Commentary

NYT "Mystery" Oped Calls for More Afghan Civilian Deaths

On Thursday the New York Times made an astonishing editorial choice, for which its editors owe the public an explanation: it published an op-ed by an obscure and poorly identified author attacking General Stanley McChrystal for his directive last July that air strikes in Afghanistan be authorized only under "very limited and prescribed conditions." The op-ed denounced an "overemphasis on civilian protection" and charged that "air support to American and Afghan forces has been all but grounded by concerns about civilian casualties."

The author of the op-ed, Lara M. Dadkhah, is identified by the Times merely as "an intelligence analyst." In the body of the op-ed, the author identifies herself as "employed by a defense consulting company," without telling us which company, or what her relationship might be to actors who stand to lose financially if the recognition that killing civilians is bad for the United States were to affect expenditures by the United States military.

As Glenn Greenwald asks in Salon:

 

We've Caught the Taliban Chief! Can We Go Home Now?

How the U.S. handles the Pakistani arrest of the top Afghan Taliban military commander, and the aftermath of the U.S. military assault in Marja, may have a decisive impact on whether we get to withdraw our troops from Afghanistan soon, or in the far-off future. Some analysts - like Gareth Porter - think the key motivation of the present U.S. military escalation is political in the bad sense: in order to negotiate with the Afghan Taliban, first the U.S. has to "show that nobody pushes us around," just as President Bush had to escalate militarily in Iraq before he could cut deals with the Sunni Awakening and the Mahdi Army militia. It's a grim world in which the most powerful country kills people to look tough; but right now, the way to minimize human suffering is for the U.S. to take advantage of recent "successes" to take a high road towards going home.

The arrest of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar could cut two ways, the New York Times notes. While it's obviously a psychological blow, at the least, against the Afghan Taliban, it could complicate efforts to reach a peace deal:

 

Team America Kills Five Kids in Marja

"Civilian casualties are inevitable," said U.S. officials before launching their weekend military assault on Marja in southern Afghanistan, and in this case, they were telling the truth. Yesterday, the New York Times reports, a U.S. rocket strike "hit a compound crowded with Afghan civilians... killing at least 10 people, including 5 children."

What justification has been provided by the government of the United States for its decision to kill these five children?

It will be argued that the government of the United States did not decide to kill these five children specifically, and that's absolutely true. The U.S. government did not decide to kill these particular children; it only decided to kill some Afghan civilians, chosen randomly from Marja's civilian population, when it decided to launch its military assault. These five children simply had the misfortune of holding losing tickets in a lottery in which they did not choose to participate.

Recall the U.S. government's instructions to Marja's residents before the assault:

 

Afghan villagers should stay inside and "keep their heads down" when thousands of U.S. Marines launch a massive assault on a densely-populated district in coming days, NATO's civilian representative to Afghanistan said Tuesday.

[...]

NATO forces have decided to advise civilians in Marjah not to leave their homes, although they say they do not know whether the assault will lead to heavy fighting.

These five kids were staying inside, as instructed. It didn't save them from U.S. rockets. Perhaps they weren't keeping their heads down.

Afghan Civilians Imperiled by US/NATO Assault in Marjah

The United States and NATO are poised to launch a major assault in the Marjah district in southern Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of Afghan civilians are in imminent peril. Will President Obama and Congress act to protect civilians in Marjah, in compliance with the obligations of the United States under the laws of war?

Few civilians have managed to escape the Afghan town of Marjah ahead of a planned US/NATO assault, raising the risk of civilian casualties, McClatchy News reports. "If [NATO forces] don't avoid large scale civilian casualties, given the rhetoric about protecting the population, then no matter how many Taliban are routed, the Marjah mission should be considered a failure," said an analyst with the International Crisis Group.

Under the laws of war, the US and NATO - who have told civilians not to flee - bear an extra responsibility to control their fire and avoid tactics that endanger civilians, Human Rights Watch notes. "I suspect that they believe they have the ability to generally distinguish between combatants and civilians," said Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch. "I would call that into question, given their long history of mistakes, particularly when using air power. Whatever they do, they have an obligation to protect civilians and make adequate provision to alleviate any crisis that arises," he said. "It is very much their responsibility."

Save Democracy in Japan

Voters in Japan have spoken. They don't want the U.S. military Futenma base in Okinawa.

But instead of respecting the will of the majority of Japanese voters, U.S. officials have tried to bully the newly elected reformist Japanese government into reneging on its election promise to remove the US military base from Okinawa.

Since, as the world knows, the United States of America stands for "promoting democracy," why don't we promote democracy by getting our base out of Okinawa like Japanese voters want?

Last summer, Japan had a national election. Yukio Hatoyama, the new prime minister whose coalition won the election, campaigned on a promise to move the US military's Futenma base off Okinawa. But US officials pressured the Japanese government to break its election pledge, warning the Japanese government of "serious consequences" if it did not accept the base, the Washington Post reported. Threats by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates caused Japanese news media to describe him as a "bully," the New York Times reported.

If Michael Moore Would Run for President

If Michael Moore would run for President in 2012, it could be a game-changer in American political life. For starters, it would likely shorten the war in Afghanistan by at least six months, and the American and Afghan lives that would be saved would alone justify the effort.

If Moore announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination now, and followed up that announcement with a vigorous campaign focused on the struggles of rank-and-file Democrats, it would re-mobilize rank-and-file Democratic activists. It's possible that he might even win; but win or lose, the campaign could arrest and reverse the current rightward, pro-corporate trajectory of our national politics, which is the predictable consequence of the failure of Team Obama to deliver on its promises from 2008, which in turn was the predictable consequence of the doomed effort to try to serve two masters: Wall Street and Main Street.

Like few people with his political views, Michael Moore needs no introduction to the Democratic primary electorate. To most rank-and-file Democrats, the name Michael Moore stands for a set of progressive populist ideas: health care for all, workers' rights, opposition to Wall Street's stranglehold on Washington, closing down the wars of empire and bringing our troops home.

In 1984 and 1988, the Jesse Jackson campaigns showed what could be accomplished running a populist, issue-based, movement campaign in the Democratic primaries and caucuses. In 1984, Jackson got more than 3 million votes, a fifth of the total, and won 5 primaries and caucuses. In 1988, he got almost 7 million votes and won seven primaries and four caucuses; at one point, following his victory in the Michigan caucus, he was ahead in delegates.

Eat Your Spinach: Time for Peace Talks in Afghanistan

In the last week the New York Times and Inter Press Service have reported that the Obama Administration is having an internal debate on whether to supports talks with senior Afghan Taliban leaders, including Mullah Muhammad Omar, as a means of ending the war in Afghanistan. Senior officials like Vice President Biden are said to be more open to reaching out because they believe it will help shorten the war.

Wouldn't it be remarkable if this remained merely an "internal debate" within the Obama Administration? Wouldn't you expect that the part of public opinion that wants the war to end would try to intervene in this debate on behalf of talks in order to end the war?

As an administration official told the New York Times,

"Today, people agree that part of the solution for Afghanistan is going to include an accommodation with the Taliban, even above low- and middle-level fighters."

And in fact, US and British officials have been saying for months that the "endgame" in Afghanistan includes a negotiated political settlement with the Afghan Taliban.

Now, suppose you tell Mom that you want to have ice cream. And Mom says, you can have ice cream when you've eaten your spinach. Wouldn't you eat your spinach? If you don't eat your spinach now, you didn't want ice cream very badly.

Jesse Jackson, Danny Glover, Harry Belafonte: Speed Aid to Haiti

Reverend Jesse Jackson, Danny Glover, and Harry Belafonte, together with Haiti NGOs, peace groups, and Latin America scholars, have written to Congress urging that the delivery of medical aid and other urgently needed aid to Haiti be speeded up and prioritized over the deployment of U.S. troops.

The letter is here.

An article in the Miami Herald is here.

AWOL from the SOTU: Peace, Reconciliation, and Debt

On foreign policy, while the President said some good things, he missed key opportunities to say better things. In particular, he missed opportunities to promote reconciliation as an essential way of ending our wars and promoting peace. In speaking about U.S. domestic politics, the President is eloquent in his efforts to promote reconciliation, but he seems to have lost his voice in applying these ideas to our foreign policy.

The President renewed his promise to end the war in Iraq, including his promise to have all U.S. combat troops out by August, and to bring all of our troops home from Iraq. He also said we will support the Iraqi government as they hold elections, and partner with Iraqis to promote peace and prosperity. But there was a key omission here: the word "reconciliation." Hundreds of candidates have been disqualified from running in the March parliamentary election; Sunni and secular candidates have been particularly targeted. If this move is allowed to stand, reconciliation in Iraq will be imperiled, the civil war could be reignited, and Iraq's relationship with its predominantly Sunni Arab neighbors would be further strained. The U.S. is working to overturn the exclusion; by refering more explicitly to those efforts, the President could have promoted Iraqi reconciliation.

Beverly Bell: "7.0 on the Horror Scale - Notes on the Haitian Earthquake"

Following is the log of Beverly Bell during the first ten days after the earthquake in Haiti.
Beverly first went to Haiti as a teenager. Since then she has dedicated most of her life to working for democracy, women's rights, and economic justice in that country. She founded or co-founded six organizations and networks dedicated exclusively to supporting the Haitian people, including the Lambi Fund of Haiti. She worked for both presidents Jean-Bertrand Aristide and Rene Preval and wrote Walking on Fire: Haitian Women's Story of Survival and Resistance (Cornell University Press, 2001). Today she is associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and runs the economic justice group Other Worlds.


7.0 ON THE HORROR SCALE
NOTES ON THE HAITIAN EARTHQUAKE

BEVERLY BELL, OTHER WORLDS COLLABORATIVE, NEW ORLEANS

January 12, 2010

4:12 p.m. 7.0 EARTHQUAKE ROCKS HAITI. I read this email subject line several times. My brain can't make sense of it.
I blast the following message in Creole out to dozens of Haitian friends: How is it that the worst always goes right to Ayiti Cheri - not just human-created crises like poverty and avoidable disease, but also natural phenomenon? May as many as possible - including all of your people - be spared from death and further suffering.
Sharing anguish and love, Bev

January 13

11:05 a.m. Looking for mindless little tasks to do today since I can't manage anything big... Can't stop shaking or crying, barely slept last night, can't eat. Been fighting the urge to vomit since yesterday afternoon.