Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Video of April 4th rally, the budget debate, Ron Paul and America's wars

At the April 4th rally at Metro, I spoke here on the connection between the Memphis garbage workers strike – each declaring “I am a man” in a sign held high – and opposition to militarism (the war in Vietnam, as King declared, was and remains, in all its current manifestations a war on the poor. There were many other important talks at the rally by workers and students (a gay man and a woman who is an “illegal” who are both students were especially good here ).

Recently, Representative Paul Ryan offered a “deficit”- reduction plan, now endorsed by the House. A reverse Robin Hood, he wants to steal from the poor to give to the ultra-rich and the military. His “plan” – to cut tax rates on the top bracket and capital gains (corporate taxes) from 35% to 25% - shields militarism and the rich. Ryan wants to cut Medicare and Medicaid, to give a block grant to the elderly for roughly a third of what they, on average, consume (a 66% cut in benefits). One woman in the tea party last year held up an incoherent sign “Keep the government’s hands off my medicare.” Though they do not believe in a common good and are anti-government, this government program they do not want cut (they have an intense sense of “mine” including “my government benefits” which they wish to protect against everyone else). But Ryan and the Republicans test their contradictoriness. Racism – "Obama is not a citizen" – for instance, of Donald Trump, may very well not be a motivating factor for the tea party in the next electon. They - the tea party are largely unhappy elders - do not want to eat dog food while bankrupt or end up being dunned in the hospital, like Obama’s mother, to pay their medical bills…

Obama’s speech last week was in this respect like shooting fish in a barrel. He had but to point out that he didn’t want a tax break for himself and other wealthier people, in which each new tax cut for a millionaire would be paid by 33 seniors shelling out $6,000 a piece. Obama would protect the social contract (note that the “left” part of the mainstream debate, i.e. Senator Dick Durbin, has signaled its willingness to sacrifice social security in a “negotiation". Even if the Republicans had an attractive candidate – and Trump, the current leader, makes something mute a runaway choice; Mitt Romney has no spark and is not believable (if you will pardon the speciesism since chameleons are innocent, self-protective animals, he is not just a chameleon-like creature; he has, visibly, the soul of a “chameleon”), that Republicans have staked out this position makes them even weaker in the coming campaign. But there is very high unemployment – and a real possibility given the political war on intelligence in economics (the war on Keynsianism; for counterexamples, read Krugman’s columns in the Times), and budget cuts to poor people in state after state, that the US will sink, with the rest of the world, into a deeper depression.

And there are the ever growing number, with even the anti-"dumb Iraq" War Obama, of feckless American wars. He has recently announced replacing Ghadhafy as a goal in Libya along with Prime Ministers Sarkozy and Cameron (his only improvement: the war began on a moral note, stopping a massacre in Benghazi - see here – and he does not mention “regime-change”, the phrase adapted from Leo Strauss, a distortion of Aristotle, brought through William Kristol, Avram Shulsky, Wolfowitz and Bush-Cheney into the imperialist lexicon of the corporate press; still, the intent is clear enough.)*

Ghadhafy became an American client after 2003; he privatized government firms and the new world market brought much higher food prices in Libya, ironically contributing to Arab spring there. The current European/American war against Ghadhafy, largely to control oil and not just for humanitarian purposes, is day by day also an attack on the wave of revolutions from below. It instigates a nationalism, justified in so far as it opposes Western imperialism, and blocks the hopefully still strong democratic movement of young people and of workers as in Egypt, especially women, from below.

A third major American war – along with killing civilians with drones in Pakistan where the situation is increasingly dire, the growth of the Taliban strong (resulting partly from now murderous policies of the Democrats), Yemen and Somalia – is not smart, even from an imperial point of view. But more importantly, Obama initially made this war illegally, flaunting Congress and the constitution. At least David Cameron in England went to Parliament to declare war. Instead, Obama talked with Samantha Power and Susan Rice and Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton, and Sarkozy and the UN, but not, as is constitutionally-mandated, to Congress.

He said “America would be out in a few days.” The US would “turn its unique resources over” to the UN forces. $81 million in Tomahawk missiles was fired the first day see here , and $4 million or so squandered every day since. “No boots on the ground” except Blackwater\mercenary boots. As Bush sent 70,000 mercenaries to Iraq in 2004 with no media or Congressional discussion and no knowledge in the anti-war movement (I learned of this from hearing a talk by Deborah Avant at my school this past December) – that made the ratio of mercenaries to soldiers* in Iraq 1 to 1- so Obama secretly sent 70,000 mercenaries to Afghanistan in addition to the 30,000 troops he finally coughed up after five weeks of trying to figure out something decent. He had prodded Biden to offer up the truth: Al Qaida is in Pakistan, so there is no point in being in Afghanistan. But General McChrystal had broken with the civilian dominance of the military – his real, and not even looked into, or mentioned in the corporate press, crime - and given an interview in Paris calling for 40,000 more troops. All the Democratic neo-neo cons led by Leslie Gelb, the man who had criticized earlier his own gullible lying about Iraq as a way, as an “expert,” of getting face time on CNN and MSNBC in the runup to that war, screamed that Obama was costing American lives by not obeying McChrystal right away, and sending more Americans to slaughter and be slaughtered. But the 70,000 extra, mercenary forces went undiscussed in Congress and the corporate press. We have only 3 sets of boots on the ground for every 10 real soldier/operatives in Afghanistan, 7 stealth operatives for every 3 soldiers. We have "no boots on the ground" in Pakistan except for the American soldier killed after a wanton drone attack last fall and the CIA man Davis who murdered two Pakistanis, one running away from him at a distance of 30 yards…Obama's assertion that "we have no boots on the ground” in Libya is very likely untrue.

Tuesday morning I listened to an interview with John Nichols, the Nation’s correspondant from Wisconsin and a very insightful fellow brought into the semi-mainstream by democratic revolt from below there, on the Bill Press show (AM 760). Nichols mentioned that something Senator Rand Paul had said struck him as right. Paul had said that the military budget and America’s undeclared wars must be part of the debate on cutting the deficit. He had thus called out the Republican party which seeks to give everything to the rich and military, destroy the poor, the elderly, the sick, the weak...This was the first breath of good sense I had heard in mainstream coverage. Obama and Gates talk slightly about “cutting” the military, but certainly not undecleared wars – and real military expenditures, even those announced to the public, are going up this year. Much of the military budget is in fact in the secret "intelligence" budget or in other departments; the Deparment of Energy on nuclear research for example. Obama said the US spent $704 billion on the Pentagon officially in 2009 but actually it spent at least a trillion. The US has now some 1280 military bases around the world – every one of them an imposed imperial occupation hated by the local population (see Chalmers Johnson, Blowback) and with no justification.

On the Superbowl, the announcers mentioned that troops in 175 countries were watching the game. They did not mention or question what the toops were doing there or whether there is the slightest justification for occupation (were the British ever popular in America before the Revolution?). But sportcasters can at least mention these troops. The New York Times or the permissible leftists like Rachel Maddow (often good but not on this) on MSNBC and the rest of the corporate punditry do not. For there is no justification for such militarism (see Johnson, Blowback and Sorrows of Empire, ch. 6 for a lively depiction of the craziness among solciers which our occupations inspire). Think of the uprising in Egypt where US war companies and the military “aided” Mubarak to the tune of $1.3 billion a year for 29 years, and every tear gas canister mentioned by Senator John Kerry in an op-ed in the New York Times, every shell that ripped though the now 700 people discovered to be murdered in the Egyptian democratic uprising (I have word from an Egyptian friend about this – the report three weeks ago was 302 and the international press has of course taken the spotlight off Egypt…) was made in the USA. But is there some justification other than that of the British occupiers of America once upon a time? Perhaps all these bases are simply imperial impositions.

Rand Paul is a callow and sometimes unpleasant character. But his father Ron Paul, denounced by Giuliani in the 2008 “debates”, has a serious position that American militarism as a whole - the web of wars and bases abroad - is harmful to American citizens as well as the world. One of my students, Andrew Bisson, pointed out a column of Ron Paul below from In it, Paul imagines some foreign power like Russia or China occupying Texas and the response of we the citizens – just as I, a year ago, in "Imagine," (below) thought of a dominant Saudi-China at the end of the 21st century, the US in decline, shooting drones against rebels in Montana and Utah. The rest of us might sympathize with the rebels, even otherwise odious ones, against aggression and a puppet government in Washington...This is a useful Rawlsian thought experiment - imagine yourself in an original position in which you don't know what society you will be a member of, what class, what sex. How would you then evaluate this use of drones to kill civilians half a world away...
See here.

Ron Paul is a voice in mainstream American politics against American militarism (there are Democrats like Dennis Kucinich who are pretty good; the progressive caucus among the Democrats, as with its useful People’s Budget, is never covered in the corporate press).

In Barcelona at IBEI (Institut Barcelona d'estudis internationals) last December, I taught a course focusing on how to explain the surprising agreement of scholars across the old Cold War spectrum, roughly, people like me and Chomsky on the left, outside the mainstream, to Robert W. Tucker on the right, that the Iraq war was an aggression and unjust. Tucker, who argued for seizing the Saudi oil fields during the 1973 energy crisis (he is not unsympathetic to American imperialism), wrote “The Legitiamcy of American Foreign Policy” with David Hendrickson in Foreign Affairs in 2004 which criticized Bush for torture, aggression and undermining international law and hence American legitimacy. He was arguing with Robert Kagan, one of the three principals of the Project for a New American Century, and a proponent of the neocon go it alone, beat the world into line fantasy about American imperialism. Though discredited intellectually, Kagan has been revived with Samantha Power and Obama’s moralization of the surface of American imperialism. He has even organized for the US supporting the democratic movement in Egypt to press Obama, in this case, from the moderate left. He wants the military to rule a very limited transiton to parliamentary forms, controlled by the rich (and the imperialists). But that is just what Obama has now come to.

In scholarly terms, however, Kagan is isolated. Many initially conservative neorealists, led by John Mearshemer, but represented also by Christopher Layne, have increasingly come to see that America is in decline, its wars absurd and counterproductive, reliant on militarism. Writing in the American Conservative, Layne has talked about a graceful American decline – getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan. In questioning from me at a lecture he gave at the Korbel School in spring 2010, Layne recognized the danger of a transition to authoritariansim in the United States. Mearsheimer and I agree strongly on the Israeli aggression in the occupied territories and on the need for the US never to have left a footprint in Afghanistan (see here. I also comment strongly on John’s letters about Leo Strauss as a German stranger in the United States, see here, here and William Altman ,The German Stranger). In his latest lead piece in the National Interest, January-February 2011, John emphasizes the crazed aim of the American military/foreign policy establishment for universal hegemony. He rightly says that this will result in a police state at home. Note that this is the theme of my book Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? (Princeton, 1999) – wars abroad , including small interventions, lead to reactionary patriotism at home and the persecution of radicals and moderates, the snuffing of decency and questioning, and, increasingly, a police state. John’s current account of American politics contradicts much of what he said in his striking book The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, which, for example, “predicted” – a very silly thing to do about foreign policy or politics more generally – that the US would withdraw from its military bases following the Cold War. It hasn’t.

But Ron Paul, and even Rand Paul, are now voices for this on the American Right – Ron Paul even won the poll at the CPAC [Conservative Political Action Committee] convention with 30% of the vote, though the corporate press never described his position. That press is part of the war complex – the military-industrial-Congressional-think-tank-commercial media-intelligence, domestic and foreign – i.e. Mubarak and the Egyptian military see here – complex. Andrew Bacevich has written about this very forcefully (part of the scholarly agreement I was mentioning above and I have sketched in increasing pictorial detail this complex on this blog. If America is to be saved from destroying the world through militarism – our depleted uranium weapons poison people in the Middle East and American soldiers already (children born of vets from the first Gulf War sometimes have the same unique deformations as Iraqi children)– and global warming, if it is to be preserved as a regime with something of a middle class and a safety net as opposed to a stark and desolate “Pottersville” (the scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” though of course without the jazz – the dark world of art, sensuality and black folks which the Jimmy Stewart character did not get). Paul actually stands for cutting the deficit through giving up American imperialism (as well as being nasty to poor people). In the spirit of King, Paul's first point everyone should unite with and comment on. The second point, a serious error, needs to be stopped.

Bill Press, out of silly partisanship, asked Nichols two debunking questions about Rand Paul. It is dangerous to deride the truth for partisan reasons. Paul is better on these issues than Press (who dislikes some wars, but is not willing to question American imperialism/militarism). But honoring the difference between thinking and asking questions about others’ positions – that Ron Paul is superior to Obama on the harms arising even to Americans from the war complex – and a silly partisanship (one remembers principle only to criticize Bush and Cheney’s torture prisons, not to criticize Obama for torturing Bradley Manning) is the outset of having a serious, sometimes true and eventually, even a philosophical position.

March 10, 2009

"Imagine an Occupied America
by Rep. Ron Paul

Imagine for a moment that somewhere in the middle of Texas there was a large foreign military base, say Chinese or Russian. Imagine that thousands of armed foreign troops were constantly patrolling American streets in military vehicles. Imagine they were here under the auspices of "keeping us safe" or "promoting democracy" or "protecting their strategic interests."

Imagine that they operated outside of U.S. law, and that the Constitution did not apply to them. Imagine that every now and then they made mistakes or acted on bad information and accidentally killed or terrorized innocent Americans, including women and children, most of the time with little to no repercussions or consequences. Imagine that they set up checkpoints on our soil and routinely searched and ransacked entire neighborhoods of homes. Imagine if Americans were fearful of these foreign troops and overwhelmingly thought America would be better off without their presence.

Imagine if some Americans were so angry about them being in Texas that they actually joined together to fight them off, in defense of our soil and sovereignty, because leadership in government refused or were unable to do so. Imagine that those Americans were labeled terrorists or insurgents for their defensive actions, and routinely killed or captured and tortured by the foreign troops on our land. Imagine that the occupiers' attitude was that if they just killed enough Americans, the resistance would stop, but instead, for every American killed, 10 more would take up arms against them, resulting in perpetual bloodshed. Imagine if most of the citizens of the foreign land also wanted these troops to return home. Imagine if they elected a leader who promised to bring them home and put an end to this horror.
Imagine if that leader changed his mind once he took office.

The reality is that our military presence on foreign soil is as offensive to the people that live there as armed Chinese troops would be if they were stationed in Texas. We would not stand for it here, but we have had a globe-straddling empire and a very intrusive foreign policy for decades that incites a lot of hatred and resentment toward us.

According to our own CIA, our meddling in the Middle East was the prime motivation for the horrific attacks on 9/11. But instead of reevaluating our foreign policy, we have simply escalated it. We had a right to go after those responsible for 9/11, to be sure, but why do so many Americans feel as if we have a right to a military presence in some 160 countries when we wouldn't stand for even one foreign base on our soil, for any reason? These are not embassies, mind you, these are military installations. The new administration is not materially changing anything about this. Shuffling troops around and playing with semantics does not accomplish the goals of the American people, who simply want our men and women to come home. Fifty thousand troops left behind in Iraq is not conducive to peace any more than 50,000 Russian soldiers would be in the United States.

Shutting down military bases and ceasing to deal with other nations with threats and violence is not isolationism. It is the opposite. Opening ourselves up to friendship, honest trade, and diplomacy is the foreign policy of peace and prosperity. It is the only foreign policy that will not bankrupt us in short order, as our current actions most definitely will. I share the disappointment of the American people in the foreign policy rhetoric coming from the administration. The sad thing is, our foreign policy will change eventually, as Rome's did, when all budgetary and monetary tricks to fund it are exhausted."

Saturday, February 6, 2010, Alan Gilbert, Democratic-individuality:


Imagine a wealthy and weaponized Middle Eastern/Asian Country, call it Saudi China, which has secret operatives for a private corporation in dangerous and unruly places like the impoverished late 21st century United States. Imagine that S-C also fires off unmanned missiles here and there killing the leaders of dissident groups in Mississippi and Texas, but also guests at wedding parties in Alabama (all the celebrants including the toddlers). Imagine that it is really good at targeting: actually kills just 5 civilians for every terrorist, as the S-C War Department “experts” promise. Imagine that it is so good at what it does that Saudi-China’s commercial press, led by the Riyadh Times, reports that two leaders of a dissident movement in America – brothers – have been successively blown up in odd corners of Mississippi, though the second story is just a rumor and the first has never been verified. Still the first brother has disappeared, the second one is the new leader of the group – perhaps some prima facie evidence that the drones got the right man. Further, the second brother even appeared in a film with a suicide-bomber who then killed S-C agents along with himself. He is a special target in the interplay of S-C killing and resistance to it.

S-C has plainly committed naked or unprovoked aggression in America; we Americans would rightly be angry. We might not like the groups that the foreigners, with their unmanned missiles, shoot at. Many of us see that domestic dissident groups sometimes kill S-C mercenaries and agents, and bring down attacks on us. Nonetheless, the foreigners are ugly, remote control killers. Further, even the members of those groups and more importantly, the innocents surrounding them or mistargeted are Americans. We would be justified in fighting back against the aggressors; over time, many of us are likely to.

Imagine now that the weak American government collaborates with S-C in these missile attacks and secret BW (the initials of the Company) military operations. Would we support that government or would we become increasingly alienated from it, scornful of it, unwilling to defend it against militancy from below? Imagine further that in remote parts of the country, an international terrorist group with an Alaskan leader – Saudi-China’s main enemy whom it somehow has never been able to find despite its competence at targeting (being easily distracted to make war on Venezuela) - hides in the wilds of Wyoming. Are those in Wyoming, their friends or relatives being blown up, likely to be pacified by a distant and hostile central government, let alone Saudi-China?

Though “ever-truthful,” Fox-Saudi China and the rest of the S-C media do not mention the mercenaries, particularly BW involved in all SC wars. BW mercenaries often live in fancy areas, protected by security and guns. They drive heavily armed suburbans (no absent floor armor of the sort that exposes ordinary S-C soldiers to guerilla ieps (“improvised explosive devices”). BW comes out to strike. Americans have developed a particular dislike for these highhanded Saudi-Chinese killers and even the government in America, reliant on S-C military aid, denounces their presence.*

The Saudi-China press never mentions BW which, unbeknownst to the Saudi-Chinese public, supplies the majority of the troops for its more massive war in neighboring Canada. S-C officials now call the terror complex A-Can. The rule of law long undermined, two cliques – the ruling and the kept one, both reliant on the war complex, urge belligerence, denouncing each other as weak on national security if more missiles are not fired, more soldiers and mercenaries not sent, secret prisons closed, torture unused.

The S-C government gives massive military aid to the unstable and unpopular American government. Lately the S-C government has taken to giving some civilian aid, trying to combat extreme poverty and provide jobs, but this has yet to be distributed much and is not the face of S-C to ordinary Americans. In Saudi-China itself, no knowledge of the Corporation’s presence or killings of civilians in America penetrates to subjects. Nonetheless, S-C citizens do not like the S-C wars they know about.

In such circumstances, do you think 80% of the American population might detest and fear the aggressors of Saudi-China, and be angry at their American or Canadian collaborators? Perhaps 80% of the people in Wyoming and the South might mobilize against S-C. Some of them might form “followers of George Washington” (another terrorist so even the American President George W. Bush once implied in his Global War on Terror) to do something about Saudi-China and the Company.

The foregoing story is but an application John Rawls’ original position, which models what it is to do moral thinking, putting oneself in another’s shoes, or just turning around in one’s mind – by changing the proper names – the aggression committed in Pakistan by the Obama administration and the failure to use English words for such crimes in the American press. The war in Pakistan is fortunately not on the scale yet of Afghanistan as the New York Times’ front page story from February 3 emphasizes, but the drones and secret military/Xe corporation operations do great harm to democracy as well as the interests of the American people.

My friend and doctoral student Syed Rifaat Hussain, a professor of international relations at Islamabad University, suggests aptly in the story: “The attack seems a payback for the mounting frequency of the drone attacks.” Like the English colonizer before, the United States is a foreign power taking military actions unprovoked by and unwelcome in Pakistan (see Article 2, section 4 of the United Nations charter, fought for by Robert L. Jackson, later Supreme Court Justice, representing the United States of America after World War II, and the highest law in America, according to Article 6 section 2 of the Constitution). Firing off drones and launching Blackwater/Xe operations in Pakistan have nothing to do with what Obama rightly spoke of in his campaign as upholding American values – opposing aggression, protecting the lives of innocents, sustaining the Bill of Rights – and everything to do with making Pakistani democracy, civilians in Pakistan, and ordinary Americans unsafe.

Now perhaps Xe could help secure Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. That might be a worthwhile purpose, along with American aid to help the poor (if any of it reaches the poor), although once Xe's presence became known by Pakistanis (see the Guardian article below), there was a huge popular campaign against this abridgment of Pakistan’s sovereignty. Was this the only way to proceed? Why is the Obama administration using, so to speak, Blackwater, Blackwater and nothing but Blackwater in Afghanistan (the ratio of Cadillac mercenaries to soldiers is 7 to 3 – see here), Iraq (Xe even “protects” Maliki, marshalling a private corporate "American" Secret Service to constrain puppet rulers), and the like.

The Times front page right hand column story (the lead story in the paper) insists that Afghanistan and Iraq are allies of the United States who “allow American troops to operate there.” Pakistan, because of the hostility of Pakistanis, does not. The reporter forgets but one significant fact. American invasions, plainly aggression in Iraq and pretty obviously aggression in Afghanistan, installed client governments, completely dependent on the U.S. military and Blackwater. After the fact, at gun-point and existing only because of American guns, these governments “invited” the U.S.

“Even though the United States calls Pakistan an ally, the country, unlike Afghanistan and Iraq, has not allowed American combat forces to operate here, a point that is stressed by the Pentagon and the Pakistani Army, the most powerful institution in Pakistan.”

Nowhere do nonwhite people fail to protest American military occupations/bases: consider, for example, the late 1990s uprisings against rapes and/or murders of children by American soldiers and the American prevention of any local judicial process in Okinawa and South Korea – each concentrating some 50,000 U.S. troops - recounted in Chalmers Johnson’s Blowback. The aggressions and occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq are a central cause of the hostility of ordinary Pakistanis to U.S. military operations in which 12 American soldiers have now been killed. Our government has yet to invade and overthrow the government of Pakistan, a precondition for the kind of unhappy American presence the Pentagon foolishly dreams of. The Pentagon could hopelessly be draining soldiers and wealth there, too. This is the overweening American dream since World War II, criticized by Andrew Bacevich in The Limits of Power: With its great military force, our government (even Obama who knows better) dreams of reshaping the “blank slate” of others to our will. But Pakistanis, particularly the urban poor and those in "tribal areas," have their own views and interests. Vietnam and Iraq are living proofs of the murderous and self-defeating foolishness of American hubris.

Since the first American-sponsored polls were taken of Iraqi public opinion in 2003, the Sunnis have been 93% in favor of immediate US withdrawal, the Shia 77% (the latter are the supposed political beneficiaries of the invasion). In terms of the purported “benefits” of “the benevolent hegemon’s” aggression in the banal mantra of William Kristol and other American propagandists, ordinary people in these countries see none.

Today’s Times ran a front page story on the shocking abuse and very likely murder of Shazia Masih, a 12 year old maid, by a wealthy Lahore lawyer. If the story makes even the Times, the chances of this being a surpassing issue in Pakistan are pretty high. The Dickensian poverty (that may be too mild a term) creates fertile conditions for revolt from below. The Pakistani Taliban would not, as a matter of instinct, seek this out, but class war can be turned in surprising directions. With the outburst of publicity and outrage, the President himself has sent money to Shazia’s mother, sister and brother. Perhaps something short of such atrocities might awaken the conscience of Pakistan’s tiny somewhat parliamentary elite (the military and the ISI – intelligence services – are still the primary institutions) and its American backers to aid poor people more generally. After all, as the story also indicates, the well-to-do can see clearly and push around tiny 6 year olds to get their shoes...

Obama has launched a policy of aid to the poor over 5 years, a welcome, though late and inadequate (got to provide more massive military “aid” and sell those American weapons!) effort. But elite wealth and corruption, American drone murders, swaggering Blackwater "Christian" thugs and extremes of poverty create incendiary conditions. Current trends may not extend very long into the future without explosive results (tensions and war with India over Kashmir, as I have emphasized, is one, ever-present, potential diversion – see here and my Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?, ch.1, on the anti-democratic feedback of war).

Unlike the New York Times or the Washington Post, the Guardian (first story below) does serious journalism on American wars and how they are now fought. As with French writers like Denis Warner and Bernard Fall during Vietnam, the reporters in the former colonizer of Pakistan get it right against the LBJ-Nixon-Bush-Obamas who moment by moment, more and more deeply, get it wrong…

Published on Wednesday, February 3, 2010 by The Guardian/UK

Obama's Silent War Shocks Pakistan

The latest Taliban bombing has uncovered America's low-profile funding of the Pakistan military

by Delcan Walsh

To many Pakistanis the most shocking aspect of the latest Taliban bombing was not the death toll, or the injuries inflicted on survivors, but the question that it raised: what was a team of American soldiers doing in a tense corner of North West Frontier province?

A map of Pakistan locating Lower Dir. A bomb blast in Pakistan claimed by the Taliban killed eight people Wednesday, including three US soldiers and children. (AFP/Graphic)

In a way, the attack tugged the veil from a multi-faceted military assistance program that, while not secret, is rarely publicized – by either side.

President Obama's public aid to Pakistan is transparent: $1.5bn a year for the next five years, mainly to boost the civilian government. But behind the scenes the US is engaged in other ways. Over the past decade it has given over $12bn in cash directly to the military to subsidize the costs of fighting the Taliban and al-Qaida. The program to train the Frontier Corps, which the killed soldiers were involved with, is estimated to be worth $400m more over several years.

Generously provisioned counter-narcotics programs operate along the Afghan border, funding everything from wells to schools. In Islamabad military contractors – usually retired army personnel – are paid to advise the army, discreetly working out of suburban houses. All this is hugely sensitive. Public opinion in Pakistan is overwhelmingly hostile to American "interference".

Last year a media furor erupted over the role of the contractor Blackwater, which vocal right-wing commentators believed was part of a covert plot to steal the country's nuclear weapons.

The Taliban played on that fear yesterday with a spokesman describing the bomb as "revenge for the blasts carried out by Blackwater in Pakistan".

The critics are backed by public opinion. A survey last October found that 80% of Pakistanis rejected American assistance in fighting the Taliban.

© 2010 Guardian News and Media Limited

New York Times, February 3, 2010

Soldier Deaths Draw Focus to U.S. in Pakistan

Ali Shah/Reuters

Security officials walked past the crater of a bombing in front of a destroyed school in Timergara, the main town in the Lower Dir district in Pakistan’s restive North West Frontier Province, on Wednesday.


Published: February 3, 2010

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The deaths of three American soldiers in a Taliban suicide attack on Wednesday lifted the veil on United States military assistance to Pakistan that the authorities here would like to keep quiet and the Americans, as the donors, chafe at not receiving credit for.

A suicide attack in Lower Dir killed three Americans.

The soldiers were among at least 60 to 100 members of a Special Operations team that trains Pakistan’s paramilitary Frontier Corps in counterinsurgency techniques, including intelligence gathering and development assistance. The American service members are from the Special Operations Command of Adm. Eric T. Olson.

At least 12 other American service members have been killed in Pakistan since Sept. 11, 2001, in hotel bombings and a plane crash, according to the United States Central Command, but these were the first killed as part of the Special Operations training, which has been under way for 18 months.

That training has been acknowledged only gingerly by both the Americans and the Pakistanis, but has deliberately been kept low-key so as not to trespass onto Pakistani sensitivities about sovereignty, and not to further inflame high anti-American sentiment.

Even though the United States calls Pakistan an ally, the country, unlike Afghanistan and Iraq, has not allowed American combat forces to operate here, a point that is stressed by the Pentagon and the Pakistani Army, the most powerful institution in Pakistan.

Instead, the Central Intelligence Agency operates what has become the main American weapon in Pakistan, the drones armed with missiles that have struck with increasing intensity against militants with the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the lawless tribal areas.

The American soldiers were probably made targets as a result of the drone strikes, said Syed Rifaat Hussain, professor of international relations at Islamabad University. “The attack seems a payback for the mounting frequency of the drone attacks,” Professor Hussain said.

If the American soldiers were the targets, the attack raised the question of whether the Taliban had received intelligence or cooperation from within the Frontier Corps.

The three soldiers were killed, and two other service members wounded, in the region of Lower Dir, which is close to the tribal areas. According to police officials in the region, the armored vehicle in which they were traveling was hit by a suicide bomber driving a car. Earlier reports from Pakistani security officials said the soldiers had been killed by a roadside explosive device.

To disguise themselves in a way that is common for Western men in Pakistan, the American soldiers were dressed in traditional Pakistani garb of baggy trousers and long tunic, known as shalwar kameez, according to a Frontier Corps officer. They also wore local caps that helped cover their hair, he said.

Their armored vehicle was equipped with electronic jammers sufficient to block remotely controlled devices and mines, the officer said. Vehicles driven by the Frontier Corps were placed in front and behind the Americans as protection, he said.

Still, the Taliban bomber was able to penetrate their cordon. In all 131 people were wounded, most of them girls who were students at a high school adjacent to the site of the suicide attack, the Lower Dir police said.

The soldiers were en route to the opening of a girls school that had been rebuilt with American money, the United States Embassy said in a statement. The school was destroyed by the Taliban last year as they swept through Lower Dir and the nearby Swat Valley, where a battle raged for months between the Pakistani Army and the Taliban.

A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban called reporters hours after the attack against the Americans and claimed that his group was responsible.

The Pakistani Army currently occupies Swat, and in an effort to strengthen the civilian institutions there and in Dir, some of the American service members on the Special Operations team have been quietly working on development projects, an American official said.

The presence of the American military members in an area known to be threaded with Taliban militants would also raise questions, said Khalid Aziz, a former chief secretary of the North-West Frontier Province, which includes Swat and Dir.

Mr. Aziz said it was odd that American soldiers would go to such a volatile area where Taliban militants were known to be prevalent even though the Pakistani security forces insisted that they had been flushed out.

The usual practice for development work in Dir and Swat called for Pakistani aid workers or paramilitary soldiers to visit the sites, he said.

The Americans’ involvement in training Frontier Corps recruits in development assistance was little known until Wednesday’s attack.

“People are going to be very suspicious,” said Mr. Aziz, who is now involved in American assistance projects elsewhere. “There is going to be big blowback in the media.”

An American development official said that encouraging the Frontier Corps to become expert in humanitarian aid was an important part of the trainers’ counterinsurgency curriculum.

Last summer, for example, the American military trainers helped distribute food and water in camps for the more than one million people displaced from the Swat Valley by the fighting, the official said. But that American assistance, too, was kept quiet.

The 500,000-strong Pakistani Army led by Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the standard-bearer of Pakistan’s strong sense of nationalism, is resistant to the appearance of overt military assistance, least of all from the unpopular Americans, that would make the army look less than self-reliant on the battlefield.

Over the last several years, as the Qaeda-backed insurgents increased their hold on Pakistan’s tribal areas and used their base to attack American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, the United States military asked for permission for combat soldiers to operate in the tribal zone, according to American officials. Pakistan rebuffed the requests, they said.

Whether American soldiers are based in Pakistan is often raised by Pakistani politicians, students and average Pakistanis, many of them suspicious of American motives.

The question of the presence of American soldiers in Pakistan is also prompted by the fact that the American military provides important equipment to the Pakistani Army, including F-16 fighter jets, Cobra attack helicopters and howitzers.

Capt. Jack Hanzlik, a spokesman for the United States Central Command in Tampa, Fla., said 12 other service members had been killed in Pakistan since Sept. 11, 2001. The three soldiers who died Wednesday had been assigned to a Special Operations command in Pakistan. But he said they were not commandos from the elite Delta Force or Special Forces, also known as the Green Berets. The United States has about 200 military service members in Pakistan, Captain Hanzlik said.

The three names of the soldiers killed were not released Wednesday because United States military officials were still notifying the next of kin.

Reporting was contributed by Ismail Khan from Peshawar, Pakistan; Pir Zubair Shah from Islamabad; and Elisabeth Bumiller and Eric Schmitt from Washington.

Bruised Maid Dies at 12, and Pakistan Seethes


Published: February 5, 2010

LAHORE, Pakistan — The death already seemed like a bitter injustice. A maid died after unexplained injuries she got in the house of her rich employer. But one detail in particular has outraged Pakistanis: she was 12.

Photographs above and below right by Jason Tanner for The New York Times

Family members of Shazia Masih, including, from left, her sister; her mother, Nasreen Bibi; and her aunt and brother. The girl died while working as a maid.

Jason Tanner for The New York Times

A younger Shazia, third from left in the front row.

Her employer — a lawyer and a former head of the Lahore Bar Association — says she fell down stairs, and died Jan. 22 of complications from a skin disease. Her family claims she was tortured. The employer remains in police custody while they investigate the family’s charges.

Whatever the case, the death of Shazia Masih, a wisp of a girl from a bone-poor family, has served as a vivid reminder of the powerlessness of the poor in Pakistan.

Many wealthy Pakistanis employ children as servants, often to help with their own youngsters, a relatively common practice that Pakistani law does not prohibit. Slight and shadowy figures at the edges of birthday parties and nights out in fancy restaurants, these young servants, who rarely earn more than $50 a month, form a growing portion of Pakistan’s domestic labor force.

The root of the problem is poverty, Pakistanis say, and a law would do little to stem the tide of desperate young people from the countryside looking for work.

“You can’t imagine the poverty,” said Muhamed Sharif, an employment agent who supplies maids, gardeners and security guards to wealthy residents of Lahore. “Sometimes they come in hungry. They will do anything for work.”

It was raw need that brought Shazia into the house of Chaudhry Naeem, a prominent lawyer who lives in a wealthy neighborhood in this leafy city in eastern Pakistan.

She received $8 a month to wash his floors, his cars and his toilets, her mother said, money that went toward paying off a family debt.

Her parents, a house cleaner and a trash collector, earn $62 a month, too little to afford meat or fruit.

The system seemed to conspire against Shazia. The middleman who got her the job was pocketing a chunk of the little that Mr. Naeem paid her.

Because Shazia was a minor, she was not issued a badge by the neighborhood security agency, making her invisible.

If Mr. Naeem’s lawyer is to be believed, Shazia was even rejected by her mother, Nasreen Bibi, who promised repeatedly to take her back but never showed up because she could not afford to keep her. Ms. Bibi denies the charge.

The circumstances of Shazia’s death are in dispute.

A lawyer for Mr. Naeem said that Shazia was suffering from a skin disorder, probably scabies, and that Mr. Naeem had brought her to the hospital. She died while getting treatment, the lawyer said. Her death certificate says she died of blood poisoning.

Ms. Bibi says her daughter had been abused, an account that the medical examiner’s preliminary report seems to support.

It lists 17 injuries, including bruised swellings on her forehead, cheek and scalp, “caused by blunt means.” A more thorough medical report is due out in the coming weeks.

Mr. Sharif, whose agency is one of 10 serving Mr. Naeem’s area, said that outright abuse was not common, but while the work was more comfortable than labor on farms, the maids were rarely treated well.

They lived a lonely life apart, using separate utensils, eating leftover food, and working more than 12 hours a day.

Children’s heads are often shaved against lice.

Few, if any, go to school.

An employee of the security agency for the neighborhood said that he had returned five children to their parents since 2008, after they had run away from masters who they said were abusive.

The youngest, Allah Wasaya, a boy of 6, said his employer had hit his feet with a golf club when he did not fetch the man’s shoes fast enough.

The employee, who asked that his name not be used because he was not permitted to speak to journalists, disapproved of such behavior, but said there was little he could do besides send the children home to conditions that might be even worse.

“We are not in a position to report them,” he said of the wealthy residents.

As the poor get poorer in Pakistan, a job as a maid is a valuable commodity, even for a child. An estimated 40 percent of the population now live beneath the poverty line, far higher than 30 percent in the 1990s.

Inflation, now around 40 percent, according to the Social Policy and Development Center, an economic policy organization in Karachi, has caused prices for electricity, gas and food to spike, pushing millions more into poverty, economists say.

A British Council report last fall estimated that Pakistan’s economy would have to grow by 6 percent a year to keep up with the expanding population, which over the past 20 years has been growing at twice the world average. The economy grew by 2 percent in 2008, the last year for which the government has statistics.

That potentially disastrous imbalance seems to go unnoticed by Pakistan’s political elite, whose power struggles in Islamabad are as distant — and irrelevant — to the poor as the workings of the United States Congress.

The lack of a safety net has pushed people like Roxana, a 14-year-old with a bright face who was waiting for work in Mr. Sharif’s office, out of school and into work to help her father, a plate seller, support 10 children.

Some relief has come in the form of the newly free media, which made Shazia’s case a national issue, prompting visits to her family from top officials and even a fat check from Pakistan’s president.

Mr. Naeem’s beleaguered lawyer, G. A. Khan Tariq, bemoaned the coverage, which he said had blown an ordinary illness into a torture case.

“The media tried this case and issued its own verdict,” he said.

The real test, however, will come in Pakistan’s criminal justice system, a notoriously weak institution that is easily influenced by men in power.

“Our justice system operates against the underprivileged,” said I. A. Rehman, a prominent human rights activist. “Will there be justice? I have my doubts.”

Waqar Gillani contributed reporting."

*In a nonviolence seminar, my student Aaron, who served as a marine all over Iraq in 2003, now focusing on security at my school, described the real Blackwater in this way.

*Even soldiers are drawn, though poor from less than 1% of the population, and given some incentives compared to the draft; XE/Blackwater company mercenaries are often paid 10 times as much – hence, the explosion compared to the Cold War in the military budget which is rough ly 2 ½ times higher…

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