Wednesday, June 22, 2011

William O. Beeman--The Afghan Drawdown is Long, Long Overdue

The Afghan Drawdown is Long, Long Overdue

New America Media, Commentary, William O. Beeman, Posted: Jun 22, 2011

President Obama is now doing something politically difficult — drawing down our troops from Afghanistan. However difficult it will be for the president to weather his Washington critics, it is the right decision politically and militarily.

The United States has been fighting in Afghanistan for nearly a decade. It is the longest military conflict in our history, and also the most futile and ineffective. Once Al-Qaeda had been ousted from power and had retreated to Pakistan, there was no longer a reason for an American presence there. When the United States finally killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the lack of need for a continued American military presence became definitive. Our continued presence is overkill; we have long since won our battles there. We know that our erstwhile enemy consists of only a few hundred weakened and leaderless adherents in the region.

The costs of maintaining the American military in Afghanistan are astronomical — a billion dollars a week by some estimates. There would be some justification for this expense if the military were actually accomplishing something of value for the United States or even for the Afghan people, but neither is the case.

Let us be clear. The United States is in a conflict of its own making. It set up this war more than 30 years ago in its support of “freedom fighters” working to oust the Soviet Union from Afghan soil. There was nothing wrong with that support at the time; however the United States lost interest in the Afghans and their external voluntary zealot-supporters from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Morocco the minute the Soviets had withdrawn. These external fighters, who could not return home since they frightened their own governments, were dumped into Pakistan with the United States’ blessing, only to fester in their extreme views, forming the core of Al-Qaeda.

The Taliban ex-Afghan fighters — equally reactionary to Al-Qaeda in their religious philosophy — were first supported by the United States, since they hoped that they would support building a pipeline for Caspian petroleum across Afghan territory. When they were seen to protect Al-Qaeda, they became the U.S. target.

The United States' answer to Taliban rule was to install a corrupt dictator, Hamid Karzai, as president of the nation. Karzai, who had long connections with Washington and U.S. financial interests, stole billions of U.S. dollars and never did anything to counter religious extremism in his country. He certainly never lifted a finger to aid in the containment of Al-Qaeda.

American troops twiddled their thumbs in Afghanistan, half-building useless, flimsy public works that now largely stand empty. They also wasted time trying to eradicate the only cash crop that gave Afghan farmers any income at all — opium poppies — and engaging in random skirmishes with Taliban guerrillas. There was never any concrete goal to the military presence beyond containment of Al-Qaeda. Variously the United States has claimed that it was trying to “stabilize” Afghanistan, to bring democratic government to the nation, to assure human rights, and a hundred other ancillary tasks that were utterly impractical and unsuccessful.

In truth, American military and political leaders never understood Afghan society at all. They called local leaders “warlords” and tried to destroy their power base, when in fact these individuals had formed the core of the traditional political system in the country and were forces for stability. They never appreciated the extraordinary ethnic and cultural diversity of the nation, which made every region virtually a nation within a nation, requiring tailor-made strategies for each, rather than one-size-fits-all broad-brush measures. They failed to understand the system of economic and political patronage that insured some modicum of financial security for peasants. They also were totally puzzled by the religious landscape of the country — sometimes over-the-top in its religious stringency, at other times lax and even agnostic.

The one truly virtuous ideal upheld by Americans was the protection of women and women’s rights. But here too the United States could only pay lip service to this important social dynamic. It couldn’t prevent laws curtailing women’s rights from being passed, nor could it develop a strategy for persuading Afghan leaders to intervene in the most egregious local abuses.

One thing is clear though: The U.S. presence has been an astonishing windfall for U.S. contractors and external advisors who reaped billions of their own with little or no supervision at U.S. taxpayer expense. These war profiteers are first and foremost lobbying to keep the military in place.

What is also clear is that the Afghan people no longer want the United States in their country — just as they have never wanted any foreign presence on their soil. At best, the United States has relieved the Afghan military from its own defense responsibilities. It has enriched its generals and other military personnel, but in no way has it been effective in helping to build an Afghan military.

Critics will say that President Obama has simply given up. But our military leaders gave up long before the president. Virtually everyone in command in Afghanistan, and certainly the preponderance of the rank-and-file military, see absolutely no purpose in maintaining a U.S. presence there any longer. It is time for them to come home and give Afghanistan what it really wants — self determination and a nation free of foreign occupation for the first time in decades.

The traditional leadership systems of Afghanistan should be given time to work and establish political stability once more. This will not be quick or easy. Here, the United States or the United Nations could play a limited role in preventing external influence and curtailing the civil conflict, which will likely ensue. However, the Afghans want to make their own way. It is time to let them.

Friday, June 03, 2011

William O. Beeman--No Evidence of an Iranian Bomb, Yet the Attacks on Iran Continue - New America Media

No Evidence of an Iranian Bomb, Yet the Attacks on Iran Continue - New America Media

New America Media, News Analysis, William O. Beeman, Posted: Jun 03, 2011

Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter Seymour Hersh has once again created controversy by stating in a recent New Yorker article, “Iran and the Bomb,” that there is no evidence that Iran is building a nuclear weapon. Hersh is correct, but his statement still provokes debate.

Politico reporter Jennifer Epstein, in a May 31 article, attempts to refute of Hersh’s assertion. Among other charges, she cites criticism of Hersh for using "anonymous sources" in this and other articles. Irony of ironies, Epstein's entire story is based on an anonymous source attacking Hersh. She quotes "a senior administration official" saying: “[A]ll you need to read to be deeply concerned about Iran’s nuclear program is the substantial body of information already in the public domain, including the most recent IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] report."

Since the most recent IAEA Report itself gives no detail whatsoever about this alleged military information, one can only conclude that the information it is talking about was leaked. Indeed, the website ISIS (Institute for Science and International Security) provided what purports to be the evidence for IAEA concern.

The information also appears to have been leaked to the New York Times. Writers David E. Sanger and William J. Broad reported on a series of unrelated “concerns” in Iranian engineering research that when considered together could lead to “triggering” technology for a nuclear weapon. Broad followed up with details in the Science Times section of the newspaper on May 31. He acknowledged that there is no evidence that such a trigger is known to be in development, and several of the elements are consistent with non-military peaceful applications.

In short, the IAEA report and the information leaked to ISIS are totally inconclusive regarding any military use of nuclear technology. If Epstein’s "senior official" wants to claim that this is the smoking gun that proves Iran to be manufacturing nuclear weapons, he or she would be laughed out of the room.

In addition, the Government’s own National Intelligence Estimate of 2011, released in March specifically has dropped language stating that Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions are a future option. Tellingly, the report has been buried by the Obama administration

According to Epstein, the "senior official" goes on to say:

“There is a clear, ongoing pattern of deception, and Iran has repeatedly refused to respond to the IAEA’s questions about the military dimensions of [its] nuclear program, including those about the covert site at Qom,”

This shows once again that "they ain't got nuttin'." Iran's "refusal" to respond to the IAEA questions is limited to a mysterious laptop captured by U.S. Intelligence seven years ago containing "bomb plans" that no one has ever seen. The site at Qom is nothing but an empty hole in the ground with no fissile materials ever introduced--in short, a complete dead horse.

One can ask: Why does the administration continues to flog this non-starter of an issue in the face of its own intelligence on the issue?

Many who have questioned the Bush and Obama administration's tenacity in holding on to this nuclear non-issue have often been accused of "supporting the mullahs" or worse. This is absolutely not the issue. The issue is not support or non-support of the Iranian regime, it is concern over America's own ineffective foreign policy.

It is worth asking whether the United States is going to follow a reasoned and productive policy toward Iran or is going to keep obsessing about this non-existent nuclear issue to the exclusion of every other possible dimension of interacting with the Iranian State?

The United States really cannot afford to let this obstacle dominate our every move toward the most important political entity in the Middle East. The sad part is that the issue isn't even one of ignorance or misinformation. It is one of ideology. To accept the reality that Iran is not the most dangerous nation on the planet is obviously a political third-rail in the United States. It triggers an avalanche of other accusations, Anti-Israeli attitudes or worse, Antisemitism, being among the most common and also the most irrelevant.

Anyone in government or the press, such as Hersh, who questions the utterly unproven postulate that Iran has an active, effective nuclear weapons program risks political disaster. Therefore, otherwise responsible people are willing to embrace a foolish lie that was concocted to serve as a selling point to the American people for Iranian "regime change" during the Bush administration.

Today the specter of the Iranian nuclear bogeyman serves no purpose whatever except to obstruct progress in bringing stability to the region. People embrace the “Iranian bomb myth” not so much because they know it to be true based on hard facts, but rather in order to avoid political attack. Where are our principles? Where is our professionalism?