Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Intolerable US Arrogance

May 22, 2012 at 10:31 am | Posted in Arms Control, Human Rights, International Relations | Leave a comment
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By what arrogance does NATO invite a head of state to a meeting and then have the head of state of the host nation refuse the visiting dignitary a one-on-one meeting even as his rival is granted an audience and then expect the snubbed leader to obsequiously accede to all demands even as drone aircraft murders the leader’s citizens and even troops with impunity? Yet, this is what President Barack Obama did to Pakistan’s Asif Ali Zardari who was summoned to the NATO conclave in Chicago at the very last minute. When it became apparent that a mere invitation was not going to make him cave in, he was refused a meeting with the US President who nevertheless met with the Zardari’s rival, the Afghan president Hamid Karzai thus humiliating Zardari. When aides scrambled to get the two presidents to “accidentally bump” into each other at the meeting, Obama pointedly told a press conference that that was their only exchange.

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Last November, a strike by a US drone aircraft killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. The United States has refused to apologize for the murders even though it has acknowledged that its drone aircraft was responsible for the deaths. Consider the situation. The US needs Pakistan as an ally–granted that it is a cantankerous and difficult one. Surely, the best way to further alienate its citizens is to indiscriminately kill them by drone planes controlled from bases deep inside the US. The victims have little warning of their impending death–and the controllers of the planes do not put themselves in harm’s way at all. This is blood sport for them without risk–and when innocent civilians or Pakistani soldiers, the very ones the US depends on to stop al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters, are killed, President Obama refuses to apologize!

Given rising anger in Pakistan, the government shut down two key supply routes for the NATO troops in Afghanistan, forcing the North Atlantic alliance to use more circuitous routes through Central Asia and Russia. Again, snubbing President Zardari, the US Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, lauded the help and support of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan–pointedly ignoring Pakistan. It is true that Pakistan has demanded a 20-times hike of the transit fee for trucks–for $250 to $5000. But this could have been negotiated if an apology was forthcoming.

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Without the supply routes from Pakistan, the withdrawal of equipment brought into Afghanistan for more than a decade will be immensely complicated and the chances of lethal weaponry falling into the hands of the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other militant groups increases geometrically. It would be another nail in the coffin of the US-NATO failure in Afghanistan. After more than 10 years of war, it is unlikely that the Karzai government will survive even for the three years the Soviet supported regime survived before being toppled–and it was toppled not because the insurgents’ military successes but because Moscow stopped deliveries of arms, fuel, and other supplies. As Juan Garriges writes for the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs, the likelihood of a civil war after NATO leaves is steadily increasing.

As Jonathan Steele writes in the Guardian, unlike the Soviets, NATO is not negotiating with the Taliban but is pursuing a garrison strategy that is virtually guaranteed to fail:

Increasing numbers of Afghan troops will sit in bases and go out on patrols instead of US and British ones, but this is nothing more than “Nato with an Afghan face”. Locals see these Afghan troops as occupiers just like the US and British. Less than 4% of the Afghan National Army are southern Pashtuns. Most are Tajiks and Uzbeks who speak a different language and don’t know the area. But if you recruit more southerners in a hurry, you just feed the Taliban’s latest tactic: join the Afghan army and police, get trained by the Americans and British, then shoot them in the camp or mess hall.

In these conditions, to continue to snub Zardari and refuse to apologize for the killing of the soldiers–perhaps for domestic electoral purposes as Obama’s likely Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, will certainly exploit it–is almost to ensure that the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI) will increase its interference in Afghanistan especially since there is little love lost between the Karzai administration and the Pakistani military and political establishment.

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Finally, in NATO’s haste to cover its failure there is nary a word on the condition of Afghan women–sure to regress to the state they were in at the time of the 2001 invasion! The US-led invasion may have temporarily ousted the Taliban from Kabul and eventually killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, but it has also devastated Afghanistan, killed tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of Afghans and thousands of Pakistanis, further destabilized Pakistan, fuelled the spread of al-Qaeda and other Islamic fundamentalists to Iraq, the Arabian peninsula, and east Africa, and expended trillions of dollars when the world-economy is mired in a crisis like no other since the Great Depression, and to the loss of thousands of American lives as well. Constitutional liberties have been suspended and torture has been reintroduced as a matter of state policy. The man who campaigned to change all this has done nothing at all!

Libya and the Politics of Intervention

March 28, 2011 at 10:17 pm | Posted in Arms Control, Human Rights, International Relations, Nuclear Non-Proliferation, World Politics | 2 Comments
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US-led attacks appear to have turned the tide against Colonel Muammer Gaddafi’s counter-revolution in Libya. Attacks by some 120 Tomahawk cruise missiles–each costing $575,000–and some eight days of air raids have established a ‘no-fly zone’ over Libya and US, French, British, Danish, Canadian, and other air forces have also targeted the Libyan government’s ground forces to deadly effect. The Libyan rebels, who had been virtually encircled in Benghazi have, as a result been able to roll back the government forces from Brega, Ras Lanuf, Ajdabiyia, and other towns in the east and are now attacking the town of Sirte, Gaddafi’s birth place.

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How are we to react to this exercise of Western military might against a state of the Global South? People like Gilbert Achcar and Juan Cole have vigorously defended the intervention in Libya. To them, the alternative would have been a brutal massacre of Gaddafi’s opponents by the better trained and equipped militias of the regime. For them, there were no other countervailing forces capable of intervening–not the African Union or Arab States. Western intervention was the only available option to stop a murderous dictator. It was sanctioned by the Arab League and the rebels themselves had pleaded for a ‘no-fly’ zone–a plea from a popular movement that could not be ignored. This was, a humanitarian intervention and not an attempt to secure access to Libya’s oil resources. After all, as Achcar points out, virtually all Western countries had oil companies operating in Libya already: “Italy’s ENI, Germany’s Wintershall, Britain’s BP, France’s Total and GDF Suez, US companies ConocoPhillips, Hess, and Occidental, British-Dutch Shell, Spain’s Repsol, Canada’s Suncor, Norway’s Statoil.”

There is of course the obvious objection: the West applies double standards, not only to Israel’s murderous assault on the Palestinians in Gaza but also to the brutal repression of protest movements in Bahrain and Yemen. As Richard Falk puts it:

How is this Libyan response different in character than the tactics relied upon by the regimes in Yemen and Bahrain, and in the face of far less of a threat to the status quo, and even that taking the form of political resistance, not military action. In Libya the opposition forces were relying almost from the outset on heavy weapons, while elsewhere in the region the people were in the streets in massive numbers, and mostly with no weapons, and in a few instances, with very primitive ones (stones, simple guns) that were used in retaliation for regime violence.

Indeed, almost from the very beginning of the protests, the rebels had taken arms and before Colonel Gaddafi’s forces launched a counter-assault, ragtag rebel militias had taken towns militarily from the regime’s gendarmes. Claiming that the regime was using African mercenaries, the rebels targeted anyone who looked “African’ including members of Libya’s African tribes because it is both an African and an Arab state.

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Analogies are often drawn to the situation in Rwanda but as the allusion to the African tribes in Libya suggests, no binary ethnic divide exists in Libya. There are many tribes and the confrontation between the regime and its opposition does not fracture along a single overriding ethnic divide and there is no genocidal intent in what is essentially a civil war between the regime and its opponents.

The character of the opposition also remains ambiguous–they include former members of the regime, local notables, radical Islamists, and eastern tribes opposed to western tribes. This was not the democratic movement that had swept autocrats from office in Tunisia and Egypt. The Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council may have supported the imposition of ‘no-fly’ zone but they do not speak for the Arab street and many of their members–Bahrain, Yemen–are actively engaged in brutally repressing democracy movements in their own states, and Saudi Arabia and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council have intervened in Bahrain to help the al-Khalifa family crush its opponents.

The United Nations Security Council authorized the intervention–but only because the five members who abstained (Russia, China, India, Brazil, Germany) did not exercise their responsibilities. If they did not have enough information as the Indian delegate said–they should have abstained. The Russian Foreign Minister has subsequently said that the US-led air raids have far exceeded the Security Council’s authorization: this had been also raised by Amr Moussa, the Secretary General of the Arab League before he was pressured to retract his words.

Moreover, since Gaddafi has paid off many tribes, especially in the west, with oil revenues over the last 40 years, he has a solid core of support. What happens when the rebel forces attacks these population centers? Does the Security Council resolution to ‘protect the civilians’ not apply to them?

As also mentioned in an earlier post, if the regime follows through on its promise to arm its supporters, it could lead to a prolonged period of civil strife if Gaddafi is ousted as remnants of his supports could mount an armed resistance. This could lead to a new flow of African asylum-seekers to Europe. After all, as Achcar notes, a deal struck between Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi and Gaddafi reduced the flow of asylum-seekers to Italy from 36,000 in 2008 to a mere 4,300 in 2010. A prolonged stalemate or civil war in Libya, moreover as Vijay Prashad has written would constrain the West’s “ability to transit the oil that sits under its soil, and so dangerously harm the “way of life” of those who matter. Events had to be hastened.”

Intervention in Libya also raises a question: if Gaddafi had not abandoned his nuclear program in 2003, would the West have intervened in its civil war. Even though Gaddafi had sided with Idi Amin, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda harshly criticizes “by now habit of the Western countries over-using their superiority in technology to impose war on less developed societies without impeachable logic. This will be the igniting of an arms race in the world.”

Finally, to the argument that there was no alternative to Western intervention in preventing a blood bath, the African Union had created an ad hoc commission to negotiate between the Libyan regime and its opponents but it was not allowed to begin its work on account of the air strikes and missile launches.

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It is also perhaps worth wondering whether the United States which had been opposed to the French and British clamor for intervention, suddenly changed its mind just as Der Spiegel published photographs of grinning American troops posing with Afghan corpses–an event that got scant coverage in the event of the war against Libya. Otherwise, it may have got as much coverage as the atrocities in the Abu Gharib prison in Iraq. So much for humanitarian intervention!

 

Puppets Turning Against Puppet Masters

November 18, 2010 at 10:35 am | Posted in International Relations, Political Economy, World Politics | Leave a comment
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If the failure of President Obama to wrest any meaningful concessions from the major economies at the G-20 summit in Seoul underlined the incoherence of US economic policy–with many economists admitting that a weaker US dollar would not increase employment–Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s sharp criticism of US military policies underline the incoherence of its occupation of Afghanistan.

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As the almost decade-long occupation has failed to pacify the insurgency which is, in fact gathering such steam that NATO forces are transporting Taliban leaders to Kabul to meet with the Karzai regime to negotiate a cease-fire, the US commander in Afghanistan escalated night-time raids to about 200 a month–more than 6 times the level 18 months ago. Whereas US Special Operations forces were carrying out an average of 5 raids a night as recently as last July, in the three months before November 11, they were conducting an average of 17 raids a night leading to the death or capture of 368 ‘insurgent leaders’ and the death of 968 ‘other insurgents’ and the capture of an additional 2,477 according to NATO sources. ”Many Afghans see the raids as a flagrant, even humiliating symbol of American power,” some New York Times correspondents reported, “especially when women and children are rousted in the middle of the night.”

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Finally, last Saturday, in an interview with the Washington Post, President Karzai sharply criticized the massive increase in night-time raids and said that US and NATO failure to respect the sanctity of Afghan homes was fuelling the insurgency. Karzai turning against his US patrons is ironic since he was parachuted into the Afghan presidency precisely because he was seen as a complaint figure. And indeed, in his first appearance as the Afghan Interim President before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, we sat like a minor provincial satrap while the Senators sat on an elevated platform and quizzed him as one would an errant schoolboy

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But as the occupation continues, for his own survival he recognizes that he has to assert some autonomy from the incoherent military policies of the Occupation forces. Though he holds office only at the pleasure of the United States–his recent “electoral” win was questionable and in any case the Afghan armed forces are no match for the insurgents–he knows that the US cannot forsake him as they have no other ‘leader’ in the wings to take over. Thus, last April when he was pressured by the US to reform his administration, he even brazenly threatened to “join” the Taliban!

What is perhaps more surprising, given Karzai’s earlier protests against US policies, is that General Petreus could only respond by registering his “astonishment and disappointment” at Karzai’s pointed criticism. What is astonishing about noting that the killing of civilians, the rousing of women and children in the dead of the night, the violation of the sanctity of private homes is a humiliating reminder of the powerlessness of the Afghans, and that continued humiliations fuels the insurgency?

Appearing before the British parliament’s foreign affairs committee, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles who served two terms as ambassador to Afghanistan, said that army commanders who told their superiors that the military strategy was not working were told to make their reports more optimistic and that the Afghan government was much less popular in the country’s south than the Taliban who were seen as ”a fairer, more predictable alternative than a corrupt and predatory government.”

Afghanistan is not merely a military quagmire from which a face-saving exit is now almost impossible, but it is also turning to be a bottomless money pit. One recent audit found that between 2007 and 2009, the Pentagon, the US Agency for International Development, and the US State department gave $18 billion to some 7000 contractors and that they cannot account for much of this money or to whom it was given! Other reports show that police stations, hospitals, schools and other buildings that were to have been constructed were so badly built that they are unusable. Louis Berger, a New Jersey construction firm, was assessed a fine of $69.3 million in fines for overbilling the government for things like a music system in its Washington DC offices for money that were to have been for reconstruction in Afghanistan!

An Occupation in Shambles

October 27, 2010 at 9:32 pm | Posted in Political Economy | 1 Comment
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As last week’s reports of NATO allowing free passage to Taliban leaders, even ferrying them on NATO helicopters, for negotiations with the Hamid Karzai regime indicate, President Obama’s deployment of an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan has been a spectacular failure. It has failed to dislodge the Taliban in southern Afghanistan and as Scott Atran wrote in the New York Times, the Taliban leadership is contemplating negotiations not because they “fear defeat at the hands of the Americans, but because they worry that their new generation of midlevel commanders is getting out of control.

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Insurgent attacks, he reports, are up 60 percent thus far this year compared to 2009 according to UN reports and Taliban numbers are up tenfold since 2001 and there is not a single unit of the Afghan Army that “can hold its own against the Taliban troops.”

Continued drone attacks across the border in Pakistan has solidified local support for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda–or at the very least turned public opinion against the United States. After that country has suffered the worst drought in its history, and at one time one-fifth of its land was under water, not only has US aid not matched aid to other countries suffering catastrophic natural disasters, but to also expect the country to prosecute a ‘war on terror’ rather than rebuilding its shattered infrastructure boggles the mind!



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Meanwhile, President Karzai’s government is increasingly blase about accepting wads of euros from the Iranians (and presumably others) in a blatantly corrupt administration. And across the border, in Iraq, Wikileaks have exposed official US military documents recording instance upon instance of torture by Iraqi forces on the civilian population.

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Underlining the incoherence of the current policy, NATO is approaching Russia for military assistance in Afghanistan–precisely when they are negotiating with the Taliban. Does anyone remember that it was the Mujahideen which drove out Soviet troops with American assistance. While this is in part, because supply lines through Pakistan is no longer secure and Russia provides the only available alternate supply route, it would incense the Taliban that the NATO is trying to entice into a coalition with the Karzai government. Can such a policy be outbidden for sheer incoherence and downright stupidity? Or is it merely a sign of complete desperation?

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Shifting Geopolitical Sands

October 22, 2010 at 8:43 pm | Posted in Political Economy | Leave a comment
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Two events this week–Chinese overtures to a Turkey that had angrily reacted to Beijing’s suppression of Uyghur protests in Xinjiang last year and NATO’s invitation to Iran to attend security briefings on Afghanistan–are indicative of major ongoing geopolitical shifts. After the Second World War, as the United States rose to a position of world hegemony and European colonial empires were dissolved, new geopolitical regions were created–Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia, East Asia, etc–while older geopolitical regions–Central Asia, Central Europe, etc–were erased by the fissures of the Cold War. The new post-Second World War regionalizations often violated long historical connections–as between South Asia and the Middle East on the one hand, and between South Asia and Southeast Asia on the other. Again, the Middle East was cordoned off from Central Asia (then under Soviet rule) while China was walled off from US client states in East Asia and from Southeast Asia. In East and Southeast Asia, by the early 21st century, these Cold war divides have been replaced by greater regional integration that more closely resemble the pre-capitalist Sino-centered tributary trade system as Mark Selden has recently argued.

On the Western frontiers of Asia, the increasing prominence of Turkey, India, and Iran suggest a similar realignment of forces that resemble earlier alliances between the Ottomans and the Mughals, though in a vastly changed geopolitical ecology.

Since it came to power in the elections of 2002, the Justice and Development Party (or AKP–its acronym in Turkish) has broken partly with the Kemalist republic’s orientation to the West to leverage its multiple regional identities–as a Balkan, Black Sea, Caspian, Central Asian, European, and Mediterranean state–to become a regional and global power. Rather than brusquely disavow its pro-Western stance, Ahmet Davutoglu, the party’s chief foreign policy expert and now the Foreign Affairs Minister, advocated a “zero problems with neighbors” policy.

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Defly exploiting the street cred it acquired by refusing US troops permission to pass through its territory for the invasion of Iraq, Ankara began to mediate between Syria and Israel till the brutal Israeli assault on Gaza in Operation Cast Lead caused Turkey to break off the talks. Turkey’s steadfast support to the Palestinians has won it the support of Arabs, especially since President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt is 82 and less active and the veteran Saudi foreign minister Saud al Feusal allegedly has Parkinson’s disease. Relations with its neighboring states has also been strengthened since the financial crisis beginning in 2008 which led to falls in Turkish exports to the EU and to a rise in its exports to its eastern neighbors.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Davutoglu engaged in shuttle diplomacy between Tiblisi and Moscow as Russian troops intervened on behalf of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in 2008 during a brief war. Ankara has also promoted a series of meetings between Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia.

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More crucially, along with President Lula of Brazil, Erdogan has intervened in the dispute between the US and its allies and Iran over the latter’s nuclear energy program. Equally importantly, in November 2008, Davutoglu became in November 2009, the first high-level Turkish official to visit to the Kurdish Regjonal Government in northern Iraq which is akin to an Indian foreign minister visiting Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Meanwhile, India has emerged as the largest regional donor of reconstruction aid to Afghanistan, Relations between India and Afghanistan had been close till the Taliban captured power in 1996. Now, the US occupation forces and India share a common goal in eliminating Islamic extremists and it is telling that Pakistan was not invited to the high-level NATO security briefing that was attended by Iran. In large part, this is the result of the US promoting India as a regional counter-weight to China but also in part due to the relationship between the Pakistani military and intelligence services with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The US is also courting India to provide a counter-weight to Iran.

Despite Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s vocal opposition to Israel’s brutal oppression of the Palestinians and to US policies more generally, Iran’s growing influence in Iraq and Afghanistan where US forces are bogged down in a war they cannot win implies that the US can only extricate their forces with Iranian cooperation or an entire region with much of the world’s proven oil reserves will endure decades of political instability.

When much attention has been focussed on regional integration in east and southeast Asia, the developments sketched here suggest that there is a parallel re-emergence of regional linkages between west and south Asia. This suggests that the geopolitical regions of the world are being reshaped with much of East and Southeast Asia being reoriented towards China, while Turkey, India, and Iran are emerging as important regional powers in a re-contoured ‘geographical pivot of history,’

 

 

Peering Beyond the US Midterm Elections

October 19, 2010 at 11:17 pm | Posted in Political Economy | Leave a comment
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What is likely to happen if the Republicans win control of one or both houses of Congress? The issues underlying the discontent of voters stem from the loss of employment and increasing inequality; of losing homes sold on dreams while they see the bankers walk away with millions of dollars in bonuses; fear of a further erosion of jobs overseas or to immigrants; belief that if only government spending is lower, taxes will fall and conditions will be better for the poor.

Regardless of the propaganda that it is unfair currency manipulation by other countries that is leading to a loss of jobs, the underlying cause is very different and no politician or party has a solution to the problem. Well paying jobs are disappearing because of technological changes. The evidence is everywhere–growth of emails and the Internet leads to a decline of post office jobs; the internet is as much of a threat to shopping malls and big box stores as these were to main streets; automated check-in machines at airports decimates counter staff; Netflix has spelt the doom of bricks and mortar video stores. No political party or economist has the remotest idea of what to do in these conditions, least of all the know-nothing Republicans affiliated to the Tea Party!

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If other countries were to raise the value of their currencies, it means that they will no longer buy as many dollars as they had to keep their currencies “undervalued.” It was the repatriation of current account surpluses and domestic savings from China and other countries through their purchase of US dollars that enabled them to manipulate exchange rates. This massive inflow of capital enabled the Bush–and now Obama–Administration to fight two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while  cutting taxes. Without such capital inflows, taxes would have to rise or the US military will have to turn tail and slink back.

Perhaps, this is may explain why the US has swallowed a bitter pill and invited high Iranian representatives to in-depth briefings on Afghanistan by the military commander, General David Petreus and even begun to transport Taliban leaders to Kabul for talks in NATO aircraft. Iran’s footprint has also solidified in Iraq where the Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, allied to Iran, has emerged as king-maker. Any move against Iran will unravel US plans to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Despite all this, if the Congress cuts taxes, it would mean cutting into the bone of welfare state, removing any semblance of a safety net under the poor. It will exacerbate the income gap between the rich and poor, already wider than at any time since the 1920s since a Republican victory in the elections will ensure that the rich cats will continue to walk away with bonuses in the seven and eight figures. Why else will they contribute so disproportionately to Republican candidates in the current election?

All of this does not even begin to address the military situation. What will the neocons make of the Taliban being invited back into power in Afghanistan and Iran exercising considerable influence in Iraq. And the Iraqi oil? Estimates of Iraq’s proven oil reserves has increased by almost 20 billion barrels but all of this is being exploited by Russian, Chinese, and other Asian companies–not US Big Oil!

From the Indispensable Nation to a Very Dispensable One

October 18, 2010 at 7:53 pm | Posted in Political Economy | 9 Comments
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How has it come to this–US-led NATO forces promising safe conduct to the Taliban to negotiate a pact with the puppet government in Kabul to put a face-saving gloss over the inevitable US defeat? Less than two decades ago, the United States had seemed to be the pivot of world politics, the only superpower in the tectonic shifts that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union. No state could challenge its power–and when Saddam Hussein’s Iraq dared to invade Kuwait, for the first time since the Korean War, the United States was able to send its forces to battle under the UN flag.

After the swift and brutal victory over Iraq, the Clinton Administration set about setting the rules of world trade, free trade reigned triumphant over the air waves, and when Serbia tried to prevent the secession of Kosovo, US-led NATO forces quickly enabled the rebel province to break free of Belgrade without suffering a single US military casualty. US supremacy over the air was so dominant that the Iraqi and Serbian combat planes did not even attempt to take to the air. The normal calculus of war, Perry Anderson announced, had been suspended.

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After the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, the United States quickly mobilized its forces for an assault on Afghanistan. No other military force could have so quickly attacked a country that it did not border. Though the US did not invoke the collective defense clause of the NATO treaty, member states offered their assistance–an offer the US accepted only after the Taliban government had been run out of power, preferring troops only from its Anglophone allies for the invasion itself.

The quick dispersal of the Taliban government emboldened the Bush Administration to train its guns on Iraq once again. This time, key members of the Security Council–Russia, China, France, and Germany–were unwilling to confer legitimacy to a clearly illegal invasion. Massive street marches across the world signaled popular opposition to an invasion of Iraq. Yet once the invasion began, President Chirac allowed US warplanes to fly freely across French airspace and Germany’s Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer hoped for a speedy collapse of the Iraqi ‘resistance.’

As US forces occupied Iraq, Gregg Easterbrook declared the arms race over. “The extent of American military superiority,” he crowed, “has become almost impossible to overstate. The United States sent five of its nine supercarrier battle groups to the region for the Iraq assault. A tenth Nimitz-class supercarrier is under construction. No other nation possesses so much as one supercarrier, let alone nine battle groups ringed by cruisers and guarded by nuclear submarines.”

“Any attempt to build a fleet that threatens the Pentagon’s would be pointless,” he claimed, “because if another nation fielded a threatening vessel, American attack submarines would simply sink it in the first five minutes of any conflict. (The new Seawolf-class nuclear-powered submarine is essentially the futuristic supersub of ”The Hunt for Red October” made real.) Knowing this, all other nations have conceded the seas to the United States, a reason American forces can sail anywhere without interference. The naval arms race — a principal aspect of great-power politics for centuries — is over.”

With such military assets, the United States could act arbitrarily, violating international law with impunity but this time the tables were quickly turned against the mightiest power in history. Massive resistance on the ground with improvised explosives clearly established the vulnerable underbelly of US power. Small organized resistance groups and suicide bombers were able to inflict unacceptable casualties on the US led forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Iraq, US General David Petreus sought eventually to cut their losses by incorporating some 100,000 members of the resistance from the Sunni minority into a revamped Iraqi army. However, once the Iraqi government of Nuri al-Maliki invited the Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to join the government, the Sunni fighters began to desert with the weapons to the al-Qaeda.

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Just as the situation in Iraq is unravelling, so is the situation in Afghanistan, prompting the invitation to the Taliban for talks with the Kabul government. What is particularly striking about the defeat staring the United States in the face in Afghanistan and Iraq is that these are very different from Vietnam. In Vietnam, the national liberation movement was supported by the USSR and China, and enjoyed the support from majority of the world’s governments. The resistance movements in Afghanistan and Iraq have no support, Afghanistan has been in a state of constant war practically since the Soviet invasion of the country in 1978. No sooner that Iraq concluded its disastrous 10-year war with Iran, its attempts to conquer Kuwait led to defeat in the First Gulf War. Between the end of the First Gulf War and the US invasion in 2003, American and British airplanes dropped more bombs on Iraq than had been dropped in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. And yet, these insurgencies have triumphed over the mightiest military force in history–nuclear weapons and aircraft carriers simply cannot stack up against unconventional forces.

Rather than confronting these serious and potentially fatal problems, the commentariat in the United States contends itself with meaningless debates on the advisability of burning the Koran or building a mosque in Manhattan.

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