IPS Blog

The U.S. and Central & South Asia: Four More Years

Over the next four years the U.S. will face a number of foreign policy issues, most of them regional, some of them global. Conn Hallinan has been outlining and analyzing them. His first two reports covered the Middle East and Africa.

From the ice-bound passes of the Hindu Kush to the blazing heat of the Karakum Desert, Central Asia is a sub-continent steeped in illusion. For more than two millennia conquerors have been lured by the mirage that it is a gateway to immense wealth: China to the east, India to the south, Persia to the west, and to the north, the riches of the Caspian basin. Greeks, Persians, Arabs, Mongols, British, and Soviets have all come and gone, leaving behind little more than forgotten graveyards and the detritus of war.

Americans and our NATO allies are next.

It is a cliché that Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires, but a cliché doesn’t mean something is not true, just that it is repeated over and over again until the phrase becomes numbing. It is a tragedy that the US was “numb” to that particular platitude, although we have company. In the past 175 years England has invaded Afghanistan four times.

Our 2001 invasion was itself built on a myth—that the Taliban had attacked the US on 9/11 was fabricated to lay the groundwork for the invasion of Iraq 17 months later. That both invasions turned into disasters is hardly surprising. Rudyard Kipling and TE Lawrence predicted those outcomes more than a 100 years ago.

Most of all, the war has been a calamity for the Afghan people. The country has staggered through more than 30 years of war. According to a recent UN survey, conditions for Afghans in the southern part of the country are desperate. Some one-third of the area’s young children—one million under the age of five—are acutely malnourished. “What’s shocking is that this is really high by global standards,” Michael Keating, deputy head of the UN mission to Afghanistan, told the Guardian (UK). “This is the kind of malnutrition you associate with Africa, and some of the most deprived parts of the world, not with an area that has received so much international attention and assistance.”

The area in question embraces Kandahar and Helmand, the two provinces targeted by Washington’s 2009 troop surge. That the provinces have widespread malnutrition and are still deeply restive—both are among the most dangerous areas in the country—is a commentary on the futility of the entire endeavor.

The question is, what now? How the White House answers that will go a long way toward determining whether Afghanistan can begin to extricate itself from its long, national nightmare, or once again collapse into civil war that could destabilize the entire region.

There are a couple of truths the White House will need to absorb.

First, there can be no “residual” force left in the country. Right now the Obama administration is trying to negotiate a status force agreement that will allow it to keep anywhere from 6,000 to 15,000 troops in the country to train the Afghan army and pursue al-Qaeda. Such an agreement would exempt US forces from local laws, and is a non-starter for Afghans from the get go. The Taliban and their allies—in particular the highly effective and quite lethal group, the Haqqanis—will not allow it, and insisting that US troops remain in the country will guarantee the war continues. If there is one truth in Afghanistan, it is that the locals don’t cotton to outsiders.

Nor are the regional neighbors very enthusiastic about having the American military in residence next door. Since those neighbors—specifically Iran, China, Pakistan and Russia—will be central to any final settlement, one does not want to annoy them. It doesn’t take much effort to derail a peace process in Afghanistan.

As for al-Qaeda, it doesn’t exist in Afghanistan, and it is even a specter of its former self in Pakistan. In any case, the Taliban and its allies are focused on local issues, not worldwide jihad, and pose no threat to the US or NATO. Indeed, way back in 2007, Mullah Omar, leader of the Afghan Taliban, pledged that the organization would not interfere in the affairs of any other country.

The White House can get the ball rolling by finally closing down Guantanamo and releasing its Taliban prisoners. Pakistan has already started its prisoner release. Washington must also stop its aggressive use of drones and Special Forces to pursue Taliban leaders. These so-called “night raids” and drone assassinations are not only provocative, but make any final agreement more difficult to negotiate. The US has already decapitated much of Taliban’s mid-level leadership, which, in turn, has atomized the organization into scores of local power centers. In fact, that decentralization may make reaching a final agreement much more difficult, because no single person or group of people will be empowered to negotiate for local Taliban affiliates.

In the long run the war will most likely be resolved the way most things end in Afghanistan: in a compromise. For all their war-like reputation, Afghans really excel in the art of the deal. The Taliban will be part of the government, but all the scare talk about Islamic extremists sweeping into power is exaggerated. The Taliban are mostly based in the Pashtun-dominated south and east, and they will remain the biggest players in Helmand, Kandahar and Paktika provinces. But Pashtuns only make up a plurality in the country—about 42 percent—and will have to compromise with the other major ethnic groups, the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras. Even when the Taliban ruled the country it never succeeded in conquering northern Afghanistan, and it has less support today than it did then.

One major danger comes from US support for local militias that do nothing to control the Taliban, but are quite successful at building up provincial warlords and protecting the opium trade (harvests increased 18 percent over a year ago). The Soviets followed exactly the same path, one that eventually led to the devastating 1992-96 civil war.

In short, the US needs to get out, and as quickly as possible. Its NATO allies have already boarded that train—the French are leaving a year early, the Dutch are gone, and the Brits are bunkered down—and prolonging the war is more likely to end in a debacle than any outcome favored by Washington. It is not our country, we don’t get to determine its history. That is a lesson we should have learned in Vietnam, but apparently did not.

The future of Afghanistan is linked to Pakistan, where current US policy is in shambles. A recent poll found that 74 percent of Pakistanis considered Washington an enemy. Many attribute those figures to the deeply unpopular American drone war that has killed scores of civilians. The drones have definitely made a bad situation worse, but the dispute goes deeper than missile-toting Predators and Reapers. Pakistan is legitimately worried about its traditional opponent in the region, India, and Islamabad views Afghanistan as part of its “strategic depth”—a place to which to retreat in case of an attack by the much stronger Indian Army. Given that Pakistan has lost four wars with its southern neighbor, paranoia about the outcome of a fifth is understandable.

Instead of showing sensitivity to this concern, Washington has encouraged India to invest in Afghanistan, which it has done to the tune of over $2 billion. India even has paramilitary forces deployed in southern Afghanistan. Further, the Obama administration has taken Kashmir off the table, in spite of the fact that, in the run-up to the 2008 elections, Obama promised to seek a solution to the long-running conflict. Dropping Kashmir was a quid pro quo for a growing alliance between New Delhi and Washington aimed at containing an up and coming China.

But Kashmir is far too dangerous to play the role of a regional pawn. India and Pakistan came very close to a nuclear war over the area in the 1999 Kargil incident, and both countries are currently accelerating their nuclear weapons programs. Pakistani and Indian military leaders have been distressingly casual about the possibility of a nuclear war between the two countries. Rather than actively discouraging a nuclear arms race, Washington has made it easier for New Delhi to obtain fuel for its nuclear weapons programs, in spite of the fact that India refuses—along with Pakistan—to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. As with agreeing to mute concerns over Kashmir, the US’s waver of the NNPT is part of Washington’s campaign to woo India into an alliance against China. A nuclear exchange between the two South Asian countries would not only be a regional catastrophe, but would have a worldwide impact.

Independent of the dangers Kashmir poses for the region and the world, its people should have the right to determine their own future, be it joining Pakistan, India, or choosing the path of independence. A UN-sponsored referendum would seem the obvious way to let Kashmir’s people take control of their own destiny.

For starters, however, the US should demand that New Delhi accept a 2004 Indian government commission’s recommendation to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which Human Rights Watch calls “a tool of state abuse, oppression and discrimination.” The Special Powers Act was first created to control Catholics in Northern Ireland and then applied across Britain’s colonial empire. It is used today by Israel in the Occupied Territories and India in Kashmir. It allows for arrests without warrants, indefinite detainments, torture, and routine extra-judicial killings.

Washington’s fixation with lining up allies against China has also seen the US cut corners on human rights issues in Sri Lanka, Burma, and Indonesia. But recreating a version of the old Cold War alliance system in the region is hardly in the interests of Central and South Asians—or Americans, for that matter. India and Pakistan do not need more planes, bombs and tanks. They need modernized transport systems, enhanced educational opportunities, and improved public health. The same can be said for Americans.

There was a time when countries in Central and South Asia were responsible for much of world’s wealth and productive capacity. In 1750, India produced 24.5 percent of the world’s manufactured goods. England, in contrast, produced 1.9 percent. By 1850, the world had turned upside down, as colonialism turned—or to use the anthropologist Clifford Geertz’s term, “de-evolved”—India from a dynamic world leader to an economic satrap of London. The region is emerging from its long, colonial nightmare, and it does not need—indeed, cannot afford—to be drawn into alliances designed half a world away. It is time to bring the 21st century’s version of “the Great Game” to an end.

For more of Conn Hallinan’s essays visit Dispatches From the Edge. Meanwhile, his novels about the ancient Romans can be found at The Middle Empire Series.

At Climate Summit, It’s Economy First, Then Survival

The 2012 UN climate negotiations are not expected to be a breakthrough moment in solving the unfolding ecological crisis, but these talks will set the course for a future deal that countries have agreed will enter into force by 2020.

What’s at stake is more than a little overwhelming.

Australia climate protest

Global warming has to be kept to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures if we want to avert climate disaster. Scientists say that means we can send 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Meanwhile fossil fuel companies are planning to burn enough oil, coal and gas to release 2,795 gigatons.

And the impacts of a warming planet are already hitting home. Because of sea level rise the island nation of Kiribati in the Pacific Ocean is in negotiations to resettle its entire population in Fiji. And in the United States we’ve just experienced a summer of record-busting heat waves followed by a super-storm the likes of which meteorologists have literally never before seen.

From where I sit in Doha, however, any agreement to avoid predicted extremes in weather, economic disruption and loss of life that will accompany global warming looks a long way off.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — the experts group that provides the climate convention with the latest science — global greenhouse gas emissions would have to peak and start coming down by 2015. That’s right — in three years. Then, by 2050, the nations of the world would need to halve their overall climate pollution.

For the United States that translates into something like a 50 percent reduction by 2020 and deeper than 80 percent cuts by 2050 — a quasi-political calculation based on our responsibility as far and away the greatest contributor to climate change and one of the economies most capable of adapting.

Delivering serious emissions cuts won’t be easy for any country. Re-orienting a nation’s infrastructure to be climate smart — from energy to food to manufacturing to transportation — won’t be cheap.

Not surprisingly, no country wants to be the only one — or one of only a few — that is obliged to overhaul its entire economy to be low-carbon and climate resilient. It would put them at a distinct competitive disadvantage, at least at first (of course, every dollar spent on prevention saves three in disaster cleanup later).

And so the two largest economies and biggest polluters on the planet — the United States and China — have somewhat cleverly staked out positions that set them on the dangerous path of Mutually Assured Inaction. Neither of them will act on climate until the other does — but neither of them really wants to anyway.

The U.S. climate team said in no uncertain terms before leaving Washington DC for Doha that a second Obama term doesn’t translate into a shift away from blocking a climate deal that big countries like China are not legally bound by.

Lead negotiator Jonathon Pershing has repeatedly insisted that he can’t bring home a deal he can’t sell to Congress — and unfortunately Congress is still in the pocket of polluters (look no further for evidence than a recent letter to President Obama from 18 Senators who accepted more than $11 million from dirty energy companies urging him to approve the Keystone XL pipeline and unlock the Canadian tar sands).

At the end of the first week of negotiations, with a fair and effective climate deal looking out of reach, it’s hard to see how developing countries — or civil society — can compel the industrial world to take bold action and live up to their responsibilities.

Janet Redman provides live updates from the UN Climate Summit, Doha

UPDATE Friday, November 30, 2012, 11:30 AM ET:

Janet Redman, Co-Director of the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network, will be at the UN Climate Summit in Doha, Qatar, providing live updates from the conference and advocating for innovatice sources of finance – such as a “Robin Hood” tax on financial transactions – to fill the Green Climate Fund. She’s just spent her first day at the summit,

Redman is calling for the United States to take bold action at the UN climate summit. Faced with extreme weather, environmental instability and a growing sense of economic vulnerability, Americans rejected inequality and climate denialism in the voting booth, she says. Now, they are calling on newly re-elected President Barack Obama to take bold action to stop climate disruption in Doha, Qatar, at the 18th Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

“We recognize there are constraints on the president – in no small part from Congress – but the electorate wants action on climate change before Superstorm Sandy becomes business as usual.” Redman added, “There are measures we can take now. We can join European countries and agree to tax financial transactions, which could raise hundreds of billions of dollars for climate programs and other public goods. And we can promote the Green Climate Fund as the main channel for public finance to support low-carbon and climate resilient sustainable development priorities of countries and communities most impacted by climate change.”

While some at the center of Obama’s climate team warn that a second term will not bring a new approach to the administration’s foreign policy on climate, Redman asserts that, “re-election is a mandate for the U.S. to be a constructive player that supports equitable action on climate. That means the U.S. has to take responsibility for its historical contribution to global warming by committing to deeper pollution cuts and providing support for poorer countries to respond to climate change. It’s time to hold Obama’s feet to the fire.”

UN Climate Summit protests - Janet Redman, IPS, will be blogging and providing updates from the summit.

Janet will be tweeting @Janet_IPS and blogging at http://www.ips-dc.org/ and will be available for interview from the climate summit in Doha.

Climate Protest Rainbow frame

Hamas Helped, Israel Handicapped by Threats to Their Respective Publics

On Wednesday November 21, under an Egypt-brokered deal, Palestinians and Israelis agreed to end all hostilities against each other after eight days of relentless Israeli attacks on the coastal enclave. Israel also agreed to open all crossings and facilitate the movement of people and goods in and out of the Gaza Strip. But it did not accept a proposal to lift the blockade of the Gaza Strip. Over 160 Palestinians, mostly women and children, were killed and about 1,200 others were injured in over 1,500 Israeli attacks on Gaza that were carried out during the eight-day period of November 14-21. It is too early to tell whether the ceasefire will hold for very long, and if it does, whether its central provisions will be implemented.

For those who still remember the Israeli attack on Gaza four years ago and the slaughter of Palestinian civilians and the repeated violation of ceasefire agreement by the Israelis, the current ceasefire should hold no hope, especially as we have begun to notice similar patterns of violations taking place again. Looking back four years, to the end of ‘Cast Lead’ and since then and up to the beginning of last Israeli attack, 271 Palestinians, according to the Israeli human rights organization B’tselem, have been assassinated by Israeli air strikes, by drones, by planes, by helicopters and ZERO Israelis killed by Palestinian rockets.

Israel has already used excessive violence to disperse Palestinian civilians who gathered on the Gaza side of the border, with a few straying across into Israel, to celebrate what they thought was their new freedom now to venture close to the border. This so-called ‘no-go-area’ was decreed by Israel after its 2005 ‘disengagement’ had been a killing field where 213, including 17 children and 154 uninvolved, had lost their lives. Only in the last few days, Israeli security forces, after firing warning shots, killed one Palestinian civilian and wounded another 20 others with live ammunition. Despite this note of pessimism there are a number of fundamental differences between the situation in Gaza and Hamas fighters in Gaza in 2012 compared to 2008.

First, the change of dynamics resulting from the Arab Spring and change in Egypt. The two regional countries that the U.S. needs badly to act as interlocutors, and isolate Hamas — Turkey and Egypt — are arguably right now the closest and most important allies of Hamas. Israel is more isolated than Hamas and has fewer friends. Even the British Foreign secretary, who under normal circumstances is only good for rubber stamping whatever Israelis does, this time took a cautionary approach and did not offer any support for a ground invasion.

The fact that Israel cannot count on diplomatic support from U.S.-oriented regimes such as Mubarak of Egypt creates a new dynamic in the Middle East and puts far greater pressure on Israeli leaders to be more realistic in their approach to the peace process. This generates a better environment for a more realistic and pragmatic approach to finding a longer lasting, and more permanent peace in the Middle East.

The second difference in my assessment is Hamas’ acquisition of more sophisticated weapons dealt a serious blow to Israeli morale. These long-range missiles allowed Hezbollah in Lebanon during the 2006 Israeli war not only to secure itself against Israeli aggression, most importantly: it created a more symmetrical confrontation by taking the war into cities in the occupied territories that had been immune from any attack for a long time.

The attack on Tel Aviv soon after the first Israeli attack on Gaza in the latest war, not only was a shock to the political leadership in the Israeli government, it heralded a new chapter in the relation between the freedom fighters in Gaza and the Israeli occupying forces. These weapons turned the table of confrontation with Israel in favor of Gaza and made another Israeli victim feel bold enough, if not fully secure, to confront it with a real sting.

One does not need a complicated analysis to conclude that if the fighters in Gaza have gained access to missiles that can reach Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, then they must have acquired anti-tank weapons similar to those that were used by Hezbollah in 2006 with devastating consequences for the Israeli tank divisions and especially for Markova 4 tanks that the Israelis had invested so much in constructing an image of invincibility around it globally.

It became clear soon after the 2006 war with Lebanon that the Achilles heel of the Israelis was the fear factor that demoralized its population. The fact that, in 2012 as in 2006, it was Israel who proposed the truce, clearly indicate that for the military leaders in Israel, a scared population is not the same as the dead Gazans are for Hamas – scared populations would sap the shaky morale in Israel even further, while for the freedom fighters in Gaza, innocent civilian casualties energize them to go an extra-mile to avenge.

Like the 2006 war, the underdog, Hamas, comes out of this confrontation in much more favorable status than the Zionist regime in Tel Aviv. Despite all the military shields, Hamas was able, even in the last hours of the conflict, to attack Israel. This has certainly enhanced Hamas’s prestige among Palestinians and in the Arab world, and, in a ‘zero sum gain’ relationship, any gain of prestige by Hamas by necessity implies a loss for the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas. It will be more difficult than ever to bolster the Fatah leadership on the West Bank as Hamas grows in stature.

The third outcome of this war is political recognition given to Hamas leadership by a number of Arab leaders. During the attacks several leading foreign ministers from the region visited Gaza and were received by the Hamas governing authorities, thus undermining the Israeli policy of isolating Hamas and excluding it from participation in diplomacy affecting the Palestinian people. As Richard Falk has stated:

. . . throughout this just concluded feverish effort to establish a ceasefire, Hamas was treated as if ‘a political actor’ with sovereign authority to speak on behalf of the people living in Gaza. Such a move represents a potential sea change, depending on whether there is an effort to build on the momentum achieved or a return to the futile and embittering Israeli/U.S. policy of excluding Hamas from diplomatic channels by insisting that no contact with a terrorist organization is permissible or politically acceptable.

The most important outcome of the latest attack has been the strengthening of the argument that the existence of more parity in the region would undermine the hawkish and belligerent Israeli position that so far, with the overt and covert support of the US, has not agreed to implement any treaties agreed upon in the previous negotiations and by implication would lead to a softening of such a position making a long term resolution of this conflict more likely. I hope this realization would lead to less saber rattling about attacking Iran.

Like Hezbollah in 2006, Hamas has punched a big hole in Israel’s overinflated air ego balloon sending the military leaders to the drawing board. This may be an opportune moment for the peace lovers in the region to become more active. They may be able to prevent this carnage from being repeated again.

Ibrahim Kazerooni, originally from Iraq, is finishing a joint Ph.D. program at the Iliff School of Theology and the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies in Denver. More of his work can be found at the Imam Ibrahim Kazerooni Blog.

Letters to the Editor: Readers Respond to Donald Kaul’s Departure, Part IV

As Donald Kaul explained in a column about how he had a heart attack on the Fourth of July, he’s either taking a break after half a century of writing hard-hitting, liberal, and humorous commentaries or he’s retired. Going through the height of election season without his razor-sharp insight has been hard for many of us who revere him. However, I wanted to take a moment to let OtherWords readers know that he’s still on the mend and weighing whether or not to return.

This is the fourth installment of a series of posts showcasing many of the moving letters Don received following that column and my own tribute. We received at least 200 emails and115 snail-mailed letters and cards between late July and mid-October. Please consider sending me a holiday greeting to forward to him at [email protected] or snail-mailing cards to OtherWords, 1112 16th Street, NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20036. If you’re a devoted fan, you’ll want to read the first, second, and third of these posts if you missed them over the summer.
—Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies.

Say it ain’t so! With Molly Ivins dead, and you retiring, I may have to move to Mexico. I hope your heart heals, and you put your head back to work for us. Thanks for the great work so far.
—Kim Stanley, McPherson, Kansas

I will miss your columns. Have felt we were on the same page for years. I was very surprised to hear of your heart attack. I, too, experienced heart problems. I am lucky to be alive, and I sure hope you are doing better. Suddenly for both of us, the things that seemed to matter are put in perspective. We, too, feel as you do about the political scene. Will miss your take on it all, but understand you situation. Live life for whatever time we have left.
—Mary Anne Frey

I’m glad you’re feeling better. Being in Arizona doesn’t allow those of us who don’t subscribe to the neoconservative and right-wing driven news much journalistic choice, other than what we seek out ourselves. So what I’m hoping is your complete recovery and return to what you do extremely well. Thank you.
—Luis J. Rodriguez

As a teenager growing up in Iowa, reading your articles in the Des Moines Register was a highlight for me in the 70′s. While I never went into journalism, or even had the opportunity to write much, I always admired the literary profession, and the way a well-crafted article could inspire. Your articles seemed to exude such common sense and were written in a way that no one else could. As a bartender at “Aunt Maude’s” in Ames in the Fall of ’83, it was a thrill the day you sat across from me and ordered a drink. I wanted to be so suave, but ended up breaking a glass right over the ice chest, and spent several minutes emptying and replacing the ice when I could have possibly been exchanging witty repertoire with you instead. Alas. Thanks for all the great stories.
—Steve Danielson

Your comments about having a heart attack are apt. As a retired physician I particularly appreciated your description, “…like being sent through a cardiac car wash.” I hope your post-procedure recovery is progressing well and you are adjusting to the new situation.
—Robert J. (Bob) McElroy, MD, Traverse City, Michigan

I have very fond memories of reading your columns with my mother when I was growing up. Not getting to read them will be like losing my mother again.
—Marilu Goodyear

Donald Kaul Signs Off, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Donald Kaul Signs Off, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

I was so happy to hear you survived your heart attack but I was so sorry that you stopped writing your column. Here in Southwest Missouri, yours is a voice we don’t hear often enough. There are so many true believers (think Todd Akin types) that I always looked forward to reading what you had to say. It was an oasis, a respite from the conservative prattle and overblown importance of the George Wills. I understand your reluctance to spend your hours shouting in the wilderness, but it is lonelier out here without you.
—Elaine Atkinson

You’re my favorite Pulitzer-prize-losing journalist. You’ve done so much already, it’s not a matter of owing anyone. It doesn’t have to be at the pace you’ve been doing it but as much as you see fit. You do make a difference. I hope you are feeling better.
— Christmas Carol Halitsky

Dear Mr. Kaul, or may I call you Don? I have only been reading your columns for the last 40 years. I find myself quoting you from time to time. I’ll tell people that my dad always said two things: “That’s how they get you.” And “They’re all in it together.” But it actually was your dad, not mine, of course.
—Allan Shickman

Your ideas were the subject of discussion at our college booster picnic tonight. Most of us are in our 60s and grew up in your America. We don’t know where that America went. (We pay attention to issues, are involved in local government and vote). We don’t know how our representatives and governor took the politics sideways at the state and federal levels and we can’t believe what they are doing. One man at the table said “I don’t think I want to live here anymore.” Another said “We do not have any rational voter choices.” I’m hoping that you will continue to write, to help Your America understand exactly what is happening and if possible, how to stop it. We’re out here but we feel isolated and alone.
—Kathie Rogers, Pretty Prairie, Kansas

Terribly sorry to hear you suffered a heart attack. I remember when you were great five days a week (an impossibility), and you’re still damned good today. Hope you get back to writing. In any case, you picked the right half century to be a journalist. I used to say that things were always falling apart but never got much worse. Today they get worse. The only explanation is that God, the Great Developer, underbid on the Earth contract and had to cut corners. Mary’s two sons and two of their sons rode in RAGBRAI this year. You and Karras will go to heaven just for starting it. Anyway, good luck and good health.
—Pat Lackey

I was sorry to read of your heart attack in The Progressive Populist. If you’ll keep writing, I’ll keep enjoying your articles, rants and insights. My counsel? Do what gives you pleasure and satisfaction. Don’t, however, expect our population to get any smarter. Nixon: twice. Reagan: twice. Dubya: Need I say it?
—David Gordon

As a kid, I remember my mom and dad agreeing with and chuckling about what you’d written in your Over the Coffee column. My husband and I would do the same with your contribution in the Des Moines Register. Love love love your writing and you are greatly missed! Best wishes on a speedy recovery.
—Rose Brandsgard

I’ve been reading your commentary in the Hanover, Pennsylvania Evening Sun for a while now, and I’ve come to really appreciate your good sense and humor. I hope we’ll see articles from you again sometime in the near future.
—John Nischwitz, Littlestown, Pennsylvania

As one of the very few left-leaning people in Southwest Missouri, I certainly appreciate your columns. I know you will have to do what is best for your family and your own health, but I want you to know that I will really miss hearing your reasonable voice in the wilderness in which I live.
—Deborah Davis, Springfield, Missouri

Over the years I have really enjoyed your well written columns, sometimes funny, sometimes so close to my feelings that it scares me. I hope you have a full recovery and will be back to writing soon. We need writers like you who will tell it like it is and keep the truth in politics. It is sad how the civility of today has changed. I am 80 years young and I have never heard politicians speak so harsh about each other. Take care of your health and I hope to be reading you again in the near future.
—Juanita Jansen, Rogersville, Missouri

Thank you, Donald Kaul, for your previous columns. They mix serious and humorous views, like a living Will Rogers. Take time out to heal your broken heart, but please write more some day! Appeal to OtherWords: please offer Kaul the option of writing without deadlines, whenever he chooses.
—Martha E. Martin

Theft Is Not the Only Threat Militants Pose to Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons

Earlier this month the Stimson Center issued a report by George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace titled The Non-Unitary Model and Deterrence Stability in South Asia. The daunting title notwithstanding, the paper is not only readable for the general reader, but spellbinding for nuclear-weapons specialists. Hint: “non-unitary” in this context means a nation which fails to demonstrate a “tight, coherent line of authority” over hostilities emanating from that state — in this instance, Pakistan. Though I haven’t quite finished reading the 22-page report, the excitement it generates has spurred me to get a jump start on posting about it.

To being with, it’s doubtful that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are at serious risk of being purloined by Islamist extremist militants. At this time, the greater nuclear risk to which it’s subject, as Perkovich sees it, is the confusion that India experiences when, for example, its parliament was attacked in New Delhi in 2001 and during the Mumbai 2008 assault. Thus the nuclear deterrence model, which, according to conventional thinking [this author, for one, has his reservations], worked for the United States and Russia may not be universally applicable. Why not? Perkovich writes:

… when it comes to functions as portentous and centrally controlled as initiating and managing warfare between nuclear-armed states, it is generally assumed that a tight, coherent line of authority operates approximately in ways consistent with the unitary model. If a state is not functioning as a unitary actor, or claims not to be when it is convenient, or is not perceived to be by those who seek to deter it, the implications for deterrence stability are profound.

Specifically …

When India is attacked by actors [Islamic extremists militants] emanating from Pakistan and with ties to Pakistani intelligence services, it naturally infers that such actions represent the intentions and policies of Pakistani authorities.

The result:

The projection of violence from Pakistan [by non-state actors] into India means that deterrence (through non-nuclear means as well as nuclear) has failed to prevent aggression. The task then remains for India to threaten or undertake punishment to compel Pakistan to redress the offense and to deter Pakistan from repeating it and from escalating the conflict. If Pakistan does not [seek] to detain and prosecute the perpetrators … pressure mounts for India to demonstrate through force that it will not be deterred from escalating the conflict in self-defense.

Perkovich then provides an example of the confusion that can ensue from attacks by Pakistani non-state actors on India.

For example, while India could perceive that the terrorist attacks it attributes to Pakistan signal Pakistani aggressiveness, Pakistani leaders (and the public) [Subtle point alert! -- RW] could perceive the initial terrorist attacks as a signal that the Pakistani state does not seek a wider conflict but is merely signaling resolve to press India to make political accommodations, in Kashmir or more broadly.

Trickier still …

This signaling process becomes all the more difficult and precarious if the Pakistani leaders who are presumed to be the authors of Pakistan’s signals and actions deny that the perpetrators of the conflict-triggering violence actually do manifest the policies of the state.

Why? Because …

Indian leaders then face a highly unstable dilemma. They could act as if the initial violence reflects the intentions of Pakistan’s chain of command, and send countervailing signals of retaliatory action according to normal models of deterrence, in which greater credibility and righteousness tend to reside with the defender.

This might only confuse Pakistan though. Perkovich explains.

But if Pakistani leaders [themselves] believe or claim that the perpetrators were not carrying out state policies, and India does escalate, Pakistani leaders will feel that India is the aggressor, significantly changing the dynamics of crisis and deterrence stability. “Normal” models of deterrence do not hold in such a situation.

In the end …

… disunity produces dangerous confusion and ambiguity that interfere in the management of deterrence. Who is sending signals through violence that is perceived to be emanating from the state and/or its territory? What is being signaled? … how does one manage deterrence and escalation processes in such a situation? In this latter scenario, disunity erodes the rationality on which deterrence is predicated.

This Week in OtherWords: November 28, 2012

This week, OtherWords is running three commentaries that highlight electoral milestones: African-American turnout reached record levels, marijuana-legalization ballot initiatives passed in Washington State and Colorado, and voters in a small Ohio town approved a measure declaring that “corporations are not people and money is not speech.”

We’re also distributing an op-ed by Scott Klinger, who points out that the CEOs promoting Social Security cuts have vast pensions and that American businesses have gutted their pension funds. The erosion of the nation’s private pension system makes this earned-benefit program more essential than ever.

And Sam Pizzigati’s latest column highlights his new book: The Rich Don’t Always Win. Please let me know if you would like a review copy.

Scroll down to see all our offerings and please subscribe to our weekly newsletter if you haven’t signed up yet.

  1. A Pension Deficit Disorder / Scott Klinger
    Beware of wealthy CEOs who are lecturing the rest of us about tightening our belts.
  2. The New Normal for African-American Voter Turnout / Leslie Watson Malachi
    As election law changes threatened access to the ballot box this year, African-American turnout operations strengthened.
  3. Washington and Colorado Voters Opt for a Smarter Drug Policy / Austin Robles
    Treating drug use as a criminal act rather than a health problem has harmed our society.
  4. To Move Forward, We Must Learn from Our Progressive Past / Sam Pizzigati
    Yesterday’s ideas about curbing the ultra-rich’s power remain just as relevant as ever.
  5. Shortchanging Our Future / Mattea Kramer
    Lawmakers have long underinvested in young people, and sequestration would make matters even worse.
  6. Democracy Outbreak in Ohio / Jim Hightower
    One small town is standing up to deep-pocketed campaign cash.
  7. The Sleazy League / William A. Collins
    The dark side of corporate-run schools is no longer a secret.
  8. The Ant and the Grasshopper / Khalil Bendib cartoon
The Ant and the Grasshopper, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

The Ant and the Grasshopper, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Afghan Military Killings of American Troops Underscores Absurdity of Our Afghan Adventure

In an article for the Los Angeles Times, David Zucchino writes about the incident at Kabul International Airport in April 2011 when an Afghan Air Force colonel killed nine Americans.

The nine killings remain the single deadliest incident among insider attacks that have targeted U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan. … Although insider attacks in Afghanistan are persistent — at least 80 attacks and 122 coalition deaths since 2007 — no single incident seems to have registered on the public consciousness in the United States. Few family members of those killed have spoken out.

Until now.

Widows of two of the dead officers [and] retired Air Force Lt. Col. Sally Stenton, a former civilian police investigator who was a legal officer assigned to the airport the day of the attack … have pored over a redacted Air Force report, the Central Command report and a separate Air Force chronology.

They contend that the shooter, Afghan Air Force Col. Ahmed Gul

… had help from fellow Afghan officers. … They point out that 14 Afghans were in the control room when Gul opened fire. None were killed or seriously wounded.

The U.S. Air Force investigation quoted Afghans as saying they fled or took cover when Gul opened fire. The reports, the three women said, indicated the Afghans did not attempt to rescue or treat the wounded advisors.

Furthermore

The three women contend that the [U.S.] Air Force failed to uncover Gul’s radicalization in Pakistan and Kabul — and the vows he made to kill Americans.

Such killings make a senseless war such as Afghanistan that much more so. Questioning the U.S. Air Force may help to make sense out of it, at least it attaches a semblance of honor to the deaths.

Meanwhile, those who lost soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq seek to make sense of their deaths by clinging to the belief that their loved ones died while defending the United States. But many of them know that the Iraq War was unjust and, even if they believe Afghanistan War was warranted, that it has passed its sell-by date. Nothing is more painful than acknowledging the truth of John Kerry’s refrain, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die” in a war.

Should loved ones also eventually acknowledge the fruitlessness and injustice of those wars, some solace still remains. First, soldiers in any war fight, in large part, to protect (and avenge) their squad mates. Second, those who die are, in effect, occupational casualties. However quotidian it may seem, just like work itself, dying on the job has its own inherent dignity.

Iron Dome’s Effectiveness Is Not an Argument for Missile Defense

The success of Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, which has intercepted 80 to 90 percent of the rockets launched from Gaza, is viewed by many as a cause for celebration. Worse, it’s being used as evidence that missile defense works.

In fact, the odds that missile defense can protect a state from inter-continental ballistic missiles armed with nuclear weapons are slim to nonexistent.

Equally troublesome, it’s an ongoing bone of contention between the United States and Russia. The United States seeks to implement defense systems in Europe ostensibly to protect the NATO countries from — however hypothetical — a nuclear attack by Iran.

Perhaps partly because of how preposterous the Iran pretext sounds and because it serves the purposes of the Russian defense establishment, Moscow views missile defense in Europe as an even larger affront to the stability of nuclear deterrence than missile defense on American soil. Currently, aside from a radar installation in Turkey, U.S. missile defense in Europe is deployed only on ships in the Mediterranean.

Meanwhile, drawing conclusions about missile defense from Iron Dome is like comparing apples and oranges. At Foreign Policy, Yousaf Butt explains.

That this small battlefield system has been so successful against the relatively slow-moving short-range rockets doesn’t mean that larger and much more expensive missile defense systems, such as the planned NATO system, will work against longer-range strategic missiles that move ten times as fast.

In other words, Iron Dome is not missile defense, it’s rocket defense (which, in fact, is also a subsection of U.S. missile defense).

In contrast to the short-range Hamas rockets, which fly through the atmosphere during their whole trajectory, the longer-range ballistic missiles … spend most of their flight in space. For decades it has been known that trying to intercept a warhead in space is exceedingly difficult because the adversary can use simple, lightweight countermeasures to fool the defensive system [such as] cheap inflatable balloon decoys.

Furthermore

… an 80 percent-effective tactical missile defense system against conventional battlefield rockets — such as Iron Dome — makes a lot of sense. If 10 conventional rockets are headed your way, stopping eight is undeniably a good thing. The possibility of stopping eight of 10 nuclear warheads, however, is less [impressive] since even one nuclear explosion will inflict unacceptable devastation. Just one nuclear-tipped missile penetrating your missile shield is about the equivalent of a million conventional missiles making it through.

Nor should we forget that

Even the largely successful Iron Dome system, while providing a worthy cover has not provided normalcy for Israeli citizens: the terror is still there.

The U.S. and Africa: The Next Four Years

Over the next four years the U.S. will face a number of foreign policy issues, most of them regional, some of them global. Conn Hallinan has been outlining and analyzing them. His first report covered the Middle East.

Africa is probably the single most complex region of the world and arguably its most troubled. While the world concerns itself with the Syrian civil war and the dangers it poses for the Middle East, little notice is taken of the war in the Congo, a tragedy that has taken five million lives and next to which the crisis in Syria pales.

Africa represents 15 percent of the world’s population, yet only 2.7 percent of its GDP, which is largely concentrated in only five of 49 sub-Saharan countries. Just two countries—South Africa and Nigeria—account for over 33 percent of the continent’s economic output. Life expectancy is 50 years, and considerably less in those countries ravaged by AIDS. Hunger and malnutrition are worse than they were a decade ago.

At the same time, Africa is wealthy in oil, gas, iron, aluminum and rare metals. By 2015, countries in the Gulf of Guinea will provide the U.S. with 25 percent of its energy needs, and Africa has at least 10 percent of the world’s known oil reserves. South Africa alone has 40 percent of the earth’s gold supply. The continent contains over one-third of the earth’s cobalt and supplies China—the world’s second largest economy—with 50 percent of that country’s copper, aluminum and iron ore.

But history has stacked the deck against Africa. The slave trade and colonialism inflicted deep and lasting wounds on the region, wounds that continue to bleed out in today’s world. France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal sliced up the continent without the slightest regard for its past or its people. Most of the wars that have—and are—ravaging Africa today are a direct outcome of maps drawn up in European foreign offices to delineate where and what to plunder.

But over the past decade, the world has turned upside down. Formerly the captive of the European colonial powers, China is now Africa’s largest economic partner, followed closely by India and Brazil. Consumer spending is up, and the World Bank predicts that by 2015 the number of new African consumers will match Brazil’s.

In short, the continent is filled with vibrant economies and enormous potential that is not going unnoticed in capitals throughout the world. “The question for executives at consumer packaged goods companies is no longer whether their firms should enter the region, but where and how” says a report by the management consultant agency A.T. Kearney. How Africa negotiates its new status in the world will not only have a profound impact on its people, but on the global community as well. For investors it is the last frontier.

The U.S. track record in Africa is a shameful one. Washington was a long-time supporter of the apartheid regime in South Africa and backed the most corrupt and reactionary leaders on the continent, including the despicable Mobutu Sese Seko in the Congo. As part its Cold War strategy, the U.S. aided and abetted civil wars in Mozambique, Angola, and Namibia. Americans have much to answer for in the region.

Militarization

If there is a single characterization of U.S. policy vis-à-vis Africa, it is the increased militarization of American diplomacy on the continent. For the first time since World War II, Washington has significant military forces in Africa, overseen by a freshly minted organization, Africom.

The U.S. has anywhere from 12,000 to 15,000 Marines and Special Forces in Djibouti, a former French colony bordering the Red Sea. It has 100 Special Forces soldiers deployed in Uganda, supposedly tracking down the Lord’s Resistance Army. It actively aided Ethiopia’s 2007 invasion of Somalia, including using its navy to shell a town in the country’s south. It is currently recruiting and training African forces to fight the extremist Islamic organization, the Shabab, in Somalia, and conducting “counter-terrorism” training in Mali, Chad, Niger, Benin, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Gabon, Zambia, Malawi, Burkina Faso, and Mauretania.

Since much of the U.S. military activities involves Special Forces and the CIA, it is difficult to track how widespread the involvement is. “I think it is far larger than anyone imagines,” says John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org.

As a whole, U.S. military adventures in Africa have turned out badly. The Ethiopian invasion overthrew the moderate Islamic Courts Union, elevating the Shabab from a minor player to a major headache. NATO’s war on Libya—Africom’s coming-out party—is directly responsible for the current crisis in Mali, where Local Tuaregs and Islamic groups have seized the northern part of the country, armed with the plundered weapons’ caches of Muammar el-Qaddafi. Africom’s support of Uganda’s attack on the Lord’s Resistance Army in the Democratic Republic of the Congo resulted in the death of thousands of civilians.

While the Obama administration has put soldiers and weapons into Africa, it has largely dropped the ball on reducing poverty. In spite of the UN’s Millennium Development plan adopted in 2000, sub-Saharan Africa will not reach the program’s goals for reducing poverty and hunger, and improving child and maternal healthcare. Rather than increasing aid, as the plan requires, the U.S. has either cut aid or used debt relief as a way of fulfilling its obligations.

At the same time, Washington has increased military aid, including arms sales. One thing Africa does not need is any more guns and soldiers.

There are a number of initiatives that the Obama administration could take that would make a material difference in the lives of hundreds of millions of Africans.

First, it could fulfill the UN’s Millennium goals by increasing its aid to 0.7 percent of its GDP, and not using debt forgiveness as part of that formula. Canceling debt is a very good idea, and allows countries to re-deploy the money they would use for debt payment to improve health and infrastructure, but as part of an overall aid package it is mixing apples and oranges.

Second, it must de-militarize its diplomacy in the region. Indeed, as Somalia and Libya illustrate, military solutions many times make bad situations worse. Behind the rubric of the “war on terror,” the U.S. is training soldiers throughout the continent. History shows, however, that those soldiers are just as likely to overthrow their civilian governments as they are to battle “terrorists.” Amadou Sanogo, the captain who overthrew the Mali government this past March and initiated the current crisis, was trained in the U.S.

There is also the problem of who are the” terrorists.” Virtually all of the groups so designated are focused on local issues. Nigeria’s Boko Haram is certainly a lethal organization, but it is the brutality of the Nigerian Army and police that fuels its rage, not al-Qaeda. The continent’s bug-a-boo, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Meghreb, is small and scattered, and represents more a point of view than an organization. Getting involved in chasing “terrorists” in Africa could end up pitting the U.S. against local insurgents in the Niger Delta, Berbers in the Western Sahara, and Tuaregs in Niger and Mali.

What Africa needs is aid and trade directed at creating infrastructure and jobs. Selling oil, cobalt, and gold brings in money, but not permanent jobs. That requires creating a consumption economy with an export dimension. But the US’s adherence to “free trade” torpedoes countries from constructing such modern economies.

Africans cannot currently compete with the huge—and many times subsidized industries—of the First World. Nor can they build up an agricultural infrastructure when their local farmers cannot match the subsidized prices of American corn and wheat. Because of those subsidies, U.S. wheat sells for 40 percent below production cost, and corn for 20 percent below. In short, African needs to “protect” their industries—much as the U.S. did in its early industrial stage—until they can establish themselves. This was the successful formula followed by Japan and South Korea.

The Carnegie Endowment and the European Commission found that “free trade” would end up destroying small scale agriculture in Africa, much as it did for corn farmers in Mexico. Since 50 percent of Africa’s GNP is in agriculture, the impact would be disastrous, driving small farmers off the land and into overcrowded cities where social services are already inadequate.

The Obama administration should also not make Africa a battleground in its competition with China. Last year US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described China’s trading practices with Africa as a “new colonialism,” a sentiment that is not widely shared on the continent. A Pew Research Center study found that Africans were consistently more positive about China’s involvement in the region than they were about the U.S.’s.

Jacob Zuma, president of South Africa, recently praised the continent’s “relationship with China,” but also said that the “current trade pattern” is unsustainable because it was not building up Africa’s industrial base. China recently pledged $20 billion in aid for infrastructure and agriculture.

One disturbing development is a “land rush” by countries ranging from the U.S. to Saudi Arabia to acquire agricultural land in Africa. With climate change and population growth, food, as Der Spiegel puts it, “is the new oil.” Land is plentiful in Africa, and at about one-tenth the cost in the U.S. Most production by foreign investors would be on an industrial scale, with its consequent depletion of the soil and degradation of the environment from pesticides and fertilizers. The Obama administration should adopt the successful “contract farming” model, where investors supply capital and technology to small farmers, who keep ownership of their land and are guaranteed a set price for their products. This would not only elevate the efficiency of agriculture, it would provide employment for local people.

The Obama administration should also strengthen, not undermine, regional organizations. The African Union tried to find a peaceful resolution to the Libyan crisis because its members were worried that a war would spill over and destabilize countries surrounding the Sahara. The Obama administration and NATO pointedly ignored the AU’s efforts, and the organization’s predictions have proved prescient.

Lastly, the Obama administration should join with India and Brazil and lobby for permanent membership for an African country—either South Africa or Nigeria, or both— in the UN Security Council. India and Brazil should also be given permanent seats. Currently the permanent members of the Security Council are the victors of WW II: the U.S., Russia, China, France and Great Britain.

In 1619, a Dutch ship dropped anchor in Virginia and exchanged its cargo of Africans for food, thus initiating a trade that would rip the heart out of a continent. No one really knows how many Africans were forcibly transported to the New World, but it was certainly in the tens of millions. To this day Africa mirrors the horror of the slave trade and the brutal colonial exploitation that followed in its wake. It is time to make amends.

For more of Conn Hallinan’s essays visit Dispatches From the Edge. Meanwhile, his novels about the ancient Romans can be found at The Middle Empire Series.

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