Obama campaigned on the issue that Afghanistan was the right war or in his words, not a dumb war. To seem serious on national security – given the military-industrial-media-political-reactionary think tank “expert’ complex - the Democrats had to be tough. They had to substitute the real war –Afghanistan - from which Bush-Cheney had run away from in 2003 and thus produced a weak and failing regime and a quick reemergence of the Taliban – for the phony war in Iraq (from the point of view of its ostensible purposes, particularly disrupting Al-Qaida; the aggression created Al-Qaida in Mesopotamia). The Democrats could call for stopping torture, though not trials to restore the rule of law. They could name the dumbness of the Iraq war – without legally or morally questioning the U.S.’s right to aggress against other countries – so long as they were tough or warmongering enough. Obama is not a warmongering person – the Nobel Peace Prize honors this and he deserves our hope – and yet he is also bound by the enormous and constricting American apparatus of war.
A month ago, Glenn Greenwald wrote an insightful column on how many politicians and experts agitate for war. He cited Leslie Gelb, former head of the Council on Foreign Relations and irrational (they all were) advocate of the Iraq War:
“My initial support for the war [in Iraq] was symptomatic of unfortunate tendencies within the foreign policy community, namely the disposition and incentives to support wars to retain political and professional credibility. We 'experts' have a lot to fix about ourselves, even as we 'perfect' the media. We must redouble our commitment to independent thought, and embrace, rather than cast aside, opinions and facts that blow the common—often wrong—wisdom apart. Our democracy requires nothing less.”
Advocacy of war among these people is not so much a tendency as an interest. If you wish to make a hit in the media or be invited to consult for General McChrystal, speak for war. – the military leadership, the war industries, the reactionary corporate mass media sometimes even owned by weapons manufacturers like General Electric all reinforce it. Jimmy Carter, a decent former President and Al Gore and some others like Senator Russ Feingold or representatives Dennis Kucinich and Barbara Lee are outside this circle, but theirs are, on war, not the standard or loud or “responsible” voices on say CNN or Fox. In addition, any “responsible” President – Obama inherited two wars - needs to spend his time figuring how many wars to pursue at once. If we are broke, we can borrow the money from China. The slightly repentant Leslie Gelb perhaps has an inkling that he has long made Dr. Strangelove look like a sophisticate. More…More war…
One would think that the Vietnam war, and the reluctance of the American people to engage in similar imperial enterprises at enormous cost to us, in lives and wellbeing, would have taught the elite something. Warmongering politicians and pundits used to indict the democratic intelligence of the people as “the Vietnam syndrome.” Nonetheless, perhaps they could experiment in less nefarious ways of pursuing their own economic interests (as with the bail out of banks and the suffering of people over foreclosures or denial of medical care, it is clear that clashing interests determine government policy and that the majority of ordinary people have little say). Instead, these “experts” have fixated on the talisman of war. They perfumed Iraq. But as Gelb says, they didn’t learn from that. They are still perfuming Afghanistan.
John Kerry’s Senate Committee held revealing hearings last week (publicized only by Greg Kaufman in the Nation here, not in the mainstream press). Robert Grenier and Dr. Marc Sageman--both of whom served in the CIA, as station chief in Pakistan and on the Afghan Task Force - testified against escalation. They pointed out that the disparate and warring tribes of Afghanistan are united against the occupation. This truth has long available. When asked by an American soldier who happened to speak the local language whether he had seen any foreign soldiers, an Afghani farmer looked at him and replied: "Yes, you."
“[Senator Russ] Feingold said that polls now show the majority of Afghans want all foreign troops to leave within two years, and only 18 percent support an increase in foreign troops. He wanted to know ‘what impact these public attitudes [are] likely to have on the viability of any plan that involves a massive, open-ended foreign military presence.’"
‘There is a high degree of xenophobia that is endemic among the Afghans,’ Grenier said, ‘and they do tend to coalesce against what is perceived as an outsider. The best that we can hope for is not a permanent elimination of safe haven, or the opportunity for safe haven for Al Qaeda, but rather the elimination of uncontested safe haven.... That needs to be a sustainable effort. What we are currently doing, I believe, is not sustainable either by us or by the Afghans.’"
In contrast, the U.S. could make an effort to provide economic opportunities for ordinary Afghani citizens and break off elements from the Taliban – say, those opposed to American occupation but uncommitted to Taliban violence against women - and potential recruits:
"’I think many of them are young men who could be won over,’" said Grenier, "’and who would just as soon take a paycheck from the local governor and serve in his militia as they would serve with the Taliban. Or if you had more constructive engagements that benefited them, they would pursue those instead.’"
"’We make a mistake labeling everyone that is not for us with the same name,’ said Sageman. ’On the ground what you have is a collection of a lot of young people who resist central government. Those [people] really are not ideologically motivated. I don't think we can cut a deal with Mullah Omar, but we certainly can take most of his followers away from him.’"
This seems a sensible idea. Such a policy would go far to develop conditions for a comparatively decent, if not democratic regime (the Karzai regime is illegitimate and even fraudulent, as the recent "elections" show, a mere creature of American and allied NATO and war lord guns). As the example of Sageman and Grenier (not covered in the mainstream press) reveals, there are many intelligent people in the US apparatus. The problem is that the military-indsturial-media-think tank “expert –reactionary politician complex usually overwhelms them, even in the absence of the madness of Cheney. But the US has now reached a desperate pass. There is no money for more war. Both current aggressions and occupations are losing steam within the country and support among the American people. All the expert and media noise cannot prevent the ultimate collapse of these policies. Obama is a smart and decent man. He would like to do something more intelligent. There is a review of the policy. Some voices, including these two American experts are being allowed to speak up publically (at least to the Senate).
Further, as Sageman and Grenier warn, if the U.S. escalates in Afghanistan, it will persuade millions in Pakistan – more accurately, confirm the conviction of many in Pakistan - that the U.S. is at war with Muslims. Even the genuine steps that Obama has taken – to recognize the dignity and interests of the Iranians and the Palestinians – will be eroded and washed away. This is not a path to tread.
Yet even if Obama deescalates – reverses course - in Afghanistan, there are two deeper questions in assessing the bizarre warmongering in the American elite and of the American Presidency as an institution. They underline the difficulties Obama faces in living up to his promise, a promise honored by the award of the Nobel Peace Prize. First, how can the threat of war between Pakistan and India – both nuclear powers – be diminished? How can Pakistan become less an ally, at least through the ISI (the intelligence services) of Al-Qaida? As Vice President Biden and others are realizing, in the current White House debate, Pakistan is a far deeper danger to the United States than Afghanistan. (Since Biden talks almost daily with Obama about foreign policy, it is likely that some of his reservations express Obama’s). The Pakistani Taliban, with links in ihe intelligence service (the ISI) has become a strong political force. Our military presence in Afghanistan nurtures and escalates its influence. Worse yet, the CIA’s new toy, the drone missile controlled from Langley, West Viginia, has been used by Obama to kill Al-Qaida "suspects" in Pakistan – so we are told by an “intelligence” apparatus far distant and with few sources - and their families and civilians. Murder a mother or a child and see how many enemies you can produce. The words “collateral damage” are a threadbare ideological veil. Further, these enemies have justification in striking at the United States (not at innocents, but at the American government). Everyone who hears the story – and is not under the influence of anti-Arab racism - will be appalled by the United States, whose policy combines murder and cowardice (striking at long distance at those who cannot defend themselves). Yet murderous and counterproductive technology whispers into the ear of Presidents…Reliance on drones may be the worst – and morally hardest to understand - single policy measure so far adopted by Obama.
But the second issue is still more disquieting, one not even discussed yet seriously in the American media or perhaps even the Obama war cabinet. What is the pivot of the hostility between Pakistan and India that might lead to war and even possibly nuclear war? Kashmir.
Moazzem Begg, an Englishman from Pakistan who had gone to fight in Kashmir and ended up in Bagram and Guantanamo – he was released in 2005 and is under no restrictions, even with regard to travel in England - wrote a very good account of being tortured by the United States called Enemy Combatant. Perhaps those who tortured him could pay attention to his story. Since Begg speaks English, the American intelligence took his testimony on the murder by American soldiers – kicking him 150 times in the legs till his legs were destroyed and he had a heart attack - of Mr. Dilawar, the Afghani 22 year old taxi-driver picked up near Bagram. One has just to listen to Begg who got involved in Al-Qaida training to fight in Kashmir to realize that this issue – and not the US occupation of Afghanistan – is the one that the US will have to mitigate (along with Palestine) in order to avoid nuclear confrontations or extinction in this century, to diminish Al-Qaida, and to achieve a decent peace in the Middle East.
But the U.S. had no vehicle to make war over Kashmir, no pretext to go to war with the world’s largest democracy, India, or with Pakistan. The U.S. of course provide military aid to both. Pakistan is one of the biggest purchasers of American weapons (the US dominates world research and production of big weapons, and it is the main productive – if one can refer to destruction as production as our conventional economics does – activity left more or less inside the United States). But since partition in 1947, 4 wars have occurred between India and Pakistan (see here for the story of nonviolent efforts by Badshah Khan and Gandhi to preserve India against partition). The threat of renewed war between these powers is, for anyone who knows about the situation, always a potential. But American foreign policy “experts” and mainstream pundits are silent about it (can the Kagans spell Kashmir?). It takes Arundhati Roy, the visionary Indian writer, to drive home the seriousness of this issue – as potentially deadly as Palestine and the Israel-Iran conflict – as a threat of war (see below).
Kashmir is the Muslim province with the initial K in the idea of Pakistan. India seized it in 1947 and holds it by force. Since an uprising in 1990, the Indian government has murdered some 70,000 Kashmiris. In addition, India has the biggest in the world and most brutal occupying army in Kashmir, half a million soldiers (one for every 20 civilians). This year the people rose up nonviolently. Street sellers chanted “Azadi! Azadi!” – freedom! freedom! It was as big and important a democratic uprising as in Iran. Yet while Andrew Sullivan determinedly made available the voices of the Green Revolution and the mainstream press covered it, there has been a sad and uniform silence, in America, about Kashmir.
India carried out a campaign of arrests and detentions, including for two days Arundhati Roy who was then vacationing in Sriganar. Jailed for speaking against the harms of a large government sponsored dam in India and being an international leader of the movement for democracy and against American wars, Roy is obviously, though not Muslim, a “danger.” Dissent – a majority of one, as Thoreau said, who casts her whole weight against a grave injustice – is indeed a threat to the Indian government.
How much anger does the brutality of this regime in Kashmir generate? How many are the stories of street sellers, who chanted “Azadi” or were thought to have chanted “Azadi!” or their families killed by the soldiers exist? How many knew them, knew of them? Careless of nonwhite and particularly Muslim lives, the American establishment has barely a glimmer of the danger. The President’s war cabinet is having 5 meetings. The Times ran a big story yesterday about the agreement of Hilary Clinton and Robert Gates (they are comparatively sober “moderate” escalators, between McChrystal and Biden). The “right” war? They aren’t even focused on the right place.
The United States (and the world) also have interests in strengthening Indian democracy. The Indian government, as Tom Hartmann pointed out last week, has given an electrical grid and miles of paved highways to Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, Indian democracy and not America has some plausible approach to diminishing the threat of the Taliban and – what is not the same thing – Al-Qaida (intelligence suggests that there remain 100 members of Al-Qaida in Afghanistan – Bin Laden has long been in Pakistan…). But India in Kashmir is a different story. As with Israel, strengthening Indian democracy means ending the respective occupations. International efforts are crucial. Producing a decent solution in Kashmir (something far removed, as in the case of the Palestinians from justice, but a long way up from here) is an unobserved key to the security of ordinary Americans in the 21st century.
Kashmir is thus the right war. But America cannot fight it. Instead, Obama needs to have a strategy over a long period to end India’s oppressiveness, to produce a solution Kashmiris can live with. Some Americans like Steve Coll are concerned and knowledgeable about this issue. But think tank foreign policy “experts” are still attached to throwing bombs and soldiers at the last war, some other war, any war...
These “experts” are, as they have always been, followers of a policy made by someone else – they are the camp-followers of the powerful - and under the illusion that an American President can, through violent interventions, solve political problems. But as is observable in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, American Presidents cannot, by war, solve the problem. In fact, in those three cases, American leaders have created and exacerbated the problem. An American President pursuing policies of aid to civilians and deescalating war might help the people of Iraq or Afghanistan begin to solve their problems. Like the Nobel Peace Prize committee, we might wish Obama to be Obama. Perhaps only a strong anti-war movement, which grasps the difficulty of the Pakistan/India conflict and the centrality of Kashmir, can make a difference. But even the anti-war movement is now focused on Afghanistan (it is hard to take on even current American madness, let alone think out how to make American leadership sane). Tragically, in their bellowing for any war, in their failure even to take in so dangerous a center for conflict as Kashmir, the disconnection of our foreign policy “experts” and establishment stands out.
Below is Arundhati’s Roy’s article wondering about the fate of ordinary parliamentary democracies, given the rule of money – she speaks as an Indian democrat - and what has happened in Kashmir. As a writer, she explores what words can convey the truth about the India. For us, her article holds up the mirror of Indian democracy to America. The issue I raise in this post about the belligerence and frailty of the American foreign policy establishment- that there is "no right war" even under Obama - has similar concerns.
If ordinary Muslim and decent Hindus act against Indian occupation along the lines of the recent resistance, this and only this will lead to fundamental change. In this context, the example of Badshah Khan, the nonviolent Afghani ally of Gandhi, comes to mind. See Badshah Khan: the Martin Luther King of the Pathans here. Renewed Pakistani war with India carries the threat of mutual destruction. The best way to resist Indian occupation is not war or terror. For ordinary people, for democracy and for the world, the best way is mass civil disobedience.
What Have We Done to Democracy?
Of Nearsighted Progress, Feral Howls, Consensus, Chaos, and a New Cold War in Kashmir
Our inability to live entirely in the present (like most animals do), combined with our inability to see very far into the future, makes us strange in-between creatures, neither beast nor prophet. Our amazing intelligence seems to have outstripped our instinct for survival. We plunder the earth hoping that accumulating material surplus will make up for the profound, unfathomable thing that we have lost. It would be conceit to pretend I have the answers to any of these questions. But it does look as if the beacon could be failing and democracy can perhaps no longer be relied upon to deliver the justice and stability we once dreamed it would.
As a writer, a fiction writer, I have often wondered whether the attempt to always be precise, to try and get it all factually right somehow reduces the epic scale of what is really going on. Does it eventually mask a larger truth? I worry that I am allowing myself to be railroaded into offering prosaic, factual precision when maybe what we need is a feral howl, or the transformative power and real precision of poetry.
Something about the cunning, Brahmanical, intricate, bureaucratic, file-bound, "apply-through-proper-channels" nature of governance and subjugation in India seems to have made a clerk out of me. My only excuse is to say that it takes odd tools to uncover the maze of subterfuge and hypocrisy that cloaks the callousness and the cold, calculated violence of the world's favorite new superpower. Repression "through proper channels" sometimes engenders resistance "through proper channels." As resistance goes this isn't enough, I know. But for now, it's all I have. Perhaps someday it will become the underpinning for poetry and for the feral howl.
Today, words like "progress" and "development" have become interchangeable with economic "reforms," "deregulation," and "privatization." Freedom has come to mean choice. It has less to do with the human spirit than with different brands of deodorant. Market no longer means a place where you buy provisions. The "market" is a de-territorialized space where faceless corporations do business, including buying and selling "futures." Justice has come to mean human rights (and of those, as they say, "a few will do").
Talk about saving a river or protecting a forest and they say, "Don't you believe in progress?" To people whose land is being submerged by dam reservoirs, and whose homes are being bulldozed, they say, "Do you have an alternative development model?" To those who believe that a government is duty bound to provide people with basic education, health care, and social security, they say, "You're against the market." And who except a cretin could be against markets?
To reclaim these stolen words requires explanations that are too tedious for a world with a short attention span, and too expensive in an era when Free Speech has become unaffordable for the poor. This language heist may prove to be the keystone of our undoing.
Two decades of "Progress" in India has created a vast middle class punch-drunk on sudden wealth and the sudden respect that comes with it -- and a much, much vaster, desperate underclass. Tens of millions of people have been dispossessed and displaced from their land by floods, droughts, and desertification caused by indiscriminate environmental engineering and massive infrastructural projects, dams, mines, and Special Economic Zones. All developed in the name of the poor, but really meant to service the rising demands of the new aristocracy.
The war in the Kashmir valley is almost 20 years old now, and has claimed about 70,000 lives. Tens of thousands have been tortured, several thousand have "disappeared," women have been raped, tens of thousands widowed. Half a million Indian troops patrol the Kashmir valley, making it the most militarized zone in the world. (The United States had about 165,000 active-duty troops in Iraq at the height of its occupation.) The Indian Army now claims that it has, for the most part, crushed militancy in Kashmir. Perhaps that's true. But does military domination mean victory?
Of course, we haven't yet reached the stage where the government of India is even prepared to admit that there's a problem, let alone negotiate a solution. Right now it has no reason to. Internationally, its stocks are soaring. And while its neighbors deal with bloodshed, civil war, concentration camps, refugees, and army mutinies, India has just concluded a beautiful election. However, "demon-crazy" can't fool all the people all the time. India's temporary, shotgun solutions to the unrest in Kashmir (pardon the pun), have magnified the problem and driven it deep into a place where it is poisoning the aquifers.
The glacier has become a garbage dump now, littered with the detritus of war -- thousands of empty artillery shells, empty fuel drums, ice axes, old boots, tents, and every other kind of waste that thousands of warring human beings generate. The garbage remains intact, perfectly preserved at those icy temperatures, a pristine monument to human folly.