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Archive for category US FOREIGN POLICY & INTERNATIONAL LAW

Nuclear Chutzpah By Eric Margolis

Nuclear Chutzpah

By Eric Margolis

May 07, 2018

 

 

 

‘Chutzpah’ is a wonderful Yiddish word that means outrageous nerve, or unmitigated gall.

This week’s Chutzpah Award goes to Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Standing in front of props of data files and cd’s, Netanyahu claimed Israel’s renowned Mossad spy agency had stolen a small mountain of secret Iranian nuclear data from a warehouse in Tehran.

The never-understated Netanyahu claimed that the purloined material proved that Iran was lying about having halted its covert nuclear program and must not be trusted.

Netanyahu’s supposed nuclear bombshell was likely the warm-up act for President Donald Trump to reject Iran’s nuclear freeze deal with the US, Russia, China, Germany, and France, blessed by the UN and the European Union. The only thing Trump apparently hates more than Muslims is his predecessor, former President Barack Obama (whom he accused of being a secret Muslim). The Iran nuclear deal was the most important foreign policy accomplishment of the Obama administration.

Netanyahu repeatedly warned the world about Iran’s alleged nuclear arsenal while making no mention at all of Israel’s own large, secret nuclear arsenal, which is believed to comprise of over 100 warheads, perhaps even several hundred, that can be delivered by aircraft, missiles and submarines. Every Mideast nation can be hit by Israeli nukes as well as Russia, which some experts say is or was on Israel’s target list.

Trump, of course, made no mention of the awkward fact that Israel had stolen much of its nuclear technology and uranium from the United States, sometimes with the connivance of very senior US government officials. France, that paragon of world peace, had the rest.

Listening to Netanyahu accuse Iran of hiding secret nuclear facilities was a pure pot calling the kettle black. Israel’s early nuclear program at Dimona in the Negev desert was entirely concealed from US and UN inspectors, including fake walls in the nuclear complex that completely fooled them. When Netanyahu accused Iran of cheating, he knows of what he speaks.

Most of what Netanyahu ‘revealed’ about Iran’s alleged nuclear program was old stuff, dating back to 1999-2003 and readily available in reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency. This respected UN agency now reports that Iran has fulfilled all of its commitments and abandoned its earlier nuclear program that did not produce any weapons before it was ended.

But facts don’t matter in this Trump-produced, made-for-TV drama. The key point is that with the naming of Michael Pompeo as US Secretary of State, and appointment of the rightwing fanatic John Bolton as US national security advisor, Israel’s rightwing government has completed its virtual takeover of US Mideast policy. As I’ve previously written, Trump looks more and more like a Trojan Horse for Netanyahu and his extremist allies.

 

Dimona-Israel Nuclear Program-Actual Nuclear Bombs are kept near Airbases such as one around Accor

 

 

 

 

 

 

Besides Pompeo and VP Mike Pence, both ardent Christian Zionists, and Bolton, Trump now has around him the UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, of Indian origin, who is the darling of the US far right and a handmaiden of arch-pro Israel billionaire, Sheldon Adelson, a major bankroller of the Republican Party. Add in Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and, of course, Trump’s daughter and son-in-law. In short, an amen-chorus for Israel’s far right.

This American Israel-first coalition has joined Netanyahu’s Likud alliance in pressing for war against Iran. The first skirmishes have already begun with over 100 Israeli air attacks on Syria, ostensibly against Iranian positions. A great propaganda hue and cry against the purported dangers of Iran is being raised in the US and Europe. According to Israel’s right, Assyrian hordes are about to engulf Israel.

 

 

 

 

In reality, Iran has very little offensive power. Like Iraq before it, Iran is militarily dilapidated with 40-year old equipment, a largely grounded air force, little artillery and poor communications. Tehran has a few inaccurate missiles but no nuclear warheads.

Israel’s powerful air force could easily turn any attacking Iranian forces into chopped falafel. Iran’s only strength is defensive, in urban combat or mountainous terrain. Iran has no capability to seriously threaten Israel except by aiding the Lebanese Hezbollah movement in showering northern Israel with light artillery rockets, a nuisance rather than a mortal danger.

Israel is moving to repeat its triumph in 2003 when the Bush administration, US partisans of Israel, and dishonest US media pushed the nation into a war of pure aggression against Iraq. Israel emerged the victor from this unprovoked war and is trying to repeat its success again with Iran.

Overthrowing Iran’s Islamic Republic would leave Israel the unchallenged power in the Mideast.

Eric S. Margolis is an award-winning, internationally syndicated columnist. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune the Los Angeles Times, Times of London, the Gulf Times, the Khaleej Times, Nation – Pakistan, Hurriyet, – Turkey, Sun Times Malaysia and other news sites in Asia.https://ericmargolis.com/

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A Time Of Chaos By Boaventura de Sousa Santos

A Time Of Chaos

By Boaventura de Sousa Santos

May 03, 2018
The bombing of Syrian sites where chemical weapons are allegedly being manufactured or stocked, allegedly to be used by the Bashar al-Assad government against the rebels, has left citizens all over the world in a state of confusion, filled with a mixture of perplexity and scepticism. In spite of the bombing by the Western media (a particularly apt metaphor in this case), in their attempt to persuade public opinion of the latest atrocities committed by al-Assad’s regime; in spite of the near unanimous opinion of political commentators that this was nothing but a humanitarian response, a fair punishment, and one more proof of the vitality of the “Western alliance”; in spite of all this, citizens in the West (and much more so in the rest of the world), whenever asked, expressed their doubts about this media narrative and for the most part spoke against the attacks. Why is that?
The consequences
Because citizens who possess at least a modicum of information have a better memory than commentators, and because, although they lack expertise on the causes of such acts of war, they have an expert knowledge of their consequences, which is something that said commentators always fail to notice. They remember that in 2003 the justification for the invasion of Iraq was the existence of weapons of mass destruction that turned out not to exist. They remember that the photos that were exhibited at the time had been tampered with so as to lend credibility to the big lie. They remember that then, as now, the attack occurred on the eve of the arrival of an independent commission of experts sent to investigate the existence of such weapons.
They remember that the lie left behind a million dead and a destroyed country, with fat reconstruction contracts being handed over to US companies (such as Halliburton) and oil exploration contracts given to Western oil companies. They remember that in 2011 the same coalition destroyed Libya, turning it into a den of terrorists and traffickers in refugees and emigrants, and yielding the same type of fat contracts. They remember that so far the war in Syria has caused 500,000 dead, 5 million refugees, and 6 million displaced within Syrian borders. Above all, thanks perhaps to that mysterious cunning of reason whereof Hegel spoke, they remember what the media does not tell them. They remember that two genocides are underway in the region.

An injured toddler rescued after being trapped under rubble from an air strike on rebel-held eastern Aleppo, Syria, August 15th 2016.

An injured toddler rescued after being trapped under rubble from an air strike on rebel-held eastern Aleppo, Syria, August 15th, 2016.  

Credit: Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters

They are being perpetrated by state terrorism but they are almost never mentioned because the aggressor states are “our” allies: one is the Yemeni genocide at the hands of Saudi Arabia, the other is Israel’s genocide of the Palestinian people.
These are the more visible consequences. But there are other victims, of which the ordinary citizen is hardly aware, her suspicions sometimes not more than a vague discomfort. I will focus on three of those victims. The first is international law, which has once again been violated, given that actions of war are legitimate only in case of self-defence or under a UN Security Council mandate. None of these conditions has been met. Bilateral and multilateral treaties are being thrown out one after another, as trade wars become increasingly fierce. Are we in the process of entering a new Cold War, with fewer rules and more innocent deaths? Are we heading toward a third world war? Where is the UN, to prevent it through diplomacy? What else can countries like Russia, China or Iran be expected to do but move further away from Western countries and their fake multilateralism, and come up with their own alternatives for cooperation? The second victim is human rights. Here the West reached a paroxysm of hypocrisy: the military destruction of entire countries and the killing of innocent populations has become the sole means of promoting human rights. It somehow seems that there is no other means of fostering human rights except by violating them, and Western-style democracy does not know how to flourish except among ruins. The third victim is the “war on terror”. No person of good will can accept the death of innocent victims in the name of some political or ideological goal, much less when perpetrated by the countries – the United States and its allies – that over the last twenty years have given full priority to the war on terrorism. So how can one comprehend the current financing and arming, by the Western powers, of groups of Syrian rebels that are known to be terrorist organizations and that, like Bashar al-Assad, have also used chemical weapons against innocent populations in the past? I allude in particular to the al-Nusra front, the extremist Salafist group also known as the Al Qaeda of Syria, which seeks to establish an Islamic state. In fact, the most frequent accusations, by US institutions, with regard to the financing of extremist and terrorist groups point the finger precisely at that most loyal of US allies, Saudi Arabia. What are the hidden goals of a war on terror that supports terrorists with money and arms?
The causes
Given that the causes elude all the news noise, it is more difficult for ordinary citizens to identify them. Convention has it that one can distinguish between proximate and structural causes. Among the proximate causes, the dispute over the natural gas pipeline is the one most frequently mentioned. The large natural gas reserves in the Qatar and Iran region can take two alternative routes to reach the wealthy, voracious consumer called Europe: the Qatar pipeline, going through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Turkey, and the Iranian pipeline, across Iran, Iraq and Syria. For geopolitical reasons, the US favours the former route while Russia prefers the latter. Bashar al-Assad was also in favour of the latter, as it benefitted Shiite governments only. From that moment on, the West viewed him as a target to be taken down. Major Rob Taylor, a professor at the US Army’s Command and General Staff College, wrote in the Armed Forces Journal of March 21, 2014: “Viewed through a geopolitical and economic lens, the conflict in Syria is not a civil war, but the result of larger international players positioning themselves on the geopolitical chessboard in preparation for the opening of the pipeline in 2016”.
The structural causes are perhaps more convincing. It has been my contention that we are at a transitional moment between capitalism’s globalizations. The first globalization took place from 1860 to 1914 and was dominated by England. The second took place from 1944 to 1971 and was dominated by the US. The third began in 1989 and is now coming to an end. It was dominated by the US, but with the growing multilateral participation of Europe and China. In between globalization, the rivalry between would-be dominant countries tends to increase and can give rise to wars between them or their respective allies. At this point in time, the rivalry is between the US, an empire in decline, and China, a rising empire. In a study titled “Global Trends, 2030”, the US National Intelligence Council – an institution that could hardly be viewed as biased – states that in the year 2030 “Asia is going to be the center of world economy just as it was until 1500,” and China could become the world’s first economy.
The rivalry escalates but cannot lead to head-on confrontation because China already has a major influence on the domestic economy of the US and is a major creditor of its public debt. Trade wars are critical and they spread to the high-tech areas because whoever gets to dominate those areas (namely automation or robotics) will be poised to dominate the next globalization. The US will only enter treaties that are likely to isolate China. Since China is already too strong as it is, it has to be confronted by its allies. The most prominent among them is Russia, and recent agreements between the two countries provide for non-dollar denominated transactions, especially oil-related, which poses a fatal threat to the international reserve currency. Russia couldn’t possibly be permitted to boast about a victory in Syria, a victory, let it be said, against terrorist extremists, and one that Russia has been on the verge of obtaining, thanks supposedly to President Obama’s lack of direction when he left Syria out of his list of priorities. It was, therefore, necessary to find a pretext for returning to Syria to resume the war for a few more years, as is the case with Iraq and Afghanistan. North Korea is also an ally and must be treated with hostility so as to embarrass China. Finally, there is the fact that China, like all rising empires, is pursuing (fake) multilateralisms and therefore is responding to the trade war by fostering open trade.
But it has also pursued limited multilateral agreements aimed at creating alternatives to US economic and financial dominance. The most salient of these agreements was the BRICS, formed by Russia, India, South Africa and Brazil, besides China. The BRICS even created an alternative world bank. They had to be neutralized. Since Modi’s rise to power, India has lost interest in the agreement. Brazil was a particularly strategic partner because of the country’s articulation – albeit a reluctant one – with a more radical alternative that had emerged in Latin America at the initiative of a number of progressive governments, notably Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela. Mention should be made, in this regard, to ALBA, UNASUR and CELAC, a set of political and trade agreements aimed at freeing Latin America and the Caribbean from US century-old tutelage. The most vulnerable of the BRICS countries were Brazil, perhaps because it was also the most democratic. The process whereby it was neutralized began with the institutional coup against President Dilma Rousseff and was taken further with the illegal imprisonment of Lula da Silva and the dismantling of every single nationalist policy undertaken by the PT governments. Curiously enough, South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, no doubt a corrupt leader and a BRICS enthusiast, has been replaced by Cyril Ramaphosa, one of the richest men in Africa (not as corrupt as Zuma?) and a staunch advocate of global neoliberalism. The Summit of the Americas, which took place in Lima on 13-14 April and was virtually ignored by the European media, was a most relevant geopolitical piece in this context. Venezuela’s participation was vetoed, and according to El Pais of 15 April (Brazilian edition), the meeting signalled the demise of Bolivarian America. The strengthening of US influence in the region has become very clear, judging from the way in which the US delegation criticized China’s growing influence on the continent.
For all these reasons, the war in Syria is part of a much broader geopolitical game, whose future looks very uncertain. May 2, 2018
Boaventura de Sousa Santos is Portuguese professor of Sociology at the School of Economics, University of Coimbra (Portugal), the distinguished legal scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School, and global legal scholar at the University of Warwick. Co-founder and one of the main leaders of the World Social Forum. Article provided to Other News by the author

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Arab Leader’s Shame and the Bloodbath at Ghouta (Syria) By Mahboob Khawaja, PhD.

Arab Leader’s Shame and the Bloodbath at Ghouta (Syria)

East Ghouta, Syria

[Photo: Bombed area, including a school, in Eastern Ghouta, Syria. Courtesy The Khilafah (Nov. 11, 2017)]

By Mahboob Khawaja, PhD.

Editor’s Note
The civil war in Syria continues with the civilian population besieged between multiple waring parties. It is reported that Assad is using chemical weapons, particularly in Gouta (which is a suburb of the capital in Damascus). I cannot speak to the veracity of these claims, but it does seem foolhardy to be dropping chemical weapons (that were supposedly all moved outside the country) on one’s own doorstep. Those claims aside, the fact that there is massive bombing and large scale civilian casualties seems indisputable. The situation across Syria is untenable and a rolling humanitarian crisis has become “normal.” That this situation has now prevailed for seven years is a body blow for anyone with the imagination to think what it is like to attempt to survive in Syria. It is no wonder that so many have fled the country, but millions still huddle under the guns and bombs trying to scrape out one more day of life. The setting of “humanitarian corridors” is at best a cruel joke, and at worst a way to draw civilians even further into the fire zone. This has to stop. 

Are Arab-Muslim leaders waiting for the unknown and unthinkable catastrophic end to their own life and time in history rather than to stand up and make critical change?  These leaders must inhabit a world of new political imagination to avoid the same ending as happened to the Romans.  Would the estranged Arab leaders even acknowledge and address the cruelty of civilian bombardment, pains, destruction and sufferings that can be seen and the unseen! (Mahboob A. Khawaja, “Arab World at Crossroads: Leaders Waiting for the Unthinkable” 2015).

 

How Can We Bear to Witness the Man-Made Insanity of Civilian Massacres?

“Hell on Earth”  – warns the UN Secretary General to the Security Council regarding the intensity of the humanitarian crisis in Ghouta. There are 400,000 civilians trapped under continuous bombardment by the Assad regime and Russian “intervention”.  A UNICEF spokesperson spells out the tragic events: words cannot describe the humanitarian calamities and sufferings of the besieged people of Ghouta. 

How can we bear to witness these atrocities? This is same question that millions of blood stained human beings were asking a year earlier in Aleppo. The Russian air attacks and Assad forces silenced the people of Aleppo with large scale bombardment and cold blooded massacres witnessed by the so called ‘civilized world’. History is repeating the cruel insanity – the cursed evil of egoistical power as happened to the people of Aleppo – the unstoppable insanity of the civil war continues unabated. Does global humanity have an awareness of the gravity of the humanitarian crisis, or a conscience to address it?  Innocent children traumatized by the relentless day and night bombing cry for help, and call upon the international community to stop the bloodbath. Not so the UN Security Council which conveniently postponed its deliberations for days to see who will gain the upper hand while perpetual insanity and planned cruelty rains down on the helpless masses in Eastern Ghouta.  What leads the UN Security Council to imagine that a cruel dictator will respond to the call of ceasefire in Ghouta and stop the daily carnage of civilian bombardments and killings? Did Hitler, Mussolini and George Bush ever listen to the calls of reason and honesty?  Was the UNO Council NOT supposed to take urgent preventive action to safeguard the people from the scourge of the war?  Despite the UN Security Council Resolution of Feb 24, 2018, consented to by all the actors, the increased bombing and killings of the civilian goes on relentlessly. Acceding to the compulsion of evil and the failure of moral and intellectual leadership have jeopardized the present and future of the Arab-Muslim world. Viewing the aggressive daily sectarian bloodbaths and militarization through a mental microscope, we see the outcome with a sense of unreality. Morally indifferent and intellectually exhausted, as incapacitated as they look, Arab and Muslim leaders are waiting and waiting, looking beyond the obvious as to what will happen next in Ghouta. They live completely disconnected from the affairs and challenges of the present world. On Twitter and Facebook (and elsewhere) innocent children are sending an SOS to the Global Humanity as if there is someone ready to come to rescue them from the bloodbath. It calls into question the conscience of the entirety of humanity. What are you waiting for when you get the SOS distress call from 400,000 human beings? It also calls into question the moral and political obligation of the neighboring Arab countries and their leaders who are nothing more than spectators. They maintain large armed forces, and volunteer forces, that could to have helped the entrenched people, yet they did nothing. They have exhibited indifference and complete disregard to global humanitarian principles and values that warrant urgent action to safeguard fellow human beings. What kind of role model of traditional Arab culture and civilization do you witness in these situations of extreme humanitarian crisis?  An insane egoism has brought frightening trends in premeditated crimes against the humanity.

Even the UNO and the global political master appear to be aligned into a ‘No Action  – Wait and See’ preference in this crisis. Condemnation will not help the masses under strain of a life and death situation. While Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron call on Putin to stop the bombardment, one wonders why the Arab leaders could not call on Trump and Putin to stop the bloody carnage in Ghouta. We witness the failure of the UNO in similar parables. Western military interventions and Arab authoritarianism have ruined the whole landscape of the Arab Middle East. The unspoken question of “How to reverse the anarchism of the few against many in a world being determined by the powerful nations at the UN Security Council?” The Arab rulers have absolutely no sense of time and history.  Nor do they care for normal human values and political accountability to any international system of governance, be it the UN or the International Humanitarian Law dealing with war and conflicts and the protection of civilians in war zones. They are not open to listening and learning from the conscientious, learned, and wise.

The Arab and Muslim world is being completely subsumed into a quagmire of cruelty and madness. The leaders and the people appear to be on the same page of the bloodbath, but they breathe oxygen in separate time zones as the people are falling apart into the unknown. They believe in nothing; as if the Earth was dormant, as if there is no God and life ceases to have a noble purpose of peace, harmony and co-existence. Western war strategists are a crucial factor in bringing them to this perverted status-quo of moral and human equilibrium. In an advanced 21st century of knowledge, wisdom and information, man remains ignorant and arrogant of his wrong thinking.

Imagine if there was a Conscientious Global Humanity to Protect the Besieged Civilians in Ghouta!

Time and again, the entrapped civilians call upon the people of the earth to rescue them. They narrate horrific experiences of cruelty and 24/7 bombardment by the Assad regime and Russians. More than 500 civilians are reported to have been killed in just four days. Could it be the color, language and ethnicity of the Syrian people as not much known or popular with the Western industrialized civilizations? Could it be that their faith in Islam is a problematic and blocking factor for the emergency aid to stop the aggression? Imagine, if they were of the Anglo-Saxon ethnicity, would Russia have dared to annihilate them? Would the Americans and West Europeans not have rushed to help them or stop the cold blooded massacres at all sites of the human consciousness? Do all of these believe in God, Humanity, Justice and Purpose of Life and Accountability? Does the informed global community want to see the Arab world determine its own sadistic ending?  Unjustifiably killing one innocent human being is like killing of the whole of the humanity. The global warlords represent a cruel mindset incapable of seeing the human side of living conscience. Perhaps, they view humanity as just numbers, not as living entities with social, moral, spiritual and intellectual values and hope for change and development. Every beginning has its end.

What Went Wrong in the Arab-Muslim World?

Once the Arabs were the pioneers of a knowledge-based sustainable civilization which lasted for 800 years in Al-Andalusia (Spain), the longest period in human history. Today, the former colonial thinkers and occupiers describe the Arabs and Muslims as “extremists”, ‘terrorists” and barbarians.” Throughout the 20th century and well into the 21st century, the oil rich nations failed to deal with emerging social, moral, intellectual and political problems. Instead they increased the militarization of the region, resulting in increasing bloodbaths depicting political havoc – floating without roots and reason. Islam enriched the Arabs to become the global leaders of a progressive civilization, but the oil enhanced prosperity transformed them into ‘camel jockeys’ and object of hollow laugher at after dinner jokes in Western culture. Money cannot buy wisdom, honor and human integrity.

All nineteen Arab states have strong military institutions and secretive police apparati trained and managed by the Western nations. All the military and police institutions are subservient to the authoritarian dictum. This is why both The US and Russia have blended their short and long term interests to be interventionists in the Arab Middle East. The ruptured socio-economic and institutional infrastructures will offer an open invitation to foreign intervention as there will be no challenge rising out of the chaos to be taken-over by the foreign masters. Such an outcome will open new markets for the US-Russian which are fast becoming war-run economies.

Do the authoritarian Arab leaders not know the end-game and destiny of all the monsters of history, such as what happened to Hitler, Mussolini, Saddam, Mubarak, Ghaddafi, and so many others like Assad in waiting? If they have a sense of the prevaling reality, would they not opt for a navigational change to safeguard the people and their own future?  Tyranny is corruption and the masses are against this tyranny of governance, be it in Syria or across the rest of the Arabian Peninsula. All dictators enjoin an erotic ambition to rule and remain in power even if they have to dehumanize the entire population. The resulting degeneration and destructiveness has gone on for seven years in Syria. This aggressive action should have been challenged and stopped -even by force if not by reason – by other affluent Arab leaders and countries of the region. Alas, their conscience feels no sense of guilt for the on-going crimes against humanity. Time and history are not on the side of tyrant Arab rulers – soon they will be floating like scum on the torrent of time.

Violence and hatred are fast sinking the large landscape of Arab-Muslim societies into the abyss of irreversible deaths and destruction. Daily death statistics generate a media-frenzy supporting Samuel Huntington’s (“The Clash of Civilizations”, Foreign Affairs, 1993), claim of “Islam has bloody borders.”

The contemporary Arab societies are caught in a delusional, oil-generated, economic prosperity and they are overburdened by the ignorance and stupidity of the uneducated ruling elite; they are unable to see the light out of the box. Arab authoritarianism needs a strong jolt – a powerful political, intellectual and military challenge to avert the on-going military assaults against the very people on whose lifeline the nation state was created.

The voices of reason are loud and clear as global humanity cannot suffer the penalties of tyranny and the evil-mongering of the few dictators.  We the people of the world enjoin focused minds and imagination to articulate a new world of One Humanity, brotherhood and peaceful co-existence amongst all, free of hatred, intrigues tyranny, encroachment and animosity.

We, the people of the globe have an enriched understanding – how to change the egoistic and embittered insanity of the few hate-mongers and warlords into equilibrium of balanced relationship between Man, Life and God- given living Universe in which we reside all.

 

Dr. Mahboob A. Khawaja specializes in global security, peace and conflict resolution with keen interests in Islamic-Western comparative cultures and civilizations, and author of several publications including: Global Peace and Conflict Management: Man and Humanity in Search of New Thinking. Lambert Publishing Germany, May 2012. His forthcoming book is entitled: One Humanity and The Remaking of Global Peace, Security and Conflict Resolution

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Why Trump’s Troubling Pakistan Policy Dooms Afghanistan Peace By Touqir Hussain The Diplomat

The Diplomat

The Diplomat

Why Trump’s Troubling Pakistan Policy Dooms Afghanistan Peace

The administration’s approach to Islamabad undermines potential solutions in Afghanistan.

By Touqir Hussain
February 15, 2018 
 

For a 16-year-long war in Afghanistan, whose failure lies in an endless list of complex causes – including flawed strategy, incoherent war aims, return of the warlords, rise of fiefdoms and ungoverned spaces, corruption, power struggles and a competitive and conflict-prone regional environment – U.S. President Donald Trump has one simple solution: get rid of the Haqqani Network and Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan. And if Pakistan does not oblige, cut off aid.

Like the Afghanistan war, the equally complicated U.S.-Pakistan relationship is also being narrowly defined, thereby obscuring the many different ways it can serve or hurt the very American interests that the Trump administration is trying to serve.

It is certainly true that Pakistan has a lot to answer for, especially for its illicit relationship with the Taliban. But sanctuaries did not play a defining role in the war’s failure, nor will their eradication, if they still exist, play a salient part in its success.
Sixteen years into the war, which has been described as “16 one year wars,” Washington has shown no better understanding of the complexities of Afghanistan and the region than when it invaded the country in 2001. Some understanding of what has gone wrong might help us find the way forward.

The War in Afghanistan: What Went Wrong

It was a war that may not have been unnecessary but was nonetheless possibly avoidable. It has been an unwinnable war in the way it has been conducted, especially given the realities of a strife-torn country wracked by multiple conflicts since the overthrow of the monarchy in 1973.  The 1980s war against the Soviets and the subsequent civil war had raised the profile of the mullah and jihad and changed not only Afghanistan but also the adjoining tribal territories in Pakistan. Home to millions of Afghan refugees and base to mujaheddin, these territories almost became like one country along with the areas across the Afghan border.

Pakistan’s heartland too was affected by the religious infrastructure spawned by the 1980s war and by Islamabad’s own follies,  to which Washington made no small contribution, first through the ISI- and CIA-sponsored jihad in Afghanistan, and then by sanctioning Pakistan in 1990 and leaving it to its own devices. The Taliban were an extension of this slow unravelling of Afghanistan, and strategic overreach of the Pakistan army and societal changes in the country.

Former President George W. Bush made grievous mistakes upon America’s return to Afghanistan. He showed no understanding of what had been going on in and around Afghanistan since Washington’s last exit. It was a strategic mistake to try to defeat al-Qaeda by defeating Taliban who were not going to fight but instead run away to Pakistan. The focus should have been on al-Qaeda. The context of dealing with the Taliban was fixing fractured Afghanistan through reconstruction and stabilization of the country with a new ethnic-regional balance acceptable to all the Afghans. That is what you call nation-building. But Washington, of course, would have none of that.

Instead, Bush outsourced much of the war to warlords and rushed to institute democracy, guided by the need to get domestic support for the war and by a flawed view that democracy is nation-building. Actually, democracy and nation-building are two separate challenges, with one sometimes reinforcing the other but not always.

In Afghanistan, democracy did not help. It made Karzai dependent on the political support of warlords and regional power brokers, the very people who had brought Afghanistan to grief in the 1990s. This led to payoffs, corruption, a drug mafia, power struggles, and bad governance, facilitating the return of the Taliban which led a resistance that was a part insurgency, part jihad, and part civil-war. And by creating a dual authority – their own and that of the Afghan government – Americans set up a perfect scenario for clash of personalities, policies and interests, making for a poor war strategy.

 

 

 

 

While Bush went on to fight another war, for his successor, it was a story of dealing with his deeply conflicted approach to the war where policy and legacy collided. Indeed the policymaking itself was not without its own conflicts, strife-torn as it was by turf wars, interagency rivalries and bureaucratic tensions.

The Trump Strategy

Now Trump is seeking a military solution to the conflict. There is a talk of a political solution, but that seems to be just a Plan B in case the military option fails. The suspension of aid to Pakistan is aimed at pressuring Islamabad to help Washington defeat the Taliban. But Pakistan is finding it hard to oblige without relinquishing its national interests in favour of U.S. aid, and that too in the face of public humiliation by Trump. It certainly will not do so in this election year, and not in an atmosphere where Pakistan sees the Indian threat having doubled with India’s increased presence in Afghanistan from where it is allegedly helping orchestrate terrorist attacks on Pakistan. If anything, this should enhance Pakistan’s relationship with the Taliban, which may be demonstrating their value as an ally with the recent horrific terrorist attacks in Kabul.

The Taliban are the biggest card Pakistan has to secure its interests in Afghanistan, and it would not give it up easily unless it knows what comes next.  Pakistan also feels the U.S. strategy would not succeed and may in fact backfire. A disinherited Taliban on a retreat from Afghanistan would be a much greater threat to Pakistan and to the United States, especially if the Taliban joins forces with other jihadist and Islamist groups.

The Washington-Islamabad standoff thus continues. Pakistan feels it can take the heat, and that if Washington dials up the pressure, it would fall back on China. Washington thus has to consider the geostrategic implications carefully in this respect.

The China Factor

A Pakistan closely aligned with China could conceivably take a harder line against India. If the United States continues to see China as a threat and India as a balancer, what would serve American interests better: an India whose resources are divided by a two-front deployment, or one that has friendly relations with Pakistan? For that, Washington should not burn its bridges with Islamabad.

A relationship with Pakistan would also give the United States leverage against India. Furthermore, it will be useful to have Pakistan on its side in a region that is increasingly coming under the strategic shadow of Russia and the creeping influence of Iran. Most importantly, Pakistan’s role remains critical in stabilizing Afghanistan, and in helping Washington’s counterterrorism efforts.

A Political Solution?

After considering all other options, the discussion always reverts to the talk of a political solution. But the irony is such a solution remains as elusive as the military one. How do you have power-sharing or coexistence when the Kabul government and the Taliban subscribe to two different political systems? And if instead of sharing it, you divide power by relinquishing the governance of some areas to the Taliban rule, are you not consigning the populations to the Middle Ages?

Pakistan has a limited influence to bring Taliban to the negotiating table and has little incentive to do so when there is lack of clarity about American policy and Pakistan’s own relations with Washington are strained. The upshot is that Taliban themselves are divided. Some are irreconcilable, but those who want peace worry that if they do lay down the arms and accept a deal while the American forces are still there, they might be shortchanged.

The Taliban trust China and its guarantees that they would not be betrayed. But the Chinese need support from Washington and Kabul. The Quadrilateral Consultative Group process offered the prospect of such a support.  But the Trump administration prefers military option and going it alone, and that also suits Kabul: this way, at least the Americans will likely stay for the long haul.

What is needed is a new relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Only Kabul and Islamabad together can deal with the Taliban, politically if possible, and militarily if necessary. Counterinsurgencies are essentially a governance issue. Afghanistan needs to conciliate the areas under the Taliban control, and Pakistan should help by making its lands inhospitable to them. And both must work on joint border management and resolution of the refugee problem. This is a long-term plan, but it is doable. U.S. engagement with them would be essential to their success, as would be China’s involvement.

But the Trump administration is not thinking in these terms. Instead, Trump has defined the Afghanistan war very narrowly and in immediate terms as a terrorism problem. American soldiers under attack from sanctuaries in Pakistan, rather than the war itself, preoccupies the Trump base. As for the military, it is only thinking of the military solution, and that also highlights the sanctuaries issue. So, right now, U.S. Pakistan relations are stuck, which makes the prospects of any political solution in Afghanistan quite dim.

Touqir Hussain, a former ambassador of Pakistan and diplomatic adviser to the Prime Minister, is adjunct faculty at Georgetown University and Syracuse University.

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Why We’re Underestimating American Collapse By Umair Haque

Why We’re Underestimating American Collapse

The Strange New Pathologies of the World’s First Rich Failed State

By Umair Haque

 

February 15, 2018 

You might say, having read some of my recent essays, “Umair! Don’t worry! Everything will be fine! It’s not that bad!” I would look at you politely, and then say gently, “To tell you the truth, I don’t think we’re taking collapse nearly seriously enough.”

Why? When we take a hard look at US collapse, we see a number of social pathologies on the rise. Not just any kind. Not even troubling, worrying, and dangerous ones. But strange and bizarre ones. Unique ones. Singular and gruesomely weird ones I’ve never really seen before, and outside of a dystopia written by Dickens and Orwell, nor have you, and neither has the history. They suggest that whatever “numbers” we use to represent decline — shrinking real incomes, inequality, and so on —we are in fact grossly underestimating what pundits call the “human toll”, but which sensible human beings like you and I should simply think of as the overwhelming despair, rage, and anxiety of living in a collapsing society.

Let me give you just five examples of what I’ll call the social pathologies of collapse — strange, weird, and gruesome new diseases, not just ones we don’t usually see in healthy societies, but ones that we have never really seen before in any modern society.

Image result for The Fall of American Empire

 

 

 

 

America has had 11 school shootings in the last 23 days. That’s one every other day, more or less. That statistic is alarming enough — but it is just a number. Perspective asks us for comparison. So let me put that another way. America has had 11 school shootings in the last 23 days, which is more than anywhere else in the world, even Afghanistan or Iraq. In fact, the phenomenon of regular school shootings appears to be a unique feature of American collapse — it just doesn’t happen in any other country — and that is what I mean by “social pathologies of collapse”: a new, bizarre, terrible disease striking society.

Why are American kids killing each other? Why doesn’t their society care enough to intervene? Well, probably because those kids have given up on life — and their elders have given up on them. Or maybe you’re right — and it’s not that simple. Still, what do the kids who aren’t killing each other do? Well, a lot of them are busy killing themselves.

So there is of course also an “opioid epidemic”. We use that phrase too casually, but it much more troubling than it appears at first glance. Here is what is really curious about it. In many countries in the world — most of Asia and Africa — one can buy all the opioids one wants from any local pharmacy, without a prescription. You might suppose then that opioid abuse as a mass epidemic would be a global phenomenon. Yet we don’t see opioid epidemics anywhere but America — especially not ones so vicious and widespread they shrink life expectancy. So the “opioid epidemic” — mass self-medication with the hardest of hard drugs — is again a social pathology of collapse: unique to American life. It is not quite captured in the numbers, but only through comparison — and when we see it in global perspective, we get a sense of just how singularly troubled American life really is.

Why would people abuse opioids en masse unlike anywhere else in the world? They must be living genuinely traumatic and desperate lives, in which there is little healthcare, so they have to self-medicate the terror away. But what is so desperate about them? Well, consider another example: the “nomadic retirees”. They live in their cars. They go from place to place, season after season, chasing whatever low-wage work they can find — spring, an Amazon warehouse, Christmas, Walmart.  Now, you might say — “well, poor people have always chased seasonal work!” But that is not really the point: absolute powerlessness and complete indignity is. In no other country I can see do retirees who should have been able to save up enough to live on now living in their cars in order to find work just to go on eating before they die — not even in desperately poor ones, where at least families live together, share resources, and care for one another. This is another pathology of collapse that is unique to America — utter powerlessness to live with dignity. Numbers don’t capture it — but comparisons paint a bleak picture.

How did America’s elderly end up cheated of dignity? After all, even desperately poor countries have “informal social support systems” — otherwise known as families and communities. But in America, there is the catastrophic collapse of social bonds. Extreme capitalism has blown apart American society so totally that people cannot even care for one another as much as they do in places like Pakistan and Nigeria. Social bonds, relationships themselves, have become unaffordable luxuries, more so than even in poor countries: this is yet another social pathology unique to American collapse.

Yet those once poor countries are making great strides. Costa Ricans now have higher life expectancy than Americans — because they have public healthcare. American life expectancy is falling, unlike nearly anywhere else in the world, save the UK — because it doesn’t.

And that is my last pathology: it is one of the soul, not one of the limbs, like the others above. Americans appear to be quite happy simply watching one another die, in all the ways above. They just don’t appear to be too disturbed, moved, or even affected by the four pathologies above: their kids killing each other, their social bonds collapsing, being powerless to live with dignity, or having to numb the pain of it all away.

If these pathologies happened in any other rich country — even in most poor ones — people would be aghast, shocked, and stunned, and certainly moved to make them not happen. But in America, they are, well, not even resigned. They are indifferent, mostly.

So my last pathology is a predatory society. A predatory society doesn’t just mean oligarchs ripping people off financially. In a truer way, it means people nodding and smiling and going about their everyday business as their neighbours, friends, and colleagues die early deaths in shallow graves. The predator in American society isn’t just its super-rich — but an invisible and insatiable force: the normalization of what in the rest of the world would be seen as shameful, historic, generational moral failures, if not crimes, becoming mere mundane everyday affairs not to be too worried by or troubled about.

Perhaps that sounds strong to you. Is it?

Now that I’ve given you a few examples — there are many more — of the social pathologies of collapse, let me share with you the three points that they raise for me.

These social pathologies are something like strange and gruesome new strains of the disease infecting the body social. America has always been a pioneer — only today, it is host not just to problems not just rarely seen in healthy societies — it is pioneering novel social pathologies have never been seen in the modern world outside present-day America, period. What does that tell us?

American collapse is much more severe than we suppose it is. We are underestimating its magnitude, not overestimating it. American intellectuals, media, and thought does not put any of its problems in global or historical perspective — but when they are seen that way, America’s problems are revealed to be not just the everyday nuisances of a declining nation, but something more like a body suddenly attacked by unimagined diseases.

Seen accurately. American collapse is a catastrophe of human possibility without modern parallel. And because the mess that America has made of itself, then, is so especially unique, so singular, so perversely special — the treatment will have to be novel, too. The uniqueness of these social pathologies tells us that American collapse is not like a reversion to any mean or the downswing of a trend. It is something outside the norm. Something beyond the data. Past the statistics. It is like the meteor that hit the dinosaurs: an outlier beyond outliers, an event at the extreme of the extremes. That is why our narratives, frames, and theories cannot really capture it — much less explain it. We need a whole new language — and a new way of seeing — to even begin to make sense of it.

But that is America’s task, not the world’s. The world’s task is this. Should the world follow the American model — extreme capitalism, no public investment, cruelty as a way of life, the perversion of everyday virtue — then these new social pathologies will follow, too. They are new diseases of the body social that have emerged from the diet of junk food — junk media, junk science, junk culture, junk punditry, junk economics, people treating one another and their society like junk — that America has fed upon for too long.

This article was originally published by “Medium” – Jan 25, 2018

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