Monthly Archives: December 2009

“Heute Morgen ist Ron Holloway Gestorben” 1933-2009

by James M. Wall   The email brought the sad news: “Heute morgen ist Ron Holloway gestorben”. Even without my limited grad school German, the news was clear, “Ron Holloway died this morning”. Ron, friend to all, mentor and teacher … Continue reading

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Obama Tries to Earn His Peace Prize While Waging Three Wars

by James M. Wall Can a wartime president earn his Nobel peace prize while waging three wars at the same time? Accepting a peace prize while ordering even more troops into battle was an audacious act. It was certainly in … Continue reading

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To Avoid Old Mistakes, Obama Should Listen to New Voices

Barack Obama spent three months of intensive consultation to arrive at this foregone conclusion: The US will remain in Afghanistan for an indefinite period of time.

And for what purpose?  One of the most eloquent speakers to enter the White House could not say.

The New York Times looked back over the past three months.  

To reach his decision, the president visited Arlington National Cemetery, wandering “among the chalky white tombstones of those who had fallen in the rugged mountains of Central Asia.” 

The Times insists it got this story after interviews with many participants in the consultation, checking and cross-checking the responses.

I don’t know about you, but I see the fine hand of some skilled spinners at work in the Times defense of yet another war. It makes me feel terribly sad to realize that Karl Rove has not gone, he has just been reborn. A Texas Svengali has transformed himself into team of Chicago-honed Svenalgis.

Here is a sample of some of their best work, shaped for Peter Baker of the New York Times

How much their sacrifice weighed on [the president] that Veterans Day last month, he did not say. But his advisers say he was haunted by the human toll as he wrestled with what to do about the eight-year-old war. Just a month earlier, he had mentioned to them his visits to wounded soldiers at the Army hospital in Washington. “I don’t want to be going to Walter Reed for another eight years,” he said then.

One participant willing to speak on the record was Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who told one interviewer:

“The president welcomed a full range of opinions and invited contrary points of view,” . “And I thought it was a very healthy experience because people took him up on it. And one thing we didn’t want — to have a decision made and then have somebody say, ‘Oh, by the way.’ No, come forward now or forever hold your peace.”

But this was not a wedding ceremony open to everyone. With the possible exception of Vice President Joe Biden, the guests were all singing pretty much from the same page.

One guest who had not been invited was Boston University History Professor Andrew Bacevich, and retired US Army colonel.

In an essay written before the troop increase was announced, Afghanistan – the Proxy War, Bacevich warned the American public against approving Obama’s embrace of the Afghanistan strategy proposed by his handpicked commander, General Stanley McChrystal.  In Bacevich’s opinion, this was a strategy union that promised not change, but more, much more, of the same old. 

On the Planetary Movement website, Bacevich argues that a series of troop increases would signal Obama’s embrace of the strategy that had earlier doomed the presidencies of Lyndon Johnson and George W. Bush. Bacevich calls that strategy, “armed nation-building”.

Bacevich predicted that if Obama opted for a permanent presence in Afghanistan, which he has essentially done, he would embrace the Bush-Cheney doctrine of “open-ended war” responding to “violent jihadism”. Like Lyndon Johnson before him, Obama has decided he will confront the enemy by winning “the hearts and minds” of a people in whose hearts and minds there is no longing to grant anything but trouble to foreign power occupying their land with soldiers, drones and home invasions.

Bacevich warns that Obama is now in danger of becoming yet another warrior president. By choosing the McChrystal plan, he tells the world that the US national security policy will continue the policies employed in Vietnam and Iraq. The American global military presence will intervene any where, any time, when it decides it is in the best interest of the United States to do so. 

The enemy now is “terrorism”. In Vietnam it was Communism. You might think, and I would, that this is the Obama-McChrystal version of the “Bush Doctrine” which Sarah Palin so famously could not explain in her campaign television interview with ABC’s Charles Gibson. (“What do you mean by that, Charlie?)

In laymen’s terms, though Charles Gibson did not put it this way, we are talking here about your basic empire-maintenance project that keeps the world safe for the latest edition of the military-industrial complex President Eisenhower warned us about when he left the White House.  

The trouble with the empire maindtenance project is that it needs the agreement and the financial support of the folks at home whose young men and women are sent to distant lands for reasons not even the eloquent Barack Obama has been able to articulate.

What will those young men and women have to look forward to in Afghanistan? In addition to a rising American death toll and at a cost to the US tax payers, estimated at one million dollars a year for each US fighting man and woman, they can look forward to a future in a world of permanent bases surrounded by hostile, resentful citizens who will make life dangerous and miserable for them when they venture outside from those bases.

How do we know “permanent” is the correct term? AP writer Charles J. Hanley asked that question in the Arizona Daily Star in 2006, under this headline: “Huge bases raise question: Is U.S. in Iraq to stay?” His story opens with these facts:

BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq — The concrete vanishes into the noonday glare, 2 million cubic feet of it, a mile-long slab that’s now the home of up to 120 U.S. helicopters, a “heli-park” as good as any back in the states.

At another giant base, al-Asad in Iraq’s western desert, the 17,000 troops and workers come and go in a kind of bustling American town, with a Burger King, a Pizza Hut and a car dealership, stop signs, traffic regulations and young bikers clogging the roads.

At a third hub down south, Tallil, they’re planning a new mess hall, one that will seat 6,000 hungry airmen and soldiers for chow.

And why do we need such a presence in countries like Iraq (currently) and Afghanistan (future)? We are now operating under the McCrystal-Obama doctrine, permanent military bases designed to fight “terrorists” who would do us harm.  

Are these bases permanent? Are they examples of an empire hunkering down for the long run? What do you think? More from AP’s Charles J. Hanley:

“In 2005-06, Washington has authorized or proposed almost $1 billion for U.S. military construction in Iraq, as American forces consolidate at Balad, known as Anaconda, and a handful of other installations, big bases under the old regime.

They have already pulled out of 34 of the 110 bases they were holding last March, said Maj. Lee English of the U.S. command’s Base Working Group, planning the consolidation.

“The coalition forces are moving outside the cities while continuing to provide security support to the Iraqi security forces,” English said.

The latest budget also allots $39 million for new airfield lighting, air-traffic-control systems and upgrades allowing al-Asad to plug into the Iraqi electricity grid — a typical sign of a long-term base.”

Empire maintenance always follows the “pacification” of an occupied land. In Afghanistan this is sold to American tax payers as a vital necessity in order to find and eliminate what a senior US intelligence official recently told ABC news was approximately 100 Al Qaeda members remaining in Afghanistan.  

(Think what an expenditure of that size could do to the Latin American drug cartels, whose daily shipments of illegal drugs into the US is an ongoing threat to America’s well being.)

Frank Rich noted in his New York Times column (December 6, 2009) that in his speech announcing the troop increase, Obama tried to sell his decision to the American people without admitting that the action lacks the commitment of its two most essential partners”, a corrupt and illegitimate Afghan government, and the American people, who do not support continued wars in distant lands. 

What possible logic led Obama to embrace McChrystalism? 

Rich writes that Obama’s speech failed to provide that logic. We are to fight a war to protect us from another attack by Al Qaeda, he asks?

We face a greater danger from security breaches at home than we do from from a second Al Qaeda 9/11 attack.

Rich points first to the White House “dinner crashers” who slipped by the Secret Service. Had they wanted to harm President Obama and his guests, they could have done so. 

“This was the second time in a month — after the infinitely more alarming bloodbath at Fort Hood — that a supposedly impregnable bastion of post-9/11 American security was easily breached. Yes, the crashers are laughable celebrity wannabes, but there was nothing funny about what they accomplished on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Their ruse wasn’t “reality” television — it was reality, period, with no quotation marks. It was a symbolic indication (and, luckily, only symbolic) of how unbridled irrationality harnessed to sheer will, whether ludicrous in the crashers’ case or homicidal in the instance of the Fort Hood gunman, can penetrate even our most secure fortifications.” 

We are waging a costly war in a distant land where the Taliban is no threat to our nation, while Washington gate crashers and a single homicidal Fort Hood army major easily penetrates a major military installation. 

In an essay in the Catholic publication Commonweal, Andrew Bacevich  asks the question that in Washington “goes not only unanswered, but unasked: What is it about Afghanistan, a country that possesses nothing the US requires that could possibly justify such lavish attention?
“Among Democrats and Republicans alike, with few exceptions, Afghanistan’s importance is simply assumed—much the way fifty years ago otherwise intelligent people simply assumed that the United States had a vital interest in ensuring the survival of South Vietnam. As then, so today, the assumption does not stand up to even casual scrutiny.”

In the Atlanta Constitution City Room, where I once worked, the story that came across the wire that we knew would never make it into the paper was something on the order of “Afghanistan officials race to site of train wreck.” Too far away, the editors would assume, and who ever heard of Afghanistan, anyway.

Now we know more about Afghanistan than we ever wanted to know. And if we listen to people like Andrew Bacevich we should at least acknowledge that Afghanistan has long been known as “The Graveyard of Empires”. For good reason.

The picture above was taken by Luke Sharrett for The New York Times



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Troop Buildup Is Vietnam Redux; Not The Change Obama Promised

Juan Cole, author of the blog Informed Comment, wrote an essay for Salon on the speech which also lamented Obama’s failure to remember Vietnam:

President Barack Obama’s just-announced plan for Afghanistan seems modeled less on Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam strategy than on George W. Bush’s Iraq exit strategy. Or, at least it is modeled on the Washington mythology that Iraq was turned from quagmire into a face-saving qualified success by sheer indomitable will and a last-minute troop “surge.” But Afghanistan is not very much like Iraq, and the Washington consensus about its supposed end-game success in Iraq is wrong in key respects. Are think tank fantasies about an Iraq “victory” now misleading Obama into a set of serious missteps in Afghanistan?

Stephen Walt wrote in the New Foreign (November 30)

Tom Friedman had an especially fatuous column in Sunday’s New York Times, which is saying something given his well-established capacity for smug self-assurance.

According to Friedman, the big challenge we face in the Arab and Islamic world is “the Narrative” — his patronizing term for Muslim views about America’s supposedly negative role in the region. If Muslims weren’t so irrational, he thinks, they would recognize that “U.S. foreign policy has been largely dedicated to rescuing Muslims or trying to help free them from tyranny.” . . . .

I heard a different take on this subject at a recent conference on U.S. relations with the Islamic world. In addition to hearing a diverse set of views from different Islamic countries, one of the other participants (a prominent English journalist) put it quite simply. “If the United States wants to improve its image in the Islamic world,” he said, “it should stop killing Muslims.”

Now I don’t think the issue is quite that simple, but the comment got me thinking: How many Muslims has the United States killed in the past thirty years, and how many Americans have been killed by Muslims? Coming up with a precise answer to this question is probably impossible, but it is also not necessary, because the rough numbers are so clearly lopsided.

Walt arrived at a rough estimate of 288,000 Muslim deaths over the past thirty years. He also found that roughly 10,000 Americans had been killed by Muslims in the same period.

Almost all of those deaths on both sides occurred before Obama became president. If he had decided to pull a Truman on his military commanders. he would have demonstrated that he did mean it when he said he would change American conduct in world affairs.

Instead he is stuck in the demeaning position of a decision dictated to him by the military brass and their backers in the American political right. It is hard not be pessimistic when this happens.
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Tom Friedman Sounds the Alarm; The Muslims Are Coming!

openly advocated the expulsion of Arabs from Israel

On May 30, 2003, Friedman appeared the Charlie Rose PBS program. Here is an excerpt from that interview:

ROSE: Now that the war is over, and there’s some difficulty with the peace, was it worth doing?

FRIEDMAN: I think it was unquestionably worth doing, Charlie. I think that, looking back, I now certainly feel I understand more what the war was about . . . . What we needed to do was go over to that part of the world, I’m afraid, and burst that bubble. We needed to go over there basically, and take out a very big stick, right in the heart of that world, and burst that bubble. . . .

And what they needed to see was American boys and girls going from house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, and basically saying: which part of this sentence do you understand? You don’t think we care about our open society? . . . . Well, Suck. On. This. That, Charlie, was what this war was about.

We could have hit Saudi Arabia. It was part of that bubble. Could have hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could. That’s the real truth.

al-Haram al-Sharif
Eid ul Adha
an Israeli-American settler, off-duty Israeli army reservist and member of the extremist Kach movement

Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan

Major Hasan may have been mentally unbalanced — I assume anyone who shoots up innocent people is. But the more you read about his support for Muslim suicide bombers, about how he showed up at a public-health seminar with a PowerPoint presentation titled “Why the War on Terror Is a War on Islam,” and about his contacts with Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemeni cleric famous for using the Web to support jihadist violence against America — the more it seems that Major Hasan was just another angry jihadist spurred to action by “The Narrative.”

Ponder these words with your deductive reasoning cap, firmly in place. What do we find?

First, Friedman acknowledges that he agrees with the conventional wisdom that Major Hasan “may have been” mentally unbalanced. But then he find, as he no doubt hoped he would, some anti-American moments in the major’s life. He “showed up” at a public-health seminary, with a Powerpoint presentation that carries the ominous title, “Why the War on Terror Is a War on Islam.”

Wait, there’s more in that fecund fact-filled paragraph. Major Hasan has had “contacts” with Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemeni cleric famous for using the Web to support jihadist violence against America.”

This leads Friedman to render his judgment , or as he puts it, “the more it seems”, that Hasan “was just another angry jihadist spurred to action by ‘The Narrative'”.

Hasan is no longer mentally unbalanced; by the end of the paragraph he is an “angry jihadist”.

Well, Tom, which is it? A nutcase or a jihadist? Or in your mind, are the two the same?

Friedman doesn’t hang around to clarify his quick shift from nutcase to jihadist. He moves on to the real focus of his column: His attack on The Narrative. I find it fascinating that Tom is now adopting what serves as a new set of marching orders from Israel’s spin-masters.

If you have been following the dialogue that takes place away from the Main Stream Media, the word “narrative” has been frequently employed by supporters of the Palestinian cause who have argued that, thanks to the Main Stream Media in the Western world, there has been only one narrative used to explain the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, the Zionist narrative.

I presume Israel’s spin masters sent out the memo, or in Tom’s case, probably gave it to him personally during some of his warm and friendly chats with high level Israeli military and political officials. The spin is this: The Palestinians are starting to succeed in showing the world that the year 1948 was the start of two narratives.

The Zionist narrative has always started with the Holocaust and anti-semitism, the genesis of a permanent state of victimhood that permits Israelis to batter the Palestinians with all the violence required to drive them into virtual prison walls.

Until recent years, that was the only narrative known to the world public. Narrative was not even used as a term by the Zionists. It was simply The Way Things Are.
To compete against The Way Things Are, Palestinians and their supporters have begun to speak of another narrative, one that began with the Nakba (the “catastrophe”), and all that followed, up to , and including, Israel’s massive seizure of Palestinian land, the slaughter of innocents (in battles and attacks that were always deemed ‘defensive actions”), and the steady march of ethnic cleansing that drives Palestinians into caged camps.

Tom Friedman is the media general designated by Israel to lead the Main Stream Media in battle against that Palestinian narrative. Tom has shown himself to be a willing and faithful warrior in the War of Narratives.

He wisely moves away from the Palestinians, knowing his reading public thinks in population blocs. Arabs are Muslims, and Muslims? Well, here is more from Tom’s latest column. This portion starts with the familiar Zionist mantra, “Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid” as he describes the evolution of Major Hasan.

“What is scary is that even though he was born, raised and educated in America, The Narrative still got to him.”

You got that people? This guy is no foreign-born ticking time bomb. He was BORN, RAISED AND EDUCATED in America, and he succumbed to THE NARRATIVE. Bring the children into the house. Don’t let them play with Muslims. And make sure all public events that include proponents of The Narrative, are either blocked or attacked.

What is this alternative Narrative that Tom warns us about? His description is chilling, ugly and definitely, fails the Advent smell test:

The Narrative is the cocktail of half-truths, propaganda and outright lies about America that have taken hold in the Arab-Muslim world since 9/11. Propagated by jihadist Web sites, mosque preachers, Arab intellectuals, satellite news stations and books — and tacitly endorsed by some Arab regimes — this narrative posits that America has declared war on Islam, as part of a grand “American-Crusader-Zionist conspiracy” to keep Muslims down.

Do you know any parents, pastors, church officials, public officials or college presidents, who have cowered before the fear tactics of the Zionist Narrative? I know you do; don’t try and deny it.

Tom is here espousing what has been largely debunked as a description of the dynamics of world power struggles, The War of Civilizations.

Have you wondered lately how best to describe what drives American foreign policy? Tom tells you, using his best neo-con verbiage:

Yes, after two decades in which U.S. foreign policy has been largely dedicated to rescuing Muslims or trying to help free them from tyranny — in Bosnia, Darfur, Kuwait, Somalia, Lebanon, Kurdistan, post-earthquake Pakistan, post-tsunami Indonesia, Iraq and Afghanistan — a narrative that says America is dedicated to keeping Muslims down is thriving.

Friedman, if you think back, was a cheer leader for the Iraqi war because he believed that WMDs were about to erupt from Iraq, first to strike Israel and then finally, the rest of the world. Who was behind our war against Iraq? The New York Times, with Friedman leading the way, the congressional neo-cons, and of course, Israel,

Most people have repented of that crusade against Iraq, but not our man Friedman and most certainly not Israel. Now instead of WMDs, he scares the West with The Narrative which, he writes, “was concocted by jihadists.”

Then Friedman trots out yet another of his unnamed sources, this time a ” Jordanian-born counterterrorism expert, who asked to remain anonymous”.

Mr. Anonymous told Friedman:

“This narrative is now omnipresent in Arab and Muslim communities in the region and in migrant communities around the world. These communities are bombarded with this narrative in huge doses and on a daily basis. [It says] the West, and right now mostly the U.S. and Israel, is single-handedly and completely responsible for all the grievances of the Arab and the Muslim worlds. Ironically, the vast majority of the media outlets targeting these communities are Arab-government owned — mostly from the Gulf.”

Friedman’s discussion with Mr. Anonoymous leads him to issue one of his set of instructions to a world leader, this time to Barack Obama. He wants the president to give another speech, following up the one he gave in Cairo, saying this:

“Whenever something like Fort Hood happens you say, ‘This is not Islam.’ I believe that. But you keep telling us what Islam isn’t. You need to tell us what it is and show us how its positive interpretations are being promoted in your schools and mosques. If this is not Islam, then why is it that a million Muslims will pour into the streets to protest Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, but not one will take to the streets to protest Muslim suicide bombers who blow up other Muslims, real people, created in the image of God? You need to explain that to us — and to yourselves.”

Friedman started with a question about Major Hasan’s mental instability. He segued quickly, and throughout his column, to a discussion of the War of Civilizations, Islam against the West. It is a leap without evidence and it projects Hasan as the Father of all Islamic evil. What an assignment to place on a mentally unstable man who maintained a questionable connection to a radical Islamic cleric.

It is tempting to suggest to Friedman that he reflect back on the events of February 25, 1994, when 29 Palestinian worshippers were killed and another 125 injured at the massacre at Hebron’s Ibrahim Mosque massacre. The massacre was carried out by Baruch Goldstein, who came from the Kiryat Arba settlement within walking distance of Hebron.

Goldstein opened fire on the worshippers with the an assault rifle and four magazines of ammunition. After the massacre a memorial was erected for Baruch Goldstein at the entrance to Kiryat Arba.

All religions have fanatics who act in horrendous ways contrary to the religious tradition they claim to follow. It is an act of absolute irresponsiblity to use such actions to attack adherents of that religious tradition.
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