Obama’s AfPak War: “It’s the Mission, Creep”

November 1, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Steve Weissman, Truthout

Dick Cheney and his neoconservative fringe are showing true gall and no grit in accusing President Obama of “dithering” and “waffling” on Afghanistan. They are, after all, the deep thinkers who rushed the Bush administration into Iraq, which diverted troops and other resources from their earlier mission to defeat the Afghan Taliban and catch or kill Osama bin Laden. Still, the shameless critics raise an intriguing question. Why has the president taken so much time to announce how many more troops he will send?

No doubt, Obama wanted to get his Afghanistan policy right, as White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told Mr. Cheney, who had gotten it so very wrong. Time also let the president hear from all sides on the issue, making everyone more inclined to fall in line behind whatever decision he finally made.

When Gen. Stanley McChrystal went public with his troop demands for as many as 80,000 more soldiers, Obama used the delay to make clear to the brass that he would not let them sandbag him. Keeping the American military under civilian control or field testing the Pentagon’s latest counterinsurgency doctrine against the Afghan Taliban – which do you think makes more difference to our country’s future?

After election observers revealed the extent of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s vote fraud, Obama used further delay to help force Karzai to accept a run-off and possibly a coalition government with his runner-up and former foreign minister, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah.

But, as we shall soon see, Obama’s deliberations did not do the one thing that many of us who supported him most wanted him to do. He did not find a way to justify his Nobel Peace Prize by bringing American troops home from “the graveyard of empires.”

How can we know before Obama announces his decision? The tea leaves are all too clear – and all too terrifying.

If Obama intended to pare down his commitment to military force in Afghanistan, trial balloons would have flown by now and presidential surrogates would have filled air waves and newsprint with arguments for putting our limited military resources where America’s vital interests were more at stake.

Instead, the White House stressed early in the deliberations that “leaving Afghanistan isn’t an option” while Defense Secretary Robert Gates has pointedly redefined the U.S. mission in a greatly expanded AfPak War.

“We’re not leaving Afghanistan,” he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. “There should be no uncertainty in terms of our determination to remain in Afghanistan and to continue to build a relationship of partnership and trust with the Pakistanis. That’s long term. That’s a strategic objective of the United States.”

“The clear path forward is for us to underscore to the Pakistanis that we’re not going to turn our back on them as we did before.”

As for our previous mission against al-Qaeda, Gates added a new twist. A Taliban victory in Afghanistan would give Islamist radicals “added space.” But more important, it would give them their second victory against a superpower, which would greatly boost their morale and ability to recruit.

Gates is no fool and his arguments make superficial sense, which is why the neocons have rushed to embrace them. But, on closer scrutiny, the new mission looks far more dangerous than the old one that Dick Cheney botched so badly.

While the Pakistanis need reassuring, Washington cannot stop them from supporting Taliban and other Islamist groups in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. They use the militants against their primary rival, India, especially in disputed Kashmir. Team Obama can help cool down the rivalry, but they cannot make it go away.

Worse, an American escalation in Afghanistan will almost certainly send Pashtun insurgents flooding into Pakistan, as Senator Russ Feingold has warned. This would move the Pakistanis even further into a destabilizing civil war.

And worse still, an escalation will turn a local Pashtun insurgency into an ideological conflict that will attract Islamist fighters from all over the world, just as did the American-backed jihad against the Soviet Union.

So, for President Obama, it comes down to balancing relative horrors. Which will prove a stronger recruiting tool for al-Qaeda – claiming a victory over the United States or offering the chance to fight in a real war against the Western Crusaders?

As I’m afraid we’re about to learn, Obama will move us closer to an AfPak War, which could well rejuvenate an otherwise declining Islamist radicalism.

11-45

Assassinations Anyone?

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

CIA claims of cancelled campaign are hogwash

By Eric Margolis

CIA director Leon Panetta just told Congress he cancelled a secret operation to assassinate al-Qaida leaders. The CIA campaign, authorized in 2001, had not yet become operational, claimed Panetta.

I respect Panetta, but his claim is humbug. The U.S. has been trying to kill al-Qaida personnel (real and imagined) since the Clinton administration. These efforts continue under President Barack Obama. Claims by Congress it was never informed are hogwash.

The CIA and Pentagon have been in the assassination business since the early 1950s, using American hit teams or third parties. For example, a CIA-organized attempt to assassinate Lebanon’s leading Shia cleric, Muhammad Fadlallah, using a truck bomb, failed, but killed 83 civilians and wounded 240.

In 1975, I was approached to join the Church Committee of the U.S. Congress investigating CIA’s attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro, Congo’s Patrice Lumumba, Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem, and Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Add to America’s hit list Saddam Hussein, Afghanistan’s Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Indonesia’s Sukarno, Chile’s Marxist leaders and, very likely, Yasser Arafat.

Libya’s Moammar Khadaffy led me by the hand through the ruins of his private quarters, showing me where a 2,000-pound U.S. bomb hit his bedroom, killing his infant daughter. Most Pakistanis believe, rightly or wrongly, the U.S. played a role in the assassination of President Zia ul-Haq.

To quote Josef Stalin’s favourite saying, “No man. No problem.”

Assassination was outlawed in the U.S. in 1976, but that did not stop attempts by its last three administrations to emulate Israel’s Mossad in the “targeted killing” of enemies. The George W. Bush administration, and now the Obama White House, sidestepped American law by saying the U.S. was at war, and thus legally killing “enemy combatants.” But Congress never declared war.

Washington is buzzing about a secret death squad run by Dick Cheney when he was vice-president and his protege, the new U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. This gung-ho general led the Pentagon’s super secret Special Operations Command, which has become a major rival to the CIA in the business of “wet affairs” (as the KGB used to call assassinations) and covert raids.

Democrats are all over Cheney on the death squad issue, as are some Republicans — in order to shield Bush. But the orders likely came from Bush, who bears ultimate responsibility.

Americans are now being deluged by sordid scandals from the Bush years about torture, kidnapping, brutal secret prisons, brainwashing, mass surveillance of American’s phones, e-mail, and banking.

In 2001, as this column previously reported, U.S. Special Forces oversaw the murder at Dasht-e-Leili, Afghanistan, of thousands of captured Taliban fighters by Uzbek forces of the Communist warlord, Rashid Dostum.

CIA was paying Dostum, a notorious war criminal from the 1980s, millions to fight Taliban. Dostum is poised to become vice-president of the U.S.-installed government of President Hamid Karzai. Bush hushed up this major war crime.

America is hardly alone in trying to rub out enemies or those who thwart its designs. Britain’s MI-6 and France’s SDECE were notorious for sending out assassins. The late chief of SDECE told me how he had been ordered by then-president Francois Mitterrand to kill Libya’s Khadaffy. Israel’s hit teams are feared around the globe.

History shows that state-directed murder is more often than not counterproductive and inevitably runs out of control, disgracing nations and organizations that practise it.

But U.S. assassins are still at work. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, U.S. drones are killing tribesmen almost daily. Over 90% are civilians. Americans have a curious notion that killing people from the air is not murder or even a crime, but somehow clean.

U.S. Predator attacks are illegal and violate U.S. and international law. Pakistan’s government, against which no war has been declared, is not even asked permission or warned of the attacks.

Dropping 2,000-pound bombs on apartment buildings in Gaza or Predator raids on Pakistan’s tribal territory are as much murder as exploding car bombs or suicide bombers.

11-31