Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Can You Pass The Iran Quiz?

Can You Pass The Iran Quiz By Jeffrey Rudolph

"What can possibly justify the relentless U.S. diplomatic (and mainstream media) assault on Iran ?

It cannot be argued that Iran is an aggressive state that is dangerous to its neighbors, as facts do not support this claim. It cannot be relevant that Iran adheres to Islamic fundamentalism, has a flawed democracy and denies women full western-style civil rights, as Saudi Arabia is more fundamentalist, far less democratic and more oppressive of women, yet it is a U.S. ally. It cannot be relevant that Iran has, over the years, had a nuclear research program, and is most likely pursuing the capacity to develop nuclear weapons, as Pakistan, India, Israel and other states are nuclear powers yet remain U.S. allies—indeed, Israel deceived the U.S. while developing its nuclear program."

The Quiz is based on information from Juan Cole's Book Engaging the Muslim World

Questions and the sometimes surprising answers at the link above.

Monday, April 26, 2010

How Many Soldiers Does it Take to Screw in a Light Bulb? Counterinsurgency versus Aid for development

How Many Soldiers Does it Take to Screw in a Light Bulb? | The Seminal

Evidence that "Nation Building" and War are not compatible and neither interference is likely to help the Afghan people.

By: Josh Mull Monday April 26, 2010 4:00 pm

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

As the US gears up for its inevitably bloody assault on Kandahar, the plans have hit a bit of a snag. There’s a dispute raging between the military and civilian sides of our war effort over, believe it or not, development aid. The Washington Post reports:

Convinced that expanding the electricity supply will build popular support for the Afghan government and sap the Taliban’s influence, some officers want to spend $200 million over the next few months to buy more generators and millions of gallons of diesel fuel. Although they acknowledge that the project will be costly and inefficient, they say President Obama’s pledge to begin withdrawing troops by July 2011 has increased pressure to demonstrate rapid results in their counterinsurgency efforts, even if it means embracing less-than-ideal solutions to provide basic public services. [...]

U.S. diplomats and reconstruction specialists, who do not face the same looming drawdown, have opposed the military’s plan because of concerns that the Afghan government will not be able to afford the fuel to sustain the generators. Mindful of several troubled development programs over the past eight years, they want the United States to focus on initiatives that Afghans can maintain over the long term.

The dispute is easy to understand. The military wants an immediate impact, while the State Department wants a long-term solution. The issue with this article is not the dispute, but that they frame the debate around the military withdrawal. Because the army has to leave, they need quick solutions or, left unsaid, we will fail in Afghanistan. Right away we know that’s not true, even after July 2011 there will still be combat troops in Afghanistan, just the "special" ones that do the most murdering. But by framing the aid dispute around the military’s needs completely misses the point that the military shouldn’t even be involved in Afghanistan. The State Dept. is right that if we care at all about our objectives in Afghanistan, governance, development, human rights, then we need sustainable solutions. And who knows more about that, the civilians or the military?

In that WaPo piece, an anonymous military source crystallizes the debate:

"This is not about development — it’s about counterinsurgency," said a U.S military official at the NATO headquarters in Kandahar, advocating rapid action to help Afghan officials boost the power supply. "If we don’t give them more fuel, we’ll lose a very narrow window of opportunity."

It’s not about development, it’s about counterinsurgency, COIN if you’re a cool kid. It’s supposedly a fancy new military doctrine for winning the hearts and minds of civilians, including things like $200 million worth of generators. But COIN isn’t new, it’s a buzzword for occupation. It even accounts for installing and coercing a puppet government (host nation) and undermining domestic and foreign discourse with propaganda (strategic communication). In other words, the exact same cycle of overthrowing foreign governments we’ve been doing for decades. That’s the best thing our military has to offer when it comes to succeeding in Afghanistan: an insidious and illegal foreign occupation.

Why? Because they’re the military. They’ve got aptly-named Predator drones and Hellfire missiles and other tools explicitly designed for hunting down and obliterating human beings. Despite the commercials you see of them rescuing disaster victims and handing out food, they’re really what Ted Koppel said during the Iraq invasion, "an awesome, synchronized killing machine." Now, you want something "awesome" like that when Putin comes knocking on Sarah Palin’s door, or whatever we think is going to happen to us. But in Afghanistan, that’s not what we need. At least, those aren’t the objectives laid out by the President:

Our overarching goal remains the same: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future.

To meet that goal, we will pursue the following objectives within Afghanistan. We must deny al Qaeda a safe-haven. We must reverse the Taliban’s momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan’s Security Forces and government, so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan’s future.

OK, so the big one is al-Qa’eda. That’s been done for like a year now. We don’t want the Taliban to overthrow the government? Done, the Taliban are negotiating with the government. And finally, "strengthening the capacity" of the government to "lead responsibility," that one we haven’t done. The government is corrupt and broken. That’s where all that talk about development, governance, and human rights comes in, which brings us back to the aid dispute above. The civilian side of our efforts wants to continue repairing a dam that could provide a stable power source indefinitely, instead of handing out expensive generators that require fuel local Afghans couldn’t possibly afford without welfare from President Tony Montana in Kabul, who can’t afford it either by the way. And our diplomats and development agencies actually know what they’re talking about.

Let’s look at Bangladesh. Like Afghanistan, they have similar energy problems, as my friend Bob Morris writes:

Imagine a city of 13 million with continual blackouts

That’s Dhaka, Bangladesh now. Uncontrolled growth is a primary reason that blackouts now occur every few hours, something which usually shuts down the water supply too. And here I get cranky when the Internet goes down for ten minutes. If you’re reading this on a laptop in a developed country, you are in the global elite.

So, what do we do about it? Send in 100,000 troops to shoot and bomb the hell out of them? Nope, just stuff like this:

USAID aims to:

* Strengthen energy institutions, particularly the Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission, the Rural Electrification Board and the rural electric cooperatives known as the Palli Biddut Samities or PBSs;
* Help develop appropriate market structure and associated rules to ensure a competitive market for efficient market operations and increased consumer benefits
* Promote balanced public discussion on reform of Bangladesh’s energy sector; and
* Improve the legal, regulatory, and investment environment to promote private investment and development of the energy sector.[...]

Complementing these activities is USAID’s South Asia Regional Initiative for Energy (SARI/Energy) program. The program promotes energy security in South Asia by facilitating more efficient regional energy resource utilization, increasing transparent and profitable energy practices, mitigating the environmental impacts of energy production, and increasing regional access to clean energy. SARI/Energy focuses on:

1. Cross border energy trade
2. Energy market formation
3. Regional clean energy development

That’s a lot of jargon, but essentially it’s the same sort of solution that we need in Afghanistan. In fact, it’s exactly what the State Department is asking for in the aid dispute with the military:

Instead of buying fuel, Eikenberry and other embassy personnel want the electric utility in Kandahar to do a better job of collecting fees and to use the money to buy fuel for the generators it already has, which would increase supply but not eliminate the shortage. USAID is offering help through its Afghanistan Clean Energy Program, a $100 million effort to promote "green" power in the war zone. The agency plans to install solar-powered streetlights in the city this year.

Rather than unsustainable bribes, help the local population solve their own energy crisis. Now I know what you’re thinking, Bangladesh is not Afghanistan. If we pulled out the military and just left the civilians and aid workers, they’d all get killed by the Taliban, right? Wrong. Bangladesh has many of the same problems, corrupt government officials, extremist infiltration in the military, even jihadi terrorist groups with lots of scary dashes and apostrophes:

Meanwhile, intelligence agencies in Bangladesh have sent a report to the Prime Minister on the existing militant groups in the country. According to the report, at least 12 militant outfits are active in Bangladesh, which have foreign funding links and relations with local political parties. The 12 militant outfits are, Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh [JMB], Harkatul Jihad al Islami [Huji], Hizb Ut Towhid, Ulama Anjuman al Bainat, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, Islamic Democratic Party [IDP], Islami Samaj, Touhid Trust, Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh [JMJB], Shahadat-E-Al Hikma Party Bangladesh, Tamira Ad-Din Bangladesh [Hizb-E-Abu Omar] and Allah’r Dal [Hezbollah]. The report however did not mention names of other militant outfits such as Zadid Al-Qaeda, Khatmey Nabuat Movement and Khatmey Nabuat Andolan.

It may be mentioned here that, members of Khatmey Nabuat Movement and Khatmey Nabuat Andolan have been staging massive repression on Ahmedia religious minority group in Bangladesh. Moreover, Mufti Noor Hussain Noonari, leader of Khatmey Nabuat Andolan led dozens of Islamists in destroying a sculpture, which was erected by the City Corporation in front of the Zia International Airport. Members of law enforcing agencies were helplessly witnessing the destructions of State properties by the unruly Islamists in broad day light. Later another group of Islamists attempted to destroy the sculpture in front of the National Flag Carrier’s head office. They also threatened to destroy the National Monument, which was erected in memory of the martyrs of the independence war of Bangladesh as well as another monument erected in the memory of Bangla Language Movement. It is learnt that, Mufti Noorani is continuing to give instigations behind such illegal activities.

Yep, that place sounds crazy dangerous, yet our civilians have been able to provide electricity to some 40 million people at a rate of 2,000 new connections per day. That’s just one piece of the program, there’s still all the other stuff about "market formation" and improving the regulatory environment. And tada! No Special Forces or Hellfire missiles. Our civilian aid workers and diplomats are highly skilled at operating safely and effectively in failed states, war zones, all kinds of unsafe places, and they don’t need military firepower to do it.

It’s the military presence that makes it unsafe for aid agencies. The civilians become co-conspirators in foreign domination, and with the military pretending to be interested in construction and development, they become completely indistinguishable from the occupying army. That’s why they become targets. We have to completely remove the military from the equation in order for our civilian efforts to work, and thus achieve our objectives in Afghanistan.

And we have to remove the military quickly, because unlike our civilian workers, the military is not only making the situation unsafe in Afghanistan, but they’re even unsafe at home. Are you sitting down? Check this out:

Troubling new data show there are an average of 950 suicide attempts each month by veterans who are receiving some type of treatment from the Veterans Affairs Department.

Seven percent of the attempts are successful, and 11 percent of those who don’t succeed on the first attempt try again within nine months.

Holy shit! Excuse my language but that is a staggering statistic. 950 soldiers try to kill themselves every single month, and that’s just the price of doing business. If they manage not to get blown up by an IED, shot by friendly fire, or electrocuted in the shower, then they still have deadly severe PTSD to deal with. Even if they’re over there COINing it up, the environment our occupation creates is so hellish, the atrocities so outrageous, that afterward it completely shatters our soldiers’ will to live. Why? I can’t seem to find the same statistics for IREX or USAID. I guess there’s not a lot of diplomats commiting suicide because of all the schools and clinics they built. How many soldiers do we need working in Afghanistan? Zero! We’ve got to get every last one out of there, or not only will the sickening death toll continue to rise, but we’ll never get anywhere near completing our objectives in Afghanistan.

Of course, not everyone agrees with the President’s ideas about creating a stable Afghanistan. Intervention in any shape or form is controversial, and we’re welcome to have a philosophical debate about Neoliberal Globalization and "Soft Imperialism" and all that fun stuff, but we’re nowhere near that point yet. Right now the debate is on this:

Afghan protesters torched NATO supply vehicles in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday, hours after allegations emerged that U.S. and Afghan troops had killed three civilians, including two brothers, in their home.

The demonstration occurred in Logar province after a nighttime joint patrol of U.S. Special Operations forces and Afghan soldiers fatally shot three people and arrested two others. NATO officials said the men were insurgents who had displayed "hostile intent." One of those captured was a low-level Taliban commander who planned suicide bombings, they said.

But after daybreak, more than 100 people gathered on a main road in Logar to protest the killings and the death in a separate incident of an Islamic scholar, according to Afghan officials. Military operations at night are deeply unpopular, and Afghan officials have called for them to stop. The furious crowd blocked traffic and set fire to at least 10 fuel tankers using hand grenades, said the provincial police chief, Ghulam Mustafa Moisini.

"If they were insurgents, why are the people so angry?" asked provincial government spokesman Din Mohammad Darwish.

They’re angry for the same reason we are. We’ve got to get the military out of Afghanistan, for our sake, for the Afghans’ sake, and for the sake our national objectives in Afghanistan (at least according to President Obama). And you can help. Join us on Rethink Afghanistan’s Facebook page and collaborate with the tens of thousands of others around the country working to bring this war to an end.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Bill Maher Blasts Tea Baggers For Ignoring Defense Spending and the American Empire

Bill Maher Blasts Tea Baggers For Ignoring Defense Spending (VIDEO):
(Not safe for the office)
Bill Maher points out the best way to reduce the deficit is by reducing military spending on the American Empire, a topic only discussed occasionally on late night TV. Maher is generally in poor taste and wickedly funny telling the truth as only our court jesters dare to do.
"Maher observed during his 'new rule' monologue on 'Real Time.'

He challenged the tea partiers to take on defense spending saying:

Everything that goes into defense costs us about a trillion dollars a year, most of which goes into fighting the Russians in 1978. Fighter planes for all those dog fights we get into with the Taliban, submarines to foil their evil plot to blow up our ships with car bombs, and space lasers to shoot down their exploding underpants...scream about handouts, this is what they should be protesting."

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Israeli Hand in Hand Schools educate Jews and Arabs together

Daily Kos: Our Israeli Exchange Student has Left for Home: "There is a program in Israel called Hand in Hand. Briefly, Hand-in-Hand currently has four schools in Israel (Jerusalem, Galilee, Beer Sheva and Wadi Ara) where Jewish and Arab students are educated together beginning in kindergarten and continuing through high school. All classes are taught by both a Jewish teacher and an Arab teacher. There is an Arab principle and a Jewish principle in each school. All of the students speak Hebrew, Arabic and English. In the highly segregated society that is Israel, these schools are an amazing anomaly."

Friday, April 9, 2010

Bush Regime Knew Most Guantanamo Prisoners were innocent

f | Daily Kos ★ 632

This means prisoners were tortured for their propaganda value, not for military intelligence.

"Could anything make what happened at Guantanamo any worse? How about if the President, the Vice President, and the Defence Secretary weren't simply incompetent or misled, but knew all along that most of their prisoners were innocent? (via DU):

George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld covered up that hundreds of innocent men were sent to the Guantánamo Bay prison camp because they feared that releasing them would harm the push for war in Iraq and the broader War on Terror, according to a new document obtained by The Times.

The accusations were made by Lawrence Wilkerson, a top aide to Colin Powell, the former Republican Secretary of State, in a signed declaration to support a lawsuit filed by a Guantánamo detainee. It is the first time that such allegations have been made by a senior member of the Bush Administration.

* Alien Abductee's diary :: ::

Powell is apparently backing the statement as well.

Wilkerson says that Cheney and Rumsfeld knew that most of the original 742 detainees had nothing to do with terrorism but that it was just "politically impossible to release them" and because "the detention efforts would be revealed as the incredibly confused operation that they were," and that would have been detrimental to the Administration and to the leadership of the DOD (Rumsfeld).

Referring to Mr Cheney, Colonel Wilkerson, who served 31 years in the US Army, asserted: "He had absolutely no concern that the vast majority of Guantánamo detainees were innocent ... If hundreds of innocent individuals had to suffer in order to detain a handful of hardcore terrorists, so be it."

He alleged that for Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld "innocent people languishing in Guantánamo for years was justified by the broader War on Terror and the small number of terrorists who were responsible for the September 11 attacks".

President Bush was directly involved with the decision making about who was to be held at Guantanamo, along with Cheney and Rumsfeld. They believed most of the detainees were innocent, but felt that if some actual terrorists were mixed in with them, that made it all worthwhile.

Wilkerson signed the new statement in support of a Sudanese man, Adel Hassan Hamad, who was held at Guantanamo between March 2003 and December 2007 and filed suit yesterday for damages he says he sustained as a result of his false imprisonment and torture.

So these were the "worst of the worst." I wonder if Bush ever felt the slightest twinge of guilt each time he called them that while knowing he was entombing innocent people for year after year, robbing them of their lives and their sanity.

It looks like even if powerful people want to look forward instead of backward, the past will just keep on making itself heard no matter what."

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Video: A perspective from a liberal veteran on the reality of War

Daily Kos: The Video: A perspective from a liberal veteran
Back form traveling and other things - here is a perspective on the Wikileaks video that I found useful and realistic in terms of the experiences of a war veteran.

"This video affects me deeply on a personal level because it conjures up many painful emotions. I am writing this diary, in part, to give a perspective to those who are looking to understand, but also as a form of therapy for myself.

First, I want to explain some of the emotions and feeling that I went through in my tour in Afghanistan, and how they still affect me today. Then, I want to talk a little more about the video and the tendency to cover up these things.

If you are interested, follow below."

* ranger995's diary :: ::

"When I went to Afghanistan, I was assigned to train, mentor, and advise a company of Afghan National Army troops. At the time, I believed in the mission, and supported the idea of helping Afghanistan return to a state of stability and peace that they had ca. 1940-1974. I learned to speak, read, and write Dari, the Afghan dialect of Persian/Farsi, and I made a serious effort to be sensitive to Afghan and Muslim culture.

We spent the first 6 weeks in and around Kabul, which was very safe at the time, and I actually enjoyed it. I was learning a lot about Afghanistan history and culture. Then, they sent us to Kunar province along the Pakistan border.

In Kunar, my Afghan company and I were assigned to a Marine Battalion. Our mission tempo was very high, meaning the Marines used us like crazy, and we had enemy contact almost on a daily basis.

IEDs were the most dangerous threat, and they were a common occurrence. Several had killed ANA in my company, as well as Afghan Police and Marines on the roads that I used daily. They were impossible to spot, and this made driving a very nerve wracking process. The tension built up over time. Once I was driving in the front of a convoy, and drove right over an IED and never noticed it, nor did the 8-10 vehicles who went over it behind me. Luckily for me, the people firing the device wanted to hit a bigger target, a Marine vehicle farther along in the convoy--not so lucky for them, 4 were seriously injured, and 1 later died of his wounds.

When you are hit by an IED there is no fight. There is no opportunity to get the people who caused you this harm. Along with the constant feeling of fear, comes a deep seated hatred for those that are the cause of the stress. My mind went to very dark places, I wanted those people dead. I wanted to do it myself, up close. You may not understand these emotions, and I have difficulty today with them. Writing these words makes me very emotional. Even today I have violent visions for conflict resolution, both in my dreams and waking thoughts. I have envisioned doing horrible things to people--I have to deal with that constantly.

When we actually got into shooting engagements, this fear and hatred took control. I fired my machine gun, grenade launcher, or M4 with an anger that later horrified me. I became completely desensitized when several of my close Afghan soldiers were killed or wounded recovering the body of a Marine. After that, I felt euphoric in a fight, especially when we killed the enemy.

Once, when we were delivering a MEDCAP, which is a mission that involves medics treating people in a small village, we were attacked by a sniper. We had to abandon the mission, and many people wished we would just bomb the village. I have to admit that for a brief moment, I shared this feeling. Then, I began to think about it, and became horrified at what I was becoming. Luckily, I controlled these emotions and always chose my targets. I never fired on innocent people, but the urge was there. I wondered if they weren't pretending and in some way helping the other side." More at the link above