Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Af-Pak, pt 2

photo: Getty images/BBC

Jeremy Hammond, Foreign Policy Journal, "Ex-ISI Chief Says Purpose of New Afghan Intelligence Agency RAMA Is ‘to destabilize Pakistan’"Aug. 12th

Carlotta Gall, New York Times, "Peace Talks with Taliban top issue in Afghan Vote", Aug 17th,
Anne Applebaum,Slate, "It Doesn't Matter Who Wins the Afghan Election" Aug. 18th,
Stephen Walt, Foreign Policy, 'The "safe haven" myth', Aug 18th,
Peter Bergen, Foreign Policy, "How realistic is Walt's Realism?", Aug 19th
Christopher Allbritton, Insurgency Watch, "Why Pakistan's Delaying its Waziristan Push" August 19, 2009
Juan Cole, Salon, "As Afghans Vote, American Support for Afghan War Collapses" Aug 20th,
Helena Cobban, Just World News"Does Afghanistan's election matter? How, exactly?" Aug 21st.
Chris Floyd, "Af-Pak Masquerade", Aug 21st,
CNN:"Taliban cut off fingers of Afghan voters" Aug 22nd.
Christian Science Monitor, "More US troops to Afghanistan? Why Mullen won't answer", Aug 23rd

(and "Af-Pak pt 1" is here.)

Starting with the most recent item and moving backwards, Mark Sappenfield in the Christian Science Monitor writes:
America has never before had a plan – or the resources – to do what must be done. Mullen put it this way: "This is the first time we've really resourced a strategy on both the civilian and military side."
The reason, of course, is Iraq. Almost all the Pentagon's top minds and money went to Baghdad. This was particularly true in the surge, and that helped turn the tide of the war. In Afghanistan, that process truly just began this spring, when President Obama for the first time announced a clear strategy for American forces in Afghanistan.
To do what must be done. Sounds ominous to me, especially since it suggests that "what must be done" is so undeniable, has already been agreed upon, a fait accompli-- and it doesn't sound like the negotiating of peace that the New York Times' Carlotta Gall suggests is primary in the mind of Afghan voters. Politicians in the US don't always listen to what American voters want, but this is never referred to in our press as corruption or in any way an issue of the government's legitimacy, but American politicians and journalists seem very worried that this week's Afghan election be perceived as legit in the eyes of Afghan voters, as well as elsewhere, like across the border in Pakistan.

Was the election legitimate? Who knows? The Taliban actively discouraged people from participating, decrying the whole process as illegitimate. Sociologists study the often illogical factors that people weigh when making their decisions, such as when American liberals weigh a candidate's "electability" versus her stands on issues. I wonder if any voters in Afghanistan, viewing incumbent Karzai as a US puppet, considered their options, then, deciding that the election is a sham anyway, said maybe if they re-elect the candidate the US wants, the soldiers will go home?

Helena Cobban seems to think that as long as the winner is seen as acceptable to the Afghan public, proves "manageable", and the no. 2 candidate doesn't put up too much of a fuss, the US and NATO are unlikely to care very much who wins. I imagine she's right. It also occurs to me that both the Taliban and the Pentagon benefit from low turnout. Since low turnout suggests the result was not legitimate-- good for the Taliban, as well as proving that US forces are needed to stay (for years on end?) because the security situation clearly isn't good-- good for Pentagon appropriations. But that's just silly, right?

Jeremy Hammond talked to Hamid Gul(above), a retired Pakistani general and former head of their intelligence. Gul says that the US, India and Israel are all involved in assisting the TPP(the fundamentalist group fighting the Pakistani government) because one of the purposes of the Af-Pak war is to destabilze Pakistan. Naturally I hope Gul is wrong, but he lays out a compelling case. Hammond also notes that the US government has accused Gul of aiding the Taliban in the past, which he denies.

Both Gul and Chris Floyd discuss Unocal's refusal to ink a deal with Taliban for a pipeline in 2001, and Gul reminds the reader of Taliban leader Mullah Omar's offer to send Bin Laden to a third country, not the US, where he would receive a trial according to Sharia law, which George W. Bush refused.

People in the west, or at least here, often forget this detail.

The problem with accommodating such a face-saving request would have been that Bush Jnr would essentially have conceded that the US way of doing things isn't always the best way.Critics on his right flank, and maybe even on his left, would have become livid that the ragheads were telling us how to do things. All "they" understand is force, American force.

In "Obama's magnificent opportunity", although he doesn't say so directly, Rob Payne suggests that Obama has a real chance to halt America's slide into the post-imperial ditch we've been digging for the past 30 or 40 or so years. Of course Rob seems to be making his point in a roundabout, playful way-- being the wiseacre that he is-- and recognizing the narrowness of Obama's careerist vision for what it is, knows this is just the kind of dream you have when you had too much spicy cheese before you went to bed, or something like that .

Some two years ago Arthur Silber observed:

...in terms of fundamentals, there is no difference at all between Republicans and Democrats in the realm of foreign policy. Both parties, our governing elites, and most bloggers all hold the same unchallengeable axiom: that the United States is and should be the unequaled, supreme power in the world, with the capability of directing events across the globe and intervening wherever and whenever we deem it necessary for our "national interests." As [Christopher] Layne notes, all our prominent national voices are united in their conviction that no other state "entertain the 'hope of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States.'" Military power on a scale never before seen in world history is the most certain means of ensuring that goal.[...]

I will be blunt: I submit that, considering these facts and the staggering reach of our global military power, any relatively sane person ought to be aghast that our governing class, together with almost every pundit and blogger, will look at these same facts and say only: "More, please!" But this is the inevitable result for a people who are entirely comfortable with the fact that their nation dominates the world, and of their belief that it does so by right.
Occasionally, I have referred to the phenomenon of pathology as foreign policy. When one contemplates these facts, it is very hard to conclude that anything other than pathology is involved. Our strategy is indefensible, irrational and immensely destructive, and yet almost no one questions it. But this particular pathology is so inextricably woven into our myths about the United States and about ourselves as Americans, that we believe this is simply "the way things are," and the way things ought to be.

Arthur is rarely accused of having a light touch-- but he doesn't mince words to avoid uncomfortable conclusions.

Although I'm not convinced that Silber is entirely correct about the attitudes of ordinary Americans, ultimately we do give our consent, in terms of our passivity if nothing else. But what else can regular people do? Students who riot will have their loans revoked, workers who protest will be fired. But we're free. The nice man and nice woman on the television tell us this, and they wouldn't be on TV if they didn't know. Supposedly we're also bringing freedom to Afghanistan, even if it appears we're not doing a very good job, otherwise we'd be done freeing them after 7 years and counting. You'd think.

Ann Applebaum, who also writes for the Washington Post, writes in Slate:

The Taliban is sometimes described as an ideological force, sometimes as a loose ethnic coalition, sometimes as a band of mercenaries, men who fight because they don't have anything else to do. But perhaps with this election, we can now start to use a narrower definition: The Taliban are the people who want to blow up polling stations.The threat is also useful in another sense: It reminds us of what we are fighting for—by which I don't mean "democracy" as such. After all, we are not trying to create some kind of Jeffersonian idyll in the rugged heart of Central Asia, but merely an Afghan government that is recognized as legitimate by the majority of Afghans—a government that can therefore prevent the country from turning back into a haven for terrorist training camps. If there were someone acceptable to all factions, we might presumably consider helping the Afghans restore the monarchy. For that matter, if the Afghans were willing to accept an appointed American puppet, we might, I'm guessing, consider that, too, at this point. But there isn't, and they won't.

I'm guessing, if you met Anne Applebaum, she would seem like a nice person. She probably is a nice person, in the interpersonal sphere, just as nasty commenters in cyberspace are probably mostly nice in person, just like the guy from the Christian Science Monitor is probably a nice person, as , I imagine, even General McMullen is, and so forth. Anne Applebaum's Wikipedia bio mentions that she won the Pulitzer prize a few years ago, that that she went to Yale and the LSE, and that she's an adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Her Slate byline just says that she also writes for the Post. Maybe they left the other stuff out because of reactive modesty, going on the theory that Anne probably wouldn't want them to brag about her accomplishments, making her seem all stuffy and pompous. On the other hand, maybe it wasn't very cricket of them to leave out her association with the neocon AEI. I'm guessing they felt that was OK because she isn't writing an editorial, but reporting about the election. Or maybe because she's not a real AEI fellow, just an adjunct.

More likely the former, at least in the eyes of the Slate/WaPo folks, which illustrates Arthur Silber's point about how
'we believe this is simply "the way things are," and the way things ought to be.'
Otherwise, how can you make any sense whatsoever of what Anne Applebaum says, that

if the Afghans were willing to accept an appointed American puppet, we might, I'm guessing, consider that, too, at this point. But there isn't, and they won't.
Does she really believe that? She went to Yale and won the Pulitzer, so she's supposed to be smart, right?

Afghan villager: Excuse me, mister American soldier. This one you chose for us, we don't like him.

American General: Yeah, what was I thinking. Sorry about that. OK, I'll kill him.

Afghan villager: No, no, please! No more killing.

American General: What do you mean, no more killing? Are you Taliban, trying to mess with my head? Do I need to send a pilotless drone to buzz your village?

Afghan villager: No, no! He's OK! He's great!

An airstrike here, an airstrike there. Oops, a wedding. Oops, farmers, not terrorists. You can't just keep killing people in a country you've invaded, for years on end, and keep telling them, "don't look at my actions. My intentions! Jeez, what's wrong with you? My own people back home believe I mean nothing but the best for you, so why don't you?"

Anne: "After all, we are not trying to create some kind of Jeffersonian idyll in the rugged heart of Central Asia..."

No, of course not. She's not saying they're a bunch of savages or anything, just that they need a...more rudimentary government, one that

"merely... is recognized as legitimate by the majority of Afghans—a government that can therefore prevent the country from turning back into a haven for terrorist training camps."

I'm guessing however, that Anne, though she may be a wonderful person in many respects, doesn't really care if the Afghans see their government as legitimate or not, just that they don't cause that government terribly much grief and that said government is also well-behaved and kowtows to the US and NATO, possibly handing over the occasional troublemaker to the west for extraordinary rendition to Jordan or Croatia or God knows where.

Maybe I'm a horrible person for thinking that's what Anne is really saying. But if you stop and think about it, apart from rendition overseas, isn't that what American elites expect from Americans as well?

Meanwhile the establishment press marches in lock-step, parroting the safe-havens bit. For my part I fail to see what so-called terrorist training camps do. If the 9-11 attacks are the reason for all this subsequent bloodshed, how are terrorist training camps, whether in Afghanistan or anywhere else, relevant? Didn't all the fateful connecting flights the 9-11 attackers took originate here? Maybe we need to get some special ops to attack various US airports and shut them down, so they never board another terrorist? Ridiculous? Sure, but how is it more ridiculous than what we're doing in Afghanistan, where the Taliban are terrorists because

1.They used to run the country(after being elected)

2.We invaded and deposed them, and

3. They're fighting to reclaim their country?

Don't get me wrong. I don't think the Taliban will create "some kind of Jeffersonian idyll" either, and I am aware of their less than salutary track record with respect to women's rights. But apparently the voters in Afghanistan want peace negotiations, and facile protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, it doesn't look like the US does. I'm guessing, in fact, that when the US does finally leave, it will turn out that the longer we stayed, the more likely that the government and the society left in the detritus of our occupation will be a harsh and fundamentalist one, and the sooner we leave and allow the presently standing government the breathing space and political leeway to negotiate for peace, the more likely a stable and heterogeneous society, "Jeffersonian" or otherwise, will take root. And it will largely be in spite of, and not because we were there.

Chris Floyd quoted the NYT's Carlotta Gall. I also think this is apt:

Abdul Wahid Baghrani, an important tribal leader from Helmand Province who went over to the government in 2005 under its reconciliation program, negotiated the surrender of the Taliban in 2001 with Mr. Karzai. Now he lives in a house in western Kabul but is largely ignored by the government, despite the enormous influence he could exercise.

Three months ago his eldest son, Zia ul-Haq, 32, was killed, along with his wife and driver, when British helicopters swooped in on their car as they were traveling in Helmand. Two Western officials confirmed the shooting but said it was a mistake. The forces were trying to apprehend a high-level Taliban target, they said.

"My son was not an armed Talib, he was a religious Talib," he said. The word Talib means religious student. "From any legal standpoint it is not permitted to fire on a civilian car.

"This is not just about my son," he said. "Every day we are losing hundreds of people, and I care about them as much as I care for my son."

Despite the deaths, he has remained in Kabul and still advocates peace negotiations. He said it was wrong to consider the Taliban leadership, or the leader Mullah Muhammad Omar, as irreconcilable. "It is not the opinion of people who know him and work with him," he said. "Of course it is possible to make peace with the Taliban — they are Afghans," he said. "The reason they are fighting is because they are not getting the opportunity to make peace."

We pay a high price for our delusional, imperial self-image. Of course others pay for it too.

see also,

Ramzy Baroud, "Drones and Democracy in Afghanistan", Aug 24th,

BBC[video link]:"Afghans talk about their daily struggles"

cross-posted at Dead Horse.

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