Saturday, February 26, 2011
On February 15th at 9:45 AM a comment was posted on the wall of the Kullina Khalid Sa’id Facebook page, administered by the now very famous Wael Ghoneim, referring to a news item reporting that European governments were under pressure to freeze bank accounts of recently deposed members of the Mubarak regime. The comment said: “Excellent news … we do not want to take revenge on anyone … it is the right of all of us to hold to account any person who has wronged this nation. By law we want the nation’s money that has been stolen … because this is the money of Egyptians, 40% of whom live below the poverty line.” By the time I unpacked this thread of conversation twenty-one hours later, 5,999 people had clicked the “like” button, and about 5,500 had left comments. I have not attempted the herculean task of reading all five thousand odd comments (and no doubt more are being added as I write), but a fairly lengthy survey left no doubt that most of the comments were made by people who clicked the “like” icon on the Facebook page. There were also a few by regime supporters, and others by people who dislike the personality cult that has emerged around Mr. Ghoneim.
This Facebook thread is symptomatic of the moment. Now that the Mubarak regime has fallen, an urge to account for its crimes and to identify its accomplices has come to the fore. The chants, songs, and poetry performed in Midan al-Tahrir always contained an element of anger against haramiyya (thieves) who benefited from regime corruption. Now lists of regime supporters are circulating in the press and blogosphere. Mubarak and his closest relatives (sons Gamal and ‘Ala’) are always at the head of these lists. Articles on their personal wealth give figures as low as $2-3 billion to as high as $70 billion (the higher number was repeated on many protesters’ signs). Ahmad ‘Izz, the General Secretary of the deposed National Democratic Party and the largest steel magnate in the Middle East, is supposed to be worth $18 billion; Zohayr Garana, former Minister of Tourism, $13 billion; Ahmad al-Maghrabi, former Minister of Housing, $11 billion; former Minister of Interior Habib Adli, much hated for his supervision of an incredibly abusive police state, also managed to amass $8 billion — not bad for a lifetime civil servant. Such figures may prove to be inaccurate. They may be too low, or maybe too high, and we may never know precisely because much of the money is outside of Egypt, and foreign governments will only investigate the financial dealings of Mubarak regime members if the Egyptian government makes a formal request for them to do so. Whatever the true numbers, the corruption of the Mubarak regime is not in doubt. The lowest figure quoted (in the New York Times) for Mubarak’s personal wealth, of “only” $2-3 billion, is damning enough for a man who entered the air force in 1950 at the age of twenty-two, embarking on a sixty-year career in “public service.”
The hunt for regime cronies’ billions may be a natural inclination of the post-Mubarak era, but it could also lead efforts to reconstitute the political system astray. The generals who now rule Egypt are obviously happy to let the politicians take the heat. Their names were not included in the lists of the most egregiously corrupt individuals of the Mubarak era, though in fact the upper echelons of the military have long been beneficiaries of a system similar to (and sometimes overlapping with) the one that that enriched civilian figures much more prominent in the public eye such as Ahmad ‘Izz and Habib al-‘Adly.
To describe blatant exploitation of the political system for personal gain as corruption misses the forest for the trees. Such exploitation is surely an outrage against Egyptian citizens, but calling it corruption suggests that the problem amounts to aberrant behavior from a system that would otherwise function smoothly. If this were the case then the crimes of the Mubarak regime could be attributed simply to bad character: change the people and the problems go away. But the real problem with the regime was not necessarily that high-ranking members of the government were thieves in an ordinary sense. They did not necessarily steal directly from the treasury. Rather they were enriched through a conflation of politics and business under the guise of privatization. This was less a violation of the system than business as usual. Mubarak’s Egypt, in a nutshell, was a quintessential neoliberal state.
Although neoliberalism is now a commonly used term, it is still worth pausing a moment and think about what it means. In his Brief History of Neoliberalism social geographer David Harvey outlined “a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade.” Neoliberal states guarantee, by force if necessary, the “proper functioning” of markets; where markets do not exist (for example, in the use of land, water, education, health care, social security, or environmental pollution), then the state should create them. Guaranteeing the sanctity of markets is supposed to be the limit of legitimate state functions, and state interventions should always be subordinate to markets. All human behavior, and not just the production of goods and services, can be reduced to market transactions. The market becomes an end in an of itself, and since the only legitimate function of states is to defend markets and expand them into new spheres, democracy is a potential problem insofar as people might vote for political and economic choices that impede the unfettered operation of markets, or that reserve spheres of human endeavor (education, for example, or health care) from the logic of markets. Hence a pure neoliberal state would philosophically be empowered to defend markets even from its own citizens. As an ideology neoliberalism is as utopian as communism. The application of utopian neoliberalism in the real world leads to deformed societies as surely as the application of utopian communism did.
Two observations about Egypt’s history as a neoliberal state are in order. First, Mubarak’s Egypt was considered to be at the forefront of instituting neoliberal policies in the Middle East (not un-coincidentally, so was Ben Ali’s Tunisia). Secondly, the reality of Egypt’s political economy during the Mubarak era was very different than the rhetoric, as was the case in every other neoliberal state from Chile to Indonesia. Political scientist Timothy Mitchell published a revealing essay about Egypt’s brand of neoliberalism in Rule of Experts (the chapter titled “Dreamland” — named after a housing development built by Ahmad Bahgat, one of the Mubarak cronies now discredited by the fall of the regime; a version of this was also published in Merip). The gist of Mitchell’s portrait of Egyptian neoliberalism was that while Egypt was lauded by institutions such as the International Monetary Fund as a beacon of free-market success, the standard tools for measuring economies gave a grossly inadequate picture of the Egyptian economy. In reality the unfettering of markets and agenda of privatization were applied unevenly at best. The only people for whom Egyptian neoliberalism worked “by the book” were the most vulnerable members of society, and their experience with neoliberalism was not a pretty picture. Organized labor was fiercely suppressed. The public education and the health care systems were gutted by a combination of neglect and privatization. Much of the population suffered stagnant or falling wages relative to inflation. Official unemployment was estimated at approximately 9.4% last year (and much higher for the youth who spearheaded the January 25th Revolution), and about 20% of the population is said to live below a poverty line defined as $2 per day per person
For the wealthy, the rules were very different. Egypt did not so much shrink its public sector, as neoliberal doctrine would have it, as it reallocated public resources for the benefit of a small and already affluent elite. Privatization provided windfalls for politically well-connected individuals who could purchase state-owned assets for much less than their market value, or monopolize rents from such diverse sources as tourism and foreign aid. Huge proportions of the profits made by companies that supplied basic construction materials like steel and cement came from government contracts, a proportion of which in turn were related to aid from foreign governments. Most importantly, the very limited function for the state recommended by neoliberal doctrine in the abstract was turned on its head in reality. In Mubarak’s Egypt business and government were so tightly intertwined that it was often difficult for an outside observer to tease them apart. Since political connections were the surest route to astronomical profits, businessmen had powerful incentives to buy political office in the phony elections run by the ruling National Democratic Party. Whatever competition there was for seats in the Peoples’ Assembly and Consultative Council took place mainly within the NDP. Non-NDP representation in parliament by opposition parties was strictly a matter of the political calculations made for a given elections: let in a few independent candidates known to be affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood in 2005 (and set off tremors of fear in Washington); dictate total NDP domination in 2010 (and clear the path for an expected new round of distributing public assets to “private” investors).
The political economy of the Mubarak regime was shaped by many currents in Egypt’s own history, but its broad outlines were by no means unique. Similar stories can be told throughout the rest of the Middle East, Latin America, Asia, Europe and Africa. Everywhere neoliberalism has been tried, the results are similar: living up to the utopian ideal is impossible; formal measures of economic activity mask huge disparities in the fortunes of the rich and poor; elites become “masters of the universe,” using force to defend their prerogatives, and manipulating the economy to their advantage, but never living in anything resembling the heavily marketized worlds that are imposed on the poor.
The story should sound familiar to Americans as well. For example, the vast fortunes of Bush era cabinet members Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, through their involvement with companies like Halliburton and Gilead Sciences, are the product of a political system that allows them — more or less legally — to have one foot planted in “business” and another in “government” to the point that the distinction between them becomes blurred. In the US, politicians in office are supposed to divest their holdings in companies that would create conflicts of interest with their political positions, but this has become barely even a formality in recent decades. Politicians move from the office to the boardroom to the lobbying organization and back again. Cheney and Rumsfeld simply refused to cooperate with conflict of interest rules, and both profited handsomely from companies that received privileged access to the government, including (in the case of Halliburton) contracts for privatized military services during the invasion and occupation of Iraq. As neoliberal dogma disallows any legitimate role for government other than guarding the sanctity of free markets, recent American history has been marked by the steady privatization of services and resources formerly supplied or controlled by the government. But it is inevitably those with closest access to the government who are best positioned to profit from government campaigns to sell off the functions it formerly performed. It is not just Republicans who are implicated in this systemic corruption. Clinton-era Secretary of Treasury Robert Rubin’s involvement with Citigroup does not bear close scrutiny. Lawrence Summers gave crucial support for the deregulation of financial derivatives contracts while Secretary of Treasury under Clinton, and profited handsomely from companies involved in the same practices while working for Obama (and of course deregulated derivatives were a key element in the financial crisis that led to a massive Federal bailout of the entire banking industry).
So in Egyptian terms, when General Secretary of the NDP Ahmad ‘Izz cornered the market on steel and was given contracts to build public-private construction projects, or when former Minister of Parliament Tal‘at Moustafa purchased vast tracts of land for the upscale Madinaty housing development without having to engage in a competitive bidding process (but with the benefit of state-provided road and utility infrastructure), they may have been practicing corruption logically and morally. But what they were doing was also as American as apple pie, at least within the scope of the past two decades.
However, in the current climate the most important thing is not the depredations of deposed Mubarak regime cronies. It is rather the role of the military in the political system. It is the army that now rules the country, albeit as a transitional power, or so most Egyptians hope. No representatives of the upper echelons of the Egyptian military appear on the various lists of old-regime allies who need to be called to account. For example, the headline of the February 17th print edition of Ahrar, the press organ of the Liberal Socialist Party, was emblazoned with the headline “Financial Reserves of the Corrupt Total 700 Billion Pounds [about $118 billion] in 18 Countries.” But the article did not say a single word about the place of the military in this epic theft. The military were nonetheless part of the crony capitalism of the Mubarak era. After relatively short careers in the military high-ranking officers are rewarded with such perks as highly remunerative positions on the management boards of housing projects and shopping malls. Some of these are essentially public-sector companies transferred to the military sector when IMF-mandated structural adjustment programs required reductions in the civilian public sector. But the generals also receive plumbs from the private sector. Military spending itself was also lucrative because it included both a state budget and contracts with American companies that provided hardware and technical expertise. The United States provided much of the financing for this spending under rules that required a great deal of the money to be recycled to American corporations, but all such deals required middlemen. Who better to act as an intermediary for American foreign aid contracts than men from the very same military designated as the recipient of the services paid for by this aid? In this respect the Egyptian military-industrial complex was again stealing a page from the American playbook; indeed, to the extent that the Egyptian military benefited from American foreign aid, Egypt was part of the American military-industrial complex, which is famous for its revolving-door system of recycling retired military men as lobbyists and employees of defense contractors.
Consequently it is almost unthinkable that the generals of the Supreme Military Council will willingly allow more than cosmetic changes in the political economy of Egypt. But they could be compelled to do so unwillingly. The army is a blunt force, not well suited for controlling crowds of demonstrators. The latest statement of the Supreme Military Council reiterated both the legitimacy of the pro-democracy movements demands, and the requirement that demonstrations cease so that the country can get back to work. If demonstrations continue to the point that the Supreme Military Council feels it can no longer tolerate them, then the soldiers who will be ordered to put them down (indeed, in some accounts were already ordered to put them down early in the revolution and refused to do so) with deadly force, are not the generals who were part of the Mubarak-era corruption, but conscripts. Pro-democracy demonstrators and their sympathizers often repeated the slogans “the army and the people are one hand,” and “the army is from us.” They had the conscripts in mind, and many were unaware of how stark differences were between the interests of the soldiers and the generals.
Between the conscripts and the generals is a middle-level professional officer corps whose loyalties have been the subject of much speculation. The generals, for their part, want to maintain their privileges, but not to rule directly. Protracted direct rule leaves the officers of the Supreme Military Council vulnerable to challenges from other officers who were left on the outside. Also, direct rule would make it impossible to hide that the elite officers are not in fact part of the “single hand” composed of the people and the (conscript) army. They are instead logically in the same camp as Ahmad ‘Izz, Safwat al-Sharif, Gamal Mubarak, and Habib al-‘Adly — precisely the names on those lists making the rounds of regime members and cronies who should face judgment.
Ultimately the intense speculation about how much money the Mubarak regime stole, and how much the people can expect to pump back into the nation, is a red herring. If the figure turns out to be $50 billion or $500 billion it will not matter if Egypt remains a neoliberal state dedicated (nominally) to free-market fundamentalism for the poor, while creating new privatized assets that can be recycled to political insiders for the rich. If one seeks clues to how deeply the January 25th Revolution will restructure Egypt, it would be better to look at such issues as what sort of advice the interim government of generals solicits in fulfilling its mandate to re-make Egyptian government. The period of military government probably will be as short as advertised, followed, one hopes, by an interim civilian government for some specified period (at least two years) during which political parties are allowed to organize on the ground in preparation for free elections. But interim governments have a way of becoming permanent. One sometimes hears calls to set up a government of “technocrats” that would assume the practical matters of governance. “Technocrat” sounds neutral — a technical expert who would make decisions on “scientific” principle. The term was often applied to Yusuf Butros Ghali, for example, the former Minister of the Treasury, who was one of the Gamal Mubarak boys brought into the cabinet in 2006 ostensibly to smooth the way for the President’s son to assume power. Butros Ghali is now accused of having appropriated LE 450 million for the use of Ahmad ‘Izz. I once sat next to Butros Ghali at a dinner during one of his trips abroad, and had the opportunity to ask him when the Egyptian government would be ready to have free elections. His response was to trot out the now discredited regime line that elections were impossible because actual democracy would result in the Muslim Brotherhood taking power. Conceivably Butros Ghali will beat the charge of specifically funneling the state’s money to Ahmad ‘Izz. But even if he proves innocent of the most blatant excesses of the Mubarak regime, as a key architect of Egypt’s privatization programs he cannot possibly have been unaware that he was facilitating a system that enabled the ‘Izz steel empire while simultaneously destroying Egypt’s educational and health care systems.
The last time I encountered the word “technocrat” was in Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine — a searing indictment of neoliberalism which argues that the free-market fundamentalism promoted by economist Milton Friedman (and immensely influential in the United States) is predicated on restructuring economies in the wake of catastrophic disruptions because normally functioning societies and political systems would never vote for it. Disruptions can be natural or man-made, such as … revolutions. The chapters in The Shock Doctrine on Poland, Russia, and South Africa make interesting reading in the context of Egypt’s revolution. In each case when governments (communist or apartheid) collapsed, “technocrats” were brought in to help run countries that were suddenly without functional governments, and create the institutional infrastructure for their successors. The technocrats always seemed to have dispensed a form of what Klein calls “shock therapy” — the imposition of sweeping privatization programs before dazed populations could consider their options and potentially vote for less ideologically pure options that are in their own interests.
The last great wave of revolutions occurred in 1989. The governments that were collapsing then were communist, and the replacement in that “shock moment” of one extreme economic system with its opposite seemed predictable and to many even natural. One of the things that make the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions potentially important on a global scale is that they took place in states that were already neoliberalized. The complete failure of neoliberalsm to deliver “human well-being” to a large majority of Egyptians was one of the prime causes of the revolution, at least in the sense of helping to prime millions of people who were not connected to social media to enter the streets on the side of the pro-democracy activists. But the January 25th Revolution is still a “shock moment.” Even from the activists who led the Revolution we hear calls to bring in the technocrats. They presumably mean a caretaker government to keep the trains running and the bills being paid while a government can be formed. But we are told every day that the situation is fluid, and that there is a power vacuum in the wake of not just the disgraced NDP, but also the largely discredited legal opposition parties, which played no role whatsoever in the January 25th Revolution. But in the context of a dazed population and a sputtering economy, calling for a government of technocrats is a bit like inviting the fox back into the henhouse. The generals are probably happy with all the talk about reclaiming the money stolen by the regime, because the flip side of that coin is a related current of worry about the state of the economy. The notion that the economy is in ruins — tourists staying away, investor confidence shattered, employment in the construction sector at a standstill, many industries and businesses operating at far less than full capacity — could well be the single most dangerous rationale for imposing cosmetic reforms that leave the incestuous relation between governance and business intact. Or worse, if the pro-democracy movement lets itself be stampeded by the “economic ruin” narrative, structures could be put in place by “technocrats” under the aegis of the military transitional government that would tie the eventual civilian government into actually quickening the pace of privatization. Ideologues, including those of the neoliberal stripe, are prone to a witchcraft mode of thinking: if the spell does not work, it is not the fault of the magic, but rather the fault of the shaman who performed the spell. In other words, the logic could be that it was not neoliberalism that ruined Mubarak’s Egypt, but the faulty application of neoliberalism. Trial balloons for this witchcraft narrative are already being floated outside of Egypt. The New York Times ran an article on February 17th casting the military as a regressive force opposed to privatization and seeking a return to Nasserist statism. The article pits the ostensibly “good side” of the Mubarak regime (privatization programs) against “bad old Arab nationalist statism,” completely ignoring the fact that while the system of military privilege may preserve some public-sector resources transferred from the civilian economy under pressure of IMF structural adjustment programs, the empire of the generals is hardly limited to a ring-fenced quasi-underground public sector. Officers were also rewarded with private-sector perks; civilian political/business empires mixed public and private roles to the point that what was government and what was private were indistinguishable; both the military and civilians raked in rents from foreign aid. The generals may well prefer a new round of neoliberal witchcraft. More privatization will simply free up assets and rents that only the politically connected (including the generals) can acquire. Fixing a failed neoliberal state by more stringent applications of neoliberalism could be the surest way for them to preserve their privileges.
A neoliberal fix would, however, be a tragedy for the pro-democracy movement. The demands of the protesters were clear and largely political: remove the regime; end the emergency law; stop state torture; hold free and fair elections. But implicit in these demands from the beginning (and decisive by the end) was an expectation of greater social and economic justice. Social media may have helped organize the kernal of a movement that eventually overthrew Mubarak, but a large element of what got enough people into the streets to finally overwhelm the state security forces was economic grievances that are intrinsic to neoliberalism. These grievances cannot be reduced to grinding poverty, for revolutions are never carried out by the poorest of the poor. It was rather the erosion of a sense that some human spheres should be outside the logic of markets. Mubarak’s Egypt degraded schools and hospitals, and guaranteed grossly inadequate wages, particularly in the ever-expanding private sector. This was what turned hundreds of dedicated activists into millions of determined protestors. If the January 25th Revolution results in no more than a retrenchment of neoliberalism, or even its intensification, those millions will have been cheated. The rest of the world could be cheated as well. Egypt and Tunisia are the first nations to carry out successful revolutions against neoliberal regimes. Americans could learn from Egypt. Indeed, there are signs that they already are doing so. Wisconsin teachers protesting against their governor’s attempts to remove the right to collective bargaining have carried signs equating Mubarak with their governor. Egyptians might well say to America ‘uqbalak (may you be next).
By Tom Engelhardt
This is a global moment unlike any in memory, perhaps in history. Yes, comparisons can be made to the wave of people power that swept Eastern Europe as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989-91. For those with longer memories, perhaps 1968 might come to mind, that abortive moment when, in the United States, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Brazil, and elsewhere, including Eastern Europe, masses of people mysteriously inspired by each other took to the streets of global cities to proclaim that change was on the way.
For those searching the history books, perhaps you’ve focused on the year 1848 when, in a time that also mixed economic gloom with novel means of disseminating the news, the winds of freedom seemed briefly to sweep across Europe. And, of course, if enough regimes fall and the turmoil goes deep enough, there’s always 1776, the American Revolution, or 1789, the French one, to consider. Both shook up the world for decades after.
But here’s the truth of it: you have to strain to fit this Middle Eastern moment into any previous paradigm, even as -- from Wisconsin to China -- it already threatens to break out of the Arab world and spread like a fever across the planet. Never in memory have so many unjust or simply despicable rulers felt quite so nervous -- or possibly quite so helpless (despite being armed to the teeth) -- in the presence of unarmed humanity. And there has to be joy and hope in that alone.
Even now, without understanding what it is we face, watching staggering numbers of people, many young and dissatisfied, take to the streets in Morocco, Mauritania, Djibouti, Oman, Algeria, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Yemen, and Libya, not to mention Bahrain, Tunisia, and Egypt, would be inspirational. Watching them face security forces using batons, tear gas, rubber bullets, and in all too many cases, real bullets (in Libya, even helicopters and planes) and somehow grow stronger is little short of unbelievable. Seeing Arabs demanding something we were convinced was the birthright and property of the West, of the United States in particular, has to send a shiver down anyone’s spine.
The nature of this potentially world-shaking phenomenon remains unknown and probably, at this point, unknowable. Are freedom and democracy about to break out all over? And if so, what will that turn out to mean? If not, what exactly are we seeing? What light bulb was it that so unexpectedly turned on in millions of Twittered and Facebooked brains -- and why now? I doubt those who are protesting, and in some cases dying, know themselves. And that’s good news. That the future remains -- always -- the land of the unknown should offer us hope, not least because that's the bane of ruling elites who want to, but never can, take possession of it.
Nonetheless, you would expect that a ruling elite, observing such earth-shaking developments, might rethink its situation, as should the rest of us. After all, if humanity can suddenly rouse itself this way in the face of the armed power of state after state, then what's really possible on this planet of ours?
Seeing such scenes repeatedly, who wouldn’t rethink the basics? Who wouldn’t feel the urge to reimagine our world?
Let me offer as my nominee of choice not various desperate or dying Middle Eastern regimes, but Washington.
Life in the Echo Chamber
So much of what Washington did imagine in these last years proved laughable, even before this moment swept it away. Just take any old phrase from the Bush years. How about “You’re either with us or against us”? What’s striking is how little it means today. Looking back on Washington’s desperately mistaken assumptions about how our globe works, this might seem like the perfect moment to show some humility in the face of what nobody could have predicted.
It would seem like a good moment for Washington -- which, since September 12, 2001, has been remarkably clueless about real developments on this planet and repeatedly miscalculated the nature of global power -- to step back and recalibrate.
As it happens, there's no evidence it's doing so. In fact, that may be beyond Washington’s present capabilities, no matter how many billions of dollars it pours into “intelligence.” And by “Washington,” I mean not just the Obama administration, or the Pentagon, or our military commanders, or the vast intelligence bureaucracy, but all those pundits and think-tankers who swarm the capital, and the media that reports on them all. It’s as if the cast of characters that makes up “Washington” now lives in some kind of echo chamber in which it can only hear itself talking.
As a result, Washington still seems remarkably determined to play out the string on an era that is all too swiftly passing into the history books. While many have noticed the Obama administration's hapless struggle to catch up to events in the Middle East, even as it clings to a familiar coterie of grim autocrats and oil sheiks, let me illustrate this point in another area entirely -- the largely forgotten war in Afghanistan. After all, hardly noticed, buried beneath 24/7 news from Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, and elsewhere in the Middle East, that war continues on its destructive, costly course with nary a blink.
Five Ways to Be Tone Deaf in Washington
You might think that, as vast swathes of the Greater Middle East are set ablaze, someone in Washington would take a new look at our Af/Pak War and wonder whether it isn’t simply beside the point. No such luck, as the following five tiny but telling examples that caught my attention indicate. Consider them proof of the well-being of the American echo chamber and evidence of the way Washington is proving incapable of rethinking its longest, most futile, and most bizarre war.
1. Let’s start with a recent New York Times op-ed, “The ‘Long War’ May Be Getting Shorter.” Published last Tuesday as Libya was passing through “the gates of hell,” it was an upbeat account of Afghan War commander General David Petraeus’s counterinsurgency operations in southern Afghanistan. Its authors, Nathaniel Fick and John Nagl, members of an increasingly militarized Washington intelligentsia, jointly head the Center for a New American Security in Washington. Nagl was part of the team that wrote the 2006 revised Army counterinsurgency manual for which Petraeus is given credit and was an advisor to the general in Iraq. Fick, a former Marine officer who led troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and then was a civilian instructor at the Afghanistan Counterinsurgency Academy in Kabul, recently paid a first-hand visit to the country (under whose auspices we do not know).
The two of them are typical of many of Washington’s war experts who tend to develop incestuous relationships with the military, moonlighting as enablers or cheerleaders for our war commanders, and still remain go-to sources for the media.
In another society, their op-ed would simply have been considered propaganda. Here’s its money paragraph:
“It is hard to tell when momentum shifts in a counterinsurgency campaign, but there is increasing evidence that Afghanistan is moving in a more positive direction than many analysts think. It now seems more likely than not that the country can achieve the modest level of stability and self-reliance necessary to allow the United States to responsibly draw down its forces from 100,000 to 25,000 troops over the next four years.”
This is a classic Washington example of moving the goalposts. What our two experts are really announcing is that, even if all goes well in our Afghan War, 2014 will not be its end date. Not by a long shot.
Of course, this is a position that Petraeus has supported. Four years from now our “withdrawal” plans, according to Nagl and Fick, will leave 25,000 troops in place. If truth-telling or accuracy were the point of their exercise, their piece would have been titled, “The ‘Long War’ Grows Longer.”
Even as the Middle East explodes and the U.S. plunges into a budget “debate” significantly powered by our stunningly expensive wars that won’t end, these two experts implicitly propose that General Petraeus and his successors fight on in Afghanistan at more than $100 billion a year into the distant reaches of time, as if nothing in the world were changing. This already seems like the definition of obliviousness and one day will undoubtedly look delusional, but it’s the business-as-usual mentality with which Washington faces a new world.
2. Or consider two striking comments General Petraeus himself made that bracket our new historical moment. At a morning briefing on January 19th, according to New York Times reporter Rod Nordland, the general was in an exultant, even triumphalist, mood about his war. It was just days before the first Egyptian demonstrators would take to the streets, and only days after Tunisian autocrat Zine Ben Ali had met the massed power of nonviolent demonstrators and fled his country. And here’s what Petraeus so exuberantly told his staff: “We’ve got our teeth in the enemy’s jugular now, and we’re not going to let go.”
It’s true that the general had, for months, not only been sending new American troops south, but ratcheting up the use of air power, increasing Special Operations night raids, and generally intensifying the war in the Taliban’s home territory. Still, under the best of circumstances, his was an exultantly odd image. It obviously called up the idea of a predator sinking its teeth into the throat of its prey, but surely somewhere in the military unconscious lurked a more classic American pop-cultural image -- the werewolf or vampire. Evidently, the general’s idea of an American future involves an extended blood feast in the Afghan version of Transylvania, for like Nagl and Fick he clearly plans to have those teeth in that jugular for a long, long time to come.
A month later, on February 19th, just as all hell was breaking loose in Bahrain and Libya, the general visited the Afghan presidential palace in Kabul and, in dismissing Afghan claims that recent American air raids in the country’s northeast had killed scores of civilians, including children, he made a comment that shocked President Hamid Karzai’s aides. We don’t have it verbatim, but the Washington Post reports that, according to “participants,” Petraeus suggested “Afghans caught up in a coalition attack in northeastern Afghanistan might have burned their own children to exaggerate claims of civilian casualties.”
One Afghan at the meeting responded: "I was dizzy. My head was spinning. This was shocking. Would any father do this to his children? This is really absurd."In the American echo-chamber, the general’s comments may sound, if not reasonable, then understandably exuberant and emphatic: We’ve got the enemy by the throat! We didn’t create Afghan casualties; they did it to themselves! Elsewhere, they surely sound obtusely tone deaf or simply vampiric, evidence that those inside the echo chamber have no sense of how they look in a shape-shifting world.
3. Now, let’s step across an ill-defined Afghan-Pakistan border into another world of American obtuseness. On February 15th, only four days after Hosni Mubarak stepped down as president of Egypt, Barack Obama decided to address a growing problem in Pakistan. Raymond Davis, a former U.S. Special Forces soldier armed with a Glock semi-automatic pistol and alone in a vehicle cruising a poor neighborhood of Pakistan’s second largest city, Lahore, shot and killed two Pakistanis he claimed had menaced him at gunpoint. (One was evidently shot in the back.)
Davis reportedly got out of the vehicle firing his pistol, then photographed the dead bodies and called for backup. The responding vehicle, racing to the scene the wrong way in traffic, ran over a motorcyclist, killing him before fleeing. (Subsequently, the wife of one of the Pakistanis Davis killed committed suicide by ingesting rat poison.)
The Pakistani police took Davis into custody with a carful of strange equipment. No one should be surprised that this was not a set of circumstances likely to endear an already alienated population to its supposed American allies. In fact, it created a popular furor as Pakistanis reacted to what seemed like the definition of imperial impunity, especially when the U.S. government, claiming Davis was an “administrative and technical official” attached to its Lahore consulate, demanded his release on grounds of diplomatic immunity and promptly began pressuring an already weak, unpopular government with loss of aid and support.
Senator John Kerry paid a hasty visit, calls were made, and threats to cut off U.S. funds were raised in the halls of Congress. Despite what was happening elsewhere and in tumultuous Pakistan, American officials found it hard to imagine that beholden Pakistanis wouldn’t buckle.
On February 15th, with the Middle East in flames, President Obama weighed in, undoubtedly making matters worse: “With respect to Mr. Davis, our diplomat in Pakistan,” he said, “we've got a very simple principle here that every country in the world that is party to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations has upheld in the past and should uphold in the future, and that is if our diplomats are in another country, then they are not subject to that country's local prosecution."
The Pakistanis refused to give way to that “very simple principle” and not long after, “our diplomat in Pakistan” was identified by the British Guardian as a former Blackwater employee and present employee of the CIA. He was, the publication reported, involved in the Agency’s secret war in Pakistan. That war, especially much-ballyhooed and expensive “covert” drone attacks in the Pakistani tribal borderlands whose returns have been overhyped in Washington, continues to generate blowback in ways that Americans prefer not to grasp.
Of course, the president knew that Davis was a CIA agent, even when he called him “our diplomat.” As it turned out, so did the New York Times and other U.S. publications, which refrained from writing about his real position at the request of the Obama administration, even as they continued to report (evasively, if not simply untruthfully) on the case.
Given what’s happening in the region, this represents neither reasonable policy-making nor reasonable journalism. If the late Chalmers Johnson, who made the word “blowback” part of our everyday language, happens to be looking down on American policy from some niche in heaven, he must be grimly amused by the brain-dead way our top officials blithely continue to try to bulldoze the Pakistanis.
4. Meanwhile, on February 18th back in Afghanistan, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on one of that country’s “largest money exchange houses,” charging “that it used billions of dollars transferred in and out of the country to help hide proceeds from illegal drug sales.”
Here’s how Ginger Thompson and Alissa J. Rubin of the New York Times contextualized that act: “The move is part of a delicate balancing act by the Obama administration, which aims to crack down on the corruption that reaches the highest levels of the Afghan government without derailing the counterinsurgency efforts that are dependent on Mr. Karzai’s cooperation."
In a world in which Washington’s word seems to travel ever less far with ever less authority, the response to this echo-chamber-style description, and especially its central image -- “a delicate balancing act” -- would be: no, not by a long shot.
In relation to a country that’s the prime narco-state on the planet, what could really be “delicate”? If you wanted to describe the Obama administration’s bizarre, pretzled relationship with President Karzai and his people, words like “contorted,” “confused,” and “hypocritical” would have to be trotted out. If realism prevailed, the phrase “indelicate imbalance” might be a more appropriate one to use.
5. Finally, journalist Dexter Filkins recently wrote a striking piece, “The Afghan Bank Heist,” in the New Yorker magazine on the shenanigans that brought Kabul Bank, one of Afghanistan's top financial institutions, to the edge of collapse. While bankrolling Hamid Karzai and his cronies by slipping them staggering sums of cash, the bank’s officials essentially ran off with the deposits of its customers. (Think of Kabul Bank as the institutional Bernie Madoff of Afghanistan.) In his piece, Filkins quotes an anonymous American official this way on the crooked goings-on he observed: “If this were America, fifty people would have been arrested by now.”
Consider that line the echo-chamber version of stand-up comedy as well as a reminder that only mad dogs and Americans stay out in the Afghan sun. Like a lot of Americans now in Afghanistan, that poor diplomat needs to be brought home -- and soon. He’s lost touch with the changing nature of his own country. While we claim it as our duty to bring “nation-building” and “good governance” to the benighted Afghans, at home the U.S. is being unbuilt, democracy is essentially gone with the wind, the oligarchs are having a field day, the Supreme Court has insured that massive influxes of money will rule any future elections, and the biggest crooks of all get to play their get-out-of-jail-free cards whenever they want. In fact, the Kabul Bank racket -- a big deal in an utterly impoverished society -- is a minor sideshow compared to what American banks, brokerages, mortgage and insurance companies, and other financial institutions did via their “ponzi schemes of securitization” when, in 2008, they drove the U.S. and global economies into meltdown mode.
And none of the individuals responsible went to prison, just old-fashioned Ponzi schemers like Madoff. Not one of them was even put on trial.
Just the other day, federal prosecutors dropped one of the last possible cases from the 2008 meltdown. Angelo R. Mozilo, the former chairman of Countrywide Financial Corp., once the nation’s top mortgage company, did have to settle a civil suit focused on his “ill-gotten gains” in the subprime mortgage debacle for $67.5 million, but as with his peers, no criminal charges will be filed.
We’re Not the Good Guys
Imagine this: for the first time in history, a movement of Arabs is inspiring Americans in Wisconsin and possibly elsewhere. Right now, in other words, there is something new under the sun and we didn’t invent it. It’s not ours. We’re not -- catch your breath here -- even the good guys. They were the ones calling for freedom and democracy in the streets of Middle Eastern cities, while the U.S. performed another of those indelicate imbalances in favor of the thugs we’ve long supported in the Middle East.
History is now being reshaped in such a way that the previously major events of the latter years of the foreshortened American century -- the Vietnam War, the end of the Cold War, even 9/11 -- may all be dwarfed by this new moment. And yet, inside the Washington echo chamber, new thoughts about such developments dawn slowly. Meanwhile, our beleaguered, confused, disturbed country, with its aging, disintegrating infrastructure, is ever less the model for anyone anywhere (though again you wouldn’t know that here).
Oblivious to events, Washington clearly intends to fight its perpetual wars and garrison its perpetual bases, creating yet more blowback and destabilizing yet more places, until it eats itself alive. This is the definition of all-American decline in an unexpectedly new world. Yes, teeth may be in jugulars, but whose teeth in whose jugulars remains open to speculation, whatever General Petraeus thinks.
As the sun peeks over the horizon of the Arab world, dusk is descending on America. In the penumbra, Washington plays out the cards it once dealt itself, some from the bottom of the deck, even as other players are leaving the table. Meanwhile, somewhere out there in the land, you can just hear the faint howls. It’s feeding time and the scent of blood is in the air. Beware!
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. His latest book is The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s (Haymarket Books). You can catch him discussing war American-style and that book in a Timothy MacBain TomCast video by clicking here.
After the early Islamic era and the evanescent reign of Sultan Salahuddin Ayyubi (who dealt a crushing defeat at European crusaders), the Ottoman caliphate was marvelous and unparalleled. They safeguarded Islam and the Muslims for four hundred years.
The present boundaries of the Muslim countries have been made possible as of this day, thanks to their Jihad and unstinted sacrifices.
Other Muslims were neglectful of this responsibility. Only the Othoman were vigilant and fulfilled it. But fraud and conspiracies of the enemies of Islam contributed to disintegration of this glorious caliphate, causing irreparable loss and tragedy. On one hand, the Muslims were deprived from their political stronghold and on the other hand, they lost their first Kiblah (i.e. Jerusalem) and it fell into the hands of Zionist occupiers. It is still under their control and the oppressed Muslims of Palestine are forced to live under squalid conditions.
For more than a century, the Muslims of the world have been victims of attacks and invasions of infidel colonial powers of the world. They do not leave Muslims to forge ahead towards peace and prosperity in the light of the rules and regulations of the holy religion of Islam; to follow Islamic values and morals in their countries and to implement the Islamic Sharia laws and tenets. This is the reason that for the last century the whole Islamic Umma has been passing through a collective social unrest and distress.
The present Islamic world, comprising of 50 smaller or larger states, is mostly under the control of the colonial powers. They are sucking the blood of the Muslims and have trained tens of Karzais among the Muslims to safeguard their malicious interests. Everywhere in the world, whosoever abide by pure Islam and is faithful to the high interests of the people, has been removed from power with prizes of millions of dollars on their heads. If we ignore the remaining world and just look at to the past one and half decade of our own country, we find how the control and supremacy of the Islamic ruling was thorn in the flesh of America. The renaissance of Islam in our homeland was intolerable for her. The American colonialism could not bear to see the candle of Islam remain burning here; that lingual, ethnic and national differences should come to an end and that the suppressed and miserable Afghan nation fuse into a central and unified force.
They feared if the Islamic Sharia brings peace and justice in Afghanistan, people in other parts of the world would ask for this kind of system and it would turn their vagrant and treacherous way of life meaningless. So they decided to put out rays of this light.
Full of this malicious thought, America and European allied decided to attack Afghanistan from far-flung area. They united the forces of the whole non-Muslim world and invaded Afghanistan. This invasion which took place both from air and on the ground was the greatest march of its kind. It was not only confined to military invasion but was accompanied by propaganda war, economic and political invasion as well.
Then observers said that it was the war between the weakest and the strongest with a great imbalance of power between them. The observers predicted that American would suffocate the life of the poor Afghan people and the ever free Afghanistan would lose the blessing of freedom forever. The Afghan nation will be deprived of the spirit of Islam and independence. But it was against the will of Allah the Almighty. Instead, His will was that the history of Afghanistan should remain fraught with love of faith, courage, bravery and heroism. It was the will of Allah that America and its puppets are to be debased and disgraced to the extent that not only the future history of Afghanistan will become splendid with glory but also bring an inspiration of freedom and independence to all the oppressed peoples and communities of the 21st century. Yes, by the will and support of Allah, America is no more a super power; instead it is a state on descent. Overall, we can say that she is no more the America as she was before 2001.
Fortunately, today not only in Afghanistan but in all oppressed lands of the world, the dawn of freedom has arisen. Gone are the days when from east to west a great uproar and tumult of American invasion was ringing. Now the day has come that America has fell down from her pride and is desperately trying to flee.
So in these aspiring moments the Afghans are giving the good news to all the oppressed nations that;
America is no more as she was. She is on the edge of decline and breakdown. It is quite near that her pride will fall and the statue of its tyranny will collapse. And it is never a hard task for Allah to do.
Friday, February 25, 2011
As the battle rages on through its sixth day and the capital rocks with explosions and the rattle of gunfire, so does the journey of the corpses of Burundian peacekeeper’s in Somalia. In addition to the seven peacekeepers killed by the Islamists in Wednesday’s raid on the Ministry of Defense building, the corpses of yet another NINE peacekeepers were yesterday paraded around the capital city and neighbouring towns. Claiming to have killed a total of 16 Burundian peacekeepers (plus one taken as prisoner) in the course of the recent battles, Al-Shabab fighters have been receiving an unusual support from many of the displaced population here.
The nine corpses were yesterday driven to Ceelasha Biyaha, apparently after residents there requested to see the corpses of ‘the enemy that has displaced us from our homes.’ It is said that hundreds of angry people had gathered at the scene. Many of them accused the peacekeepers of deliberately targeting and shelling populated residential areas in the capital, thus forcing them to relocate to Ceelasha Biyaha or Afgooye. A woman, speaking to local radio stations, said:
‘it is these infidels that have killed my three sons. They have destroyed my home and my family, and it is because of them I now live in this small tent with no food and no one to look after me. Damn them infidels!’
Another caller, a businessman, said:
‘I’ve had to relocate my business to Ceelasha Biyaha because of AMISOM’s shelling. My shop was destroyed by a mortar. I have lost a everything and had to start afresh. They deserve what they got. They deserve to be killed. Why do they keep killing our people? Why did they cross thousands of kilometres and come to our country to bomb our people. If they want peace they should go back to their country.’
The angry public could not be managed. Women and children soon began kicking and dragging the corpses of the peacekeepers. Many of the women had even removed their sandals and began hitting the corpses. Mogadishu’s residents, however, also point the finger of blame at the West, particularly the US. But the US is not directly involved in the daily Mogadishu battles, save for their ‘special operations’ that target ‘known’ terrorists.
Through the Somali government and the AU forces, the US has tried everything to crush the Islamists without directly becoming entangled in the mess that Mogadishu is in – including the flawed CIA-funded counter-terrorism operations that enlisted the services of notorious warlords in 2006, or coaxing tribal leaders in Al-Shabab controlled regions to revolt against the islamists and giving handsome payments to tribal/clan elders in the tiny government-controlled areas.
None of them seem to have worked, and now with the escalating battles, the US will face some difficult choices. According to Katherine Zimmerman at Critical Threats:
“The prospect of al Shabaab taking control of Mogadishu is alarming and requires a much more careful examination of Western policies toward the Horn of Africa than they have so far received. But the details of the potential collapse of the TFG need even more urgent consideration. Even if the TFG can be saved, it is quite possible that military exigencies on the ground in the coming weeks or months will lead to requests for external military assistance by AMISOM forces. The U.S. may well face some difficult choices
Good tidings: Islamic Emirate of Libya proclaimed - Kavkazcenter.com