July 2010, Week 5


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Sat, 31 Jul 2010 12:05:02 -0400
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Washington's Wars and Occupations: Making Monsters Of
Nations, Making A Monster Mess

By Francesca Fiorentin

War Times/Tiempo de Guerras
Month in Review #63
July 30, 2010


It has been a cruel, cruel summer. With the record-breaking
heat that has hit the U.S. come other record breakers:

  *June and July have seen the highest number of U.S.
  casualties in Afghanistan since the war's beginning in

  *The Army reported 32 soldier suicides in June, the most
  for a single month since January 2009.

  *In July the total of immigrant deaths along the Arizona-
  Mexico border reached an all-time monthly high.

  *The full tally of damage from the biggest oil spill in
  U.S. history has yet to be compiled.

  *And with soaring incarceration rates of Blacks and
  Latinos there was the minimal but still double-edged
  verdict of "involuntary manslaughter" for the BART police
  officer who shot the unarmed 22-year-old Oscar Grant point
  blank in the back. (Double-edged because popular outcry
  did create the context for a first-ever Bay Area
  conviction of a police officer for murdering a Black man.)

Then - despite the WikiLeaks document release with on-the-
ground evidence that the war in Afghanistan is indeed the
nightmare we believed it to be - Congress closed out the
month by passing the "war funding supplemental" providing
another $37 billion for military operations in Afghanistan
and Iraq. This brings the total spent on these wars to over
$1 trillion (just about the estimated cost of a true
universal public health-care system). The bill's passage -
while 102 Democrats and 12 Republicans voted no - gave
another green light to conflicts skittering further from
Washington's control. It is a stinging reminder of just how
out of touch Congress is with the citizens it claims to
represent, 56% of whom believe the war in Afghanistan is
"not worth fighting" according to a June Washington Post/ABC
News poll.

In moments like these the U.S. no longer appears like a
functional country but a large, unwieldy monster chomping at
its own tail: funneling billions to unpopular, unwinnable,
and morally disgraceful wars while its population is
strapped with economic crisis. And monsters beget monsters.
The government the U.S. created and now backs in
Afghanistan, the devastation the U.S. has wrought in Iraq,
Washington's version of a "peace process" between Israel and
the Palestinians: these projects are turning out to be just
as monstrous and deformed as the U.S.'s own dwindling


With the pace of U.S. deaths in 2010 double that of 2009 and
one incident after another of NATO troops killing Afghan
soldiers and civilians, it is clear that there is a more
chaos than order to the U.S.' "nation-building" in
Afghanistan. And if any more evidence of the war's
senselessness was needed, WikiLeaks just supplied it with
90,000 damning documents straight from the source. Written
by soldiers and intelligence officers, the documents confirm
what the antiwar movement has argued for years: this war is
horrific, mismanaged, and futile. The documents also add new
details and expose the cover-ups and under-reporting of
civilian deaths that have become common military practice.
For Phyllis Bennis' assessment of the significance of the
WikiLeaks revelations, go to:

The most significant short-term reaction to the leaked
documents is likely to be in European countries whose
populations are massively opposed to the war. It was no
accident that WikiLeaks sent the documents to Germany's Der
Spiegel and The Guardian UK in addition to the New York
Times. And no accident that those papers' coverage stressed
revelations about Afghan civilian casualties rather than the
main thing emphasized by the Times - the role of Pakistan's
intelligence agencies in assisting the Taliban (and
implicitly the need for Washington to "get its ally into

An antiwar surge in U.S. public opinion may take longer. But
the WikiLeaks documents stand as a semi-official validation
of previous criticisms of the "counterinsurgency" strategy
adopted by the Obama administration. WikiLeaks provides
important back-up, for instance, to the memo from U.S.
Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry that was leaked
back in January. Eikenberry warned that an increase in
troops will "increase Afghan dependency... and will deepen
the military involvement in a mission that most agree cannot
be won solely by military means."  He expressed concerns
that the longer-term goal of a secure and sovereign Afghan
nation will be undermined, and went on to say that President
Hamid Karzai is "not an adequate strategic partner" who
seems to "shun responsibility for any sovereign burden" and
who would be glad to see the U.S. dig in deeper into the
country. He pointed to the rampant corruption (including
Karzai's fraudulent re-election), and the lack of a
"political ruling class" that can provide a "national

Eikenberry's observations earned him a New York Times
editorial suggesting that the White House fire him as part
of a "wider housecleaning" after giving Gen. Stanley
McChrystal the boot. The Times described Eikenberry as
having a "lack of enthusiasm for the counterinsurgency

But the main point is that the counter-insurgency strategy -
which war reporter Ann Jones describes as a process by which
soldiers kill civilians and then apologize over tea -
deserves no enthusiastic support. It is a rolling set of war
crimes and needs to be abandoned, period.


Instead of "winning hearts and minds," the U.S. has turned
more Afghans toward the Taliban. As former U.S. State
Department official in Afghanistan Matthew Hoh who resigned
in 2009 told Democracy Now!, the Taliban is "a very large
organization that's not monolithic" but "composed of
separate groups that have joined together, basically to
repel foreign occupation...and resist a central government
that is very corrupt." He clarifies that Afghans joining the
Taliban don't do so out of "kinship with Al Qaeda or because
they're terrorists, but because they do not want to be

The results of a recent poll by the International Council on
Security and Development in Afghanistan are therefore both
staggering and unsurprising. They show:

  *75% of Afghans believe foreigners disrespect their
  religions and traditions.

  *74% believe that working with foreign forces is wrong

  *55% believe that foreign troops are in Afghanistan for
  their own benefit, to destroy or  occupy the country, or
  to destroy Islam.

This evidence - which cries as loud as World Cup vuvuzelas -
has fallen upon deaf ears. The Obama administration and
others seem to have put their faith in General David
Petraeus, the last sailor deranged enough to swear he can
conquer the stormy waves of Afghanistan by brute force. In
his latest move of insanity, Petraeus decided to go forward
with a NATO plan to arm Afghan villagers to fight the
Taliban. This despite protests from Karzai himself against a
tactic that has a history of failure - creating anti-
government militias and building dependence on fighting as
employment. These are not the sustainable jobs Afghans
sorely need, no more than Karzai is a democratically-elected

One year from now, the 100,000 US troops will supposedly
begin to leave Afghanistan. But the White House itself
admits the date will be almost assuredly be pushed back.
Even one more year - one more day - in Afghanistan mean more
lives lost and a society further divided and uprooted.
Withdrawal cannot wait. Commitment to total U.S./NATO
withdrawal has always been the pre-condition to peace in
Afghanistan, key to national reconciliation backed by a
regional agreement, and a pledge by Washington to finance
rebuilding the infrastructure of a country battered by
decades of war.


"I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded
moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the
dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my
heart."  --Dr. Victor Frankenstein

Upon realizing he had created what he considered a monster,
the infamous Dr. Frankenstein was horrified and abandoned
the creature to fend for itself. Kind of like the U.S. and
the U.S. media when looking (or not looking) at Iraq.
Political stalemate, continued violence, and a gaping lack
of infrastructure describe the nation many in Washington
have the nerve to refer to as a democracy, while a Senator
John McCain can say with a straight face that it is the
welcome fruit of U.S. "victory"!

Since parliamentary elections nearly five months ago,
politicians have been unable to form a government. Power is
largely suspended between Ayad Allawi and Prime Minister
Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, essentially seen as "expats" out touch
with the average Iraqi. The standstill reveals among other
things that Iraqis are wholly disenchanted with the current
politicians, who have not been able to keep them safe, give
them jobs, nor provide basic infrastructure. In the lead-up
to the parliamentary elections, 57% of Iraqis in Baghdad
said they felt conditions for peace in the country had
worsened. Since the elections, the country has seen a spike
in bombings and targeted killings of politicians, police,
and members of The Awakening, a Sunni militia paid directly
by the U.S.

Iraqi police and military reports show that just from July 1
to 18, 189 Iraqis (including women and children) had died in
various attacks, with close to another 700 wounded.  A plan
for parliament should come with broader national
reconciliation if Iraqis are to ever go a week without
violent loss of life. The U.S. - which was happy to fund and
utilize ethnic conflict as part of its "defeat the
insurgency" campaign from 2004-2008 - now issues patronizing
calls to Iraqis to "get it together." Iraq's failure to form
a government will ultimately be blamed on Iraqis themselves,
seen through a twisted and racist lens about Arabs and their
"endless sectarianism," as if the U.S. invasion and
occupation were not at the heart of today's problems.

Add to this the lack of basic services like roads, water,
and electricity. This month riots broke out across the
country demanding more than the few hours of electricity
Iraqis receive per day. Back in 2008, Siemens and General
Electric signed a $7-8 billion-dollar agreement with the
Iraqi government to upgrade the country's power grid. Iraqis
have yet to see the fruits of that contract. Earlier this
month, the Times reported that U.S.-led projects have either
been scaled back or abandoned altogether, like a $102
million sewage system in Fallujah waiting to be completed
after six years of work.

But Washington says "not our problem" like the mad scientist
deserting his creation. The U.S. wants it both ways:
preserve influence (in part by "renegotiating" an agreement
so U.S. troops can stay indefinitely), but take no
responsibility for the destruction and displacement (several
million refugees) that the U.S. war caused. Iraq is rarely
on the front pages now, but the antiwar movement must fight
to make sure Washington does not slink away from
responsibility to help heal the country it ravaged.


The outrageous attack on the flotilla carrying humanitarian
aid to Gaza in May seemed to shift a few pebbles beneath
Washington's Israeli policy. It ruffled the feathers of many
who are afraid Israel has become a liability for the U.S.
and called into question blanket support for its every land-
grab and military adventure. Among Israeli politicians and
Israel's many cheerleaders within the U.S., there is growing
worry that Israel's next military outburst could lead to
serious consequences. As the New York Times' pet pundit
Thomas Friedman put it in a recent op-ed, Israel must "buy
its next [military] timeout with diplomacy" or it "could be
forced to kill even more civilians." This way of treating
Israel as a forever justified victim with anger management
problems is replicated in Washington.

At the White House meeting between Obama and Prime Minister
Netanyahu early this month, there was no mention of the
flotilla or Israel's defiance of Washington's demand for a
moratorium on settlement-building. Instead, it was all
smiles and warm handshakes along with a White House
endorsement of Israel being exempted from what is required
of all other countries when it comes to nuclear weapons
possession.  Conversation focused on re-starting peace
negotiations, a pitiful process on an ever-uneven playing
field: the State of Israel with a nuclear arsenal estimated
at 200-300 warheads vs. Palestinian population fragmented by
occupation. That same week the Israeli human rights
organization B'Tselem released a new study showing that
there are currently Israeli settlements on 43% of the West

Numerous commentators attributed Obama's royal treatment of
Netanyahu to Democratic worries about the 2010 mid-term
elections and maintaining the favor of the "pro-Israel"
lobby and vote. But as proves the recently released video
from 2001 of Netanyahu bragging about manipulating and
ultimately scuttling the Oslo Accords--politically out-
maneuvering the so- called "pro-Palestinian" Clinton
administration--Israel is also quite adept at playing U.S.
politics. What Netanyahu said then summed up the Israeli
right's attitude about its relationship with the U.S.:

"America is a thing you can move very easily," he said,
"move it in the right direction. They won't get their way."

But Israel's attack on the Gaza aid flotilla and the spike
in media coverage about the real impact of the Gaza siege
has opened the door to changes in U.S. public opinion.
Palestine solidarity activists within the U.S. will need to
harness the energy of this moment in their favor and hammer
away at the point that the main obstacles to peace are
Israeli policies of settlement expansion, collective
punishment and occupation.

This week's declaration by British Prime Minister David
Cameron - a conservative! - that the attack on the Gaza
flotilla was "completely unacceptable" and that Gaza is a
"prison camp" is the kind of statement that can provide a
lever for getting our viewpoint into the mainstream. The
Presbyterian Church USA's vote this month to support a
proposal that calls for an end to U.S. aid to Israel as long
as settlements expand is also a heartening and important
step in broadening the justice movement for Palestine.


In these troublesome times, it is critical to rescue our
anti-war activism from cynicism and isolation. Now is the
moment to show what action really looks like beyond
Facebook. Now is the moment to wake up from the stupor many
fell into after the new administration did not make the
changes much of his voting base hoped for. Grassroots
change-makers - antiwar, economic and racial justice, and
environmental activists - must connect the dots that outline
the monster of empire and the monster mess it is making in
Central Asia and the Middle East. There is a dormant
majority against Washington's wars and its backwards
priorities. With some hard work and smart campaigns, that
majority can be galvanized to act and make its power felt.

[Francesca Fiorentini, a member of War Times' new "Month in
Review" writing team, is also an editor of Left Turn
magazine and an independent journalist based in Argentina. ]


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