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.
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.
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.
August 17, 2011 § Leave a comment
Here’s some more critical analysis of Nicholas Schmiddle’s fantastical New Yorker account of the raid to kill OBL in Abbottabad. The writer, Russ Baker, raises more questions about the accuracy and ethics of Schmiddle’s piece, but he also uses this moment to raise questions about the apparent lack of accountability and oversight of the U.S. military by civilian leaders – including, possibly, Barack Obama.
Russ Baker investigates, for instance, the controversial decision to dump OBL’s body in the sea, and discovers some interesting contradictions that suggest that the decision was made by a low-level operative in consultation with Saudi officials:
At the time of the raid, the decision to hastily dump Osama’s body in the ocean rather than make it available for authoritative forensic examination was a highly controversial one — that only led to more speculation that the White House was hiding something. The justifications, including not wanting to bury him on land for fear of creating a shrine, were almost laughable.
So what do we learn about this from the New Yorker? It’s truly bizarre: the SEALS themselves made the decision. That’s strange enough. But then we learn that Brennan took it upon himself to verify that was the right decision. How did he do this? Not by speaking with the president or top military, diplomatic or legal brass. No, he called some foreigners — get ready — the Saudis, who told him that dumping at sea sounded like a good plan.
Here’s Schmidle’s account:
All along, the SEALs had planned to dump bin Laden’s corpse into the sea — a blunt way of ending the bin Laden myth. They had successfully pulled off a similar scheme before. During a DEVGRU helicopter raid inside Somalia in September, 2009, SEALs had killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, one of East Africa’s top Al Qaeda leaders; Nabhan’s corpse was then flown to a ship in the Indian Ocean, given proper Muslim rites, and thrown overboard. Before taking that step for bin Laden, however, John Brennan made a call. Brennan, who had been a C.I.A. station chief in Riyadh, phoned a former counterpart in Saudi intelligence. Brennan told the man what had occurred in Abbottabad and informed him of the plan to deposit bin Laden’s remains at sea. As Brennan knew, bin Laden’s relatives were still a prominent family in the Kingdom, and Osama had once been a Saudi citizen. Did the Saudi government have any interest in taking the body? “Your plan sounds like a good one,” the Saudi replied.
Let’s consider this. The most wanted man in the world; substantive professional doubts about whether the man in the Abbottabad house is him; tremendous public doubts about whether it could even be him; the most important operation of the Obama presidency; yet the decision about what to do with the body is left to low-level operatives. Keep in mind SEALs are trained to follow orders given by others. They’re expected to apply what they know to unexpected scenarios that come up, but the key strategic decisions — arrived at in advance — are not theirs to make.
Even more strange that Brennan would discuss this with a foreign power. And not just any foreign power, but the regime that is inextricably linked with the domestically-influential family of bin Laden — and home to many of the hijackers who worked for him.
Is it just me, or does this sound preposterous? Obama’s Homeland Security and Counterterrorism adviser is just winging it with key aspects of one of America’s most important, complex and risky operations? And the Saudi government is the one deciding to discard the remains of a man from one of Saudi Arabia’s most powerful families, before the public could receive proper proof of the identity of the body? A regime with a great deal at stake and perhaps plenty to hide.
Read the whole thing.
August 10, 2011 § Leave a comment
Another day, another drone strike:
A US drone attack has killed at least 21 militants in north-western Pakistan, local intelligence officials said. The drone fired two missiles, destroying a vehicle and a compound near Miranshah town in North Waziristan tribal district, on the Afghan border. The dead militants include some foreigners and are believed to be part of the Haqqani network, officials say… “The dead included local Taliban as well as some Arabs and Uzbek nationals,” news agency Reuters quoted an unnamed intelligence official in North Waziristan as saying.
The Obama administration has stepped up the rate of drone strikes considerably. As the article notes, just last month, drones killed more than 30 people within 24 hours in North Waziristan. And of course, the dead are always, by definition, “militants.” Who needs to check, right?