War in Afghanistan: Illegal, Untenable, and Unwinnable

Rusting T-62 Soviet battle tanks sit in a battle tank graveyard.

by Stephen Lendman

May 30 Delaware County Times editorial headlined, “Is US fighting unwinnable war in Afghanistan” asking:

“Why should America (believe) it can (accomplish what the) Soviet Union (and) Britain couldn’t….? Public sentiment against it is growing, and “Many pundits say the war… can never be won militarily….” How many more “US service member” deaths are tolerable?

On January 21, 2010, Britain’s New Stateman sounded the same theme calling the Afghan war “unwinnable,” recent events showing intensified fighting, rising casualties, and a popular resistance determined to prevail. “Britain should be making plans to withdraw,” the publication concluded. So should America with no right to be there ethically, morally or legally, the war clearly in violation of US and international law like all others US forces waged since WW II.

On June 26, the UK Spectator, published since July 1828, was just as unequivocal, calling US and Kabul leadership “fractious, confused and contradictory, a sure sign that the war is being lost…. Yes, the war in unwinnable. History and time are on the Afghans side.”

Other publications voice the same sentiment, but not American ones, misreporting and backing lawless, losing bet despite souring public sentiment. A new Rasmussen poll shows nearly 60% of US voters believe American forces can’t win or they’re not sure, and 53% said the war isn’t worth the cost. In Britain, nearly two-thirds of the public call the war unwinnable, saying UK forces shouldn’t be there.

A recent Canadian poll showed about two-thirds of the population feel the war can’t be won, 59% of them opposing their country’s involvement. Nearly two-thirds of Australians want their nation’s forces out, and a June 2009 Pew Global Attitudes survey showed public sentiment in three-fourths of the 25 countries surveyed against the war, wanting US and NATO troops withdrawn.

Only in America do major media pundits and editorial writers still back an illegal, unwinnable war, (and the Iraq one), The New York Times, in the lead, calling it “central to American security,” hoping a Petraeus strategy will “genuinely blood(y)” the Taliban, after nearly nine futile years of trying under a dozen Iraq and Afghanistan commanders.

On June 27, Washington Post writer, Greg Jaffe, headlined the frustration saying, “Military disturbed by rapid turnover at top in Afghan, Iraq wars,” commanders falling like tenpins, including Tommy Franks, William Fallon, Ricardo Sanchez, George Casey, David McKiernan, and Stanley McChrystal, sacked not for deriding his superiors, but for losing an unwinnable war, and, in fact, suggesting it like other generals and lower-ranking officers. So do professionals outside the military not reported in the mainstream. More on them below.

UK’s Liberation Party – LP (Hizb ut-Tahir) Report

Founded in 1953, the Liberation Party “works to project a positive image of Islam to Western societies and engages in dialogue with Western thinkers, policymakers and academics.”

Its January 2010 report titled, “Afghanistan & Pakistan: The Unwinnable War” reviewed the war’s futility, recommending “an alternative path for the region,” what’s very much needed but not considered.

Instead, Afghans have suffered brutally under war and occupation — empty promises delivering death, destruction, impoverishment and depravation to a country John Pilger called more of a moonscape than a functioning nation, the result of sustained conflicts, violence and instability.

Today “the West has lost any form of moral authority,” the puppet Karzai regime a farcical caricature of a government — corrupted, inept, and disdainful of its people in collusion with Washington, NATO, war profiteers, drug barons, and brutal warlords, a combination destroying the fabric of life in the country.

Clearly, “The neo-colonial mission has failed,” yet Washington, Britain, and NATO “decided to double down” their bet and devote more resources under a new commander to “finish the job,” an impossible mission short of mass extermination and laying waste to the entire country, turning it all and surrounding areas into moonscapes, perhaps the strategy under the next commander after this one fails and the war drags on, spreads, and inflames the entire Muslim world to a greater degree than already.

No wonder a popular resistance flourishes, supported by growing numbers seeing it as their best chance for liberation no matter what’s next. Priority one is route the occupier and restore national sovereignty, perhaps inspiring Iraqis, Pakistanis, and other Muslim nations to achieve theirs by expunging America’s presence and influence in the region, a malignancy destroying it.

The LP concludes the following:

  • like in Vietnam, the war is unwinnable, occupation producing a never-ending cycle of violence, resentment, hatred and retaliation having a devastating effect on the people;
  • under Washington and NATO, puppet governance is atrocious, corrupt, inept and unacceptable;
  • troop strength at any level can’t prevail; waging war on the Taliban means fighting 50 million Pashtuns supporting them and growing numbers of others;
  • an exit strategy based on Afghan security forces doing NATO’s bidding won’t work; evidence shows no trust and increasing instances of belligerence against occupying troops;
  • calling Al-Qaeda and the Taliban America’s threat is bogus to distract from its real aim — permanent occupation, exploiting Afghanistan’s resources, and using the country as a land-based aircraft carrier against its major rivals, Russia militarily and China economically;
  • “growing and influential voices are now questioning the cost to Pakistan of supporting America’s war;” it’s counter-productive, destabilizing, and destructive to an already troubled nation, weakened further by allying with Washington’s regional wars;
  • America and NATO have no legitimacy in Afghanistan or Iraq; both wars are illegal; the occupations breed resentment, hatred, and a never-ending cycle of violence; both countries deserve their sovereignty, stable economies, “a system consistent with peoples’ values,” freedom from foreign dominance, and new priorities must place popular “needs over the gains of a few or of private enterprise,” exploiters for their own interests.

The LP concludes saying millions share its discontent, suggesting a “politics of hope” over Western war, occupation, corruption and despair. It recommends “a genuine end to the occupation” so Afghans can restore what worked well for 1,300 years before Western invaders showed up. “Unless the scourge of foreign occupation ends, the region will continue” to suffer and be dysfunctional. Once expunged, it can “independently tackle (its) innumerable….challenges (including) unbridled poverty….education (and) rampant corruption, most of all in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Israeli-controlled Palestine.”

Healthcare NOT Warfare Campaign Report

Titled “War in Afghanistan: Untenable and Unwinnable,” journalist, Norman Solomon, prepared it in autumn 2009 after visiting the country with others on a fact-finding trip, his itinerary including:

“discussions with top officials to encounters with malnourished refugees, and from briefings at multi-billion dollar agencies to small grassroots NGO offices.”

Eight key findings followed: Read more of this post

Afghans are freedom fighters fighting for their country and fighting for their faith


Afghanistan Sitrep

By William R. Polk

On June 24, the International Herald Tribune published an editorial from its parent, The New York Times, entitled “Obama’s Decision.” Both the attribution – printing in the two newspapers which ensures that the editorial will reach both directly and through subsidiary reprinting almost every “decision maker” in the world – and the date – just before the appointment of David Petraeus to succeed Stanley McChrystal – are significant. They could have suggested a momentary lull in which basic questions on the Afghan war might have been reconsidered.

That did not happen. The President made clear his belief that the strategy of the war was sound and his commitment to continue it even if the general responsible for it had to be changed.

The editorial sounded a different note arising from the events surrounding the fall of General McChrystal: Mr. Obama, said The Times, “must order all of his top advisers to stop their sniping and maneuvering” and come up with a coherent political and military plan for driving back the Taliban and building a minimally effective Afghan government.”

In short, Mr. Obama must get his team together and evolve a plan.

Unfortunately, the task he faces is not that simple.

First, consider the “team.” It has two major components, the military officers whom McChrystal gathered in Kabul. As they made clear in the Rolling Stone interview, they think of themselves as “Team America” and hold in contempt everyone else. Those who don’t fully subscribe to their approach to the war are unpatriotic, stupid or cowardly. Those officers are not alone. Agreeing with them is apparently now a large part of the professional military establishment. They are the junior officers whom David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal have selected, promoted and with whom they take their stand..

The other “component” is not a group but many groups with different agendas and constituencies. The most crucial for my purposes here are the advisers to the President; they were dismissed out of hand as “the wimps in the White House.” Most, but not all, were civilians. Other senior military officers, now retired, who are not part of “Team America” and its adherents were also disparaged. Famously, General Jim Jones, the director of the National Security Council staff, was called a “clown.”

These were the comments that forced Mr. Obama’s hand and were what the press latched upon to explain the events. But many missed the point that McChrystal had just a few days before his dismissal written a devastating report on his mission. Confidential copies of it were obtained by the London newspaper, The Independent on Sunday, which published it today, but of course the President had seen it earlier. Essentially, its message boiled down to failure.

McChrystal pointed out that he faced a “resilient and growing insurgency,” with too few troops and expected no progress in the coming six months. Despite expenditures of at least $7 billion a month, his politico-military strategy wasn’t working. Within weeks of the “victory” over the Taliban in the agricultural district of Marja, the Taliban were back and the box full of government he had announced proved to be nearly empty. As the expression went in the days of the Vietnam war, whatever happened during the day, the guerrillas “owned the night.” As he described it, Marja was the “bleeding ulcer” of the American campaign.

Behind McChrystal’s words, the figures were even more devastating: Marja, despite the descriptions in the press is not a town, much less a city; it is a hundred or so square miles of farm land with dispersed hamlets in which about 35,000 people live and work. Into that small and lightly populated area, McChrystal poured some 15,000 troops, and they failed to secure it.

To appreciate what those figures mean, consider them in context of Petraeus’s counterinsurgency theory, on which McChrystal was basing his strategy. As he had explained it, Marja should be taken, secured and held. Then an administration – McChrystal’s “government in a box” — should be imposed upon it. Despite all the hoopla about the brilliant new strategy, it was hardly new. In fact it was a replay of the strategy the French General Lyautey called the tache d’huile (the oil spot) and applied in Indochina over a century ago. We also tried it in Vietnam, renaming it the “ink spot.” The hope was that the “spot,” once fixed on the Marja, would smudge into adjoining areas and so eventually spread across the country. Clear and simple, but unfortunately, like so much in counterinsurgency theory, it never seemed to work.

Petraeus’s counterinsurgency theory also illuminated how to create the “spot.” What was required was a commitment of forces in proportion to native population size. Various numbers have been put forth but a common number is about one soldier for each 50 inhabitants. Marja was the area chosen for the “spot.” The people living there, after all, were farmers, wedded to the land, and so should be more tractable than the wild warriors along the tribal frontier. Moreover, it was the place where the first significant American aid program, the Helmand Valley Authority, had been undertaken in the late 1950s. So, if an area were to be favorable to Americans, it ought to be Marja. But, to take no chances, General McChrystal decided to employ overwhelming force. So, what is particularly stunning about the failure in Marja is that the force applied was not the counterinsurgency model of 1 soldier for each 50 inhabitants but nearly 1 soldier for each 2 inhabitants.

If these numbers were projected to the planned offensive in the much larger city of Kandahar, which has a population of nearly 500,000, they become impossibly large. Such an attack would require at least four times as many US and NATO as in Marja. That is virtually the entire fighting force and what little control over Marja and most other areas, perhaps even the capital, Kabul, that now exists would have to be given up or else large numbers of additional American troops would have to be engaged. Moreover, in response to such an attack, it would be possible for the insurgents also to redeploy so the numbers would again increase.

The more fundamental question, which needs to be addressed, is why didn’t this relatively massive introduction of troops with awesome and overwhelming fire power succeed. Just a few days before he was fired, as I have mentioned, General McChrystal posed, but could not answer, that question. I hope President Obama is also pondering it.

For those who read history, the answer is evident. But, as I have quoted in my book Understanding Iraq, the great German philosopher, Georg Willhelm Friedrich Hegel, despaired that “Peoples and governments never have learned anything from history or acted on principles deduced from it” and, therefore, as the American philosopher George Santayana warned us, not having learned from history, we are doomed to repeat it. Indeed, it seems that each generation of Americans has to start all over again to find the answers. Who among our leaders and certainly among college students now really remembers Vietnam? So, consider these simple facts:

The first fact, whether we like it or not, is that nearly everyone in the world has a deep aversion to foreigners on his land. As far as we know, this feeling goes back to the very beginning of our species because we are territorial animals. Dedication to the protection of homeland permeates history. And the sentiment has never died out. Today we call it nationalism. Nationalism in various guises is the most powerful political idea of our times. Protecting land, culture, religion and people from foreigners is the central issue in insurgency. The former head of the Pakistani intelligence service, who has had unparallelled experience with the Taliban over many years, advised us that we should open our eyes to seeing the Afghan insurgents as they see themselves: “They are freedom fighters fighting for their country and fighting for their faith.” We agreed when they were fighting the Russians; now, when many of the same people are fighting us, we see them only as terrorists. That label does not help us understand why they are fighting. Read more of this post

General McChrystal – The Conscientious Objector

By General Mirza Aslam Beg

A soldier has the right to disagree with the higher civil and military command, but there is a method in doing so, and the way General McChrystal expressed his dissent, was no doubt, ‘unbecoming of an officer’. Perhaps, he lost his sense of discretion, under influences, beyond his control, as one of his close associates remarked: “he worked in a very right inner circle, doing every thing together including getting drunk.” However, there are some important aspects, connected with this incident, which need to be analyzed.

President Obama, as we all know had promised, while campaigning for the presidential elections that he will pull out troops from Afghanistan, engaged in a purposeless war and also made a firm commitment to address the Kashmir issue, but on assuming the office of the president, he reneged on both the issues. He caved-into pressure by ‘the military high command and the defense industries lobby’ for a military solution and a troop surge, although it was easy for him to say: “President Bush has accomplished the mission in Afghanistan, and therefore, I have decided to withdraw our troops from Afghanistan.” The Americans and the NATO allies would have hailed this decision. On Kashmir, the Indian lobby forced him to restrict Holbrook’s responsibility to Afghanistan and Pakistan only. Now, Obama is in a stronger position, to carve-out a realistic exit-strategy.

McChrystal, no doubt, was frustrated at his failure to achieve military success, whereas, General Petreaus was able to achieve a degree of success in Iraq. General Petreaus exploited the ethnic divide in Iraq and mounted a successful strategy to divide the Shia-Sunni population, through a process of ethnic cleansing, ethnic riots and target killings, using Black water security agency. On the contrary there is no such ethnic divide in Afghanistan. The Pakhtuns are fighting the invaders, while the Northern Alliance, consisting of the minorities mainly supported the invaders and rode the American tanks to occupy Afghanistan in 2001. Together with the occupation forces, they also stand defeated.

The Afghans have won, and therefore peace conditions are to be established, on this ground reality. David Miliband rightly suggests: “The legitimate tribal and ethnic groups must be given real stake in the political process, a peace settlement in which we include the vanquished, as well as the victors.” Obama, therefore has to initiate the political process, for the peaceful settlement of the eight year long, purposeless and brutal war, and the step that, he has to take, must be well-considered and appropriate. As the first step he must engage and enter into dialogue with the Taliban, under Mullah Umar and remove the trust deficit and reach agreement on the basic issues, such as: Time frame of withdrawal of the occupation forces; declare ceasefire; remove the ban on Taliban freedom movement; release all Taliban prisoners, and negotiate a political settlement, with full realization that, trying to establish a democratic authority on a country with a tradition of decentralized governance, would prove counter productive.

The Karzai government at best can act as the facilitator, for the negotiations with the Taliban who may be willing to call a Loe Jirga to decide the formation of a national government, and the new constitution of the future political setup. Other important issues such as these must also be considered and consensus arrived at:

  • The status of US-Afghan relations, in the post independence period.
  • Guarantees for no-use of Afghan territory for militants activities against other countries.
  • Firm commitments from the UNO, USA. NATO and Russia to pay for the war damages and a Marshal Plan to rebuild Afghanistan.
  • Complete independence and freedom for the future Afghan government, to establish diplomatic, economic and socio-cultural relations with all countries of the world.

Pakistan has had the best of relations with Afghanistan, during the 80’s, but distrust, doubts and apprehensions were created in Afghans’ mind, when Pakistan’s ISI, which had supported and conducted the war against Soviet occupation, was pulled-out of Afghanistan during the 1990 under the American pressure. In the second phase, ISI was purged of all such operators, who had good contact with the Mujahideen, but the greatest damage to Pakistan’s security was caused in 2003, when Musharraf, pulled-out the ISI and other intelligence agencies from our own tribal areas of Swat, FATA and Balochistan, and the space so created was handed over to CIA, to be joined by the Indian spy network established in Afghanistan, with the result that, our entire border region was infested with foreign spies, agents and saboteurs, who fomented trouble in our tribal belt, threatening Islamabad and Peshawar and an out right rebellion in Balochistan, thus creating a very serious security lapse for Pakistan. The new government formed in 2008, therefore, decided to restore the writ of the government, in these areas and ordered steam-roller military actions in Swat, Dir, Bajaur and South Waziristan. Read more of this post

Americans are fighting the war of yesteryears

Khalid Iqbal

Much fanfare preceded the launch of a military operation in Helmand province. It is being proclaimed as the biggest offensive since the occupation of Afghanistan by the US-led coalition forces. Hence, the expectations regarding its outcome have skyrocketed, though unrealistically. Overall, the ongoing operation Mushtarak (combined) is a tactical level operation, and thus battle for Helmand is not synonym for the battle for Afghanistan. Even a brilliant success in this venture would not have any significant or lasting impact on the overall layout of the chess board of Afghanistan. The opportune time for a military solution is over, since long.

Operational ingredients and strategy constituents of Helmand manoeuvre are carrying forth most of the usual errors or say the operational psyche, which has been the hallmark of American failures in previous such endeavours over the last about nine years. At the end of the day, some peaks and valleys could have been ‘conquered’; praises would be showered on brave soldiers for not engaging the resistance elements and letting the extremist fighters flee the area, to create trouble elsewhere. The final solution to Afghan fiasco would however remain as elusive.

Unfortunately, the Americans are fighting for some tactical glories at the cost of losing at operational and strategic levels. They appear destined to lose the war, even if they succeed in Operation Mushtarak.

Imperial hubris did not let the Americans learn from the recent success stories of the Pakistani military operations in Malakand and South Waziristan areas. Despite public acclaim about these operations, pertinent operational and tactical level cues and lessons thrown up by these manoeuvres have been thrown out of the window.

It seems that General Kayani’s relevant urging at Brussels and subsequently during the operational level interactions with American field commanders, in a run up to Operation Mushtarak, appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

Pakistan’s advise to establish an adequate number of check posts on the Afghan borders in order to block the exodus of extremists into Pakistan have been totally ignored. On the contrary, disturbing news indicate that even a major chunk of previously manned check posts by ISAF/NATO were abandoned prior to commencing the operation. One wonders if this surge supported operation ever had one of its military objectives to eliminate or capture the extremists.

Hence the abandonment of check posts bordering Pakistan by ISAF/NATO has opened the flood gates for extremists’ influx into our country. This could set into motion another cycle of instability in the tribal belt of Pakistan arising out of knock-on effects. As a damage reduction measure, the Pakistan army has speedily set up some check posts on the Pakistani side to restrict the immigration. Read more of this post

USA is targeting CHINA through Yemen

The head of the US Central Command, General David Petraeus, dropped in at Sana’a, the Yemeni capital last Saturday and vowed to Saleh increased American aid to fight al-Qaeda.


You cannot fight China without occupying Yemen…


A year ago, Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh made the startling revelation that his country’s security forces apprehended a group of Islamists linked to the Israeli intelligence forces. “A terrorist cell was apprehended and will be referred to the courts for its links with the Israeli intelligence services,” he promised.


Saleh added, “You will hear about the trial proceedings.” Nothing was ever heard and the trail went cold. Welcome to the magical land of Yemen, where in the womb of time the Arabian Nights were played out.


Combine Yemen with the mystique of Islam, Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda and the Israeli intelligence and you get a heady mix. The head of the US Central Command, General David Petraeus, dropped in at the capital, Sana’a, on Saturday and vowed to Saleh increased American aid to fight al-Qaeda. United States President Barack Obama promptly echoed Petraeus’ promise, assuring that the US would step up intelligence-sharing and training of Yemeni forces and perhaps carry out joint attacks against militants in the region.


ANOTHER AFGHANISTAN?


Many accounts say that Obama, who is widely regarded as a gifted and intelligent politician, is blundering into a catastrophic mistake by starting another war that could turn out to be as bloody and chaotic and unwinnable as Iraq and Afghanistan. Yes, on the face of it, Obama does seem erratic. The parallels with Afghanistan are striking. There has been an attempt to destroy a US plane by a Nigerian student who says he received training in Yemen. And America wants to go to war.


Yemen, too, is a land of wonderfully beautiful rugged mountains that could be a guerilla paradise. Yemenis are a hospitable lot, like Afghan tribesmen, but as Irish journalist Patrick Cockurn recollects, while they are generous to passing strangers, they “deem the laws of hospitality to lapse when the stranger leaves their tribal territory, at which time he becomes ‘a good back to shoot at’.” Surely, there is romance in the air – almost like in the Hindu Kush. Fiercely nationalistic, almost every Yemeni has a gun. Yemen is also, like Afghanistan, a land of conflicting authorities, and with foreign intervention, a little civil war is waiting to flare up.


Obama at Mid-Pacific Country Club, in Kailua, Hawaii. While playing golf what else has the president on mind?Is Obama so incredibly forgetful of his own December 1 speech outlining his Afghan strategy that he violated his own canons? Certainly not. Obama is a smart man. The intervention in Yemen will go down as one of the smartest moves that he ever made for perpetuating the US’s global hegemony. It is America’s answer to China’s surge.
A cursory look at the map of region will show that Yemen is one of the most strategic lands adjoining waters of the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula. It flanks Saudi Arabia and Oman, which are vital American protectorates. In effect, Uncle Sam is “marking territory” – like a dog on a lamppost. Russia has been toying with the idea of reopening its Soviet-era base in Aden. Well, the US has pipped Moscow in the race.


The US has signaled that the odyssey doesn’t end with Yemen. It is also moving into Somalia and Kenya. With that, the US establishes its military presence in an entire unbroken stretch of real estate all along the Indian Ocean’s western rim. Chinese officials have of late spoken of their need to establish a naval base in the region. The US has now foreclosed China’s options. The only country with a coastline that is available for China to set up a naval base in the region will be Iran. All other countries have a Western military presence.


The American intervention in Yemen is not going to be on the pattern of Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama will ensure he doesn’t receive any body bags of American servicemen serving in Yemen. That is what the American public expects from him. He will only deploy drone aircraft and special forces and “focus on providing intelligence and training to help Yemen counter al-Qaeda militants”, according to the US military. Obama’s main core objective will be to establish an enduring military presence in Yemen. This serves many purposes.


A NEW GREAT GAME BEGINS:


First, the US move has to be viewed against the historic backdrop of the Shi’ite awakening in the region. The Shi’ites (mostly of the Zaidi group) have been traditionally suppressed in Yemen. Shi’ite uprisings have been a recurring theme in Yemen’s history. There has been a deliberate attempt to minimize the percentage of Shi’ites in Yemen, but they could be anywhere up to 45%.


More importantly, in the northern part of the country, they constitute the majority. What bothers the US and moderate Sunni Arab states – and Israel – is that the Believing Youth Organization led by Hussein Badr al-Houthi, which is entrenched in northern Yemen, is modeled after Hezbollah in Lebanon in all respects – politically, economically, socially and culturally.


Yemenis are an intelligent people and are famous in the Arabian Peninsula for their democratic temperament. The Yemeni Shi’ite empowerment on a Hezbollah-model would have far-reaching regional implications. Next-door Oman, which is a key American base, is predominantly Shi’ite. Even more sensitive is the likelihood of the dangerous idea of Shi’ite empowerment spreading to Saudi Arabia’s highly restive Shi’ite regions adjoining Yemen, which on top of it all, also happen to be the reservoir of the country’s fabulous oil wealth.


Saudi Arabia is entering a highly sensitive phase of political transition as a new generation is set to take over the leadership in Riyadh, and the palace intrigues and fault lines within the royal family are likely to get exacerbated. To put it mildly, given the vast scale of institutionalized Shi’ite persecution in Saudi Arabia by the Wahhabi establishment, Shi’ite empowerment is a veritable minefield that Riyadh is petrified about at this juncture. Its threshold of patience is wearing thin, as the recent uncharacteristic resort to military power against the north Yemeni Shi’ite communities bordering Saudi Arabia testifies.


The US faces a classic dilemma. It is all right for Obama to highlight the need of reform in Muslim societies – as he did eloquently in his Cairo speech last June. But democratization in the Yemeni context – ironically, in the Arab context – would involve Shi’ite empowerment. After the searing experience in Iraq, Washington is literally perched like a cat on a hot tin roof. It would much rather be aligned with the repressive, autocratic government of Saleh than let the genie of reform out of the bottle in the oil rich-region in which it has profound interests.


Obama has an erudite mind and he is not unaware that what Yemen desperately needs is reform, but he simply doesn’t want to think about it. The paradox he faces is that with all its imperfections, Iran happens to be the only “democratic” system operating in that entire region.


Iran’s shadow over the Yemeni Shi’ite consciousness worries the US to no end. Simply put, in the ideological struggle going on in the region, Obama finds himself with the ultra-conservative and brutally autocratic oligarchies that constitute the ruling class in the region. Conceivably, he isn’t finding it easy. If his own memoirs are to be believed, there could be times when the vague recollections of his childhood in Indonesia and his precious memories of his own mother, who from all accounts was a free-wheeling intellectual and humanist, must be stalking him in the White House corridors.


ISRAEL MOVES IN:


But Obama is first and foremost a realist. Emotions and personal beliefs drain away and strategic considerations weigh uppermost when he works in the Oval Office. With the military presence in Yemen, the US has tightened the cordon around Iran. In the event of a military attack on Iran, Yemen could be put to use as a springboard by the Israelis. These are weighty considerations for Obama.


The fact is that no one is in control as a Yemeni authority. It is a cakewalk for the formidable Israeli intelligence to carve out a niche in Yemen – just as it did in northern Iraq under somewhat comparable circumstances.


Islamism doesn’t deter Israel at all. Saleh couldn’t have been far off the mark when he alleged last year that Israeli intelligence had been exposed as having kept links with Yemeni Islamists. The point is, Yemeni Islamists are a highly fragmented lot and no one is sure who owes what sort of allegiance to whom. Israeli intelligence operates marvelously in such twilight zones when the horizon is lacerated with the blood of the vanishing sun.


Israel will find a toehold in Yemen to be a god-sent gift insofar as it registers its presence in the Arabian Peninsula. This is a dream come true for Israel, whose effectiveness as a regional power has always been seriously handicapped by its lack of access to the Persian Gulf region. The overarching US military presence helps Israel politically to consolidate its Yemeni chapter.


Without doubt, Petraeus is moving on Yemen in tandem with Israel (and Britain). But the “pro-West” Arab states with their rentier mentality have no choice except to remain as mute spectators on the sidelines.


Some among them may actually acquiesce with the Israeli security presence in the region as a safer bet than the spread of the dangerous ideas of Shi’ite empowerment emanating out of Iran, Iraq and Hezbollah. Also, at some stage, Israeli intelligence will begin to infiltrate the extremist Sunni outfits in Yemen, which are commonly known as affiliates of al-Qaeda. That is, if it hasn’t done that already. Any such link makes Israel an invaluable ally for the US in its fight against al-Qaeda. In sum, infinite possibilities exist in the paradigm that is taking shape in the Muslim world abutting into the strategic Persian Gulf.


IT’S ALL ABOUT CHINA:


Most important, however, for US global strategies will be the massive gain of control of the port of Aden in Yemen. Britain can vouchsafe that Aden is the gateway to Asia. Control of Aden and the Malacca Strait will put the US in an unassailable position in the “great game” of the Indian Ocean. The sea lanes of the Indian Ocean are literally the jugular veins of China’s economy. By controlling them, Washington sends a strong message to Beijing that any notions by the latter that the US is a declining power in Asia would be nothing more than an extravagant indulgence in fantasy.


In the Indian Ocean region, China is increasingly coming under pressure. India is a natural ally of the US in the Indian Ocean region. Both disfavor any significant Chinese naval presence. India is mediating a rapprochement between Washington and Colombo that would help roll back Chinese influence in Sri Lanka. The US has taken a u-turn in its Myanmar policy and is engaging the regime there with the primary intent of eroding China’s influence with the military rulers. The Chinese strategy aimed at strengthening influence in Sri Lanka and Myanmar so as to open a new transportation route towards the Middle East, the Persian Gulf and Africa, where it has begun contesting traditional Western economic dominance.



China is keen to whittle down its dependence on the Malacca Strait for its commerce with Europe and West Asia. The US, on the contrary, is determined that China remains vulnerable to the choke point between Indonesia and Malaysia.

An engrossing struggle is breaking out. The US is unhappy with China’s efforts to reach the warm waters of the Persian Gulf through the Central Asian region and Pakistan. Slowly but steadily, Washington is tightening the noose around the neck of the Pakistani elites – civilian and military – and forcing them to make a strategic choice between the US and China. This will put those elites in an unenviable dilemma. Like their Indian counterparts, they are inherently “pro-Western” (even when they are “anti-American”) and if the Chinese connection is important for Islamabad, that is primarily because it balances perceived Indian hegemony.

The existential questions with which the Pakistani elites are grappling are apparent.

They are seeking answers from Obama. Can Obama maintain a balanced relationship vis-a-vis Pakistan and India? Or, will Obama lapse back to the George W Bush era strategy of building up India as the pre-eminent power in the Indian Ocean under whose shadow Pakistan will have to learn to live?


US-INDIA-ISRAEL AXIS:


On the other hand, the Indian elites are in no compromising mood. Delhi was on a roll during the Bush days. Now, after the initial misgivings about Obama’s political philosophy, Delhi is concluding that he is all but a clone of his illustrious predecessor as regards the broad contours of the US’s global strategy – of which containment of China is a core template.


The comfort level is palpably rising in Delhi with regard to the Obama presidency. Delhi takes the surge of the Israeli lobby in Washington as the litmus test for the Obama presidency. The surge suits Delhi, since the Jewish lobby was always a helpful ally in cultivating influence in the US Congress, media and the rabble-rousing think-tankers as well as successive administrations. And all this is happening at a time when the India-Israel security relationship is gaining greater momentum.


United States Defense Secretary Robert Gates is due to visit Delhi in the coming days. The Obama administration is reportedly adopting an increasingly accommodative attitude toward India’s longstanding quest for “dual-use” technology from the US. If so, a massive avenue of military cooperation is about to open between the two countries, which will make India a serious challenger to China’s growing military prowess. It is a win-win situation as the great Indian arms bazaar offers highly lucrative business for American companies.


Clearly, a cozy three-way US-Israel-India alliance provides the underpinning for all the maneuvering that is going on. It will have significance for the security of the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula. Last year, India formalized a naval presence in Oman.

All-in-all, terrorism experts are counting the trees and missing the wood when they analyze the US foray into Yemen in the limited terms of hunting down al-Qaeda. The hard reality is that Obama, whose main plank used to be “change”, has careened away and increasingly defaults to the global strategies of the Bush era. The freshness of the Obama magic is dissipating. Traces of the “revisionism” in his foreign policy orientation are beginning to surface. We can see them already with regard to Iran, Afghanistan, the Middle East and the Israel-Palestine problem, Central Asia and towards China and Russia.


Arguably, this sort of “return of the native” by Obama was inevitable. For one thing, he is but a creature of his circumstances. As someone put it brilliantly, Obama’s presidency is like driving a train rather than a car: a train cannot be “steered”, the driver can at best set its speed, but ultimately, it must run on its tracks.

Besides, history has no instances of a declining world power meekly accepting its destiny and walking into the sunset. The US cannot give up on its global dominance without putting up a real fight. And the reality of all such momentous struggles is that they cannot be fought piece-meal. You cannot fight China without occupying Yemen.
Source: Geopolitical blog


Obama’s Vietnam

Obama’s Vietnam
Senseless slaughter and anti-western hysteria are all America and Britain’s billions have paid for in a counterproductive war.

If good intentions ever paved a road to hell, they are doing so in Afghanistan. History rarely declares when folly turns to ­disaster, but it does so now. Barack Obama and his amanuensis, Gordon Brown, are uncannily repeating the route taken by American leaders in Vietnam from 1963 to 1975. Galbraith once said that the best thing about the Great Depression was that it warned against another. Does the same apply to Vietnam?

Vietnam began with Kennedy’s noble 1963 intervention, to keep the communist menace at bay and thus make the world safe for democracy. That is what George Bush and Tony Blair said of ­terrorism and Afghanistan. Vietnam escalated as the Diem regime in Saigon failed to contain Vietcong aggression and was deposed with American ­collusion. By 1965, despite Congress scepticism, American advisers, then planes, then ground forces were deployed. Allies were begged to join but few agreed – and not Britain.

The presence of Americans on Asian soil turned a local insurgency into a regional crusade. Foreign aid rallied to the Vietcong cause to resist what was seen as a neo-imperialist invasion. The hard-pressed Americans resorted to ever more extensive bombing, deep inside neighbouring countries, despite ­evidence that it was ineffective and politically counterproductive.

No amount of superior firepower could quell a peasant army that came and went by night and could terrorise or merge into the local population. Tales of American atrocities rolled in each month. The army counted success not in territory held but in enemy dead. A desperate attempt to “train and equip” a new Vietnamese army made it as corrupt as it was unreliable. Billions of dollars were wasted. A treaty with the Vietcong in 1973 did little to hide the humiliation of eventual defeat.

Every one of these steps is being re-enacted in Afghanistan. Every sane observer, even serving generals and diplomats, admit that “we are not winning” and show no sign of doing so. The head of the British army, Sir Richard Dannatt, remarked recently on the “mistakes” of Iraq as metaphor for Afghanistan. He has been supported by warnings from his officers on the ground.

Last year’s denial of reinforcements to Helmand is an open secret. Ever since the then defence secretary, John Reid, issued his 2006 “London diktats”, described in a recent British Army Review as “casual, naive and a comprehensive failure”, intelligence warnings of Taliban strength have been ignored. The army proceeded with a policy of disrupting the opium trade, neglecting hearts and minds and using US air power against “blind” targets. All have proved potent weapons in the Taliban armoury.

Generals are entitled to plead for more resources and yet claim that ­victory is just round the corner, even when they know it is not. They must lead men into battle. A heavier guilt lies with liberal apologists for this war on both sides of the Atlantic who continue to invent excuses for its failure and offer glib preconditions for victory.

A classic is a long editorial in ­Monday’s New York Times, congratulating Barack Obama on “sending more troops to the fight” but claiming that there were still not enough. In addition there were too many corrupt politicians, too many drugs, too many weapons in the wrong hands, too small a local army, too few police and not enough “trainers”. The place was damnably unlike Connecticut.

Strategy, declared the sages of Manhattan, should be “to confront the Taliban head on”, as if this had not been tried before. Afghanistan needed “a functioning army and national police that can hold back the insurgents”. The way to achieve victory was for the Pentagon, already spending a stupefying $60bn in Afghanistan, to spend a further $20bn – increasing the size of the Afghan army from 90,000 to 250,000. This was because ordinary Afghans “must begin to trust their own government”.

These lines might have been written in 1972 by General Westmoreland in his Saigon bunker. The New York Times has clearly never seen the Afghan army, or police, in action. Eight years of training costing $15bn have been near useless, when men simply decline to fight except to defend their homes. Any Afghan pundit will attest that training a Pashtun to fight a Pashtun is a waste of money, while training a Tajik to the same end is a waste of time. Since the Pentagon ­originally armed and trained the Taliban to fight the Soviets, this must be the first war where it has trained both sides.

Neither the Pentagon nor the British Ministry of Defence will win Afghanistan through firepower. The strategy of “hearts and minds plus” cannot be realistic, turning Afghanistan into a vast and indefinite barracks with hundreds of thousands of western soldiers sitting atop a colonial Babel of administrators and professionals. It will never be secure. It offers Afghanistan a promise only of relentless war, one that Afghans outside Kabul know that warlords, drug cartels and Taliban sympathisers are winning.

The 2001 policy of invading, ­capturing Osama bin Laden and ­ridding the region of terrorist bases has been tested to destruction and failed. ­Strategy is reduced to the senseless slaughter of hundreds of young western soldiers and thousands of Afghans. Troops are being sent out because Labour ministers lack the guts to admit that Blair’s bid to quell the Islamist menace by force of arms was crazy. They parrot the line that they are making “the streets of London safe”, but they know they are doing the opposite.

Vietnam destroyed two presidents, ­Johnson and Nixon, and ­destroyed the global confidence of a ­generation of young Americans. ­Afghanistan – ­obscenely dubbed the “good war” – could do the same. There will soon be 68,000 American troops in that country, making a mockery of Donald Rumsfeld’s 2001 tactic of hit and run, which at least had the virtue of coherence.

This is set fair to be a war of awful proportions, cockpit for the feared clash of civilisations. Each new foreign ­battalion taps more cash for the Taliban from the Gulf. Each new massacre from the air recruits more youths from the madrasas. The sheer counterproductivity of the war has been devastatingly analysed by David Kilcullen, adviser to Obama’s key general – David Petraeus – no less.

Obama is trapped by past policy ­mistakes. pkkh/Simon Jenkins

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