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October's Lowdown

October 2010, Volume 12, Number 10

Edited by Jim Hightower and Phillip Frazer


US troops are still dying in two Mission Impossibles

In Iraq, Obama says it's over but it's not; In Afghanistan, who wants to die for Karzai?

At long last, it's over. In the pre-dawn hours of August 18--seven years, two months, and 18 days after George W strapped on a flight suit to peacock around at a photo-op that declared "Mission Accomplished"--the Army's 4th Stryker Brigade crossed the border into Kuwait. Stryker was the last US combat unit in Iraq, and its border cross-ing marked the official end of Bush's god-awful war.

The American combat mission in Iraq has ended," President Obama solemnly announced to the nation a few days later. "We have met our responsibility. Now, it is time to turn the page."

No doubt Sgt. Brandon E. Maggart would love to do just that, but he can't. He's dead. The 24-year-old Sgt. Maggart, from Kirksville, Missouri, was killed in action in southern Iraq on August 22--giving him the unfortunate distinction of being the first US soldier to die in Iraq after the war "ended." Sadly, he won't be the last.

Presidential pronouncements aside, that war is not over, not by a long shot. About 50,000 of our troops will remain there for more than a year, still fully armed and going out on 'capture or kill' raids, security patrols, and other military missions. These actions will no longer be called combat, but our soldiers will be maimed and killed just the same. Also, while Obama reiterated an earlier pledge to the Iraqi government that "all US troops will leave by the end of next year," that's another rhetorical posture that is being subverted by realities and probabilities in Iraq--with knowing winks, the US military brass and top civilian officials are already taking steps to extend our stay.

'Operation Iraqi Freedom,' as the Bushites dubbed their invasion and occupation, has been rebranded as 'Operation New Dawn' by the Obamacans, who insist that the American role now is merely to "advise and assist" the Iraqi government. But Iraq has no government. Instead it is a 'country' of factionalism, sectarianism, regionalism, and rampant political egotism. In the national election last March, the vote was as fractured as the country. Half a year later, an array of bitter and fractious political parties still cannot forge a coalition to choose a prime minister--so an enfeebled, illegitimate caretaker 'government' presides, which effectively means no one is really running the place.

While US officials crow that Iraq's explosive violence is no longer as bad as it was during the 2006 peak of carnage, it is still an everyday horror for common Iraqis and has risen sharply in recent months, with nearly 400 civilians killed in July alone. The basics of government, including electricity, clean water, and garbage pickup, are provided only sporadically or not at all. And the huge decisions facing the country--from the division of oil revenues to who'll rule in the Kurdish north--are not even being addressed.

Haitham Ahmed, a taxi driver in Baghdad, expressed his feelings about Iraq's lack of progress to a New York Times reporter: "Frustrated, sick, worn out, pessimistic, and angry. What else should I add?"

After seven years of brutal war, nearly 4,500 American military deaths, some 32,000 wounded Americans and more than a trillion dollars expended from the US treasury, Iraq is (to put it mildly) an unstable society, and it is perilously close to being pulled apart again and thrust into civil war. That will make a mockery of our leaders' promise to be out of there by December 31, 2011, and it's why many American generals and politicians contend that Obama's withdrawal pledge is "flexible."

"For a very long period of time we're going to be on the ground," says Ryan Crocker. He was the Bush ambassador in Baghdad who negotiated the 2011 departure date, which he now rejects. Indeed, several neocon hawks who shoved America into this woeful war are now beating the drums to keep our military there for the long haul. For example, the odious Paul Wolfowitz, who was number two at the Pentagon under Bush and a major designer and distributor of propaganda for the war, is presently calling for tens of thousands of our soldiers (none from his family, of course) to occupy Iraq indefinitely as a handy-dandy military base for future confrontations with Iran.

One more sign that America's Iraq entanglement will continue is the widely ballyhooed transfer of command from the Pentagon to the State Department. On the face of it, this shift sounds good, right? Diplomacy, not rockets.

But look more closely. These 'diplomats' are muscling up and arming to the teeth--and they don't seem to be planning for a temporary role. Called 'Operation Enduring Presence,' this civilian effort will be buttressed by a private army of 7,000 security contractors who will operate as 'quick reaction forces,' fly reconnaissance drones, go on patrols, and perform other military functions. State is getting its own war hardware, too, including armored vehicles, airplanes, and Black Hawk helicopters.

In addition to their heavily fortified, billion-dollar-a-year embassy in Baghdad (the largest embassy in the world), State Department officials and their privatized army are getting two new branch embassies, in Kirkuk and Mosul, and adding consulates in Basra and Erbil. Construction and start-up costs will top $1.5 billion, and the State Department's overall tally for 'enduring presence' will cost us taxpayers some $5 billion per year.

This force provides a military foothold if and when the neocons, Pentagon chiefs, and war profiteers find an excuse to renege on the president's promise to "turn the page." Yes, the Army's combat troops are gone, but --abracadabra!--from out of the PR mist, another army has appeared.

What has taken place right in front of our eyes is the militarization of the State Department. This perversion of the department's true purpose (pushing for peace) represents a further devolution by our country into the moral morass of permanent war, and it is costing us our soul.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan

Let us now move from the mess in Iraq to the cauldron of disaster bubbling about a thousand miles to the east in Afghanistan. If Sgt. Maggart's death in a war that was officially ended strikes you as senseless, how much more senseless are the 1,302 American lives already given up in this inexplicable war that has its own 2011 deadline for withdrawal?

We're approaching the tenth year of this bloody battle against Afghans, the longest war in US history. Yet, no one--not Obama, the generals, the congressional war backers, the paid military 'experts'--no one has given us clearly understandable, credible answers to the most fundamental questions that should be answered before the life of any American is put at risk:

  • WHAT'S the purpose?
  • WHAT'S our national interest?
  • WHAT'S the vision?
  • WHAT'S the strategy?
  • WHAT THE HELL?

"We're at war with terrorists," they shout, as though this bugaboo rationalizes any insanity they choose to foist on us. The insanity in this case is the insistence by hawks that crushing Afghanistan's indigenous Taliban is key to defeating al Qaeda's fiendish network. In March, Obama declared that his escalation of the Afghan war was necessary to prevent another 9/11 attack on our country:

If the Taliban retakes this country, al Qaeda can operate with impunity, then more American lives will be at stake.... As long as I'm your commander-in-chief, I'm not going to let that happen.

He added this exclamation point: "We are going to disrupt and dismantle, defeat and destroy al Qaeda."

Nice alliteration and impressive bravado, but... huh?

Surging in Afghanistan

The surge is on in Afghanistan! Unfortunately, what appears to be most effective is not the 30,000 additional US troops that President Obama has poured into this hellacious war in the past few months, but a wholly unexpected surge by the enemy. [read more]

As the Lowdown pointed out back in February 2009 al Qaeda is not in Afghanistan, and it has no strategic need to be there. Indeed, the al Qaeda terrorists who crash-bombed our people nine years ago were not directed from a cave in the forbidding mountains of northeast Afghanistan, but from safe houses in Hamburg, Germany. And they were trained in Florida.

In fact, the al Qaeda of 9/11 infamy is happily and rather securely ensconced in neighboring Pakistan, where it and its terrorist spawn seem to be operating with impunity. Pakistan is supposedly our ally, drawing billions of dollars from us to support its military and spy agency--yet our billions are buying neither love nor loyalty. Pakistanis largely detest America, and their leaders only occasionally and tepidly support our anti-al Qaeda war, instead showing a disconcerting tendency to play footsie with the enemy.

Adding to the insanity of Washington's Afghan myopia is that al Qaeda has metastasized into many nations. These terrorist groups operate not as units directed by the old Osama bin Laden faction, but as a disjointed international movement under local leadership, linked only by a burning resentment of Western military, cultural, political, and corporate power. We might be able to crush the Afghan Taliban, but that will not impede al Qaeda or prevent another attack on the US. In addition to its alarming and spreading power in nuclear-armed Pakistan, al Qaeda terrorists operate from a dozen countries, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, plus enclaves in England and Germany.

The Karzai conundrum

Maybe Obama and company think we have sucker-wrappers around our heads, but anyone with an IQ higher than the speed limit can see that it's complete hokum to rationalize this war by claiming a crucial link between Afghanistan and al Qaeda. Believe it or not, though, they have an even more insane rationale for expending more American blood and treasure there: propping up the government of President Hamid Karzai.

If Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay, and Bernie Madoff were melded into one, Karzai would be that person--so corrupt he doesn't know he's corrupt.

Installed as head of the newly created Afghan government by the Bushites in December 2001, he faced a popular vote for president last year. He clung to power only by blatantly stealing the election through bribery, intimidation, vote buying, misuse of public funds and staff, ballot stuffing, and throwing away voting boxes won by opponents. The country's independent Electoral Complaints Commission disqualified nearly a third of his votes, denying him a majority required by the Afghan constitution.

Our government and its NATO allies, however, stuck with the crook, recognizing Karzai as legitimately elected. He responded by disbanding the complaints commission, replacing it with members of his choosing.

When Washington's war backers, both Democrats and Republicans, tell us that the goal of US policy is to create a democratic bulwark against terrorism in Afghanistan, the 'bulwark' they're referring to is Karzai's government. In fairness, I should concede that his is not the worst gangster-state in the world. It's only the second worst. A monitoring group, Transparency International, ranks Afghanistan the 2nd most corrupt regime among 180 nations, surpassed only by Somalia.

Just this summer, we've seen a couple of sterling examples of Karzai's 'Korruptistan' in action:

Free-for-all graft. Kickbacks, insider deals, outright theft, and every other form of corruption imaginable are S.O.P. in this kleptocracy, which operates as a wholly owned subsidiary of Afghanistan's business and political caste. The rampant, self-serving greed of this small group (including the extended Karzai family) is a major source of the open and furious contempt that ordinary Afghans have for their leaders and a major flash point that is driving so many into the Taliban camp.

"Why do Americans support them?" asks one disgusted Afghan. Good question! Not only do our military and political leaders know about the thievery and the danger it creates for our troops, but they've actually charted the 50 or so key business and political elites by name, detailing their illicit interconnections. This chart even has a name: Malign Actor Networks--dubbed 'the MAN.'

US officials periodically scold Karzai and loudly demand that he stop the flagrant corruption, but they take no action, so the only thing Karzai has stopped are attempts to prosecute his fellow members of the MAN.

A particularly brazen Karzai intervention occurred after one of his top aides, who serves on the national security council, was arrested in July by two American-backed anti-corruption units. The investigators caught the guy on tape demanding $10,000 and a new car to do a political favor for a money exchange operation, but he was quickly sprung from jail. Not only did Karzai subsequently boast that he had "intervened very, very strongly" to free his crony, but he also promptly issued a presidential directive that effectively neuters the anti-graft units.

Our government meekly bowed to this outrage. Why? It turns out that the corrupt crony had long been on the CIA payroll! And he's not alone--a US official says bluntly: "Half of the [Afghan presidential] palace is on the payroll."

The family bank. In September, the biggest bank in Afghanistan did a Wall Street imitation, rolling into the ditch due to--what else?--banker greed. Named Kabul Bank, it is the private plaything of the elites, including the Karzais, financing foreign villas, laundering money, and funding speculative business deals for the favored few. The government is a major client, running its payroll through the bank. In turn, the bank poured untallied millions into Karzai's 2009 theft of the presidential election.

Among the major owners of this institution is Mahmoud Karzai, who, just coincidentally, is Hamid's brother. Some three years ago, the bank 'loaned' $5 million to Mahmoud so he could buy an ownership stake in the bank. Mahmound says this cozy deal had nothing to do with his being the president's brother. "This [arrangement] is the case for everyone" who wants to be a partner in the bank, he innocently explains.

Because of such outrageous self-dealing, Kabul Bank is reeling on the brink of broke, and thousands of workaday Afghans have their meager nest eggs at risk. You see, Kabul Bank was created by the Bushites when America took over the country a decade ago, and thanks to their laissez-faire zealotry, there is no government deposit insurance nor any regulation of banker malfeasance.

At present, President Karzai is pondering a government bailout of his banking buddies, though Afghan and American officials rush to assure us that no US tax dollars will be involved in the rescue. Hello--his government is nearly totally financed by American taxpayers, so who else would be stuck with paying for the bailout? Certainly not Mahmoud or Hamid.

Withdrawal pains

For such turpitude, our country is bleeding. As of mid-September, 1,302 Americans have given their lives in Afghanistan, 7,951 have suffered grievous wounds, and our public treasury has been tapped for $335,604,678,037 (a tab that's now growing by about $8.9 billion every month).

But at least we're getting out soon, right? Obama has said repeatedly that he's sticking with his commitment to begin withdrawal of our troops in July 2011, just nine months away.

But he won't. Military officials are clarifying Obama's pledge by making clear that July is nothing but a date to "begin" a long, sloooow pullout. Pentagon chief Robert Gates says the 2011 troop withdrawal "will be of fairly limited numbers"--by which I think he means a dozen or so. Also, Gen. David Petraeus, our war commander, went on a US PR blitz in August to explain that any drawdown depends on "conditions"--and then he asked for 2,000 more troops immediately.

Last July, at a quickly arranged, one-day conference of US and NATO diplomats in Kabul, a new timetable was quietly endorsed: 2014 was set as the year when Afghan troops might be capable of taking over their country's security. By then, at present casualty rates, American costs for this war will have topped 3,300 dead, 23,000 wounded, and $1 trillion (not counting veterans' health care, pensions, and other consequential costs of the war).

For what?

We'll pay this excruciating price and get... what? Victory? As in Iraq, there is nothing for us to 'win' in Afghanistan. Maybe with enough time, money, and blood, we can prop up the central government and do enough to turn this war-ravaged, impoverished, backward, fractious society into something that might look (on the surface and temporarily) like a quasi-stable state. Then we can scoot away as some other American president solemnly declares, "We have met our responsibility."

But Afghanistan is not our responsibility, and such an empty result is not in our national interest. The real question is this: who wants to die for Karzai?

Peace activists and all people of common sense should get noisy and get in the face of power. Plainly put, Afghanistan is a wasteland for America, so why should We the People sit quietly and allow four or five more years of unconscionable waste?

Other than the Obamacan White House, congressional Republicans, the Pentagon brass, corporate war profiteers, and the usual flock of squawking hawks--who supports this war? Even a rising number of Democrats in Congress have recently been voting against it.

And out here in the countryside, very few folks think Afghanistan is worth the price--in an August CNN poll, 62 percent opposed the war, a July Gallup poll registered 62 percent saying that things in Afghanistan are going badly for America or "very badly," AP pollsters in August found only 19 percent who expect the war situation to improve during the next year, and the July Gallup poll reports that nearly six out of ten of us favor setting a timetable for removing our troops.

In 2001, George W stupidly said, "Bring 'em on." Now's the time for us to say simply and sensibly: "Bring 'em home."

Activism matters. Call a local peace group and sign up, join with others, do more, get louder--let's turn July 2011 into a solid date for the orderly removal from Afghanistan of all of our troops. They've been overused and abused in a war so senseless that our leaders can't credibly explain why they're there. So they shouldn't be.



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