from Ted Rall’s Rallblog by Ted Rall
INDEX (stories follow)
from AMERICAblog: A great nation deserves the truth by Gaius Publius
One of the most under-reported stories of the past week is Jeremy Scahill’s CIA piece in The Nation. In essence, Scahill documented the ongoing presence of a CIA “black site” despite all the Obama-administration reassurances that the practice was ended.
And that’s just the start. The best way to get caught up is to listen to this great, tight interview with Scahillhimself. (The questioner is Sam Seder of the new Majority Report, and he does nice, well-organized work here.)
For those who like having stuff to read, here are some links and quotes.
As noted, the original Scahill story is available online at TheNation.com. Please do click through; it’s a great piece of reporting, and deserves the buzz it got.
The push-back was three-fold:
■ Officials like Leon Panetta denied the story:
The US has stopped running its global network of secret prisons, CIA director Leon Panetta has announced. ‘CIA no longer operates detention facilities or black sites,’ Mr Panetta said in a letter to staff[.]
■ Media voices made the denial the story, or ignored the story altogether. Glenn Greenwald:
Scahill’s discovery of this secret prison in Mogadishu — this black site — calls into serious doubt the Obama administration’s claims to have ended such practices and establishes a serious human rights violation on its own. As Harper’s Scott Horton put it, the Nation article underscores how the CIA is “maintaining a series of ‘special relationships’ under which cooperating governments maintain proxy prisons for the CIA,” and “raises important questions” about “whether the CIA is using a proxy regime there to skirt Obama’s executive order” banning black sites and torture.
Despite the significance of this revelation — or, more accurately, because of it — the U.S. establishment media has almost entirely ignored this story. Scahill thus far has given a grand total of two television interviews: on Democracy Now and Al Jazeera. No major television news network — including MSNBC — has even mentioned his story. Generally speaking, Republicans don’t care that the worst abuses of the Bush era are continuing, and Democrats (who widely celebrated Dana Priest’s 2006 Pulitzer Prize winning story about Bush’s CIA black cites) don’t want to hear that it’s true.
Meanwhile, the CIA has been insisting that discussion of this Mogadishu site could jeopardize its operations in Somalia, and while that typical, manipulative tactic didn’t stop Scahill from informing the citizenry about this illicit behavior, it has (as usual) led government-subservient American media stars to refrain from discussing it. Indeed, Scahill said that this site is such common knowledge in Mogadishu (where even ordinary residents call it “that CIA building”) that he’d be “very surprised” if international reporters who cover Somalia were unaware of it; he has confirmed with certainty that at least one correspondent covering East Africa for one of the world’s leading media outlets was aware of, but never reported, the CIA’s role at this secret prison.
While the establishment media has been largely ignoring Scahill’s revelations, a few particularly government-pleasing journalists have been dutifully following the CIA’s script in order to undermine the credibility of Scahill’s story. CNN’s long-time Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr — one of the most reliable DoD stenographers in the nation (she actually announced that the real Abu Ghraib scandal was the unauthorized [emphasis by author] release of the photographs, not the abuse they depicted) — has been predictably tapped by the CIA to take the lead in this effort.
It’s the old old story — You can hope, but nothing will change. (Thanks to Team When You Gonna Learn? for the phrase.)
Writers like Scahill are genuine heroes though, and not at no risk. Hope he doesn’t have skeletons in hiscloset (or Wieners in his Tweets); he’s probably under surveillance even in the bathroom.
To tell you a bit about me, I am an atheist and comes from an Alawi family. My hometown is predominantly Alawi and there is another town called Arab Al-Shati’ (Arabs of the Shore) exactly next to Al-Hamidiyah (really, they have become one big town due to growth). Now, what happened, and this is my own testimony from there at the time of the events, is that after Bashar’s last speech armed people from Arab Ashati’ attacked Al-Hamidiyah and started shooting randomly at balconies and front doors explicitly saying “Your time has come, Alawis إجا أجلكم يا علوية) many people were killed (12 to be exact three of which are regular guards positioned at the local police station), tens of shops were attacked and vandalized. The most disturbing thing is that they set the mosque in Arab Ashati’ on fire and claimed on Facebook pages that Alawis were the culprit. The people of Al-Hamidiyah were shocked by the number of weapons used, with some claiming it came from Lebanon (I can not confirm that whatsoever). People from nearby villages (vast majority are Alawis) indeed came to the outskirts of the town when they heard the events but the military mukhabarat were deployed just in time to stop the Alawis from retaliating. After that, and sadfully enough, everyone in Alhamidiyah is armed to the teeth, waiting for the next even and that time, they say, they will be prepared.
The regime was out of the picture completely, and if it was not for an individual with high connection who deliberately exaggerated what was happening when he was contacting Damascus, the military mukhabarat wouldn’t have been deployed and the entire Sunni town would have probably been wiped out. I managed to talk to some close friends from Arab Al-Shati’ after things cooled down a bit trying to figure out what was the motive behind their attacks, and I received many answers, mainly revolving around Adnan Al’ar’oor.
I was completely sympathetic with protesters when it started in Dar’aa and I believe it was genuine and spontaneous and all the bullshit about armed gangs there is completely fabricated by the regime. But once it spilled out of Dar’aa, ugly sectarianism emerged. I was personally accused of being a shabeeh by acquaintances who know me well to realize I am an atheist and a communist and was threatened twice that once the regime falls, I will be “punished”.
I am anti-Assad, but I can’t side with sectarians.. I am just watching by and hoping for the best, and almost every Alawi, Christian, Druze and Ismaili I know feel exactly the same way.”
Shehrbano Taseer, a Newsweek journalist based in Pakistan, is the daughter of Salmaan Taseer, former governor of Punjab who was shot 29 times by his own bodyguard in January. Before his assassination, Taseer had became embroiled in controversy after he spoke out against the country’s blasphemy law. Last November, a Pakistani Christian woman was sentenced to death after being found guilty of defaming the Prophet Muhammad. We speak with Shehrbano Taseer about her father and efforts to confront Islamist extremism throughout Pakistan. “Extremism is a mindset in Pakistan, and you need to counter that mindset, and you need to provide a counter-narrative. And that’s not being done by America,” Taseer says. [includes rush transcript]
by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
President Obama’s insistence that the U.S. is not at war with Libya, even as Washington and its allies methodically assault the country’s military and infrastructure, reveals that the many “Other Wars” around the globe have become, collectively, “the main arenas of conflict” with the Empire. Yet, “many whites who consider themselves anti-war activists also recognize as wars only those conflicts that kill Americans, make great drains on U.S. treasure, or create palpable distortions in the ‘American Way of Life’ – for example, significant losses of their civil liberties. Imperial aggressions that kill, starve, displace and imprison millions, at home and abroad, go unrecognized as wars – an obscene “left-wing” mimicry of Obama, himself.
Libya, Obama and the “Other Wars”
by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
“Historically, white-led anti-war movements in the United States have been as selective as President Obama in what they consider to be bona fide wars.”
Barack Obama has infuriated a wide spectrum of political opinion with his bland denial that the U.S. is in a state of war – or even “hostilities” – with a small African nation whose military and infrastructure are being systematically destroyed by Washington and its allies. The monumental disconnect between the president’s assertion and observed reality leads some critics and apologists, alike, to dismiss Obama’s words as mere lawyer’s craft, a semantic contortion to avoid compliance with the War Powers Act. But there is much more to the president’s formulations on peace and non-peace than cynical, tongue-in-cheek legalisms designed to overcome some temporary political problem.
Obama’s denial of America’s war on Libya is of a piece with his constant concoctions of phony ends to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, wars of occupation and counter-insurgency that he and his generals have no intention of actually terminating through a physical exit. Rather, Obama simply changed the nomenclature of U.S. combat units in Iraq to “trainers and assistance” personnel, and will scheme till the last possible minute to maintain a military and mercenary presence in the country far beyond the previously negotiated pullout at the end of this year. Obama has so often declared, with a straight face, that the U.S. dearly wants to quickly turn over its combat role in Afghanistan to the locals, U.S. policymakers fear the people of the region might actually believe him, and hold the U.S. to it.
Obama is always pretending to be on the road to peace, even as he expands America’s theaters of war. Since the aim of U.S. imperialism is to dominate the world, against the world’s wishes, U.S. wars must widen to the extent that peoples and nations resist, or must be pre-empted from resisting at some time in the future. There is no way to avoid the lengthening list of wars on Obama’s watch, but to deny they exist. Thus, the U.S. is not at war with, or in, Libya. Or Somalia. Or Yemen. And, certainly not Pakistan.
“Obama is always pretending to be on the road to peace, even as he expands America’s theaters of war.”
This president, whose self-image is that of a man who does “big deals” and formulates grand strategies that forever alter previous paradigms – and who is, therefore, capable of infinite arrogance – has ambitions to eclipse General Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831) and V. I. Lenin (1870-1924) on the philosophy of war. Von Clausewitz said that “war is a continuation of politics by other means.” Lenin said, similarly, that “war is a prolongation of politics by other means,” adding: “Every war is inextricably connected with the political system from which it arises.”
Barack Obama declares, simply: War is whatever I say it is.
Which means Obama sees clearly that he will preside over many more wars in the future, an endless stream of them on the “road to peace” – a peace that can only come with total U.S. global domination. Such wars are written in the DNA of imperialism, no matter what the aggressor chooses to call them.
War also includes the preservation of the fruits of previous wars. For the United States and western Europe, that means retaining the spoils and privileges of 500 years of violent predation, which demands the constant reapplication of force against oppressed people within the “pacified” regions at home as well as abroad. Europe is eternally engaged in intrigue and terror in her former colonies, wars by other names that are extensions of the wars that made them colonies in the first place. Latin Americans are painfully familiar with U.S. wars to enforce the Monroe Doctrine, by which Washington formally assumed generalship over Europe’s centuries of wars against the peoples of the Americas and the Africans forcibly transplanted to the hemisphere through war. The United States’ relations with non-whites within her borders is rooted in wars of genocide against the natives and the enforced captivity and containment of Black people.
“Obama sees clearly that he will preside over many more wars in the future, an endless stream of them on the ‘road to peace’ – a peace that can only come with total U.S. global domination.”
Faulkner said “the past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” Neither are the European wars against the rest of the peoples of the planet.
Historically, white-led anti-war movements in the United States have been as selective as President Obama in what they consider to be bona fide wars. Obama justifies denying that “hostilities” exist between the U.S. and Libya, partly on the grounds that no Americans have been killed – due, of course, to U.S. “full spectrum dominance” over the North African skies. Many whites who consider themselves anti-war activists also recognize as wars only those conflicts that kill Americans, make great drains on U.S. treasure, or create palpable distortions in the “American Way of Life” – for example, significant losses of their civil liberties. Meanwhile, a whole world of wars bring death and devastation to people of color in places like Haiti (a victim of U.S. armed conquest and occupation), Congo (six million dead since the mid-Nineties, but not to be found among most U.S. anti-war groups’ lists of wars), and Black America (one out of eight prisoners on the planet are African American, so there must be a huge war going on).
The assault on Libya by the arrayed aggressors of the 500 Year War, all embodied in NATO, and Obama’s denial that the U.S. is even engaged in a war with Libya, serves to bring into focus the full spectrum of “Other Wars” waged against people of color. The Black is Back Coalition for Social Justice, Peace and Reparations has taken the lead in agitating that all who make a claim to the anti-war label recognize these “Other Wars” and expand their vision and scope of activities, accordingly. The United National Anti-War Committee (UNAC) and a host of other organizations have endorsed Black is Back’s “Day of Action Against the Other Wars,” August 20, which will see mobilizations in Washington, DC, New York, Philadelphia, Houston, Milwaukee, St. Petersburg, Florida, Oakland and San Diego, California, London, Toronto, Nassau, Bahamas, and a growing list of cities.
“The United States’ relations with non-whites within her borders is rooted in wars of genocide against the natives and the enforced captivity and containment of Black people.”
This summer, former congresswoman and Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney is crisscrossing the country with the “Eyewitness Libya” tour, with speakers elaborating on much the same theme of undeclared and unrecognized wars, domestic and foreign. McKinney is scheduled for Newark, New Jersey (July 28), New York City’s Riverside Church on June 30, Boston (August 6), and Los Angeles (August 7). And on August 13, a coalition of organizations holds a Millions March in Harlem as a “mass protest to end the attack on Libya, Zimbabwe, and Blacks in the U.S.,” featuring Min. Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam.
U.S. Empire, with Barack Obama at the helm, is attempting to impose its will on the planet by force of arms. It blurs the lines between war and not-war to mask a general offensive against…everyone, at all times. The “Other Wars” become the main arenas of conflict, as witnessed in Libya and the rapid militarization of Africa. Massed capital assaults the very states it has constructed in Europe and the U.S., all the while scapegoating non-whites as the cause of the crisis.
The new anti-war movement will directly confront imperialism and white supremacy, or vanish in the rubble of the 500 Year War.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted atGlen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
from Mondoweiss by Nima Shirazi
It has been nearly seven months since I wrote, “The Phantom Menace: Fantasies, Falsehoods, and Fear-Mongering about Iran’s Nuclear Program” (posted here on Mondoweiss), a time-line of false U.S., Israeli, and European assertions regarding the supposed inevitability and immediacy of a nuclear-armed Iran, hysterical allegations that have been made repeatedly for the past thirty years. Whenever new predictions and claims about Iran’s nuclear program are released, I have added updates to my original piece. To read all 47 updates, click here. Here is the latest:
Alarmist editorializing about Iran, its regional influence, and its nuclear energy program has picked up considerably in the past few weeks. In the wake of the latest IAEA report this past Spring which revealed noevidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program, a hefty Sy Hersh article confirming that all 16 American intelligence agencies still stand by their 2007 assessment that Iran has no nuclear weapons program, and the potential for a large-scale U.S. withdrawal from Iraq at the end of the year, career fear-mongers have been hard at work trying to re-raise the Iranian threat level from mild khaki to frantic crimson.
An opinion piece published last night in the Wall Street Journal is a perfect example of the heightened hysteria. The article, entitled “America’s Intelligence Denial on Iran“, was written by former CIA agent Fred Fleitz, a neoconservative Bomb Iraner who served as John Bolton’s State Department chief of staff and is currently a columnist for the right-wing outlet Newsmax.
Fleitz is intent on discrediting the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which has repeatedly found that Iran’s nuclear program is, at best, totally benign and, at worst, not an imminent threat to anyone. He leads with this:
Mounting evidence over the last few years has convinced most experts that Iran has an active program to develop and construct nuclear weapons. Amazingly, however, these experts do not include the leaders of the U.S. intelligence community. They are unwilling to conduct a proper assessment of the Iranian nuclear issue – and so they remain at variance with the Obama White House, U.S. allies, and even the United Nations.
Fleitz goes on to write that, “according to the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control,” Iran currently has enough “low-enriched uranium” for “four nuclear weapons if enriched to weapons grade” and repeats the propaganda line about “an item recently posted to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps website [which] mused about the day after an Iranian nuclear test (saying, in a kind of taunt, that it would be a ‘normal day’).” Fleitz claims that the “message marked the first time any official Iranian comment suggested the country’s nuclear program is not entirely peaceful.”
Beyond demonstrating a severe lack of understanding about what the IAEA has actually reported and his willful omission of the huge difference between low-enriched uranium and weapons grade material, Fleitz tips his hand by relying on the over-hyped “Nuclear Test” post on the Iranian Gerdab website last month for his nuclear scare propaganda.
Fleitz writes that the latest NIE assessment is just as “politicized” and “poorly written” as its 2007 predecessor and similarly downplays the “true account of the Iranian threat” due to what Fleitz claims is the U.S. intelligence community’s apparent aversion to providing “provocative analytic conclusions, and any analysis that could be used to justify military action against rogue states like Iran.” He accuses the 2011 NIE of “poorly structured arguments and cavalier manipulation of intelligence”, all the while boasting of his own objections, which he says were routinely ignored and rebuffed by the report’s supervisors. He lays blame on what he determines is the NIE’s reliance on “former senior intelligence officers, liberal professors and scholars from liberal think tanks.”
It is unacceptable that Iran is on the brink of testing a nuclear weapon while our intelligence analysts continue to deny that an Iranian nuclear weapons program exists. One can’t underestimate the dangers posed to our country by a U.S. intelligence community that is unable to provide timely and objective analysis of such major threats to U.S. national security – or to make appropriate adjustments when it is proven wrong.
If U.S. intelligence agencies cannot or will not get this one right, what else are they missing?
Reading this, one might be forgiven for wondering why, rather than merely attacking the credentials of NIE sources, Fleitz doesn’t reveal a shred of evidence for his declaration that “Iran is on the brink of testing a nuclear weapon.” Oh right, never mind.
This sort of “analysis” from Fleitz is far from unexpected. Back in August 2006, Fleitz – then a House Intelligence Committee staffer – was the primary author of a Congressional report entitled, “Recognizing Iran as a Strategic Threat: An Intelligence Challenge for the United States“, which served as a veritable catalog of false assertions about Iran’s nuclear program and, just like his Wall Street Journal piece, assailed the U.S. intelligence community for not sufficiently fear-mongering about the so-called Iranian threat. Among other exaggerations and outright lies, the report accused Iran of “enriching uranium to weapons grade” and stated that the IAEA had removed a senior safeguards inspector from Iran for “allegedly raising concerns about Iranian deception regarding its nuclear program and concluding that the purposed of Iran’s nuclear programme is to construct weapons” and for “not having adhered to an unstated IAEA policy baring IAEA officials from telling the whole truth about the Iranian nuclear program.”
The report contained so many false allegations and misrepresentations regarding the Iranian nuclear program, in fact, that the IAEA’s Director of External Relations and Policy Coordination Vilmos Cserveny wrote a letter to the Chairman of House Committee, Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), challenging the report’s “incorrect” assertions and criticizing it for promoting “erroneous, misleading and unsubstantiated information.”
Additionally, Cserveny described Fleitz’s accusations about the safeguards inspector as “outrageous and dishonest” and noted that “Iran has accepted the designation of more than 200 Agency safeguards inspectors, which number is similar to that accepted by the majority of non-nuclear-weapon States that have concluded safeguards agreements pursuant to the NPT.”
It appears that, five years later, Fleitz still chooses fantasy over facts.
Meanwhile, in the pages of the Washington Post, deputy editorial editor and Likudnik ideologue Jackson Diehl has picked up on the amplified push to blame the Iranian government for the recent deaths of American soldiers occupying Iraq. In an opinion piece published earlier this week, he writes, “The larger question is whether Iraq will be forced by a full U.S. pullout to become an Iranian satellite, a development that would undo a huge and painful investment of American blood and treasure and deal a potentially devastating blow to the larger U.S. position in the Middle East.”
Apparently, Arabs and Muslims are only truly liberated when under the influence of the United States.
Diehl believes that an Iraqi government that is bullied into allowing U.S. troops to continue occupying their country beyond the December 31, 2011 deadline would be “making the right choice.” If there is an American withdrawal, however, Diehl is worried about the potential consequences. He claims (citing a Fox News report) that an “offensive [is] already underway by Iranian-sponsored militias [which] shows that Tehran is ready to fight.” He writes that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, “like U.S. commanders in the Middle East, understands very well that without an American military presence, Iraq will be unable to defend itself against its Persian neighbor” and laments that, “without U.S. help, Iraqi forces cannot easily counter” Iranian-backed militias since “Iraq’s conventional forces are no match for those of Iran.”
Of course, what Diehl leaves out – beyond the fact that the evidence linking the Iranian government to recent resistance attacks in Iraq is sketchy at best – is that foreign occupation is what most people and non-U.S.-aligned governments in the region are most offended by, not alleged increasing Iranian influence. Yet, the horror of an Iraq allied with Iran is ever-present in the neoconservative community. Diehl even quotes career militarist Frederick Kagan of the neocon flagship, the American Enterprise Institute, as warning in a recent report that “[i]f Maliki allows the United States to leave Iraq, he is effectively declaring his intent to fall in line with Tehran’s wishes, to subordinate Iraq’s foreign policy to the Persians, and possibly, to consolidate his own power as a sort of modern Persian satrap in Baghdad.”
Oh dear, the Persians! Where are Aristagoras, Leonides and Themistocles when you need them?! It would be unsurprising to assume that Kagan’s neocon classicist fatherDonald is proud of his son’s ridiculous historical analogy.
To his moderate credit, Diehl does also present a slightly alternate perspective, one that naturally views Iran as a spooky menace (no other representation of the Islamic Republic is allowed in the mainstream press, of course), but that doesn’t necessarily see it as a hegemonic threat of imperial proportions. He reports that Antony Blinken, a senior aide to Vice President Joe Biden, resists the notion that Iran is capable of wielding such devious influence over Iraq, even without a massive U.S. military presence. “The danger of Iranian hegemony in Iraq,” Diehl writes, “is overstated by analysts such as Kagan,” according to Blinken.
Diehl closes by lamenting the recent departure Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who he describes as “the only Obama administration official who has publicly made the case for a continued U.S. military presence.” In a recent speech, Diehl recalls, Gates said that it would send “a powerful signal to the region that we’re not leaving, that we will continue to play a part,” adding, “I think it would be reassuring to the Gulf states. I think it would not be reassuring to Iran, and that’s a good thing.”
What Diehl omits is that Gates was actually speaking to the American Enterprise Institute when making these comments and that, much to the dismay of its many war-mongering members, has been credited by many as having single-handedly prevented an American attack on Iran.
The specter of a nuclear-armed and hegemonic Iran is still the bread-and-butter of Beltway Middle East reportage and analysis. Consequently, the fever-pitched fear-mongering never stops, despite what the facts are.
Nima Shirazi is a political commentator from New York City. His analysis of United States foreign policy and Middle East issues is published at WideAsleepInAmerica.com. Follow him on Twitter @WideAsleepNima.
from Mondoweiss by Philip Weiss
This is fabulous. Eli Clifton at Think Progress has blown the lid off the funding for the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, the neocon shop that helped give us the Iraq war and that “has become one of the the premiere DC organizations promoting more aggressive actions against Iran.” The people who underwrite this stuff have traditionally remained anonymous. Clifton:
While FDD has a 10-year history of engaging in alarmist rhetoric and fear mongering — e.g. in 2002 FDD aired a series of ads conflating Osama bin Laden, Yasser Arafat and Saddam Hussein — and helped promote the “Bush doctrine” which led to the invasion of Iraq, its donors have, for the most part, hidden behind their anonymous contributions to the organization.
And who’s funding this shop?
Clifton’s exclusive–based on records he obtained that he links in a pdf with his story– says that a lot of the usual suspects in the Israel lobby, Saban, Bronfman, Steinhardt, Mizrahi, Marcus and oh, Doug Feith’s father.
Canadians Edgar M. and Charles Bronfman, heirs to the Seagram liquor company fortune, contributed $1,050,000 to FDD between 2001 and 2004. Edgar M. Bronfman served as president of the World Jewish Congress from 1979 to 2007. Charles Bronfman, along with fellow FDD donorMichael Steinhardt cofounded Taglit Birthright which offers free trips to Israel for young Jewish adults. Steinhardt is a hedge fund mogul who contributed $850,000 to FDD from 2001 to 2004.
Other notable donors included: Home Depot cofounder Bernard Marcus who contributed $600,000 between 2001 and 2003; mortgage backed securities pioneer Lewis Ranieri contributed $350,000 between 2002 and 2004; and Ameriquest owner, and Bush administration ambassador to the Netherlands from 2006 to 2008, Roland Arnall contributed $1,802,000 between 2003 and 2004.
Other notable, but less generous, donors included: media mogul and Democratic Party donor Haim Saban, a surprising donor considering FDD’s Republican bent and Clifford May’s former role as an RNC spokesperson; The Israel Project director Jennifer Mizrahi; and Dalck Feith, father of former Under Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith.
How Not to Make Friends in the Greater Middle East
Washington’s Singular Accomplishment
By Tom Engelhardt
In the method, there is madness; in the comedy, nightmare; in the tragedy, farce.
And despite everything, there’s still good news when it comes to what Americans can accomplish in the face of the impossible! No, not a debt-ceiling deal in Washington. So much better than that.
According to Thom Shanker of the New York Times, the U.S. military has gathered biometric data — “digital scans of eyes, photographs of the face, and fingerprints” — on 2.2 million Iraqis and 1.5 million Afghans, with an emphasis on men of an age to become insurgents, and has saved all of it in the Automated Biometric Information System, a vast computerized database. Imagine: we’re talking about one of every 14 Iraqis and one of every 20 Afghans. Who says America’s a can’t-do nation?
The Pentagon is pouring an estimated $3.5 billion into its biometric programs (2007 through 2015). And though it’s been a couple of rough weeks when it comes to money in Washington, at least no one can claim that taxpayer dollars have been ill-spent on this project. Give the Pentagon just another five to 10 years in Iraq and Afghanistan and the biometric endeavor of a lifetime should be complete. Then Washington will be able to identify any Iraqi or Afghan on the planet by eye-scan alone.
Be proud, America!
And consider that feat a bright spot of American accomplishment (and not the only one either) in a couple of weeks of can’t-do news from the Greater Middle East. After all, despite those biometric scans, an assassin managed to gun down Our Man in Kandahar (OMK), Ahmed Wali Karzai, the Afghan president’s half-brother, in his own residence. He was the warlord the U.S. military buddied up with as U.S. troops were surging south in 2009 and who helped bring American-style “progress” to the Taliban heartland.
Of course, before he was OMK and our great ally in southern Afghanistan, he was OEK (Our Enemy in Kandahar), the down-and-dirty, election-fixing, drug-running evil dude whom one American military official more or less threatened to take out. (“The only way to clean up Chicago is to get rid of Capone” was the way that Major General Michael Flynn, the top U.S. military intelligence officer in the country, put it at the time.) And before he was OEK, he was CMK (the CIA’s Man in Kandahar), right up there on the Agency’s payroll; and even before that, speaking of Chicago, he was a restaurateur in that city who… but I’m losing track of my point, as Americans have a knack for doing in Afghanistan.
Anyway, as I think I was saying, OMK-OEK-CMK was assassinated by Sardar Mohammad, a man he trusted and saw six days a week, a local “police commander” who,according to the Washington Post’s Joshua Partlow, “spent years as an ally of the United States in the war against the Taliban.” He was also reputedly a “trusted CIA contact” who had worked closely with U.S. Special Forces. He had, so associates believe, either been turned by the Taliban in the last few months or was a long-time sleeper agent.
And then when security couldn’t have been tighter, at a service in a Kandahar mosque where hundreds (including top government officials from the region) had gathered to pay their respects to the dead capo, a suicide bomber wearing a turban-bomb somehow slipped inside and blew himself up, killing among others the chief of the Kandahar Province religious council.
In other words, even though the U.S. military tried to flood the zone in southern Afghanistan, its claims of progress and improved security are already giving way to a nowhere-to-hide Taliban world. These events could certainly be considered the insurgency’s symbolic goodbye to General David Petraeus, the U.S. surge commander there, who was just handing over command and readying himself to return to Washington to become CIA director. In a further sign of deteriorating security, an advisor to Afghan President Hamid Karzai was assassinated (along with a member of parliament) in heavily guarded Kabul when a squad of Taliban gunmen stormed his walled compound.
To look on the bright side, though, that turban bomb may prove useful indeed to the Homeland Security lobby and the Transportation Security Administration back in the U.S. After all, it’s one more thing to strip off in airports along with the usual assortment of wallets, belts, baseball caps, and footwear; and it’s a surefire Homeland Security Department fear-stoker, hence fundraiser, to add to suppository bombs and possibly mythical but well-publicized surgically implanted bombs. (And bad news for any Sikhswith air travel in mind.)
Franchising a No-Friends Policy
Biometrics aside, there were some other startling numbers out of the Greater Middle East recently. As it happened, some non-military types were also looking into eyes, not for retinal patterns, but patterns of thought. Pollsters from IBOPE Zogby Internationalchecked out 4,000 sets of eyes in six Middle Eastern countries — Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Morocco — at least five of which qualify as U.S. allies, and in none of which has the U.S. bombed, invaded, or carried out a night raid in recent memory.
And still, favorable opinion about the United States had plunged dismally since the early, heady days of the Obama presidency. In many cases, the numbers are now below those registered in the last year of the Bush era (and you can imagine what they were). Only 5% of post-Arab-Spring Egyptians, for instance, claimed to have a “favorable view” of the United States, and across the six countries, only 10% of respondents “described themselves as having a favorable view of Obama.”
This spring, Pew pollsters found similarly plunging favorability ratings in the Greater Middle East. More recently, they asked Pakistanis about the CIA drone strikes in that country’s tribal borderlands and came up with a polling near-impossibility: 97%of Pakistanis looked upon them negatively!
Consider that another remarkable American accomplishment of the Obama era — creating such unity of opinion in an otherwise fractious land!
Once upon a time, of course, American accomplishments involved the building of vast highway systems or massive steel mills or even the winning of a World War, but in tougher times you take your accomplishments where you find them. And these polls emphasize one thing: that what Washington continues to do in the Greater Middle East with relentless brilliance and on an almost unimaginable scale is to make no friends.
Nor is it just in popularity terms that Washington has been racking up mind-boggling numbers in the no-friends business. In a study it just released, the “Costs of War” project at Brown University found that Washington’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will, in the end,eat $3.2 trillion to $4 trillion in taxpayer money — and that’s without adding in the air war in Libya (perhaps a chump-change billion dollars), the Global War on Terror (in places like Yemen and Somalia where, as Jeremy Scahill reports in the Nation magazine, the CIA is running quite a covert operation from a walled compound in the confines of Mogadishu’s international airport), our continuing frenzy of base building and ally supporting in the Persian Gulf area, military aid to the region, and so on.
In other words, not making friends in the Greater Middle East turns out to be a spectacularly budget-busting undertaking — and so an accomplishment in its own right. And rest assured, Washington isn’t likely to settle for 10% or 5% on those favorability figures either, not when absolute perfection in unpopularity is within reach. Just in the last weeks, in a clear effort to lower those numbers, Washington has launched air attacks in Somalia (at least two wounded), Yemen (50 dead), Pakistan (at least 48 dead), Libya (no count), and Afghanistan (at least 40, including children). Despite what Washington officials imagine, drones are, in practice, neither precise nor effective weapons. But they areradicalizing instruments in an American war that, again in practice, is not just on but forterror.
In the same period, ex-CIA director and now Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta landed in Iraq and promptly launched a volley of threats at the Iranians, Shiite militias in Iraq, and the Iraqi government. Meanwhile, just to make sure Washington doesn’t lose its unique unpopularity franchise in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the State Department issued a “stern warning” to and threatened prosecution of those Americans who boarded boats in the blockade-busting Gaza flotilla, almost none of which ever made it out of Greek harbors.
If those favorability numbers haven’t gone lower in the brief period since the Zogby pollsters finished their latest round of polling, one thing can be said: it wasn’t for lack of trying.
A Modern Gordian Knot
Nor should we leave the subject of no-friends franchises without making special mention of the remarkable American one in Pakistan. Not so long ago, an elite SEAL team set off “SEAL-mania” in the U.S. by launching a strike on Osama bin Laden’s hideout-in-plain-sight in Abbottabad, Pakistan, killing the al-Qaeda leader without a warning to the Pakistani government or military. The response there seems to have been a new round of America-phobia — thus undoubtedly fulfilling bin Laden’s fondest dream: that even in death he would sink Washington deeper into the quagmire of the Greater Middle East.)
A farcical ballet followed between the Pakistani military, its intelligence services, its civilian government and the Obama administration. The Pakistanis promptly ordered 120 U.S. special operations forces training the paramilitary Frontier Corps in those tribal areas out of the country. It refused to issue visas for U.S. “equipment technicians” and arrested five men who had aided the CIA in tracking down bin Laden. Washington responded with the usual “stern warnings,” accused the Pakistanis of tipping off al-Qaeda bomb-makers in those borderlands before they could be caught, and held back equipment meant for the Frontier Corps. Congress began to balk on the Pakistani aid package.
The Pakistanis, in turn, threatened to halt CIA drone flights from the biggest of the three airbases the Agency borrows in that country. The Obama administration responded that, with or without those bases, its air campaign would go on, and then sent in the drones repeatedly to hammer the point home. It also held back $800 million in military aid — not enough to truly matter, but just enough to further tick off the Pakistanis. Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar jabbed back by threatening to withdraw his country’s troops from the Afghan border areas. “We cannot afford to keep our military out in the mountains for such a long period of time,” he said in a TV interview. Meanwhile, envoysferried back and forth with the usual grab bag of threats, bribes, pleas, and meaningless statements of unity between allies. And so it went.
Think of the Washington-Islamabad relationship, wrapped in the disaster of the Afghan War, as a classic can’t-live-with-‘em-or-without-‘em marriage made in hell. Or, if you prefer, think of it, now so many decades and two Afghan wars old, as a kind of Gordian knot.
In 333 BC, with a single swift stroke of his sword, Alexander the Great famously solvedthe problem of a knot on an ox cart in Gordium (in modern Turkey) that no one could untie. He sliced it open, so the story goes, in what has always been considered an ingenious response to an otherwise insoluble problem.
America’s Gordian knot in Pakistan, as in Afghanistan and the Greater Middle East, is beyond untying. Hold back that $800 million, send in the drones, cajole, plead, threaten, issue stern warnings, train, equip, bribe, kill. None of it does the trick. None of it will. Alexander would have known what to do. Washington is clueless.
Thought about a certain way, this might be the ultimate American accomplishment of the present moment.
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book is The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s (Haymarket Books).
Copyright 2011 Tom Engelhardt
© 2011 TomDispatch. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175420/
from War Times blogs by janinsanfran
The Eisenhower Research Project based at Brown University has created a new website devoted to exploring what the misguided United States wars since 9/11 have cost this country — and the unfortunate countries and people in the way of the injured, but infantile, imperial colossus. Many of their findings reproduce what people seeking peace have attempted to highlight for a decade, but it seems worthwhile to reproduce the suggestive conclusions from the executive summary.
The International Criminal Court has formally agreed that warrants should be issued for the arrest of Col.Muammar Qaddafi, as well as his son, Seif al-Islam, who has been acting as Prime Minister along with Libya’s intelligence chief, Abdullah Senussi. These three Libyan leaders are charged with crimes against humanity involving the murder, injuring, and imprisoning of Libyan civilians between Feburary 10-18, 2011, the first days of the uprising and prior to NATO’s military involvement. The ICC judge speaking on behalf of a three-judge panel authorized the issuance of the arrest warrants, Sanji Monogeng of Botswana, on the basis of the evidence presented by the prosecutor that ‘reasonable grounds’ existed to support the charges contained in the outstanding indictments against these three individuals. Judge Monogeng clarified the ruling by explaining that issuing an arrest warrant was meant to convey the conclusion that sufficient evidence of criminality existed to proceed with the prosecution, but it is not intended to imply guilt, which must be determined by the outcome of a trial. The ICC assessment is likely to withstand scrutiny so far as the substance of the accusations directed at the Qaddafi leadership are concerned. Qaddafi clearly responded with extreme violence, reinforced by genocidal rhetoric, to the popular challenges directed against the Libyan government, which certainly seems to qualify as crimes against humanity. But I am led to question why such an effort to arrest and indict was pushed so hard at this time.
The timing of the indictment, and now the arrest warrants, arouses strong suspicions, and not just of bad judgment! It is relevant to recall that in the course of NATO’s Kosovo War in 1999 against Serbia, the Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic, was indicted by another European-based international tribunal–the special ad hocInternational Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia. Are we now to expect that whenever NATO has recourse to war the political leader heading its opposition will be charged with international crimes while the fighting ensues? How convenient! Lawfare in the service of warfare!
Rather than a matter of convenience, the motivation seems more sinister. Criticism is deflected from NATO’s own lawlessness. In both of these instances, NATO had itself has resorting to war unlawfully, engaging in what was designated at Nuremberg as a ‘crime against peace,’ and held by that tribunal to be the greatest of war crimes embracing within itself both crimes against humanity and gross violations of the laws of war (war crimes). In the Kosovo War NATO acted without a mandate from the UN, thereby violating the UN Charter’s core principle prohibiting non-defensive uses of force unless authorized by the Security Council. In Libya there was such an initial authorization to protect civilians by establishing a no fly zone (Security Council Resoultion 1973, 17 May 2011), but the NATO mission as executed almost immediately grossly exceeded the original mandate, and did little to hide its unmandated goal of regime change in Tripoli by way of ending Qaddafi’s role as ruler and thereby achieving victory for opposition forces in a civil war. It is certainly worthy of comment that in both of these wars initiated by NATO the leader of a country attacked was targeted for criminal prosecution before hostilities has ended. Even the Allies in World War II waited until after the end of combat before trying to impose their version of ‘victors justice’ on surviving defeated German and Japanese leaders.
A somewhat similar manipulation of criminal accountability occurred in Iraq a few years ago. There the American led aggressive war waged against Iraq in 2003 was quickly followed by a carefully planned and orchestrated criminal prosecution, stage managed behind the scenes by the US occupation commanders), followed by the execution of Saddam Hussein (and his close associates). The Iraqi trial was politically circumscribed so as to exclude any evidence bearing on the close and discrediting strategic relationship maintained between the United States and Iraq during the period of Saddam Hussein’s most serious instances of criminality (genocidal operations against Kurdish villages), as well as by disallowing any inquiry into American criminality associated with the attack on Iraq and subsequent allegations of criminal wrongdoing in response to Iraqi resistance to military occupation. This American potential criminality was never discussed, much less investigated in a responsible manner.
What converts these separate instances into a pattern is the Eurocentric (or West-centric) selectivity evident in most recent efforts to enforce international criminal law. It should be noted that this selectivity is made more objectionable by the impunity accorded to European, American, and Israeli leaders. Double standards so pervasively evident in this behavior undermine the authority of law, especially in relation to a subject-matter as vital as war and peace. Unless equals are treated equally most of the time, what is called ‘law’ is more accurately treated as ‘geopolitics.’
The geopolitical nature of this approval of arrest warrants just issued by the ICC is unintentionally confirmed when it is acknowledged by NATO officials that it will not be possible to arrest Qaddafi unless in the unlikely event that he is captured by the Rebels. Governmental representatives in Washington admitting this, have declared that the warrants will nevertheless be useful in forthcoming UN debates about Libyan policy, presumably to push aside any objections based on the failure by NATO to limit military operations to the no fly zone initially authorized by the Security Council. It should be remembered that the initial authorization in SC Resolution 1973 was itself weakened by five abstentions, including China and Russia, and further, by South Africa that voted with the majority, while expressing strong objections to the subsequent undertaking. One wonders whether China and Russia would not have used their veto had they anticipated how far beyond what was insisted on limited humanitarian purposes by the proponents of the use of force would the actual operation become. In effect, to overcome any impression of unlawfulness on NATO’s part it is useful to demonize the adversary, and an opportune way to reach this goal is to put forward premature accusations of severe criminality.
Of course, as has been pointed out more than once, there was an embedded hypocrisy in the central argument put forward by the states seeking a UN green light to intervene in Libya, which was based on the responsibility to protect norm that supposedly confers a duty on the international community to protect civilian populations that are being subjected to severely abusive behavior. Too obvious contradictions were present. Why not Syria in the current regional setting? And even more starkly, why not Gaza back in 2008-09 when it was being mercilessly attacked by Israel? The answers to such questions are ‘blowin’ in the wind.’
There are further more technical reasons in the present setting to challenge the timing of the arrest warrants. They seem legally and politically dubious. Legally dubious because the most serious criminality associated with the behavior of the Qaddafi regime during the conflict occurred after the ICC cutoff date of 18 February (e.g. the siege of Misrata). Why other than ulterior motivations was there this rush to prosecute? Politically dubious because there is now a new obstacle to diplomacy in a situation where the alternative seems likely to be a prolonged civil war. Negotiating space for an accommodation is definitely reduced by this implication of Qaddafi’s criminality that creates incentives for the Tripoli leadership to fight on as long as possible.
Perhaps, cynics would argue that law always reflects power, and of course they are correct to a certain extent. Progress in human affairs arises from a struggle against such pretensions. And the locus and nature of power is changing in the world: the West is losing its capacity to shape history and high technology warfare, upon which the West depends to enforce its will on the non-West, is losing its capacity to produce political victories (e.g. anti-colonial wars, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan). This politicized use of the ICC in the course of the Libyan War offers an opportunity for those dedicated to global justice, especially in the Arab world, to insist that international law should no longer serve as a plaything for those who intervene with hard power in their region from the comfort zone of NATO headquarters.
[This post is co-authored with Hilal Elver]
There has been a dramatic shift in critical international responses to the current Turkish political leadership that has been recently highlighted by reactions to the resounding AKP electoral victory of June 12th. The earlier mantra of concern was expressed as variations on the theme thatTurkey was at risk of becoming ‘a second Iran,’ that is, an anti-democratic theocratic state in whichsharia law would dominate. Such a discrediting approach has itself been discredited to the extent that it is all but abandoned in serious discussions of the Turkish governing process.
The new mantra of criticism is focused on the alleged authoritarian goals of the Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan. He is widely accused of seeking to shift the whole constitutional order of Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential system, and coupled with a little disguised scheme to become Turkey’s first president under the new constitution, and then look forward to being reelected the leader of the country for a second five year term. Some of these anxieties have receded since the AKP did not win the needed 2/3s majority in the parliament that would have enabled a new constitution to be adopted without needing to gain the consent of the citizenry through a referendum. In his victory speech on the night of the elections Erdogan went out of his way to reassure Turkish society, including those who voted against the AKP, that he will heed the message of the voters by seeking the widest possible participation in the constitution-making process with the aim of producing a consensus document that will satisfy a wide spectrum of Turks. It might be expected that such a process would likely preclude any shift to a presidential system, and would certainly make politically impossible the adoption of the strong French version, which does give a president extraordinary powers.
From outside of Turkey the new line of criticism seems to reflect American and Israeli priorities and perspectives, and is not too closely related to Turkish realities. The tone and substance of this line was epitomized by a lead NY Times editorial published the day after the Turkish elections. After acknowledging some AKP achievements, including giving it credit for the flourishing Turkish economyand a successful reining in of the deep state, the editorial moved on to criticize “Mr. Edgogan’s increasingly confrontational foreign policies, which may play well at the polls, but they have proved costly for the country’s interests.” Such a comment by the supposedly authoritative and balanced NY Times is quite extraordinary for its display of ignorance and slyly disguised bias. After all, the hallmark of Turkish foreign policy during the Erdogan years, as developed under the inspired diplomatic leadership of the Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, has been ‘zero problems with neighbors’ as manifest in a series of conflict-resolving and reconciling diplomatic initiatives, and a broad conception of neighbor to include the Balkans, Central Asia, and the Caucuses, as well as the entire Arab world. It is possible to argue that this direction of non-confrontational foreign policy went too far in some instances, most notably Syria, and possibly Libya, and as a result have generated some serious challenges for Turkey.
The only exception to this pattern of zero problems has been Israel, but here the NY Times once again displays an uniformed and opinionated outlook when it writes “Once-constructive relations with Israel have yielded to tit-for-tat provocations and, if they continue, could threaten Turkey’s substantial trade with Israel.” It would be hard to compose a more misleading description of the deterioration of Turkish/Israeli relations. It should be remembered that prior to the Israeli attack on Gaza at the end of 2008, Turkey was doing its best to promote peace between Israel and Syria by acting as an intermediary, a role at the time appreciated by both parties. It is also quite outrageous to speak of “tit-for-tat provocations” when it was Israeli commandos that boarded in international waters a Turkish ship, Mavi Marmara, carrying humanitarian goods for the long blockaded people of Gaza, and killed in cold blood nine Turkish citizens. Even here in responding to Israeli unlawfulness in this Flotilla Incident of May 31, 2010, Turkey has subsequently tried its best to calm the waters, asking Tel Aviv only for an apology and compensation paid to the families of the victims, as preconditions for the restoration of normal relations with Israel. It has been Israel that has up to now defiantly refused to make even these minimal gestures in the interest of reconciliation. And recently Davutoglu has gone further, perhaps too far, in his dedication to peaceful relations by openly discouraging Turkish participation in plans for a second Freedom Flotilla at the end of June, asking activists to wait to see if the blockade is broken due to changes in the Egyptian approach at the Rafah Crossing. The latest indications are that the Mavi Marmara will join the second freedom flotilla.
The NY Times goes even further in its Orientalist approach to Turkey, writing that “Ankara must discourage private Turkish groups from initiating a second blockade-running Gaza flotilla..” Why must it? Is it not the blockade, approaching its fourth anniversary, that is widely condemned as cruel and unlawful, a flagrant violation of the legal prohibition on collective punishment set forth in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention? Should not putting such a demand to Turkey at least be balanced by a call on Israel to end the blockade? Given the failure of the UN or neighboring governments to protect the people of Gaza, should not members of civil society feel a duty to do so, and in democratic societies should not be hampered by their governments?
The other foreign policy complaint in the Times’s editorial on Turkey deals with Iran. Here, of course echoing complaints from Washington as well as Tel Aviv, Turkey is blamed for playing “cozy games with Iran” that have “only encouraged Iran’s nuclear ambitions.” Perhaps wrongheaded, but hardly an example of Erdogan’s allegedly confrontational style! What NY Times obviously favors, not surprisingly, is confrontation, urging the Turkish government to “press Turkish companies and banks to enforce international sanctions against Iran.” What is at stake here is the foreign policy independence of Turkey. Its efforts to find a peaceful resolution of the dispute surrounding Iran’s nuclear program are clearly designed to lessen the tensions surrounding the present coercive diplomacy of the U.S. led coalition, and backed by the UN, that is based on sanctions and military threats. It is in Turkey’s clear national interest to avoid a military encounter that could eventuate in a damaging regional war that would be disastrous for Turkey, as well as dashing the hopes raised by the Arab Spring, while also using its diplomatic leverage to discourage Iran from developing nuclear weapons, thereby producing an exceedingly dangerous situation for itself and others.
Another Western criticism of the Erdogan’s approach is to blame Turkey for a diminishing prospect of accession to membership in the European Union. The Financial Times in their far more reasonable post-election editorial nevertheless appears to blame Turkey for “strained relations with the EU.” On what basis is not disclosed. What was not even discussed, but should be mentioned as the main explanation of the strained relations, is the rise of Islamophobia throughout Europe and reflected in public attitudes of governmental skepticism in Paris and Berlin, as well as elsewhere on the continent, about whether Turkey is a suitable candidate for membership, given its large Muslim population. It needs to be appreciated that Islamophobia in Europe while resurgent is not new. Recently, it had been associated with Turkophobia, in reaction to the Turkish guest workers that stayed on, and became a strong presence, often unwanted, in Germany. In the two earlier centuries prior to the 20th there existed European fear and loathing of an invading Ottoman Empire, and even earlier, of course, The Crusades with their marauding militarism.
What emerges overall is this American led reluctance to accept Turkey as an independent regional force in the Middle East that has achieved enormous influence in recent years by relying on its own brand of soft power diplomacy. A dramatic indicator of this influence is the great popularity of Erdogan throughout the region, including among the youth who brought about the uprisings against authoritarian rule throughout the Arab world. It is an encouraging sign of the times that these new Arab champions of democracy are coming to Ankara and Istanbul, not Washington, Tel Aviv, or Paris, for guidance and inspiration. Whether through the NATO intervention in Libya or the crude efforts to intimidate Iran, the West under faltering American leadership remains addicted to hard power statecraft, which no longer achieves its goals, although it continues to cause great suffering on the ground. It is time that the West stops lecturing Turkey, and starts to learn better what succeeds and what fails in 21st century foreign policy. A good place to start learning and listening might be Ankara!