Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

January 26, 2009


Alex Thurston, The Seminal - The planned escalation in Afghanistan rests on the premise that we can use extra soldiers to bring about political stability. That requires that Afghanistan has a stable and legitimate government. And presumably that government needs an executive.

So what to do about President Hamid Karzai? If we keep him in the interest of political stability, it seems he will criticize the escalation and other military activities out of his own political interest. But if we remove Karzai or allow him to fail, we run the risk of destabilizing Afghan politics further - or merely finding ourselves confronting these same problems again with someone else.

Either way, one cost of escalation seems to be disrupting whatever political stability exists now - and if political stability is the goal of escalation, then we're being asked to make a big leap of faith that everything will magically gel at the right moment.

Here's Karzai denouncing the latest air strikes in his country:

"Mr Karzai said most of those killed were civilians, adding that such deadly incidents strengthened Taleban rebels and weakened Afghanistan's government. Women and children were among those killed, Mr Karzai said. . .

"'Our goal is to improve our army and have the ability to defend our country ourselves as soon as possible, and not have civilian casualties anymore as we again had yesterday,' he said.

That sounds a lot like "stop killing our people and get out." And that's not a popular message no matter who's in Washington.

The British press is speculating that Obama may "cut Karzai adrift."

"International support for Mr Karzai, who was once the darling of the West, has waned spectacularly, amid worsening violence, endemic corruption and weak leadership. But until very recently, diplomats insisted there were no viable alternatives even as fighting has intensified and the Taliban insurgency in the south has grown. But four key figures believed to be challenging Mr Karzai have arrived in Washington for meetings with Obama administration officials this week. There is now talk of a 'dream ticket' that would see the main challengers run together to unite the country's various ethnic groups and wrest control away from Mr Karzai.

"'The Americans aren't going to determine the outcome of the election, but they could suggest to people they put their differences aside and form a dream ticket.' said a senior US analyst in Kabul.

A dream ticket? Sounds like one of those 'Best and Brightest' ideas someone hatched at a think tank in DC. What's to say the new team wouldn't run into the same problems? Does Karzai work with warlords and drug dealers because he is personally depraved, or would any Afghan politician who didn't want to work with the Taliban be forced into similar alliances? Can any Afghan elites build a national base of support, especially ones who frequently leave the country and have little contact with ordinary Afghans?

Sure, cut Karzai loose. But don't be surprised when we hit the same snags in a year or two, or sooner. It's built into the nature of the occupation, because we can't manufacture political support for our presence when very little such support exists.

Reader Chris Collins writes, "'Karzai' is Pashtu for 'Diem.' As you noted, this looks increasingly like a bad rerun of Vietnam - but on two fronts." Although there are lots of differences between Diem and Karzai, the former's end is a reminder of what could be afoot in Afghanistan:

Wikipedia - On November 1, 1963, with only the palace guard remaining to defend President Diem and his younger brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, the generals called the palace offering Diem safe exile out of the country if he surrendered. However, that evening, Diem and his entourage escaped via an underground passage to Cholon, where they were captured the following morning, November 2. The brothers were executed in the back of an armored personnel carrier by Captain Nguyen Van Nhung while en route to the Vietnamese Joint General Staff headquarters. Diem was buried in an unmarked grave in a cemetery next to the house of the US ambassador.

Upon learning of Diem's ouster and death, Ho Chi Minh is reported to have said, "I can scarcely believe the Americans would be so stupid." The North Vietnamese Politburo was more explicit, predicting: "The consequences of the 1 November coup d'état will be contrary to the calculations of the U.S. imperialists . . . Diem was one of the strongest individuals resisting the people and Communism. Everything that could be done in an attempt to crush the revolution was carried out by Diem. Diem was one of the most competent lackeys of the U.S. imperialists . . . Among the anti-Communists in South Vietnam or exiled in other countries, no one has sufficient political assets and abilities to cause others to obey. Therefore, the lackey administration cannot be stabilized."

After Diem's assassination, South Vietnam was unable to establish a stable government and numerous coups took place during the first several years after his death. While the U.S. continued to influence South Vietnam's government, the assassination bolstered North Vietnamese attempts to characterize the South Vietnamese as supporters of colonialism.

Justin Raimondo, Anti-War - The appointment of George Mitchell, whose success at helping settle the Irish imbroglio suggests some skill at managing impossible situations, has evoked hope in those who pine for a more open-mined - and evenhanded - approach to the problem of Palestine. It is a hope I share.

Yet I'm not optimistic, for two very good reasons: Dennis Ross, whose appointment as plenipotentiary for Middle Eastern affairs seems to undercut what is likely to be the Mitchell approach, and Richard Holbrooke, whose dual domain of Afghanistan and Pakistan will be the focus of U.S. military action in the coming years. Specifically, more than 14 years - at least, that's what Holbrooke told us in a pre-election piece in Foreign Affairs magazine:

"The situation in Afghanistan is far from hopeless. But as the war enters its eighth year, Americans should be told the truth: it will last a long time - longer than the United States' longest war to date, the 14-year conflict (1961-75) in Vietnam."

Which raises the question: why weren't we told the truth in the first place? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't recall Obama ever "promising" to keep fighting in Afghanistan for over 14 years - do you?

It's true he emphasized the "neglect" of the Afghan front, which has supposedly suffered on account of the Bushian obsession with Iraq - but a war longer than the Vietnam conflict? No one ever voted for Obama in gleeful anticipation of such a prospect, yet, if Holbrooke is right, that is going to be the signature issue that defines his presidency.

Obama plans on doubling U.S. forces in Afghanistan, bringing the total up to some 70,000 - and with more, you can be sure, on the way. We are told that Obama's magical diplomatic skills will compel the Europeans to do their part, with NATO taking the lead. Yet Afghanistan is not the former Yugoslavia, and if Holbrooke thinks he can impose a new Dayton on the rebel Afghans and the increasingly resentful Pakistanis, he is apt to run up against the same brick wall that has stymied would-be conquerors for 2,000 years, including the Soviets, the British, and Genghis Khan's Golden Horde. The Europeans know this, and they won't be too eager to jump into the fray.

A Vietnam-style counterinsurgency conflict spreading across the Afghan-Pakistan border and reaching into the wilds of Central Asia would dwarf the present quagmire in Iraq by several degrees of magnitude. Yet Obama was and still is touted as a peacemaker and an agent of "change."

Joshua Frank, Anti-War - In the wee morning hours on Friday, Jan. 23, a U.S. spy plane killed at least 15 in Pakistan near the Afghanistan border. It was Barack Obama's first blood and the U.S.' first violation of Pakistan's sovereignty under the new administration. The attack was an early sign that the newly minted president may not be overhauling the War on Terror this week, or even next.

As the U.S. government fired upon alleged terrorists in the rugged outback of Pakistan, Obama was back in Washington appointing Richard Holbrooke as a special U.S. representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, like the remote-control bombing that claimed human life, Obama's vision for the region, in the embodiment of Holbrooke, may not be a drastic departure from the failed Bush doctrine. . .

Despite Obama's insistence that Holbrooke is qualified to lead new efforts in the War on Terror, history seems to disagree.

In 1975, during Gerald Ford's administration, Indonesia invaded East Timor and slaughtered 200,000 indigenous Timorese. The Indonesian invasion of East Timor set the stage for a long and bloody occupation that recently ended after an international peacekeeping force was introduced in 1999. . .

During his testimony before Congress in February 1978, Professor Benedict Anderson cited a report that proved there was never a U.S. arms ban, and that during the period of the alleged ban the U.S. initiated new offers of military weaponry to the Indonesians:

"If we are curious as to why the Indonesians never felt the force of the U.S. government's 'anguish,' the answer is quite simple. In flat contradiction to express statements by Gen. Fish, Mr. Oakley, and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Richard Holbrooke, at least four separate offers of military equipment were made to the Indonesian government during the January-June 1976 'administrative suspension.' This equipment consisted mainly of supplies and parts for OV-10 Broncos, Vietnam War-era planes designed for counterinsurgency operations against adversaries without effective anti-aircraft weapons, and wholly useless for defending Indonesia from a foreign enemy. The policy of supplying the Indonesian regime with Broncos, as well as other counterinsurgency-related equipment, has continued without substantial change from the Ford through the present Carter administrations."

The disturbing symbiosis between Holbrooke and figures like uberhawk Paul Wolfowitz is startling.

"In an unguarded moment just before the 2000 election, Richard Holbrooke opened a foreign policy speech with a fawning tribute to his host, Paul Wolfowitz, who was then the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington," reported Tim Shorrock following the terrorist attacks in 2001.

Shorrock continued: "Holbrooke, a senior adviser to Al Gore, was acutely aware that either he or Wolfowitz would be playing important roles in the next administration. Looking perhaps to assure the world of the continuity of U.S. foreign policy, he told his audience that Wolfowitz's 'recent activities illustrate something that's very important about American foreign policy in an election year, and that is the degree to which there are still common themes between the parties.' The example he chose to illustrate his point was East Timor, which was invaded and occupied in 1975 by Indonesia with U.S. weapons – a security policy backed and partly shaped by Holbrooke and Wolfowitz. 'Paul and I,' he said, 'have been in frequent touch to make sure that we keep [East Timor] out of the presidential campaign, where it would do no good to American or Indonesian interests.'"

In sum, Holbrooke has worked vigorously to keep his bloody campaign silent, and it appears to have paid off. In chilling words, Holbrooke described the motivations behind his support of Indonesia's genocidal actions:

"The situation in East Timor is one of the number of very important concerns of the United States in Indonesia. Indonesia, with a population of 150 million people, is the fifth largest nation in the world, is a moderate member of the Non-Aligned Movement, is an important oil producer – which plays a moderate role within OPEC – and occupies a strategic position astride the sea lanes between the Pacific and Indian Oceans. . . We highly value our cooperative relationship with Indonesia."

If his bloody history in East Timor is anything, it's a sign that Richard Holbrooke is not qualified to lead the U.S. in a new direction in today's Middle East. . .

Helene Cooper, NY Times - Can President Obama succeed in that long-lamented "graveyard of empires" - a place that has crushed foreign occupiers for more than 2,000 years?. . .

Even as Mr. Obama's military planners prepare for the first wave of the new Afghanistan "surge," there is growing debate, including among those who agree with the plan to send more troops, about whether - or how - the troops can accomplish their mission, and just what the mission is.

Afghanistan has, after all, stymied would-be conquerors since Alexander the Great. It's always the same story; the invaders - British, Soviets - control the cities, but not the countryside. And eventually, the invaders don't even control the cities, and are sent packing.

Think Iraq was hard? Afghanistan, former Secretary of State Colin Powell argues, will be "much, much harder."

"Iraq had a middle class," Mr. Powell pointed out on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" a couple of hours before Mr. Obama was sworn in last Tuesday. "It was a fairly advanced country before Saddam Hussein drove it in the ground." Afghanistan, on the other hand, "is still basically a tribal society, a lot of corruption; drugs are going to destroy that country if something isn't done about it.". . .

One question for Mr. Obama is whether 30,000 more troops are enough. "I think that this is more of a psychological surge than a practical surge," said Karin von Hippel, an Afghanistan expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She said she favored the troop increase, but only as a precursor to getting the Europeans to contribute more, and to changing America's policy so it focuses more on the countryside, as opposed to the capital.

"In Afghanistan, the number of troops, if you combine NATO, American and Afghan troops, is 200,000 forces versus 600,000 in Iraq," Ms. von Hippel said. "Those numbers are so low that an extra 30,000 isn't going to get you to where you need to be. It's more of a stop-gap measure.". .


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keep the CIA heroin flowing.

January 26, 2009 9:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why do we put up with the CIA when everybody knows they're the biggest drug-running outfit on the planet? For heaven sake, these spooks make us less and less safe everyday in every way!

January 27, 2009 10:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I agree with Mr. Powell that Afghanistan is way harder than Iraq, I disagree with him saying Saddam is solely responsible for driving Iraq to the ground. Iraq under Saddam wasn't all that bad...you did not have this infighting between Muslim sects, they had good health care, the economy was on the rise just before the second Iraq invasion. America is the one that ultimately drove Iraq to the ground...heck...they destroyed Iraq's civilian infrastructure for crying out loud.

May 13, 2009 4:19 PM  

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