April 2012, Week 1


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Mon, 2 Apr 2012 21:52:22 -0400
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The Phases of War: Public Rejects Afghanistan War,
Iraq's Almost Ending -- and Who Doesn't Want War With

April 01, 2012

By Phyllis Bennis 

Source: Institute for Policy Studies
Phyllis Bennis's ZSpace Page
The Spirit Of Resistance Lives 


Dear friends,

The U.S. war in Afghanistan (the current version, that
is - the U.S. had just a bit to do with the horrific
anti-Soviet war of the 1980s and its brutal aftermath
in the 1990s...) is well into its 11th year. The U.S. is
still losing. We never did have a chance to "win" this
war of vengeance - and while few in Washington are
ready to admit that, they've continued to revise and
rework and redefine just what "winning" might look

It certainly doesn't look much like what we're seeing
in Afghanistan today. A feckless, corrupt, incompetent
government kept alive and in place (we can't really say
"in power" since its reach doesn't extend much beyond
Kabul) by billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars and tens of
thousands of U.S. and allied troops. Escalating, not
diminishing violence against civilians. More frequent
and more deadly incidents involving U.S. troops out of
control, from burning Qu'rans to urinating on the
bodies of dead Afghans, to the most recent war crime,
the murder of 17 civilians including 9 children in

No surprise that the number of Afghan soldiers turning
their guns on their U.S. and NATO "trainers" is rising
too. Fox News is reporting that "U.S. troops in
Afghanistan now have far-reaching new protections
against rogue killers among their Afghan allies,
including assigned 'guardian angels,' fellow troops who
will watch over them as they sleep... In several Afghan
ministries, Americans are now allowed to carry weapons.
And they have been instructed to rearrange their office
desks there to face the door, so they can see who is
coming in, said the official." To paraphrase my
colleague Steve Burns at the Wisconsin Network for
Peace & Justice, is this changing deck chairs on the
Titanic or what?


I was at a conference a couple of days ago with the
great anti-war military scholar Andrew Bacevich. He
described wars like that in Afghanistan coming in
phases - Chapter 1 is liberation - or in this case
domination, since liberation lost. Chapter 2 is
counter-insurgency, and that one didn't do so well
either. Chapter 3, he said, has moved to targeted
assassinations, the drone war and beyond (actually WAY
beyond Afghanistan...). Bacevich also reminded us that
wars don't end when one side proclaims victory - they
end when the defeated admit that they lost. That
reality speaks volumes to the current U.S. interest in
negotiating an end to the war with the Taliban - and
what face-saving in Washington might have to do with

The killing of U.S. troops by their ostensible allies
in the Afghan military now make up 20 percent of all
the U.S. combat deaths this year. Somehow, though, we
never hear that the Afghan soldier who turns his gun on
a U.S. soldier has "snapped" - that maybe he has
post-traumatic stress disorder ( PTSD), that maybe he
was so enraged because he saw his baby daughter killed
in a drone strike the night before and he lost control.
No, we only hear that "the Taliban must have
infiltrated" the Afghan army or police. PTSD is
apparently only for trained soldiers on our side.
Except that in a 2009 UN-backed survey, the Afghan
government's own Ministry of Health estimated that 66
percent - a full two-thirds - of the Afghan population,
suffers from a variety of mental illnesses, most of
them stress-related and including PTSD.

There's a great deal of talk about Sgt. Robert Bales,
the apparent gunman in the villages in Kandahar, and
whether he had PTSD or other impairments. And we're
right to be concerned about the still-inadequate care
U.S. veterans get when they come home - soldiers can be
simultaneously victim and war criminal. (Iraq Veterans
Against the War have mobilized their Operation Recovery
campaign to defend soldiers' right to heal before being
redeployed - a campaign that also denies the Pentagon
access to these young instruments of battle for illegal
wars.) But we shouldn't forget that those 2/3 of
Afghans - something like 20 million people - face PTSD
or other mental disorders with only FORTY-TWO
psychiatrists and psychologists in the entire country.
I talked about this reality on NPR's The Diane Rehm
Show last week, as well as the potential consequences
for U.S. policy and decisions about ending the U.S. war
in Afghanistan. You can follow the link if you want to
listen or read the transcript. (And it would be great
if you comment too...)


That most recent massive U.S. war crime in Afghanistan,
the murder of 17 in Balandi and Alkozai villages in
Kandahar, may have been part of the reason for the
continuing rise in public opposition to the war. On
March 26 the New York Times reported that 69 percent of
people in the U.S. think we should not be at war in
Afghanistan - that's 16 percent higher than just four
months ago. That's huge.

We know how difficult it's been over these years to
change public opinion about Afghanistan. When the U.S.
began bombing Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, 88
percent of Americans supported it. It was the "good
war." President Obama said Iraq was the "dumb" war -
but within weeks of his inauguration he sent 22,000
additional troops to Afghanistan, before even beginning
high-level discussions about what the future of that
war should be. Then of course he ordered a 30,000 troop
surge later that year. So 69 percent opposition is

The question now is how to turn that shift of public
opinion into a shift in public policy. We know from
Iraq how hard that is. Opposition to the war in Iraq
was up in the 69 percent area years ago - and yet only
now we're seeing a more-or-less end to most of the
direct U.S. military role in Iraq. (Not entirely ended,
of course, but still certainly a victory for anti-war
forces here at home, in Iraq, and around the world.)


Last week was the 9th anniversary of that war. And
looking back, it's clearer than ever that the U.S.
failed to achieve any of its goals. I don't mean the
lying goals, the fake goals, of finding weapons of mass
destruction or bringing democracy to Iraq. I mean the
real goals, the ones that kept hundreds of thousands of
U.S. troops and hundreds of thousands of Pentagon-paid
mercenaries in Iraq for so many years:

Consolidating U.S. control over Iraqi oil - nope, U.S.
oil companies are just some among many of the myriad of
foreign interests in Iraq's oil fields.

Leaving behind a pro-U.S. government in Baghdad -
hardly, Prime Minister Maliki is barely on speaking
terms with anyone in Washington.

Permanent access to U.S. bases across Iraq - not even
close, every one of the several hundred bases was
either closed down or turned over to the Iraqi
government; even the giant 5,000-person embassy,
biggest in the world, had to be scaled back when Iraq
refused to guarantee immunity to enough U.S. troops to
protect it.

Creating a government and military more accountable to
the U.S. than to Iran - oops, seems we got that one
wrong too; despite continuing billions of dollars of
our tax money to prop it up, Baghdad today is allied
more closely to Iran than to the U.S.

So the U.S. lost in Iraq too. Iraq hasn't been
"liberated" - violence is rampant, the sectarian
violence resulting from early U.S. policies after the
2003 invasion continues to escalate. And U.S.-paid
contractors (paid by the State Dept this round, instead
of the Pentagon, that's the technical difference) are
still there. Thousands of them. What's not there, so
far, is one dollar for reparations or compensation.
That's the battle that lies ahead. The U.S. war in Iraq
may be over, but our responsibilities are not.

The Washington Peace Center hosted a wonderful
commemoration of the anniversary on the night of March
19, with veterans of both the war and the anti-war
battles telling stories, talking about how the war
itself and the anti-war mobilizations that tried to
stop the war affected them. Here's the link to video of
the event. Andy Shallal and I talked about what we face
today, Andy focusing on the continuing crisis affecting
ordinary Iraqis, I talked about why I think the end of
the war, uneven and ragged as it remains, really is a
victory for our global movement, and what's different
between the Iraq war and the looming threat of a new
war in Iran.


That threat isn't over. The big difference this time
around is that people in power - in the White House, in
the Pentagon, in all of the U.S. intelligence agencies,
even most of the security and intelligence people in
Israel - all agree that 1) Iran doesn't have a nuclear
weapon; 2) Iran is not building a nuclear weapon; 3)
Iran hasn't even made the decision of whether or not to
build a weapon in the future. And yet. The risk of a
war "against Iranian nuclear weapons" continues to


Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu continues to ratchet
up the rhetoric and the threats against Iran - knowing
that in an election year, the likelihood of a U.S.
president or Congress refusing to
back/support/participate in an Israeli military strike,
regardless of how dangerous, is virtually non-existent.
What does Israel get out of it? (Hint: it's not safety
from some "existential" threat). Israel gets to
preserve its nuclear weapons monopoly in the Middle
East - losing that monopoly is the real danger Israeli
officials worry about. That's why the call for a
Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in the Middle East is so
important - to make sure no one in the region has a
nuclear weapon. That certainly includes Iran, which
doesn't have one and isn't trying to build one. And it
would include Israel, whose uninspected and
unacknowledged arsenal of 200-400 high density nuclear
bombs remains the biggest cause of arms racing in this
arms-glutted part of the world.

It's also true that Netanyahu desperately wants a
different president in the White House next year.
Despite Obama's actual history of giving Israel more
military aid, greater protection in the UN, tighter
military ties, and fewer consequences for expanding
settlements than almost any other president, Netanyahu
knows that any Republican in the White House would
represent an even greater gift to Tel Aviv. And only
Israel and AIPAC, the most powerful part of the
pro-Israel lobbies that now represent the most
right-wing extremist elements of Israeli politics,
stand to benefit.

And oh by the way. Does anyone really think that as
long as Israel can play the "we face an existential
danger" card, anyone in Washington is likely to even
consider putting serious pressure on Tel Aviv to end
its occupation and apartheid policies towards
Palestinians? Let's see hands...

I've been talking about that a lot lately, including at
the Occupy AIPAC teach-in that paralleled AIPAC's
annual convention. My piece in Salon.com was called
"Obama Goes to AIPAC: A Scorecard." My assessment is
that despite President Obama's and assorted
congressmembers' craven speeches and obeisance to
AIPAC, Netanyahu left Washington without achieving his
biggest goal: a clear U.S. commitment to support war in
Iran. So far, rationality has won out; the danger is,
today's rationality may be trounced by tomorrow's
extremism running amok. I talked about the
Obama-Netanyahu dangers on The Real News - it's a scary


One of the most useful tools in mobilizing opposition
to war in Iran comes from the statements of top U.S.
and Israeli officials themselves:

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta asked and answered
his own Iran question: "Are they trying to develop a
nuclear weapon? No."

Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, Jr.
admitted the U.S. does not even know "if Iran will
eventually decide to build nuclear weapons."

The latest 2011 National Intelligence Estimate makes
clear there is no new evidence to challenge the 2007
conclusions; Iran still does not have a nuclear weapons
program in operation.

According to the Independent, "almost the entire senior
hierarchy of Israel's military and security
establishment is worried about a premature attack on
Iran and apprehensive about the possible

Dangers continue. Syria remains catastrophic - I talked
with Voice of America about how dangerous it would be
to repeat a Libya-style U.S.-NATO campaign to arm the
opposition and further militarize the situation. That
doesn't look likely right now, but the resistance
movement in Syria still faces huge challenges, made
even more difficult by militarization.

I've been on the road a lot, speaking in Detroit at
Wayne State and for the Michigan Coalition for Human
Rights in Dearborn, in New York for the Left Forum, and
in Long Island at the Unitarians' wonderful Shelter
Rock Congregation.

I'll be gone throughout April, at the Lannan
Foundation's writers' residency in Marfa, Texas and
I'll do the Lannan Cultural Freedom Lecture in Santa
Fe, New Mexico on April 10th. Looking forward to
catching up with all of you in May (including at the
anti-NATO protests in Chicago!).

We've got a lot of work to do. All best, Phyllis


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