News notes from the first week of September

[1. US WAR POLICY] Perhaps the most ominous story of the week is that of the attack by American ground troops inside Pakistan.  US soldiers were landed from helicopters and killed as usual women and children — but inside Pakistan.  The Pakistani military was outraged. Within Bush’s war council Defense Secretary Gates has been advocating for months a secret plan for a much broader campaign by Special Operations forces inside Pakistan, and a new step seems to have been taken that way on Wednesday. [NYT 9/3]

Two Pakistan experts discussed Pakistan’s nuclear weapons in a forum sponsored by the Financial Times last February.  STEPHEN COHEN: “The nuclear assets are perhaps still vulnerable, one scenario for Pakistan would be a falling out among the military, or perhaps a politician trying to divide the military – in these cases, short of total state failure, nuclear assets could be important in a power struggle, and who knows what would happen to them. This is, of course, a distant possibility, and Ali is correct in emphasising the unity of the armed forces. However, there’s a lot of concern that under stress unpredictable things could happen, and Pakistan’s earlier record as the wholesaler of nuclear technology to other states does not inspire confidence.” TARIQ ALI: “Cohen is right to say that a split in the army could have catastrophic results, but this is unlikely unless the US decided to invade and occupy the country.”

Nothing characterizes the last year of the Bush administration more than the break with the Neocon dominance of his administration.  The result of incapacity? (Was Bush in fact publicly drunk at the Olympics, as rumored?)  Or pique? (The split between the White House and the office of the vice-president may already be in place at the time of the Libby affair.)  In any case, Cheney’s easy use of Bush as an instrument (seen in the investigation the Washington Post had done but wouldn’t publish before the 2006 election) is no more. That means that the US government is largely back in the hands of a foreign policy establishment that brought us Clinton’s and Kennedy’s wars.  And their drive for “full spectrum dominance” — hegemony, not survival — may finally make them more dangerous than the murderous neocons. We should avoid what some psychologists call “splitting” (“Since the neocons are bad, the foreign policy establishment must be good”) — noticeable as it may be in, e.g., the presidential election.

Gates is perhaps the senior member of the foreign policy establishment currently in the administration. The neocons seem to been have rather roundly repulsed in the last year, and the foreign policy establishment is back in charge — the very people who’ll be in charge in an Obama administration: e.g., it’s been suggested that Obama will retain Gates (avid to kill people in Pakistan) at the Pentagon. (We forget that My Lai was not an aberration but the way that that war was fought; the FPE seems to lack imagination.)

[2. THEATRES OF US MIDEAST WAR] With Israel as its “local cop on the beat,” as the Nixon administration put it, the USG has conducted a generation-long war for the control of energy resources in a 1500-mile radius around the Persian Gulf — from the Mediterranean to the Indus valley, from the Horn of Africa to Central Asia. That war will continue in the coming administration, whoever is president.  Whether we call the resistance to US control “Al-Qaeda,” “Taliban,” “insurgents,” “militants” or “terrorists” — they are people who wants us out of their countries and off of their resources.  From the US POV, the war has several theatres:

[A. AFPAK]  Despite angry protests in Pakistan, Pentagon officials said U.S. cross-border commando missions may grow in coming months, the Los Angeles Times reports. [JFP 9/5]

U.S. troops claim to have killed 220 Taliban in south Afghanistan operation last week. [Reuters] The US military says that a winter “surge” is planned for Afghanistan.

[B. IRAN] US fears Russia will sell Iran S-300s. “If Tehran obtained the S-300, it would be a game-changer in military thinking for tackling Iran. That could be a catalyst for Israeli air attacks before it is operational,” said Dan Goure, a long-time Pentagon advisor. “This is a system that scares every Western air force,” he said. [PTV-IR]
Obama adopted the crass “game-changer” term for his scenery-chewing speech against Iran last Monday, as he continues to try to ingratiate himself with the Israel lobby and counter attacks on Biden’s (in fact obsequious) support for Israel.

[C. IRAQ] The U.S. military says that it returns control of western province of Anbar to Iraqi forces. [AP]

Thousands of Shi’ites protested Friday against the U.S. presence in Iraq, heeding orders from “anti-U.S. cleric” Moqtada al-Sadr for a peaceful show of force on the first Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Bob Woodward’s new book, The War Within: A Secret White House History, 2006-2008, says that the U.S. troop “surge” of 2007, in which President Bush sent nearly 30,000 additional U.S. combat forces and support troops to Iraq, was not the primary factor behind the steep drop in violence there during the past sixteen months.  Rather, Woodward reports, “groundbreaking” new covert techniques, beginning in 2007, enabled U.S. military and intelligence officials to locate, target and kill insurgent leaders. [These are the death-squad tactics pioneered by the Kennedy administration in Latin America and extended to Vietnam, where the CIA-run “Phoenix” program killed more than 20,000 people.]

On the contrary,  Barack Obama asserted that the troop surge in Iraq has been more successful than anyone could have imagined, in his first-ever interview on FOX News on Thursday … Obama acknowledged the 2007 increase in U.S. troops has benefited the Iraqi people. “I think that the surge has succeeded in ways that nobody anticipated,” Obama said while refusing to retract his initial opposition to the surge. “I’ve already said it’s succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.”

In an interview with In These Times published on July 29th, Noam Chomsky summed up the success of the so-called surge of U.S. forces in Iraq as follows: “Most of the educated class [in Iraq] has either been killed or fled. The country is an array of militias, of warlords and gangs, of which the U.S. is just the biggest and most powerful militia. They call the Iraqi Army its sub-militia. We’ve just destroyed the country, and it may never recover. So that’s the way that the surge has succeeded.”

[D. INDIA] The U.S. gained key international backing Saturday for a bitterly contested plan to sell peaceful nuclear technology to India [which] has tested atomic weapons but has refused to sign global nonproliferation accords. Washington said the landmark deal, which still needs U.S. congressional approval, will place India’s nuclear program under closer scrutiny. But detractors warned it could set a dangerous precedent in efforts to rid the world of weapons of mass destruction … The 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, … which governs the legal world trade in nuclear components and know-how, signed off on the deal after three days of contentious talks in Vienna and some concessions to countries insistent on holding India to its promises not to touch off a new nuclear arms race.
The approval represented a major foreign policy victory for President Bush, who had made the deal a centerpiece of a major 2005 overture to India.  Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on a trip to North Africa [?!], called the deal “landmark” and said final congressional approval would be “a huge step for the U.S.-India relationship.”
The trade waiver paves the way for a U.S. reversal of more than three decades of policy. India has been subject to a nuclear trade ban since it first tested an atomic weapon in 1974. The country conducted its most recent test blast in 1998…
The International Atomic Energy Agency signed off on the deal last month. Now, the Bush administration will have to scramble to get approval from Congress in the few weeks remaining before lawmakers adjourn for the rest of the year … “I certainly hope we can get it through,” Rice said.
Initially, more than a dozen nations including China and Japan sought to block approval by the nuclear group, which operates by consensus. But in negotiations that began Thursday, that bloc dwindled to three holdouts — Austria, Ireland and New Zealand — who expressed grave misgivings about bending the rules to accommodate U.S. sales to India…
John Rood, acting U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control issues [September 2003 to February 2005, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Forces Policy at the Department of Defense; before &n after at the NSC], told reporters in Vienna that the deal would help meet India’s growing energy needs while helping the developing country, a major polluter, cut back on harmful emissions contributing to global warming. [AP]

[3. EUROPE] NATO’s early-warning surveillance system has been plugged into Georgia’s air-defense network in the first evidence the US-led alliance is shoring up Georgia’s military, the London Times reports. Proposals were under discussion to fly NATO Awacs over the region; no decision had yet been taken. Such a development would be viewed as provocative by Russia. [JFP 9/5] Meanwhile it’s reported that Georgia admits to dropping cluster bombs during its attack on South Ossetia. [AP]

[4. RUSSIA] It’s surely a mistake to see the “geopolitical struggle between Moscow and Washington over the energy riches of the Caspian Sea basin” as the immediate cause of the Russian military action against Georgia in August, although it was surely a mediate cause (i.e., that’s why the US was arming and encouraging the Georgians). The immediate cause was the mad Saakashvili’s attack on civilians in his invasion of Tshkinvali (including the use of cluster bombs — an Israeli contribution?). And the Russian military seems largely to have confined itself to military targets in response.
We need to recall the Clinton administration’s machinations in Georgia in regard to oil, but we also need to recall the context:  the US attempt (almost successful) in the 1990s to reduce Russia to the status of a Third World country.  The reason that US policy makers are so hysterical about Putin is that he prevented it.  That’s why he has the highest approval rating at home of any world leader.
As Doug Henwood of the Left Business Observer put it, “[Putin’s] resurgent Russia [has] made most Russians better off than they were during the 1990s, when they were run by Clinton, Harvard, and the IMF via Yeltsin — [now] it offers a counterweight to U.S. imperial power. The U.S. had it easy in the 1990s. Now with Russia — not to mention China — it can’t have its way anymore. Which is, on balance, a good thing.”
It’s quite wrong to see US policy (in the Clinton era or now) as “a calculated effort to enhance Western energy security”: that would be to ignore (a) how little  energy the US receives from the region; and (b) the real US motive, to secure by means of the control of ME oil what Zbigniew Brzezinski calls “indirect but politically critical leverage on the European and Asian economies that are also dependent on energy exports from the region.”
And that policy very much continues.  “From 1998 to 2000 alone, Georgia was awarded $302 million in U.S. military and economic aid — more than any other Caspian country…” But Cheney has just arrived in Tblisi with $1 billion more — putting little Georgia in the top rank of recipients of US “foreign aid” (after Israel and Egypt, of course) for the year.

CHRIS DOSS. RIA Novosti reports that the crew of U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Dallas, which arrived on Monday morning at the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol where Russia has a naval base, has refused to go ashore amid anti-NATO protests, customs officers said. “Over 60% of the population of Ukraine as a whole is against NATO membership, and in the east it’s probably close to 90%. The thing is that the Ukrainian government is currently dominated by the western (largely rural) Galician region, which is extremely atypical for Ukraine.”

[5. ECONOMY]  Joblessness hit a five-year high in August, shedding 84,000 jobs to reach 6.1 percent. The new figures, which brought total job losses for the year to more than 600,000, were markedly worse than had been anticipated, dashing hopes that the economy would recover in the second half of 2008 and confirming that the country’s economic jitters have spread beyond the housing and financial sectors. “These are really ugly numbers,” said one economist. “Things are going to get worse before they get better.” Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson met with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac officials late Friday to hash out the details of a bailout; the LAT reports that Paulson and Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke were due to continue meeting with Fannie and Freddie executives through the weekend, in the hopes of unveiling a finalized rescue plan before financial markets open Monday morning. It’s thought the deal would see the companies put under conservatorship, leaving them at least temporarily under government control; common stock would likely be heavily devalued if not entirely wiped out. [And] new figures show foreclosures on the rise…

Oil prices fell on Wednesday as the US government released crude stocks from its strategic reserve after Hurricane Gustav halted energy production in the Gulf of Mexico … Oil prices were also weighed down by a strong dollar, which Wednesday struck an eight-month high against the euro. [AFP 9/3]

[6. POLICE]  Ramsey County [i.e., St. Paul MN] prosecutors have formally charged eight members of a prominent activist group with conspiracy to riot in furtherance of terrorism. The eight members of the RNC Welcoming Committee are believed to be the first persons ever charged under the 2002 Minnesota version of the federal PATRIOT Act. The activists face up to seven-and-a-half years in prison. [DN 9/4]

Police in St. Paul are being accused of continuing to intimidate a group of video makers that traveled to the Twin Cities to document police misconduct during the Republican National Convention. On Saturday, police raided a home where members of the I-Witness Video collective were staying. Members of the group were detained for over two hours. The building’s landlord forced the group to move out yesterday after police armed with batons and a battering ram entered their living space for a second time. [DN 9/4]

The Ramsey County Court has begun to slowly process and release some of the nearly 300 people detained over the past few days. [DN 9/4]

[7. ELECTION]  Everyone knows that the Republican establishment is belligerent and imperialist.  Not everyone (particularly in the anti-war movement) admits that the Democratic establishment is belligerent and imperialist, in part because the Democrats are disingenuous about it.
Regarding the serious policy questions facing the US today (mostly reducing to one: “Whom should  the US military kill?”), it’s necessary to realize that the presidential election is meant to be a distraction and that the pretense that the Democratic candidate is anti-war is a fraud.  In our America, policy is well-insulated from politics — we have at best a simulacrum of democracy — and a serious anti-war movement has to recognize that, if it’s not to be co-opted. Passionately preferring a candidate within the allowable limits of debate is a recipe for irrelevance. (That’s what they want you to do.)

MORT BRUSSEL. “There is a feeling that Obama and the Democrats have totally lost their electoral footing, self destructing — as in Obama on the O’Reilly show saying the ‘surge’ was a great success.”

WILLIAM BLUM. “I’m sorry to say that I think that John McCain is going to be the next president of the United States. After the long night of Bush horror any Democrat should easily win, but the Dems are screwing it up and McCain has been running more-or-less even with Barack Obama in the polls [in part because ] the Democrat leadership is not on record as categorically opposing either conflict [Iraq or Iran]. [Nor do they consider it acceptable to question McCain] about accusations by his fellow American prisoners about his considerable collaboration with his Vietnamese captors. Nor a word about McCain’s highly possible role in the brutal Georgian invasion of South Ossetia on August 7 … Obama has lost much of the sizable liberal/progressive vote because of … his exposure as a center-rightist, and he now may have lost even his selling point of being more strongly against the war than McCain — if in fact he actually is — by appointing Joe Biden as his running mate. Biden has long been a hawk on Iraq (as well as the rest of US foreign policy), calling for an invasion as far back as 1998.”

FORMER SEN. MIKE GRAVEL ON PALIN: “Foreign policy experience? Thank god she has none beyond that of a normal citizen subject to the militarization of our culture over the past 50 years, particularly so in Alaska with its strong military presence. The three other would-be leaders have tons of experience among them. But whether liberal or conservative all three are committed to a policy of American imperialism with the self-appointed role of world policeman. This role of trying to influence the world with our military might sustains bloated defense budgets that profit the few and impoverish the social and economic needs of the many.” [CP 9/3]

MCCAIN CAMPAIGN MANAGER RICK DAVIS in a chat with Washington Post reporters and editors: “This election is not about issues. This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates.” [THE NOTE]

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“Either you repeat the same conventional doctrines everybody is saying, or else you say something true, and it will sound like it’s from Neptune.” –Noam Chomsky