Tomgram: Tariq Ali, Has the U.S. Invasion of Pakistan Begun?

September 17, 2008

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.

The Duel

The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power

By Tariq Ali

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.

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Tomgram: Frida Berrigan, The Pentagon Legacy of the MBA President

September 15, 2008

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Part two of Frida Berrigan’s three-part series on the expansion of the Pentagon is just the sort of post — a major story of the Bush era — that you can only get at this site. The expansion and privatization of the Pentagon should, of course, be the subject of front-page pieces in newspapers across the country as the dark legacy of the Bush presidency begins to be considered. In the light of just this sort of work from TomDispatch, let me mention a new feature at the site. If you look to your right while at the main screen, you’ll see a clickable button (“Resist Empire. Support TomDispatch.”) that leads you to a secure page where, if you wish, you can give modest $$ to help this site fund projects like Berrigan’s and do outreach work of various kinds. I’ve always enjoyed the “freeness” of TomDispatch, but readers, from time to time, have sent in contributions anyway. Now, this added feature makes it easier, if you are so disposed, to do so and, believe me, I’ll be grateful. We’ll use whatever you send our way to improve the site. (Just make sure you never send in even a dollar that you need!) And, by the way, click over to Book TV on C-SPAN2, if you want to catch an appearance I made with Michael Schwartz for the new book, The World According to TomDispatch.]

Having laid out the staggering expansion of a budget-busting Pentagon — as diplomat, arms dealer, spy, intelligence analyst, domestic disaster manager, humanitarian caregiver, nation-builder, and global viceroy — in part one of her series on the Bush military legacy, Frida Berrigan, arms expert at the New America Foundation, turns to the issue of privatization. In these last seven years, the Pentagon’s key role as war fighter has increasingly become a privatized operation. In Iraq, for instance, a Congressional Budget Office report in August revealed that the U.S. has already spent at least $100 billion on private contractors. (Pentagon auditing has, however, been so bad that that’s considered a low-ball figure.)

Approximately one out of every five war dollars spent on the war went private. That’s not so surprising, as James Risen of the New York Times reported, since private contractors now outnumber the 146,000 U.S. troops in that country. At 180,000, they represent, as Risen writes, “a second, private army, larger than the United States military force, and one whose roles and missions and even casualties among its work force have largely been hidden from public view.”

Moreover, as modest drawdowns of U.S. troops occur, American taxpayer dollars going to private contractors in Iraq, especially private security contractors, are actually on the rise. Part of the charm of privatizing war, of course, is that you can also privatize information about it, so we really have little idea just how many armed, Blackwater-style mercenaries there are in that country (though the number may rise into the tens of thousands). No less curious, amid all the talk of drawdowns and withdrawals, you seldom see any serious discussion of those hired guns in the mainstream. When withdrawal does come, who withdraws them? Who decides that? Who knows?

In the meantime, let Frida Berrigan take you past the obvious Blackwater issues and into the deeper quagmire of the massive privatization of the American military. It’s an issue whose time should long ago have arrived, but don’t hold your breath till the media discussion and debate begins. Tom

Military Industrial Complex 2.0

Cubicle Mercenaries, Subcontracting Warriors, and Other Phenomena of a Privatizing Pentagon
By Frida Berrigan

Seven years into George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror, the Pentagon is embroiled in two big wars, a potentially explosive war of words with Tehran, and numerous smaller conflicts – and it is leaning ever more heavily on private military contractors to get by.

Once upon a time, soldiers did more than pick up a gun. They picked up trash. They cut hair and delivered mail. They fixed airplanes and inflated truck tires.

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Tomgram: Slaughter, Lies, and Video in Afghanistan

September 13, 2008

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

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Tomgram: Andrew Bacevich, The Lessons of Endless War

August 20, 2008

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Andrew Bacevich will discuss his new book — and the limits of American power in the Bush era — for a full hour on “Bill Moyers Journal,” Friday, August 15th. Don’t miss it. If you’re watching the Olympics, TIVO it or look for a repeat.]

To the problem of an overstretched, over-toured military, there is but one answer in Washington. Both presidential candidates (along with just about every other politician in our nation’s capital) are on record wanting to significantly expand the Army and the Marines. In his remarkable new book, The Limits of Power, The End of American Exceptionalism, Andrew Bacevich suggests a solution to the American military crisis that might seem obvious enough, if only both parties weren’t so blinded by the idea of our “global reach,” by a belief, however wrapped in euphemisms, in our imperial role on this planet, and by the imperial Pentagon and presidency that go with it: reduce the mission. It’s a particularly timely observation to which Bacevich returns in part two of his TomDispatch series, adapted from his new book. (Click here for part one, “Illusions of Victory.”)

Unfortunately, the mission looks all-too-ready to expand, no matter who makes it to the White House in January. Just last week, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, increasingly being mentioned in the media as a possible carry-over appointment for either candidate, endorsed a $20 billion down payment on our future role in Afghanistan — to be used to double the size of the Afghan army — and a restructuring of the U.S. and NATO commands in that country. All of this is meant as preparation for a new president’s agreement to consign yet more American troops to our war there. This, in a phrase Bacevich has used in another context, is no less “the path to perdition” for the globe’s former “sole superpower” than was the dec! ision of a small country in the Caucasus to essentially launch a war, no matter the provocation, against its energy-superpower neighbor. This way to the madhouse, ladies and gentlemen.

Consider, in this context, the immodest lessons our leaders have chosen to learn from the Bush era, and then, with Bacevich, what lessons we might actually learn if we seriously (and far more modestly) considered the real limits of American power. Tom

Is Perpetual War Our Future?

Learning the Wrong Lessons from the Bush Era
By Andrew Bacevich

To appreciate the full extent of the military crisis into which the United States has been plunged requires understanding what the Iraq War and, to a lesser extent, the Afghan War have to teach. These two conflicts, along with the attacks of September 11, 2001, will form the centerpiece of George W. Bush’s legacy. Their lessons ought to constitute the basis of a new, more realistic military policy.

In some respects, the effort to divine those lessons is well under way, spurred by critics of President Bush’s policies on the left and the right as well as by reform-minded members of the officer corps. Broadly speaking, this effort has thus far yielded three distinct conclusions. Whether taken singly or together, they invert the post-Cold War military illusions that provided the foundation for the president’s Global War on Terror. In exchange for these received illusions, they propound new ones, which are equally misguided. Thus far, that is, the lessons drawn from America’s post-9/11 military experience are the wrong ones.

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Tomgram: Six Questions about the Anthrax Case

August 20, 2008

[A TomDispatch recommendation: Bill Moyers had Andrew Bacevich on his “Journal” for an hour Friday night, discussing his new book, The Limits of Power (which is now the number one bestseller at Amazon.com). It was nothing short of a tutorial for the American people on the three-pronged crisis that faces us — economic, political, and military. Believe me, it’s not to be missed and can still be watched at Moyers’s website by clicking here. Make sure as well to check out Bacevich’s two-part series on the American military crisis, excerpted from his book, which appeared at TomDispatch last week: “Illusions of Victory” and “Is Perpetual War Our Future?”]

Double Standards in the Global War on Terror

Anthrax Department

By Tom Engelhardt

Oh, the spectacle of it all — and don’t think I’m referring to those opening ceremonies in Beijing, where North Korean-style synchronization seemed to fuse with smiley-faced Walt Disney, or Michael Phelp’s thrilling hunt for eight gold medals and Speedo’s one million dollar “bonus,” a modernized tribute to the ancient Greek tradition of amateurism in action. No, I’m thinking of the blitz of media coverage after Dr. Bruce Ivins, who worked at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Maryland, committed suicide by Tylenol on July 29th and the FBI promptly accused him of the anthrax attacks of September and October 2001.

You remember them: the powder that, innocuously enough, arrived by envelope — giving going postal a new meaning — accompanied by hair-raising letters ominously dated “09-11-01” that said, “Death to America. Death to Israel. Allah is great.” Five Americans would die from anthrax inhalation and 17 would be injured. The Hart Senate Office Building, along with various postal facilities, would be shut down for months of clean-up, while media companies that received the envelopes were thrown into chaos.

For a nation already terrified by the attacks of September 11, 2001, the thought that a brutal dictator with weapons of mass destruction (who might even have turned the anthrax over to the terrorists) was ready to do us greater harm undoubtedly helped pave the way for an invasion of Iraq. The President would even claim that Saddam Hussein had the ability to send unmanned aerial vehicles to spray biological or chemical weapons over the east coast of the United States (drones that, like Saddam’s nuclear program, would turn out not to exist).

Today, it’s hard even to recall just how terrifying those anthrax attacks were. According to a LexisNexis search, between Oct. 4 and Dec. 4, 2001, 389 stories appeared in the New York Times with “anthrax” in the headline. In that same period, 238 such stories appeared in the Washington Post. That’s the news equivalent of an unending, high-pitched scream of horror — and from those attacks would emerge an American world of hysteria involving orange alerts and duct tape, smallpox vaccinations, and finally a war, lest any of this stuff, or anything faintly like it, fall into the hands of terrorists.

And yet, by the end of 2001, it had become clear that, despite the accompanying letters, the anthrax in those envelopes was from a domestically produced strain. It was neither from the backlands of Afghanistan nor from Baghdad, but — almost certainly — from our own military bio-weapons labs. At that point, the anthrax killings essentially vanished… Poof!… while 9/11 only gained traction as the singular event of our times.

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Tomgram: Welcome to the Age of Homeland Insecurity

May 18, 2008

Kiss American Security Goodbye

15 Numbers That Add Up to an Age of Insecurity


By Tom Engelhardt

Once upon a time, I studied the Chinese martial art of Tai Chi — until, that is, I realized I would never locate my “chi.” At that point, I threw in the towel and took up Western exercise. Still, the principle behind Tai Chi stayed with me — that you could multiply the force of an act by giving way before the force of others; that a smaller person could use the strength of a bigger one against him.

Now, jump to September 11, 2001 and its aftermath — and you know the Tai Chi version of history from there. Think of it as a grim cosmic joke — that the 9/11 attacks, as apocalyptic as they looked, were anything but. The true disasters followed and the wounds were largely self-inflicted, as the most militarily powerful nation on the planet used its own force to disable itself.

Before that fateful day, the Bush administration had considered terrorism, Osama bin Laden, and al-Qaeda subjects for suckers and wusses. What they were intent on was pouring money into developing an elaborate boondoggle of a missile defense system against future nuclear attacks by rogue states. Those Cold War high frontiersmen (and women) couldn’t get enough of the idea of missiling up. That, after all, was where the money and the fun seemed to be. Nuclear was where the big boys — the nation states — played. “Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.…,” the CIA told the President that August. Yawn.

After 9/11, of course, George W. Bush and his top advisors almost instantly launched their crusade against Islam and then their various wars, all under the rubric of the Global War on Terror. (As Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld pungently put the matter that September, “We have a choice — either to change the way we live, which is unacceptable, or to change the way that they live; and we chose the latter.”) By then, they were already heading out to “drain the swamp” of evil doers, 60 countries worth of them, if necessary. Meanwhile, they moved quickly to fight the last battle at home, the one just over, by squandering vast sums on an American Maginot Line of security. The porous new Department of Homeland Security, the NSA, the FBI, and other acronymic agencies were to lock down, surveill, and listen in on America. All this to prevent “the next 9/11.”

In the process, they would treat bin Laden’s scattered al-Qaeda network as if it were the Nazi or Soviet war machine (even comically dubbing his followers “Islamofascists”). In the blinking of an eye, and in the rubble of two enormous buildings in downtown Manhattan, bin Laden and his cronies had morphed from nobodies into supermen, a veritable Legion of Doom. (There was a curious parallel to this transformation in World War II. Before Pearl Harbor, American experts had considered the Japanese — as historian John Dower so vividly documented in his book War Without Mercy — bucktoothed, near-sighted military incompetents whose war planes were barely capable of flight. On December 8, 1941, they suddenly became a race of invincible supermen without, in the American imagination, ever passing through a human incarnation.)

When, in October 2001, Congress passed the Patriot Act, and an Office of Homeland Security (which, in 2002, became a “department”) was established, it was welcome to the era of homeland insecurity. From then on, every major building, landmark, amusement park, petting zoo, flea market, popcorn stand, and toll booth anywhere in the country would be touted as a potential target for terrorists and in need of protection. Every police department from Arkansas to Ohio would be in desperate need of anti-terror funding. And why not, when the terrorists loomed so monstrously large, were so apocalyptically capable, and wanted so very badly to destroy our way of life. No wonder that, in the 2006 National Asset Database, compiled by the Department of Homeland Security, the state of Indiana, “with 8,591 potential terrorist targets, had 50 percent more listed sites than New York (5,687) and more than twice as many as California (3,212), ranking the state the most target-rich place in the nation.”

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