As Andrew Bacevich tells us in the latest issue of the Atlantic, there’s now a vigorous debate going on in the military about the nature of the “next” American wars and how to prepare for them. However, while military officers argue, that “next war” may already be creeping up on us.
Having, with much hoopla, launched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, each disastrous in its own way, the Bush administration in its waning months seems intent on a slo-mo launching of a third war in the border regions of Pakistan. Almost every day now news trickles out of intensified American strikes — by Hellfire-missile armed Predator drones, or even commando raids from helicopters — in the Pakistani tribal areas along the Afghan border; and there is a drumbeat of threats of more to come. All of this, in turn, is reportedly only “phase one” of a three-phase Bush administration plan in which the American military “gloves” would “come off.” Think of this as the green-lighting of a new version of that old Vietnam-era tactic of “hot pursuit” across national borders, or think of it simply as the latest war.
Already Pakistan’s sovereignty has functionally been declared of no significance by our President, and so, without a word from Congress, the American war that already stretches from Iraq to Afghanistan is threatening to widen in ways that are potentially incendiary in the extreme. While Pakistani sources report that no significant Taliban or al-Qaeda figures have been killed in the recent series of attacks, anger in Pakistan over the abrogation of national sovereignty and, as in Afghanistan, over civilian casualties is growing.
In Iraq, 146,000 American soldiers seem not to be going anywhere anytime soon, while in Afghanistan another 33,000 embattled American troops (and tens of thousands of NATO troops), suffering their highest casualties since the Taliban fell in 2001, are fighting a spreading insurgency backed by growing anger over foreign occupation. The disintegration seems to be proceeding apace in that country as the Taliban begins to throttle the supply routes leading into the Afghan capital of Kabul, while the governor of a province just died in an IED blast. “President” Hamid Karzai was long ago nicknamed “the mayor of Kabul.” Today, that tag seems ever more appropriate as the influence of his corrupt government steadily weakens.
In the meantime, in Pakistan, a new war, no less unpredictable and unpalatable than the last two, develops, as American strikes fan the flames of Pakistani nationalism. Already the Pakistani military may have fired its first warning shots at American troops. Part of the horror here is that much of the present nightmare in Afghanistan and Pakistan can be traced to the sorry U.S. relationship with Pakistan’s military and its intelligence services back in the early 1980s. At that time, in its anti-Soviet jihad, the Reagan administration was, in conjunction with the Pakistanis, actively nurturing the forces that the Bush administration is now so intent on fighting. No one knows this story, this record, better than the Pakistani-born journalist and writer Tariq Ali.
As we head into our “next war,” most Americans know almost nothing about Pakistan, the sixth most populous country on the planet with 200 million people, and the only Islamic state with nuclear weapons. As the Bush administration commits to playing with fire in that desperately poor land, it’s time to learn. Ali, who posts below on the next U.S. war, has just written a new book, The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power — published today — that traces the U.S.-Pakistani relationship from the 1950s to late last night. I can tell you that it’s both riveting and needed. Check it out. And while you’re at it, check Ali out in a two-part video, released by TomDispatch, in which he discusses the history of the tangled U.S.-Pakistani relationship and Barack Obama’s Afghan and Pakistani plans. Tom
The American War Moves to Pakistan
Bush’s War Widens Dangerously
By Tariq Ali
The decision to make public a presidential order of last July authorizing American strikes inside Pakistan without seeking the approval of the Pakistani government ends a long debate within, and on the periphery of, the Bush administration. Senator Barack Obama, aware of this ongoing debate during his own long battle with Hillary Clinton, tried to outflank her by supporting a policy of U.S. strikes into Pakistan. Senator John McCain and Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin have now echoed this view and so it has become, by consensus, official U.S. policy.
The Value of One, the Value of None
An Anatomy of Collateral Damage
in the Bush Era
By Tom Engelhardt
In a little noted passage in her bestselling book, The Dark Side, Jane Mayer offers us a vision, just post-9/11, of the value of one. In October 2001, shaken by a nerve-gas false alarm at the White House, Vice
President Dick Cheney, reports Mayer, went underground. He literally embunkered himself in “a secure, undisclosed location,” which she describes as “one of several Cold War-era nuclear-hardened subterranean bunkers built during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, the nearest of which were located
hundreds of feet below bedrock…” That bunker would be dubbed, perhaps only half-sardonically, “the Commander in Chief’s Suite.”
Oh, and in that period, if Cheney had to be in transit, “he was chauffeured in an armored motorcade that varied its route to foil possible attackers.” In the backseat of his car (just in case), adds Mayer, “rested a duffel bag stocked with a gas mask and a biochemical survival suit.” And lest danger rear its head,
“rarely did he travel without a medical doctor in tow.”
When it came to leadership in troubled times, this wasn’t exactly a profile in courage. Perhaps it was closer to a profile in paranoia, or simply in fear, but whatever else it might have been, it was also a strange kind of statement of self-worth. Has any wartime president — forget the vice-president — including Abraham Lincoln when southern armies might have marched on Washington, or Franklin D. Roosevelt at the height of World War II, ever been so bizarrely overprotected in the nation’s capital? Has any administration ever placed such value on the preservation of the life of a single official?
On the other hand, the well-armored Vice President and his aide David Addington played a leading role, as Mayer documents in grim detail, in loosing a Global War on Terror that was also a global war of terror on lands thousands of miles distant. In this new war, “the gloves came off,” “the shackles were removed” — images much loved within the administration and, in the case of those “shackles,” by George Tenet’s CIA. In the process, no price in human abasement or human life proved too high to pay — as long as it was paid
by someone else.
Recently, it was paid by up to 60 Afghan children.
The Value of None
[Note for TomDispatch readers: This is the third and last post in a pre-Labor-Day “best of TomDispatch” series — and a good reminder that yesterday’s story at this site may turn out to be tomorrow’s headlines. Back in February 2007, I wrote of our “forgotten war” in Afghanistan. There, civilians were dying in startling numbers, as they are today, and the Taliban was proving resurgent, as it also is today. I listed a set of grim then-recent headlines about those civilian deaths and added: “So goes the repetitive, if ever deepening, tragedy of our other war — and under such headlines lie massive tragedies that seldom make the headlines anywhere. Ann Jones, who has spent much time as a humanitarian aid worker in Afghanistan these last years and wrote a moving book, Kabul in Winter, on her experiences, turns to one of those tragedies: the fate of Afghan women.”
A year and a half later, with the U.S. reportedly planning to ship 12,000-15,000 extra troops to Afghanistan early next year, that tragedy only deepens and, far from turning into ancient history, Jones’s piece might as well have been written yesterday. Or tomorrow — for no matter who becomes president in January 2009, those extra troops are likely to be but an American downpayment on further grim headlines and more suffering for Afghan women.
As you may know, this post by Ann Jones is now in print, chapter 14 of The World According to TomDispatch, America in the New Age of Empire (Verso, 2008). It’s a book that helps explain tomorrow’s headlines. Why not buy a copy for your friends today — or tomorrow? Tom]
Surging in Afghanistan: Too Much, Too Late?
Despite George W. Bush’s claim that he’s “truly not that concerned” about Osama bin Laden, the administration is erecting 10 “Wanted” billboards in Afghanistan, offering rewards of $25 million for bin Laden, $10 million for Taliban leader Mullah Omar, and $1 million for Adam Gadahn, an American member of Al Qaeda, now listed as a “top terrorist.” That’s 10 nice, big, literal signs that the administration is waking up, only seven years after 9/11 and the American “victory” that followed, to its “forgotten war.”
When I wrote this piece for TomDispatch in February 2007, I’d been working intermittently since 2002 with women in Afghanistan — women the Bush administration claimed to have “liberated” by that victory. In all those years, despite some dramatic changes on paper, the real lives of most Afghan women didn’t change a bit, and many actually worsened thanks to the residual widespread infection of men’s minds by germs of Taliban “thought.” Today, Afghanistan is the only country in the world where women outdo men when it comes to suicide.
To transfer those changes from paper to the people, “victory” in Afghanistan should have been followed by the deployment of troops in sufficient numbers to ensure security. Securing the countryside might have enabled the Karzai government installed in the Afghan capital, Kabul, to extend its authority while international humanitarian organizations helped Afghans rebuild their country. As everyone knows, of course, that’s hardly what happened.
These are some of the latest, continually updated news items on one of my favourite sites, Information Clearing House (ICH):
[TomDispatch in the News: For those of you might be interested, Pepe Escobar of the RealNews.com visited TomDispatch central headquarters recently for a two-part interview with Tom Engelhardt and Nick Turse. The first part, with Tom Engelhardt, was just posted. Thought you might like to check it out by clicking here. In addition, Khodi Akhavi of Inter Press Service just did a fine review of this site’s new book, The World According to Tomdispatch: America in the New Age of Empire, which can be read by clicking here.]
It’s summer and gassing up your car is like emptying your wallet directly into that fuel pump. So you think you have it bad? You think you’re feeling the pain? Well, stop your whining! Other oil “addicts” have it so much worse! Have you no pity? Take an obvious example — the Pentagon. Once upon a time, powering your way to a little oil war was essentially a freebie. Lately, though, all you have to do is roll that Humvee off base, send that jet down the nearest runway, or launch that Hellfire missile-armed Predator drone over Afghanistan — let’s not even consider moving a whole carrier task force into the Arabian Sea — and, let’s face it, you’re talking an arm and a leg.
Why, the cost of refined fuel for troop use is officially about to leap from $127.68 a barrel to $170.94. That’s a 34% rise in the last six months, sucker! Feeling a little less sorry for yourself now? According to Time, “Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Brian Maka said Friday that the price hike is needed to cover an anticipated $1.2 billion rise in fuel costs in the next three months.” Add that to the nearly $12 billion a month being spent for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and, come on, it puts your own problems at the pump in perspective, doesn’t it? Even if it is your very own tax dollars the Pentagon’s spending to fuel its wars. So, peace may be hell, but war? It’s murder!
Last week, Nick Turse offered some tips to mainstream reporters who finally — only five years late — made it to the Bush administration’s role in Iraq’s oil story. Now, in part two of his series on what the mainstream media misses when it comes to our oil wars and the energy story, he turns to Washington and that gas guzzler par excellence, the Pentagon. The ties that the Complex — the term Turse gives the old military-industrial complex in his superb book on how our everyday lives have been militarized — has developed with an allied petro-industrial complex are so taken for granted that mainstream reporters seldom think they add up to a story. It’s like being on the science beat and filing stories about how we breathe. As a war-making society, though, our breathing’s been a little labored lately and Turse suggests that perhaps it’s time to take another look at everyday energy activities in the Pentagon. Tom
The Pentagon and the Hunt for Black Gold
For years, “oil” and “Iraq” couldn’t make it into the same sentence in mainstream coverage of the invasion and occupation of that country. Recently, that’s begun to change, but “oil” and “the Pentagon” still seldom make the news together.
Last year, for instance, according to Department of Defense (DoD) documents, the Pentagon paid more than $70 million to Hunt Refining, an oil company whose corporate affiliate, Hunt Oil, undermined U.S. policy in Iraq. Not that anyone would know it. While the hunt for oil in Iraq is now being increasingly well covered in the mainstream, the Pentagon’s hunt for oil remains a subject missing in action. Despite the staggering levels at which the Pentagon guzzles fuel, it’s a chronic blind spot in media energy coverage.
…and speaking of oil, just when we were barely getting used to Big Oil and Iraq hitting the front pages of American newspapers in tandem, here comes Afghanistan! Who now remembers that delegation of Taliban officials, shepherded by Unocal (“We’re an oil and gas company. We go where the oil and gas is…”), back in 1999, that made an all-expenses paid visit to the U.S. There was even that side trip to Mt. Rushmore, while the company (with U.S. encouragement) was negotiating a $1.9 billion pipeline that would bring Central Asian oil and natural gas through Afghanistan to Pakistan? Oh, and who was a special consultant to Unocal on the prospective deal? Zalmay Khalilzad, our present neocon ambassador to the U.N., George W. Bush’s former viceroy of Kabul and then Baghdad, and a rumored future “Afghan” presidential candidate.
Those pipeline negotiations only broke down definitively in August 2001, one month before, well, you know… and, as Toronto’s Globe and Mail columnist Lawrence Martin put it, “Washington was furious, leading to speculation it might take out the Taliban. After 9/11, the Taliban, with good reason, were removed — and pipeline planning continued with the Karzai government. U.S. forces installed bases near Kandahar, where the pipeline was to run. A key motivation for the pipeline was to block a competing bid involving Iran, a charter member of the ‘axis of evil.'”
Well, speak of the dead and not-quite-buried. It turns out that, in April, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India (acronymically TAPI) signed a Gas Pipeline Framework Agreement to build a U.S.-backed $7.6 billion pipeline. It would, of course, bypass Iran and new energy giant Russia, carrying Turkmeni natural gas and oil to Pakistan and India. Construction would, theoretically, begin in 2010. Put the emphasis on “theoretically,” because the pipeline is, once again, to run straight through Kandahar and so directly into the heartland of the Taliban insurgency.
Pepe Escobar of Asia Times caught the spirit of the moment perfectly: “The government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, which cannot even provide security for a few streets in central Kabul, has engaged in Hollywood-style suspension of disbelief by assuring unsuspecting customers it will not only get rid of millions of land mines blocking TAPI’s route, it will get rid of the Taliban themselves.” Nonetheless, as in Iraq, American (and NATO) troops could one day be directly protecting (and dying for) the investments of Big Oil in a new version of the old imperial “Great Game” with a special modern emphasis on pipeline politics.
There has been a flurry of reportage on the revived pipeline plan in Canada, where — bizarrely enough — journalists and columnists actually worry about such ephemeral possibilities as Canadian troops spending the next half century protecting Turkmeni energy. If you happen to live in the U.S., though, you would really have no way of knowing about such developments, no less their backstory, unless you were wandering the foreign press online.
Nick Turse, author of the indispensable new book, The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, considers the Iraq oil story that did, at last, hit the mainstream news here (only a few years late in the Great Game) and offers suggestions for mainstream reporters now ready to pursue the story wherever it leads, even back into an ignored, and oily, past. Tom