Wednesday, May 4, 2011

What follows from the death of Osama Bin Laden

On September 11th, 2001, my wife and I were to go from Denver to Boston for her family’s reunion on an 11 am flight. At 7 the phone started ringing, someone told us of New York and we watched the plane hit the second tower. Later I spoke with my daughter in Boston who had a friend on one of the flights to New York. People of 80 nationalities were murdered (some immigrants, “illegal,” were not even identified…). So it is for all of us as well as thousands of Muslims in Tanzania, Uganda, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere, that justice was done Sunday to Osama Bin Laden.

Obama is a careful and lethal leader. This raid showed that. Kennedy's Bay of Pigs deservedly failed; Carter in Iraq failed to rescue the hostages. To Obama comes the credit for killing a real enemy and murderer, a hater of Jews and Christians, a murderer of Muslims, a man of genocidal visions. The New York Times posed George Bush with his arm lifted up after 9/11 (it declared “the war on terror” on 9/12 even before Bush announced it). It took some time before how much Bush and Cheney lived off fear, sought a police state at home (the Patriot Act, the throwing away of prisoners including Americans, and torture), while launching costly, ineffectual aggressions abroad revealed all this as the wind blowing behind Bush, a flapping leaf, nobody home but a smirking ne’er-do-well conjoined with Cheney’s placid madness.

Obama, by contrast, does not live off fear and cancelled the spurious rhetoric of the “gwot” (the global war on terror). But unlike Bush who forgot Bin Laden, Obama made it a chief priority of the CIA to hunt for him, and within two years found him and took him out. That is a real victory for which Obama will be remembered (and possibly reelected). It gives some distant affectation of sense to the crazed and losing occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, some closure to the September 11th attack on the United States. Along with Arab Spring, this marks, as Jon Lee Anderson rightly says below, the decline of Al-Qaida. Tunisians and Egyptians stood up nonviolently against American (and French-)-armed regimes, and brought them down. Now the head - Bin Laden, thumbing his nose at the United States, in seeming immortality in Pakistan - has been cut off Al-Qaida. In addition, the Navy Seals may have acquired Bin Laden's computers and papers...

As the crowds revealed – the Denver Post had a particularly unseemly front-page picture of mobs shouting USA!, USA! outside the White House - this was as much blood-sport of American politics as the royal wedding was a psychologically significant ceremony in Britain. Obama has now earned some psychic credibility, among the many who worship Presidents, as an efficient and lethal war leader. In the self-satire of the morning’s polls, “93% approve the mission, “57%" the President – but the effect is, of course, something deeper. This is part of the ritual of becoming President. For what will Obama use it?

Since Obama was elected, the Democratic think tank "experts" who surround him (along with Hilary Clinton and the military) urged the use of drones in Pakistan. The New American Foundation has written a perverse study arguing that predator drones, the US’s weapon of choice there, really are “better’ at hitting their targets than land mines (lots of children are blown up playing in mine-seeded areas like Afghanistan). That claim might be true in roughly the same sense that the slaughter of 1400 Palestinians in Gaza in 2008 is “better” than Nazi genocide. Every day the United States blows up innocent people and creates new enemies with a justified hatred of America and of the American military-aid sustained and feckless Pakistani government. According to neocon foundations, the drones kill 5 civilians for every “Taliban." The Pakistan government says the number is 600 innocents for every “Taliban.” But even the neocon figure is bad enough – better than 80% innocents. Imagine, I said to my students at Metro yesterday morning in the King Center at Metropolitan State, that a drone from Abbottabad, a military center near Islamabad where Bin Laden had his mansion-like compound, had taken out the Tivoli. Imagine that it killed your friend, your brother, your sister, your mother, your father…

Would you not feel that the country that sent them was like the Company in Avatar? Would you not think it just to strike back? See here. Perhaps it is no wonder that starving crowds in Pakistan chant “death to Obama” or that Obama’s ratings in the Arab world, according to the Pew foundation (cited by Andrew Sullivan last week), near the same dismal level as George Bush’s. The need for a redirection of policy could not be more glaring.

Obama gathered intelligence on Osama Bin Laden for several weeks. He sent elite Team 6 from the Navy Seals (the ones who took out precisely the Somali pirates). He took out Bin Laden’s son, some grandchildren and others, but he did not take the neighborhood or a wedding party or random innocents. His choice of weapons for the mission proved the fatuous murderousness of predator drones (his Presidential murderousness), the vapidity of the Democratic “experts” driven entirely by corrupt politics (if Obama were not “seen to be doing something” against Bin Laden – even if what he did helps, as an outlier, terrorists - the Right would attack him. If the experts did not cry for war, these neo-neo cons - as Leslie Gelb confessed once of himself in Foreign Affairs, looking in the mirror of his own lies about Iraq and wondering how he, to himself once a decent and intelligent man, could have told them - would get no "face-time" on CNN or MSNBC.

Obama sent the Navy Seals to take out Osama Bin Laden. All the murderousness of the drones was unnecessary and irrelevant, every crime against innocents in Pakistan and all the resistance to America bred through murder and aggression useless. So, first perhaps, Obama can scale back these efforts which are breeding Al-Qaida as an outlier and more importantly, hatred for America generally. This would be the triumph of policy over mechanical (militarist) technology.

When Obama took a 5 week “time out” from the war in Afghanistan in 2009 because the occupation makes no sense and breeds Afghani opposition, Leslie Gelb promptly forgot his self-criticism and screamed at Obama that if he didn’t obey General McChrystal’s request yesterday – McChrystal had broken the civilian-military chain of command and demanded 40,000 troops at a press conference in Paris - he was “sacrificing American lives.” But it was the war complex and the Democratic think-tank claque, including Gelb, that were wasting American lives. Obama put Biden up to noticing that Al-Qaida had moved to Pakistan. So America was accomplishing nothing in Afghanistan. Obama escalated 30,000 troops and 70,000 Blackwater mercenaries – a hollow army, for private profit, for a fruitless, long already lost, civilian-slaughtering war.

Recently Rolling Stone has told the story of the Kill Team, the Bravo Company murdering a 15 year old Afghani boy (and the officers working overtime not to notice, to cover up). A couple of weeks ago, American helicopters murdered 9 little boys gathering wood for their mothers on a hill side. The COIN-man, David Petraeus, then went to Presdient Karzai and said that Afghan parents push their children in front of” nice” US soldiers to create incidents. If one wants to see the foolishness of COIN (counterinsurgency) – and how bankrupt it is as an approach to war; put the peace corps in if the President wants to win hearts and minds – Petraeus’s statement there reveals his utter incompetence (see here for his earlier war criminality in Iraq) and hideous racism. If one wanted to make the world (including many of us Americans) hate America, it would be hard to think up policies more designed to do so than these.

But Obama was right. Al-Qaida was not in Afghanistan. The generals forcing him – with the neo- and neo-neo-con claque – to escalate in Afghanistan did nothing to take out Al-Qaida (in fact, the escalation strengthens Al-Qaida and broad resistance to the United States day by day; it weakens the US economically and makes the leaders of China and India roll with laughter at America's foolishness…). But Obama, as a political leader, has a comparatively unusual focus and presence of mind. Targeted Navy seals, combined with good intelligence, took out Bin Laden.

Even the standardly designed to be pro-war opinion polls show that two-thirds of Americans want the US government out of Afghanistan now. Obama has had to prostitute his popularity to keep the war going. Monday morning, some were beating the drums for Obama’s determination to get Bin Laden as ostensibly shown by the escalation in Afghanistan. But since the escalation in Afghanistan had nothing to do with getting Bin Laden - Osama was shot in Pakistan in a relatively inexpensive and targeted mission - this claim is vacuous.

The Democrats escalated in Afghanistan because they ran against the “dumb war” in Iraq to expand the supposed “good war” – to prove their national security “bona fides” against attacks from crazed Republican-authoritarians like Bush, Cheney, McCain and Palin. As the escalation in Afghanistan shows, the reactionary two-step of American policy, in the absence of movements from below, forces the “Democrats” ever to the right. See here. Obama was smart enough politically to demand of Leon Panetta that his number one priority as head of the CIA be to get Bin Laden. Obama and Panetta did, and earned a great political triumph. But not one whit of the escalation and murder of little boys in Afghanistan helped with this, no, not in the slightest.

So now is a time also to pressure Obama from below to get out of Afghanistan quickly (“get out” – the American media do not cover the 72,000 Blackwater agents who remain in Iraq with the 50,000 troops – 122,000 boots on the ground. These troops are less involved in fighting than before, suffer currently about half the casualties – no figures on how many deaths they inflict, Iraqi lives being “not important” to the Pentagon). Without political protest from below which breaks down the Congressional-media-military wall of silence about these mercenaries and the bases the US angles to keep, the corporate (war complex) press will not cover the large force America will leave in Afghanistan.

Still, the heart of the danger to America of "terrorism" from the Middle East stems from the Israeli government’s meticulous oppression of the Palestinians and the U.S. government's massive military support for it. The Palestinians, too, are an integral part of Arab spring, unmentioned – blacked out - in the American press. See below. Mainly young Palestinians demonstrated in solidarity with Egyptian democracy (and the corrupt Fatah regime beat and harassed them). Now Egypt, having thrown open the border as a response to protest from below – see here – has gotten the two Palestinian factions together. Under democratic pressure, Egypt is now prepared to act – not as with Mubarak as the accomplice of genocide in Palestine – but as a force for decency (I speak here as a Jew…). Here Obama, who tried to stop further settlements but then sat down under reactionary pressure from the Israeli government and the influence of the Israel lobby in Congress, has a chance to force a quasi-decent two state solution to Israeli government oppression in Palestine. The Israel lobby no longer speaks (if it ever did) for American jews: 80% of American jews oppose the Iraq war, bombing in Iran, and the Afghanistan "adventure," support Obama and would support a two state solution to Israeli government oppression in Palestine).

After Egypt, American policy can no longer be simply to arm dictators like Mubarak and Saleh in Yemen and Abdullah in Saudi Arabia and the tyrant in Bahrian and especially the now increasingly fascist Netanyahu-Lieberman government of Israel (ruling over Palestinians and Arab Israelis). The democratic explosion in the Arab world may put this issue on the political agenda even before Obama's second term. And in fact, the driving force of Al-Qaida, in Osama Bin Laden and many recruits, is the Israeli government's brutality toward the Palestinians. If a President wishes to cut the life out of Al-Qaida, he can use the US military "aid" of $3 billion per year – the Israeli government purchased with that "aid" every helicopter, every Apache, used to gun down the 300 Palestinian children in Gaza in 2008 – to pressure the Israeli government to abandon the project of greater Israel and reach a settlement with the Palestinians. That is the fundamental precondition for Middle East peace (or at least the absence of terrorism from the Middle East), the sine qua non. The direction of intelligent and decent change is clear; whether Obama has the will and vision to pursue it is not.

Yet as Obama said about Libya, the United States cannot afford continuing wars on the scale of Afghanistan and Iraq. The United States is cutting back on teachers and firefighters and snow removers (in Michigan next year, each public school teacher will have a class size of 60 students), ending collective bargaining in many states, has one party making an all out grab to steal medical care from the elderly and shower the money on the rich…If the United States is to contain its deficit in a way which preserves a decent life and a social safety net for some significant number of middle class and working Americans (Jesus preached for the poor, but these “Christians” stomp on “the least of these”; what would Jesus do to these money-changers?), a large cut will have to be made in American militarism (in his new role as Pentagon secretary, Panetta may have been charged with cutting $400 billion out of the $1 trillion or so total expenditure). So Obama has a glimmering that the vast pipeline of military “aid” to Egypt and Pakistan and Israel and and every state but the Palestinians' quasi-state is not working. The wars are not working. He might use this military victory, the offing of Bin Laden, and his credibility as a war leader to scale back these wars, and to begin to turn American militarism to useful purposes.

But of course the bankers who are contributing much of the $I billion to his campaign will try to halt or limit this. What US belligerences are doing in the Middle East is unsustainable and not accomplishing much (Petraeus is back to militarize the CIA though he will perhaps not put a premium on torture which has done our soldiers no good in the field, recruited enemies to sacrifice themselves where there would have been few or none). So the door to decency is at least ajar.

Obama wants mainly to be reelected. As will become clear over time, the taking out of Bin Laden will steel him against Republican attacks (Sarah Palin could not mention his name in hunting down Bin Laden, but repeating Obama’s name will now only remind people that he did that and who is she? Even Rush Limbaugh insightfully praised Obama’s coolness in using the Seals though he recited a criminal mantra about a fantasized usefulness of waterboarding. Running against Medicare, as the House Republicans now embrace, is not smart politics even with the tea party (the woman last year whose sign screamed “keep the damn government’s hands off my medicare” may be a symbol; take away her medicare, and even she and other elderly racists may suddenly not be so keen to get Obama).

The US has 8.8% official unemployment and probably 14% real unemployment (counting those who have stopped “looking for work,” those who have part-time jobs but would jump at a full time job) David Leonhardt of the New York Times who developed these figures with the Bureau of Labor Statistics has sadly not published on this recently. But all this deficit cutting, as a Times editorial Monday noted, has the opposite effect of putting people to work, producing green jobs, fighting the depression and creating some worthwhile new economy as distinct from the war complex and the financial casino (we have now literally a death economy for most…). These policies are against the genuine insights of Keynes. They suck money from the poor and give it to the ultra-rich to spend in China (as Goldman Sachs did in the “bail out”) or to hoard it and thus create no stimulus or multiplier in the American economy. The crazed policies of the Right and the ability of the media element in the war complex to give them cover mean misery for millions of people. The Right will stoke racism in the next campaign to try to achieve a full authoritarian police state (but whatever did happen to the amazing Trump?)

So Obama may try cautiously to survive and perhaps use the credit he has now gained as a war leader mainly in a second term. But Obama has also been corrupted, to some extent. by Presidential power. He initially cancelled the worst forms of torture, but he now tortures Bradley Manning and it took Democrats, his own base at a San Francisco fundraiser, screaming at him about the torture, to get him to transfer Manning to Leavenworth and slightly better (hopefully) conditions.

Tyrannical executive power (Carl Schmitt – “ he is sovereign who makes the decision in the state of the exception” Political Theology, 1923) was brought by the Straussian/neocons as “commander in chief power” into the Bush administration, and is now in Obama's flaunting of “executive power” at the expense of the Constitution, not even "consulting" Congress about the war in Libya. See here.

So the nonviolent workers uprising in Wisconsin, inspired by Tunisia and Egypt, and mass civil disobedience remain our hope. Obama will do better (if he does) only because he is pressed democratically from below…

The New Yorker, May 2, 2011
Bin Laden and His Followers
Posted by Jon Lee Anderson

In the summer of 1989, I spent several months coming and going from the Afghan battlefield, where a wide array of Afghan mujahideen forces, along with hundreds of overly zealous Arab jihadi volunteers, were battling to oust the Soviet-installed regime in Kabul. At one point, I had to be smuggled out of the battle zone by an armed escort of Afghan fighters after a group of the Arabs said that they wanted to kill the unbeliever they knew their Afghan comrades had with them. I didn’t know it at the time, but these men were the early core of Al Qaeda, and their leader was a recently arrived, rich Saudi wannabe, Osama bin Laden. Safely back in the Pakistani border town of Peshawar, I spoke about what I had seen, and what had happened to me with Abdul Haq, a senior Afghan mujahideen commander. He told me, with a kind of uncanny clairvoyance, that it was urgent for “us” to start looking beyond the immediate battle in Afghanistan, and past even the challenges of the Cold War, to a new threat that was arising. “The danger we all face comes from these Arab jihadis,” he told me. “These are the biggest threat to all of us.”

Now the picture is changing again. There is an inescapably delicious irony to the timing of Osama bin Laden’s death, announced Sunday night. It comes in the midst of a widespread revolt in the Arab world, the very wellspring of Al Qaeda, which the terrorist movement had not masterminded and, thus far, has seemed incapable of exploiting, much less leading. For the man who had conceived of himself the ultimate arbiter of violent change, it must have been tantalizingly heady to witness, but ultimately frustrating. In Libya, instead of a rogues’ gallery of hate-spitting disciples who behead hostages (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed come to mind), there is a wide cross-section of society that includes some Libyan jihadis, shopkeepers, pro-Western businessmen, and students—something like a civic alliance. Libya’s revolt is not part of some global jihad; it is about the people overthrowing their own dictator, a very particular despot who has ruled their collective destinies for forty-two years. The uprising in Syria appears to have the same components. In other words, both appear to be part of a social phenomenon that has already swept aside dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, leaving behind new tensions and new freedoms—an atmosphere that, possibly, is not receptive to Al Qaeda’s lethal clarion call.

Whatever else happens, and whatever baleful challenge will now be issued by Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s Egyptian deputy and presumed successor, Al Qaeda will have been weakened, perhaps terminally. With the death of their leader, the will of the many bin Laden wannabees out there in Pakistan and Yemen and Nottingham and wherever should be diminished—because one of the things that fueled them in the first place was his notional invincibility. Such vertical, quasi-religious death cults always rely upon the leader, because the leader’s survival is the key to perpetuating the belief that utopia is possible. In Peru, after the Maoist Shining Path’s leader, Abimael Guzmán, was captured, the movement, which had come close to seizing the capital, effectively died. The same happened when Abdullah Öcalan, the longstanding chief of the P.K.K., the Turkish Kurdish separatist movement, was captured a few years ago. Everyone will know, from now on, that Al Qaeda is probably ultimately doomed. It may continue to cause trouble, and even a great deal of it—the forces of jihadism are not finished in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, or in places like Yemen. But with bin Laden dead, it may be easier to see the way ahead; the end is, if not in sight, at least discernible, somewhere down the road.

American journalists want to see the Arab spring happening everywhere but Palestine
by Philip Weiss on April 29, 2011

My theme today is denial, specifically as it involves the Arab revolutions: the failure of American media figures and Jewish leaders to recognize the huge spiritual-political effect of the Arab spring and the inevitability of that spirit coming to bear on the dire human-rights situation in Palestine.

As Issandr El Amrani said the other night at the 92d Street Y, this revolution has the promise of the French revolution, and to seek to diminish it or to caricature it (the Muslim Brotherhood is going to take over Jordan, Yossi Klein Halevi warned at the American Jewish Committee today) is a terrible mistake.

And this denial is most profound inside American liberal Jewish life, in the failure of liberals to understand, Of course Palestinians will also want their spring. And they must have it.

I will give you two instances of this denial. The first was Terry Gross interviewing Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker on Fresh Air the other day, all about the Arab revolutions and Egypt and Obama's foreign policy. And you will see from the transcript that Israel was mentioned only once, and tangentially. The conceit of this nearly-hour-long exchange was the idea, Well these Arab countries are finally going to try to be democratic, harrumph, and Obama must lend his hand. With no awareness at all that a, American support for Israel has militated against Arab democracy and the idea of Arab self-determination forever, and b, that the thirst for democracy in the Middle East portends revolutionary change in one of the most repressive societies in the world, the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

For journalists not to reckon with this likelihood is a dereliction of the liberal values that I can only explain in Terry Gross's case by saying that she must regard Israel's creation as a great and necessary liberal historical advance, and therefore regard any threat to the status quo as concerning and to regard the call for multicultural democracy as so much irredentist, revolutionary murderous claptrap.
Now the second instance of denial was at the 92d Street Y the other night, when my good friend Jake Weisberg moderated a PEN panel on the Arab spring and was generous and celebratory about the revolutions. But because we were in a Jewish space, the meaning of the revolutions was circumscribed: they are unhorsing the tyrants and allowing writers to express themselves at last in Arab countries. The Arab intellectuals went along with this limitation and practiced a self-censorship. They did not refer to Palestine, except glancingly, Weisberg had the tact not to bring up Israel, and when El Amrani spoke movingly about Islamists and Christians and women working side by side in Tahrir to make their revolution, he did not say, And Palestinians and Jews also can build a new polity together.

The Palestine issue was directly addressed only once, by the Palestinian writer Rula Jebreal. Weisberg had introduced her as an "Israeli," and a half hour into the discussion, Jebreal at last corrected him, when she spoke of anti-Arab prejudice in the west.

The prejudice-- it was very hard. It was very hard to talk about our countries after September 11. I am Palestinian. He said Israel but the truth is I am Palestinian. So I remember when I was hired in Italy, as an anchorwoman, the director said, can you please say that you are you Italo-Palestinian. Which I am. I said yes, but what is the problem? He said it will sound less harder on the ear.

And I'm saying this in the 92d Street Y because I know how delicate this subject matter and this issue is. But the truth-- the prejudice against us--we have to fight our regimes, but abroad we have to fight the prejudice, the discrimination, and we have to fight something stronger, the idea that is in the head of the majority of the people in this room and in this country before Tahrir square, this idea that most of us, we are not liberal. We beat our women, that we marry more than once, whatever, and we are terrorists. If we are not terrorists, then we are potential terrorists. This idea started changing in Tahrir Square. So I really would like to thank these women and men who stood for three weeks asking for freedom and dignity and asking for a better life. They convinced all of us that we have a right to that, but I ithink they changed somehow the opinion in the western world.

Now this is a very moving statement, and Jebreal was applauded. But I would just like to note how much is under the surface. This prejudice is most strongly directed at Palestinians specifically. As Cecilie Surasky said at a Jewish Voice for Peace function in the city last night, nine years ago when JVP was formed, for many Jews "it was terrifying just to say the word Palestinian."

And now in the context of the Arab spring, American media are experiencing that same prohibition, and so they are denying the power of this revolution to transform Israel and Palestine, and missing the story.

*Bin Laden was in the heart of a military concentration in Pakistan in a specially constructed mansion with no wired connection to the outside world (yet he had to be getting updates, so plainly some elite support). He evidently was known of, protected by some element in the military establishment. Moreover, Pakistan has received billions in military aid from the United States to buy weapons from the US. If there is a place where a helicopter coming in would have been attacked, it is there. Thus, the CIA probably alerted the Pakistan government just before that the Seals were coming so they would not “scramble ‘their’ F-17s” to take out the Seals.

The division of India and Pakistan – a great crime against humanity of the British empire, see here - is responsible for the four wars since partition and the single greatest threat of nuclear exchange (and by now, human extinction) in the world today. To “balance” India, Pakistan’s ISI has fostered the Taliban in Afghanistan. They have recruited and trained terrorists for Kashmir (the K in the original Pakistan, dominated brutally by India, with a great revolt which occurred at the same time as the green revolution in Iran, just as large and fierce a popular outburst, nearly completely blacked out in the supposedly free American corporate media. But Bin Laden and the Pakistan Taliban were becoming a danger, particularly with the horrific flooding in Sind. American pressure and increasing insecurity of the political-military elite apparently got the Pakistan government to give Bin Laden up…

Still, if the Pakistani military/intelligence apparatus is a secure ally in the “gwot,” what would be an enemy? On the other hand, if the Bush-Cheney administration were itself an ally to the American people in that war, we would not have this long record of destructive aggressive, occupation and depression to deal with; it would have been a sea-change. Perhaps Obama’s taking out of Bin Laden is also a symbol of a future US-Pakistan government cooperation.

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