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Archive for July, 2008

While Obama promises to simmer things down in Iraq, he has been calling for refocusing our troops towards Afghanistan… the supposed “good” war. Unfortunately, Afghanistan is only a “good” war in the sense that it is slightly less horrendous than Iraq by comparison. Slightly. Like Iraq, it is still unjustified carnage against the completely wrong target(s). Here’s a piece by John Pilger I thought especially poignant.

Obama, The Prince Of Bait-And-Switch

On 12 July, the London Times devoted two pages to Afghanistan. It was mostly a complaint about the heat. The reporter, Magnus Linklater, described in detail his discomfort and how he had needed to be sprayed with iced water. He also described the “high drama” and “meticulously practised routine” of evacuating another overheated journalist. For her US Marine rescuers, wrote Linklater, “saving a life took precedence over [their] security”. Alongside this was a report whose final paragraph offered the only mention that “47 civilians, most of them women and children, were killed when a US aircraft bombed a wedding party in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday”.

Slaughters on this scale are common, and mostly unknown to the British public. I interviewed a woman who had lost eight members of her family, including six children. A 500lb US Mk82 bomb was dropped on her mud, stone and straw house. There was no “enemy” nearby. I interviewed a headmaster whose house disappeared in a fireball caused by another “precision” bomb. Inside were nine people – his wife, his four sons, his brother and his wife, and his sister and her husband. Neither of these mass murders was news. As Harold Pinter wrote of such crimes: “Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest.”

A total of 64 civilians were bombed to death while The Times man was discomforted. Most were guests at the wedding party. Wedding parties are a “coalition” speciality. At least four of them have been obliterated – at Mazar and in Khost, Uruzgan and Nangarhar provinces. Many of the details, including the names of victims, have been compiled by a New Hampshire professor, Marc Herold, whose Afghan Victim Memorial Project is a meticulous work of journalism that shames those who are paid to keep the record straight and report almost everything about the Afghan War through the public relations facilities of the British and American military.

The US and its allies are dropping record numbers of bombs on Afghanistan. This is not news. In the first half of this year, 1,853 bombs were dropped: more than all the bombs of 2006 and most of 2007. “The most frequently used bombs,” the Air Force Times reports, “are the 500lb and 2,000lb satellite-guided . . .” Without this one-sided onslaught, the resurgence of the Taliban, it is clear, might not have happened. Even Hamid Karzai, America’s and Britain’s puppet, has said so. The presence and the aggression of foreigners have all but united a resistance that now includes former warlords once on the CIA’s payroll.

The scandal of this would be headline news, were it not for what George W Bush’s former spokesman Scott McClellan has called “complicit enablers” – journalists who serve as little more than official amplifiers. Having declared Afghanistan a “good war”, the complicit enablers are now anointing Barack Obama as he tours the bloodfests in Afghanistan and Iraq. What they never say is that Obama is a bomber.

In the New York Times on 14 July, in an article spun to appear as if he is ending the war in Iraq, Obama demanded more war in Afghanistan and, in effect, an invasion of Pakistan. He wants more combat troops, more helicopters, more bombs. Bush may be on his way out, but the Republicans have built an ideological machine that transcends the loss of electoral power – because their collaborators are, as the American writer Mike Whitney put it succinctly, “bait-and-switch” Democrats, of whom Obama is the prince.

Those who write of Obama that “when it comes to international affairs, he will be a huge improvement on Bush” demonstrate the same wilful naivety that backed the bait-and-switch of Bill Clinton – and Tony Blair. Of Blair, wrote the late Hugo Young in 1997, “ideology has surrendered entirely to ‘values’ . . . there are no sacred cows [and] no fossilised limits to the ground over which the mind might range in search of a better Britain . . .”

Eleven years and five wars later, at least a million people lie dead. Barack Obama is the American Blair. That he is a smooth operator and a black man is irrelevant. He is of an enduring, rampant system whose drum majors and cheer squads never see, or want to see, the consequences of 500lb bombs dropped unerringly on mud, stone and straw houses.

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I just finished reading a NYT Op-Ed by Obama that I found particularly refreshing. While he didn’t address the fact that his plans for troop draw-downs and redeployments don’t include the thousands upon thousands of privately hired mercs that flesh out the battlefield, he did say a few things that address some of the most fundamental apprehensions that I have had about this “Mess-O-Potamia.”

I would make it absolutely clear that we seek no presence in Iraq similar to our permanent bases in South Korea, and would redeploy our troops out of Iraq and focus on the broader security challenges that we face. — Barak Obama (source)

This simple declaration, if carried out, will undoubtedly save thousands of lives on both sides of this war.

One of the critical components to understanding “why they hate us” is the fact that we have been uninvited guests in the Middle East for decades now, and our presence there is viewed as the utmost of insults. Unlike us, the folks in the Middle East haven’t forgotten that we overthrew the democratically elected government in Iran in 1953. Folks there haven’t forgotten that we supplied both sides of the Iran-Iraq war until we decided to tip the scales and bet on Saddam… and then subsequently made Saddam one of our biggest allies right up to and after the first incursion into Iraq. And perhaps the most poignant sting in the minds of the Middle Eastern people would be our unwavering and active support of the immeasurable number of atrocities committed by Israel over the last forty or fifty years.

To hear a politician talk about rejecting American Imperialist ambitions is a wonderful sound indeed. Of course, now we’ll need to see if he can stick to his words and put them into concrete action… a much harder feat.

Read the full Op-Ed

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The crisis in Darfur is, by now, well-known to most people around the globe. With over 200,000 people dead and over 2 million people displaced from their homes, the conflict has gained the attention of the entire world. However, Darfur was already on the radar of countries like China and the United States long before the fighting broke out that has since torn apart the region. In fact, Sudan has been an area of interest for many countries thanks to it being rich in oil and mineral resources. Also, both the U.S. and China have been pumping oil from Sudan to their respective markets–The U.S. since 1979 and China since the 1990s.

The importance of Sudan has skyrocketed in recent years since the amount of oil that remains in the Middle East is already fairly well known and other smaller resources have already been tapped and are drying up as I write. The likelihood of new reserve discoveries in Iraq, Saudi Arabia or Venezuela, for example, is fairly low, but much of Africa is uncharted and untapped.

In 1945, the U.S. State Department declared that Middle East oil was “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the great material prizes in world history” (source). I don’t think it takes much to apply this rhetoric to Sudan and other areas of Africa, especially since the land is still ripe with potential for big players like China and the United States.

The U.S. Department of Energy agrees. It has produced studies projecting that oil production out of Africa would rise at an incredible rate over the next two decades and openly cites the increasing strategic importance of Africa within the framework of U.S. interests (source).

With that background laid, let us get back to the region that currently holds the attention of the world: Darfur due to the atrocities that have been taking place there for the last 5 years.

The basics: Sudan is a country located in north-eastern Africa. Darfur is the northwestern region inside Sudan. The people of Darfur have long had very little say or control in the happenings of their own country and government, they have felt neglected, and have often rallied for succession from Sudan. To this end, groups of rebels formed over the years and began carrying out actions against the government forces. In 2003, a formal rebellion began, and in response, the government bombed Darfur and sent its militia, the Janaweed, to quell the region, which it did and has continued to do today with extreme gusto.

The central “players” in the feud are the Janjaweed–as mentioned above, these are a government-backed and superiorly outfitted militia. They are considered to be responsible for the overwhelming majority of civilian deaths in Darfur. When the story first broke, the ties between the Janjaweed soldiers and the government were denied, but it’s quite clear now that the Janjaweed have enjoyed lavish support from the Sudanese government, enabling them to carry out some of the worst atrocities of the conflict. On the other side of the fence is the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) which has at times fractured into many sub-groups, reformed and re-assimilated this smaller groups under the SLA banner. Janjaweed militias have the support of the government. Similarly, the rebel forces have had help from its neighbor, Chad.

As with most genocidal conflicts in the world, there is an ethnic component to the killing though it’s not strictly based on distinctions between race or skin pigmentation in this case. The targets of the government-supported cleansing are mostly Black Africans and Muslim subsistence farmers. In contrast, those running the government of Sudan and enlisted as Janjaweed fighters are mostly of Arab descent.

That said, the lines of division aren’t as clear as they may seem. African and Arab identities are often mixed in Sudan since in many instances you can’t look at the color of a person’s skin and instantly know into what category he or she fits. Instead, the designation seems to have more to do with the description of one’s wealth, occupation, family background or even affiliation with the government.

…[R]ebels have described themselves as Africans fighting an Arab government. Ethnic slurs used by both sides in recent atrocities have riven communities that once lived together and intermarried. …Mahjoub Mohamed Saleh, editor of Sudan’s independent Al-Ayam newspaper [writes,] ‘The bottom line is that tribes have intermarried forever in Darfur. Men even have one so-called Arab wife and one so-called African. Tribes started labeling themselves this way several decades ago for political reasons’ (source).

So, while most media outlets have pegged this conflict as a genocide or a battle between ethnic groups or, if they’re really remiss in their duties as reporters, labeled it a religious feud, the reasons for the violence in Darfur are far more nuanced, yet political factors, including a desire for autonomy on one hand and maintaining control through the use of force on the other seem a bit more accurate.

Since this post acts as just a “primer” on Darfur, hopefully dispelling a few myths that have been floating about the ethos, I’ll end it here. I’ll continue my thoughts in my next post by returning to what matters most… the interactions of my country with Darfur and specifically its actions and rhetoric with respect to the current crisis.

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