The United States Misreads Brazil's World Policy by Immanuel Wallerstein
Spending Even More, Buying Even Less - New Pentagon Budget by Winslow T Wheeler
Why Does The US Turn A Blind Eye To Israeli Bulldozers? by Robert Fisk
Obama Put Politics First on Afghanistan by Ray McGovern FULL ARTICLE
Apartheid at the Israeli High Court by Uri Weiss FULL ARTICLE
Why Do They Hate Us? - Inside the mind of a terrorist by Ian Sinclair
How Wall Street Destroyed Health Care by Paul Craig Roberts
Crushing Haiti, Now as Always by Patrick Cockburn FULL ARTICLE
Blowback of the Drones by Gary Leupp FULL ARTICLE
Serial Catastrophes in Afghanistan threaten Obama Policy by Juan Cole
A Religious Scoundrel by Uri Avnery FULL ARTICLE
We Need Health Care, Not Insurance by Carol Miller FULL ARTICLE
Tali Shapiro a courageous blogger ... on the Goldstone Report
- NEARLY 2 LAKH FARM SUICIDES IN INDIA SINCE 1997
- MAGIC, MYSTERY AND CONUNDRUM - SOTU ADDRESS
- HE RAINED ON OBAMA'S ANNIVERSARY PARADE
- COULD THE PAKISTANI GOVERNMENT FALL OVER KARACHI VIOLENCE?
- THE QUIET AMERICAN BY URI AVNERY
- THE $30 BILLION PAIR OF UNDERPANTS
- THE YEAR'S BEST BOOKS: READ THEN ACT
- ON INDO-PAK COOPERATION: A REPLY TO HOODBHOY
- CAN INDIA AND PAKISTAN FIGHT TERROR TOGETHER? [BY HOODBHOY]
- WE EXPECT A NOBEL PEACE LAUREATE TO...
- INVOLUNTARY CONSEQUENCES: US POLICY PROMOTING ISLAMIC FUNDAMENTALISM
- PRESIDENT OBAMA'S AFGHANISTAN ESCALATION SPEECH: AN ASSESSMENT
- AFGHANISTAN AND ELKHART, INDIANA: THE TWIN FRAUDS OF OBAMA
- THE BOMBINGS A YEAR LATER: MUMBAI IN THE SHADOW OF KASHMIR
- THANKSGIVING 2009
- A LETTER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA BY RALPH NADER
- SETTLERS STONE SCHOOL CHILDREN
- OPINION: U.S. IS DOING NO GOOD IN AFGHANISTAN
- HOW EUROCENTRIC IS YOUR DAY?
- UNIVERSITY BLASTS IN PAKISTAN AND THE FUTURE OF ISLAM - WHY THE TALEBAN ATTACKED
- REPUBLIC OF FOOLS: THE EVIL EMPIRE
- AF- PAK (once more)
- AF- PAK
- CRISIS IS OPPORTUNITY: THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION MISSES CHANCES FOR REAL CHANGE
- AFGHANISTAN: IS ESCALATION RATIONAL?
- HOW TO TRAP A PRESIDENT IN A LOSING WAR
- A LETTER TO 'THE ECONOMIST' FROM ARUNDHATI ROY
- THE FIRESTORM AHEAD
- ON PRESIDENT OBAMA'S HEALTHCARE SPEECH TO CONGRESS
- AFGHANISTAN - WHAT NEXT?
- PROFIT - THE PROBLEM WITH US HEALTHCARE
- THE FIX IS IN - 'HEALTHCARE'
- "INDEPENDENCE" CELEBRATIONS FOR ONE AND ONE-HALF BILLION
- HEALTH CARE - HOW THE INDUSTRY WON
- THE FEDERAL RESERVE
- HOW FAR BEHIND IS THE USA IN SOCIAL SERVICES --- MEASURING REAL DEMOCRACY
- CHANGE YOU CAN BELIEVE IN -- WHEN YOU GET IT
- THE FIASCOLISTS: BANKSTERS AND FAT CATS
- OBAMA'S CAIRO SPEECH AFTERMATH: ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS
- FATHER'S DAY
- THE ENGAGEMENT OPTION
- THE PAKISTAN REFUGEE CRISIS
- GM: ALFRED P. SLOAN TURNS OVER IN HIS GRAVE
- THE MORPHING OF A COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
- SINGLE-PAYER HEALTH PLAN?
- SICK IN THE USA: HEALTHCARE
- BOMBING CIVILIANS AND "AF-PAK"
- HISTORY AND CIVILIZATION: A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE
- LOSING OUR MORAL COMPASS
- ON RELIGION AND THE ISRAEL/ PALESTINE CONFLICT
- SLUMDOGS VS. BILLIONAIRES
- DON'T SEE WHAT YOU SEE
- KANPUR ROADSIDE
- SHOOTING YOURSELF IN THE FOOT
- LANGUAGE CULTURE AND IDENTITY
NEARLY 2 LAKH FARM SUICIDES IN INDIA SINCE 1997
Source: The Hindu
There were at least 16,196 farmers' suicides in India in 2008, bringing the total since 1997 to 199,132,
according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).
The share of the Big 5 States or ‘suicide belt' in 2008 — Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka,
Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh — remained very high at 10,797, or 66.6 per cent of the total farm
suicides in the country. This was marginally higher than it was in 2007 (66.2 per cent). Maharashtra
remains the worst State in the nation for farm suicides with a total of 3802. (This is just 40 short of the
combined total of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.) The all-India total of 16,196 represents a fall of 436
from 2007. But the broad trends of the past decade reflect no significant change. The national average
for farm suicides since 2003 stays at roughly one every 30 minutes.
Within the Big 5, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh recorded higher numbers. The
increase of 604 in these three States somewhat offset the dip in Maharashtra (436) and Karnataka
(398). But a fall in suicide numbers in other States (for example, a decline of 412 in Kerala and 343 in
West Bengal) means that the Big 5 marginally increased their two-thirds share of total farm suicides in
The NCRB data now cover all States for 12 years from 1997. In the first six years (1997-2002), the Big 5
witnessed 55,769 farmers' suicides. From 2003 to 2008, they totaled 67,054, a rise of nearly 1900 a year
Maharashtra has logged 41,404 farm suicides from 1997 (over a fifth of the national total) and 44,468
from 1995, the year when this State began recording farm data. No other State comes close. During
1997-2002, Maharashtra saw, on average, eight farmers kill themselves daily. The corresponding figure
rose to 11 during 2003-2008. The rise was from an average of 2,833 farm suicides a year in the first
period to an average of 4,067 in the next period.
Professor K. Nagaraj, an economist who has worked at the Madras Institute of Development Studies,
says of the NCRB data: "There is hardly any decline in the suicide belt, though individual States may
show variations across 12 years. If this is the state for 2008, the year of the Rs. 70,000 crore loan
waiver and multiple farm packages, then 2009, a drought year, could show very disturbing figures. The
underlying agrarian problems seem as acute as ever."
January 28, 2010
MAGIC, MYSTERY AND CONUNDRUM - SOTU ADDRESS
Arshad M. Khan
The President performed his campaign magic once again yesterday. The state of the Union address
cast a spell on listeners and for once we forgot the trillion dollar wars, the conning bankers fleecing
taxpayer dollars under threat of catastrophe -- their demands met unquestioningly by their chums in
Treasury -- and the aborted health care plan.
The laudable focus on jobs was the main policy thrust. But the expenditure necessary was
contradicted by a simultaneous call for a freeze on Federal spending with the exception of Medicare,
Social Security and Defense -- essentially the main components of the budget. The freeze on the
remainder is estimated to save a paltry $250 billion over ten years, an amount about the same as the
annual cost of the Iraq and Afghan wars. It is a mystery how the grab bag of small investment ideas will
make more than a dent in the jobs picture. Thirty billion to community banks to stimulate lending to
local small business, eight billion for high-speed rail, investment in clean energy and so on. No one
can quibble with these ideas although efficient execution, particularly in the distributions to banks is
critical. It should be based on actual proposals, scrutinized carefully before the funds are released.
If our goal is to be number one in high speed rail, then we have a long way to go. The Illinois project is
touted to run the trains up to 110 mph, a significant improvement from the current 70 mph. It pales,
however, in comparison with, say, France. The normal service runs on some lines at 320 kph (200 mph)
and on others at 300 kph (187 mph). The record fast speed for a TGV is an incredible 357 mph. Yes, we
have a long road ahead, and it will be fought tooth and nail by Boeing and the Airlines.
The wars, given nary a mention in the speech, remain a conundrum. We are promised withdrawal from
Iraq, but if chaos results, we will be blamed; the distrust, diminished prestige and the loss of credibility
will create a vacuum filled happily by rivals China and Russia. Our policy of paying off insurgents
worked for a while. But if the spate of recent bombings before the impending election is any
indication, we are a long way from a permanent resolution. George W.'s legacy continues to drain Iraqi
blood and our treasure.
In Afghanistan, we are also busy trying to buy off insurgents even as they bomb the heart of Kabul
right by the seat of government. But now that we are finally accepting real Pashtun participation in the
central government, perhaps we can speed up negotiations and avoid the needless killing of the
coming Spring offensive. Sun Tzu's advice from two and a half millenia ago still holds: Know your
enemy and know yourself.
January 20, 2010
HE RAINED ON OBAMA'S ANNIVERSARY PARADE
Arshad M. Khan
Have you ever heard of Scott Brown ... before yesterday that is? He is the man who has rained on
President Obama's inauguration anniversary parade. For thirty-seven years the voters of
Massachusetts, the most liberal state in the nation, have dutifully elected Democratic senators; not
this time. Unable to find any prominent Republican to contest this 'safe' Democratic seat, warmed over
many years by the generous posterior of the late Edward Kennedy, the GOP persuaded Scott Brown to
be their standard bearer. The folklore that you can't beat a Kennedy legacy didn't deter him or his
The President has already sent him his congratulations and a message saying he is looking forward to
working together for the good of the country. Translation: just ask for what you want ... . The people
electing Obama believed the rhetoric and expected a champion of their interests. What they got was
someone who opened wide the doors of the White House, the people's house, to corporate CEO's
ranging from health care to banking. They proceeded to lay down their demands, all meekly accepted.
The people thought they had elected a bull; instead they got an ox. The bankers and the health
industry got what they wanted, and the people ... they got the bill.
The health care issue was a litmus test. Over seventy percent of Americans favored a single-payer
health care plan, yet not one supporter of such a plan was ever invited to the people's house. The
people also expected the wars to end, the torture to stop and Guantanamo to close. Of these, there
has been limited progress on the latter two although the order banning torture included loopholes -
why not a straight forward ban on all torture? The chaos in Iraq continues and the Afghan war has
been escalated. The casualty lists are growing, and the latest daring attack in the center of Kabul, the
most heavily guarded and cordoned piece of real estate in Afghanistan, belies General McChrystal's
assertion that security is improving. Furthermore our goals remain as nebulous as ever. The people
wanted us to be out of Iraq and Afghanistan; instead they have gotten Bush III.
The economic effects of war in a time of recession, exacerbate the pain. While poor folk continue to
lose their homes to foreclosure, the bankers are making record profits -- mostly from trading. Back to
the casino for the banks, and to the grindstone for the people. Small wonder then, they made their
voice heard the first chance they got.
January 14, 2009
COULD THE PAKISTANI GOVERNMENT FALL OVER KARACHI VIOLENCE?
The ongoing political turmoil in a major Pakistani city to which few Americans pay much attention could
nevertheless prove pivotal to the Obama administration's AfPak project.
Ten more functionaries from various parties were assassinated in the southern Pakistani port city of
Karachi on Sunday, on top of the three dozen killed from Thursday through Saturday. Many of those
killed have been from the MQM (Muhajir Qaumi Movement), the dominant party in Karachi, which
maintains a disciplined and well armed urban militia. Although the situation is murky, this violence
appears to be the manifestation of an intense struggle between the MQM and the ruling Pakistan
People's party, which controls the province of Sindh in which Karachi is located, as well as the national
government. On Saturday, the MQM blamed the violence against its party workers on what it called
thugs from the poor district of Lyari, a PPP stronghold. Since 2008 the MQM and the PPP had formed a
parliamentary alliance of convenience in Islamabad. But now MQM leaders are saying they will
withdraw from the national government.
I am speculating, but I wonder if the PPP in Lyari took its cue from remarks of interior minister Rehman
Malik this weekend that he would push for the expulsion of what he characterized as 2 million illegal
aliens from Karachi, as well as for the de-weaponization of the city. The MQM represents the interests
of what are called the Muhajirs, the Urdu speaking immigrants from India who came as part of the
partition of British India into Muslim majority Pakistan and Hindu majority India in 1947. Those outside
the MQM in Karachi resent its almost black shirt tactics and its armed paramilitary. (Though to be fair,
some MQM leaders have also called for an end to the flow of weapons into the city; some weapons are
smuggled by the 2-million strong Pashtun population, a tiny fringe of which sympathizes with the
Taliban.) Moreover, the native Sindhis, who support the PPP, feel that the Muhajirs' command of the
Urdu gave them special access to lucrative government jobs as well as coveted places in universities.
(Urdu is Pakistan's national language, but is not spoken natively by Punjabis, Sindhis, Baluchis, or
Pashtuns, whereas the Muhajirs speak it at home and so have a linguistic advantage with regard to the
national language.) Rumors abound in Pakistan that poor Indian Muslims from provinces such as Bihar
continue illegally to immigrate into the city, or are victims of human trafficking, as with poverty-stricken
Bihari girls who are then pimped. Such immigration, however, is small and certainly not in the millions!
In the hothouse atmosphere of Pakistani popular thought on geopolitics, Karachi is also thought a
hotbed of espionage and fifth column activities by Hindu Indians working undercover and pretending
to be Muhajirs. The Indian version of the CIA is called R.A.W.-- pronounced "raw"-- or the Research and
Analysis Wing, and virtually all untoward incidents in Pakistan are typically blamed on its activities.
Rehman Malik has even blamed RAW for the activities of radical Muslim extremists such as the
Pakistani Taliban. Obviously, I think this sort of charge is 'way overdone in Pakistan. So in local Karachi
terms, the call to expel illegal immigrants and to disarm the city could well have been taken by Sindhi
PPP activists as a coded signal to begin a war on the MQM.
This Pakistani observer suggests that the struggle broke out in part because of recent changes in how
nazims or mayors are chosen. If the central government goes back to appointing them, that change
might benefit the PPP and hurt the MQM's ability to maintain a stranglehold on the city's politics.
Malik spent all of Sunday into the wee hours in talks with MQM leaders, attempting to placate them.
Party leaders on both sides blamed the violence on petty criminals rather than on party stalwarts.
Jang reports in Urdu that police arrested 10 suspects in various parts of Lyari on Sunday, presumably
in a bid to mollify the MQM-- arrests that provoked demonstrations by the women of the neighborhood.
Geo Satellite TV is reporting dozens of arrests. The PPP member of parliament for Lyari, Ismail Nabil
Gobol, accused Malik of only launching the search operation in a cynical attempt to keep his job as
Interior Minister. Gobol said on GEO that if other districts were also being searched, the operation
might be acceptable, but targeting Lyari was unfair and showed how political the police action is.
At the level of national politics, it is not entirely clear there were the MQM to withdraw its support, that
the government of Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani could survive a vote of no-confidence in
Parliament. In case the PPP government fell, president Asaf Ali Zardari would offer the leader of a rival
party the opportunity to form a new government. That party would likely be the Pakistan Muslim league
(N), led by Nawaz Sharif. If the PMLN also failed to form a government, then snap our parliamentary
elections would be held.
This scenario would introduce very substantial instability into the course of Pakistani politics at
precisely the moment when the Obama administration most needs a stable, reliable partner in the fight
against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. A dark cloud on the horizon is that the PMLN and only got about a
third of the seats in parliament in the last election of February 2008, and even if it bettered its
performance in the next election, it might be beholden to small religious parties in a way that the PPP
currently is not. In the 2008 elections, the major fundamentalist parties, including the Jama'at-i Islami,
declined actively to run, in protest against the polls being held under the auspices of a military
dictatorship. Since the military dictatorship has been ended, the religious right wing parties would
likely run in the next election, and might win enough seats to make them power brokers in forming the
The fundamentalist parties may well benefit electorally in the next election from Obama's anti-al-Qaeda
drone strikes on Pakistani soil, which are extremely unpopular. If his policies brought back the Jama'at-
i Islami as a major parliamentary force, Obama will have potentially undermined his efforts against
Muslim extremism by violating Pakistani Muslims' sense of sovereignty. Obama supported Pakistan's
return to democracy, but democracies are unpredictable.
Some figures in the fundamentalist religious parties have gone so far as to deny the existence of Al
Qaeda, while others actively helped train the Taliban. Such a government might be substantially less
cooperative with Pres. Obama's "war on Al Qaeda" than is Mr. Zardari. A new government more
beholden to the Pakistani religious right might also appoint a new and more hard line military Chief of
Staff. I think it certainly would demand an end to US drone strikes on militant strongholds in the
northwest of the country.
A very great deal hangs, therefore, on whether the MQM and the PPP can manage to patch up their
current sanguinary feud, and whether Mr. Zardari can retain the MQM as part of his governing
All this is not to mention that were security in Karachi substantially to worsen, it could form a further
impediment to the US and NATO's use of the port city to transship essential matériel up to the Khyber
Pass and into Afghanistan. So far there is no question of the port being thrown into that kind of dire
turmoil. But in the past two weeks there was a major bombing on the occasion of the Shiite holy day of
Ashura, followed by intensive rioting and arson of a sectarian character that destroyed thousands of
shops and wiped out employment for 10,000 workers, followed by the recent outbreak of a concerted
campaign of assassination between local MQM and PPP party workers in Karachi. Quite apart from
anything else, Karachi is Pakistan's financial hub and a center of light industry, and the violence
already done there will have a negative impact on the country's economy this year.
Meanwhile,a new report has come out on Pakistan's struggle with Taliban and other militants in 2009,
mainly in the country's northwest, hundreds of miles from Karachi. The government maintains that it
killed about 12,000 militants and wounded a similar number, as well as capturing about 12,000, as well.
(These numbers are suspiciously similar to me). Only 75 of those captured were 'al-Qaeda' (I presume,
Arabs). A little over 3,000 civilians died in militant attacks.
This statistic shows you that most of the fighting in Pakistan is between government troops and the
Taliban or similar groups of Pashtun religious nationalists; al-Qaeda is a small part of the story.
It is not clear if the statistics include CIA drone strikes. For the militarization of the CIA in Afghanistan
and Pakistan, see Tomdispatch.com.
January 13, 2010
THE QUIET AMERICAN
Source: Gush Shalom
The quiet American was the hero of Graham Greene's novel about the first Vietnam War, the one
fought by the French.
He was a young and naïve American, a professor's son, who had enjoyed a good education at Harvard,
an idealist with all the best intentions. When he was sent to Vietnam, he wanted to help the natives to
overcome the two evils as he saw them: French colonialism and Communism. Knowing absolutely
nothing about the country in which he was acting, he caused a disaster. The book ends with a
massacre, the outcome of his misguided efforts. He illustrated the old saying: "The road to hell is
paved with good intentions."
Since this book was written, 54 years have passed, but it seems that the Quiet American has not
changed a bit. He is still an idealist (at least, in his own view of himself), still wants to bring redemption
to foreign and far-away peoples about whom he knows nothing, still causes terrible disasters: in Iraq,
Afghanistan, and now, it seems, in Yemen.
THE IRAQI example is the simplest one.
The American soldiers were sent there to overthrow the tyrannical regime of Saddam Hussein. There
were, of course, also some less altruistic objectives, such as taking control of the Iraqi oil resources
and stationing an American garrison in the heart of the Middle Eastern oil region. But for the American
public, the adventure was presented as an idealistic enterprise to topple a bloody dictator, who was
menacing the world with nuclear bombs.
That was six years ago, and the war is still going on. Barack Obama, who opposed the war right from
the start, promised to lead the Americans out of there. In the meantime, in spite of all the talking, no
end is in sight.
Why? Because the real decision-makers in Washington had no idea of the country which they wanted
to liberate and help to live happily ever after.
Iraq was from the beginning an artificial state. The British masters glued together several Ottoman
provinces to suit their own colonial interests. They crowned a Sunni Arab as king over the Kurds, who
are not Arab, and the Shiites, who are not Sunni. Only a succession of dictators, each of them more
brutal than his predecessor, prevented the state from falling apart.
The Washington planners were not interested in the history, demography or geography of the country
which they entered with brutal force. The way it looked to them, it was quite simple: One had to topple
the tyrant, establish democratic institutions on the American model, conduct free elections, and
everything else would fall into place by itself.
Contrary to their expectations, they were not received with flowers. Neither did they discover
Saddam's terrible atom bomb. Like the proverbial elephant in the porcelain shop, they shattered
everything, destroyed the country and got bogged in a swamp.
After years of bloody military operations that led nowhere, they found a temporary remedy. To hell with
idealism, to hell with the lofty aims, to hell with all military doctrines - they're now simply buying off the
tribal chiefs, who constitute the reality of Iraq.
The Quiet American has no idea how to get out. He knows that if he does, the country may well
disintegrate in mutual bloodletting.
TWO YEARS before entering the Iraqi swamp, the Americans invaded the Afghan quagmire.
Why? Because an organization called al-Qaeda ("the basis") had claimed responsibility for the
destruction of the Twin Towers in New York. Al-Qaeda's chiefs were in Afghanistan, their training
camps were there. To the Americans, everything was clear - there was no need for second thoughts
(neither, for that matter, for first thoughts.)
If they had had any knowledge of the country they were about to invade, they might have, perhaps,
hesitated. Afghanistan has always been a graveyard for invaders. Mighty empires had escaped from
there with their tails between their legs. Unlike flat Iraq, Afghanistan is a country of mountains, a
paradise for guerrillas. It is the home of several different peoples and uncounted tribes, each one
fiercely jealous of its independence.
The Washington planners were not really interested. For them, it seems, all countries are the same,
and so are all societies. In Afghanistan, too, American-style democracy must be established, free and
fair elections must be held, and hoppla - everything else will sort itself out.
The elephant entered the shop without knocking and achieved a resounding victory. The Air Force
pounded, the army conquered without problems, al-Qaeda disappeared like a ghost, the Taliban
("religious pupils") ran away. Women could again appear in the streets without covering their hair,
girls could attend schools, the opium fields flourished again, and so did Washington's protégés in
However - the war goes on, year after year, the number of American dead is rising inexorably. What
for? Nobody knows. It seems as if the war has acquired a life of its own, without aim, without reason.
An American could well ask himself: What the hell are we doing there?
THE IMMEDIATE aim, the expulsion of al-Qaeda from Afghanistan, has ostensibly been achieved. Al-
Qaeda is not there - if it ever really was there.
I wrote once that al-Qaeda is an America invention and that Osama Bin-Laden has been sent by
Hollywood's Central Casting to play the role. He is simply too good to be true.
That was, of course, a bit of an exaggeration. But not altogether. The US is always in need of a world-
wide enemy. In the past it was International Communism, whose agents were lurking behind every tree
and under every floor tile. But, alas, the Soviet Union and its minions had collapsed, there was an
urgent need for an enemy to fill the void. This was found in the shape of the world-wide jihad of al-
Qaeda. The crushing of "World Terrorism" became the overriding American aim.
That aim is nonsense. Terrorism is nothing but an instrument of war. It is used by organizations that are
vastly different from each other, which are fighting in vastly different countries for vastly different
objectives. A war on "International Terror" is like a war on "International Artillery" or "International
A world-embracing movement led by Osama Bin-Laden just does not exist. Thanks to the Americans, al-
Qaeda has become a prestige brand in the guerrilla market, much like McDonald's and Armani in the
world of fast food and fashion. Every militant Islamist organization can appropriate the name for itself,
even without a franchise from Bin-Laden.
American client regimes, who used to brand all their local enemies as "communist" in order to procure
the help of their patrons, now brand them as "al-Qaeda terrorists".
Nobody knows where Bin-Laden is - if he is at all - and there is no proof of his being in Afghanistan.
Some believe that he is in neighboring Pakistan. And even if he were hiding in Afghanistan - what
justification is there for conducting a war and killing thousands of people in order to hunt down one
Some say: OK, so there is no Bin-Laden. But the Taliban have to be prevented from coming back.
Why, for god's sake? What business is it of the US who rules Afghanistan? One can loathe religious
fanatics in general and the Taliban in particular - but is this a reason for an endless war?
If the Afghans themselves prefer the Taliban to the opium dealers who are in power in Kabul, it is their
business. It seems that they do, judging by the fact that the Taliban are again in control of most of the
country. That is no good reason for a Vietnam-style war.
But how do you get out? Obama does not know. During the election campaign he promised, with a
candidate's foolhardiness, to enlarge the war there, as a compensation for leaving Iraq. Now he is
stuck in both places - and in the near future, it seems, he will be stuck in a third war, too.
DURING THE last few days, the name of Yemen has been cropping up more and more often. Yemen - a
second Afghanistan, a third Vietnam.
The elephant is raring to enter another shop. And this time, too, it doesn't care about the porcelain.
I know very little about Yemen, but enough to understand that only a madman would want to be sucked
in there. It is another artificial state, composed of two different parts - the country of Sanaa in the
North and the (former British) South. Most of the country is mountainous terrain, ruled by bellicose
tribes guarding their independence. Like Afghanistan, it is an ideal region for guerrilla warfare.
There, too, is an organization that has adopted the grandiose name of "Al-Qaeda of the Arab
Peninsula" (after the Yemenite militants united with their Saudi brothers). But its chiefs are interested
in world revolution much less than in the intrigues and battles of the tribes among themselves and
against the "central" government, a reality with a history of thousands of years. Only a complete fool
would lay his head on this bed.
The name Yemen means "country on the right". (If one looks towards Mecca from the West, Yemen is
on the right side and Syria on the left.) The right side also connotes happiness, and the name of
Yemen is connected to al-Yamana, an Arabic word for being happy. The Romans called it Arabia Felix
("Happy Arabia") because it was rich through trading in spices.
(By the way, Obama may be interested to hear that another leader of a superpower, Caesar Augustus,
once tried to invade Yemen and was trounced.)
If the Quiet American, in his usual mixture of idealism and ignorance, decides to bring democracy and
all the other goodies there, that will be the end of this happiness. The Americans will sink into another
quagmire, tens of thousands of people will be killed, and it will all end in disaster.
IT MAY well be that the problem is rooted - inter alia - in the architecture of Washington DC.
This city is full of huge buildings populated with the ministries and other offices of the only
superpower in the world. The people working there feel the tremendous might of their empire. They
look upon the tribal chiefs of Afghanistan and Yemen as a rhinoceros looks down at the ants that rush
around between its feet. The Rhino walks over them without noticing. But the ants survive.
Altogether, the Quiet American resembles Mephistopheles in Goethe's Faust, who defines himself as
the force that "always wants the bad and always creates the good". Only the other way round.
January 6, 2010
THE $30 BILLION PAIR OF UNDERPANTS
Source: Al Jazeera
Almost immediately after it was learned that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian accused of trying
to blow up a US airliner using explosives concealed in his underpants, received training in Yemen, US
politicians called for Barack Obama, the US president, to expand the 'war on terror' - which remains
very much a war despite the administration's official ban of such vocabulary - to that country.
The president obliged, declaring that the US would strike anywhere to prevent another attack.
Such calls were in fact unnecessary, as the US is already involved in Yemen, supervising attacks on
militants that have been credited by analysts with helping to further inflame anti-Americanism and
support for al-Qaeda in the country.
Indeed, far from heralding a more successful US effort to stamp out Islamist terrorism, the soon to be
deepening footprint in Yemen is a sure sign of America's defeat in the war against violent extremism in
the Muslim world.
'Boots on the ground'
Think about it. One angry young man with about three ounces (around 80 grams) of explosive material,
$2,000, and a pair of specially tailored underwear has completely disrupted the US aviation system.
It does not even matter that he failed to blow up the plane.
The costs associated with preventing the next attack from succeeding will measure in the tens of
billions of dollars - new technologies, added law enforcement and security personnel on and off
planes, lost revenues for airline companies and more expensive plane tickets, and of course, the
expansion of the 'war on terror' full on to yet another country, Yemen.
And what happens when the next attacker turns out to have received ideological or logistical training
in yet another country? Perhaps in Nigeria, which is home to a strong and violent Salafi movement, or
anyone of a dozen other African, Gulf, Middle Eastern or South East Asian countries where al-Qaeda
has set up shop?
Will the US ramp up its efforts in a new country each time there is an attempted attack, putting US
"boots on the ground" against an enemy that is impossible to defeat?
Such a policy would fulfill al-Qaeda's wildest dreams, as the US suffers death by a thousand cuts,
bleeding out in an ever wider web of interconnected and unsustainable global conflicts.
The European connection
As with the 9/11 attacks, Europe figures prominently in the current attacks. Then it was Germany, this
time it was London, where Abdulmutallab studied and apparently began his descent into extremism.
Europe's role is not surprising, and in the case of London, particularly apt.
After centuries as a primary purchaser and transporter of slaves to the Americas from west equatorial
Africa, the British used the abolishment of the slave trade to interfere ever more into the economy of
the Niger Delta until it assumed increasing colonial control in the mid third of the 19th century,
creating the modern state of Nigeria as part of the process (the British gained control of Aden and
surrounding areas of Yemen around the same time).
The rampant poverty, corruption and violence that today plague Nigeria are an inheritance of British
rule, which itself was built up on centuries of slave raiding and trading - among the most corrupt and
violent of activities - by the indigenous elites of the region with Europe, a devil's bargain that haunts
this part of the world to the present day.
Should the US be invading London for providing material support to terrorism?
It took decades after the end of the British empire for the impact of British colonialism in South Asia
and Africa to blow back onto British soil. The US has not even finished her imperial moment and it has
The US will now become ever more deeply involved across the arc of instability beginning in Nigeria
and stretching across Africa, the Middle East and into Central Asia.
In the process, it will deepen the mistakes that have made attacks such as the one attempted by
Poverty and oppression
This is clear from the New York Times' New Year's eve editorial about Yemen, which warned of the
importance of "heading off full chaos" in the country.
"Yemen's government is corrupt and repressive," the paper intoned. "But President Ali Abdullah Saleh
seems to want to cooperate."
The world's paper of record is utterly clueless as to the intimate link between the corruption and
oppression of the Yemeni government and its willingness to "cooperate" with the US, and the roots of
radicalism in Yemen.
The New York Times, along with the rest of the mainstream media, have also ignored the role growing
up so privileged in a country such as Nigeria had on Abdulmutallab, who likely saw the "moderation"
(in Western eyes) of his wealthy banker father as a sign of his participation in a system that violated
the most basic ethical premises of his religion and helped support poverty and oppression at home
and across the Muslim world.
If the mainstream press, and with it no doubt the Obama administration, are unwilling to recognise the
inextricable ties between oppression, poverty, corruption and violence by governments like Nigeria
and Yemen, and the rise of religiously grounded extremism and violence there, then its increasing
foot- or boot-print there will strengthen rather than weaken al-Qaeda and similar movements.
Strategy of shame
As I stood in the security line at JFK airport waiting to be frisked before boarding a New Year's day
flight home, another goal, or at least consequence, of the most recent attack became apparent, one
deeply tied to the obsession with physical and sexual honour in radical Islamist ideology: With this one
failed action, the movement will succeed in routinising the systematic physical violation of airline
travellers by our own security personnel as a part of the price of air travel.
Invasive frisking of the most intimate areas of the human body and revealing full body scans represent
from a hardcore Salafi perspective an almost unbearable indignity -one they will surely relish seeing
millions of the enemy routinely suffer, especially when such violations mirror the daily indignities and
sexual humiliation infamously suffered by inmates in Guantanamo and other US-run prisons.
Call it a politics or strategy of shame - another weapon in the al-Qaeda arsenal that the West will have a
hard time finding an answer for and which will erode support for the 'war on terror' from within even as
Western governments strengthen their ties to oppressive front line states.
Osama bin Laden could not have planned it better if he tried.
Mark LeVine is currently visiting professor at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University,
Sweden. His books include Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam
and Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine Since 1989.
December 30, 2009
THE YEAR'S BEST BOOKS
READ, THEN ACT
By Ralph Nader
This is the golden age of muckraking books and documentaries but some of them may have escaped
your attention because reviews and promotions cannot keep up with the sheer volume of material.
Here are my recommendations for your Holiday and later reading time:
1. Achieving the Impossible by Lois Marie Gibbs; Published by the Center for Health, Environment and
Justice (www.chej.org) is an inspiring collection of short stories about how ordinary people have risen
to meet the challenges of toxic pollution confronting their families and communities. The author
herself rose from the Love Canal controversy in Niagara Falls, New York to lead a grand national grass
2. Europe’s Promise: Why the European Way is the Best Hope In An Insecure Age by Steven Hill
(University of California Press, 2010.) His thesis is that Western Europe treats its people better in many
ways than the United States does its people, and not just in social insurance and services. Read,
wonder and galvanize!
3. Grand Illusion: The Myth of Voter Choice in A Two-Party Tyranny by Theresa Amato (New Press, 2009.)
My former campaign manager weighs in with an indictment of the two-party barriers to a competitive
electoral system, candidate ballot access and voter choice. Partly personal memoir of her battles in
2000 and 2004, part history about the decades long ago when third parties could get on the ballot
easier and make a difference and part a series of reforms that only an outraged public can make
4. Priceless Money: Banking Time for Changing Times by Edgar S. Cahn is a revolutionary elevation of
traditional assets in how time can become a currency—a means of exchange that is beyond price—that
does not allow market price to define value. It is a limited edition booklet you’ll never forget, free.
Send two first class stamps to TimeBanksUSA, 5500 39th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20015.
5. Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges (Nation Books, 2009) The Pulitzer Prize winning war
correspondent turned prolific author and lecturer, Mr. Hedges goes to the core of a culture that
cannot distinguish between reality and illusion. He “exposes the mechanisms used to divert us from
confronting the economic, political and moral collapse around us.” In gripping, memorable concrete
prose that resonates the moment we let ourselves think.
6. The Buyout of America: How Private Equity Will Cause the Next Great Credit Crisis by Josh Kosman
(Portfolio Hardcover, 2009.) Think it is all about the brand names of a corrupt, reckless Wall Street? Try
the entirely unregulated private equity firms that acquire and strip mine them under the guise of
saving them, then leave behind debt time bombs and mass layoffs as the value of these leveraged
buyouts is sucked out by the corporate bunccaneers. Kosman predicts a coming private equity-caused
big bubble crisis.
7. Ordinary People Doing the Extraordinary: The Story of Ed and Joyce Koupal and the Initiative
Process by Dwayne Hunn and Doris Ober. This husband-wife team “just ordinary people,” in their
words, started out powerless and in over a decade, largely in the seventies, built Initiative power to
qualify reforms on the California ballot for the popular vote. A story for the ages that strips away
excuses steeped in a sense of powerlessness. This small but invigorating paperback can be obtained
from The People’s Lobby (peopleslobby.hypermart.net) for $15, including shipping. California St., Unit
201, San Francisco, CA 94109.
8. Getting Away With Torture: Secret Government, War Crimes, and the Rule of Law by Christopher H.
Pyle (Potomac Books, 2009) A former captain in army intelligence and Congressional staffer, now
teaching constitutional law at Mount Holyoke College, Mr. Pyle shatters our belief in the rule of law
before the unconstitutional government of Bush and Cheney in waging war crimes and torture, while
seeking Congressional amnesty to those responsible for implementing their rogue, secret regime.
Veteran constitutional law specialist, Louis Fisher asserts these practices have “left American weaker
politically, economically, morally, and legally.”
9. It Takes A Pillage by Nomi Prins (Wiley, 2009.) A former managing director of Goldman Sachs, who quit
Wall Street, and now is dedicated to educating and mobilizing the American people so that they press
for reforms to prevent myopic greed from bringing down our economy again and to hold the
speculators and crooks accountable. She “gets inside how the banks looted the Treasury, stole the
bailout, and continued with business as usual,” in the words of one reviewer.
10. Censored 2010: The Top 25 Censored Stories of 2008-09 edited by Peter Phillips and Mickey Huff
with Project Censored (Seven Stories Press, 2009.) This book contains investigative pieces on
important topics too often neglected by the mainstream news organizations. Read this book, it will
make you angry and then it will energize you to take on a significant societal problem in the New Year.
Ralph Nader is the author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!, a novel.
December 23, 2009
ON INDO-PAK COOPERATION: A REPLY TO HOODBHOY'S ARTICLE BELOW
Arshad M. Khan
Sick of the toadying in Dawn and the shameless aping of the worst in Western culture by Daily Times, I
have not read either of these organs in a long time. The Hindu is a different matter (and Sainath a
magnificent journalist) though I missed Pervez Hoodbhoy's recent article until I came across a reprint
in ZSpace. People in Pakistan should be grateful to activists like him although some have accused him
of the native Orientalist or brown sahib syndrome (http://www.counterpunch.org/shahid12022009.
html), Along with Ahmad Rashid the peripatetic apologist - thus best-selling author - for US imperialism
who never met a war he didn't like, Hoodbhoy is a strong supporter of fighting the Taleban. He now
wants India to join in the fight against all terror groups. Attractive superficially, closer analysis shows
the idea is dead wrong or perhaps more correctly half-wrong. Closer cooperation between the two
countries is long overdue, but jointly fighting terror groups fostering multifaceted agendas where
religion is merely a tool for political goals is an impossibility.
That religion is not the main motivator behind the Taleban, is clear from the fact that there was no
Taleban directed violence in Pakistan just a few years ago. It is only after hundreds of Pashtun
civilians (and now thousands) had been killed in bombings that the Taleban reacted. Why should India
join in an idiotic, unnecessary war caused by Pentagon war planners who went to fight al-Qaeda and
ended up fighting the Pashtun people? Why should India wish to turn its capital into the bomb-
ravaged Islamabad described by Hoodbhoy or Amritsar into its neighbor Lahore? The idea that the
Taleban will take over Pakistan, or its military or its nuclear weapons (threatening India) is idle
speculation particularly as the military has shown itself to be disciplined even in fighting a civil war.
Tracing the history of the conflict, it is easy to chronicle the errors in judgment starting with the war
itself. It might well have been avoided if we in the US had understood Pashtun customs and traditions
(Pashtunwalli). We would have known they would never surrender bin Laden - a situation no different
from the present one in that he is still at large - but we could have negotiated terms rendering al-
Qaeda impotent and vulnerable to a later Special Forces operation.
When George Bush decided to join the baying for revenge, he chose the cheap way. Starting with a
massive bombing campaign costing thousands of innocent Afghan civilian lives, he reduced our
casualties at the cost of alienating the population. Next using the Northern Alliance, in effect joining
them in what was until then an incipient civil war, further embittered the Pashtuns. At the conclusion
of operations, the Alliance reaped the rewards, becoming the Afghan army -- still led by Tajik officers
with little or no majority Pashtun participation -- and monopolizing the important cabinet positions in
the government. All of this heightened by corruption especially at the lower district levels has thrown
Pashtuns into the arms of the Taleban. Insurgencies cannot sustain themselves over a long period
without the tacit support of the local population, and this support was demonstrated openly in the
recent election fiasco with a non-existent voter turnout.
How can Afghanistan have representative government without the active support of the largest ethnic
group, the Pashtuns? And how can the Pashtuns be represented without the participation of their
most ardent defenders, the Taleban. Any political settlement will have to include them or the war will
continue. Thus a more useful role for NATO including US forces would be to set up as a peacekeeping
force and broker an agreement between the Northern Alliance and the Pashtuns. That the religious
Taleban will be included is a natural consequence of US policy in the region alienating the public from
impotent secular parties.
So, should India and Pakistan work together? Yes, of course but not in war; instead in joining for
economic development. I have in mind a grand design modeled on the European Union that finally
discards the legacy and shackles of colonialism. It would include India, Pakistan and Bangladesh with
the possibility of adding Afghanistan at a later date.
As with the European Community, the advantages are manifold - a few highlights:
*The savings in military expenditure could, at the very least, revamp the decaying infrastructure in
each country. The urban elite constantly touting progress should spend a couple of hours in a third
class compartment in summer, or ride a city bus, and then compare the experience to Korea (South or
North), a place similar or worse economically after the Second World War.
* The territorial imperative would be reduced to irrelevancy, and it would finesse the Kashmir problem,
particularly if a later unified Kashmir is promised autonomy within the larger whole.
* Indian would acquire large additional markets in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
* Pakistan and Bangladesh would have access to technological expertise supplementing their own
On a final note, I wonder if any readers have visited the campus of an American university lately.
Among the Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi students there, they will see an unexpected coalescing
of groups. The Punjabis (Indian or Pakistani) group together and the same holds for Bengalis. Given
the freedom, it seems language and culture surmount artificial national borders in human interaction.
Perhaps it is presumptuous of me to suggest the following but I bet if Manmohan Singh had the choice
of spending an evening with a fellow Punjabi, Gilani, or with a Gujarati or Bengali or South Indian for
company, he would choose Gilani. And Advani (a fellow alumnus with Musharraf of St. Patrick's in
Karachi) would surely love to retire in his beloved Sindh -- one is, after all, an outsider everywhere but
in his land of birth.
Let's get to work.
December 23, 2009
CAN INDIA AND PAKISTAN FIGHT TERROR TOGETHER?
Source: Pervez Hoodbhoy's ZSpace Page
Inseparable by geography, Pakistan and India are Siamese twins that have emerged together from the
womb of history. For better or for worse, their futures will always remain inextricably tied together.
Today, one of the two is in deep trouble. The ferocious militant fanaticism of Pathan tribals, once
sequestered in the mountains of Waziristan and Swat, has migrated down into the plains and across
the country. Every city of Pakistan has been attacked, some repeatedly and without respite. With
threats, abductions, beheadings, and daily suicide bombings, extremists have drastically changed the
way Pakistanis live.
Just a couple of months ago, Pakistanis had heaved a sigh of relief. A brief lull in terrorist attacks had
followed the army's successful operation against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in Swat, and the
killing by an American drone of TTP's supremo, Baitullah Mehsud. Some hubris-filled "analysts" - who
incessantly chatter on Pakistan's numerous private television channels - claimed that the TTP had
been mortally wounded. But they were dead wrong.
Islamabad is now a city of fear as the TTP retaliates. Traffic crawls past concrete blocks placed across
its roads as helmeted soldiers peer suspiciously from behind their machine-guns. Restaurants barely
function, and markets are deserted. Still, the attackers appear unstoppable and, as in Peshawar, they
have paralyzed the city. Some attacks are more spectacular than others, but even the outstanding
ones are forgotten once the next one happens. Explosives inside a car blow up over a hundred
shoppers in Peshawar's crowded Meena Bazaar; a suicide bomber detonates himself in the girls'
cafeteria of the International Islamic University in Islamabad; three simultaneous attacks hit police
institutes in Lahore; school children are shredded by ball bearings from a suicide bomber's exploding
jacket in Kohat,...
Other recent attacks - against hard targets - were even more dramatic. Just days earlier the headlines
had been dominated by Taliban militants who had stormed the apparently impregnable General
Headquarters (GHQ) of the Pakistan Army in Rawalpindi, Islamabad's sister city. The 20-hour siege,
followed diligently by private television channels, showed meticulous planning and execution that
culminated in hostage-taking and killing. Still more recently, the heavily protected ISI headquarters in
Peshawar was blown up by a suicide car bomber. The message was clear: no place in Pakistan is safe
any more, not even the safest ones - particularly those belonging to former handlers and mentors.
Incredibly, Pakistan's foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, says that Pakistan is "compiling hard
evidence of India's involvement" in terrorist attacks upon Pakistan's public and its armed forces. If he,
and the Interior Minister, are correct then we must conclude that the Indians are psychotics
possessed with a death wish, or perhaps plain stupid. While India's assistance for Baloch insurgents
could conceivably make strategic sense, helping the jihadists simply does not.
As Pakistan staggers from one bombing to the other, some Indians must be secretly pleased. Indeed,
there are occasional verbalizations: Is this not sweet revenge for the horrors of Mumbai perpetrated
by Lashkar-e-Taiba? Shouldn't India feel satisfaction as Pakistan reels from the stinging poison of its
domestically reared snakes?
But most Indians are probably less than enthusiastic in stoking fires across the border. In fact, the
majority would like to forget that Pakistan exists. With a 6% growth rate, booming hi-tech exports, and
expectations of a semi-superpower status, they feel that India has no need to engage a struggling
Pakistan with its endless litany of problems.
Of course, some would like to hurt Pakistan. Extremists in India ask: shouldn't one increase the pain of
a country - with which India has fought three bloody wars - by aiding its enemies? Perhaps do another
Bangladesh on Pakistan someday?
These fringe elements, fortunately, are inconsequential today. Rational self-interest demands that
India not aid jihadists. Imagine the consequences if central authority in Pakistan disappears or is
sharply weakened. Splintered into a hundred jihadist lashkars, each with its own agenda and tactics,
Pakistan's territory would become India's eternal nightmare. When Mumbai-II occurs - as it surely would
in such circumstances - India's options in dealing with nuclear Pakistan would be severely limited.
The Indian Army would be powerless. As the Americans have discovered at great cost, the mightiest
war machines on earth cannot prevent holy warriors from crossing borders. Internal collaborators,
recruited from a domestic Muslim population that feels itself alienated from Hindu-India, would
connive with jihadists. Subsequently, as Indian forces retaliate against Muslims - innocent and
otherwise - the action-reaction cycle would rip the country apart.
So, how can India protect itself from invaders across its western border and grave injury? Just as
importantly, how can we in Pakistan assure that the fight against fanatics is not lost?
Let me make an apparently outrageous proposition: in the coming years, India's best protection is
likely to come from its traditional enemy, the Pakistan Army. Therefore, India ought to now help, not
fight, against it.
This may sound preposterous. After all, the two countries have fought three and a half wars over six
decades. During periods of excessive tension, they have growled at each other while meaningfully
pointing towards their respective nuclear arsenals. Most recently, after heightened tensions following
the Mumbai massacre, Pakistani troops were moved out from NWFP towards the eastern border.
Baitullah Mehsud's offer to jointly fight India was welcomed by the Pakistan Army.
And yet, the imperative of mutual survival makes a common defense inevitable. Given the rapidly
rising threat within Pakistan, the day for joint actions may not be very far away.
Today Pakistan is bearing the brunt. Its people, government and armed forces are under unrelenting
attack. South Waziristan, a war of necessity rather than of choice, will certainly not be the last one. A
victory here will not end terrorism, although a stalemate will embolden jihadists in South Punjab,
including Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammed. The cancer of religious militancy has spread across
Pakistan, and it will take decades to defeat.
This militancy does not merely exist because America occupies Afghanistan. A US withdrawal, while
welcome, will not end Pakistan's problems. As an ideological movement, the jihadists want to transform
society as part of their wider agenda. They ride on the backs of their partners, the mainstream
religious political parties like Jamat-e-Islami and Jamiat-e-Ulema-Pakistan. None of these have
condemned the suicide bombings of Pakistani universities, schools, markets, mosques, police and
Pakistan's political leadership and army must not muddy the waters, especially now that public sanction
has finally been obtained for fighting extremism in Swat and Waziristan. Self-deception weakens, and
enormously increases vulnerability. Wars can only be won if nations have a clear rallying slogan.
Therefore the battle against religious extremism will require identifying it - by name - as the enemy.
India should derive no satisfaction from Pakistan's predicament. Although religious extremists see
ordinary Muslims as munafiqs (hypocrites) - and therefore free to be blown up in bazaars and mosques
- they hate Hindus even more. In their calculus, hurting India would buy even more tickets for heaven
than hurting Pakistan. They dream of ripping apart both societies, or starting a war - preferably nuclear
- between Pakistan and India.
A common threat needs a common defense. But this is difficult unless the Pakistan-India conflict is
reduced in intensity. In fact the extremist groups that threaten both countries today are an unintended
consequence of Pakistan's frustrations at Indian obduracy in Kashmir.
To create a future working alliance with Pakistan, and in deference to basic democratic principles,
India must therefore be seen as genuinely working towards some kind of resolution of the Kashmir
issue. Over the past two decades India has been morally isolated from Kashmiri Muslims and
continues to incur the very considerable costs of an occupying power in the Valley. Indian soldiers
continue to needlessly die - and to oppress and kill Kashmiri innocents.
It is time for India to fuzz the LOC, make it highly permeable, and demilitarize it up to some mutually
negotiated depth on both sides. Without peace in Kashmir the forces of cross-border jihad, and its
hate-filled holy warriors, will continue to receive unnecessary succor.
India also needs to allay Pakistan's fears on Balochistan. Although Pakistan's current federal structure
is the cause of the problem - a fact which the government is now finally addressing through the newly
announced Balochistan package - nevertheless it is possible that India is aiding some insurgent
groups. Statements have been made in India that Balochistan provides New Delhi with a handle to
exert pressure on Pakistan. This is unacceptable.
While there is no magic wand, confidence building measures (CBMs) continue to be important for
managing the Pakistan-India conflict and bringing down the decibel level of mutual rhetoric. To be
sure, CBMs can be easily disparaged as palliatives that do not address the underlying causes of a
conflict. Nevertheless, looking at those initiated over the years shows that they have held up even in
adverse circumstances. More are needed.
The reason for India to want rapprochement with Pakistan, and vice versa, has nothing to do with
feelings of friendship or goodwill. It has only to do with survival. For us in Pakistan, this is even more
The author teaches at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad. A shorter version of this article was
published simultaneously on 28 November 2009 by two of the largest newspapers in Pakistan (Dawn)
and India (The Hindu)
December 16, 2009
WE EXPECT A NOBEL PEACE LAUREATE PRESIDENT TO ...
Arshad M. Khan
President Obama in his acceptance speech in Oslo reiterated the concept of just war - an idea
proposed by Reinhold Niebuhr in 1932. Quoted often by people trying to justify illegitimate wars
against so-called intractable enemies, no one presents the context of his thesis. First, it was written
during the twin gathering storms of Nazi expansionism and Japanese imperialism. Second, it was in
response to his brother Richard's call for Christian nonviolence in obedience to God's commandments
and a trust in His ability to protect the innocent. Second guessing God on the most important
commandment leads surely down a slippery slope to moral bankruptcy.
And Mr. President, please do not recount the tired example of Adolf Hitler. Who knows what would
have happened if the declaration of war had not united the German people behind their government.
For all we know Hitler might well have been assassinated by people angered by the destruction of
German democracy and the politicization of civil life. No war and countless millions of lives saved.
Jews would have continued to live happily in Europe and the Israel / Palestine issue would not exist.
Just war requires an imminent threat. Not even the wildest imagination can consider the Afghan
insurgents a credible threat to the U.S. A terrorist attack? Perhaps, but it is even more likely when we
are busy killing civilians there at an astonishing rate. The average kill ratio in a drone attack is 2%
meaning 98 innocent civilians, usually women and children, die for every two insurgents. Knowingly
killing civilians negates Niebuhr's just war, and according to Judge Richard Goldstone constitutes a
violation of the norms of modern international laws of war - a polite way of calling it a war crime.
We expect a Peace Laureate President to fight for the basic needs of his people. In a society where
older laid-off workers find it extremely difficult to find work, the least we can do is provide health care.
To cover the unemployed 55-64 age group with Medicare would cost $1.65 billion each year. Our
additional 30,000 troops being dispatched to Afghanistan will cost $30 billion. Reducing the number by
2000 would easily cover the extra cost of Medicare with change left over to help desperate schools in
our failing education system.
We expect a Peace Laureate President to sign the Anti-personnel Land Mine Treaty banning their use.
We, to our shame, are among the countries who have not signed. Our acceptance of the treaty would
remove the fig leaf used by many major powers and alleviate the distrust and fear of being caught at a
disadvantage. Yes, we have the North and South Korean border to defend but surely our military
ingenuity and overwhelming firepower can devise an alternative.
We expect a Peace Laureate President to be at the forefront of the campaign to ban cluster bombs.
Many of these munitions fail to explode, and later victimize farmers plowing fields and children who
pick them up as toys. To date the Convention on Cluster Munitions has 103 signatories and 24
ratifications. Just like what happened with dum-dum bullets and other horrors of human invention, our
ability to defend ourselves is not going to be markedly diminished if we rescind the use of cluster
bombs but we will certainly reduce the pain and suffering endured by innocent civilians. The issue
would gather further momentum under our leadership and we would regain some of the respect and
moral authority we seem to have surrendered in many parts of the world. The time to act is now and
the cost to us insignificant.
We expect a Peace Laureate President to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The UN
General Assembly adopted the Convention on November 20, 1989 the 30th anniversary of the UN
Declaration of the Rights of the Child. In the intervening twenty years every member of the UN has
signed and ratified the convention except us. It requires member governments to appear periodically
before the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and be examined on the status of child rights in
their country. Surely, our country can defend our treatment of children and doubtless it would benefit
us to be seen as fellow members of the world community.
We expect a Peace Laureate President to work genuinely towards a world free from the menace of
nuclear weapons. President Obama's rhetoric in this discourse was listed as one reason for the award
and his acceptance is an implied contract. But rhetoric is not enough. In the final analysis, he will be
judged by his actions. Should he fail to do anything in this arena, an honorable man might return the
medal and the prize money at the end of his term in office.
December 9, 2009
INVOLUNTARY CONSEQUENCES: U.S. POLICY PROMOTING ISLAMIC FUNDAMENTALISM
Arshad M. Khan
As we survey our involvement in the Middle East over the past half century, a common thread weaves
a distinct pattern. Wherever we go, we alienate the people from secular government and drive them
to religious fundamentalism.
In Iran we organized a coup (Operation Ajax) against the elected parliamentary government of Dr.
Mossadegh at the behest of the British. The subsequent dictatorial regime of the Shah shutdown all
civil society dissent. No opprobrium for the Shah's notorious secret police - he was our golden boy.
As a result, dissent was forced into the mosques and the clerics became the leaders.
In Lebanon our ally and sometimes proxy, Israel, invaded in 1982 with the object of driving out the
PLO. At the cost of more than 20,000 lives and the massacres at Sabra and Shatila, they were
successful. But then they stayed in the South. Some claimed they wanted the water of the Litani river;
the Israelis said they wanted a buffer zone. Whatever the reason, they stayed, and the Shia fought a
guerrilla war eventually driving them out. In the process, Amal the party representing the Shia lost out
to the overtly religious Hezbollah.
One consequence of the weakened PLO was the rise of Hamas. Palestinians in the occupied
territories eventually tired of the "peace process", where the operative word was process not peace,
and it was soon apparent the Israelis would simply keep negotiating while seizing more and more land
and building ever more illegal settlements. When this "process" died of natural causes, the Israelis
had inserted a quarter of a million settlers in settlements dotted all across the Palestinian territories.
The Palestinians themselves, fed up with the secular PLO's inability to rein in Israeli expansion and
secure a peace settlement, voted in Hamas, a radical religious party known and respected for its social
services which eased the misery of Palestinian daily existence.
In Iraq we have managed to replace the secular Ba'ath party with Sunni and Shia groups in the south,
and the Kurds in the north running a de facto autonomous state. The voting in this 'democracy' is
entirely along religious/ethnic lines. During Ba'ath party rule, the Prime Minister Tariq Aziz was a
Christian; now the Christians are leaving in droves. Power in the current Shia-majority government is
held mostly by religious exiles who sought refuge in Iran during Saddam Hussein's rule. The status of
women, much vaunted by our hypocritical media in Afghanistan, is given nary a mention as it declines
In Afghanistan, the Taleban became the natural heirs of our policy of funding and supporting the
religion-stoked Mujahideen against the Soviet occupation. This of course included a certain as-yet-
unknown Osama bin Laden. We are now back in Afghanistan, where it is clear to any observer not
soaked in bankrupt military strategy that any final settlement will have to include the Taleban-led
Pashtun majority. Worse still our Af-Pak policy is de-legitimizing a secular government in Pakistan by
forcing it to act against its own people. The religious parties, a previously nominal force, are eagerly
awaiting the next election.
December, 04 2009
PRESIDENT OBAMA'S AFGHANISTAN ESCALATION SPEECH: AN ASSESSMENT
By Phyllis Bennis,
There was one way in which President Obama's escalation speech brought significant relief to the 59%
of people in this country, as well as the overwhelming majorities of people in Afghanistan, Pakistan,
the Middle East and elsewhere who oppose the U.S. war in Afghanistan: It was a pretty lousy speech.
That is, it had none of the power, the lyricism, the passion for history, the capacity to engage and to
persuade virtually every listener, even those who may ultimately disagree, that have characterized the
president's earlier addresses.
And for that failure, we should be very grateful.
Because everything else in this politically and militarily defensive speech reflected accountability not
to President Obama's base, the extraordinary mobilization of people who swept this anti-war and anti-
racist candidate into office, but rather to the exigencies of Washington's traditional military, political,
and corporate power-brokers who define "national security."
In a speech like this, widely acknowledged to be setting the framework for the security/foreign
policy/military paradigm for the bulk of Obama's still-new presidency, location matters. West Point was
crucial partly for tactical reasons (nowhere but a military setting, with young cadets under tight
command, could the president count on applause and a standing ovation in response to a huge
escalation of an unpopular war). But it was also important for Obama to claim West Point as his own
after Bush's 2002 speech there, an address that first identified preemptive war as the basis of the
Bush Doctrine and a new foreign policy paradigm.
There was an important honesty in one aspect of President Obama's speech. All claims that the U.S.
war was bringing democracy to Afghanistan, modernizing a backward country, and liberating Afghan
women, are off the agenda - except when the Pentagon identifies them as possible "force multipliers"
to achieve the military goal. And that goal hasn't changed - "to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaeda
in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the
future." So now it's official. It's not about Afghanistan and Afghans at all - it's all about us.
It's a good thing the White House has dropped that rhetoric as the past eight years has brought few
social improvements. Afghanistan ranks second to last in the UN's Human Development Index, and just
in the last few weeks UNICEF identified Afghanistan as one of the three worst places in the world for a
child to be born. As for improving the lives of women Afghanistan retains the second-highest level of
maternal mortality of any country in the world - even after eight years of U.S. occupation. Is further
military escalation likely to change that?
Less than two days after his escalation speech, Obama will host a jobs summit at the White House.
Whatever his official message, the millions of unemployed in the U.S. know that 30,000 more troops in
Afghanistan adds $30 billion this year to the already out-of-control war budget - and means that the
only jobs available will be in the military. What clearer example could there be of the Afghanistan war
as a war against poor people - those who die in Afghanistan and those left jobless and desperate here
at home? A week later, Obama travels to Norway to accept the Nobel Peace Prize. Not even the best
speechwriters will be able to portray sending thousands of young women and men across the world to
kill and die as evidence of the newest Nobel laureate's commitment to global peace.
And the day of the speech itself was World AIDS Day. The UNAIDS noted that all of its country goals -
treatment for 6-7 million people, screening 70 million pregnant women, providing preventive services
to 37 million people - could be accomplished with just $25 billion. That's what the United States will
spend fighting in Afghanistan in just three months. Timing matters.
The result was a speech that reflected Obama's centrist-in-chief effort to please all his constituencies.
Some will be quite satisfied. Mainstream Republicans were delighted. They were careful not to praise
too much, but as Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss noted, President Obama's escalation was "the
right analysis, the right decision." General McChrystal, Obama's handpicked top commander in
Afghanistan, was quite satisfied: He had asked for 40,000 new troops, and got 30,000 U.S. troops and a
promise (we'll see...) of 5,000 more from NATO and other allies. More significantly, he and Bush hold-
over Secretary of Defense Robert Gates got the president's endorsement of a full-scale
Mainstream Democrats were likely delighted - assertion of their party's military credentials, with talk of
a "transition to Afghan responsibility" to soothe their constituents' outrage. They may be uneasy about
the additional costs, but could take solace in Obama's promise to "work closely with Congress to
address these costs as we work to bring down our deficit." Just how anyone would "address" these
spiraling billions remains unclear.
The ones not happy - besides the young cadets in the audience, other soldiers facing new and
endlessly renewed deployments, and their families - are the massive numbers of people who swept
Obama into office on a mobilized tide of anti-war, anti-racist and anti-poverty commitments. Talk of
beginning a "transition" 18 months down the line, with NO commitment for an actual troop withdrawal,
isn't going to satisfy them.
And President Obama seemed to know that. So he resorted to an old tactic, long relied on by George
W. Bush: book-ending his speech with the trope of 9/11, pleading for a return to the moment "when
this war began, we were united - bound together by the fresh memory of a horrific attack, and by the
determination to defend our homeland and the values we hold dear. I refuse to accept the notion that
we cannot summon that unity again." What Obama left out, and perhaps hoped that we have forgotten,
was that the human solidarity that created such unity in the wake of the 9/11 attacks - not only across
the United States, but around the world as well - began to erode as soon as the war in Afghanistan
began. Because we knew then, as we know today, that the war in Afghanistan was never legitimate,
was never moral, was never going to keep us safe," and was never a "good war."
What did the speech say?
* Thirty thousand new U.S. troops will be sent to Afghanistan "at the fastest possible pace." In July
2011, 18 months from now, the U.S. will "begin to transfer our forces out of Afghanistan."
* No more "blank checks" to the Afghan government; the U.S. expects those it assists to combat
corruption and "deliver for the people," and that those "who are ineffective or corrupt to be held
* The U.S. goals in Afghanistan are to "deny al Qaeda a safe haven. We must reverse the Taliban's
momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity
of Afghanistan's Security Forces and government, so that they can take lead responsibility for
* The government of Pakistan is our friend and ally, and "our success in Afghanistan is inextricably
linked to our partnership with Pakistan."
* Unlike the Soviets and other earlier empires in Afghanistan, the U.S. has "no interest in occupying
your country. We will support efforts by the Afghan government to open the door to those Taliban who
abandon violence and respect the human rights of their fellow citizens. And we will seek a partnership
with Afghanistan grounded in mutual respect."
What was left out
* The 18-month timeline references only the "beginning" of transferring U.S. troops out of Afghanistan;
there was no reference to finishing transfer of all troops out of Afghanistan and ending the
occupation. The words "exit" or "exit strategy" do not appear in the speech, and the word "withdraw"
appears only in a reference to what the U.S. will NOT do.
* There was absolutely no explanation of how this year's $30 billion additional costs for the 30,000 more
troops, on top of the billions more already in the pipeline, would be paid for. Obama referred only to
his intention to consult with Congress to "address" these costs while bringing down the deficit. The
inevitable impact this spending would have on jobs, health care, or climate change was ignored.
* The speech assumed Afghan support for the U.S. occupation, ignoring the massive evidence to the
contrary. Just hours before Obama spoke, the Wall Street Journal stated matter-of-factly that "when
the U.S. forces enter an area, the levels of violence generally increase, causing anger and
dissatisfaction among the local population." It quoted a pro-Karzai parliamentarian who said, "If new
troops come and are stationed in civilian areas, when they draw Taliban attacks civilians will end up
* Obama paid no attention to the increasingly visible opposition to the Karzai government and the U.S.
occupation from the majority Pashtun population - whose southern and eastern Afghanistan territory
will be the operations center for the new troop escalation. The Journal quoted a shopkeeper in the
southern city of Kandahar who said, "If we get more troops, there will be more bloodshed. Only
Afghans themselves can solve this problem." The Pashtuns, who make up the majority of the Taliban,
are increasingly defining Afghanistan's civil war as an ethnic war against supporters of the old U.S.-
backed Northern Alliance, whose Tajik and Uzbek militants now make up the majority of the Afghan
* There was no reference to the U.S.-paid mercenaries (both local and internationals, all paid through U.
S. contractor corporations) in Afghanistan, whose numbers rose by 40% just between June and
September, now totaling 104,101, and already outnumbering U.S. troops.
* While claiming the U.S. may not have the same interests as earlier empires, Obama has now
acknowledged that the U.S. is occupying Afghan land not to protect Afghan interests, but to protect the
U.S. and U.S. citizens.
* There was no acknowledgement of the widely held view that there are fewer than 100 members of al
Qaeda in Afghanistan, and perhaps as few as 300 over the border in Pakistan - so the U.S. will now be
deploying more than 100,000 of its own troops, plus tens of thousands of NATO and other allied troops,
in a global, lethal, impoverishing war to go after 400 people.
* Obama spoke of Afghanistan as a war of necessity, saying "We did not ask for this fight. On
September 11, 2001, 19 men hijacked four airplanes and used them to murder nearly 3,000 people." He
ignored the fact that none of the hijackers were Afghans, none lived in Afghanistan (they lived in
Hamburg), none trained in Afghanistan (they trained in Florida), and none went to flight school in
Afghanistan (that was in Minnesota).
* Obama spoke of the existing involvement of NATO and other allied governments, and asked for
additional troop commitments; he did not mention the massive opposition to the war all those
government face (70% opposition in the UK, the highest troop contributor), with several countries
pulling their troops out. He described the "broad coalition of 43 nations that support our aims," but
ignored the reality that many of those nations have deployed troops numbering only in the double or
even single digits - one from Georgia, two from Iceland, four from Austria, seven each from Ireland and
Jordan, 10 from Bosnia, etc.
* The speech acknowledged that the recent election of President Karzai was "marred by fraud," but
maintained the fiction that Karzai's presidency is somehow still "consistent with Afghanistan's laws and
constitution." There was no acknowledgement of the widespread Afghan view of Karzai as
simultaneously corrupt, incompetent, and dependent on the U.S. occupation, and that trying to win
"hearts and minds" to back a government lacking local legitimacy ensures failure.
* Describing an alleged "partnership" with Pakistan, Obama ignored the danger of a U.S. troop
escalation further destabilizing Pakistan, and sidelined the fact that recent polls indicate 59% of
Pakistanis view the U.S. as the greatest threat, more than three times as those who see arch-rival India
as the most threatening, and almost six times more than those who identify the Taliban. Obama stayed
silent about the on-going special forces and drone strikes in Pakistan, with no indication whether his
future escalation will include ratcheting up those attacks.
* There was no reference to the need for a broad regional diplomatic strategy; the word "India" did not
appear in the speech and Obama ignored Islamabad's concerns vis-à-vis India, which shape much of
Pakistan's historic support for the Taliban and other insurgent forces in Afghanistan. He thus
disregarded the most important regional dynamics at work.
* While referencing the U.S. "transition" out of Iraq, Obama didn't acknowledge the level of violence
continuing there, where more civilians continue to die than are dying in Afghanistan, nor the 113,731
mercenaries bolstering the U.S. military there. While proposing Iraq as a model for getting U.S. troops
out, he ignored the reality that there are still 124,000 U.S. troops occupying Iraq.
Anti-War Escalation Needed
Near the end of his speech, Obama tried to speak to his antiwar one-time supporters, speaking to the
legacy of Vietnam. It was here that the speech's internal weakness was perhaps most clear. Obama
refused to respond to the actual analogy between the quagmire of Vietnam, which led to the collapse
of Johnson's Great Society programs, and the threat to Obama's ambitious domestic agenda collapsing
under the pressure of funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, he created straw analogies,
ignoring the massive challenge of waging an illegitimate, unpopular war at a moment of dire economic
Obama also did not acknowledge that about 30% of all U.S. casualties in the 8-year war in Afghanistan
have occurred during the 11 months of his presidency. He did not remind us that the cost of this war,
with the new escalation, will be about $100 billion a year, or $2 billion every week, or more than $11
million every hour. He didn't tell us that the same one-year amount, $100 billion, could cover the cost
of ALL of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals: clean water, health care, primary
education and vaccinations for the people of every one of the poorest 21 countries in the world.
He didn't ask us to consider what adding another $100 billion - let alone $500 billion, or half a TRILLION
dollars over the next five years - to the already ballooning deficit will do to our chances for real health
President Obama didn't ask us that. But we know the answer to that question. We need to build a
movement that can respond to that answer, that can respond to the new challenges of these new
conditions - because while this is not a new war, we face a new political moment. We need to build new
alliances into a movement that can bring this war and occupation to a rapid end, so that we can begin
to make good on our real obligations to the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as to the people of
our own country who struggle to find jobs, health care, and climate justice. We need to build a
movement with roots in the trade unions, in the labor movement, and among those struggling for
economic rights, particularly among communities of color. We have to push Congress to make good on
their "concerns" regarding this new escalation by refusing to pay for it, and to support those members
of Congress who are trying to do just that. Congress hasn't given Obama a blank check for this war yet
- not even a $30 billion check. And there's still time for us to make sure they don't.
We have a lot of work to do.
Phyllis Bennis is a Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and co-author with David Wildman of the
forthcoming Ending the US War in Afghanistan: A Primer.
December 2, 2009
AFGHANISTAN AND ELKHART, INDIANA
The Twin Frauds of Obama
By Paul Craig Roberts
Goldman Sachs senior executives are arming themselves with New York gun permits, according to
Alice Schroeder on Bloomberg.com. The banksters “are now equipped to defend themselves if there
is a populist uprising against the bank.”
One can understand why the banksters are worried. The company, now known as Gold Sacks, has a
large responsibility for the financial crisis and the fraudulent “securities” that wrecked the world
economy and Americans’ pensions. A former Gold Sachs CEO had control of the US Treasury during
the Bush regime from which he diverted $750 billion to bail out the banks, thus supplying them with
free capital. Gold Sachs made $27,000 million during the first three quarters of 2009 and is paying out
massive bonuses, leaving the busted taxpayers with the debt and interest charges.
Little wonder the US can’t afford health care for the uninsured and unemployed. It is far more
important to finance multi-million dollar bonuses for investment bankers. I mean, what would we do
Of course, it is not really capitalism. It is an oligarchy or a financial plutocracy.
In a failed state, the government’s priorities are totally separate from those of the people. The US can’
t afford health care or a bailout for jobless homeowners, but it can afford a pointless war and multi-
million dollar bonuses for banksters who wrecked the economy.
Millions of laid-off workers lost their health insurance subsidies on December 1, the day President
Obama announced a $30 billion “surge” in Afghanistan.
The expensive “surge” came 24 hours after the Detroit Free Press published a 127-page supplement
of home foreclosures in its metro area. In Michigan 48 per cent of mortgages are on properties that
are worth less than the loan, according to a report from First American CoreLogic.
As bad as it is in Michigan, the state ranks seventh in foreclosures, so six states are in even more dire
Why does President Obama think the US can afford a war in Afghanistan when the US economy is
falling apart? Massive joblessness. Massive homelessness. Millions of Americans without medical
The additional $30 billion for the war comes on top of the $65 billion already appropriated for the year.
These appropriations are always fattened with supplementary appropriations. The true cost is well in
excess of $100,000,000,000.
Whose going to pay for it? Democratic Representative David Obey, chairman of the House
Appropriations Committee proposes to raise income taxes on everyone earning more than $30,000.
This is called “trickle-up” economics. You tax the little guy and give the money to the armaments
There was a time when Democratic presidents represented the little man, and Republicans
represented business. Today both parties represent the moneyed interests. On December 3 at the
jobs summit with business leaders, Obama said, “We don’t have enough public dollars to fill the hole
of private dollars that was created as a consequence of the crisis.”
In other words, all the public’s money has been spent on the banks and the wars.
Despite Democratic majorities in the House and Senate and the ease with which Obama won the
presidential election over McCain/Palin, the Democratic Party has totally collapsed. The Democrats
have abandoned every constituency. Democrats have discarded the American people. Democrats, in
pursuit of campaign contributions, represent the moneyed interests on Wall Street, the munitions
companies, the insurance companies, the agri-businesses that have destroyed independent farmers,
despoilers of the environment, unaccountable police, and the builders of detention centers. The
exception is Rep. Dennis Kucinich.
The Democrats have become brownshirt Republicans.
The American people, except for the one percent of super-rich, have been abandoned.
Obama had a different message during the presidential campaign. On May 4, 2008, he went to Elkhart,
Indiana, to sympathize with the unemployed. On February 9, 2009, just after his inauguration, he
returned to Elkhart to say:
“You know, we tend to take the measure of the economic crisis we face in numbers and statistics. But
when we say we’ve lost 3.6 million jobs since this recession began – nearly 600,000 in the past month
alone; when we say that this area has lost jobs faster than anywhere else in America, with an
unemployment rate over 15 percent; when we talk about layoffs at companies like Monaco Coach,
Keystone RV, and Pilgrim International – companies that have sustained this community for years – we’
re talking about Ed Neufeldt and people like him all across this country.
“We’re talking about folks who’ve lost their livelihood and don’t know what will take its place. Parents
who’ve lost their health care and lie awake nights praying the kids don’t get sick. Families who’ve lost
the home that was their corner of the American dream. Young people who put that college acceptance
letter back in the envelope because they just can’t afford it.
“That’s what those numbers and statistics mean. That is the true measure of this economic crisis.
Those are the stories I heard when I came here to Elkhart six months ago and that I have carried with
me every day since. I promised you back then that if were elected President, I would do everything I
could to help this community recover. And that’s why I’ve come back today – to tell you how I intend to
keep that promise.”
What’s the story in Elkhart 9 months after President Obama reaffirms his promise? “Long-term
unemployed face dwindling options.”
Lawrie Covey, 58, has been out of work for two years. “I can’t even get a job cleaning rooms at a local
motel.” Her son, who was night shift foreman for a local manufacturer and who lost his job after eight
years, was splitting the rent. Winter is upon them, and the heating bill is rising. Their transportation is
20 years old and needs a new radiator. Both her and her son’s unemployment benefits have run out.
Lawrie Covey has fallen back on her experience growing up on a firm. She is raising chickens and
picking wild mushrooms and has a garden. If she makes it through the winter, she hopes to get a
couple of baby pigs to raise to see them through the next year.
Lawrie Covey, to whom President Obama made a promise could just as well be an Afghan peasant. She
doesn’t count any more than the thousands of Afghans who have been murdered in their sleep by US
air strikes on “terrorists.”
She voted for a president who spent all the money on wars based in lies and deceptions and on Gold
Sacks, the richest institution in the world.
Obama is loading up the poor with enormous debts that imply hyperinflation in order to make Gold
Sacks too heavy to lift and in order to reward the munitions industry for its service to world peace and
Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He is
coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions. His new book, How the Economy was Lost, will be
published next month by AK Press / CounterPunch. He can be reached at: PaulCraigRoberts@yahoo.
November 29, 2009
THE BOMBINGS, A YEAR LATER
Mumbai in the Shadow of Kashmir
By Vijay Prashad
Kashmir hangs over Mumbai, whose Gateway to India accepted the assailants who struck a year ago
today. It haunts it.
When mass movements wither, bitterness remains with the movements’ fugitives, many of whom plot
amongst each other to contrive their return. These fugitives fire bullets at each other, accusing one
another of treachery, holding themselves above the reasons for the failure of their movements.
Equally, they seek refuge somewhere to gather up strength so as to return again with force.
In the 1990s, Afghanistan was that refuge for fugitives from Mindanao Island to Ingushetia, from the
Arabian Peninsula to the Indonesian archipelago. Those who went to Afghanistan arrived with
grievances of their own, some of the body, some of the soul.
The exhaustion of national liberation into the authoritarian states of the 1980s, combined with the
export of Saudi Islam to undermine any hope for the resurrection of radical nationalism and gave
succor to this Jihad International. Funded by Washington and Riyadh, this International grew to have a
greater sense of its own destiny, believing that what it accomplished was by its own means and not by
the deft maneuver of its puppeteers. Not Hekmatyar, nor Shah Massoud, nor Bin Laden, could have set
the trap for the Russian Bear, and none alone would have been able to thwart the Soviet Afghantsi, the
It took this rag-tag brigade, despite Pakistani and US support, four years to dislodge the weak
government of Mohammed Najibullah after the withdrawal of the Soviet armies. But the take-over of
Afghanistan in 1992 and the collapse of the USSR in 1991 produced the excessive fantasy that the
Jihad International was responsible. It was a fantasy that continues to have catastrophic effects.
Bin Laden’s “Dr. No” dreams are a consequence of this fantasy, as is the remorseless and
insuppressible mutilation of the dreams of freedom in areas as far flung as Chechnya and Kashmir.
Areas with reasonable claims to sovereignty and autonomy, to dignity for persons, and to pathways for
their aspirations have had those claims squashed for a variety of reasons by States with their own
geopolitical imperatives. Independence movements came when the small voices of protest were
utterly ignored, and as these independence movements were met with the strong arm of the State,
they morphed into the atavism of fugitive politics: the Jihad International, encamped in Afghanistan in
both cases, walked in to offer succor to fighters who had been bled dry.
As their reasonable demands seemed to go nowhere, they took refuge in the unreasonable.
If you read Arif Jamal’s superb Shadow War: The Untold Story of Jihad in Kashmir (Melville House
Publishing, 2009) you will get a fair sense of the desolation among the advocates of the Kashmiri Jihad.
The blood-soaked walls of the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) redoubts are an illustration of the depths to
which the Jihad has fallen: Jamal takes us into the world of the HM’s leader, Syed Salahuddin, who was
tutored in this internecine insanity by the Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (in early 1991), and who
turned his guns against his commanders in 2003 and onward. Anyone who seemed “moderate” (i. e.
willing to negotiate with the Indian State) had to be sent to Paradise.
The HM assault on Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s family and traditions is illustrative: in May 2004, gunmen
(possibly with the HM) killed his uncle Maulvi Mushtaq Ahmed, and then in July, the Mirwaiz’ school, an
Islamic Secondary School, was burned to the ground. This 115-year old treasure held one of the oldest
libraries on Islam, holding in its precious collection a copy of the Quran handwritten by ‘Uthman ibn
‘Affann (the third Caliph), one of the original sahaba, or Companions of the Prophet, who played a
central role in the compilation of the Quran. Not for nothing do the Kashmiri people despair.
And not for nothing should they grieve, namely the intransigent refusal of the Indian and Pakistani
governments to have a real conversation toward deescalation. The dialogues often sound tinned, not
just hidden behind the stifled jargon of diplomacy, but also so frequently rehearsed that they don’t
seem credible. There was the 1972 Simla Agreement, but there has barely been any movement beyond
its general principles. Even on the question of the border, there is little: no chance that the Line of
Control (intact since 1971) should simply be recognized as the border, and little hope for a Peace
Agreement that would allow troop reductions for both countries.
On the Indian side, hundreds of thousands of troops face off against substantial parts of the
population that has lost its faith in the wisdom of the Indian Constitution, and on the Pakistani side
troops are in the thick of repressing the Balawaristan National Front and the Gilgit-Baltistan United
Movement. Distress on both sides of the border, now inflamed by the two militaries, whose guns point
across them and against their own citizens, has been further compounded by the entry of a section of
hardened militants into the Jihad International.
HM went underground for a time after 2001, appearing here and there for a meeting or an attack, then
ducking down out of plain sight. In 2007, according to Arif Jamal, the Pakistani ISI once more
orchestrated coordination meetings between the jihadis who operate on two of its shaky borders, the
Durand Line (1893) that separates Pakistan from Afghanistan and the Line of Control (1971) that
separates Pakistan from India. HM held its first public rally since 9/11 in Muzaffarabad (Azad Kashmir) in
March 2008, and the Jaish-e-Mohammed began to operate a training camp in Bahawalpur (southern
Punjab). An HM commander told Jamal that the jihadis “never had it so good since 1999.”
It only helped inflame the situation that the Indian army continued its history of atrocities (most
spectacularly in Sumbal in February 2007 and in Shopian in May 2009). It would help the Indian and
Pakistani elites to read Everyone Lives in Fear: Patterns of Impunity in Jammu and Kashmir (Human
Rights Watch, September 2006) to get a sense of the social cost of intransigence borne by the ordinary
people of the region.
The only survivor among the attackers of Mumbai, Mohammed Ajmal Amir ‘Kasab,’ wrote a confession
that included the following statement, “Now we have to wage a war with India and conquer Kashmir.”
Where major military conflicts (1947-48, 1965, 1971, 1999) have failed, how would ten men do the job? It
was fantasy. Kasab later retracted the statement, saying it was derived from torture. The Indian
government framed its charges without mention of Kashmir. It was not relevant to the judicial
But, as I wrote at the start, Kashmir hangs over Mumbai. It haunts it. As does Afghanistan.
Vijay Prashad is the George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History and Director of
International Studies at Trinity College, Hartford, CT His new book is The Darker Nations: A People's
History of the Third World, New York: The New Press, 2007. He can be reached at: vijay.
Nov 24, 2009
Arshad M. Khan
There is much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. In my family, we are thankful we can at least put
food on the table but there are many in this country having great difficulty doing just that in our land of
milk and honey. I can think of one family with four young children, husband with a science PhD from a
leading university, out of a job for over a year and becoming increasingly desperate. An engineer, a
computer programmer, a consultant, a tradesman, all within a stone's throw, all without jobs. The
measured rate of unemployment is said to be 10%, the real rate is probably double.
The President had a rare opportunity to become one of our few great Presidents; he chose, instead, to
go with the politicos. Not surprising really, for a man who has chosen participation and compromise
over confrontation all his life. He believes in light, mincing steps, not leaving an observable mark on
the overgrown weeds in Washington. He has chosen to be rolled over by the existing power structure
whether it is Netanyahu in foreign policy or the bankers and insurers on the domestic front. A man
who meets repeatedly with CEOs and hardly ever with the people's change agents is unlikely to even
come close to meeting the expectations of those who elected him. His hope for a second term lies in
the likes of Sarah Palin busily destroying the mainstream of the Republican Party.
So what do we have to be grateful for this Thanksgiving? Well for one, the weather has been pretty
mild this autumn allowing the beautiful colors to linger on the trees. They recharge the spirit, if not
our wallets. Then there is George Bush - he is no longer President. He claims to have kept us safe.
It's like a man who jumps off a 70-story building, goes past the 35th floor shouting, "Hey! every thing's
fine." When Bush came into office we had a colossal budget surplus (although just a month earlier
Clinton had signed a bill, a commodity futures 'modernization' act, sowing the seeds of the disaster
eight years later), eighty cents bought a Euro -- now it's about $1.50, effectively halving the net worth
of all Americans - and we were enjoying an easy-money boom. Starting a first war when police action
would have sufficed, and a second completely unnecessary one on false manufactured pretenses
were enough to break this economy's back.
We are now living off Chinese largess. Our automobile industry, once an icon of manufacturing
efficiency, is now in tatters. Little is left of our heavy industrial base as corporations scurry abroad in
search of lower wages trying to squeeze out the last drops of profit. Even Boeing is choosing to
become a US assembler rather than a manufacturer.
But let's forget our troubles for one day, thank the poultry industry and the Mexicans who come over
to dress the birds, and chow down. Happy Thanksgiving!
November 19, 2009
A Letter to President Obama
By RALPH NADER
Dear President Obama,
You are nearing the day of decision as to whether you order the dispatch of more soldiers to
Some of your advisors have urged up to 50,000 more soldiers, including several thousand called
trainers of the Afghan army.
Other advisors have urged more caution, notably the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and former
general, Karl W. Eikenberry, who opposes more soldiers so long as the Afghan government remains
Beside your own military and civilian advisors, you are receiving disparate counsel from an anemic
Congress and your allies abroad.
But are you soliciting advise from stateside civic groups of experience and repute that represent
many Americans? Or from genuine experts on that country such as Ashraf Ghani-a former American
professor and later respected member of the Karzai government before his departure to other
positions in that country?
George W. Bush, in the duplicitous run-up to the invasion of Iraq, insulated himself, closed his mind
and refused to meet with civic associations in his own land. Like an autocrat bent on plunging a
country into war and occupation, knowingly on false pretenses, he deliberately deprived himself of the
information that might have restrained his disastrous, messianic militarism. Disastrous, not to him and
Dick Cheney, but to our country, soldiers, and economy, and to the devastated Iraqi people and their
In the months before the March 20, 2003, undeclared criminal war of aggression that violated our
Constitution, statutes, and treaties, a dozen organizations each formally requested a meeting with him.
These organizations represented tens of millions of Americans. They came from the clergy, labor,
environmentalists, businesses, students, peace groups, womens' groups, city councils, consumer,
veteran, teachers groups, and international security experts. Many also came with first hand
experience in Iraq and the Middle East.
They wanted to meet with their president. He never even answered their letters. The letters are
available at nader.org.
Who would have thought last year that on assuming the presidency, that you would consider plunging
deeper in to this quagmire without an exit strategy? The deeper you plunge, the greater your rejection
of the history of occupations fueling insurgencies in that region. The more you insulate yourself from
contrary judgments to those you have been receiving from your inner councils. Our country, its people
and innocent Afghan people will pay the price.
A recent resignation by Matthew P. Hoh, a former marine combat captain in Iraq and highly regarded
foreign service officer in Afghanistan, provides an independent analysis of the grievances afflicting
the 42 million Pashtuns. In his words:
The Pashtun insurgency, which is composed of multiple, seemingly infinite, local groups, is fed by what
is perceived by the Pashtun people as a continued and sustained assault, going back centuries, on
Pashtun land, culture, traditions and religion by internal and external enemies. The U.S. and NATO
presence and operations in Pashtun valleys and villages, as well as Afghan army and police units that
are led and composed of non-Pashtun soldiers and police, provide an occupation force against which
the insurgency is justified. In both RC East and South, I have observed that the bulk of the insurgency
fights not for the white banner of the Taliban, but rather against the presence of foreign soldiers and
taxes imposed by an unrepresentative government in Kabul.
The United States military presence in Afghanistan greatly contributes to the legitimacy and strategic
message of the Pashtun insurgency. In a like manner our backing of the Afghan government in its
current form continues to distance the government from the people. The Afghan government's
failings, particularly when weighed against the sacrifice of American lives and collars, appear legion
Mr. Hoh proceeds to list these persistent failings and adds his articulate doubts about the strategic
purposes of your Administration's military presence in Afghanistan. He ask, "Why and to what end?" His
letter of conscience and protest concludes by noting the limitless effects on our foreign and military
policy, and on our country and its economy.
Your staff estimates each U.S. soldier is costing $1 million a year, in addition to the horrific toll on
these soldiers and the Afghan people. You owe the American people an un-Bush-like explanation. Why
are you not receiving these groups of American from varied backgrounds and experience at the White
House on this pending Afghan decision?
They may wonder, by contrast, why you have so many White House meetings with major corporate
CEOs from Wall Street, from the health insurance companies and the drug companies. Is not the White
House the peoples' House? Along with many other citizens in our country, I look forward to your
Ralph Nader is the author of The Seventeen Traditions.
November 17, 2009
SETTLERS 'STONE' SCHOOL CHILDREN
by Phoebe Greenwood in Hebron, West Bank
School children from Twaneh school being accompanied by Israeli military [SAVE THE CHILDREN]
Twaneh School in Hebron has seen some improvements since former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair
paid it a visit as UN Middle East envoy last year.
The track leading from the school to the new main road joining Jerusalem to Israeli settlements on the
south eastern slopes of Palestine is now paved. There are two new school rooms being built where
pupils will be taught up to Grade 9, rather than having to leave after Grade 4. They now have a
But for the 32 children who live in Tuba and Magher Al Abeed, Palestinian villages encircled by three
Israeli settlements, getting to school remains problematic.
Frequent attacks by Israeli settlers on children from these villages as they make their way to and from
school have pushed Israel to take the exceptional step of providing them a daily military escort.
Ali, 12, has been coming to Twaneh School for six years, and is among those who wait for the military
attachment: "The soldiers are okay, they don't give us a hard time. It's just the settlers - whenever we
walk by the settlements or past their land, they try to attack us.
"Sometimes they chase us with their horses, ride them at us and try to use them to hurt us. The horses
are so fast we can't get away. It's very frightening. But they don't harass us nearly so much when the
military are there."
Patrol not reliable
Unfortunately, the patrol is not always reliable. Last Monday, Ali and the other children waited as they
do every morning at 7am for their Israeli escorts but they didn't come. Eventually, they decided to walk
the long way, a 12km detour around the settlements, which took them two hours.
In the afternoon, the children waited again for the patrol they expected to collect them at 12:30pm. At
3pm they gave up waiting and set off on the 12km hike for the second time that day, arriving home
after dark. On Tuesday, the children waited and when the escort failed to arrive, they simply went
home, too exhausted to face the two-hour walk once again.
After the military's two-day absence, Twaneh School's Headmaster Mahmoud Makhamreh contacted the
Ministry of Education who in turn called the Palestinian Authority who spoke to the Israeli authorities.
On Wednesday, the patrol turned up to take the kids to school.
Makhamreh sees a clear difference in the pupils who travel with the military: "The kids who are
escorted are weaker in their ability to study- their communication skills are poor and they don't mix
well with other children.
"They are full of fear, they feel insecure. I can see it in their behaviour: Whenever the patrol is late,
they become nervous, afraid that it won't turn up and they will have to walk home unprotected.
"Quite a few have dropped out because of the difficulties they face getting here, particularly the girls.
Last year three dropped out, this year one: four in total since 2008."
Ali, 12, a pupil at Twaneh school in the occupied West Bank. [SAVE THE CHILDREN]
According to new research published by Save the Children UK this week, Palestinian families living in
areas like Hebron that the UN identifies as ‘high risk' in the West Bank and Gaza are poorer, less
protected and more vulnerable than anywhere else in the occupied Palestinian territory.
At least half of those living in these areas who spoke to the charity said they have been forced from
their homes at least once since 2000, the last major period of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
Salam Kanaan, Save the Children UK's country director in the occupied Palestinian territory, states:
"Without a secure future, the lives of Palestinian children living in high risk areas like the Hebron
district are blighted. The daily struggle for basics like food, water and their physical safety has left
children depressed and traumatised.
"Conditions in these areas make life so intolerable that many families are driven from their homes,
leaving them even poorer and more vulnerable.
"These children need help and protection from the Israeli and Palestinian authorities as well as the
international humanitarian community. Families need relief from the unrelenting pressures they face
so they can raise their children."
Hurt by stones
Now he is 12, Ali says he worries less for himself than he does his little brother Mahmoud, 10, who
walks to school with him: "We older kids always look out for the younger ones, try to protect them.
When I was younger, in first and second grade, I was so scared of being beaten that I didn't want to
come to school.
"Most of the kids I walk home with have been hurt by stones. We all have bruises on our legs from
where rocks have hit us. Last year, one girl was sent to hospital because a stone hit her face and she
was badly injured; she was 12 then.
"Of course, if I get hurt I'll tell my parents. I also tell them I'm afraid. They tell me that we need to stick
together and never walk away from the military patrol truck."
While the military patrol has stemmed the attacks, it has done little to lessen the impact of the
occupation on Hebron's children. Like the playground, the extra classroom and the paved road, this
precaution is a cosmetic treatment for the deep wounds of conflict.
Twaneh School has had a demolition order on it since 1999. Headmaster Makhmareh says Israeli peace
activists have championed their case in the courts and the demolition has been delayed, but it could
still be carried out at any time.
The children, however, continue to walk to school, carrying on life almost as normal. Ali explains that
he has little choice: ‘They throw stones at us because they want us to leave this area. But I will never
leave here, I was born here. I belong to this land."
Phoebe Greenwood works for Save the Children UK, a global children's charity.
November 15, 2009
OPINION: U.S. IS DOING NO GOOD IN AFGHANISTAN
Special to the Mercury News
As an Afghan woman who was elected to Parliament, I am in the United States to ask President Barack
Obama to immediately end the occupation of my country.
Eight years ago, women's rights were used as one of the excuses to start this war. But today,
Afghanistan is still facing a women's rights catastrophe. Life for most Afghan women resembles a type
of hell that is never reflected in the Western mainstream media.
In 2001, the U.S. helped return to power the worst misogynist criminals, such as the Northern Alliance
warlords and druglords. These men ought to be considered a photocopy of the Taliban. The only
difference is that the Northern Alliance warlords wear suits and ties and cover their faces with the
mask of democracy while they occupy government positions. But they are responsible for much of the
disaster today in Afghanistan, thanks to the U.S. support they enjoy.
The U.S. and its allies are getting ready to offer power to the medieval Taliban by creating an imaginary
category called the "moderate Taliban" and inviting them to join the government. A man who was near
the top of the list of most-wanted terrorists eight years ago, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, has been invited to
join the government.
Over the past eight years the U.S. has helped turn my country into the drug capital of the world
through its support of drug lords. Today, 93 percent of all opium in the world is produced in
Afghanistan. Many members of Parliament and
high ranking officials openly benefit from the drug trade. President Karzai's own brother is a well
known drug trafficker.
Meanwhile, ordinary Afghans are living in destitution. The latest United Nations Human Development
Index ranked Afghanistan 181 out of 182 countries. Eighteen million Afghans live on less than $2 a day.
Mothers in many parts of Afghanistan are ready to sell their children because they cannot feed them.
Afghanistan has received $36 billion of aid in the past eight years, and the U.S. alone spends $165
million a day on its war. Yet my country remains in the grip of terrorists and criminals. My people have
no interest in the current drama of the presidential election since it will change nothing in Afghanistan.
Both Karzai and Dr. Abdullah are hated by Afghans for being U.S. puppets.
The worst casualty of this war is truth. Those who stand up and raise their voice against injustice,
insecurity and occupation have their lives threatened and are forced to leave Afghanistan, or simply
We are sandwiched between three powerful enemies: the occupation forces of the U.S. and NATO, the
Taliban and the corrupt government of Hamid Karzai.
Now President Obama is considering increasing troops to Afghanistan and simply extending former
President Bush's wrong policies. In fact, the worst massacres since 9/11 were during Obama's tenure.
My native province of Farah was bombed by the U.S. this past May. A hundred and fifty people were
killed, most of them women and children. On Sept. 9, the U.S. bombed Kunduz Province, killing 200
My people are fed up. That is why we want an immediate end to the U.S. occupation.
MALALAI JOYA spoke at San Jose State University Saturday and signed copies of her new political
memoir, A Woman Among Warlords, co-written with Derrick O'Keefe. The survivor of four assassination
attempts, she was elected to Afghanistan"s parliament in 2005 and kicked out in 2007 by the warlords.
She wrote this article for the Mercury News.
November 14, 2009
HOW EUROCENTRIC IS YOUR DAY?
M Shahid Alam
Source: Asia Times on Line
At the outset of the classes I teach, I always address the question of bias in the social sciences. In one
course - on the history of the global economy - this is the central theme. It critiques Eurocentric biases
in several leading Western accounts of the rise of the global economy.
This autumn, I began my first lecture on Eurocentrism by asking my students, “How Eurocentric is your
day?” I explained what I wanted to hear from them. Can they get through a typical day without running
into ideas, institutions, values, technologies and
products that originated outside the West - in China, India, the Islamicate or Africa?
The question befuddled my students. I proceeded to pepper them with questions about the things they
do during a typical day, from the time they wake up.
Unbeknownst, my students discover that they wake up in "pajamas", trousers of Indian origin with an
Urdu-Persian name. Out of bed, they shower with soap and shampoo, whose origins go back to the
Middle East and India. Their toothbrush with bristles was invented in China in the fifteenth century. At
some point after waking up, my students use toilet paper and tissue, also Chinese inventions of great
Do the lives of my students rise to Eurocentric purity once they step out of the toilet and enter into the
more serious business of going about their lives? Not quite.
I walk my student through her breakfast. Most likely, this consists of cereals, coffee and orange juice,
with sugar added to the bargain. None originated in Europe. Cereals were first cultivated in the Fertile
Crescent some 10,000 years BCE. Coffee, orange and sugar still carry - in their etymology - telltale
signs of their origins, going back to the Arabs, Ethiopians and Indians. Try to imagine your life without
these stimulants and sources of calories.
How far could my students go without the alphabet, numbers and paper? Yet, the alphabet came to
Europe courtesy of the ancient Phoenicians. As their name suggests, the Arabs, who, in turn, obtained
them from the Indians, brought Arabic numerals to Europe. Paper came from China, also brought to
Europe by the Muslims.
Obstinately, my students’ day refuses to get off to a dignified Eurocentric start.
In her prayer, my Christian student turns to a God who - in his human form - walked the earth in
Palestine and spoke Aramaic, a close cousin of Arabic. When her thoughts turn to afterlife, my student
thinks of the Day of Judgment, paradise and hell, concepts borrowed from the ancient Egyptians and
Persians. "Paradise" entered into English, via Greek, from the ancient Avestan pairidaeza.
Of Medieval origin, the college was inspired and, most likely, modeled after the madrassa or Islamic
college, first set up by a Seljuk vizier (high official) in 11th century Baghdad. In a nod to this
connection, professors at universities still hold a "chair", a practice that goes back to the madrassa,
where the teacher alone sat in a chair while his students sat around him on rugs.
When she finishes college and prepares to receive her baccalaureate at the graduation ceremony, our
student might do well to acknowledge another forgotten connection to the madrassa. This diploma
harks back to the ijaza - Arabic for license - given to students who graduated from madrassas in the
Our student runs into fields of study - algebra, trigonometry, astronomy, chemistry, medicine and
philosophy - that were introduced, via Latin, to Western Europe from the Islamicate. She also
encounters a variety of scientific terms - algorithm, alkali, borax, amalgam, alembic, amber, calibrate,
azimuth and nadir - which have Arabic roots.
If my students play chess over the weekend and threaten the king with "check mate", that phrase is
adapted from Farsi - shah maat - for "the king is helpless, defeated".
When she uses coins, paper currency or writes a check, she is using forms of money first used outside
Europe. Gold bars were first used as coins in Egypt in the fourth millennium BCE. With astonishment,
Marco Polo records the use of paper currency in China, and describes how the paper used as
currency was made from the bark of mulberry trees.
At college, my student will learn about modernity, ostensibly the source and foundation of the power
and the riches of Western nations. Her professors in sociology will claim that laws based on reasoning,
the abolition of priesthood, the scientific method, and secularism - hallmarks of modernity - are entirely
of Western origin. Are they?
During the 18th century, many of the leading Enlightenment thinkers were keenly aware that the
Chinese had preceded them in their emphasis on reasoning by some two millennia. By the end of this
century, however, a more muscular, more confident Europe chose to erase their debt to China from its
Similarly, Islam, in the 7th century, made a more radical break from priesthood than the Reformation in
Europe. In the 11th century, an Arab scientist, Alhazen - his Latinized name - devised numerous
experiments to test his theories in optics, but, more importantly, theorized cogently about the
scientific method in his writings. Roger Bacon, the putative "founder" of the scientific method, had
read Alhazen in a Latin translation.
When our student reads the sonnets of William Shakespeare and Edmund Spenser, she is little aware
that the tradition of courtly love they celebrate comes via Provencal and the troubadours (derived
from taraba, Arabic for "to sing") from Arab traditions of love, music and poetry. When our male student
gets down on one knee while proposing to his fair lady, he might do well to remember this.
On a clear night, with a telescope on her dormitory rooftop, our student can watch stars, many of which
still carry Arabic names. This might be a fitting closure to a day in the life of our student, who, more
likely than not, remains Eurocentric in her understanding of world history, little aware of the
multifarious bonds that connect her life to different parts of the "Orient".
M Shahid Alam is Professor of Economics, Northeastern University, Boston. He is the author of Israeli
Exceptionalism: The Destabilizing Logic of Zionism (Palgrave Macmillan: 2009). You may contact him at
(Copyright 2009, M Shahid Alam.)
November 11, 2009
UNIVERSITY BLASTS IN PAKISTAN AND THE FUTURE OF ISLAM - WHY THE TALEBAN ATTACKED
The International Islamic University is carving out a much-needed space in Muslim intellectual, and
through it, political, life.
By Mark LeVine
Source: The Christian Science Monitor
Lund, Sweden - When the Taliban attacked the International Islamic University in Pakistan this week,
many were shocked that militants were targeting an Islamic school. In fact, the double suicide bombers
were going after a university that is at the forefront of changing the way Islamic and Western
knowledge are brought together in the Muslim world.
I also had some misconceptions before I had lectured in the very building where the second bombing
took place. But the encounters I had there in 2007 utterly changed my understanding of Pakistan, as
well as the future of Islam.
I had only landed in Islamabad just a few hours before I was scheduled to give my first talk at the
university, and whether it was the 13-hour time difference with Los Angeles, two nights flying in coach,
or walking through an arrivals lounge that had recently been attacked by terrorists, I felt more uneasy
about being in Pakistan than Baghdad or Gaza during their own periods of intense violence.
Matters weren't helped when I was introduced to a group of male religious studies students by my host
as someone who'd lived in Israel and speaks Hebrew. In fact, my stomach sank a bit – especially as
their long beards and traditional dress reminded me a lot more of the Taliban than the graduate
students I normally spend time with.
But as with most things in Pakistan, appearances were deceiving, and the situation was far more
complex, and inspiring, than I'd imagined.
It turned out that the students with whom I was meeting weren't merely studying Islam, they were PhD
students in comparative religion. They were situating Islam, its history, and its religious dynamics
within the broader study of religious experience worldwide.
Moreover, the recently established program in which they were studying was a model for the
International Islamic University's drive to develop a new curriculum, one that would combine 1,000
years of Islamic learning with the latest developments in American and European humanities and social
The students explained they were all learning Hebrew, as well as biblical criticism and contemporary
approaches to religious studies as part of their course work. As we began to talk it became clear that
neither students nor faculty had much time or desire to engage in spirited critiques of the United
States or the West.
They were much more interested in discussing how to better integrate "Western" and Islamic
methodologies for studying history and religion. And more telling, they were trying to figure out how to
criticize the government without "disappearing" into the dark hole of the Pakistani prison system for
five or 10 years, or worse.
Colleagues in the history and political science departments were just as eager to develop the most up-
to-date curriculums possible, and in so doing lay a benchmark for the development of their fields, not
just in Pakistan, but globally.
This is not to say that the members of the University community supported US policies in the Muslim
world. Far from it. But as good social scientists (or social scientists in training), they understood the
importance of the interplay of local and global dynamics, and of the problems in their own societies
that contributed to the violent relationship between the US and many Muslim groups around the world.
Indeed, when I delivered my second lecture on globalization early on a Saturday morning, the room
was filled with students, more women than men (upward of half the student body at the University are
women), who grilled me about the assumptions underlying my research and methodologies. Would that
most of my students back home were as interested in what I was teaching as were they.
As I walked around the campus, and met faculty and students who'd come from all over the Muslim
world to study there, the role of the IIU in the larger context of Islam globally became evident.
The University was carving out a much-needed space in Muslim intellectual, and through it political,
life through its bringing Muslim and Western traditions into dialogue.
Yet it was receiving, and continues to receive far less attention from scholars, commentators, or
policymakers than the fully American-style universities being opened across the Persian Gulf. This is
most recently evidenced by the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, or KAUST, just
established with great fanfare and a $10 billion endowment from the king in Jeddah.
Such a venture is surely important, not just for having one of the world's fastest supercomputers or
giving every newly hired professor $400,000 in research money – I got $3,000 when I was hired at
University of California, Irvine, and that was when the university was flush with cash.
Yet the singular focus of KAUST on hard sciences is ultimately myopic and will likely produce little in
the way of the larger societal change in Saudi Arabia predicted by the new university's boosters. Such
changes come only with a robust public sphere where citizens who are educated broadly and
humanistically are equipped with the social knowledge and skills to challenge the dominant political
and social-religious discourses.
Building such an active Pakistani citizenry was and – I imagine despite the bombing – remains a major
goal of the IIU.
Sadly, it's just such a goal that probably made it a "legitimate" target for the Taliban, for whom a healthy
public sphere populated by educated citizens willing and able to challenge, potentially democratize,
and clean up their government would pose at least as big threat to its position in the country as the
army they are now fighting in the country's northwest.
Not surprisingly, the core mission of the IIU would also not win it many friends among the country's
corrupt economic and political elite, who, as many of the senior education and religious officials I met
confided to me, share the Taliban's desire to silence any kind of critical scholarship or societal debate.
With this attack, the Taliban has struck what until now was a sanctuary, however fragile and inchoate,
where the emerging generation of Pakistanis and Muslims could determine on their own terms how
best to bring together their cultures and traditions to grapple with the profound challenges faced by
I hope it doesn't weaken the spirit and resolve of the thousands of students who've come to the IIU
from across the Muslim world to help build a better future. They are not just the future of Pakistan, or
of Islam; they are the future as well.
Mark LeVine is a history professor at University of California, Irvine and currently a visiting professor
at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University, Sweden. He is the author most recently of
"Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam" and "Impossible Peace:
Israel/Palestine Since 1989"
Nov 4, 2009
REPUBLIC OF FOOLS: THE EVIL EMPIRE
Paul Craig Roberts
The US government is now so totally under the thumbs of organized interest groups that “our”
government can no longer respond to the concerns of the American people who elect the president
and the members of the House and Senate. Voters will vent their frustrations over their impotence on
the president, which implies a future of one-term presidents. Soon our presidents will be as
ineffective as Roman emperors in the final days of that empire.
Obama is already set on the course to a one-term presidency. He promised change, but has delivered
none. His health care bill is held hostage by the private insurance companies seeking greater profits.
The most likely outcome will be cuts in Medicare and Medicaid in order to help fund wars that enrich
the military/security complex and the many companies created by privatizing services that the military
once provided for itself at far lower costs. It would be interesting to know the percentage of the $700+
billion “defense” spending that goes to private companies. In American “capitalism,” an amazing
amount of taxpayers’ earnings go to private firms via the government. Yet, Republicans scream about
“socializing” health care.
Republicans and Democrats saw opportunities to create new sources of campaign contributions by
privatizing as many military functions as possible. There are now a large number of private companies
that have never made a dollar in the market, feeding instead at the public trough that drains taxpayers
of dollars while loading Americans with debt service obligations.
Obama inherited an excellent opportunity to bring US soldiers home from the Bush regime’s illegal
wars of aggression. In its final days, the Bush regime realized that it could “win” in Iraq by putting the
Sunni insurgents on the US military payroll. Once Bush had 80,000 insurgents collecting US military pay,
violence, although still high, dropped in half. All Obama had to do was to declare victory and bring our
boys home, thanking Bush for winning the war. It would have shut up the Republicans.
But this sensible course would have impaired the profits and share prices of those firms that comprise
the military/security complex. So instead of doing what Obama said he would do and what the voters
elected him to do, Obama restarted the war in Afghanistan and launched a new one in Pakistan. Soon
Obama was echoing Bush and Cheney’s threats to attack Iran.
In place of health care for Americans, there will be more profits for private insurance companies.
In place of peace there will be more war.
Voters are already recognizing the writing on the wall and are falling away from Obama and the
Democrats. Independents who gave Obama his comfortable victory have now swung against him,
recently electing Republican governors in New Jersey and Virginia to succeed Democrats. This is a
protest vote, not a confidence vote in Republicans.
Obama’s credibility is shot. And so is Congress’s, assuming it ever had any. The US House of
Representatives has just voted to show the entire world that the US House of Representatives is
nothing but the servile, venal, puppet of the Israel Lobby. The House of Representatives of the
American “superpower” did the bidding of its master, AIPAC, and voted 344 to 36 to condemn the
In case you don’t know, the Goldstone Report is the Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission
on the Gaza Conflict. The “Gaza Conflict” is the Israeli military attack on the Gaza ghetto, where 1.5
million dispossessed Palestinians, whose lands, villages, and homes were stolen by Israel, are
housed. The attack was on civilians and civilian infrastructure. It was without any doubt a war crime
under the Nuremberg standard that the US established in order to execute Nazis.
Goldstone is not only a very distinguished Jewish jurist who has given his life to bringing people to
accountability for their crimes against humanity, but also a Zionist. However, the Israelis have
demonized him as a “self-hating Jew” because he wrote the truth instead of Israeli propaganda.
US Representative Dennis Kucinich, who is now without a doubt a marked man on AIPAC’s political
extermination list, asked the House if the members had any realization of the shame that the vote
condemning Goldstone would bring on the House and the US government. The entire rest of the world
accepts the Goldstone report.
The House answered with its lopsided vote that the rest of the world doesn’t count as it doesn’t give
campaign contributions to members of Congress.
This shameful, servile act of “the world’s greatest democracy” occurred the very week that a court in
Italy convicted 23 US CIA officers for kidnapping a person in Italy. The CIA agents are now considered
“fugitives from justice” in Italy, and indeed they are.
The kidnapped person was renditioned to the American puppet state of Egypt, where the victim was
held for years and repeatedly tortured. The case against him was so absurd that even an Egyptian
judge ordered his release.
One of the convicted CIA operatives, Sabrina deSousa, an attractive young woman, says that the US
broke the law by kidnapping a person and sending him to another country to be tortured in order to
manufacture another “terrorist” in order to keep the terrorist hoax going at home. Without the terrorist
hoax, America’s wars for special interest reasons would become transparent even to Fox “News”
Ms. deSousa says that “everything I did was approved back in Washington,” yet the government,
which continually berates us to “support the troops,” did nothing to protect her when she carried out
the Bush regime’s illegal orders.
Clearly, this means that the crime that Bush, Cheney, the Pentagon, and the CIA ordered is too heinous
and beyond the pale to be justified, even by memos from the despicable John Yoo and the Republican
Ms. deSousa is clearly worried about herself. But where is her concern for the innocent person that
she sent into an Egyptian hell to be tortured until death or admission of being a terrorist? The remorse
deSousa expresses is only for herself. She did her evil government’s bidding and her evil government
that she so faithfully served turned its back on her. She has no remorse for the evil she committed
against an innocent person.
Perhaps deSousa and her 22 colleagues grew up on video games. It was great fun to plot to kidnap a
real person and fly him on a CIA plane to Egypt. Was it like a fisherman catching a fish or a deer hunter
killing a beautiful 8-point buck? Clearly, they got their jollies at the expense of their renditioned victim.
The finding of the Italian court, and keep in mind that Italy is a bought-and-paid-for US puppet state,
indicates that even our bought puppets are finding the US too much to stomach.
Moving from the tip of the iceberg down, we have Ambassador Craig Murray, rector of the University
of Dundee and until 2004 the UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan, which he describes as a Stalinist
totalitarian state courted and supported by the Americans.
As ambassador, Murray saw the MI5 intelligence reports from the CIA that described the most horrible
torture procedures. “People were raped with broken bottles, children were tortured in front of their
parents until they [the parents] signed a confession, people were boiled alive.”
“Intelligence” from these torture sessions was passed on by the CIA to MI5 and to Washington as
proof of the vast al Qaeda conspiracy.
Amb. Murray reports that the people delivered by CIA flights to Uzbekistan’s torture prisons “were told
to confess to membership in Al Qaeda. They were told to confess they’d been in training camps in
Afghanistan. They were told to confess they had met Osama bin Laden in person. And the CIA
intelligence constantly echoed these themes.”
“I was absolutely stunned,” says the British ambassador, who thought that he served a moral country
that, along with its American ally, had moral integrity. The great Anglo-American bastion of democracy
and human rights, the homes of the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights, the great moral democracies
that defeated Nazism and stood up to Stalin’s gulags, were prepared to commit any crime in order to
Amb. Murray learned too much and was fired when he vomited it all up. He saw the documents that
proved that the motivation for US and UK military aggression in Afghanistan had to do with the natural
gas deposits in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The Americans wanted a pipeline that bypassed Russia
and Iran and went through Afghanistan. To insure this, an invasion was necessary. The idiot American
public could be told that the invasion was necessary because of 9/11 and to save them from
“terrorism,” and the utter fools would believe the lie.
“If you look at the deployment of US forces in Afghanistan, as against other NATO country forces in
Afghanistan, you’ll see that undoubtedly the US forces are positioned to guard the pipeline route. It’s
what it’s about. It’s about money, its about energy, it’s not about democracy.”
Guess who the consultant was who arranged with then Texas governor George W. Bush the
agreements that would give to Enron the rights to Uzbekistan’s and Turkmenistan’s natural gas
deposits and to Unocal to develop the trans-Afghanistan pipeline. It was Karzai, the US-imposed
“president” of Afghanistan, who has no support in the country except for American bayonets.
Guess who the consultant was who arranged with then Texas governor George W. Bush the
agreements that would give to Enron the rights to Uzbekistan’s and Turkmenistan’s natural gas
deposits and to Unocal to develop the trans-Afghanistan pipeline. It was Karzai, the US-imposed
“president” of Afghanistan, who has no support in the country except for American bayonets.
Amb. Murray was dismissed from the UK Foreign Service for his revelations. No doubt on orders from
Washington to our British puppet.
Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He is
coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions. He can be reached at: PaulCraigRoberts@yahoo.com
Oct 28, 2009
AF-PAK (once more)
The news today is of another horrendous attack -- this time in Khyber Bazar, a congested market, small
shops cheek by jowl lining both sides of a narrow pedestrian walk. The toll so far stands at over a
hundred dead and hundreds wounded.
In 2004, there were no attacks and no Taleban groups in Pakistan. Then the pressure from Washington
began: the Pakistanis were not doing their part in fighting the Taleban; they must clean out the border
areas of safe havens, etc. Given the aid involved and the corruption that accompanies it, the
government obliged albeit not very successfully. Now there are more than thirty Taleban groups and
ordinary Pakistanis both in the tribal areas and the rest of the country are paying the price.
At our insistence, the Pakistan army attacked Swat, creating three and a half million refugees. With
crops, farm animals and homes destroyed, they have nothing to return to but infrequent government
handouts, creating further stress in a distressed economy. The latest army attack is in Waziristan, on
Taleban "strongholds" -- now there is another interesting word for what we see are mud-hut villages
bombed and shelled, dazed villagers, a bombed-out school with a picture of Pakistan's national poet,
Iqbal, askew on a wall, a reminder lest we forget that these are Pakistanis being shelled by the
Pakistan army at our behest. The army's venture has violated a long established treaty with the tribes
and now even the non-tribal Pashtuns are exhibiting sympathy for the insurgents. Pakistan, because
of us, is in a quasi civil war.
Our modus operandi is to demonize the enemy, as in, 'the Taleban are brutal, repressive extremists'.
Possibly. But how is it that almost all Pashtuns are flocking to their banner in Afghanistan and the
border areas. The fact is, the extremists are surely a part of the insurgency, but so are many ordinary
Pashtuns, sick of the occupation, sick of a corrupt government dominated by minority Tajiks, and
venal, profiteering warlords. The lesson for us is clear: propaganda may be fine in times of war, but
when we believe it ourselves and it obscures our own reality, we are in trouble.
There is much talk these days of a three-legged stool strategy comprising security, good governance
and sustainable development. We seem to have forgotten three-legged stools are inherently
unstable. The fourth leg, the hearts and minds of the people was cut off a long time ago when we first
bombed villages. As for governance, we have the election farce being repeated again. Security is
non-existent -- even Kabul is bombed and attacked on a regular basis, the latest, reported today, being
the killing of UN civilians and the destruction of their compound. And, development is a casualty of
Into this quagmire we are planning to send more troops. If the news leaks are correct, we are
changing strategy to focus on protecting the populations of ten major towns plus the roads serving
them to extend the reach of the central government, while it builds a military and security capability.
Looks good on paper but Afghanistan, eons behind Iraq, has never had a strong central government
or a democracy, and the military is minority Tajik dominated. The majority Pashtuns feel excluded. If
we look at the continuing chaos in Iraq, it's a tall order. Instead of fueling the violence with more
troops and putting Pakistan at risk, we should be winding it down and negotiating with the insurgent
groups. As in Iraq, there is never going to be a lasting peace as long as any significant ethnic group is
Oct 21, 2009
Arshad M Khan
The ground is hard as rancor, the weather dry and cold as malice. Into this hard-scrabble land of
cunning rooted in necessity, we send farm boys from the lush green cornfields of Iowa and expect
them to fight and outwit the locals. The inevitable loss of human life leads to the question, what are
we doing in Afghanistan? To 'disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda' is a nice alliteration but
unsatisfactory as an objective particularly as al-Qaeda left Afghanistan eight years ago.
Mr. Holbrooke, our man for Af-Pak, now claims we are not seeking victory but success. The latter he
defines as "we'll know it when we see it." On such nebulous wings does victory, I mean success, fly
these days. Others have defined it more concretely as a stable democratically elected government not
hospitable to al-Qaeda.
We have just had elections there marked expressly by ballot stuffing on a massive scale. The
scheduled run-off between the two leading candidates is to be organized by the same election
commission ... we hope with better external supervision. But we have to remind ourselves of the
present elected government with many years on the job. President Karzai is derisively referred to as
the mayor of Kabul and his writ barely extends there.
The Afghans have never, in recent memory, had a strong central goVernment. It is a clan culture with
the clans governing themselves. Unfortunately for us, the Taleban are rooted in it enjoying strong
local support. But the present Taleban are no longer just fundamentalists because all Pashtoons
viscerally resent the occupation and the minority Tajik dominated central government -- the latter
being a legacy of our use of the Northern Alliance (Tajik) to help defeat the Taleban. Thus among the
new Taleban are not just extremists but also moderates, which is good news because they offer an
avenue for discourse.
The Afghan army being trained is supposed to take over from us and fight the insurgency. With the
additional troops being demanded, this process is to be accelerated relieving our burden within a year
or so we are told. If it reminds an older generation of Vietnamization, they would not be wrong. It is
also just as unlikely to succeed. The problem is, first, lack of capability in both resources and will (as
in Vietnam). Second, the army is Tajik run with Tajik officers and soldiers. There are some Pashtoons,
yes, but many have a habit of receiving training and leaving. Should we leave Afghanistan with a
present type of government and such an army, without any agreement with the Pashtoons, there will
be civil war with a result not unlike the last time over a decade ago.
Al-Qaeda is the bugaboo raised time and again. The Taleban are supposed to provide it a safe haven
from which to attack us. But this organization's adherents are in Pakistan, Indonesia, Yemen, Sudan,
Somalia and so on. Will we go there next? The fact is al-Qaeda has a very light footprints and does not
need a base. What it takes these days to organize an attack is an apartment somewhere and a
computer. It takes good, honest police work to crack these cells not the military.
So, do more young men really need to be going there, or should we develop a sensible exit strategy
and start talking to the insurgents? It's a question the President has to answer soon. Let's hope he
gets it right.
October 14, 2009
CRISIS IS OPPORTUNITY: THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION MISSES CHANCES FOR REAL CHANGE
Arshad M Khan
Greatness, some say, is the nexus of crisis and brilliance -- perhaps even competence. Over the last
year, we have not been short of critical problems, the other half of the equation is, sadly, missing.
The economic crisis caused entirely by a greedy and sometimes corrupt financial services industry
was the first opportunity. Largely responsible were a cast of characters in a revolving door between
government and industry They managed to shred the regulations protecting the public, and in some
ways the industry itself. The Glass-Steagall act was repealed at the altar of free markets. Capital
ratios at banks sky rocketed from ten or twelve to one to over a hundred and above. New high risk
derivatives were left unregulated, and risky mortgages, bundled, sliced and diced, sold as diversified
low-risk securities. When the sky fell in, the banks already had their own in government, and had
spent millions on elected officials, particularly their overseers in the House and Senate Committees.
Instead of cleaning house and restoring a firm foundation, Obama brought back the individuals
responsible for this disaster. Not surprisingly the major banks got all they wanted: the high level
officers kept their jobs, perks, exorbitant salaries, and pensions, while the bankrupting losses were
passed on to the taxpayer. The bill... several trillion. The final irony is that when President Obama
went to lecture Wall Street, the major banking heads, secure in their fiefdoms, did not offer the
courtesy of being present. They didn't have to, they already had all they wanted. With losses billed to
the public and profits to keep, any fears that might have made this episode a lesson have been
banished, and future scenarios are not difficult to imagine. If this crisis brought us a near-depression,
the next one is likely to be worse. We have gone from $340 billion for the Savings nad Loan disaster in
the 1980s - the first consequence of initial deregulation, which we will have paid for by 2014 - to
several trillion for this one so far and the bills keep coming.
Health care reform is becoming another squandered opportunity. We have a for-profit system where
providers and insurers work to maximize profit; they do not maximize health. It is understandable
because they are mostly large corporations responsible to their shareholders. Any tweaks in the
system do not solve the real problem. Like a balloon being squeezed, it appears elsewhere.
Then there is Afghanistan with costs of our wars over a trillion. Instead of bringing it to an end, we are
expanding our efforts. The military is busy applying the methods they used in Vietnam with similar
results. The same calls for more troops and the same dread of "losing on my watch."
There is much on this Commentary page about these three subjects, and any new visitor is
encouraged to give it a look.
October 7, 2009
AFGHANISTAN: IS ESCALATION RATIONAL?
Today marks the start of our ninth year in Afghanistan and much is being written about the war -- all
reminiscent of Vietnam. The domino theory, proven false there, has been yet again disinterred.
According to it the Taleban, if in control of Afghanistan, will export their brand to the surrounding
countries. Bordering on the ridiculous, this theory carries currency only in climes of extreme fear. Of
the neighbors, Iran to the west is Shia and mortal enemy to the fundamentalist Sunni Taleban. Pakistan
on the eastern border has a three-quarter million man army, disciplined and as we saw in Swat, not
reluctant to take on the Taleban when the integrity of the country is threatened. In the north, the
former Soviet "...stans" have reacted brutally to the fundamentalists who have not resurfaced.
Next, the fearmongers claim the Taleban will provide a base of operations for al-Qaeda. But the last
time al-Qaeda operated freely, it cost the Taleban thousands dead, eight years of occupation and the
death of dozens of top commanders. The question to ask is whether they are likely to repeat the same
mistake again. Moreover, a negotiated settlement for a stable Afghanistan must include Tajiks in the
government. Otherwise the cycle of civil war is going to be repeated. The Taleban are also aware that
this time around the Tajiks who run the new Afghan army, are much more powerful.
Afghan infrastructure is so poor the movement of troops, munitions, and other supplies is a major
problem. Hence the chronic shortage of helicopters. Large swaths of mountainous terrain are
impossible to police, patrol and retain. Many of the mountains are too high for helicopters to fly over
requiring circuitous passage through valleys and crucial delays in response to calls for help. Hence,
the heavy loss of life in attacks on outposts as happened last weekend. How 40,000 extra troops and
further expenditure of lives and treasure is going to solve this problem is hard to imagine. More likely
is the decimation of larger outposts with greater loss of life.
The plan proposed wants to win the "hearts and minds" of the population. But history reminds us of
Afghan intolerance of any occupation force. Whatever their internal differences they unite to repel an
invader, and at present Pashtoons of all stripes, Taleban or otherwise, seem to have reached the
conclusion that NATO forces are not beneficial for them. Perhaps we had more fertile ground for
development aid eight years ago but neglect caused by the Iraq distraction closed that window a long
time past. Had we concentrated on Afghanistan then, we might have had a different story to tell.
Before we put more lives in danger we need to hear a coherent achievable strategy. The "dismantle,
disrupt and destroy al-Qaeda" mantra is not a strategy or a meaningful goal. For example, al-Qaeda
affiliates have been operating in Somalia, Morocco and even in Europe. Invasion there appears
ridiculous, then why Afghanistan, now devoid of al-Qaeda hiding in Pakistan. The fact is fighting al-
Qaeda requires police work, as is being done in Europe and here, not an invasion force. What we
have achieved in Afghanistan is to make a new enemy out of the Pashtoons. This hit home vividly last
week in the Denver arrest of Najibullah Zazi for planning a bomb attack. The time has come for an exit
strategy. Let us hope it will be better than Iraq where we have managed to extend Iran's influence at
the cost of treasure and blood.
September 30, 2009
HOW TO TRAP A PRESIDENT IN A LOSING WAR:
Petraeus, McChrystal, and the Surgettes
Front and center in the debate over the Afghan War these days are General Stanley "Stan" McChrystal,
Afghan war commander, whose "classified, pre-decisional" and devastating report -- almost eight
years and at least $220 billion later, the war is a complete disaster -- was conveniently, not to say
suspiciously, leaked to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post by we-know-not-who at a particularly
embarrassing moment for Barack Obama; Admiral Michael "Mike" Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff, who has been increasingly vocal about a "deteriorating" war and the need for more American
boots on the ground; and the president himself, who blitzed every TV show in sight last Sunday and
Monday for his health reform program, but spent significant time expressing doubts about sending
more American troops to Afghanistan. ("I'm not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of
being in Afghanistan... or sending a message that America is here for the duration.")
On the other hand, here's someone you haven't seen front and center for a while: General David
Petraeus. He was, of course, George W. Bush's pick to lead the president's last-ditch effort in Iraq. He
was the poster boy for Bush's military policies in his last two years. He was the highly praised architect
and symbol of "the surge." He appeared repeatedly, his chest a mass of medals and ribbons, for
heavily publicized, widely televised congressional testimony, complete with charts and graphs, that
was meant, at least in part, for the American public. He was the man who, to use an image from that
period which has recently resurfaced, managed to synchronize the American and Baghdad "clocks,"
pacifying for a time both the home and war fronts.
He never met a journalist, as far as we can tell, he didn't want to woo. (And he clearly won over the
influential Tom Ricks, then of the Washington Post, who wrote The Gamble, a bestselling paean to him
and his sub-commanders.) From the look of it, he's the most political general to come down the pike
since, in 1951 in the midst of the Korean War, General Douglas MacArthur said his goodbyes to
Congress after being cashiered by President Truman for insubordination -- for, in effect, wanting to
run his own war and the foreign policy that went with it. It was Petraeus who brought Vietnam-era
counterinsurgency doctrine (COIN) back from the crypt, overseeing the writing of a new Army
counterinsurgency manual that would make it central to both the ongoing wars and what are already
being referred to as the "next" ones.
Before he left office, Bush advanced his favorite general to the head of U.S. Central Command, which
oversees the former president's Global War on Terror across the energy heartlands of the planet from
Egypt to Pakistan. The command is, of course, especially focused on Bush's two full-scale wars: the
Iraq War, now being pursued under Petraeus's former subordinate, General Ray Odierno, and the
Afghan War, for which Petraeus seems to have personally handpicked a new commanding general,
Stan McChrystal. From the military's dark side world of special ops and targeted assassinations,
McChrystal had operated in Iraq and was also part of an Army promotion board headed by Petraeus
that advanced the careers of officers committed to counterinsurgency. To install McChrystal in May,
Obama abruptly sacked the then-Afghan war commander, General David McKiernan, in what was then
considered, with some exaggeration, a new MacArthur moment.
On taking over, McChrystal, who had previously been a counterterrorism guy (and isn't about to give
that up, either), swore fealty to counterinsurgency doctrine (that is, to Petraeus) by proclaiming that
the American goal in Afghanistan must not be primarily to hunt down and kill Taliban insurgents, but to
"protect the population." He also turned to a "team" of civilian experts, largely gathered from
Washington think-tanks, a number of whom had been involved in planning out Petraeus's Iraq surge of
2007, to make an assessment of the state of the war and what needed to be done. Think of them as the
As in many official reassessments, the cast of characters essentially guaranteed the results before a
single meeting was held. Based on past history and opinions, this team could only provide one
Petraeus-approved answer to the war: more -- more troops, up to 40,000-45,000 of them, and other
resources for an American counterinsurgency operation without end.
Hence, even if McChrystal's name is on it, the report slipped to Bob Woodward which just sandbagged
the president has a distinctly Petraeusian shape to it. In a piece linked to Woodward's bombshell in the
Washington Post, Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Karen DeYoung wrote of unnamed officials in Washington
who claimed "the military has been trying to push Obama into a corner." The language in the coverage
elsewhere has been similar.
There is, wrote DeYoung a day later, now a "rupture" between the military "pushing for an early
decision to send more troops" and civilian policymakers "increasingly doubtful of an escalating nation-
building effort." Nancy Youssef of McClatchy News wrote about how "mixed signals" from Washington
were causing "increasing ire from U.S. commanders in Afghanistan"; a group of McClatchy reporters
talked of military advocates of escalation feeling "frustration" over "White House dithering." David
Sanger of the New York Times described "a split between an American military that says it needs more
troops now and an American president clearly reluctant to leap into that abyss." "Impatient" is about
the calmest word you'll see for the attitude of the military top command right now.
Buyer's Remorse, the Afghan War, and the President
In the midst of all this, between Admiral Mullen and General McChrystal is, it seems, a missing man.
The most photogenic general in our recent history, the man who created the doctrine and oversees
the war, the man who is now shaping the U.S. Army (and its future plans and career patterns), is
somehow, at this crucial moment, out of the Washington spotlight. This last week General Petraeus
was, in fact, in England, giving a speech and writing an article for the (London) Times laying out his
basic "protect the population" version of counterinsurgency and praising our British allies by quoting
one of their great imperial plunderers. ("If Cecil Rhodes was correct in his wonderful observation that
'being an Englishman is the greatest prize in the lottery of life,' and I'm inclined to think that he was,
then the second greatest prize in the lottery of life must be to be a friend of an Englishman, and based
on that, the more than 230,000 men and women in uniform who work with your country's finest day by
day are very lucky indeed, as am I.")
Only at mid-week, with Washington aboil, did he arrive in the capital for a counterinsurgency
conference at the National Press Club and quietly "endorse" "General McChrystal's assessment."
Whatever the look of things, however, it's unlikely that Petraeus is actually on the sidelines at this
moment of heightened tension. He is undoubtedly still The Man.
So much is, of course, happening just beyond the sightlines of those of us who are mere citizens of
this country, which is why inference and guesswork are, unfortunately, the order of the day. Read any
account in a major newspaper right now and it's guaranteed to be chock-a-block full of senior officials
and top military officers who are never "authorized to speak," but nonetheless yak away from behind a
scrim of anonymity. Petraeus may or may not be one of them, but the odds are reasonable that this is
still a Petraeus Moment.
If so, Obama has only himself to blame. He took up Afghanistan ("the right war") in the presidential
campaign as proof that, despite wanting to end the war in Iraq, he was tough. (Why is it that a
Democratic candidate needs a war or threat of war to trash-talk about in order to prove his "strength,"
when doing so is obviously a sign of weakness?)
Once in office, Obama compounded the damage by doubling down his bet on the war. In March, he
introduced a "comprehensive new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan" in his first significant public
statement on the subject, which had expansion written all over it. He also agreed to send in 21,000
more troops (which, by the way, Petraeus reportedly convinced him to do). In August, in another sign
of weakness masquerading as strength, before an unenthusiastic audience at a Veterans of Foreign
Wars convention, he unnecessarily declared: "This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity."
All of this he will now pay for at the hands of Petraeus, or if not him, then a coterie of military men
behind the latest push for a new kind of Afghan War.
As it happens, this was never Obama's "war of necessity." It was always Petraeus's. And the new report
from McChrystal and the Surgettes is undoubtedly Petraeus's progeny as well. It seems, in fact,
cleverly put together to catch a cautious president, who wasn't cautious enough about his war of
choice, in a potentially devastating trap. The military insistence on quick action on a troop decision
sets up a devastating choice for the president: "Failure to provide adequate resources also risks a
longer conflict, greater casualties, higher overall costs, and ultimately, a critical loss of political
support. Any of these risks, in turn, are likely to result in mission failure." Go against your chosen
general and the failure that follows is yours alone. (Unnamed figures supposedly close to McChrystal
are already launching test balloons, passed on by others, suggesting that the general might resign in
protest if the president doesn't deliver -- a possibility he has denied even considering.) On the other
hand, offer him somewhere between 15,000 and 45,000 more American troops as well as other
resources, and the failure that follows will still be yours.
It's a basic lose-lose proposition and, as journalist Eric Schmitt wrote in a New York Times assessment
of the situation, "it will be very hard to say no to General McChrystal." No wonder the president and
some of his men are dragging their feet and looking elsewhere. As one typically anonymous "defense
analyst" quoted in the Los Angeles Times said, the administration is suffering "buyer's remorse for this
war... They never really thought about what was required, and now they have sticker shock."
Admittedly, according to the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 51% of Americans are against
sending in more troops. (Who knows how they would react to a president who went on TV to announce
that he had genuinely reconsidered?) Official Washington is another matter. For General Petraeus,
who claims to have no political ambitions but is periodically mentioned as the Eisenhower of 2012, how
potentially peachy to launch your campaign against the president who lost you the war.
A Petraeus Moment?
In the present context, the media language being used to describe this military-civilian conflict of wills
-- frustration, impatience, split, rupture, ire -- may fall short of capturing the import of a moment which
has been brewing, institutionally speaking, for a long time. There have been increasing numbers of
generals' "revolts" of various sorts in our recent past. Of course, George W. Bush was insistent on
turning planning over to his generals (though only when he liked them), something Barack Obama
criticized him for during the election campaign. ("The job of the commander in chief is to listen to the
best counsel available and to listen even to people you don't agree with and then ultimately you make
the final decision and you take responsibility for those actions.")
Now, it looks as if we are about to have a civilian-military encounter of the first order in which Obama
will indeed need to take responsibility for difficult actions (or the lack thereof). If a genuine clash heats
up, expect more discussion of "MacArthur moments," but this will not be Truman versus MacArthur
redux, and not just because Petraeus seems to be a subtler political player than MacArthur ever was.
Over the nearly six decades that separate us from Truman's great moment, the Pentagon has become a
far more overwhelming institution. In Afghanistan, as in Washington, it has swallowed up much of what
once was intelligence, as it is swallowing up much of what once was diplomacy. It is linked to one of
the two businesses, the Pentagon-subsidized weapons industry, which has proven an American
success story even in the worst of economic times (the other remains Hollywood). It now holds a far
different position in a society that seems to feed on war.
It's one thing for the leaders of a country to say that war should be left to the generals when suddenly
embroiled in conflict, quite another when that country is eternally in a state of war. In such a case, if
you turn crucial war decisions over to the military, you functionally turn foreign policy over to them as
well. All of this is made more complicated, because the cast of "civilians" theoretically pitted against
the military right now includes Karl W. Eikenberry, a retired lieutenant general who is the U.S.
ambassador to Afghanistan, Douglas Lute, a lieutenant general who is the president's special advisor
on Afghanistan and Pakistan (dubbed the "war czar" when he held the same position in the Bush
administration), and James Jones, a retired Marine Corps general, who is national security advisor, not
to speak of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The question is: will an already heavily militarized foreign policy geared to endless global war be
surrendered to the generals? Depending on what Obama does, the answer to that question may not be
fully, or even largely, clarified this time around. He may quietly give way, or they may, or compromises
may be reached behind the scenes. After all, careers and political futures are at stake.
But consider us warned. This is a question that is not likely to go away and that may determine what
this country becomes.
We know what a MacArthur moment was; we may find out soon enough what a Petraeus moment is.
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.
com, where this article first appeared. He is the author of The End of Victory Culture, a history of the
Cold War and beyond, as well as of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing. He also edited The World
According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire (Verso, 2008), an alternative history of
the mad Bush years.
Sepbember 23, 2009
A LETTER TO 'THE ECONOMIST' - ARUNDHATI ROY
Source: Outlook India
To the Editor
This is with regard to the review of my book Listening to Grasshoppers that appeared in The
Economist. If this letter is long, ironically it is because the factual errors in the review are so many. In
an attempt to highlight my "flawed reporting and incorrect analysis" the reviewer makes some
extraordinary errors and leaps of logic:
1. "Ms Roy cites a massacre of perhaps 2,000 Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, in which the state's Hindu-
nationalist government was allegedly complicit. Almost no senior official or Hinduist agitator has been
prosecuted over the atrocity. And Narendra Modi, Gujarat's chief minister then and now, is currently
vying to take over the leadership of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, and one day India.
Many of the country's industrialists would approve of that; even Ratan Tata, the gentlemanly head of
the vast Tata Group which prides itself on its ethical dealings, has praised Mr Modi's business-friendly
policies. Nothing annoys Ms Roy more."
Mr Tata did not merely praise Modi's business policies, he endorsed him warmly and publicly as a
future candidate for prime minister. In India the said Mr Modi is still being investigated for his role in
the 2002 pogrom. In his successful election campaigns after the pogrom, Modi brazenly cultivated
communal hatred. He is a member of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh), an organization that is
proud of its fascist origins and counts both Hitler and Mussolini as its heroes. In addition to the
massacres about 150,000 Muslims were driven from their homes during the carnage. Even today,
under Mr Modi's administration, most continue to live in ghettos, socially and economically boycotted
in a brutal system of communal apartheid, while the killers continue to live as free, respectable
citizens. Incidentally, after considering the available information, the US government has denied Mr
Modi a visa. A handicap, wouldn't you say, for a potential prime minister? Incidentally, for more on the
Tata's "ethical dealings" you could google "Kalinganagar" or "Singur".
2. ". . . she is not always a reliable witness. Her claim that in Kashmir last summer protesters were as
likely to call for union with Pakistan as freedom from India is probably wrong; most seemed to want to
be shot of both countries."
I have never made such a claim. Nobody with an even passing acquaintance with Kashmir would (or
should) say something so ridiculous. Given the intensity and violence of the fratricidal wars that
Kashmiris have fought, and the thousands that have lost their lives over the Pakistan vs Freedom
issue, and given that Kashmiri leadership is still unresolved about the question, it's extraordinary that
the reviewer can so casually and so glibly claim to know what the majority of people of Kashmir want.
My essay on Kashmir is actually titled "Azadi", which in Urdu means "Freedom". Perhaps the reviewer
is unfamiliar with the language?
3. "More typically, she appears to gather her facts from newspapers (her articles strike the reader
rather as 'lounge notes'), before selectively arranging and then exaggerating them to suit her own
ends. For example, about 25% of India's territory is alleged to be affected by a Maoist insurgency, but
that does not make it, as Ms Roy writes, 'out of government control'."
If the reviewer had cared to read the book instead of ransacking it, he/she would have come across a
sentence that clarifies that several of the essays are "responses to the responses" about certain
events. Given that much of my book is a critique of the disturbing role that a section of the corporate
media has played in these events, is it surprising that media reports are frequently referred to? Most
of the time this is in order to expose them for being false and motivated. To conclude from this that my
"facts are gathered from newspapers" and that the articles are "lounge notes" is laughable.
The figure of 25 % of India's territory being under Maoist insurgency is a figure advanced by the Indian
security establishment and is probably a slight exaggeration. However, it is a fact that vast swathes of
India's territory are out of government control. It is for this reason that the Government has
announced that in October, after the rains, there will be a military operation in states like Chhattisgarh,
Orissa and Jharkhand in which ground troops will be backed up with helicopter gunships and satellite
mapping. A brigade headquarters is being established in Raipur (Chhattisgarh), and 26,000 paramilitary
troops (the same Rashtriya Rifles who are deployed in Kashmir, and similar to the Assam Rifles
deployed in Assam, Manipur and Nagaland) are being raised for this war. This is in addition the
thousands of security personnel who are already deployed in these areas. Perhaps the reviewer has
never visited Dantewara , seen the burned, empty villages, or crossed the Indravati into the territory
that is called "Pakistan", where police and security forces do not venture? Perhaps he/she hasn't
heard of Abujmaad?
4. "Beyond India, her grasp of her subject-matter gets looser. If Ms Roy believes, as she writes, that a
good portion of Africa's 'contemporary horrors' are caused by America's 'new colonial interests', she
would do well to pay a visit to the continent."
My book is about India, not Africa, but yes, there is a paragraph about Africa. Here's the sentence the
reviewer refers to: "The battle to control Africa's mineral wealth rages on -- scratch the surface of
contemporary horrors in Africa, in Rwanda, the Congo, Nigeria, pick your country and chances are that
you will be able to trace the story back to the old colonial interests of Europe and the new colonial
interests of the United States." My mistake here is that I didn't mention the new colonial interests of
countries like China and India as well. Does your reviewer not know about the legacy of Shell Oil in
Nigeria? Or the politics that surrounds the mining of a mineral called coltan? Or of how Belgium's
colonial regime structured the barriers of hatred between the Tutsis and the Hutus in Rwanda with
their racist profiling and social engineering? As for the recommendation that I pay a visit to the
continent . . . it's a grand idea, but how does one visit an entire continent? I have visited parts of it.
Plenty of times. But the reviewer should know that it is possible to know things about places even if
you haven't been to them, like historians know things about history without traveling back in time.
5. "For a more measured analysis, Ms Roy should perhaps turn to the finance ministry's recently
published Economic Survey. There she would read that, 'High growth is critical to generate the
revenues needed for meeting our social welfare objectives.' Ms Roy should take note."
Am I really being waved back into my seat with the finance ministry's Economic Survey? I thought
everybody knew that the cut back on public spending (social welfare objectives) is almost in direct
proportion to the growth rate? It's often a pre-requisite when loans from the World Bank, the ADB and
the IMF are negotiated. Isn't that what structural adjustment is all about? Or is this the old Trickle Down
theory being re-cycled? I've always wondered about this. Sometimes they say the Free Market
provides a level playing field -- but then when questioned, they ask us to wait for Trickle Down. But
things only Trickle Down slopes don't they? Anyway, there is a school of thought which believes that
people actually do have rights. The right, for instance, to resist the Government taking away their land
and their livelihoods, often at gunpoint, and then ordering them to wait for the leftovers (if the
gentlemen leave any) to trickle down after the feast.
Regardless of our obvious ideological differences I hope you agree that errors and innuendo of this
nature undermine the real debate.
With best wishes,
September 16, 2009
THE FIRESTORM AHEAD
Source: ME Online
There is a firestorm ahead in the Middle East for which neither the US government nor the US public is
prepared. They seem scarcely aware how close it is on the horizon or how ferocious it will be. The US
government (and therefore almost inevitably the US public) is deluding itself massively about its
capacity to handle the situation in terms of its stated objectives. The storm will go from Iraq to
Afghanistan to Pakistan to Israel/Palestine, and in the classic expression "it will spread like wildfire."
Let us start with Iraq. The United States has signed a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Iraq,
which went into effect on July 1. It provided for turning over internal security to the Iraqi government
and, in theory, essentially restricting US forces to their bases and to some limited role in training Iraqi
troops. Some of the wording of this agreement is ambiguous. Deliberately so, since that was the only
way both sides would sign it.
Even the first months of operation show how poorly this agreement is operating. The Iraqi forces have
been interpreting it very strictly, formally forbidding both joint patrols and also any unilateral US
military actions without prior detailed clearance with the government. It has gotten to the point that
Iraqi forces are stopping US forces from passing checkpoints with supplies during daytime hours.
The US forces have been chafing. They have tried to interpret the clause guaranteeing them the right
of self-defense far more loosely than the Iraqi forces want. They are pointing to the upturn in violence
in Iraq and therefore implicitly to the incapacity of Iraqi forces to guarantee order.
The general commanding the US forces, Ray Odierno, is obviously extremely unhappy and is patently
scheming to find excuses to reestablish a direct US role. Recently, he met with Prime Minister Nouri al-
Maliki of Iraq and President Masoud Barzani of the Kurdish Regional Government. Odierno sought to
persuade them to permit tripartite (Iraqi/Kurdish/American) joint patrols in Mosul and other areas of
northern Iraq, in order to prevent or minimize violence. They politely agreed to consider his proposal.
Unfortunately for Odierno, his plan would require a formal revision of the SOFA agreement.
Originally, there was supposed to be a referendum in the beginning of July on popular approval of the
SOFA agreement. The United States was afraid of losing the vote, which would have meant that all US
forces would have had to be out of Iraq by Dec. 31, 2010, one full year earlier than the theoretical date
in the SOFA agreement.
The United States thought it was very clever in persuading al-Maliki to postpone this referendum to
January 2010. Now it will be held in conjunction with the national elections. In the national elections,
everyone will be seeking to obtain votes. No one is going to be campaigning in favor of a "yes" vote
on the referendum. Lest this be in any doubt, al-Maliki is submitting a project to the Iraqi parliament
that will permit a simple majority of "no" votes to annul the agreement. There will be a majority of "no"
votes. There may even be an overwhelming majority of "no" votes. Odierno should be packing his
bags now. I'll bet he still has the illusion that he can avoid the onset of the firestorm. He can't.
What will happen next? At the present, but this may change between now and January, it looks like al-
Maliki will win the election. He will do this by becoming the number one champion of Iraqi nationalism.
He will make deals with all and sundry on this basis. Iraqi nationalism at the moment doesn't have much
to do with Iran or Saudi Arabia or Israel or Russia. It means first of all liberating Iraq from the last
vestiges of US colonial rule, which is how almost all Iraqis define what they have been living under
Will there be internal violence in Iraq? Probably, though possibly less than Odierno and others expect.
But so what? Iraqi "liberation"? which is what the entire Middle East will interpret a "no" vote on the
referendum to be -- will immediately have a great impact on Afghanistan. There people will say, if the
Iraqis can do it, so can we.
Of course, the situation in Afghanistan is different, very different, from that of Iraq. But look at what is
going on now with the elections in Afghanistan. We have a government put into power to contain and
destroy the Taliban. The Taliban have turned out to be more tenacious and militarily effective than any
one seemed ever to anticipate. Even the tough US commander there, Stanley McChrystal, has
recognized that. The US military is now talking of "succeeding" in perhaps a decade. Soldiers who
think they have a decade to win a war against insurgents have clearly not been reading military history.
Notice the Afghan politicians themselves. Three leading candidates for the presidency, including
President Hamid Karzai, debated on television the current internal war. They agreed on one thing.
There must be some kind of political negotiations with the Taliban. They differed on the details. The US
(and NATO) forces are there ostensibly to destroy the Taliban. And the leading Afghan politicians are
debating how to come to political terms with them. There is a serious disjuncture here of appreciation
of realities, or perhaps of political objectives.
The polls -- for what they are worth -- are showing that the majority of Afghans want the NATO forces to
leave and the majority of US voters want the same thing. Now look ahead to January 2010, when the
Iraqis vote the United States out of Iraq. Remember that, before the Taliban came to power, the country
was the site of fierce and ruthless fighting among competing warlords, each with different ethnic
bases, to control the country.
The United States was actually relieved when the Pakistani-backed Taliban took power. Order at last.
There turned out to be a minor problem. The Taliban were serious about sharia and friendly to the
emergent al-Qaeda. So, after 9/11, the United States, with west European approval and United Nations
sanction, invaded. The Taliban were ousted from power -- for a little while.
What will happen now? The Afghans will probably revert to the nasty continuing inter-ethnic wars of
the warlords, with the Taliban just one more faction. The US public's tolerance for that war will
evaporate entirely. All the internal factions and many of the neighbors (Russia, Iran, India, and
Pakistan) will remain to fight over the pieces.
And then stage three -- Pakistan. Pakistan is another complicated situation. But none of the players
there trust the United States. And the polls there show that the Pakistani public thinks that the
greatest danger to Pakistan is the United States, and that by an overwhelming vote. The traditional
enemy, India, is far behind the United States in the polls. When Afghanistan crumbles into a full-
fledged civil war, the Pakistani army will be very busy supporting the Taliban. They cannot support the
Taliban in Afghanistan while fighting them in Pakistan. They will no longer be able to accept US drones
bombing in Pakistan.
So then comes stage four of the firestorm -- Israel/Palestine. The Arab world will observe the collapse
of US projects in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The US project in Israel/Palestine is a peace deal
between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The Israelis are not going to budge an inch. But neither now,
and especially after the rest of the firestorm, are the Palestinians. The one consequence will be the
enormous pressure that other Arab states will put upon Fatah and Hamas to join forces. This will be
over Mahmoud Abbas's dead body -- which might literally be the case.
The whole Obama program will have gone up in flames. And the Republicans will make hay with it. They
will call US defeat in the Middle East "betrayal" and it is obvious now that there is a large group inside
the United States very receptive to such a theme.
One either anticipates firestorms and does something useful, or one gets swept up in them.
Immanuel Wallerstein, Senior Research Scholar at Yale University, is the author of The Decline of
American Power: The US in a Chaotic World (New Press).
September 9, 2009
ON PRESIDENT OBAMA'S HEALTHCARE SPEECH TO CONGRESS
Arshad M. Khan
What a masterful speech on health care by the President. It delineated clearly the effects of the
proposed plan on all segments, and why everyone would be better off. While not too clear on the
costs, he spoke at length debunking the myths and explaining in detail the benefits. The close,
eloquent and brilliant, evoked the late Senator Kennedy's dream of universal health care, and drew on
our sense of compassion both as individuals and as a country.
So, if the plan passes, everyone will be covered (after a fashion). The public option, never a serious
contenting alternative has gone from diminutive to vestigial. And there is a good chance it will
disappear in a 'trigger' clause, where if the insurers do not fulfill certain expectations it is supposed to
kick in automatically. Well insurers and their lawyers and accountants are smart enough never to let
Our problems with health care are two-fold. First, everyone does not have access, but secondly, and
equally important, our system almost begs for waste. We spend roughly double per capita than other
advanced countries for a much worse outcome. For example, in a recently released study we were
found to be last among seventeen developed nations in preventable deaths. Earlier WHO had rated
our system at #37 behind countries like Morocco and Costa Rica.
The plan before us tackles access but does not make any major inroads in reducing cost. The reason
is very simple: it would require a massive structural change.
In our system, large corporations run for-profit hospitals and insurance companies. Profits are
skimmed off at each step of the average person's interaction with the health system. In Europe there
is either a state run system with salaries for health professionals and administrators, or, insurers that
function more like charities, as in France. The exceptions like Germany have close supervision of the
for-profits much like utilities in the U.S.
The consequences are as expected. We spend double per person on health care for much worse
outcomes. In some instances the differences are striking. A recent news report noted that Qatar
providing free healthcare for every citizen has state-of-the-art facilities and spends only $1500 per
person in comparison with $7200 in the U.S.
When hospitals are paid per procedure, there is strong incentive to conduct every conceivable
relevant test, to err on the side of more rather than less. It is not necessarily optimum because patient
time, inconvenience, suffering and side-effects are also a factor. At the very least Medicare needs to
rethink its payment criteria and focus on the patient instead of procedure. In the long term, our whole
system needs reexamination for the health not just of our citizens but of our country and economy. We
have to fundamentally alter the distorted incentives of a fee-for-service system that spiral costs
September 2, 2009
AFGHANISTAN - WHAT NEXT?
Arshad M. Khan
General McChrystal's long-awaited report this week evokes memories of Vietnam. Short summary: We
are not winning the war. The war is winnable. We just need more troops. We are in a contest to win
the hearts and minds of the people. Sound familiar? The ghost of Vietnam is clanking its chains and
beginning to rouse from slumber. The Taleban stamped its endorsement on the 'not winning so far'
assessment of the report by promptly killing the Afghan Deputy Intelligence Chief, Abdullah Laghmani,
and several provincial officials in a suicide bombing. It was described as the worst loss the
government has suffered since its inception.
American casualties in the last month have been the highest in eight years. Every time we have an
"Operation This" or an "Operation That" the Taleban simply melt away into the population. The more
troops we send, the more targets we offer. Every time we are ambushed, we assume the closest
village is unfriendly and send in planes causing unwarranted civilian deaths and more recruits for the
Who are the Taleban? The question is irrelevant for they now have the support of most Pushtoons.
The insurgency has become a fight against foreign occupation supporting a Tajik dominated
government unacceptable to the Pushtoon majority. They will fight on as they always have done.
The drone attacks continue and the leaders killed are replaced. The ratio of civilian deaths to targets
is running at 50 to 1 - apparently within the tolerance level of our military experts. So who is supposed
to win the hearts and minds? The poor soldiers on patrol? "Sorry about your relatives but we are
really here to help you."
Our involvement in Afghanistan started thirty years ago. We dumped them unceremoniously when the
Soviets left. With a wrecked country and their means of livelihood, fruit and nut orchards, destroyed
they coped the only way they could. Fruit trees take years to mature; opium poppies yield a quick
Afghanistan did not attack us on 9/11. There is no evidence the Taleban government at the time even
knew of the attack in advance. But they say, Bin Laden is there. Nobody knows, though in all
likelihood he is dead. Moreover, Al Qaeda is not a formal organization with a command structure; it
has now become an idea with adherents in places as disconnected as Pakistan, Indonesia and
Somalia. Troops in Afghanistan are not going to help these countries.
So the poor grunt is taught to say to the Afghan villagers. "We are here to help you."
"You said that thirty years ago. This time you've been here eight years and you haven't done anything
but kill some of my cousins," is the unspoken reply.
Meanwhile, the President's poll ratings are falling off the cliff. If one follows the policies of a highly
unpopular predecessor, it doesn't take genius to figure out one can expect to rival his popularity.
It is high time we were out of Afghanistan. We have the technical resources to keep a close watch
without troops on the ground.
August 26, 2009
PROFIT - THE PROBLEM WITH US HEALTHCARE
The first problem with our system is its for-profit basis. Far from generating innovation as touted by
some, it is biased towards non-optimal outcomes. Some thirty years ago there was a study reporting
on the incidence of hysterectomies (removal of the uterus) in the US. Women who were insured had
an incidence several times higher than the uninsured. This leads to two possibilities: either some of
the insured underwent unnecessary surgery reflecting poorly on the health professions, or, the
uninsured were denied necessary treatment which reflects poorly on our society. Both eventualities
point to a dysfunctional system driven by profit.
Over utilization has also been documented in a recent article "The Cost Conundrum" in The New
Yorker, June 1, 2009. We have yet to figure a way of making individual actions consonant with system
efficiency. The other developed countries offer some insight. Whether they use a system of non-
profit insurance or a government owned and run single-payer system, the common element is the
exclusion of profit.
In France, for example, the non-profit insurers are viewed as charities affiliated with one's
professional association, or industry, or union. They operate under strict guidelines. In Britain, the
medical and other staff are on salary and family doctors are paid on a per registered patient basis. In
both types of programs, there is no incentive for excessive treatment and no one is denied necessary
Successful Presidents have participated vigorously in fighting for their programs. Without Johnson's
active lobbying of key legislators and wheelin'-and-dealin', we would never have had Medicare, now
the second most popular government program in the country. Ditto for Roosevelt who worked
tirelessly for his programs and whose legendary pragmatism ultimately brought us the New Deal.
Sometimes an issue is too important for a President to be a passive observer of the Congressional
August 19, 2009
THE FIX IS IN - 'HEALTHCARE'
Arshad M. Khan
I have a confession to make. I am the recipient of inside information. I was talking to a Consultant (the
highest level of specialist in the British health system) from a British hospital recently, and I
mentioned Senator Grassley's story about a 77-year old man's care being rationed in Britain because
the money would be better spent on someone younger. After laughing hysterically, he asked if our
politicians were just plain stupid or crooked liars. I assured him they were not stupid.
The news is being broken gently to the masses. No real public option. Single-payer went off the table
a long, long time ago. That's what Britain, Spain, etc. use. You never see a bill, you can go to any
doctor you want. When immediacy is warranted, you receive it. No one there is dying from lack of care
- for cancer, for example - as is the case here. The figure I read recently was 22,000 annually. It is a
national scandal and a disgrace for a developed country.
The watered-down plan changes little. Not so long ago, we used to hear of the $600 screwdriver from
the defense industry. Now we have the $100 aspirin tablet on your hospital bill. The for-profit
hospitals will continue to mint money and their CEO's continue to make hundreds of millions. Big
pharma will continue to supply drugs at non-negotiable prices that are the highest in the world.
Representative Conyers' Medicare-for-all bill, perhaps the simplest interim solution, doesn't have a
snowball's chance in hell. Hypocrisy rules as they are all in favor of Medicare for the over-65
population. Why can's the 64-year old have it? Logic does not deliver cash by the bucket load for the
next election. The answer? Vote out everyone, who opposed the Conyers' bill, at the next election.
Then the message will get through that the public is serious about health care.
August 12, 2009
"INDEPENDENCE" CELEBRATIONS FOR ONE AND ONE-HALF BILLION
Arshad M Khan
The coming week (August 14/15) celebrates independence secured by Britain's largest colony.
Fragmented, riven asunder by religious divide, it became two countries India and Pakistan, and a
blood bath. A million or more died as madness replaced reason, religious hatred took the place of
love and tolerance, revenge and old injustices became paramount. One would have expected the
lessons learned in the divide to have lasted. But no. Pakistan opted for ethnic discrimination, then
brutal suppression, leading to open rebellion and finally further division. Bangladesh was born.
Before the British arrived, India was a thriving economic superpower with a highly literate population.
Education was principally through schools affiliated with temples and mosques. The British destroyed
the guilds, the apprentice system, the skills, the manufactories, to make way for their own
manufactured goods. And at the stroke of a pen, they made everyone illiterate by requiring English as
the language of government and commerce.
It was only a matter of time before church schools teaching in English supplanted the mosque and
temple schools for those who wished any form of material or professional success. The universities,
medicine, law, engineering the administrative professions (Indian Civil Service), the military
academies, all in English. India became a second class imitator of Britain. Wordsworth's daffodils
transported from the misty dales and hills of the Lake District to the tropical heat of India where a
sunny summer's day was hell and rain a blessing, the words and sentiments remaining a puzzle to
generations of schoolboys.
So what have we now on the eve of this sixty-second anniversary: India, a "used-up democracy" in the
words of Indian activist and Booker Prize-winning novelist Arundhati Roy, who on a visit to Pakistan
remarked unsurprisingly "Same culture, same people" - "used-up" in the sense that it represents
corporate interests and a wealthy minority; Bangladesh, an economic basket case; and Pakistan busy
fighting its own in a so-called 'war-on-terror' that self-generates terror and staring full-face at
fragmentation. Language has so corrupted the mind into the superiority of all things foreign that
solutions to domestic problems are sought elsewhere. (See "Language, Culture and Identity" near the
bottom of the Commentary list, accessible by scrolling down). India once independent and now
increasingly aligned in the cultural and corporate imperialism orbit will soon be subject to the same
political and economic pressures that make independence celebrations a mockery in Pakistan and
What of the future? Stay tuned.
August 5, 2009
HEALTH CARE --- HOW THE INDUSTRY WON
THIRTEEN IN CONGRESS CONTROL HEALTH CARE DEBATE
For those still clinging to quaint notions of the American ideal, these have been a faith-shaking 10
years. Just as evolutionary science once got in the way of creationists' catechism, so has politics now
undermined patriots' naive belief that the United States is a functioning democracy.
The 21st century opened with a handful of Supreme Court puppets appointing George W. Bush
president after he lost the popular vote - and we all know the costs in blood and treasure that insult
wrought. Now the decade closes with another cabal of stooges assaulting the "one person, one vote"
principle - and potentially bringing about another disaster.
Here we have a major congressional push to fix a health care system that leaves one-sixth of the
country without coverage. Here we have 535 House and Senate delegates elected to give all 300
million of us a voice in the solution. And here we have just 13 of those delegates holding the initiative
In the Senate, both parties have outsourced health care legislation to six Finance Committee
lawmakers: Max Baucus, D-Mont.; Kent Conrad, D-N.D.; Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.; Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.;
Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine. The group recently announced it is rejecting
essential provisions like a public insurance option that surveys show the public supports. Meanwhile,
seven mostly Southern House Democrats have been threatening to use their Commerce Committee
votes to gut any health care bill, regardless of what the American majority wants.
This, however, isn't about the majority. These lawmakers, hailing mostly from small states and rural
areas, together represent only 13 million people, meaning those speaking for just 4 percent of America
are maneuvering to impose their health care will on the other 96 percent of us.
Census figures show that the poverty rates are far higher and per-capita incomes far lower in the 13
legislators' specific districts than in the nation as a whole. Put another way, these politicians represent
exactly the kinds of districts whose constituents would most benefit from universal health care. So
why are they leading the fight to stop - rather than pass - reform?
Because when tyranny mixes with legalized bribery, constituents' economic concerns stop mattering.
Thanks to our undemocratic system and our corrupt campaign finance laws, the health care industry
doesn't have to fight a 50-state battle. It can simply buy a tiny group of congresspeople, which is what
it's done. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, health interests have given these 13
members of Congress $12 million in campaign contributions - a huge sum further enhanced by
Remember, politicians trade favors for re-election support - and the best way to ensure re-election is
to raise money to for TV airtime (read: commercials). The result is an amplifier of tyranny: Precisely
because the undemocratic system unduly empowers legislators from sparsely populated (and hence
cheap) media markets, industry cash can more easily purchase tyrannical obstruction from those same
legislators. In this case, that means congresspeople blocking health care reform that would most help
their own voters.
Of course, there is talk of circumventing the 13 obstructionists and forcing a un-filibuster-able vote of
the full Congress. Inside the Washington palace, the media court jesters and political aides-de-camp
have reacted to such plans by raising predictable charges of improper procedure, poor manners, bad
etiquette and other Versailles transgressions.
But the real crime would be letting the tyrants block that vote, trample democracy and kill health care
reform in the process.
Top Ten Ways To Tell Your President & His Party Aren't Fighting For Health Care For Everybody ---
THE FEDERAL RESERVE
Arshad M. Khan
Not too many people understand the workings or composition of the Federal Reserve. But if it is now
being given an additional regulatory role perhaps we should.
Of the two arms of economic policy, fiscal and monetary, the Fed controls the latter, independent of
any elected body, Congress, or executive. We pride ourselves on this independence, unusual, in
extreme, among industrialized nations. The question is, whether the Fed employs it towards
commonweal. Monetary policy affects our everyday lives, and bank regulation - or lack thereof - can
have catastrophic consequences as we have only recently witnessed.
First off, the Fed prints our money and can create even more through market operations. It runs 12
regional banks and 25 branches to execute its policies and regulatory functions. However, these
regional banks are private and their shares are owned by the very same financial institutions they
regulate. A major function of the regional Feds is to hold reserves for these affiliated institutions and
discount their commercial paper.
At the national level, the Fed has a seven-member board of governors appointed by the President to
14-year staggered terms. They are independent of all branches of government and their deliberations
are secret. These governors are more often than not from the same commercial banks and financial
institutions that the Fed oversees.
The Fed's policies for several decades have tended to favor creditors over borrowers. Unfortunately,
for you and me, we are the borrowers - think of the house and the car - and the banks, the creditors.
The Fed has also tended lately to favor the larger banks over the small local ones. Hence, the
swallowing up of the local banks one might have noticed in the last decade or so.
Finally, an example of the close intertwining relationships apparently favoring large banks: During his
tenure as head of the New York Fed, the current Treasury Secretary had an unusually close
relationship with key executives of Citigroup, Goldman-Sachs, etc. Prior to that he was a known
protege of Clinton's Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin (Goldman-Sachs to Treasury Secretary to
Citigroup). As head of the New York Fed during the banking debacle he helped develop the rescue
strategy with Bush's Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson (Goldman-Sachs to Treasury Secretary) before
the seamless transition to the Obama rescue plan. And so it goes.
July 22, 2009
HOW FAR BEHIND IS THE USA IN SOCIAL SERVICES --- MEASURING REAL DEMOCRACY
Does our democracy respond to the needs of the majority or is the system now flawed and in need of
change? Here is some published data on how well our elected rulers serve us.
Ranking of Select Countries by Health Systems
26 Saudi Arabia
27 United Arab Emirates
36 Costa Rica
37 United States of America
The countries better than us may come as a surprise.
Ranking of Countries by HDI (Human development Index - a composite measuring well-being)
1 Iceland 0.968
2 Norway 0.968
3 Canada 0.967
4 Australia 0.965
5 Ireland 0.960
15 USA 0.950
16 Spain 0.949
We leave it to the reader to decide how well we are being represented by the people we elect.
July 15, 2009
CHANGE YOU CAN BELIEVE IN -- WHEN YOU GET IT
Arshad M. Khan
Yesterday, July 14, was Bastille Day, a reminder of the French Revolution, a reminder also that
revolutions happen when the military refuses to shoot the crowds of discontents disgusted with their
government. Are we there yet? Far from it; our stomachs are too full. But the increasing willingness
of Administrations, Republican and now Democrat, to thwart the will of the people has bred an apathy
evident in low voter turnouts. The trend showed a slight reversal in the Obama election phenomenon
but this government too shows no change in course on the major issues.
Despite overwhelming public support for an administratively efficient single-payer health plan (without
dozens of companies, their profits and their individual bureaucracies) our government is side-lining it,
preferring instead the current maze of plans with ready snares for the unwary. On the fiscal front the
trillions spent and promised to the banks at the expense of the individual tax payer are bearing fruit.
Our deficit has soared to a record trillion and the fiscal year is not over. The banks are doing quite
well: Goldman-Sachs has reported a profit of $3.44 billion for the April-June quarter. Predicted annual
payout to its 28,000 staff is expected to hit $18 billion.
Gretchen Morgenson, arguably the most important financial journalist around, reported last fall on a
closed-door deal that was a shocker. In effect, the rescue of AIG was a hand over of bailout money to
companies holding AIG's Credit Default Swaps, chief among them Goldman Sachs who were owed
about $20 billion. Why a shocker? Because Lloyd Blankfein the Goldman-Sachs CEO was at the New
York Federal Reserve when it was decided to save AIG and let Lehman Brothers fail. Who was the
President of the New York Federal Reserve? Timothy Geithner. Who was the Treasury Secretary at
the time? Henry 'Hank' Paulson, who had also been Lloyd Blankfein's predecessor at Goldman-Sachs.
Great chums all and quite liberal when it comes to your money. Perhaps the seamless transition from
Bush to Obama on the banking and economy fronts should be no surprise.
July 8, 2009
THE FIASCOLISTS: BANKSTERS AND FAT CATS
Will they work for the best interests of ordinary people? You decide as you examine the list and
ponder the two questions below:
1. Why was the Goldman-Sachs CEO at the meeting to bail out AIG? Because the moment AIG got the
money, Goldman holding AIG Credit Default Swaps came away with a huge chunk of it. Who was
providing the bailout money? Paulsen, the former head of Goldman.
2. Why hasn't Citi undergone a FDIC intervention (a process whereby the depositors remain protected
but the bank is restructured meaning the shareholders lose and the senior managers are usually
turfed out), which would have saved us from paying for worthless toxic assets, and would have freed
the banks to loan money without having to put profits towards a loan loss reserve?
The List in alphabetical order:
Lewis Alexander, now "Counselor to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner" -- formerly Citigroup's Chief
Economist. His verdict in 2007 at the onset of the mortgage crash: "I think that it is not going to spill
more broadly into the economy."
Hillary Clinton, now "United States Secretary of State" -- formerly Senator from New York. As of 4/4/08
Hillary and Bill had jointly earned $109 Million since they left the White House mostly from speaking
fees paid to Bill. Bill signed into law the Commodities Modernization Act of Dec 2000, which got the
Rahm Emmanuel, now "White House Chief of Staff to Barack Obama" -- formerly a Democratic member
of the United States House of Representatives from 2003-2009. He is an influential member of the New
Democrat Coalition. After serving as an adviser to Bill Clinton in 1998, Emanuel resigned and became
an investment banker at Wasserstein Perella (now Dresdner Kleinwort), where he worked until 2002.
In 1999, he became managing director at the firm's Chicago office. Emanuel made $16.2 million in his
two-and-a-half year stint as a banker, according to Congressional disclosures. At Wasserstein Perella,
he worked on eight deals, including the acquisition by Commonwealth Edison of Peco Energy and the
purchase by GTCR Golder Rauner of the SecurityLink home security unit from SBC Communications.
Emmanuel was named to the Board of Directors for the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation
("Freddie Mac") by then President Bill Clinton in 2000. His position earned him at least $320,000
including later stock sales. He was not assigned to any of the board's working committees. During his
time on the board, Freddie Mac was plagued with scandals involving campaign contributions and
accounting irregularities. The Obama Administrateion rejected a request under the Freedom of
Information Act to review Freddie Mac board minutes and correspondence during Emanuel's time as a
director. The Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO) later accused the board of
having "failed in its duty to follow up on matters brought to its attention." Emanuel resigned from the
board in 2001 when he ran for Congress.
Michael Froman, now Obama's "Deputy National Security Adviser for International Economic Affairs" --
formerly Chief of Staff to Robert Rubin, followed him to Citigroup. Froman introduced Rubin to his
Harvard classmate Barack Obama.
Timothy Geithner, now "United States Secretary of the Treasury" -- formerly worked for Kissinger and
Associates in Washington, D.C. He was Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs (1998-
2001) under Clinton's Treasury Secretaries Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers. Summers was his
mentor, but some called him a Rubin protege. In 2002 he was a Senior Fellow in the International
Economics department in the Council on Foreign Relations. In 2001-2003, he was director of the Policy
Development and Review Dept. at the International Monetary Fund. In October 2003, he was named
president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. His salary in 2007 was $398,200. Once at the New
York Fed, he became Vice Chairman of the Federal Open Market Committee component. In 2006, he
became a member of the Washington-based financial advisory body, the Group of Thirty. In May 2007
he worked to reduce the capital required to run a bank. In November he rejected Sanford Weill's offer
to take over as Citigroup's chief executive. In March 2008, he arranged the rescue of Bear Stearns; in
the same year, he played a pivotal role in both the decision to bail out AIG as well as the government
decision not to save Lehman Brothers from bankruptcy, though claims were made after Geithner's
nomination that distanced him from both AIG and Lehman Brothers.
Gary Gensler, now "Chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission". He was a former
Goldman Sachs partner and Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Clinton Administration. He
played a key role in the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, which stopped the regulation of
Credit Default Swaps, setting the stage for the financial collapse.
Richard Hormats, now "Under Secretary of Economics business" -- formerly Vice Chairman of Goldman
Sachs. Contributor to the Obama Presidential campaign and to Senator Chris Dodd's campaign.
Jacob J. "Jack" Lew, now "Deputy Secretary of State", formerly director of the Office of management
and Budget in the Clinton administration. He is a longtime friend of the Co-chairman of the Obama
transition, John D. Podesta. He was the chief operating officer of Citi Alternative Investments where
he lost over half a billion dollars.
David Lipton, now "Under Secretary for International Affairs" --- formerly, Head of Global Country Risk
at Citigroup Inc. Mr. Lipton served as a Member of the Advisory Committee of Citigroup Inc.
Mark Patterson, now '"Treasury Department Chief of Staff " (since February 2009) to boss: Treasury
Secretary Timothy Geithner, --- formerly a lobbyist for Goldman Sachs (2003-2008). He was named to
the post the same day Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner outlined rules to keep lobbyists away from
the decision process for the allocation of the rest of the bailout money, known as the Troubled Asset
Relief Program (TARP). He will have a hand in detailing the way to use the final $350 billion of the TARP
fund that the Senate authorized in January 2009. While working at Goldman Sachs, Patterson donated
$20,350 in political contributions since 2004. All of his campaign donations went to Democratic
candidates, including $4,000 to Tom Daschle in 2004.
Robert Rubin, former Treasury Secretary who came from Goldman-Sachs, left for his rewards at the
Investment Committee of Citigroup. When Brooksley Born, then head of the CFTC and a true heroine
of this saga, tried to regulate the Credit Default Swaps, Rubin and Summers stopped her and exempted
these from any future regulation by means of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act. Reputed to
have the ear of the President. His acolytes and protoges litter this Administration.
Linda Patterson, now Chief 'flack' for the Federal Reserve, --- formerly, a key Enron lobbyist; a figure in
the Clinton Treasury Department and a friend of Larry Summers and Robert Rubin.
Lawrence (Larry) Summers, a protoge of Robert Rubin and now "Director of the National Economic
Council and Assistant to the President for Economic Policy -- formerly, Treasury Secretary under
Clinton where he helped repeal the Glass Steagall Act so that Citicorp could become Citigroup and
make huge profits before everything collapsed from a surfeit of greed. Summers raked in $10 million
in speaking fees, some in TARP funds, from financial institutions including JP Morgan, Citigroup,
Goldman Sachs (16 visits), Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch, See also Robert Rubin.
Sanford I. Weill formed Citigroup in its present incarnation and forced out the traditional bankers Citi
made tons of money until ... . See Summers above.
Neal Wolin, an acolyte of Larry Summers and "Deputy Treasury Secretary" -- formerly at Hartford
Insurance Co. where he served as President and Chief Operating Officer of the Property and Casualty
Group. Hartford Insurance got suckered into backing the ruinous adventures in real estate. Our
Treasury just handed Hartford $3.4 billion in TARP funds.
This of course is a partial list covering just one area. But the picture must be coming into focus.
July 1, 2009
OBAMA'S CAIRO SPEECH AFTERMATH: ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS
Arshad M Khan
There is a story, we hope apocryphal, going around that has Bush and Blair huddled in a corner during
a reception. A representative from a friendly nation approaches and asks what they are doing.
"We are planning an invasion," says Blair. "Unfortunately it will cause the death of a million Muslims
and one dentist."
Puzzled, the representative asks, "Why one dentist?"
"See!" Bush interjects, "I told you no one would give a damn about them Muslims."
President Obama made a much admired speech in Cairo. But it contained just one small sentence
about the Gaza invasion and that in terms of Israel's security. On seeing the destruction six months
after, President Carter, visibly moved, said it brought tears to his eyes. Why no repairs or rebuilding in
six months? Because cement is another one of the items Israel does not allow into Gaza.
It is not just the Muslims in Gaza who are suffering; the Christian Palestinians in Bethlehem, one of the
earliest Christian communities dating back 2,000 years, are finding Israeli pressure so unbearable they
have begun to emigrate in higher and higher numbers. Our mainstream press continues to maintain
its usual watchful silence.
A Human Rights Watch report out yesterday again accuses Israel of the wanton killing of civilians in
Gaza. And the UN after initial inquiry recommends the further investigation, as a war crime, of Israel's
attack on its clearly identified compound. Meanwhile, the one and a quarter billion Muslims worldwide
and many Christians, with sympathy for Palestinian plight and concern for the holy sites, look upon us
less so with hate and more with contempt at seeing a great power playing a lap dog role despite a
majority of Americans wanting us to assert ourselves as a fair broker.
Since Cairo there has been a coup in Honduras. Here are the basic facts: The elected President,
Manuel Zelaya, had been gradually easing Honduras out of the US orbit towards a more independent
stance. The General who overthrew him, Romeo Vasquez, is a graduate of the infamous US School of
the Americas, and the Honduran military has always had close ties with the US armed forces. If it turns
out that President Obama encouraged the coup, his image of a diplomacy inclined, non-interventionist
President will have been shredded.
Also since Cairo, there have been massive demonstrations in Tehran following the Iranian election.
Since the contestants have to be accepted by the clerics and since the ultimate authority resides with
the Supreme Leader, the demonstrations at first glance do not make sense -- particularly as several
responsible sources have credited Ahmadinejad with victory though not by as large a margin. It
appears there is a rift among the clerical ranks and the disaffected Mousavi could have received
Several insiders, Brent Scowcroft among them, have said that CIA agents are, very likely, active in
Iran. The insurgencies in the north-west and the (Baloch) east of Iran are also rumored to have a CIA
imprint. If all of this is true, we are playing a dangerous game remembering the harvest still being
reaped from our past efforts.
The Latin American and Islamic worlds are not populated by stupid people. Words are wonderful, yes,
but it is our actions that really matter.
June 24, 2009
It was 100 years ago, when Sonora Smart Dodd was listening to a Mother's Day sermon. As is not
infrequent, her mind started to wander. Now some people listening to the tonal ups and downs in a
constant drone are often lulled to sleep but not Sonora, despite the sound of her name. No, she had
an active mind and she began to think of her father who alone had brought up Sonora and her siblings
after her mother died. Why not a Father's Day to honor fathers, she thought. And so it was born -
Father's Day. She managed to get the idea going and the first celebration was June 19, 1910.
By the 1930s, trade groups were promoting it as a way to increase sales, and finally in 1966, President
Lyndon Johnson issued a proclamation designating the third Sunday in June as the official holiday.
This week we share a special message on the significance of fathers from the First Lady and the
Happy Father's Day,
I’m writing to share a special video of Barack talking about fatherhood, but first I want to share some
thoughts of my own.
My father, Frasier Robinson, was the rock of our family. Although he was diagnosed with multiple
sclerosis in his early thirties, he was our provider, our champion and our hero.
He worked tirelessly through good days and bad to make sure my brother and I had every opportunity
he didn't -- to go to college and pursue our dreams. His example continues to guide me every day.
Barack didn't have my good fortune -- his father left when he was just two years old. But he has always
been determined to give our daughters what he never had, and he values being a good father more
than any other accomplishment in his life.
On Friday, Barack brought some men (and a bunch of kids!) to the White House to talk about
fatherhood. Check out a video of the event:
We all know the remarkable impact fathers can have in our children's lives. So today, on this 100th
anniversary of Father's Day, take a moment to celebrate responsible fatherhood and the men who've
had the courage to step up, be there for our families, and provide our children with the guidance, love
and support they need to fulfill their dreams.
June 17, 2009
THE ENGAGEMENT OPTION
Arshad M Khan
For eight years under the Bush/Cheney foreign policy regime we have tried the stick: name calling
(axis of evil), threats and sanctions. It has not worked. North Korea has tested nuclear bombs and
now long range missiles; Iran continues with its own missile and nuclear power development, the
latter claimed to be only for peaceful purposes. It is surely time for engagement and dialog.
President Obama's speech is a refreshing opener. What next? The Iranian elections are over and as
this is being written there are massive demonstrations in Tehran against the result, and some in
support of the victor Ahmadinejad. Mr. Ahmadinejad was a very popular Mayor of Tehran before being
elected President the first time. He is a PhD in Civil Engineering and like many engineers not
particularly facile with language. Hence the famous mistranslated, out of context quote on Israel. The
'moderate' Mr. Mousavi, the opposition candidate, shepherded Iran through the war with Iraq. He is a
scholar of Islamic architecture and has been labeled a 'hard-liner' in the past. His motivation to run
after a twenty year absence is apparently the danger Iran faces because of its extremist image in the
Numerous commentators are calling for us to "do something", many the same who were most gung-ho
on us "doing something" about Iraq before we invaded. Quite apart from the fact that it is none of our
business, the ultimate decision-making authority is held by the Supreme Leader. Does it really matter
then who the President happens to be.? After all, when they had a moderate before, he was unable to
make significant headway in ameliorating the clerical stranglehold. Of course the demonstrations
themselves imply a tacit acceptance of some forms of dissent, and that alone is a major democratic
change for the neighborhood. Let us instead concentrate on forming a coherent strategy for dealing
with Iran as a state.
We do have an opening: When they state they are not developing nuclear weapons, that they do not
want nuclear weapons, and their religion forbids them, we have a basis for agreement. All that
remains is a means of verification.
North Korea is a different story. They say, they have nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them.
It is fairly obvious, the Bush strategy of isolation and sanctions has not worked. Contrary to the
barrage of media stories portraying the country as a basket case, the North Korean economy is fairly
vibrant. China is a major trading partner importing mostly coal and scarce minerals in exchange for
manufactured goods. There are also trading links with many European countries going back to the old
Again a policy of engagement is more likely to yield results. We may even have to learn to live with a
nuclear-armed North Korea for rarely does a country give up that kind of clout. And the path to a
nuclear-free world starts at home.
June 10, 2009
THE PAKISTAN REFUGEE CRISIS
Arshad M. Khan
There are over three million refugees now from the Swat valley. According to UNHCR it is the worst
displacement of people since the Rwanda crisis.
The picturesque Swat valley, once a center of tourism, is now wracked with conflict. A consequence of
our war on terrorism, Pakistan is facing an insurrection of a severity never seen in its history.
Frequent bombings in major cities and a civil war in the tribal areas faced by a weak government now
threatens Pakistan's integrity. They need our help.
Pakistan has been a consistent ally of the United States. Success in repelling the Soviets' Afghan
invasion would not have been possible without its help. And the fact that the Afghan disaster was
another nail in the Soviet coffin magnifies our debt. After 9/11 Pakistan did not hesitate when asked
for help by the Bush administration. It is now paying a steep price due to the latter's neglect of
Afghanistan and distraction with Iraq. Our policies in both countries have fostered an extremely
negative image of the US among the general populace and have fed the insurgency.
Not only does our government have an obligation to offer more than the paltry aid package (less than
$10 per capita for education so far, and not too much for the refugees), but we as a people need to
become more sensitive to the desperate plight of these innocents. If it's a battle for hearts and minds,
now is the time to wage it with our wallets.
Queen Noor of Jordan's article outlines the problem and some ways in which we can help.
June 3, 2009
GM: ALFRED P. SLOAN TURNS OVER IN HIS GRAVE
Arshad M. Khan
GM has declared bankruptcy. It is soon going to emerge out of bankruptcy court lean, mean and
fighting fit - at least that is what we are told - with our government owning about seventy percent of
the new equity.
GM is selling off Opel, its German subsidiary, and the source of many of the recent successes in
design. It is also selling off Hummer, Saab, etc. Sloan's carefully crafted sales giant and the world's
largest automobile company is being dismantled.
It used to be, a guy could finish high school and get a decent manufacturing job, buy a car, a home,
have a family. Not so easy now. You can go down South, try to work for Toyota or all the other non-
union foreign auto companies that various states have been falling over themselves to invite with
higher and higher benefit offers.
You won't get paid like you used to, but then do you have a choice? And that would now be a good
job. More than likely, you will be given a job retraining package but retraining for what? What exactly
do we make? We are producing engineers and putting them on a one-way train to unemployment as
even the design work gets busily shipped overseas. Almost everything we use is made elsewhere.
Even Boeing is gradually becoming a vast assembly operation.
So GM is going to emerge "lean and mean." Lean because it will have sold off many divisions and
mean because it will be paying its workers less. But competitors already have the less generaous non-
union contracts, and exactly how is a smaller company going to compete with a giant (like Toyota)
spreading its fixed costs over a larger numer of vehicles.
By the way, how many people know that the Gemans and Japanese have had a $1,000 a car advantage
by not having to pay for healthcare as GM has to do. Moreover, the union-represented employees at
GM earn much higher wages and receive better benefits. Is that bad? Perhaps, but as Henry Ford
used to say, whenever other industrial chieftains complained about his "exorbitant" wages to workers,
"They are going to buy my cars."
Could it be the "General" fell victim to hubris and the not-invented-here syndrome? The Japanese
and Koreans have often used Italian designers as consultants who themselves are happy to get the
commissions. It has certainly helped Hyundai's success. But no major innovation in over fifty years
from the world's largest manufacturer speaks volumes.
Yes, there are many reasons but do we really have to throw an icon to the hyenas waiting in the
wings? And particularly when the deal involves breaking it up to pay off the hungrier ones. The story
of a "lean and mean" Chrysler is not that far off in the past to have served as a warning.
May 27, 2009
THE MORPHING OF A COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
The commentary this week is an excerpt from the Alexander Cockburn article on how and why Obama's
promises of change have become changed promises.
How long does it take a mild-mannered, antiwar, black professor of constitutional law, trained as a
community organizer on the South Side of Chicago, to become an enthusiastic sponsor of targeted
assassinations, “decapitation” strategies and remote-control bombing of mud houses the far end of
There’s nothing surprising here. As far back as President Woodrow Wilson in the early twentieth
century, American liberalism has been swift to flex imperial muscle, to whistle up the Marines. High
explosive has always been in the hormone shot.
The nearest parallel to Obama in eager deference to the bloodthirsty counsels of his counter-
insurgency advisors is John F. Kennedy. It is not surprising that bright young presidents relish quick-
fix, “outside the box” scenarios for victory.
Whether in Vietnam or Afghanistan the counsels of regular Army generals tends to be drear and
unappetizing: vast, costly deployments of troops by the hundreds of thousand, mounting casualties,
uncertain prospects for any long-term success – all adding up to dismaying political costs on the home
Amid Camelot’s dawn in 1961, Kennedy swiftly bent an ear to the counsels of men like Ed Lansdale, a
special ops man who wore rakishly the halo of victory over the Communist guerillas in the Philippines
and who promised results in Vietnam.
By the time he himself had become the victim of Lee Harvey Oswald’s “decapitation” strategy, brought
to successful conclusion in Dealey Plaza, Dallas, on November 22, 1963, Kennedy had set in motion the
counter-insurgency operations, complete with programs of assassination and torture, that turned
South-East Asia and Latin America into charnel houses, some of them, like Colombia, to this day.
Another Democrat who strode into the White House with the word “peace” springing from his lips was
Jimmy Carter. It was he who first decreed that “freedom” and the war of terror required a $3.5 billion
investment in a secret CIA-led war in Afghanistan, plus the deployment of Argentinian torturers to
advise US military teams in counter-insurgency ops in El Salvador and Nicaragua.
(Though no US president can spend more than a few moments in the Oval Office scanning his in-tray
the morning after the inaugural ceremonies without okaying the spilling of blood somewhere on the
planet, it has to be said that Bill Clinton did display some momentary distaste before settling
comfortably into the killer’s role. “Do we have to do this?” he muttered, as his national security team
said that imperial dignity required cruise missile bombardment of Baghdad in 1993 in retaliation for a
foiled attack on former President G.H.W. Bush, during a visit to Kuwait. The missiles landed in a
suburb, one of them killing the artist Laila al-Attar.)
Obama campaigned on a pledge to “decapitate” al-Qaida, meaning the assassination of its leaders. It
was his short-hand way of advertising that he had the right stuff. And, like Kennedy, he’s summoning
the exponents of unconventional, short-cut paths to success in that mission. Lt. Gen. Stanley A.
McChrystal now replaces General David McKiernan as Commander of US Forces in Afghanistan.
McChrystal’s expertise is precisely in assassination and “decapitation”. As commander of the military's
Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) for nearly five years starting in 2003, McChrystal was in
charge of death squad ops, with its best advertised success being the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi,
head of al-Qaida in Iraq.
The phrase “sophisticated networks” tends to crop up in assessments of McChrystal’s Iraq years.
Actually there’s nothing fresh or sophisticated in what he did. Programs of targeted assassination aren’
t new in counter-insurgency. The most infamous and best known was the Phoenix Program in Vietnam,
designed to identify and eliminate cadres of Vietnam’s “National Liberation Front”, informally known as
the Viet Cong of whom, on some estimates, at least 40,000 were duly assassinated.
In such enterprises two outcomes are inevitable. Identification of the human targets requires either
voluntary informants or captives. In the latter instance kidnapping (ie extrajudicial seizure of “enemy
combatants”) and then torture are certain, whatever rhetorical pledges are proclaimed back home.
There may be intelligence officers who will rely on patient, non-violent interrogation, as the US officer,
Major Matthew Alexander, who elicited the whereabouts of al-Zarquawi told Patrick Cockburn on this
site that he did. There will be others, US personnel who will either personally reach for the garden
hose and the face towel, or delegate the task to the local talent. It has been thus, without remit,
through the entire course of Empire. Not so long ago CounterPuncher Prof. Bruce Jackson of SUNY,
Buffalo, sent us an illustration from the May 22, 1902 issue of the original (pre-Luce) Life. The only
military action the US had going at the time was in the Philippines, where Pershing was fighting the
Moros -- Muslims who wanted independence from US rule. A pipe-smoking GI pours water into a funnel
held in the mouth of a barefoot prisoner by another GI, who sits on the prisoner’s genitals and points a
pistol at his throat.
McChrystal, not coincidentally, was involved in the prisoner abuse scandal at Baghdad's Camp Nama.
(He also played a sordid role in the cover-up in the friendly-fire death of ex-NFL star and Army Ranger
Whatever the technique, a second certainty is the killing of large numbers of civilians in the final
“targeted assassination”. At one point in the first war on Saddam in the early 1990s, a huge component
of US air sorties was devoted each day to bombing places where US intelligence had concluded
Saddam might be hiding. Time after time, after the mangled bodies of men, women and children had
been scrutinized, came the crestfallen tidings that Saddam was not among them.
Already in Afghanistan public opinion has been inflamed by the weekly bulletins of deadly
bombardments either by drones or manned bombers. Still in the headlines is the US bombardment of
Bola Boluk in Farah province, which yielded 140 dead villagers torn apart by high explosive including
93 children. Only 22 were male and over 18. Perhaps “sophisticated intelligence” had identified one of
these as an al-Qaida man, or a Taliban captain, or maybe someone an Afghan informant to the US
military just didn’t care for. Maybe electronic eavesdropping simply screwed up the coordinates. If we
ever know, it won’t be for a very long time. Obama has managed a terse apology, even as he installs
McChrystal, thus ensuring more of the same.
The logic of targeted assassinations was on display in Gaza even as Obama worked on the uplifting
phrases of his Inaugural Address. The Israelis claimed they were targeting only Hamas even as the
body counts of women and children methodically refuted these claims and finally extorted from Obama
a terse phrase of regret.
He may soon weary of uttering them. His course is set and his presidency already permanently stained
the ever-familiar blood-red tint. There’s no short-cut, no “nicer path” in counter-insurgency and the
policing of Empire. A targeted bombing yields up Bola Boluk, and the incandescent enmity of most
Afghans. The war on al Qaida mutates into war on the Taliban, and 850,000 refugees in the Swat Valley
in Pakistan. The mild-mannered professor is bidding to be as sure-footed as Bush and Cheney in
trampling on constitutional rights. He’s now backing into pledges to shut down the kangaroo courts
(“military commissions”) by which means the US have held prisoners at Guantanamo who've never
even been formally charged with a crime! He's threatening to hold some prisoners indefinitely in the U.
S. without trial. He’s been awarded a hearty editorial clap on the back from the Wall Street Journal:
"Mr. Obama deserves credit for accepting that civilians courts are largely unsuited for the realities of
the war on terror. He has now decided to preserve a tribunal process that will be identical in every
material way to the one favored by Dick Cheney."
It didn’t take long. But it’s what we’ve got – for the rest of Obama-time.
May 23rd, 2009
SINGLE-PAYER HEALTH PLAN?
Arshad M. Khan
We have a single-payer system in the U.S. It works well. It is expensive. And it went past the
insurance companies and brokerages. What is it and how did it get legislated?
Well, it's Medicare. It enrolls people aged sixty-five and over (about 40 million). It is expensive
because the elderly suffer the expected consequences of aging, a general wear and tear like an old
automobile requiring extra maintenance. They get sick, then sicker and then die, all of it at great cost
to the system. For the same reasons, the insurance industry was happy to rid itself of people who
actually use the services their premiums promise - they prefer the younger clientele who are not sick
Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (Montana Democrat), a darling of the insurance lobby
and a recipient of the most generous campaign contributions, has declared the single payer option not
viable. Many major unions and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) have come out
against it. Some have run surveys phrasing questions and wording descriptions designed to bias the
participants. What people do not realize is that when unions offer health care plans, they become
brokerages themselves. And AARP is perhaps the single largest insurance brokerage in this country.
Despite spending the most, our health care system is ranked 37th in the world by the World Health
Organization. Guess who is ranked first? France, the country that inspired us to ask for "freedom
fries", when they angered us by suggesting the Iraq war was folly. That was the time when the Bush
administration through innuendo and half-truth had convinced over seventy percent of Americans to
believe Iraq guilty of 9/11 and in cahoots with al-Qaeda. In fact, Iraq was a secular state with a Christian
Prime Minister (Tariq Aziz) demonized and constantly threatened by al-Qaeda.
The same demonization of single payer is on-going, and sadly, the same gullible public will be
swallowing it hook, line and sinker. Everywhere in the world where there is a publicly financed single-
payer system, the people are extremely happy with it. Our neighbors to the north rate it the single
best program the government has ever introduced. Tommy Douglas, the father of their plan is the
most admired politician in Canada's history.
I have spent substantial periods of time in three countries. Of them, the U.S. health system is by far
the worst. Now please note, I said system, not individual doctors. They try their best even under the
stifling restrictions of our insurers and HMOs. If you are in Britain, you never see a bill; in Scandinavia,
The latest HDI (Human Development Index) rankings listed Iceland at the top followed by Norway and
Canada. The HDI is a compendium of literacy, life-expectancy, educational attainment and per capita
GDP. We have dropped from #12 to #15. Why our neighbor to the north is so far ahead can be
answered in one word, 'single-payer'.
One thing is clear, supporters of a single-payer system have to act now --- in terms of participation and
money for action groups, letters and phone calls to politicians including the President, letters and
articles in the media, and whatever else one's imagination can conjure up. Just remember David and
May 16, 2009
SICK IN THE USA: HEALTHCARE
Arshad M. Khan
Mahatma Gandhi was once asked: "What do you think of Western civilization?"
"It's a very good idea!" he replied.
Similarly, what do you think of US health care? Answer, it's a great idea! Fifty million people in this
country don't have any.
Imagine, you wake up with severe chest pains in the night You call the emergency number. An
ambulance arrives and takes you to the hospital. You're having a heart attack: you're treated
immediately, and after many hours of intensive care, your life has been saved, and you are moved to a
hospital room to recover. Finally, after having had a triple bypass and after the recovery period, you
are sent home.
Imagine the mountains of bills that will start to arrive. Imagine the discussions with hospital billing,
doctors' billing, lab billing, x-ray department bills, etc., etc., etc. The billing nightmare has begun.
Now take a deep breath. If you are in England, you never see a bill. Everything is taken care of by the
healthcare system. If you are in Canada, or any other of the developed countries, almost everything
will be taken care of also.
Welcome to the world of the single-payer system. Now before you correct me, yes, there are minor
differences in the systems, and some are not entirely single-payer but, essentially, the scenario
depicted is correct.
Why don't we have a single-payer system? The answer is one word: PROFIT! We have an entrenched
insurance industry, lobbying hard for its interests. The result of having multiple for-profit insurance
plans is that a huge percentage of health care expenditure is wasted in administration. If a hospital in
this country needs twenty people to do the billing, in Canada, there is one person. It reduces costs by
Since everyone in our country cannot afford health insurance, the uninsured often wait too long to
seek treatment and end up in the emergency room of the public hospital. When the hospital cannot
accommodate everyone, particularly those requiring expensive long-term care (treatable cancer for
example), they simply do not get any treatment at all and -- unthinkable, as it may be, for a wealthy
society like ours -- die.
If you have medical insurance, you may think this does not concern you, but here's the surprise:
bankruptcy studies show that most bankruptcies are due to medical expenses and happen to people
who had medical insurance.
Several things can occur: First, the insurers might cancel your insurance policy at renewal time.
Second, serious illness results often in the person being fired from their job with subsequent loss of
health coverage. Thirdly, the co-payments or the costs of certain kinds of drugs have also bankrupted
When President Obama, talks about covering everyone under the present system, he leaves them
exposed to these possibilities. What one has to remember is this: a few people using medical
resources heavily can increase the premiums of the others more in the smaller groups at individual
insurance companies than would be the case under a single-payer system where everyone (including
the fifty million uninsured and even larger numbers of under-insured persons) forms part of the pool.
The larger the pool, the smaller the impact of individual illness on each member of the pool.
Individual for-profit corporations are not the best way for providing what economists call "public
goods". Ask the Canadians the best thing the government has done for them --- as a recent poll did ---
and they will all answer, health care.
By the way, the new Human Development Index (a compendium of life expectancy, literacy, educational
attainment, and GDP per capita) report lists Canada at third from the top. We used to be down at #12
and have now moved to #15. Health care is one of the major reasons.
Fighting for a single-payer system is not going to be easy. As it is, the public has lost round one with
But everyone has to come together to wake us up from the nightmare of health care in the U.S. One
simple way is to build on the existing medicare system for seniors.
A new advocacy group for a rational single-payer system has recently been started at
http://www.singlepayeraction.org/ They say ....
Tell your friends, family and neighbors about us.
We're building to 1,000,000 nationwide for single payer.
Medicare for all.
There are also others. Let us try to do our best NOW!
In Sick Around the World, FRONTLINE teams up with veteran Washington Post foreign correspondent T.
R. Reid to find out how five other capitalist democracies -- the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany,
Taiwan and Switzerland -- deliver health care, and what the United States might learn from their
successes and their failures.
May 9, 2009
BOMBING CIVILIANS AND "AF-PAK"
Arshad M. Khan
A hundred Afghan civilians were killed during a recent attack by US warplanes. The Secretary of State
(and everyone else) said we were sorry and that we take the utmost care to avoid civilian casualties in
selecting targets. A question: If one bombs a village does one not expect to kill women and children?
A recently issued report finds Israel guilty of bombing UN facilities in Gaza violating their agreement,
and dismisses Israel's counter claim that the facilities were used for weapons storage and mortar fire.
The international investigators found no evidence for such claims.
Of course the twelve hundred or so killed in Gaza and the numbers in Afghanistan do not compare with
Dresden (see Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five") and the Japanese cities. The story of an Afghan
woman (Letter to the President, March 27) shows the sheer horror of just one victim's story.
The human mind is incapable of absorbing millions such -- we would self-destruct if we did not close
our minds at some point. The Generals, Presidents, Prime Ministers, etc. push pins on maps, move
tanks and planes. They do not see the results or do the killing. The "doers" are the ones with Post
Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and recurring nightmares, who bring the war home, and sometimes
in the home, in suicides and brutal killings of spouses and loved ones.
The history of civilian bombing sketches the wars of the last century. In 1907 at the Second Peace
Conference in The Hague an agreement proscribing aerial bombing was signed by fifteen nations but
the major powers refused. Italy bombed Turkish forces in 1911; the French bombed "rebel bands" as
they called them(since terrorists aka freedom fighters had not been invented and the Taleban
unimagined) but in their zeal included villages and markets.
During the Great War (1914-18), the Germans dropped bombs on Paris and London and the Allies
bombed Germany. By the end of the war the planes had increased dramatically in size and had the war
continued so would have the civilian casualties. Even the horrendous bombing of Germany in WWII
did not force German surrender as predicted by Air Chief Marshal "Bomber" Harris.
The question before us now is the effectiveness in the Afghan-Pakistan (AF-PAK) insurgency. First, let
us be quite clear: through our inept handling of the Afghan problem we have turned a fringe
movement into a wholesale national insurgency. The majority ethnic group in Afghanistan and
Northwestern Pakistan, the Pushtoons, have an inherent distaste for central governments in general
and uniformly particular hatred for the minority Northern Alliance of Tajiks and Uzbeks currently
holding sway in Kabul. If it's hearts and minds we are after, then the problem cries out for a political
If we choose to fight, so will they. Like all guerrilla groups, when pressed they melt into the civilian
population, only to re-emerge when we slacken. Meanwhile, Pakistan has hardly the resources to fight
multiple insurgencies in the Northwest and the West and the insurgents know it. It is time to sit down
and talk before a much larger, and infinitely more dangerous, war engulfs us.
May 2, 2009
This week's commentary is an excerpt from W.H. Auden's signature poem.
September 1, 1939
Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return .....
... Each language pours its vain
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
and the international wrong ....
--- W.H. Auden
April 25, 2009
HISTORY AND CIVILIZATION: A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE
Arshad M. Khan
Not so long ago, on the occasion of the Iranian new year, Nauroz, President Obama sent their
government a message of peace. While not overtly offensive as his predecessor, he did manage to
sound patronizing and finger-wagging in the "now if you'd only behave yourself, you could have ....."
sort of way.
The Iranians hardly need to be told that Muslims have a great civilization (they know), or how they
should behave. What they want to see are changes in our policies; not the obvious double standards
we impose across the world.
The subject of Islamic civilization, however, did strike a chord: from the breathtakingly beautiful
architecture to the scientific and artistic achievements, it spans a spectrum without which our present
civilization would not exist. What a pleasure it is to look at the Alhambra, the Taj Mahal and the
beautiful city of Isfahan. Or to read the great Persian poets: Rumi, Saadi, Omar Khayam and so many
others. Khayam, it might be of interest to note earned his living as a Mathematics Professor at the
College of Nishapur before the poetry bug infected him. He also played a large hand in reforming the
Muslim calendar, a process our Common Era one underwent some five centuries later.
Why does history and achievement have to be ethnocentric? Why not plain impartial truth rather than
an attempt to cast actors as all good and all evil? So, Alexander comes to India, then, after just one
battle with a minor king, Porus, scurries down the Indus taking an almost fatal arrow in a skirmish with
the forces of a Sindh chieftain. And finally, the disastrous retreat across the blistering Makran
(Gedrosian) desert losing more than half the marchers. Why not the big prize of the lush green North
India farmlands in Delhi? Well, we are told his soldiers were homesick? Perhaps. Was that why they
returned to present day Iraq, and then went on to Egypt? Or, could it be possible that having come
very close to defeat at the hands of Porus and his small force, they were afraid to go further? No one
doubts Alexander was a great general, but even great generals over-extend themselves -- think of
Napoleon in Russia!
How many people realize, by the way, that Persians actually colonized and ruled a large part of modern-
day Greece, which itself was under Turkish dominion for longer than the United States has existed?
Do people wonder sometimes, why the Romans expanded north into northern forest rather than the
rich, wealthy agricultural lands to the East? Was it rational? As a matter of fact, yes, given the history.
In 260 A.D. the Emperor Valerian was defeated by the Persians at Edessa, captured and subjected to
the tortures of the day as deterrent. He died in captivity and was never given a grave. The Emperor
Julian was killed by a Persian arrow in AD 363. Oh, yes, they tried; we just don't hear about it.
If one reads Western Civilization courses, we get the Greeks and their philosophy, the Romans lacking
anything indigenous adopting it, and then in a massive leap across a historical chasm ... the
Renaissance. Since when did the ancient Greeks become Western when they looked constantly to the
East and the West as we know it, did not exist? The answer, of course, is the eighteenth century and
German intellectuals who provided the bedrock for the modern story as it is told to fit a colonial mold.
Would it not be refreshing to celebrate human genius and invention across the world? Perhaps, one
day we can have an unbiased history marking the well-springs of human civilization, the Nile, the Tigris-
Euphrates and the Indus valley; the Chinese, Indian, Greek and Islamic philosophies and cultures; all
taught in our schools with respect for the 'other', and, of course, without forgetting the massive
contribution in human development made by Europe and America. From big things to little -- and now I
am thinking of the incredible Benin bronzes --- human ingenuity is a marvelous testament to our
FREEDOM April 18, 2009
Like most people, I paid my taxes this week and
began to think of the freedom I had purchased ---
Listen to the dawn of freedom --- hearken! ---
in this the new morning sunrise --- the
rivers flowing red with innocent blood.
And those seeking a guiding light in the
night-gripped, empty, desert sky --- blind --- choking ---
see one Iraqi-hurled shoe and another fly.
Sound out the dawn of freedom --- hearken!
Where, where, where is it to be found?
Not in greed or a casual killer's lies,
Not in the Gaza butcher's corpse-fed flies,
Not in the killer drones in the Afghan skies ---
All, all good men seek again are love of thy
neighbor --- and love of this earth --- in undying
hope of brotherhood --- for man to survive.
....... Arshad M. Khan
LOSING OUR MORAL COMPASS
Arshad M. Khan
Don't call them payoffs, call them speaking fees. Don't call them bribes, call them campaign
contributions and, of course, legalize the practice. In each case, however, government officials are
being induced to do the bidding of an oligarchic elite and then rewarded handsomely.
On the late-night comedy talk shows, these practices are the butt of jokes. For example, Jay Leno
says, "A large bank CEO was stopped at a security gate and asked to empty his pockets: Guess what?
Senator Dodd fell out!"
When Credit Default Swaps (CDFs) appeared, a brave regulator, Brooksley Born, who should be given
a medal, tried to regulate them. She was told by Summers and Rubin et al that not only would she be
stopped, but they would write a law so that no one can ever regulate the CDFs. That's what they did.
The Commodities Modernization (read Deregulation) Act was passed quickly, with enthusiastic support
in the Senate and Congress, and signed into law by Bill Clinton.
Since then, we have had an economic disaster caused by the CDFs and the underlying mortgage
paper. The bankers have made previously unheard of amounts of money. Mr. Rubin went to Citigroup
to claim his rewards. Mr. Summers has received speaking fees from banks totaling a couple of million
dollars and a just discovered consulting fee from a hedge fund of $5.2 million. Mr. Clinton has made
about a $100 million, also in speaking fees. The question to ask ourselves is, "Do we no longer have a
Even worse, and more dangerously, Congress and the Administration support Israel in such
unquestioned obedience to its lobby that it acts repeatedly with impunity, damaging its own chances
for peace as well as American interests, Most Israelis desire peace as do most Palestinians but the
extremists prevail. Israeli peace groups are appalled by our policies but they are marginalized and
their voices muted by our fettered and self-censoring media.
Ask ordinary Americans what they think America's stance should be, as a recent poll did, and the
result: an overwhelming seventy percent think we should be an even-handed broker for peace. The
American people know a thing or two then, or is it that they are just more honest?
ON RELIGION AND THE ISRAEL/ PALESTINE CONFLICT --- Bill Moyers' Journal
Arshad M. Khan
Much as I like your programs and cherish your presence on TV, I have to correct a statement you made
during the Karen Armstrong interview. Talking about conflict you said, and I paraphrase "...Muslims
against Jews, Christians against Muslims..." Forgive me, but Muslims as a religion are not in conflict
with Jews. In fact, Jews for millennia, persecuted by Christians, often sought refuge in Muslim lands.
The Middle East conflict is political. It is Israel versus Palestine and the Palestinians are almost a
quarter Christian. If you wish to cast it in terms of the religions of the antagonists, it is Jews on one
side against Muslims and Christians on the other.
The most well-known Palestinian woman minister, Hanan Ashrawi, is a Christian; the most
uncompromising Palestinian resistance/terrorist leader George Habash is a Christian. Yasser Arafat, a
Muslim, married into a prominent Christian family and has consequently left behind a Christian widow
and a child likely to be brought up as a Christian.
The person in my memory, most responsible for framing this political conflict in false religious terms
was Menachem Begin, probably to solidify fundamentalist support. Repeated often enough falsehoods
acquire a unique cultural veracity in our country leading even people like you to repeat them. Another
example, "they hate our freedoms." Who can hate freedom for heavens sakes. I do hope you will make
a correction, and as Spock used to say, "Live long and prosper".
SLUMDOGS VS. BILLIONAIRES
It’s been the night of the long knives for India’s billionaire population. Their band has just been
decimated, falling by more than half from 53 to 24. The latest Croesus Count, also known as the Forbes
Billionaires list, makes that much clear. We also fell by two notches to sixth rank in the list of nations
with the most billionaires. India’s earlier No. 4 slot being slyly usurped by the Chinese who clock in
with 29. More mortifying, we are a rung below the Brits who’ve grabbed Perch 5, with 25.
The net asset worth of India’s richest has also shrunk by over a third from the time of the last Forbes
scroll. By 2007, that worth had reached $ 335 billion. That is, 53 individuals in a population of one
billion held wealth equal to almost a third of their nation’s GDP at the time. This year, that worth
plunged to $107 billion. (A moment’s respectful silence in memory of the dear, departed billions seems
in order.) But there is some comfort in that our team is still worth more than twice what their Chinese
rivals are. And we even now have 8 billionaires more than all the Nordic nations put together --
though they boast the highest living standards in the world.
“Four Indians were among the world’s top ten richest in 2008, worth a combined $160 billion,” points
out Forbes. Today, alas, “that same foursome is worth just $ 54 billion.” But the 29 Indian tycoons
reduced to the penury of mere millionairehood should not lose heart. Forbes offers us these words of
reassurance. “The winds of wealth can change quickly…They may yet again blow favorably in the
direction of these tycoons.” So what if the big balances fly at half mast briefly? There could be gales
Alongside this winnowing of India’s plutocrats runs a slightly longer-term and truly grim saga. India has
fallen to 132 in the new rankings of the UN’s Human Development Index (HDI) for 179 nations. Each
year since 1990, the UN Development Programme brings us this index, as a part of its Human
Development Report. The HDI “looks beyond GDP to a broader definition of well-being.” It seeks to
capture “three dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life (measured by life
expectancy at birth). Being educated (measured by adult literacy and enrolment in primary, secondary
and tertiary education). And third: GDP per capita measured in U.S. dollars at Purchasing Power Parity
In the Index of 2007-08, India ranked a dismal 128. Now we’re at 132. That is our worst-ever grade on
the Index in this decade. It means, among other things, that little Bhutan, never once in the Forbes hall
of fame, has trumped us in the new HDI rankings. The tiny Himalayan nation clocks in at 131. That is, a
notch above its “second-fastest-growing-economy-in the-world” neighbor. Bhutan once languished
amongst the bottom 15 nations of the world in the UN’s HDI. It has never been amongst the world’s
fastest growing economies.
At rank 132, India also lags behind the Republic of the Congo, Botswana, and Bolivia (this last often
called Latin America’s poorest nation). The Occupied Territories of Palestine (torn by conflict for 60
years) are also ahead of us. Another neighbor -- Sri Lanka -- has been devastated by war for over two
decades and has slipped a few notches. They still log in at 104 -- 28 rungs above India. Vietnam
suffered casualties in millions in the war waged against it by the United States. Decades after, its
agriculture is yet to recover from planned destruction, lethal bombing, and the conscious use of
deadly poisons. But Vietnam clocks in at 114. And China stands at 94 despite falling several places.
The bad news about the bad news is that these figures reflect the “good news” days. They relate to
the year 2006. (The SENSEX was booming. It breached the 10,000 and even 14,000-mark for the first
time ever. The Indian economy also grew at 9.6 per cent in 2006-07 and 9.4 per cent in 2005-06.) Those
supposedly glory days when we churned out 53 dollar billionaires also nourished India’s plummet to
132nd rank in human development. As so often in history, the rich grew fatter while the poor ate even
less. he same period So the updated HDI numbers do not begin to capture the economic downturn.
The picture will be even less pretty when those factors kick in.
They do capture, though, the revised purchasing power parity (PPP) estimates that clocked in by late
2007. These columns foretold this problem at the time. It was clear that if the Index was using the
older PPP data, then “even our awful HDI performance could get worse” once those were revised.
(India’s GDP per capita (PPP) fell from $3,452 to $2,489 with the new data.)
We’d be even lower down than rank 132 but for our showing on the GDP-per capita front. Even now,
our rank on that front is six notches higher than our HDI rank. It makes us look better than we are. For
instance, in making out the current rankings, UN researchers point out that GDP per capita data for
2006 “caused India to rise one place.” But “new data (for 2006) on life expectancy caused India to fall
one place.” India then also fell two more places as two more nations -- Montenegro and Serbia --
joined the list. Both fared better than we did. We fell a further two places “as a result of revised PPP
estimates.” That’s how we ended up four slots below our last rank.
What does it mean to rank much better on GDP per capita than in the HDI, as we do? It means you have
been less successful in converting income into human development. Our GDP per capita rank is six
rungs higher than our HDI rank. Vietnam’s HDI rank of 114 is 15 rungs higher than its GDP per capita
rank. Unlike us, Vietnam – despite awful historic handicaps -- has converted its wealth into human
development far better.
Cuba logs in at 48, thus breaking into the top 50 nations in the HDI. (While India firms up its place in the
bottom 50.) That’s seven places above wealthy Saudi Arabia whose per capita GDP is three times
higher than Cuba’s. In that ranking, Saudi Arabia is No.35, towering above Cuba’s 88. But when it
comes to human development, Saudi Arabia lags seven rungs below Cuba. Apart from lower income,
Cuba has lived under crippling sanctions for decades. Sanctions that have imposed huge constraints
and high prices on all essentials. Yet, life expectancy at birth in Cuba is now 77.9 years. That’s almost
the same as the United States (78) and about 14 years better than India’s 64.1 years.
Meanwhile the USA has logged its worst rank ever, falling to 15 from number 12. Between 1995-2000,
the USA was always in the top 5, even staying at rank 2 for a couple of years. Like with India, its decline
in HDI has come in the very years seen as its best, the Golden Age of the Free Market, the Nirvana
point of neo-liberalism. A year into the economic reforms, India in 1992 ranked 121 in 160 nations then
covered by the Index. Today, India is at 132 amongst 179 nations. Straight comparisons across that time
are hard as the Index has changed in numbers and methodology. But the trend is clearly not joyous.
The HDI figures since 2002 signal a steady decline in the nation’s conversion of wealth into human
development -- even as the numbers of its billionaires and millionaires doubled and trebled. Now the
billionaires have shrunk in number, but not the slumdogs. There are at least 836 million Indians living
on less than Rs. 20 a day, as the government’s own report told us in 2007. Over 200 million of those get
by on less than Rs. 12 daily. And those are pre-downturn numbers, too. Maybe we need a new Forbes
500 list -- naming the world's 500 poorest citizens. Who could beat us on that one?
P. Sainath is the rural affairs editor of The Hindu, where this piece appears, and is the author of
Everybody Loves a Good Drought. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
DON'T SEE WHAT YOU SEE
(Translated from the original German by the author whose primary language is German)
My flight to Karachi was via Zürich. At Zürich Airport one could spend days doing shopping if one
wants to buy those things that are not needed to survive or to die in dignity. Every corner of the
Airport is well designed to reassure you that you can keep your eyes open undisturbed and thus
share the wealth of this world. Only the toilets located in the basement were not available
immediately and one could see Iranian or Turkish women cleaning them.
Upstairs, in the waiting lounge, the images flickering on the TV were trying their best to
repeatedly convince you to thank the Almighty; all care is taken to keep you permanently
amused. If you looked at things properly you would simply fail to find any reason to question
what you see. All that is real and good surrounds you.
After “Hugo Boss” and other comparable names had completed their messages I could see
someone on the screen discussing the new and more effective weapons that the Pentagon was
planning shortly to introduce to defend the free world. Immediately following this was the news
that yet again a dynamite-clad human being had self-detonated somewhere in Israel.
Can we really explain all this? Do we have words and semantics to describe the microcosm of
feelings overwhelming this Dead Man Exploding? Is it terrorism, fanaticism, desperation,
humiliation, racism, or some dimension of a perception of reality totally beyond our imagination?
Is it happening far away from us or is it already so close to us that we prefer to look at it through
the blind eyes of television?
Do we feel responsible for all the injustice prevailing outside our carefully locked doors?
We are well acquainted with all these news stories. They come and go, like hearing one and the
same story again and again, until you stop listening attentively, thereby missing the
metamorphoses and the hidden messages, the dreadful warnings, the utter cries for help behind
the repeating storylines.
In the plane after take-off yet another screen appears before my eyes: Desperate children
throwing stones over barriers, children walking fearlessly into a sea of bullets…. How do you
translate “Childhood” in Palestine?
More news: A young man tells how his grandfather’s land was occupied, how his uncle and his
brother were killed, how his best fried was shot down a few days ago. Can Mr. President of the
US foresee if the future of this young man will be in the hands of good or evil? Can Mr. Blair give
us his kind advice as to what we could possibly do for this young man so that he learns to remain
within the well-defined boundaries of the civilised world? Can the powerful men of Israel tell us
how we could learn not to ask questions and at the same time internalise the messages of
history and keep places of unsurpassed inhumanity in our memory alive? Could Mr. President of
Israel tell us how we could remain confident that history is not dead?
Perfect landing in Karachi! The see breeze is cost-free and yet could be very costly to breathe.
Diseases are on the move; since ancient days we have known that the poison of lead works
slowly but effectively. Lead is one of the many new names of the see breeze. But who really
cares? There are many other worries and hardships that can kill you faster than lead.
And if you really wish to see Karachi then be prepared not to look at human beings decaying
away, animals sick and weak, dust, dirt, tears -don’t look at all this, don’t hear moaning, broken
voices of beggars, cries of hurt dogs and wretchedness of starving cats- poverty is the wrong
word for all of this.
Look at the shiny cars on the streets, look at streets decorated with endless beautiful palaces,
look at the clubs embraced by exotic gardens, share the hospitality of restaurants offering
menus for long, lavish evenings, look at the bazaars selling precious goods for nothing if you
can pay in dollars or Euro.
Don’t listen to the young complaining about the absence of perspective; don’t believe anyone
telling you unspeakable things about the injustices done to them, don’t listen to those who
speak of the omnipotence of corruption, ethnic discrimination, lawlessness.
Don’t try to find someone who might have the courage and the imagination to talk of the future.
Don’t look at anyone you don’t know. Don’t listen to those now dressed like the holy Prophets.
And if you cannot avoid listening to them be prepared to hear, meet and see the new gods, the
self-made Allah’s. They have discovered the absolute truth of this world and of the one after.
They know exactly and utterly infallibly what is wrong and right for the world, they tell you
instantly and without the slightest doubt who deserves to live and who not, they even know all
plans of Allah. And since Allah can’t kill, they are ready to kill.
Don’t lend your ears to those who say that the holy warriors in the name of the Quran don’t
respect anyone or anything except themselves and the shadows of their words. Don’t listen to
the men that say that Allah has asked them to keep their mother, sister, daughter and wives
terminally incarcerated in the courtyards of some medieval age. Don’t believe that they suspect
everyone and everything that differs from their perception of reality: they feel that whatever they
represent is so vulnerable that it could easily be shattered by anyone, by stoned manifestations
of the silent Buddha, by all Muslims who abide by their God.
Go to them and ask them to open the doors of heaven for you - they have the keys!
NOTE: The poem below was inspired by the above article.
Don't see the old rheumy eyes ----
with the supple outstretched limb
Don't see the ravages
treatable disease can bring
Don't see the beggar's bowl ----
to whimsy of the day's passersby
Don't see the baby crawling beside ----
tied round the neck with black string
Don't see the violence ----
the night's passersby can spring
Don't see the pain ----
as anger at what fate can bring
And a car roars by beside ----
on the road -----
blowing dust to the wind.
.... Arshad M. Khan
SHOOTING YOURSELF IN THE FOOT
Arshad M. Khan
President Obama and Admiral Dennis C. Blair, the Director of National Intelligence, invited former
ambassador Chas. W. Freeman, Jr. to chair the National Intelligence Council. The news set off a
barrage of attacking emails and articles full of innuendo, half-truths and outright lies designed to
impugn the character, loyalty and integrity of Ambassador Freeman. (It is more or less what
happened to President Carter when he used the word apartheid in relation to Israel).
While Ambassador Freeman is certainly to the right of the Democrats' left wing, he has had a
distinguished career in the Departments of State and Defense (see biography below) and is
currently President of the Middle East Policy Council, a post held before him by former
Presidential Candidate and Senator, George McGovern. He has been ambassador to Saudi
Arabia and his views on Israel are perhaps less openly partisan. Hence, his problem.
Steven Rosen, formerly of AIPAC, the Israeli lobby, fired the first volleys. Martin Peretz of the
New Republic an ardent and often virulent advocate for Israel (more correctly the Israeli right)
accused him of "having supped at the Saudi table." The poor man defended himself saying he is
paid a nominal $70,000 including all expenses and donates his money to the Institute. The
chorus, joined by Senator Chuck Schumer (famously called a "putz" by former New York
Governor Cuomo), Senator Lieberman (jumper-of-ships, self-appointed moralist and damed good
at getting defense contracts awarded to his cousin), and others soon became a lynch mob.
Ambassador Freeman has decided not to take the job. Having had one of the most distinguished
international careers in our government, he has been retired for a while and, one supposes, just
did not care for the hassle. The loss is the country's for he would have provided the unbiased
intelligence we desperately need; not the kind that gave us the Iraq war.
So the lobby won again. Well .... yes, in a way. Have you seen the blogs, ".... so I am on my way to
work to earn money and pay taxes so we can send arms to Israel so it can blow up Gaza and then
we pay more taxes so it can be built up again."
"Who the f------ s--- do they think they are. If the Prez can't have the best intel going, doesn't
make me feel safer."
By the way, are the 'Prez' and Blair happy about this. One wonders about the rancor that will
remain and their mind-set and attitude towards the lobby as they go about their work.
The earlier appointment of former Senator Mitchell, who is of half-Lebanese extraction, as
MidEast Envoy evoked similar outrages from the likes of Kristol and Abraham Foxman; the latter
complaining that Mitchell, above all, was known to be fair and not pro-Israel enough. Do we want
peace over there or not? Life in Washington goes on ...
Amb. Chas. W. Freeman, Jr.
Ambassador Chas. W. Freeman, Jr. succeeded Senator George McGovern as President of the
Middle East Policy Council on December 1, 1997.
Ambassador Freeman was Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs from
1993-94, earning the highest public service awards of the Department of Defense for his roles in
designing a NATO-centered post-Cold War European security system and in reestablishing
defense and military relations with China. He served as U. S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia (during
operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm). He was Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State
for African Affairs during the historic U.S. mediation of Namibian independence from South Africa
and Cuban troop withdrawal from Angola.
Chas. Freeman served as Deputy Chief of Mission and Chargé d'Affaires in the American
embassies at both Bangkok (1984-1986) and Beijing (1981-1984). He was Director for Chinese
Affairs at the U.S. Department of State from 1979-1981. He was the principal American interpreter
during the late President Nixon's path-breaking visit to China in 1972. In addition to his Middle
Eastern, African, East Asian and European diplomatic experience, he served in India.
Ambassador Freeman earned a certificate in Latin American studies from the National
Autonomous University of Mexico, certificates in both the national and Taiwan dialects of
Chinese from the former Foreign Service Institute field school in Taiwan, a BA from Yale
University and a JD from the Harvard Law School. He is the recipient of numerous high honors
and awards. He is the author of The Diplomat's Dictionary (Revised Edition) and Arts of Power,
both published by the United States Institute of Peace in 1997. Ambassador Freeman is Chairman
of the Board of Projects International, Inc., a Washington-based business development firm that
specializes in arranging international joint ventures, acquisitions, and other business operations
for its American and foreign clients. He also serves as Co-Chair of the United States-China Policy
Foundation and Vice Chair of the Atlantic Council of the United States. He is a member of the
boards of the Institute for Defense Analyses, the Washington World Affairs Council, the American
Academy of Diplomacy, and the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, as well as an
overseer of Roger Williams University and a member of several corporate and non-profit
1995 - Present Chairman of the Board, Projects International, Inc.
1994-95 Distinguished Fellow, United States Institute of Peace
1993-94 Assistant Secretary of Defense, International Security Affairs
1992-93 Distinguished Fellow, Institute for National Strategic Studies
1989-92 U S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
1986-89 Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, African Affairs
1995 Elected to American Academy of Diplomacy
1994 Distinguished Public Service Award (Policy innovation in Europe)
1994 Distinguished Public Service Award (Contributions in Defense Policy)
1994 Order of 'Abd Al-'Azziz, 1st Class (Diplomatic Service)
1991 Defense Meritorious Service (Desert Shield/Storm)
1991 CIA Medallion (Desert Shield/Storm)
1991 Distinguished Honor Award (Desert Shield/Storm)
Recent Major Publications and Writings
Arts of Power: Statecraft and Diplomacy, U.S. Institute of Peace Press, Washington, D.C., 1997.
The Diplomat's Dictionary, Second Edition, revised, U.S. Institute of Peace Press, Washington, D.
LANGUAGE, CULTURE, AND IDENTITY
Arshad M. Khan
The corrosive impact of a foreign language on local culture emerges as an unexpected and
probably inadvertent leitmotif in former President Musharraf's, "In the Line of Fire." One notices
a pervasive toxic colonial influence, ingrained through language and institution, permeating the
higher levels of society. Quite clearly, in over sixty years of Independence not much has been
done to develop a sense of identity distinct from the colonizers.
It comes as a surprise to this reader that English is the language of Cabinet meetings in Pakistan
and India, and imperfect English is a cause of embarrassment. Why, when English is a foreign
language? Further investigation reveals that, even after all these years of self-rule, the highest-
rated schools on the subcontinent teach in English, the best students secure British high school
diplomas, and the best of the best make a rapid exit to foreign universities. (The low percentage
choosing to return after spending their formative years abroad is not unexpected and is a
tragedy but that is another story). For someone who has been away for a while, it sinks in slowly
and gradually: English is the language of the elite, and poor English is a class identifier.
So, our young read Tennyson but not Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Shakespeare, Keats and Shelly but not
Kalidasa, Tulsidas or Ghalib. Therein lies the problem: they learn one set of cultural norms at
home and another in the novels and poetry they are dosed with in school, and perhaps yet
another on the silver screen. No surprise then, if they are confused, perplexed and unanchored.
Language is culture, yes. But perhaps even more important, culture is identity. It is a
prerequisite for self-esteem, self-worth, pride in one's heritage and pride of place. Granted,
Western media and entertainment are pervasive and contribute greatly to the impoverishment of
non-theistic local iconographies. It leaves those among the young seeking an independent
identity with little else than materialism or religion and fundamentalism.
The moral absolutism of theistic philosophy conflicts with the moral relativism necessary in a
modern democratic state comprising a multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-linguistic citizenry.
Tolerance is the essence of a functioning democracy, and the limits of this tolerance are
necessarily stressed less when there is an overarching common medium of communication
across groups and social classes. It would seem that Urdu in Pakistan and Urdu/Hindi in
Northern India fulfills this role. A leader descending from the mountain to speak haltingly in
Hindi/Urdu interspersed with English to the plebeian majority appears incongruous, at best, after
over a half-century of independence.
Nehru's first language was English and Jinnah spoke it in flawless unaccented tones but then
they were educated in Britain as was, understandably, necessary for success in those days. As it
happens, they were also secularists and religion had passed them by (or was it vice versa?).
Ever since, it seems our English has deteriorated (just look at "India Today", a prominent news
weekly) without our own languages taking up the slack. And religion, sadly, seems to have
reached a climactic intensity where religious genocide in Gujarat occurs with impunity, and
splitting hairs is the accepted norm in defining a Muslim. It is a discourse from which the
university-educated elite, often with degrees from abroad, are necessarily excluded as
representing an alien zeitgeist divorced from the common man.
There is an interesting parallel with society in Latin America as it has developed in the aftermath
of the Spanish conquest. Over time it has stratified into three layers: at the highest level, the
Spanish-speaking descendants of the original Spanish colonials, who had been the recipients of
vast land grants, and are now the large landowners; in the middle, the mestizos (mixed races)
speaking both Spanish and the native tongues are the small landholders, who often serve as
intermediaries for the elite and as a result hold sway in their small villages; lastly, at the bottom,
the Indians, who speak only their own languages, are share croppers and peasants whose
livelihood usually depends on the other two classes.
The ossification into these three rigid classes, and the domination of the lowest class, with no
opportunity for upward mobility, has been due principally to the language barrier, and, to a lesser
extent, to the exquisitely designed religious rituals and obligations. The unfortunate
consequence of this social separation and oppression has been the numerous violent
upheavals and cultural degradations in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. It is a history
that might (and perhaps should) give pause to thinkers and policy makers in the subcontinent.
The Israelis have resurrected a dead language, Hebrew, and made it their state language.
Moreover, everyone there tends to learn English, the linguafranca, of international business and
diplomacy. Pakistan has Urdu, a living language with a vast literature; it is rich, pliable and
adaptable with an inherent courtesy that once informed the culture. India can use Hindi and
perhaps a quartet of major regional languages; perhaps not implausible when tiny Switzerland
has three. On the face of it then, the task of changing the state language seems not
insurmountable, and the unifying benefits for disparate regions are surely worth the cost. This
does not mean that English cannot remain the foreign language of choice. Former President
Musharraf was reputed to be an admirer of Turkey. One wonders if that country, or for that
matter, any other in the Mideast, uses a language other than its own for government business.
There may even be a lesson in Ataturk's adaptation and modernization of Turkish.
Scanning the Indian subcontinent these days, one sees unnecessary violence and suffering
caused generally by absolutism, arrogance of power and a lack of meaningful sympathy and
understanding for minority groups and the under classes; in essence, a rending of the social
fabric. After almost sixty-two years it seems, "the trouble with our times is that the future is not
what it used to be" as Paul Valéry once noted with remarkable insight. Perhaps these patients
require a radical change in prescription to be whole again.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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