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Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
DeSmogBlog has obtained emails via North Dakota's Open Records Statute revealing facts that could be interpreted as indicating that North Dakota Treasurer Kelly Schmidt broke State Investment Board ethics laws.
Photo Credit: Office of North Dakota State Treasurer; Obtained via ND Open Records Statute
A lead article on CNN today reads as follows: ‘Fellow soldiers call Bowe Bergdahl a deserter, not a hero.’
It seems that one is defining the term ‘hero’ in a rather odd way, if one can’t consider a deserter a hero. Let’s look first at what desertion from the U.S. military means, in terms of actions and possible consequences, and then more specifically at Mr. Bergdahl’s particular situation, or at least what is currently known of it.
By Dave Lindorff
The Real Villains of the Bergdahl Tale
June 3, 2014
Editor Note: The right-wing media is denouncing Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl as a “deserter” who wasn’t worth ransoming from the Taliban, but the real villains are the architects of the disastrous Iraq and Afghan wars who frivolously put the many Bergdahls in harm’s way.
By Ray McGovern
For me, the Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl affair brings back angry memories of how, in 2009, President Barack Obama caved in to be-medaled and be-ribboned generals like David Petraeus and ordered a modified-limited-hangout-type “surge” of 33,000 troops into Afghanistan. Consequential cowardice at work – trading lives for political advantage – as bad as it gets.
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
North Dakota Treasurer Kelly Schmidt has responded to DeSmogBlog's investigation of the Bakken Shale basin fracking field trip her office facilitated for former CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus, who now works at the Manhattan-based private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR).
No human being wants to be ruled by their people's murderers. Forgiveness through restorative justice may be possible, but being ruled by murderers is asking for too much.
Yet, that seems to be the Hobson's choice behind the Afghan presidential election, which is into its run-off between Dr. Abdullah / Mohaqiq's team and Dr. Ashraf Ghani / General Dostum's team, neither team having won more than 50% of balloted votes in the first round.
Both teams have members who are warlords accused of human rights abuses, as reported by the New York Times, including Dr. Abdullah Abdullah's running mate, Mohammed Mohaqiq, and General Dostum, who is Dr. Ashraf Ghani's vice-presidential candidate.
General Dostum, allegedly on the CIA's payroll in the past, apologized for his past war crimes when he registered as Dr. Ashraf Ghani's vice-presidential candidate. One of those crimes is the Dasht-e-Leili massacre which occurred in the fall of 2001. New York Times and Newsweek investigations alleged that hundreds or even thousands of surrendering pro-Taliban prisoners died of thirst, hunger and gunshots when they were stuffed into shipping containers for transport to an Afghan prison.
Both presidential hopefuls in the run-off elections on June 14th have already vowed to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement, which President Obama mentioned in his surprise visit to Bagram Air Base in Kabul, not even bothering to visit President Karzai who declined to visit him at Bagram.
Article 7 of the Bilateral Security Agreement, states that, "Afghanistan hereby authorizes United States forces to control entry to agreed facilities and areas that have been provided for United States forces' exclusive use…" and also that "Afghanistan shall provide all agreed facilities and areas without charge to United States forces."
Article 13 includes this: "Afghanistan ... agrees that the United States shall have the exclusive right to exercise jurisdiction over such persons in respect of any criminal or civil offenses committed in the territory of Afghanistan."
It is understandable that President Karzai isn't willing to sign the agreement. It may leave a disastrous legacy.
I asked an activist who has been working in Afghanistan for ten years what he thought about the run-off in Afghanistan's elections. "Many Afghans, and people all over the world, are getting more and more cynical about elections," he told me. "And they should be, because how did our psyche become conditioned to accept that by electing corrupt, selfish, proud, wealthy and violent elites every four or five years, our ordinary lives will be changed? Our planet is exasperatingly unequal and militarized. To place in power the ones who continue this status quo is bizarre."
Bizarre, yet disturbingly familiar.
USA Freedom Act has nothing to do with freedom: House-Passed Phone Surveillance ‘Reform’ Bill is an Obscene Joke
By Alfredo Lopez
It just wasn't a very good week for phones or for freedom.
By Dr Hakim
“Don’t you touch me!” declared Mi Ryang.
South Korean police were clamping down on a villager who was resisting the construction of a Korean/U.S. naval base at her village. Mi Ryang managed to turn the police away by taking off her blouse and, clad in her bra, walking toward them with her clear warning. Hands off! Mi Ryang is fondly referred to as “Gangjeong’s daughter” by villagers who highly regard her as the feisty descendant of legendary women sea divers. Her mother and grandmother were Haenyo divers who supported their families every day by diving for shellfish.
Since 2007, every day without fail, Mi Ryang has stood up to militarists destroying her land.
Mi Ryang, in white cap on the right, challenging a construction truck driver at the naval base gate
Mi Ryang, standing with Gangjeong Village Association members and Gangjeong’s mayor, outside the Jeju Courts, to refuse paying fines for protests against the U.S. naval base construction
In doing so, she confronts giants: the Korean military, Korean police authority, the U.S. military, and huge corporations, such as Samsung, allied with these armed forces.
Mi Ryang and her fellow protesters rely on love and on relationships which help them to continue seeking self-determination, freedom and dignity.
Jeju Island is the first place in the world to receive all three UNESCO natural science designations (Biosphere Reserve in 2002, World Natural Heritage in 2007 and Global Geopark in 2010). The military industrial complex, having no interest in securing the Island’s natural wonders, instead serves the U.S. government’s national interest in countering China’s rising economic influence.
The U.S. doesn’t want to be number two. The consequences of the U.S. government’s blueprint for ‘total spectrum dominance,’ globally, are violent, and frightening.
I recently attended a conference held at Jeju University, where young Korean men told participants about why they chose prison instead of enlisting for the two-year compulsory Korean military service. “I admire these conscientious objectors for their brave and responsible decisions,” I said, “and I confess that I’m worried. I fear that Jeju Island will become like Afghanistan, where I have worked as a humanitarian and social enterprise worker for the past 10 years.”
“Jeju Island will be a pawn harboring a U.S. naval base, just as Afghanistan will be a pad for at least nine U.S. military bases when the next Afghan President signs the U.S./Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement.”
When the Korean authorities collaborated with the U.S. military in 1947, at least 30,000 Jeju Islanders were massacred.
How many more ordinary people and soldiers will suffer, be utilized or be killed due to U.S. geopolitical interests to pivot against China?
As many as 20% of all tourists to Jeju Island are Chinese nationals. Clearly, ordinary Jeju citizens and ordinary Chinese can get along, just like ordinary Afghans and citizens from the U.S./NATO countries can get along. But when U.S. military bases are built outside the U.S., the next Osama Bin Ladens will have excuses to plan other September 11th s!
A few nights ago, I spoke with Dr Song, a Korean activist who used to swim every day to Gureombi Rock, a sacred, volcanic rock formation along Gangjeong’s coastline which was destroyed by the naval base construction. At one point, coast guard officials jailed him for trying to reach Gureombi by swimming. Dr. Song just returned from Okinawa, where he met with Japanese who have resisted the U.S. military base in Okinawa for decades.
The Okinawan and Korean activists understand the global challenge we face. The 99% must link to form a strong, united 99%. By acting together, we can build a better world, instead of burning out as tiny communities of change. The 1% is way too wealthy and well-resourced in an entrenched system to be stopped by any one village or group.
‘We are many, they are few’ applies more effectively when we stand together. Socially and emotionally, we need one another more than ever, as our existence is threatened by human-engineered climate change, nuclear annihilation and gross socioeconomic inequalities.
The governments of South Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan and even my home country Singapore, have dangerously partnered with the U.S. against China, in Obama’s Asia pivot, dividing human beings by using the threat of armed force, for profit.
The non-violent examples of the people of Gangjeong Village should lead people worldwide to make friendships, create conversations, build alternative education systems, promote communally beneficial, sustainable economies , and create peace parks where people can celebrate their art, music, and dancing. Visit Gangjeong Village and you’ll see how residents have created joyful ways to turn the Asia War Pivot into an Asia Peace Pivot, as you can watch in this video.
Alternatively, people can choose the “helpless bystander” role and become passive spectators as oppressive global militarism and corporate greed destroy us. People can stand still and watch destruction of beautiful coral reefs and marine life in Jeju, Australia and other seas; watch livelihoods, like those of Gangjeong and Gaza fishermen, disappear; and watch, mutely, as fellow human beings like Americans, Afghans, Syrians, Libyans, Egyptians, Palestinians. Israelis, Ukrainians, Nigerians, Malians, Mexicans, indigenous peoples and many others are killed.
The gorgeous Jeju Island coast at Gangjeong Village,
now being polluted and destroyed by the construction of a Korean/U.S. naval base
Or, we can be Like Mi Ryang. As free and equal human beings we can lay aside our individual concerns and lobbies to unite, cooperatively, making our struggles more attractive and less lonely. Together, we’re more than capable of persuading the world to seek genuine security and liberation.
The Afghan Peace Volunteers have begun playing their tiny part in promoting non-violence and serving fellow Afghans in Kabul. As they connect the dots of inequality, global warming and wars, they long to build relationships across all borders, under the same blue sky, in order to save themselves, the earth and humanity.
Gangjeong Village Mayor ( front row, second from left ), wearing the Borderfree Blue Scarf,
with Dr Hakim on his left. Mi Ryang is standing in the back row, third from the right
Through their Borderfree effort to build socioeconomic equality, take care of our blue planet, and abolish war, they wear their Borderfree Blue Scarvesand say, together with Mi Ryang and the resilient villagers of Gangjeong Village, “Don’t touch me!”
“Don’t touch us!”
Hakim, ( Dr. Teck Young, Wee ) is a medical doctor from Singapore who has done humanitarian and social enterprise work in Afghanistan for the past 9 years, including being a mentor to the Afghan Peace Volunteers, an inter-ethnic group of young Afghans dedicated to building non-violent alternatives to war. He is the 2012 recipient of the International Pfeffer Peace Prize.
By Dave Lindorff
I was shocked to find myself in almost perfect agreement today with a recent column by the neoconservative pundit Charles Krauthammer.
Usually Krauthammer has me groaning, but yesterday his column nailed it.
- Fought to protect corporate America’s $50,000,000.00 investment in Cuba during the Spanish-American War;
- Died on foreign shores during World War I in what President Woodrow Wilson, who involved the U.S. in that war, later said “…in its inception, was a commercial and industrial war;”
- Sacrificed so much in World War II while U.S. companies, with U.S. government approval, continually supplied the Axis powers with goods that U.S. citizens had to ration, including materials used to help kill Allied soldiers;
- Suffered and died in Korea, to safeguard and ensure the expansion of U.S. trade throughout the region;
- Endured the hell of the Vietnam War to satisfy the egos of three presidents, and help ensure their elections and re-elections;
- Fought in the heat of the Iraqi and Kuwaiti deserts to protect Western oil sources;
We speak with Pat Alviso and Paula Rogovin of Military Families Speak Out about their campaign for Zero Troops in Afghanistan. See http://mfso.org
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This goes deeper than the usual war lies.
We've had plenty of those. We weren't told the Taliban was willing to turn bin Laden over to a neutral nation to stand trial. We weren't told the Taliban was a reluctant tolerator of al Qaeda, and a completely distinct group. We weren't told the 911 attacks had also been planned in Germany and Maryland and various other places not marked for bombing. We weren't told that most of the people who would die in Afghanistan, many more than died on 911, not only didn't support 911 but never heard of it. We weren't told our government would kill large numbers of civilians, imprison people without trial, hang people by their feet and whip them until they were dead. We weren't told how this illegal war would advance the acceptability of illegal wars or how it would make the United States hated in much of the world. We weren't given the background of how the U.S. interfered in Afghanistan and provoked a Soviet invasion and armed resistance to the Soviets and left the people to the tender mercies of that armed resistance once the Soviets left. We weren't told that Tony Blair wanted Afghanistan first before he'd get the UK to help destroy Iraq. We certainly weren't told that bin Laden had been an ally of the U.S. government, that the 911 hijackers were mostly Saudi, or that there might be anything at all amiss with the government of Saudi Arabia. And nobody mentioned the trillions of dollars we'd waste or the civil liberties we'd have to lose at home or the severe damage that would be inflicted on the natural environment. Even birds don't go to Afghanistan anymore.
OK. That's all sort of par-for-the-course, war-marketing bullshit. People who pay attention know all of that. People who don't want to know any of that are the last great hope of military recruiters everywhere. And don't let the past tense fool you. The White House is trying to keep the occupation of Afghanistan going for TEN MORE YEARS ("and beyond"), and articles have been popping up this week about sending U.S. troops back into Iraq. But there's something more.
I've just read an excellent new book by Anand Gopal calledNo Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes. Gopal has spent years in Afghanistan, learned local languages, interviewed people in depth, researched their stories, and produced a true-crime book more gripping, as well as more accurate, than anything Truman Capote came up with. Gopal's book is like a novel that interweaves the stories of a number of characters -- stories that occasionally overlap. It's the kind of book that makes me worry I'll spoil it if I say too much about the fate of the characters, so I'll be careful not to.
The characters include Americans, Afghans allied with the U.S. occupation, Afghans fighting the U.S. occupation, and men and women trying to survive -- including by shifting their loyalties toward whichever party seems least likely in that moment to imprison or kill them. What we discover from this is not just that enemies, too, are human beings. We discover that the same human beings switch from one category to another quite easily. The blunder of the U.S. occupation's de-Baathification policy in Iraq has been widely discussed. Throwing all the skilled and armed killers out of work turned out not to be the most brilliant move. But think about what motivated it: the idea that whoever had supported the evil regime was irredeemably evil (even though Ronald Reagan and Donald Rumsfeld had supported the evil regime too -- OK, bad example, but you see what I mean). In Afghanistan the same cartoonish thinking, the same falling for one's own propaganda, went on.
People in Afghanistan whose personal stories are recounted here sided with or against Pakistan, with or against the USSR, with or against the Taliban, with or against the U.S. and NATO, as the tides of fortune turned. Some tried to make a living at peaceful employment when that possibility seemed to open up, including early-on in the U.S. occupation. The Taliban was very swiftly destroyed in 2001 through a combination of overwhelming killing power and desertion. The U.S. then began hunting for anyone who had once been a member of the Taliban. But these included many of the people now leading the support of the U.S. regime -- and many such allied leaders were killed and captured despite not having been Taliban as well, through sheer stupidity and corruption. We've often heard how dangling $5000 rewards in front of poor people produced false-accusations that landed their rivals in Bagram or Guantanamo. But Gopal's book recounts how the removal of these often key figures devastated communities, and turned communities against the United States that had previously been inclined to support it. Add to this the vicious and insulting abuse of whole families, including women and children captured and harassed by U.S. troops, and the revival of the Taliban under the U.S. occupation begins to become clear. The lie we've been told to explain it is that the U.S. became distracted by Iraq. Gopal documents, however, that the Taliban revived precisely where U.S. troops were imposing a rule of violence and not where other internationals were negotiating compromises using, you know, words.
We find here a story of a bumbling oblivious and uncomprehending foreign occupation torturing and murdering a lot of its own strongest allies, shipping some of them off to Gitmo -- even shipping to Gitmo young boys whose only offense had been being the sexual assault victims of U.S. allies. The danger in this type of narrative that dives deep into the crushing Kafkan horror of rule by brute ignorant force is that a reader will think: Let's do the next war better. If occupations can't work, let's just blow shit up and leave. To which I respond: Yeah, how are things working out in Libya? The lesson for us to learn is not that wars are badly managed, but that human beings are not Good Guys or Bad Guys. And here's the hard part: That includes Russians.
Dr. Ramazan Bashardost, 2009 Afghan presidential candidate, scholar, and former Minister of Planning, is accepting donations for Afghan landslide victims. Dr. Bashardost's history of outspoken criticism of corruption from all sides in Afghanistan, and his integrity beyond reproach, has earned him the title 'most honest man in Afghanistan.' In an email to friends and supporters Dr. Bashardost has assured that 'every penny' of donations made to the designated account will reach the neediest victims directly.
"I have unconditional support for our brave men and women serving America overseas, as well as for their families. As our military commanders have said, we must remain steadfast in a clear strategy to defeat the insurgency and prevent Iraq from again becoming a safe-haven for international terrorists. I think that the withdrawal of our troops should be based on the conditions on the ground, not political agendas."
When WAS Iraq a safe-haven for international terrorists?
What American men and women (as opposed to weapons) are now "serving" in Iraq?
Does the Congressman have Iraq and Afghanistan confused?
And should a government that can't keep all of its wars straight still be fighting them?
And should it hide its decision to engage in these murderous expeditions behind pretended concern for the young people sent to do the killing?
April 25, 2014
Dear Mr. Swanson:
Thank you for your recent communication concerning the United States' current involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. I appreciate your taking the time to express your thoughts on this important matter. I am grateful for the privilege of representing you and serving as a voice for the citizens of Virginia's Fifth District.
I have unconditional support for our brave men and women serving America overseas, as well as for their families. As our military commanders have said, we must remain steadfast in a clear strategy to defeat the insurgency and prevent Iraq from again becoming a safe-haven for international terrorists. I think that the withdrawal of our troops should be based on the conditions on the ground, not political agendas. We must not embolden the terrorists who believe that free societies will cave under the pressure of their violent acts. My highest priority is to safeguard our homeland. Please be assured that I will continue to monitor the conditions on the ground and will keep your thoughts in mind as events in Afghanistan and Iraq continue to unfold.
I hope you will stay connected to our office with updates on the latest news, legislation, and other useful information, by signing up for our e-newsletter on our website, hurt.house.gov. Thank you again for your communication and please do not hesitate to contact our office with any future questions or comments.
Taking the low road to war: Washington and the Corporate Media are in Full Propaganda Mode on Ukraine
By Dave Lindorff
The lies, propaganda and rank hypocrisy emanating from Washington, and echoed by the US corporate media regarding events in Ukraine are stunning and would be laughable, but for the fact that they appear to be aimed at conditioning the US public for increasing confrontation with Russia – confrontation which could easily tip over the edge into direct military conflict, with consequences that are too dreadful to contemplate.
When someone dies of decidedly unnatural causes, two words come immediately to mind: “closure” and “accountability.” The idea is that by holding the perpetrators of a crime accountable, we can both provide a measure of closure for the family and friends of the deceased as well as limit the possibility of such a fate befalling our own loved ones too.
By Kathy Kelly
In early April, 2014, the U.S. Navy unveiled its Mach 7 Magnetic Mangler, “a railgun straight out of Star Trek that can take out targets at 100 miles with a projectile flying at nearly 7,000 feet per second.” So far, the U.S. military has spent $240 million developing the railgun over a period of ten years. CBS News reports that the railgun won’t go to sea until 2016, but one article, published in The Gazette, suggests that the U.S. military may have decided to show off the Magnetic Mangler in order to send a message to the Russian government.
While the American public gets to see the weapon, so do America’s enemies.The military in recent years has timed the unveiling of new technology to global events.
The last time North Korea got frisky, the Navy showed off an anti-missile laser.
Now, with the crisis continuing in the Ukraine, the Navy is showing off something even scarier.
In advance of the University of Wisconsin's recent “Resources for Peace” conference, a professor friend asked participants to consider whether the increasing competition for depleted global resources, for goods to meet essential human needs, would tend inevitably to make people less humane. She was thinking particularly about what she termed “the shrinking humanism” seen in dystopian novels and films that portray cruelty and violence among people who fear for their survival.
I posed her question to Buddy Bell, one of my young friends here at Voices, who has traveled to several war zones and has worked steadily among people suffering displacement and poverty in the United States. “Well,” he said, after a long pause, “there are precedents for dramatic and selfless service on behalf of sustaining a community, even in a time of desperation and war.” Then he went to his room and got me a CD. “Listen to the story Utah Phillips tells on Track 3,” he said.
Utah Phillips, a folksinger and storyteller, had been a U.S. soldier in Korea. His son asked if he had ever shot anyone. He said he didn’t know, but that whether or not he shot anyone wasn’t the story. He told his son about a day when he was longing to take a swim in the Imjin River. His clothes and boots were rotting, and he had mold growing on his body. Chinese soldiers on the other side were having a wonderful time swimming. Why, then, were the local Koreans insisting he must not swim in the river? “A young Korean told me, ‘You know, when we get married here, the young married couple moves in with the elders, they move in with the grandparents, but there’s nothing growing! Everything’s been destroyed, there’s no food. So, the first baby that’s born, the oldest, the old man, goes out with a jug of water and a blanket, sits on the bank of the river and waits to die. Then, when he dies, he’ll roll over the bank and into the Imjin River and his body will be carried out to sea. And we don’t want you to swim in the river because our elders are floating out to sea.”
Utah Phillips seemed to want his son to understand that leaving people with nothing when you have everything is as serious a crime as shooting them. Utah Phillips, at least, consented not to use a resource he could have decided was free to everyone, out of respect for the cost his use would impose on people already giving up everything so that their young could survive with next to nothing.
The tradition of selfless and benevolent behavior continues in Korea’s Jeju Island. Last week, we said goodbye to Joyakjol, a young South Korean activist who is part of the intergenerational campaign to protest construction of a U.S. military base on the pristine shores of Jeju Island. Every morning, activists commit civil disobedience at the gates, risking arrest to block the trucks, and construction equipment that comes to tear apart their land.
People living in landlocked Afghanistan also struggle to cope with consequences of interventionary struggles. They face mounting costs in lives and resources. Kevin Seiff, reporting for the Washington Post, has written several articles about risks to Afghan civilians, especially children, posed by undetonated grenades, rockets and mortar shells the U.S. military leaves behind as it vacates scores of firing ranges in Afghanistan.
Dozens of children have been killed or wounded as they have stumbled upon the ordnance at the sites, which are often poorly marked. Casualties are likely to increase sharply; the U.S. military has removed the munitions from only 3 percent of the territory covered by its sprawling ranges, officials said.
Clearing the rest of the contaminated land — which in total is twice as big as New York City — could take two to five years. U.S. military officials say they intend to clean up the ranges. But because of a lack of planning, officials say, funding has not yet been approved for the monumental effort, which is expected to cost $250 million.
According to the Mine Action Program in Afghanistan, most of the land requiring clearance would otherwise be used for agriculture,a “significant obstacle in a country where 70% of the labour force earns an income through farming or animal husbandry.”
Among the main casualties of war are those who starve and fall ill when valuable farmland is left as minefields.
Some people pull together in the face of scarcity; some demand everything even when others have nothing. Today's crop of grim, dystopian novels and films, the concern of my professor friend, may at times ignore the kindness and solidarity that can occur among the dispossessed.
When many impoverished people, worldwide, don’t want “the haves” to invade them, when, as “have-nots,” they say, 'please, this is ours, it is almost all that we have, we cannot have you storming in and claiming it because you can,' we are astonishingly ill-equipped to understand their objection and honor their need.
These weapons we tout aren't futuristic; they announce our lack of a future. But everywhere around us, we can spot people who are volunteering to live simply so that others can simply live. And that choice is, in reality, open to each of us.
Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence
www.vcnv.org and is active with the World Beyond War campaign www.WorldBeyondWar.org When in Afghanistan, she is a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers (ourjournetytosmile.com)
In Afghanistan, Dr. Hakim and the Afghan Peace Volunteers Plant Trees not Bombs
On the 28th of March, 2014, at about 4 p.m., the Afghan Peace Volunteers heard a loud explosion nearby. For the rest of the evening and night, they anxiously waited for the sound of rocket fire and firing to stop. It was reported that a 10 year old girl, and the four assailants, were killed.
Four days later, they circulated a video, poem and photos prefaced by this note: “We had been thinking about an appropriate response to the violence perpetrated by the Taliban, other militia, the Afghan government, and the U.S./NATO coalition of 50 countries.
So, on the 31st of March 2014, in building alternatives and saying ‘no’ to all violence and all forms of war-making, a few of us went to an area near the place which was attacked, and there, we planted some trees. -- Love and thanks, The Afghan Peace Volunteers
Plant Trees Not Bombs in Afghanistan
It was the jolting vibrations
that shook our senses,
nonetheless directed by fellow humans.
Our eyes darted from mysterious fears
of losing one another.
“There’s been an explosion. Don’t come this way!”,
torn by our unspoken wish to huddle together,
as if madness could be scattered
among the fragile shells of ourselves.
as if we could
dream the unknown away.
the vision of connecting with other humans via Skype
stressing our time schedule,
as if there was a timetable
that could be kept in war,
as if sanity could be pursued
when our sight was wet.
My temper broke again,
Ali began to punch the wall,
Abdulhai bravely confessed disappointment with self,
and then, Faiz’s tears opened Ali’s river,
of sobs that were hard for me to hear,
though I knew then
that I was embracing love’s defiance.
I saw that yesterday too.
Each of us,
not far from the burnt out and rocket damaged house of death,
with the street kids Martin, Mahdi and Bahran,
then the officials, the police, students, a street girl named Gulsom.
They wanted life too
Finally, an Afghan lady came,
stoically holding a sapling,
not a word,
but a hundred hurts and wishes
were in her posture.
With steady hands used to making bread,
she planted roots for all of us
a posture of hurts and wishes
Toorpekai planting with Raz
planting with City Municipality officials
watering the tree sapling
the row of planted tree saplings
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
In light of ongoing geopolitical tensions in Russia, Ukraine and hotly contested Crimea, three (yes, three!) U.S. Congressional Committees held hearings this week on the U.S. using its newfangled oil and gas bounty as a blunt tool to fend off Russian dominance of the global gas market.
U.S. Sen Mary Landrieu at the U.S. Sen. Committee on Energy and Natural Resources; Photo Credit: U.S. Sen. Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
Though 14 combined witnesses testified in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Energy and Power and U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, not a single environmental voice received an invitation. Climate change and environmental concerns were only voiced by two witnesses.
Using the ongoing regional tumult as a rationale to discuss exports of U.S. oil and gas obtained mainly via hydraulic fracturing ("fracking"), the lack of discussion on climate change doesn't mean the issue isn't important to national security types.
Indeed, the Pentagon's recently published Quadrennial Defense Review coins climate change a "threat force multiplier" that could lead to resource scarcity and resource wars. Though directly related to rampant resource extraction and global oil and gas marketing, with fracking's accompanying climate change and ecological impacts, "threat force multiplication" impacts of climate change went undiscussed.
With another LNG (liquefied natural gas) export terminal approved by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in Coos Bay, Ore., to non-Free Trade Agreement countries on March 24 (the seventh so far, with two dozen still pending), the heat is on to export U.S. fracked oil and gas to the global market.
So, why wasn't the LNG climate trump card discussed in a loud and clear way? Well, just consider the source: ten of the witnesses had ties in one way or another to the oil and gas industry.
By Kathy Kelly
Two weeks ago in a room in Kabul, Afghanistan, I joined several dozen people, working seamstresses, some college students, socially engaged teenagers and a few visiting internationals like myself, to discuss world hunger. Our emphasis was not exclusively on their own country’s worsening hunger problems. The Afghan Peace Volunteers, in whose home we were meeting, draw strength from looking beyond their own very real struggles.
APV’s learn about world hunger. Photo by Abdulhai Safarali
With us was Hakim, a medical doctor who spent six years working as a public health specialist in the central highlands of Afghanistan and, prior to that, among refugees in Quetta, Pakistan. He helped us understand conditions that lead to food shortages and taught us about diseases, such as kwashiorkor and marasmus, which are caused by insufficient protein or general malnutrition.
We looked at UN figures about hunger in Afghanistan which show malnutrition rates rising by 50% or more compared with 2012. The malnutrition ward at Helmand Province’s Bost Hospital has been admitting 200 children a month for severe, acute malnutrition — four times more than in January 2012.
A recent New York Times article about the worsening hunger crisis described an encounter with a mother and child in an Afghan hospital: “In another bed is Fatima, less than a year old, who is so severely malnourished that her heart is failing, and the doctors expect that she will soon die unless her father is able to find money to take her to Kabul for surgery. The girl’s face bears a perpetual look of utter terror, and she rarely stops crying.”
Photos of Fatima and other children in the ward accompanied the article. In our room in Kabul, Hakim projected the photos on the wall. They were painful to see and so were the nods of comprehension from Afghans all too familiar with the agonies of poverty in a time of war.
As children grow, they need iodine to enable proper brain development. According to a UNICEF/GAIN report, “iodine deficiency is the most prevalent cause of brain damage worldwide. It is easily preventable, and through ongoing targeted interventions, can be eliminated.” As recently as 2009 we learned that 70% of Afghan children faced an iodine deficiency.
Universal Salt Iodization (USI) is recognized as a simple, safe and cost-effective measure in addressing iodine deficiency. The World Bank reports that it costs $.05 per child, per year.
In 2012, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) announced a four-year project which aimed to reach nearly half of Afghanistan’s population - 15 million Afghans - with fortified foods. Their strategy was to add vitamins and minerals such as iron, zinc, folic acid, Vitamin B-12 and Vitamin A to wheat flour, vegetable oil and ghee, and also to fortify salt with iodine. The project costs 6.4 million dollars.
The sums of money required to fund delivery of iodine and fortified foods to malnourished Afghan children should be compared, I believe, to the sums of money that the Pentagon’s insatiable appetite for war-making has required of U.S. people.
The cost of maintaining one U.S. soldier has recently risen to 2.1. million dollars per year. The amount of money spent to keep three U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan in 2014 could almost cover the cost of a four year program to deliver fortified foods to 15 million Afghan people.
Maj. Gen. Kurt J. Stein, who is overseeing the drawdown of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, has referred to the operation as “the largest retrograde mission in history.” The mission will cost as much as $6 billion.
Over the past decade, spin doctors for U.S. military spending have suggested that Afghanistan needs the U.S. troop presence and U.S. non-military spending to protect the interests of women and children.
It’s true that non-military aid to Afghanistan, sent by the U.S. since 2002, now approaches 100 billion dollars.
Several articles on Afghanistan’s worsening hunger crisis, appearing in the Western press, prompt readers to ask how Afghanistan could be receiving vast sums of non-military aid and yet still struggle with severe acute malnourishment among children under age five.
However, a 2013 quarterly report to Congress submitted by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan shows that, of the nearly $100 billion spent on wartime reconstruction, 97 billion has been spent on counter-narcotics, security, “governance/development” and “oversight and operations.” No more than $3 billion, a hundred dollars per Afghan person, were used for “humanitarian” projects - to help keep thirty million Afghans alive through twelve years of U.S. war and occupation.
Source: Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction Oct. 30, 2013, Quarterly Report to Congress, Available at www.sigar.mil. Note: This graph shows total U.S. spending on “relief and reconstruction” in Afghanistan up to a given year. It does not account for the U.S. military operations, said to cost $2 billion per week.
Funds have been available for tanks, guns, bullets, helicopters, missiles, weaponized drones, drone surveillance, Joint Special Operations task forces, bases, airstrips, prisons, and truck delivered supplies for tens of thousands of troops. But funds are in short supply for children too weak to cry who are battling for their lives while wasting away.
A whole generation of Afghans and other people around the developing world see the true results of Westerners’ self-righteous claim for the need to keep civilians “safe” through war. They see the terror, entirely justified, filling Fatima’s eyes in her hospital bed.
In that room in Kabul, as my friends learned about the stark realities of hunger -- and among them, I know, were some who worry about hunger in their own families -- I could see a rejection both of panic and of revenge in the eyes of the people around me. Their steady thoughtfulness was an inspiration.
Panic and revenge among far more prosperous people in the U.S. helped to drive the U.S. into a war waged against one of the poorest countries in the world. Yet, my Afghan friends, who’ve borne the brunt of war, long to rise above vengeance and narrow self-interest.
They wish to pursue a peace that includes ending hunger.
Editor Comment: In Official Washington, the gap between image and reality can be wide, but there is a virtual canyon separating the mainstream’s awestruck regard for Robert Gates as a “wise man” and his record as a deceitful opportunist known to his former colleagues.
By Ray McGovern
In the early 1970s, I was chief of the CIA’s Soviet Foreign Policy Branch in which Robert M. Gates worked as a young CIA analyst. While it may be true that I was too inexperienced at the time to handle all the management challenges of such a high-powered office, one of the things I did get right was my assessment of Gates in his Efficiency Report.
Sherif Samir, writing from Egypt
In the past year, during the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, when the darkness of fanatical Muslims beset Egypt, and when it seemed that the spirit of resistance was fading, and people were giving up, I was observing women, wondering how the new situation was affecting their looks, their clothes, and their make-up, and I kept hope as long as women kept wearing tight pants, and lipstick, as long as I saw girls and boys walking together and laughing out loud. “Fanatical groups will never own the heart of Egypt,” I thought to myself, “as long as women in tights are guarding the spirit of life.” And I was right.
You know that women are half of the human race, and they can change the future by raising a free new generation. Now you might be saying "Nonsense" - women in the west wear hot shorts but people there are still suffering under capitalism. Right, but remember, I'm Egyptian. The majority of women here are told to cover all their bodies all the time. Many are treated as though they are nothing but a piece of meat, and taught that they hold the honour of men between their legs. Religion sees women as a threat, dictatorship sees women as a threat, and parents see their daughters as a threat. Husbands see their wives as threat, and treat them as property with support from religion, law, and masculine society. They see in women a dangerous revolutionary potential. Sadly, almost 99%of Egyptian women face this oppression.
You see the point here? Women have got to realise how important and effective a free woman is. The reality now is, however, a sad one: many women ironically defend the misogynous values of masculine society. Even educated women still expect to be owned by men and to cultivate in their children the same beliefs that oppress women today. That's how women are supposed to be in a devout Islamic country. So, I’m looking up to Egyptian women, wanting them to revolt, to change their destiny and thereby help change the world.
Dr Hakim, writing from Afghanistan
Once, her eyeliners darker than usual, she complained indignantly about a girl who had misquoted her,” Ei…ei…either she..she goes, or I go!”
She works hard, weighing out the synthetic wool which 60 Afghan ladies use to make winter duvets. Her movements are more determined than that of most men. She is as ready to agree as she is to disagree.
One afternoon in Afghanistan, where music was once banned, she attended a music program. Two professional Afghan singers were invited, a Hazara and a Pashtun, both male. There were about 20 girls and just as many boys in the medium-sized, L-shaped room, the singers at the corner, and the girls on rows of duvets placed on the short arm of the L.
“Would anyone in the audience like to sing?”
Heads turned away. Eyes gazed down. Then…”Me!” she gestured. Her mouth wasn’t smiling. Her face was looking quite serious.
She took the microphone. A Pashtun music enthusiast, a drummer boy, sat down near her with the Afghan drum, the ‘dol’.
From outside, like a cloak, conservative public opinion seemed to weigh down on the roof, and to push against the windows : Patriarchs ask, “ A girl singing?”. The religious council delivers an edict stating that women are second to men. Over the airwaves, a conservative American militarist proclaims, as if in jest, that the most powerful army in the world is here to protect the rights of Afghan women like her, while more than 2500 women had committed suicide in a year.
She took the microphone, which was larger than her hand. Her eyelids were half-drawn, in momentary meditation, with a slight rhythm swaying in her neck.
She took the microphone…
The room paid attention. The audience hesitated. The‘dol’ and the ‘dambura’ ( an Afghan two-stringed, banjo-like instrument ) were played by two men, as accompaniment.
With a scattering of tone-deaf notes, but with no stammers, she sang!
It appeared to me that the whole world broke out clapping.
Sherif Samir is an Egyptian writer and an Arabic teacher. He was the 2012 winner of the International Contest of Microfiction, awarded by Museo de la Palabra in Spain
Hakim, ( Dr. Teck Young, Wee ) is a medical doctor from Singapore who has done humanitarian and social enterprise work in Afghanistan for the past 9 years, including being a mentor to the Afghan Peace Volunteers, an inter-ethnic group of young Afghans dedicated to building non-violent alternatives to war. He is the 2012 recipient of the International Pfeffer Peace Prize.
If it were proved to me that in making war, my ideal had a chance of being realized, I would still say ‘No’ to war. For one does not create a human society on mounds of corpses. — Louis Lecoin, “Paix immédiate”
By John LaForge
After so much blood and destruction in Afghanistan, a lot of people dream of Secretary of State John Kerry reviving his monumental 1971 question, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”
A July ABC News/Washington Post poll found only 28 percent of North Americans think the war is worth fighting. “… a steady drumbeat of bad news” like these poll numbers forced Gen. Joseph Dunford, commander of occupation forces in Afghanistan, “to turn his attention to the home front” to try and combat the viral realization that the war is lost.
Last year, Gen. John Allen, Dunford’s predecessor, put the chances of victory this way, “Let me make sure I’m clear on this: Nothing is sure.”
Former Pentagon Chief Leon Penetta has said that corruption in Afghanistan’s government and safe havens in Pakistan for the resistance fighters were major US problems. “None of those are likely to be fixed with American firepower,” he said. One thing “fire” power could fix is the million-dollar-per-month CIA cash deliveries to the offices of Afghan President Hamid Karzai — just fire the CIA delivery boys.
Because of the persistent strength of the Taliban, the slow-paced drawdown of US troop numbers is accompanied by fear that imperial gains made through US bombing and invasion will be lost. “[M]any areas in the south and east where troop pullouts are under way have had only tenuous security gains at best, despite years of hard-fought [US]-led advances,” the New York Times said last summer.
Some of the General Staff’s fears harken back to the bloodier war in Vietnam, where the US propped up similarly corrupt regimes. “Alliance commanders acknowledge that one of their greatest fears is an insurgent offensive on Kabul,” the Times reported last May. Even if such an offensive failed technically — “like” as the Times put it, “the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War” — it would so humiliate Afghan, US and NATO forces that their governments would face bolder demands for immediate withdrawal.
US Needs to Concede on Status of Forces
“Status of forces” negotiations are ongoing over how and how many US troops are to stay in country. The Orwellian “pullout” may leave 12,000 soldiers forever. One sticking point is Afghanistan’s demand that US troops not be granted immunity from prosecution for crimes committed there.
With US atrocities blaring from front pages, radios and TVs, it’s easy to understand Afghanistan’s indignation. There is the video of US Marines urinating on Taliban corpses, the burning of a truckload of Korans taken from prisoners by US soldiers, hundreds of civilian deaths caused by US jets, thousands of terrifying nighttime house raids by US commandoes, and the recurrence of massacres, one of 16 civilians by Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales.
Atrocities committed last winter moved the Afghans to ban US commandoes from an entire province. Reports had it that US Special Forces commanded Afghans troops in torturing and killing civilian villagers. A statement by President Karzai hinted that the crimes “may have been committed by Special Operations forces and not just Afghans.” Karzai called US forces “occupiers” with “little regard for the lives of ordinary Afghans.” After Marine Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich — the ringleader in the massacre of 24 civilians in Iraq — was sentenced to three months in jail and a reduction in rank (he had faced 152 years in prison), one can see why Afghan negotiators are holding fast against immunity.
In another echo of the US war in Vietnam, battlegrounds in Afghanistan once called “vital” have been abandoned to the Taliban. One example is the Pech Valley, formerly referred to gravely as “central to the campaign” against the Taliban and al-Qaida. More than 100 US soldiers died there and hundreds more were wounded, but it’s now been deserted by the Pentagon. In 1971, John Kerry, who was then a combat veteran, told a panel of senators, “We watched while men charged up hills because a general said that hill has to be taken, and after losing one platoon or two platoons they marched away to leave the hill for reoccupation by the North Vietnamese.”
The Pech Valley symbolizes the whole of the Afghan quagmire, where it is only vital that the bloodshed be ended. It’s as Dr. King said of Southeast Asia: “The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours.”
John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a nuclear watchdog and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, edits its quarterly newsletter, and writes for PeaceVoice.
“The political and economic mafia of Afghanistan and the world run this country with their guns and bombs,” says Abdulhai, a 17 year old Afghan Peace Volunteer. “We the people are rather helpless, unless we stand together.”
Abdulhai’s sentiment helps to describe what is needed in the Borderfree movement : ordinary people of our human family from all walks of life and from every country standing together to build non-violent alternatives under the same blue sky (symbolized by the Borderfree Blue Scarves), relating and working for a better, more equal world.
Today, 60% of Afghan children are malnourished. At least 2500 Afghan women committed suicide in 2012. And over the past four decades, Afghan families have lost at least 2 million loved ones to wars.
Abdulhai and the Afghan Peace Volunteers wish to address these crises by abolishing wars, sharing resources and taking care of the earth. No more war! No more economic exploitation by the 1%! No more destruction of the earth and climate! No more systemic hunger and homelessness! No more thought-numbing bias from the media!
Taking up Prof Noam Chomsky’s challenge to build a world free of borders, we hope for people and friends to work together around climate change, socioeconomic inequalities, militarism with its wars and other global challenges facing humanity today, organizing solidarity actions as a strong 99%!
We believe that an immediate way to be a strong 99% is to get to know one another through arranging Skype or telephone connections across all borders. The Afghan Peace Volunteers in Kabul can connect with you on any day of the week except Fridays. Please arrange a suitable date and time of connection by emailing: email@example.com
We wish to speak via Skype or telephone with ordinary folk, youth, students, farmers, labourers, teachers, musicians and artists, environmentalists, social workers, indigenous communities, friends and activists from every single country in the world, thus catalyzing the most powerful force in the world – love.
Please send this request to your family, friends and acquaintances.
Love from Afghanistan,
Toorpikai, Khalida, Sonia, Razia, Sadaf, Zerghuna, Basir, Abdulhai, Ali, Ghulamai, Zekerullah, Faiz, Raz, Khamad, Barath, Feroz, Hikmat and Hakim, with the Afghan Peace Volunteers
By Kathy Kelly
Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. ... A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies. – “A Time to Break Silence (Beyond Vietnam)” Dr. Martin Luther King, April 4, 1967
This month, from Atlanta, GA, the King Center announced its "Choose Nonviolence" campaign, a call on people to incorporate the symbolism of bell-ringing into their Martin Luther King Holiday observance, as a means of showing their commitment to Dr. King's value of nonviolence in resolving terrible issues of inequality, discrimination and poverty here at home. The call was heard in Kabul, Afghanistan.
On the same day they learned of the King Center's call, the young members of the Afghan Peace Volunteers, in a home I was sharing with them in Kabul, were grieving the fresh news of seven Afghan children and their mother, killed in the night during a U.S. aerial attack - part of a battle in the Siahgird district of the Parwan province. The outrage, grief, loss and pain felt in Siahgird were echoed, horribly, in other parts of Afghanistan during a very violent week.
My young friends, ever inspired by Dr. King's message, prepared a Dr. King Day observance as they shared bread and tea for breakfast. They talked about the futility of war and the predictable cycles of revenge that are caused every time someone is killed. Then they made a poster listing each of the killings they had learned of in the previous seven days.
They didn't have a bell, and they didn’t have the money to buy one. So Zekerullah set to work with a bucket, a spoon and a rope, and made something approximating a bell. In the APV courtyard, an enlarged vinyl poster of Dr. King covers half of one wall, opposite another poster of Gandhi and Khan Abdul Gaffir Khan, the "Muslim Gandhi" who led Pathan tribes in the nonviolent Khudai Khidmatgar colonial independence movement to resist the British Empire. Zekerullah's makeshift "bell' was suspended next to King's poster. Several dozen friends joined the APVs as we listened to rattles rather than pealing bells. The poster listing the week's death toll was held aloft and read aloud.
"January 15, 2014: 7 children, one woman, Siahgird district of Parwan, killed by the U.S./NATO. January 15, 2014, 16 Taliban militants, killed by Afghan police, army and intelligence operatives across seven regions, Parwan, Baghlan, Kunduz, Kandahar, Zabul, Logar, and Paktiya. January 12, 2014: 1 police academy student and one academy staff member, killed by a Taliban suicide bomber in Kabul on the road to Jalalabad. Jan 9, 2014: 1 four year old boy killed in Helmand, by NATO. Jan 9, 2014: 7 people, several of them police, killed in Helmand by unknown suicide bombers. January 7, 2014: 16 militants killed by Afghan security forces in Nangarhar, Logar, Ghanzi, Pakitya, Heart and Nimroz."
We couldn't know, then, that within two days news would come, with a Taliban announcement claiming responsibility, of 21 people, 13 foreigners and eight Afghans, killed while dining in, or guarding, a Kabul restaurant. The Taliban said that the attack was in retaliation for the seven children killed in the airstrike in Parwan.
Week after bloody week, the chart of killings lengthens. And in Afghanistan, while war rages, a million children are estimated to suffer from acute malnourishment as the country faces a worsening hunger crisis.
This Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we can and should remember the dream Dr. King announced before the Lincoln Memorial, the dream he did so much to accomplish, remembering his call (as the King Center asks) for nonviolent solutions to desperate concerns of discrimination and inequality within the U.S. But we shouldn't let ourselves forget the full extent of Dr. King's vision, the urgent tasks he urgently set us to fulfill on his behalf, so many of them left unfinished nearly forty-six years after he was taken from us. One year to the day before his assassination, he said:
... A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, "This is not just."... The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.
A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
We must never forget the full range of Dr. King's vision, nor the full tragedy of the world he sought to heal, nor the revolutionary spirit which he saw as our only hope of achieving his vision - making do with everything we have to try to keep freedom ringing, despite the pervasiveness of the evils that beset us, and a world that needs vigorous effort to save it from addictions to tyranny and violence practiced by reckless elites.
“America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war.”
Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (vcnv.org) While in Kabul, she was a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers (ourjourneytosmile.com) All quotations are taken from Dr. King’s speech given at the Riverside Church on April 4, 1967
- Criticism in the memoirs of former secretary of defence Robert M. Gates of President Barack Obama’s lack of commitment to the Afghan War strategy of his administration has generated a Washington debate about whether Obama was sufficiently supportive of the war.
But the Gates account omits two crucial historical facts necessary to understanding the issue. The first is that Obama agreed to the escalation only under strong pressure from his top national security officials and with very explicit reservations. The second is that Gen. David Petraeus reneged on his previous commitment to support Obama’s 2009 decision that troop withdrawal would begin by mid-2011.
Gates makes only the most glancing reference in the newly published “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary of War” to the issue of the beginning of troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The former defence secretary refers to “suspicion and distrust of senior military officers” by both Obama and vice president Joe Biden. And he describes a Mar. 3, 2011 National Security Council meeting in the White House situation room which Obama opened by criticising the military for “popping off in the press” and vowing to push back against any military delay in beginning the withdrawal.
Gates quotes Obama as saying, “ If I believe I am being gamed . . .” and says he left the sentence “hanging there with the clear implication the consequences would be dire.”
Gates writes that he was “pretty upset,” because he thought “implicitly accusing Petraeus” of “gaming” him at a big meeting in the Situation Room was “inappropriate, not to mention highly disrespectful of Petraeus.”
“As I sat there,” Gates recalls, “I thought: the president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand [Afghanistan President Hamid] Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.”
But Obama’s distrust of Petraeus was clearly related to the sequence of events related to Obama’s policy decision on Afghanistan and Petraeus’s signaling his desire to undermine it – all of which Gates omits from his account.
Obama was extremely wary of the military’s request for 40,000 more troops for Afghanistan on basic geopolitical grounds from the start, as documented by notes of National Security Council meetings used for Bob Woodward’s accounts of those meetings in “Obama’s Wars” and in an earlier account by Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter.
Both Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden argued in the meetings in September and October 2009 that the primary U.S. concern should be Pakistan, not Afghanistan, whereas Petraeus and Adm. Mike Mullen were insistent that Afghanistan be the priority, according to Woodward’s account.
The military leaders argued that the Taliban would welcome Al-Qaeda back to Afghanistan unless it was defeated. But Biden, acting with Obama’s encouragement, repeatedly attacked the argument and got CIA official Peter Lavoy to admit that there was no evidence to support it. Obama challenged another key argument by the military, asking why a long-term U.S. military presence in Afghanistan would not harm Pakistan’s stability.
It was clear to the officials supporting ISAF Commander Stanley A. McChrystal’s request for 40,000 more troops that the White House was not going to agree unless something was done to tip the scales in the other direction.
In a White House meeting on Oct. 5, Petraeus argued again that the Taliban movement would invite Al-Qaeda back if it took over, and Mullen, Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton all spoke up in support of that general theme, according to Woodward.
Six days later, McClatchy newspapers reported the White House had been “minimizing warnings from the intelligence community, the military and the State Department about the risks of adopting a limited strategy focused on al Qaida”. The story cited interviews with 15 “mid-level or senior military, intelligence and diplomatic officials” who said they agreed with what were described as “new intelligence assessments” that if the Taliban were to return to power, it would allow Al-Qaeda back into the country.
In fact the intelligence community had not prepared any national intelligence estimate on that issue. Obama’s principal national security officials were putting their own twist on intelligence reporting.
The leaking to the news media of a politically damaging version of internal debate between the White House and the coalition pushing for a major escalation was nothing less than shot across the bow from Obama’s principal national security officials, including Petraeus, Mullen, Gates and Clinton. They were signaling to the president that he would incur a significant political cost if he rejected the McChrystal request.
In November 2009, Obama compromised with his national security team. He agreed to 30,000 troops instead of the 40,000 that McChrystal had requested, but not for a national counter-insurgency campaign to defeat the Taliban as Petraeus had wanted. The military effort would be only to “degrade” the Taliban.
And crucially, an evaluation in July 2011 would determine not whether a withdrawal and transfer of responsibility could begin but what it’s “slope” would be, according to the meeting notes cited by Woodward. Obama even insisted that the military not occupy any area that could not be turned over to the Afghan government.
On Nov. 29, Obama met with Gates, Mullen, and Petraeus to get their formal agreement to the compromise plan. Mullen pledged that he would “fully support” the decision. Petraeus said he would do “everything possible” to get the troops on the ground “to enable…the transfer [to Afghans] to begin in July 2011.”
But danger signs appeared almost immediately that the pro-escalation coalition would seek to alter the policy in their favour. The day after Obama publicly announced in a speech at West Point Dec. 1, 2009 that U.S. troops would begin to withdraw in July 2011, Gates and Clinton suggested in Senate Armed Services Committee testimony that the president was not locked into beginning a withdrawal in mid-2011.
Obama responded by insisting that his press secretary tell CBS News that the July 2011 withdrawal was “etched in stone”. After hearing about that Obama comment, Petraeus told Sen. Lindsey Graham that was “a problem” and said, “You need to fix that,” according to Woodward. Petraeus added that he would let Gates and Clinton “deal with this one”.
After taking command of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan in mid-2010, Petraeus was asked on Meet the Press on Aug. 15 whether he might tell Obama that the drawdown should be delayed beyond mid-2011. “Certainly, yes,” Petraeus responded, openly threatening to renege on his agreement with Obama.
In September 2010, John Nagl, a retired colonel who had been on Petraeus’s staff and now headed the Centre for New American Security, told IPS that Obama would be forced by Republican pressure to “put more time on the clock”. And in December, Petraeus revealed to Obama’s main White House adviser on the war, Gen. Douglas Lute, “All we have to do is begin to show progress, and that’ll be sufficient to add time to the clock and we’ll get what we need,” according to Woodward.
Whatever Petraeus did in the early weeks of 2011 to raise the ire of Obama in regard to the withdrawal issue, it was against the backdrop of repeated indications that Petraeus was hoping to use both his alliances with Gates and Clinton and pressures from the Republicans in Congress to push back the previously agreed date for beginning withdrawal and handoff of responsibility to the Afghan government.
Gates knew, therefore, that Obama was reacting to a history of having already been “gamed” not only by Petraeus himself but also by his bureaucratic allies maneuvering to remove the restrictions on the Afghan War that Obama had imposed. The self-serving Gates account conceals the dishonest tactics employed to get Obama’s agreement to the Afghan War escalation.
Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan. His new book “Manufactured Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare”, will be published in February 2014.
Days Before Casselton Oil Train Explosion, Obama Signed Bill Hastening Fracking Permits on ND Public Lands
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
On December 20, both chambers of the U.S. Congress passed a little-noticed bill to expedite permitting for hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") on public lands in the Bakken Shale basin, located predominantly in North Dakota. And on December 26, President Obama signed the bill into law.