Categorized | Middle East

A. Loewenstein Online Newsletter



US needs Pakistan like a fish needs a three-seater

Posted: 09 May 2011 12:29 AM PDT

After the recent US murder of Osama Bin Laden – was Pakistan warned about the attack? Some almost certainly were but denied it to give the impression that Pakistan wasn’t colluding with the super-power (which they are, in a massive way) – where’s the relationship likely to go now?

Lawrence Wright in the New Yorker gives a good overview of the situation and reveals the typically inept application of US foreign policy:

It’s the end of the Second World War, and the United States is deciding what to do about two immense, poor, densely populated countries in Asia. America chooses one of the countries, becoming its benefactor. Over the decades, it pours billions of dollars into that country’s economy, training and equipping its military and its intelligence services. The stated goal is to create a reliable ally with strong institutions and a modern, vigorous democracy. The other country, meanwhile, is spurned because it forges alliances with America’s enemies.

The country not chosen was India, which “tilted” toward the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Pakistan became America’s protégé, firmly supporting its fight to contain Communism. The benefits that Pakistan accrued from this relationship were quickly apparent: in the nineteen-sixties, its economy was an exemplar. India, by contrast, was a byword for basket case. Fifty years then went by. What was the result of this social experiment?

India has become the state that we tried to create in Pakistan. It is a rising economic star, militarily powerful and democratic, and it shares American interests. Pakistan, however, is one of the most anti-American countries in the world, and a covert sponsor of terrorism. Politically and economically, it verges on being a failed state. And, despite Pakistani avowals to the contrary, America’s worst enemy, Osama bin Laden, had been hiding there for years—in strikingly comfortable circumstances—before U.S. commandos finally tracked him down and killed him, on May 2nd.

American aid is hardly the only factor that led these two countries to such disparate outcomes. But, at this pivotal moment, it would be a mistake not to examine the degree to which U.S. dollars have undermined our strategic relationship with Pakistan—and created monstrous contradictions within Pakistan itself.

In 2009, Senators Richard Lugar and John Kerry, recognizing that American military aid had given the Army and the I.S.I. disproportionate power in Pakistan, helped pass legislation in Congress sanctioning seven and a half billion dollars in civilian assistance, to be disbursed over a period of five years. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, apparently at the direction of the military, flew to Washington, and insisted that his country would not be micromanaged. So far, less than a hundred and eighty million dollars of that money has been spent, because the civilian projects require oversight and checks on corruption. The Pakistani military, meanwhile, submits expense claims every month to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad; according to a report in the Guardian, receipts are not provided—or requested.

Middle East revolutions happened despite of us

Posted: 08 May 2011 10:36 PM PDT

The social and political significance of the ongoing Arab revolutions are powerful.

Last Friday I spoke in Sydney alongside insightful American reporter Matthew Cassel – who recently was on the front line of the Egyptian revolution and is soon to work for Al-Jazeera English – and Australian journalist Kate Ausburn. It was a fascinating night of discussion and provocation at the opening of the Resistance conference.

Summary of my points? Israel is on the wrong side of history (determined to oppress one people in the name of “Jewish democracy”) and the corporate media’s role in amplifying US foreign policy should be challenged and rejected.

Here’s what I said:

Julian Assange talks about Middle East uprisings and why Wikileaks still matters

Posted: 08 May 2011 10:22 PM PDT


Liberal hawks should hang heads in shame over Libya

Posted: 08 May 2011 09:42 PM PDT

The Western-assisted war in Libya isn’t going too well. So much for a quick victory against Gaddafi forces. The utterly confused strategy, even with US-led bombing runs, has not overwhelmed government troops.

Gary Younge writes in the Guardian that such missions should force “liberal interventionists” who backed this war to question (yet again!) their belief in our governments to carry out noble wars without crimes and errors:

The problem is not mission creep, it’s the mission. There are only so many times their governments can reasonably keep doing the same thing and expect different results and there can be only so many times liberal hawks can “trust” their governments to do differently.

Despite Obama’s initial foreboding, Libya is not Iraq. It came with legal sanction, European insistence, Arab cover, a credible, if not exactly viable, resistance on the ground, and the immediate threat of massacre. Iraq had none of those.

UN support makes the bombing legal, it does not make it legitimate. This is no mere semantic matter. Just because something is within the law does not make it a good idea. International law should be a prerequisite for action, not the basis for it. The Iraq war would still have been a disaster even if the UN had endorsed it. It would just have been a legal disaster.

One of the more pathetic aspects of this misadventure is how it has exposed the discrepancy between their imperialist rhetoric and postcolonial decline. Obama hoped the US would play a “supporting role”; in reality it is centre stage. Indeed the show could not go on without Washington. However, even at this early stage, American domestic support for this war is fragile. Most believe the US should not be involved and that it does not have a clear strategy – and, in any case, they are not that interested. This is not a question of the ends justifying the means. As both Iraq and Afghanistan have shown, the west does not have the military or political means to achieve its ends even on its own terms.

The Libyan rebels’ demands are important. But solidarity does not involve unquestioningly forfeiting responsibility for one’s own actions to another, but rather it is a process of mutual engagement demanding an assessment of what is both prudent and possible. It is now clear that the Libyan uprising, like other revolutions in the region, could not succeed militarily.

Imagining an America that doesn’t invade and occupy

Posted: 08 May 2011 06:23 PM PDT

This is a moving piece. Written by US journalist Michael Hastings (a friend and colleague) about the real opportunity that should be taken with the death of Osama Bin Laden.

An imperial nation that continues to believe it can rule by brute force and invade Muslim nations is delusional:

Osama bin Laden’s actions, and our reactions to them, have defined my adult life. I was in New York City on September 11th, 2001, a senior in college. After the towers collapsed, I walked 95 blocks to get as close to Ground Zero as possible, so I could see first-hand the destruction that would define our future. By the time I got to Baghdad four years later, very few Americans believed that the people we were fighting in Iraq posed a threat to the United States. Even the military press didn’t bother lying about it anymore, referring to our enemies as “insurgents” rather than “terrorists.” A woman I loved was killed in Baghdad in January 2007 — Al Qaeda in Iraq took credit for it — and my younger brother fought for 15 months as an infantry platoon leader, earning a Bronze Star. Other friends, both American and Iraqi, suffered their own losses: homes, limbs, loved ones.

By the fall of 2008, when I had moved on to Afghanistan, bin Laden and Al Qaeda were barely footnotes to what we were doing there. “It’s not about bin Laden,” a military intelligence official told me. “It’s about fixing the mess.” This added to the growing despair Americans felt about the war: If it wasn’t about bin Laden, then what the fuck was it about? Why were we fighting wars that took us no closer to the man responsible for unleashing the horror of September 11th? A top-ranking military official told me last year that he didn’t think we’d ever get bin Laden. Yet each time our presidents and generals told us why we were still fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, they always used bin Laden and September 11th as an excuse. As long as they insisted on fighting these wars we didn’t need to fight, the wound to the American psyche wasn’t allowed to heal.

Right from the start, the idea of the War on Terror was a fuzzy one at best. We were promised there would be no “battlefields and beachheads,” as President George W. Bush put it. It would be a secret war, conducted mostly in the dark, no holds barred. And that’s how it might have played had we got bin Laden early on, dead or alive. But that’s not what happened. Instead, we went on a rampage in the full light of day. We got our battlefields and beachheads after all. Kabul, Kandahar, Baghdad, Fallujah, Ramadi, Najaf, Mosul, Kirkuk, Basra, Kabul and Kandahar again — the list went on and on. We couldn’t find bin Laden, so we went after anyone who looked like him, searching for other monsters to put down: the Taliban, Saddam Hussein, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

In the end, bin Laden got the carnage he had hoped to unleash. Nearly 3,000 Americans were killed on September 11th. Since then, 6,022 American servicemen and women have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more than 42,000 have been wounded. More than 3,000 allied soldiers have died, along with some 1,200 private contractors, aid workers and journalists. Most of the killing didn’t take place in battles — it was in the dirty metrics of suicide bombs, death squads, checkpoint killings, torture chambers and improvised explosive devices. Civilians on their way to work or soldiers driving around in circles, looking for an enemy they could seldom find. We may never know how many innocent civilians were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan, but estimates suggest that more than 160,000 have died so far. Al Qaeda, by contrast, has lost very few operatives in the worldwide conflagration — perhaps only “scores,” as President Obama said this month. In truth, Al Qaeda never had many members to begin with. Not since Gavrilo Princip assassinated the Archduke Ferdinand, setting off World War I, has a conspiracy undertaken by so few been felt by so many.

After learning of bin Laden’s death, I congratulated my friends in the military and the intelligence community, tweeted my appreciation to President Obama and his team, then sat back and listened to the horns honking outside my apartment in Washington. I thought of all the dead, and what adding this fucker’s name to the list actually means. My hope — and it is not one I have much hope in — is that our political leaders will use bin Laden’s death to put an end to the madness he provoked. Withdraw our remaining troops from Iraq, a country that never posed a threat to us. End the war in Afghanistan, where we will spend $120 billion this year to prevent the country from becoming a hideout for Al Qaeda. As bin Laden’s death makes clear, our true enemies will always find a hideout, no matter how many people we torture and bribe and kill. For the past 10 years, we have used the name Osama bin Laden to justify our wars. Perhaps, now that he is dead, we can use it in the cause of peace.

Arab democracy bad for Israel (says prominent US Zionist)

Posted: 08 May 2011 06:01 PM PDT

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has spent his life protecting poor little Israel and writing columns from his ivory tower. His latest piece proves what many people have been saying for a long time; Zionism cannot thrive, let alone survive, with real democracy in the Middle East. What does that say about supposed Jewish self-determination?

Have no illusions: The main goal of the rejectionists today is to lock Israel into the West Bank — so the world would denounce it as some kind of Jewish apartheid state, with a Jewish minority permanently ruling a Palestinian majority, when you combine Israel’s Arabs and the West Bank Arabs. With a more democratic Arab world, where everyone can vote, that would be a disaster for Israel. It may be unavoidable, but it would be insane for Israel to make it so by failing to aggressively pursue a secure withdrawal option.

Obama expresses “satisfaction” with assassination of Bin Laden

Posted: 08 May 2011 04:58 PM PDT

America is a Cowboys and Indians culture:

STEVE KROFT: Mr. President, was this the most satisfying week of your Presidency?

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, it was certainly one of the most satisfying weeks not only for my Presidency, but I think for the United States since I’ve been President.


Solving world’s problems requires first identifying them

Posted: 08 May 2011 04:51 PM PDT

Why should we believe media over OBL post WMD lies?

Posted: 08 May 2011 06:46 AM PDT

The risk of implosion of the Syrian state

Posted: 08 May 2011 12:02 AM PDT

Robert Fisk paints a troubling picture of a nation that needs fundamental reform:

According to historian Farouk Mardam-Bey, for example, Syria is “a tribal regime, which by being a kind of mafia clan and by exercising the cult of personality, can be compared to the Libyan regime”, which can never reform itself because reform will bring about the collapse of the Baath party which will always ferociously defend itself. “It has placed itself – politically and juridically – upon a war footing,” Mardam-Bey says of its struggle with Israel, “without the slightest intention of actually going to war.”

Burhan Ghalioun makes the point that “the existence of the regime is like an invasion of the state, a colonisation of society” where “hundreds of intellectuals are forbidden to travel, 150,000 have gone into exile and 17,000 have either disappeared or been imprisoned for expressing their opinion… It is impossible (for President Bashar al-Assad) to say (like Mubarak and Ben Ali) ‘I will not prolong or renew my mandate’ like other presidents have pretended to do – because Syria is, for Assad, his private family property, the word ‘country’ is not part of the vocabulary.”

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