Posts Tagged ‘US policy’

Palestinian vote put off, Abbas remains in office

November 14, 2009


Khaleej Times Online, 13 November 2009

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who last week said he didn’t want to run for re-election, may get to stay in office without a single ballot being cast.

The Palestinian Election Commission ruled Thursday that January’s scheduled vote should be put off because of opposition from the Islamic militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and is a rival of Abbas’ Fatah faction.

Abbas raised international concern last week when he declined to run for another term, suggesting he was frustrated over a 10-month stalemate in Israel-Palestinian peacemaking. His departure would have thrown peace efforts into turmoil.

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Biden: US won’t lift blockade of Cuba

March 30, 2009
Morning Star Online, Sunday 29 March 2009
HAND OF FRIENDSHIP? The US vice-president is happy to talk to Chile's President Michelle Bachelet but says the US has no plans to stop its persecution of Cuba.

SENIOR US politicians have hinted at better relations with Latin America’s new wave of left-wing governments – except for Cuba.

US Vice-President Joe Biden said on Saturday that the US government has no plans to lift the nearly 50-year-old illegal blockade of the socialist island.

He and President Barack Obama “think that Cuban people should determine their own fate and they should be able to live in freedom,” Mr Biden said after taking part in the Progressive Governance Summit in Chile, a gathering of centre-left leaders from Latin America and Europe.

The vice-president said a “transition” was needed in Washington’s policy but that he was in Chile “to talk about the economy, not Cuba.”

Meanwhile, in Colombia, former US president and Obama ally Bill Clinton told a meeting of the governors of the Inter-American Development Bank to maintain relations with the left-wing governments of Colombia’s neighbours.

Without naming Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela, Mr Clinton said that “it shouldn’t be surprising that a reaction to global inequality and America’s withdrawal in the last eight years” under the Bush administration had produced governments “that are either too authoritarian or too hostile to market economics or both.”

The UN general assembly has repeatedly passed resolutions condemning the blockade and calling for it to end.

Washington’s isolation has increased in recent years as new progressive governments across the US’s “back yard” of Latin America and the Caribbean have forged close ties with the ever-defiant Cuban people.

Despite the blockade, Cuba has provided practical solidarity across the developing world.

Mr Biden stressed that the White House was committed to the region.

“President Obama and I are absolutely committed to working closely with our neighbours in the hemisphere,” he said at Chile’s La Moneda presidential palace after meeting President Michelle Bachelet.

At a ceremony in Pretoria on Friday, South African President Kgalema Motlanthe bestowed the gold medal of the Order of the Companions of OR Thambo on Fidel Castro, presenting it to Cuban ambassador Angel Fernandez.

The order, named after former ANC president Oliver Thambo, is South Africa’s highest award for solidarity with the anti-apartheid struggle.

It had previously been awarded posthumously to Martin Luther King Jr, Salvador Allende and Mahatma Gandhi.

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Obama’s Coalition of the Unwilling

March 5, 2009

by Amy Goodman |, March 3, 2009

President Barack Obama met recently with the prime ministers of Canada and Britain. This week’s meeting with Britain’s Gordon Brown, who was pitching a “global New Deal,” created a minor flap when the White House downsized a full news conference to an Oval Office question-and-answer session, viewed by some in Britain as a snub. The change was attributed to the weather, with the Rose Garden covered with snow.It might have actually related not to snow cover, but to a snow job, covering up the growing divide between Afghanistan policies.

U.S. policy in Afghanistan includes a troop surge, already under way, and continued bombing in Pakistan using unmanned drones. Escalating civilian deaths are a certainty. The United Nations estimates that more than 2,100 civilians died in 2008, a 40 percent jump over 2007.

The occupation of Afghanistan is in its eighth year, and public support in many NATO countries is eroding. Joseph Stiglitz, winner of the 2001 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics, told me: “The move into Afghanistan is going to be very expensive. … Our European NATO partners are getting disillusioned with the war. I talked to a lot of the people in Europe, and they really feel this is a quagmire.”

Forty-one nations contribute to NATO’s 56,000-troop presence in Afghanistan. More than half of the troops are from the U.S. The United Kingdom has 8,300 troops, Canada just under 3,000. Maintaining troops is costly, but the human toll is greater. Canada, with 108 deaths, has suffered the highest per capita death rate for foreign armies in Afghanistan, since its forces are based in the south around Kandahar, where the Taliban is strong.

Last Sunday on CNN, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said, “We’re not going to win this war just by staying … we are not going to ever defeat the insurgency.” U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine: “The United States cannot kill or capture its way to victory.” Yet it’s Canada that has set a deadline for troop withdrawal at the end of 2011. The U.S. is talking escalation.

Anand Gopal, Afghanistan correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor, described the situation on the ground: “A lot of Afghans that I speak to in these southern areas where the fighting has been happening say that to bring more troops, that’s going to mean more civilian casualties. It’ll mean more of these night raids, which have been deeply unpopular amongst Afghans. … Whenever American soldiers go into a village and then leave, the Taliban comes and attacks the village.” Afghan Parliamentarian Shukria Barakzai, a woman, told Gopal: “Send us 30,000 scholars instead. Or 30,000 engineers. But don’t send more troops-it will just bring more violence.”

Women in Afghanistan play a key role in winning the peace. A photographer wrote me: “There will be various celebrations across Afghanistan to honor International Women’s Day on Sunday, March 8. In Kandahar there will be an event with hundreds of women gathering to pray for peace, which is especially poignant in a part of Afghanistan that is so volatile.” After returning from an international women’s gathering in Moscow, feminist writer Gloria Steinem noted that the discussion centered around getting the media to hire peace correspondents to balance the war correspondents. Voices of civil society would be amplified, giving emphasis to those who wage peace. In the U.S. media, there is an equating of fighting the war with fighting terrorism. Yet on the ground, civilian casualties lead to tremendous hostility. Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, recently told me: “I’ve been saddened and shocked by virulent anti-American responses to those wars [in Iraq and Afghanistan]. They’re seen as occupations. … I think it’s very important we learn from mistakes of sounding war drums.” She added, “There’s such a connection from the Middle East to Afghanistan to Pakistan which builds on strengths of working with neighbors.”

Barack Obama was swept through the primaries and into the presidency on the basis of his anti-war message. Prime ministers like Brown and Harper are bending to growing public demand for an end to war. Yet in the U.S., there is scant debate about sending more troops to Afghanistan, and about the spillover of the war into Pakistan.

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 700 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.

Israel Asserting Middle East Supremacy: From Gaza to Tehran

February 2, 2009

“The Israeli Defense Force is the most moral army in the World!”
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert

By James Petras | Information Clearing House, February 2, 2009

Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany bombed, invaded and annexed countries and territories as a prelude to their quest for World Empire.  Israel’s drive for regional dominance has followed in their footsteps, imitating their style: Indiscriminate aerial bombings of civilian and military facilities, a savage blitzkrieg led by armored vehicles, disdain and repudiation of all criticism from international agencies was accompanied by an open, military buildup for a new and bigger war against Iran.  Like the Nazi leadership, who played on the ‘Bolshevik threat’, the Israeli high command has set in motion a vast world-wide propaganda campaign led by its world Zionist network, raising the specter of ‘Islamic terror’ to justify its preparations for a military assault on seventy-four million Iranians.  Just as Nazi Germany interpreted the passivity, sympathy and impotence of the West when confronted by ‘facts on the ground’ as license for aggression, the Israeli military machine receives a powerful impetus for new wars by the Western governments’ inaction and flaccid response to its invasion of Lebanon, the bombing of Syria and now its Nazi style blitz and conquest of Gaza.  For the Israeli high command, the impotence and complicity of the Western states, marks the way to bigger and bloodier wars to establish Israel’s supremacy and dominance of the Middle East, from the Red Sea to the Persian Gulf.

Gaza Blitz:  Dress Rehearsal for an Assault on Iran

Israel’s military victory in Gaza is a dress rehearsal for a full-scale military assault on Iran.  In the course of their Gaza extermination campaign, Israeli political and military strategists gained a great deal of vital information about: (1) the levels of complicity and impotence of European, North American and Arab states;  (2) the high degree and depth of material and political support obtainable from the United States government in pulverizing adversaries; (3) the high degree of internal support among the Jewish electorate for even the most brutal killing fields; (4) the massive unquestioning backing of an offensive war from all the biggest and most politically influential and wealthiest Jewish-Zionist organizations in the US and Western Europe; (5) the weakness and ineffectiveness of the United Nations and the incapacity of the entire range of humanitarian organizations to limit Israel’s extermination campaign directed at destroying the very existence of an entire people; (6) the unconditional backing of the entire mass media and news agencies in the US and most of the mass media in Europe and the rest of the world; (7) the willingness of the liberal critics to equally blame the victims of extermination and the exterminators for the ‘violence’, thus neutralizing any effective consequential condemnation of the Israeli state; and (8) the adaptation of practically all the journalists, writers, academics and politicians to the entire euphemistic vocabulary of the Israeli propaganda office.

For example, sustained total war is called an ‘incursion’.  Ten thousand aerial assaults by hundreds of Israeli helicopters and fighter-bombers are equated with sporadic harmless homemade rocket attacks as ‘violence’.  Israeli targeting of thousands of civilian homes, hospitals and basic infrastructure are labeled ‘terrorist’ targets.  Resistance fighters are labeled ‘Hamas terrorists’.  The bombing of the Red Cross, the United Nations relief facilities, hospitals, mosques are called ‘mistakes’ or justified as ‘launching sites for Hamas terrorists.

Israeli political leaders have drawn the lesson from their dirty little ‘war’ that they can totally destroy a nation, decimate a society and murder and maim 7000 civilians with impunity.  Israeli leaders learned they can carry out an offensive genocidal war without suffering breaks in diplomatic relations (except Mauritania, Qatar, Bolivia and Venezuela).  The Israelis have successfully tested the loyalty and submissiveness of the major Arab regimes in the region and secured cooperation and acquiescence from Egypt, the ‘Palestinian Authority’, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.  Israeli civilian-military leaders calculate that with this high degree of governmental complicity, combined with support from all the major Zionist leaders and mass media moguls, they can dismiss even large-scale street protests, repeated calls for boycotts and United Nations denunciations.  Israeli leaders know that the criticism of major religious leaders and the growing number of Jewish dissidents, critical intellectuals and activists will have no consequential impact on Western governments nor lessen the fervor and loyalty of the major Jewish organizations.

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U.N. Diplomats Frustrated at Gaza Impasse

January 6, 2009

By Haider Rizvi | Inter Press Service

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 5 (IPS) – Disappointed with the Security Council’s inaction regarding the worsening situation in Gaza, diplomats from numerous nations of the global South are close to taking the case of Israeli aggression to the U.N. General Assembly.

“It seems like they will wait for another day or two about what happens at the Security Council. If the Council does not take any action, they will be going to the General Assembly soon,” a diplomatic source told IPS on condition of anonymity.

U.N. and Gaza health officials have reported more than 550 Palestinian dead and around 2,500 wounded since the offensive began on Dec. 27.

Countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Iran and Venezuela are in favour of asking the 192-member General Assembly to adopt a resolution deploring Israeli killing of civilians and calling for an immediate ceasefire, the source said.

However, the source added that some Arab countries and others are expressing reservations about such a move.

Unlike the Security Council, the U.N. General Assembly does not have the power to implement its resolutions by force. But its verdict on international issues of war and peace is considered as important because it is based on majority vote on an equal basis.

In a statement Monday, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which enjoys a solid majority in the General Assembly, said it was deeply disappointed at the “inability of the Security Council to uphold its responsibilities in maintaining international peace and security.”

The 118-member group of developing nations called for Israel to end the “collective punishment” of the Palestinians, and abide by all its obligations as the occupying power under international law and relevant U.N. resolutions and that it does so “unconditionally”.

That demand is not acceptable to Israel’s closest ally, the United States, which enjoys veto power in the 15-member Security Council. On Saturday, the U.S. blocked a Council presidential statement calling for an immediate ceasefire by both sides.

“We want this thing to end,” argued the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Zalmay Khalilzad, before informal Security Council consultations started Monday evening. “But [first] practical engagements that are workable and durable have to be made.”

When pressed by a journalist to explain what he really meant by the term “practical arrangements”, the U.S. envoy responded with an air of vagueness: “Ceasefire that deals with both the rockets and [the Israeli military action].”

“We want an arrangement that can endure,” he said, adding that his country was against an unconditional ceasefire because it feared that Hamas would use it to rearm itself as Hezbollah did in Lebanon in 2006.

Conversations with a number of diplomatic observers suggest the U.S. is not going to change its stance before the new administration takes charge in Washington, and that until then, the Israelis would continue their military operation Gaza.

Describing the situation as “alarming”, the U.N. chief for humanitarian operations, John Holmes, said Monday that civilian casualties were steadily rising as Israeli ground operations have now intensified with ongoing aerial bombing.

“We look urgently for a ceasefire,” he told reporters. “We don’t know the exact number of casualties. The reports say they are over 500. The casualties are rising. Hospitals are struggling with growing casualties. Power is lacking.”

The U.N. relief agency UNRWA’s John Ging called the situation in Gaza “a shocking state of affairs”. In a teleconference, Ging, who entered Gaza Monday, said: “The streets are empty. It’s really horrible. People are terrorised and terrified. There is nowhere to flee.”

Holmes said he had repeatedly called for ceasefire on humanitarian grounds but “I don’t see any response to my appeal.” The U.N. official said the aid crisis in Gaza was worsening day by day.

Facing the possibility of a humanitarian disaster in Gaza, General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann has repeatedly called for a ceasefire while terming the deadly Israeli attacks a “monstrosity”.

On Monday, his spokesperson, Enrique Yeves, strongly criticised the Council for its failure to adopt a statement. “This organisation was established to establish peace,” he said, adding that contrary to the hopes of many, it failed to stop “the massacre in Gaza”.

“Why the Council is not making decisions? Why the people are dying every day?” he asked at a briefing.

On Monday, Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the 22-member Arab League, called the Israeli actions in Gaza “naked aggression” and demanded an immediate halt to military operations in the occupied territory.

“We want the Council to act decisively and swiftly,” he told reporters before attending a meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and several Arab foreign ministers at U.N. headquarters.

For his part, Ban expressed cautious optimism about the outcome of the meeting.

“We have agreed to work very closely so that the Security Council can take decisive and swift and credible action for a binding resolution,” he said. “We will continue to work closely in the coming days with the Council and other key leaders in the region.”

Ban said he was going to Washington Tuesday to discuss the current phase of the Middle East crisis with President George W. Bush, whose term expires in two weeks. When asked what he was going to tell Bush, Ban said: “I am going to stress that this situation should come to an end and [that] the civilian population should be fully protected.”

While Ban flies to Washington Tuesday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is due to arrive at U.N. headquarters in New York.

Experts on conflict resolution and human rights law say it is a must that the Security Council takes a firm and immediate action to stop the killing of civilians in Gaza. In this context, they are recommending a number of practical measures.

“The Council can start by a strong resolution condemning attacks by civilians on both Israel and [the Palestinian militant group] Hamas, demanding that such acts cease immediately,” said the London-based Amnesty International’s Malcolm Smart.

In a statement, Amnesty said it wants the Council to urge Israel to lift restrictions on the passage of humanitarian aid to Gaza and allow aid workers and journalists to have unhindered access to the occupied territories under attack.

Experts at the International Crisis Group (ICG) have also suggested similar measures and more.

“Third parties viewed as credible and trustworthy by both parties must push to end this before the toll escalates or before Israel’s land incursions turn into a venture of uncertain scope, undetermined consequences and all too familiar human cost,” said ICG’s Robert Belcher.

In Belcher’s view, Israel might win militarily and even topple Hamas, “but with clear exit and day-after scenario, a discredited Palestinian Authority and debilitated peace process, it might not be a political win.”

“There are signs important actors — European in particular, the U.S. far less so — have learned from the experience of the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war that time is of the essence,” he said. “It’s not clear whether this bitter lesson will translate into quicker action.”

“But,” according to the ICG analyst, “devising a ceasefire acceptable to both sides is not beyond reach.”

At the moment, no one really knows if such suggestions are going to work or not.

POLITICS-US: Vested Interests Drove New Pakistan Policy

September 18, 2008

Analysis by Gareth Porter | Inter-Press Service News

WASHINGTON, Sep 17 – The George W. Bush administration’s decision to launch commando raids and step up missiles strikes against Taliban and al Qaeda figures in the tribal areas of Pakistan followed what appears to have been the most contentious policy process over the use of force in Bush’s eight-year presidency.

That decision has stirred such strong opposition from the Pakistani military and government that it is now being revisited. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived in Pakistan Tuesday for the second time in three weeks, and U.S. officials and sources just told Reuters that any future raids would be approved on a mission-by-mission basis by a top U.S. administration official.

The policy was the result of strong pressure from the U.S. command in Afghanistan and lobbying by the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and the CIA’s operations directorate (DO), both of which had direct institutional interests in operations that coincided with their mandate.

State Department and some Pentagon officials had managed to delay the proposed military escalation in Pakistan for a year by arguing that it would be based on nearly nonexistent intelligence and would only increase support for the Islamic extremists in that country.

But officials of SOCOM and the CIA prevailed in the end, apparently because Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney believed they could not afford to be seen as doing nothing about bin Laden and al Qaeda in the administration’s final months.

SOCOM had a strong institutional interest in a major new operation in Pakistan.

The Army’s Delta Force and Navy SEALS had been allowed by the Pakistani military to accompany its forces on raids in the tribal area in 2002 and 2003 but not to operate on their own. And even that extremely limited role was ended by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in 2003, which frustrated SOCOM officials.

Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, whose antagonism toward the CIA was legendary, had wanted SOCOM to take over the hunt for bin Laden. And in 2006, SOCOM’s Joint Special Operations Command branch in Afghanistan pressed Rumsfeld to approve a commando operation in Pakistan aimed at capturing a high-ranking al Qaeda operative.

SOCOM had the support of the U.S. command in Afghanistan, which was arguing that the war in Afghanistan could not be won as long as the Taliban had a safe haven in Pakistan from which to launch attacks. The top U.S. commander, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, worked with SOCOM and DO officers in Afghanistan to assemble the evidence of Pakistan’s cooperation with the Taliban. .

Despite concerns that such an operation could cause a massive reaction in Pakistan against the U.S. war on al Qaeda, Rumsfeld gave in to the pressure in early November 2006 and approved the operation, according to an account in the New York Times Jun. 30. But within days, Rumsfeld was out as defence secretary, and the operation was put on hold.

Nevertheless Bush and Cheney, who had been repeating that Musharraf had things under control in the frontier area, soon realised that they would be politically vulnerable to charges that they weren’t doing anything about bin Laden.

The July 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) was the signal for the CIA’s DO to step up its own lobbying for control over a Pakistan operation, based on the Afghan model — CIA officers training and arming a local militia while identifying targets for strikes from the air.

In a Washington Post column only two weeks after the NIE’s conclusions were made public, David Ignatius quoted former CIA official Hank Crumpton, who had run the CIA operation in Afghanistan after the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks, on the proposed DO operation: “We either do it now, or we do it after the next attack.”

That either-or logic and the sense of political vulnerability in the White House was the key advantage of the advocates of a new war in Pakistan. Last November, the New York Times reported that the Defence Department had drafted an order based on the SOCOM proposal for training of local tribal forces and for new authority for “covert” commando operations in Pakistan’s frontier provinces.

But the previous experience with missile strikes against al Qaeda targets using predator drones and the facts on the ground provided plenty of ammunition to those who opposed the escalation. It showed that the proposed actions would have little or no impact on either the Taliban or al Qaeda in Pakistan, and would bring destabilising political blowback.

In January 2006, the CIA had launched a missile strike on a residential compound in Damadola, near the Afghan border, on the basis of erroneous intelligence that Ayman al-Zawahiri would be there. The destruction killed as many 25 people, according to local residents interviewed by The Telegraph, including 14 members of one family.

Some 8,000 tribesmen in the Damadola area protested the killing, and in Karachi tens of thousands more rallied against the United States, shouting “Death to America!”

Musharraf later claimed that the dead included four high-ranking al Qaeda officials, including al-Zawahiri’s son-in-law. The Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock reported last week, however, that U.S. and Pakistani officials now admit that only local villagers were killed in the strike.

It was well known within the counter-terrorism community that the U.S. search for al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan was severely limited by the absence of actionable intelligence. For years, the U.S. military had depended almost entirely on Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, despite its well-established ties with the Taliban and even al Qaeda.

One of the counter-terrorism officials without a direct organisational stake in the issue, State Department counterterrorism chief Gen. Dell L. Dailey, bluntly summed up the situation to reporters last January. “We don’t have enough information about what’s going on there,” he said. “Not on al Qaeda, not on foreign fighters, not on the Taliban.”

A senior U.S. official quoted by the Post last February was even more scathing on that subject, saying “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then.”

Meanwhile, the Pakistani military, reacting to the U.S. aim of a more aggressive U.S. military role in the tribal areas, repeatedly rejected the U.S. military proposal for training Frontier Corps units.

The U.S. command in Afghanistan and SOCOM increased the pressure for escalation early last summer by enlisting visiting members of Congress in support of the plan. Texas Republican Congressmen Michael McCaul, who had visited Afghanistan and Pakistan, declared on his return that was “imperative that U.S. forces be allowed to pursue the Taliban and al Qaeda in tribal areas inside Pakistan.”

In late July, according to The Times of London, Bush signed a secret national security presidential directive (NSPD) which authorised operations by special operations forces without the permission of Pakistan.

The Bush decision ignored the disconnect between the aims of the new war and the realities on the ground in Pakistan. Commando raids and missile strikes against mid-level or low-level Taliban or al Qaeda operatives, carried out in a sea of angry Pashtuns, will not stem the flow of fighters from Pakistan into Afghanistan or weaken al Qaeda. But they will certainly provoke reactions from the tribal population that can tilt the affected areas even further toward the Islamic radicals.

At least some military leaders without an institutional interest in the outcome understood that the proposed escalation was likely to backfire. One senior military officer told the Los Angeles Times last month that he had been forced by the “fragility of the current government in Islamabad,” to ask whether “you do more long-term harm if you act very, very aggressively militarily”.

*Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, “Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam”, was published in 2006.


Georgia War Rooted in U.S. Self-Deceit on NATO

August 24, 2008

Analysis by Gareth Porter | Inter Press Service News Agency

WASHINGTON, Aug 23 – The U.S. policy of absorbing Georgia and Ukraine into NATO, which was enthusiastically embraced by Barack Obama and his running mate Joseph Biden, has undoubtedly been given a major boost by the Russian military operation in Georgia.

In the new narrative of the Russia-Georgia war emerging from op-eds and cable news commentaries, Georgia is portrayed as the innocent victim of Russian aggression fighting for its independence.

However, the political background to that war raises the troubling question of why the George W. Bush administration failed to heed warning signs that its policy of NATO expansion right up to Russia’s ethnically troubled border with Georgia was both provocative to Russia and encouraging a Georgian regime known to be bent on using force to recapture the secessionist territories.

There were plenty of signals that Russia would not acquiesce in the alignment of a militarily aggressive Georgia with a U.S.-dominated military alliance. Then Russian President Vladimir Putin made no secret of his view that this represented a move by the United States to infringe on Russia’s security in the South Caucasus region. In February 2007 he asked rhetorically, “Against whom is this expansion intended?”

Contrary to the portrayal of Russian policy as aimed at absorbing South Ossetia and Abkhazia into Russia and regime change in Georgia, Moscow had signaled right up to the eve of the NATO summit its readiness to reach a compromise along the lines of Taiwan’s status in U.S.-China relations: formal recognition of the sovereignty over the secessionist territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in return for freedom to develop extensive economic and political relations. But it was conditioned on Georgia staying out of NATO.

That compromise was disdained by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. After a Mar. 19 speech at the Atlantic Council in Washington, Saakashvili was asked whether Russia had offered a “Taiwan model” solution in return for Georgia stay out of NATO. “We have heard many, many suggestions of this sort,” he said, but he insisted, “You cannot compromise on these issues…”

Russia, meanwhile, had made it clear that it would respond to a move toward NATO membership for Georgia by moving toward official relations with the secessionist regions.

U.S. policymakers had decided long before those developments that the NATO expansion policy would include Georgia and Ukraine. They convinced themselves that they weren’t threatening Russia but only contributing to a new European security order that was divorced from the old politics of spheres of interest.

But their view of NATO expansion appears to be marked by self-deception and naiveté. The Bill Clinton administration had abandoned its original notion that Russia would be a “partner” in post-Cold War European security, and the NATO expansion policy had evolved into a de facto containment strategy.

Robert Hunter, former U.S. ambassador to NATO in the Clinton administration and head of a three-year project for the State Department on reform of the Georgian National Security Council, says the U.S. project of Georgia’s membership in NATO “had to be seen by any serious observer as trying to substitute a Western sphere of influence for Russian” in that violence-prone border region of the Caucasus.

Some officials “wanted to shore up democracy”, said Hunter in an interview, imagining that NATO was “a kind of glorified Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe” — a negotiating and conflict prevention body to which the Russian Federation belongs.

But there were also some in the administration who “genuinely wanted to contain the Russians by surrounding them”, he added.

James J. Townsend, director of the International Security Programme at the Atlantic Council and formerly the Pentagon official in charge of European relations, said there was enthusiastic support in both the Defence Department and the State Department soon after Saakashvili took power in 2003 for integration of Georgia into NATO “as quickly as possible”.

Townsend believes the project to integrate Georgia and Ukraine into NATO gained momentum in part because Washington “was underestimating just how sensitive this is to Putin”. U.S. policymakers, he said, had observed that in previous rounds of enlargement, despite “a lot of bluff and bluster by the Russians”, there was no Russian troop movement.

Furthermore, policymakers believed they were proving to the Russians that NATO expansion is not a threat to Russian interests, according to Townsend. They did become aware of Russia’s growing assertiveness on the issue, Townsend concedes, but policymakers thought they were simply “making trouble on everything in order to have some leverage”.

In the end, the bureaucracies pushing for NATO expansion were determined to push it through despite Russian opposition. “I think it was a case of wanting to get Georgia engaged before the window of opportunity closed,” said Townsend.

To do so they had to ignore the risk that the promise of membership in NATO would only encourage Saakashvili, who had already vowed to “liberate” the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions, to become even more sanguine about the use of force.

In the same Mar. 19 speech in Washington, Saakashvili minimised the problem of Russian military power in the region. He declared that the Russians “are not capable of enforcing the Taiwan model in Georgia. Their army in the Caucasus is not strong enough …to calm down the situation in their own territory. I don’t think they are ready for any kind of an adventure in somebody else’s territory. And hopefully they know it.”

It was a clear hint that Saakashvili, newly encouraged by Bush’s strong support for NATO membership, believed he could face down the Russians.

At the NATO summit, Bush met resistance from Germany and other European allies, who insisted it was “not the right time” to even begin putting Georgia and Ukraine on the road to membership. But in order to spare embarrassment to Bush, they offered a pledge that Georgia and Ukraine “will become NATO members”.

Hunter believes that NATO commitment was an even more provocative signal to Putin and Saakashvili than NATO approval of a “Membership Action Plan” for Georgia would have been.

The Russians responded exactly as they said they would, taking steps toward legal recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. And Saakashvili soon began making moves to prepare for a military assault on one or both regions.

In early July, Rice traveled to Tsibilisi with the explicit intention of trying to rein him in. In her Jul. 10 press conference, she made it clear that Washington was alarmed by his military moves.

“The violence needs to stop,” said Rice. “And whoever is perpetrating it — and I’ve mentioned this to the president — there should not be violence.”

David L. Phillips, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, told the Los Angeles Times last week he believes that, despite State Department efforts to restrain the Georgian president, “Saakashvili’s buddies in the White House and the Office of the Vice President kept egging him on”.

But whether more specific encouragement took place or not, the deeper roots of the crisis lay in bureaucratic self-deceit about the objective expanding NATO up to the border of a highly suspicious and proud Russia in the context of an old and volatile ethnic conflict.

*Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, “Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam”, was published in 2006.

Is Perpetual War Our Future?

August 17, 2008

Learning the Wrong Lessons from the Bush Era

By Andrew Bacevich | ZNet, August 16, 2008

To appreciate the full extent of the military crisis into which the United States has been plunged requires understanding what the Iraq War and, to a lesser extent, the Afghan War have to teach. These two conflicts, along with the attacks of September 11, 2001, will form the centerpiece of George W. Bush’s legacy. Their lessons ought to constitute the basis of a new, more realistic military policy.

In some respects, the effort to divine those lessons is well under way, spurred by critics of President Bush’s policies on the left and the right as well as by reform-minded members of the officer corps. Broadly speaking, this effort has thus far yielded three distinct conclusions. Whether taken singly or together, they invert the post-Cold War military illusions that provided the foundation for the president’s Global War on Terror. In exchange for these received illusions, they propound new ones, which are equally misguided. Thus far, that is, the lessons drawn from America’s post-9/11 military experience are the wrong ones.

According to the first lesson, the armed services — and above all the Army — need to recognize that the challenges posed by Iraq and Afghanistan define not only the military’s present but also its future, the “next war,” as enthusiasts like to say. Rooting out insurgents, nation-building, training and advising “host nation” forces, population security and control, winning hearts and minds — these promise to be ongoing priorities, preoccupying U.S. troops for decades to come, all across the Islamic world.

Rather than brief interventions ending in decisive victory, sustained presence will be the norm. Large-scale conventional conflict like 1991’s Operation Desert Storm becomes the least likely contingency. The future will be one of small wars, expected to be frequent, protracted, perhaps perpetual.

Although advanced technology will retain an important place in such conflicts, it will not be decisive. Wherever possible, the warrior will rely on “nonkinetic” methods, functioning as diplomat, mediator, and relief worker. No doubt American soldiers will engage in combat, but, drawing on the latest findings of social science, they will also demonstrate cultural sensitivity, not to speak of mastering local languages and customs. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates put it in October 2007, “Reviving public services, rebuilding infrastructure and promoting good governance” had now become soldiers’ business. “All these so-called nontraditional capabilities have moved into the mainstream of military thinking, planning, and strategy — where they must stay.”

This prospect implies a rigorous integration of military action with political purpose. Hard power and soft power will merge. The soldier on the ground will serve as both cop and social worker. This prospect also implies shedding the sort of utopian expectations that produced so much confident talk of “transformation,” “shock-and-awe,” and “networkcentric warfare” — all of which had tended to segregate war and politics into separate compartments.

Local conditions will dictate technique, dooming the Pentagon’s effort to devise a single preconceived, technologically determined template applicable across the entire spectrum of conflict. When it comes to low-intensity wars, the armed services will embrace a style owing less to the traditions of the Civil War, World War II, or even Gulf War I than to the nearly forgotten American experiences in the Philippines after 1898 and in Central America during the 1920s. Instead of looking for inspiration at the campaigns of U. S. Grant, George Patton, or H. Norman Schwarzkopf, officers will study postwar British and French involvement in places like Palestine and Malaya, Indochina and Algeria.

Continued . . .

Let’s Speak the Truth About Afghanistan

July 31, 2008

The Huffington Post, Posted July 30, 2008 | 12:55 PM (EST)

By Eric Margolis

NEW YORK — During his triumphant European tour, Senator Barack Obama again urged NATO’s members to send more troops to Afghanistan and called the conflict there, “the central front in the war on terror.” Europe’s response ranged from polite evasion to downright frosty.

It is unfortunate that Obama has adopted President George Bush’s misleading terminology, “war on terror,” to describe the conflict between the United States and anti-American groups in the Muslim world. Like many Americans, he and his foreign policy advisors are sorely misinformed about the reality of Afghanistan.

One understands Obama’s need to respond with martial élan to rival John McCain’s chest-thumping about “I know how to win wars.” Polls put McCain far ahead of Obama when it comes to being a war leader. But Obama’s recent proposal to send at least 7,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, and his threats to attack Pakistan’s territory, and warnings about Islamabad’s nuclear forces, show poor judgment and lack of knowledge.

The United States is no longer “fighting terrorism” in Afghanistan, as Bush, Obama and McCain insist. The 2001 U.S. invasion was a legitimate operation against al-Qaeda, a group that properly fit the role of a “terrorist organization.” But, contrary to the White House’s wildly inflated claims that Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda was a worldwide conspiracy, it never numbered more than 300 hard core members. Bin Laden and his jihadis long ago scattered into all corners of Pakistan and elsewhere. Only a handful remain in Afghanistan.

Continued . . .

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