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Jeremy Scahill: The Fantasy of a Clean War

6:30 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Cover of Dirty Wars

The epilogue to Jeremy Scahill’s important book on American warfare.

The foreign leaders are dropping like flies — to American surveillance. I’m talking about serial revelations that the National Security Agency has been spying on Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, two Mexican presidents, Felipe Calderón (whose office the NSA called “a lucrative source”) and his successor Enrique Peña Nieto, at least while still a candidate, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. It’s now evidently part of the weekly news cycle to discover that the NSA has hacked into the emails or listened into the phone conversations of yet another allied leader. Reportedly, that agency has been listening in on the phone calls of at least 35 world leaders. Within 48 hours last week, President Obama was obliged to call an irritated President François Hollande, after Le Monde reported that the NSA was massively collecting French phone calls and emails, including those of politicians and business people, and received a call from an outraged Merkel, whose cell phone conversations were reportedly monitored by the NSA. Of course, when you build a global surveillance state and your activities, thanks to a massive leak of documents, become common knowledge, you have to expect global anger to rise and spread. With 196 countries on the planet, there are a lot of calls assumedly still to come in, even as the president and top Washington officials hem and haw about the necessity of maintaining the security of Americans while respecting the privacy of citizens and allies, refuse to directly apologize, claim that an “exhaustive” review of surveillance practices is underway, and hope that this, too, shall pass.

In the meantime, on a second front, the news is again bad for Washington, as upset and dismay once largely restricted to the tribal backlands of the planet seem to be spreading. I’m talking here about the global assassination campaigns being conducted from the White House, based in part on a “kill list” of terrorist suspects and using the president’s private air force, the growing drone fleets of the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command. In the last week, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have come out with reports on the U.S. drone campaigns in Pakistan and Yemen debunking White House claims that few civilians are dying in those strikes and raising serious questions about their legality. In two of the six drone strikes it investigated in Yemen, Human Rights Watch reported the killing of “civilians indiscriminately in clear violation of the laws of war; the others may have targeted people who were not legitimate military objectives or caused disproportionate civilian deaths.” In a surprising development, Amnesty brought a powerful, historically resonant term to bear, claiming that some of the cases of civilian drone deaths it investigated in Pakistan might constitute “war crimes” for which those responsible should stand trial. (“Amnesty International has serious concerns that this attack violated the prohibition of the arbitrary deprivation of life and may constitute war crimes or extrajudicial executions.”)

And just arriving, reports from the U.N. special rapporteur on drones, Ben Emmerson, and its special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Christof Heyns. It’s already clear that these will not please the White House, where the usual denials and self-justifications — however lame they may increasingly sound outside the United States — still rule the day. (“U.S. counterterrorism operations are precise, they are lawful, and they are effective.”) After a recent visit to Pakistan, Emmerson said, “The consequence of drone strikes has been to radicalize an entirely new generation.” A former high-level U.S. State Department official in Yemen claims that each U.S. drone strike in that country creates “40 to 60 new enemies of America.” Emmerson and Heyns are now demanding far greater “transparency” from a secretive Washington on the subject of its drone killings.

Call both the blanketing surveillance and the drone revelations symptoms of a larger disease. In the years before 9/11, the U.S. focused its global attentions on what it then called “rogue states.” Devoted since that date to perpetual war across significant parts of the planet and to a surveillance apparatus geared to leave no one anywhere in privacy, the U.S. now resembles a rogue superpower to an increasingly resistant and restless world. No single reporter has done more than Jeremy Scahill to bring us back news of how, in the post-9/11 years, Washington took its wars into the darkness, how it helped create a landscape of blowback abroad, and just how such roguery works when it comes to a superpower — from missile strikes in Yemen to a secret CIA prison in Somalia to kick-down-the-door killings of innocents by Special Operations types in Afghanistan. His bestselling book, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, is a revelation, a secret history of twenty-first-century war, American-style.

Today, as the drone story continues to unfold, as ever more countries once considered the sorts of allies that would never say no to a request from Washington, balk at, resist, or ignore Obama administration desires, it’s an honor to have the epilogue to Dirty Wars posted exclusively at TomDispatch for the first time, thanks to the kindness of Scahill’s publisher, Nation Books.  Consider it the gripping backstory for what, in time, could become the equivalent of a global uprising against the last superpower of planet Earth. Tom

Perpetual War
How Does the Global War on Terror Ever End?
By Jeremy Scahill

[This epilogue to Scahill’s bestselling book, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, is posted with the kind permission of its publisher, Nation Books.]

On January 21, 2013, Barack Obama was inaugurated for his second term as president of the United States. Just as he had promised when he began his first campaign for president six years earlier, he pledged again to turn the page on history and take U.S. foreign policy in a different direction. “A decade of war is now ending,” Obama declared. “We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.”

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Tomgram: Engelhardt, What Planet Are We On?

6:36 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Thought I might recommend a new little book series from the Nation magazine (everyone’s publishing these days!) -- classic essays by some of that mag’s best writers and among my own favorites, including Gore Vidal’s State of the Union, [Kurt] Vonnegut by the Dozen, and an upcoming volume by E.L. Doctorow.  Each is a guarantee of pleasure.  And here’s a small reminder: if you are an Amazon customer, travel to that site via any TomDispatch book link (or cover image link), and buy books we recommend or anything else whatsoever, book or not, we get a small cut of your purchase at no cost to you.  It’s a fine, no-pain-all-gain way to contribute to the site. Tom]

Why Washington Can’t Stop
The Coming Era of Tiny Wars and Micro-Conflicts
By Tom Engelhardt

In terms of pure projectable power, there’s never been anything like it.  Its military has divided the world — the whole planet — into six “commands.”  Its fleet, with 11 aircraft carrier battle groups, rules the seas and has done so largely unchallenged for almost seven decades.  Its Air Force has ruled the global skies, and despite being almost continuously in action for years, hasn’t faced an enemy plane since 1991 or been seriously challenged anywhere since the early 1970s.  Its fleet of drone aircraft has proven itself capable of targeting and killing suspected enemies in the backlands of the planet from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Yemen and Somalia with little regard for national boundaries, and none at all for the possibility of being shot down.  It funds and trains proxy armies on several continents and has complex aid and training relationships with militaries across the planet.  On hundreds of bases, some tiny and others the size of American towns, its soldiers garrison the globe from Italy to Australia, Honduras to Afghanistan, and on islands from Okinawa in the Pacific Ocean to Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.  Its weapons makers are the most advanced on Earth and dominate the global arms market.  Its nuclear weaponry in silos, on bombers, and on its fleet of submarines would be capable of destroying several planets the size of Earth.  Its system of spy satellites is unsurpassed and unchallenged.  Its intelligence services can listen in on the phone calls or read the emails of almost anyone in the world from top foreign leaders to obscure insurgents.  The CIA and its expanding paramilitary forces are capable of kidnapping people of interest just about anywhere from rural Macedonia to the streets of Rome and Tripoli.  For its many prisoners, it has set up (and dismantled) secret jails across the planet and on its naval vessels.  It spends more on its military than the next most powerful 13 states combined.  Add in the spending for its full national security state and it towers over any conceivable group of other nations.

In terms of advanced and unchallenged military power, there has been nothing like the U.S. armed forces since the Mongols swept across Eurasia.  No wonder American presidents now regularly use phrases like “the finest fighting force the world has ever known” to describe it.  By the logic of the situation, the planet should be a pushover for it.  Lesser nations with far lesser forces have, in the past, controlled vast territories.  And despite much discussion of American decline and the waning of its power in a “multi-polar” world, its ability to pulverize and destroy, kill and maim, blow up and kick down has only grown in this new century.

No other nation’s military comes within a country mile of it.  None has more than a handful of foreign bases.  None has more than two aircraft carrier battle groups.  No potential enemy has such a fleet of robotic planes.  None has more than 60,000 special operations forces.  Country by country, it’s a hands-down no-contest. The Russian (once “Red”) army is a shadow of its former self.  The Europeans have not rearmed significantly.  Japan’s “self-defense” forces are powerful and slowly growing, but under the U.S. nuclear “umbrella.”  Although China, regularly identified as the next rising imperial state, is involved in a much-ballyhooed military build-up, with its one aircraft carrier (a retread from the days of the Soviet Union), it still remains only a regional power.

Despite this stunning global power equation, for more than a decade we have been given a lesson in what a military, no matter how overwhelming, can and (mostly) can’t do in the twenty-first century, in what a military, no matter how staggeringly advanced, does and (mostly) does not translate into on the current version of planet Earth.

A Destabilization Machine

Let’s start with what the U.S. can do.  On this, the recent record is clear: it can destroy and destabilize.  In fact, wherever U.S. military power has been applied in recent years, if there has been any lasting effect at all, it has been to destabilize whole regions.

Back in 2004, almost a year and a half after American troops had rolled into a Baghdad looted and in flames, Amr Mussa, the head of the Arab League, commented ominously, “The gates of hell are open in Iraq.”  Although for the Bush administration, the situation in that country was already devolving, to the extent that anyone paid attention to Mussa’s description, it seemed over the top, even outrageous, as applied to American-occupied Iraq.  Today, with the latest scientific estimate of invasion- and war-caused Iraqi deaths at a staggering 461,000, thousands more a year still dying there, and with Syria in flames, it seems something of an understatement.

It’s now clear that George W. Bush and his top officials, fervent fundamentalists when it came to the power of U.S. military to alter, control, and dominate the Greater Middle East (and possibly the planet), did launch the radical transformation of the region.  Their invasion of Iraq punched a hole through the heart of the Middle East, sparking a Sunni-Shiite civil war that has now spread catastrophically to Syria, taking more than 100,000 lives there.  They helped turn the region into a churning sea of refugees, gave life and meaning to a previously nonexistent al-Qaeda in Iraq (and now a Syrian version of the same), and left the country drifting in a sea of roadside bombs and suicide bombers, and threatened, like other countries in the region, with the possibility of splitting apart.

And that’s just a thumbnail sketch.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about destabilization in Afghanistan, where U.S. troops have been on the ground for almost 12 years and counting; Pakistan, where a CIA-run drone air campaign in its tribal borderlands has gone on for years as the country grew ever shakier and more violent; Yemen (ditto), as an outfit called al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula grew ever stronger; or Somalia, where Washington repeatedly backed proxy armies it had trained and financed, and supported outside incursions as an already destabilized country came apart at the seams and the influence of al-Shabab, an increasingly radical and violent insurgent Islamic group, began to seep across regional borders.  The results have always been the same: destabilization.

Consider Libya where, no longer enamored with boots-on-the-ground interventions, President Obama sent in the Air Force and the drones in 2011 in a bloodless intervention (unless, of course, you were on the ground) that helped topple Muammar Qaddafi, the local autocrat and his secret-police-and-prisons regime, and launched a vigorous young democracy… oh, wait a moment, not quite.  In fact, the result, which, unbelievably enough, came as a surprise to Washington, was an increasingly damaged country with a desperately weak central government, a territory controlled by a range of militias — some Islamic extremist in nature — an insurgency and war across the border in neighboring Mali (thanks to an influx of weaponry looted from Qaddafi’s vast arsenals), a dead American ambassador, a country almost incapable of exporting its oil, and so on.

Libya was, in fact, so thoroughly destabilized, so lacking in central authority that Washington recently felt free to dispatch U.S. Special Operations forces onto the streets of its capital in broad daylight in an operation to snatch up a long-sought terrorist suspect, an act which was as “successful” as the toppling of the Qaddafi regime and, in a similar manner, further destabilized a government that Washington still theoretically backed. (Almost immediately afterward, the prime minister found himself briefly kidnapped by a militia unit as part of what might have been a coup attempt.)

Wonders of the Modern World 

If the overwhelming military power at the command of Washington can destabilize whole regions of the planet, what, then, can’t such military power do?  On this, the record is no less clear and just as decisive.  As every significant U.S. military action of this new century has indicated, the application of military force, no matter in what form, has proven incapable of achieving even Washington’s most minimal goals of the moment.

Consider this one of the wonders of the modern world: pile up the military technology, pour money into your armed forces, outpace the rest of the world, and none of it adds up to a pile of beans when it comes to making that world act as you wish.  Yes, in Iraq, to take an example, Saddam Hussein’s regime was quickly “decapitated,” thanks to an overwhelming display of power and muscle by the invading Americans.  His state bureaucracy was dismantled, his army dismissed, an occupying authority established backed by foreign troops, soon ensconced on huge multibillion-dollar military bases meant to be garrisoned for generations, and a suitably “friendly” local government installed.

And that’s where the Bush administration’s dreams ended in the rubble created by a set of poorly armed minority insurgencies, terrorism, and a brutal ethnic/religious civil war.  In the end, almost nine years after the invasion and despite the fact that the Obama administration and the Pentagon were eager to keep U.S. troops stationed there in some capacity, a relatively weak central government refused, and they departed, the last representatives of the greatest power on the planet slipping away in the dead of night.  Left behind among the ruins of historic ziggurats were the “ghost towns” and stripped or looted U.S. bases that were to be our monuments in Iraq.

Today, under even more extraordinary circumstances, a similar process seems to be playing itself out in Afghanistan — another spectacle of our moment that should amaze us.  After almost 12 years there, finding itself incapable of suppressing a minority insurgency, Washington is slowly withdrawing its combat troops, but wants to leave behind on the giant bases we’ve built perhaps 10,000 “trainers” for the Afghan military and some Special Operations forces to continue the hunt for al-Qaeda and other terror types.

For the planet’s sole superpower, this, of all things, should be a slam dunk.  At least the Iraqi government had a certain strength of its own (and the country’s oil wealth to back it up).  If there is a government on Earth that qualifies for the term “puppet,” it should be the Afghan one of President Hamid Karzai.  After all, at least 80% (and possibly 90%) of that government’s expenses are covered by the U.S. and its allies, and its security forces are considered incapable of carrying on the fight against the Taliban and other insurgent outfits without U.S. support and aid.  If Washington were to withdraw totally (including its financial support), it’s hard to imagine that any successor to the Karzai government would last long.

How, then, to explain the fact that Karzai has refused to sign a future bilateral security pact long in the process of being hammered out?  Instead, he recently denounced U.S. actions in Afghanistan, as he had repeatedly done in the past, claimed that he simply would not ink the agreement, and began bargaining with U.S. officials as if he were the leader of the planet’s other superpower.

A frustrated Washington had to dispatch Secretary of State John Kerry on a sudden mission to Kabul for some top-level face-to-face negotiations.  The result, a reported 24-hour marathon of talks and meetings, was hailed as a success: problem(s) solved.  Oops, all but one.  As it turned out, it was the very same one on which the continued U.S. military presence in Iraq stumbled — Washington’s demand for legal immunity from local law for its troops.  In the end, Kerry flew out without an assured agreement.

Making Sense of War in the Twenty-First Century

Whether the U.S. military does or doesn’t last a few more years in Afghanistan, the blunt fact is this: the president of one of the poorest and weakest countries on the planet, himself relatively powerless, is essentially dictating terms to Washington — and who’s to say that, in the end, as in Iraq, U.S. troops won’t be forced to leave there as well?

Once again, military strength has not carried the day.  Yet military power, advanced weaponry, force, and destruction as tools of policy, as ways to create a world in your own image or to your own taste, have worked plenty well in the past.  Ask those Mongols, or the European imperial powers from Spain in the sixteenth century to Britain in the nineteenth century, which took their empires by force and successfully maintained them over long periods.

What planet are we now on?  Why is it that military power, the mightiest imaginable, can’t overcome, pacify, or simply destroy weak powers, less than impressive insurgency movements, or the ragged groups of (often tribal) peoples we label as “terrorists”? Why is such military power no longer transformative or even reasonably effective?  Is it, to reach for an analogy, like antibiotics?  If used for too long in too many situations, does a kind of immunity build up against it?

Let’s be clear here: such a military remains a powerful potential instrument of destruction, death, and destabilization.  For all we know — it’s not something we’ve seen anything of in these years — it might also be a powerful instrument for genuine defense.  But if recent history is any guide, what it clearly cannot be in the twenty-first century is a policymaking instrument, a means of altering the world to fit a scheme developed in Washington.  The planet itself and people just about anywhere on it seem increasingly resistant in ways that take the military off the table as an effective superpower instrument of state.

Washington’s military plans and tactics since 9/11 have been a spectacular train wreck.  When you look back, counterinsurgency doctrine, resuscitated from the ashes of America’s defeat in Vietnam, is once again on the scrap heap of history.  (Who today even remembers its key organizing phrase — “clear, hold, and build” — which now looks like the punch line for some malign joke?)  “Surges,” once hailed as brilliant military strategy, have already disappeared into the mists.  “Nation-building,” once a term of tradecraft in Washington, is in the doghouse.  “Boots on the ground,” of which the U.S. had enormous numbers and still has 51,000 in Afghanistan, are now a no-no.  The American public is, everyone universally agrees, “exhausted” with war.  Major American armies arriving to fight anywhere on the Eurasian continent in the foreseeable future?  Don’t count on it.

But lessons learned from the collapse of war policy?  Don’t count on that, either.  It’s clear enough that Washington still can’t fully absorb what’s happened.  Its faith in war remains remarkably unbroken in a century in which military power has become the American political equivalent of a state religion.  Our leaders are still high on the counterterrorism wars of the future, even as they drown in their military efforts of the present.  Their urge is still to rejigger and reimagine what a deliverable military solution would be.

Now the message is: skip those boots en masse — in fact, cut down on their numbers in the age of the sequester — and go for the counterterrorism package.  No more spilling of (American) blood.  Get the “bad guys,” one or a few at a time, using the president’s private army, the Special Operations forces, or his private air force, the CIA’s drones. Build new barebones micro-bases globally.  Move those aircraft carrier battle groups off the coast of whatever country you want to intimidate.

It’s clear we’re entering a new period in terms of American war making.  Call it the era of tiny wars, or micro-conflicts, especially in the tribal backlands of the planet.

So something is indeed changing in response to military failure, but what’s not changing is Washington’s preference for war as the option of choice, often of first resort.  What’s not changing is the thought that, if you can just get your strategy and tactics readjusted correctly, force will work.  (Recently, Washington was only saved from plunging into another predictable military disaster in Syria by an offhand comment of Secretary of State John Kerry and the timely intervention of Russian President Vladimir Putin.)

What our leaders don’t get is the most basic, practical fact of our moment: war simply doesn’t work, not big, not micro — not for Washington.  A superpower at war in the distant reaches of this planet is no longer a superpower ascendant but one with problems.

The U.S. military may be a destabilization machine.  It may be a blowback machine.  What it’s not is a policymaking or enforcement machine.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture (now also in a Kindle edition), runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.

[Note: A deep bow of thanks to Nick Turse for his continuing help and, above all, inspiration.]

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.

Copyright 2013 Tom Engelhardt

Dilip Hiro: Washington’s Pakistan Meltdown

6:35 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

National Flag of Pakistan

Photo: Imtiaz Ahmed / Flickr

In 1948, George Orwell published his classic dystopian novel 1984, flipping the numbers in the publication year to speed us into a future that is now, of course, 28 years in our past.  In that book, he imagined a three-superpower world of regularly shifting alliances in which war was a constant but its specific nature eternally forgotten.  As he wrote, “To trace out the history of the whole period, to say who was fighting whom at any given moment, would have been utterly impossible, since no written record, and no spoken word, ever made mention of any other alignment than the existing one.”

Of course, predicting the future is a perilous thing.  Instead of three squabbling superpowers ruling the globe, we have one (in visible decline), and yet there are some eerie real-world parallels to Orwell’s fiction.  By 1984, for instance, the U.S. and the Saudis were funneling huge sums of money and vast quantities of weaponry through Pakistan’s intelligence outfit, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorat, to support the most fundamentalist and extreme of the Afghan mujahedeen who were then fighting that other superpower, the Soviet Union, in their country.  These included Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (about as extreme as they came) and, as Anand Gopal has pointed out at TomDispatch, Jalaluddin Haqqani who received “millions of dollars, anti-aircraft missiles, and even tanks.”  He was, at the time, so beloved by Washington officials “that former congressman Charlie Wilson once called him ‘goodness personified.’”  Hekmatyar and Haqqani were among those President Ronald Reagan — shades of Orwell’s “Ministry of Truth” — dubbed “freedom fighters.”

Jump forward nearly two decades, and the Haqqani network is perhaps Washington’s greatest bugaboo in the present Afghan War, a group regularly denounced by the Obama administration for its attacks on U.S. troops; while Hekmatyar and his group Hizb-i-Islami, like the Haqqani’s, are allied with the Taliban.  And let’s not forget one more “freedom fighter,” a rich young Saudi named Osama bin Laden, who, in 1984, founded the “Services Office” in Peshawar, Pakistan, to recruit, support, and fund those “freedom fighters,” and in 1988, formed a group called al-Qaeda (“The Base”) to further his vision.

The Soviets, of course, left Afghanistan in 1989 in defeat.  For Washington, the freedom fighters, soon to be at each others’ throats in a horrific civil war that left yet more dead Afghans in its wake, became the forgettables.  And in a sense, they are still forgotten.  These days, how often does anyone remember that a number of our present foes, the evil terrorists who must be destroyed, were our former pals and heroes.  (Or that some of the warlords in or allied with the present Afghan government of Hamid Karzai were both mujahedeen and monsters of that civil war era.)  Week in, week out, you can read the latest reports from the Afghan War filled with what should be a remarkably familiar cast of characters, and never find a single word about this past.  All of this has gone down the memory hole no less easily than did the history of Eastasia, Oceania, and Eurasia in Winston Smith’s Airstrip One (formerly known as Great Britain).

If this is commonplace history, isn’t it Orwellian, 11 years into our second Afghan War in three decades, how seldom it’s ever mentioned?  And given today’s post, toss this into the hopper: there’s an even stranger part of the story that Orwell didn’t imagine, and it concerns neighboring Pakistan, a country that seems eternally to be both ally and enemy (frenemy?), so much so that it’s almost impossible to sort out Washington’s two Pakistans.  That’s why TomDispatch called on Dilip Hiro, South Asia expert and author most recently of Apocalyptic Realm: Jihadists in South Asia, to do the job for us and make some sense of one of the stranger relationships on the face of the Earth.  (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Hiro discusses the embattled Pakistan-U.S. relationship, click here or download it to your iPod here.)  Tom

The Alliance from Hell
How the U.S. and Pakistan Became the Dysfunctional Nuclear Family of International Relations
By Dilip Hiro

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Dilip Hiro: How to Trump a Superpower

6:42 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Air assault mission in Afghanistan. Photo by The National Guard.

Chalk it up to the genuine strangeness of our second Afghan War. Americans, according to the latest polls, are turning against the conflict in ever greater numbers, yet it’s remarkable how little — beyond a few obvious, sensational events — they know about what’s actually going on there in their name.

Take as an example the cost of the war and a startling development of the last four-plus months that has driven it significantly higher. Keep in mind that the Afghan War is being fought by a fuel-guzzling U.S. military in a landlocked, impoverished South Asian country with almost no resources of any sort. Just about everything it needs or wants — from fuel, ammunition, and weaponry to hamburgers and pizzashas to be shipped in by tortuous routes over thousands of exceedingly expensive miles.

Up until last November, more than 30% of the basic supplies for the war came by ship to the Pakistani port of Karachi and were offloaded onto trucks to begin the long journey to and across the Pakistani border into Afghanistan. Late last November, however, angry Pakistani officials — as Dilip Hiro describes below — slammed that country’s border crossings shut on American and NATO war supplies. Those crossings have yet to reopen and whether they will any time soon, despite optimistic U.S. press reports, remains to be seen.

The result has undoubtedly been a resupply disaster for the American military, but you would never know it from the startling lack of coverage in the mainstream media here. All supplies now have to be flown in at staggering cost or shipped, also at great expense, via the Northern Distribution Network from the Baltic or the Caspian seas through some portion of the old Soviet Union.

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William Astore: The Remoteness of 1% Wars

7:40 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

This year, 155,754 recruits joined the active-duty U.S. military with the Army leading the way to the tune of more than 64,000 soldiers.  Many more Americans, however, went to war. 

Virtual war, that is.  On a single day last month, to be exact, 3.3 million citizens responded to the call of duty or, more accurately, played Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 — simultaneously, together — via Microsoft Xbox LIVE.  Millions more played that combat-packed, first-person shooter video game on the Xbox 360, Sony Playstation 3, or personal computers.

While relatively few young Americans smell cordite on the battlefield, increasing numbers of them experience war through ever more screens: televisions, computers, smart phones, and tablets.  Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is only the most successful of these digital draft calls, and if you’re wondering what success means, consider that this virtual portal into World War III “shattered theatrical box office, book, and video game sales records for five-day worldwide sell-through in dollars,” according to its producer, Activision Publishing, Inc.  That is, over five days it generated $775 million in sales, beating the previous record, set by last year’s Call of Duty: Black Ops (which raked in a mere $650 million), and trouncing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (just $550 million in 2009).

Fighting their way through virtual world capitals — from New York to Paris, London to Berlin — Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 gamers are immersed in a virtual world of war.  Then there are those mainlining combat through this year’s other popular first-person shooters like Battlefield 3 (which boasts that it provides “unrivaled destruction”) or forays into fantasy fighting like Resistance 3 (in which a human resistance movement battles alien invaders in the ruins of 1950s America).

With so much virtual war to worry about, who has time to keep up with other conflicts, like America’s real wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya, or even the one just now winding down in Iraq?  Who among us can spare a moment to ponder the fact that those wars, too, are increasingly being waged by men and women staring at screens, disconnected from the homes they turn into rubble, cars they turn into flaming heaps, and blood they spill thousands of miles from their climate-controlled trailers in the Las Vegas desert?  Thankfully, TomDispatch regular Bill Astore has been thinking long and hard about the remote nature of America’s wars, while so many of the rest of us are racking up hours liberating Lower Manhattan from the Russians. (Yep, they’re the new Occupy Wall Street crowd in Call of Duty!)  Nick Turse

Fighting 1% Wars
Why Our Wars of Choice May Prove Fatal
By William J. Astore

America’s wars are remote.  They’re remote from us geographically, remote from us emotionally (unless you’re serving in the military or have a close relative or friend who serves), and remote from our major media outlets, which have given us no compelling narrative about them, except that they’re being fought by “America’s heroes” against foreign terrorists and evil-doers.  They’re even being fought, in significant part, by remote control — by robotic drones “piloted” by ground-based operators from a secret network of bases located hundreds, if not thousands, of miles from the danger of the battlefield.

Their remoteness, which breeds detachment if not complacency at home, is no accident.  Indeed, it’s a product of the fact that Afghanistan and Iraq were wars of choice, not wars of necessity.  It’s a product of the fact that we’ve chosen to create a “warrior” or “war fighter” caste in this country, which we send with few concerns and fewer qualms to prosecute Washington’s foreign wars of choice.

The results have been predictable, as in predictably bad.  The troops suffer.  Iraqi and Afghan innocents suffer even more.  And yet we don’t suffer, at least not in ways that are easily noticeable, because of that very remoteness.  We’ve chosen — or let others do the choosing — to remove ourselves from all the pain and horror of the wars being waged in our name.  And that’s a choice we’ve made at our peril, since a state of permanent remote war has weakened our military, drained our treasury, and eroded our rights and freedoms.

Wars of Necessity vs. Wars of Choice

World War II was a war of necessity. In such a war, all Americans had a stake.  Adolf Hitler and Nazism had to be defeated; so too did Japanese militarism.  Indeed, war goals were that clear, that simple, to state.  For that war, we relied uncontroversially on an equitable draft of citizen-soldiers to share the burdens of defense.

Contrast this with our current 1% wars.  In them, 99% of Americans have no stake.  The 1% who do are largely ID-card-carrying members of what President Dwight D. Eisenhower so memorably called the “military-industrial complex” in 1961.  In the half-century since, that web of crony corporations, lobbyists, politicians, and retired military types who have passed through Washington’s revolving door has grown ever more gargantuan and tangled, engorged by untold trillions devoted to a national security and intelligence complex that seemingly dominates Washington.  They are the ones who, in turn, have dispatched another 1% — the lone percent of Americans in our All-Volunteer Military — to repetitive tours of duty fighting endless wars abroad.

Unlike previous wars of necessity, the mission behind our wars of choice is nebulous, confusing, and seems in constant flux.  Is it a fight against terror (which, as so many have pointed out, is in any case a method, not an enemy)?  A fight for oil and other strategic resources?  A fight to spread freedom and democracy?  A fight to build nations?  A fight to show American resolve or make the world safe from al-Qaeda?  Who really knows anymore, now that Washington seldom bothers to bring up the “why” question at all, preferring simply to fight on without surcease?

In wars of choice, of course, the mission is whatever our leaders choose it to be, which gives the citizenry (assuming we’re watching closely, which we’re not) no criteria with which to measure success, let alone determine an endpoint.

How do we know these are wars of choice?  It’s simple: because we could elect to leave whenever we wanted or whenever the heat got too high, as is currently the case in Iraq (even if we are leaving behind a fortress embassy the size of the Vatican with a private army of 5,000 rent-a-guns to defend it), and as we are likely to do in Afghanistan sometime in the years after the 2012 presidential election.  The choice is ours.  The people without a choice are of course the Iraqis and Afghans whom we’ll leave to pick up the pieces.

Even our vaunted Global War on Terror is a war of choice.  Think about it: Who has control over our own terror: us or our enemies?  We can only be terrorized in the first place if we choose to give in to fear.

Think here of the “shoe bomber” in 2001 and the “underwear bomber” in 2009.  Why did the criminally inept actions of these two losers garner so much attention (and fear-mongering) in the American media?  As the self-confessed greatest and most powerful nation on Earth, shouldn’t we have shared a collective belly laugh at the absurdity and incompetence of those “attacks” and gone about our business?

Instead of laughing, of course, we allowed yet more American treasure to be poured into technology and screening systems that may never even have caught a terrorist.  We consented to be surveilled ever more and consulted ever less.  We chose to reaffirm our terrors every time we doffed our shoes or submitted supinely to being scoped or groped at our nation’s airports.

Our distant permanent wars, our 1% wars of choice, will remain remote from our emotions and our thinking, requiring few sacrifices except from our troops, who grow ever more remote from our polity.  This is especially true of America’s young adults, between 18 and 29 years of age, who are the least likely to have family members in the military, according to a recent Pew Research Center study.

The result?  An already emergent warrior-caste might grow ever more estranged from the 99%, creating tensions and encouraging grievances that quite possibly could be manipulated by that other 1%: the powerbrokers, money-makers, and string-pullers, already so eager to call out the police to bully and arrest occupy movements in numerous cities across this once-great land.

Our Military or Their Military?

As we fight wars of choice in distant lands for ever-shifting goals, what if “our troops” simply continue to grow ever more remote from us?  What if they become “their” troops?  Is this not the true terror we should be mobilizing as a nation to prevent?  The terror of separating our military almost totally from our nation — and ourselves.

As Admiral Mike Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, put it recently to Time: “Long term, if the military drifts away from its people in this country, that is a catastrophic outcome we as a country can’t tolerate.”

Behold a horrifying fate: a people that allows its wars of choice to compromise the very core of its self-image as a freedom-loving society, while letting itself be estranged from the young men and women who served in the frontlines of these wars.

Here’s an American fact: the 99% are far too remote from our wars of choice and those who fight them.  To reclaim the latter, we must end the former.  And that’s a war of necessity that has to be fought — and won.

William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and TomDispatch regular.  He welcomes reader comments at wjastore@gmail.com.

Copyright 2011 William J. Astore

Tomgram: Nick Turse, Making Mahem (It’s Spelled Correctly!)

7:35 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch

In his State of the Union address, President Obama lauded two fruits that fell from the tree of government support for the basic research of “cutting-edge scientists and inventors”: the Internet and GPS.  Though he didn’t mention it, that wasn’t just any old “government support” and they weren’t just any old “cutting-edge scientists and inventors.”  We’re talking about government-supported work for the U.S. military and for the scientists in its employ. 

As it happens, both came from work done by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and both have definitely embedded themselves in our lives.  Here’s a third glorious invention that’s just now coming home to roost: the unmanned aerial drone presently fighting a much-boasted-about “covert” war of escalating ferocity in the Pakistani borderlands.  The initial work for the earliest of these, the Predator, also came out of DARPA’s intellectual chop shop, and now, Peter Finn of the Washington Post tells us, one of its children, “a bird-size device called the Wasp” (another DARPA project), could soon be flying over your home in Anytown USA, beaming live video to law enforcement agents on the ground. 

The same Predators, now launching Hellfire missiles in Pakistan, are also being deployed to the Mexican and Canadian borders.  (The Mexicans, too, are deploying drones, not always on their side of the border.)  Other kinds of unmanned aerial vehicles are increasingly becoming surveillance tools for law enforcement agencies and even the local police.  Soon enough, such a 24/7 eye-in-the-sky could be in your neighborhood and over your house (and even, one day, undoubtedly as part of a catch-the-bad-guys reality show, on your TV). 

Americans are generally so detached from their wars that they don’t think about the ways those wars and the weaponry and gear first tested in them could come home.  In fact, not just in the air but on the ground, those distant conflicts have already come home far more fiercely than we realize, helping to militarize American society, even if in ways that we hardly notice.

And if any of this worries you, keep in mind that the eager-beaver scientists of DARPA are no less madly at work today than they were decades ago seeding the future, as Nick Turse, TomDispatch Associate Editor and author of The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, reminds us.  Tom

*****

Overkill
Future Weapons, Future Wars, and the New Arms Race
By Nick Turse

In the future, the power of magnetism will be harnessed to make today’s high explosives seem feeble, “guided bullets” will put the current crop of snipers to shame, and new multi-purpose missiles will strike targets in a flash from high-flying drones.  At least, that’s part of the Pentagon’s battlefield vision of tomorrow’s tomorrow.

Ordinarily, planning for the future is not a U.S. government forte.  A mere glance at the national debt, now around $14 trillion and climbing, or two recent studies showing how China’s green technology investments have outpaced U.S. efforts should drive home that fact.  But one government agency is always forward-looking, the Department of Defense’s blue skies research branch, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Born in the wake of an American panic over the 1957 Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite, DARPA set to work keeping the Pentagon ahead of potential adversaries on the technology front.  It counts the Internet and the Global Positioning System among its triumphs, and psychic spying and a mechanical elephant designed for use in the jungles of Southeast Asia among its many failures.  It also boasts a long legacy when it comes to creating and enhancing lethal technologies, including M-16 rifles, Predator drones, stealth fighters, Tomahawk cruise missiles, and B-52 bombers, which have been employed in conflicts across the globe. 

Today, DARPA is carrying on that more than half-century-old tradition through a host of programs designed with war, death, and destruction in mind. Wielding a budget of about $3 billion a year and investing heavily in futuristic weaponry and other military technology, it is undoubtedly helping to fuel the arms races of 2020 and 2030.  While the United States seems content to let China sprint ahead in green technology, a number of its future weapons appear to be designed with a country like China in mind.

All of its planning is, however, shrouded in remarkable secrecy.  Make inquiries about any of the weapons systems it’s exploring and a barrage of excuses for telling you next to nothing pour forth — a program is between managers, or classified, or only now in the process of awarding its contracts. DARPA spokespeople and project managers even prefer not to clarify or explain publicly available information.  Still, it’s possible to offer a sketch of some of the future weaponry the Pentagon has in development, and in the process glimpse what messages it’s sending to other nations around the world.

Mayhem Without the “Y”

Even in military culture, where arcane, clunky, or sometimes witty acronyms are a dime a dozen, DARPA projects stand out.  Sometimes it almost seems as if like the agency comes up with a particularly bad-ass name first and then creates a weapons system to suit.  Take as an example the Magneto Hydrodynamic Explosive Munition or — wait for it — MAHEM

This program, run out of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, seeks to “demonstrate compressed magnetic flux generator (CMFG)-driven magneto hydrodynamically formed metal jets and self-forging penetrators (SFP) with significantly improved performance over explosively formed jets (EFJ) and fragments,” according to the agency’s website. 

If you’re scratching your head about what that could mean, don’t ask DARPA.  When I inquired about the basics of how the weapon would function, a simple lay definition for the folks paying for this wonder-weapon-to-be, spokesman Richard Spearman insisted that “sensitivities” prevented him from giving me any further information. 

As near as can be told, though, you should imagine an anti-tank round with a powerful magnetic field.  Upon impact, it will utilize magnetic force to ram a jet of molten metal into the target.  Theoretically, this will pack more punch that today’s high-explosive-propelled projectiles and lead, according to DARPA, to “increased lethality precision.” 

Hasta La Vista, Baby

In the 2003 science-fiction sequel Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, or T3, a metal monster from the future, a Terminatrix, is sent back to alter the present in order to ensure a future where machines rule the world and humans face extinction.  Today, DARPA, the Air Force, and a couple defense industry heavyweights are seeking to change the future of munitions with a monster of their own — “a high speed, long-range missile that can engage air, cruise missile, and air defense targets.”  The name of the program?  I kid you not: Triple Target Terminator (T3).

Designed to be fired by either manned aircraft or drones, the Triple Target Terminator seeks to “increase the number and variety of targets that could be destroyed on each sortie” by allowing an aircraft to engage in air-to-air combat or air-to-ground attack with the same armament.  Just what future air force the U.S. military imagines itself attacking with this weapon is not the sort of thing you’ll find out from DARPA.  Spokesperson Spearman told me that “sensitivities” again prevented him from explaining even the basics of the system or its future uses.  “A good part of the program itself is classified,” he assured me.

Last fall, Defense Industry Daily reported that Raytheon had received a $21.3 million contract for the Triple Target Terminator (T3) program.  This was followed, a few weeks later, by the same sum being awarded to Boeing for work on the project.  These contracts constitute an initial one-year attempt to design a missile that meets “program objectives” and will set the stage for future efforts. 

In a prepared statement provided to TomDispatch late last year, DARPA declared: “Depending on successful phase completion, follow on efforts will continue in two more phases with multiple-technology risk reduction demonstrations, including live fire from tactical aircraft. The program is structured to last three years, culminating in test demonstrations in 2013.”

Anti-Ship Shape

Once upon a time, broadsides and boarding parties typified warfare on the high seas.  In the future, the U.S. military has its sights set on something slightly more high tech.  To that end, DARPA is now developing a Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) that seeks to provide “a dramatic leap ahead in U.S. surface warfare capability.”

Designed to evade advanced enemy countermeasures, this would-be smart weapon is supposed to permit “high probability target identification in dense shipping environments, and precision aimpoint targeting for maximum lethality.”  DARPA isn’t talking about this program either.  LRASM, Spearman told me in December, was “in the final throes of getting all its contracts awarded.  Until that happens and we have an official announcement, I can’t set up any media engagements on that one.” 

By mid-January when I followed up, the final throes had yet to cease, but just days later DARPA awarded two contracts, totaling $218 million, to military-corporate powerhouse Lockheed Martin for work on two different LRASM missiles.  “Lockheed Martin is proud to offer our technology for Navy solutions,” announced Lockheed’s tactical missile honcho Glenn Kuller. “These LRASM contracts will demonstrate two mature tactical missiles for new generation anti-surface warfare weapons capability; one low and stealthy, the other high and fast with moderate stealth.”

Bullet Ballet

It’s the farthest thing from a fair fight.  A man peers through an advanced telescopic sight.  He zeros in on his prey, a figure without a sporting chance who has no idea that he’s being targeted for death.  The sniper, who has lugged his 30 pound, .50 caliber rifle up a ridgeline in order to kill with a single shot, breathes slow and steady, focuses, waits, waits, and finally pulls the trigger.  A breeze he never felt, somewhere in the 4,000 feet between him and his target, sends the round off course.  The sniper doesn’t log another kill.  The human target gets to live another day.

To the U.S. military, this is a terribly sad story, and so they’ve turned to DARPA to look for a happier ending — in this case via the Extreme Accuracy Tactical Ordnance, or EXACTO program which aims to allow “the sniper to prosecute moving targets even in high wind conditions, such as those commonly found in Afghanistan.” 

The plan is for DARPA scientists to develop “the first ever guided small caliber bullet.”  If you’ve ever watched a heat-seeking missile follow a fighter jet in a lame 1980s action flick (or the smart bullet from the 1984 Tom Selleck sci-fi disaster Runaway), then you get the idea.  DARPA is focused on creating a maneuverable bullet (controlled by a guidance system) that moves with the target, adjusting in flight to slam into a human head and turn it into a red mist — thus writing an upbeat ending to tomorrow’s sniper stories.

When asked for further information in mid-December, Spearman told me that “the PM [project manager] for EXACTO is in the process of transitioning his replacement into DARPA, making neither of them available for interviews.”  About a month later, the new project manager, he said, was still not up to speed and thus both officials remained unavailable for comment.

The New Blitz

As Nazi air power pounded London during World War II, England’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill sheltered in an underground bunker to stay alive.  Today, the leaders of other nations have bigger, stronger bomb shelters than Churchill’s and the U.S. military wants the means to destroy them without generating the negative press that using nuclear weapons might incur. 

To bust those bunkers, DARPA’s Strategically Hardened Facility Defeat program is investigating nuke-free, earth-penetrating munitions to counter the “threat posed by our adversaries’ use of hard and deeply buried targets.”  Specifically aimed at the “senior leaders, command and control functions, and weapons of mass destruction” employed by “‘rogue’ nations,” these powerful, high-impact weapons will be designed to tunnel deep into the earth before exploding.

Things That Don’t Go Boom in the Night

Not all DARPA projects are designed to kill people and destroy hard targets.  Some are geared toward delivering men, materiel, and someday robots to do the job instead.  Others are aimed at intrusive surveillance, cyber-war, or making silver-screen dreams come true.

One long-term focus of military futurists and DARPA scientists has been the “urban environment.”  (Think: the billion or more poor and potentially rebellious people already living in the slum cities of our planet.) The Urban Ops Hopper program, for example, seeks to develop small robots or semi-autonomous land drones — unmanned ground vehicles or UGVs in mil-speak — that can “adapt to the urban environment in real-time and provide the delivery of small payloads to any point of the urban jungle while remaining lightweight [and] small to minimize the burden on the soldier.”  And yes, they might even hop.

For many years, the Pentagon has dreamed of persistent surveillance of planetary hot spots, developing, for instance, drone technologies to serve as spies in the skies across the globe.  In 2003, Noah Shachtman, writing for the Village Voice, profiled the military’s Combat Zones That See, or CTS program.  The rationale for the effort was, he wrote, to “protect our troops in cities like Baghdad, where… fleeting attackers have been picking off American fighters in ones and twos.”  However, he added, “[D]efense experts believe the surveillance effort has a second, more sinister, purpose: to keep entire cities under an omnipresent, unblinking eye.” 

All these years later, Americans are still in Baghdad, still periodically under siege there, and still, in the case of DARPA, dreaming of snooping on whole cities.  With an acronym that brings to mind over-priced polo shirts, preppies on tennis courts, and an angry little alligator, DARPA’s Large Area Coverage Optical Search-while-Track and Engage, or LACOSTE program is dedicated to achieving the dream of CTS: imaging technology that will allow for “single sensor day/night persistent tactical surveillance of all moving vehicles in a large urban battlefield.”  Think of it as placing an entire city in a panopticon where the jailor has true omniscience. 

Through its Gravity Anomaly for Tunnel Exposure, or GATE, program, DARPA is also developing technologies that could someday allow drones, flying overhead, to “see” below the Earth’s surface and identify areas with underground tunnels.  And just this month, DARPA kicked off a new program called Mind’s Eye “aimed at developing a visual intelligence capability for unmanned systems.” 

Partnering with defense giant General Dynamics, Roomba vacuum cleaner manufacturer iRobot, and long-time Pentagon contractor Toyon Research Corporation, as well as scientists from military-academic powerhouses like Carnegie Mellon University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of California Berkeley, and the University of Southern California, the Pentagon is exploring the idea of creating robots with artificial intelligence that could roll ahead of infantry patrols, scan the scene, analyze it, and figure out what to do next.  In other words, the quest to build a robotic point man will now join a long list of DARPA projects certain to inspire fears of a future straight out of the Terminator films.     

In 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me, secret agent James Bond’s Lotus Esprit sports car morphed into a mini-submarine.  Never one to let an old silver-screen dream go to waste, DARPA is now attempting to one-up 007.  Through its Submersible Aircraft program, the agency seeks to “combine the speed and range of an airborne platform with the stealth of an underwater vehicle by developing a vessel that can both fly and submerge.”  Revolutionary it may be as a machine, but the reasons for creating it remain thoroughly predictable: the “insertion and extraction of expeditionary forces at greater ranges.”  In other words, it’s meant to facilitate deploying forces overseas, perhaps for the next Iraq or Afghan War.

DARPA and the New Arms Race

Recently, some military experts went into mild hysterics over the unveiling of China’s first stealth fighter plane and word that the Chinese military was developing a “carrier killer” missile.  Never mind that the jet is not unlike the F-22, a relatively useless fighter in the U.S. arsenal, and is still years away from production; never mind that the man who garnered headlines for the aircraft-carrier story, Admiral Robert Willard, the alarmist chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, said intelligence indicated only “that the component parts of the anti-ship ballistic missile have been developed and tested.” 

Still, advances like the proto-plane and not-yet-effective missile have made great hyperbolic copy for the military-corporate complex.  Some pundits went so far as to suggest that U.S. military “weakness” in Asia was emboldening China. 

From the Chinese point of view, it undoubtedly looks quite different.  After all, the U.S. has all-but-encircled China with military bases, sites, and facilities — more than 100 in Japan, around 85 in South Korea, even a few in Central Asia — and has around 50,000 troops deployed to East Asia and the Pacific, and another 100,000 or more deployed in South Asia, as well as the largest Navy on the planet patrolling offshore waters. 

As for the future, perhaps the Chinese don’t quite believe that DARPA’s Long Range Anti-Ship Missile is meant to take out Somali pirates, or that the Triple Target Terminator is geared to counter the al-Qaeda air corps (which mainly seems to consist of ill-constructed bomb-laced underwear and explosive printer cartridges on commercial aircraft), or that the U.S. military plans to deploy Magneto Hydrodynamic Explosive Munitions to fight off non-existent Taliban tanks.     

Amid talk of a new arms race, the American people should know more about just what billions of their tax dollars are paying for and what message they’re sending to the world.  With Beijing holding close to $1 trillion in U.S. debt, it’s unlikely that either country has actual military designs on the other.  It’s far more likely that such DARPA projects (and pundit saber-rattling) will simply lead to needless expenditures on weapons designed for wars the U.S. won’t fight.  In the end, if history is any guide, many of these weapons will become the overpriced means of killing lightly armed men, along with unarmed men, women, and children in one poverty-stricken country or another in the decades to come. 

Unfortunately, Americans can’t begin to have an honest conversation about any of this until DARPA comes clean about exactly what billions of their tax dollars are being spent on — and why.  Only then can the taxpayers begin to consider what message their future weapons plans are sending to the world and whether the U.S. really should be spending increasingly scarce dollars on making MAHEM.

Nick Turse is a historian, essayist, investigative journalist, the associate editor of TomDispatch.com, and currently a fellow at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute. His latest book is The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan (Verso Books).  He is also the author of The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives.  You can follow him on Twitter @NickTurse, on Tumblr, and on Facebook.  His website is NickTurse.com.

[Note: You can read more by Turse on the way American military analysts have gone all “Chicken Little” over the Chinese military at his Tumblr blog.]

Tomgram: Andrew Bacevich, The U.S. Military as Quagmire Specialists

9:22 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Consider this: the number three book at Amazon.com at the moment is entitled Obama’s Wars, and yet the war that may most truly turn out to be the president’s seems only now to be gaining steam.  Is it a case of premature titling?

I’m talking, of course, about the U.S. war in (with?) Pakistan.  Last Saturday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the CIA was ready to beg, borrow, or steal any armed drone the U.S. military could spare to expand what has morphed from a “covert” assassination campaign against al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders into something closer to a full-scale robot air war over the Pakistani tribal borderlands, especially North Waziristan.

As the CIA’s drone war escalates, so have airborne border crossings of a different sort.  U.S. helicopters are pursuing “fleeing” Taliban fighters as part of what the military terms armed “self-defense,” once known as “hot pursuit,” into those Pakistani “sanctuaries” from which the Taliban is said to be conducting its own successful surge in Afghanistan.  ("Enraged and embarrassed," Pakistani officials have responded to the incursions by closing a key border crossing that supplies the American war effort in Afghanistan — and the Taliban has torched a series of fuel trucks left idling near Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, by that blocked crossing.)  Clearly escalating as well is the frustration of U.S. commanders at an enemy elusively lurking across a largely unmarked frontier.

And what’s happened so far may be only the beginning.  In his new book, Bob Woodward reports that Obama administration officials, military and civilian, were eager to do something more in Pakistan as early as the fall of 2009.  As Dennis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence, put it obliquely but clearly enough to the Pakistani ambassador at the time, if his country didn’t agree to a “strategic partnership,” essentially by moving against militant networks in North Waziristan, “[W]e will have to do what we must to protect U.S. interests.”  Last Sunday, Greg Miller of the Washington Post reported that the administration’s Afghan War “review” back then had actually “centered largely on the need to eliminate insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan.” He also noted that Afghan War commander General David Petraeus is now advocating “a more aggressive posture with Pakistan, and [has] been particularly supportive of the CIA drone effort.”

If one passage in recent news reports raised a warning flag, however, it’s this eerie one from Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, which should give any reader the creeps: “U.S. officials say a successful terrorist strike against the West emanating from Pakistan could force the U.S. to take unilateral military action — an outcome all parties are eager to avoid.”  Such a strike would “force” the U.S. “to take unilateral military action”?  Think about that for a moment.  Amid a sudden drumbeat of announcements of possible strikes by Pakistani-based terrorist groups in Europe, there may, in fact, be a growing contingent of U.S. military and civilian officials so frustrated with the disastrous war in Afghanistan that they are ready to expand the war significantly in Pakistan, and are only awaiting the necessary excuse to do so.

Talk about playing with fire.  Pakistan isn’t Afghanistan.  Further major escalations of the American war in that country — flailing responses to ongoing failure — would be asking for trouble of every sort.  Ask long enough, and it will come.  With that in mind, consider the assessment Andrew Bacevich, author of the bestselling Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War, offers of the first nine years of war in Afghanistan (and Pakistan).  To catch Bacevich discussing how the U.S. military became specialists in quagmires in a Timothy MacBain TomCast audio interview click here or, to download it to your iPod, here.  Tom

*****

The Long War: Year Ten 
Lost in the Desert with the GPS on the Fritz 

By Andrew J. Bacevich

In January 1863, President Abraham Lincoln’s charge to a newly-appointed commanding general was simplicity itself: “give us victories.”  President Barack Obama’s tacit charge to his generals amounts to this: give us conditions permitting a dignified withdrawal.  A pithy quote in Bob Woodward’s new book captures the essence of an emerging Obama Doctrine: “hand it off and get out.”

Getting into a war is generally a piece of cake.  Getting out tends to be another matter altogether — especially when the commander-in-chief and his commanders in the field disagree on the advisability of doing so.

Happy Anniversary, America.  Nine years ago today — on October 7, 2001 — a series of U.S. air strikes against targets across Afghanistan launched the opening campaign of what has since become the nation’s longest war.  Three thousand two hundred and eighty five days later the fight to determine Afghanistan’s future continues.  At least in part, “Operation Enduring Freedom” has lived up to its name:  it has certainly proven to be enduring. 

As the conflict formerly known as the Global War on Terror enters its tenth year, Americans are entitled to pose this question: When, where, and how will the war end?  Bluntly, are we almost there yet?

Of course, with the passage of time, where “there” is has become increasingly difficult to discern.  Baghdad turned out not to be Berlin and Kandahar is surely not Tokyo.  Don’t look for CNN to be televising a surrender ceremony anytime soon.

This much we know: an enterprise that began in Afghanistan but soon after focused on Iraq has now shifted back — again — to Afghanistan.  Whether the swings of this pendulum signify progress toward some final objective is anyone’s guess. 

To measure progress during wartime, Americans once employed pins and maps.  Plotting the conflict triggered by 9/11 will no doubt improve your knowledge of world geography, but it won’t tell you anything about where this war is headed.

Where, then, have nine years of fighting left us?  Chastened, but not necessarily enlightened.

Just over a decade ago, the now-forgotten Kosovo campaign seemingly offered a template for a new American way of war.  It was a decision gained without suffering a single American fatality.  Kosovo turned out, however, to be a one-off event.  No doubt the United States military was then (and remains today) unbeatable in traditional terms.  Yet, after 9/11, Washington committed that military to an endeavor that it manifestly cannot win. 

Rather than probing the implications of this fact — relying on the force of arms to eliminate terrorism is a fool’s errand — two administrations have doggedly prolonged the war even as they quietly ratcheted down expectations of what it might accomplish. 

In officially ending the U.S. combat role in Iraq earlier this year — a happy day if there ever was one — President Obama refrained from proclaiming “mission accomplished.”  As well he might: as U.S. troops depart Iraq, insurgents remain active and in the field.  Instead of declaring victory, the president simply urged Americans to turn the page.  With remarkable alacrity, most of us seem to have complied.

Perhaps more surprisingly, today’s military leaders have themselves abandoned the notion that winning battles wins wars, once the very foundation of their profession.  Warriors of an earlier day insisted: “There is no substitute for victory.”  Warriors in the Age of David Petraeus embrace an altogether different motto: “There is no military solution.” 

Here is Brigadier General H. R. McMaster, one of the Army’s rising stars, summarizing the latest in advanced military thinking:  “Simply fighting and winning a series of interconnected battles in a well developed campaign does not automatically deliver the achievement of war aims.”  Winning as such is out.  Persevering is in.  

So an officer corps once intent above all on avoiding protracted wars now specializes in quagmires.  Campaigns don’t really end.  At best, they peter out. 

Formerly trained to kill people and break things, American soldiers now attend to winning hearts and minds, while moonlighting in assassination.  The politically correct term for this is "counterinsurgency."

Now, assigning combat soldiers the task of nation-building in, say, Mesopotamia is akin to hiring a crew of lumberjacks to build a house in suburbia.  What astonishes is not that the result falls short of perfection, but that any part of the job gets done at all.

Yet by simultaneously adopting the practice of “targeted killing,” the home builders do double-duty as home wreckers.  For American assassins, the weapon of choice is not the sniper rifle or the shiv, but missile-carrying pilotless aircraft controlled from bases in Nevada and elsewhere thousands of miles from the battlefield — the ultimate expression of an American desire to wage war without getting our hands dirty.    

In practice, however, killing the guilty from afar not infrequently entails killing innocents as well.  So actions undertaken to deplete the ranks of jihadists as far afield as Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia unwittingly ensure the recruitment of replacements, guaranteeing a never-ending supply of hardened hearts to soften. 

No wonder the campaigns launched since 9/11 drag on and on.  General Petraeus himself has spelled out the implications: “This is the kind of fight we’re in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids’ lives.”  Obama may want to “get out.”  His generals are inclined to stay the course.

Taking longer to achieve less than we initially intended is also costing far more than anyone ever imagined.  Back in 2003, White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey suggested that invading Iraq might run up a tab of as much as $200 billion — a seemingly astronomical sum.  Although Lindsey soon found himself out of a job as a result, he turned out to be a piker.  The bill for our post-9/11 wars already exceeds a trillion dollars, all of it piled atop our mushrooming national debt.  Helped in no small measure by Obama’s war policies, the meter is still running. 

So are we almost there yet?  Not even.  The truth is we’re lost in the desert, careening down an unmarked road, odometer busted, GPS on the fritz, and fuel gauge hovering just above E.  Washington can only hope that the American people, napping in the backseat, won’t notice.

Andrew J. Bacevich is professor of history and international relations at Boston University.  His bestselling new book is Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War.  To catch Bacevich discussing how the U.S. military became specialists in quagmires in a Timothy MacBain TomCast audio interview click here or, to download it to your iPod, here.

Copyright 2010 Andrew J. Bacevich

Tomgram: Juan Cole, The Media as a Security Threat to America

9:18 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

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Call it strange or call it symptomatic.  These last weeks, Afghan War commander General David Petraeus has been on a “media blitz.”  He’s been giving out interviews as if they were party favors.  Yet, as far as I can tell, not a single interviewer has asked him anything like: “General Petraeus, twenty percent of Pakistan, which supposedly harbors Osama bin Laden and various militant groups involved in the Afghan War, and whose intelligence agency reportedly has an ongoing stake in the Afghan Taliban, is now underwater.  Roads, bridges, railway lines, and so U.S. supply lines have been swept away.  How do you expect this cataclysm to affect the Afghan War in the short and long term?” 

In these last weeks, the Afghan War has once again been front-page news.  Yet only a single reporter — the heroic Carlotta Gall of the New York Times – has thought to focus on the subject of how the Biblical-style floods in Pakistan might affect the U.S. war effort and the overstretched supply lines that play a major role in supporting U.S. troops there.  While you could learn about rising violence in Afghanistan, the perilous state of the Kabul Bank, and many other subjects, reporting on the floods and the war has been nil, with even speculative pieces on the subject largely nonexistent. 

We know next to nothing about how U.S. supplies are now getting to Afghanistan, or how much the cost of getting them there has risen, or how this might affect U.S. operations in that country.  Given the scale of the catastrophe and the degree to which the U.S. is embedded in the region, you might at least expect the American media to be flooded with commentary on what the event could mean for us.  Think again.  As Juan Cole (who runs Informed Comment, which offers the best running commentary available on the Middle East and whose most recent book is Engaging the Muslim World) indicates, this startling journalistic blank spot is just a modest part of a far larger blankness when it comes to one of the truly horrific weather events in modern memory.  Don’t miss Cole discussing flooded Pakistan on the latest TomCast audio interview by clicking here or, to download it to your iPod, here.  Tom

The Great Pakistani Deluge Never Happened 
Don’t Tune In, It’s Not Important 

By Juan Cole

The Great Deluge in Pakistan passed almost unnoticed in the United States despite President Obama’s repeated assertions that the country is central to American security.  Now, with new evacuations and flooding afflicting Sindh Province and the long-term crisis only beginning in Pakistan, it has washed almost completely off American television and out of popular consciousness. 

Don’t think we haven’t been here before.  In the late 1990s, the American mass media could seldom be bothered to report on the growing threat of al-Qaeda.  In 2002, it slavishly parroted White House propaganda about Iraq, helping prepare the way for a senseless war.  No one yet knows just what kind of long-term instability the Pakistani floods are likely to create, but count on one thing: the implications for the United States are likely to be significant and by the time anyone here pays much attention, it will already be too late.

Few Americans were shown — by the media conglomerates of their choice — the heartbreaking scenes of eight million Pakistanis displaced into tent cities, of the submerging of a string of mid-sized cities (each nearly the size of New Orleans), of vast areas of crops ruined, of infrastructure swept away, damaged, or devastated at an almost unimaginable level, of futures destroyed, and opportunistic Taliban bombings continuing.  The boiling disgust of the Pakistani public with the incompetence, insouciance, and cupidity of their corrupt ruling class is little appreciated.  

The likely tie-in of these floods (of a sort no one in Pakistan had ever experienced) with global warming was seldom mentioned.  Unlike, say, BBC Radio, corporate television did not tell the small stories — of, for instance, the female sharecropper who typically has no rights to the now-flooded land on which she grew now-ruined crops thanks to a loan from an estate-owner, and who is now penniless, deeply in debt, and perhaps permanently excluded from the land.  That one of the biggest stories of the past decade could have been mostly blown off by television news and studiously ignored by the American public is a further demonstration that there is something profoundly wrong with corporate news-for-profit.  (The print press was better at covering with the crisis, as was publically-supported radio, including the BBC and National Public Radio.)

In his speech on the withdrawal of designated combat units from Iraq last week, Barack Obama put Pakistan front and center in American security doctrine, “But we must never lose sight of what’s at stake. As we speak, al-Qaeda continues to plot against us, and its leadership remains anchored in the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan.”  Even if Pakistan were not a major non-NATO ally of the United States, it is the world’s sixth most populous country and the 44th largest economy, according to the World Bank.  The flooding witnessed in the Indus Valley is unprecedented in the country’s modern history and was caused by a combination of increasingly warm ocean water and a mysterious blockage of the jet stream, which drew warm, water-laden air north to Pakistan, over which it burst in sheets of raging liquid.  If the floods that followed prove a harbinger of things to come, then they are a milestone in our experience of global warming, a big story in its own right.

News junkies who watch a lot of television broadcasts could not help but notice with puzzlement that as the cosmic catastrophe unfolded in Pakistan, it was nearly invisible on American networks.  I did a LexisNexis search for the terms “Pakistan” and “flood” in broadcast transcripts (covering mostly American networks) from July 31st to September 4th, and it returned only about 1,100 hits.  A search for the name of troubled actress Lindsay Lohan returned 653 search results in the same period and one for “Iraq,” more than 3,000 hits (the most the search engine will count).  A search for “mosque" and "New York” yielded 1,300 hits.  Put another way, the American media, whipped into an artificial frenzy by anti-Muslim bigots like New York gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio and GOP hatemonger Newt Gingrich, were far more interested in the possible construction of a Muslim-owned interfaith community center two long blocks from the old World Trade Center site than in the sight of millions of hapless Pakistani flood victims.  

Of course, some television correspondents did good work trying to cover the calamity, including CNN’s Reza Sayah and Sanjay Gupta, but they generally got limited air time and poor time slots. (Gupta’s special report on the Pakistan floods aired the evening of September 5th, the Sunday before Labor Day, not exactly a time when most viewers might be expected to watch hard news.)  As for the global warming angle, it was not completely ignored.  On August 13th, reporter Dan Harris interviewed NASA scientist Gavin Schmidt on ABC’s “Good Morning America” show at 7:45 am.  The subject was whether global warming could be the likely cause for the Pakistan floods and other extreme weather events of the summer, with Schmidt pointing out that such weather-driven cataclysms are going to become more common later in the twenty-first century.   Becky Anderson at CNN did a similar segment at 4 pm on August 16th.  My own search of news transcripts suggests that that was about it for commercial television.

The “Worst Disaster” TV Didn’t Cover

It’s worth reviewing the events that most Americans hardly know happened:

The deluge began on July 31st, when heavier than usual monsoon rains caused mudslides in the northwest of Pakistan.  Within two days, the rapidly rising waters had already killed 800 people.  On August 2nd, the United Nations announced that about a million people had been driven from their homes. Among the affected areas was the Swat Valley, already suffering from large numbers of refugees and significant damage from an army offensive against the Pakistani Taliban in the spring-summer of 2009. In the district of Dera Ismail Khan alone, hundreds of villages were destroyed by the floods, forcing shelterless villagers to sleep on nearby raised highways.

The suddenly homeless waited in vain for the government to begin to deliver aid, as public criticism of President Asaf Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani surged.  President Zardari’s opulent trip to France and Britain (during which he visited his chateau in Normandy) at this moment of national crisis was pilloried.  On August 8th in Birmingham, England, a furious Pakistani-British man threw both his shoes at him, repeating a famously humiliating incident in which an Iraqi journalist threw a shoe at President George W. Bush.  Fearing the response in Pakistan, the president’s Pakistan People’s Party attempted to censor the video of the incident, and media offices in that country were closed down or sometimes violently attacked if they insisted on covering it.  Few or no American broadcast outlets appear to have so much as mentioned the incident, though it pointed to the increasing dissatisfaction of Pakistanis with their elected government.  (The army has gotten better marks for its efficient aid work, raising fears that some ambitious officers could try to parlay a newfound popularity into yet another in the country’s history of military coups.) 

By August 5th, the floods had taken an estimated 1,600 lives, though some aid officials complained (and would continue to do so) that the death toll was far larger than reported.  Unlike the Haitian earthquake or the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, this still building and far more expansive disaster was initially greeted by the world community with a yawn.   The following day, the government evacuated another half-million people as the waters headed toward southern Punjab.  At that point, some 12 million Pakistanis had been adversely affected in some way.  On August 7th, as the waters advanced on the southernmost province, Sindh, through some of the country’s richest farmlands just before harvest time, another million people were evacuated.  Prime Minister Gilani finally paid his first visit to some of the flood-stricken regions.

By August 9th, nearly 14 million people had been affected by the deluge, the likes of which had never been experienced in the region in modern history, and at least 20% of the country was under water.  At that point, in terms of its human impact, the catastrophe had already outstripped both the 2004 tsunami and the 2010 Haiti earthquake.  On August 10th, the United Nations announced that six million Pakistanis needed immediate humanitarian aid just to stay alive. 

On August 14th, another half-million people were evacuated from the Sindhi city of Jacobabad.  By now, conspiracy theories were swirling inside Pakistan about landlords who had deliberately cut levees to force the waters away from their estates and into peasant villages, or about the possibility that the U.S. military had diverted the waters from its base at Jacobabad.  It was announced that 18 million Pakistanis had now been adversely affected by the floods, having been displaced, cut off from help by the waters, or having lost crops, farms, and other property.  The next day, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, surveying the damage, pronounced it was “the worst disaster” he had ever seen. 

The following week a second crest of river water hit Sindh Province.  On August 30th, it submerged the city of Sujawal (population 250,000).  The next day, however, there were a mere 16 mentions of Pakistan on all American television news broadcasts, mostly on CNN.  On Labor Day weekend, another major dam began to fail in Sindh and, by September 6th, several hundred thousand more people had to flee from Dadu district, with all but four districts in that rich agricultural province having seen at least some flooding. 

Today, almost six million Pakistanis are still homeless, and many have not so much as received tents for shelter.  In large swaths of the country, roads, bridges, crops, power plants — everything that matters to the economy — were inundated and damaged or simply swept away.  Even if the money proves to be available for repairs (and that remains an open question), it will take years to rebuild what was lost and, for many among those millions, the future will mean nothing but immiseration, illness, and death.

Why the Floods Weren’t News    

In the United States, the contrast with the wall-to-wall cable news coverage of the Haitian earthquake in January and the consequent outpouring of public donations was palpable.  Not only has the United Nations’ plea for $460 million in aid to cover the first three months of flood response still not been met, but in the past week donations seem to have dried up.  The U.S. government pledged $200 million (some diverted from an already planned aid program for Pakistan) and provided helicopter gunships to rescue cut-off refugees or ferry aid to them.

What of American civil society?  No rock concerts were organized to help Pakistani children sleeping on highways or in open fields infested with vermin.  No sports events offered receipts to aid victims at risk from cholera and other diseases.  It was as if the great Pakistani deluge were happening in another dimension, beyond the ken of Americans. 

A number of explanations have been offered for the lack of empathy, or even interest, not to speak of a visible American unwillingness to help millions of Pakistanis.  As a start, there were perfectly reasonable fears, even among Pakistani-Americans, that such aid money might simply be pocketed by corrupt government officials.  But was the Haitian government really so much more transparent and less corrupt than the Pakistani one? 

It has also been suggested that Americans suffer from donor fatigue, given the string of world disasters in recent years and the bad domestic economy.  On August 16th, for instance, Glenn Beck fulminated: “We can’t keep spending. We are broke! Game over… no one is going to ride in to save you… You see the scene in Pakistan? People were waiting in line for aids [sic] from floods. And they were complaining, how come the aid is not here?  Look, when America is gone, who’s going to save the people in Pakistan? See, we got to change this one, because we’re the ones that always ride in to save people.” 

Still, the submerging of a fifth of a country the size of Pakistan is — or at least should be — a dramatic global event and even small sums, if aggregated, would matter.  (A dollar and a half from each American would have met the U.N. appeal.)  Some have suggested that the Islamophobia visible in the debate about the Park 51 Muslim-owned community center in lower Manhattan left Americans far less willing to donate to Muslim disaster victims.

And what of those national security arguments that nuclear-armed Pakistan is crucial not just to the American war in Afghanistan, but to the American way of life?  Ironically, the collapse of the neoconservative narrative about what it takes to make the planet’s “sole superpower” secure appears to have fallen on President Obama’s head.  One of the few themes he adopted wholeheartedly from the Bush administration has been the idea that a poor Asian country of 170 million halfway around the world, facing a challenge from a few thousand rural fundamentalists, is the key to the security of the United States. 

If the Pakistani floods reveal one thing, it’s that Americans now look on such explanations through increasingly jaundiced eyes.  At the moment, no matter whether it’s the Afghan War or those millions of desperate peasants and city dwellers in Pakistan, the public has largely decided to ignore the AfPak theater of operations.  It’s not so surprising.  Having seen the collapse of our financial system at the hands of corrupt financiers produce mass unemployment and mass mortgage foreclosures, they have evidently decided, as even Glenn Beck admits, it’s “game over” for imperial adventures abroad. 

Another explanation may also bear some weight here, though you won’t normally hear much about it.  Was the decision of the corporate media not to cover the Pakistan disaster intensively a major factor in the public apathy that followed, especially since so many Americans get their news from television? 

The lack of coverage needs to be explained, since corporate media usually love apolitical, weather-induced disasters.  But covering a flood in a distant Asian country is, for television, expensive and logistically challenging, which in these tough economic times may have influenced programming decisions.  Obviously, there is as well a tendency in capitalist news to cover what will attract advertising dollars.  Add to this the fact that, unlike the Iraq “withdrawal” story or the “mosque at Ground Zero” controversy, the disaster in Pakistan was not a political football between the GOP and the Democratic Party.  What if, in fact, Americans missed this calamity mostly because a bad news story set in a little-known South Asian country filled with Muslim peasants is not exactly “Desperate Housewives” and couldn’t hope to sell tampons, deodorant, or Cialis, or because it did not play into domestic partisan politics?   

The great Pakistani deluge did not exist, it seems, because it was not on television, would not have delivered audiences to products, and was not all about us.  As we saw on September 11, 2001, and again in March 2003, however, the failure of our electronic media to inform the public about centrally important global developments is itself a security threat to the republic.

Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Professor of History and the director of the Center for South Asian Studies at the University of Michigan.  His latest book, Engaging the Muslim World, is just out in a revised paperback edition from Palgrave Macmillan. He runs the Informed Comment website. You can catch him discussing flooded Pakistan on the latest TomCast audio interview by clicking here or, to download it to your iPod, here.

Copyright 2010 Juan Cole