jueves, 25 de junio de 2009

What the hell are we doing in Pakistan?

I apologize for the strong-worded title, but I've been asking myself this question since I saw Amy Goodman's interview with Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan on Democracy Now yesterday. Ostensibly, of course, we're fighting terrorism in Pakistan. More specifically, we're fighting the Taliban, who are supposedly just like the Afghanistani Taliban, if not part of the same entity. We're also fighting the remnants of Al Qaeda. And perhaps we're still looking for Osama Bin Laden? Our method of choice for fighting terrorism has been attacking the bases of suspected militants in the tribal areas of Pakistan with unmanned, remote-controlled aircraft. We're also funding and arming the Pakistani military and pressuring them to eliminate the Taliban from the Swat valley.

The reason I ask what we are doing in Pakistan is because every tactic the U.S. government has chosen is having the exact opposite effect of its officially stated objective. Rather than eliminating the threat of terrorism, each of our actions appear to increase the threat. Imran Khan's interview makes that abundantly clear.

In the latter part of the interview, Amy Goodman asked Imran Khan about his views of the role of the United States in Pakistan and more specifically, the impact of the recent decision to expand the war in Afghanistan and set up a $700 million embassy in Islamabad. In answering the question, Mr. Khan gave a brief overview of the the history of the Pakistani Taliban and argued that the emergence of terrorism in Pakistan is a direct result of U.S. policy in the region, particularly the occupation of Afghanistan:
Well, there was no terrorism in Pakistan, we had no suicide bombing in Pakistan, ’til Pakistan sent its troops on—under pressure from the US. Musharraf, General Musharraf, capitulated under the pressure and sent Pakistani troops into the tribal area and Waziristan. So it was that that resulted in what was the new phenomenon: the Pakistani Taliban. We had no militant Taliban in Pakistan, until we got in—we were forced into this US war on terror by a military dictator, not by the people of Pakistan. And people never owned this war. People always thought that this is not our war, and quite rightly, because we did not have any terrorism in Pakistan, as subsequently grew.

The more operations we did, the more reaction came. And suddenly, as now, we have thirty Taliban groups. I mean, these groups call themselves Taliban, but basically these are radicalized people, these are extremists. And extremism is growing in Pakistan, the more we are being engulfed in this war, which is based in, basically, Afghanistan. So, as long as the US troops are in Afghanistan, I’m afraid there’s no peace in Pakistan either, because the tribal areas are basically—there’s no border there, so the Pashtuns are split between—on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and we have, you know, this movement across the border. And, you know, to send a—think that the Pakistan army is going to stop it—I think Pakistan army itself is going to be stuck in this quagmire, the same as the US in Afghanistan.
I had never heard this explanation before, and was surprised, frankly, to learn that the Pakistani Taliban were such a recent phenomenon. If we are to believe what Mr. Khan says, and I have no reason to doubt him, we must conclude that the terrorists we are supposedly pursuing in Afghanistan would not have existed had we not invaded Afghanistan and/or forced Pakistan to send its army on its own people.

Earlier in the interview, Ms. Goodman asked Mr. Khan about the drone attacks in Northwestern Pakistan. He had this to say:
So, so far, I have to say, they—all these operations make no sense. These drone attacks—I don’t know why they haven’t done an analysis that—what are the benefits of drone attacks, and what is the damage done in increased hatred against the US, anti-Americanism?...There’s—according to the Pakistan government, the figures they released, of sixty drone attacks, only fourteen Al-Qaeda were killed, 700 civilians died, not to mention the numbers injured. And so, this collateral damage, each time there’s collateral damage, militancy increases in that area. So this is counterproductive.
Unlike the history of the Pakistani Taliban, I was aware of the U.S. drone attacks and the unacceptable level of civilian casualties which they have caused. I discussed the drone attacks in the context of our increasing shift towards robotic warfare in this post last January. His question as to whether anyone has done a cost-benefit analysis of the attacks is a very good one. The impact of the drone attacks, it appears, is quite similar to that of Musharraf's invasion of the tribal areas and our invasion of Afghanistan. Rather than reducing the threat of terrorism, we are radicalizing people and creating fertile ground for the recruitment of more terrorists.

Finally, Mr. Khan dedicated much of the interview to discussing the plight of the people in the Swat valley, which the Pakistani army has recently invaded in order to eliminate the Taliban. The Swat Taliban, of which there are a few thousand, are an even newer phenomenon than the Taliban in the border regions of the country. They are not not well liked by the vast majority of people in Swat, according to Khan. As a result, the people wanted something to be done about them. However, he believes the actions of the Pakistani army in Swat are entirely misguided and are creating a humanitarian disaster:
And it is true that the people wanted some sort of an operation, but not actually what happened. To go after 5,000 Taliban, they have displaced three-and-a-half million people. To use artillery, helicopter gunships, F-16s on civilian population, they’ve caused this massive human catastrophe. And so, yes, people wanted an operation, but they didn’t want this, because this now, if anything, is going to fan militancy. How are they going to rehabilitate these people? Their crops are destroyed. These are subsistence farmers, most of them. Their fruit orchards, their animals. So what are they going to go back to? This is another problem we face now.
In other words, the constant theme of U.S. policy in Pakistan repeats itself: rather than solving the problem of terrorism, we have once again chosen tactics which further radicalize the population, not to mention provoking a humanitarian crisis as well. If you'd like to read more about the humanitarian conditions in Swat, in which over 2 million people have been displaced, check out Kathy Kelly's piece in today's Counterpunch. I should warn you, however, that the details are rather horrifying, particularly in light of the fact that the invasion has U.S. backing. Her article ends with a poignant question:
If we want to counter Al-Qaeda, if we want to be safe from further terrorist attacks, we'd do well to remember that even when we don’t recognize the humanity of people bearing the brunt of our wars, these very people have eyes to see and ears to hear. They must be asking themselves, who are the terrorists?
In light of the manifest failure of U.S. policy in Pakistan to achieve its objectives, and its high success rate in terms of increasing the threat of terrorism, I return to my original question: Why are we doing what we're doing in Pakistan? During the Bush years, many Democrats blamed the crimes of the administration on incompetence and stupidity. It was a misdiagnosis then, which hid the truly malicious intentions of the Bushies, and I would venture that it's even wronger now under the current administration. Our current president obviously runs circles around our former chief executives intellectually. I doubt lack of competence is a big problem for his cabinet or the military brass either. Unfortunately, I cannot help but reach the conclusion that our current administration knows full well that its behavior in Pakistan is radicalizing the population, increasing the threat of terrorism, killing thousands of civilians, and ruining the lives of millions more innocent people.

My real question then, is what are their motives? The best guess I can come up with is that the U.S. and Pakistani military establishment are truly fearful of the Lawyer's Movement, which lead a successful campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience to restore the chief justice of Pakistan and paved the way for the transition to civilian rule and the end of the Musharraf regime. Perhaps they fear that this movement will lead to the further democratization of Pakistani society, which one day might threaten its status as the best bud of the U.S. and transnational capital. As such, they are destabilizing the country in order to lay the foundations for the return of military rule, which could crush the incipient democracy movement of the Pakistani lawyers. However, the drone attacks began under the Musharraf regime, not when the civilians in power. As such, my logic could be all wrong.

At this point, I remain perplexed. What I do know, however, is that our current strategy isn't working and I'm not naive enough to think that it's just a result of incompetence. Something else is a foot and whatever it is, it can't be good.

domingo, 21 de junio de 2009

If only...

I'll be completely honest, I really have no idea what to make of the post-election turmoil in Iran. Based on what I've seen, mostly on Democracy Now and The Real News, I do not agree with folks like Paul Craig Roberts who claim that the movement is just another CIA-orchestrated/U.S.-backed "color revolution" like the Orange revolution in Ukraine or the Rose revolution in Georgia. Rather, I'm much more inclined to agree with Pepe Escobar of the Real News that the uprising is completely indigenous and a legitimate expression of the will of the Iranian people. I do not claim to be any sort of expert, however. My opinions on the events are exactly that, opinions, laced with a heavy dose of hope.

Regardless of the circumstances behind the uprising, I think Paul Blake, in his interview with Pepe Escobar linked to above, made a very keen observation about the transpirings in Iran. In the last minute of the interview, Blake contrasts the behavior of Mir Hossein Mousavi and his supporters with that of Al Gore and American Democrats in 2000. He points out that Mousavi and his supporters have launched days of protests in cities throughout the country despite facing an authoritarian government and the several thousand member basiji paramilitary force, which has free reign to terrorize the public with impunity. Al Gore, on the other hand, quickly forfeited the election and did not once call for civil disobedience. Seeing the Iranians display such courage, one has to wonder what would have happened if Al Gore had acted like Mousavi and called for demonstrations against the illegitimate election of George Bush. Could anyone seriously deny that thousands, if not millions of Americans would have likely answered his call? And if he had, what would have happened? Perhaps Bush would've won anyway, but he would have had to contend with a large section of the public that not only thought his victory was fraudulent but actively mobilized against him. And maybe, just maybe, Gore would have won. And if he had, he would have had a mobilized, active public to thank for it. A public with high hopes and demands of their president and a public with leverage.

But I digress. Here's to hoping that folks like Paul Craig Roberts are wrong and the people of Iran continue displaying such awe inspiring courage. Most importantly, I hope their efforts are not in vane and they are able to construct a more just, open, and democratic society for themselves as a result of these protests.

miércoles, 17 de junio de 2009

By narrow margin, congress passes war appropriations bill. Dennis Kucinich responds

Yesterday, by a narrow margin, Congress passed a war appropriations bill, totaling over $100 billion dollars. The bill will fund the continued occupation of Iraq, an expansion of the war in Afghanistan, and provide the International Monetary Fund (IMF) with billions in additional capital, apparently to wage economic war against the third world. Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) responded to the passage of the bill:
There’s money, too, for the IMF, presumably to bail out European banks, billions for the IMF, so they can force low- and middle-income nations to cut jobs, wages, healthcare and retirement security, just like corporate America does to our constituents. And there’s money to incentivize the purchase of more cars, but not necessarily from the US, because a Buy America mandate was not allowed. Another $106 billion, and all we get is a lousy war. Pretty soon that’s going to be about the only thing made in America: war.

martes, 9 de junio de 2009

Mark Weisbrot reveals true purpose of the additional IMF funds

Via Znet (article originally appeared on Firedoglake), Mark Weisbrot, co-director of CEPR, reveals what is likely the true purpose of the additional funding for the IMF requested by President Obama.

Obama claims the funds are necessary for a global economic stimulus, but a recent CEPR study demonstrated that nearly all of the existing IMF agreements call for interest rate hikes, budget cuts, and/or tax increases. Such policies are the exact opposite of what you want to do during a recession and there is little evidence the IMF will change its ways if it becomes newly flush with cash. As such, Weisbrot believes that, in reality, the IMF funding is a means by which American taxpayers can cover the losses of European banks, which made tons of bad loans to Central and Eastern Europe in recent years. The process would look something like this: we provide money to the IMF, which is then loaned to crisis-stricken Central and Eastern European governments, who then use the money to pay back the debts businesses and individuals in their countries owe to Western European banks. Interest rate hikes, spending cuts, and tax increases on the poor would help facilitate the repayment of loans, at the expense of driving these countries further into recession.

Yet another example of the sad reality we're living in today. Heads they win, tails you lose.

Thanks to Professor Weisbrot for the article.

sábado, 6 de junio de 2009

Nonviolent protestors masacred in Peru- Please send a message to President Garcia

Since April, indigenous communities in the Peruvian Amazon have been engaged in constant, nonviolent protests against the plans of Peruvian President Alan Garcia to give multinational mining, logging, and oil companies free reign to extract resources from their lands. Last Friday, at 5 in the morning, the Peruvian military police attacked a group of peaceful protesters in Bagua, a remote area of the Northern Amazon. According to the most recent reports, at least 84 people have been killed, mostly indigenous protesters but also around 10 policemen.

Please protest President Garcia's murder of peaceful protesters by sending him a letter condemning the massacre. To do so, just follow this link, provided by Amazon Watch.

Hillarious comic about "reverse racism"

From Znet

lunes, 1 de junio de 2009

Michael Moore's terrific plan for rescuing GM

This morning, Michael Moore wrote a terrific piece on General Motors which appeared in Huffington Post. It's the best, most readable, and most interesting plan I've ever heard for reviving American manufacturing and rescuing the midwest from the economic downturn. I highly suggest that any and everyone read it.

Moore begins his argument by pointing out that, as a result of the restructuring/bankruptcy deal reached between GM, the UAW, its creditors, and the governments of the U.S. and Canada, you, I, and every American taxpayer now own a controlling stake in General Motors. That's right, the American taxpayers now own 60% of GM. Of course, this is not a particularly exciting prospect for many Americans, who likely aren't thrilled that they now own a piece of a bankrupt, highly indebted company. However, Moore rightly argues that our principle concern should not be returning GM to profitability as soon as possible (which has, incidentally, been the government's focus thus far). Some have floated ideas about building a smaller, more profitable GM under the government's watch and then spinning it off to private investors. Moore believes we should discard those ideas and I agree with him. Instead, we should take advantage of the unused industrial capacity and unemployed, skilled manufacturing workers made available by the collapse of GM to solve our pressing social needs. And of those needs, shifting to a green, energy efficient economy is among the most pressing. As such, GM factories should be retooled to build trains, windmills, hybrid/electric buses, and other machines to put America on the path to breaking our dependence on dirty oil.

Such a strategy will proably involve significant investment of taxpayer dollars, which the bailout-weary public likely wouldn't find especially appealing. However, the investments Moore recommends will yield amazing returns in the future, if not in economic profits then in the form of a cleaner, healthier planet, improved transportation infrastructure, and good paying jobs for depressed communities.

It would be a shame if the government approached the GM situation with only short term profits in mind. The collapse of the Detroit auto industry has wrought devastation on many communities, but the bankruptcy and effective nationalization of GM should be seen as a great opportunity. We can turn the tragedy of the bankruptcy of what was once the quintessential symbol of America's prosperity and economic might into a blessing by moving right now to address transportation, energy, environmental, and social problems which have been festering for far too long.

It will be incredibly hard to convince the White House and Congress to heed Moore's advise. Every day our leaders in Washington provide more evidence of the unfortunate fact that the banks "frankly own the place," in the words of Dick Durbin. Nonetheless, we cannot forget that we frankly own GM now. It should be up to us what the government does with it. Without a doubt, we have been presented with an opportunity as a country. An opportunity which the labor movement, environmental movement, and all concerned citizens ought to band together and seize. That, my friends, would be change we can believe in.

More on single payer

Last week, Senate Finance Comittee Chairman Max "single payer is off the table" Baucus held a series of town hall meetings throughout his home state of Montana to gauge the attitudes of his constituents towards health care reform. Or more accurately, his aides held meetings, as the good senator was unable to attend. I have no idea what he and his staff were expecting, but according to Ryan Grim of Huffington Post (article linked above), the people of Montana are not pleased with Mr. Baucus's approach, to say the least. The Baucus plan to keep the multi-billion dollar, parasitic health insurance industry in business had few supporters among town meeting attendants, but according to the Helena Independent Record, crowds went wild every time single payer national health insurance was mentioned.

These meetings are yet another demonstration of the popularity of single payer, which has been proven time and time again by countless polls. Thanks to Ryan Grim for publicizing these meetings and thanks to the Montanans who attended them and spoke their minds. Who knows, if we keep talking, maybe some day they'll listen.