US President Barack Obama’s election on an anti-war ticket looks even more hollow by the day. First there was the admission that US troops would remain in Iraq in some capacity until 2011 (or beyond, should the Iraqis request it of course). Now Obama’s the re-invasion of Afghanistan is to be escalated after Congress narrowly passed a supplemental $106 billion support fund for its continuation.
Looking at the breakdown of these huge sums we can see that Obama’s Af-Pak policy differs little from that of his predecssors with $80 billion going towards military operations with only $10.4 billion allotted to international development (about $7 billion will go towards the swine flu epidemic). The Neo-cons too showed little concern for the aftermath of their destruction. The measure will go through the Senate today. With no exit-strategy for the quagmire in Af-Pak, Katrina Vanden Heuvel writes that this action threatens both Obama’s ability to “re-engage the international community” and also his domestic plans.
Just a few minutes ago, the Obama Administration’s $106 billion war supplemental passed on the House floor by a vote of 226-202. Congressional Democrats who oppose military escalation were in a tough position. They were whipped aggressively by both Speaker Pelosi and the White House. And they support President Obama. Which is exactly why they did the right thing in voting no.
Pankaj Mishra is one of the most astute analysts of South Asian politics. In the following he argues that ‘Unless the US president can break his hardline posture, the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan could prove his Vietnam’.
Last month Richard Holbrooke, the US state department’s special representative, met students from Pakistan’s north-west tribal areas. They were enraged by drone attacks, which – according to David Kilcullen, counterinsurgency adviser to General Petraeus – have eliminated only about 14 terrorist leaders while killing 700 civilians. One young man told Holbrooke that he knew someone killed in a Predator drone strike. “You killed 10 members of his family,” he said. Another claimed that the strikes had unleashed a fresh wave of refugees. “Are many of them Taliban?” Holbrooke asked. “We are all Taliban,” he replied.
Describing this scene in Time, Joe Klein said he was shocked by the declaration, though he recognised it as one “of solidarity, not affiliation”. He was also bewildered by the “mixed loyalties and deep resentments [that] make Pakistan so difficult to handle”. One wishes Klein had paused to wonder if people anywhere else would wholeheartedly support a foreign power that “collaterally” murders 50 relatives and friends from the air for every militant killed.
“The Deltas are psychos… You have to be a certified psychopath to join the Delta Force…”, a US Army colonel from Fort Bragg once told me back in the 1980s. Now President Obama has elevated the most notorious of the psychopaths, General Stanley McChrystal, to head the US and NATO military command in Afghanistan. McChrystal’s rise to leadership is marked by his central role in directing special operations teams engaged in extrajudicial assassinations, systematic torture, bombing of civilian communities and search and destroy missions. He is the very embodiment of the brutality and gore that accompanies military-driven empire building. Between September 2003 and August 2008, McChrystal directed the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations (JSO) Command which operates special teams in overseas assassinations.
The point of the ‘Special Operations’ teams (SOT) is that they do not distinguish between civilian and military oppositions, between activists and their sympathizers and the armed resistance. The SOT specialize in establishing death squads and recruiting and training paramilitary forces to terrorize communities, neighborhoods and social movements opposing US client regimes. The SOT’s ‘counter-terrorism’ is terrorism in reverse, focusing on socio-political groups between US proxies and the armed resistance.
“I’m more afraid of men [in my unit] that I am with the enemy.”
Those were the words that Helen Benedict heard from several female soldiers. The enemy was within. Since March of 2003, more than 160,500 women have served in Iraq. More women have fought and died during this war than in any other since World War II, yet they still account for one in ten soldiers. But behind their noble service and love for their country, many female soliders find themselves in virtual isolation among men. Their seclusion, combined with the military’s history of gender discrimination and the uniquely challenging conditions in Iraq, has resulted in a mounting epidemic of sexual abuse, physical degeneration, and emotional distress among many female soldiers.
Author Helen Benedict uncovers the harsh realities female soldiers face in her latest book The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women in Iraq. Weaving together the poignant and grueling accounts of the war in Iraq, Benedict offers new insight into the lives of women in the military, before, during, and after the war. The Lonely Soldier was released last month by Beacon Press and I recently spoke with Benedict about her latest work.
I am not cheered by the subject of my talk here today, which is the decline and fall of the American empire, first, because I am an American, and, second, because the description of America as an empire fits it all too well. When you remember that the American Revolution was fought against an imperial power, that the U.S. was born in a struggle against an occupying army, and that its victory against the British was an inspiration to anti-imperialist liberals everywhere, it is a shaming thing to have to come here to describe how it ended in tragedy, betrayal, and a short and ugly decline.
That decline was not written in the stars but made inevitable by the actions of individual men (and women!), the men and women who rule us, the elites in government and the corporate world, in the media and the white-collar classes. Their mindset was best summed up by an anonymous top White House official who spoke to journalist Ron Suskind, in answer to objections against the Iraq war and the Bush administration’s policy of preemptive warfare: