June 30, 2011
Another predictable speech from Obama, in other words, on a day that three more U.S. troops died in an Iraqi combat situation.
Obviously the White House wasn’t about to challenge a status quo that has cocooned the former Defense Secretary in glory. Polishing his legacy was the mission objective. Hailing Gates as “a humble American patriot; a man of common sense and decency; quite simply, one of our nation’s finest public servants,” Obama told Gates that he’s, “not only one of the longest-serving Secretaries of Defense in American history, but it is also clear that you’ve been one of the best.”
We wouldn’t have been surprised if Obama praised Gates for his policy in Yemen, where he openly admitted to having none. Thus we cannot be surprised, even if his words delivered a momentary shock, when Obama told the next generation of American leaders to be like Robert Gates.
“So today we not only pay tribute to a remarkable public servant; we celebrate the principles for which he served and for which our nation stands. I believe the life of Bob Gates is a lesson, especially to young Americans, a lesson that public service is an honorable calling; that we can pass our country, better and stronger, to those who follow.”
Compiling an accurate image of Gates isn’t a safe task. The vast distortion field created by Washington establishment and U.S. media has left many Americans believing Gates is everything they say: a realist, bi-partisan, humble. His legitimate campaign for wounded veterans has created an impression of good and sensitive governance, and his crusade against Pentagon spending won him wide support within the Democratic party. He supposedly oversaw two successful surges and withdrawals in Iraq and Afghanistan, and realigned U.S. foreign policy from the Middle East to China and the “multi-polar world” at large.
However Gates’s touch is far from golden once the government and media’s blinders are removed. In seeking to extend U.S. force levels in Iraq past 2011, Gates has already set the stage for a similar outcome in Afghanistan. After being hailed as a “compromiser” - backing Obama’s surge of 30,000 troops over 40,000 and now bringing them home three months sooner than General David Petraeus requested - Gates wanted another year to “break the Taliban’s momentum.” He served as a key driver in extending the war, not a brake system, and even admitted that Afghanistan's surge will run three times as long as Iraq’s.
A curtailing of Pentagon spending also dovetails into the future of America’s military: Special Forces and automated warfare. Although hailed as a way to keep America in hostile environments without deploying large numbers of ground forces, this future phase of warfare is becoming more detached from the local populations. The foundations of U.S. strategy against al-Qaeda remain suspect in every peripheral network. In North Africa, the Pentagon remains tethered to a suspect Algerian government and faces many of Afghanistan’s non-military challenges in Mali, Mauritania, Niger and the rest of the Sahel. The African Union’s campaign against al-Shabab is on the upswing in Somalia, yet the international community has now backed itself into a dependent relationship with Yoweri Museveni, Uganda’s president of 26 years and a current target of domestic unrest.
The Obama administration’s meltdown in Yemen can be traced directly to Gates and Petraeus, who secretly authorized and negotiated Obama’s military escalation with Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Having promoted Petraeus all the way to CIA Director and replacing himself with the drone-happy Leon Panetta, Gates has crafted a reckless policy for engaging al-Qaeda’s global nodes. Osama bin Laden’s death empowered their belief that pinpoint raids and drones are the answer to every asymmetric military threat facing America. This theory reaches a workable level of practicality when backstopping political action, which U.S. officials claim to understand. Yet as Gates voiced his objections over Libya, he passively supported Saudi Arabia's invasion of Bahrain and endorsed one-dimensional military operations in Yemen. Such base counter-terrorism is doomed to fail in the long-term fight against al-Qaeda.
Robert Gates leaves the Obama administration as one of the most distinguished Defense Secretaries in U.S. history. He also leaves the White House and Pentagon on the wrong side of the Arab Spring, after promoting successors to continue Riyadh's counter-revolution. Thus it is difficult to understand how the Pentagon is securely positioned for the future, for a potential 5-10 year cycle of revolution in the Middle East and Africa. America doesn’t need another Robert Gates or Leon Panetta - it needs minds that sincerely understand and relate to the Arab Spring. Minds that will aid the revolutions instead of creating new enemies.
And neither the American or Muslim youth need Obama to corrupt them.
Thus the “responsible end” was born. It doesn’t seem very responsible, though, to affix this lodestar to Iraq. Not even with the country’s simmering war running at the bottom of U.S. public conscious.
Three more combat fatalities have brought America’s death toll to 14 in June, plus another non-combat casualty. While a “low” 62 U.S. troops were killed in Afghanistan, compared to 103 in June 2010, Iraq has witnessed its highest casualties since June 2009. 31 U.S. troops in total have been killed since combat operations “ended” in August 2010. Before a lull in the current month - “only” 20 Iraqi security forces and 42 civilians lost their lives in insurgent attacks - over a thousand Iraqis have been killed since Obama redeployed the bulk of U.S. forces.
Iraq is stabler in comparison to the civil war that America nearly induced. U.S. policy-makers claim to be satisfied with their results. Yet the end of America’s second war in Iraq is far from the responsible vision they were hoping for.
The cruel upside stabs a second dagger into Obama’s “responsible withdrawal.” Naturally this theory is imbued with controversy, but the U.S. government exploits its own casualties - civilian or military - to further military expansion. An uptick in death can only be explained by one factor, according to the Pentagon. Speaking to Bloomberg, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates used his final days in office to lobby one last volley at Iran. The Obama administration's most vocal (and often the only) proponent of a troop extension in Iraq warned that Iran is intent on, “killing as many as possible in order to demonstrate to the Iraqi people that, in effect, they drove us out of Iraq at the end of the year.”
Iran is “facilitating weapons, they’re facilitating training, there’s new technology that they’re providing. They’re stepping this up, and it’s a concern.”
Impossible as it is to deny Iran’s involvement in funding proxy Shia groups in Iraq, the excuse too conveniently fits with Gates’s push to rewrite the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). Gates would prefer not to withdrawal every last troop by December, and has expressed his feelings on numerous occasions throughout the last 18 months. Baghdad had deferred for as long as possible, fearing a political crisis, but U.S. pressure has correspondingly increased. Meanwhile the Obama administration has cruised along in public, ignoring Gates’s statements and insisting the President will hold to Iraq’s SOFA.
The White House is aware that a residual force in Iraq warps Afghanistan’s time-line, which in reality is a heavier and longer challenge.
Billed a realist, Gates’s doesn’t seem to know when to quit. “They didn’t create the Arab Spring or start it,” he says of Iran, “but they are clearly trying to exploit it wherever they can.” It’s remarkable how people talk about others when they’re talking about themselves. Not only has the Obama administration exploited various revolutions in the Middle East, it’s using the Arab Spring, Afghanistan and Iraq to cancel each other out in the U.S. public sphere.
Perhaps Obama dodged the word “victory” in Afghanistan under the expectation that he could wield it when the last soldier exited Kabul. Or does he know enough to never expect a triumph?
June 29, 2011
- By a decisive 74-20 percent margin, voters approve of the president’s decision to remove roughly 30,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 2012, according to a Fox News poll released Wednesday.
- Almost all Democrats (92 percent), about three-quarters of independents (74 percent) and over half of Republicans (55 percent) approve of the president’s plan. Women (77 percent) are more likely than men (71 percent) to approve.
- In announcing his decision last Wednesday the president said that, “we are meeting our goals.” Few voters -- 15 percent -- agree with that assessment. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) think that while progress has been made, the Afghanistan mission has not yet been accomplished -- a view that spans the political spectrum. Majorities of Republicans (70 percent), Democrats (63 percent) and independents (54 percent) call the mission “incomplete.”
- Nearly half (48 percent) think the main reason was the upcoming 2012 presidential election. About one voter in four thinks the reason behind the drawdown was the U.S. can’t afford the war (24 percent). The smallest number -- 17 percent -- says the president’s main reason was he believes most U.S. goals have been achieved.
- A 59-percent majority of voters say they trust Petraeus more than Obama to decide next steps in Afghanistan. That’s twice as many as say they trust Obama more (27 percent).
- Eighty-six percent of Republicans say they trust Petraeus more to decide how to proceed, as do over half of independents (58 percent).
- Among Democrats, 49 percent say they trust the president more and 35 percent Petraeus.
June 28, 2011
Yet to those who see through Gates’s sparkling image, the Secretary came Washington with a Masters in doublespeak and leaves with a PhD.
So blunt is his pride that Gates has tacitly admitted to his own duplicity. At first glance periodic reviews appear a necessary component of successful warfare. Mission drift, theoretically, sets in between periods of static fighting, and arguing against a war review can feel counterintuitive. Although this concept is by no means new, the protracted nature of counterinsurgency inherently creates more time to fill and measure. Yet that innocent shine on the surface is a reflection of evil genius lurking underneath in shadow.
Whether by coincidence or design, Gates left his position as president of Texas A&M and returned to Washington in early 2006. Having been quoted as saying he, "had nothing to look forward to in D.C. and plenty to look forward to at A&M," Gates’s first order of business was to participate in the Congressional Iraq Study Group. He would then drop out of the panel following November’s mid-term election, freshly nominated by George Bush to succeed Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense. Combined with his personal theories to minimize opposition to unpopular wars, the experience outlined a formula that Gates immediately employed upon green-lighting Bush’s surge.
The Washington Post reports, “His primary weapon was the Defense Department review. In January 2007, as the first 30,000 surge troops were heading toward Iraq, Gates scheduled a September review to evaluate whether the new war strategy and additional troops were producing tangible progress. He employed the same tactic three years later in Afghanistan when President Obama dispatched 33,000 troops to Afghanistan.”
That war reviews are necessary isn’t a matter of debate to us. The mission and conduct of all wars must be constantly reviewed so as to conform with reality. Reviews do help administrations “determine whether the military is making progress,” and can “help reassure Congress.” Judging solely by Congressional dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, these reviews can also disappoint a wide range of individuals expecting more details. Nor does the existence of a review process guarantee an accurate impression of the war. Most opponents believe that foreign policy-makers will remain clueless regardless of how long they study Afghanistan.
The White House and Pentagon have relied on Obama’s scholarly but “engaged” persona to equate his reviews with success, no questions asked.
Gates speaks in partial truth when explaining the importance of impression management. A vital component of fourth generation warfare (4GW), nearly all U.S. counterinsurgencies have exceeded the popular expectations of time and resources. Mission creep kicks into high gear as dollars burn and the fighting rages without end, and Washington soon finds itself under intense pressure to respond on all fronts - the White House, Pentagon and Congress. Morale weakens, the insurgent's ultimate goal in removing occupying troops.
Gates says of his review system, “They give people a sense that we have actually got our hands on the steering wheel and are not just coasting.” Even if they still are.
The dark side of Gates’s politicking is thus exposed by the self-proclaimed “fly in the shadows.” As the Pentagon conducts ongoing reviews and the White House’s National Security Council meets every month to discuss war policy, his system appears most concerned with another “critical purpose: They put off critics agitating for immediate troop reductions and a major scaling back of U.S. goals. In short, they bought Gates’s commanders some precious time.”
“I have consciously used them for that purpose,” he says matter-of-factly.
More than stalling for time, sticking to an annual cycle allows the Obama administration to avoid explaining its policy in between reviews. A significant amount of drift can occur year to year and before SEALs raided Osama bin Laden’s Pakistan hideout, Afghanistan was starting to turn grim again. A series of high-profile civilian casualties had knocked General David Petraeus into defensive mode over his air-strikes and night raids. Positive Afghan opinion of NATO remained stuck in neutral, while many Afghans opposed to foreign forces saw a less stable battlefield than their Pentagon overlords. The Taliban’s spring counteroffensive had seemingly confident U.S. military officials on edge, and Karzai and Pakistan continued to work their own agenda instead of America’s.
These factors remain unchanged after bin Laden's death. If not for his daring raid, Obama would’ve had little to sell in Afghanistan besides unstable military gains. Perhaps this is why he spent less than 10 minutes explaining his “way forward” to 2015. As Obama hopped from a military base straight into gay marriage, his defense officials had already deployed to outline a time-table that will take shape over the next 18 months - based on annual reviews and international conferences.
Gates left his final mark in more ways than one “compromise” between Obama and Petraeus.
“I do worry about who comes after me,” the outgoing Secretary muses. “When I look back at the people that I think were seminal during my career, people who had bipartisan respect and were regarded as wise men after they left office—guys like George Shultz, Scowcroft, Kissinger. All those people are in their mid-80s, early 90s. Larry Eagleburger, another of that breed and a dear friend of many, many years, has just died. So I’m sort of the youngest who served in multiple administrations. But I don’t see who is coming along behind me, who has that kind of experience, and that worries me.”
Unfortunately his opponents’ brief respite won’t last long with drone-happy Leon Panetta on deck. Reviews will remain an integral tactic of manipulating U.S. expectations and public pressure in Afghanistan. And why would America’s shadow wars end if Gates is simply returning to the shadows?
Deputy Information Minister Abdo al-Janadi has already told AFP, "In this interview, Saleh will address the Yemeni people to reassure them about his health.” Likewise, Yasser al-Yamani, a senior official in Saleh's ruling General People's Congress (GPC), informed Al Arabiya, "The president is the legal and constitutional president of Yemen according to elections."
Analysis to follow when more concrete information becomes available. Primer from Bloomberg:
Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh will speak tomorrow in his first public appearance since being wounded in an attack on his presidential palace earlier this month, a member of the country’s ruling party said.
Saleh will give a televised address, Yasser Al-Yamani told Al-Arabiya television today. Abdul Karim al-Eryani, Saleh’s political adviser, said yesterday that he visited the president in Saudi Arabia and found him to be in good health, the state- run Saba news agency reported.
The president is recuperating in Saudi Arabia after being injured in a June 3 attack on his compound in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, leaving Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansur Hadi in charge. Pro-democracy protesters have been calling for Saleh to step down since January, leading to deadly clashes between activists and security forces.
Saleh has ruled over Yemen for 32 years. His son heads the country’s special forces, the Republican Guard. Violence has escalated since late May after Saleh refused to sign an accord with the opposition brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council requiring him to step down within 30 days and hand power over to Hadi in exchange for immunity from prosecution.
Saleh’s government has said the rising social unrest threatens to strengthen al-Qaeda, a concern also expressed by the U.S. Yemeni forces killed about 20 suspected members of al- Qaeda during clashes in the southern province of Abyan, Ahmed Ghalib al-Rahwi, the provincial deputy governor, said in a telephone interview June 21.
Speaking in his capacity as commander of the Republican Guard, Ahmad Ali Abdullah Saleh said June 26 that the armed forces are committed to implementing the directives of Vice President Hadi, Saba reported. He added that the armed forces will continue to respond to any “hostile” actions.
June 27, 2011
The Pentagon is simply exploiting an unwanted withdrawal from Afghanistan to justify the global expansion of Special Forces and CIA operations.
Compared to the $6.7 billion America spends each month on Afghanistan, shipping $45 million to Uganda and Burundi must seem a bargain to those fed up with U.S. nation-building abroad. In some ways it is. Documents obtained by The Associated Press reveal a $145.4 million package that Pentagon officials submitted to Congress last week, a fraction of the $117 billion proposed for Afghanistan's 2011 fiscal year. AMISOM’s recent momentum against al-Shabab is further maximizing the Pentagon’s latest aid: four RQ-11 Raven mini-drones, body armor, night-vision systems, communication gear and construction equipment. An additional sum in the hundreds of millions (the exact tally is unknown because of unfulfilled commitments and local corruption) goes to training Somalia’s fledging army and sustaining AU troops in Mogadishu.
When combined with U.S. Special Forces and a heavy naval presence off the Horn of Africa, Washington has managed to keep the rest of its troops off of deadly ground. This is the way most Americans prefer their government to address al-Qaeda’s threat.
However limited funding has produced a similar outcome as Afghanistan’s heavy lifting: a corrupt government, regional confusion and military stalemate. To be clear proxy funding is a necessary component of counterinsurgency. Problems arise when this dimension overtakes the political sphere. Nation-building from the ground up - Afghanistan and Somalia being prime examples - may be impossible in practice, except counterinsurgency doesn’t necessitate nation-building so much as frequent contact and sensitive understanding to the local populace. Above this local response lies the national and international response, which supersede military operations in successfully applied COIN.
Afghanistan never witnessed such a strategy emerge from General David Petraeus’s “anaconda,” a flow-chart outlining the various ways to squeeze insurgents.
It is assumed that U.S. troops have no business in Somalia. True or not, the West needs to do more than ship equipment to fix Somalia. June experienced severe political turbulence as the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) gained one more year on its mandate - and lost its popular Prime Minister in the process. Signed in Uganda under pressure President Yoweri Museveni, the Kampala Accord met fierce popular opposition in Mogadishu and continues to jam the TFG. Although Mohamed Abdhullahi Mohamed has been succeeded by his equally skilled deputy, Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, President Sharif Ahmed and Parliamentary Speaker Sharif Hassan Aden remain locked in political combat.
Over a third of the Transitional Federal Parliament has also lobbed a series of petitions at Aden. After the Speaker refused to hear a motion against the Kampala Accord, MPs drafted a new letter accusing him of treason. A vote of no-confidence is currently in the works.
Supporting Museveni militarily thus creates two fundamental risks. First, Museveni is perceived of intervening in Somali political affairs to protect military gains, a strategy that could backfire. Ugandan troops have avoided being tagged as foreign occupiers, but this risk increases if the Kampala Accord is left unresolved - or if Uganda again intervenes in the TFG’s internal politics. The Obama administration also hailed the agreement and urged Somali officials to move forward, only to find itself swamped in local politics. Washington is stuck on the wrong side of the Kampala Accord and must plug into the national debate.
At a geopolitical level Washington continues to ignore the lessons of the Arab Spring. Clearly the Pentagon believes that it can fund any regime with impunity; they can be dropped once their use expires. Although the AP reports that a record U.S. aid package to Yemen was put on hold, U.S. Defense and State officials claim that support is ongoing. None of the $200 million in military aid has been distributed, according to the AP, but it would follow $155 million that helped Ali Abdullah Saleh suppress his political opponents.
Conversely, a wiser Pentagon would have accepted the reality that unpopular regimes aren’t functional building blocks in the “War of Terror.” The Obama administration has managed to keep Saleh’s ruling party and security apparatus online, but this policy stands a high chance of collapsing in the end. While the current unrest facing Museveni isn’t extensive or organized to a point of existential threat, Uganda’s uprising appears resilient enough to create significant distortions in the country’s political fabric. Continue the crackdown and add another election cycle - all through the AU’s battle with al-Shabab - and the West will find itself chained to another unpopular dictator in an al-Qaeda haven.
This dependency is already running at a dangerous level in Somalia, where 5,000 of the 9,500 AU troops stationed in Mogadishu deployed from Uganda. The West needs Museveni too much and he’s acutely aware of this reality. He didn’t flinch in backing down the UN on the TFG’s mandate, nor does he hesitate to demand Western funds for his troops. America’s lack of alternatives isn’t the only reason that Museveni feels strong enough to crack down on Uganda’s uprising; his political position isn’t as weak as Gaddafi, al-Assad and Saleh’s.
Yet Museveni would need to be blind to miss the Pentagon’s support for unpopular regimes.
June 26, 2011
As the temperature rose under Hosni Mubarak’s throne in early February, President Barack Obama found himself challenged by an unusual rival. Staking himself on the contrarian pro-Israeli/anti-Iranian platform, Senator John McCain made a preemptive decision to support Egypt’s revolution as ultimately beneficial for regional security. He even blamed Obama’s moderate stance on Iran’s aborted Green Revolution for encouraging authoritarian regimes to crack down hard.
"The American people, on a non-partisan basis, want to see this revolution succeed," McCain declared while preparing a resolution against Egypt’s former dictator. "The American people will live in a more secure world if this revolution succeeds."
The power of repetition cannot be underestimated within Washington’s tireless propaganda machine. On February 3rd, McCain and Senator John Kerry joined together in pressuring Mubarak to relinquish executive power to a transitional council. Less than two days before Mubarak would disappear into the night, McCain reiterated his support for Egypt’s revolution: “The voices of the Egyptian people are growing louder and more unified. I fully support the peaceful aspirations of the Egyptian people...”
Yet like most U.S. officials, McCain’s fragrant rhetoric wasn’t nearly as sweet after the initial aroma wore off. His resolution never called for Mubarak to resign, only transfer power to a council that included opposition elements. Telling CNN in late January, “We've got to be on the right side of history here,” McCain suggested no alternative once the Omar Suleiman contingency went into effect. At the urging of Israel and Saudi Arabia, the White House eventually approved its back-up plan to support Mubarak’s former intelligence czar, who doubled as his “torture chief.” The plan wasted no time backfiring as protesters easily saw through their scheme, and Suleiman was disposed from the vice presidency after 13 turbulent days.
The final two points of McCain’s resolution also demanded that Egypt reaffirm its peace treaty with Israel, and that the Egyptian government “will further the national security interests of the United States in the region.”
Under this insincere support for Egypt’s pro-democracy movement, McCain critiqued Obama for being “behind the curve” before and after Mubarak resigned. Although criticism of the White House’s slow response time is justified, the Senator should keep his attention in front of him. Relatively speaking, McCain has ridden side by side with Obama as Washington clung to a “peaceful and orderly transition.” This phrase, which remains in use in Syria and Yemen, has become symbolic of chaos and imperialism.
And no sooner had Mubarak resigned did McCain switch his tone, insisting, “This was obviously a very difficult decision for President Mubarak, but it is the right decision for Egypt. History will note that President Mubarak’s last action in office was in the best interest of the country he loves.”
Present polling of Egypt’s reaction to U.S. policy also notes a decisively negative trend. Only 20% of Egyptians held a favorable opinion of the U.S. government when polled in late March, with a mere 22% approving the Obama administration's response to their revolution. More recently, 88% of respondents told a June Gallop poll that they rejected America as a model for Egypt’s democracy.
“I expected it to be negative, but I didn’t expect there to be an overwhelming tsunami of negative opinions,” said Mohamed Younis, Senior Analyst with the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center, when he presented the results to reporters in Washington.
Those very protesters McCain claims to support still can’t scream loud enough to wake him from his dream.
Now the Senator has returned to Cairo for the third time since Mubarak’s fall, hoping to salvage his credibility after a grueling battle between protesters and the ruling military council. McCain got his way in the end - “the army has to play the lead role,” he said in February - and he employed Kerry to help sweep his tracks. After meeting with Hussein Tantawi, Egypt’s chief of the armed forces and de facto ruler, both senators, “expressed confidence that the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces would hand over power to a civilian government after the election.”
"The field marshal [Hussein Tantawi] again indicated his absolute commitment to a transition to a civilian government at the earliest possible time after the elections have taken place," McCain told reporters in Cairo on Sunday. "It is in the United States national security interest to see a prosperous, growing, democratic and free Egypt.”
Many Egyptians don’t share his confidence, having been forced to rally on numerous occasions in order to back the military council down: on Mubarak’s trial, military trials for civilians, a snap election and constitutional amendments.
McCain and Kerry also missed the memo that a sizable majority of Egyptian distrust U.S. economic assistance, suspecting that Washington is feeding them carrots to manipulate their revolution. The June 8th Gallop poll found that 75% of respondents oppose economic aid, with 68% believing “the U.S. will try to exert direct influence over Egypt's political future.” After declining a loan from the World Bank “because it found the terms of the loan incompatible with the national interest,” Egyptian Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Fayza Abul Naga corrected what she says was a misquote. Nevertheless, trust is sorely lacking between the opposition and Western financial interests.
Egyptians perceive Washington as trying too hard to buy their support.
So what does McCain do? He steps off the jet with Jeffrey Immelt (chief executive of General Electric), Jeffrey Johnson (President, Middle East, Boeing), Curtis A. Ferguso (President, Middle East & North Africa, Coca Cola), James R. Fitterling (Executive Vice President and President, Corporate Development, Hydrocarbons, Dow), and Andrew David Wells (Chairman and Managing Director, ExxonMobil Egypt, SAE).
McCain, of course, isn’t the only American official to attempt a hijacking of Egypt’s revolution. However his behavior fully represents Washington’s manipulation, a warm embrace on the outside and cold calculation on the inside. This pattern is playing out across the Middle East and North Africa, in revolutions that impact “the national security of the United States.” McCain again repeated this message in Cairo, seemingly destined to forever miss the grander picture: revolution exists to fulfill the aspirations of its own people.
U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East wouldn’t still be sitting “on the wrong side of history” if Washington accepted this reality.
Although she didn't leave a scratch on his brutal crackdown, Hillary Clinton recently launched a metaphysical barrage at Syria’s strongman, Bashar al-Assad. In an op-ed to Saudi-owned Asharq Al-Awsat, the Secretary of State boldly declared, “There is no going back in Syria.”
“President Assad’s violent crackdown has shattered his claims to be a reformer,” Clinton wrote on June 17th. “For years, he has offered pledges and promises, but all that matters are his actions. A speech, no matter how dutifully applauded by regime apologists, will not change the reality that the Syrian people, despite being told they live in a republic, have never had the opportunity to freely elect their leaders. These citizens want to see a real transition to democracy and a government that honors their universal rights and aspirations.”
While her every word applies to Yemen’s revolution, never has Ali Abdullah Saleh been flayed like this. Only six months ago a smiling Clinton shook his hand in Sana’a, wrongly believing that she had diffused a political crisis sparked by Saleh’s attempt to remove term limits. Now Yemen’s embattled president of 33 years is laid up in a Saudi hospital after suffering critical injuries from a June 3rd assassination attempt. Yet the White House and State Department refuse to debate “hypotheticals” surrounding his health, secrecy that has amplified the revolution’s suspicions.
In the meantime the Obama administration continues to urge Saleh’s ruling General People’s Congress (GPC) to transfer power to itself.
This illegitimate process would flagrantly violate Yemen’s revolution. Drafted by U.S. and Saudi officials through the proxy Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the Obama administration’s “power transfer” is all talk and no action. In Voice Of America’s own words, “The initiative would create a transition government wherein 50 percent of the positions would go to the GPC and 50 percent to the JMP [Joint Meeting Parties].”
"The youth want to coordinate and create a transition council but we are trying to involve all political factions in the process other than the ruling party," said Waseem Qirshi, spokesperson for the revolution’s Organizing Committee.
The vast schism between U.S. policy in Syria and Yemen is perceptible throughout Clinton’s condemnation of al-Assad. Targeting his belief that he “can act with impunity because the international community hopes for his cooperation on other issues,” Clinton hoped to awaken the delusional dictator by warning “he and his regime are certainly not indispensable.” Perhaps al-Assad isn't responding because these words ring across Yemen’s diverse landscape, where Saleh has abused Washington’s political cover and military aid to divide and conquer his opposition.
Clinton encourages Syrians to “insist on accountability” in full knowledge that the GCC is shielding Saleh’s regime from human rights abuses committed with U.S. arms. With Zine El Abidine Ben Ali sentenced to 35 years in absentia, Hosni Mubarak facing trial, NATO warplanes searching for Muammar Gaddafi’s headquarters, and international condemnation raining down on al-Assad, the White House continues to offer Saleh and his family immunity in exchange for a deal that leaves his party in power.
Al-Assad must envy his fellow autocrat.
Not that Saleh's family is prepared to leave office. Contrary to the Obama administration’s efforts to portray Vice President Abd al-Rahman Mansur al-Hadi as “acting” president, Saleh’s son Ahmed believes he’s entitled to his father’s palace. The White House has avoided spearheading UN sanctions because the same familial commanders targeted in Syria operate as Pentagon liaisons between Saleh’s regime. U.S. counter-terror support flows into his security apparatus despite ongoing violence against peaceful protesters, and 18 drone strikes have been reported in the southern governorates since June 1st. According to GPC officials, 85% of these operations targeted local militants over al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Local medical officials disagree, claiming that half of the 200+ casualties they’ve treated are civilians.
General Ali Mohsin al-Ahmar, Saleh's fist in the north, isn’t a popular figure despite his early defection. However he isn’t afraid to say what everyone else is thinking: “As long as this regime is in power, Al Qaeda will continue to exist in Yemen. Now, counterterrorism cooperation is based on material cooperation only. It is for the exchange of funds. How much will you give me if I can kill a person for you?”
Rather than correct this meltdown in U.S. foreign policy, President Barack Obama dispatched Jeffrey Feltman to Sana’a with orders to renew support for the GCC’s proposal: “We continue to believe that an immediate, peaceful and orderly transition is in the best interest of the Yemeni people.” At least the White House is inching forward in Syria; the administration’s response to Yemen’s revolution remains stubbornly immovable from five months ago. State Department officials clung to the GCC's proposal throughout the past weeks of upheaval, indicating complete disarray within Clinton’s domain. Feltman, the Assistant Secretary of State for Mideast Affairs, didn’t waste time validating this reality.
"We strongly condemn all forms of violence and terrorism,” he said after meeting with Hadi - and Ahmed Saleh.
The White House should look outside its windows more often. Saba state media highlighted Feltman’s visit as a show of support for his regime, and most Yemenis believe that Saleh is the primary source of violence and terrorism. They hold his regime responsible for inducing shortages in fuel and commodities to starve the revolution. Nor are millions of protesters marching in favor of the GCC’s proposal, but in opposition to it. Protests turned decisively anti-American and anti-Saudi over the weekend, as popular coalitions boycotted Feltman’s visit “because of the U.S.’s negative attitude against the revolution in Yemen.”
Whether Saleh signs the GCC’s proposal or not, Yemen’s streets will witness mass counter-demonstrations by its revolutionaries “until all political forces surrender to our demands.”
The time is past due for America to convert its negative talk into positive action. If the Obama administration truly supports Yemen’s revolutionaries, it will void the GCC’s proposal and engage the popular opposition directly. Negotiations between Hadi and the JMP have failed to extend beyond the security and economic crisis, excuses to stall for time. The GPC even accused the JMP of orchestrating these acts, particularly blocking roads and blowing up oil pipelines. Although Hadi announced a "four-point plan" to restore the situation to “normal,” Saba explicitly, “denied reports that those meetings had discussed other political issues, confirming the political issues can be discussed after President Ali Abdullah Saleh returns home.”
Another stall tactic, as usual.
U.S. policy needs its own four-point plan to stabilize Yemen without compromising support for the revolution. First, Saleh’s status must be clarified and he must be detained upon a potential return to Sana’a (so must his family). Open conflict is inevitable if he’s left to his own schemes and Washington cannot obstruct the delivery of justice. Second, the GCC’s proposal must be scrapped or rewritten to unequivocally favor Yemen’s revolutionaries, who demand a transitional council of their own choosing. The JMP is contemplating a national coalition that would include the youth, Houthis and Southern Movement, but supporting the GCC bled the last of its credibility. Instead of encouraging a power struggle with the GPC and JMP, the Obama administration must break from the Saudi counter-revolution and support Yemen’s popular opposition.
Third, pro-democracy protesters intend to author a new constitution - unlike U.S. calls to maintain “constitutional legitimacy” through Hadi - and an election must adhere to the revolution’s demands. The GCC’s “30-60” initiative stands for a 30-day power transfer followed by a 60-day transition, a rapid pace that the youth couldn’t keep up with organizationally. Designed to favor the GPC, U.S. officials also lobbied for an election before Ramadan because they “didn’t want to lose a month against AQAP.” Yemen’s next election could be its most important in modern history, and must take place on the revolution’s time-line of six to twelve months.
Finally, until these terms are granted, escalating military operations must cease in southern Yemen. Already exploited by Saleh’s regime to target local, non-jihadist militias, U.S. air-strikes are inflicting more damage on Yemen's political system than AQAP. Connections with Ahmed’s murderous Republican Guard and other security units must be severed as well. This ceasefire must transition into a proportional increase in humanitarian aid, as the country requires emergency assistance.
There is no going back to Saleh’s regime. These steps are the first of a thousand to winning the trust of Yemen’s people, the only real safeguard against al-Qaeda.
June 25, 2011
The farmer picking apples in the outskirts of Kabul must pay the Taliban $33 to ship out each truckload of fruit. The governor sends in armed men to chase workers off job sites if the official bribes aren't paid. Poor neighborhoods never get their U.N.-provided wheat, long since sold on the black market.
These are some of the elements, large and small, that together form the elaborate organized crime environment Afghans contend with daily. And despite the hoped-for success of the U.S. military surge and President Barack Obama's claims of significant progress, Afghanistan's resemblance to a mafia state that cannot serve its citizens may only be getting worse, according to an upcoming report by the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank.
The 46-page study, to be released next week, looks specifically at Afghanistan's heartland: the rural areas of Ghazni, Wardak, Logar and other provinces just beyond the periphery of Kabul. Unemployment is high, government presence is low and the insurgency operates with impunity. Corruption and cooperation with the Taliban reach the highest levels of local governance.
"Nearly a decade after the U.S.-led military intervention little has been done to challenge the perverse incentives of continued conflict in Afghanistan," the research group says. Rather, violence and the billions of dollars in international aid have brought wealthy officials and insurgents together. And "the economy as a result is increasingly dominated by a criminal oligarchy of politically connected businessmen," the report concludes.
The sobering analysis of a culture of corruption that long predates the U.S.-military effort comes as Obama tries to highlight military and other gains in Afghanistan as proof that Americans can leave. The widespread abuse of power from simple shakedowns to outright collusion with the Taliban will surely outlive the presence of American combat troops.
In announcing that he would pull out 10,000 soldiers this year and 23,000 more by the end of next summer, Obama made it clear that his timetable for a U.S. military drawdown was not going to be beholden to further security advances or the ability of American and Afghan forces to maintain their recent gains. Obama didn't mention the issue of corruption.
But regardless of how many troops are withdrawn, and how fast they come home, Obama acknowledged the U.S. withdrawal by 2015 will create challenges for the country. "We will not try to make Afghanistan a perfect place," the president said. A responsible end to the war is achievable, but he warned of "dark days ahead."
For ordinary Afghans, the situation in the center of the country provides a valuable case study. There, the Pashtun majority lives alongside Hazaras and Tajiks. Foreign money has created competition even among the insurgent groups as fighters loyal to Mullah Omar's Taliban vie with the Haqqani network and local militants for a share of the riches. Citizens end up squeezed by them and government officials, the report argues.
In the district of Qarabagh, southwest of Kabul, insurgents share an informal alliance with the local commander, Gen. Bashi Habibubullah. In nearby Ghazni city and elsewhere, rich chromite mines were plundered for export for the benefit of the provincial governor, Usmani Usmani.
Usmani was eventually removed from his post but only after becoming a "particularly embarrassing example of corruption," according to Candace Rondeaux, International Crisis Group's senior analyst for Afghanistan. To move the chromite — a mineral that goes primarily to Pakistan and then to China for stainless steel production — Usmani contracted the help of insurgents. They would then coordinate attacks to distract security forces away from outgoing trucks, Rondeaux said.
The pervasiveness of the corruption hasn't escaped the attention of American officials, either. In a 2009 diplomatic memo released by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, former Ambassador Francis Ricciardone noted how "conversations paint a picture of criminal enterprise masquerading as public administration in Ghazni."
At the most micro of levels, there are the apples. The taxes may pale in comparison to the weapons and drug trades, but with insurgents gaining a large chunk of the revenues from hundreds of thousands of exports each year, the profits help feed the conflict. And for farmers living close to subsistence levels, the extortion may make survival even a challenge.
Ultimately, the enduring corruption and collusion between political elites and insurgents may not define the post-war Afghanistan or what America's nearly 15-year legacy will mean when all U.S. troops have departed. But it does challenge any notion of a clean exit.
While the focus in Washington has centered on bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table, Rondeaux said her research of everyday life in Afghanistan shows it would be a mistake to see a political solution as a solve-all to the country's problems.
"It will not address the growing organized crime networks in Afghanistan," she said. "The U.S. and its partners can withdraw their forces and make power-sharing arrangements. It doesn't mean these will hold, or that Americans should feel comfortable with how they are leaving this place."
President Barack Obama didn't mention the word corruption during Wednesday's "responsibility" speech.
June 24, 2011
Except this problem goes beyond a low awareness for Somalia’s crisis - the UN literally needs to pay attention to what’s happening on the ground.
During a short meeting in the Security Council, June President Noël Nelson Messone of Gabon) welcomed the June 9th Kampala Accord that overthrew Somalia’s former premier, Mohamed Adhullahi Mohamed. Under the piercing gaze of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden, Parliamentary Speaker of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG), sacrificed the country’s most popular official in order to extend the TFG’s mandate through August 2012. Having pressured for a national election, Aden counter-demanded a number of high-ranking positions within Parliament. Ahmed resisted and was eventually forced to drop an infuriated Mohamed, who had become wise to the entire scheme and refused to take part.
The episode renewed Somalia’s bitter taste for foreign intervention and jeopardized Uganda’s credibility, a dangerous gamble when it provides 5,000 of the 8,000 AU troops in Mogadishu. Officials and analysts also decried the UN for being out of touch with Somalia’s political environment, specifically Special Representative Augustine Mahiga. Nevertheless, the Security Council “urged signatories to the Kampala Accord to honor their obligations,” and “reiterated the need for a comprehensive strategy... through the collaborative efforts of all stakeholders.”
The Kampala Accord, as of now, isn’t that strategy. Not until Aden is removed from it.
While Ali may provide a smooth transition between Prime Ministers, most problems in the TFG remain jammed on political or personal obstacles: Ahmed and Aden still oppose each other personally, Aden operates on a personal agenda, and the Kampala Accord is viewed as a homegrown case of colonialism. We speculated that Adan may not win his next battle against a premier, and this outcome is now shaping up in a series of motions against the Speaker. Ali was a close ally of Mohamed and wouldn’t have accepted his post without the intention of challenging Aden.
Somalia’s new Prime Minister enjoys the popular and parliamentary cover to do so. Although the UN’s statement chose the wrong words in addressing the Kampala Accord, the Security Council is unwittingly pushing for this very resolution. This week more than 130 lawmakers met to discuss the re-opening of parliament, and, after blaming the four-month shutdown on Aden, warned that he will face legal consequences. On Thursday 157 members of Somalia parliament produced new motion against their Speaker “alleging power abuse and national treason.”
According to MP Mohamed Hussein, “This man [speaker] is selfish, he is unreliable. Look what he signed.” Hussein then showed RBC’s correspondent a copy of the Kampala Accord.
On Friday Awad Ahmed Ashareh, chairman of the parliamentary Information, Public Awareness, Culture and Heritage committee, said 165 MPs submitted a motion in Parliament opposing the accord but the Speaker refused to admit it. Visiting Nairobi for discussions with government officials, Ashareh condemned Aden for "violating the law of the parliament" and "committing crimes against the Somali population." For now MPs plan to meet next Monday - supposedly for a no confidence vote on Aden.
"June 27 will be a dooms day for parliamentarians or a bright day for them to acquire the trust and confidence of the Somalis, that is, if they shrug off the Kampala accord," Ashareh said.
Questions remain as to which parts need amending, or whether the entire document must be voided at the expense of a national accord. However the reward of grinding these issues out internally outweighs the risk of letting the Kampala Accord slide. Significant turbulence in the short-term is probable. Thus for the TFG to weather this storm, the international community must respond accordingly and support a growing political movement.
What good are Museveni’s troops if he turns Somalis against them?
June has witnessed significant political upheaval as Ahmed, Parliamentary Speaker Sheikh Sharif Hassan Adan, the UN and African Union (AU) battled over the TFG’s future mandate. The Kampala Accord, signed under heavy pressure from Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, extended the TFG’s August deadline through 2012, avoiding Adan’s demand for an ill-advised election. In the process Ahmed and Adan cut a deal to stay in power at the expense of Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, Somalia’s most popular Prime Minister in recent memory.
The Kampala Accord initially played out in the worst way possible. For a people already suspicious of its neighbors, the thought of Uganda choosing Ahmed and the unpopular Adan over Mohamed was too much for Somalis to stomach. Thousands of protesters, whose ranks included government officials and troops, poured into Mogadishu’s streets and maintained a steady opposition for weeks. This reactive support - a sign of life from Somalia’s political sphere - gave Mohamed enough justification to initially resist his departure. His outcome would be put to a Parliamentary vote.
Only when both Uganda and Ethiopia exerted a final round of pressure did Mohamed cave for good.
Now the flip side of this political crisis may be turning over. Although the feud cast a negative light over the killing of al-Qaeda commander Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, the TFG can benefit from successfully sorting out its internal politics. Mohamed appears gone for good, but he’s replaced by his former Minister of Planning and International Cooperation. Both share a link in U.S. education; Ali obtained a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard, a master’s degree in economics from Vanderbilt and a Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University.
Ahmed had already temporarily appointed Ali, the TFG’s Deputy Prime Minister, to the head position before finalizing his promotion.
The New York Times reports that, “Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed seemed to be continuing with his preference for Western-educated technocrats by naming Abdiweli Mohamed Ali as prime minister.” As Mohamed, not Ahmed, chose Ali for his cabinet, the President’s “preference” is more likely aimed at the West itself to keep its aid flowing. While U.S. and UN officials remained quiet during the TFG’s internal struggle, opposing Museveni’s extension before ultimately ceding because of his 5,000 AU troops, various reports have the West unnerved by Mohamed’s absence. Ali tones down the criticism Ahmed has received for dumping Mohamed.
Now AMISOM can continue its offensive in Mogadishu until it begins to expand into Somalia proper.
Ali is Sharif’s way of soothing multiple lines of friction, including alleged pressure from Puntland (Ali comes from the breakaway territory). These matters are secondary though. The primary question is whether Ali becomes a pawn of Ahmed, or whether he exerts his full influence and eventually displaces Aden. If Somalia’s new Prime Minister has the skills and clean reputation to win the people’s support, this war-torn nation may finally be bouncing up from rock bottom.
June 23, 2011
Nor does emphasizing the civilian component mesh with the White House’s new “end of COIN” campaign.
Now, after selling the initial policy, Obama has quickly vacated and left the Pentagon to haggle over Afghanistan's details. The main event came in the form of two meetings: General David Petraeus’s Senate confirmation hearing on his nomination to head the CIA, and a “hastily convened House Armed Services Committee hearing on Afghanistan.” Here the Pentagon’s opposition to Obama spilled into clear view, having been partially obstructed by a White House order against leaking to influence public perceptions.
Such a claim isn’t accurate given that White House leaked its own figures above 10,000, and that the Pentagon repeatedly pushed back through Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Nevertheless, U.S law-makers expressed shock when Michael Mullen, outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, admitted that Obama’s "decisions are more aggressive and incur more risk than I was originally prepared to accept." Mullen claims to have reversed course in recent days. Although what changed on Afghanistan’s ground isn’t immediately perceptible, his testimony appears designed to accomplish one overriding objective: set the stage for his superiors.
Just as it did after Obama announced his surge, the U.S. media has hailed Gates as Washington’s “compromiser,” manufacturing Thursday’s headline in Afghanistan as a “victory for Gates and defeat for Petraeus.” False on a number of levels, we would spent too much time detailing every anomaly of this theory. Gates effortlessly steers a subservient media all too inclined to glorify him. Far from a “secret battle,” he was destined to take the middle ground between the Pentagon’s minimal withdrawal and the White House’s maximum withdrawal.
Now Gates gets to ride out high on June 30th, satisfied with manipulating Washington's system one last time.
Petraeus, meanwhile, has begun touting himself as the only man for the job, the one who will turn Obama’s impossible task into reality. This is the Pentagon’s general position - heap all of the blame on Obama and prepare to take all of the credit. After remarking that no general has all the resources he would like, "it is the responsibility of the military to salute smartly."
“I'm not a quitter,” Petraeus declared. “I don't think it's the place for a commander to consider that kind of step unless you are in a very dire situation... This is not something where one hangs up the uniform in a final protest.”
Furthermore, how can Petraeus “lose” on a compromise? Tied to the hip, Gates was simply trying to sell Petraeus for him and paid a small fee (three months) to keep the rest of his position. Since Obama ultimately sided with Gates, as The Atlantic claims, Petraeus cannot inherently lose this battle. Surely they’re sharing a drink, amusing themselves over how easily they played both sides of Washington and the U.S. media
The main difference between Obama and Petraeus doesn’t appear to be this six-month window of debate. Of greater consequence, Obama reportedly denied Petraeus’s proposal “to shift large numbers of troops to eastern Afghanistan in order to mount an expansive counterinsurgency campaign.” This decision seems to conform to Vice President Joe Biden’s “offshore” obsession - which Petraeus will now oversee as head of the CIA. Yet it will also keep 68,000 troops in Afghanistan past 2013, and the entire force is unlikely to exit at Obama's ideal date of December 2014.
The notion of “beating” Petraeus, in the end, is little more than White House spin to puff up Obama’s reputation, which his office feared had become too much like Seven Days in May. Besides, what is so compromising when Gates himself admits, “The fact is that a surge is a surge. It's not a permanent increase in the number of troops... And the reality is, this surge, from the completion of getting it in until it's out, will have been twice as long as the surge in Iraq.”
As for Petraeus, he’s soon off to bigger (and more nefarious) schemes at the CIA.
“If confirmed, I will support continuation of the superb cooperation between agency assets and other intelligence-community elements, with the Joint Special Operations Command and other military commands, and with relevant elements of the interagency. Needless to say, support for the ongoing efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as for missions in other locations such as Yemen, Iraq, and parts of Africa, will remain critical.”
Those same U.S. law-makers that fault the administration's perceived illegality in Libya harbor scant opposition to Petraeus’s world tour. "Hearts and minds" has fallen out of fashion in Washington. Bombs away.
June 22, 2011
During the White House’s final pre-briefing for President Barack Obama’s national address, one reporter asked a seemingly straightforward question: “To what extent does public opinion in the U.S. - which seems to be souring on the occupation of Afghanistan - to what extent does that play - did that play a role in your deliberations recently?”
Evidently these “background senior administration officials” need more lessons on plausible deniability.
In a weak display of non-denial denial, one official responded that Obama “looks at a range of things,” including mission objectives, resources, allies, the national and “global picture.” This official conceded, “I think he is certainly aware that the American public, after nearly a decade of war, is of course focused on making sure that we are pursuing a responsible end to these wars.”
Beyond that, public opinion “really doesn’t play a role.”
An unbelievable claim in itself, Obama would later take the stage and base his withdrawal on defeating al-Qaeda. Until he turned his speech into an economic showcase designed to appease the American people, many of which oppose the war in Afghanistan out of its financial burden and moral cost. Although Obama’s speech was as short and vague as expected, we must admit to being caught slightly off guard when Afghanistan suddenly fell of the map entirely. His overall message, however, was crystal clear.
“It is time to focus on nation-building here at home,” Obama promised - a direct shot at counterinsurgency abroad.
Despite his supposed clarity and conciseness - The New York Times praised his speech as “sensible” while "short" and “short on details” - Obama left the war in Afghanistan as muddled as ever. The professor doesn’t seem to enjoy his foreign policy tests. Anticipated through reverse psychology, we expected him to argue, “We are starting this drawdown from a position of strength.” The only reason given is the erosion of al-Qaeda’s network in Afghanistan and Pakistan, even though America’s main enemy remains the Taliban and Afghanistan’s political environment. Nor has the Taliban expressed any interest in attacking the U.S. homeland or other external targets.
The U.S. is withdrawing from a stalemate, which in insurgencies equates to defeat for the government/foreign power.
At the transnational level, Obama weighed al-Qaeda’s health strictly through Afghanistan and Pakistan, ignoring the wider battlefield that exposes gapes in U.S. policy. Surely this slight is intentional as he indirectly mentions these conflicts at multiple points: “Al-Qaida remains dangerous, and we must be vigilant against attacks. But we have put al-Qaida on a path to defeat, and we will not relent until the job is done.”
“We must chart a more centered course,” Obama argues. “Like generations before, we must embrace America's singular role in the course of human events. But we must be as pragmatic as we are passionate; as strategic as we are resolute. When threatened, we must respond with force — but when that force can be targeted, we need not deploy large armies overseas.”
Translation: strictly military responses to political crises such as Yemen and Somalia. This is no "centered course" but an extremist policy.
The idea that “Biden won and Petraeus lost,” as CNN wrongfully concluded, is exposed in this paragraph. Vice President Joe Biden and his crew reportedly sought a severely reduced force that instead will remain above 60,000 through 2013. General David Petraeus never utilized true COIN, but a militarized version dressed up in softer rhetoric. Even this tone started to fade once he was forced to defend his night-raids. Now Petraeus is off to further his counter-terror operations abroad, sliding right into his 2009 Special Forces directive that authorized covert military operations in every international hotspot.
Petraeus is also the primary architect of Washington’s failed policy in Yemen, which grows militarily hotter despite widespread popular opposition and an untrustworthy government. He seems to be getting everything he wants these days.
Not surprisingly, Obama stepped into the most trouble when he journeyed outside of Afghanistan. While standing back to examine the “larger picture” of the Arab Spring is logical in the grand scheme, this particular speech should have been all Afghanistan. He had his chance during his “Moment of Opportunity” and missed. This is probably why he took another swing, but this attempt turned out even weaker than his previous try.
“In all that we do, we must remember that what sets America apart is not solely our power — it is the principles upon which our union was founded. We are a nation that brings our enemies to justice while adhering to the rule of law, and respecting the rights of all our citizens. We protect our own freedom and prosperity by extending it to others. We stand not for empire but for self-determination. That is why we have a stake in the democratic aspirations that are now washing across the Arab World. We will support those revolutions with fidelity to our ideals, with the power of our example, and with an unwavering belief that all human beings deserve to live with freedom and dignity.”
If Obama is willing to blatantly falsify the U.S. position towards the Arab Spring - particularly Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain - naturally he would exaggerate his success in Afghanistan. The consequences will be felt in time, just as U.S. troops somehow continue to die in Iraq despite their combat mission being “over.”
President Obama is slated to announce plans to begin a withdrawal of US forces in Afghanistan – the first of its kind since the US and NATO officially entered Afghanistan nearly a decade ago.
Though initial estimates look to be modest, many Afghans are greeting the news of US withdrawal with a mix of joy and concern.
“People are happy when they hear that the foreigners are preparing to leave. All the security problems are because of them. If they leave, who will Al Qaeda and the Taliban say they are fighting against?” says Shah Wali, a money exchanger in Kabul. “Personally, I think they should not leave too fast. They should do it step by step.”
Mr. Obama is expected to make an official announcement tonight about the drawdown and exactly how many soldiers will leave.
Initial estimates indicate that the US will remove 5,000 soldiers this summer, followed by another 5,000 in the winter or spring of 2012. The US president is also looking at plans that could bring home the remaining 20,000 troops he ordered here as part of a 2009 surge by the end of 2012.
Presently, there are about 100,000 US forces stationed in Afghanistan. Since Obama took office, the number of US troops in Afghanistan has nearly tripled.
In addition to its efforts to bring security to the country, the US has invested more than $60 billion for relief and reconstruction in Afghanistan. However, many Afghans complain that those investments have not impacted their life positively, if at all.
“The Americans were here for the past 10 years and there was some development but not in our district. In the meantime, the security situation got worse and the Taliban and Al Qaeda got stronger day by day, so this means their presence was useless for providing security,” says Golum Habib, a member of the local government in Takhar province’s Rustak district. “They are not able to bring security, so they can go.”
Mr. Habib adds that there may be more fighting or a revolution after US forces leave, but he says that Afghanistan may be better off if left alone to solve its own problems. Still he wants America to continue providing his nation with humanitarian assistance even after its troops leave.
At the Gulbahar Center, a Western-style shopping mall in downtown Kabul, Zabiullah Shadman has been closely following the news about the pending US drawdown. He’s been disappointed by the inability of foreign forces to bring security and worries that if they leave now civil war may break out again. Already, business has been slow at his dress shop because many people fear the mall is a likely target for an attack.
If it gets any worse, he adds, “people with money will just take their money and leave.” He says he is even considering fleeing to a Western country if the situation gets any worse.
Although Fakhria Latifi, who works on a USAID-funded project, would like foreign forces to leave her country, she says they must not do so until they’ve created a situation that can provide lasting stability. Otherwise, she worries that the Taliban or other extremist groups could regain control of the country.
“My main concern is that if the foreigners go and the Taliban come back, how will it affect women? They will not have access to schooling and jobs,” she says, adding that 2020 would be a better date for the final withdrawal rather than 2014. “My other concern is how long will we depend on the foreigners.”
Still, a number of Afghans doubt that the US is in any hurry to leave, and this frustrates them. The debate about whether the US will keep permanent bases here has long been part of the heated discourse among Afghans.
In Kandahar, which has been at the center of fighting throughout much of the war but has seen recent improvements in security, tribal elder Haji Faisal Mohammed sees the initial drawdown as a positive step toward addressing Afghan fears that the US wants to be a permanent occupying force.
“If America starts to withdraw their forces it will be a big blow to enemies of Afghanistan because it will show that America does not want to occupy Afghanistan,” he says. Still he adds, “I don’t think that America will be in such a hurry to leave. I think America just wants to start implementing [its] promises.”
Among some Afghans, there is also an awareness of America’s mounting domestic pressures to end the war. Given the economic drain and steadily rising death toll, Mangal Sherzad, a law professor at Nangarhar University in Jalalabad says it’s unlikely the US can stay in Afghanistan much longer.
“Even if they don’t want to take their forces out of Afghanistan, they must do it,” he says. “America has realized that they cannot win by just fighting and from the other side Obama has to fulfill the promises he made to his nation to bring the troops out of Afghanistan.”
Obama’s methodical speech isn’t designed to sincerely scale-down America’s footprint, only create this image while marching forward.
Barring a total surprise, the various reports and sources trying to make sense of his July 2011 deadline needlessly complicate this process. Although the Pentagon ideally envisions no withdrawals until January 2012, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is prepared to concede a phased withdrawal of 20,000 troops by next spring. Under the leading option submitted by General David Petraeus, 5,000 troops (combat and non-combat) would redeploy after summer, followed by another 5,000 over winter. The remaining 20,000 troops involved in the surge would phase out over 2012, leaving the remaining 68,000 to fight on until 2014.
A "significant" force will remain afterward whether Obama rejects this possibility or not.
At the spectrum’s opposite end sit those Democrats led publicly (but not privately) by Vice President Joe Biden. Hoping to see all Obama’s surge redeployed by the end of 2012, these forces fear the next election cycle and urge an accelerated withdrawal of 15,000 by December, with the other half leaving before 2013. Some counter-terror advocates even favor pulling all of Obama’s surge out by the end of 2011, coupled with intensified Special Forces and drone patrols. They should keep dreaming unless they want to wake up to Afghanistan's brutal reality.
Wednesday’s likeliest outcome combines elements of both extremes. Having split the difference between White House and Pentagon circles once before, Obama will announce a phased withdrawal of 10,000-15,000 troops over the next 12 months, followed by an overall time-table to reduce the majority of forces by the end of 2014. Aiming low isn’t an option with Obama bent on resisting the Pentagon, whose overbearing influence in Afghanistan has attracted widespread scrutiny of his abilities.
White House officials have, through no coincidence, hammered this point most: Afghanistan is the President’s call and he will fulfill his promise to begin removing troops by July.
Yet this isn’t the most encouraging selling point given the decrepit state of Obama’s foreign policy. While combining the political and military elements is essential in counterinsurgency - specifically managing expectations - Obama is running on his own political agenda rather than Afghanistan's. The magic middle that he constantly searches for produced mixed results in his surge, and now Obama appears set to repeat history rather than learn.
The reason is simple: U.S. policy in Afghanistan hasn’t succeeded to the degree that Washington advertises. Thousands upon thousands of Taliban have been killed, large swaths of southern Afghanistan have been cleared, and some communities are beginning to break away from the Taliban’s influence. The Afghan military is gradually improving its training and local militias are starting to fill immediate security gaps. Except all of these measuring sticks exist in a vacuum, without any real scale to measure progress, and can be quickly flipped to the negative.
The most glaring aspect of U.S. policy remains the lagging pace of political progress.
It’s true that al-Qaeda has lost its territory in Afghanistan. In the process it gained territory elsewhere in the Middle East and Africa, in fragile states where U.S. policy remains acutely disorganized. Al-Qaeda's strategic objective was to draw America into Afghanistan, then move out again and keep running. Although many senior leaders entrenched themselves in Pakistan because of its extensive network and Islamabad’s willingness to look the other way, they didn’t do so because they had nowhere else to go. America succeeded in driving what was left of al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan - and into other regions.
On a related note, Afghanistan’s emphasis on counter-terrorism is now set to be exported to these same conflict zones, Yemen and Somalia in particular. Such a strategy is destined to fail in containing al-Qaeda or remedying the conditions it thrives on.
The Taliban, on the other hand, isn’t as “broke” as Washington portrays; The New York Times recently documented low interest in Kabul’s U.S.-funded rehabilitation program. Of the estimated 25,000 Taliban remaining after a year-long, Special Forces blitzkrieg, only 1,700 have joined the 10-month set-up, with two-thirds hailing from northern Afghanistan. Some fighters are further suspected of being armed men hoping to exploit the system. Those commanders that have joined speak of a common pattern: initial pay, temporary housing and empty promises in the end.
Although U.S. officials claim that many fighters in the south are too scared to join out of fear of reprisal attacks, or because of local disputes, this thinking minimizes the bare truth of the Taliban’s mindset. In an op-ed for CounterPunch, The Independent’s Patrick Cockburn examined one side of this reality while reliving the Taliban’s unorthodox escape from Kandahar’s Sarposa prison. In juxtaposition to crude impressions of Afghans, the prison-break demonstrated an “imaginative, disciplined and resourceful” insurgency. Most Afghans make up for the lack of formal education with these traits.
In the same vein, U.S. commanders on the ground speak as though the majority of Taliban fight for money or local interests. Though some fighters obviously subsist on these personal goals, the majority fight to resist an occupying Western army and secure power in Afghanistan. They view Afghan President Hamid Karzai as a puppet to be disposed, and nothing has changed to make them feel otherwise.
“American decision-makers have still not grasped that the Taliban's main motivation – as revealed in several surveys of insurgents – is a desire to end foreign occupation of their country,” observes Johnathan Steele, chief foreign correspondent for The Guardian. “US officials, political as well as military, produce endless briefings that claim people join the Taliban because of money, unemployment, or local disputes over land and family honor.”
Steele was reacting to the frontal feud between Karzai and outgoing U.S. ambassador Kari Eikenberry, who recently chastised Karzai for calling U.S. troops “occupiers.” Threatening that Karzai’s insults make America “begin to lose our inspiration to carry on,” Eikenberry vainly remarked, “America has never sought to occupy any nation in the world.” As though the Taliban would ever believe that.
For now reconciliation remains a political buzzword designed to push the war forward, not wind it down.
"My own view is that real reconciliation talks are not likely to be able to make any substantive headway until at least this winter," Gates argues. "I think that the Taliban have to feel themselves under military pressure, and begin to believe that they can't win before they're willing to have a serious conversation."
So why, if their momentum is truly broken as Obama claims, are 80,000 troops still needed in order to “break” the Taliban in 2012? When exactly is this force suddenly going to switch sides? Obama is unlikely to discuss the possibility that, two years down the line, the Taliban could remain a potent fighting unit that refuses to accept America's terms. Clearly some disarray, both politically and militarily, has set into the Taliban’s leadership. However the same can be said for the coalition.
Contrary to withdrawing from a position of strength, U.S. and NATO forces need more time and a similar amount of strength to “break the Taliban’s momentum.” Nor will Washington, NATO countries and their publics agree on how to resolve this dilemma.
Because confidence in 2011’s withdrawal is already running low, Obama will surely seek to re-frame the public debate around 2014. Beyond a necessary strategic outlook, shifting permanently past 2013 allows the Pentagon to massage the White House’s time-table and squeeze out additional fighting seasons. Afghanistan’s time-line isn’t matching up to Iraq’s drop in violence; the two countries only share a surface comparison, and Afghanistan's military and civil infrastructure are nowhere near Iraq's. The reality is that America cannot afford to lose any troops and maintain their present gains. Conversely, removing 10,000 troops by the end of next year is insignificant.
Thus 5,000-10,000 is too significant of a withdrawal in the short-term and too insignificant in the long-term. The middle ground appears to be an illusion.
We will soon see how Obama “the professor” attempts to logically reconcile the many paradoxes America has created in Afghanistan. But remember the words of Robert Gates, a man who, according to the White House, will not make the final decision: “Whatever decision he makes, we will have a significant number of troops remaining in Afghanistan.”
June 21, 2011
- Ali Abdullah Saleh's nephew, General Yahia, commenting on the president's status
"The Joint Meeting Party (opposition coalition) and the ruling party are seeking their own interests. We have been sidelined as youth, although we were the ones who started the revolution."
- Ismail al-Jelaei, youth protester and head of the newly established Future Party
"The EU also emphasized the importance of proceeding with an orderly and inclusive political transition in Yemen in line with the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative, to respond to the legitimate interests of all Yemen's people. The EU called on the Yemeni leadership to follow through on their commitment to this transition."
- Disconnected EU statement on Yemen's revolution
June 20, 2011
Because the Muslim world and U.S.-Saudi counter-revolution enjoys such trust and open communications.
What we do know is that Clinton phoned Prince Saud for more than an update on Saudi women protesting their right to drive. In a “broader diplomatic context,” the two discussed ongoing developments in Syria and Yemen. However future details only sharpen through a haze. When pressed on Bahrain’s uprising, Nuland said the country was left out of Clinton and Saud’s conversation. Much can be inferred from this silence alone, which is no coincidence. Washington and Riyadh don’t like to talk about Bahrain’s uprising due to their unpopularity with the opposition.
Bahraini protesters would be surprised, then, to learn that America supports their quest for freedom, as Nuland insists. Yet she does so with the oddest of word choices. One reporter follows up, “Is the United States advising the Saudis to withdraw their forces from Bahrain at this juncture?”
“Our view on the forces in Bahrain is that Bahrain is a sovereign state, has a right to ask for support,” Nuland replies. “You know that we continue to believe that the internal situation in Bahrain is best addressed through dialogue, through national reconciliation, and we’ve been encouraging those efforts, including when the Bahraini Crown Prince was here last week, two weeks ago.”
When pressed whether Saudi forces are destabilizing the situation in Bahrain, she responds, “I think I’ve stated our position on those forces. Thanks.”
To be fair Nuland does state the U.S. position: support for Saudi troops in Bahrain. How support for Saudi troops and Bahrain’s opposition coincide isn’t explained, but glossing over reality provides a quick fix. The same pattern also occurred in Yemen, where Nuland repeated the standard U.S. line: “Beyond saying that they share the goal of getting Yemen on the course to a democratic transition, that they both continue to support the GCC agreement, I don't think it would be appropriate to get into the back and forth in the conversation. But it was very much in the context of supporting, moving Yemen in the right direction.”
Translation: Washington and Riyadh discussed their strategy to suppress Yemen’s revolutionaries and move Yemen in the wrong direction.
As pro-democracy protesters intensify their debate on how to block the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) proposal, U.S. and Saudi diplomats continue to pile pressure onto Vice President Abdo Rabu Hadi. Hadi, Yemen’s “acting” president would receive formal power under the GCC’s initiative, which also allocates half of a joint transitional government to the ruling General People’s Congress (GPC). An immunity clause is supposed to extract Saleh’s son, Ahmed, from his murderous position atop the Republican Guard, although none of his family has demonstrated their willingness to leave the country. "Quiet diplomacy" cannot become a euphemism for bad diplomacy.
The GCC’s proposal flies right over the top of Yemen’s revolutionaries - like those U.S. drones jetting into their country.
This arrangement will be exposed over a series of revelations, similar to Saleh’s “secret” agreement with General David Petraeus that authorized U.S. air-strikes. While “secret” CIA operations have transformed into a “secret” base inside Yemen, approved by Saleh’s regime, GPC officials are denying a direct role in the operation. An estimated 18 attacks have struck the Shabwa and Abyan governorates since June 1st, but Saleh’s regime claims it only authorized cooperation against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Most strikes have resulted in civilian collateral, according to local sources.
Now reality is descending again. Reporting for The National, the Yemen Post’s Hakim Almasmari cites a government official as saying most casualties are local militants battling government forces. This official claimed, "More than 85 per cent of the fighters killed in Abyan over the last three weeks have not been Al Qaeda members. Militants in Abyan and other areas in the south are well-known Jihadists, but we cannot prove their links to Al Qaeda.”
Qasem Bin Hadi, head of security in Zinjibar, Abyan, rhetorically asked, "Who said that only Al Qaeda is a terrorist group in Yemen? These militants are causing as much problems for Yemen as Al Qaeda.”
“These militants” reportedly include fighters loyal to Khaled Abdul Nabi, whose Jaar farm was targeted by U.S. air-strikes. Having been “rehabilitated” by the government in 2005, Nabi is suspected of functioning as a double-agent for Saleh. Allegedly heading the Abyan Aden Islamic Army, Nabi pledged his military support for Saleh’s war against the northern Houthi (Shia) and secessionist Southern Movement (SM). He’s now accused of stirring up trouble in Zinjibar to scare the West and prove the government’s capabilities.
Whether U.S. drones actually targeted him at the request of Saleh’s government remains unverified, but this arrangement is disturbingly two sided. We are reminded of the end to Lord of War, when Yuri Orlov secures his freedom because Washington funds both sides of global conflicts.
Other groups in Yemen's south include "Ansar Share'a” (defenders of Islamic law), a militia unaffiliated with AQAP according to Saleh’s regime. The SM also maintains its own militia, viewed as a primary threat to Saleh’s thrown, and has suffered repeated attacks from U.S.-trained counter-terror forces. Saleh’s regime perceives all of these groups as an existential threat and has coerced the Pentagon into eliminating these forces, possibly under the excuse that AQAP will be easier to combat.
Not that this possibility matches reality. Local medical officials in Abyan say that over half of the 200 casualties they’ve treated are civilian. Because U.S. intelligence faces an extremely hostile and complex environment on the ground, reducing their information flow, U.S. strikes will remain errant for the foreseeable future. Relying on government intel is a constant gamble; while accurate coordinates have been provided, Saleh’s regime is just as likely to feed false information on state targets.
Politically and militarily trapped in the middle of larger powers, Yemenis will suffer the consequences of both sides’ errors.