cause is just, our resolve unwavering....If I did not think that the security of the United States and the safety of the American people were at stake in Afghanistan, I would gladly order every single one of our troops home tomorrow" - while telling foreign allies: "This is not just America's war."
Planned a year or more in advance, America willfully, maliciously, illegally, and preemptively attacked a non-belligerent nation (four weeks after 9/11 on October 7) in violation of international and US laws. Those responsible are war criminals. Those continuing it, including congressional members funding it, are as well. Those claiming America's security was threatened lied. It wasn't then. It's not now, and international and US laws are clear.
The UN Charter's Article 51 allows the "right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member....until the Security Council has taken measures to maintain international peace and security."
In other words, justifiable self-defense is permissible. In addition, Charter Articles 2(3), 2(4), and 33 absolutely prohibit any unilateral threat or use of force not specifically allowed under Article 51 or authorized by the Security Council.
Three General Assembly resolutions concur, absolutely prohibiting "non-consensual military intervention:"
-- the 1965 Declaration on the Inadmissibility of Intervention in the Domestic Affairs of States and the Protection of Their Independence and Sovereignty;
-- the 1970 Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States in Accordance with the Charter of the United Nations; and
-- the 1974 Definition of Aggression, drawing largely on the UN Charter's Article II, paragraph 4 stating:
"All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations."
Aggression was defined:
-- a "crime against peace;"
-- the "Invasion of a State by the armed forces of another State, with or without occupation of the territory; (and)
-- attacks on marine fleets."
The UN Charter's Article 39 provides for the Security Council to determine the existence of any act of aggression and "shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42, to maintain or restore international peace and security."
The Rome Statute of the International Court of Justice calls the crime of aggression one of the "most serious crimes of concern to the international community," and provides for it to fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC) after state parties agree on a definition and define the conditions under which guilty parties may be prosecuted.
The Nuremberg Tribunal said:
"To initiate a war of aggression....is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime (against peace) differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."
Under the Constitution's Supremacy Clause (Article VI, paragraph 20), the Constitution, federal statutes, and US treaties are "the supreme law of the land," including international laws (like Geneva) to which America is a signatory. The paragraph reads:
"This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any state to the Contrary notwithstanding."
US law is also clear and unequivocal. Under the Constitution's Article I, Section 8, only Congress may:
-- "....provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States....
-- ....declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;
-- "....provide and maintain a navy;
-- ....make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces;
-- ....provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions; (and)
--....provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States...."
Nowhere does it authorize a preemptive, imperial, aggressive attack on a non-belligerent nation.
The Founders considered declaring and waging wars so important that no single person, including the president, should decide it alone.
Congress last obeyed the law on December 8, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor. Thereafter, every US war was illegal, according to the Constitution of the United States. By continuing such wars, President Obama stands guilty of war crimes and is fully accountable under US and international laws.
Further, under Article I, Section 7, only Congress may fund wars as:
"All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other Bills."
Either body may originate appropriation bills, although the House claims sole responsibility for it. Either one may amend bills, including revenue and appropriation measures. Congress may resist defunding, but it's empowered to withhold future amounts without which wars and occupations aren't possible so the current ones would end.
Congressional appropriation power is key under Article I, Section 9, Clause 7 saying:
"No money shall be drawn from the treasury; and a regular statement and account of receipts and expenditures of all public money shall be published from time to time."
It means Congress alone has constitutional power over the federal budget, including the funding of wars. Cut it off and wars and occupations end, with or without presidential concurrence.
After years of congressional inaction, the 1972 Church-Clifford amendment, attached to foreign aid legislation, tried to end Southeast Asian war funding, but it was defeated in the House. However, the June 1973 Church-Case amendment succeeded after earlier attempts failed, and ended America's involvement in Vietnam. In the same year, over Richard Nixon's veto, Congress passed the War Powers Act (still the law) requiring the president to consult with Congress before authorizing troop deployments for extended periods.
Without congressional collusion, wars can't be fought or continued. The 111th Congress and most previous ones have been complicit in America's aggressive wars and share equal guilt with the president and top Pentagon brass. Ending wars politically are daunting, but doing so financially is as simple as cutting off funding.
Afghanistan's Tragic History: Ravaged by Wars Without End
For centuries, Afghanistan has been war-torn and ravaged by invaders, yet endured by repeatedly repelling them - more recently against Britain in the 19th and early 20th centuries and the Soviets in the 1980s. Today imperial America risks the same fate after eight failed years, yet those in power won't act because of Afghanistan's strategic importance and fear of strong repercussions from an opposition looking for reasons to criticize.
As a result, Afghans keep suffering the way John Pilger poignantly described under conditions there in his 2006 book, "Freedom Next Time, saying:"
"Throughout all the humanitarian crises in living memory, no country has been abused and suffered more, and none helped less than Afghanistan." He described Kabul like many parts of the country today, plagued by "contours of rubble rather than streets, where people live in collapsed buildings, like earthquake victims waiting for rescue (with) no light....heat," or relief from perpetual wars and human misery, the result of imperial invasions and internal conflicts.
Over time, the toll has been horrific:
-- unemployment is around 50%;
-- impoverishment is among the highest in the world affecting nearly two-thirds of the country;
-- in October 2008, spokesman for the UN mission in Kabul, Adrian Edwards, told the BBC that:
"The human conditions in Afghanistan are very serious. Continuous insecurity, drought and booming food prices on the world level are the main cause for the emergence of this situation but the condition in the future months is not tangible. There is no doubt that people are in dire need of food."
-- conditions today are no better and perhaps worse;
-- those with jobs don't earn enough to meet minimal needs;
-- life expectancy at 44 years is one of the lowest in the world;
-- the infant mortality rate is the world's highest with 20% of children dying before age five;
-- an Afghan woman dies in childbirth every 30 minutes;
-- 75% of the population has no access to safe drinking water;
-- homelessness is epidemic forcing many to live under deplorable conditions;
-- only one doctor is available per 6,000 people and one nurse per 2,500 people;
-- unexploded ordnance kills or wounds hundreds each month, a situation worsening as conflict persists;
-- children are kidnapped and sold into slavery or murdered for their organs;
-- less than 6% of Afghans have access to electricity, available only sporadically;
-- women's literacy is about 19%, and many have to beg on streets or turn to prostitution to survive.
In addition, no part of the country is safe. Internal conflict rages. Life for most Afghans is intolerable, and accounting for around 60% of its economy, Afghanistan is the world's largest opium producer.
On September 2, 2009, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported that opium cultivation dropped to 123,000 hectares, down from the 2007 193,000 hectare peak. However, production fell only 10% to 6,900 tons from 2008 because farmers get more yield per bulb. At the same time, world demand is stable at around 5,000 tons, much less than Afghanistan supplies. In contrast, prior to America's invasion, the Taliban eradicated 94% of opium production, reducing it to 185 tons according to UN figures.
Under eight years of occupation, it again flourishes, mostly benefitting organized crime, the CIA, and powerful Western business and financial interests, in America most of all.
Also, in its latest 2009 report, Transparency International ranks Afghanistan the world's second most corrupt country after Somalia under its US-backed Transitional Federal Government and African Union paramilitary peacekeepers. Occupied Iraq ranks fifth, further testimony to imperialism's exploitive failure and its harm to targeted countries.
Meanwhile, since Afghan commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, took charge of US and NATO forces last June, he's favored more troops for a wider war he can't win using similar tactics he was infamous for as head of the Pentagon's Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) - established in 1980 and comprised of the Army's Delta Force and Navy seals, de facto death squads writer Seymour Hersh once described as an "executive assassination wing" operating out of Dick Cheney's office.
While escalating the Afghan war, he's also destabilizing Pakistan to balkanize both countries, weakening them by design to control the Caspian Sea's oil and gas riches and their energy routes to secured ports for export. The strategy includes encircling Russia, China, and Iran, obstructing their solidarity and cohesion, toppling the Iranian government, perhaps attacking its nuclear sites, eliminating Israel's main regional rival, defusing a feared geopolitical alliance, and securing the ultimate goal of unchallenged Eurasian dominance in a part of the world rich in oil, gas and other vital minerals.
It's a huge task for any commander, let alone a man James Petras calls a "notorious psychopath" who's perhaps the right man to pin failure on if things go sour or if popular discontent reaches critical mass, forcing withdrawal like from Vietnam. Blame it on the general, not the commander-in-chief who appointed him who may not get off easily, nor should he given an ill-chosen strategy cooler heads want to avoid, but not vocal hawks who demand he press on no matter the long odds or overstretched the budget, threatening bankruptcy because of its unaffordability combined with bailing out Wall Street and other obligations.
The die is cast. Escalation is now fact by a man promising change, delivering betrayal, and seeing his approval rating fall from a 68% late January high to 47% according to the December 1 Rasmussen Report, a number steadily falling because growing numbers of supporters are losing faith. Heading into 2010, the combination of economic hardship, eroding civil liberties, and wasted billions on futile wars promises to raise public discontent and disapproval of a president and Congress they no longer trust. What's disturbing is why they did in the first place.
Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to the Lendman News Hour on RepublicBroadcasting.org Monday - Friday at 10AM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on world and national issues. All programs are archived for easy listening.
by Ralph NaderMisusing professional cadets at West Point as a political prop, President Barack Obama delivered his speech on the Afghanistan war forcefully but with fearful undertones. He chose to escalate this undeclared war with at least 30,000 more soldiers plus an even larger number of corporate contractors.
He chose the path the military-industrial complex wanted. The “military” planners, whatever their earlier doubts about the quagmire, once in, want to prevail. The “industrial” barons because their sales and profits rise with larger military budgets.
A majority of Americans are opposed or skeptical about getting deeper into a bloody, costly fight in the mountains of central Asia while facing recession, unemployment, foreclosures, debt and deficits at home. Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), after hearing Mr. Obama’s speech said, “Why is it that war is a priority but the basic needs of people in this country are not?”
Let’s say needs like waking up to do something about 60,000 fatalities a year in our country related to workplace diseases and trauma. Or 250 fatalities a day due to hospital induced infections, or 100,000 fatalities a year due to hospital malpractice, or 45,000 fatalities a year due to the absence of health insurance to pay for treatment, or, or, or, even before we get into the economic poverty and deprivation. Any Obama national speeches on these casualties?
Back to the West Point teleprompter speech. If this is the product of a robust internal Administration debate, the result was the same cookie-cutter, Vietnam approach of throwing more soldiers at a poorly analyzed situation. In September, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen told an American Legion Convention, “I’ve seen the public opinion polls saying that a majority of Americans don’t support the effort at all. I say, good. Let’s have the debate, let’s have that discussion.”
Where? Not in Congress. There were only rubberstamps and grumbles; certainly nothing like the Fulbright Senate hearings on the Vietnam War.
Where else? Not in the influential commercial media. Forget jingoistic television and radio other than the satire of Jon Stewart plus an occasional non-commercial Bill Moyers show or rare public radio commentary. Not in the op-ed pages of The New York Times and the Washington Post.
A FAIR study published in the organization’s monthly newsletter EXTRA reports that of all opinion columns in The New York Times and the Washington Post over the first 10 months of 2009, thirty-six out of forty-three columns on the Afghanistan War in the Times supported the war while sixty-one of the sixty-seven Post columns supported a continued war.
So what would a rigorous public and internal administration debate have highlighted? First, the more occupation forces there are, the more they fuel the insurgency against the occupation, especially since so many more civilians than fighters lose their lives. Witness the wedding parties, villagers, and innocent bystanders blown up by the U.S. military’s superior weaponry.
Second, there was a remarkable absence in Obama’s speech about the tribal conflicts and the diversity of motivations of those he lumped under the name of “Taliban.” Some are protecting their valleys, others are in the drug trade, others want to drive out the occupiers, others are struggling for supremacy between the Pashtuns on one side and the Tajiks and Uzbeks on the other (roughly the south against the north). The latter has been the substance of a continuing civil war for many years.
Third, how can Obama’s plan begin to work, requiring a stable, functioning Afghan government—which now is largely a collection of illicit businesses milking the graft, which grows larger in proportion to what the American taxpayers have to spend there—and the disorganized, untrained Afghan army—mainly composed of Tajiks and Uzbeks loathed by the Pashtuns.
Fourth, destroying or capturing al Qaeda attackers in Afghanistan ignores Obama’s own intelligence estimates. Many observers believe al Qaeda has gone to Pakistan or elsewhere. The New York Times reports that “quietly, Mr. Obama has authorized an expansion of the war in Pakistan as well—if only he can get a weak, divided, suspicious Pakistani government to agree to the terms.”
Hello! Congress did not authorize a war in Pakistan, so does Obama, like Bush, just decree what the Constitution requires to be authorized by the legislative branch? Can we expect another speech at the Air Force Academy on the Pakistan war?
Fifth, as is known, al Qaeda is a transnational movement. Highly mobile, when it is squeezed. As Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, the former CIA officer operating in Pakistan, said: “There is no direct impact on stopping terrorists around the world because we are or are not in Afghanistan.” He argues that safe havens can be moved to different countries, as has indeed happened since 9/11.
Sixth, the audacity of hope in Obama’s speech was illustrated by his unconvincing date of mid-2011 for beginning the withdrawal of U.S. soldiers from Afghanistan. The tendered exit strategy, tied to unspecified conditions, was a bone he tossed to his shaky liberal base.
The White House recently said it costs $1 million a year to keep each single soldier in Afghanistan. Take one fifth of that sum and connect with the tribal chiefs to build public facilities in transportation, agriculture, schools, clinics, public health, and safe drinking water.
Thus strengthened, these tribal leaders know how to establish order. This is partly what Ashraf Ghani, the former respected Afghan finance minister and former American anthropology professor, called concrete “justice” as the way to undermine insurgency.
Withdraw the occupation, which now is pouring gasoline on the fire. Bring back the saved four-fifths of that million dollars per soldier to America and provide these and other soldiers with tuition for their education and training.
The principal authority in Afghanistan is tribal. Provide the assistance, based on stage-by-stage performance, and the tribal leaders obtain a stake in stability. Blown apart by so many foreign invaders—British, Soviet, American—and internally riven, the people in the countryside look to tribal security as the best hope for a nation that has not known unity for decades.
Lifting the fog of war allows other wiser policies urged by experienced people to be considered for peace and security.
Rather than expanding a boomeranging war, this alternative has some probability of modest success unlike the sure, mounting loss of American and Afghani lives and resources.
Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer, and author. His most recent book - and first novel - is, Only The Super Wealthy Can Save Us. His most recent work of non-fiction is The Seventeen Traditions.
Thursday, 3. December 2009
Mizgin’s Desk Reports
Our first look at the life of Richard Armitage, the new American Turkish Council chairman, focused on his adventures in Southeast Asia. Today we’ll look at his history in Washington.
Back in Washington in 1980, Armitage served as a foreign policy advisor to President-elect Ronald Reagan, and was soon appointed by Reagan to the position of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia and Pacific Affairs. Armitage held that position from 1981 until 1983, when he was promoted to the position of Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy. Wikipedia has a list of the duties associated with Armitage’s position as Assistant Secretary of Defense. He held this position until 1989.
During this time, Armitage became involved with US arms shipments from Israel to Iran that eventually became known as the Iran-Contra Affair. In a report by Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh, it was determined that US weapons were, in fact, delivered to the Islamic Republic of Iran by Israel on behalf of the US. Neoconservative Michael Ledeen and Iranian businessman Manucher Ghorbanifar facilitated links between the US, Israel, and Iran and they would be mentioned years later when a subsequent US administration sought to manufacture evidence of yellowcake sales to Iraq.
LTC Oliver North modified the original plan of arms sales to Iran in order to divert money to the Nicaraguan Contras and it is through North that Armitage became entangled in the affair. According to the History Commons, with links to reports by the Independent Counsel on Iran-Contra Affairs:
“National Security Council (NSC) officer Oliver North has become far more outspoken among government officials about his illegal funding of the Nicaraguan Contras (see May 16, 1986). During a meeting of his Restricted Interagency Group (RIG—see Late 1985 and After), CIA official Alan Fiers, a member of the group, is discomfited at North’s straightforward listing of the many activities that he is causing to be conducted on behalf of the Contras, everything from supplying aircraft to paying salaries. Fiers is even less sanguine about North’s frank revelations about using illegally solicited private funding for the Contras (see May 16, 1986). North goes down the list, asking if each activity should be continued or terminated, and, according to Fiers, making it very clear that he can cause his Contra support program (which he now calls PRODEM, or “Project Democracy”) to respond as he directs. North also begins arranging, through Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, for $2 million in stopgap funding for the project. North will confirm the $2 million in an e-mail to NSC Director John Poindexter. North will conduct similar meetings in August and September 1986, at least one of which will include Assistant Defense Secretary Richard Armitage (see July 22, 1987) and other Defense Department officials (see November 13, 1990). It is not until Fiers testifies in 1991 about North’s behaviors that verification of North’s discussion of such specifics about Contra activities and funding will be made public (see July 17, 1991).”
In September, 1986, North brought up for discussion in an RIG meeting in Armitage’s office the fact that the Panamanian dictator, Manuel Noriega, would be willing to conduct sabotage inside Nicaragua for money. The discussion focuses on the possibility of paying Noriega from private funds. The offer is ultimately rejected.
In July, 1987, Armitage failed to recall anything:
“Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Armitage, who has attended some of Oliver North’s Restricted Interagency Group (RIG) meetings (see Late 1985 and After and July 1986 and After), testifies before the Joint House-Senate Committee investigating Iran-Contra (see May 5, 1987). Armitage is asked about RIG meetings in which North recited a list of his activities in coordinating the Contras, discussed the private funding of the Contras, and demanded item-by-item approval from group members: “[D]o you recall, regardless of what dates, regardless of where it was, regardless of whether it had exactly the players he said—because he could have gotten all that wrong—do you recall any meeting at which he did anything close to what his testimony suggests?” Armitage replies, “I do not.” It is not until RIG member Alan Fiers, a former CIA official, testifies in 1991 about North’s behaviors that verification of North’s discussion of such specifics about Contra activities and funding will be made public (see July 17, 1991).”
The Office of the Independent Council eventually decided not to prosecute Armitage for his role in the Iran-Contra Affair:
“The notes demonstrated that Weinberger’s early testimony — that he had only vague and generalized information about Iran arms sales in 1985 — was false, and that he in fact had detailed information on the proposed arms sales and the actual deliveries. The notes also revealed that Gen. Colin Powell, Weinberger’s senior military aide, and Richard L. Armitage, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, also had detailed knowledge of the 1985 shipments from Israeli stocks. Armitage and Powell had testified that they did not learn of the November 1985 HAWK missile shipment until 1986.
[ . . . ]
“There was little evidence that Powell’s early testimony regarding the 1985 shipments and Weinberger’s notes was willfully false. Powell cooperated with the various Iran/contra investigations and, when his recollection was refreshed by Weinberger’s notes, he readily conceded their accuracy. Independent Counsel declined to prosecute Armitage because the OIC’s limited resources were focused on the case against Weinberger and because the evidence against Armitage, while substantial, did not reach the threshold of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
As a result of the conclusions of the Independent Council, we may assume that Armitage received a less than honorable exoneration in this scandal. Shortly afterwards, Armitage became entangled in another scandal which forced him to withdraw his name from consideration by George H. W. Bush as the Secretary of the Army:
“Richard L. Armitage, President Bush’s choice as Secretary of the Army, withdrew his name from consideration today rather than undergo confirmation hearings expected to include questions about his role in the Iran-contra affair and his relationship with a woman convicted of illegal gambling.
“Over the past two years, Mr. Armitage has been the focus of repeated allegations about his private life, some of them published by the columnist Jack Anderson. The Texas industrialist H. Ross Perot joined the fray in 1987 when he complained to then Vice President Bush of Mr. Armitage’s possible involvement in drug operations when he served in the Vietnam War.
“Mr. Armitage has denied the charges. He was out of town today and could not be reached for comment. He withdrew so that he could spend more time with his wife and eight children, said a Pentagon spokesman.
[ . . . ]
“Mr. Armitage’s withdrawal, which came before his name was formally submitted to the Senate represented a surprising reversal. Just two weeks ago, he had been providing Democratic senators with a detailed written rebuttal of the allegations relating to Vietnam and Ms. O’Rourke. Mr. Armitage told senators he was ready to refute the charges personally at his confirmation hearings, a Senate aide said.”
Frank Carlucci, National Security Advisor at the time, asked Ross Perot in secret to drop his investigation of Armitage’s involvement with Nguyet O’Rourke and her connections to organized crime. Both Carlucci and Armitage would later serve as board members of the Middle East Policy Council.
During the Gulf War, Armitage served as a special emmissary to the King of Jordan and later in the 1990s he “directed US assistance to the new independent states (NIS) of the former Soviet Union.” In 1996, the US-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce was established in Washington with Armitage on its board of directors. Other board members included John Imle of Unocal while Zbigniew Brzezinski served the USACC as an Honorary Council Advisor. By the end of the 1990s, Armitage would have served as a lobbyist for Unocal at a time that Unocal was courting the Taliban in Texas in order to win a pipeline bid to move Turkmenistani gas through Afghanistan to Pakistan.
It was in 1997, too, that Armitage “went to Burma on a trip sponsored by the Burma/Myanmar Forum, a Washington group with major funding from UNOCAL.” Burmese villagers filed a lawsuit against Unocal for human rights abuses. Armitage was implicated in the lawsuit. Hamid Karzai and Zalmay Khalilzad were, like Armitage, also affiliated with Unocal. Karzai was a representative of Unocal in Afghanistan while Khalilzad was an advisor to Unocal and participated in its talks with the Taliban.
Armitage and Khalilzad were both signatories of the PNAC letter to President Clinton in 1998 which outlined the policy of “containment” of Saddam Hussein that would be adopted by the Bush administration in its war against Iraq after 11 September, 2001. Before those attacks, however, Armitage would be called back to public service by The Vulcans.
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
The demonstration on December 12 will feature anti-war speeches by two 2008 presidential candidates -- Green Party candidate and former Georgia Democratic congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and Democratic primary candidate, former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel.
The anti-war demonstration marks a major public display of growing dissatisfaction from progressive forces with Obama's surge in Afghanistan, Predator assassinations in Pakistan, continuing U.S. military occupation of Iraq, and a military thrust into Latin America, as well as support for Latin American rightist regimes.
Although the corporate media is dwelling on the possible GOP presidential lineup in 2012, there are whispers that in a few months, one or two anti-war Democrats may test the political waters and Obama's increasing unpopularity with the progressive Democratic rank-and-file in Iowa, the first caucus state. Former Minnesota independent Governor Jesse Ventura, who also opposes the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is rumored to be contemplating an independent run for the White House.
WMR will cover the demonstration.
The following is the press release received by WMR regarding demonstration details:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 30, 2009
“No You Can’t!”
Rally at White House December 12
Unity Among Peace Movement Groups Against Obama War Escalation -Warning of Reprisals to Troop Surge
WASHINGTON DC -- Over 100 leading peace activists have announced an “Emergency Anti-Escalation Rally” at Lafayette Park, across from the White House on December 12, from 11a.m. to 4 p.m., to reject President Obama’s planned military escalation in Afghanistan. The rally is organized by End US Wars, a newly formed coalition of national and grass-roots antiwar organizations, with endorsements from leading peace leaders.
Rally organizers are calling for the left wing to end its support for Obama if he declares a surge in troops, and for condemnation of Obama’s war policy by his own party faithful. In addition, efforts will begin to cut short his term in office, along with Congress; and protests will intensify against U.S. war involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq and any other countries.
Key speakers at the rally include Presidential Candidate Cynthia McKinney, Senator Mike Gravel, David Swanson, Chris Hedges, Nobel Peace Prize nominee Kathy Kelly and Rev. Graylan Hagler, among many other notables. Music will be provided by Jordan Page and others.
The coalition End US Wars follows from a letter, written by Laurie Dobson of Maine, demanding that Obama keep his promise and end the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars; call a ceasefire on Predator drone attacks over Pakistan; and begin immediate reconstruction and recovery in war torn regions.
Along with the rally on Saturday, December 12 at 11 a.m. in Lafayette Park, the film “Rethink Afghanistan” will be shown on Friday, December 11, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m., at Busboys & Poets, 14th and V Streets, NW, Washington, DC.
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
Paul Joseph Watson
May 21, 2009
The real reason behind Obama’s reversal of a decision to release the torture photos has been almost completely ignored by the corporate media - the fact that the photos show both US and Iraqi soldiers raping teenage boys in front of their mothers.
The Obama administration originally intended to release photos depicting torture and abuse of detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq by the end of May, following a court order arising out of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit first filed by the ACLU in 2004.
However, a reversal of Obama’s decision was announced this week, after he “changed his mind after viewing some of the images and hearing warnings from his generals in Iraq and in Afghanistan that such a move would endanger US troops deployed there,” according to a Washington Post report.owever, a reversal of Obama’s decision was announced this week, after he “changed his mind after viewing some of the images and hearing warnings from his generals in Iraq and in Afghanistan that such a move would endanger US troops deployed there,” according to a Washington report.
In response, the ACLU charged that Obama “has essentially become complicit with the torture that was rampant during the Bush years by being complicit in its coverup.” The Obama administration has also sought to protect intelligence officials involved in torture from prosecution at every turn.
The primary reason why Obama is now blocking the release of the photos is that some of the pictures, as well as video recordings, show prison guards sodomizing young boys in front of their mothers, both with objects as well as physical rape.
This horrific detail has been almost completely ignored by the establishment media in their coverage of the story this week, despite the fact that it’s been in the public domain for nearly five years, after it was first revealed by investigative Seymour Hersh during an ACLU conference in July 2004.
“Some of the worst things that happened you don’t know about, okay?” said Hersh. “Videos, there are women there. Some of you may have read that they were passing letters out, communications out to their men. This is at Abu Ghraib … The women were passing messages out saying ‘Please come and kill me, because of what’s happened’ and basically what happened is that those women who were arrested with young boys, children in cases that have been recorded. The boys were sodomized with the cameras rolling. And the worst above all of that is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking that your government has. They are in total terror. It’s going to come out.”
Hersh’s contention that minors were raped by prison guards while others filmed the vulgar spectacle is backed up by a leaked Abu Ghraib memorandum highlighted in a 2004 London Guardian report, in which detainees Kasim Hilas describes “the rape of an Iraqi boy by a man in uniform”. The testimony was also part of the military’s official Taguba Report into the torture at Abu Ghraib.
“I saw [name blacked out] fucking a kid, his age would be about 15-18 years. The kid was hurting very bad and they covered all the doors with sheets. Then when I heard the screaming I climbed the door because on top it wasn’t covered and I saw [blacked out], who was wearing the military uniform putting his dick in the little kid’s ass,” Mr Hilas told military investigators. “I couldn’t see the face of the kid because his face wasn’t in front of the door. And the female soldier was taking pictures.”
Another inmate, Thaar Dawod, described more abuse of teenage boys.
“They came with two boys naked and they were cuffed together face to face and Grainer [Corporal Charles Graner, one of the military policemen facing court martial] was beating them and a group of guards were watching and taking pictures from top and bottom and there was three female soldiers laughing at the prisoners,” he said.
A 2004 London Telegraph report also described photos which showed “US soldiers beating an Iraqi prisoner nearly to death and having sex with a female PoW,” as well as a videotape, apparently made by US personnel, which shows “Iraqi guards raping young boys”.
Former Governor Jesse Ventura today offered a solution to the controversy surrounding President Obama’s decision to reverse an earlier promise to release the torture photos - let Ventura see the photos on behalf of the American people and then decide if they should be released.
Ventura told the Alex Jones Show today, “How about if I step forward on behalf of the taxpayers and the citizens of the great United States of America - and I wanna go public with this - I will represent us, let me go where these photos are, let me go inside and see them and let me come out and report back as to what these photos are.”
“I think I have the right to do that, I think they have no right to keep me from doing that, you know why? I pay their salaries and I’m a governor, I’m a mayor, I’m a former Navy SEAL, I had a top secret security clearance - I think I’m fully qualified to walk in and view these photos,” said Ventura, adding, “I’ll report to the public, what it is why we shouldn’t be able to see them because I understand it could infuriate the enemy, but I’m not the enemy and therefore I think I have every right to see these photos in private.”
Obama attempts to block release of 'torture' photos
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/barackobama/5320175/Obama-attempts-to-block-release-of-torture-photos.htmlTelegraph report over Abu Ghraib 'abuse' photos confirmed
Editor’s Note (Consortium News): Many Americans – and especially U.S. media pundits – view the world through a self-absorbed nearsightedness, acting as if the histories of countries only began when they did something that attracted U.S. attention.
In ancient lands like Iraq and Afghanistan, this American myopia has become very dangerous, by ignoring how and why these countries have resisted past instances of foreign imperialism, as Nicolas J S Davies notes in this guest article:
Afghanistan is known as the "graveyard of empires." But just why do empires keep sending thousands of their young people to die in Afghanistan?
American blood-letting in Afghanistan is generally explained in terms of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, but it was the earlier U.S. involvement in Afghanistan (in the 1980s) that led to the emergence of these movements in the first place, not the other way around.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. government has used al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks to justify much more than simply retaliation for 9/11 or even prevention of some future recurrence of 9/11. The attacks have served as an excuse for U.S. invasions and occupations (including Iraq which had nothing to do with 9/11), flagrant war crimes (including torture), and the largest U.S. military budget since World War II.
To accomplish this, the government has persuaded many Americans that their country faces a unique and unprecedented threat that justifies these extreme measures, not least the savage, eight-year war in Afghanistan.
A Dutch friend of mine tried to have a rational conversation with an American co-worker about 9/11 and the so-called “war on terror,” and was told, "You can't possibly understand. Your country has never been attacked like this."
The puzzled Dutch woman had to ask, "Did you never hear anything about the Second World War?"
Of course, it is precisely the far greater dangers that people in other countries have faced in the past that enable them to put the threat of terrorism in perspective. Paradoxically, it is the relative safety of the United States that makes Americans so vulnerable to panic and propaganda when faced with such a limited threat.
In fact, the response of the U.S. government to the terrorist attacks has been exactly as Osama bin Laden and his colleagues intended. They did not expect to defeat the United States by knocking down a few buildings. Nor were they motivated by some irrational hatred of freedom.
Rather the attacks were designed to provoke a reaction that would expose the hypocrisy of the United States, laying bare the hard iron fist of militarism and violence within the soft velvet glove of Hollywood and soda-pop.
The explicit goal was to goad the American empire into using its vast arsenal of destructive weapons in ways that would gradually undermine its own economic and military power. Bin Laden and his second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri understood so much better than America’s deluded leaders that this would be a war the United States could not win.
But neither the opportunism nor the hypocrisy of U.S. policy explain why American soldiers are fighting, killing and dying in Afghanistan of all places.
While Americans think of the war in terms of 9/11 and terrorism, Afghans are not afflicted with such a myopic view. They see the war in the context of a much longer history that is shaped by their country's mountainous geography and strategic location between Iran to the west, Russia to the north and India and Pakistan to the south and east – and of their own ability to defend it against the world's greatest empires.
Or, as noted in the resignation letter of Matthew Hoh, an American diplomat who resigned in protest from his post in Afghanistan last September: "I have observed that the bulk of the insurgency fights not for the white banner of the Taliban, but rather against the presence of foreign soldiers and taxes imposed by an unrepresentative government in Kabul. The United States military presence in Afghanistan greatly contributes to the legitimacy and strategic message of the Pashtun insurgency."
At first glance, Afghanistan seems an unlikely destroyer of empires.
My friend Gregg spent seven years there in the 1970s, and he encountered nothing but the legendary hospitality of the Pashtun tribes-people. That's why he stayed for seven years. But then Gregg was a respectful traveler fleeing the violence of his native Northern Ireland, not a soldier in an occupying army.
Conventional military powers consistently underestimate the Afghans until they are over-committed and faced with humiliation.
The first modern empire brought down by the Afghans was the 200-year-old Safavid Empire of Persia. Local Pashtun tribes-people rose up in rebellion under Mirwais Khan Hotak in 1706 and expelled Persia from Western Afghanistan.
Mirwais's son, Mir Mahmud Hotaki, continued the war and sacked the splendid Persian capital of Isfahan in 1722. The Safavid dynasty was already economically weak, as Dutch merchant ships were sailing away with the bulk of regional trade from its formerly lucrative trade-routes. But the Afghans delivered the coup de grace.
In the early 19th century, as the Russian Empire expanded in the Caucasus and Central Asia, a weakened Persia gradually lost territory. The British came to see Persia as a Russian puppet and adopted a "forward policy," to keep Afghanistan as a buffer between British India and the expanding Russian Empire.
This effectively made Herat in Western Afghanistan the new outer frontier of the British Empire that Britain was committed to keeping out of the hands of Russia and Persia.
A Persian army besieged Herat for 280 days in 1837-1838. The failure of the siege exposed the weakness of Persia, which continued to disintegrate. But it also highlighted the vulnerability of Afghanistan, which was ruled at the time by different tribal leaders in Herat, Kandahar and Kabul, following the collapse of the Durrani dynasty.
So the British and their Sikh allies from the Punjab marched into Afghanistan to restore the former Amir of Afghanistan, Shah Shuja, who had been deposed and exiled in 1809.
This was the so-called First Afghan War. In a parallel with the present crisis, the British plan was to stay only as long as necessary to leave Shah Shuja in firm control of the country, but this proved to be impossible. He effectively ruled only Kabul, where he owed his position to the presence of British and Indian troops and officials.
The longer the British stayed the more they alienated the Afghans.
British officials brought their families to Kabul and established a small colony, complete with soirees and cricket matches. Their expenditures caused runaway inflation, which alienated the merchant class of Kabul, and a riot in Kabul in November 1841 soon grew into a full-blown rebellion against British occupation.
Mohammed Akbar Khan, the son of Dost Mohammed, the leader the British had deposed in Kabul, came down from the mountains to lead the rebellion.
The Afghans killed the British commander General MacNaghten, dragged his body through the streets of Kabul and put it on display it in the bazaar. His deputy General Elphinstone negotiated with Akbar Khan for safe passage to Jalalabad for occupation officials and their families.
Seven hundred British troops, 3,800 Indian troops and 12,000 civilians set out for Jalajabad, 90 miles away, on Jan. 6, 1842. At every pass through the mountains they were greeted by Afghan tribesmen waiting in ambush. They were all massacred or they froze to death long before they could reach Jalalabad.
The sole survivor, assistant surgeon William Brydon, rode into Jalalabad with a piece of his skull sheared off by a sword after being rescued by an Afghan shepherd. Asked for news of the British army from Kabul, he replied "I am the army".
The British sent another expedition to rescue some prisoners and take revenge on the people of Kabul, but they abandoned the effort to occupy or control Afghanistan. The Afghans had established their independence, and neither Britain, Russia nor Persia occupied Afghan territory for the next 36 years.
Mohammed Akbar Khan died, but Dost Mohammed and his other sons united Afghanistan and established mutually respectful relations with the British. Ironically, a truly independent Afghanistan served as a very effective buffer between the British and Russian Empires, and the British helped the Afghans to repel more Persian attacks on Herat in 1852 and 1856.
The Second Afghan war began after Sher Ali Khan, Dost Mohammed's third son, accepted a Russian diplomatic mission to Kabul in 1878 but then rebuffed a British one. This resurrected the recurring specter of British insecurity over Afghanistan.
Britain invaded again and occupied much of the country. Sher Ali died in February 1879 and the British persuaded his son Mohammad Yaqub Khan to sign the Treaty of Gandamak, which ceded Quetta and the Khyber Pass to Britain and gave Britain control over Afghan foreign policy in exchange for financial support.
The British army withdrew, but it left behind a diplomatic mission in Kabul. A few months later, the remaining British officials were all killed during a local rebellion.
The British invaded again. After 10 months of savage fighting, they defeated an Afghan army under Yaqub's brother Ayub Khan at Kandahar. The British finally withdrew, but this time they did not leave a diplomatic mission behind in Kabul to be killed!
Afghanistan became fully independent from Britain as a result of the Third Afghan War in 1919, which was an Afghan invasion of the North West Frontier province of British India.
Throughout the 20th century, Afghanistan's people confronted the same existential questions as people in other non-Western countries. What aspects of modern Western technology and culture could they adopt without losing what they valued in their own way of life?
As elsewhere, different classes within Afghan society answered this question according to their own interests, and the resulting divisions left Afghanistan vulnerable to opportunistic exploitation and intervention by foreign powers, including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the Soviet Union and the United States.
Amanullah Khan, the King of Afghanistan who won independence from Britain in 1919, admired the modernist regime of Kemal Ataturk in Turkey. He mandated compulsory elementary education, opened co-educational schools and formally abolished the burqa for women. But conservative tribal and religious leaders rebelled, and forced him to abdicate in 1929.
The last King of Afghanistan, Zahir Shah, ruled for 40 years (1933-1973) by pursuing a more gradual approach to modernization.
Afghanistan was still in the same position geographically, but the world around it had changed. Instead of being sandwiched between the Russian and British Empires, it was now wedged between the Soviet Union and independent Pakistan.
Mohammed Daoud Khan, the King's cousin, was his prime minister from 1953 until 1963. Daoud envisioned a reunification of the Pashtun territories on either side of the British colonial border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
After this initiative was rebuffed by Pakistan, Daoud increasingly turned northward to the U.S.S.R. for both military and development aid.
In 1973, Daoud seized power from his cousin, but, instead of declaring himself King, he abolished the monarchy and became Afghanistan's first President. He began by renewing Afghanistan's relationship with the U.S.S.R. and used Soviet aid to build up the Afghan army.
But he soon broke with his Marxist allies in the Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), distanced Afghanistan from the Soviet Union, and began to improve relations with Pakistan, Egypt and other Western-oriented Muslim countries.
In 1978, a leading PDPA politician was murdered, leading the other PDPA leaders to believe that Daoud was planning to have them all killed. They staged a coup, killed Daoud and his family and formed the new Democratic Republic of Afghanistan.
The Marxists launched a radical secular reform program, banning burqas and forced marriages, closing mosques, redistributing land and abolishing farmers' debts.
Anehita Ratebzad, a female member of the Revolutionary Council, wrote in a New Kabul Times editorial, "Privileges which women, by right, must have are equal education, job security, health services, and free time to rear a healthy generation for building the future of the country … Educating and enlightening women is now the subject of close government attention.”
The U.S.S.R. quickly provided $1.2 billion to build roads, schools, hospitals and wells. The relatively small urban population welcomed the reforms and new development, but the interests of rural landowners and tribal and religious leaders were seriously threatened and they began to fund and support mujahedeen to commit terrorism and resist government forces.
A New Great Game
Seeing Afghanistan as a new front in the Cold War, the U.S., Pakistani and Saudi governments began to provide funds, training and weapons to the mujahedeen. A new version of the "great game" was under way.
For the Soviets, Afghanistan had lost none of its value since the 19th century. Their empire extended from Europe to Siberia, but nowhere did it reach southward to warm-water ports and the sea-routes to South Asia and Africa.
The United States now controlled those sea-lanes and had the same interest as Britain in the 19th century in keeping a buffer between the Russians and the ports of Pakistan. The establishment of a Soviet client state in Afghanistan offered the U.S.S.R. the tantalizing promise of fulfilling historic ambitions.
In funding, supplying, supporting and training the mujahedeen, U.S. policy-makers believed they had found a low-cost means to neutralize a serious geostrategic challenge.
U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his Soviet counterpart Leonid Brezhnev began this new "great game" as a proxy war, to be fought mainly by Afghans against other Afghans. But the conflict escalated dramatically after Ronald Reagan came to power in 1981.
Before withdrawing in 1989, Soviet forces lost 13,000 lives, while Afghan dead were estimated at about one million. Even after the Soviet departure, both Moscow and Washington continued supplying their client Afghan armies. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Why Afghanistan Really Fell Apart.”]
During the period, both the United States and the Soviet Union became engaged in Afghanistan because they had important strategic interests at stake, long before the emergence of the Taliban or Al Qaeda.
Since the end of the Cold War, the two main thrusts of U.S. foreign policy have been to impose military control over every part of the world where oil is produced or shipped; and to encircle Russia with a ring of U.S. allies and military bases from Poland to Georgia to Central Asia.
Afghanistan's position between Iran, Central Asia and Pakistan makes it a critical part of the pipeline map, potentially supplying Pakistan and India with oil and gas from Western operations in the Caspian Sea via the projected Unocal (now Chevron) pipeline through Afghanistan.
A strategically-located Afghanistan – allied with the United States and permitting American bases – would add an important link in the military encirclement of Russia, China and Iran.
On the other hand, if Afghanistan were aligned with Russia, it could equally well serve as a route for a pipeline to transport Russian oil and gas to Pakistan and beyond, and place Russian military or intelligence bases on the borders of Pakistan and Iran.
The U.S. interest in denying the Russians a pipeline route to the Arabian Sea and a client state on the border of Pakistan corresponds closely to Britain's fears of Russian expansion into Afghanistan in the 19th century.
Equally frightening from a U.S. point of view, even an independent Afghanistan that was free from U.S. or Russian influence could link Iran to China via yet another pipeline route.
Fear of Russia
It was fear of Russian ambitions that led Britain to keep intervening in Afghanistan in the 19th century, more than any ambitions of its own to rule this unconquerable country.
The United States is now reluctant to withdraw from Afghanistan because of similar fears, that Russia and/or Iran will move in to fill the vacuum, consolidating their dominant roles in the region, gaining extraordinarily valuable strategic and commercial assets and excluding U.S. interests.
But as in the mid-19th century, a genuinely independent Afghanistan could actually be a stable and effective buffer between the great powers.
As the Maliki government in Iraq has gradually slipped the American leash, it has awarded oil contracts to Russian, Chinese and South Korean companies as well as to Western ones, and a future Afghan government could ultimately do likewise, playing suitors for pipeline deals off against each other in the traditional fashion.
In Iraq, Western oil companies have welcomed partnerships with Asian companies that can supply cheaper labor and equipment and are not tainted by a role in the invasion and destruction of the country.
In fact, as commerce of all kinds has begun to flow again in Iraq, the United States has been delivered a powerful message that aggression and military occupation do not pay.
Total Iraqi imports grew from $25.7 billion in 2007 to $43.5 billion in 2008. But even as other countries' trade with Iraq has grown, exports from the United States to Iraq have remained flat at a meager $2 billion per year, most of that stemming from existing contracts with the U.S.-backed government.
By contrast, Turkey, which refused to support the U.S. invasion, has become one of Iraq's largest trading partners, with exports of $10 billion to Iraq in 2008. At a recent trade fair in Baghdad, an Iraqi executive explained that his construction company preferred to do business with Turkish firms because costs were lower and the Turks "are not an occupier."
Other countries that opposed the invasion, in particular Iran, France and Brazil, have likewise become major trading partners. On condition of anonymity, a European ambassador to Baghdad told the New York Times that his country's business relations with Iraq improved greatly once it withdrew its troops.
"Being considered an occupier handicapped us extremely," he said. "The farther we are away from that, the more our companies can be accepted on their own merits."
In some of the largest government contracts awarded since the invasion, the Iraqi transportation ministry recently awarded $30 billion to rebuild Iraq's railroads to a combination of British, Italian and Czech companies. And the Russian company RusAir has won an exclusive air cargo contract that has forced FedEx to terminate its operations in Iraq.
The Afghan Dilemma
As in other parts of the world, the U.S. effort to control events by the threat and use of military force is the central obstacle to a peaceful resolution for Afghanistan. The resurgence of the Taliban and other fighting forces in Afghanistan since 2006 can be directly traced to a massive escalation of U.S. air-strikes that year, even as numbers of U.S. casualties remained flat.
Only 98 American troops were killed in Afghanistan in 2006, one less than the 99 killed in 2005. And yet the number of air-strikes exploded from 176 in 2005 to 1,770 in 2006, a ten-fold increase.
The flat casualty figures make it clear that this was an escalation initiated by U.S. forces, not by the Afghan resistance. The year 2007 saw a further escalation to 2,926 air-strikes.
The successful response of the Afghan resistance to the American escalation was entirely predictable, but it appears to have surprised U.S. planners.
As in Iraq, the U.S. reacted to the failure of its puppet government to establish any legitimacy or control over most of the country with a massive escalation of military force, launching a desperate and bloody campaign to bomb and terrorize the population into submission.
This brutal escalation was an abysmal failure, leading directly to the brink of defeat, where U.S. forces now find themselves.
The so-called "surge" in Iraq provided cover for a similar escalation of aerial bombardment, from 229 air-strikes in 2006 to 1,119 in 2007, and 110 per month through most of 2008.
In Afghanistan as in Iraq (and Vietnam), despite endless lip-service to phrases like "winning hearts and minds" and "clear, hold and build," American military strategists cling to the core belief that their virtually unlimited capacity for violence can ultimately carry the day if enough legal and political constraints are removed.
Instead, the failures of U.S. military force and the success of "Anti-Coalition Forces" everywhere have confirmed Richard Barnet's Vietnam-era judgment that, "at the very moment the number one nation has perfected the science of killing, it has become an impractical instrument of political domination."
The United States military budget is higher than at any time since the Second World War because U.S. officials now regard more of the world as critical to U.S. interests than ever before and are determined to militarily control all of it.
Fortunately for people everywhere, this policy, if it even deserves to be called one, is neither realistic nor economically sustainable. But the whole world faces a critical period of transition as the U.S. military-industrial complex wrestles with the impossible challenge of an unconquerable world, experimenting with new weapons and strategies at the expense of countless lives and squandering resources that could otherwise be used to solve real problems.
Gabriel Kolko has been writing for decades about the failure of U.S. foreign policy to define its interests in a way that leads to achievable or manageable goals. Instead of defining and prioritizing its interests like any other country, the United States wreaks havoc in international affairs by clinging to virtually unlimited ambitions that it pursues on an opportunistic basis, with no regard for the impact on billions of human beings or the future of the world.
This has resulted in gigantic military budgets and a long series of unwinnable wars that the United States should never have embarked on, even from the amoral "realist" point of view that its deluded strategists aspire to.
Afghans believe that it was they who brought down the Safavids and the Soviets. While the Afghans definitely did their part, the forces that led to the collapse of those empires were really much closer to home in both cases.
The real graveyard of the Soviet empire lay in the Kremlin, where absolute power insulated its leaders from the forces at work in the real world beyond its walls. The Afghan war was only one of many causes of discontent and dissolution within the Soviet political and economic system.
A quiet underground movement of non-violent popular opposition grew steadily beneath the surface until, in defiance of all conventional wisdom, it burst through into the light of day and the U.S.S.R. was quite suddenly dissolved.
The American people now face a similar crisis. It should be no surprise that a predatory political and economic system that won't provide healthcare, public services or economic opportunity to its own people is also resorting to war and militarism in a desperate effort to feed its insatiable appetite for growth and profit.
Since the 1970s, America's leaders have consolidated their political and economic power into effective monopolies. Most industries are dominated by two or three huge firms, and the political system is controlled by a similar duopoly.
Research on economic competition has established that such near-monopolies take on many of the characteristics of actual monopolies, stifling innovation and competition, destroying smaller businesses, exploiting employees, building inefficient bureaucracies and spending more on marketing than on research and development.
The U.S. health insurance industry employs 30 times as many administrative staff as it did in 1970. American firms spend $290 billion per year on advertising, almost $1,000 for every person in the country.
And corporate control of politics has systematically dismantled every mechanism that could restore effective management or halt the system's relentless drive to devour everything including itself. Looking for solutions from any of the leaders promoted by such a dysfunctional system is pure folly.
However, by learning from the example of popular movements in other countries throughout history, ordinary people in the United States can organize politically to elect very different people to public office and to stimulate mass public opposition to war, militarism and corporate politics.
It is the policy of the United States, not that of Afghanistan, that is filling the graveyards, and the great game that can stop the funerals will not be played out in Afghanistan but in Washington and in local communities all over the United States as Americans begin to organize for a post-imperial, post-corporate and more democratic future.
Nicolas J S Davies is the author of Blood on Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq, due out in March 2010 from Nimble Books. He is also the local coordinator of Progressive Democrats of America ( www.pdamerica.org) in Miami. –