Die schrecklichen Bilder aus Damaskus haben uns verstört und betroffen gemacht, auch wenn dies ein Wort ist, das sich im syrischen Kontext schon längst abgenutzt hat. Die schrecklichen Zahlen sind bekannt: zwei Millionen Flüchtlinge im benachbarten Ausland, mindestens vier Millionen Binnenvertriebene, dazu mindestens 100.000 Tote. Ohne zu wissen, welche todbringende Substanz in Syrien zum Einsatz kam und wer das zu verantworten hat, habe ich doch beim Anblick der Toten an Halabja denken müssen, die kurdische Stadt im Nordirak, die vor 25 Jahren von Saddam Hussein mit Senfgas, Sarin und VX beschossen wurde. Damals starben 5.000 Menschen im Gas und Zehntausende wurden verletzt. Damals erstickten besonders diejenigen, die in Kellern Schutz vor den Bombardierungen gesucht hatten. Denn das Gas war schwerer als die Luft und setzte sich knapp über der Erde ab. Auch in den Vororten von Damaskus starben offenbar die Opfer in Hauseingängen und unteren Etagen. Das spricht für den Einsatz eines Kampfstoffes und man kann nur hoffen, dass die UN-Inspekteure tatsächlich die Zeit bekommen zu ermitteln, welches Giftgas dort zum Einsatz kam. Denn erst dann läßt sich tatsächlich schlussfolgern, wer dieses abscheuliche Verbrechen zu verantworten hat.
Doch offenbar wird diese Zeit nicht mehr eingeräumt, denn die Wahrheit ist bereits politisiert. Und wer nun behaupten wird die Wahrheit herausgefunden zu haben, wie immer sie aktuell auch sein mag, wird von der “anderen Seite” der Lüge bezichtigt werden. Denn die Diskussionen um die “richtige” Reaktion kreisen nur noch um die Frage des Zeitpunkts und des Ausmaßes, wie in Syrien militärisch interveniert wird. Eine exemplarische “Bestrafungsaktion” oder doch eine längerfristige Bombardierung?
Aber was heißt das für die syrische Bevölkerung? Was haben diejenigen davon, die sich vor den Todesschwadronen des syrischen Regimes fürchten und was bedeutet es für all jene, die sich vor den Rebellen und den immer stärker werdenden dschihadistischen Kämpfern ängstigen? Wird irgendjemand nach den kommenden Angriffen sicherer leben? Gibt es dadurch eine Perspektive auf ein freies Syrien ohne Despotie und klerikalen Terror? Nein, die syrische Tragödie ist kein Einakter und kann nicht mit Cruise Missiles, sondern tatsächlich nur politisch gelöst werden. Das klingt banal, bleibt aber dennoch richtig. Dafür aber müssen alle politischen Akteure im Land selbst und alle “regionalen Interessensmächte” einbezogen werden – auch der neue iranische Präsident Hasan Rohani, der ebenfalls den Giftgasangriff scharf verurteilt hat. Dass die USA aber diese Gespräche bislang konsequent abgelehnt haben und nun stattdessen eine militärische Bestrafungsaktion vorziehen, macht erneut deutlich, dass es in Syrien eben um mehr geht, als nur um die humanitären Belange der Syrerinnen und Syrer. Es geht eben auch um Geostrategie, Einflusszonen und Machtkonstellationen. Der Iran muss offenbar in jedem Fall isoliert bleiben und dafür wird letztlich auch die syrische Bevölkerung ihren Tribut entrichten. Auch das ist westliche Weltpolitik.”
KAISERSLAUTERN, Deutschland – Die US-Air Force in Europa / USAFE wird noch in diesem Jahr eine kleine Einheit nach Polen abordnen; nach Auskunft polnischer Offizieller werden dadurch erstmals US-Soldaten “dauerhaft” auf polnischem Boden anwesend sein.
In regelmäßigen Abständen werden F-16-Kampfjets und C-130-Transportflugzeuge der US-Air Force Polen besuchen, und deren Besatzungen werden – über das ganze Jahr verteilt – jeweils ein bis zwei Wochen dort trainieren; das teilte USAFE-Sprecher Major Rickardo Bodden mit.
Die abgeordnete Einheit wird aus etwa zehn Soldaten bestehen, die den Flugbetrieb unterstützen sollen; nach Auskunft der USAFE werden die US-Soldaten nur für 12 Monate abgeordnet und nicht dauerhaft oder vorübergehend versetzt. Sie können aus der gesamten US-Air Force (und nicht nur aus der USAFE) kommen. Die (nach Polen) rotierenden Flugzeuge würden sowohl von der USAFE als auch von Einheiten in den USA gestellt, es sei aber noch zu früh, mitzuteilen, um wie viele Flugzeuge es sich insgesamt handele und von welchen Einheiten sie kämen, erklärte Bodden.
Mit der ersten Rotation sei Ende des laufenden Jahres zu rechnen. Es sei nicht geplant, US-Flugzeuge dauerhaft in Polen zu stationieren, ergänzte Bodden. Trotz der geringen Größe der abgeordneten US-Einheit werde damit eine sehr bedeutsame Entwicklung eingeleitet, erklärte Andrew Michta, ein führender Transatlantiker, der Direktor des Warschauer Büros des German Marshall Fund of the United States ist.
“Das wird hier vor allem als politisches Signal und als Beleg dafür gesehen, dass die USA ernsthaft für die Sicherheit Polens und die seiner Nachbarn, der anderen NATO-Verbündeten in Osteuropa, eintreten,” betonte Michta – unter Hinweis auf die veränderte US-Verteidigungsstrategie, die stärker auf Asien in den Mittleren Osten fokusiert sei. Blanka Kolenikova, eine für Europa zuständige Analystin des Londoner Büros der Forschungsgruppe IHS Global Insight, teilte mit, man habe befürchtet, diese Vereinbarung werde die Bemühungen Polens behindern, seine Beziehungen zu Russland wiederzubeleben; Russland hat bereits angekündigt, dass es Gegenmaßnahmen ergreifen werde, wenn Polen der Stationierung von US-Kampfjets auf seinem Territorium zustimme.
In ihrer E-Mail schrieb sie: “Meiner Ansicht nach haben sich die Beziehungen zwischen Russland und Polen nicht nachhaltig verschlechtert, seit das Abkommen unterzeichnet wurde. Selbstverständlich begegnen sich beide Staaten weiterhin mit Misstrauen, und ihre Beziehungen könnten sich auch wieder eintrüben.” Die Pläne für die Abordnung waren in einer Absichtserklärung festgehalten worden, die Lee Feinstein, der US-Botschafter in Polen, und der polnische Verteidigungsminister Bogdan Klich im Frühjahr 2011 unterzeichnet hatten; das war einer Pressemitteilung der USBotschaft in Polen zu entnehmen.
Die Vereinbarung besagt, dass die Luftwaffen beider Staaten gemeinsame Übungen mit Kampfjets der fünften Generation durchführen wollen, sobald geeignete Flugplätze und Einrichtungen zur Verfügung stehen. Polen habe 2009 die letzten von 48 modernen F-16-Kampfjets aus den USA angeschafft und bereits fünf C-130-Transporter erworben.
Nach Aussage eines Sprechers der US-Botschaft (in Polen) wird die US-Einheit auf den 32. Taktischen Luftwaffenstützpunkt in Łask südwestlich von Warschau abgeordnet. Maj. Gen. (Generalmajor) David Scott, der Direktor der USAFE für Operationen, strategische Abschreckung und atomare Integration, habe die Basis letzte Woche besucht und mit polnischen Militärs Einzelheiten der Abordnung besprochen, teilte die US-Botschaft mit.
Die Rotation ist ein weiteres Zeichen für die wachsende US-Militärpräsenz in Polen; sie begann 2010 mit der Entsendung in Deutschland stationierter US-Soldaten die Polen beim Aufbau seiner Luftverteidigung unterstützten. Michta vom German Marshall Fund sagte, die Rotation der US-Flugzeuge sei auch eine Geste der USA, mit der die Beiträge Polens zur Sicherheit des Iraks und Afghanistans gewürdigt würden. “Polen wird im kommenden Jahrzehnt ein sehr wichtiger Verbündeter der USA werden,” meinte er. Polen ist ein Schlüsselpartner bei der Errichtung des US-Raketenabwehrschildes für Europa, denn das Land soll bis 2018 Elemente dieses Schildes aufnehmen.”
Led by the Central Intelligence Agency(CIA) the U.S. is stepping up its war in Somalia, The Nation magazine reports.
by Sherwood Ross
“The CIA presence in (the capital) Mogadishu is part of Washington’s intensifying counter-terrorism focus on Somalia, which includes targeted strikes by US Special Operations forces, drone attacks and expanded surveillance operations,” writes Jeremy Scahill, the magazine’s national security correspondent.
According to well-connected Somali sources, the CIA is reluctant to deal directly with Somali political leaders, who are regarded by U.S. officials as corrupt and untrustworthy. Instead, Scahill says, the U.S. has Somali intelligence agents on its payroll. Even the nation’s president, Sharif Sheihk Ahmed is not fully briefed on war plans.
The CIA operates from a sprawling walled compound in a corner of Mogadishu’s Aden Adde International Airport defended by guard towers manned by Somali government guards. What’s more, the CIA also runs a secret underground prison in the basement of Somalia’s National Security Agency headquarters, where conditions are reminiscent of the infamous Guantanamo Bay facility President Obama vowed to shut down.
The airport site was completed just four months ago and symbolizes the new face of the expanding war the Obama regime is waging against Al Shabab, and other Islamic militant groups in Somalia having close ties to Al Qaeda.
Typical of U.S. strongarm tactics, suspects from Kenya and elsewhere have been illegally rendered and flown to Mogadishu. Former prisoners, Scahill writes, “described the (filthy, small) cells as (infested with bedbugs), windowless and the air thick, moist and disgusting. Prisoners…are not allowed outside (and) many have developed rashes…” The prison dates back at least to the regime of military dictator Siad Barre, who ruled from 1969 to 1991, and was even then referred to as “The Hole.”
One prisoner snatched in Kenya and rendered to Somalia said, “I have been here for one year, seven months. I have been interrogated so many times…by Somali men and white men. Every day new faces show up (but) they have nothing on me. I have never seen a lawyer…here there is no court or tribunal.” The white men are believed to be U.S. and French intelligence agents.
Human Rights Watch and Reprieve have documented that Kenyan security forces “facilitated scores of renditions for the U.S. and other governments, including 85 people rendered to Somalia in 2007 alone,” Scahil writes.
Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a leader of Al Qaeda in East Africa and Kenyan citizen, was slain in the first known targeted killing operation in Somalia authorized by President Obama, The Nation article said, several months after a man thought to be one of Nabhan’s aides was rendered to Mogadishu.
In an interview with the magazine in Mogadishu, Abdulkadir Moallin Noor, the minister of state for the presidency, confirmed that US agents “are working without intelligence” and “giving them training.” He called for more U.S. counter-terrorism efforts lest “the terrorists will take over the country.”
During his confirmation hearings to become head of the U.S. Special Operations Command, Vice Admiral William McRaven said the U.S. is “looking very hard” at Somalia and that it would have to “increase its use of drones as well as on-the-ground intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations.” U.S. actions appear to circumvent the president, who is not fully kept in the loop, the magazine reported.
A week after a June 23rd drone strike against alleged Shabab members near Kismayo, 300 miles from the capital, John Brennan, Mr. Obama’s top counter-terrorism adviser, said, “From the territory it controls in Somalia, Al Shabab continues to call for strikes against the United States. We cannot and we will not let down our guard. We will continue to pummel Al Qaeda and its ilk.”
Author Scahill reports the Pentagon is increasing its support for, and arming of, the counter-terrorism operations of non-Somali African military forces. A new defense spending bill would authorize more than $75 million in U.S. aid aimed at fighting the Shabab and Al Qaeda in Somalia. The package would “dramatically” increase US arming and financing of AMISOM’s (African Union) forces, particularly from Uganda and Burundi, as well as the armies of Djibouti, Kenya and Ethiopia.
The AMISOM forces, however, “are not conducting their mission with anything resembling surgical precision,” Scahill writes. Instead, in recent months they “have waged a merciless campaign of indiscriminate shelling of Shabab areas, some of which are heavily populated by civilians.”
According to a senior Somali intelligence official who works directly with U.S. agents, the CIA-led program in Mogadishu has yielded few tangible gains. Neither the U.S. nor Somali forces “have been able to conduct a single successful targeted mission in the Shabab’s areas in the capital,” Scahill reports.
Francis Boyle, distinguished authority on international law at the University of Illinois, Champaign, says the US. is “just using Shabab as an excuse to steal Somalia’s gas. Just before President Bush Senior’s Gulf War I, Somalia was already carved up among four or so U.S. oil companies. Then Bush Sr. invaded under the pretext of feeding poor starving Somalis…(but) the Somalis fought back and expelled us… So now we are just trying to get back in there. Notice they are escalating the propaganda again about poor starving Black People in Somalia, as if we ever cared diddly-squat about them. All we care about is stealing their oil. Shabab and famine are just covers and pretexts.”
The expanding war in Somalia, largely unreported in America, marks the sixth country in the Middle East—-after Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, and Yemen—in which the regime of Nobel Peace Prize-winner Obama is engaged. One wonders how many additional countries Mr. Obama, (the former secret CIA payroller,) has to invade to win another Peace Prize?
In the 2011 summer issue of the journal of the American Academy of Political Science, we read that it is “a common theme” that the United States, which “only a few years ago was hailed to stride the world as a colossus with unparalleled power and unmatched appeal – is in decline, ominously facing the prospect of its final decay.” It is indeed a common theme, widely believed, and with some reason. But an appraisal of US foreign policy and influence abroad and the strength of its domestic economy and political institutions at home suggests that a number of qualifications are in order. To begin with, the decline has in fact been proceeding since the high point of US power shortly after World War II, and the remarkable rhetoric of the several years of triumphalism in the 1990s was mostly self-delusion. Furthermore, the commonly drawn corollary – that power will shift to China and India – is highly dubious. They are poor countries with severe internal problems. The world is surely becoming more diverse, but despite America’s decline, in the foreseeable future there is no competitor for global hegemonic power.
To review briefly some of the relevant history: During World War II, US planners recognized that the US would emerge from the war in a position of overwhelming power. It is quite clear from the documentary record that “President Roosevelt was aiming at United States hegemony in the postwar world,” to quote the assessment of diplomatic historian Geoffrey Warner. Plans were developed to control what was called a Grand Area, a region encompassing the Western Hemisphere, the Far East, the former British empire – including the crucial Middle East oil reserves – and as much of Eurasia as possible, or at the very least its core industrial regions in Western Europe and the southern European states. The latter were regarded as essential for ensuring control of Middle East energy resources. Within these expansive domains, the US was to maintain “unquestioned power” with “military and economic supremacy,” while ensuring the “limitation of any exercise of sovereignty” by states that might interfere with its global designs. The doctrines still prevail, though their reach has declined.
Wartime plans, soon to be carefully implemented, were not unrealistic. The US had long been by far the richest country in the world. The war ended the Depression and US industrial capacity almost quadrupled, while rivals were decimated. At the war’s end, the US had half the world’s wealth and unmatched security. Each region of the Grand Area was assigned its ‘function’ within the global system. The ensuing ‘Cold War’ consisted largely of efforts by the two superpowers to enforce order on their own domains: for the USSR, Eastern Europe; for the US, most of the world.
By 1949, the Grand Area was already seriously eroding with “the loss of China,” as it is routinely called. The phrase is interesting: one can only ‘lose’ what one possesses. Shortly after, Southeast Asia began to fall out of control, leading to Washington’s horrendous Indochina wars and the huge massacres in Indonesia in 1965 as US dominance was restored. Meanwhile, subversion and massive violence continued elsewhere in the effort to maintain what is called ‘stability,’ meaning conformity to US demands.
But decline was inevitable, as the industrial world reconstructed and decolonization pursued its agonizing course. By 1970, US share of world wealth had declined to about 25%, still colossal but sharply reduced. The industrial world was becoming ‘tripolar,’ with major centers in the US, Europe, and Asia – then Japan-centered – already becoming the most dynamic region.
Twenty years later the USSR collapsed. Washington’s reaction teaches us a good deal about the reality of the Cold War. The Bush I administration, then in office, immediately declared that policies would remain pretty much unchanged, but under different pretexts. The huge military establishment would be maintained, but not for defense against the Russians; rather, to confront the “technological sophistication” of third world powers. Similarly, they reasoned, it would be necessary to maintain “the defense industrial base,” a euphemism for advanced industry, highly reliant on government subsidy and initiative. Intervention forces still had to be aimed at the Middle East, where the serious problems “could not be laid at the Kremlin’s door,” contrary to half a century of deceit. It was quietly conceded that the problems had always been “radical nationalism,” that is, attempts by countries to pursue an independent course in violation of Grand Area principles. These policy fundamentals were not modified. The Clinton administration declared that the US has the right to use military force unilaterally to ensure “uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies, and strategic resources.” It also declared that military forces must be “forward deployed” in Europe and Asia “in order to shape people’s opinions about us,” not by gentle persuasion, and “to shape events that will affect our livelihood and our security.” Instead of being reduced or eliminated, as propaganda would have led one to expect, NATO was expanded to the East. This was in violation of verbal pledges to Mikhail Gorbachev when he agreed to allow a unified Germany to join NATO.
Today, NATO has become a global intervention force under US command, with the official task of controlling the international energy system, sea lanes, pipelines, and whatever else the hegemonic power determines.
There was indeed a period of euphoria after the collapse of the superpower enemy, with excited tales about “the end of history” and awed acclaim for Clinton’s foreign policy. Prominent intellectuals declared the onset of a “noble phase” with a “saintly glow,” as for the first time in history a nation was guided by “altruism” and dedicated to “principles and values;” and nothing stood in the way of the “idealistic New World bent on ending inhumanity,” which could at last carry forward unhindered the emerging international norm of humanitarian intervention.
Not all were so enraptured. The traditional victims, the Global South, bitterly condemned “the so-called ‘right’ of humanitarian intervention,” recognizing it to be just the old “right” of imperial domination. More sober voices at home among the policy elite could perceive that for much of the world, the US was “becoming the rogue superpower,” considered “the single greatest external threat to their societies,” and that “the prime rogue state today is the United States.” After Bush Jr. took over, increasingly hostile world opinion could scarcely be ignored. In the Arab world particularly, Bush’s approval ratings plummeted. Obama has achieved the impressive feat of sinking still lower, down to 5% in Egypt and not much higher elsewhere in the region.
Meanwhile, decline continued. In the past decade, South America has been ‘lost.’ The ‘threat’ of losing South America had loomed decades earlier. As the Nixon administration was planning the destruction of Chilean democracy, and the installation of a US-backed Pinochet dictatorship – the National Security Council warned that if the US could not control Latin America, it could not expect “to achieve a successful order elsewhere in the world.”
But far more serious would be moves towards independence in the Middle East. Post WWII planning recognized that control of the incomparable energy reserves of the Middle East would yield “substantial control of the world,” in the words of the influential Roosevelt advisor A.A. Berle.
Correspondingly, that loss of control would threaten the project of global dominance that was clearly articulated during World War II and has been sustained in the face of major changes in world order ever since.
A further danger to US hegemony was the possibility of meaningful moves towards democracy. New York Times executive editor Bill Keller writes movingly of Washington’s “yearning to embrace the aspiring democrats across North Africa and the Middle East.” But recent polls of Arab opinion reveal very clearly that functioning democracy where public opinion influences policy would be disastrous for Washington. Not surprisingly, the first few steps in Egypt’s foreign policy after ousting Mubarak have been strongly opposed by the US and its Israeli client.
While longstanding US policies remain stable, with tactical adjustments, under Obama there have been some significant changes. Military analyst Yochi Dreazen observes in the Atlantic that Bush’s policy was to capture (and torture) suspects, while Obama simply assassinates them, with a rapid increase in terror weapons (drones) and the use of Special Forces, many of them assassination teams. Special Forces are scheduled to operate in 120 countries. Now as large as Canada’s entire military, these forces are, in effect, a private army of the president, a matter discussed in detail by American investigative journalist Nick Turse on the website Tomdispatch. The team that Obama dispatched to assassinate Osama bin Laden had already carried out perhaps a dozen similar missions in Pakistan.
As these and many other developments illustrate, though America’s hegemony has declined, its ambition has not.
Another common theme, at least among those who are not willfully blind, is that American decline is in no small measure self-inflicted. The comic opera in Washington this summer, which disgusts the country (a large majority think that Congress should just be disbanded) and bewilders the world, has few analogues in the annals of parliamentary democracy. The spectacle is even coming to frighten the sponsors of the charade. Corporate power is now concerned that the extremists they helped put in office in Congress may choose to bring down the edifice on which their own wealth and privilege relies, the powerful nanny state that caters to their interests.
The eminent American philosopher John Dewey once described politics as “the shadow cast on society by big business,” warning that “attenuation of the shadow will not change the substance.” Since the 1970s, the shadow has become a dark cloud enveloping society and the political system. Corporate power, by now largely financial capital, has reached the point that both political organizations, which now barely resemble traditional parties, are far to the right of the population on the major issues under debate.
For the public, the primary domestic concern, rightly, is the severe crisis of unemployment. Under current circumstances, that critical problem can be overcome only by a significant government stimulus, well beyond the recent one, which barely matched decline in state and local spending, though even that limited initiative did probably save millions of jobs. For financial institutions the primary concern is the deficit. Therefore, only the deficit is under discussion. A large majority of the population favor addressing the deficit by taxing the very rich (72% for, 21% opposed). Cutting health programs is opposed by overwhelming majorities (69% Medicaid, 79% Medicare). The likely outcome is therefore the opposite.
Reporting the results of a study of how the public would eliminate the deficit, its director, Steven Kull, writes that “clearly both the administration and the Republican-led House are out of step with the public’s values and priorities in regard to the budget…The biggest difference in spending is that the public favored deep cuts in defense spending, while the administration and the House propose modest increases…The public also favored more spending on job training, education, and pollution control than did either the administration or the House.”
The costs of the Bush-Obama wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are now estimated to run as high as $4.4 trillion – a major victory for Osama bin Laden, whose announced goal was to bankrupt America by drawing it into a trap. The 2011 military budget – almost matching that of the rest of the world combined – is higher in real terms than at any time since World War II and is slated to go even higher.
The deficit crisis is largely manufactured as a weapon to destroy hated social programs on which a large part of the population relies. Economics correspondent Martin Wolf of the London Financial Times writes that “it is not that tackling the US fiscal position is urgent…. The US is able to borrow on easy terms, with yields on 10-year bonds close to 3 percent, as the few non-hysterics predicted. The fiscal challenge is long term, not immediate.” Very significantly, he adds: “The astonishing feature of the federal fiscal position is that revenues are forecast to be a mere 14.4 percent of GDP in 2011, far below their postwar average of close to 18 percent. Individual income tax is forecast to be a mere 6.3 percent of GDP in 2011. This non-American cannot understand what the fuss is about: in 1988, at the end of Ronald Reagan’s term, receipts were 18.2 percent of GDP. Tax revenue has to rise substantially if the deficit is to close.” Astonishing indeed, but it is the demand of the financial institutions and the super-rich, and in a rapidly declining democracy, that’s what counts.
Though the deficit crisis is manufactured for reasons of savage class war, the long-term debt crisis is serious, and has been ever since Ronald Reagan’s fiscal irresponsibility turned the US from the world’s leading creditor to the world’s leading debtor, tripling national debt and raising threats to the economy that were rapidly escalated by George W. Bush. But for now, it is the crisis of unemployment that is the gravest concern.
The final ‘compromise’ on the crisis – more accurately, a capitulation to the far right – is the opposite of what the public wants throughout, and is almost certain to lead to slower growth and long-term harm to all but the rich and corporations, which are enjoying record profits. Few serious economists would disagree with Harvard economist Lawrence Summers that “America’s current problem is much more a jobs and growth deficit than an excessive budget deficit,” and that the deal reached in Washington in August, though preferable to a highly unlikely default, is likely to cause further harm to a deteriorating economy.
Not even discussed is the fact that the deficit would be eliminated if the dysfunctional privatized health care system in the US were replaced by one similar to other industrial societies, which have half the per person costs and at least comparable health outcomes. The financial institutions and pharmaceutical industry are far too powerful for such options even to be considered, though the thought seems hardly Utopian. Off the agenda for similar reasons are other economically sensible options, such as a small financial transactions tax.
The self-inflicted blows, while increasingly powerful, are not a recent innovation. They trace back to the 1970s, when the national political economy underwent major transformations, bringing to an end what is commonly called “the Golden Age” of (state) capitalism. Two major elements were financialization and offshoring of production, both related to the decline in rate of profit in manufacturing, and the dismantling of the post-war Bretton Woods system of capital controls and regulated currencies. The ideological triumph of “free market doctrines,” highly selective as always, administered further blows, as they were translated into deregulation, rules of corporate governance linking huge CEO rewards to short-term profit, and other such policy decisions. The resulting concentration of wealth yielded greater political power, accelerating a vicious cycle that has led to extraordinary wealth for a tenth of one percent of the population, mainly CEOs of major corporations, hedge fund managers, and the like, while for the large majority real incomes have virtually stagnated.
The post-Golden Age economy is enacting a nightmare envisaged by the classical economists, Adam Smith and David Ricardo. Both recognized that if British merchants and manufacturers invested abroad and relied on imports, they would profit, but England would suffer. Both hoped that these consequences would be averted by home bias, a preference to do business in the home country and see it grow and develop. Ricardo hoped that thanks to home bias, most men of property would “be satisfied with the low rate of profits in their own country, rather than seek a more advantageous employment for their wealth in foreign nations.
In the past 30 years, the “masters of mankind,” as Smith called them, have abandoned any sentimental concern for the welfare of their own society, concentrating instead on short-term gain and huge bonuses, the country be damned – as long as the powerful nanny state remains intact to serve their interests.
A graphic illustration appeared on the front page of the New York Times on August 4. Two major stories appear side by side. One discusses how Republicans fervently oppose any deal “that involves increased revenues” – a euphemism for taxes on the rich. The other is headlined “Even Marked Up, Luxury Goods Fly Off Shelves.” The pretext for cutting taxes on the rich and corporations to ridiculous lows is that they will invest in creating jobs – which they cannot do now as their pockets are bulging with record profits.
The developing picture is aptly described in a brochure for investors produced by banking giant Citigroup. The bank’s analysts describe a global society that is dividing into two blocs: the plutonomy and the rest. In such a world, growth is powered by the wealthy few, and largely consumed by them. Then there are the ‘non-rich,’ the vast majority, now sometimes called the global precariat, the workforce living a precarious existence. In the US, they are subject to “growing worker insecurity,” the basis for a healthy economy, as Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan explained to Congress while lauding his performance in economic management. This is the real shift of power in global society.
The Citigroup analysts advise investors to focus on the very rich, where the action is. Their “Plutonomy Stock Basket,” as they call it, far outperformed the world index of developed markets since 1985, when the Reagan-Thatcher economic programs of enriching the very wealthy were really taking off.
Before the 2007 crash for which the new post-Golden Age financial institutions were largely responsible, these institutions had gained startling economic power, more than tripling their share of corporate profits. After the crash, a number of economists began to inquire into their function in purely economic terms. Nobel laureate in economics Robert Solow concludes that their general impact is probably negative: “the successes probably add little or nothing to the efficiency of the real economy, while the disasters transfer wealth from taxpayers to financiers.”
By shredding the remnants of political democracy, they lay the basis for carrying the lethal process forward – as long as their victims are willing to suffer in silence.
Chomsky is emeritus professor of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect al-Akhbar’s editorial policy.”
There are moments that define a war. Just such a one occurred on June 21, when Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry helicoptered into Marjah for a photo op with the locals. It was to be a capstone event, the fruit of a four-month counterinsurgency offensive by Marines, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies, and the newly minted Afghan National Army (ANA) to drive the Taliban out of the area and bring in good government.
As the chopper swung around to land, the Taliban opened fire, sending journalists scrambling for cover and Marines into full combat mode. According to Matthew Green of the Financial Times, “The crackle of gunfire lasted about 20 minutes and continued in the background as a state department official gave a presentation to Mr. Holbrooke about U.S. and U.K. [United Kingdom] efforts to boost local government and promote agriculture in the town.”
The U.S. officials were then bundled into armored cars and whisked back to the helicopter. As the chopper took off, an enormous explosion shook the town’s bazaar.
When it was launched in March, the Marjah operation was billed as a “turning point” in the Afghan War, an acid test for the doctrine of counterinsurgency, or “COIN,” a carefully designed strategy to wrest a strategic area from insurgent forces, in this case the Taliban, and win the “hearts and minds” of the local people. In a sense Marjah has indeed defined COIN, just not quite in the way its advocates had hoped for.
The Missing Cornerstone
In his bible for counterinsurgency, Field Manual 3-24, General David Petraeus argues, “The cornerstone of any COIN effort is establishing security for the civilian populace.” As one village elder who attended the Holbrooke meeting — incognito for fear of being recognized by the Taliban — told Green, “There is no security in Marjah.”
Nor in much of the rest of the country. The latest United States assessment found only five out of 116 areas “secure,” and in 89 areas the government was “non-existent, dysfunctional or unproductive.”
That the war in Afghanistan is a failure will hardly come as news to most people. Our NATO allies are preparing to abandon the endeavor — the Dutch, Canadians and Poles have announced they are bailing — and the British, who have the second largest contingent in Afghanistan, are clamoring for peace talks. Opposition to the war in Britain is at 72 percent.
But there is a tendency to blame the growing debacle on conditions peculiar to Afghanistan. There are certainly things about that country that have stymied foreign invaders: It is landlocked, filled with daunting terrain, and populated by people who don’t cotton to outsiders. But it would be a serious error to attribute the current crisis to Afghanistan’s well-earned reputation as the “graveyard of empires.”
A Failing Doctrine
The problem is not Afghanistan, but the entire concept of COIN, and the debate around it is hardly academic. Counterinsurgency has seized the high ground in the Pentagon and the halls of Washington, and there are other places in the world where it is being deployed, from the jungles of Columbia to the dry lands that border the Sahara. If the COIN doctrine is not challenged, people in the United States may well find themselves debating its merits in places like Somalia, Yemen, or Mauritania.
“Counterinsurgency aims at reshaping a nation and its society over the long haul,” says military historian Frank Chadwick, and emphasizes “infrastructure improvements, ground-level security, and building a bond between the local population and the security forces.”
In theory, COIN sounds reasonable; in practice, it almost always fails. Where it has succeeded — the Philippines, Malaya, Bolivia, Sri Lanka, and the Boer War — the conditions were very special: island nations cut off from outside support (the Philippines and Sri Lanka), insurgencies that failed to develop a following (Bolivia) or were based in a minority ethnic community (Malaya, the Boer War).
COIN is always presented as politically neutral, a series of tactics aimed at winning hearts and minds. But in fact, COIN has always been part of a strategy of domination by a nation(s) and/or socioeconomic class.
The supposed threat of communism and its companion, domino theory, sent soldiers to countries from Grenada to Lebanon, and turned the Vietnamese civil war into a Cold War battleground. If we didn’t stop the communists in Vietnam, went the argument, eventually the Reds would storm the beaches at San Diego.
Replace communism with terrorism, and today’s rationales sound much the same. U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates described Afghanistan as “the fountainhead of terrorism.” And when asked to explain why Germany was sending troops to Afghanistan, then-German Defense Minister Peter Strock argued that Berlin’s security would be “defended in the Hindu Kush.” British Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown routinely said that confronting “terrorism” in Afghanistan would protect the home-front.
But, as counterterrorism expert Richard Barrett points out, the Afghan Taliban have never been a threat to the West, and the idea that fighting the Taliban would reduce the threat of terrorism is “complete rubbish.” In any case, the al-Qaeda operatives who pulled off the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon got their training in Hamburg and south Florida, not Tora Bora.
Hearts, Minds, and Strategic Interests
The United States has strategic interests in Central Asia and the Middle East, and “terrorism” is a handy excuse to inject military power into these two energy-rich regions of the world. Whoever holds the energy high ground in the coming decades will exert enormous influence on world politics.
No, it is not all about oil and gas, but a lot of it is.
Winning “hearts and minds” is just a tactic aimed at insuring our paramount interests and the interests of the “friendly” governments that we fight for. Be nice to the locals unless the locals decide that they don’t much like long-term occupation, don’t trust their government, and might have some ideas about how they should run their own affairs.
Then “hearts and minds” turns nasty. U.S. Special Operations Forces carry out as many as five “kill and capture” raids a day in Afghanistan, and have assassinated or jailed more than 500 Afghans who are alleged insurgents in the past few months. Thousands of others languish in prisons.
The core of COIN is coercion, whether it is carried out with a gun or truckloads of money. If the majority of people accept coercion — and the COIN supported government doesn’t highjack the trucks — then it may work.
Then again, maybe not. Tufts University recently researched the impact of COIN aid and found little evidence that such projects win locals over. According to Tufts professor Andrew Wilder, “Many of the Afghans interviewed for our study identified their corrupt and predatory government as the most important cause of insecurity, and perceived international aid security contracts as enriching a kleptocratic elite.”
This should hardly come as a surprise. Most regimes the United States ends up supporting against insurgents are composed of a narrow class of elites, who rule through military power and political monopoly. Our backing of the El Salvador and Guatemalan governments during the 1980s comes to mind. Both were essentially death squads with national anthems.
The United States doesn’t care if a government is authoritarian and corrupt, or democratic — if it did, would countries like Egypt and Honduras be recipients of U.S. aid, and would we be cuddling up with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait? The priority for the United States is whether the local elites will serve Washington’s interests by giving it bases, resources, or commercial access.
Afghanistan is no different. The government of Hamid Karzai is a kleptocracy with little support or presence outside Kabul.
In many ways, COIN is the most destructive and self-defeating strategy a country can employ, and its toxicity is long-term. Take what didn’t get reported in the recent firing of former Afghan War commander General Stanley McChrystal.
COIN’s Long History
McChrystal cut his COIN teeth running Special Operations death squads in Iraq, similar to the Vietnam War’s Operation Phoenix, which killed upwards of 60,000 Viet Cong cadre and eventually led to the Mai Lai massacre. The success of Phoenix is best summed up by photos of desperate South Vietnamese soldiers clinging to U.S. helicopter skids as the Americans scrambled to get out before Saigon fell.
But COIN advocates read history selectively, and the loss in Vietnam was soon blamed on backstabbing journalists and pot-smoking hippies. The lessons were rewritten, the memories expunged, and the disasters reinterpreted.
So COIN is back. And it is working no better than it did in the 1960s. Take the counterterrorism portion of the doctrine.
Over the past several years, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has been carrying out a sort of long-distance Phoenix program, using armed drones to assassinate insurgent leaders in Pakistan. The program has purportedly snuffed out about 150 such “leaders.” But it has also killed more than 1,000 civilians and inflamed not only the relatives of those killed or wounded in the attacks, but Pakistanis in general. According to an International Republican Institute poll, 80 percent of Pakistanis are now anti-American, and the killer drones are a major reason.
“Hearts and minds” soldiers like Petraeus don’t much like the drone attacks, because they alienate Pakistan and dry up intelligence sources in that country.
But McChrystal’s Phoenix program of killing Taliban “leaders” in Afghanistan is no better. As author and reporter Anne Jones notes, “Assassinating the ideological leaders, the true believers and organizers — those we call the ‘bad Taliban’ — actually leaves behind leaderless, undisciplined gangs of armed rent-a-guns who are more interested in living off the population we’re supposed to protect than being peeled off into abject Afghan poverty.”
The “hearts and minds” crew have their own problems. McChrystal and Petraeus have long stressed the counterproductive effect of using airpower and artillery against insurgents, because it inevitably produces civilian casualties. But this means that the war is now between two groups of infantry, one of which knows the terrain, speaks the local language, and can turn from a fighter to a farmer in a few minutes.
As the recent Rolling Stone article found, McChrystal was unpopular because his troops felt he put them in harm’s way. Firefights that used to be ended quickly by airstrikes go on for hours, and the Taliban are demonstrating that, given a level playing field, they are skilled fighters.
In his recent testimony before Congress, Petraeus said he would “bring all assets to bear” to ensure the safety of the troops and “re-examine” his ban on air power. But if he does, civilian casualties will rise, increasing local anger and recruits for the Taliban.
The war in Afghanistan is first about U.S. interests in Central Asia. It is also about honing a military for future irregular wars and projecting NATO as a worldwide alliance. Once the United States endorsed Karzai’s fraudulent election late last year, the Afghans knew it wasn’t about democracy.
One of the key COIN ingredients is a reliable local army, but U.S. soldiers no longer trust the ANA because they correctly suspect it is a conduit to the Taliban. “American soldiers in Kandahar report that, for their own security, they don’t tell their ANA colleagues when and where they are going on patrol,” writes Jones. Somebody told those insurgents that Holbrooke and Eikenberry were coming to Marjah.
Afghanistan is ethnically divided, desperately poor, and finishing its fourth decade of war. Morale among U.S. troops is plummeting. A U.S. military intelligence officertold TheWashington Times, “We are a battle-hardened force but eight years in Afghanistan has worn us down.” As one staff sergeant told Rolling Stone, “We’re losing this f—ing thing!”
The sergeant is right, though the Afghans are the big losers. But as bad as Afghanistan is, things will be considerably worse if the U.S. draws the conclusion that “special circumstances” in Afghanistan are to blame for failure, not the nature of COIN itself.
There was a time when the old imperial powers and the United States could wage war without having to bank their home-fires. No longer. The United States has spent over $300 billion on the Afghan War, and is currently shelling out about $7 billion a month. In the meantime, 31 states are sliding toward insolvency, and 15 million people have lost their jobs. As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the Huffington Post, “It just can’t be that we have a domestic agenda that is half the size of the defense budget.”
Empires can choose to step back with a certain grace, as the Dutch did in Southeast Asia. Or they can stubbornly hang on, casting about for the right military formula that will keep them on top. That fall is considerably harder.
The rise of Al-Shabab in Somalia must be seen in the context of decades of mismanagement, dictatorship and abuse, writes Yohannes Woldemariam. Following Ethiopia’s US-backed intervention in 2006, the ascendancy of Somalia’s moderate UIC (Union of Islamic Courts) was blocked and some 300,000 people were displaced, in the wake of which ‘the Al-Shabab extremists triumphed as a hegemonic force’ from within the UIC. And as the dust settles on last week’s Kampala bombing, Woldemariam contends, the governments of US allies Ethiopia and Uganda are once again seeking to capitalise on the tragedy for their own ends, ‘with Obama playing right into it’.
The emergence of Al-Shabab in Somalia is not an accident. It stems from many decades of mismanagement, dictatorship, regional and international abuse. Superficially, one expects Somalia to be a unified entity because all Somalis speak a common language and are not plagued by ethnic differences as in many parts of the post-colonial world. Yet Somalia was always beset by deep clan cleavages even as Somali elites fantasised about the notion of a ‘Greater Somalia’ and made it their mission to unite all Somali-speaking peoples. This included Somalis in neighbouring states: the Ogaden region in Ethiopia, the Issas in Djibouti and the Somalis who inhabit the area known as the Northern Frontier District of Kenya. The Horn of Africa was of course faced with the same arbitrariness of borders inherited from colonial rule, where there were cultural links with people across borders.
Notion of 'Greater Somalia' marked in yellow on map
But the project of an ethnically homogenous state by embracing neighbouring Somali minorities was a non-starter and contrary to the African charter of respecting colonial boundaries. Hence, Somali irredentism pitted it against Kenya and Ethiopia, worsening in particular its historic enmity with Ethiopia. The tension between the two countries provided one of the openings for the Soviet Union and the United States to use these nations as proxies in the geopolitical games of the Cold War. The Horn of Africa of which Somalia is a part became much like Afghanistan, Vietnam and other hot spots of that era.
Ethiopia and Somalia waged two major wars, including one that involved Cuban troops in 1977–78. A combined force of Ethiopians, 15,000 Cubans, 1,500 Soviet advisors and weaponry broke the back of the Somali army. This defeat was the beginning of the end of a functioning Somali state. It was followed by a protracted civil war in the 1980s, culminating in the disintegration of the country. Clumsy US and UN involvement in the 1990s made an already bad situation worse. Clan-based warlordism replaced the centralised dictatorship of Mohammed Said Barre, who ruled Somalia from 1969 to 1991. After the fall of Barre, Somaliland and Puntland became two separate, relatively stable but unrecognised entities. In fact, in late June 2010, Somaliland held the only election in the region which met international standards. Opposition candidate Ahmed M. Maha Silanyo won the election, defeating incumbent President Dahir Riyale Kahin. In contrast, anarchy had reigned in southern Somalia and the Mogadishu area for at least the last two decades.
For the most part, the US disengaged after the death of 18 of its marines and the downing of two Black Hawk helicopters in 1993. The gruesome scene in October 1993 – with pictures of a dead American soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu and dubbed the ‘CNN effect’ – is a fixture in the memory of many Americans. It influenced the Clinton administration’s decision to withdraw US troops from the country. Somalia became of renewed interest only after 9/11 out of concern that it would be a breeding ground for global jihad and a hide out for Al-Qaida elements.
There were 14 unsuccessful top-down attempts for a centralised government in Somalia between 1991 and 2010. The current Transitional Federal Government (TFG) led by Sharif Sheikh Ahmed is the latest mutation of these trials. Most Somalis view Sharif Ahmed as an Ethiopian puppet, but Hillary Clinton had called him the ‘best hope’ for his country. He barely controls two blocks in Mogadishu and only because of the protection of approximately 3,000 Ugandan and 2,000 Burundian troops representing the ill-conceived AU Mission In Somalia (AMISOM). The Ugandan, Burundian and Ethiopian intervention is deeply resented by Somalis of various political persuasions. The justification for their presence is ostensibly to keep peace, but there is no peace to keep in Somalia. Uganda and Ethiopia really need peace within their own borders before pretending to bring peace to other lands. Among several insurgencies within Ethiopia is the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), which is waging a perennial struggle for self-determination for the four million or so ethnic Somalis. It has claimed thousands of lives and is being called ‘the other Darfur’ by some observers. Since the 1980s, Uganda’s northern region has also been ravaged by a murderous group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
The primary reason for Ethiopian intervention is its vested interest in a weak and disintegrated Somalia. It also benefits from American financial, military and political support by positioning itself as an ally in the ‘war on terror’. Ethiopia receives the largest amount of American aid of any country in sub-Saharan Africa. Similarly, Uganda and Burundi are intervening to garner support from the United States when they don’t even share a common border with Somalia.
In return, the US keeps mum when these leaders rig elections or change constitutional clauses to enable them to extend presidential terms. It is a Machiavellian game all around.
If one were genuine about peace, Ethiopia would be among the last countries in the world to be encouraged to send troops to Somalia. Yet in 2006, it intervened in Somalia with American support and pre-empted the ascendancy of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), who were relatively moderate Muslims and had managed to establish a modicum of order for the very first time in 15 years. From the ranks of UIC, the Al-Shabab extremists triumphed as a hegemonic force. Ethiopia officially withdrew in 2009, but only after experiencing a quagmire which plunged Somalia into deeper chaos, displacing 300,000 Somalis and causing disarray for a grassroots movement that had seemed promising before it was nipped by Ethiopian intervention. And this official withdrawal notwithstanding, Ethiopian troops still make periodic incursions into Somalia at will.
Given the predatory nature of the governments of Burundi, Ethiopia and Uganda – which are essentially military dictatorships or de facto one-party control – little faith can be placed in them for enhancing regional stability in the Horn region. Current Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki is also believed to have stolen the presidential election from Raila Odinga (who happens to hail from the same ethnic group as Barack Obama's father), who is now prime minister in a shaky power-sharing government. Yet the country is an ally in security matters in the region and therefore immune from any serious US scrutiny.
In 2006, the Bush administration provided intelligence to Ethiopia in support of the invasion. It also used military facilities in Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya to launch air raids and missile strikes against Al-Qaida suspects at several sites in Somalia in 2007 and 2008. The air attacks killed several dozen Somali civilians and injured hundreds more, and they made US backing for the invasion highly visible. These periodic airstrikes are continuing under the Obama administration. The killing of Somali civilians only serves to drive Somalis into desperation and extremism. AMISOM is not any better. There are credible reports that it is responsible for civilian deaths and other excesses.
In the aftermath of the Kampala bombings, Obama said that Al-Qaida is racist and doesn’t care about African lives. No sane person would dispute that. However, the real question is whether Obama cares about African lives. If he truly does, why would he meddle and prop up dictators like Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, dictators who wilfully sacrifice their soldiers and the lives of innocents for some foreign exchange dollars? Not surprisingly, both Zenawi and Museveni are already positioning themselves to argue for expanded intervention and to milk the Kampala tragedy, with Obama playing right into it. Ironically, Al-Shabab will also welcome the escalation and regionalisation of the conflict in the hope of bolstering its waning domestic support base as ordinary Somalis become weary of the heavy-handed repression by the movement.
Relying on Ethiopia, Uganda and Burundi for keeping peace in Somalia is like sending Indian soldiers to occupy and pacify the Pakistani tribal areas. It is an oxymoron. It undermines the moderates and helps the extremists. The willingness of the United States to endorse interventions is rarely matched by a commitment to a comprehensive effort of securing peace. With the quagmire in Afghanistan and Iraq, there is hardly any political will in the US to effectively deal with the complexities of the issues in Somalia. Somalia does not need intervention and further militarisation by self-serving neighbours. A possible starting point for rebuilding Somalia could be to use the money that is being wasted on AMISOM to assist the Somali people and the nascent democratic experiment in Somaliland in light of the severe democratic drought in the region.