Thursday, December 17, 2009
Friday, December 11, 2009
by Ralph Nader
President Obama, the Afghan war escalator, received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway, and proceeded to deliver his acceptance speech outlining the three criteria for a “just war” which he himself is violating.
The criteria are in this words: “If it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense; if the force used is proportional; and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.”
After 9/11, warmonger George W. Bush could have used the international law doctrine of hot pursuit with a multilateral force of commandoes, linguists and bribers to pursue the backers of the attackers. Instead, he blew the country of Afghanistan apart and started occupying it, joined forces with a rump regime and launched a divide-and-rule tribal strategy that set the stage for a low-tiered civil war.
Eight years later, Obama is expanding the war within a graft-ridden government in Kabul, fraudulent elections, an Afghan army of northern tribesmen loathed by the southern and south-eastern tribes of 40 million Pashtuns, an impoverished economy whose largest crop by far is a narcotic, and a devastated population embittered by foreign occupiers and non-existent government services.
President Obama’s national security adviser, former Marine General James Jones, said two months ago: “The al-Qaeda presence is very diminished. The maximum estimate is less than 100 operating in the country, no bases, no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies.”
Since Mr. Obama repeats George W. Bush’s reason for going into Afghanistan—to destroy al-Qaeda—why is he sending 30,000 soldiers plus an even greater number of corporate contractors there in the near future at a cost stated by the White House of one million dollars per solider per year? Is this “proportional force”?
Always small in number, al-Qaeda has moved over the border into Pakistan and anywhere its supporters can in the world—east Africa, north Africa, Indonesia. The gang is a migrant traveler.
Is Obama pouring soldiers into Afghanistan so that they and our inaccurate, civilian-destroying drones can start fighting across the border in Pakistan, as indicated by The New York Times? Beyond the violations of international law and absence of constitutional authorization involved, this could so roil Pakistanis as to make the U.S. experience next door look like a modest struggle.
Obama has emphasized weakening the Taliban as the other objective of our military buildup with its horrible consequence in casualties and other costs. Who are the Taliban? They include people with different causes, such as protecting their valleys, drug trafficking to live on, fighters against foreign occupiers or, being mostly Pashtuns, protecting their tribal turf against the northern Tajiks and Uzbecks.
How many Taliban fighters are there? The Pentagon estimates around 25,000. Their methods make them unpopular with the villagers. They have no air force, navy, artillery, tanks, missiles, no bases, no central command. They have rifles, grenade launchers, bombs and suiciders. Unlike al-Qaeda, they have only domestic ambitions counteracted by their adversarial tribesmen who make up most of the Afghan army.
Robert Baer, former CIA officer with experience in that part of Asia, asserted: “The people that want their country liberated from the West have nothing to do with al-Qaeda. They simply want us gone because we’re foreigners, and they’re rallying behind the Taliban because the Taliban are experienced, effective fighters.”
To say as Obama inferred in his Oslo speech that the greater plunge into Afghanistan is self-defense, with proportional force and sparing civilians from violence is a scale of self-delusion or political cowardliness that is dejecting his liberal base.
For as President Eisenhower stated so eloquently in his 1953 “cross of iron” speech, every dollar spent on munitions and saber-rattling takes away from building schools, clinics, roads and other necessities of the American people.
The Afghan War and the Iraq war-occupation—already directly costing a trillion dollars—are costing the American people every time Washington says there is not enough money for neonatal care, occupational disease prevention, cleaner drinking water systems, safer hospitals, prosecution of corporate criminals, cleaner air or upgrading and repairing key public facilities.
Even the hardiest and earliest supporters of his presidential campaign in 2008 are speaking out. Senior members of the Congressional Black Caucus, such as John Conyers (D-MI) and Maxine Waters (D-CA) have recently criticized the President for not doing enough to help African-Americans weather the hard times.
In a stinging ironic rebuke to the first African-American President, Rep. Waters declared “We can no longer afford for our public policy to be defined by the worldview of Wall Street.”
According to Congressman Conyers, an upset Barack Obama called to ask why the Michigan lawmaker was “demeaning” him. Conyers has been increasingly turned off by the President’s policies—among them health care reform, the war in Afghanistan, slippage on Guantanamo and the extension of the Patriot Act’s invasive provisions.
The 80-year old Congressman spent most weekends in 2007 and 2008 tirelessly on the campaign trail trying to get Obama elected.
White House aides are not troubled by the rumblings from the moderate Left. They said they have all of 2010 to bring them back into the fold by the November Congressional elections. Besides, where else are they going to go?
Well, they could stay home. Remember 1994 and the Gingrich takeover.
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
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While most Canadians seem unaware their country is at war, and CBC coverage almost exclusively sugars over our government’s war by calling it a mission, as if combat were peace-keeping, the people of Afghanistan face the daily reality of occupation and war.
And they’ve been facing both continually since 1979. Indeed, their country has known both for millennia, stretching back through Soviet, British, Moghul, Mongol and Greek occupation and massacres.
For various reasons, the governments allied in NATO are possessed of the hubris to believe that they can do what Alexander, Jingis Khan, the British Empire and the Soviet Union couldn’t do: keep Afghanistan.
NATO’s war against Afghanistan is bloody and costly, and like all wars claimed to be fought for someone else’s interest, is yielding very little for the interests of the Afghan people. Furthermore, the undeclared American sister war against Pakistan is threatening instability in that country while slaughtering scores of civilians with remotely-piloted drones.
Such bombings have vastly increased under the government of Nobel Peace Laureate Barack Obama, who has authorised as many drone attacks in eleven months in office as George W. Bush did in the last three years of his tenure.
Addressing what US Marine General Smedley Butler called a “racket” is the internationally renowned radical activist, author and atheist Tariq Ali. Born in Lahore, Pakistan, Ali lived in exile since the 1960s in opposition to Pakistan’s then-military dictatorship.
A longtime editor at the New Left Review, Tariq Ali has authored and edited numerous books on history and politics including the classic The New Revolutionaries and the recent The Clash of Fundamentalisms which investigates US power and its role in the creation of global terrorism. His most recent books are 2008’s The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight of American Power, and 2009’s The Protocols of the Elders of Sodom, and Other Essays.
Tonight, in his address for Hampshire College’s annual Eqbal Ahmad Lecture, Ali argues that the United States must leave Afghanistan immediately unless it wishes to cause irreparable damage to Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States itself. The excellent Active Ingredients Media recorded the interview.
(Below, a different lecture called "Obama, Pakistan and the US empire")
Thursday, December 03, 2009
He chose the path the military-industrial complex wanted. The military planners, whatever their earlier doubts about the quagmire, once in, want to prevail. The industrial barons because their sales and profits rise with larger military budgets.
A majority of Americans are opposed or skeptical about getting deeper into a bloody, costly fight in the mountains of central Asia while facing recession, unemployment, foreclosures, debt and deficits at home. Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), after hearing Mr. Obama’s speech said, “Why is it that war is a priority but the basic needs of people in this country are not?”
Let’s say needs like waking up to do something about 60,000 fatalities a year in our country related to workplace diseases and trauma. Or 250 fatalities a day due to hospital induced infections, or 100,000 fatalities a year due to hospital malpractice, or 45,000 fatalities a year due to the absence of health insurance to pay for treatment, or, or, or, even before we get into the economic poverty and deprivation. Any Obama national speeches on these casualties?
Back to the West Point teleprompter speech. If this is the product of a robust internal Administration debate, the result was the same cookie-cutter, Vietnam approach of throwing more soldiers at a poorly analyzed situation. In September, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen told an American Legion Convention, “I’ve seen the public opinion polls saying that a majority of Americans don’t support the effort at all. I say, good. Let’s have the debate, let’s have that discussion.”
Where? Not in Congress. There were only rubberstamps and grumbles; certainly nothing like the Fulbright Senate hearings on the Vietnam War.
Where else? Not in the influential commercial media. Forget jingoistic television and radio other than the satire of Jon Stewart plus an occasional non-commercial Bill Moyers show or rare public radio commentary. Not in the op-ed pages of The New York Times and the Washington Post.
A FAIR study published in the organization’s monthly newsletter EXTRA reports that of all opinion columns in The New York Times and the Washington Post over the first 10 months of 2009, thirty-six out of forty-three columns on the Afghanistan War in the Times supported the war while sixty-one of the sixty-seven Post columns supported a continued war.
So what would a rigorous public and internal administration debate have highlighted? First, the more occupation forces there are, the more they fuel the insurgency against the occupation, especially since so many more civilians than fighters lose their lives. Witness the wedding parties, villagers, and innocent bystanders blown up by the U.S. military’s superior weaponry.
Second, there was a remarkable absence in Obama’s speech about the tribal conflicts and the diversity of motivations of those he lumped under the name of “Taliban.” Some are protecting their valleys, others are in the drug trade, others want to drive out the occupiers, others are struggling for supremacy between the Pashtuns on one side and the Tajiks and Uzbeks on the other (roughly the south against the north). The latter has been the substance of a continuing civil war for many years.
Third, how can Obama’s plan begin to work, requiring a stable, functioning Afghan government, which now is largely a collection of illicit businesses milking the graft, which grows larger in proportion to what the American taxpayers have to spend there--and the disorganized, untrained Afghan army--mainly composed of Tajiks and Uzbeks loathed by the Pashtuns.
Fourth, destroying or capturing al Qaeda attackers in Afghanistan ignores Obama’s own intelligence estimates. Many observers believe al Qaeda has gone to Pakistan or elsewhere. The New York Times reports that “quietly, Mr. Obama has authorized an expansion of the war in Pakistan as well--if only he can get a weak, divided, suspicious Pakistani government to agree to the terms.”
Hello! Congress did not authorize a war in Pakistan, so does Obama, like Bush, just decree what the Constitution requires to be authorized by the legislative branch? Can we expect another speech at the Air Force Academy on the Pakistan war?
Fifth, as is known, al Qaeda is a transnational movement. Highly mobile, when it is squeezed. As Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, the former CIA officer operating in Pakistan, said: “There is no direct impact on stopping terrorists around the world because we are or are not in Afghanistan.” He argues that safe havens can be moved to different countries, as has indeed happened since 9/11.
Sixth, the audacity of hope in Obama’s speech was illustrated by his unconvincing date of mid-2011 for beginning the withdrawal of U.S. soldiers from Afghanistan. The tendered exit strategy, tied to unspecified conditions, was a bone he tossed to his shaky liberal base.
The White House recently said it costs $1 million a year to keep each single soldier in Afghanistan. Take one fifth of that sum and connect with the tribal chiefs to build public facilities in transportation, agriculture, schools, clinics, public health, and safe drinking water.
Thus strengthened, these tribal leaders know how to establish order. This is partly what Ashraf Ghani, the former respected Afghan finance minister and former American anthropology professor, called concrete—justice--as the way to undermine insurgency.
Withdraw the occupation, which now is pouring gasoline on the fire. Bring back the saved four-fifths of that million dollars per soldier to America and provide these and other soldiers with tuition for their education and training.
The principal authority in Afghanistan is tribal. Provide the assistance, based on stage-by-stage performance, and the tribal leaders obtain a stake in stability. Blown apart by so many foreign invaders--British, Soviet, American--and internally riven, the people in the countryside look to tribal security as the best hope for a nation that has not known unity for decades.
Lifting the fog of war allows other wiser policies urged by experienced people to be considered for peace and security.
Rather than expanding a boomeranging war, this alternative has some probability of modest success unlike the sure, mounting loss of American and Afghani lives and resources.
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
Tonight is part 3 of our series on African economic development. Prevailing stereotypes depict 54 African countries as if they were a single country, and an economic basket case at that. While of course, poverty continues to afflict hundreds of millions across the continent, economic realities vary considerably.
There are nearly 1 billion people on the continent. According to some reports, cell phone use is more widespread in Kenya than it is in Canada. Materially, Africa is the richest continent, selling more oil to the US than does the Middle East. Modern technology, from DVDs and digital cameras to laptop computers, would be impossible without coltan, mined almost exclusively in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Shocking to many, GNI or gross national income per capital is higher across Africa than it is in India. At least a dozen African countries have a higher GNI per capita than China. And as the continent’s middle classes grow, telecomm, banking, and Western-style retail shopping are booming.
Tonight we’ll hear the perspectives of several speakers on African economic development, including from:
Sampson Ebimaro of the Nigerian National Planning Commission
Tsuneo Kurokawa, Director General of the Japan International Cooperation Agency’s Africa Department
William arap Ruto, Kenya’s minister for agriculture
Wasswa Biriggwa, Uganda’s ambassador to Japan, and
Fatim Badjie, Gambia’s Minister for Communication Information + Technology
Marketing professor Vijay Mahajan is a social entrepreneur and the author of Africa Rising: How 900 Million African Consumers Offer More Than You Think, a book that argues Africa is one of the world's fastest growing markets, surprising buying power, a place in which global companies are succeeding, where the diaspora is driving investment, and of which India and China are staking out huge swaths of turf.
A graduate of the Harvard School of Business, Euvin Naidoo is a South African investment banker and was selected as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. In 2007 he was President of the South African Chamber of Commerce in America (SACCA). In this June 2007 speech at TedGlobal in Arusha, Tanzania, Naidoo explains why investing in Africa is great idea.