5. Middle East Followups

Dec-20-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: A quick last look around the Middle East. In Egypt, we’ve heard all sorts of rhetoric about Morsi being bad, with surprisingly little discussion of the actual proposals he’s made for the constitution. Harron Siddiqui has a fine piece (with a stupid and racist title from the Toronto Star), while the Guardian follows up with a major change. Juan Cole looks at the increasingly inevitable fall of Assad, while War Tard both analyzes brilliantly the forces that push Assad towards chemical weapons, and the forces against. He is also very good on what will happen after Assad goes. The Bloat and Flail  looks at the positive reasons for hope in the UN recognition of Palestine as a state, while three different commentators look at the utter failure of the West’s invasion of Afghanistan.

* Haroon Siddiqui on the Egyptian ConstitutionToronto Star

The constitution is problematic, though it’s not all that different from Anwar Sadat’s 1971 constitution.

His said that “Islam is the religion of the state and the principles of sharia are the main source of legislation.” Sharia already governs family and property matters. But the new draft ties sharia doctrine to “Sunni Islam,” as interpreted by “the majority of Muslim scholars,” raising fears that it could be interpreted any which way.

The draft restricts freedom of religion to “monotheistic religions.” Thus Hindus, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, etc., get no rights. The old constitution had no such exclusion.

On women’s rights, the draft has as much gobbledygook as the old constitution. It says the state should “guarantee co-ordination between the duties of the woman and her public work,” vs. the old formulation that women are equal “without violating the rules of Islamic jurisprudence.” Many hijabi women oppose this new draft.

The draft concedes too much power to the military — perhaps as quid pro quo to the army staying out of politics or helping the Muslim Brotherhood.

Societies in transition need Nelson Mandelas. Morsi has failed to be a conciliator. In fact, he has polarized Egyptians, notwithstanding the undemocratic machinations of the opposition.

 * Egypt: Mohamed Morsi cancels decree that gave him sweeping powers The Observer

The Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, has scrapped a decree that had generated widespread unrest by awarding him near-absolute powers. But he insisted a referendum on a new constitution would go ahead as planned this week.

The announcement, which is unlikely to placate Morsi’s opponents, came after Egypt’s military warned that failure to resolve a crisis over the drafting of the constitution would result in “disastrous consequences” that could drag the country into a “dark tunnel”.

* Obama Recognizes Syrian Opposition as Government Juan Cole Informed Comment

President Obama announced on Tuesday that the US now formally recognizes the Syrian opposition as the legitimate government of Syria:

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said Tuesday that there were no further indications of the Syrian regime priming itself to deploy chemical weapons. (My own suspicion is that Israeli intelligence planted that story in the first place, because it wants the US to militarily secure the chemical weapons lest they are transferred to Hizbullah. The Obama administration dealt with Netanyahu by saying deployment of chemical weapons would be a red line for the regime, and then declaring that the warning worked.)

Obama’s recognition comes as the momentum is turning slowly against the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his Baath Party. Alarabiya reports on how the Free Syria Army has reorganized itself, assigning each sector of the country to a rebel general. 

* Syria: Will Assad go full chemical? War Tard

Anyone who’s ever played a hand of poker knows that you double down on the bluff when your credit line just got cut off. Maybe someone will believe that crazy look in your eye. So you push all your chips into the middle of the table. That’s Assad right now. Chemical weaponry is a way of breaking the bank.

Personally, I can’t believe Assad is serious here.

It’s certain death multiplied by the destruction of your country.

But you know what?

Wounded animals are more dangerous. Dictators are prone to shitty decision making when confined to a bunker. When you know you’re about to die and you’ve got nothing else to lose, sometimes it’s fun to just sit back and set the ignition fuse on the firework.

* Three Good Things That Came From The Palestinian Statehood Vote  The Globe and Mail

One of the Israeli government’s key ambitions is to join the European Union, which is its main and crucial trading partner. By ending complacent acceptance of Israel’s lassitude, the Middle East analyst Juan Cole notes , Europe now has “the opportunity to play the kind of honest broker between the two sides that the U.S. pretended to be but almost never did.”

In other words, writes Sharon Pardo of Ben-Gurion University, “Europe could offer Israelis and Palestinians the sweetest carrot in its arsenal in the form of a European vision, including perhaps eventual EU membership. Europe would have to condition such a vision on a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.”

Even some conservatives who sometimes support Mr. Netanyahu saw the declaration as a minor breakthrough. “It was striking to me,” David Frumwrote , that Mr. Abbas’s speech to the UN “was conciliatory, not provocative… it is a much more explicit statement of co-existence than was ever offered from a UN rostrum by Abbas’s predecessor… Abbas spoke for legality and democracy in a future Palestinian state.”

This, Mr. Frum noted, puts Israel in a corner, one that is best escaped by reciprocating the gesture: “Israel, too, has reason to show a friendly face to the word. If Abbas talks peace, let Israel talk peace. If Abbas expresses a wish for a two-state agreement, let Israel do the same.”

* Dereliction of Duty: The Sequel  Stephen M. Walt

According to the New York Times, the Pentagon has just issued a gloomy new report suggesting that we’ve made far less progress in the war than is often claimed. Money quotation:

“A bleak new Pentagon report has found that only one of the Afghan National Army’s 23 brigades is able to operate independently without air or other military support from the United States and NATO partners.”

The Times continues: “The report, released Monday, also found that violence in Afghanistan is higher than it was before the surge of American forces into the country two years ago, although it is down from a high in the summer of 2010

 * Insurgency Encroaching On Central Afghanistan   The Long War Journal

The increasing danger associated with traversing the once-dependable road system linking Bamyan with Kabul has prompted provincial officials to demand additional resources from the Karzai regime for safer modes of transportation.

“We have asked the central government to provide us with helicopters,” Ahmad Alia, a spokesman for the Bamyan police chief explained to the New York Times in late October. “Local government officials are not traveling by ground anymore, and they want to have helicopters so they can go to Kabul or other provinces.”

* Doonesbury on Afghanistan

click on strip to enbigify

5. Followups

Oct-26-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: This should have been the headline in every newspaper in the world: Tepco (who ran Fukushima) admits they knew the nuclear power plant needed more protection, but they didn’t improve safety for fear it would lend support to anti-nuclear groups. That leads naturally into a zombie mask (it should lead to a firing squad, but.) The Guardian’s editorial notes the disaster that is Afghanistan, and we have two followups on drug issues, both legal and otherwise. The closing graph, which shows how anti-drug spending has had zero effect on drug use, is a keeper.

* Fukushima Disaster Could Have Been Avoided, Nuclear Plant Operator Admits The Guardian

The company at the centre of Japan’s worst nuclear crisis has acknowledged for the first time that it could have avoided the disaster that crippled the Fukushima Daiichi power plant last year.

In a reversal of its insistence that nothing could have protected the plant against the earthquake and tsunami that killed almost 20,000 people on 11 March, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) said it had known safety improvements were needed before the disaster, but had failed to implement them.

….In a rare moment of introspection, an internal task force set up to reform the embattled utility said the firm feared that improvements in safety would highlight the risks to nuclear power plants and encourage the anti-nuclear lobby. “There was a worry that if the company were to implement a severe-accident response plan, it would spur anxiety throughout the country and in the communities near where nuclear plants are sited, and lend momentum to the anti-nuclear movement,” the report said.

* May I present to you my Zombie Walk makeup?

* Afghanistan: Beating A Retreat  Editorial from The Guardian

As western forces eye the emergency exit in Afghanistan, not a month goes by without someone in charge lowering expectations. Last week,Nato’s secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen told this newspaper that the retreat could come sooner than expected in 2014, as morale had been sapped by insider killings. A day later, Sir Richard Stagg, Britain’s ambassador in Kabul, said the west had done enough “hand-holding” and Kabul should be left to get on with running the country. They are not moving the goalposts. They are walking off with them.

Remember the old trope about conditions on the ground dictating the pace of Nato’s withdrawal? It comes as no surprise to learn that conditions are, on some counts, worsening. The much-vaunted drop in civilian casualties may just have been a result of record snowfalls. August this year became the second deadliest month on record. TheTaliban have not just weathered the US troop surge – the coalition forces, or Isaf as they are known, have been unable to dislodge them from the south and east. Next year’s spring offensive promises to be the deadliest yet, spurred on by the imminence of withdrawal and elections.

Targeted killings of government officials and politicians have tripled. Three elections are to come as the Taliban press home their advantage – provincial councils in 2013, the presidency in 2014 and parliament in 2015, so the opportunity for mayhem is unbounded.

* Speed And The City: Meet The Adderall-Addled Adults Of New York   Arwa Mahdawi The Guardian

New Yorkers, it’s fair to say, have something of a reputation. They’re brusque and they’re brash and they will trample you with their ambition. But it’s not something in the water that makes them like this; it’s something a lot of them are swallowing with expensive bottles of Smartwater. It’s Adderall.

Adderall is the brand name for a cocktail of amphetamines packaged up by big pharma for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This being a disorder that presents with extraordinary frequency in the US, particularly amongst the offspring of pushy parents. Type A-sorts intent on their kids getting straights As, even if it means putting them on Class As. Because, here’s the thing: Adderall is basically legalized speed. And here’s the other thing: Adderall works. Or rather, it makes you work. It makes you alert and focused and able to concentrate for hours on end.

Adderall works so well, in fact, that some doctors are advocating its use in schools, whether the kids have ADHD or not. This week the New York Times published an article about a Dr Michael Anderson, who prescribes Adderall to low-income schoolchildren struggling with their studies. Dr Anderson doesn’t even believe ADHD is a legitimate illness, but he does believe that taking Adderall can help disadvantaged children compete with their more privileged peers. “We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment,” he explains. “So we have to modify the kid.”

There has been some justifiable outrage about Dr Anderson’s standpoint. After all, doling out hardcore drugs to kids who aren’t even legally able to buy a beer is deeply weird. But then again, so is America’s attitude to drugs. This is a country that has spent 40 years and $1 trillion warring against drugs – or, rather, the “wrong” sort of drugs. This is a country that shuts its borders to anyone who has been convicted of taking a Class C drug. And yet this is a country that not only tolerates certain Class A-type drugs, it actively embraces them.

* Number Of Drug Addicts Vs Drug Control Spending

2. The Wizards of NATOz

May-25-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Remember when Toto pulled back the curtain and revealed the Wizard as a sham? The NATO meeting and announcements on Afghanistan did that very effectively. We were defeated by the Afghans, as the Russians and British were before us. We’re running away, and trying to pretend it’s a victory. It might be funny if real people weren’t going to be dying (on both sides) for the next year so as to save a bit of  face for NATO. What a disaster of a war!

* The End in Afghanistan is Totally Predictable Counterpunch

John Kerry, …famously asked the members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at a hearing, “How do you ask a man to be the last one to die for a mistake?” That was 1971, and the Vietnam War continued to drag on for two more years, with more Americans dying, and with many more Vietnamese being killed, until finally the last US combat troops were gone…..

Now consider the situation in Afghanistan. Once again a war has been lost by the US, this time to forces far weaker and more poorly organized than the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese army. Once again American troops are being asked to keep fighting for a mistake — this time the 2001 fantasy of the Bush/Cheney administration that it could make a client state out of Afghanistan, a mistake that President Obama doubled down on after taking over the White House, when he called Afghanistan the “good war” and committed another 30,000 troops there, plus ordering up an aggressive kill campaign of night raids, assassinations and the heavy use of pilotless armed drone aircraft.

….The American forces in Afghanistan know they have already lost the war there. And they also know that as the drawdown of troops begins from that war-torn country, they will be hit harder and harder by the Taliban and other forces trying to take back the country from the US and from the compradore leaders who have been serving as the lackeys to the US. They know too that as soon as the last of them has boarded the last plane out, or perhaps even earlier, the current corrupt  Afghan leadership will be hopping a commercial flight out too, to join their money in Switzerland or Abu Dhabi or some other safe haven, and the Taliban will come marching into Kabul to take over from them.

* Afghanistan: Exit With No Strategy  The Guardian

It is disingenuous to claim, as Barack Obama did at the Nato conference in Chicago, that in two years, when US troops have ended their combat role in Afghanistan, the war “as we understand it” will be over. First, the US military has never understood what it was doing in Afghanistan, still less whom it was fighting, as one of its fallen stars, General Stanley McChrystal, admitted last year. He never resolved the contradictions inherent in conducting a counter-terrorist campaign and building a viable state, without which territorial gains were worthless. The state-building agenda has been quietly shelved since Gen McChrystal’s days, but this does not lessen the failure. Second, with Nato bolting for the exit door, it is not within Washington’s power to declare the war over. That can only be done by Afghans who see that peace has come.

The least one can expect of a president who prolonged Afghan suffering by ordering a surge of troops to finish the job, is that he has something that could be dignified with the name of an exit strategy. But, as Henry Kissinger acidly observed, the exit strategy has become all exit and no strategy. He is right in more than one sense. On the tactical level, the Nato conference finessed the French insistence on pulling its troops out this year, with private assurances that their combat mission has stopped anyway, that France may continue its training mission, and that it will take longer than the end of this year to withdraw most of the 3,200 troops and their kit. But these do not address the substance of the argument, which is as valid in Mr Obama’s America as it is in François Hollande’s France: that no one can see what the continued presence of foreign combat troops is doing.

* Why The NATO Summit Was Mostly Meaningless   Stephen M. Walt

I’ve now read the official statements and White House press releases, and it’s tempting to see the whole thing as a subtle insult to our collective intelligence. To paraphrase Churchill, never have so many world leaders flown so far to accomplish so little. Along with the usual boilerplate, there were three big items on the summit agenda.
First, the assembled leaders announced that NATO will end the war in Afghanistan by the summer of 2013, and gradually turn security over to the Afghans themselves. This decision sounds like a significant milestone, but it’s really just acknowledging a foregone conclusion. Popular support for the war has been plummeting, and the Obama administration has been lowering U.S. objectives for some time. In fact, the war in Afghanistan was lost a long time ago (mostly because the Bush administration invaded Iraq and let the Taliban come back), and Obama’s big mistake was failing to recognize this from the start. 

…The summit did give Obama the opportunity to show off his home town to his European friends. As a former Chicagoan, I’m glad they had the chance to look around a great American city, and I hope everyone had a good time. But both the attendees and the various groups protesting the summit seem to have missed the most important fact about the gathering: It just wasn’t a very important event.

* NATO Talks Security And Peace, Chicago Has Neither  Gary Younge  The Guardian

That same evening, just a couple of blocks away, a 14-year-old, Alejandro Jaime, was shot dead while out riding his bike with his 11-year-old friend. According to witnesses, a car knocked them both off their bikes. They picked themselves up and ran. A man got out of the car and shot Alejandro in the back. “Although it’s the city’s job to provide public safety, we had to respond since our children are in danger and continue to face threats of gang violence,” said Nancy Barraza, a Parent Patrol volunteer.

The next morning world leaders started arriving in Chicago for the Nato summit where, just 20 minutes from Brighton Park, they would discuss how to maintain international security. The dissonance between the global pretensions of the summit this weekend and the local realities of Chicago could not be more striking. Nato claims its purpose is to secure peace through security; in much of Chicago neither exists.

The murder rate in Chicago in the first three months of this year increased by more than 50% compared with the same period last year, giving it almost twice the murder rate of New York. And the manner in which the city is policed gives many as great a reason to fear those charged with protecting them as the criminals. By the end of July last year police were shooting people at the rate of six a month and killing one person a fortnight.

This violence, be it at the hands of the state or gangs, is both compounded and underpinned by racial and economic disadvantage. The poorer the neighbourhood the more violent, the wealthier the safer. This is no coincidence. Much like the Nato summit – and the G8 summit that preceded it – the system is set up not to spread wealth but to preserve and protect it, not to relieve chaos but to contain and punish it.

2. Pakistan and Afghanistan

Jun-17-2011 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Alt.Muslim offers a fascinating perspective on the shared victim mentalities of these two countries. Juan Cole (whom the New York Times reported this week was illegally targeted by the CIA for reaching conclusions out of sync with the US government!) looks at the Pakistani Government’s arrest of the spies who told the US where Osama was hiding. Gee, why is Pakistan angry with the US? Meanwhile the Karzai Government (the one NATO is fighting to save), cuts off free media and is rated the worst place to live for women in the world. As Kenny Rogers sang, “You gotta know when to hold them, know when to fold them….”

* Afghanistan & Pakistan: Going Beyond Victim Narratives altmuslim –

More interesting than the rights and wrongs of my colleagues’ viewpoints was the fact that the Afghan narrative about Pakistan was uncannily similar to the Pakistani account of US foreign policy. Much in the same way that Afghans see a Pakistan hand in all their problems, Pakistanis have wholeheartedly subscribed to a fraught fantasy of American omnipresence and omnipotence.

…The point is not to reiterate the complicated dynamics of Pakistan-Afghanistan and Pakistan-US bilateral ties; it is to show that both Pakistan and Afghanistan seem to have subscribed to narratives of victimhood. When faced with their country’s myriad, growing security, political and economic challenges, they simply place the blame elsewhere. This was not a problem of our own making, the logic seems to imply, and therefore we can’t possibly be asked to fix it.

Such narratives of victimhood are dangerous for a variety of reasons. They allow governments to defer responsibility for contemporary problems, and dwell in the past, rather than plan for the future. And they are devastating when it comes to strategic planning: for a nation to define strategic, social, economic and political goals, it must articulate a vision of the future and single-handedly pursue it. However, if the nation is suffering from a victim complex, its strategic planning becomes reactive rather than active. Instead of setting targets for achievement, it dithers about, waiting for the professed villain (whether Islamabad or Washington) to make a move. Only then does it respond, and that too in a defensive manner.

* Pakistan Arrests CIA Informants in Bin Laden Case Juan Cole Informed Comment

The Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence has arrested five Pakistani informants who gave the CIA information leading to the raid on Usamah Bin Laden’s compound at Abbotabad, according to the NYT. …From an American point of view, that Pakistan arrested the informants rather than giving them medals suggests perfidy. But from a Pakistani point of view, they can’t be having nationals working for a foreign intelligence agency and enabling foreign special operations raids into the country from outside.

…US bad relations with Pakistan at the moment derive from using the CIA in paramilitary ways in a no-man’s land of covert action that lacks any framework of international or bilateral law. If Washington goes on like this, it will push Pakistan altogether into the arms of the Chinese and it will set up a negative situation for its likely withdrawal from Afghanistan, in which Islamabad has powerful perceived interests that the US has not respected. The US-Pakistan relationship is important and can be repaired, but it must be by the two countries acting like democracies, not cartoon spies.

* Gained By Blood, Threatened By A Declaration Al Jazeera (thanks, Gabe)

On June 1, Afghanistan’s Council of Religious Scholars known as the Ulema Shura met with President Karzai and unequivocally demanded the shutting down of two of the country’s most prominent media outlets.

Their crime? “Publishing material that is against religion, against national unity, and against the high interest of the nation,’’ declared the Council. Karzai’s office not only announced that the president listened to these demands carefully and praised the role of the Ulema, but also sent out their declaration to the media through its own channels.

Over the past two weeks, the two outlets - Tolo TV and Hasht-e-Subh Daily - have been locked in a battle for survival. While this is not the first time the closure of these outlets – and many others – has been demanded, the clear-cut nature of the demand by a social organisation extending its mandate speaks to the vulnerabilities of the press in Afghanistan.

* Afghanistan Worst Place In The World For Women The Guardian

Targeted violence against female public officials, dismal healthcare and desperate poverty make Afghanistan the world’s most dangerous country in which to be born a woman, according to a global survey released on Wednesday.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Pakistan, India and Somalia feature in descending order after Afghanistan in the list of the five worst states, the poll among gender experts shows.

The appearance of India, a country rapidly developing into an economic super-power, was unexpected. It is ranked as extremely hazardous because of the subcontinent’s high level of female infanticide and sex trafficking.

Others were less surprised to be on the list. Informed about her country’s inclusion, Somalia’s women’s minister, Maryan Qasim, responded: “I thought Somalia would be first on the list, not fifth.”

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