Winning Uglier

US officials have been dropping hints the past few months that the Pentagon is going to get even more aggressive in attacking defenseless countries and people. It’s not quite cast that way, though. Instead we are told that the US military is not able to keep up with all the new threats that keep arising. In addition, worries about harming innocents hampers the ability of American troops to get the job done. The natural conclusion people are supposed to draw is that the Pentagon needs more money and needs to be given more freedom to torture and kill.

A classified analysis (reported in the Los Angeles Times) presented to the Congress by General Richard Myers claims that “The strains imposed by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have made it far more difficult for the U.S. military to beat back new acts of aggression, launch a pre-emptive strike or prevent conflict in another part of the world.” The Orwellian phrasing is almost laughable. When was the last time the US ever used its military to “beat back acts of aggression” or “prevent conflict”? And the over-used phrase, “pre-emptive strike” by US standards has always meant “act of aggression.” So what does the new analysis, the “Military Risk Assessment and Threat Mitigation Plan,” say will happen as it becomes more difficult to beat back aggression? Will the US get itself conquered?

On the contrary, according to anonymous “military and civilian officials.” “America’s enemies should not take solace in the new analysis, nor think that the United States is somehow more vulnerable than it was last year.” So we’re not more vulnerable? What has changed, then? One senior Defense official told the LA Times, “The assessment is that we would succeed [at beating back aggression], but there would be higher casualties and more collateral damage. We would have to win uglier.” Translation: Washington will still use it’s military to illegally invade and occupy foreign countries and torture “suspected terrorists,” but will drop the pretense that it was ever interested in minimizing civilian casualties or following the Geneva conventions.

A similar “reassessment” is underway on transforming the “global war on terrorism” (GWOT) into what a senior official calls a “strategy against violent extremism” (SAVE?), according to yesterday’s Washington Post. The Bush administration is interested in widening the definition of who can be considered an anti-US terrorism suspect. The administration worries about “the transformation of al Qaeda over the past three years into a far more amorphous, diffuse and difficult-to-target organization than the group that struck the United States in 2001.” How did this happen? Officials describe a mysterious “‘ripple effect’ from years of operations targeting al Qaeda leaders.” Frances Fragos Townsend, Bush’s top adviser on terrrorism told the Post, “the enemy has adapted.” Are they saying that Al Qaeda or other anti-US terrorism operations are stronger than they were before 9/11, largely because of US policy? It makes sense that invading Muslim countries, while at the same time capturing known leaders, could destroy the known organizational structure of al Qaeda while at the same time creating new recruits for anti-US movements, with unknown leaders and headquarters springing up.

The author mentions that officials are concerned with “how to deal with the rise of a new generation of terrorists, schooled in Iraq over the past couple years.” That is a peripheral recognition that such growth is a result of US policy, but there is no discussion about how Iraqis got “schooled” by foreign occupation or why people would want to commit violence against their conquerors. We are told, however, that new “public diplomacy efforts aimed at winning over Arab public sentiment” are being invented. Arabs can look forward to more brainwashing attempts by the US government to convince them that their conquest and the theft of their resources will be for their own good.

Like the military assessment, the most frightening aspect of the terrorism review will be the lowering of (already low) constraints towards attacking civilian populations. The new “broad view” will now enable the administration to “target not only the remnants of al Qaeda but also broader support in the Muslim world for radical Islam.” This means just about any group of Muslims critical of the US could be labeled “violent extremists.” Perhaps Bush and company will be taking advice from Uzbekistan’s president Karimov, who has jailed and tortured thousands accused of membership in the nonviolent Islamist organization Hizb-ut-Tahrir. Whenever the US government says it needs to “revise” its military or “counterterrorism” strategy we should be afraid.

Protests Were Grassroots, But Afghans Still Want Troops…For Now

In earlier posts I had expressed the worry that the recent wave of anti-US protests in Afghanistan might (1) have been started by fundamentalist clerics mainly to serve the needs of warlords, and (2) then used for political gain. The first of my fears was unfounded, according to a very trusted source, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA). Emails from RAWA members Selay and Friba indicate a much more grassroots origin for the demonstrations. Selay says that the demonstrations are

not something new. Actually in the past one year many Afghan cities witnessed such huge demonstrations mainly organized by people who oppose the policies of Mr. Karzai and want to show their opposition to his pro-warlord actions. People are fed up with many critical social issues and come out on the streets to protest.

Friba says

In the past year there were many demonstrations by people in different parts of Afghanistan. Unfortunately the world media did not report it. It was ignored by media the way they ignore many other reports from Afghanistan. But there are some news items about it in Afghan media.

We don’t have access to the Afghan media in English translation on a regular basis, but I have found an Asia Times report, based on Afghan local news sources, that says the demonstrations were not organized by warlords. The piece, by B. Raman, says “Reports of the demonstrations received from several towns” had “common features” such as:

  • “[A] large number of educated people participated.”
  • The demonstrations were “well-prepared, and were well organized and well orchestrated.”
  • “The demonstrations were not armed and confined their protests to shouting anti-US and anti-Karzai slogans, burning American and Pakistani flags and effigies of President George W Bush, Karzai and Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf and attacking properties like buildings and vehicles.”
  • “Reports…indicate that the demonstrations have been organized by the Hizb-ut-Tehrir.”

The Hizb-ut-Tahrir is a well known Central Asian movement professing nonviolent Islamic revolution. The movement is particularly active in Uzbekistan, where Islamist politics are forbidden by the US-backed government (religious behavior in general is suppressed). (For news of the riots in Uzbekistan, see the piece by Rohan Pearce.)

Unfortunately, my second worry is still an issue. Selay says:

[O]f course the fundamentalists, especially the party of Gulbuddin and Al Qaeda, try to make use of these protests and guide it according to their own wishes…If the situation continues like this, we will see larger and more violent protests by people. Of course the Taliban and Al Qaeda will try to make use of this situation more then others. Unfortunately democratic-minded forces of Afghanistan are very weak and are not being supported by the international community, so are not in the position to lead these protest in the best possible way.

This is why the foreign troops are still tolerated on Afghan soil. According to Friba:

We, and the majority of Afghans, are still of the opinion that, even though the US government is in Afghanistan for its own interests, even though the US relies on the most dirty elements and parties in Afghanistan, even though the US wants to install its puppet regime and puppet parliament in Afghanistan, still for the time being it is in the benefit of Afghanistan that the US stay here for a limited time. Because the day the US forces leave Afghanistan, the bloody years of 1992-96 will be repeated, as the warlords have weapons and money today [as opposed to under the Taliban]. Even though they are united around the Karzai government today, it is just a matter of minutes before they again start their dog-eat-dog.

I would add that the reason the warlords have so much power today is because of the $70 million in cash and weapons given to them by the CIA so they could oust the Taliban, plus the long term political support of them by US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad during the Bonn process.

This situation will not be tolerated forever, and the protests are an indication of that. When we were in Afghanistan, we were told that the US is considered like a “bitter medicine” by Afghans: despite all the horrible side-effects, the overall result will be better than if the medicine is not taken. Friba qualified that assessment for us: “I can add that when you drink a bitter medicine but it still does not eliminate or even reduce your illness, you may come to the point to reject taking those medicines. And the Afghan people will soon come to this conclusion.”

RAWA’s Perspective on Anti-US Actions

Sonali Kolhatkar asked RAWA (the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan) what they thought of the anti-US protests in Afghanistan, the desecration of the Koran, and the prisoner abuses. The answer of RAWA member Selay is printed below.

This puts Rahul Mahajan and my discussion, and my article, in a little better context. Clearly I misjudged the extent and depth of the anti-US movement: it is long term and grassroots. This letter teaches a lesson about our ability to fathom what is happening in another part of the world through the lens of US media. Our personal privilege also leads us to certain interpretations of the facts. We should always treat those interpretations as at best provisional and avoid wishful thinking solutions that fit some pre-designed theory. When in doubt, ask someone closer to the thick of it! (I say “we” here. I mean me…)


Selay’s Response (edited for English, removed salutations)

The recent wave of demonstrations are not something new. Actually in the past one year many Afghan cities witnessed such huge demonstrations mainly organized by people who oppose the policies of Mr. Karzai and want to show their opposition to his pro-warlord actions.

People are fed up with many critical social issues and come out on the streets to protest. When people see that Karzai shakes hands with the most dirty enemies of the Afghan people, who first of all should appear in a court of justice; when people see that millions of dollars given in the name of the reconstruction of Afghanistan goes into the pockets of warlords and no one asks about their brutality (on the contrary Mr. Karzai frequently installs them in key posts); they have no other option but to protest and in many cases it takes a violent form.

The situation in Afghanistan is far more disastrous then what you may imagine. The Karzai administration has done nothing positive but just works hard to gather all the top fundamentalist criminals around himself. Even these days he is trying to portray some key Taliban leaders as “moderates,” and tries to share power with them. A few days ago through Sibghatullah Mojadeddi, the government announced amnesty for Gulbuddin and Mullah Omar if they surrender.

All these policies are contrary to the wishes of our people who want justice and the prosecution of top fundamentalist leaders. People are furious but are powerless. Mass protest is the only type of weapon people have to put pressure on the government.

Therefore in such a situation people display their anger by such demonstrations. They find any excuse to come to the streets. In the latest protests, the gross majority of people don’t care about the report of Newsweek–it is just an excuse for them to protest. And of course the fundamentalists, especially the party of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Al Qaeda, try to make use of these protests and guide it according to their own wishes.

It would be very wrong, however, to stamp these protests as being pro-Al Qaeda. The US and Afghan governments certainly try to raise propaganda that Al Qaeda is behind it. These protests are the continuation of a larger wave which started one year ago all over Afghanistan, and its main reason is the treacherous policy of Mr Karzai and the pro-fundamentalist stand of the US government. People are very much disappointed with what is going on in Afghanistan over the past few years. They were given many promises but none of them were put into practice.

Regarding the desecration of the Koran: of course we are of the opinion that such acts are disgusting because it hurts millions of Muslims around the world. In fact we are against any kind of disrespect and profanity to the sanctity of any religion. However, the desecration of the Koran alone can’t move people to protest on such a large scale. Afghans are not more Muslim than the people in other nations that they would risk their lives for it while the Muslims in most other countries did not commit any actions against the Newsweek story.

Abuse and torture of prisoners is simply an inhuman act. We are in favor of internationally known principles regarding treatment of prisoners. Abuse and torture of prisoners in US custody in itself shows the futility of the US government’s hue and cry about human rights. It shows that the US government’s claims about human rights are there just so it can bomb countries to gain its own interests. Many of the victims in the US custody in Bagram are ordinary people who have been arrested under the name of Al Qaeda and Taliban. The US government shakes hands with the real criminals like Mullah Motawakal etc., but tortures our helpless people. Such tortures are reported by the media to be in Guantanamo and Bagram but in fact it is very common in all US bases across Afghanistan. Whenever they arrest anyone, they remove their clothes and torture them. They know that for Afghans to be naked is the worst torture and a way to weaken their morale.

If the situation in Afghanistan continues like this, we will see larger and more violent protests by the people. Of course the Taliban and Al Qaeda will try to make use of this situation more then others. Unfortunately, democratic-minded forces of Afghanistan are very weak and not being supported by the international community and are not in a position to lead these protest in the best possible way.

For many days there has been news that the US government wants to legitimize its permanent presence in Afghanistan and to make its base here for the next 60 years. This news intensified the protests even more. Karzai gathered Loya Jirga members and fundamentalist leaders like Sayyaf, Rabbani etc. to discuss the issue. In the meeting Sayyaf and Rabbani in their speeches welcomed the idea, but there were some opposition from other members. Though all members were given 2 minutes time to speak they did not allow Malalai Joya to speak!

But we think these protests are a positive sign and show that our people have the consciousness not to accept any government that is in place to fulfill the interests of the US government. It shows Afghans will not accept the occupation of the US forces for long. Fortunately the gross majority of the protesters were students and young people, which shows our young generation has learnt much from the past history of Afghanistan.

Discussing Solidarity with Rahul Mahajan

Friend Rahul Mahajan and I had an extended correspondence on some of the issues I’d raised in my post on the anti-US demonstrations in Afghanistan. Our discussion centered mostly on where one draws the line between accepting fundamentalist religious popular movements as valid expressions of anti-imperialist struggle, despite their reactionary qualities; and criticizing them openly. After this discussion, copied below, and some feedback from the folks at ZNet, I submitted a revised version of the post as an article, which is now online.

Given the continuing horror of what the US troops are doing in Afghanistan, it is now more clear to me than ever that the US military needs to leave the country, to be replaced by non-US peacekeepers from countries chosen by the Afghan Parliament (if, of course, the Parliament decides that it wants the foreign peacekeepers when it is elected–I’m assuming it will based on Karzai’s ad hoc tribal counsel). The foreign troops should be used mainly to help disarm Afghan warlord armies (who were funded mostly by outside governments in the first place). Once the Afghan army is strong enough, all foreign troops should get out. While this is happening, massive reparations should be paid to Afghanistan by the countries that sponsored the 1980s/1990s wars (the US, Russia, Pakistan, UK, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iran, India, China, Israel, France) .


Rahul Mahajan Responds to my post

Jim,

Difficult stuff.

First, I think you bring really good in-depth info and analytical perspective to the question of what’s actually happening with the demonstrations. This kind of analysis is very important. My only quibble there would be at the end where you say the mujaheddin factions didn’t have popular support. Of course, it’s true they didn’t have village-level organizing cadres, etc., like the PDPA. Nor, I suppose, could they match membership numbers — although note that in South Vietnam the NLF always had far fewer military members than the ARVN — it’s in the nature of non-state guerrilla organizations.

On the other hand, the reason they were able to operate at all is that they were acting as the expression of views with obvious mass legitimacy among the Afghan people — opposition to any attempts to change or challenge their religious practice and opposition to occupation by foreign atheists. (Note: By legitimacy, I don’t mean legitimacy according to some normative standard, but rather in the sense of popular legitimacy, credence with the public, …) But we’re really in no position to judge, with such laughably little experience in real political struggles, and little understanding of the physical, political, and psychological difficulties they pose. And any mass resistance was inevitably going to be Islamist (of course, once the mujaheddin factions started fighting each other instead of trying to provide public order, then I imagine they lost a great deal of support — this is unfortunately in what seems to be the least documented period since the 78 revolution, so I’ve read less about it).

Have you read Olivier Roy’s “Islam and Resistance in Afghanistan,” which came out in 86? While he does come across as a severe anticommunist, he really understands his subject. I think my sense of popular sentiment in Afghanistan during the 80’s comes more from Roy than others, although several other sources give hints as well.

The biggest question, however, is elsewhere. I don’t agree with the narrative that goes “they’re not secular, left, progressive forces, so we shouldn’t support them.” There are two basic problems with it:

1. Usually, there isn’t a choice. People resist imperial occupation in the idiom that is most readily to hand, which is determined largely by background ideology and to some extent by organization (so that, with prodigies of organization, Communists could sometimes overcome the handicap of an ideology not rooted in their people’s experience — even there, however, they had to accommodate and build bridges if they wanted to be successful). Now and in the foreseeable future, in the Islamic world, that will be Islam. Since this will also remain one of the most, perhaps the most, important loci of anti-imperialist struggle, we need something better than sitting on the sidelines.

2. This kind of analysis tends to reinforce our own paralyzing sense of purist superiority, which stands in the way of our ever being effective. The fact is, we engage in activities so far removed from political power that the muddiness, the crimes, and the compromises, of real movements never really come up. Che Guevara sometimes shot men for desertion. As did the Spanish anarchists. Possibly in individual cases those acts were wrong as well. But we’re really in no position to judge, with such laughably little experience in real political struggles, and little understanding of the physical, political, and psychological difficulties they pose. One thing we do know, however, from studying history: mass movements always have highly unpalatable components of their ideology and almost always commit acts we would deplore. The exceptions mostly occur in imperialist states that, for a variety of reasons, guarantee certain civil liberties. Afghanistan and Iraq under occupation are very far from such a state, obviously. Even here at home, although violence is not an issue that’s in any meaningful way on the table, questions of the exercise of power very much are. A purist anarchist “we’re against power” approach leads only to permanent ineffectuality. Trying to wield power here will involve compromises against some of the movement’s fundamental principles as well. So in a way this kind of analysis, applied to resistance in Iraq and Afghanistan, weakens us as a movement here.

But where does that leave us? You know I criticize the Iraq “resistance” a lot. In fact, I’ve started using the word “insurgents,” because I don’t think of sectarian warfare as resistance to occupation. And I haven’t written about the “support the resistance” question, primarily because I don’t see why we should go out of our way to help make the rest of the country believe the left is nuts (for even taking up the question).

I guess I would just suggest a slight difference of tone in a post like this. The analysis is good, as I said, and needed. No reason at all to give people false notions about what’s actually going on. To the degree possible, I think even Islamist fanatics should be humanized; in a way, I think even George Bush should be humanized. After all, the amazing thing is that we are all human and work through things in ways that have more similarities than differences. And Americans need to understand, not that Afghans or Iraqis or Venezuelans are better people than them, but simply that things go both ways: if many things that seem sane to Iraqis seem insane to Americans, the reverse is also true.

In addition, the contradictions between U.S. rhetoric and results should be stressed. This can be done not only by talking about the policies implemented through U.S. power but also about the kind of resistance it creates. Here I think you’ve done a good job.

The last sentence — “It is important to see the anti-US protests as symptomatic of a real resentment, but without strengthening democratic forces, that resentment is likely to be channeled by reactionary forces, the warlords, drug lords, and the Taliban.” — is a good summing up.

I guess I would mostly have removed passages which sound like “we” (as if “we” really are an entity) are in a position to pass any kind of judgment on political movements.

Best,

Rahul

PS I’m not as sure that the warlords want the US gone. Not only has it mostly been US policy to back them, they know very well that with the US gone any international money will dry up. It seems more likely there is an ambivalence, coupled with the need to assert their Islamic credentials by occasionally calling for the US to leave.


Jim Ingalls responds

Hi Rahul,

Thanks for reading the piece and taking the time to comment on it in depth. I really appreciate the feedback. I haven’t read Roy’s book, but I will try to dig it up.

For my part I would recommend Barnett Rubin’s “The Fragmentation of Afghanistan,” which makes the case that the decisions made in the USSR, the US, and Pakistan led to the collapse of the secular national state of Afghanistan and had little to do with what the people wanted or what would have happened in the absence of such interference. I’m not saying you disagree with this, but I wrote this piece because I sense from US leftists the beginnings of an argument that sounds like “these guys were bad when the US backed them, but now they’re the best chance of fighting US imperialism.” Tariq Ali has already said words to the effect that the warlords have popular support so we can’t criticize them. It will be interesting to see if the Worker’s World, who supported the Soviet invasion and the PDPA, at some point see their former opposition as worthy of support!

This is not to say that Islamist rebels in Afghanistan were not supported by the majority of the people in the 1980s. When we were there in February we met a man who fought in the Jihad with one of the factions, but dropped out after they started assaulting Kabul. He has since become a delegate fromFarah province to both Loya Jirgas and is now a secular candidate for parliament. RAWA also worked in the jihad in their own way, although Meena warned that support for the most extreme groups was going to backfire. When I said, “the United States empowered extremists with little popular support,” that is exactly what I meant. Most of the leaders with any popular support, even those with extremist values, did not get funding from the US (this is partly because of the policy of the ISI to work with people they could control, and partly because the US didn’t care). Hekmatyar was in exile in Pakistan and would have been nothing without foreign backing. Sayyaf was nothing without Saudi Arabia. The most secular of the Peshawar-based groups, the one headed by Gailani (a sufi cleric), got hardly any US backing. Until the early 90s Massoud got no US backing but was nevertheless quite effective in battle because he had popular support in Panjsher. Most of the Peshawar exiles had major problems with the king, except Gailani, but polls among refugees in the 1980s overwhelmingly supported his return (the guy who conducted the poll was then killed by Hekmatyar).

I see what you’re saying about not taking a judgemental “we” tone. I had a lot of difficulty with that, and I don’t think I tried hard enough to give the Islamist movement its due weight as a popular current, and to portray it as understandable and sensible from the point of view of many Afghans. And perhaps it is even the only approach in the end capable of wresting control of Afghanistan from the US. But will the result be in line with most of the Afghan people’s wishes? I will reserve judgement on that for now.

Your point on a paralyzing sense of purist superiority is well taken (nice phrase). At the same time, it doesn’t make sense to me to adopt the knee-jerk tone of “anybody fighting the US who has a popular base deserves support,” just so we can be “effective.” The question is: effective towards what ends? And by what means? If the ends are always purely anti-imperialist, does Bin Laden’s movement deserve support? The Taliban were anti-imperialist, right? (Except against Pakistani imperialism.) I agree that we should try to understand the Islamist movement in Afghanistan, and perhaps even respect it, and it may even do a lot of good indirectly, but I won’t support it. The Islamist movement in Afghanistan is not like the Islamist movement in Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan is a police state that suppresses Islamic behavior; Afghanistan is a pseudo-Islamist pseudo-democracy beholden to warlords who were propped up by the US to get rid of the Taliban. The Islamist movement in Afghanistan is likely to stem from those warlords, or be co-opted by them. You would probably answer, “the secular democracy movement is likely to stem from the US and be co-opted by *it*,” and you would be right. That is why this is such a difficult problem with no easy options, eh? At this point, however, my solidarity is with the secularists, who would be crushed if the warlords were allowed free reign. Unfortunately that means a strategic acceptance of Karzai and foreign troops; to me this is a better option, albeit incrementally so.

You’re right, there is a “real world” that we need to work within, and usually the options available are not the ones we might wish for. But I disagree with the choice most people on the left appear to be making. It’s almost like US activists are buying the Bush et al. representation that the only options in Afghanistan available are (1) the US and Karzai and (2) their vocal opposition, which happens to be religious conservatives. Based on discussions with Afghans we met on our trip, I have come to disagree with this dichotomy. There is a silent but large portion of the population that wants the warlords to lose their power (given to them by the US). Have you seen the “Call for Justice” by the AIHRC? (Unfortunately the “reconciliation” process is unlikely to have positive results, since it’s being run by Sebghatullah Mojadedi, who wants to give amnesty to Hekmatyar and Omar.)

A lot of Afghans we talked to made the strategic decision to back Karzai (about 80% of registered voters voted and he got 60% of the vote) because he hinted that he was going to crack down on the warlords (which he didn’t do). Some people we met want nothing more than to throw Karzai out on his ass, but have concluded that they cannot kick him and the US out before the warlords are disarmed and secular democratic movements are able to build strength and credibility. RAWA is scathing in their critiques of Karzai and the US, yet they too have this understanding of the practical realities.

Best,
Jim

PS. On your ps: The Northern Alliance has almost always been against the presence of foreign troops. True, after 9/11 they they were brought back to power by the US and depended on them, but after examining news reports around the 2001 Bonn meetings for our book, I’ve noticed that almost right after the fall of the Taliban the Alliance called for a drastically reduced international troop presence in the countryside. UN proposals went as high as about 18,000, but in contrast, Qanooni wanted no more than 200 ISAF troops. (Rumsfeld agreed with the Alliance partly because he thought they would actually provide “security” and partly because the ISAF would hamper the US “war on terrorism”.) In the end, the 6000 ISAF troops were forced to stay in Kabul. Everybody we talked to, in and out of Kabul, was relieved that ISAF was there anyway, and wanted them to expand. The alliance does not get direct aid anymore from the US (that I know of), unless it comes through the central government first. Ismail Khan was stealing import duties, and many other warlords profit off the drug trade.

PPS.You mention Che Guevara. He had virtually no popular backing in Bolivia, where he was killed, yet I would not begrudge him what he tried to do, especially given the movements in Bolivia today which arguably have been inspired by him.


Rahul Mahajan responds

Jim,

I have read Barnett Rubin, but have probably forgotten his basic take. I do recall that both Rubin and Roy seemed to really understand their subject, even though writing from “mainstream” perspectives. But Roy seemed to understand the Mujaheddin better.

Good point on extremists. Yes, Hekmatyar and Sayyaf had no popular support worth the name. But Rabbani, Mojadeddi, Gailani, Abdul Haq, and, of course, Ahmed Shah Massoud, did have important support bases and/or general legitimacy. But readers of your blog post are not aware you are making that distinction; you should clarify. Also, the legitimacy of resistance based on Islam is hard to convey to a non-Islamic people; yet even employees of the PDPA government would often help the Mujaheddin on the sly.

You bring up very difficult questions. Parts of the answer are easy. We shouldn’t support anti-imperialism that is a cure worse than the disease. This includes bin Laden and, frankly, even more so the wahhabi groups in Iraq right now. Trying to ignite a Sunni-Shia bloodbath is far more dangerous than the kind of rare, episodic, and horrible attacks al-Qaeda can carry out.

But even something like the taliban is a difficult question. Many people concerned about Afghans wanted the US war. Operationally, the choices were US war to destroy the Taliban, US subversion to destroy the Taliban, and letting the Taliban remain in power. Difficult to figure which of the choices was worse for the Afghans. And frankly not that easy to figure which was the worst for the rest of us.

When I say this, I take into account that the Taliban were limited to Afghanistan. Obviously, talibanizing the world would be worse than US imperialism. But bin Laden and the extremist groups in Iraq are internationalist, unlike the Taliban.

I guess the only hard and fast rule I can give is that one should avoid “problematizing” these incredibly difficult problems without also simultaneously problematizing our subject position as “the movement.”

btw, linked to your post.

r

Afghans Protesting the US

A recent wave of anti-US protests in Afghanistan indicates widespread resentment of the foreign troop presence, especially US troops, in the country. According to some, this reflects a country-wide sentiment that all foreign troops should leave the country immediately. In my view, it is too soon to tell if this is true. What is true is that, like in Iraq, the people in Afghanistan most likely to take advantage of the anti-US feeling are not progressive secular democrats but right-wing fundamentalist extremists. Those of us who want to work in solidarity with the Afghan people should resist the temptation to see the situation as presenting a choice between freedom-loving protesters and US imperialism.

The reason I am cautious in judging the implications of the demonstrations stems from a recent trip to Afghanistan I made with Sonali Kolhatkar. In contrast with what appears to be happening now, we couldn’t find anyone that thought foreign troops should leave immediately. To the people we talked with, withdrawal of foreign troops at the current stage would be a disaster. People feared the many warlords who were armed by the US to oust the Taliban after 9/11. The US has essentially engineered a situation that requires its presence. If foreign troops left, people told us, the warlords would fill the power vacuum and end any possibility for secular democratic change in Afghanistan. This strategic decision was expressed even by some who took part in the recent demonstrations, people obviously well aware of the abuses committed by US troops. For example, Ahmad Jawed, a 19-year old literature student at Kabul University. Even though he demonstrated against US behavior, Jawed “believed the U.S. presence is necessary for the country’s security,” but emphasized that the foreigners should answer to the Afghan people and not stay any longer than necessary. “Up until the time they are needed, they should stay. But then they should go.”

The only Afghans who have anything close to freedom of speech are either those that do not question the warlords, or those who espouse fundamentalist Islamic values. Consider people like Malalai Joya, a 26-year old woman whose impassioned denunciation of warlords at the constitutional assembly in January 2004 made her the recipient of death threats. When we met her in Afghanistan this February, Joya could only go outside wearing a full burqa, and her compound was patrolled by armed guards. Other journalists, lawyers, human rights workers, and activists that we met were also operating in relative secrecy. Some of them had been openly threatened, others just feared retaliation for their views.

One recent disturbing current happening almost simultaneously with the anti-US wave is the series of incidents across Afghanistan of violence against women. One woman was stoned to death for “adultery.” In another village, three women were found raped and murdered, with a note warning women not to work with foreign aid agencies. A woman television presenter was shot and killed two months after she was fired from her job due to complaints from “religious conservatives.” About 300 or so women demonstrated in Kabul against these incidents, calling on the government to “implement the laws and rights given to us,” but this was a much smaller outing than the more than 3000 who filled the streets of Jalalabad shouting “Death to America.” A recent statement by the Afghan women’s rights organization RAWA stated that events like the stoning are the result of the “traitor-fostering policies of [president Hamid] Karzai and the US government,” who supported fundamentalists and warlords to topple the Taliban in 2001.

The catalyst for the anti-US protests was not the violence against women, but apparently the report in Newsweek that US interrogators in Guantanamo put Koran’s in the toilet, or flush them down, to “rattle suspects.” Newsweek has since recanted, saying that they haven’t confirmed the toilet allegations but the Pentagon told them “other desecration charges [were] ‘not credible’.” This says nothing of the proven violations of actual humans at Guantanamo, and certainly doesn’t make them any easier to accept. As mentioned by Reuters, there is certainly “growing resentment of U.S. forces, especially in ethnic Pashtun areas of the south and east where they [US troops] mainly operate.” By joining in protests against Koran desecration, it is likely that many people angry with the US presence are expressing themselves in the only “safe” venue available to them. Unfortunately, since the anti-US sentiment is channeled into religious–as opposed to human rights–issues, this makes it a lot easier for fundamentalists to exploit it for their own gain.

Even fundamentalists close to president Hamid Karzai blessed the events. Sibghatullah Mojadeddi, president for a few months under the US-backed Mujahideen government that ousted the Soviet puppet Najibullah in 1992, told followers at Friday prayers, “we…support those who demonstrate…But we want peaceful demonstrations.” Mojadedi seems to share many of the perspectives of the Taliban. When he chaired the late 2003 constitutional convention, Mojadedi told delegates what he thought of women seeking equal rights: “Do not try to put yourself on a level with men. Even God has not given you equal rights because under his decision two women are counted as equal to one man.” It was Mojadeddi who had Joya’s microphone shut off when she denounced warlords at the assembly. Recently Mojadeddi, as head of Afghanistan’s “Reconciliation Commission” offered amnesty to the extremist Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Mullah Omar, the former Supreme Leader of the Taliban.

Those who stand most to gain from the current wave of anti-US protests are people who share the ideology of the perpetrators of the recent atrocities against women. Furthermore, there are hints of a political agenda underlying the agitation that goes beyond the need to preserve the sanctity of the Koran. The Italian news service ADN Kronos International points to the former Taliban, forces of renegade Islamists Yunus Khalis and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and “political parties and groups that supported the Northern Alliance” as among those most eager for the anti-US actions to continue. According to ADNKI,

Sources maintained that five parties met last week near Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan and agreed to support the mass mobilisation of people against the US presence in Afghanistan and to try to turn it into a political movement. Among those present was former Afghan president [1992-1996] Burhanuddin Rabbani [the nominal head of the Northern Alliance]…

Significantly, Amin Tarzi of RFE/RL notes that the Pakistani consulate was targeted for vandalism in Jalalabad, and that just after the first protests had started, a letter was circulated in Kabul declaring that the “principle duty of the Mujahedin has just started.” He doesn’t come out and say it, but Tarzi is hinting that members of the Northern Alliance or other anti-Pakistan and anti-Taliban fundamentalists could be orchestrating some of the demonstrations. Shukria Barakzai, the editor of a women’s newspaper in Kabul, told Sonali Kolhatkar that the protests are being fanned by “some of our neighbors” (Pakistani groups that are against president Musharraf) as well as “inside people [who would] like to be in power,” and drug smugglers.

If indeed the anti-US mobilizations are being fomented for political gain by members of the Northern Alliance or other warlords, they may be reacting to the recent ad hoc tribal council called by president Hamid Karzai, which agreed in principle that an extended foreign troop presence is necessary for the country until the Afghan National Army is strong enough to ensure security. The obvious consequences of such a decision would be that Alliance commanders might lose much of the military control of the country that they currently enjoy. Notably, the delegates emphasized that this was not an official decision, since only the parliament, which has not yet formed, can rule on such matters.. But the ad hoc meeting was mainly assembled so that Karzai, whose own status depends on foreign support, would have some legitimacy (with foreigners and with his own people) in his current trip abroad when he asks the EU, NATO and the US for aid. Rumblings that the US is eager for permanent bases in Afghanistan have not gone down very well with the populace. That resentment is easily harnessed by the fundamentalists who can rally people to their side by calling the president a supine puppet who asks for support from blasphemers. By calling a meeting behind people’s backs in advance of parliamentary elections, Karzai makes the case against him that much easier for the fundamentalists.

It is ironic, but not surprising, that the men applauding, and perhaps orchestrating, the movement against the US presence in Afghanistan happen to be the same men that the US helped to power, first in the early 1990s against the Soviet-backed regime, and later in 2001 to replace the Taliban. We’ve seen this happen often enough (eg., Osama bin Laden, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar). The men who were restored to power by the US after 9/11 now want the US out of their way so they can run the country. The brutal warlord Ismail Khan, returned as governor of Herat by US action (now minister of energy), told his benefactors, “thank you for your help, such as it was, but it is no longer needed.” (New York Times, November 17, 2001) While he governed Herat, Khan kept alive the Taliban’s legacy of oppression.

In the past, the United States empowered extremists with little popular support to fight the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan. (This is not to say that the anti-Soviet jihad had little popular support. The United States and its allies simply chose to back the most extreme factions that were not well regarded by the people.) Afghans were in effect forced to decide between two centers of power, both criminal. Today, Afghans (and progressives in the US who want to work in solidarity with them) are forced into a similar false choice between the imperialist US and its client Hamid Karzai on the one hand; and their loudest opposition, the fundamentalist warlords like the Taliban and Northern Alliance, on the other. Most Afghans we met rejected this dichotomy. There is a silent but large portion of the population that wants the warlords to lose the power given to them by the US. The “Call for Justice” produced by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission voices some of the concerns of this silent majority. Because of its relative weakness, however, the secular democratic movement in Afghanistan will probably not be a major player in the current protests against foreign occupation. The demonstrations are symptomatic of a real resentment, but without strengthening democratic forces, that resentment is likely to be channeled by reactionary warlords, drug lords, and the Taliban.

Jim Ingalls is a codirector of the Afghan Women’s Mission, a US-based nonprofit that works in solidarity with the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA). Jim publishes the blog, political conScience. He is also a staff scientist at the Spitzer Space Telescope Science Center.

Afghans Protesting The US

A revised version of this piece will appear on ZNet.

A recent wave of anti-US protests in Afghanistan indicates widespread resentment of the foreign troop presence, especially US troops, in the country. According to some, this reflects a country-wide sentiment that all foreign troops should leave the country immediately. In my view, it is too soon to tell if this is true. What is true is that, like in Iraq, the people in Afghanistan most likely to take advantage of the anti-US feeling are not progressive secular democrats but right-wing fundamentalist extremists. Those of us who want to work in solidarity with the Afghan people should resist the temptation to see the situation as a choice between freedom-loving protesters and US imperialism.

The Workers World party recently published an editorial advocating “immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops” from both Iraq and Afghanistan. In the case of Afghanistan, WW reports the fact that thousands were on the streets as evidence of a “mass opposition” to the foreign troop presence, thus justifying their call. I agree with their call for US troop withdrawal, with the stipulation that non-US peacekeepers fill the military vacuum until an Afghan army can be put together to counter entrenched local warlords. But just because there are anti-US demonstrations, it does not follow that they are on the side of leftists and progressives. Cries of “Death to America” might provide good copy for the anti-war movement, but we have to be aware of what we’re cheering here.

First of all, let’s realize that the only Afghans who have anything close to freedom of speech are either those that do not question warlords, or those who espouse fundamentalist Islamic values. Consider people like Malalai Joya, whose impassioned denunciation of warlords at the constitutional assembly in January 2004 made her the recipient of death threats. When Sonali Kolhatkar and I met her in Afghanistan this February, Joya could only go outside wearing a full burqa, and her compound was patrolled by armed guards. Other journalists, lawyers, human rights workers, and activists that we met were also operating in relative secrecy. Some of them had been openly threatened, others just feared retaliation for their views.

One recent disturbing current happening almost simultaneously with the anti-US wave are the incidents across Afghanistan of violence against women. One woman was stoned to death for “adultery.” In another village, three women were found raped and murdered, with a note warning women not to work with foreign aid agencies. About 300 or so women demonstrated in Kabul against these incidents, calling for the government to “implement the laws and rights given to us,” but this was a much smaller outing than the more than 3000 who filled the streets of Jalalabad shouting “Death to America.”

The catalyst for the anti-US protests was not the violence against women, but apparently the report in Newsweek that US interrogators in Guantanamo put Koran’s in the toilet, or flush them down, to “rattle suspects.” Newsweek has since recanted, saying that they haven’t confirmed the toilet allegations but the Pentagon told them “other desecration charges [were] ‘not credible’,” as if this makes the proven violations of actual humans at Guantanamo any easier to accept. Nevertheless, as mentioned by Reuters, there is certainly “growing resentment of U.S. forces, especially in ethnic Pashtun areas of the south and east where they mainly operate.” By joining in protests against Koran desecration, it is likely that many people are expressing themselves in the only “safe” venue available to them. Unfortunately, since the anti-US sentiment is channeled into religious issues, this makes it a lot easier for fundamentalists to exploit it for their own gain.

It is clear that the most vocal elements in favor of the demonstrations are not progressives but “Islamic clerics,” according to Reuters. Even fundamentalists close to president Hamid Karzai blessed the events. Sibghatullah Mojadedi, president for a few months under the US-backed Mujahideen government that ousted the Soviet puppet Najibullah in 1992, told followers at Friday prayers, “we…support those who demonstrate…But we want peaceful demonstrations.” Mojadedi’s ideology is certainly not in line with progressive activists. When he chaired the late 2003 constitutional convention, Mojadedi told delegates what he thought of women seeking equal rights: “Do not try to put yourself on a level with men. Even God has not given you equal rights because under his decision two women are counted as equal to one man.” It was Mojadedi who cut off Malalai Joya’s microphone when she denounced warlords at the assembly.

Those who stand most to gain from the current wave of anti-US protests are not members of the left or progressive community, but are people who share the ideology of the perpetrators of the recent atrocities against women. Furthermore, there are hints of a political agenda underlying the agitation that goes beyond the need to preserve the sanctity of the Koran. The Italian news service ADN Kronos International points to the former Taliban, forces of renegade Islamists Yunus Khalis and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and “political parties and groups that supported the Northern Alliance” as among those most eager for the anti-US actions to continue. According to ADNKI,

Sources maintained that five parties met last week near Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan and agreed to support the mass mobilisation of people against the US presence in Afghanistan and to try to turn it into a political movement. Among those present was former Afghan president [1992-1996] Burhanuddin Rabbani [the nominal head of the Northern Alliance]…

Significantly, Amin Tarzi of RFE/RL notes that the Pakistani consulate was targeted for vandalism in Jalalabad, and that just after the first protests had started, a letter was circulated in Kabul declaring that the “principle duty of the Mujahedin has just started.” He doesn’t come out and say it, but Tarzi is hinting that members of the Northern Alliance or other anti-Pakistan/Taliban fundamentalists could be orchestrating some of the demonstrations.

If indeed the anti-US mobilizations are being fomented for political gain by members of the Northern Alliance, they may be reacting to the recent ad hoc tribal council called by president Hamid Karzai, which agreed in principle that an extended foreign troop presence is necessary for the country until the Afghan National Army is strong enough to ensure security. The obvious consequences of such a decision would be that Alliance commanders might lose much of the military control of the country that they currently enjoy. Notably, the delegates emphasized that this was not an official decision, since only the parliament, which has not yet formed, can rule on such matters.. But the ad hoc meeting was mainly assembled so that Karzai, whose own status depends on foreign support, would have some legitimacy (with foreigners and with his own people) in his current trip abroad when he asks the EU, NATO and the US for aid. Rumblings that the US is eager for permanent bases in Afghanistan have not gone down very well with the populace. That resentment is easily harnessed by the fundamentalists who can rally people to their side by calling the president a supine puppet who asks for support from blasphemers. By calling a meeting behind people’s backs in advance of parliamentary elections, Karzai makes the case against him that much easier for the fundamentalists.

Many of us may not see the irony that the men applauding, and perhaps orchestrating, the movement against the US presence in Afghanistan happen to be the same men that the US helped to power, first in the early 1990s against the Soviet-backed regime, and later in 2001 to replace the Taliban. We’ve seen this happen often enough (eg., Osama bin Laden, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar). The men who were restored to power by Washington after 9/11 now want the US out of their way so they can run the country. The feared warlord Ismail Khan, returned as governor of Herat by US action (now minister of energy), told his benefactors, “thank you for your help, such as it was, but it is no longer needed.” (New York Times, November 17, 2001)

In the past, the United States empowered extremists with little popular support to fight the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan. Afghans were in effect forced to choose between two centers of power, both criminal. Today, Afghans (and progressives in the US who want to work in solidarity with them) are forced into a similar false choice between the imperialist US and its client Hamid Karzai on the one hand; and the fundamentalist opposition on the other. It is important to see the anti-US protests as symptomatic of a real resentment, but without strengthening democratic forces, that resentment is likely to be channeled by reactionary forces, the warlords, drug lords, and the Taliban.

A Tale of Two Hoaxes

It was the best of times,…it was the age of wisdom,…it was the epoch of belief,…it was the season of Light,… it was the spring of hope…

“The jig is up. The puzzle pieces are beginning to fall into place, and the truth is beginning to be exposed.” For those of us concerned about the reputation of Wendy’s restaurant, we can stop worrying. The San Jose Finger Mystery has finally been solved! The woman who supposedly found a person’s finger in her chili actually planted it herself. Thankfully, today Anna Ayala is behind bars “on charges her false claim had cost Wendy’s International Inc. millions of dollars in lost sales.” Even though Ayala didn’t get to score with a big lawsuit, the finger hoax did plenty of damage to Wendy’s. “The franchise where the finger claim was made saw an immediate 60 to 70 percent drop in business.” Even today, the Wendy’s store is making 20 percent less profit than before the finger incident.

it was the worst of times,…it was the age of foolishness,…it was the epoch of incredulity,…it was the season of Darkness,…it was the winter of despair…

It’s amazing that this finger story gets so much play in the news, while nobody wants to talk about another sensational scam job with much more deadly consequences and much less evidence to support itself, that nevertheless was successful. I’m referring to the Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction hoax. In the Ayala finger case, the investigation had a concrete outcome that involved bringing the perpetrator to justice. The WMD case, as Rahul Mahajan put it, is

a scandal that dwarfs Watergate, Iran-contra, and even Lewinsky-gate, but…, in contrast to those events, has led to no in-depth investigation, minimal television coverage, and hardly any calls for the heads responsible to roll.

The only investigation into the WMD scandal was one “created to provide political cover for the Bush administration.” Imagine Ms. Ayala being let off because of an “intelligence failure,” or because she claimed that the finger in her chili was “information that turned out to be wrong,” in the words of Tony Blair. The thing is, she actually had the finger, nothing so vague or open to interpretation as Colin Powell’s lame PowerPoint presentation at the UN, which somehow bamboozled the entire corps of the US media. The New York Times explained that, “Our certainty flowed from the fact that such an overwhelming majority of government officials, past and present, top intelligence officials and other experts were sure that the weapons were there.” If the government says it, it must be true.

If there was ever any doubt that the WMD allegations were lies and officials involved knew about it, consider the memo leaked to the Sunday Times of London, dated 23 July 2002 (eight months before the invasion) by Mathhew Rycroft, former foreign policy aide to the Prime Minister (published May 1, 2005). Rycroft wrote:

Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy… It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran.

To me, that’s as clear as the DNA evidence linking the finger to an acquaintance of Ayala’s husband. They were lying and they knew it.

-jim

(Please forgive my butchering of the original Dickens. I found it in pieces in my chili…)

IT WAS the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

“Contagious Fire” in Occupied Los Angeles

Early Monday morning, over 10 police officers fired 120 rounds at Winston Hayes, an unarmed man driving an SUV, who they had been chasing through a residential area in Compton. “The deputies had been told in radio calls that a man in a white SUV had fired shots about 11:51 p.m. and was a possible suspect in a shooting…Deputies started pursuing Hayes because his truck was similar to the one in [the] radio broadcast.” And undoubtedly the fact that he was black made it a lot easier to shoot a man driving a similar car to that driven by a man who was a “possible suspect.” Hayes and one officer were injured and bullets went into “at least five homes” in the area. An analysis of this shooting in the context of long term institutionalized police violence against people of color was given by Dylan Rodriguez, Assistant Professor at the Department of Ethnic Studies at UC Riverside on Uprising Radio this morning.

The LA Times, instead of treating this debacle, which was caught on video, as the crime it is, portrays things from the perspective of the Sherriff’s Department, which is “attempting to improve the way it handles incidents involving large numbers of deputies.”

According to the Times, “Investigators believe the shooting could be an example of ‘contagious fire,’ in which officers in different positions open fire because others are shooting.” Imagine the scenario: cops start shooting; cops hear shooting; cops shoot more to “defend themselves” from shooting. 120 rounds. All fired by the cops, not Hayes, who stayed in his SUV and made his way slowly down the road. Hayes could be the guy who was a “possible suspect,” but they weren’t sure. When he refused to stop his car, a platoon of cops felt like it was OK to wipe him out–because of course it was him, an unarmed black man, they imagined was shooting back at them, not their fellow officers.

Let’s examine this “contagious fire” excuse. Let’s assume that indeed the shooting escalated because the officers thought (correctly) that the firing (that they were doing) was endangering their own lives, so they (stupidly) fired more shots in an effort to end the shooting. By this logic, the fact that there was shooting going on justified an increase in shooting.

This is analagous to the “liberal” view that the US occupation of Iraq is justified because of insurgent violence. We have an insurgency (bullets) that wasn’t there before the US (cops) got there, and which increases in strength everytime the US (cops) commits new atrocities (fires guns). This provides an excuse for the US (cops) to maintain its presence and arrest and kill more Iraqis (continue firing guns). Like “contagious fire” the US occupation of Iraq is a cause and result of the insurgency. Seen in this light, it makes even more sense to me that the US should get out of Iraq ASAP.

And the police who shot at Winston Hayes should never be allowed to carry guns again.

-jim

Stewardship for us, Non-Proliferation for them

A recent Asia Times commentary by Bhaskar Dasgupta rightly claims that the Nuclear Nonproliferation treaty is a “crock” that “has proven to be spectacularly ineffective in the past decade.” What he doesn’t say is that the treaty was largely meaningless from the beginning since it never called for the nuclear-armed powers to destroy their arsenals, only for other countries not to get nuclear weapons. In other words, the word “nonproliferation” only applies to our adversaries. The NPT is just another example of the big nuclear-armed powers, mainly the US, setting the terms by which newly-nuclear or non-nuclear countries should behave. (It’s also a good excuse for a non-nuclear country to get nuclear weapons.)

George W. Bush has been complaining that the Nuclear Nonproliferation treaty hasn’t been doing its job, not of course because the US still has a huge arsenal, but because Iran and North Korea have declared their willingness to pursue their own nukes. The Bush administration doesn’t want the treaty to be rewritten, though, because “They fear doing so would take the focus away from Iran and North Korea,” who they want to be able to use the treaty against, like they did with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. If they called for a rewrite, says the New York Times, it would “play into the hands of nations that complain the existing treaty favors nations that already have large nuclear arsenals, and that have moved too slowly to fill their commitments to shrinking those arsenals to zero.” Washington wants the treaty to allow them to ostracise uncooperative non-nuclear and almost-nuclear powers before they become nuclear rivals, and hopes the world will keep quiet about the fact that the US “has moved too slowly” to cut back its own stockpile (NYT, May 1, 2005).

In other words, if Bush tried to rewrite the treaty, US hypocrisy might be seen for what it is. But the Times won’t say this. Neither will it say what former UN weapons inspector in Iraq, Richard Butler said: “their [US] weapons of mass destruction are just as much a problem as are those of Iraq.” Nor will it remind us that the Bush administration refused to be part of a weapons inspection regime probably a lot less stringent than that forced on Saddam Hussein’s government, the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), which would have banned production of highly enriched uranium and plutonium for weapons. In withdrawing from the FMCT, the State department claimed that the inspections regime it called for “would have been so extensive that it could compromise key signatories’ core national security interests and so costly that many countries will be hesitant to accept it.”

But we don’t really need weapons inspectors to prove that the US is not serious about nonproliferation. First of all, the Department of Energy is doing everything it can to ensure that existing US weapons of mass destruction are up to date and kept in peak working order. In president Bush’s description of his 2006 budget request for the DOE, it is declared that “The Nation’s nuclear deterrent remains a critical component of our defense strategy.” The “stockpile stewardship program” under the aspices of DOE “ensures the operational readiness of the Nation’s nuclear weapons.”

But more importantly, the DOE is always on the ready to produce new weapons. The Department runs the National Nuclear Security Administration, which has among its goals to “promote international nuclear safety and nonproliferation.” If we had any doubts that “nonproliferation” is really only ever applied to others, not us, we find that “The NNSA …maintains and enhances the … performance of the United States nuclear weapons stockpile, including the ability to design, produce, and test” nuclear weapons. The NNSA Strategic Plan for “stockpile stewardship,” will develop “the capability to produce all nuclear components in a weapon” to be ready “to respond rapidly to the Department of Defense requirements to counter a broad spectrum of emerging threats.” In other words, the NNSA will be able to assemble new nukes at the drop of a dime. Thus, “The Nation will maintain a deterrent posture second to none.”

Let’s face it. The United States and other nuclear superpowers are not going to draw down their nuclear arsenals just because they agreed to. The way I see it, there are only three conditions which might lead to the world’s powers dismantling their nuclear stockpiles entirely.

  1. The world becomes a place where the use or threat of force no longer makes sense or is no longer possible.
  2. World War III occurs.
  3. The people of nuclear-armed nations multilaterally force their governments to stop making nukes.

(1) is 99.99999% unlikely, and (2) is unthinkable (but more likely). So we are left with (3).

Anti-Nuclear Demonstration.  Photo by New York Times.

Bhaskar Dasgupta comments, “Gone are the days that massive rallies would take place about the removal of nuclear weapons…now, people are more driven by what a few terrorists could do, rather than what a whole structure that owns and manages nuclear weapons can do.” I think Dasgupta is saying that since 9/11, when the US was attacked by terrorists, US citizens that used to worry about the danger to the world posed by our own government’s WMD’s have stopped doing so and are now worried about the next al Qaeda suicide bomb . If this is indeed his meaning, I would have to say that, like the NPT, this is a crock. There are plenty of US citizens who are angry that their government possesses weapons of mass destruction, like the 40,000 protestors who marched in New York on May 1. Of course, that number will have to increase before we see UN weapons inspectors in the US, but the days of “massive rallies” are surely not “gone.”

-jim

For further reading: