Is there an Islamic Charlie Wilson?

As the US and NATO lose control of surface roads in Afghanistan they are more and more dependent upon air transport and air cargo delivery.
According to USA Today:

    Afghanistan’s roads have grown more dangerous. The number of roadside bombs and suicide attacks has increased to 1,041 this year from 224 in 2005, according to the NATO command in Afghanistan. This year, more than 1,400 bombs, which the military calls improvised explosive devices, were discovered before they were detonated.
    U.S. forces have sharply increased the number of airdrop supply missions in Afghanistan in the past three years, as roads have become more dangerous and allied troops have established remote outposts.
    The number of airdrops has increased to 800 this year from 99 in 2005, according to Central Command’s air operations center. Planes dropped 15 million pounds of cargo this year, nearly double last year’s load of 8.2 million pounds.

Canadian forces have even resorted to leasing Russian helicopters:

    Canada’s battle group moved into southern Afghanistan in 2006 without any helicopters, unlike the British, U.S., and Dutch forces. The lack of air assets forced the Canadians to rely more heavily on road convoys, which the Canadian commanders described at the time as an advantage because it would give the troops more familiarity with the Afghan people and terrain. But regular traffic of military vehicles on Afghan roads has proven deadly for Canadian soldiers as the rising insurgency targets supply convoys.

Many Forward Operating Bases (FOB) are outposts in the Afghan back country that are normally reached only by weekly helicopter supply flights.
Air transport seems like the answer to loss of ground control. But is it? Soviet forces had a similar experience in 1978-1988. One of their downfalls was the supply of MANPADS by the CIA to Afghan partisan forces resulting in the downing of many Soviet aircraft.

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Recruiting for the Enemy

The US occupation forces in Iraq have, from the beginning of the occupation more than five years ago, engaged in the arbitrary imprisonment (“detaining”) of Iraqi citizens. As one former US soldier testified: “I witnessed and participated in countless massive operations led by American commanders whose metrics for success were numbers of detainees apprehended.”–Louis Montalvan
If you were a YSM (young Sunni male) found in a night-time US military sweep through Iraqi neighborhoods you stood an excellent chance of being zip-tied, thrown into the back of a truck and taken downtown. “Most of the people they detain are innocent,” said Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi.
This has resulted in US prison populations in Iraq of nearly 20,000 prisoners, with another 26,000 being held by our Iraqi surrogates.
As Afghanistan heats up, more Afghan citizens are being arbitrarily arrested and held in prison. In August construction began on a new facility for as many as 1,100 detainees and now the US Military has initiated an inquiry into possible detainee abuse
All of this, of course, is in direct violation of the Geneva Convention which calls for the military to be responsible for the welfare of citizens in a war zone or occupied territory.
Protected civilians MUST be:

    – Treated humanely at all times and protected against acts or threats of violence, insults and public curiosity.
    – Entitled to respect for their honour, family rights, religious convictions and practices, and their manners and customs.

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Counterinsurgency 101

WARNING: There will be a test.
The US Department of Defense and its representatives continually use the word Counterinsurgency, or its acronym COIN, to describe the US efforts to secure, pacify and stabilize various countries such as Vietnam in the 60’s and Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia currently.
But we also know that the Pentagon is known around the world for invading, occupying and destabilizing countries. Many people around the world correctly recognize that “offense” doesn’t mean “defense” and that “destabilize” doesn’t mean “stabilize.” All Americans recognize that “security” doesn’t mean “insecurity.”
But what about the term Counterinsurgency? Do we give the Pentagon a bye on this particular word, when we know that all their other definitions are pure horsepucky? Should we just blindly accept that what US forces are doing in other countries is Counterinsurgency, and that US opponents are dead-enders, terrorists and insurgents?
Of course not. At JWN nobody gets a free ride where the truth is concerned.

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Israel attacks Gaza, demonstrates it is still the ‘occupying power’

The Israeli military has sent ground forces deep into Gaza over the past two weeks, and has killed 17 Palestinians, and wounded uncounted others. In what even longtime Israeli flack Ron Ben-Yishai admits are retaliatory attacks, Palestinian rocketeers from Gaza have wounded an unknown number — presumed small– of residents of southern Israel, but killed none. This (highly asymmetrical) exchange of attacks has spread fear on both sides of the international border between Gaza and Israel.
In addition, the Israeli government recently tightened yet further the siege it has maintained around Gaza since the election nearly three years ago of a Hamas-dominated parliament in Gaza and the West Bank. The siege has contributed to the deaths of more than 200 Gaza Palestinians and has prevented the other 1.5 million residents of the Strip from leading anything like a normal life.
This BBC report tells us that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Israeli PM Olmert in a recent phone call to lift the siege.
Yesterday, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Judge Navanethem Pillay, issued a hard-hitting statement calling for an immediate end to the blockade of Gaza. It said:

    “By function of this blockade, 1.5 million Palestinian men, women and children have been forcibly deprived of their most basic human rights for months… This is in direct contravention of international human rights and humanitarian law. It must end now.

Here in the United States, apologists for the Israeli government have argued since 2005 that Israel “ended the occupation of the Gaza Strip” that year, and that therefore since then it has borne no continuing responsibility for the welfare of the Strip’s residents such as is required of any “foreign military occupying power” under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
But since 2005, Israel has continued to maintain tight control over all avenues and channels through which the Gazans might have contact with the outside world, and it has maintained it still has a “right” to intervene militarily in Gaza whenever it chooses.
Those two aspects of Israel’s policy put the lie to its claim that it has “ended” the military occupation of the Gaza Strip that it has, actually, maintained continuously since June of 1967.
If Israel were not, in fact, the military occupier of this territory then either the blockade it has maintained around it or the repeated military actions it has mounted against it would be considered under international law as overt acts of war that would allow the legitimate (indigenous) government of Gaza to request any and all forms of international military aid to counter and suppress those hostile acts.
But few actors in the international community believe that the democratically elected administration in Gaza has this right. Indeed, the BBC report on the Gaza situation quotes an un-named an Israeli official as describing Israel’s latest ground-force incursion into Gaza as “a routine operation”, i.e. not an act of war as such.
The people of Gaza, the West Bank, and Golan have had to live under the vagaries, aggressions, harsh repression, and downright dispossession that have marked Israel’s military occupation rule of these territories for 41.5 years now. It is time for all these military occupations to end.
Why, even the United States’ military occupation rule over Iraq is now scheduled to end at the end of 2011, after lasting less than eight years! How can the international community allow Israel’s rapacious and inhumane occupations to continue?

Baghdad: Ways of seeing

Saad Khalaf of the LA Times’s Baghdad bureau has a very interesting post over at the LAT’s Mideast staff blog, Baghdad & Beyond. It recounts a helicopter visit he recently made over portions of his city, Baghdad.
He writes,

    This was the first time I had ever seen Baghdad from the air, and it was strange to see my home city looking deserted.
    The city also looked wounded and traumatized. From above, Baghdad’s scars are even more obvious.
    I saw the concrete blast walls and roadblocks that crisscross one of the Arab world’s great cities. Buildings that were damaged in the war five years ago still sat unrepaired. Piles of garbage filled the streets in neighborhoods such as Ghazaliya and Ameriya, which had witnessed recent street battles.
    It all made me feel sad and frustrated. I felt like there were very few tangible results to show from the last five years of bloodshed…

Khalaf writes about the considerable misgivings he’d had about going along on this trip, which was organized by the U.S. Army. He and his American bureau chief were going along to accompany Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division who was visiting soldiers at a pair of U.S. bases south of Baghdad. He wrote that his wife of one year had asked him not to go but he told her, “No, I want to see this.”
I can understand why.
These days, most residents of Baghdad are trapped inside one of the huge cantonments that those big blast walls have carved into the city. They cannot soar above it looking down at the whole, as Khalaf was briefly able to do. (You can see his picture gallery from the trip here.)
As for someone like Gen. Lynch, he can criss-cross the city by chopper from time to time. But he will never really be able to understand the concerns, frustrations, and tempo of life of people living (if that’s really the word?) inside the city’s walled-off cantonments.
Different ways of seeing the city.
Imagine if Palestinians trapped in, say, Bethlehem or Nablus or Gaza could also take helicopter rides over their small country and see what has happened to it after 41 years of occupation.
I can understand the concerns of Saad Khalaf’s wife, and I can understand that he, too, may have had qualms about about traveling around so evidently in the entourage of the army that’s occupying his country. But I think the observations he wrote, based on the trip, are truly fascinating.
Let’s all work hard so that one day as soon as possible, Iraqis and Palestinians will all have the opportunity to soar freely into the skies above their respective countries and look down on its much-loved geography– from helicopters (noisy and polluting), or hot-air balloons, or whatever.
And that their skies are quite free of the military helicopters, fighter-planes, and attack drones with which, today, foreign occupation armies help maintain their system of violent control over each country’s rightful citizens.

War and ‘anthropology’

I have been concerned about the Pentagon’s program to enlist anthropologists into its “Human Terrain System” (HTS) program ever since I first heard about it. The relationship between western “anthropology” (literally, in Greek, a “study of the human condition”) and various extremely exploitative colonial ventures over the past 120 years is very well-known.
Recently, I identified one of my key concerns with this latest version of the same-old, same-old attempt to use specialized knowledge about the condition of other peoples in order to subjugate and control them. It is this idea that our fellow-humans around the world could be considered, in the military sense or any other sense, to be merely “terrain” to be fought over, won, and controlled.
In military science, geographical terrain (from the Latin, meaning “earth”) is something that is to be studied, mapped, and understood– and then, that understanding is used in order to control and exploit that terrain.
So what are we saying about our fellow-humans if we say they are merely “terrain”?
Isn’t calling them “terrain” worse, actually, than using the many zoomorphic slur-words that are used to dehumanize and denigrate human “others”? Like former Israeli Chief of Staff’s infamous reference to Palestinians as “cockroaches” or “flies in a bottle,” or any other reference to opponents being merely “animals”… Other examples of zoomorphic denigration are too numerous to list.
The idea that our fellow humans in Iraq or Afghanistan or anywhere else are merely “terrain” can be traced, most recently, to the US military’s late-2006 counter-insurgency manual (PDF here), as co-authored by Gen. Petraeus. One of the key arguments made there was that “the key battlespace is the mind of the citizens of the ‘Host Nation’.” (The whole COIN concept was built, we can note, on the key assumption that the US military would be waging its COIN warfare inside other people’s countries.)
So what the Human Terrain System program seeks to do is to provide the key cultural/sociological knowledge required for the US military to be able to control and exploit the minds of those other, non-US men and women.
Now, when a military is waging a campaign that control and exploit geographical terrain, some of that terrain may get chewed up, burned, or suffer other other non-trivial damage. How about when it is waging a campaign to control and exploit the mental “terrain” of our fellow-humans in a distant country?
The mental damage inflicted on subjugated others in the more known-of places like Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo is only the tip of a vast iceberg of damage inflicted.
Think of the million-plus children among the 2.5 million residents of Sadr City. How has their mental, social, and spiritual wellbeing been affected by the assaults the US military has launched against Sadr City over the recent weeks?
Think of the four million or so Iraqis displaced from their homes and scattered to places of distant (and always vulnerable) refugee over the past 30 months. How has their mental and spiritual wellbeing been affected?
It strikes me, though, that the people who run and implement the US military’s “Human Terrain” program are also suffering significant spiritual damage through their participation in this very anti-humane venture. They have been conditioned to believe that they have some kind of “right”, as contractors with or members of the US military, to intrude into, study, and map the lives of subjugated Iraqis, with the aim that the US military can use this knowledge to control and exploit those others.
That, to me, is what the dehumanizing term “human terrain” connotes.
How spiritually sick can a person get?
You can find a a good round-up of recent controversies around the HTS program here, on the Mind Hacks blog.
That blog post links to this recent Newsweek article on the program, and this subsequent piece on the Wired blog, in which the female anthropologist Montgomery McFate, one of the program’s main architects, defends it.
The Newsweek piece is titled “A Gun in One Hand, A Pen in the Other”, and is illustrated with a photo of a female in full military combat gear, with a helmet and body armor, who is standing in what may be the public square of an Iraqi town. She is earnestly taking notes by hand in a little notebook.
In the piece, the writers, Dan Ephron and Silvia Spring write about one HTS participant that, “Though he wears Army fatigues and carries a gun, Griffin is a civilian, part of a controversial program known as the Human Terrain System.” They also write, “For their services, the anthropologists get up to $300,000 annually while posted abroad—a salary that is six times higher than the national average for their field.” Clearly, for many newly-minted anthropologists who have heavy grad-school debts to repay, the pay would be quite a draw. As, too, might the idea that they could “study” people foreign culture, thus building up their research credentials in the fild– and get paid quite handsomely while doing so.
Last October, the Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association, the professional body of US practitioners and teachers in the field, issued a strong statement that measured the HTS program against the ethical standards of their profession and concluded that they disapproved” of the program. The statement added:

    In the context of a war that is widely recognized as a denial of human rights and based on faulty intelligence and undemocratic principles, the Executive Board sees the HTS project as a problematic application of anthropological expertise, most specifically on ethical grounds. We have grave concerns about the involvement of anthropological knowledge and skill in the HTS project. The Executive Board views the HTS project as an unacceptable application of anthropological expertise.
    The Executive Board affirms that anthropology can and in fact is obliged to help improve U.S. government policies through the widest possible circulation of anthropological understanding in the public sphere, so as to contribute to a transparent and informed development and implementation of U.S. policy by robustly democratic processes of fact-finding, debate, dialogue, and deliberation. It is in this way, the Executive Board affirms, that anthropology can legitimately and effectively help guide U.S. policy to serve the humane causes of global peace and social justice.

In general, this is a good and strong statement. Personally, I would not have put in the explanatory clause with which the first of those paragraphs starts– or perhaps, I would have phrased it differently. I believe the ethical problems they earlier identified– and in particular the impossibility of obtaining the “informed consent” of subjects of study in a context when the “anthropologist” in question is wearing the uniform of and carrying the gun of an occupying army– make the project “a problematic application of anthropological expertise”, regardless of how the war and occupation started. To believe that anyone can wear the uniform, carry the gun, be a member of a mutually supporting sub-unit of an occupation army, and be considered by anyone to be an objective observer– let alone a friendly fellow-human with whom a “native”{ person might voluntarily share one’s view of the world– simply boggles the mind.
(Why does the name of the Israeli “anthropologist” Clinton Bailey keep popping into my mind?)
The dilemma faced by many anthropologists seems similar to that faced by some humanitarian-aid workers in recent years. Back in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq., the US military made broad efforts to try to “enlist” the collaboration of many US relief agencies. At one point, Rumsfeld even openly said that the activities of such groups could act as “force mulitpliers” for the US invasion force (which otherwise might have to fulfill its own responsibilities to the Iraqi population as occupying power in Iraq.) I know that many of my friends in the humanitarian-aid community agonized over whether and how far to coordinate with the invasion force. They wanted to “be ready to help” deal with the humanitarian disasters that might accompany a US invasion of Iraq, but they also wanted to be able to do so in way that did not associate them with the policies and priorities of the invading/occupying army.
As the occupation ground on, year after year, the dilemmas continued. I have spoken to some western aid workers who strongly shunned any collaboration with the occupation forces, and who also, with great courage, refused to hire armed guards to accompany either their aid convoys or themselves. But the security situation got worse and worse. Their aid convoys became harder and harder to organize. I am not sure if any of those convoys are being organized at all these days.
This reminds me, too, of Harold Evans, the Quaker from Philadelphia who back in May 1948 had been named by UNSCOP as “municipal commissioner” of the internationally administered “corpus separatum” that, according to the 1947 Partition Plan, was supposed to be established in Jerusalem and a broad area around it. Evans reportedly got as far as Cairo, but he then refused to proceed any further until the British military who were in control there would allow him to do so without a military escort.
You could say that maybe some bloodshed could have been avoided in Jerusalem if he had gotten there to administer it? I think that to say that, would be to credit Quakers with too much power and influence!
Actually, the British were determined to stick to their timetable to take their military out of the whole of Palestine, regardless of whether (as occurred) Arab-Jewish fighting thereafter engulfed the whole of the area of Mandate Palestine, including Jerusalem. So I strongly doubt whether Evans would have had a chance to make a difference in Jerusalem. Meanwhile, though, he kept himself– and by extension, most other Quakers– unsullied from entanglement in the British military’s schemes.
In Evans’s case, and in the cases where people are trying to carry out unquestionably humanitarian aid missions, these can agonizingly tough judgments to make.
But in the case where anthropology professionals are being asked to gather knowledge about– and then, to share with a military occupation army– information about the mores and views of the “occupied” people, I don’t think the ethical judgment is a difficult one at all.

Military occupations, sewage, and governance

So now, after just under five years of rule by US military occupation, the historic city of Baghdad is drowning in lakes of human excreta. (Hat-tip Juan.) That item from AFP a couple of weeks ago reports that,

    One of three sewage treatment plants is out of commission, one is working at stuttering capacity while a pipe blockage in the third means sewage is forming a foul lake so large it can be seen “as a big black spot on Google Earth,” said Tahseen Sheikhly, civilian spokesman for the Baghdad security plan.

Welcome to Gaza.
Gaza has been under Israeli military occupation for just over 40 years, and has been slowly drowning in its own gathering lakes of sewage for several years now.
Maintaining working safe water systems, and therefore also functioning sewage-disposal systems, is a fundamental function of government. It is especially important in areas that, like Gaza or Baghdad, are both heavily populated and flat, and that therefore have no natural run-off system. (And even where areas are mountainous and do have good run-off systems, the people “below” need to be protected from the run-off from the people “above”, as the residents of numerous Palestinian villages in the West Bank that lie beneath Israel’s hill-top settlements can amply testify.)
Different things are going on in Iraq and in Gaza. In Iraq the Bushists are guided– as in all their actions, domestic and overseas– by a profound antagonism toward the role of government as such in providing good governance. Hence all their quite irresponsible outsourcing of so many central functions of government to politically well-connected private contractors operating for profit. Now I’m sure that in Baghdad, the US administration and its local allies/proxies have signed numerous contracts over the past five years, under which contractors were charged with fixing the city’s water and sewage systems. But with the Bushists’ broad and wilfull disregard of governance issues, those contractors’ performance was never adequately monitored, and no-one ever stepped in to say, “Okay, you contractors haven’t performed, so we’ll send in the Army Corps of Engineers to get this vital job done.”
As a corollary, we should note that people who run military occupation regimes have wide leeway to exercise a wilfull disregard for the wellbeing of the residents of the occupied territories since they are in no way politically accountable to them. Hence the need for the provisions of international humanitarian law that specifically codify the responsibility that occupying powers have for the wellbeing of these residents.
In Iraq, the question of “responsibility” for water treatment and other basic functions of governance was certainly considerably muddied by the whole elaborate political play by which a supposed “sovereignty” was handed over to Iraqi political figures, though in many significant regards their ability to exercise true sovereignty remains highly circumscribed.
In Gaza, what has been happening on the sewage issue has been a certain amount of wilfull disregard of the Gazans’ strong interest in this aspect of their basic physical wellbeing by the Israeli occupation authorities. But in addition, Israel’s government has also been intentionally starving Gaza of the electric power and other inputs required even to mitigate the most threatening aspects of the sewage crisis.
Read, for example, this horrendous first-person account, published by Reuters Alertnet, of how the sewage crisis has been affecting the wellbeing of Gazans since at least last summer.
The writer, Manal, says this:

    It’s hard to imagine that someone could be excited about a water pumping station. But if you knew that this pumping station, if functioning, would serve as a barrier between your community and raw sewage then perhaps you would change your mind.
    Six months ago this water pumping station opened right next to my home. It’s part of a system that serves 60 percent of the population in Gaza. We were pleased to hear this news as we had no other option before but to dump our untreated sewage in wells. As you can imagine, this posed an immense health hazard to all members of the community.
    So when the news came that our sewage would be treated and we would no longer have to dump our own waste near to our homes, we breathed a sigh of relief.
    The new station receives 30,000-40,000 cubic metres of waste water every day, and it should pump 120 cubic meters an hour through each of six water pumps. But this is Gaza. From the beginning, the station had only three pumps installed instead of the six planned. The closure of Gaza borders since June 2007 by the Israeli government has meant that the essential parts needed to build the remaining three could not come through.
    Electricity cuts have been affecting the efficiency of the station.
    The emergency generator is not functioning well either as it needs maintenance but spare parts are lacking. The limited amount of fuel that is let into Gaza is not enough to run the generator for long hours.
    … This station was supposed to be a blessing for the neighborhood. It turned out to be a curse, a health hazard for us all. And we are now facing a public health crisis.
    Sewage water is filling the streets of the neighborhood surrounding the station, and flooding the nearby houses – the stench is unbearable.
    Tenants in ground floor flats were forced to leave and move to live with neighbors in the higher floors. People have been reduced to using sand to absorb the sewage water in their houses.
    The number of children who have been taken ill has increased considerably. Cases of diarrhea are mounting by the day. Even now children continue to play outside amongst the raw sewage – where else can they go?
    What disgusts me is that this could all be prevented if the Israelis had just allowed the opening of one checkpoint to let the spare parts and fuel through.
    Children started their new term this week even though there is sewage water in the neighborhood schools. As with all the problems brought about by the blockade, we have to continue our daily lives, otherwise we will have nothing left.
    … I ask myself and I ask the international community – how can children get a good education in this environment? How can they look to a better future?

Read, too, the comments that the UN’s new Under-SG for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, made yesterday after he completed his first visit to Gaza:

    “I have been shocked by the grim and miserable things that I have seen and heard today, which are the result of current restrictions and the limitations on the number of goods that are being allowed into Gaza,’ said Mr. Holmes during a day-long visit to the Gaza Strip. ‘Around 80 percent of the population is dependant on food aid from international organizations. Poverty and unemployment are increasing and the private sector has more or less collapsed. Only ten percent of the amount of goods that entered Gaza a year ago are being permitted to enter now,” he said.

The complete chokehold that Israel has exercised over every physical interaction between Gaza and the outside world needs to be ended– NOW.
And in Iraq, the six million residents of Baghdad also need to be saved from the stinking, health-threatening effects of military occupation. Governance in Iraq needs to be handed back to a genuinely sovereign Iraqi government that is accountable to its own people, not to any outside power.
Military occupation rule: it is always, potentially, a threat to the wellbeing and even survival of people and the communities they live in. It was never envisaged in international law as being a longlasting means of governance, but only a short-term stop-gap arrangement pending conclusion of a final peace agreement. These two occupations need to end.

“Whistling in the Dark” (Iran-media spat)

For all of the ongoing press woes in the Islamic Republic of Iran, commentaries in Iranian papers can still be extraordinarily boisterous — too lively at times for Iran’s neighbors.
A loud case in point is an editorial by Hoseyn Shari’atmadari in Iran’s hardline Keyhan newspaper. (The entire editorial is appended in the continuation; translation by the US taxpayer funded OSC service) It seems Keyhan has less interest in defending fellow hardliners under siege at home, than picking a fuss with foreign bogeys.
The Keyhan editorial touched off a firestorm of condemnations from the southern Arab side of the Persian Gulf. No wonder, as in “point ten,” Shari’atmadari provocatively raises the old Iranian claim to Bahrain:

“…Bahrain was once part of Iran’s soil. In the process of an illegal collusion between the doomed shah and the Governments of America and Britain, it was separated from Iran. Today, the most important demand of the people of Bahrain is that this province separated from Iran be returned to its main motherland: Islamic Iran. Obviously, this absolute right of Iran and the people of its separated province cannot and should not be ignored.”

Such exaggerated bluster is about as helpful as President Ahmadinejad’s incendiary comments about the Holocaust, Israel, and map-wiping.
All too predictably, this editorial segment inspired a unified chorus of condemnations from the Bahraini press and elsewhere on the Arabian Peninsula, with different writers now one-upping each other in demands for the “official” to be removed or contradicted by the Iranian foreign ministry. Some papers are dredging up claims about southwestern Iran having once been Arab controlled.
While Shari’atmadari, as head of the Keyhan Foundation, technically serves at the pleasure of Iran’s Supreme Leader, it should be recognized that Keyhan editorials are anything but an authoritative voice for Iranian foreign policy. (far less than The Weekly Standard in the US is an authoritative voice for neocon elements within the Bush-Cheney Administration)
Of course, Shari’atmadari’s July 10th controversial essay has a context, as he was but one of many Iranian writers reacting to the routine reiteration by the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council on July 5th in support of the claim by the United Arab Emirates to the disputed Islands of Abu Musa and the two Tunbs.
On July 7th, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, Ali Hosseini reiterated Iran’s standard statement that these Islands “are and will remain inseparable and integral parts of Iranian territory” while also complaining (in standard form) that the “repetition of the baseless stance… is surprising give that fact that Iran and the UAE enjoy enhanced contacts and relations.”
Nothing in the official statements about Bahrain, nor any nasty comments about the legitimacy of governments among the Arab Sheikhdoms.
Of course, the modern dispute over the Islands predates the Iranian Revolution and instead is rooted in Britain’s withdrawal of its forces from the Persian Gulf in the early 1970’s. Iran enforced its claims over these 3 islands, while at the same time forgoing its claim to the island of Bahrain. Iranians of most stripes still view the dispute with the UAE in nationalistic terms, and from time to time this or that Iranian hardliner will trot out variations on the theme that the Shah (& his American “bosses”) betrayed Iran in giving up Bahrain.
Not the stuff of diplomacy, to be sure. For those seeking to maintain American domination over the Gulf, this latest media stoking of residual sectarian, ethnic, and territorial tensions will be music to their ears. Divide & conquer.
I expect the “grown-ups” in the foreign policy establishments in Iran and in the neighboring Arab states will work to keep a lid on this sort of heat.
Speaking of which, we’re encouraged by communications efforts between American and Iranian naval commanders in the Persian Gulf, as revealed in an excellent report in the Los Angeles Times. Not quite the top-level hot-line and “deconflict” mechanism that Helena Cobban and Pat Lang have been proposing, but such “professionalism” between commanders in dangerously crowded waters is not what those looking to provoke a war would wish to see.

Continue reading ““Whistling in the Dark” (Iran-media spat)”

40 years of occupation (contd.)

Well, today is the 40th anniversary of the day the 1967 war started– the war that brought under sraeli military occupation vast swathes of Arab land. Some of that land, namely, the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza, and the Syrian territory of Golan, remains today under Israeli occupation, and the residents of those territories have been ruled by a foreign military force for all these years…
Running any long-lasting military occupation is also a burden on the occupying country.
Today, the spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made a fairly good statement about the anniversary:

    As the fortieth anniversary of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war reminds us, statehood for Palestinians, security for Israelis and peace in the region cannot be achieved by force. An end to the occupation and a political solution to the conflict is the only way forward — for Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians, Lebanese and the wider region. This will only be achieved through negotiations to bring about an end to the occupation, on the basis of the principle of land for peace, as envisaged in Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973).

Meanwhile, in Palestine, Israeli tanks rolled into Gaza yesterday:

    Soldiers took over two buildings and military bulldozers ripped up roads during the incursion around the town of Rafah, about two kilometres (just over a mile) inside Palestinian territory, witnesses said.
    “Armoured and infantry forces are searching the area for terrorist infrastructure. Several Palestinians have been detained for questioning,” an army spokesman told AFP.
    …Israel has vowed no let-up in its operations against militants since it resumed air strikes against Gaza on May 16 following a sharp increase in rocket fire from the densely populated territory.
    The air raids have killed 16 civilians and 37 militants, mostly from Hamas, but have failed to completely halt the rockets.
    More than 285 have been fired into Israel since May 15, the army said, killing two civilians, wounding more than 20 and sending hundreds fleeing from the southern town of Sderot that has borne the brunt of the fire.

In Lebanon, the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Helweh, in the south of the country, became transformed into the second major battleground between the Lebanese army and Islamic militants who had found it possible to burrow into the camps after the recognizable political organizations in the camps– Fateh, Hamas, the PLO– lost control of portions of them.
Violence sows violence. Rule by military occupation is an oppressive form of administrative and structural violence and must be brought to a speedy end, wherever it is found. Four-plus years in Iraq… 40 years in Palestine… It is more than enough!
It is time for Mr. Ban Ki-moon to do something bold, visionary, and serious about bringing all the relevant parties to an authoritative Middle East peace conference at which the speedy and complete end of both these military occupations can be negotiated.
The inescapable fact of the deep political linkage between the situations in Iraq and Palestine was clearly recognized by the authors of the Iraq Study Group (Baker-Hamilton) report. They urged the speedy re-activation of Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy as an essential aid to de-escalating the tensions in Iraq. Since the ISG report came out last December, Pres. Bush has taken several actions that indicate he is “backing into” (or at least, towards) implementing several of its recommendations– though he reviled it at the time. But the one recommendation he truly does not seem to be heading toward at all is the one regarding the need for speedy and effective Palestinian-Israeli diplomacy…
In May, instead of welcoming and seeking to build on the Saudis’ achievement in wining a ‘National Unity Government’ agreement between the two major Palestinian organizations, the Bushites started working very actively and belligerently behind the scenes to try to torpedo the agreement.
It is tragic, too, that though the tide of opinion in the US Congress has finally started to turn toward a speedy and complete US withdrawal from Iraq, and therefore the ending of the US’s occupation of the country, there has been no similar groundswell of political forces in favor of ending Israel’s parallel occupation of Palestine…
Rule by foreign military occupation: An extremely un-democratic and anti-humanitarian form of rule, wherever it is found. End it.

Bush’s new generals in Iraq

    Note to readers: This week I started a new arrangement whereby I shall be cross-posting some JWN posts to “The Notion”, a group blog hosted by the venerable New-York-based mag, “The Nation.” My goal is to disseminate my writing more broadly, and bring some more readers back here to JWN. JWN is still absolutely my primary blog. I’ll be putting a lot more things here than I send over there, and also paying a lot more attention to the comments discussions here than there.

    Anyway, I posted an early, ways shorter version of this post over at “The Notion” shortly before noon. (One of their requirements is that my posts there be much shorter than many of my posts here turn out to be… Including the present one.)

    So anyway, I’ll see how it goes. I just want to assure stalwart JWN folks that my main place is still right here. (And I far prefer the comments discussions here.)

Several people have recently written fairly glowing accounts of the “brainy”
and essentially anti-inflammatory role the US military’s new command team
in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus and his number two, Lt.-Gen. Ray Odierno
, may bring to their work there.  Okay, to be fair, most of these accounts
have centered on Petraeus– who has, I should note, long cultivated his relationship
with the press.  Thus, we have had
Juan Cole

:  “Petraeus is among the real experts on counter-insurgency, and did
a fine job… when he was in charge of Mosul”; and
Trudy Rubin

: “one of the Army’s smartest and most creative generals”, and many others…

However, very few of these people in Petraeus’s personal cheering section
seem to have dug much deeper– either into Petraeus’s own strategic thought,
as reflected in the
new counter-insurgency manual

he helped write during his latest gig as commander of the army’s “Combined
Arms Center” in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; or into the professional record
of the man who will be in charge of day-to-day operations in Iraq under his
leadership, Ray Odierno

A first stab at understanding what Odierno might bring to his new job should
start with the record of his service as commander of the 4th Infantry Division
during its time in Iraq, March 2003 through April 2004.  The WaPo’s
Thom Ricks wrote a lot about that at the time, and has included a lot of
information about Odierno in his recent book
Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq

 If you have a copy of the book, then go first to pp. 232-4, and then
to pp.279-91.  If you don’t have a copy, you could go to that
link there, and do a “Search inside the book” for either “Odierno” or “H
& I”.  

H&I, short for “Harrassment and Interdiction”, was just one of the aggressive
tactics Odierno used in the portion of the Sunni Triangle where the 4th ID
was operating…

On p. 234,  Ricks refers to an article Odierno later published in
Field Artillery

He wrote that he often responded with heavy firepower: “We used
our Paladins [155 millimeter self-propelled howitzer systems] the entire
time we were there,” he said [probably, “wrote”, not “said” ~HC]. 
“Most nights we fired H&I fires… what I call ‘proactive’ counter-fire.”
 His conclusion was that “artillery plays a significant role in counter-insurgency
operations.”  That assertion is at odds with the great body of successful
counterinsurgency practice, which holds that firepower should be as restrained
as possible, which is difficult to do with the long-range, indirect fire
of artillery.

It should go without saying that there is no such thing as “counter-“fire
that is “proactive”, i.e., pre-emptive.  Basically, what Odierno was
writing about there was a mode of operating inside Iraq that included going
around firing wildly with some pretty heavy artillery pieces simply to “harrass”
and, often pre-emptively, “interdict” any suspected or possibly even quite
imaginary opponents.  (Okay, that was just about  the same thing
that Bush did in ordering the whole invasion of Iraq, in the first place.
 To that extent, we could certainly note the unity of approach between
the commander-in-chief and Ray Odierno, at that time.)

Over the pages that followed that quote, Ricks also writes a lot about the
lethal, esclatory excesses committed by one of the brigade commanders working
under Odierno in the 4th ID, Col. David Hogg.  That portion of the book
is worth reading, too.

On p.232-3, Ricks writes of the 4th ID under Odierno,

Again and again, internal Army reports and commanders in iterviews
said that this unit– a heavy armored division, despite its name– used ham-fisted
approaches that may have appeared to pacify its area in the short term, but
in the process alienated large parts of the population.

“The 4th ID was bad,” said one Army intelligence officer who worked with
them.  “These guys are looking for a fight,” he remembered thinking.
 “I saw so many instances of abuses of civilians, intimidating civilians,
our jaws dropped.”

“Fourth ID fueled the insurgency,” added an Army psychological operations

“they are going through neighborhoods, knocking on doors at two in the morning
without actionable intelligence,” said a senior officer.  “That’s how
you create new insurgents.”

A general who served in Iraq, speaking on background, said flatly, “The 4th
ID– what they did was a crime.”

So here’s my question: Why on earth should we be expected to believe that
Ray Odierno– a man who spent the vast majority of his career rising up inside
the “massive land force” portions of the US Army– has had a complete character/professional
makeover since April 2004, and that he is now going to go into Iraq with
Petraeus and conduct any kind of a “brainy”, culturally and politically sensitive
counter-insurgency campaign?

Especially, if we consider Odierno’s record alongside the content in the
new counter-insurgency

that Petraeus has just helped author along with a Marines general.  (Ricks’s
book makes quite clear that at the beginning of the current US-Iraq war,
the US Marines were generally much better at counter-insurgency than the
Army… Mainly because the Marines have always planned to operate in smaller
units and “live with the people” as much as possible, while throughout the
Cold War the Army had become accustomed, in Europe, to operating in very
large unites, with very large weapons, and living in a very large and comfortable
encampments…  To that extent, for Petraeus to work on this new manual
with a Marines general iindicates that he was trying, a little belatedly,
to get some of the Marines’ parctices and lessons systeamtized also for the

In today’s WaPo, David Ignatius came close to joining the “cheering
Petraeus” gang in

column, in which his lead was this:

What makes sense in Iraq? The political debate is becoming
sharply polarized again, as President Bush campaigns for a new “surge” strategy.
But some useful military guideposts can be found in a new field manual of
counterinsurgency warfare prepared by the general who is about to take command
of U.S. forces in Baghdad.

Picking up on the widespread  “Petraeus as brainiac” theme, Ignatius
quotes approvingly from the quote– from an anoymous Special Forces officer–
that’s the epigraph at the head of Chapter 1: “”Counterinsurgency is not
just thinking man’s warfare — it is the graduate level of war.”

Ignatius also writes,

My favorite part of the manual, which I suspect Petraeus had a
big hand in drafting, is a section titled “Paradoxes of Counterinsurgency
Operations.” The headings give the flavor of these unconventional ideas:
“Sometimes, the More You Protect Your Force, the Less Secure You May Be.”
(Green Zone residents, please note: “If military forces remain in their compounds,
they lose touch with the people, appear to be running scared, and cede the
initiative to the insurgents.”) “Sometimes Doing Nothing Is the Best Reaction.”
“Some of the Best Weapons for Counterinsurgents Do Not Shoot.” And this military
version of the Zen riddle: “The More Successful the Counterinsurgency Is,
the Less Force Can Be Used and the More Risk Must Be Accepted.” (As the host
nation takes control, “Soldiers and Marines may also have to accept more
risk to maintain involvement with the people.”)

The abiding lesson of this manual comes in one of Petraeus’s paradoxes,
and it ought to be engraved as the cornerstone of U.S. policy going forward,
regardless of whether there is a troop surge: “The Host Nation Doing Something
Tolerably Is Normally Better than Us Doing It Well.” In making this
point, Petraeus cites the godfather of counterinsurgency warriors, Gen. Creighton
Abrams, who said when he was U.S. commander in Vietnam in 1971: ” We can’t
run this thing. . . . They’ve got to run it.”

For my part, I’ve spent some time reading the whole of that crucial, doctrine-defining
first chapter of the manual… And it so happens I have made a few notes
on it, which I shall attach to this post in table form, below.

Bottom lines:  

1. Petraeus and his co-authors were spelling out a doctrine
for situations– which perhaps they see as occurring many places in the future,
in addition to Iraq and Afghanistan– in which the US military will be helping
friendly host governments to battle local counter-insurgencies.  (None
or almost none of the examples cited in Ch. 1 related to Afghanistan.)

2.  The doctrine assumes a wide permission for the US military to “eliminate”
any “extremists” that it judges to be violent and/or unwilling ever to reconcile
with the host government.

3.  The doctrine asserts that the US military commanders in any such
situation should lead the whole “COIN” effort, subsuming the efforts of local
US embassy staff, NGOs, and even the host government under their leadership.

4.  The manual attempts to engage with fundamental issues in democratic
theory like “the consent of the governed”, the  primacy of political
control over the military
, and national sovereignty.  However,
the US military is what it is; and the manual importantly flunks all these
conceptual challenges.

Final bottom line:  Petraus may have tried very hard both to be a brainiac
and to produce a doctrine that allows a foreign occupying force to suppress
the forces of a deeply rooted and very multifacted national resistance movement–
and to do so in a way that looks a little “democratic” and senstive… But
he fails.

What’s more, if it’s going to be Ray Odierno who implements this COIN doctrine
in Iraq, then its failure in practice is likely to swift and fairly decisive.

The table containing my comments on the COIN manual text follows:

Continue reading “Bush’s new generals in Iraq”