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Ike’s Nightmare

1:56 pm in Military, Politics by Derrick Crowe

Fifty-one years ago today, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued his final, prescient warning about the rising power of the military industrial complex. More than half a century later, we find ourselves in a political system which has ignored Eisenhower’s sound advice as the influence of the war industry on our society reaches a crescendo. Nowhere is this “disastrous rise of misplaced power” more apparent than in the debate about the Pentagon budget taking place in Washington, D.C.

Eisenhower’s final speech is worth quoting at length:

“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

“We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

“[I]nfluence…sought or unsought” is certainly a generous description of activity of war industry giants, which was already under way as Ike gave his speech. Were he in office today, Eisenhower likely would have foregone this nod to the possibility of naive goodwill from war profiteering companies. In the first three quarters of 2011, the military aerospace sector spent more than $46 million on lobbying, with war profiteering giant Lockheed Martin accounting for almost a quarter of that spending. In no way can we imply that today’s war industry is acquiring “unsought” influence. They’re working to buy our elected officials outright. Read the rest of this entry →

Afghanistan War Not Worth the Burning of Children and Treasure

2:26 pm in Afghanistan, Foreign Policy, Military by Derrick Crowe

Fresh from the reported killing of more than 60 civilians, U.S. forces in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, killed nine boys gathering firewood on a mountainside. General Petraeus says he’s sorry.

“We are deeply sorry for this tragedy and apologize to the members of the Afghan government, the people of Afghanistan and, most importantly, the surviving family members of those killed by our actions,” Gen. Petraeus said in a statement. “These deaths should have never happened.”

Too little, too late, general. Nine boys now lie among thousands of others who had a right to life independent of U.S. goals in Afghanistan, and “sorry” doesn’t cut it, especially from the general who’s tripling the air war over Afghanistan. Air strikes are the leading tactic involved when U.S. and coalition forces kill civilians. We know this. We use them anyway. These boys’ deaths, or at least the idea of these boys’ deaths, were factored in to a calculation and deemed insufficient to deter the use of air power long before they died, and their deaths don’t seem to have changed Petraeus’ or ISAF’s calculus. Sorry doesn’t cut it.

But at least Petraeus didn’t try to blame the boys’ families for blowing them up to frame him this time.

Sorry certainly doesn’t cut it for the brother of one of the dead:

“I don’t care about the apology,” Mohammed Bismil, the 20-year-old brother of two boys killed in the strike, said in a telephone interview. “The only option I have is to pick up a Kalashnikov, RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] or a suicide vest to fight.”

President Obama says he’s sorry, too:

President Obama expressed his deep regret for the tragic accident in Kunar Province in which nine Afghans were killed. The President conveyed his condolences to the Afghan people and stressed that he and General Petraeus take such incidents very seriously. President Obama and President Karzai agreed that such incidents undermine our shared efforts in fighting terrorism.

Oh, good, he takes such incidents “very seriously.” Here’s a fun thought experiment: can you imagine President Obama (or any high-ranking visiting U.S. dignitary, for that matter) scheduling a visit to the graveside of any civilian victim of U.S.-fired munitions on his next trip to Afghanistan? Give me a call when the images from that photo-op make the front pages, would you?

I don’t doubt for a second that President Obama and much of Washington officialdom think that they take these deaths very seriously. Yet, they continue to rubber-stamp funds and to approve a strategy and various supporting tactics that are guaranteed to cause future incidents like these. Because that’s the case, they’re conscripting tax money that we send to D.C. every year for the purpose of building our nation together into policies that we don’t support and which kill people for whom we feel no malice. In fact, the strategies and tactics are so ill-conceived that they’re putting our money into the hands of insurgents who kill U.S. troops.

From Talking Points Memo:

After nearly a decade of mismanagement, theft and fraud, the U.S. military still hasn’t found a way to staunch the flow of what is likely hundreds of millions — if not billions — of dollars in lost fuel in Afghanistan, some of which is sold on the black market and winds up in Taliban hands, a TPM investigation has found.

…When TPM asked Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA), a longtime member of the defense spending panel, about the fuel losses on Wednesday, Moran was well-versed on the topic, noting that he and other members of the committee had received private briefings by defense officials about the thorny security, logistics and corruption issues posed by the fuel theft.

Over the years, the transport of the fuel into the country at times has involved agreements to siphon a portion to outside parties in order to guarantee safe passage of the trucks, Moran said, and some of that fuel has ended up in enemy hands.

This same news story also included mention of a report from last year that showed that U.S. taxpayer funds funneled through protection rackets was one of the insurgents’ most significant sources of funding:

…A House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee investigation last year revealed that the companies under the host-nation contract often paid private security contractors to ensure safe passage through Afghanistan. The security contractors, in turn, made protection payment to local warlords in exchange for their agreement to prevent attacks.

“In many cases, the investigation discovered, these protection payments made their way into the hands of warlords and, directly or indirectly, the very insurgents that U.S. forces were fighting,” Rep. John Tierney (D-MA), the ranking member of the national security oversight subcommittee, wrote in a January letter to Issa highlighting the problems with the trucking contract.

Even completed big-ticket completed projects intended to win hearts and minds for the coalition have resulted in new funding streams for insurgents. From Yahoo! News:

WASHINGTON – By pumping more than $100 million into a hydropower plant, the United States sought to improve the lives of Afghans and win the hearts and minds of tribesmen and farmers who might otherwise turn to the Taliban insurgency. Instead, a prominent outside Pentagon adviser argues, the bungled boondoggle ended up funding the insurgents while doing little to help the United States end the war and bring troops home.

…Half the electricity from the project in the volatile Helmand province goes to Taliban territory, enabling America’s enemies to issue power bills and grow the poppies that finance their insurgency, he says.

With our money fueling the insurgency and our killing of civilians driving more people to join the Taliban’s side every week, it’s little wonder that the insurgency continues to grow in size and sophistication. But that brings us back to that calculation, the one that put those nine dead boys in the column titled “Acceptable Losses.” With official promises that more troops would lead to more security for ordinary Afghans having collapsed so badly that they read like a bad joke, what could possibly justify this continued bonfire of lives and resources in Afghanistan? The war’s not making us safer and it’s not worth the cost. Dragging this out until 2014 won’t change that one bit.

This week U.S. forces burned children along with the firewood they were gathering. If we allow this brutal, futile war to continue, you can bet that more children and more of our resources will be kindling to a fire that’s not keeping anybody warm. The American people want our troops brought home, and it’s time President Obama and Congress took that “very seriously.”

If you’re fed up with this war that’s not making us safer and that’s not worth the cost, join a Rethink Afghanistan Meetup near you and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Rethink the Cost of War With Us on March 12

10:11 am in Afghanistan, Countries in Conflict, Foreign Policy, Military, Politics by Derrick Crowe

The movement to end the Afghanistan War is gaining momentum, and on March 12, it will gain some more. In a little less than two weeks, supporters of Rethink Afghanistan (“Rethinkers”) will get together with their neighbors in hundreds of communities to talk about what can be done locally to stop the war. We’re going to swap stories, share a coffee or a beer, and make the personal connections with other Rethinkers in our neighborhood that will carry us through to our goal of bringing our troops home. Join us in your hometown for Rethink the Cost, a worldwide Meetup for people who want to end the Afghanistan War.

When Brave New Foundation first started the Rethink Afghanistan campaign to push back against the growing drumbeats for military escalation, we faced some strong headwinds. The election of a popular Democratic president who was pro-escalation co-opted and confused the coalitions that had pushed for the end of the Iraq War. We were warned that strong public statements in opposition to the Afghanistan Wars and the president’s repeated escalations of the conflict would cause us to lose funders and allies.

For a while, these critics were right. We did lose funders and allies. But in the process, the Rethink Afghanistan documentary and ongoing new media campaign staked out important intellectual and moral territory in opposition to the escalations. individual Rethinkers and our colleagues in the nonprofit world probably experienced the same isolation in their professional and personal lives. But together we’ve maintained our moral clarity, and now that clarity is paying off.

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This Veterans Day, Honor Those Who Say “No” to Immoral War

12:56 pm in Afghanistan, Countries in Conflict, Foreign Policy, Military by Derrick Crowe

Today is Veterans Day, the tenth Veterans Day since the Afghanistan War began.

The burden of this brutal, futile war falls heaviest on a very small slice of the population: military members and their families. Many of them think that this war is immoral, and that makes fighting in it a weight they’ll have to carry their whole lives. Our new video features the voices of some of these veterans, urging us to rethink the burden we’re laying on troops.

There’s going to be, as always, a lot of talk today about supporting the troops, but if “support the troops” is to have any meaning beyond the bumper sticker or car magnet, it’s got to include support for the consciences of those troops. And right now, current military policy includes a healthy dose of disrespect for the deep moral convictions of many of its members.

Many of us are familiar with the concept of conscientious objection–the refusal to participate in combat due to deep religious or ethical objections. But the right to assert a moral objection to service in war is severely limited. Under current law, the right to obtain conscientious objector status is restricted to those who consider all war immoral. In fact, the policy of the Defense Department is that,

“requests by personnel for qualification as a conscientious objector after entering military service will not be favorably considered when these requests are… [b]ased on objection to a certain war.”   . . . Read the rest of this entry →

Afghanistan, Year Ten

10:31 am in Afghanistan, Countries in Conflict, Foreign Policy, Military by Derrick Crowe

Rethink Afghanistan Year Ten video graphic

Watch Rethink Afghanistan’s latest video at RethinkAfghanistan.com.

I spent several days last week giving guest lectures about the Afghanistan War to freshmen and seniors at Anderson High School in Austin, Texas. It’s no secret that I loathe this brutal, futile war that’s not making us safer. So, when I talk to kids about it, I state my biases up-front, and I do my best to represent my opponents’ views fairly. In the process of playing devil’s advocate during these talks, I usually ask people if they remember how they felt on 9/11. I do this because I think it’s a good way to get into the mindset of decision-makers who led us down this road back in 2001. But this year, something startling happened: When I asked the students this question, they laughed at me.

"Dude, that was a long time ago," they giggled. "We were, like, in 3rd grade or something." In other words, no, Mr. Old Guy, we don’t remember. We weren’t even 10 years old when that happened.

Year 10. That’s where we are, starting October 7, 2010. We are now in the Afghanistan War’s 10th year. Of course most of those kids don’t remember what they felt like when the towers fell. It was almost a decade ago, more than half of their lives ago.

It’s startling to be reminded how long ago 9/11 was because our public figures keep talking about the Afghanistan War like it started last year. General Petraeus let us know back in February in a Meet the Press interview that we were just then getting "the inputs about right," and were now "starting to see some of the outputs." Nine years into this war, and Petraeus lets us know they’re just getting warmed up. Good God.  . . . Read the rest of this entry →

Who’s Really “Relying on Assumptions and Beliefs to Shape Reality” in Afghanistan War Debate?

10:23 am in Afghanistan, Countries in Conflict, Military by Derrick Crowe

The Afghanistan Study Group report is out, and the fight is on. A number of critiques have been leveled at the report, one of the most influential being Joshua Foust’s over at Registan.net, chunks of which are percolating upward into larger outlets. Foust is a smart guy with whom I regularly debate, but there’s a particularly offensive landmine hiding at the end of Foust’s post that I want to highlight:

But in a real way, this is symptomatic of much of the anti-war movement in this country: it starts with a conclusion and works backward to develop justifications for it. That is an inversion of reasoned argument, as it relies on assumption and beliefs to shape reality, rather than using reality as a base for arguments and beliefs.

That’s pretty rich, especially considering the outrageous intellectual dishonesty on display over the past couple of weeks with regard to the pro-counterinsurgency decision-makers in this country, who spent the last few weeks furiously redefining not only reality but their own doctrine. I don’t mean to deflect from Foust’s substantive critiques of the ASG’s report, some of which I plan to return to in a latter post, and I should be clear that I also have some points of contention to raise with some of the particulars of the report, but this drive-by smear is too offensive to let go without a detailed response.

I read Joshua’s swipe as calling out the anti-war movement in the current debate as being the parties particularly guilty of this activity, and if that’s the case, let me go out on a limb here and say that such an assertion is flatly ridiculous on its face. This is particularly offensive given that in the last couple of weeks, our opponents have worked furiously to construct a dishonest narrative of "progress" while their strategy is clearly failing to arrest the deterioration of security in Afghanistan.  . . . Read the rest of this entry →

TIME’s Epic Distortion of the Plight of Women in Afghanistan

1:00 pm in Foreign Policy, Military, Politics by Derrick Crowe

Help us push back against TIME Magazine’s distortion of women’s issues in Afghanistan.

Tomorrow, TIME Magazine will treat newsstand customers everywhere to one of the most rank propaganda plays of the Afghanistan War. The cover features a woman, Aisha, whose face was mutilated by the Taliban, next to the headline, "What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan." Far more people will see this image and have their emotions manipulated by it than will read the article within (which itself seems to be a journalistic travesty, if the web version is any indication), so TIME should be absolutely ashamed of themselves for such a dishonest snow job on their customers. Readers deserve better.

Let’s clarify something right off the top when it comes to this cover: Aisha, the poor woman depicted in the photograph, was attacked last year, with tens of thousands of U.S. troops tramping all over the country at the time. This isn’t the picture of some as-yet-unrealized nighmarish future for Afghan women. It’s the picture of the present.

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Afghanistan Rights Monitor SLAMS Washington Spin About “Progress” in Afghanistan

7:00 am in Foreign Policy, Government, Military by Derrick Crowe

The Afghanistan Rights Monitor’s (ARM) mid-year report on Civilian Casualties of Conflict (pdf) blasts the happy-talk coming out of the Obama Administration about the deteriorating security situation and its effect on civilians:

Despite the high-profile spin in Washington and Kabul about progress made in Afghanistan, the Afghan people have only witnessed and suffered an intensifying armed conflict over the past six months. Contrary to President Barrack Obama’s promise that the deployment of additional 30,000 US forces to the country would “disrupt, dismantle and defeat” Taliban insurgents and their al-Qaeda allies in the region, the insurgency has become more resilient, multi-structured and deadly. Information and figures received, verified and analyzed by Afghanistan Rights Monitor (ARM) show about 1,074 civilian people were killed and over 1,500 were injured in armed violence and security incidents from 1 January to 30 June 2010. This shows a slight increase in the number of civilian deaths compared to the same period last year when 1,059 deaths were recorded.

In terms of insecurity, 2010 has been the worst year since the demise of the Taliban regime in late 2001. Not only have the number of security incidents increased, the space and depth of insurgency and counter-insurgency-related violence have maximized dramatically. Up to 1,200 security incident were recorded in June, the highest number of incident compared to any month since 2002.

The administration and their allies have continuously that "we’re making progress," "we’re turning the tide," or "we’ve begun to reverse the insurgents’ momentum," but the data doesn’t support their assertions. As ARM’s report shows, civilian casualties continue to climb even as more troops flood into the country — troops executing a counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy supposedly premised on "protecting the population." The rise in troop levels and civilian casualties has been accompanied by an increasingly large and sophisticated insurgency and a widening lead in sympathy or support for the insurgents in key districts of Afghanistan.

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President Obama, Bringing the Truthiness on Afghanistan

4:20 pm in Military, Terrorism by Derrick Crowe

President Obama told reporters on May 12, 2010, that "we’re beginning to reverse the momentum of the insurgency" in Afghanistan.

According to his administration’s own report given to Congress last week, that’s not true. The insurgency is growing in size and capabilities. Simply put, the president’s continued troop increases aren’t working.

It’s time to change course. Tell your Member of Congress that you want an exit timetable for U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

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One in Three Killed By Drones in Pakistan Is a Civilian

6:50 am in Afghanistan, Countries in Conflict, Foreign Policy, Military by Derrick Crowe

A new report from the New America Foundation states that one of every three people killed in the U.S.’s not-so-secret drone war in Pakistan is a civilian. The report also discloses that none of the strikes in 2009 targeted Bin Laden, and that they have had little impact on the Taliban’s ability to plan operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. To the contrary, the drone strikes serve as a powerful recruiting tool for the Taliban and al Qaeda.

According to New America Foundation’s Peter Bergen and Kathren Tiedemann (emphasis mine):

Our study shows that the 114 reported drone strikes in northwest Pakistan from 2004 to the present have killed between 830 and 1,210 individuals, of whom around 550 to 850 were described as militants in reliable press accounts, about two-thirds of the total on average. Thus, the true civilian fatality rate since 2004 according to our analysis is approximately 32 percent.

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