Posts Tagged ‘Richard Holbrooke’

US Eyes Vietnam for Afghanistan Tips

August 8, 2009
by Slobodan Lekic, CommonDreams.com, August 8, 2009

BRUSSELS — Top U.S. officials have reached out to a leading Vietnam war scholar to discuss the similarities of that conflict 40 years ago with American involvement in Afghanistan, where the U.S. is seeking ways to isolate an elusive guerrilla force and win over a skeptical local population.

The overture to Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Stanley Karnow, who opposes the Afghan war, comes as the U.S. is evaluating its strategy there.

Continues >>

“Af-Pak: Obama’s War”

April 3, 2009

by Immanuel Wallerstein ,  commentary No. 254, April 1, 2009

Af-Pak is the new acronym the U.S. government has invented for Afghanistan-Pakistan. Its meaning is that there is a geopolitical concern of the United States in which the strategy that the United States wishes to pursue involves both countries simultaneously and they cannot be considered separately. The United States has emphasized this policy by appointing a single Special Representative to the two countries, Richard Holbrooke.

It was George W. Bush who sent U.S. troops into Afghanistan. And it was George W. Bush who initiated the policy of using U.S. drones to bomb sites in Pakistan. But, now that Barack Obama, after a “careful policy review,” has embraced both policies, it has become Barack Obama’s war. This comes as no enormous surprise since, during the presidential campaign, Obama indicated that he would do these things. Still, now he has done it.

This decision is likely to be seen in retrospect as Obama’s single biggest decision concerning U.S. foreign policy, one that will be noticed by future historians as imprinting its stamp on his reputation. And it is likely to be seen as well as his single biggest mistake. For, as Vice-President Biden apparently warned in the inner policy debate on the issue, it is likely to be a quagmire from which it will be as easy to disengage as the Vietnam war.

There are therefore two questions. Why did he do it? And what are likely to be the consequences during his term of office?

Let us begin with his own explanation of why he did it. He said that “the situation is increasingly perilous,” that “the future of Afghanistan is inextricably linked to the future of its neighbor, Pakistan,” and that “for the American people, [Pakistan's] border region [with Afghanistan] has become the most dangerous place in the world.”

And why is it so dangerous? Quite simply, it is because it is a safe haven for al-Qaeda to “train terrorists” and to “plot attacks” – not only against Afghanistan and the United States but everywhere in the world. The fight against al-Qaeda is no longer called the “war on terrorism” but is hard to see the difference. Obama claims that the Bush administration had lost its “focus” and that he has now installed a “comprehensive, new strategy.” In short, Obama is going to do this better than Bush.

What then are the new elements? The United States will send more troops to Afghanistan – 17,000 combat troops and 4000 trainers of the Afghan forces. It will send more money. It proposes to give Pakistan $1.5 billion a year for five years to “build schools and roads and hospitals.” It proposes to send “agricultural specialists and educators, engineers and lawyers” to Afghanistan to “develop an economy that isn’t dominated by illicit drugs.” In short, Obama says that he believes that “a campaign against extremism will not succeed with bullets or bombs alone.”

However, implicitly unlike Bush, this will not be a “blank check” to the two governments. “Pakistan must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out al Qaeda and the violent extremists within its borders.” As for Afghanistan, the United States “will seek a new compact with the Afghan government that cracks down on corrupt behavior.” The Afghan and Pakistani governments are pleased to be getting the new resources. They haven’t said that they will meet Obama’s conditions. And Obama hasn’t said what he will do if the two governments don’t meet his conditions.

As for the way forward, Obama asserts that “there will be no peace without reconciliation with former enemies.” Reconciliation? Well, not with the “uncompromising core of the Taliban,” or with al-Qaeda, but with those Taliban “who’ve taken up arms because of coercion, or simply for a price.” To do this, Obama wants assistance. He proposes to create a new Contact Group that will include not only “our NATO allies” but also “the Central Asian states, the Gulf nations and Iran, Russia, India and China.”

The most striking aspect of this major commitment is how little enthusiasm it has evoked around the world. In the United States, it has been applauded by the remnants of the neo-cons and McCain. So far, other politicians and the press have been reserved. Iran, Russia, India, and China have not exactly jumped on the bandwagon. They are particularly cool about the idea of reconciliation with so-called moderate Taliban. And both the Guardian and McClatchy report that the Taliban themselves have reacted by creating unity within their hitherto divided ranks – presumably the opposite of what Obama is trying to achieve.

So, where will we probably be six months from now? There will be more U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and the U.S. commanders will probably say that the 21,000 Obama is sending are not enough. There will be further withdrawals of NATO troops from there – a repeat of the Iraq scenario. There will be further, perhaps more extensive, bombings in Pakistan, and consequently even more intensive anti-American sentiments throughout the country. The Pakistani government will not be moving against the Taliban for at least three reasons. The still very influential ISI component of the Pakistani army actually supports the Taliban. The rest of the army is conflicted and in any case probably too weak to do the job. The government will not really press them to do more because it will only thereby strengthen its main rival party which opposes such action and the result may be another army coup.

In short, the “clear and focused goal” that Obama proposes – “to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future” – will probably be further than ever from accomplishment. The question is what can Obama do then? He can “stay the course” (shades of Rumsfeld in Iraq), constantly escalate the troop commitment, while changing the local political leadership (shades of Kennedy/Johnson and Ngo Dinh Diem in Vietnam), or he can turn tail and pull out (as the United States finally did in Vietnam). He is not going to be cheered for any of these choices.

I have the impression that Obama thinks that his speech left him some wiggle room. I think he will find out rather how few choices he will have that are palatable. I think therefore he made a big, probably irreparable, mistake.

From Bush to Obama: War is still a racket

March 2, 2009

By Krystalline Kraus | ZNet, March 2, 2009
Source: Rabble

War ain’t cheap. But it’s better for big business the longer it lasts. Defense contractors don’t care about death tolls and MIA lists, only dollars and cents. The colour of blood is green.

First, let’s start with Iraq. A December 2008 Washington Post poll [2] found, “Seventy percent say President-elect Barack Obama should fulfill his campaign promise to withdraw U.S. forces from the country within 16 months.” It now appears Obama will miss fulfilling that timeline by at least three months [3].

Bush’s pre-emptive declaration of victory

But, the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq? How can you end a war that has already ended?

I remember President ‘W’ Bush standing on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003, behind a huge banner that read: ‘Mission Accomplished.’ [4]

And wait, didn’t we – the free world – actually win this war?

The U.S. Commander-in-chief told the nation later that night in May, 2003, that, “Major combat operations in Iraq have ended.” He then congratulated the U.S. military’s effort in Iraq, saying, “Because of you, our nation is more secure. Because of you, the tyrant has fallen, and Iraq is free.”

Of course, Bush also said, “The transition from dictatorship to democracy will take time but it is worth every effort. Our coalition will stay until our work is done.” (Five years after the May 1 declaration and for Bush’s departure, the White House did try and rewrite history by claiming the “Mission Accomplished” banner was meant to refer only to the sailors on that particular ship. No alterations to his speech have been made.)

But we still won, right? Right? We won somewhere back in 2003. All the terrorists are now safely locked away in Gitmo and all the IEDs are out of the ground? The U.S. has cleaned up all the depleted uranium and cluster bombs? So it’s all good, tab settled, check paid? What left over work could there to be done according to the tone of Bush’s speech? He seemed so proud of himself [5].

The economics of death

For a war that’s already ended and when the free world has already won, how come so many are still dying over there if the major combat operations have ended? Why is the supposed aftermath of a war causing more deaths than the war itself? Why does democracy look more like a war zone?

According to the casualty counter (yes, there is such a thing. It was last updated on February 9, 2009) on www.antiwar.com [6], 4243 American Forces deaths have been recorded since the war began on March 19, 2003, with 4104 of those deaths having occurred after the “Mission” was declared “Accomplished” on May 1, 2003. If the mission was so accomplished, why do two-thirds of Americans polled in the Washington Post article state they did not believe the war in Iraq was worth fighting? Was it ever?

War for profit

If someone is making bullets, then someone is making money. This is true in regards to defense contractors working in the Iraq theatre of conflict, where the U.S. treasury has become a virtual money exchange where you insert money to buy bullets and private security guards instead of school books and expensive patented medicine. Every year millions of tax dollars siphoned from domestic and international aid programs are diverted to feed the war machine.

A 2007 Rolling Stone magazine article, ‘The Great Iraq Swindle [7],’ by Matti Taibbi, outlines how Bush, “allowed an Army of for-profit contractors to invade the U.S. Treasury.”

“What the Bush administration has created in Iraq is a sort of paradise of perverted capitalism … Operation Iraqi Freedom, it turns out, was never a war against Saddam ­Hussein’s Iraq. It was an invasion of the federal budget, and no occupying force in history has ever been this efficient,” Taibbi wrote.

The Internet site, Business Pundit, has a July 22, 2008 list of the twenty-five most vicious war profiteers; including names the public has heard before, like Halliburton and Veritas Capital Fund/DynCorp. You can view the list here [8].

Which brings me to the next point, or man. Sad to say, even with Washington under new management, these companies will still be raking through the bloodshed for gold coins. No one should be blinded by the bright light of Obama’s supposed luminary change until it actually happens. The financial interests that were backing up Bush will be propping up the new administration behind the scenes as well.

To Obama’s credit, he did come forward with a campaign promise to withdraw US Forces from Iraqi soil within sixteen months. Perhaps this will finally end the war that has already ended and the free world has already won?

From Bush to Obama

The ongoing-legacy of the Iraq war is heartbreaking, death statistics spill like oil from the giant hole called victory in Iraq. Along with death statistics from enemy combat, we are faced with the horrific news from the United States Army report released early February, 2009, regarding suicide rates among soldiers [9], reporting an alarming spike in suicides among soldiers in January, 2009.

“In January, we lost more soldiers to suicide than to Al Qaeda,” Paul Rieckhoff, the director of the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans of America [10], stated in a related press release.

In the Army’s annual report, it stated that soldiers were killing themselves at the highest rates on record in 2008. Yearly increases in suicide rates have been reported since 2004.

Turns out, the blood on Bush’s hands is also from his own soldiers, and in the handshake transference of power to Obama, he has inherited these spoils of war.

From Iraq to Afghanistan

Obama, like his predecessor, has pledged to continue the fight against terrorism. Although he has declared his intentions to pull out of Iraq, just like in the game Risk, he is simply sliding his army across the map from Iraq to Afghanistan, America’s forgotten war.

Speaking at the annual Munich Security Conference last week [11] U.S. government envoy, Richard Holbrooke warned that Afghanistan would be, “much tougher than Iraq.” He said the war Obama inherits there is “a situation of very grand rhetoric with inadequate, insufficient resources.” Holbrooke added, “I have never seen anything like the mess we have inherited.”

This is the sendoff 30,000 U.S. troops received as they prepare — over the course of 2009 — to deploy to Afghanistan, ready to join the 32,500 NATO troops already stationed there as of December 1, 2008. An additional 17,000 troops were just announced, with 8,000 Marines going to southern Afghanistan in late spring, another 4,000 soldiers in summer and 5,000 support troops throughout the year.

When Obama visited Ottawa last week he did not ask Canada to deploy any more of its NATO troops to Afghanistan, instead choosing to praise the nation for its involvement. I wonder how soon victory will be declared there, before or after Canada troops are predicted to withdraw in 2011?

Obama’s war

Every president needs a war. Bush Sr. and Jr. both had theirs. For Obama, he was against the war in Iraq before his presidency. While he rarely mentioned Afghanistan on the campaign trail, now as President, he has settled on his choice of enemy.

He has also chosen who will profit from this war. Just as with Bush’s legacy of war profiteering, it seems that the Obama that swore during the campaign he would not invite lobbyists to the White House has appointed former Raytheon (a Canadian missile systems corporation) lobbyist, William Lynn [12], as deputy defense secretary on Wednesday, February 11, 2009.

The total cost for Iraq is predicted at three trillion dollars [13]. How much money private contractors will make off the war, the public will never know. I guess victory ain’t cheap.

Those figures are only in dollars, not drops of blood. How much more does Obama expect his nation to pay? Let alone the rest of the world?

This whole war business just doesn’t add up.


Krystalline Kraus is a Toronto-based writer.

Chomsky: No change coming with Obama

February 18, 2009
By Shahram Vahdany | Press TV

The following is a Press TV interview with respected American author, political analyst and world-renowned linguist, Professor Noam Chomsky.

Press TV: Professor Chomsky, we better start with Pakistan. The White House not commenting on the killings of people [in cross-border drone attacks from Afghanistan into Pakistan]. Richard Holbrooke, someone whom you’ve written about in the context of Yugoslavia, is the man [President Barack] Obama has chosen to solve the situation.

Chomsky: Well, it was pretty clear that Obama would accept the Bush doctrine that the United States can bomb Pakistan freely, and there have been many case which are quite serious.

There has been for example a great deal of chaos and fighting in Bajaur province, which is a adjacent to Afghanistan and tribal leaders- others there- have traced it to the bombing of a madrassa school which killed 80 to 95 people, which I don’t think was even reported in the United states, it was reported in the Pakistani press of course.

The author of the article reporting it, a well-known nuclear physicist, Pervez Hoodbhoy pointed out at the time that this kind of massacre will of course engender terror and reactions, which will even threaten the state of Pakistan. And that has been what is happening. We are now seeing more of it.

The first message of the Pakistani government to General [David] Petraeus, the American General when he took command of the region was that they did not want any more bombings in Pakistan.

Actually, the first message to the new Obama administration by President [Hamid] Karzai of Afghanistan was the same, that he wanted no more bombings. He also said that he wants a timetable for the withdrawal of the foreign troops, US and other troops, from Afghanistan. That was of course just ignored.

Press TV: And these three foreign envoys, well the third one has not been announced yet perhaps, but some people are expressing optimism about George Mitchell’s position as Middle East envoy.

Richard Holbrooke, which have looked at. We have talked to the former Bosnian foreign minister here, who seemed to imply that he may even have had a role in the say so for the Srebrenica massacre, and of course, Dennis Ross is being talked about as an envoy for Iran.

Chomsky: well Holbrooke has a pretty awful record, not so much Yugoslavia, but earlier. For example, In the Indonesian atrocities in eastern Timor, where he was the official in charge, and evaded to stop the US support for them, and all together it’s a very spotty record.

George Mitchell is, of the various appointments that have been made, he is the most decent let’s say. He has a pretty decent record. He achieved something in Northern Ireland, but of course, in that case there was an objective.

The objective was that the British would put an end to the resort to violence in response to IRA terror and would attend to the legitimate grievances that were the source of the terror. He did manage that, Britain did pay attention to the grievances, and the terror stopped- so that was successful.

But there is no such outcome sketched in the Middle East, specially the Israel-Palestine problem. I mean, there is a solution, a straightforward solution very similar to the British one. Israel could stop its US-backed crimes in the occupied territories and then presumably the reaction to them would stop. But that’s not on the agenda.

In fact, President Obama just had a press conference, which was quite interesting in that respect. He praised the parabolic peace initiative, the Saudi initiative endorsed by the Arab League, and said it had constructive elements. It called for the normalization of relation with Israel, and he called on the Arab states to proceed with those “constructive elements,” namely the normalization of relations.

But that is a gross falsification of the Arab League initiative. The Arab League initiative called for accepting a two-state settlement on the international border, which has been a long-standing international consensus and said if that can be achieved then Arab states can normalize relations with Israel.

Well, Obama skipped the first part, the crucial part, the core of the resolution, because that imposes an obligation on the United States. The United States has stood alone for over thirty years in blocking this international consensus, by now it has totally isolated the US and Israel.

Europe and now a lot of other countries have accepted it. Hamas has accepted it for years, the Palestinian Authority of course, the Arab League now for many years [have accepted it]. The US and Israel block it, not just in words, but they are blocking it in actions constantly, (this is) happening every day in the occupied territories and also in the siege of Gaza and other atrocities.

So when he skips that it is purposeful. That entails that the US is not going to join the world in seeking to implement a diplomatic settlement, and if that is the case, Mitchell’s mission is vacuous.

Press TV: Is there a contradiction in that George Mitchell of course did speak to members of the Sinn Féin, their military wing of course of the IRA.

At the same time, well on this channel [Press TV] we have been covering the Gaza conflict, its headquarters were bombed, and now we are being told that Israeli soldiers will not give their names, and the names of people are not being released for fear of prosecution.

And yet, some were saying that Obama did say that the border should be opened. Should we see any change in policy there?

Chomsky: He did say that, but he did not mention the fact that it was in the context of a lot other demands. And Israel will also say, sure the borders should be opened but he still refuses to speak to the elected government (i.e. Hamas), quite different from Mitchell in Northern Ireland.

It means Palestinians will have to be punished for voting in a free election, the way the US did not want them to, and he endorsed the Condoleezza Rice-Tzipi Livni agreement to close the Egyptian-Gaza order, which is quite an act of imperial arrogance.

It is not their border, and in fact, Egypt strongly objected to that. But Obama continued. He says we have to make sure that no arms are smuggled through the tunnels into the Gaza Strip. But he said nothing about the vast dispatch of far more lethal arms to Israel.

In fact, right in the middle of the Gaza attack, December 31, the Pentagon announced that it was commissioning a German ship to send 3,000 tons of war material to Israel. That did not work out, because the government of Greece prevented it but it was supposed to go through Greece but it could all go through somewhere else. This is right in the middle of the attack on Gaza.

Actually there were very little reporting, very few inquiries. The Pentagon responded in an interesting way. They said, well this material won’t be used for the attack on Gaza, in fact they knew that Israel had plans to stop the attack right before the inauguration, so that Obama would not have to say anything about it.

But the Pentagon said that this material is being used for pre-positioning for US forces. In other words, this has been going for a long time, but this is extending and reinforcing the role of Israel as a US military base on the edge of the major oil producing regions of the world. If they are ever asked why they are doing it, they will say for defense or stability, but it is just a base for further aggressive action.

Press TV: Robert Gates and Admiral [Mike] Mullen have been talking about the 16-month timeline for withdrawal from Iraq is just one of the options, a slight difference from what Obama has been saying in the campaign. And, Hillary Clinton famously said she was prepared to obliterate all of Iran and kill 70 million citizens. On Iraq and Iran what do you see as changes?

Chomsky: What happened in Iraq is extremely interesting and important. The few correspondents with real experience any whom know something have understood it. Patrick Cockburn, Jonathan Steele and one or two others.

What has happened is that there was a remarkable campaign of non-violent resistance in Iraq, which compelled the United States, step-by-step, to back away from its programs and its goals. They compelled the US occupying forces to allow an election, which the US did not want and tried to evade in all sorts of ways.

Then they went on from there to force the United States to accept at least formally a status of forces agreement, which if the Obama administration lives up to it, will abandon most of the US war aims. It will eliminate the huge permanent military bases that the US has built in Iraq. It will mean the US will not control decisions over how the oil resources will be accessed and used. And in fact just every war aim is gone.

Of course there is a question of whether the US will live up to it and what you are reporting is among the serious indications that they are trying to evade living up to it. But what happened there is really significant, and a real credit to the people of Iraq, who have suffered miserably. I mean, the country has been absolutely destroyed, but they did manage to get the US to back away formally from its major war aims.

In the case of Iran, Obama’s statements have not been as inflammatory as Clinton’s, but they amount to pretty much the same thing. He said all options are open. Well, what does all options mean? Presumably that includes nuclear war, you know, that is an option.

There is no indication that he is willing to take the steps, say, that the American population wants. An overwhelming majority of the American population for years has been in favor, has agreed with the Non-Aligned Movement, that Iran should have the rights granted to the signers of the non-proliferation treaty, in fact to develop nuclear energy.

It should not have the right to develop nuclear weapons, and more interestingly about the same percentages, about 75 to 80%, call for the establishment of a nuclear weapons free zone in the region, which would include Iran, Israel, and any US forces deployment there, within all kinds of verifications and so on.

That could eliminate probably one of the major sources of the conflict. There is no indication that the Obama administration has any thought of doing anything about this.

Press TV: Just finally Professor Chomsky, the US economy, of course where you are -that is dominating the news and the lives all Americans and arguably the people around the world- and this 825 billion dollar package. How do you think the Obama people are going to handle this?

Chomsky: Nobody really knows. I mean, what is happening with the economy is not well understood. It is based on extremely opaque financial manipulations, which are quite hard to decode. I mean, the general process is understood, but whether the $800 billion, or probably larger government stimulus, will overcome this crisis, is not known.

The first $350 billion have already been spent- that is the so-called part bailout but that went into the pockets of banks. They were supposed to start lending freely, but they just decided not to do it. They would rather enrich themselves, restore their own capital, and take over other banks- mergers and acquisition and so on.

Whether the next stimulus will have an effect depends very much on how it is handled, whether it is monitored, so that it is used for constructive purposes. [It relies] also on factors that are just not known, like how deep this crisis is going to be.

It is a worldwide crisis and it is very serious. It is suddenly striking that the ways that Western countries are approaching the crisis is exactly the same as the model that they enforce on the Third World when there is a crisis.

So when Indonesia has a crisis, Argentina and everyone else, they are supposed to raise interest rates very high and privatize the economy, and cut down on public spending, measures like that. In the West, it is the exact opposite: lower interest rates to zero, move towards nationalization if necessary, pour money into the economy, have huge debts.

That is exactly the opposite of how the Third World is supposed to pay off its debts, and that this seems to pass without comment is remarkable. These measures for the West are ones that might get the economy moving again, while it has been a disaster for others.

Holbrooke: Insensitive Choice for a Sensitive Region

January 31, 2009

by Stephen Zunes | Foreign Policy In Focus, January 31, 2009

Obama’s choice for special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, arguably the most critical area of U.S. foreign policy, is a man with perhaps the most sordid history of any of the largely disappointing set of foreign policy and national security appointments.

Richard Holbrooke got his start in the Foreign Service during the 1960s, in the notorious pacification programs in the Mekong Delta of South Vietnam. This ambitious joint civilian-military effort not only included horrific human rights abuses but also proved to be a notorious failure in curbing the insurgency against the U.S.-backed regime in Saigon. This was an inauspicious start in the career of someone Obama hopes to help curb the insurgency against the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan.

In Asia

In the late 1970s, Holbrooke served as assistant secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. In this position, he played a major role in formulating the Carter administration’s support for Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor and the bloody counterinsurgency campaign responsible for up to a quarter-million civilian deaths. Having successfully pushed for a dramatic increase in U.S. military aid to the Suharto dictatorship, he then engaged in a cover-up of the Indonesian atrocities. He testified before Congress in 1979 that the mass starvation wasn’t the fault of the scorched-earth campaign by Indonesian forces in the island nation’s richest agricultural areas, but simply a legacy of Portuguese colonial neglect. Later, in reference to his friend Paul Wolfowitz, then the U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, Holbrooke described how “Paul and I have been in frequent touch to make sure that we keep [East Timor] out of the presidential campaign, where it would do no good to American or Indonesian interests.”

In a particularly notorious episode while heading the State Department’s East Asia division, Holbrooke convinced Carter to release South Korean troops under U.S. command in order to suppress a pro-democracy uprising in the city of Kwangju. Holbrooke was among the Carter administration officials who reportedly gave the OK to General Chun Doo-hwan, who had recently seized control of the South Korean government in a military coup, to wipe out the pro-democracy rebels. Hundreds were killed.

He also convinced President Jimmy Carter to continue its military and economic support for the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines.

At the UN

Holbrooke, as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in the late 1990s, criticized the UN for taking leadership in conflict resolution efforts involving U.S. allies, particularly in the area of human rights. For example, in October 2000 he insisted that a UN Security Council resolution criticizing the excessive use of force by Israeli occupation forces against Palestinian demonstrators revealed an unacceptable bias that put the UN “out of the running” in terms of any contributions to the peace process.

As special representative to Cyprus in 1997, Holbrooke unsuccessfully pushed the European Union to admit Turkey, despite its imprisonment of journalists, its ongoing use of the death penalty, its widespread killing of civilians in the course of its bloody counter-insurgency war in its Kurdish region, and other human rights abuses.

In the Former Yugoslavia

Holbrooke is perhaps best known for his leadership in putting together the 1995 Dayton Accords, which formally ended the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Though widely praised in some circles for his efforts, Holbrooke remains quite controversial for his role. For instance, the agreement allows Bosnian Serbs to hold on to virtually all of the land they had seized and ethnically cleansed in the course of that bloody conflict. Indeed, rather than accept the secular concept of national citizenship that has held sway in Europe for generations, Holbrooke helped impose sectarian divisions that have made the country – unlike most of its gradually liberalizing Balkan neighbors – unstable, fractious, and dominated by illiberal ultra-nationalists.

As with previous U.S. officials regarding their relations with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Panama’s Manuel Noriega, Holbrooke epitomizes the failed U.S. policy toward autocratic rulers that swings between the extremes of appeasement and war. For example, during the 1996 pro-democracy uprising in Serbia Holbrooke successfully argued that the Clinton administration should back Milosevic, in recognition of his role in the successful peace deal over Bosnia, and not risk the instability that might result from a victory by Serb democrats. Milosevic initially crushed the movement. In response to increased Serbian oppression in Kosovo just a couple years later, however, Holbrooke became a vociferous advocate of the 1999 U.S.-led bombing campaign, creating a nationalist reaction that set back the reconstituted pro-democracy movement once again. The pro-democracy movement finally succeeded in the nonviolent overthrow of the regime, following Milosevic’s attempt to steal the parliamentary elections in October 2000, but the young leaders of that movement remain bitterly angry at Holbrooke to this day.

Scott Ritter, the former chief UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) inspector who correctly assessed the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and predicted a disastrous outcome for the U.S. invasion, observes that “not only has he demonstrated a lack of comprehension when it comes to the complex reality of Afghanistan (not to mention Pakistan), Holbrooke has a history of choosing the military solution over the finesse of diplomacy.” Noting how the Dayton Accords were built on the assumption of a major and indefinite NATO military presence, which would obviously be far more problematic in Afghanistan and Pakistan than in Europe, Ritter adds: “This does not bode well for the Obama administration.”

Ironically, back in 2002-2003, when the United States had temporarily succeeded in marginalizing Taliban and al-Qaeda forces, Holbrooke was a strong supporter of redirecting American military and intelligence assets away from the region in order to invade and occupy Iraq. Obama and others presciently criticized this reallocation of resources at that time as likely to lead to the deterioration of the security situation in the country and the resurgence of these extremist groups.

It’s unclear, then, why Obama would choose someone like Holbrooke for such a sensitive post. Indeed, it’s unclear as to why – having been elected on part for his anti-war credentials – Obama’s foreign policy and national security appointments have consisted primarily of such unreconstructed hawks. Advocates of a more enlightened and rational foreign policy still have a long row to hoe.

Stephen Zunes is Middle East editor for Foreign Policy In Focus. He is a professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco and the author of Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism (Common Courage Press, 2003.)

The antiwar movement and the “good war”

August 26, 2008

Eric Ruder argues that the antiwar movement needs to respond clearly to the growing focus of U.S. military might on Afghanistan.

U.S. paratrooper on patrol in Afghanistan's Paktika province (SoldiersMedia)U.S. paratrooper on patrol in Afghanistan’s Paktika province (SoldiersMedia)

ON ONE day in mid-August, Taliban forces in Afghanistan carried out their most serious attack in six years, mounting an all-night strike on a U.S. military base in the eastern province of Khost and a fierce assault on French forces east of the capital.

The Khost offensive targeted one of the largest foreign military bases in the country and was eventually repulsed, but the attack on French forces by 100 Taliban insurgents killed 10 French soldiers and wounded 21 more. Together, the attacks are the latest expression of the growing confidence and competence of the Taliban and the growing ferocity of the fighting in America’s “other war.”

Since the beginning of July, 70 coalition troops have been killed in Afghanistan, compared to just 31 U.S. troops killed in Iraq during the same period. Already this year, 192 NATO troops have been killed in Afghanistan, compared to 232 killed in all of last year, which itself was the deadliest for NATO troops since the war began in 2001.

At the same time, other developments in and around the region–the resignation of Pakistan’s ex-president Gen. Pervez Musharraf and the Russian thrashing of Georgia’s U.S.-backed military–have illustrated starkly that a new balance of power is taking shape, dealing a setback to U.S. ambitions.

This makes the stakes for the U.S. in Afghanistan higher than ever–and simultaneously places new demands on the U.S. antiwar movement.

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

SINCE 2003, the antiwar movement has anchored itself in opposition to the U.S. war on Iraq, which was generally understood as a “war of choice” undertaken by the Bush administration. But the movement has been at best muted in its criticism–and at worst actually supportive–of the U.S. war on Afghanistan as a “legitimate” targeting of al-Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden following the September 11, 2001, attacks.

But in fact, the U.S. didn’t invade Afghanistan to “bring the perpetrators of 9/11 to justice” or to “liberate Afghan women from the Taliban.”

In truth, the U.S. had long sought an accommodation with the Taliban. As one U.S. diplomat put it in 1997, “The Taliban will probably develop like the Saudis. There will be Aramco [the oil consortium], pipelines, an emir, no parliament and lots of Sharia law. We can live with that.”

From the time that it took office, the Bush administration had been negotiating with the Taliban to enlist it as a regime friendly to U.S. interests and able to provide a bulwark against Russian and Chinese influence. At one point in negotiations, U.S. representatives tired of the slow pace and threatened Taliban officials, saying “either you accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or we bury you under a carpet of bombs,” according to a book by Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie.

When the 9/11 attacks happened, it became the perfect rationale for imperial aggression that the U.S. had already contemplated.

The material and geopolitical interests that underpinned the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan are the subject of increasingly blunt discussions within the foreign policy establishment.

As Richard Holbrooke, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations from 1999 to 2001, wrote in the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs:

As the war enters its eighth year, Americans should be told the truth: it will last a long time–longer than the United States’ longest war to date, the 14-year conflict (1961-75) in Vietnam. Success will require new policies with regard to four major problem areas: the tribal areas in Pakistan, the drug lords who dominate the Afghan system, the national police, and the incompetence and corruption of the Afghan government.

An August 21 New York Times editorial makes the case even more plainly:

More American ground troops will have to be sent to Afghanistan. The Pentagon’s over-reliance on air strikes– which have led to high levels of civilian casualties–has dangerously antagonized the Afghan population. This may require an accelerated timetable for shifting American forces from Iraq, where the security situation has grown somewhat less desperate.

NATO also needs to step up its military effort. With Russia threatening to redraw the post-Soviet map of Europe, this is not time for NATO to forfeit its military credibility by losing a war. Europe does not have a lot of available ground troops either. But it needs to send its best ones to Afghanistan and let them fight.

Afghanistan’s war is not a sideshow…Washington, NATO and the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan must stop fighting it like a holding action and develop a strategy to win. Otherwise, we will all lose.

Presidential candidate Barack Obama is already promising to implement precisely this plan, calling himself a “strong supporter of the war in Afghanistan” and pledging to withdraw forces from Iraq in order to send at least two additional combat brigades to Afghanistan.

Continued . . .

Georgia and U.S. Strategy

August 15, 2008

Master Plan or Screw Up?

By MIKE WHITNEY | Counterpunch, August 14, 2008

The American-armed and trained Georgian army swarmed into South Ossetia last Thursday, killing an estimated 2,000 civilians, sending 40,000 South Ossetians fleeing over the Russian border, and destroying much of the capital, Tskhinvali. The attack was unprovoked and took place a full 24 hours before even ONE Russian soldier set foot in South Ossetia. Nevertheless, the vast majority of Americans still believe that the Russian army invaded Georgian territory first. The BBC, AP, NPR, the New York Times and the rest of the establishment media have consistently and deliberately misled their readers into believing that the violence in South Ossetia was initiated by the Kremlin. Let’s be clear, it wasn’t. In truth, there is NO dispute about the facts except among the people who rely the western press for their information. Despite its steady loss of credibility, the corporate media continues to operate as the propaganda-arm of the Pentagon.

Former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev gave a good summary of events in an op-ed in Monday’s Washington Post:

For some time, relative calm was maintained in South Ossetia. The peacekeeping force composed of Russians, Georgians and Ossetians fulfilled its mission, and ordinary Ossetians and Georgians, who live close to each other, found at least some common ground….What happened on the night of Aug. 7 is beyond comprehension. The Georgian military attacked the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali with multiple rocket launchers designed to devastate large areas….Mounting a military assault against innocents was a reckless decision whose tragic consequences, for thousands of people of different nationalities, are now clear. The Georgian leadership could do this only with the perceived support and encouragement of a much more powerful force. Georgian armed forces were trained by hundreds of U.S. instructors, and its sophisticated military equipment was bought in a number of countries. This, coupled with the promise of NATO membership, emboldened Georgian leaders into thinking that they could get away with a “blitzkrieg” in South Ossetia…Russia had to respond. To accuse it of aggression against “small, defenseless Georgia” is not just hypocritical but shows a lack of humanity.”

Russia deployed its tanks and troops to South Ossetia to save the lives of civilians and to reestablish the peace. Period. It has no interest in annexing the former-Soviet country or in expanding its present borders. Now that the Georgian army has been routed, Russian president Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin have expressed a willingness to settle the dispute through normal diplomatic channels at the United Nations. Neither leader is under any illusions about Washington’s involvement in the hostilities. They know that Georgian President Mikail Saakashvili is an American stooge who came to power in a CIA-backed coup, the so-called “Rose Revolution”, and would never order a major military operation without explicit instructions from his White House puppetmasters.

Continued . . .


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