Weekly Letter to President Obama
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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
January 25, 2013

Mr. President:  Two days hence (January 27) is the 40th anniversary of the Paris
Peace Accord which brought the Vietnam war to a close.  For a while the memories
and lessons were vivid in our collective conscience but memories fade and lessons
are unlearned much to our cost.

Just this week Benghazi was declared unsafe for Westerners.  It has already proven
drastically unsafe for our Consular officials including the ambassador -- an event
unimaginable under the Gaddafi regime when responsibility could be directly traced to
the leader.  Not any more in these amorphous collections of organic clusters forming
rebel groups.

The blowback in Mali where returning Tuaregs from Gaddafi's disbanded army, aided
by Islamists, acted to fulfill their dream of autonomy from an ethnically different central
government.  The French have arrived.  The Mali army (trained by the U.S.) has
splintered along ethnic lines, many joining up with the rebels.  So now the French face
adversaries trained by U.S. special forces.  Mali is ringed by U.S. bases and the
French are relying heavily on their logistical and intelligence support.  We are in the
thick of it albeit in the new low-profile mode.  The question is, when is this likely to
stop or like Indo-China will it end in some massive catastrophe brought to a final end
by locals.  In Vietnam, teams are meeting still (40 years later) to try to rid the land of
dioxin wherever it was used.

Algeria, too, is suffering consequences.  Almost 70 percent of Algerian GDP is
derived from energy resources (oil and gas).  It relies heavily on foreign expertise to
exploit these resources.  Thus the attack on the In Amenas gas facility in response to
the French intervention in Mali (which required overflight permission from Algeria) was
a severe blow.  The dead U.S., Japanese, European and other experts and
technicians, the shutdown of the facility, the reassessments by foreign firms, are all at
a cost to the Algerian economy.  Now here's the kicker:  the arms and even the
uniforms used by the attackers were procured by or given to the Libyan Transitional
Council rebel forces.

Yesterday, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and
Counterterrorism, Ben Emmerson, officially launched a probe into the civilian impact
of the use of drones and other forms of targeted killing.  Drones Watch issued a list of
children confirmed killed in drone strikes; they range in age from toddlers up.  Given
the difficulty in reporting deaths in remote areas, the actual numbers are most likely
much higher.  Add in adults mostly women (because the U.S. now considers almost
every male in these areas a combatant) and the numbers rise further.

Attacking a dwelling compound will inevitably lead to the deaths of women and
children.  At what point do these actions become so unacceptable that they can be
labeled war crimes?  Mr. Emmerson, a distinguished British jurist, has a daunting task
ahead if the fate of Judge Goldstone, who examined Israeli war crimes during the
Gaza invasion, is any indicator.

The ultimate tragedy is that none of these people (semi-autonomous Pashtun tribes)
had ever raised a weapon against the U.S. or the Pakistan army until the Afghan
invasion and occupation and the installation of basically a minority Tajik-Uzbek
(Northern Alliance) government in Kabul.

And, of course, all of this means more enemies for the U.S., more emphasis (and
expenditure) on Homeland Security, more restrictions on personal freedom, more
assaults on the Constitution in the name of security, and further acquiescence by a
frightened citizenry.