Monday, December 18, 2006

How Will History Judge Rumsfeld?

You know the worm has turned when even Parade Magazine is saying that history will be harsh on Donald Rumsfeld’s service as Secretary of Defense. There appears to be a growing recognition of the severe blunders of this administration. If this is what Parade will say about Rumsfeld as he leaves office, what will it say
about George W. Bush when he leaves office? By then the scale of the disaster will be even broader, the extent of the waste in human life and American treasure even greater, the sweep of the humiliations before the world even more evident, even to Bush’s most loyal followers. By that time not only Bush and his administration will be vilified for its follies but also the public who supported him – the minions who followed him, accepted his misreprentations of truth at face value, and provided the grass-roots operations that activated a movement to support the implausible claims and promises of the neo-cons who could never have gained so powerful a voting constituency without them. Those hard core followers were of course the “far right,” the white middle-class church-going “evangelicals” – among them many of our closest friends – who were animated by the wedge issues, abortion, gay marriage, flag burning, etc.

A disturbing element of the Bush follies has been its linkage with a religious movement. As the Bush administration’s excesses of ignorance and arrogance become broadly recognized the religious elements that supported it will be impugned along with it. The claims and ideals of the evangelicals will be discounted along with those of the neo-cons who scarcely respected them even as they found them useful.

The pendulum is swinging. What kind of excesses will be generated in the other direction?


Sunday, December 17, 2006

Diplomat's Suppressed Document Lays Bare the Lies Behind Iraq War

The American and British’s governments’ case for going to war in Iraq was “torn apart” by the publication of previously suppressed evidence. In fact, Tony Blair – and no doubt many people in the Bush administration – were pretty sure that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction. This is only the beginning; we are going to see many more instances of ‘laying bare’ the lies that were told to enable the ‘pre-emptive’ war against Saddam Hussein to start. So many lives lost, so much money spent, so much respect lost – how can the costs of this blunder ever be recovered?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Ahmadinejad Attempts to Deny the Holocaust

The attempts of President Ahmadinejad to deny the holocaust is another indication of the way contemporary societies re-interpret the past in order to define the present. "Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, portrays participants like David Duke, the former Louisiana Klan leader, and Robert Faurisson of France, who has devoted his life to trying to prove that the Nazi gas chambers were a myth, as
silenced truth-tellers whose stories expose Western leaders as the hypocrites he considers them to be." Because of the broad resentment against Israel in the Middle East his attempts seem to be gaining traction.

Ahmadinejad intends to make Iran – and Shi’ism – the dominant power in the Middle East. No wonder the Saudis threaten to support the Sunnis of Iraq if the Americans leave. This is no surprise and surely cannot be new: Already the sympathies of the Saudi Arabian people is with the Sunnis of Iraq. Wealthy Saudis must be providing at least some support for them even now: We keep wondering if private Saudi money is not already heavily invested in the activities of the most militant Sunnis (takfiris) in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Bush's Insistence That The Military Stay

I have been so accustomed to being offended, even scandalized, by the policies of President Bush that my first reaction to the report of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group has been to accept it, and to again see Bush’s refusal to accept all that they recommend as more of his usual ignorant obstinacy. However, after a little reflection I have to say that their recommendation that the U. S. military get out of Iraq by a certain time is a mistake (anyway, it will not happen, as I explain below). Here, at least, I understand George W. Bush’s insistence that the American military should stay long enough to quell the opposition.

The invasion of Iraq was a blunder of incomparable proportions – it was a blunder to go in under false pretenses (to say nothing of the dishonesty of leading the American people to believe that Saddam was involved in the 9/11 attack), and it was a blunder to start a “pre-emptive war” – but now that we have actually invaded Iraq, what is there to do? Bush claims that we have to finish the job; indeed, I do so wish that the US could overcome the image that its troops normally flee from conflict after a few losses. I grieve for the loss of American military personnel for what was a boondoggle of unforgivable proportions. None of this had to be. But now – now that the mess has been made, the U. S. may create more mayhem if it does not follow through.

The pattern has not been missed on Osama, who has repeatedly pointed out the American practice of avoiding conflict: American troops withdrew after 241 servicemen were killed in Lebanon in 1983; they withdrew after 19 were killed in Mogadishu in 1993; they did nothing much to avenge the deaths of 5 servicemen in Riyadh or 19 killed in Dhahran in 1996; and after 220 people were killed in the bombing of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the Clinton administration did no more than fire off some rockets into Afghanistan (most of which missed). If the American servicemen are withdrawn now, after four years of war, the loss of nearly 3,000 lives, and the squandering of scandalous billions of dollars, Osama and the most radical takfiri militarists will, as they suppose, be proven right. The most radical of militants will be emboldened to continue violent causes, if not in the West then least in various countries of the Middle East.

The situation is complicated by multiple mis-readings of each others’ point of view. The Americans think of themselves as liberators who are doing good – even if as it happens they are acting very much in their own self interest (more below). The Iraqi people want the Americans to leave because they see the Americans as invaders like the Ottomans and British. The radical Islamists see themselves as fighting unbelievers in the Middle East and Americans as well as others in the West in order to establish – rather, re-establish – a proper Islamic society under a true Caliphate, the sort that has not existed since, say, the eighth century. What is not being made clear is that even if our troops are “pulled out” they will not be far away and could be sucked into conflict again. Whatever the Americans do or appear to do, there is virtually no chance that they will genuinely “leave” the area: The huge natural wealth of the region will continue to draw American interests, indeed those of the whole world, into the area.
Note this map:

Within this ellipsis is 70% of the world’s known oil resources and about 70% of the world’s known gas resources. This region is destined to be the focus of future struggles for dominance in the world. (
BGR, 2006, “Petroleum” Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), Hannover. (accessed October 14, 2006)]

No wonder the Americans are building the largest embassy in the world just outside Bagdad – to mention another matter not much reported to the American people. The new embassy will be as big as the Vatican, about 104 acres. It will house a number of high-rise buildings, already being constructed. That the Bagdad embassy will be strategically situated in such fossil-fuel rich area is of course no accident. So it turns out that, whatever the appearances, whatever the Baker-Hamilton report recommends, the United States is not really leaving.


The Jirga Method of Peace-Making

Dawn has an editorial that addresses the discussion about a joint-Afghan-Pakistan jirga (council of elders), brought on by the rise of the Taliban. Pakistanis - the official ones -- still can't quite believe the Taliban are a creation of their own policies. But the voice of a sensible public observer is a good sign. Even so, if, as is reported, the escalation of violence comes from outsiders, mainly from Egypt, promoting their own brand of "takfiri" radicalism (justifying the murder of almost anyone different from them), then the situation is far more serious than this article seems to acknowledge. Lets hope for progress, but we can't hold our breath.

Enough Evidence to Believe There Is No Exit From Iraq

Eurasianet's Weekly Update provides more than enough evidence to believe that there will be no useful exit for the Americans from Iraq and that the region more generally could easily decay into a broad civil war:
Sunni - Shia with Iran being the main source of funding for the Shia side and Saudi Arabia for the Sunni side. Or am I unusually pessimistic?

Mr. Sheikh, as the Editor in Chief of Al-Jazeera, you are one of the most important opinion-makers in the Arab world. What do you call suicide bombers?
Lunch with Robert Fisk: Video: Robert Fisk talks about his latest posting to Lebanon, shares his intimate understanding of the Middle East and tells us where the region-wide struggles are heading

U.S. made Hezbollah stronger, analysts say: America's failure to stop Israeli attacks weakened the Lebanese government, critics argue

Taliban 'Mini-State' In Pakistan?: Peace deals between Islamic militants and Pakistan's government have created a virtual Taliban mini-state near Afghanistan, giving militants a "free hand" to recruit, train and arm for cross-border attacks, a think tank reported Monday.

Darfur crisis crosses borders : Both Chad and the Central African Republic have become engulfed in fighting that involves a toxic mix of rebel groups, government forces, armed militias, and civilians.

Britain stops talk of 'war on terror':
A Foreign Office spokesman said the government wanted to 'avoid reinforcing and giving succour to the terrorists' narrative by using language that, taken out of context, could be counter-productive'. The same message has been sent to British diplomats and official spokespeople around the world.

Sunni and Shiite Resistance Remain Mystery to U.S., Iraq Report Charges :
Nearly four years after the invasion of Iraq, the United States still does not understand the enemy that American troops are fighting, according to last week's report by the Iraq Study Group.

Prominent Saudi Muslim clerics urge Muslims to support Iraqi Sunnis against Shiites: Over 30 prominent Islamic clerics from Saudi Arabia on Monday called on Sunni Muslims around the Middle East to support their brethren in Iraq against Shiites and praised the insurgency.

History will not treat us kindly By Tim Andersen
We will be remembered as the Americans who insulated themselves from reality and remained self-absorbed, concerned with their own personal comfort and privilege while our government wrecked havoc on the world and destroyed our own culture.

The militarily organized practice of torture, the sexual abuse, and all other abuses of men and women, clandestine incarcerations and forced disappearances, are not new in the history of the Third World, and of Latin America in particular. It has been instead an historical constant of colonial, neocolonial and neoliberal domination.

Revolution in the air as Lebanon's rift widens By Robert Fisk

With Fouad Siniora's cabinet hiding in the Grand Serail behind acres of razor wire and thousands of troops - a veritable "green zone" in the heart of Beirut - the largely Shia Muslim opposition, assisted by their Christian allies, brought up to two million supporters into the centre of the city yesterday to declare the forthcoming creation of a second Lebanese administration.
The Americans don't see how unwelcome they are, or that Iraq is now beyond
repair By Patrick Cockburn: Manipulation of facts was often very crude. As an example of the systematic distortion, the Iraq Study Group revealed last week that on one day last July US officials reported 93 attacks or significant acts of violence. In reality, it added, "a careful review of the reports ... brought to light 1,100 acts of violence".

Monday, December 11, 2006

Good News and Bad News From Afghanistan

There is both good news from Afghanistan and bad news. The BBC published an encouraging report on Herat on 12/5/06. Herat has had five years of relative calm since the fall of the Taliban, whereas the Taliban have been gaining strength in Pakistan and southern and eastern Afghanistan. The Taliban were never accepted here. This is a Persian speaking city (the Afghans call their dialect "Dari"), and mainly Shi'ite, so the Taliban had no use for the local population. The Taliban spoke Pushtu and the widespread use of Urdu among them emphasized that their roots were really Pakistan rather than Afghanistan. Now that they are gone schools for girls are no longer banned, television is available, music is now again part of every day affairs. People wear clothes, jeans. Medical care is better: women doctors and nurses can work now. "There are a lot of private clinics and labs with relatively sophisticated diagnostic machines. Health facilities have been opened up in remote areas." Even so, many women are still wearing the burka - preferring to remain covered to avoid insults from the men.

But the BBC has also published a report on suicide among Afghan women. "Driven to desperation by forced marriages and abusive husbands, more and more are seeking release through self-immolation." Such a painful way to die - and some survive: we wonder what kind of world they will be able to live in now. Jealousy, forced marriages, a culture that permits domestic violence, and the hardships of living in a society broken by war - these
are the sources of the despair of young women seeking to destroy themselves.

Exposing the Truth of Abu Ghraib Wasn't Easy

Joe Darby is the man who revealed the abuses at Abu Ghraib. For revealing the abuse of other human beings he was rejected by his fellow soldiers and his home community. He feared for his life and even now lives incognito, in fear that someone from his former company or community might do him in.This is America? Even what our leaders say our troops were fighting for was being outraged. Consider the moral values of the American heritage: "The doctrine of blind obedience and unqualified submission to any human power, whether civil or ecclesiastical, is the doctrine of despotism, and ought to have no place among Republicans and Christians.":
Angelica Grimke - (1805-1879) Anti-Slavery Examiner, September 1836

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Plot Against Musharraf

It’s curious that the western press made little of the coup attempt against Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan soon after his arrival from abroad. The attempt did not take place while he was away but immediately after he returned. Presumably the idea was to shut him up so that after the coup he would have no voice to reveal information about his usurpers. A ring of rockets was set up to attack his residence and apparently one was set off by an Air Force officer by his cell phone, which was discovered, leading police to him and a long list of others involved with him. Mostly they were said to be middle rank officers in the Air Force, all of whom are described as “Islamists”. All of the several attempts on Musharraf’s life have come from the armed forces, and especially the air force. And presumably all have been instigated by Islamists. While in the United States Musharraf had admitted that former ISI officials had been supporting the Taliban. Apparently he decided to reign in those elements even before he returned: he sent instructions to “check on top officials.” The most notable of them were retired Lieutenant General Hamid Gul, former director general of the ISI, and retired Colonel Ameer Sultan, who is said to have “founded” the Taliban movement. Musharraf also is said to have ordered that some major Al-Qaeda figures being protected by the Taliban in Waziristan be apprehended, contrary to a deal the Pakistani army had made with the tribesmen in Waziristan. It was in this context that retired squadron leader Khalid Khawaja, a former ISI official who once fought alongside Osama bin Laden against the Soviets in the1980s, said plainly what some of us have wondered about: that the officials who were helping the Taliban were doing so on state instructions. For the state to renounce them and punish them for what they did, as if they were acting illegally was a betrayal. No wonder the military are disaffected. How long can Musharraf survive?

Qom to be Home to Cutting Edge Rail Industry

IranMania reports that one of “the most advanced” rail industry complexes in the Middle East is to be built in the region of Qom, Iran. How the world has changed. Qom, a historical center of Shiite learning and religious activity, was of no interest to the Shah who saw himself as a modernizer and the Shiite figures who dominated affairs in Qom as social and political drags on progress. Qom was therefore marginalized in the days of the Shah, its marginalization objectified by the neglected roadways leading to it; in time of travel it was far away. Now that Iran is being led by Islamic scholars, most of them trained in Qom, the city is a major hub in the infrastructure of the country. And will become even more central: The new rail complex will be reflect “highly developed management and engineering know-how on factory construction.”

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Perspectives From Central Asia: Installment Four

More on public sentiments in Central Asia:

Kate Clark of Unreported World has reported that "five years after the fall of the Taliban, western intervention has produced a mafia-style state" in the northern part of the country.

Clark was far from the region where the Taliban are rising, but there she found "an economy dominated by the drugs trade." Those in power are the commanders from the days of the Northern Alliance. Now they are prominent in the police and in parliament, and some of them are accused of human rights abuses. "The father of a child killed in an attack on NATO Peace-keeping forces says civilians have no-one to turn to - commanders are powerful in the local administration and foreign peace-keepers are seen to be working with them." Clark interviews a local commander who claims that "senior members of the police force with links going up to the heart of the Kabul government" are in involved in the drug trade. He tells her that the local people are "re-arming themselves and selling weapons to their old enemies, the Taliban," because not only in opium but in weapons "serious money" can be made. She is shown "palaces" that "commanders and cabinet ministers have built on government land." She meets a woman, unnamed, who has "publicly criticized the warlords" and so has become "a magnet for those wanting to complain about abuses." The
young woman is, however, plagued by death threats. Such is the situation in late 2006.

Compare the hope that was expressed by a courageous young woman in 2004, Malalai Joya, in the face of threats in her time. Joya was at that time was running an orphanage and health clinic. "One woman's words defy might of Afghan warlords; Malalai Joya tells Hamida Ghafour of the threats she faces in a battle to end her country's violence"] She also was courageous, openly accusing the "warlords and criminals" of her area, Farah, of "drug trafficking, land seizures, rape, and looting of houses." Farah is a very different province of Afghanistan, and it is now at risk of being overrun by the new Taliban. Even in those days Joya was being threatened; her home had just been ransacked by soldiers. Even so, she had been able to persuade President Karzai to evict the sitting governor of Farah for criminal activity. "These people should be taken to court," she said. If not, she warned, "Those people will be in parliament and the country will revert to bloodshed. Maybe it will be me they kill, but there will be others whose voices will be louder than mine." The bloodshed she predicted seems to be coming true, but we wonder if there will really be others like her with the courage to speak out. Pray that she and others like her will have the courage to call a spade a spade in the face of the rising criminality of public officials.


Perspectives From Central Asia: Installment Three

More on the diverse sentiments among the various publics in Greater Central Asia:

William Dalrymple, in a 2005 article about attitudes among the Pushtun tribesmen in the Pakistan, quoted a local tribal leader who reveals the social context in which the Taliban have recently gained new strength. Javed Paracha said to Dalrymple, "The people are so desperate." "They are waiting for a solution that will rid them of this feudal-army elite [who control the Pakistan government]. The people want radical change. We teach them in the madrasas that only Islam can provide the justice they seek."

Paracha is a lawyer representing his Islamist-leaning Pathan tribesmen to the Pakistani government. Having survived solitary confinement in a notorious Pakistani prison and torture by the CIA, he enjoys high respect among his neighbors. He founded two of the largest madrassas in Pakistan, the first of which, he proudly says, "produced many of the younger leaders of the Taliban." He envisions the appearance of an Islamic state in Pakistan. There will be a crisis, he says, not only in the tribal areas but in all of Pakistan. He says that in Pakistan there are 200,000 graduates of various schools who cannot find employment - and the number will rise, for half the population is under the age of 21. A "more extreme form of the Taliban is coming to Pakistan," he predicts.

Perspectives From Central Asia: Installment Two

In the next few days I want to note the various ways that people in various parts of Greater Central Asia have been coping with a modern world in which the certainties of the past no longer obtain or are at least contested. Iran is a curious example of one place where Islamism has been victorious, but its success has bred a sympathy for western cultural forms among many of its young people, who in fact constitute a substantial portion of the total population: 70 percent of the country is below the age of 30. Officially there is no doubt about the "certainties" of our times but unofficially the social conventions demanded by the state are resented or rejected. The state has found one measure that attracts genuine public loyalty among the Iranian people, namely its nuclear program. This is one reason President Ahmadinejad continues to press for nuclear power. Even so, the religious zeal of his government creates a careful dance between the official enforcers of the state and a superficially compliant public.

Here is a note on the tension between the requirements of the government and the behavior of many of its young people: from an article on underground rock music among Iranian young people by Michael Slackman:

After the 1979 revolution, when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was fashioning Iran into a Shiite Islamic state, one of his many sayings was, "Keep the appearances of Islam." Public profile is important and so, if Iranians chose not to fast during Ramadan, well, O.K., but they were expected to eat in the privacy of their homes. . . . . [Someone told Slackman] "there is no written law . . . , You are allowed to do everything, unless you want to share it [openly]." That seems to be the unwritten law in Iran today: no sharing. The act of publicly sharing ideas that challenge the system is forbidden, because, at a minimum, that amounts to challenging the appearance the government would like to promote. . . . And so people in many spheres - arts, sports, politics, business - find themselves pressing
against the limitations of what is deemed permissible. Mostly, this is done behind closed doors, in the privacy of people's homes. Some people, like the rock musicians, do risk public sharing, but watchfully.

So the body complies, but the sentiment is elsewhere. All the more reason not to suppose that "Iran" is being truly represented by Ahmadinejad.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Perspectives From Central Asia: Installment One

One of the formative conditions of many of the peoples in Greater Central Asia is the absence of the kind of certainties that make social life possible. The Soviet Union is no more. Capitalism is threatening and intimidating. Alien social elements, sometimes in the form of NGOs and missionary organizations from outside, bring social conventions that are unfamiliar. And of course the regimes in power are distrusted. For the next few days I want to post statements by individuals that reflect their quest for better social certainties.

Here is a statement by a mother of two young men imprisoned in Uzbekistan for their participation in Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamic movement that has gained popularity in the last few years:
"[P]eople want a just system. They want to live in a just and fair society with good governance. Nowadays, there is no justice. Corruption and bribery are everywhere. Unemployment is the people's biggest problem. That's why they read the word of God. Since the seventh century, when Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him, lived, there was a caliphate for 14 centuries. It was a just system. I also believe that if people learn these things, they will become more just."

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Trouble Continues in Baluchistan, Pakistan

The International Herald Tribune reported on Wednesday, 11/29/06, that "four bombs exploded minutes apart on a railway line linking Pakistan with neighboring Iran." No casualties and no indication of who did it.

On the same day the Pakistan police detained about 50 people "for breaching the peace." The detainees included a former chief minister of Baluchistan (Chief Ministers are locally elected but the province that elected him has been generally restive for a long time, so he is not liked by Pakistan's army, which actually rules the country). In the previous few days police also picked up as many as 200 workers and supporters of the Baluch National Party (BNP). The problem was that the BNP were planning a rally on the 30th. They have been agitating for a greater share in profits from the province's vast natural resources, including its gas reserves. And they became more insurgent after their 79 year old leader, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti was killed in a military operation on August 26. Two BNP members of the Pakistan parliament resigned in protest.

Besides the worry of the police about the BNP there was also the problem of the radical group, Baluchistan Liberation Army, which has been bombing gas pipelines. The group has claimed responsibility for the killing of three Chinese engineers in the province in February this year.

There are a lot of issues in Baluchistan for the Pakistan administration to worry about.


Al-Qaeda Threat Overblown?

A question I have had for some time is how connected up the various militant Islamists elements are. A case can be made that in many places the incentives for insurgency are local and provincial, in which case the various militant groups, even if in some contact, have little reason to cooperate except in the most elementary sense. Authors like Robert Naylor (Satanic Purses) argue that in fact al-Qaeda is a small network of fairly informally connected militants; to him the West's fear of al-Qaeda, etc., is overblown.

At the same time there are indications that some of the groups cooperate. Claims that Al-Qaeda and Iran or Hizbullah are cooperating seem preposterous to me: Al-Qaeda is a Sunni movement that cannot tolerate any divergence from their view; Shi'a for them are anathema. But the recent news that Hezbollah has trained several hundred members of Moktada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army in Lebanon is plausible. It is also likely - perhaps only too obvious -- that Iran has been supporting Iraq's Shi'a militants, including the Mahdi Army.

Even so, I wonder if the scale of the militant movement, lethal and vicious as it is, has not been overblown. Islam - or rather Islamic terms, Islam as a political ideology -- now seems to be the popular vehicle of anti-Western expression in the Middle East and South Asia - which means that we cannot take the movement as an authentic religious movement, a struggle over "higher values," so much as an authentic political expression of frustration.

In the end, this is what many specialists of this region have been saying all along, while the public in the West has not internalized it.