NYT sues Obama administration

December 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

NYT sues Obama administration

The New York Times has sued the Obama administration to gain access to legal documents that have authorized targeted assassinations, especially of U.S. citizens. The most famous of these is the assassination of Anwar Al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen living in Yemen. The Obama administration’s policy of ordering assassinations without formal charges or trials goes even further than Bush-era policies.

Why drones aren’t game-changers

December 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

There’s a great report out today about drones. It appears that drones aren’t exactly better or more efficient than other forms of warfare. According to the report, based on analysis done by the United States Air Force and provided to TomsDispatch.com, there have been no fewer than 13 crashes of Predator drones in 2011 alone. The most recent crash of the Predator drone in Iran has received a lot of attention, but it appears that these drones crash routinely in the Afghanistan-Pakistan area without getting the same kind of attention. These crashes are expensive for the U.S. military, often costing $2 million per crash.

Another expense is the tremendous cost of maintaining the many air bases that drones are housed and operated out of. The report notes that there are as many as sixty bases that are involved in the U.S. global drone operation.

And of course, there is already plenty of evidence that drones are not effectively targeting militants, with thousands of innocent children, women, and men being killed or injured as a result of drone strikes.

So why bother with the drone campaign? Why would the U.S. persist in pursuing a strategy that is neither cheap nor effective? Well, the answer is quite simple. The U.S. continues to use drones because they perpetuate the illusion that war is a cheap, precise, and bloodless game, without any victims. The most important victim that the U.S. is concerned with is, of course, the U.S. soldier. With unmanned drones, soldiers can be in the safety and comfort of their home base in Nevada and pilot the drone without any risk to them. Just like a video game. But the American public, sensitized by the ugliness of the Vietnam War, doesn’t care to see brown people suffer either. That’s why there is a virtual news blackout of war victims in U.S. media. And now, with drones, it’s easy to convince oneself that drones target only bad guys, and spare everyone else. This is the big lie that has become so useful to U.S. foreign policy, and why the drone program is not only here to stay, but is expected to grow manifold in the future.

This is the lie we must fight to expose.

The emptiness of the term “terrorism”

December 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

Although the term “terrorism” is widely used as if it had real meaning, it is always useful to remind oneself that the term is specifically constructed and used not to elucidate or analyze but to advance specific policy agendas. Glenn Greenwald’s latest column is a great reminder of how the contemporary usage of the term “terrorism” has been used to further U.S. foreign and domestic policy goals:

The FBI yesterday announced it has secured an indictment against Faruq Khalil Muhammad ‘Isa, a 38-year-old citizen of Iraq currently in Canada, from which the U.S. is seeking his extradition. The headline on the FBI’s Press Release tells the basic story: “Alleged Terrorist Indicted in New York for the Murder of Five American Soldiers.” The criminal complaint previously filed under seal provides the details: ‘Isa is charged with “providing material support to a terrorist conspiracy” because he allegedly supported a 2008 attack on a U.S. military base in Mosul that killed 5 American soldiers. In other words, if the U.S. invades and occupies your country, and you respond by fighting back against the invading army — the ultimate definition of a “military, not civilian target” — then you are a . . . Terrorist [emphasis in original].

As Greenwald notes, if responding to an attack by a military entity in a state of war – in a war that has been unilaterally launched on your country, mind you – isn’t the perfect definition of war and not of terrorism, then nothing is. Read Greenwald’s full piece, it’s worth it.

Drones, fear, and Barack Obama

December 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Washington Post carried an article yesterday about the terrifying effect of the use of drones by Israel in Gaza. Yes, drones are terrifying. They kill but their terror spreads well beyond their lethal effect. For the people who are targeted, the use of drones is a chilling constant reminder that the aggressor is everywhere, and can strike at any minute, at anyone, any time it wants to. Frustratingly, the story is about Israel’s use of drones, and essentially ignores the fact that the U.S. is the most prolific user of these deadly weapons. But the article does note:

…the most enduring reminder of Israel’s unblinking vigilance and its unfettered power to strike at a moment’s notice is the buzz of circling drones — a soundtrack also provided by American drones over Pakistan’s tribal areas and, increasingly, parts of East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. The U.S. drone war is largely invisible, carried out in remote regions sometimes beyond the boundaries of America’s battlefields. U.S. officials are reticent to discuss the program, which President Obama has reliedon more than his predecessor to kill enemies [emphasis added].

That’s right. Barack Obama has relied more heavily on a covert, illegal, and deadly program than George W. Bush – you know, the guy that we all love to hate, the one who illegally invaded Iraq to the chagrin of not just nutty third world people but even Europeans! When you couple this with the explicit policy of the Obama administration that it is legal to assassinate U.S. citizens without charges and without a trial (as it did with Anwar Awlaki in Yemen, again using drones), it may actually be the case that Barack Obama actually has much greater contempt for U.S. and international law than did George W. Bush.

Given that Barack Obama came to office vowing to improve relations with the rest of the world, the fact that he has relied so heavily on a military strategy designed to inculcate fear (without gaining much military advantage) is stunning.

 

Here we go again, again

September 26, 2011 § 1 Comment

The current war of words between the U.S. and Pakistani governments is just the latest installment of the soap opera that is U.S.-Pakistani relations. The pattern is typical, predictable, and actually quite stable: the U.S. makes demands on Pakistan; Pakistan rebuffs the demand; the U.S. responds with “evidence” of Pakistani complicity in fomenting terror (usually in Afghanistan but also in India); Pakistan negotiates on the initial demand, giving in to some of what the U.S. wants but still rejecting some part of the demand.

So too is the case with the latest “revelation” last week by Admiral Mike Mullen and other U.S. officials that the Pakistani government is actively sponsoring terror in Afghanistan via the Haqqani clan. According to this formulation, the Haqqani network is a state asset that is activated by the ISI in order to maintain leverage against Afghanistan and, by extension, the United States. That is seemingly explosive stuff, but predictably, as early as the next day, we were seeing statements by U.S. and Pakistani officials that they were still interested in “working with each other.” And today, we see that the U.S. State Department spokesperson has stated that “State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said that the US government was committed to its relationship with Pakistan and wants to work constructively with Pakistan on the Haqqani Network.” Ah yes, “work constructively” – that lovely phrase that hides the ugliness of just how much pressure is applied to other countries in order to coerce them to do the bidding of the U.S.

On the same day, Republican Senator Mark Kirk did his part to play the role of bad cop by stating that the U.S. government should “cut military assistance to Pakistan in the light of the allegations made by the US administration and military about Pakistan having links with the Haqqani network.” We have lost count of the number of times that Some Important Person or the other has called for cuts to U.S. aid to Pakistan in the last couple of years. It’s amusing to note that despite such threats and protests, the aid continues to flow, mostly in very generous proportions (Pakistan still remains the second largest recipient of U.S. aid, after Israel). Maybe, just maybe, there’s something in it for the Americans?

All of this is certainly not to minimize the sheer venality and, frankly, stupidity of the Pakistan establishment, in its attempt to manipulate various domestic and foreign actors and try to maintain leverage against the U.S. The Army, the ISI, Zardari and the other civilian politicians – they would sell their own mothers down the river before they would do what’s right for the Pakistani people. And sadly it’s the Pakistani people who continue to pay the price of this absurd but very costly soap opera.

Pentagon releases latest security assessment, prepares for perpetual war

September 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Pentagon recently released its annual assessment of global security, and the report predicts an era of perpetual war in which peace is the exception rather than the norm. Of course, unsaid in the report is that the cause of war is the Pentagon itself. Instead, war is framed as the means by which to achieve peace. Somewhere, George Orwell is weeping.

An excellent analysis of the report and its coverage in the Washington Post is at Keating’s Desk. Do check out the full entry, it’s worth the read.

 

 

India-Pakistan border visible from space

September 5, 2011 § 1 Comment

A new photo from the International Space Station shows that the India-Pakistan border is visible from space at night. That’s because the Indian government has been implementing a decade-long plan to post floodlights on its border with Pakistan. India is also in the process of building a fence with Pakistan (a fence with Bangladesh is also in the works).

This sad image is a reminder of the suspicion and hate that continues to exist between India and Pakistan. But above all, it is a stark illustration of the absurdity of a poor country like India spending money on a foolish exercise like putting up floodlights and building fences with its neighbor. Floodlights won’t stop militants, and fences won’t stop smugglers. All these kinds of idiotic exercises do is to drain much-needed resources away from more urgent needs such as health and education.

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