Thursday, August 15, 2002

I'll be away from my cozy confines and high-speed connection until the end of the month. I may post occasionally, but will more likely be quaffing ale and caring for the new baby boy. I expect to resume my ranting in September.

Until then, I recommend the linkmongers on the left-hand sidebar -- my half-dozen readers have likely figured out that Dack, Brendan O'Neill, Cursor, Busy Busy Busy, Lying Media Bastards, Gordon Coale, BookNotes, Warblogger Watch, my fellow harbingers at American Samizdat and the others cover pretty much the same beat, and usually with better results.

Enjoy what's left of the summer. Peace.

Sunday, August 11, 2002

Hard to get good help these days

Presidential proxy Hamid Karzai was reported to have been chosen leader at last June's Loya Jirga by overwhelming acclamation. A couple months later he needs to be guarded by U.S. Special Forces on his tentative forays about his putative realm.

An AP article and accompanying photo published August 3 said it all. It reported that Karzai "dismissed allegations yesterday that the United States tried to cover up a deadly airstrike [which Afghan officials claimed occurred south of Kabul August 1] and said a continued American presence was crucial to Afghanistan's future. Flanked by U.S. special forces bodyguards, Karzai said he visited one of the villages attacked in the July 1 air raid and when asked if he believed there had been a cover-up, said, 'I don't think so. People would have told me.'"

::Gary Leupp, Outlook India: Karzai's Bodyguards
Meanwhile, the factional fighting among warlords in Afghanistan is starting to boil over...

... the refusal by [Pacha Khan] Zadran to cease his attempts to assert power in the east and surrender to the government represents the first instance of Washington's Afghani allies coming into direct, sustained conflict. In this case, U.S. short-term tactical considerations have collided with a long-term strategy.

Zadran, a staunch supporter of the U.S. war against the Taliban and al Qaeda, so far has proven beyond Washington and Kabul's ability to handle. After Karzai's interim government appointed Zadran governor of Paktia province and head of the southern zone in January, he was prevented from taking the provincial seat by local tribal leaders who had little more than disdain for him and rejected his rule outright.

After Zadran tried to capture the provincial capital of Gardez and left scores dead in the bloodiest example of internecine fighting in Afghanistan so far, Karzai cut a deal with the local tribal leaders and replaced the problematic Pushtun leader.

Since then, Zadran and his brother Kamal -- the former governor of Khost -- have sought to take what Karzai would not give: Paktia and Khost provinces. Zadran's efforts have centered on rallying Pushtun ethnic sentiments and calling for the overthrow of Karzai's government, which he claims is overrun by the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance.

As Afghanistan steadily slides into marginal anarchy -- competing factions cannot be separated, contained or policed by peacekeeping forces -- Zadran is fighting to take as large as piece of the pie as possible. However, Karzai cannot and will not allow a competing Pushtun leader to rise in the predominantly Pushtun-populated country, particularly in the eastern region -- the epicenter of Pushtun power.

Now the United States has been caught in the middle of clan warfare as it continues to carry out operations in the region. Within the past weeks there has been an upsurge in attacks on U.S. and Afghan government troops in eastern Afghanistan, including the ambush of U.S. troops in Khost at the end of July and the Aug. 7 attack on an army base in the Bagram district in Kabul.

The Zadran-inspired protest rallies against the Karzai government continue.

::STRATFOR: Afghanistan: Yesterday's Friends May Be Today's Enemies
::Reuters: Rebel Warlord Backers Protest Against Afghan Govt.

Saturday, August 10, 2002

Not that many Americans care, but war in Iraq will complicate relations with its #1 trading partner.

As Secretary of State Colin Powell, a voice of reason on the Potomac, dejectedly reports, the hard-liners have taken control at the White House. History suggests that when they have the reins, it's bad times for bilateral relations. The hard-liners deride our puny military, as well they might. They have no time for moralistic lectures from Mexicans in sweaters, as Canadians are sometimes called.

Ottawa's position opposing an invasion of Iraq is unlikely to change. Mr. Chrétien has stated that there must be some proof linking Iraq to the Sept. 11 terror before he will support an all-out war. So far there is no proof, nor is there likely to be.

After the September catastrophe, it looked to many observers as though the two neighbours might draw closer together. Mr. Chrétien never thought so. "Wait for six months until the emotions have died down," he told an adviser. "You will see that not much has changed."

He was correct. There came Washington's softwood lumber duties, crippling agricultural subsidies and a raft of other disputes. But as tough as some of these issues may be, there is nothing, as Vietnam demonstrated, that can prompt a big split in relations like opposing positions on a major war. If Ottawa holds to its line against an invasion of Iraq, there will likely be a price to be paid. Canada could be hit with more stiff measures on trade, on security, on any number of fronts.

...The hard-liners have a long and contentious history in the United States and Canada has been wise to oppose them. It wasn't wrong to question Mr. Kennedy over taking the world to the brink over the placing of missiles in Cuba. It was hardly naive of Lester Pearson to take a courageous stand against escalated bombing in Vietnam -- he was vindicated. It was hardly wrong for Mr. Trudeau to launch an idealistic peace mission to encourage an East-West thaw. The U.S. and Soviet leaders eventually came together on some of the very terms Mr. Trudeau had set out.

Friends don't let friends wage stupid wars. Unless this friend is way bigger and violently belligerent. In which case Canada can be expected to mouth some pieties about international protocol before falling in line dejectedly with whatever America wants.

::Lawrence Martin, Globe and Mail: History's on Canada's side

Thursday, August 08, 2002

Jack Shafer of Slate does some follow-up on the PowerPoint presentation that rocked the Pentagon by designating Saudi Arabia as an American enemy. Presented by a former 'LaRouchie' with Strangelovian ambitions, it advises the U.S. to target Saudi 'Holy Places', and to 'let it be known that alternatives are being canvassed.' (Like Nazareth, maybe?)

The concluding slide:

Grand strategy for the Middle East

Iraq is the tactical pivot

Saudi Arabia the strategic pivot

Egypt the prize


This is a fine example of what the Richard Perle set considers 'grand strategic thinking.' Who better to command the world's biggest military machine with impunity?

::Jack Shafer, Slate: The PowerPoint That Rocked the Pentagon
::David Corn, The Loyal Opposition: Talking Iraq With The 'Prince of Darkness' 

Wednesday, August 07, 2002

Maybe those survivalist types aren't the nutbars I always took them for...

A day after President Bush's release of a homeland defense strategy calling for the possible domestic use of U.S. military forces, Alabama activated a 300-soldier Army National Guard tank battalion as part of a homeland defense force.

In a statement released Wednesday, Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman said the Ozark, Ala.-based 1st Battalion, 131st Armor "is equipped with modern battle tanks, the M1A1 Abrams" and "will serve in the homeland defense role within the United States."

Siegelman, commander-in-chief of the state's national guard, did not say what role the tank battalion would serve in homeland defense.

::Columbus Ledger-Enquirer: Alabama Activates Tank Unit via This Modern World (I recommend each "this" he has...)

Watching America careen towards an inevitable attack on Iraq is like reading that someone is filming a big-budget remake of Ishtar starring Jerry Lewis and Michael Jackson. Attempts to halt the progress with appeals to decency or logic are clearly useless. The sheer depth of the madness too profound to fathom...

War in Iraq and its unpredictable effects will undoubtedly increase levels of carnage and misery throughout the world, of course, and as Paul Koring argues it undermines the real and necessary war on terror:

There is a threat to America's security out there. It is composed of wrong-headed adherents of a twisted religio-ideology who claim divine authority for death and destruction. The way to fight the immediate threat is to find them and capture them. The key to that, in the short term, is not military force, but rather intelligence and police work.

Over the long haul, the United States must work far harder to promote tolerance, democratic values and economic opportunity for the masses in the Muslim world, so as to demonstrate the futility of the al-Qaeda vision. Spinning yarns about Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, and lavishing favours on decrepit Middle Eastern allies to secure their help against Mr. Hussein, are not the way to begin.

Iraq is worse than a distraction. It's an invitation to a two-front quagmire, à la Bonaparte. If enough people in the right places remind Mr. Bush to keep his eye on the ball, perhaps the hubris-driven scheming of the hard core can be stopped. To do so is crucial; the alternative is a world held hostage to both the shadow of al-Qaeda and the fantasy of U.S. omnipotence.

As usual, members of the Weenie Party in Congress are so afraid of looking like weenies that they are acting like total weenies. Weenies believe that capitulating to lunatic militarism demonstrates that they are 'realists.' That backing down from a fight is a sign of toughness and resolve.

That leaves a handful of Republicans to shoulder a heavy load on their own...

Legislators have yet to be briefed - even in closed hearings - on the reasons why regime change is imperative and why now. For example, does the administration have firm evidence that Iraq has links with terrorists or is handing them biological or chemical weapons?

..."We need evidence on this issue, or we could base governmental action on a supposition," says [Sen. Richard] Lugar. Yet all that has come out of the administration is leaks and hints.

Lugar was troubled by the risk of going into another Iraq war without allies. "Ten years ago," he said, "the United States had done the military and diplomatic spadework in the region. Allies in the region permitted U.S. forces to launch attacks from their territory."

Our allies also footed 80 percent of the war costs that have been variously estimated at between $60-80 billion.

This time, we will be going it virtually alone, with Europeans skeptical and Arab allies urging us to focus first on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Without the use of Saudi bases and air space, military planners fear the operation will be far more risky.

Without allies, moreover, American taxpayers will be footing the whole war bill - along with a possible spike in oil prices. This, at a time when deficits are rising and the Bush administration won't consider rescinding large tax cuts for the wealthy.

What also distressed Lugar was testimony by experts that Iraq will require a long and large U.S. presence in Baghdad to ensure democracy. Some administration sources compare this to the U.S. occupation of Germany and Japan after World War II.

Lugar wants to know whether the administration has plans for such a long-term commitment of people and treasure. "The parallel with Germany and Japan is a real leap, absent institutions that might produce real democracy," he contended.

On the up-side, we'll be able to watch lots of bitchin' stock military footage on CNN. And the production values should be way better than in 1992.

::Duncan Campbell, Guardian: Detailed war plan handed to Bush via Dack
::Paul Koring, Globe and Mail: Invitation to a two-front quagmire
::Trudy Rubin, Philadelphia Inquirer:Vague Bush Case for Iraq War Spurs Worry in GOP, Pentagon
::Image from the Ministry of Homeland Security

Monday, August 05, 2002

The mainstream press is reporting -- if gingerly and with undue deference -- the disoriented nature of the American occupation of Afghanistan. The Washington Post summarizes a strategy that appears to be: a) prop up a figurehead government; b) play footsie with the warlords who are undermining this government; c) eschew humanitarian engagements, and continue with an aggressive attack posture against an enemy that is no longer there, presumably in hopes of further alienating the local population with more civilian massacres.

Supported by the Bush administration and recently elected president by an assembly of delegates from throughout the country, Karzai nevertheless has been unable to extend his authority much beyond Kabul, the capital.

In particular, sources said, the Afghan president has repeatedly, and unsuccessfully, sought U.S. military help in curbing such regional militia leaders as Bacha Khan, an ethnic Pashtun tribal chief whose forces have squared off against the Karzai-appointed governor in the eastern province of Khost. [U.S. commander Lt. Gen. Dan K. ] McNeill said he has no intention of intervening.

"Clearly, there's a problem there," he said. "It's a problem that Afghans should solve."

The Karzai adviser said, however, "We can't do it. We don't have the resources. If they don't get involved, we're going to be starting '92 all over again." He was referring darkly to a return to the civil war that dismembered Afghanistan in the early 1990s.

...As the Americans continue to grapple with such political issues, Afghan leaders have been adamant in urging the United States not to press ahead with a military strategy better suited to the early days of the war. From Karzai down, they say they are tired of the Americans treating Afghanistan as a free-fire zone at a time when the war is yielding diminished results.

"It's very necessary for the Americans to change their strategy for their operations," said Gen. Anwar Kohistani, an Interior Ministry official who was part of a team that flew to Uruzgan province to investigate the July 1 U.S. airstrike there that killed about 48 villagers, most of them women and children at a wedding party.

McNeill said the U.S. forces were acting on information that the fugitive Taliban leader, Mohammed Omar, might have been in the area that night, but Afghan officials have said the disastrous attack was simply another case of Americans relying on bad intelligence.

"The fundamental problem is that the Americans do not respect anybody except themselves," said Col. Mir Jan, a spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry. "They say, 'We are the God of the world,' and they don't consult us."

A picture which bears little resemblance to that 'staggeringly effective' operation that exists in America's collective consciousness. Having perpetuated a mass hallucination of a successful war that never was, the elite press now finds itself unable to break the spell.

::U.S. Challenged To Define Role In Afghanistan

Saturday, August 03, 2002

Some recent history that raises questions Rummy won't have to answer anytime soon...

With the Iran-Iraq war escalating, President Ronald Reagan dispatched his Middle East envoy, a former secretary of defense, to Baghdad with a hand-written letter to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and a message that Washington was willing at any moment to resume diplomatic relations.

That envoy was Donald Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld's December 19-20, 1983 visit to Baghdad made him the highest-ranking US official to visit Iraq in 6 years. He met Saddam and the two discussed "topics of mutual interest," according to the Iraqi Foreign Ministry. "[Saddam] made it clear that Iraq was not interested in making mischief in the world," Rumsfeld later told The New York Times. "It struck us as useful to have a relationship, given that we were interested in solving the Mideast problems."

... In 1988, Saddam’s forces attacked Kurdish civilians with poisonous gas from Iraqi helicopters and planes. U.S. intelligence sources told The LA Times in 1991, they “believe that the American-built helicopters were among those dropping the deadly bombs.”

In response to the gassing, sweeping sanctions were unanimously passed by the US Senate that would have denied Iraq access to most US technology. The measure was killed by the White House.

Senior officials later told reporters they did not press for punishment of Iraq at the time because they wanted to shore up Iraq's ability to pursue the war with Iran. Extensive research uncovered no public statements by Donald Rumsfeld publicly expressing even remote concern about Iraq’s use or possession of chemical weapons until the week Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, when he appeared on an ABC news special.

... In 1984, Donald Rumsfeld was in a position to draw the world’s attention to Saddam’s chemical threat. He was in Baghdad as the UN concluded that chemical weapons had been used against Iran. He was armed with a fresh communication from the State Department that it had “available evidence” Iraq was using chemical weapons. But Rumsfeld said nothing.

Washington now speaks of Saddam’s threat and the consequences of a failure to act. Despite the fact that the administration has failed to provide even a shred of concrete proof that Iraq has links to Al Qaeda or has resumed production of chemical or biological agents, Rumsfeld insists that “the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

But there is evidence of the absence of Donald Rumsfeld’s voice at the very moment when Iraq’s alleged threat to international security first emerged. And in this case, the evidence of absence is indeed evidence.

::Jeremy Scahill, Common Dreams: The Saddam in Rumsfeld’s Closet
They're still acting cocky, but Thomas Ricks reports that Rumsfeld & Co. are engaged in some hand-wringing and finger-pointing in private, in an attempt to shake off the present "lull in the war on terrorism."

In the first months of the war, as the fighting in Afghanistan captured much public attention, the U.S. effort appeared to be expanding, with anti-terrorism missions beginning in Yemen, Georgia and the Philippines. U.S. and allied forces also monitored Somalia, and Pentagon officials repeatedly indicated that action there was possible if al Qaeda members tried to create a sanctuary there.

But the Philippine training exercise ended this week, at least temporarily. Little progress has been reported in Georgia and Yemen, and no action appears to have taken place in Somalia.

Meanwhile, even some Afghans who support the United States contend that the U.S. mission there is languishing. U.S. forces have recorded few apprehensions of al Qaeda members or senior Taliban leaders in several months and, in the process of hunting for them, made a major mistake on July 1. In an attack on suspected Taliban positions, U.S. aircraft mistakenly killed at least 48 civilians at a wedding.

Five days later in Kabul, one of the new government's vice presidents, Abdul Qadir, was assassinated, shaking the sense of security in the capital.

If things are going so amazingly well, as we still hear in most references to the military action, why the need to 'revitalize' the tactics?

::Thomas Ricks, Washington Post: Aggressive New Tactics Proposed for Terror War

Thursday, August 01, 2002

"Better bombing through chemistry"

The Toronto Star does an in-depth study on what U.S. pilots are flying on while they're flying...

A spokesperson for the U.S. Air Force Surgeon-General's Office in Washington confirmed pilots are given the stimulant Dexedrine, generically known as dextroamphetamine, to stay alert during combat missions in Afghanistan.

Pilots refer to Dexedrine as "go-pills." The sleeping pills they are given, called Ambien (zolpidem) and Restoril (temazepam), are referred to as "no-go pills."

"When fatigue could be expected to degrade air crew performance, they are given Dexedrine in 10 mg doses," air force spokeswoman Betty-Anne Mauger told The Star.

It is not known whether Dexedrine was involved in the friendly fire incident in which an American fighter jet dropped a 500-pound laser-guided bomb that killed four Canadian soldiers early on April 18. But the possibility did come to the mind of one defence analyst.

"Better bombing through chemistry," remarked John Pike, director of, a Washington-area defence policy think-tank.

"This was certainly one of my first thoughts after the Canadian friendly fire accident," he said in an interview. "The initial depiction made it seem as if the pilot was behaving in an unusually aggressive fashion."

The 24-page Top Gun document, entitled Performance Maintenance During Continuous Flight Operations, reports that in an anonymous survey among pilots who flew in Desert Storm, the 1991 Persian Gulf War, 60 per cent said they used Dexedrine. In units that saw the most frequent combat missions, usage was as high as 96 per cent.

During that war, Dexedrine was administered in doses of 5 mg each, as opposed to the 10 mg pills now offered to pilots in Afghanistan.

So far, amphetamine use has not been mentioned in the summaries made public of either the Canadian or U.S. probes into the accident, which killed Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry soldiers Sgt. Marc Léger, Pte. Nathan Smith, Pte. Richard Green and Cpl. Ainsworth Dyer.

But according to a leaked transcript of radio communications, Schmidt — after reporting that he was being fired at from the ground but being told by air controllers to "hold fire" — suddenly declared he was "rolling in" and dropped the bomb.

It was only after Schmidt hit his target that he asked the controllers to confirm he was being fired at. The dispatcher responded: "You're cleared. Self-defence."

The U.S. military appears to view pilots as machines. Under the heading "Basic Principles" in the Top Gun document, it says: "We manage maintenance, we manage fuel and weapons; we can also manage fatigue."

Pilots are allowed to "self-regulate" the amounts of Dexedrine they take. They carry the pills in the single-person cockpit of their F-16s and take them as they wish.

But medical literature indicates that amphetamines can have severe side effects. The worst is called "amphetamine psychosis." It causes hallucinations as well as paranoid delusions.

"Dexedrine also leads a person to build a tolerance level for the drug and when higher doses are offered, anything at that level develops addictive tendencies among those who continue to use it regularly," said Dr. Joyce A. Walsleben, director of the Sleep Disorder Centre at the New York University School of Medicine. "The threat of abuse and addiction is definitely higher with Dexedrine."

... Air force insiders say the pilots really do not have a choice in taking the drug. The form states that "should I choose not to take it under circumstances where its use appears indicated ... my commander, upon advice of the flight surgeon, may determine whether or not I should be considered unfit to fly a given mission."

::William Walker, Toronto Star: U.S. pilots stay up taking 'uppers'
::Image from the Ministry of Homeland Security