Posts Tagged ‘Zbigniew Brzezinski’

Here We Go Again

December 3, 2009

by Robert Scheer, TruthDig.com, Dec  2, 2009

It is already a 30-year war begun by one Democratic president, and thanks to the political opportunism of the current commander in chief the Afghanistan war is still without end or logical purpose. President Barack Obama’s own top national security adviser has stated that there are fewer than 100 al-Qaida members in Afghanistan and that they are not capable of launching attacks. What superheroes they must be, then, to require 100,000 U.S. troops to contain them.

Continues >>

War and Profits

November 25, 2009

by Stephen Fleischman |The Smirking Chimp,  November 23, 2009

We know why there are wars, and we’ve known it for a long time. Good wars, that is, necessary wars, not wars by powerful foreign invaders, wars that might threaten our country.

Everybody knows we’re in the process of old-hat empire building, the kind designed by the British in the salad days of colonialism and for which they eventually took hits around the world by the likes of George Washington and Mahatma Gandhi.

No lessons learned there. President Obama is about to make a momentous decision on Afghanistan. He has been mulling over, for the last few weeks, how many more troops he will be sending to McChrystal, to further his counter-insurgency in that country. Ten thousand? Eighty thousand? Whichever, it’s a process of foregone futility. And everybody knows it. But the mainstream media, heavy with punditry, spends endless hours hashing over every detail. And you don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing. The propaganda circle from government handout to media coverage is complete.

Continues >>

 

Obama in Cairo: a new face for American imperialism

June 7, 2009

Patrick Martin | wsws.com, 5 June 2009

The speech delivered by US President Barack Obama in Cairo yesterday was riddled with contradictions. He declared his opposition to the “killing of innocent men, women, and children,” but defended the ongoing US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the US proxy war in Pakistan, while remaining silent on the most recent Israeli slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza. These wars have killed at least one million Iraqis and tens of thousands in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Palestinian territories.

Obama declared his support for democracy, human rights and women’s rights, after two days of meetings with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, two of the most notorious tyrants in the Middle East. He said nothing in his speech about the complete absence of democratic rights in Saudi Arabia, or about the ongoing repression under Mubarak’s military dictatorship. In the days before the US president’s arrival at Al-Azhar University, the campus was raided by Egyptian secret police who detained more than 200 foreign students. Before leaving on his Mideast trip, Obama praised Mubarak as a “steadfast ally.”

While posturing as the advocate of universal peace and understanding, Obama diplomatically omitted any reference to his order to escalate the war in Afghanistan with the dispatch of an additional 17,000 US troops. And he tacitly embraced the policy of his predecessor in Iraq, declaring, “I believe the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein.” He even seemed to hedge on the withdrawal deadline of December 2011 negotiated by the Bush administration, which he described as a pledge “to remove all our troops from Iraq by 2012.”

Obama rejected the charge that America is “a self-interested empire”—a perfectly apt characterization—and denied that the United States was seeking bases, territory or access to natural resources in the Muslim world. He claimed that the war in Afghanistan was a “war of necessity” provoked by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This is the same argument made by the Bush-Cheney administration at the time, which deliberately conceals the real material interests at stake. The war in Afghanistan is part of the drive by US imperialism to dominate the world’s two most important sources of oil and gas, the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Basin.

There was of course a distinct shift in the rhetorical tone from the bullying “you’re either with or against us” of George W. Bush to the reassuring “we’re all in this together” of Obama. But as several commentators noted (the New Republic compared the speech line-for-line to that given by Bush to the United Nations on September 16, 2006), if you turned off the picture and the sound and simply read the prepared text, the words are very similar to speeches delivered by Bush, Condoleezza Rice and other officials of the previous administration.

The vague and flowery rhetoric, the verbal tributes to Islamic culture and the equal rights of nations, constitute an adjustment of the language being used to cloak the policy of US imperialism, not a change in substance. Obama made not a single concrete proposal to redress the grievances of the oppressed peoples of the Middle East. That is because the fundamental source of this oppression is the profit system and the domination of the world by imperialism, of which American imperialism is the most ruthless.

Obama made one passing reference to colonialism, and to the US role in the overthrow of the democratically elected Mossadegh government in Iran in 1953. But in his litany of “sources of tension” in the region, he offered the same checklist as his predecessor, with the first place given to “violent extremism”, Obama’s rhetorical substitute for Bush’s “terrorism.”

The reaction to the Obama speech in the American media was across-the-board enthusiasm. Liberal David Corn of Mother Jones magazine said Obama’s great advantages were “his personal history, his non-Bushness, his recognition of US errors, his willingness to at least talk as if he wants to be an honest broker in the Mideast.”

Michael Crowley wrote in the pro-war liberal magazine New Republic, “to see him unfold his biography, to cut such an unfamiliar profile to the world, is to appreciate how much America will benefit from presenting this new face to the world.”

Perhaps most revealing was the comment by Max Boot, a neoconservative arch-defender of the war in Iraq, who wrote: “I thought he did a more effective job of making America’s case to the Muslim world. No question: He is a more effective salesman than his predecessor was.”

In his speech in Cairo, Obama was playing the role for which he was drafted and promoted by a decisive section of the US financial elite and the military and foreign policy apparatus. This role is to provide a new face for US imperialism as part of a shift in the tactics, but not the strategy, of Washington’s drive for world domination.

Nearly two years ago, former US national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski gave his public backing to the presidential candidacy of a still-obscure senator from Illinois, holding out the prospect that as an African-American with family ties to the Muslim world, Obama would improve the worldwide image of the United States.

Brzezinski was the leading hawk in the administration of Democrat Jimmy Carter and helped instigate the political upheavals in Afghanistan in the hopes of inciting a Soviet invasion that would trap the Moscow bureaucracy in a Vietnam-style quagmire. He has remained steadily focused on what he calls the “great chessboard” of Eurasia, and particularly on oil-rich Central Asia, where a struggle for influence now rages between the United States, Russia, China and Iran.

According to Brzezinski in August 2007, Obama “recognizes that the challenge is a new face, a new sense of direction, a new definition of America’s role in the world… Obama is clearly more effective and has the upper hand. He has a sense of what is historically relevant and what is needed from the United States in relationship to the world.”

Brzezinski, a ruthless defender of the interests of US imperialism, has repeatedly issued warnings to the American ruling elite of the danger of what he calls the “global political awakening.”

In one particularly pointed comment, he told the German magazine Der Spiegel, only months before he endorsed Obama, that the vast majority of humanity “will no longer tolerate the enormous disparities in the human condition. That could well be the collective danger we will have to face in the next decades.”

To call it by its right name, what the more perceptive elements in the US ruling class fear is world revolution. The effort to prevent such a social upheaval is what impelled them to install Obama in the White House and what set him on his pilgrimage to Cairo.

The Gaza Bloodbath

January 7, 2009

Separating the Truth from the Hype

By MIKE WHITNEY | Counterpunch, Jan 6, 2009

In a rare moment of honesty, the New York Times divulged the real motive behind the bombardment and invasion of Gaza. In Ethan Bronner’s article, “Israel Weighs Goal: Ending Hamas Rule, Rocket fire, or Both”, Israeli Vice Premier Haim Ramon said, “We need to reach a situation in which we do not allow Hamas to govern. That is the most important thing. If the war ends in a draw, as expected, and Israel refrains from reoccupying Gaza, Hamas will gain diplomatic recognition…No matter what you call it, Hamas will obtain legitimacy.”

According to the Times: “In addition, any truce would probably include an increase in commercial traffic from Israel and Egypt into Gaza, which is Hamas’s central demand: to end the economic boycott and border closing it has been facing. To build up the Gaza economy under Hamas, Israeli leaders say, would be to build up Hamas. Yet withholding the commerce would continue to leave 1.5 million Gazans living in despair.” (Israel Weighs Goal: Ending Hamas Rule, Rocket fire, or Both; Ethan Bronner)

If Israel wants to prevent Hamas from “obtaining legitimacy,” than the real objective of the invasion is to either severely undermine or topple the regime. All the talk about the qassam rockets and the so-called “Hamas infrastructure”, (the new phrase that is supposed to indicate a threat to Israeli security) is merely a diversion. What really worries Israel is the prospect that Obama will “sit down with his enemies”–as he promised during the presidential campaign–and conduct talks with Hamas. That would put the ball in Israel’s court and force them to make concessions.  But Israel does not want to make concessions. They would rather start a war and change the facts on the ground so they can head-off any attempt by Obama to restart peace process.

Just days ago, Obama advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, said in a televised interview, that the last eight years proves that resolving the Palestinian/Israeli conflict is critical to US interests in the region. He added that the recent fighting shows that the two parties cannot achieve peace without US involvement. Brzezinski’s comments suggest that, at the very least, the Obama camp is considering low-level (secret?) talks with Hamas representatives. Every day that Hamas abstains from violence; its legitimacy as a political party grows and the prospect of direct negotiations becomes more likely. This is Israel’s worst nightmare, not because Hamas constitutes a real threat to Israeli security, but because Israel wants to install its own puppet regime and unilaterally impose its own terms for a final settlement. Neither Ehud Olmert or any of the candidates for prime minister have any intention of getting bogged down in another 8 years of fruitless banter like Oslo where plans for settlement expansion had to be concealed behind an elaborate public relations smokescreen. No way. The Israeli leadership would rather skip the pretense altogether and pursue their territorial aims openly as they have under Bush. And the goal is the same as always; to integrate the occupied territories into Greater Israel and leave the Palestinians trapped in bantustans. Negotiations just make that harder.

Ariel Sharon’s senior advisor, Dov Weisglass, clarified Israel’s position three years ago when he admitted,  “The disengagement [from Gaza] is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians… this whole package that is called the Palestinian state has been removed from our agenda indefinitely.” “Formaldehyde”; that says it all. The point of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza was to silence critics and to make it appear as though the Palestinians had achieved some type of statehood. It was a complete sham. Sharon believed that disengagement would stop foreign leaders from badgering him to sit down with the Palestinians and work out a mutually-acceptable agreement. He never expected that elections would throw a wrench in his plans and raise the credibility of Hamas to the extent that it has today. In the last two years, Hamas hasn’ t launched one suicide mission in Israel, which shows that it has abandoned the armed struggle and can be trusted to negotiate on its people’s behalf. That scares Israel, which is why they initiated hostilities. Now, they need to seal the deal by either removing Hamas before Obama is sworn in or face pressure from the new administration for dialogue. Meanwhile, Israeli troop movements indicate that a plan may be in place to divide Gaza into three parts, thus making it impossible for Hamas to rule.

The UK Guardian confirms that the invasion was really about regime change not rockets or Hamas infrastructure.

According to the Guardian: “A couple of days into the assault on Gaza, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Gabriela Shalev, said it would continue for ‘as long as it takes to dismantle Hamas completely’. Infuriated Israeli officials in Jerusalem warned her that such statements could set back the diplomatic offensive.

Dan Gillerman, Israel’s ambassador to the UN until a few months ago, was brought in by the Foreign Ministry to help lead the diplomatic and PR campaign. He said that the diplomatic and political groundwork has been under way for months.

“This was something that was planned long ahead,” he said. “I was recruited by the foreign minister to coordinate Israel’s efforts and I have never seen all parts of a very complex machinery – whether it is the Foreign Ministry, the Defence Ministry, the prime minister’s office, the police or the army – work in such co-ordination, being effective in sending out the message.”

In briefings in Jerusalem and London, Brussels and New York, the same core messages were repeated: that Israel had no choice but to attack in response to the barrage of Hamas rockets; that the coming attack would be on “the infrastructure of terror” in Gaza and the targets principally Hamas fighters; that civilians would die, but it was because Hamas hides its fighters and weapons factories among ordinary people.

Hand in hand went a strategy to remove the issue of occupation from discussion.” (UK Guardian, “Why Israel went to war in Gaza”)

The invasion was mapped out months ago, right down to the bullet points that were passed out to friends in the media. Nothing was left to chance. That said, the public relations campaign was on full display over the weekend when Israeli ground troops and armored divisions swept into Gaza unopposed. CNN had a coterie of ardent Zionists on hand to justify the invasion in a carefully scripted analysis of developments. Retired Brigadier Gen. David Grange accompanied the blatantly pro-Israel Wolf Blitzer saying that the IDF had been “lured” into Gaza by Hamas so that Hamas could execute its plan for “urban warfare”. Utter nonsense. Grange implied that the subsequent slaughter of civilians was the work of Hamas, not Israel. Even by CNN’s abysmal standards, this is new low.

The media has worked in concert with the IDF throughout, spinning a rationale from whole cloth and cheerleading from every available soapbox. But recent polls show that the public has remained skeptical. Anti-Israel protests have sprung up in capitals across the world, and support for Israel is at its nadir. . Many people are simply shocked to see the most advanced, technological weaponry in the world being used in densely populated areas where collateral damage is bound to be heavy. It just makes Israel look like a bully while the media looks like an enabler. So far, the war has been a public relations catastrophe. Over 500 Palestinians have been killed and 2,400 wounded in a debacle of Biblical proportions. Every day, new photographs circulate on the internet showing the carnage produced by the steady bombardment. On Monday, the IDF killed two more Palestinian families, in two separate incidents.  The mother, father and eight children were killed when their house was bombed by an American made F-16 early Monday morning. Another family in the Shati refugee camp, west of Gaza City, was butchered when their home was struck by a shell from an Israeli ship off the coast. The civilian toll continues to balloon with no end in sight.

Here’s how one Gaza resident summed up the bombing in an interview with an AP journalist: “The Israeli forces attack everywhere. They have gone crazy. The Gaza Strip is just going to die … it’s going to die. We were sleeping. Suddenly we heard a bomb. We woke up and we didn’t know where to go. We couldn’t see through the dust. We called to each other. We thought our house had been hit, not the street. What can I say? You saw it with your own eyes. What is our guilt? Are we terrorists? I don’t carry a gun, neither does my girl. What does Israel want? There’s no medicine. No drinks, no water, no gas. We are suffering from hunger. They attack us. Can it be worse than this?” All of Gaza has been traumatized.

The “invasion”–which is a word none of the Israeli-centric media dares to use–(Israel “entered” Gaza) is the equivalent of rampaging through a concentration camp. (similar to the massacre at Sabra and Shatilla) Still, newspapers, like the New York Times, provide cover for the attack by referring to Hamas “bases” within Gaza. In truth, there are no bases nor military installations of any kind. It’s just more lies. They have no army, no navy, and no air force. The only threat that Gaza poses to Israel is its people’s unshakable commitment to end the occupation.

On CNN, Alan Dershowitz and other prominent Zionists defend the invasion in their most polished, lawyerly prose, but the public remains unconvinced. What observers are seeing on the internet is the broken bodies of children pulled from the rubble of their homes and the terrifying explosions in a city that languishes in complete darkness. Nothing Dershowitz says can match the imagery splattered minute by minute on the screen. Israel has bombed mosques, ambulances, bridges, tunnels, even a terrorist girls dormitory. Since when is a girl’s dormitory part of “Hamas infrastructure”? Five sisters and their mother were blow apart as they sat peacefully in their own living room. Does Dershowitz really believe he can elicit sympathy for the perpetrators of these crimes? American support for Israel is being tested; and that support is quickly eroding.

War is a blunt instrument for achieving one’s political objectives, and the costs can be enormous for winner and loser alike. If Israel manages to incite Hamas to the point where they deploy suicide bombers to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem then, perhaps, attitudes will shift in Israel’s favor. It is impossible to predict. But, clearly, retaliation with suicide missions would be the worst possible strategy for Hamas at this point. Israel has lost the moral high-ground, but one suicide bomber can change all that in a flash. Besides, the bombings alienate the people who sympathize with the Palestinian cause and make it harder for them to be openly supportive. The only people who benefit from suicide missions are the right-wing fanatics within the Israeli political establishment. Every Israeli civilian that’s killed just strengthens the Likudniks and their ilk.

ENDING THE CEASEFIRE: Who’s to blame?

The media has made a big issue of the fact that Hamas ended its ceasefire with Israel just days before the bombardment of Gaza. But as Johann Hari points out in his article “The True Story Behind this War Is Not The One Israel Is Telling” Hamas offered to maintain the ceasefire if Israel agreed to lift the blockade.

According to Hari:

“The core of the situation has been starkly laid out by Ephraim Halevy, the former head of Mossad. He says that while Hamas militants – like much of the Israeli right-wing – dream of driving their opponents away, “they have recognized this ideological goal is not attainable and will not be in the foreseeable future.” Instead, “they are ready and willing to see the establishment of a Palestinian state in the temporary borders of 1967.” They are aware that this means they “will have to adopt a path that could lead them far from their original goals” – and towards a long-term peace based on compromise…..Halevy explains: “Israel, for reasons of its own, did not want to turn the ceasefire into the start of a diplomatic process with Hamas.”

Why would Israel act this way? The Israeli government wants peace, but only one imposed on its own terms, based on the acceptance of defeat by the Palestinians. It means the Israelis can keep the slabs of the West Bank on “their” side of the wall. It means they keep the largest settlements and control the water supply. And it means a divided Palestine, with responsibility for Gaza hived off to Egypt, and the broken-up West Bank standing alone. Negotiations threaten this vision: they would require Israel to give up more than it wants to. But an imposed peace will be no peace at all: it will not stop the rockets or the rage. For real safety, Israel will have to talk to the people it is blockading and bombing today, and compromise with them. (Johann Hari, “The True Story Behind this War Is Not The One Israel Is Telling”)

Hari’s article further confirms our basic thesis that the aggression in Gaza has nothing to do with terrorism, security, or Hamas infrastructure. In fact, Hamas appears to be ready to settle for much less than they originally hoped for.  In this particular case, all they wanted was a promise from Israel to end the blockade, but Israel refused. Collective punishment of Palestinians has become a habit, like smoking or taking drugs. Israel can do what it wants. If it decides to cut off the food and medicine to 1.5 million people or bomb them into oblivion; no one can stop them. The UN and Washington just roll over and play dead. Why should they negotiate; they can do whatever they want. The world is their apple.

ISMAIL HANIYEH: “We do not wish to throw the Jews into the sea”.

“Oh…who will stop the windmills in my head?
Who will remove the knives from my heart?
Who will kill my poor children…?
In order that they do not…grow up in the red
furnished apartments…”

(“Ending” by Amal Dunqul; translated by Angry Arab News Service)

On Monday, Israeli warplanes bombed the offices of a man who has helped to save the lives of more Jews than anyone in the Knesset. That man is Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Haniyeh has supported the ban on suicide missions which has lasted for more than two years despite the blockade of food, medicine, fuel, and electrical power to the Gaza Strip and despite the daily bombings, incursions, arrests, assassinations and countless other humiliations associated with occupation. Hundreds of Israeli civilians are alive today because Haniyeh and his Hams colleagues abandoned the armed struggle and entered politics.

On Friday, Israeli spokeswoman, Major Avital Leibovich, announced that “Hamas leaders were also marked men. We have defined legitimate targets as any Hamas-affiliated target.” That means that Haniyeh is now on Israel’s hit list.

In a February 2006 interview with the Washington Post, Haniyeh dispelled many of the lies circulating in the western media about Hamas. He said that he wanted to see an end the “vicious cycle of violence” and vehemently denied the claim that “Hamas is committed to destroying Israel”. He said, “We do not have any feelings of animosity toward Jews. We do not wish to throw them into the sea. All we seek is to be given our land back, not to harm anybody….We are not war seekers nor are we war initiators. We are not lovers of blood. We are oppressed people with rights.”

Wa Post: “Would Hamas recognize Israel if it were to withdraw to the ’67 borders?”

Haniyeh: “If Israel withdraws to the ’67 borders, then we will establish peace in stages… We will establish a situation of stability and calm which will bring safety for our people.

Wa Post: “Do you recognize Israel’s right to exist?”

Haniyeh: “The answer is to let Israel say it will recognize a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders, release the prisoners and recognize the rights of the refugees to return to Israel. Hamas will have a position if this occurs.”

Wa Post: “Will you recognize Israel?”

Haniyeh: “If Israel declares that it will give the Palestinian people a state and give them back all their rights, then we are ready to recognize them.”

Haniyeh’s answers are straightforward and rational. He asked for nothing that isn’t already required under existing United Nations resolutions; a return to the 1967 borders, basic human rights, and settlement of the final status issues. An agreement could be facilitated tomorrow if Israel was willing to conform to international law. Instead, Israel has chosen to invade Gaza. For 60 years it has employed the same failed strategy.

Haniyeh again:

“Israel’s unilateral movements of the past year will not lead to peace. These acts — the temporary withdrawal of forces from Gaza, the walling off of the West Bank — are not strides toward resolution but empty, symbolic acts that fail to address the underlying conflict. Israel’s nearly complete control over the lives of Palestinians is never in doubt, as confirmed by the humanitarian and economic suffering of the Palestinians since the January elections.”

“We want what Americans enjoy — democratic rights, economic sovereignty and justice. We thought our pride in conducting the fairest elections in the Arab world might resonate with the United States and its citizens. Instead, our new government was met from the very beginning by acts of explicit, declared sabotage by the White House. Now this aggression continues against 3.9 million civilians living in the world’s largest prison camps. America’s complacency in the face of these war crimes is, as usual, embedded in the coded rhetorical green light: “Israel has a right to defend itself.”

Haniyeh’s efforts for reconciliation are doomed. Israel will not bargain or compromise. The Israeli state is driven by an ideology which requires continuous expansion and subjugation. There’s nothing Haniyeh can do to change that. The answer to the present crisis lies within Zionism itself, the philosophical underpinning of Jewish nationalism.

In his recent article, “Israel’s Righteous Fury and its Victims in Gaza”, Ilan Pappe, the chair in the Department of History at the University of Exeter, explains Zionism in terms of its effect on Israeli policy vis a vis the invasion of Gaza:

“There are no boundaries to the hypocrisy that a righteous fury produces. The discourse of the generals and the politicians is moving erratically between self-compliments of the humanity the army displays in its “surgical” operations on the one hand, and the need to destroy Gaza for once and for all, in a humane way of course, on the other.

This righteous fury is a constant phenomenon in the Israeli, and before that Zionist, dispossession of Palestine. Every act whether it was ethnic cleansing, occupation, massacre or destruction was always portrayed as morally just and as a pure act of self-defense reluctantly perpetrated by Israel in its war against the worst kind of human beings. In his excellent volume The Returns of Zionism: Myths, Politics and Scholarship in Israel, Gabi Piterberg explores the ideological origins and historical progression of this righteous fury. Today in Israel, from Left to Right, from Likud to Kadima, from the academia to the media, one can hear this righteous fury of a state that is more busy than any other state in the world in destroying and dispossessing an indigenous population.

It is crucial to explore the ideological origins of this attitude and derive the necessary political conclusions form its prevalence. This righteous fury shields the society and politicians in Israel from any external rebuke or criticism. But far worse, it is translated always into destructive policies against the Palestinians. With no internal mechanism of criticism and no external pressure, every Palestinian becomes a potential target of this fury. Given the firepower of the Jewish state it can inevitably only end in more massive killings, massacres and ethnic cleansing.

The self-righteousness is a powerful act of self-denial and justification. It explains why the Israeli Jewish society would not be moved by words of wisdom, logical persuasion or diplomatic dialogue. And if one does not want to endorse violence as the means of opposing it, there is only one way forward: challenging head-on this righteousness as an evil ideology meant to cover human atrocities. Another name for this ideology is Zionism and an international rebuke for Zionism, not just for particular Israeli policies, is the only way of countering this self-righteousness.” (“Israel’s Righteous Fury and its Victims in Gaza”, Ilan Pappe)

It wouldn’t make a bit of difference if Hamas surrendered tomorrow and handed-over all its weapons to Israel, because the problem isn’t Hamas; it’s Zionism, the deeply-flawed ideology which leads to bombing children in their homes while clinging to victim-hood. Ideas have consequences. Gaza proves it.

Mike Whitney lives in the Pacific Northwest and can be reached at fergiewhitney@msn.com

Afghanistan: Another Untold Story

December 7, 2008

By Michael Parenti | Information Clearing House, Dec 5, 2008

Barack Obama is on record as advocating a military escalation in Afghanistan. Before sinking any deeper into that quagmire, we might do well to learn something about recent Afghan history and the role played by the United States.

Less than a month after the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, US leaders began an all-out aerial assault upon Afghanistan, the country purportedly harboring Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist organization. More than twenty years earlier, in 1980, the United States intervened to stop a Soviet “invasion” of that country. Even some leading progressive writers, who normally take a more critical view of US policy abroad, treated the US intervention against the Soviet-supported government as “a good thing.” The actual story is not such a good thing.

Some Real History

Since feudal times the landholding system in Afghanistan had remained unchanged, with more than 75 percent of the land owned by big landlords who comprised only 3 percent of the rural population. In the mid-1960s, democratic revolutionary elements coalesced to form the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). In 1973, the king was deposed, but the government that replaced him proved to be autocratic, corrupt, and unpopular. It in turn was forced out in 1978 after a massive demonstration in front of the presidential palace, and after the army intervened on the side of the demonstrators.

The military officers who took charge invited the PDP to form a new government under the leadership of Noor Mohammed Taraki, a poet and novelist. This is how a Marxist-led coalition of national democratic forces came into office. “It was a totally indigenous happening. Not even the CIA blamed the USSR for it,” writes John Ryan, a retired professor at the University of Winnipeg, who was conducting an agricultural research project in Afghanistan at about that time.
The Taraki government proceeded to legalize labor unions, and set up a minimum wage, a progressive income tax, a literacy campaign, and programs that gave ordinary people greater access to health care, housing, and public sanitation. Fledgling peasant cooperatives were started and price reductions on some key foods were imposed.

The government also continued a campaign begun by the king to emancipate women from their age-old tribal bondage. It provided public education for girls and for the children of various tribes.

A report in the San Francisco Chronicle (17 November 2001) noted that under the Taraki regime Kabul had been “a cosmopolitan city. Artists and hippies flocked to the capital. Women studied agriculture, engineering and business at the city’s university. Afghan women held government jobs—-in the 1980s, there were seven female members of parliament. Women drove cars, traveled and went on dates. Fifty percent of university students were women.”

The Taraki government moved to eradicate the cultivation of opium poppy. Until then Afghanistan had been producing more than 70 percent of the opium needed for the world’s heroin supply. The government also abolished all debts owed by farmers, and began developing a major land reform program. Ryan believes that it was a “genuinely popular government and people looked forward to the future with great hope.”

But serious opposition arose from several quarters. The feudal landlords opposed the land reform program that infringed on their holdings. And tribesmen and fundamentalist mullahs vehemently opposed the government’s dedication to gender equality and the education of women and children.

Because of its egalitarian and collectivist economic policies the Taraki government also incurred the opposition of the US national security state. Almost immediately after the PDP coalition came to power, the CIA, assisted by Saudi and Pakistani military, launched a large scale intervention into Afghanistan on the side of the ousted feudal lords, reactionary tribal chieftains, mullahs, and opium traffickers.

A top official within the Taraki government was Hafizulla Amin, believed by many to have been recruited by the CIA during the several years he spent in the United States as a student. In September 1979, Amin seized state power in an armed coup. He executed Taraki, halted the reforms, and murdered, jailed, or exiled thousands of Taraki supporters as he moved toward establishing a fundamentalist Islamic state. But within two months, he was overthrown by PDP remnants including elements within the military.

It should be noted that all this happened before the Soviet military intervention. National security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski publicly admitted–months before Soviet troops entered the country–that the Carter administration was providing huge sums to Muslim extremists to subvert the reformist government. Part of that effort involved brutal attacks by the CIA-backed mujahideen against schools and teachers in rural areas.

In late 1979, the seriously besieged PDP government asked Moscow to send a contingent of troops to help ward off the mujahideen (Islamic guerrilla fighters) and foreign mercenaries, all recruited, financed, and well-armed by the CIA. The Soviets already had been sending aid for projects in mining, education, agriculture, and public health. Deploying troops represented a commitment of a more serious and politically dangerous sort. It took repeated requests from Kabul before Moscow agreed to intervene militarily.

Jihad and Taliban, CIA Style

The Soviet intervention was a golden opportunity for the CIA to transform the tribal resistance into a holy war, an Islamic jihad to expel the godless communists from Afghanistan. Over the years the United States and Saudi Arabia expended about $40 billion on the war in Afghanistan. The CIA and its allies recruited, supplied, and trained almost 100,000 radical mujahideen from forty Muslim countries including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Algeria, and Afghanistan itself. Among those who answered the call was Saudi-born millionaire right-winger Osama bin Laden and his cohorts.

After a long and unsuccessful war, the Soviets evacuated the country in February 1989. It is generally thought that the PDP Marxist government collapsed immediately after the Soviet departure. Actually, it retained enough popular support to fight on for another three years, outlasting the Soviet Union itself by a year.

Upon taking over Afghanistan, the mujahideen fell to fighting among themselves. They ravaged the cities, terrorized civilian populations, looted, staged mass executions, closed schools, raped thousands of women and girls, and reduced half of Kabul to rubble. In 2001 Amnesty International reported that the mujahideen used sexual assault as “a method of intimidating vanquished populations and rewarding soldiers.’”

Ruling the country gangster-style and looking for lucrative sources of income, the tribes ordered farmers to plant opium poppy. The Pakistani ISI, a close junior partner to the CIA, set up hundreds of heroin laboratories across Afghanistan. Within two years of the CIA’s arrival, the Pakistan-Afghanistan borderland became the biggest producer of heroin in the world.

Largely created and funded by the CIA, the mujahideen mercenaries now took on a life of their own. Hundreds of them returned home to Algeria, Chechnya, Kosovo, and Kashmir to carry on terrorist attacks in Allah’s name against the purveyors of secular “corruption.”

In Afghanistan itself, by 1995 an extremist strain of Sunni Islam called the Taliban—heavily funded and advised by the ISI and the CIA and with the support of Islamic political parties in Pakistan—fought its way to power, taking over most of the country, luring many tribal chiefs into its fold with threats and bribes.

The Taliban promised to end the factional fighting and banditry that was the mujahideen trademark. Suspected murderers and spies were executed monthly in the sports stadium, and those accused of thievery had the offending hand sliced off. The Taliban condemned forms of “immorality” that included premarital sex, adultery, and homosexuality. They also outlawed all music, theater, libraries, literature, secular education, and much scientific research.

The Taliban unleashed a religious reign of terror, imposing an even stricter interpretation of Muslim law than used by most of the Kabul clergy. All men were required to wear untrimmed beards and women had to wear the burqa which covered them from head to toe, including their faces. Persons who were slow to comply were dealt swift and severe punishment by the Ministry of Virtue. A woman who fled an abusive home or charged spousal abuse would herself be severely whipped by the theocratic authorities. Women were outlawed from social life, deprived of most forms of medical care, barred from all levels of education, and any opportunity to work outside the home. Women who were deemed “immoral” were stoned to death or buried alive.

None of this was of much concern to leaders in Washington who got along famously with the Taliban. As recently as 1999, the US government was paying the entire annual salary of every single Taliban government official. Not until October 2001, when President George W. Bush had to rally public opinion behind his bombing campaign in Afghanistan did he denounce the Taliban’s oppression of women. His wife, Laura Bush, emerged overnight as a full-blown feminist to deliver a public address detailing some of the abuses committed against Afghan women.

If anything positive can be said about the Taliban, it is that they did put a stop to much of the looting, raping, and random killings that the mujahideen had practiced on a regular basis. In 2000 Taliban authorities also eradicated the cultivation of opium poppy throughout the areas under their control, an effort judged by the United Nations International Drug Control Program to have been nearly totally successful. With the Taliban overthrown and a Western-selected mujahideen government reinstalled in Kabul by December 2001, opium poppy production in Afghanistan increased dramatically.

The years of war that have followed have taken tens of thousands of Afghani lives. Along with those killed by Cruise missiles, Stealth bombers, Tomahawks, daisy cutters, and land mines are those who continue to die of hunger, cold, lack of shelter, and lack of water.

Continued >>

The Afghan fire looks set to spread, but there is a way out

August 21, 2008
Far from being a noble cause, the occupation of Afghanistan is poisoning the region and will never bring peace or security

The war in Afghanistan is running out of control. The multiple attacks mounted by Taliban guerrillas on Nato occupation troops on Monday and Tuesday – in which 10 newly arrived French soldiers were killed near Kabul and a US base hit by suicide bombers – are the most daring since the US-led invasion of 2001. More than 100 people have been killed in fighting in the past three days, as the war against foreign occupation has spread from the south to the east and the area around the capital.

The assault on the French reinforcements follows the killing of nine US soldiers in a single attack last month, and the freeing of hundreds of Taliban prisoners from Kandahar’s main jail in a night-time raid in June. As Afghanistan experiences its own Iraq-style surge of US and other Nato forces, the death toll is rising inexorably. The number of occupation troops killed in Afghanistan overtook the Iraqi level in May. Attacks on US-led forces are up by 50% on last year, Nato air attacks have increased 40%, and more than 2,500 have already reportedly lost their lives in the conflict since January – getting on for half of them civilians.

In a damning indictment of the impact of Nato’s occupation on Afghanistan, aid agencies reported earlier this month that insecurity was spreading to previously stable areas and the killing of civilians by all sides rising sharply. The US air force seems to have developed a particular habit of attacking wedding parties – last month 47 civilians were killed in one strike – while British troops, who lost 13 soldiers in June alone, killed a woman and two children last weekend, which the high command naturally blamed on the Taliban.

This is the conflict western politicians have convinced themselves is the “good war”, in contrast to the shame of Iraq. Britain’s defence secretary, Des Browne, recently declared it “the noble cause of the 21st century”. Nicolas Sarkozy, who faces a similar level of domestic opposition to the Afghan imbroglio as in Britain, insists that France is fighting for “democracy and freedom”. Barack Obama calls it the “central front” in the war on terror and, like Gordon Brown, is committed to transferring troops from Iraq to Afghanistan to bolster the fight.

That will certainly jack up the killing and suffering still further. As Zbigniew Brzezinski – the former US national security adviser who masterminded the early stages of the mujahideen war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan – argues, putting more troops in is not the solution: “We run the risk that our military presence will gradually turn the Afghan population entirely against us.”

The original aims of the invasion, it will be recalled, were the capture or killing of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, and the destruction of al-Qaida in the aftermath of 9/11. None of those aims has been achieved. Instead, the US and its friends brought back to power an alliance of brutal and corrupt warlords, gave them new identities as democrats with phoney elections, and drove the Taliban and al-Qaida leaderships over the border into Pakistan.

Far from reducing the threat of terrorism, this crucible of the war on terror has simply spread it around the region, bringing forth an increasingly potent campaign of resistance and giving a new lease of life to a revamped Taliban as a champion of Pashtun nationalism. And as mission creep has detached the Afghan war from its original declared target of al-Qaida – let alone the claims made about women’s rights, which have been going into grim reverse again in much of the country under Nato tutelage – it has morphed into the kind of war of “civilisation” evoked by Sarkozy and Browne, a certain recipe for conflict without end. No wonder British politicians have talked about digging in for decades.

Meanwhile, the long-term cost of the west’s shameless support for Pakistan’s military dictatorship as the linchpin of its war on terror, while forever preaching democracy, became clearer this week. General Musharraf’s welcome departure has left the country in political crisis and exposed the contradictions at the heart of the US relationship with the nuclear-armed state.

Even while the Pakistani military has relied on the US alliance to underpin its strategic position with India, its intelligence arm, the ISI, has maintained links with the Taliban as a long-term regional investment – at the same time as the Pakistan army has fought the local Taliban under American pressure. Now the threat of full-scale US incursions against Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan’s border areas risks profoundly destabilising one of the most combustible states in the world.

Afghanistan was supposed to be a demonstration of Nato’s expanded horizons in the post-Soviet new world order. Instead, as with Nato’s disastrous engagement with Georgia, it has underscored the dangers of giving the cold war alliance a new imperial brief. The growing conflict must also be added to the litany of US foreign policy failures that have been overseen by George Bush – from Iraq, Iran, Palestine and Lebanon to Latin America and now the Caucasus – and the evident necessity of a new direction.

That is likely to be a mountain to climb, even under an Obama presidency. The Afghan war certainly cannot be won, but the bitterly unpopular 2005 agreement for indefinite bases in the country left no doubt that the US is planning to stay for the long haul. Nato’s secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, made clear in a speech to the Brookings Institution in Washington earlier this year that western interests in Afghanistan went well beyond good governance to the strategic interest in having a permanent military presence in a state that borders central Asia, China, Iran and Pakistan.

The only way to end the war is the withdrawal of foreign troops as part of a political settlement negotiated with all the significant players in the country, including the Taliban, and guaranteed by the regional powers and neighbouring states. A large majority of Afghans say they back negotiations with the Taliban, even in western-conducted opinion polls. The Taliban themselves insist they will only talk once foreign troops have withdrawn. If that were the only obstacle, it could surely be choreographed as a parallel process. But given the scale of commitments made by the US and Nato, the fire of the Afghan war seems bound to spread further.

s.milne@guardian.co.uk

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 . . .

“Afghanistan: Shoals Ahead for President Obama”

August 4, 2008

I. Wallerstein, Commentary No. 238, August 1, 2008

Obama has founded his campaign and become attractive to the American voters in large part on the basis of his position on the Iraq war. He opposed it publicly since 2002. He has called it a “dumb” war. He voted against the “surge.” He has called for a withdrawal over 16 months of all combat troops. He has refused to agree that it was wrong to oppose the surge.

While doing all that, he has always argued that the United States should do more in Afghanistan. This explicitly includes sending 10,000 more troops as soon as possible. He does not seem to think that the war there is somehow dumb. He does seem to think that the United States can “win” that war – with more troops and with more assistance from NATO. Once president, he may be in for a rude surprise.

Obama would do well to reflect upon the recent interview in Le Monde given by Gérard Chaliand. Chaliand is a leading geostrategist, specializing in so-called irregular wars. He knows Afghanistan exceedingly well, having been in and out of there over the last thirty years. He spent much time with the mujahidin during their struggle against Soviet troops in the 1980s. He currently spends several months a year in Kabul at the Center for Conflict and Peace Studies, of which he was one of the founders.

He is very clear on the military situation. “Victory is impossible in Afghanistan….Today, one must try to negotiate. There is no other solution.” Why? Because the Taliban control the local powers throughout the east and south of the country, where Pashtun populations prevail. Doubling the number of Western troops, doubling the projected size of the government’s army, and spending far more than the present 10% of outside aid for economic development might change the situation. But Chaliand doubts, and so do I, that this is politically likely for the United States and the NATO countries. The German Foreign Minister has already warned Obama not to press Germany for more troops to fight the Taliban. It is not that the Taliban can win either, says Chaliand. Rather there is a “military impasse.” The Taliban, who are geopolitically astute, are patiently waiting until the West “gets tired of a war that drags on.”

To see how the United States has got itself into this cul-de-sac, we have to go back a little bit into history. Since the nineteenth century, Afghanistan has been the focal point of the “great game” between Russia and Great Britain (now succeeded by the United States). No one has ever gained long-term control over this crucial zone of transit.

Today, Afghanistan has on its border a state called Pakistan, which has a large Pashtun population precisely on the border. Pakistan’s prime geopolitical interest is to have a friendly Afghanistan, lest India – but also Russia, the United States, and/or Iran – come to dominate it. Pakistan has been supporting in one way or another the Pashtun majority, which today means the Taliban. Pakistan is not about to stop doing this.

Under President Carter, the United States decided to try to oust a so-called Communist government deemed too close to Russia. We know now, via the release of archives from the Carter administration as well as via a famous interview given ten years ago by Zbigniew Brzezinski, then Carter’s National Security Advisor, that U.S. support of the mujahidin predated by at least six months the intrusion of Soviet troops. Indeed, one of the objectives was precisely to lure the Soviet Union into intervening militarily on the correct assumption that this would ultimately badly misfire and weaken the Soviet regime at home. Bravo! It did that. But the U.S. policy also at the same time spawned both Al-Qaeda and the Taliban – a classic case of blowback for the United States. In any case, none other than Brzezinski is warning Obama against repeating the Soviet error.

So, Obama is promising something today he is in no position to deliver. It is all very well for him to receive the implicit endorsement of the Iraqi government for his Iraq proposals. He is riding high on that, and will reap credit from the U.S. and world public for his stance. But he can undo that credit by failing to deliver on an impossible promise concerning Afghanistan. His gang of 300 advisors is not serving him very well on this issue. Obama knows how to be prudent when necessary. He is not being very prudent at all on Afghanistan.

by Immanuel Wallerstein


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