Weekly Letter to President Obama
Copyright © 2010
ofthisandthat.org. All rights
INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
November 8, 2013
Mr. President: A month ago (October 7, 2013), we passed the twelfth anniversary of
the war in Afghanistan. It is the longest war in U.S. history, costing easily over a
trillion dollars. It costs a million dollars a year for every soldier stationed there; it
costs $2 billion dollars out of the U.S. treasury every week. About a $100 billion has
been spent on aid, the lion's share spent on security, on the counter insurgency
principle that everything hinges on a safe and secure environment. Thus only about
$3 billion has been spent on humanitarian aid.
Yet, despite this enormous effort, last week there were numerous insurgent attacks
across the country. It was not an exception. The Pashtun population, by far the
largest ethnic group are alienated, and have been since the beginning of this
misadventure. Why? Because the U.S. used the Northern Alliance of Tajiks and
Uzbeks to help oust the Pashtun Taliban government, and Afghan military and police
indeed the government, are Northern Alliance dominated. So what is likely to happen
if the U.S. leaves completely in 2014? Well, Iraq comes to mind where the mayhem
In Goa, India there is a conference in progress aiming to explore, examine and
address international problems past and present. Called THINK, it is organized by the
Indian news magazine Tehelka noted for its expose of the Gujarat massacre of
Muslims. One of the sessions was a joint interview of Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the
Taliban ambassador in Pakistan in 2001 and Robert Grenier, the CIA station chief in
Islamabad at the time. What emerged was the uncontested assertion by Zaeef that
the Taliban leadership offered to the Bush administration several alternatives: (i)
provide the Taliban with the evidence, and they would try Osama bin Laden in Kabul;
(ii) they could place him under house arrest with no access to any communication
device rendering him powerless, (iii) they could surrender him to the International
Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague.
A trillion dollars gone, thousands of lives lost, maimed and traumatized (PTSD);
families in turmoil, divorces and suicides (now in record numbers), and the third
alternative leading to a trial at the ICJ looks pretty attractive.
Lest WW II bomber pilots be disturbed by the bombings of cities -- hundreds of
thousands killed and burnt to death in Dresden and Tokyo -- they were issued
pamphlets to allay their disquiet, reminding them civilians were being marshaled into a
homeland defense force. One day the German and Japanese civilians were the
enemy to be slaughtered, then almost overnight they became the good Germans and
Japanese, a bulwark against Communism, the new enemy.
Well, that's the old enemy now, the new enemy is radical Islam, e.g. in Afghanistan ...
except in Iraq a secular government is overthrown, as are women's rights -- where
once they were professionals, now they are shuttered; ditto in Libya, once the leader
in Africa on the Human Development Index, now a shambles with a wrecked
infrastructure; and almost ditto in Syria where two million refugees suffer the horror of
camps, lack of medical care, disease and death, when two years ago they led
tolerable lives, economically superior to half the world.
In common, a refusal to toe the line dictated by the U.S., a nation that seemed to
Zaeef in 2001 to be living in a 'trance of invincibility' is still addicted to force as a
preferred choice despite the repeated adverse outcomes. In this regard, Noel
Maurer's The Empire Trap: The Rise and Fall of US Intervention to Protect American
Property Overseas (1893-2013) is illuminating particularly when he discusses Latin
America. But then others (e.g. Niall Ferguson's 2004 Colossus) have offered similar
views earlier without any rational change, or the wherewithal to fight the powerful
interests urging interventions.