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Petraeus Touts “One Team With One Mission” but Fails to State Mission in Afghanistan

8:41 pm in Uncategorized by Jim White

Appearing Saturday at the US embassy in Kabul, General David Petraeus spouted platitudes about "teams" and "missions" without ever stating just what mission it is that our team is attempting to carry out.

Here is how CNN.com described his short speech:

Petraeus, the new U.S. commander in Afghanistan, addressed a group of about 1,700 at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

"I’m reminded we must achieve unity of effort and common purpose," Petraeus told the crowd. "Civilian and military, Afghan and international. We are part of one team with one mission."

They even provided video:

I looked at stories from all the news sources I could find and none mentioned Petraeus stating just what mission he hoped to achieve. I was struck by how Petraeus could place such emphasis on the team and the common mission without even mentioning just what that mission might be. But it seemed possible that the press reports left out a statement by Petraeus on what the mission might be, so I went looking for a more complete version of his comments. ISAFMedia released a YouTube with a still photo from the event and a very bad audio recording of Petraeus’ remarks:

After listening to the audio, it does indeed appear that Petraeus is touting teamwork while dancing around defining the mission. Doesn’t it seem that the new commanding General of an effort should state the shared mission explicitly when he is touting the unity of the team he is about to lead?

Just what is your mission, General Petraeus?

New York Times Calls for Economic Shock Doctrine in Afghanistan

5:41 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

Klein in Berlin 2007
Naomi Klein in Berlin in 2007 (Via Wikimedia Commons)

An editorial in Friday’s New York Times advocates for Hamid Karzai to hand over responsibility for economic redevelopment of Afghanistan from the United Nations to the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. Such a move would do nothing more than complete the rape of Afghanistan by the west and institute policies that Naomi Klein documented in The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

The editorial opens by noting recent tensions between Karzai and the US, suggesting that the upcoming visit by Karzai to Washington should be used to reduce tensions while encouraging Karzai to improve his efforts to eliminate corruption in his government. But then the Times launches into its horribly wrong and unsolicited advice:

While that’s going on, Mr. Obama also needs to open a second, less sensitive front in the anticorruption campaign. He should urge Mr. Karzai to ask the United Nations (which Mr. Karzai now implausibly blames for last year’s presidential election fraud) to hand responsibility for overseeing Afghanistan’s economic development to others more proficient in handling money.

The United Nations has enough to do to help strengthen Afghanistan’s political institutions, oversee elections (a new Parliament will be chosen in September) and ensure that humanitarian relief gets where it is needed.

The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank could all do a better job of monitoring, auditing and coordinating the billions of dollars of international aid flowing into Afghanistan.

Oh, yes. Bringing the IMF and World Bank into the equation is "less sensitive" only to those who haven’t read Naomi Klein. For those who have read The Shock Doctrine, this move by the Times amounts to a request to declare open season for the west to exploit the vast sums of relief money flowing into Afghanistan and to then follow up by exploiting the natural resources there.

Some of the basics of what IMF and World Bank policies in Afghanistan would produce can be cobbled together from this BuzzFlash interview reproduced on Klein’s website:

The transition is a negotiated transition, and this is a key thing. You brought up the pattern of pulling support from dictators when they start to become threats. I think there’s also a pattern of realizing when a dictator’s days are numbered, and making the judgment that it is more strategic to gain control over the transition process, and to prevent it from being a true revolution. Then the energy gets poured into supporting the opposition with funds and imposing conditions.

/snip/

Then the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the different regional banks and lending institutions play their roles. In a way, it was a handover from the tyranny of dictatorships to what could be called the dictatorship of debt. You had this handover of very large debts accumulated under oppressive regimes. Then you have the Volcker shock — the Paul Volcker interest rate increase — which was like a taser gun fired from Washington to the global south. Suddenly these debts that were already very large tripled or quadrupled in size. Suddenly these countries are spiraling in hyper-inflation. This is called the debt shock, or the Volcker shock.

So this was another kind of shock that enforced these policies. When countries went to the World Bank and the IMF asking for aid, they were given loans with structural adjustment programs attached. The structural adjustment programs were Chicago school, free-market makeover plans.

And once the redevelopment funds have been looted, attention will turn to natural resources. From the editorial:

Multilateral institutions can also bring in additional donors and more fairly apportion the costs of Afghan development. They can provide Afghanistan with the technical expertise it needs to manage its own resources.

Afghanistan is one of the world’s poorest countries, but it is not without prospects. It is believed to have huge mineral wealth, including copper, iron ore and rare earth minerals like lithium, used in making electric cars. Its agricultural areas can be more than self-sufficient if irrigation canals are rebuilt and access provided. Its carpets and textiles have a worldwide market.

With less corruption, better economic management and more focused international effort, it does not have to remain poor. It could begin financing its government and its further development from its own resources.

This proposal from the New York Times, while cloaked in the language of centrism and economic pragmatism, is nothing more than a declaration of open season for the megacorporations of the west to enrich themselves on development contracts in Afghanistan and to export the mineral wealth of the country, all the while keeping the population saddled with excessive debt that can be serviced only by keeping government services at a minimum.

After all that we have done to Afghanistan, this move would be the worst, as it would take away that country’s future.

The final chapter of Klein’s book lays open the alternative to the IMG and World Bank approach. Titled "Shock Wears Off: The Rise of People’s Reconstruction", it outlines how, sometimes with the help of nonprofit nongovernment organizations (NGO’s), local people can rebuild their lives and their economies:

Such people’s reconstruction efforts represent the antithesis of the disaster capitalism complex’s ethos, with its perpetual quest for clean sheets, and blank slates on which to build model states. Like Latin America’s farm and factory co-ops, they are inherently improvisational, making do with whoever is left behind and whatever rusty tools have not been swept away, broken or stolen.

In Advance of London Conference, McChrystal Calls For Renewed Commitment to Strategy He Admits Has Failed

5:44 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

More than sixty nations will gather in London tomorrow for an important series of talks on the future of Afghanistan. General Stanley McChrystal, who heads US forces in Afghanistan, sat for an extended interview with the Financial Times in advance of the conference. His comments, when taken in total, amount to an admission that US strategy in Afghanistan has failed and yet he insists we must re-commit to this same failed strategy.

In a repeat of the Iraq surge strategy, President Obama’s extended review of Afghanistan strategy settled on the long-standing US reliance on counterinsurgency to reduce violence to a level that political reconciliation and government development take place. The recently leaked cables that Ambassador Eikenberry sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the strategy review show that he feels that President Karzai is not capable of leading a legitimate government and that little to no attention has been given to the near impossibility of achieving a Western-style central government in a region where such a thing has never existed.

In his interview with the Financial Times, McChrystal provided more evidence that US strategy in Afghanistan is failing. After an extended exchange with the interviewer to establish that one of the key features of the US strategy is to provide security for the government to take over, McChrystal then goes on to admit that the security situation is getting worse rather than better:

FT: I wonder if there is any specific thing that you would like to see come out (of London) that will be useful for your effort?

Gen McChrystal: There are some specific things that I hope that consensus is reached on. President Karzai is likely to announce his intent to implement a re-integration policy and then move forward to implementation, and I’m hopeful and very optimistic that the international community will completely back that. I believe that we will see proposed Afghan Afghan National Security Force target figures for 2011 for the next two years of growth. I’m hopeful that the international community will fall in behind those. There are some other development areas as well. But I think the over-arching thing is that after eight years of war, it’s clear that domestically many political leaders are having to answer questions, this has gone on a long time and it’s not better than it was in 2004, so why are we maintaining it, will it get better? In many ways it is better than 2004, but in security it is not. So what I will hope that we come out of there with is an understanding of what we have done in the last months, and how we have shaped the situation and postured ourselves to do in the next year that I believe will significantly improve the situation, and to give them a reason to have confidence that the path that our leadership has put us on is correct.

Emphasis added.

To repeat, the primary plan is to increase security and then support the development of a government that can take over the country as we leave. The problem is that we are going backwards on security and are essentially starting over, more than eight years into the effort.

Besides the fact that President Karzai is seen as illegitimate by much of the international community due to fraud surrounding the recent election and extensive corruption throughout his government, an additional problem is that he is opposed to the very actions McChrystal employs in his attempts to impose security. Here is McClatchy quoting a Karzai statement to Al Jazeera:

"We’re not going to ask for more cash. We’re going to ask the international community to end nighttime raids on Afghan homes, to stop arresting Afghans, to reduce and eliminate civilian casualties. We’re going to ask them not to have Afghan prisoners taken," Karzai told Al Jazeera television early in the month.

McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy relies on nighttime raids and arrests as a central feature for removing "dangerous" elements from the population, as noted even in the New York Times editorial endorsing him to head the US effort in Afghanistan:

Reducing that toll will require tighter and more strictly enforced rules of engagement. That applies not just to airstrikes but to the search and detention operations that General McChrystal wants to expand this year with the help of 21,000 additional troops that President Obama ordered sent to Afghanistan. Ground operations are less likely to go astray than airstrikes. But as happened far too many times in Iraq, they can sweep up innocent civilians and turn local people against the American presence.

Who could have predicted that operations known to "turn local people against the American presence" would do just that?

Returning to the Financial Times interview, McChrystal provides more evidence of just how muddled our efforts have become:

FT: The implication seems to be that although it’s not your job to negotiate with insurgents, or determine the shape of a future government, your personal feeling is that it may be the case that one day members of the Taliban are in Kabul, and there’s some sort of peaceful settlement, and that’s acceptable.

Gen McChrystal: As a soldier, my personal feeling is that there’s been enough fighting, and that what we need to do – all of us – is to do the fighting necessary to shape conditions where people can get on with their lives, and everybody can make a decision where fighting’s not the direction that it needs to go in. You just really don’t make progress, politically, during fighting. What I think we do is try to shape conditions which allow people to come to a truly equitable solution to how the Afghan people are governed.

What a mess. Although "there’s been enough fighting", we need to fight more. Although we need to shape the political landscape for a government to exist, the one that exists is illegitimate and during fighting, "you just don’t make progress, politically". Our stated strategy for bringing stability is alienating the population and the President. Our Ambassador sees the President as incapable of governing. Other than that, things are great.