Focal Points Blog

CNN’s Michael Ware Tries to Force Iraq War Down Public’s Throat

Iraq WareOn Sunday, Australia’s Brisbane Times reported that native son Michael Ware believes that he filmed a war crime while covering Iraq for CNN. The station, wich claimed the footage was too graphic, refused to air it and neither was it investigated by authorities. (You may also remember Ware when he found himself in the midst of a “steamy Baghdad love triangle,” as Huffington Post called it, with CBS’s now chief foreign affairs correspondent Lara Logan.) For more about the troubling — understatement, if ever there was one — incident, follow the Brisbane Times link.

Thanks to that incident and others, Ware suffers from severe Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Mens’s Journal explains in a December 2008 article.

To begin to understand where he’s coming from, Ware wants you to see a movie. He filmed it. It’s just after midnight during the second battle of Fallujah, November 2004. The marine unit he’s hooked up with has cornered six insurgents inside a house, and with no air support available, the only way to take them out is person-to-person.

Follow the Men’s Journal link for more of what Ware experienced. Meanwhile, here’s what he wants you to understand.

Ware believes he recorded the perfect war experience that night [and] dreams of renting out a theater and subjecting an audience to it in full surround sound. . . . “It’s my firm belief that we need to constantly jar the sensitivities of the people back home,” he says. “. . . when your brothers and sons and mates from the football team come home, and they ain’t quite the same, you have an obligation to sit for three and a half minutes and share something of what it’s like to be there.”

In theory, that’s a good idea. But, while I don’t know about Australians, I’m not sure that would work with Americans. First, we’re already inured to stimuli overload from video games, IMAX movies, and film experiences like Avatar. Second, there still exist those who believe of our military: “Well he knew what he was getting into — he signed up for it, didn’t he?”

Worse, Ware (by no means a dove, incidentally) is asking us to do something impossible for many Americans: hold two ideas in our head at the same time. His imagined film is meant to help us see the war through the eyes of the coalition forces, but the war crime he’s revealing seems to seek sympathy for Iraqis. Americans, though, are congenitally incapable of empathizing with Iraqis. We believe that, by deposing Saddam, we handed them their freedom on a silver platter. What did they decide to do with it? Take advantage of the occasion to blow each other up and make it rain body parts on a regular basis.

Many of us will never grasp what A.J. Rossmiller wrote about what we did to Iraq in Still Broken: A Recruit’s Inside Account of Intelligence Falures, From Baghdad to the Pentagon (Presidio Press, 2008): “. . . it takes a special kind of idiot to push an egg off a table and then blame the egg for exploding into a mess.”

Busting the Myth That Immigrants Drive Down Wages

Immigrant farm workersThis post is an auxiliary to the author’s September 16 Foreign Policy in Focus piece Immigration Economics: An Interview with Professor Giovanni Peri. It was first posted at the Dissent Magazine blog Arguing the World.

The emergence of vast inequalities between the wealthy and the rest of us may be the biggest change in American society over the last fifty years. And it’s hardly a change that we should welcome.

Such is the argument that Timothy Noah makes in a well-timed series of articles over at Slate. In his series, Noah explores what he calls the “Great Divergence,” and he looks at possible reasons for skyrocketing inequality.

In the third article in the series, the author asks whether the post-1965 surge of immigrants to the United States from south of the border is a leading factor in creating the gap between rich and poor. His conclusion is that it’s not. If anything, immigration is only a small contributor. “[I]t isn’t the star of the show,” he writes.

This conclusion is the right one. But in making his case, Noah ends up reinforcing some popular misconceptions about the role of immigrants in the economy. Namely, he seems to validate the idea that immigrants drive down wages, particularly for the least educated Americans in the workforce. Noah comes to this conclusion by relying heavily on a single economist, Harvard’s George Borjas, who happens to be one of the most conservative voices on this issue in the field.

Doug Henwood’s Left Business Observer did a good job taking on Borjas’s flawed approach a few years ago:

Though definitive evidence is hard to come by, because of less-than-perfect data, most studies of the effects of immigration on wages and employment for the native-born find little or no effect…

But the Harvard economist George Borjas—himself a Cuban immigrant who now acts like he wants to shut the door behind him—argues that comparing local labor markets is wrong, since people and capital are mobile…. Instead, argues Borjas (writing with Lawrence Katz and others), the national labor market is the proper unit of analysis. Borjas & Co., working with heroic models with heroic assumptions about the mobility and substitutability of capital and labor—statistical systems that are always highly susceptible to assumptions—find that high-school dropouts have taken a 4-8% wage hit because of immigration between 1980 and 2000. The rest of the educational distribution took smaller hits. Missing from this analysis are the words ‘union’ and ‘minimum wage,’ making it incomplete and tendentious, since it’s likely that union-busting and the eroding value of the minimum [wage] have had more effects than immigration ever could. And there appears to be no evidence that natives actually migrate in the ways that would be required by Borjas’ assumptions.

In a recent review of the field, the excellent economist David Card notes that studies like Borjas’ are based on ‘the belief that labor market competition posed by immigration has to affect native opportunities, so if we don’t find an impact, the research design must be flawed.’ Card is very familiar with these convenient assumptions; back in the 1990s, he showed, contrary to the deepest faith of most economists, that increasing the minimum wage doesn’t destroy jobs; economists resisted his evidence because it just couldn’t be true. But it was.

Others who are intimately familiar with Borjas’s work have also challenged his assumptions and come up with very different findings about immigration economics. In a late-August summary paper published by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, economist Giovanni Peri concluded that “immigrants expand the economy’s productive capacity by stimulating investment and promoting specialization. This produces efficiency gains and boosts income per worker. At the same time, evidence is scant that immigrants diminish the employment opportunities of U.S.-born workers.”

I spoke to Peri recently, and he emphasized that there is some academic debate about whether new immigrants might have a small negative effect on the wages of those in the lowest-paid 10 percent of the economy. But there is broad consensus that, for the economy as a whole, immigration has had a positive impact on productivity, wages, and employment.

This echoes the sentiment of economist Albert Saiz, quoted a while back in the Washington Post: “‘Immigration provides overall economic gains to a country,’ [Saiz] wrote, summarizing the literature in a 2003 article for the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. ‘Indeed, the U.S. experience as an immigrants’ country is one of phenomenal economic growth. However, there are winners and losers in the short run.’”

In his recent paper, Peri highlights the overall benefits in the past twenty years:

[T]otal immigration to the United States from 1990 to 2007 was associated with a 6.6% to 9.9% increase in real income per worker. That equals an increase of about $5,100 in the yearly income of the average U.S. worker in constant 2005 dollars. Such a gain equals 20% to 25% of the total real increase in average yearly income per worker registered in the United States between 1990 and 2007.

This brings us back to the question of inequality. While immigrants overall have helped to build the U.S. economy, the lowest-paid American workers are not seeing the benefits. The highest-paid, on the other hand, are taking far more than their fair share of the gains.

We can see a parallel here to the economics of trade. There is little debate that trade overall can help the economy. I have no problem with that idea—even speaking as a long-time globalization activist who has participated in many protests against the World Trade Organization and other international financial institutions. The real question has always been: what kind of trade will we have—and who will receive its benefits?

A lot of what gets labeled as “free trade” (such as patent protections for big pharmaceutical companies) is actually the opposite of what economists are taking about. Moreover, trade that is structured by and for multinational corporations has a way of enriching their coffers—surprise, surprise—while making working people and the environment bear the costs. Thus, the activist demand for “fair trade” is a call both to combat corporate power and to manage trade in a way that is sustainable and beneficial for the less-privileged sectors of our global society.

Something similar can be said about immigration. Right now, immigration to the United States is being managed in a way that primarily benefits the wealthy. There’s no point in blaming immigrants for that. Reactionary anti-immigrant measures only create an ever-more-exploitable pool of labor for employers to take advantage of. The real solution is to pass living wage laws and to build unions that advocate for both immigrant and native-born employees, making sure that all workers are paid fairly and treated with respect.

Of course, fighting inequality in a serious way is much more difficult than finding a scapegoat. So, whatever the economic studies, don’t expect anti-immigrant arguments to go away anytime soon.

Mark Engler can be reached via his website, Democracy Uprising.

Would a U.S. Withdrawal From Afghanistan Drive India Into China’s Arms?

“As the United States and China become great power rivals, the direction in which India tilts could determine the course of geopolitics in Eurasia in the 21st century,” writes renowned journalist Robert Kaplan in a paper titled South Asia’s Geography of Conflict. It was commissioned by the Center for a New American Security, for which he serves as a senior fellow. CNAS, of course, is known for its advocacy of COIN, the “counterinsurgency” or ostensible nation-building strategy followed by the United States in Afghanistan. Kaplan continues.

But even as the Indian political class understands at a very intimate level America’s own historical and geo­graphical situation, the American political class has no such understanding of India’s.

Kaplan then details how critical geography has been in determining the course of history for India, as well as Pakistan and Afghanistan. As a result . . .

Only in the Western view is Afghanistan part of Central Asia; to Indians it is very much part of the subcontinent. Afghanistan’s geography makes it central not only as a principal invasion route into India for terror­ists in our day as for armies in days past, but also as a strategically vital rear base for . . .

. . . Pakistan, which . . .

. . . from the historical perspective of India . . . constitutes much more than a nuclear-armed adversary, a state sponsor of terrorism and a large, conventional army breathing down its neck on the border. [In fact, its location makes it] the very geographical and national embodiment of all the Muslim invasions that have swept down into India throughout its history.

Worse, according to Kaplan . . .

. . . an Afghanistan that falls under Taliban sway. . . . would be, in effect, a greater Pakistan, giving Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) the ability to create a clandestine empire composed of the likes of Jallaluddin Haqqani, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Lashkar-e-Taiba. . . .

The quickest way to undermine U.S.-India relations is for the United States to withdraw precipitously from Afghanistan. [It] would sig­nal to Indian policy elites that the United States is surely a declining power on which they cannot depend. Detente with China might then seem to be in India’s interest. . . . Put simply, if the United States deserts Afghanistan, it deserts India.

Kaplan’s use of the word “deserts” may confirm your worst suspicions about this “ex-travel writer who has been transformed into a geo-political thinker and amateur imperialist,” as respected libertarian commentator Leon Hadar once called him. After all, in 2006 Kaplan wrote, “I was once a supporter of the invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein. . . . I cannot disavow my earlier support, because it was also based on firsthand experiences in Iraq. To know a totalitarian regime abstractly is different from knowing it intimately.” If he can’t be blamed for seeking to bring down Saddam, he and others like him can be for their failure to understand that, to the Bush administration, that was just a pretext to assert its wider Middle-East agenda.

The reader, then, can’t be faulted for his or her concern that, for his part, Kaplan is using the geography and history of the Asian subcontinent as a justification for the United States to remain in Afghanistan. In fact, though, he doesn’t argue for a particular course of action. Instead, he writes:

I do not suggest that we should commit so much money and national treasure to Afghanistan merely for the sake of impressing India. But I am suggesting that the deleterious effect on U.S.-India bilateral relations of giving up on Afghanistan should be part of our national debate on the war effort there, for at the moment it is not.

One would like to think that a solution exists which doesn’t require the presence of our military in Afghanistan. Ideally, too, it would include discontinuing, rather than compounding, U.S. triangulation (or a zero-sum game — take your pick of clichés) with India and China.

An Off-Ramp From Our Iran Policy Could Take Us on the Scenic Route to Peace

abuaardvark: Obama to highlight off-ramps for Iran policy at UN // hey, there’s an idea bit.ly/ckp9wB

Thus tweeted Marc Lynch this morning. In case you’re unfamiliar with him, he’s the political science professor and fellow of the Center for a New America Security who gained fame blogging on his own under the name Abu Aardvark. With his tweet today he was sharing a Reuters story, Obama to tell Iran at UN: door open to engagement, which reports that, in his address to the United Nations General Assembly this week, President Obama will tell Iran that . . .

“The door is open to them having a better relationship with the United States and with the international community,” White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said. . . . if it can demonstrate the peaceful intent of its nuclear program.

The ironic tone of Lynch’s tweet is, no doubt, a reference to a post he wrote at his current Web home base, Foreign Policy’s Middle East Channel. Titled Needed: An Off-Ramp for Iran Policy, it was fairly bleak. He imagined . . .

. . . a relentless slide towards a replay of the Iraq saga of the 1990′s: a steady ratcheting-up of sanctions, which increasingly impact the Iranian people but fail to compel change in the regime’s political behavior; episodic and frequent diplomatic crises which consume the world’s diplomatic attention and resources; the growing militarization and polarization of the Gulf; ongoing uncertainty about Iranian intentions and capabilities. Eventually, as with Iraq, the choices may well narrow sufficiently and the perception of impending threat mount so that a President — maybe Obama, maybe Palin, maybe anyone else — finds him or herself faced with “no choice” but to move towards war. “Keeping Tehran in a Box” is not a pretty scenario, nor one which I think anyone especially wants, but it seems the most likely path unless better “off-ramps” are developed to avert it. And such “off-ramps” are the most glaring absence in the current Iran policy debate.

Hands frozen on the steering wheel, we can’t seem to make ourselves leave the interstate and take the back roads. As we all know, they may be toughter to negotiate, but in the end, the scenic route proves more rewarding.

The Petraeus Bait and Switch Maneuver

In interviews in recent weeks, Gen. David Petraeus has been taking a line on what will happen in mid-2011 that challenges President Barack Obama’s intention to begin a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by that date. This new Petraeus line is the culmination of a brazen bait and switch maneuver on the war by the most powerful military commander in modern U.S. history.

It represents a new stage in the process by which Petraeus, abetted by his allies in the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen, has appropriated much of the power over decisions on war policy that rightly belongs to the commander-in-chief.

President Obama agreed to the troop surge for Afghanistan last November on the explicit condition that Petraeus and the Pentagon agreed to begin handing over real responsibility for security to the Afghan army and begin a real drawdown of U.S. troops by July 2011. The account by Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter, based on interviews with those who participated in the meetings on Afghanistan last fall, shows that Obama was quite clear and determined about the war policy he wanted in Afghanistan:

There would be no nationwide counterinsurgency strategy; the Pentagon was to present a “targeted” plan for protecting population centers, training Afghan security forces, and beginning a real—not a token—withdrawal within 18 months of the escalation.

Alter reports precisely what happened in the climactic meeting of November 29, 2009:

Inside the Oval Office, Obama asked Petraeus, “David, tell me now, I want you to be honest with me. You can do this in 18 months?

“Sir, I’m confident we can train and hand over to the ANA [Afghan National Army] in that time frame,” Petraeus replied.

“Good. No problem,” the president said. “If you can’t do the things you say you can in 18 months, then no one is going to suggest that we stay, right?”

“Yes, sir, in agreement,” Petraeus said.

Petraeus was agreeing that, if the counterinsurgency strategy was not going well at the end of the 18-months, he would not use that as an argument that he needed more time to demonstrate the success of the strategy. Obama was using a JFK-like tactic to “box in” Petraeus.

But Petraeus has now revealed in the media offensive that began in mid-August that his agreement to the Obama plan was the “bait” in his bait and switch maneuver.

He has now let it be known that he may not go along with beginning a troop drawdown in July 2011 as he had agreed with Obama. When asked on “Meet the Press” on August 15 whether he might tell Obama that the drawdown should be delayed beyond mid-2011, Petraeus said, “Certainly, yes”.

And in an another challenge to the agreement with Obama, Petraeus suggested in an interview with ABC news last week that there could no clear-cut “hand-off” of primary responsibility for security to the ANA next July. Instead, Petraeus described the July 2011 “transition” in Afghanistan as, “You do a bit less and the Afghans do a little bit more instead of saying, ‘Tag, you’re it. You take the ball and run with it. We’re out of here.’”

Setting aside his obviously tendentious characterization of a real security hand-off, Petraeus’s baby steps approach to the post-July 2011 transition is clearly at odds with Petraeus’s assurance to Obama last November that he could “train and hand over to the ANA” by July 2011.

These new Petraeus line on July 2011 represents the “switch” in his bait and switch maneuver. Along with Gates and Mullen, Petraeus had agreed to one set of terms for the troop surge last November. Now he is advocating an altogether different war policy.

Given the widely-publicized excerpt from Alter’s book in Newsweek last May, Petraeus’s commitment to Obama last November is hardly a state secret. But in American politics, if the news media decide not to refer to an event, it is equivalent to expunging it from effective historical memory.

That is exactly what has happened to the Obama-Petraeus agreement. Not a single reference to that agreement has appeared in news media coverage of Petraeus’s statements relating to July 2011.

Instead of firing Petraeus for his perfidy on the November 2009 agreement, meanwhile, Obama has thus far passively accepted Petraeus’s bait and switch maneuver, just as he truckled to Petraeus and Odierno on withdrawal from Iraq last year.

The Petraeus bait and switch is a yet another fire-bell in the night – a warning that Petraeus has gained unprecedented power over U.S. war policy. By drawing Obama into a deepening of U.S. military involvement in an unnecessary and self-destructive war on the false pretense that he supported Obama’s policy and then turning on that November 2009 policy once he became commander, Petraeus is acting as though he intends to prevent the President from carrying out the policy on which he had decided.

Unless Petraeus’s bait and switch is decisively rebuffed by the White House, the country’s descent into de facto military control over war policy will continue and accelerate.

First posted at the Seminal.

With Abuse of Palestinian Children, IDF Hits New Low

“A CNN investigative report [that] aired Thursday slammed the treatment of Palestinian children by IDF [Israel Defense Forces] soldiers [including] uncorroborated charges of sexual abuse against Palestinian youngsters while in IDF custody,” reported Israel’s YNet.

That a major network like CNN would run a piece accusing it of wrongdoing is a mark of how far Israel has fallen in favor with the American media and public, especially considering how sensitive the issue is. But wait — children in custody? The stone throwers, for the most part. According to Palestine’s Ma’an News (follow link for graphic details), Save the Children and UK-based based children’s rights group Defence for Children International (DCI). . .

. . . confirm Israel routinely prosecutes Palestinian children as young as 12, describing the ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian children as “widespread, systematic and institutionalised.” . . . In 2009, DCI collected 100 sworn affidavits from Palestinian children and teenagers who said they were abused in Israeli military and police custody. Almost 70 percent complained of being beaten, four percent reported being sexually assaulted, and 12 percent said they were threatened with sexual assault. . . . all were dismissed without a single criminal investigation. . . . A 2009 report by Save the Children says [that the] psycho-social consequences of detention affect the immediate behavior of children, the way they think including their analysis of the outside world.

Speaking of which, what “psycho-social” circumstances affect how members of the IDF “think including their analysis of the outside world”? Those most often cited include the Holocaust, Israel’s sense of being surrounded by hostile states, suicide attacks and shelling by Palestinians, and Iran’s role in funding Hezbollah and other terrorist groups.

The legitimacy of those concerns is unquestionable. But, an inability or unwillingness on the part of recent Israeli governments to behave like a citizen of the world or at least of its region instead of acting as if it exists in a vacuum can’t help but make one wonder if deeper issues influence the psyches of Israelis, especially members of the IDF. The treatment of detained Palestinian youths might shed some light.

In fact, it can be safely surmised that the abuse in question is a symptom of a hyper-militarized state. According to the school of psychohistory, hyper-militarized states are often a reflection of authoritarian child-raising. The obvious examples are Germany and Austria in the late nineteenth century. (No comparison between Israel and Nazi Germany implied!)

In his landmark 2002 book The Emotional Life of Nations, the founder of psychohistory, Lloyd DeMause (who celebrated his 79th birthday yesterday), wrote: “Polls of Germans of the time show the majority were . . . routinely beaten by their fathers, and considered him ‘absolute law in the family . . . we feared him more than we loved him.’”

Unwanted babies were often killed, but, “If a German newborn was allowed to live, it was then subjected to the most horrifying traumatic tortures that can be inflicted upon children, every detail of which became indelibly imprinted on their early amygdalan fear system and then re-inflicted upon ‘enemies’ during the war and the Holocaust.”

As for the sex abuse, “When infants were removed from their cribs, they usually slept in the family bed and either were made part of the sexual act or regularly witnessed it close up. [Also] German doctors reported ‘nursemaids and other servants carry out all sorts of sexual acts on the children entrusted to their care.’”

Needless to say, abuse and murder of children is nowhere near this widespread in either Israel or any Western state today. But neither is Israel immune to the same troubling degree of child abuse as any Western state. Back in 2008, Israeli child and spousal abuse expert Daniel Eidensohn told this story:

The holiday of Succot had arrived, and, when their father was out praying at the synagogue, the children were growing hungry. One of them, a girl, took the initiative and prepared nine pizzas for herself and her siblings. As they sat down to eat, their father arrived home, and gazed with rage upon his daughter’s efforts. “Eat every single one by yourself,” he ordered his terrified daughter, forcing her to obey until she vomited. The father . . . admitted to carrying out the actions described [as well as] sexually abusing one of his daughters, and to routinely verbally and physically abusing all of them. . . . Last month, it was the Rose Pizem case. The country listened in horror as details of the murder of the four-year-old at the hand of her grandfather, who stuffed her body into a suitcase and tossed it into the Yarkon river, emerged. Soon after that, three mothers murdered their young children in the space of a single week.

When it comes to the Orthodox Jewish community in general, in May of this year the Guardian reported:

The uncovering of sexual abuse perpetrated by religious leaders in the Catholic church is mirrored within the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community [and] starting to be prosecuted in New York. And as with the Catholic church . . . ultra-Orthodox Jewish leaders are beginning to permit the reporting to police of these crimes. . . . A little known Jewish law called mesira . . . forbids a Jew from reporting another Jew to the gentile authorities. The law was in response to non-Jewish governments whose courts were staffed by antisemites. [Today most] Jewish communities recognise the legal system of the countries where they live [but] . . . . Perpetrators of, for example, domestic violence, child abuse, or sexual crimes, are often protected by the ultra-Orthodox communities and dealt with “in-house”. They are sometimes beaten up by the self-appointed Jewish “police”, and often moved to areas where there is no knowledge of their crimes

Whatever the rate of child abuse in Israel, though, how did its citizenry evince the passivity it displays in the face of its government’s policies toward Palestine? The same, of course, can be said for the acquiescence of most Americans to the illegal wars that the United States is conducting. Bottom line, as Lloyd DeMause says, the “way to stop wars and terrorism is by giving more help to mothers toward improving child care, not by increasing military power.”

Does the U.S. Really Want Talks With the Taliban to Succeed?

Peace talks involving the Taliban and its allies are apparently underway, according to the Asia Times (AT), and from most accounts a deal appears doable. AT’s Pakistan bureau chief Syed Saleem Shahzad reported Sept. 11 and 15th that, under the auspices of the Pakistan military and intelligence services, “serious negotiations” were taking place, with Saudi Arabia serving as the go-between to the U.S.

That the antagonists are looking for a way out of the nine-year war is not surprising, given the deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan and the rising tide of opposition in Europe and the U.S. to continuing the war. What is surprising is that at the same time as there looks to be a possible diplomatic breakthrough, the U.S. has launched a major military operation in Kandahar.

Is the new offensive a cover for the secret talks or an effort by the U.S. military to derail any possibility of serious negotiations?

According to the AT, while Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar has not been directly involved in the talks, according to a “Pakistan security official” the elusive cleric “has shown a positive and flexible attitude.” The talks also include Sirajuddin Haqqani, who has been a major thorn in the side of the occupation troops, particularly the U.S.

There are several sticking points, but none of them seem insurmountable. The Taliban want to talk about the 60 Afghans currently imprisoned in Guantanamo, while the U.S. wants to make sure al-Qaeda can no longer operate from within Afghanistan.

On the first point Pakistan appears hopeful that the U.S. will release the detainees. It “would be a good will gesture from the American side,” a Pakistani official told the AF, “and also set the stage for negotiations between the Taliban and Washington.”

Regarding al-Qaeda, the Taliban say they are willing to make sure that no “outside” forces use Afghanistan as a springboard to attack other nations. The Taliban have agreed to expel the terrorist organization, but they argue that al-Qaeda be given “honorable treatment.” What that means is not clear, but it is not likely to become a major sticking point. U.S. intelligence says al-Qaeda has virtually no presence in Afghanistan. According to Shahzad, the terrorist organization is more interested in the Central Asian “Stans” and southern Russia. On Sept 9, the group set off a bomb in the North Ossetian capital of Vladikavkaz that killed 18 people.

According to AT, al-Qaeda would rather get the U.S. out of Afghanistan than for it to have an in-country presence, and the organization would have no objection to the Taliban cutting a deal with Washington.

The Americans also want the right to keep troops in Northern Afghanistan, the home of its major in-country allies, the Northern Alliance, but, according to officials close to the talks, the Taliban want all foreign troops out.

The Taliban originally demanded the re-establishment of the Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan that existed at the time of the 2001 invasion. But in Ramadan talks held in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, “Taliban representatives indicated a willingness to accept a more broad-based political setup in Afghanistan,” says Shahzad.

The Taliban are still hostile to some of their internal opponents, ranging from former mujahedeen leaders to men like General Abdul Rashid Dostrum of the Northern Alliance. However, according to Pakistan officials, the group is willing to work with other people associated with their opponents, provided “they have a clean reputation and have never been involved in bloodshed.” The “clean reputation” refers to graft. As for the “bloodshed,” all sides have at one point or the other fought one another, so it is unclear what the Taliban mean.

“The process of bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table is gaining momentum,” says Shahzad, “with the United States and its allies escalating their efforts to get America out of the Afghan quagmire.”

So then why has the U.S. launched an offensive into western Zhari near the city of Kandahar? This is the same region that the Canadians went into in 2006 and got thoroughly thrashed. Not even the U.S. commander on the ground thinks much is going to come of it. Lt. Col. Peter Benchoff of the 101st Airborne told the Los Angeles Times that, as far as western Zhari goes, “Security sucks. Development? Nothing substantial. Information campaign? Nobody believes us. Governance? We’ve had one hour long visit by a governmental official in the last two and a half months.”

The 101st’s base is regularly mortared, and three contractors were killed two weeks ago by Taliban shells. The town has no schools, no clinics and no government presence.

Indeed, the situation all over the country is going downhill for the U.S. and NATO. In spite of the surge—allied troops levels have risen from 30,000 in 2005 to 150,000 today—the country is less secure and more violent than it was in 2001.

The Afghan Study Group found that American combat deaths have sharply escalated, as have roadside bombs, suicide attacks, assassinations, and civilian casualties. According to the International Security Assistance Force, shellings, bombings and small arms attacks for August 2010 were up 49 percent over August of last year. And local Afghan media sources report that there are four to five assassinations every day in Kandahar City.

For the Sept. 19 election there were 350 fewer polling places—14 percent of the total—than there were last year, because the government could not provide security.

More than that, Gareth Porter of Inter Press Service found that there has been a sharp drop in the number of roadside bombs being reported by local people. “The percentage of Taliban roadside bombs turned in had been averaging 3.5 percent from November 2009 through March 2010,” says Porter, but after the U.S. stepped up its nighttime raids with Special Forces, “the percentage of turn-ins fell precipitously to 1.5 percent.” In short, the “surge” has deeply angered the average Afghan.

Parts of the country that used to be safe, like the north and east, are increasingly insecure, and in places like the North, most the insurgents are non-Pashtuns. Pashtuns make up the bulk of the Taliban and are mainly concentrated in the south. According to the United Nations, travel is no longer safe in 30 percent of the country, and insurgent attacks have more than doubled from a year ago—from 630 in August 2009, to 1,353 in August 2010.

The Americans attribute the rise in violence to the surge, but most of the attacks are occurring in places where the surge has no presence. “We do not support the perspective that this constitutes ‘things getting worse before they get better’,” Nic Lee, director of Afghan NGO Safety Office, told the New York Times, “but see it consistent with the five-year trend of things getting worse.”

Under pressure to show “progress” in the Afghan war, the U.S. military has fallen back on a device it used during the war in Southeast Asia: the body count. Gen. David Petraeus told National Public Radio that this summer, NATO forces has killed or captured 2,974 insurgents, 235 of them “commanders.” But Porter found that the captures included “suspected” insurgents, which generally means anyone in the immediate vicinity of a raid. The Guardian concluded that as many as two-thirds of those detained in such raids are innocent.

Porter also questions the “commander” designation, since the Taliban is not organized into formal fighting units. “The vast majority of those ‘leaders’, it appears, were low level Taliban personnel who are easily replaced,” he says. Given that the step up in raids over the past year has not resulted in a reduction of insurgent activity—indeed, quite the opposite—Porter’s doubts seem valid.

Is the Kandahar operation, then, blind folly—Gen. David Petraeus is lobbying for keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan for years to come—pre-negotiating positioning, or theater, because the enormous U.S. military budget is coming under increasing pressure? No one is going to suggest cutting military spending while the troops are locked in battle, a point that U.S. Admiral Mike Mullen, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates have been arguing to Congress.

The danger is that the U.S. will step back from an opportunity to end the bloodletting in Afghanistan because Washington is worried that it will look like a defeat—it is—or because keeping the war going will armor the Pentagon from spending cuts. There was a moment like this in 2007, but the U.S. ignored a tentative Taliban peace proposal and the war got worse. If the Obama Administration is not careful, it could happen again, and the U.S. will slip deeper into the Afghan quagmire.

For more by Conn Hallinan visit Dispatches from the Edge.

New START’s Big Winners: U.S. Nuke Complex, Pentagon, and Contractors

Clinton-Kerry_LugarPassage of New START in a 14-4 vote out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is already being hailed by Democrats and arms control NGOs as a substantial victory. A floor vote for ratification is now apparently set to occur after the elections.

While ratification is by no means guaranteed, there are several clear winners already: Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Aerojet General, Alliant Techsystems, Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore nuclear weapons laboratories, Y-12 nuclear labs, the Pentagon, and Bechtel Corporation.

While much noise has been made about the New START treaty’s cut to the nuclear weapons stockpile, the actual required reduction in arms may be as low as 8%, or 162 warheads out of a total of thousands. Furthermore, keep in mind too that this only affects deployed strategic warheads, not “tactical” weapons, and not weapons in the “reserve” stockpile.

So why the big deal? Why are both sides fighting like mad over a treaty that really requires virtually no change to the status quo US-Russia relationship and US nuclear stockpile?

Here’s why in a nutshell:

1. The Democrats, led by the Obama administration, want the treaty badly in order to prove that their means of combating proliferation and the rising power of states like Iran is better than the Republican strategy. The difference essentially is that the Democrats propose to give the impression that the USA is cutting its arsenal and seeking “global zero.” Of course it’s not and the Dems intend to fund the US nuclear complex at large levels. Long-range national security state doctrine calls for keeping nukes far into the future, and modernizing them the whole way along. But the Democratic foreign policy establishment thinks their plan will provide superior power, diplomatic and military, when dealing with nations that pose a threat to US imperial interests. It’s a tough balancing act, this anti-nuclear nuclearism! Thankfully the liberal militarists have found willing allies in the foundation community. Funds and NGOs like Ploughshares, American Friends Service Committee, and Peace Action West have lobbied extensively for ratification, proving that a little money goes a long way in politics.

2. The Republican strategy remains what the old gipper gave us — “peace through strength.” G. W. Bush pursued it with his aggressive nuclear weapons programs, but the Democrats managed to back him down. Undeterred, many Republicans think the Democrats are wasting the national security state’s time and energy and would just rather invest huge sums in weapons and invade and occupy nations as a first and early recourse when problems arise. There remains a great deal of ideological opposition to treaties, especially arms control pacts, whether or not they actually constrain US military might.

3. In addition to this acrimonious debate about imperial strategy, there’s bread and butter. While New START doesn’t pose any threats to any military funding whatsoever, it does offer a major opportunity to demand huge funding increases for several weapons programs.

A. Chief among these is the nuclear weapons program. New START ratification is being used as the primary forum in which to hash out the budget for nuclear weapons over the next ten years. Thus far supporters of the nuke complex have gotten a pretty good deal; a minimum $10 billion increase over the next ten years to build a new plutonium pit factory, new uranium plant, new weapons components factory, and other major capital projects. Corker and Isakson’s votes on September 16 to pass the treaty to the full Senate for a ratification vote may signal that they have received even larger funding commitments for the huge nuclear facilities in their states, or that they will use their vote on the floor to extort better deals between now and then.

B. Then there’s “missile defense” and “prompt global strike.” Missile defense has its own agency in the Pentagon and budget larger than the NNSA’s. Prompt global strike, a new conventional strategic weapons system capable of killing anyone on the planet in under an hour with hypersonic munitions, is a multi-hundred million dollar and growing program. Both are getting very large increases in Obama’s FY2011 budget, due in part to Republican demands that neither program be constrained by New START. Of course the treaty does no such thing, but the concern is really a theatrical way of demanding even larger increases for these weapons systems. The Democrats are too happy to oblige. Obama and Biden are champions of prompt global strike.

4. Thus the Senators on both sides of the debate are working for the nuclear weapons complex, Pentagon, and their powerful corporate contractors. The Democrats have already offered up major funding increases, even before Republican opposition. Conservatives have only pulled the issue further to the right, and arms control foundations and NGOs have fed the whole process by making New START out to be vastly more important and meaningful than it objectively is.

Still don’t see the bi-partisan consensus to fund the nuclear weapons complex and Pentagon’s missile defense and prompt global strike programs and contractors? Here’s some campaign finance data for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee members’ 2010 election cycle bank accounts. Both Democrats and Republicans are well endowed, demonstrating why the interests of the nuclear weapons complex and other weapons programs are absolutely not threatened by New START.

[The first number ranks the contributing corporation among the Senator's top donors for 2010. Figures from http://www.opensecrets.org. Raytheon, Textron, Lockheed, Boeing, United Technologies, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, SAIC, Carlyle, BAE, and EADS all contract with the Missile Defense Agency and related Pentagon program offices. Lockheed serves at the lead contractor for prompt global strike. Bechtel, Honeywell, CH2M Hill, McDermott (through its BWXT subsidiary), URS, Flour, and Lockheed Martin contract with the NNSA to operate the US nuclear weapons complex. AECOM is subcontractor for the US nuclear weapons program.]

Democrats

John Kerry
20 Raytheon Co $15,250
84 Honeywell International $8,500
84 Textron Inc $8,500

Christopher J. Dodd
3 United Technologies $115,250
16 General Dynamics $29,300

Barbara Boxer
18 CH2M HILL $23,500
84 Lockheed Martin $10,300
89 Honeywell International $10,000

Robert Menendez
21 CH2M Hill $36,075
95 AECOM Technology Corp $17,200

Benjamin L. Cardin
41 Northrop Grumman $15,700
83 Lockheed Martin $11,000

Robert P. Casey Jr
5 SAIC Inc $20,000
8 Northrop Grumman $18,150
21 US Dept of Defense $10,800
24 McDermott International $10,000
48 Raytheon Co $8,250

Jeanne Shaheen
17 Honeywell International $16,000

Kirsten E. Gillibrand
59 BAE Systems $16,300
79 Carlyle Group $12,500
85 Raytheon Co $11,750

Republicans

Richard Lugar
24 Lockheed Martin $10,000
33 Raytheon Co $9,750
36 Bechtel Group $8,850
39 Honeywell International $8,500

Bob Corker
57 Honeywell International $15,000
85 US Government [partly Y-12] $12,650

Johnny Isakson
50 Boeing Co $10,000
50 Lockheed Martin $10,000

James E. Risch
5 URS Corp $12,700
12 Honeywell International $10,000
50 Bechtel Group $7,000
69 Boeing Co $5,000

Jim DeMint
13 URS Corp/Washington $16,499
18 Fluor Corp $14,250
25 Lockheed Martin $12,600
44 Boeing Co $10,201
91 Honeywell International $9,000

John Barrasso
15 Northrop Grumman $13,500
34 Honeywell International $10,000
96 URS Corp $6,000

Roger F. Wicker
14 Northrop Grumman $17,500
21 European Aeronautic Defence & Space $14,500
41 General Dynamics $11,000
47 Raytheon Co $10,000

James M. Inhofe
21 BAE Systems $12,700
27 Lockheed Martin $12,000
29 Boeing Co $11,750
48 Honeywell International $10,000
48 Northrop Grumman $10,000
48 Raytheon Co $10,000
48 United Technologies $10,000

Darwin BondGraham is a member of the Los Alamos Study Group. He’s also an ethnographer and historian with a degree in sociology. His current work focuses on economic and social development.

Give Me Liberty or Give Me — the Extinction of the Human Race?

At his website, New Paradigms Forum, Christopher Ford recently hosted an email colloquy on the subject of nuclear deterrence between staunch disarmament advocate Steven Leeper, chair of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation, and himself. The position of Ford, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and chief negotiator of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons for the Bush administration, can perhaps best be described as counseling extreme caution in disarming while other states still seek to develop nuclear weapons programs.

Leeper, who writes, “I have very little contact with people who think the way you do, so I am genuinely interested in what you have to say,” sprays questions at Ford like a machine gun. But one evokes an elemental issue that seldom sees the light of day in dialogues about nuclear weapons. Breaking down his question into two parts, Leeper asks:

. . . which would be worse, for the whole world to be dominated by Russians, Chinese, communists, Muslims, Arabs and/or eco terrorists [not sure how that got in there -- RW] or for all human beings on Earth to die as a result of nuclear winter, radiation and/or environmental catastrophe? In this connection, have you ever believed it would be better to be dead than red?

Ford’s response:

I’m not sure what to make of this question. You want me to posit a choice between being ruled by “Russians, Chinese, communists, Muslims, Arabs and/or eco terrorists”? And to weigh this choice somehow against species extinction? I don’t know on what basis such a question would be intelligible, much less answerable. (Do you think these are choices that actually face us?) It sounds like you’re fishing for a way to draw me out on “better dead than red” or “better red than dead” preferences, but those are bumper stickers, not policy choices or real options that face anyone.

Leeper doesn’t help himself by harkening back to a scenario now obsolete. The likelihood of Russia threatening to attack the United States with nuclear weapons if it refuses to surrender to, say, Russia’s attempt to conquer it, is nonexistent (and probably always was, even during the Cold War). In fact, that’s what Ford is alluding to when he says, “Do you think these are choices that actually face us?”

The scenario’s current unreality basically undermines the legitimacy of the question to Ford. Besides, realists operate under a set of assumptions that don’t allow for the question that Leeper is struggling to ask. Which is, as I see it: if threatened with nuclear attack, should a state, especially one that characterizes itself as founded on a respect for human rights, threaten to retaliate, thus ensuring massive loss of life on its own as well as the aggressor’s side? Or, should it refuse to retaliate and, instead, yield to the aggressor’s demands, such as surrendering the reins of government? (For simplicity’s sake, the subjects of a limited nuclear exchange and a large country held nuclear hostage by a smaller state aren’t addressed in this post.)

However archaic the scenario, the image it evokes of untold numbers of deaths in mass warfare is always timely. But the question is a non-starter to national-security types, who find it naïve to the point of touch-feely. In fact, to them it’s a complete abnegation of national security since surrender means there is no longer a nation for which to provide security. It’s also counterintuitive for any state, especially one that traces its origins back to concepts like “live free or die” or “give me liberty or death.”

But when the cost of liberty is tens of millions of the enemy, as well as your own citizens, dead, it makes a mockery of the heroism implicit in those slogans. Before we consider an alternate strategy to nuclear retaliation, let’s ask ourselves what kind of ethical and/or religious individual would take pride in being the citizen of a state that is not only partly responsible for but makes him or her complicit in the loss of so much life? Here’s how some people of faith view this issue.

Tyler Wigg-Stevenson leads an evangelical disarmament movement, the Two Futures Project, that’s gaining surprising momentum. In an op-ed for the Washington Post’s “On Faith” section, he writes:

There’s nothing wrong with a strong military. . . . But if we take seriously the whole witness of Scripture, we must also recognize that the unfettered pursuit of strength — fearing mortal enemies more than God’s judgment – in fact leads to an ungodly arrogance and idolatry. . . . we cannot simply take a secular utilitarian, value-less approach to security policy.

In other words, the sanctity of the state comes in a distant second to that of the Kingdom of Heaven. Meanwhile, in a testimonial on the Two Futures Project website, Tony Campolo, Professor Emeritus, Eastern University, wrote. . .

Fear of what other nations could do to us with their weapons is no justification for developing nuclear weapons ourselves. As Christians, perfect love should cast out that fear and allow us to take the risks that go with disarmament.

In the statement above and the one that follows, the words “humane individual” could be substituted for Christian. A commenter to the Washington Post piece, one Arancia12, sums it up best.

I do not believe in survival at any cost. . . . Death is not the worst thing that can happen to a Christian. Not living as a Christian is the worst thing that can happen to a Christian.

In other words, were communism still around, yes, maybe red than dead — for the time being anyway. A Christian or a humane individual could contrive to lead a more ethical life under such conditions, no matter how trying, than in a state with an ocean of blood on its hands.

Meanwhile, a military alternative exists to nuclear retaliation. Bear in mind that, along with a nation’s nuclear weapons sites and infrastructure (not to mention its civilian population), conventional weapons depots will be destroyed in a nuclear attack. Whereas, were we to surrender, they would instead be appropriated by the aggressor state. Why not devise a contingency strategy in advance with munitions cached around the countryside? Odds are, the U.S. government already maintains such a program. It need only be activated in the event of an attack or occupation.

As commenter Arancia12 wrote, there are worse things than death, such as — and it bears repeating — living in a country complicit in the greatest mass murder in the history of mankind. We may lose our immediate liberty by surrendering. But fighting for it is arguably at least as liberating as living under a liberty which today we take for granted and allow to erode anyway. But that’s a post for another day.

Ahmadinejad’s Apocalypse-Soon Proclamations: For Real or a Joke?

President Mahmoud AhmadinejadProgressive commentators tend to think that conservatives are naïve to believe that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad longs for the Apocalypse. First, we wonder what their sources are. Second, we think that the right fails to acknowledge how savvy a political player Tehran has traditionally been, even during the fanaticism of the Islamic Revolution. (For more, see Trita Parsi’s Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Iran, Israel and the United States, Yale University Press, 2007.)

If true, though, what does Ahmadinejad gain by making public his Apocalyptic leanings? Holocaust denial may play to his constituents and distract from the bad economy while the nuclear-energy program enhances national pride. Let’s try to find out where the right draws evidence that Ahmadinejad is apocalyptic.

I was recently assigned to review a book by Dore Gold, who served as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations during Benjamin Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister and as a foreign policy advisor to him. The Rise of Nuclear Iran made the New York Times bestseller list as did two of his previous books, Fight for Jerusalem and Hatred’s Kingdom (no, not Iran in that instance, but Saudi Arabia).

Of course, one immediately questions their trustworthiness since they were brought out by Regnery Publishing (think Unfit for Command – you know, the Swiftboaters). But it must be acknowledged that most of the sources Gold cites in his footnotes are credible. Furthermore, he supplies some answers to the question of why many conservatives are convinced that Ahmadinejad is an end-timer. Excerpts follow.

Besides the escalation of Ahmadinejad’s anti-western incendiary rhetoric, the second feature of his presidency that has received enormous attention has been his repeated references to the imminent return of the Twelfth or Hidden Imam. In Twelver Shiite tradition, Muhammad ibn Hasan was the twelfth descendent of the Prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law, Ali ibn Abi Talib. He was born in 868, but at the age of six, he vanished and was expected to reveal himself as the Mahdi (literally, the “Rightly Guided One”) at the end of days before the Day of Judgment, when a new era of divine justice will prevail, and Shiite Islam will be recognized as the true global faith. . . .

Ahmadinejad made the re-appearance of the Twelfth Imam as the Mahdi into a hallmark of his presidency. He declared in an address to the Iranian nation shortly after his 2005 election victory: “Our revolution’s main mission is to pave the way for the reappearance of the Mahdi.” . . . In September, he sponsored in Tehran the first annual International Conference of Mahdism Doctrine. He required his cabinet members to sign a symbolic pledge of allegiance to the Twelfth Imam. . . .

Despite his government’s economic struggles with unemployment at 30 percent, Ahmadinejad allocated $20 million in 2005 to expand the [Mahdist] mosque complex at Jamkaran, and further funds for commemorating the Mahdi’s birthday. . . .

It was reported in November 2006 that Ahmadinejad told a visiting foreign minister from an unnamed Islamic country that the current crisis in Iran “presaged the coming of the Hidden Imam, who would appear within two years.” . . . On another occasion he said that it was his mission to hand over Iran to the Madhi at the end of his presidency. . . . in a meeting with [EU foreign ministers in 2005] Ahmadinejad shifted the focus on their conversation unexpectedly and asked the European diplomats; “Do you know why we should wish for chaos at any price?” he then answered his own rhetorical question: “Because after chaos, we can see the greatness of Allah.” . . . .

During his student days in the late 1970s, he was linked with a secretive Islamist movement known as the Hojatieh society. Founded in 1954, [part of its mission was to] pave the way for the appearance of the Madhdi. . . .

Ahmadinejad’s Mahdism had been advanced and supported by those who served as his religious mentors, particularly Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-e Yazdi [whose lectures] repeatedly stressed the theme of hastening the coming of the Mahdi.

You can see that, even though only some of it is substantive, there are enough bones for hawks to chew on and gain enough sustenance to continue to hype Iran as an “existential” threat to Israel.

Page 161 of 177« First...102030...159160161162163...170...Last »