Thursday, September 27, 2007

Progress Report: Worse Than Abu Ghraib

The reports on the Blackwater affair in Iraq underline the risks of hiring mercenaries to fight our wars. Mercenaries have little interest in the policy concerns that drive conflicts and so no interest whatever in the moral entailments of their behavior in conflict. They are hired guns whose first interest is to shoot first, whatever the issue, so as to survive. Self-interest pervades the whole relationship: to make a lot of money, to protect themselves so they can live well later. There is no interest in the long-term consequences of what they do so long as they can get out with the loot. The moral entailments on a proper military [to represent the long term interests of their government in what they do] are flagrantly abandoned. Again, our government -- our country -- will pay a huge price for a policy that was supposed to save money.

"A shooting at a busy Baghdad intersection nearly two weeks ago that killed 11 Iraqis and wounded 12 has focused much-overdue attention on the role of American private security contractors operating in Iraq. A comprehensive investigation by the Iraqi Interior Ministry concluded that the contractors hired by Blackwater USA fired 'an unprovoked barrage' on the Iraqis, 'while the company says its employees, who were working for the State Department, were responding to an attack on an American diplomatic convoy.' "
" Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently dispatched a five-person fact-finding team to Iraq that concluded 'military commanders there were unclear about their legal authority' over contractors."
"Yet, while the Pentagon is cracking down, the State Department -- under whose authority Blackwater currently operates -- has not taken similar action, opting to side with Blackwater's version of the story while merely hoping the rising tensions will resolve themselves."
"Blackwater, a North Carolina-based company, has 'gained a reputation among Iraqis and even among American military personnel serving in Iraq as a company that flaunts an aggressive, quick-draw image that leads its security personnel to take excessively violent actions to protect the people they are paid to guard.' "
"The shootings of 11 Iraqis have prompted the Iraqi government to aggressively assert its sovereignty. The Iraqi Interior Ministry has 'referred its investigation of the Sept. 16 incident to a magistrate for possible criminal charges.' Moreover, Iraqi officials announced on Tuesday that they were drafting a new law to control private security contractors, which would make them 'subject to Iraqi law' and 'monitored by the Iraqi government.' "
"Blackwater 'enjoys an unusually close relationship with the Bush administration.' It has received 'government contracts worth more than $1 billion since 2002.' And now, it is being protected by the State Department, according to House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA). The department has ordered Blackwater not to provide Congress with documents that might shed light on its operations."

Collecting of Details on Travelers Documented

U.S. Effort More Extensive Than Previously Known

By Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post

"The U.S. government is collecting electronic records on the travel habits of millions of Americans who fly, drive or take cruises abroad, retaining data on the persons with whom they travel or plan to stay, the personal items they carry during their journeys, and even the books that travelers have carried, according to documents obtained by a group of civil liberties advocates and statements by government officials."
"The personal travel records are meant to be stored for as long as 15 years, as part of the Department of Homeland Security's effort to assess the security threat posed by all travelers entering the country. Officials say the records, which are analyzed by the department's Automated Targeting System, help border officials distinguish potential terrorists from innocent people entering the country."
"But new details about the information being retained suggest that the government is monitoring the personal habits of travelers more closely than it has previously acknowledged."
"Edward Hasbrouck, a civil liberties activist who was a travel agent for more than 15 years, said that his file contained coding that reflected his plan to fly with another individual. In fact, Hasbrouck wound up not flying with that person, but the record, which can be linked to the other passenger's name, remained in the system. 'The Automated Targeting System,' Hasbrouck alleged, 'is the largest system of government dossiers of individual Americans' personal activities that the government has ever created.' He said that travel records are among the most potentially invasive of records because they can suggest links: They show who a traveler sat next to, where they stayed, when they left. 'It's that lifetime log of everywhere you go that can be correlated with other people's movements that's most dangerous,' he said. 'If you sat next to someone once, that's a coincidence. If you sat next to them twice, that's a relationship.' "
" 'But DHS Trip does not allow a traveler to challenge an agency decision in court, said David Sobel, senior counsel with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has sued the DHS over information concerning the policy underlying the ATS. Because the system is exempted from certain Privacy Act requirements, including the right to 'contest the content of the record,' a traveler has no ability to correct erroneous information, Sobel said."
" 'Zakariya Reed, a Toledo firefighter, said in an interview that he has been detained at least seven times at the Michigan border since fall 2006. Twice, he said, he was questioned by border officials about 'politically charged' opinion pieces he had published in his local newspaper. The essays were critical of U.S. policy in the Middle East, he said. Once, during a secondary interview, he said, 'they had them printed out on the table in front of me.' "

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A new site examining Torture

We have recently added a link to "The Interrogation Diaries" from this site. The author is addressing a significant and worrisome issue in our country, the apparent practice of torture of our prisoners. She asks how much the academy has been involved in this practice and so far, thankfully, has not found much evidence that anthropologists have been involved.

Anthropologists however have been involved in some heinous practices, notably in Nazi Germany. Gretchen Schafft [Anthropology Newsletter Jan, 1999, and elsewhere] has written about what anthropologist were doing under the Third Reich. They developed a "racial science" on the basis of which they were sorting individuals into types: "racially pure", "racially acceptable," "racially unacceptable," and "life unworthy of life." On the basis of these categories the government determined the lives and destinies of individuals.

The original context of this tradition was the eugenics movement, which supposed that racial stock was the basis of social progress. In fact, the Rockefeller Foundation had been funding the study of "German race" in the 1930s. In 1934 the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, with Rockefeller money, was giving a year long course to SS doctors on "racial biology".

The author of "The Interrogation Diaries" supposes that anthropologists can say something to the practice of torture in our time. I would hope so. But whatever the discipline has to say, I think we as individuals, as human beings, need to be ready to renounce the pretentious of scholars who claim to have reasonable grounds for torture. Torture is a moral issue, and without regard to the pretentions of science, it should be renounced and condemned.

It is a shame and embarrassment that an administration that claims to have a commitment to religious ideals would ever hold an ambiguous position on torture.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Some clarity on the structures of power in Iran

Michael Slackman, in the NYTimes [“U.S. Focus on Ahmadinejad Puzzles Iranians”] points out that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has less control of affairs in Iran than Americans think he has. The focus on Ahmadinejad, as with Mohammad Khattami, conceals the real structures of power in the system. Ayatollah Khamenei is in fact the "real power" in this system, but even he has to be responsive to another "real force" in the system, the powerful wealthy elite that is benefiting from the present system. It turns out that money, as elsewhere, has a grip on a state that claims to be essentially driven by ideological concerns. Here are some choice quotes from Slackman.

. . . Unlike in the United States, in Iran the president is not the head of state nor the commander in chief. That status is held by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, whose role combines civil and religious authority. At the moment, this president’s power comes from two sources, they say: the unqualified support of the supreme leader, and the international condemnation he manages to generate when he speaks up. … in Iran, what matters is ideology — Islamic revolutionary ideology, according to politicians and political analysts here. Nearly 30 years after the shah fell in a popular revolt, Iran’s supreme leader also holds title of guardian of the revolution. . . . Mr. Ahmadinejad’s power stems not from his office per se, but from the refusal of his patron, Ayatollah Khamenei, and some hard-line leaders, to move beyond Iran’s revolutionary identity, which makes full relations with the West impossible. There are plenty of conservatives and hard-liners who take a more pragmatic view, wanting to retain “revolutionary values” while integrating Iran with the world, at least economically. But they are not driving the agenda these days, and while that could change, it will not be the president who makes that call. … “Iran has never been interested in reaching an accommodation with the United States,” the Iranian political scientist said. “It cannot reach an accommodation as long as it retains the current structure.” … while ideology defines the state, the revolution has allowed a particular class to grow wealthy and powerful. … His talk of economic justice and a redistribution of wealth, for example, ran into a wall of existing vested interests, including powerful clergy members and military leaders. . . . In the long run, political analysts here say, a desire to preserve those vested interests will drive Iran’s agenda. That means that the allegiance of the political elite is to the system, not a particular president. If this president were ever perceived as outlasting his usefulness, he would probably take his place in history beside other presidents who failed to change the orientation of the system. . . . . Iranians will go to the polls in less than two years to select a president. There are so many pressures on the electoral system here, few people expect an honest race. The Guardian Council, for example, controlled by hard-liners, must approve all candidates. . . . “The situation will get worse and worse,” said Saeed Leylaz, an economist and former government official. “We are moving to a point where no internal force can change things.”

Monday, September 17, 2007

Iraq attacks signal start of Ramadan offensive

We might expect that those who are planning suicide attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan would be anxious to do it during this month of Ramadan, so expect a "surge" on their side of attacks against the American and other Coalition forces. Despite the talk in Washington, the various groups that pose themselves against the Coalition powers could make this an even more bloody month.

By Kim Sengupta
The Independent (UK)

"Bombs, mortars and gunfire left dozens dead and injured in Iraq within hours of insurgents announcing a Ramadan offensive. The attacks, three of them in Baghdad, came just days after US General David Petraeus's report said violence had fallen and President George Bush declared 'ordinary life was returning to the country'."
"Iraqi police said nine were killed and 12 injured in shootings at Mansour, one of the busiest parts of Baghdad ... Those shootings followed a car bomb outside a store on a street crowded with shoppers, killing three and wounding seven. Soon after, a mortar landed at the Shaab stadium near the city centre, killing two men ... a booby-trapped bicycle exploded outside a café "
"The Sunni insurgent group, the Islamic State of Iraq, which is said to be linked to al-Qa'ida, had announced it would carry out 'offensive operations' during Ramadan"
"Meanwhile, the US military captured Fallah Khalifa Hiyas Fayyas al-Jumayli, a suspect in the assassination of Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, a key US ally, in Anbar province last Thursday. The Islamic State of Iraq group threatened to hunt down any other tribal leaders co-operating with the US. It said it had formed "special security committees to trace and assassinate prominent [leaders] of agent tribes" who co-operated with the Americans."

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Murder of two Christian workers in Pakistan

The murder of a Pakistani Christian minister and his wife in cold blood in Islamabad has dimensions that make one wonder if it has some kind of connection to the deal the Korean government made with the Taliban. The key fugitive has fled to Wana, it is said, the center of Taliban and AlQaeda support and possibly the base of those in the Taliban that negotiated for a bundle of money to release the prisoners. Perhaps I have been thinking like a Pakistani but like them I can't believe all is what it seems to be.

The other curious thing about these murders is that they seem to have garnered little interest in the press. Is it because these were missionaries? That the man was himself Pakistani? If they had been expatriates might they have gotten a little more notice?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Another version of Sleeping with the Devil?

In various postings on this site I have noted how conflicted Pakistani society is. And for that reason, given the access of the regime to nuclear power, it has been rightly called “the most dangerous country on earth.” As’ad AbuKhalil [Battle for Saudi Arabia: The Royalty, Fundamentalism, and Global Power] regards Saudi Arabia as also conflicted and unstable despite its huge largess of riches. He describes Saudi society as “under attack”, but it turns out that the attacks it is under are coming from two directions, outside and inside. For one thing, an "attack" comes from folks in the West who question the loyalty of the Saudis, or at least some of them, because of their connections with those who fund Al Qaeda. The country is also “under attack” from within, because of the growing disparities among the Saudi populations, some of whom are being exploited and in some cases abused, and others of whom, the Wahhabis, are intensely opposed to the continuing drift of the Saudi families toward Western interests and Western practices (many of them, such as the use of alcohol, secretly). So the Saudi family has little legitimacy with the key local social element, the Wahhabis, with whom they must share power.

Despite the abuses of human rights by the Saudi regime and the evident support of some of them for Al Qaeda, the American government continues to support the regime, deliberately overlooking what is actually taking place. The Wahhabis of course are not overlooking the Saudi family's growing connections with Western interests.

AbuKhalil wonders how long this situation can continue. His message is similar, then, to Robert Baer’s Sleeping with the Devil. The close intermesh of interests among the wealthy of Saudi Arabia and the wealthy elites of the West have expanded the contradictions implicit in Saudi Arabia so as as to implicate the elites of the West, whose interests cannot be extracted from the interests of the Gulf. At the same time the Wahhabis within Saudi Arabia who continue to support Al Qaeda are linked into the same Saudi families who are being drawn toward cultural practices like those of the Western elites. The Saudi families thus constitute a nexus of relations connecting in both directions, creating an embarrassing relation between the elites of the West and the eminent authorities, motivators and funders of Al Qaeda.

The Saudis embody the contradictions of the Middle East and Central Asia. And because they have strong connections in Western society their particular contradictory relations bear upon all of us, bringing us all into the various "attacks" on Saudi Arabia, from multiple directions.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A Rich Saudi as a "Libel Tourist"

I append below, without comment, a report from last August 3 on The statement speaks for itself; see also my brief note on the topic, "Risks of Litigation," IJMES, 2006 38:345-347. RLC

[AUGUST 3, 2007 (Los Angeles, CA) — Jeffrey A. Stern, President and Publisher of Los Angeles-based Bonus Books, Inc., is speaking out about this week’s decision by Cambridge University Press to destroy all unsold copies of their 2006 book, “Alms for Jihad,” by American authors Robert Collins and J. Millard Burr, in response to a libel action brought against them in British courts by Saudi billionaire Khalid Salim A. Bin Mahfouz. In just one of a series of heavy-handed libel suits against American and British journalists and publishers filed in British courts in recent years, Mahfouz claimed that “Alms for Jihad” wrongly implicates him as having had a significant role in aiding terrorism. // In a similar attempt to halt the distribution of such claims, libel tourist Bin Mahfouz also filed a libel action in British courts against Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, after Bonus Books published her 2003 book “FUNDING EVIL: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It.” Ehrenfeld, director of the American Center for Democracy, also alleged Bin Mahfouz of backing organizations with alleged ties to terrorism, a charge that Mahfouz, formerly president of the National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia, continues to deny. But Ehrenfeld stands behind her research, and publisher Stern stands by his author.

“I find it utterly appalling that any publisher—let alone one with the history and perceived credibility of Cambridge University Press—would allow themselves to be bullied into making such a decision,” Stern said. “Clearly they must have supported the material before they agreed to a publishing deal with (U.S. authors) Collins and Burr. It’s only now, after being slapped with a suit in the U.K. by the likes of Bin Mahfouz, that they have suddenly decided to concede to demands to pull the book. What’s worse, they have not only agreed to pay damages but they have even gone so far as to issue a formal apology on their website, completely discrediting their authors as having made ‘defamatory allegations’ to which there was ‘no truth whatsoever.’”

“Alms for Jihad” authors Robert O. Collins, a professor emeritus of history at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and J. Millard Burr, a retired employee of the U.S. State Department, who were not personally named in the libel action, have refused to endorse their publisher’s settlement. // “What happened to freedom of the press?” Stern said. “We’re talking about two very credible American writers here. The very idea that these authors could be silenced in the U.S. by a British court is not only outrageous and fraught with frightening journalistic implications, it’s simply un-American.”

After several copies of the U.S.-released FUNDING EVIL happened to be purchased online by UK buyers, Bin Mahfouz filed suit against Ehrenfeld in Great Britain, where outdated libel laws still put the burden of proof on the defendant. Ehrenfeld was ordered to pay £114, 386.52 in fines and expenses, publish an apology and physically destroy her books. Because she is a U.S. citizen who writes and lives in New York City, Ehrenfeld did not acknowledge the British court. Instead, she filed suit in New York, seeking to block enforcement of the judgment, citing it as contrary to the free speech protections that Americans enjoy. In June, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in her favor, finding that Ehrenfeld’s claim CAN be brought before a U.S. court. The decision was hailed by prominent U.S. civil rights attorney Harvey Silverglate as one of “the most important First Amendment cases” of the last quarter century. As a result, every American-based writer and publisher in similar “libel tourism” situations can now seek a U.S. court decision, requesting that a foreign decision not be enforceable in this country. // In a recent Washington Times editorial about the Ehrenfeld case, scholar and Jihad Watch director Robert Spencer noted the release of a September 13, 2001 note from France’s foreign intelligence agency, the DGSE (General Directorate of External Security). He stated that French news site obtained the note in late June, revealing that in 1996, Bin Mahfouz was known to be one of the architects of a banking scheme constructed for the benefit of Osama bin Laden. The report also claims that both U.S. and British intelligence services had knowledge of this. “This is just the latest addition to the mountain of evidence from which Miss Ehrenfeld constructed her case in ‘Funding Evil,’” Spencer writes. “Even if this evidence is all mistaken, the British libel judgment against Ehrenfeld appears all the more fantastic and unjustifiable in light of the fact that French intelligence agents had documents allowing them to come to the same conclusion she did.”

Ehrenfeld, who is also a Member of the Board of Directors of the Committee on the Present Danger (, told the Chronicle of Higher Education on Monday that she finds Cambridge University Press’ decision “despicable,” and that as she understands it, they “caved immediately.” If and when the New York Court of Appeals decides that there is jurisdiction over Bin Mahfouz, Ehrenfeld’s case would proceed on its merits—allowing Ehrenfeld to conduct pre-trial “discovery” of Bin Mahfouz’s financial activities to further confirm the accuracy of her claims against him.

“We commend Rachel Ehrenfeld for being strong-willed on this issue,” Stern said. “Allowing this sort of ‘libel tourism’ to continue stands to negatively impact every writer and publisher and the U.S.—not to mention the public, who is effectively being forced to fall victim to an insidious and unacceptable form of censorship.”

Is China quietly dumping US treasuries?

by Ambrose Evan-Pritchard
The Telegraph (UK)
"A sharp drop in foreign holdings of US Treasury bonds over the last five weeks has raised concerns that China is quietly withdrawing its funds from the United States, leaving the dollar increasingly vulnerable."
"Data released by the New York Federal Reserve shows that foreign central banks have cut their stash of US Treasuries by $48bn since late July, with falls of $32bn in the last two weeks alone."
"David Powell ... pointed the finger at Beijing as the main suspect in the sudden bond flight this summer."
"The scheme is part of the government's plan to diversify it $1,340bn reserves from bonds (mostly in the US) to a broader portfolio of investments and a better yield."
"If so, the switch comes at a very delicate time, just as tempers flair on both sides of the Pacific over China's policy of holding down yuan by currency intervention. A bill in Congress calls for punitive tariff sanctions of 27.5pc against Chinese imports, and there has been a growing outcry over contaminated pet food and lead-tainted toys."
"Two top advisers to the Chinese government gave strong hints in August that Beijing should use its estimated $900bn holdings of US Treasuries and agency bonds as a 'bargaining chip', words taken as an implicit threat to trigger as US bond crash if provoked."

Losing our economic future and civil liberties, are we on the verge of enserfment?

Paul Craig Roberts would seem to be qualified to comment on the state of the American economy: he was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration, was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review. What he has to say, however, is very sobering.

American Economy: R.I.P.
by Paul Craig Roberts

"The US economy continues its slow death before our eyes"
"In August jobs in goods-producing industries declined by 64,000. The US economy lost 4,000 jobs overall. The private sector created a mere 24,000 jobs, all of which could be attributed to the 24,100 new jobs for waitresses and bartenders, and the government sector lost 28,000 jobs."
"In the 21st century the US economy has ceased to create jobs in export industries and in industries that compete with imports. US job growth has been confined to domestic services"
"The lack of job growth in higher productivity, higher paid occupations associated with the American middle and upper middle classes will eventually kill the US consumer market."
"The unemployment rate held steady, but that is because 340,000 Americans unable to find jobs dropped out of the labor force in August. The US measures unemployment only among the active work force, which includes those seeking jobs. Those who are discouraged and have given up are not counted as unemployed."
"When US companies offshore their production for US markets ... foreign labor is substituted for US labor, resulting in a shriveling of career opportunities ... US Gross Domestic Product is turned into imports ... Simultaneously, imports rise by the amount of offshored production, and the supply of exportable manufactured goods declines by the same amount."
"The US now has a trade deficit with every part of the world"
"What is striking about US dependency on imports is that it is practically across the board. Americans are dependent on imports of foreign foods, feeds, and beverages in the amount of $8,975,000,000."
" Americans are 3.4 times more dependent on imports of manufactured consumer durable and nondurable goods than they are on OPEC. Americans no longer can produce their own clothes, shoes, or household appliances"
"Americans are consuming $800 billion more than they are producing"
"They pay for it by giving up ownership of existing assets ... America used to be a creditor nation. Now America is a debtor nation ... When foreigners acquire ownership of US assets, they also acquire ownership of the future income streams that the assets produce. More income shifts away from Americans."
"The ability of a population, severely impacted by the loss of good jobs to foreigners as a result of offshoring and H-1B work visas and by the bursting of the housing bubble, to continue to accumulate more personal debt is limited to say the least."
" The ability of the US dollar to retain its reserve currency status is eroding due to the continuous increases in US budget and trade deficits."
"Hubris prevents realization that Americans are losing their economic future along with their civil liberties and are on the verge of enserfment"

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Somber reflections on what is "real" versus what is claimed

In a world in which American policies have been a series of blunders, one upon another, when now one more General is telling us that we are doing well in Iraq – again “the enemy” is on its last throes -- on a day when we remember tragic events that awakened the world to a new and threatening situation, let us consider some simple statistics.

Here are some population figures on the key states in Central Asia, a region of strategic importance to not only Americans but also the rest of the world because of the vital resources there (oil, gas, and the other vital product of the region, heroin).


68,688,433 (July 2006 est.)

Median age:
total: 24.8 years
male: 24.6 years
female: 25 years (2006 est.)


31,056,997 (July 2006 est.)

Median age:
total: 17.6 years
male: 17.6 years
female: 17.6 years (2006 est.)


165,803,560 (July 2006 est.)

Median age:
total: 19.8 years
male: 19.7 years
female: 20 years (2006 est.) PAKISTAN


7,320,815 (July 2006 est.)

Median age:
total: 20 years
male: 19.7 years
female: 20.4 years (2006 est.)


27,307,134 (July 2006 est.)

Median age:
total: 22.7 years
male: 22 years
female: 23.3 years (2006 est.)


5,042,920 (July 2006 est.)

Median age:
total: 21.8 years
male: 20.9 years
female: 22.7 years (2006 est.)

So, roughly half the folks growing up in these countries are under the age of 21. They will grow up and form their understandings of the world in circumstances of repression (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Pakistan), civil war (Afghanistan, parts of Pakistan), internal tensions over governance (Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan), rising claims of Islamism (all over). What kind of world will they have to deal with as adults?

These numbers tell a tale that I scarcely want to think about. On the one hand I worry about a bumbling, truth-distorting, evidently incompetent administration managing the one dominant power in the world, an administration that justifies what it is doing in the Middle East and Central Asia by aspiring to grand achievements that exceed any reasonable possibility. On the other hand, there is a world with properties that have their own inherent force, exerting constraints on the course of affairs that will have their effect no matter what we, any of us, are imagining. History tells us that when the imagination of nations strays too far from reality they face disaster.

And here is another statistic worthy of concern, not unrelated to the above: In Pakistan there are 200,000 graduates of degree granting institutions who cannot find work. And in the mean time, Islamist groups are providing “a salary, a mission and a purpose in life, the prospect in the long run of a better life and in death the joy of martyrdom” (H. Abbas 2005, Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism, p106). A young man arrested for his involvement in bombing plots in Pakistan had this to say about himself: “I was doing nothing, walking around, playing cricket and football,” adding in reference to a senior cleric: “The maulavi sahib talked to me and showed me a cassette, so I got involved. They were talking on the cassettes and telling us to do this and that, telling me to kill Americans. … I heard from the clerics there that if you fight jihad, you would go to paradise,” he said. "There are cassettes there and they say: 'There is jihad against non-Muslims.' ” (NYTimes C. Gall Feb 15, 2006)

Today we are faced with promises made by officials in power; at the same time the world has properties that exist no matter what we try to tell ourselves. Granted, we don't exactly know what they are, and will never know all the forces at work on our society.

But I wonder, not only what could be in store for those young people growing up all across Central Asia: But what is in store for us?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Myth of al-Qaeda in Iraq

Andrew Tilghman of the Washington Monthly has reminded us that Al Qaeda's apparently huge reach across the world may be in part a creation of our imagination. Tilghman, at least, is reminding us, again [as some other writers have before], that Al Qaeda may not be as powerful as we have supposed. In fact, there are many lethal forces operative in the Middle East and in the absence of effective state control they have had plenty of room to operate.

"Fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq is the last big argument for keeping U.S. troops in the country. But the military's estimation of the threat is alarmingly wrong."
"In March 2007, a pair of truck bombs tore through the Shiite marketplace in the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar, killing more than 150 people ... U.S. Army General David Petraeus publicly blamed [al-Qaeda in Iraq]"
"Yet there's reason to doubt that AQI had any role in the bombing. In the weeks before the attack, sectarian tensions had been simmering [after a report that a Sunni woman had been gang raped by Shiite Iraqi army soldiers] ... multiple insurgent groups called for violence"
"This scenario has become common. After a strike, the military rushes to point the finger at al-Qaeda".
"[A]l-Qaeda's presumed role in leading the violence ... may also be overstated."
"[I]nstability on the ground stems from multiple sources ... [such as] Shiite militants, often connected to, or even part of, the Iraqi government ... opportunistic criminal gangs ... homegrown Iraqi Sunni religious groups."
"Malcolm Nance ... a twenty-year intelligence veteran and Arabic speaker who has worked with military and intelligence units tracking al-Qaeda inside Iraq ... believes AQI includes about 850 full-time fighters, comprising 2 percent to 5 percent of the Sunni insurgency."
"So how did the military come up with an estimate of 15 percent?"
"When the White House singles out al-Qaeda in Iraq for special attention, the bureaucracy responds by creating procedures that hunt down more evidence of the organization."
"With disproportionate resources dedicated to tracking AQI, the search has become a self-reinforcing loop."
"This is not to say that al-Qaeda in Iraq doesn't pose a real danger ... Today multiple Iraqi insurgent groups target U.S. forces, with the aim of driving out the occupation. But once our troops withdraw, most Sunni resistance fighters will have no impetus to launch strikes on American soil."

Click on the title for the whole article.

Apologies to Harpviken

I am embarrassed that in my list of recent works on the Hazaras I forgot to mention the work of Kristian Berg Harpviken, ["Political Mobilization among the Hazara of Afghanistan: 1978-1992," (Oslo:Institutt for Sosiologi, Universistetet i Oslo (M.A. Thesis, 1986)]. Harpviken's thesis has to be one of the most important reports on the Hazara experience during the period 1978 - 1986. I have corrected the earlier post with a proper citation to his work. My own article "New Trends among the Hazaras" was indebted to his fundamental contribution. And there is much more there than I referred to in my article.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The disgrace of five million government emails "missing"

I’m still trying to internalize how five million White House emails could have gone "missing." (See last Thursday's entry.) If a hacker had gotten into the White House and destroyed five million emails it would have been a national crisis and an embarrassment to the administration. If a saboteur has gotten into the White House emails and destroyed messages, it would have been a national scandal.

Those files are secured in a multitude of ways: how could they just go "missing"? This “disappearance” had to have been done by someone in the employ of the White House, someone with many levels of clearance. So, an employee of the US government somehow “lost” or destroyed five million emails?

It is unthinkable that a government employee would have done such an act without authorization. There had to have been levels of responsibility in this action – not only whoever did it but whoever authorized it, and whoever ordered it. Can we imagine anyone doing such a thing without authorization from the highest echelons of government? There had to have been at least several individuals aware that government emails, contrary to law, were going "missing".

This is a disgrace. And to my amazement scarcely anyone seems to have noticed.

Hannah said...
i have been reading through some of your older articles (i'd fallen behind), and i saw your article from 27 August about Anna Politkovskaya. Like you said, there are many other journalists in danger. Our vet's son was killed in Almaty in 1997, ostensibly in a bungled robbery, of course. i had forgotten about him until just a few days ago... it brings home the danger journalists face across the globe.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Email Disappearances Reminiscent of Nixon Tapes, Only Much Worse

I am appalled at the news that the White House, spitting in the face of the law, would delete 5 million emails. It is hard to grasp, hard to imagine, that such an act of sabotage would be done by our own administration. You can't delete 5 million emails easily -- it's not 19 minutes of the tape that somehow gets wiped clean several times, a la the Nixon administration. One more time, when I think it could not get worse, it gets worse. What is to become of this country when its own administration flouts the law? John Adams said that this country is a country of laws and not of men -- apparently, no longer so.

Archive Sues to Recover 5 Million Missing White House E-mails
The National Security Archive

"The National Security Archive today sued the White House seeking the recovery and preservation of more than 5 million White House e-mail messages that were apparently deleted from White House computers between March 2003 and October 2005."
"White House officials ... have acknowledged ... that e-mail is missing from the White House archive, and that the [Executive Office of the President] in 2002 abandoned the electronic records management system put in place by the Clinton White House."
"Whistleblowers ... have alleged that more than 5 million e-mail messages are missing from the White House servers. 'The Bush White House broke the law and erased our history by deleting those e-mail messages,' said National Security Archive director Tom Blanton. 'The period of the missing email starts with the invasion of Iraq and runs through the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.' "

Click on the title for the whole article

An Addendum to comments by "Afghanistanica"

“C,” who runs the blog “Afghanistanica” has written some nice notes about my work. As I could find no way to add a comment on that blog I will place my comment here, in hopes that “C”, a graduate student somewhere, will see it.

He notes that it is hard for folks in Afghanistan to get access to materials written about that country, and of course he is right. This is why I have tried to put as much material of my own on the web. The easiest way to get access to them is to go to my “home” page [] where there are links to my publications and recent writings, some of which are not yet published. I have put most of these works on the web specifically for anyone in Afghanistan who might want to see them.

He also says that some of his Afghan friends are surprised that any non-Hazara would be writing about the Hazaras. They claim to know Mousavi’s work but clearly have not read it, as Mousavi gives a lot of attention to the work of many others who have written on the Hazaras. “C” cites many works that anyone interested in Afghanistan would want to see. To his list I have a few additions.
• Two short articles by me on the Hazaras have just been published this summer: “Recollections of a Hazara wedding in the 1930s” and “Trouble in Birgilich” [In: Jeff Sahadeo and Russell Zanca (eds), Everyday Life in Central Asia. Bloomington: Indiana University].
• The most important monograph on the Hazaras to have been published in many years is Alessandro Monsutti, War and Migration: Social Networks and Economic Strategies of the Hazaras of Afghanistan, Middle East Studies: History, Politics, and Law, translated by Patrick Camiller (New York / London : Routledge, 2005). My adulatory review will soon appear in Iranian Studies.
• Another important work – embellished with many fine pictures and maps -- that gives a lot of attention to Hazaras has just been published, Klaus Ferdinand, Afghan Nomads: Caravans, Conflicts and Trade in Afghanistan and British India 1800-1980. The Carlsberg Foundation’s Nomad Research Project, vol. 11. Rhodos, 2006. Ferdinand has published studies on the Hazaras that are now classic, and much of that material is reproduced or updated here; his death before the book could be published deprives us of one of the great authorities on Afghanistan. Of course the main preoccupation of the book is Pushtun nomads, a topic on which Ferdinand and other Danish anthropologists have made major contributions for years. My appreciative review will appear in Journal of Asian Studies.
• For those who are interested, another work directly bearing on Afghanistan soon to appear is edited by Robert Crews and Amin Tarzi, entitled The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan (Harvard University Press) ; my contribution to it is called “Fraternity, power, and time in Central Asia.”

Also, several of us have a book on Central Asia under review that has a number of articles on Afghanistan.

A late addendum to this post, added a few days later:
I should have included the work of Harpviken in the above list. This is one of the most valuable recent contribution to Hazara studies:
Kristian Berg Harpviken, "Political Mobilization among the Hazara of Afghanistan: 1978-1992," (Oslo:Institutt for Sosiologi, Universistetet i Oslo (M.A. Thesis, 1986).

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Envoy's Letter Counters Bush on Dismantling of Iraq Army

By Edmund Andrews

New York Times

"A previously undisclosed exchange of letters shows that President Bush was told in advance by his [L. Paul Bremer] in May 2003 of a plan to “dissolve Saddam’s military and intelligence structures,” a plan that ... referred to dismantling the Iraqi Army."
"Mr. Bremer provided the letters to The New York Times on Monday after reading that Mr. Bush was quoted in a new book [Dead Certain] as saying that American policy had been 'to keep the army intact' but that it 'didn’t happen.' "
"The dismantling of the Iraqi Army ... stoked rebellion among hundreds of thousands of former Iraqi soldiers and made it more difficult to reduce sectarian bloodshed ... In releasing the letters, Mr. Bremer said he wanted to refute the suggestion in Mr. Bush’s comment that Mr. Bremer had acted to disband the army without the knowledge and concurrence of the White House."

Click on the title for the whole article

Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush

Robert Draper, a former senior editor for the Texas Monthly, has authored a new book on the Bush presidency, entitled "Dead Certain." In addition to six interviews with the President, Draper also interviewed outgoing White House adviser Karl Rove, Vice President Dick Cheney, Laura Bush, and many senior White House and administration officials. Bush tells Draper that his Iraq strategy is to "get us in a position where the presidential candidates will be comfortable about sustaining a presence," and, he said later, "stay longer." Some other highlights from the book: Rove told Bush he should not tap Cheney for Vice President; Bush hopes to make a lot of cash delivering speeches after his presidency is over; Bush "can't remember" one of the biggest mistakes in post-war Iraq; the White House staff, including Dan Bartlett and Rove, were "constantly at war" with one another; and Bush cries a lot.

Anonymous said...
If there is one thing that we can count on our president for, its lying. I'm very angry by what I've read here. But shocked? No I am sorry to say that I am not surprised at all. Keep up the good work Bob and Tom, I for one am grateful!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Spinning the Facts in Advance of the Iraq Progress Report

The Progress Report: Snow Job Summer
by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, and Matt Corley
Center for American Progress Action Fund

"With its report due to Congress in just one week, the Bush administration has used the month of August to mobilize its ... allies to spin the facts on the ground and create a false impression of progress in Iraq. The administration has watered down ... reports that undercut ... claims of ... progress. It has also arranged highly-orchestrated congressional delegation trips for conservative lawmakers who come back heralding President Bush's policies, even though they never leave the Green Zone and are often on the ground for less than a day. With all these attempts to create the appearance of success, it's no surprise that the administration plans to use Gen. David Petraeus's testimony before Congress next week to claim that escalation is working. As the Center for American Progress has argued ... Iraq is currently engaged in multiple internal conflicts that American military power cannot resolve."

Click on the title for the whole article

The news that does not lie

We are now in the period in which the “surge” in particular and the progress of the war in Iraq generally is to be evaluated in Washington. But without embellishment, some statistics will tell a tale that the American administration are unlikely to mention:
• American military killed in Iraq in August, 85 (up from 36 in the same month in 2003);
• Iraq civilians killed in the same month, 2,500;
• civilians “newly displaced” in August, 80,000. [NYTimes 9/4/07].
Whatever the rhetoric will be, the numbers tell a tragic story.

And if we want similarly empirical indications of how it’s going in Afghanistan and Pakistan, consider these conditions:
• several hundred Pakistani troops are now being held hostage (kidnapped) by pro-Taliban tribesmen in Pakistan’s tribal areas;
• and just today [9/4/07] two different bomb blasts in the garrison city of Rawalpindi (“a military zone”) have killed more than two dozen people. Click on the title for this article.

Not only are the political figures creating an unsettled situation in Pakistan, the military – always before the one stable and stabilizing institution in the country -- seems unready and unprepared for an insurgency posed against it from within. The military have been so focused on India and the dispute over Kashmir that they have failed to notice that the Islamists in the tribal areas whom they have cultivated as cannon fodder for war with India have turned against them. They have not minded that the Islamists were attacking folks inside Afghanistan, but now they are attacking folks in Pakistan – not only civilians but the military itself in its own territory.


Anonymous said...
Prof. Canfield - Do you think that this could represent a real break in the alliance between the Army as an institutional power and the jihadis in the FATA, even in Kashmir?
Also, to what degree do you think the Pashtun officer corps in the Pakistani Army is politicized and Islamicized? For instance, would a sustained offensive in the FATA by the Pakistani Army be viewed as an ethnic affront by Pashtun officers? I have read in Jamestown that Pashtuns constitute "between 15-22% among officers and between 20-25% among the regular rank-and-file". What is your sense on this issue?
Jamestown article:


Response to Tequila:

As to the second question, I think there is no doubt that the offensive in the tribal areas did create a crisis for many in the military -- certainly it did for the Pushtuns in the army, who are well represented in the army, as the Jamestown aritlce by Abbass indicates. We can only feel for how horrible it must be to be asked to turn your weapons against your own relatives and friends.

As to the first question, it seems evident that there are many worrisome fissures in Pakistan society now. The army and the Islamists fought in the Red mosque, Islamabad, and the break seems all the more evident in the recent attack in Rawalpindi.

Thanks for your comment.