Archive for the ‘Foreign Policy’ category

Afghanistan in Hindsight

July 5th, 2011

We are approaching the ten year anniversary of the September 11th attacks. So much has happened since that day. Over time, history seems to have been blurred quite a bit, especially when it comes to the war in Afghanistan. Let’s review a few critical facts about what led us to Afghanistan in the first place. This is a common story of imperialist scope creep (and we don’t hear much about how this mission has added to the much-discussed national debt). We just don’t learn the hard lessons of history, therefore we are condemned to repeat it. Here are some facts worth reviewing:

  • Feb. 1998 – bin Laden releases a statement declaring Jihad against “Jews and Crusaders”; explains that the Jihadist war is over (1) US occupation of holy lands in Saudi Arabia (since the gulf war); (2) America’s continuing aggression against the Iraqi people; and (3) its support of Israel
  • 1999 - UN imposes an air embargo and financial sanctions to force Afghanistan to hand over Osama bin Laden for trial.
  • Early 2000 –  The FBI was warned about the attacks more than a year before 9/11 (see also: link)
  • January 2001 – UN imposes further sanctions on Taliban to force them to hand over Osama bin Laden.
  • Aug. 2001 – President Bush received a briefing on Aug 6th, 2001 that read “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US”
  • Sept. 11th, 2001 –  Attacks on Trade Towers and Pentagon
  • Sept. 20, 2001 – President Bush warns that the Taliban must deliver bin Laden of they will share his fate (source).
  • Sept. 22, 2001 - Afghanistan’s Islamic clerics asked bin Laden to leave the impoverished country on his own volition (source).
  • Sept. 22, 2001 – Taliban envoy to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, states: “Our position on this is that if America has proof, we are ready for the trial of Usama bin Laden in light of the evidence.” Asked if the Taliban were ready to hand bin Laden over, he snapped “No” but his translator said, “No, not without evidence.” He said, “We are ready to cooperate if we are shown evidence.” (source) This was seen as a rejection of Bush’s ultimatum.
  • Sept. 21, 2001 –  Bush explains “Why they hate us”; he explains, “They hate our freedoms.” He declares a “war on terror.” (source)
  • Sept. 2001 –  The US Prepares for war in Afghanistan
  • Oct. 2001 –  bin Laden releases a statement to explain to Americans why there “is hate against you.”
  • October 2001 - US, Britain launch air strikes against Afghanistan after Taliban fail to hand over Osama bin Laden
  • Oct. 14, 2001 –  Taliban offers to turn over bin Laden if the US stops its bombing campaign; Bush rejects the offer (source).
  • Nov. 2001 – Taliban government falls
  • Nov. 2002 -  bin Laden writes a “letter to America,” explaining why he opposes America (and it was not, as Bush asserted, because they “hate our freedoms”)
  • June 2002 - Hamid Karzai elected as interim head of state.
  • May 2005 – Details emerge of alleged prisoner abuse by US forces at detention centers.
  • May 2006 – Violent anti-US protests in Kabul, the worst since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, erupt after a US military vehicle crashes and kills several people.
  • August 2007 – Opium production has soared to a record high, the UN reports.
  • June 2008 – Taliban engineers massive jail-break from Kandahar prison, freeing at least 350 insurgents.
  • September 2008 – President Bush sends an extra 4,500 US troops to Afghanistan, in a move he described as a “quiet surge”.
  • November 2008 – Taliban militants reject an offer of peace talks from President Karzai, saying there can be no negotiations until foreign troops leave Afghanistan.
  • February 2009 - Up to 20 Nato countries pledge to increase military and other commitments in Afghanistan after USA announces dispatch of 17,000 extra troops.
  • March 2009 – President Barack Obama unveils a new US strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to combat what he calls an increasingly perilous situation. An extra 4,000 US personnel will train and bolster the Afghan army and police, and there will also be support for civilian development.
  • December 2009 - US President Barack Obama decides to boost US troop numbers in Afghanistan by 30,000, bringing total to 100,000. He also says the United States will begin withdrawing its forces by July 2011.
  • May 1st, 2011 – Osama bin Laden is killed by US forces.
  • June 2011 – US opens talks with the Taliban; Secretary Clinton declares talks with Taliban as “necessary.” (source)
  • June 2011 – Obama give speech. Promises removal of 10,000 troops by the end of 2011, 33,000 by July 2012, and all U.S. troops by 2014. (source)

This time line tells a powerful story about how the hunt for one man (or a small group of men) turned into the longest war in American history. George Bush was determined to go to war, and it did not matter if the Taliban would have been willing to hand over bin Laden for a trial. And at the time, the American people were understandably behind Bush, with strong emotions after 9/11. Over time, support for the war has eroded. Yet more recently, people are optimistic. Now, 60% of American adults say we are winning war on terror, up from 41% before capture of Bin Laden (source). Many are now saying that “Osama Bin Laden is dead, our original mission in Afghanistan has been accomplished, let’s bring the troops home.” I agree. We should bring them home. But no one is really asking why we have been there so long in the first place. We wanted to hunt down a gang of thugs who attacked our country. Did we really need to send 100,000 military personnel (and even more military contractors) to occupy an entire country in order to accomplish the mission of hunting down bin Laden and his fellow conspirators? Why are we failing to take any lessons from this horrible experience, this tremendous waste of lives and treasure? Instead, we seem to be accepting what Noam Chomsky calls the doctrine of “change of course.” He explains:

“The doctrine is ‘yes, in the past, we did some wrong things because of our innocence or out of inadvertence, but now that’s all over, so we can’t not waste any more time on this boring, stale stuff, which incidentally we suppressed and denied while it was happening, but must now be effaced from history as we march forward to a glorious future.’ And if you look, it is literally every two or three years that the doctrine is invoked. There is a qualification. We are permitted, in fact, required to recall with great horror the misdeeds of official enemies, and we’re also required to admire with awe, our own magnificent achievements in the past in both categories, relying in no small measure on self-serving reconstructions, which quickly collapse if you follow the path of paying attention to the facts, but fortunately, that dangerous course is excluded by the convenient doctrine of change of course, which blocks any such heresies. The doctrine is entirely understandable on the part of those who are engaged in criminal enterprises, which means just about any power system, any system of concentrated power past and present, and of course, it includes its acolytes, one of the major commitments of respected intellectuals right throughout history is to be the acolytes of the systems of power…[The] doctrine is dishonest, cowardly, but has advantages. It does protect us from the danger of understanding what’s happening before our eyes, and, therefore, inducing the kind of conformism that is useful to systems of power and domination…If you want to understand anything about the world that is to come, and have any influence on the way it evolves, [it is] more than useful to keep this in mind.” (source)

So the American people, generally, have been willing to accept this war, since it has been so skillfully connected with the Sept. 11th attacks. But this war really has very little to do with attacks on America. We were not attacked by Afghanistan. In fact, Pakistan had (has?) just as strong of ties with the Mujahidin (i.e., Al Qaeda) as the Taliban who governed Afghanistan. We did not attack Pakistan. And if it was a human rights mission to deliver democracy to the brutal state of Afghanistan, we should has started with Saudi Arabia, a primary oil supplier to the US. The point is, we should be fighting the “war on terror” with intelligence, police work, and special ops–not with the military executing counterinsurgency tactics. This strategy has never worked. Ask the British how that strategy worked against the American insurgents they were up against during the American Revolution (AKA, “The War for Independence”). Ask a Vietnam vet how well this strategy worked in that conflict. It does not work.

The most troubling aspect of the war has been the rise of terrorism since the war started (source). President Bush was warned by the CIA that there would be a rise in terrorism if we launched a war in a Muslim nation (source: Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival, 2003, page 211; see also link). He was not concerned over the level of terrorism. We can speculate over what he was concerned about, but it could not have been to prevent or limit terror attacks. In fact, our decisions have played perfectly into bin Laden’s ultimate strategy.

Bin Laden: Mission Accomplished

FAIR journalist, Jim Naureckas, wrote:

“For bin Laden, the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan was not a threat to his plan for the triumph of his brand of right-wing Islam—it was the central element of that plan” (July 2011).

Rachel Maddow made a similar argument on her MSNBC show (5/3/11):

“Osama bin Laden’s stated goal for the 9/11 attacks was to cause us to spend ourselves into oblivion. His goal was to do something cheap and radical and traumatizing that would cause us to react in a way that bankrupted us. So that what they couldn’t take down by force or by ideological competition, we would take down ourselves by panic.”

Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein (5/3/11) also stated,

“Bin Laden, according to [Al-Qaeda expert] Gartenstein-Ross, had a strategy that we never bothered to understand, and thus that we never bothered to defend against. What he really wanted to do—and, more to the point, what he thought he could do—was bankrupt the United States of America. After all, he’d done the bankrupt-a-superpower thing before.”

What bin Laden learned from his fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan, Klein wrote, was that “superpowers fall because their economies crumble, not because they’re beaten on the battlefield,” and that they “are so allergic to losing that they’ll bankrupt themselves trying to conquer a mass of rocks and sand.” But, noted Klein, “it isn’t quite right to say bin Laden cost us all that money…. We didn’t need to respond to 9/11 by trying to reshape the entire Middle East, but we’re a superpower, and we think on that scale.” He concluded: “We can learn from our mistakes.”

In FAIR’s latest edition of Extra!, Jim Naureckas quotes Abdul Bari Atwan, editor of the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi.  Abdul Bari Atwan was one of the few journalists based in the West to interview bin Laden, spending three days with him in the mountains of Afghanistan in 1996.

He told me personally that he can’t go and fight the Americans and their country. But if he manages to provoke them and bring them to the Middle East and to their Muslim worlds, where he can find them or fight them on his own turf, he will actually teach them a lesson.

According to Atwan, bin Laden expressed disappointment with the pullout of U.S. troops from Somalia:

He told me, again, that he expected the Americans to send troops to Somalia, and he sent his people to that country to wait for them in order to fight them. They managed actually to shoot down an American helicopter where 19 soldiers were killed, and he regretted that the Clinton administration decided to pull out their troops from Somalia and run away. He was so saddened by this. He thought they would stay there so he could fight them there. But for his bad luck, according to his definition, they left, and he was planning another provocation in order to drag them to Muslim soil.

Conclusion

We need to get out of Afghanistan, and completely out of Iraq. We need to open up a national dialogue about what we have learned from these experiences, and create or enforce laws that will prevent them from happening again. We need the media to responsibly report on the futility and horror of these wars. Amy Goodman recently said, “We need a media not brought to us by the weapons manufacturers.” We need to understand that many of our enemies were created by our own actions, and that we can significantly improve peace in the world. And it will not happen unless you and I do something about it.

More information:

Eyewitness Testimonies of Vets Against the War

9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows

Civilian Casualties

Iraq (and Afghanistan) Veterans Against the War

This is a clip of President Obama’s recent speech about the war in Afghanistan.

American Education: World Geography

June 19th, 2011

Americans need to understand the world much better than we do. We frequently talk about “leading the world.” And U.S. foreign policy is based on the idea that we make the rules. If we are to show leadership in the world, we need an electorate that understands today’s international challenges. We need to understand what problems exist, and how we can best assist others to solve these problems. Understanding such issues should empower our citizens to elect representatives who will promote effective policy that goes beyond the failing status quo.

Here are some interesting—and entertaining—videos clips and charts about what is going on in the world. I hope you enjoy these resources.

“The public has little interest in news about other countries and generally holds uninformed, malleable opinions on most international issues.” (Source)

Check out this great clip from the Daily Show with Jon Stewart: American Views

This is how most Americans view the world:

Noteworthy Trends:

Growing Inequality

  • The richest 50 individuals in the world have a combined income greater than that of the poorest 416 million.
  • There are 2.5 billion people living on less than $2 a day
  • Even in the U.S., the richest society in history, the income gap is growing faster than in any other developed nation, with severe poverty levels at their highest since 1972 (source)

Consequences of Global Inequality

  • Leads to increased migration to wealthy nations, as workers seek employment
  • May lead to leftist revolutions
  • Increased poverty—an average of 50,000 people die from poverty each day
  • Leads to social disintegration, violence and terrorism




More resources:

Amnesty International

United Nations

Foreign Affairs

Foreign Policy

Al Jazeera

The War Economy

April 5th, 2011

The military has become an integral part of our economy. What happens when something becomes incredibly profitable?…Will we get more of it, or less of it?

Weaponry is one of the last remaining manufacturing sectors in the U.S. We are the largest producer and exporter of arms and munitions on earth. The U.S. Government spends more on the military than all other nations combined—about $1 trillion annually. The cost of our military adds tremendously to the deficit. Conservatives typically ignore military spending and favor cuts in social program instead (what they call “entitlements”; i.e., programs that assist people in need). Of course, it isn’t just conservatives. There are many in congress who have military jobs in their district or state that they aim to protect by voting to maintain (or increasing) military spending. Also, private military contractors make massive political donations that make peace candidates almost non-existent. With these elements in place, it makes it very difficult to rein in our ever-expanding military.

We now have over half a million military personnel serving on more than 737 military bases all over the world. These bases are on more than 130 countries. According to the late military scholar, Chalmers Johnson, these bases facilitate the “policing” of the globe and are meant to ensure that no other nation, friendly or hostile, can ever challenge us militarily. He predicts that military spending will “sooner or later…threaten our nation with bankruptcy.” Many would argue that a strong military is necessary because it is a deterrent to potential adversaries. Really? Then explain to me why our tax-payer-funded military bases include a ski center, over 200 military golf courses, dozens of luxury jets, and many luxury hotels. Conservatives like to compare government (public) workers (such as military personnel and Wisconsin teachers) with private workers, insisting, for instance, that Wisconsin teacher, police, and firefighters’ pensions and wages are too generous compared to what private workers are paid (to justify why unions should be crushed). So I am sure they will not want to make the argument that military personnel should have private golf courses and other superfluous luxuries that those in the private sector do not enjoy. Come on! We don’t need 200 military golf courses…but we do need more and better-paid teachers! If we are sincere about the deficit, there are plenty of places in the military to cut–including out-dated Cold War-era nuclear facilities and weapons.

In 1961, President Eisenhower delivered his farewell address. His message was a warning against the massive influence of the military:

“We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. . . . This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. . . .Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. . . . In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist” (source). See the video of the speech:

See this excellent interview with filmmaker Eugene Jarecki: (his film, “Why We Fight”, is included in its entirely at the end of the post.)

Listen to this radio interview with Eugene Jarecki about the military-industrial complex: Unwarranted Influence

Article #1 – Worldwide Military Bases

Article #2 – Civilian Control of Military is a Joke

Article #3 – The Hidden National Security Budget


Néstor Kirchner of Argentina,

NÉSTOR KIRCHNER: [translated] Bush told me the best way to revitalize the economy is war and that the United States has grown stronger with war. Those were his exact words.

OLIVER STONE: Were there any eye-to-eye moments with President Bush that day, that night?

NÉSTOR KIRCHNER: [translated] I say it’s not necessary to kneel before power. Nor do you need to be rude to say the things you have to say to those who oppose our actions. We had a discussion in Monterey. I said that a solution to the problems right now, I told Bush, is a Marshall Plan. And he got angry. He said the Marshall Plan is a crazy idea of the Democrats. He said the best way to revitalize the economy is war and that the United States has grown stronger with war.

OLIVER STONE: War. He said that?

NÉSTOR KIRCHNER: [translated] He said that. Those were his exact words.

OLIVER STONE: Was he suggesting that South America go to war?

NÉSTOR KIRCHNER: [translated] Well, he was talking about the United States. The Democrats had been wrong. All of the economic growth of the United States has been encouraged by the various wars. He said it very clearly. President Bush is—well, he’s only got six days left, right?

OLIVER STONE: Yes.

NÉSTOR KIRCHNER: [translated] Thank God.

JUAN GONZALEZ: That was former President Kirchner. And these comments of President Bush that he says about the United States growing strong through war, I don’t think that’s ever been reported anywhere.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, on this issue of war and, of course, the statement that President Bush made, which to me was startling, is, in essence, when our government goes to war, not only does it spend huge amounts of money that it turns over to the contractors who assist the war, but also technological development always increases sharply, sponsored by the government. And then, after the war, these same companies then use the new technological development to open up new arenas of business. So, in that sense, I think Bush was talking about how war—

OLIVER STONE: Yeah.

JUAN GONZALEZ: —forces the productive forces ahead and allows capitalism to continue to exploit.

OLIVER STONE: It’s a hard way to die.

(source)

Conclusion

The only way we can control the deficit, reduce war, and promote peace is by putting pressure on our government to change course. We need to “starve the beast” of the military-industrial complex, and perhaps create a Department of Peace, as others have suggested. To learn more about this important topic read on…

» Read more: The War Economy

Acts of Peace

August 26th, 2010

The American-led war in Afghanistan is not getting better. One report found that,  “The human cost of the armed conflict in Afghanistan is escalating in 2010. In the first six months of the year civilian casualties – including deaths and injuries of civilians – increased by 31 per cent over the same period in 2009″ (source). Since the beginning of the war, over 70,000 civilians have been killed in Afghanistan, and hundred of thousands more have been injured (source). Here are a couple of examples.

Zeriba Taj, Age 3

When the U.S. bombed the caves of Tora Bora in search of Osama bin Laden in December 2001, nearby villages were struck as well. Zeriba Taj, age 3, was hit in the head by fragments of a U.S. bomb. Zeriba’s father and three sisters were killed.

Amina Khan, Age 8

It was the morning of November 17, the second day of Ramadan, when bombs struck the small village of Khanabad. Amina was in the kitchen preparing tea and food for the children who were not fasting. Suddenly, the entire building came crashing down around her. She found herself squatting under a few intact beams. The entire room was dark and filled with rubble. Following a light shining through the wreckage, Amina managed to crawl out of what was left of the kitchen only to find her house, which had once stood a few yards away, in complete ruins.

Amina ran quickly to her uncle’s house for help. Her uncle and the neighbors who came with him could hardly grasp the horror of the scene. There were dismembered body parts strewn around the yard. Amina’s father, Jama Khan, was the only one found alive under the rubble, pinned down by two beams. The neighbors dug him out. Digging deeper, they found his wife, Bibi Gul, his seven other children, his mother, and his brother and wife and their five children: in all, sixteen family members gone in an instant. Now Amina and Mr. Khan have only each other. It is questionable who takes care of whom. Amina says her father is very ill, emotionally and physically, often unable to sleep at night. Amina also complains of headaches and stomachaches and thinks of her mother all the time. Their house was hit by U.S. warplanes in a battle to chase Taliban forces toward their last stronghold in Kunduz.

These stories are tragic. And it is also tragic to see the fatality number for coalition forces.

» Read more: Acts of Peace

U.S. Policy in Latin America

August 20th, 2010

The history of U.S. relations with Latin America is a story of imperialism, exploitation, and crimes against humanity. Eduardo Galeano’s book, “Open Veins of Latin American,” is an excellent introduction to this history. Greg Grandin’s 2006 book, “Empire’s Workshop,” and Naomi Klein’s more-recent book, “The Shock Doctrine,” cover issues of modern economic and military imperialism in the region. From the Monroe Doctrine to the School of the Americas, the tax dollars of U.S. citizens have been used to sell arms to cruel militias, install and uphold brutal dictators, train anti-communist insurgencies in torture methods, implement trade policies that increase extreme poverty and inequality, and undermine democratic movements. But there are hopeful signs on the horizon.

In recent years, many Latin American nations are declaring their independence from U.S. intervention. They are freeing themselves of debt that make them beholden to U.S. corporate interests, and they are beginning a trend toward regional unification. This resistance is a major challenge to U.S. authority in the region–leading the Council on Foreign Relations to pronounce the Monroe Doctrine “obsolete.”

I have put together some notable points from various source below, including information about President Obama’s track record in Latin America.

» Read more: U.S. Policy in Latin America

Chomsky: Hopes and Prospects

July 4th, 2010

For over 40 years, MIT linguists professor and activist, Noam Chomsky, has been a powerful voice of dissent in the United States and around the world. The New York Times has called him, “perhaps the most important intellectual alive.” He has published over one-hundred books, is the most quoted living scholar.

His most recent book, “Hopes and Prospects” (Haymarket Books, 2010), is one of his best. This new Chomsky book is broad in scope. It covers neocolonialism in Latin America, recent development in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a critique of President Barack Obama, analysis of the “torture debate,” among other topics. Here are some highlights from the book:

» Read more: Chomsky: Hopes and Prospects

The End of Poverty

June 14th, 2010

I just finished watching an excellent documentary called, “The End of Poverty?” The film explores how international poverty has been perpetuated by corrupt capitalism, through multinational corporations and the U.S. government. The film can be viewed instantly if you have NetFlix, or you can purchase the DVD from the web site. You can also view clips from the film on YouTube. Take a look at the trailer below.

The film features some of my favorite scholars, such as John Perkins (“Confessions of an Economic Hit Man“) and Chalmers Johnson (“Blowback“). The film, and these authors, bring to light some important facts about world poverty, including: » Read more: The End of Poverty