Tuesday, November 29, 2011

American aggression in Pakistan

The US just murdered 25 Pakistani soldiers. I asked students yesterday morning, what happened in Pakistan? One finally said: they withdrew permission for an air force base. It was a drone base, I suggested, linked to the killing of Pakistani civilians (last week, drones murder 6 children between ages 4 and 12 in Afghanistan – see here).

But in reaction to what did they do this? Most were silent. Finally, another student pointed out that 25 soldiers had been murdered.

This was a political science class at Metropolitan State College. We are discussing King’s A Time to Break Silence on Vietnam and Andrew Bacevich’s The Limits of Power. This atrocity is highly relevant to the class, making it, unfortunately, today’s news.

I suggested to them that they didn’t know, not because they wouldn’t be interested, but because the corporate media, part of the war complex (the military-industrial-financial- Congressional-media-“intelligence”- think tank/academic complex with foreign components like the Egyptian military through the vast network of US military “aid” and bases abroad) will not cover or when forced to cover, name American crimes. The students I teach at Metro are the multi-racial citizens of America and its future. The corporate media is thus remarkably anti-democratic...

Imagine if 24 American soldiers had been murdered at Fort Hood by Chinese drones – see here. Every politician would be up in arms about it. The US would probably go to war in self-defense. Ron Paul, to his credit, has actually been saying this, but of course the media will not cover these statements (or at best as in Gail Collins’ report on Paul’s candidacy Saturday in the Times, dances around them. But Paul’s words were the best thing in her article. *

Imran Khan, the great cricket player and opposition leader, spoke to a large crowd Saturday afternoon of how the alliance with the United States leads to the murder of Pakistani civilians through drones – the Pakistan government has begged the US not to use drones, but to no avail. The Pakistanis have been co-opted into a war, he suggests, for another power, one that does not involve them [one which actually spurs the Taliban in Pakistan]. And now their soldiers are murdered.

General Ashfaq Pervaz Kayani, the head of the armed forces, spoke to the funeral gathering. He has demanded the withdrawal of the drone base. The alliance was already riven and Pakistan is now very shaky as an American ally. The likelihood is that the opposition will come to power, and even if not, that the government will turn increasingly hostile. Obama’s policies kill large numbers of ordinary Pakistanis including children. Ordinary Pakistanis, I am afraid rightly, increasingly hate the United States. The inanity of Roger Cohen's op-ed piece below in the on-line New York Times is revealed here. A policy of depraved murder of children is not the same as war, but only a war criminal or a sycophant of war criminals (sadly, a good rough definition of a member of the American establishment) would shrug it off, apologize for it. See also Greenwald here.

The US has leaked that the Pakistani soldiers, near the Afghanistan border, fired on American troops. The murders were just “self-defense.” But the US wages aggression in Pakistan – the drones, these murders – without any declaration of war and with a curtain of secrecy (denying the drone strikes, which the Pakistan government has said, have killed some 30,000 civilians – cut it to a tenth and it still is a horror). Had the Pakistanis fired on the US, they would have been but defending themselves. This is whitewashing for the American media, and nothing more.

And of course, one knows how many times the Pentagon has told the truth about such matters in the past. And the Obama administration generally hides drones and its illegal and immoral operations in Pakistan under a veil of secrecy.

Why is the United States involved in this long, losing occupation of Afghanistan and war against Pakistan? The ostensible reason is to get Al-Qaida. But CIA estimates were that there were fewer than 100 Al-Qaida operatives in Afghanistan when the Obama administration was reviewing the policy (before sending 30,000 troops and secretly 70, 000 Xe/Blackwater mercenaries). Apparently, according to Greenwald’s report yesterday morning here, there are 2 Al-Qaida leaders that the CIA knows of in both countries…

Note that the Joint Special Operations Command – a large, secretive, murderous branch of the US military, 25,000 troops, which now overshadows the CIA and the intelligence services – took out Osama Bin Laden under Obama’s orders with no use of drones, no civilian casualties, no murders of soldiers.

So why does the US keep at these horrific and counterproductive wars, declared and undeclared? What does all this murder and expense accomplish except to create more people who hate the United States justifiably (there is nothing akin to killing innocent members of people’s families, particularly children…) and as an outlier, more who would fight the United States. These wars are part of a cycle to justify the war complex’s militarism, and this is, one suspects, a leading incentive to wage them.

But one might also include the reactionary two-step of so-called party competition – Gore Vidal’s crack that America has one party with two right-wings often seems apt. "Republican"/authoritarians move always to the Right, dragging the Democrats with them (short of mass movements from below) and attack Obama for breathing…

In addition, General Wesley Clark gave a talk at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco in 2007 in which he speaks of the neoconservative “Policy coup” in the Pentagon (Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld) and the Bush administration following 9-11. See here. He had written a book on the bombing campaign in Kosovo, questioning its wisdom. Rumsfeld had spoken with him, said he read the book, and that nothing would restrict US bombing. Clark thanked Rumsfeld for reading the book, said “and” to speak on the issue. Rumsfeld cut him off and dismissed him.

But an officer summoned him to his office and told him the US planned to attack Iraq. “Why?” Clark asked,” Have they connected Saddam to Osama Bin Laden?”

“No,” the officer said, and shook his head, “We have no idea.”

Clark returned to the Pentagon some weeks later. He said to the same officer he was glad the US had attacked Afghanistan and not Iraq. But the officer said “it’s much worse” He then showed Clark a note from Secretary Rumsfeld indicating the US would wage aggression against 7 more countries and overthrow their governments in the next five years (Iraq, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan, Iran).

The US of course, got bogged down in Iraq and so did not proceed with the others.

This is a plan for aggression and Clark's testimony underlines a Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeldsmoking gun worthy of Hitler and Himmler. Under Article 2, section 4 of the United Nations charter which bars aggression, this indicates – it is all too clear with Iraq – that outside and against international and American law, the US planned the crime of aggression to replace governments it disliked (Article 6, section 2 of the Constitution makes treaties signed by the United States the highest law of the land). None of this was authorized under the Congressional measure on the use of force against Al-Qaida and countries which sheltered specifically that organization.

Further, the think tank experts in Washington, Democratic as well as Repubican (neocon), are a fraternity who get “face-time” on television for urging war. That was Leslie Gelb’s self-critical assessment in Foreign Affairs about how he could have supported, mindlessly , the lies about Iraq. Gelb was the head of the Council on foreign relations.

Democratic “experts” helped shape Obama’s policy in Pakistan which relies on drones and murders many civilians (even the Pakistan Taliban is not our direct “enemy”: we have not declared war on it; it has no relationship to Al-Qaida; so killing its leaders like the Mehsud brothers, if indeed the US government has, is not an obvious way of trying to quell revolt or encourage it to focus on some other target than the US…). They bay for war continuously.

Note as Greenwald says, that Obama has engaged in war with Libya this year. He has so far avoided bombing Natanz in Iran (and so far Netanyahu has not engaged in this immense crime as well as act of self-destruction), but his covert operations are killing Iranians, including nuclear scientists (innocents). Even Cohen below weakly notes this. Much of the neo-con policy though through less war-like measures has thus continued even though at a different pace and with more emphasis on coalitions and less US involvement. It is, however, hard not to see Obama’s approach as something of an improvement (the truth in Cohen's column), even though the reliance on militarism and secrecy may ultimately prove fatal for the US and much of the world. See Peter Singer on drones here (h/t Amy Eckert) and add to his account, mercenaries whom Obama now ships out more frequently than regular soldiers.

Of course, Obama is waging aggression in Pakistan, something beyond what the neocons had imagined (yet another war). And this is the worst, most bizarre, immoral and counterproductive policy of his administration, one very likely to create a hostile nuclear armed Pakistan in rivalry with the now American ally, nuclear armed India.

The unintended consequences of American militarism could thus contribute to fomenting nuclear war in the next period between these two powers (as could American policy, particularly if strengthened by the mad Republicans, Ron Paul excepted, toward Israel**). See here on Badshah Khan and the nonviolent effort to create a different kind of India.

What we need is a clear focus on militarism as a policy of the 1%. Americans need to know about these crimes done in our name and to oppose the grotesque and stupid policies to which militarism gives rise (already 66% of Americans want the US military out of Afghanistan, in this epoch of economic collapse, destruction of the middle class; on making war, our “democracy” is not very democratic…). But the issue of making American peaceful, redirecting resources from militarism to education, training for the jobs of a green economy, health care and pensions, restoring decent working conditions for all and the possibility of a middle class lifestyle for many is very important. The Herbert Gans column on "superflous labor" from the New York Times, the most interesting column on America’s future published in recent times in the mainstream press, makes important suggestions about sharing employment and a 30 hour work week. See here.

But we must start from recognition that the slaughter of 25 Pakistani soldiers – innocents – by the US government is a crime and a foreshadowing of deeper ones, unless prevented from below, to come.

TUESDAY, NOV 29, 2011
The victims the NYT Editors forgot

The New York Times Editors chime in today on the border killing of two dozen Pakistani soldiers by the U.S., and offer up a formulaic both-sides-have-some-explaining-to-do sermon. It’s their first paragraph that is notable:

It’s not clear what led to NATO strikes on two Pakistani border posts this weekend, but there can be no dispute that the loss of lives is tragic. At least 24 Pakistani troops were killed. We regret those deaths, as we do those of all American, NATO and Afghan troops and Pakistani and Afghan civilians killed by extremists.

This opening from the pro-Afghan-War NYT Editors is meant to provide balance and justifying context to the deaths of these soldiers by pointing to the deaths caused by The Other Side: sure, it’s regrettable that these Pakistanis are dead, but let’s remember that it’s not just these soldiers who have been killed, but also “American, NATO and Afghan troops and Pakistani and Afghan civilians killed by extremists.” Therefore, the American war against these “extremists” (a war we’ve been supporting for more than a decade and still support as much as ever) is just despite this week’s little regrettable incident.

Except when constructing their general statement of regret for all those killed in the war they support, the NYT Editors forgot to mention one rather large category of victims: namely, “Pakistani and Afghan civilians killed” not “by extremists” but by the American military (unless, that is, they used “extremists” to refer to the invading U.S. army, which seems highly unlikely). That’s a particularly striking omission given that it was just this week that the United States extinguished the lives of six more Afghan children from the air. But it’s as though the NYT Editors can’t even bring themselves to acknowledge that it isn’t only the “extremists” but also their own country’s army, fighting a war they’ve long cheered, which regularly kills civilians. But that’s par for the media course: American war media narratives, as Ashleigh Banfield was demoted and then fired by NBC News back in 2003 for pointing out, specialize in erasing the existence of America’s war victims, and this is a perfect example of how that’s done.

Ongoing American killing of Pakistani civilians is a major cause of the tension between those two nations: that’s because governments and their citizenries tend not to like it and generally become quite angry when foreign nations kill their civilians (though there is one major exception to that rule when it comes to American citizens). America’s constant killing of numerous Afghan children independently inflames anti-American rage. If the NYT Editors are going to purport to provide context and balance to the conflict between the U.S. and Pakistan by listing (and expressing cursory regret for) all the killing beyond just this one border incident, perhaps they should include — rather than awkwardly ignore — this category of deaths (and those justifying the war in the name of what’s good for The Afghan People should also take that into account, along with polling data about what they actually think). It might also be good to start thinking about the cumulative effects of those ongoing civilian killings by the U.S. when deciding whether this war should continue even though Al Qaeda — the original justification for this war more than a decade ago — is, according to U.S. officials, “operationally ineffective” and virtually non-existent in that region.

Doctrine of Silence
Published: November 28, 2011

LONDON — The Obama administration has a doctrine. It’s called the doctrine of silence. A radical shift from President Bush’s war on terror, it has never been set out to the American people. There has seldom been so big a change in approach to U.S. strategic policy with so little explanation.

I approve of the shift even as it makes me uneasy. One day, I suspect, there may be payback for this policy and this silence. President Obama has gone undercover.
You have to figure that one day somebody sitting in Tehran or Islamabad or Sana is going to wake up and say: “Hey, this guy Obama, he went to war in our country but just forgot to mention the fact. Should we perhaps go to war in his?”

In Iran, a big explosion at a military base near Tehran recently killed Gen. Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, a central figure in the country’s long-range missile program. Nuclear scientists have perished in the streets of Tehran. The Stuxnet computer worm has wreaked havoc with the Iranian nuclear facilities.

It would take tremendous naïveté to believe these events are not the result of a covert American-Israeli drive to sabotage Iran’s efforts to develop a military nuclear capacity. An intense, well-funded cyberwar against Tehran is ongoing.

Simmering Pakistani anger over a wave of drone attacks authorized by Obama has erupted into outright rage with the death of at least 25 Pakistani soldiers in a NATO attack on two military outposts near the Afghan border.

The Pakistani government has ordered the Central Intelligence Agency to end drone operations it runs from a base in western Pakistan within 15 days. Drone attacks have become the coin of Obama’s realm. They have killed twice as many suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda members as were ever imprisoned in Guantánamo.

One such drone attack, of course, killed an American citizen, the Al Qaeda propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki, in Yemen a few weeks ago.

The U.S. government says precious little about these new ways of fighting enemies. But the strategic volte-face is clear: America has decided that conventional wars of uncertain outcome in Iraq and Afghanistan that may, according to a Brown University study, end up costing at least $3.7 trillion are a bad way to fight terrorists and that far cheaper, more precise tools for eliminating enemies are preferable — even if the legality of those killings is debatable.

The American case for legality rests on the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force act, which allows the president to use “all necessary and appropriate force” against persons, organization or nations linked to the 9/11 attack, and on various interpretations of the right to self-defense under international law.

But killing an American citizen raises particular constitutional concerns; just how legal the drone attacks are remains a vexed question. And Iran had no part in 9/11.

In general, it’s hard to resist the impression of a tilt toward the extrajudicial in U.S. foreign policy — a kind of “Likudization” of the approach to dealing with enemies. Israel has never hesitated to kill foes with blood on their hands wherever they are.

This is a development about which no American can feel entirely comfortable.

So why do I approve of all this? Because the alternative — the immense cost in blood and treasure and reputation of the Bush administration’s war on terror — was so appalling. In just the same way, the results of a conventional bombing war against Iran would be appalling, whether undertaken by Israel, the United States or a combination of the two.

Political choices often have to be made between two unappealing options. Obama has done just that. He has gone covert — and made the right call.

So why am I uneasy? Because these legally borderline, undercover options — cyberwar, drone killings, executions and strange explosions at military bases — invite repayment in kind, undermine the American commitment to the rule of law, and make allies uneasy.

Obama could have done more in the realm of explanation. Of course he does not want to say much about secret operations. Still, as the U.S. military prepares to depart from Iraq (leaving a handful of embassy guards), and the war in Afghanistan enters its last act, he owes the American people, U.S. allies and the world a speech that sets out why America will not again embark on this kind of inconclusive war and has instead adopted a new doctrine that has replaced fighting terror with killing terrorists. (He might also explain why Guantánamo is still open.)

Just because it’s impossible to talk about some operations undertaken within this doctrine does not mean the entire doctrine can remain cloaked in silence.

Foreign policy has been Obama’s strongest suit. He deserves great credit for killing Osama bin Laden, acting for the liberation of Libya, getting behind the Arab quest for freedom, winding down the war in Iraq, dealing repeated blows to Al Qaeda and restoring America’s battered image.

But the doctrine of silence is a failing with links to his overarching failure on the economy: it betrays a presidential reticence, coolness and aloofness that leave Americans

*”Naturally, a man with such a wide range of pet peeves is going to make waves in his own party.

'Chicken-hawks are individuals who dodged the draft when their numbers came up but who later became champions of senseless and undeclared wars when they were influencing foreign policy,' Paul writes in his chapter on conscription. 'Former Vice President Cheney is the best example of this disgraceful behavior.'

Really, you can’t totally dislike the guy.”

In an example of patriarchy like Maureen Dowd, Collins is not allowed to analyse or evaluate arguments in the Times.

Paul’s “libertarianism” about the civil rights act is of course incredibly racist, and his willingness to consign the poor to an early death – it was your bet; why do you need medical care – fascist and unfeeling.

**Meir Dagan, outgoing head of Massad (Israeli Intelligence) has warned that Iran will not have nuclear weapons till 2015 at the earliest - here - and opposes the craziness of Israel attacking Iran and creating a wider Middle East war, but Netanyahu and his quasi-fascist coalition seem bent on self-destruction.


LFC said...

The killing of the 24 Pakistani soldiers was not intended by the U.S., so I'm not sure "murder" is the right word. As the news coverage has pointed out, in addition to being a tragic loss of life this episode hurts the Obama admin's plans for eventual withdrawal from Afghanistan.

I share your opposition to the U.S. drone campaign in Pakistan, but the post might have mentioned the support for the Haqqani network by elements of the Pakistani army and intelligence service. Haqqani network cross-border attacks into Afghanistan have killed quite a few civilians (not to mention U.S./Nato and Afghan forces). This complicates the portrayal of the situation.

As for India-Pakistan relations, the two countries are of course still rivals but their relations have actually been improving recently (Pakistan decided to have normal, i.e. most-favored-nation, trade relations with India). I would view an India-Pakistan nuclear war as a very remote prospect (though not of course impossible).

Alan Gilbert said...


I agree with the last two comments, except to note that although war between Pakistan and India is not very likely, and nuclear war remote, the latter remains a live possibility there. The US not alienating Pakistan by allying with India would help.

As for the first paragraph, whether it is manslaughter or premeditated homicide is a difference. But we don't even know that it was just manslaughter...

The report out of anonymous State Department people was that the killing was "provoked" by Pakistani attack. This is very unlikely, and even if true, would not justify self-defense (the American soldiers are aggressors into Pakistani territory, without permission).

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