Barack Obama, Iraq and the Big Lie March 1, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, About War, Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: Barack Obama, Bechtel, big lie, Blackwater, cheney, corporate america, counter terrorism, democracy, dynacorp, erc alterman, first gulf war, George Bush, gulf war, gulf war 1991, haliburton, Iraq, iraq combat troops, iraq military occupation, iraq redeployment, iraq transition, Iraq war, Iraqi people, jeremy scahill, joel hirschhorn, judge judy, kuwait, McCain, Middle East, military industrial complex, Nancy Pelosi, oil, phyllis bennis, republican right, roger hollander, saddam hussein, SOFA, south korea, status of forces agreement, tyranny, us embassy baghdad, xe
1 comment so far
By Roger Hollander, March 1, 2009, www.rogerhollander.wordpress.com
“Don’t piss on me and try to tell me it’s raining”
Does it matter whether it is a moral and intellectual imbecile like George W. Bush or a brilliant and charismatic intellectual like Barack Obama who employ the Big Lie as a tactic to explain and justify the unjustifiable?
In a posting that appeared in towardfreedom.com on February 18, Joel S. Hirschhorn writes, “Compared to rioting Europeans, Americans seem like docile, drugged out sheep … mesmerized by melodic rhetoric of political messiah Barack Obama.”
(http://towardfreedom.com/home/content/view/1529/1/) (italics added)
In an ironic and tragic twist of fate, it now appears that Barack Obama’s mesmerizing and melodic rhetoric has turned out to be a two-edged sword. The same magic timbre that inspired and motivated millions of America to work day and night for his election in order to end America’s disastrous military adventures in the Middle East is now being put to use to give credibility to the Bush/Cheney worldview of the Iraq War and to thwart the desires, interests and welfare of those very same millions. The delivery hasn’t changed, but God help us, look at the content (which is what this article is all about).
In an article entitled “War Is Over (IF You Want It)” that appears in the current edition of The Nation magazine (http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090316/alterman), Eric Alterman calls attention to the radical Republican right strategy of defining the fiasco in Iraq as a “victory.” He cites, for example, an editorial that appeared in the Wall Street Journal that quotes Bush speech writer Marc Thiessen, “As Mr. Bush leaves office, Iraq is a unified and free country, and our enemies there have suffered a devastating defeat. If his successor does not squander that victory, a free Iraq will one day be to the Middle East what a free South Korea has been to Asia.” (this parallels the same kind of Big Lie that the radical right has propagated about the Vietnam War, that it could have been won if only the politicians had given the military a free hand – to nuke Hanoi presumably).
Alterman goes on to cite other neocons in a similar vein and suggests that this is a conscious and concentrated strategy the purpose of which is to set up President Obama up for failure. If that is indeed the case, then Obama seems to be willingly and blithely walking into the trap.
In his speech given on Friday, February 27 at marine Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, Obama both affirms the neocon revisionist history of the Iraq invasion and occupation and lies blatantly to the American public about the proposed withdrawal.
First the latter. Obama: “Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end …. And under the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.”
A bald faced lie.
Writing in the journal Foreign Policy in Focus on Friday, February 27, (http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5910), Phyllis Bennis exposes Obama’s dissimulation about the up to 50,000 allegedly non-combatant troops “left behind.” Leaving aside the question of why that huge number would be required to “train,equip and advise” (one is reminded of the “advisors” in Vietnam), which even Nancy Pelosi has questioned, Bennis refers to a December New York Times article “describing how military planners believe Obama’s goal of pulling out combat troops ‘could be accomplished at least in part by re-labeling some units, so that those currently counted as combat troops could be ‘re-missioned,’ their efforts redefined as training and support for the Iraqis.’” She adds, “That would mean a retreat to the lies and deception that characterized this war during Bush years — something President Obama promised to leave behind. It would also mean military resistance in Iraq would continue, leading to more Iraqi and U.S. casualties.”
Along with AlterNet’s Jeremy Scahill (“All Troops Out By 2011? Not So Fast; Why Obama’s Iraq Speech Deserves a Second Look,” (http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/129362/all_troops_out_by_2011_not_so_fast%3B_why_obama%27s_iraq_speech_deserves_a_second_look/), Bettis shows how the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which was adopted by the Iraqi government but never ratified by the United States, and which calls for all U.S. troops to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011, is full of loopholes that the Pentagon and presumably the President are ready, willing and able, to employ when the time comes for the helicopters to be evacuating the remaining troops a la Vietnam (in other words, it ain’t gonna happen).
Obama himself (inadvertently, I presume) lets it slip into the speech where he states that he will “retain a transitional force … conducting targeted counter-terrorism missions.” Such missions can hardly be characterized as anything other than combat missions. He also telegraphs to both the American people via his warning to the Iraq resistance what his ace-in-the-loophole will be: “But our enemies should be left with no doubt: this plan gives our military the forces and the flexibility they need to support our Iraqi partners, and to succeed.” It’s that flexibility that we knee-jerk peace-mongers worry about.
Sins of omission can be as deceptive, disingenuous and morally corrupt as sins of commission. As Bettis points out, Obama neglected to mention the future use of air and naval force in Iraq, the disposition of the more than fifty military bases in Iraq, or the future status of the enormous numbers of mercenaries and contractors (e.g. Dyncorp, Bechtel, and Blackwater, now Xe). Nor did refer to the city within a city that is the United States Embassy in Baghdad, the largest embassy in the history of humankind of which you can bet that it wasn’t built to become redundant in a period of a couple of years. Come December 31, 2111, all logic and experience tell us that United States military presence in Iraq will continue to be substantial. Obama does himself and the nation a disservice by suggesting otherwise.
As for the Bush, Cheney, neocon, and now apparently Obama fairytale version of the United States involvement in Iraq, it is probably true that it is the only one that would have been palatable for obvious reasons to the marines at Camp Lejeune, not to mention the neo-Fascist right that has ruled the country for the past eight years. But to speak before the country and the entire world and characterize the United States invasion and occupation of Iraq, which has been responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths, untold misery for millions and the virtual destruction of the Iraq infrastructure, as some kind of a noble venture is to contort reality into nothing less than a Big Lie which can only serve to justify past atrocity and foreshadow future ongoing bloodshed and destruction.
Obama: “We Americans have offered our most precious resource – our young men and women – to work with you to rebuild what was destroyed by despotism; to root out our common enemies; and to seek peace and prosperity for our children and grandchildren, and for yours.” Bush could not have said it any better (which is probably why McCain is salivating as we speak).
The Biggest Lie of all comes toward the end of Obama’s speech: “And so I want to be very clear: We sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime …We kept our troops in Iraq to help establish a sovereign government …And we will leave the Iraqi people with a hard-earned opportunity to live a better life …”
Alleging that “we sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime” contains the truth within a lie. In making the statement, Obama incredibly admits that the United States government violated the most fundamental precept of the United Nations Charter and international law, to wit, an unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation. But does the President expect the American people and the world to forget about the intentionally false information about nuclear materials and weapons of mass destruction that was fed to the American people and world community as the justification for the invasion in the first place? In this instance Obama’s Big lie serves to reinforce the Original Big Lie of the Bush administration. The growing demand for prosecutorial accountability with respect to Bush and Company include, we should remember, not only torture, rendition, illegal wiretapping, etc. but also the crime of lying to the American public and Congress about the grounds for the invasion.
(To put matters into an even broader historical context, I refer readers to Nora Eisenberg’s excellent piece in AlterNet.com where she documents the Big Lie technique that was used to justify the first Gulf War in 1991 where according to a United Nations report the United States Air Force bombed Iraq “back into the Dark Ages.” “Obama to Announce Iraq Troop Withdrawal,”
As for establishing a sovereign government and leaving the Iraqi people the opportunity to have a better life, while the jury may still be out on those counts, the evidence we have to date flies in the face of such empty rhetorical wishful thinking.
Some time ago Bush and the neocons began, ominously, comparing Iraq with South Korea, where the U.S. has had a “successful” military presence for over 50 years. They neglect, of course, to note the difference, to wit, that South Korea was a military ally of the United States against the North Korean invasion, whereas the U.S. has been bombing the life out of Iraq since 1991 and through its unlawful invasion provoked a near civil war within the country that has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis? Will this South Korea paradigm fiction be the next straw that Obama will need to grasp in order to justify occupation in perpetuity?
There are two other critical concepts, which are central to the forces that were behind the original invasion and which impulse the continued military occupation, that Obama neglected to mention. One of them is “war profiteering.” Wipe out the infrastructure, and then as a pretext for reconstructing it, give billions in untendered contracts to the likes of Dick Cheney’s Haliburton. And that is not to mention the corporate ghouls who manufacture our weapons of mass destruction.
The other concept, however, is one that virtually every American, not to mention the rest of the world, knows in her or his heart to have been, is, and will continue to be the single most – if not the only – motivating force behind the U.S. military adventure in Iraq. It can be found in the original but quickly discarded acronym for the mission: Operation Iraqi Liberation.
Further Deconstruction of President Obama’s February 27 “Withdrawal from Iraq” Speech
Obama: (to the military) “You have fought against tyranny …”
Deconstruction: Those soldiers who have fought tyranny are living in Canada.
Obama: (to the military) “You have fought against … disorder.”
Deconstruction: Disorder created not only by the current invasion and occupation but also by 19 years of U.S. bombing and economic blockade. Eisenberg: “We never learned that the government’s goals had changed from expelling Saddam’s forces from Kuwait to destroying Iraq’s infrastructure. Or what a country with a destroyed infrastructure looks like — with most of its electricity, telecommunications, sewage system, dams, railroads and bridges blown away.”
Obama: “Violence has been reduced substantially from the horrific sectarian killing of 2006 and 2007.”
Deconstruction: Sectarian killing and violence that the U.S. invasion and occupation provoked and by which Saddam Hussein’s atrocities pale in comparison. U.S. inspired violence and killing 2003-2006 conveniently ignored.
Obama: “Al Qaeda in Iraq has been dealt a serious blow by our troops and Iraq’s Security Forces …”
Deconstruction: And has been handed a recruiting opportunity that will dramatically inflate the ranks of revenge-motivated terrorists who will plague us for decades or more.
Obama: “… a transition to full Iraqi responsibility … an Iraq that is sovereign, stable and self-reliant … The United States pursues no claim on your territory or your resources.”
Deconstruction: An Iraq that is occupied by the U.S. military in perpetuity, in order to ensure the protection of U.S. interests in the region’s natural resources and to ensure the “election” of government’s that maintain Iraq as a client state of the U.S.
Obama: “There are those … who will insist that Iraq’s differences cannot be reconciled without more killing.”
Deconstruction: We don’t insist on more killing we just do it. Bennis: “And what if the reduction in ground troops is answered with an escalation of U.S. air power? The U.S. appears to be planning to control the skies over Iraq for years to come. That means even more Iraqi civilians being killed by the U.S. military. We need the withdraw all air and naval forces too — something the SOFA agreement mentions, but we have yet to hear anything from the Obama administration. The U.S. has been conducting continuous overflights and regular bombing of Iraq since January 1991 – isn’t 18 years of air war enough?”
Obama: “And as long as I am your Commander-in-Chief, I promise you that I will only send you into harm’s way when it is absolutely necessary …”
Deconstruction: Necessary to what and to whose ends?
Obama: “What we will not do is let the pursuit of the perfect stand in the way of achievable goals.”
Deconstruction: Forget such wishy-washy idealist notions such as actual peace and justice.
Obama: (with respect to) “millions of displaced Iraqis … America has … a moral responsibility – to act.”
Deconstruction: This is another Obama slip up: America has no “moral responsibility” to help those refugees. It was Saddam who made us create all those refugees. Right? We do it out of the goodness of our gas-guzzling hearts.
Obama: “… the United States of America – a nation that exists only because free men and women have bled for it from the beaches of Normandy to the deserts of Anbar; from the mountains of Korea to the streets of Kandahar.”
Deconstruction: Obama gives us jingoistic triumphalistic patriotism, when the American people hunger for a truthful acknowledgement of the past crimes.
One has to ask the question why the entire sub-text, not to mention the practical implications, of Obama’s speech was addressed directly to the radical Republican right, corporate America, and the military-industrial complex.
Obama to Announce Iraq Troop Withdrawal: Occupation Lite? February 28, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: Abu Ghraib, Bechtel, Blackwater, dyncorp, ecuador manta, foreign policy, Iraq, iraq contactors, Iraq mercenaries, iraq military bases, Iraq occupation, Iraq oil, Iraq war, Iraq withdrawal, iraqi casualties, McCaffrey sofa, occupation lite, phillis bennis, president obama, roger hollander, status of forces, us casualties iraq
add a comment
Phyllis Bennis | February 27, 2009
Foreign Policy in Focus: http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5910
President Barack Obama said directly that he would be announcing “a way forward in Iraq that leaves Iraq to its people and responsibly ends this war.” As far as it goes, that sounds good. This is an indication that President Obama is largely keeping to his campaign promises, and that’s a hopeful sign, reflecting the power of the anti-war consensus in this country.
If this plan were actually a first step towards the unequivocal goal of a complete end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq, it would be better than good, it would be fabulous. But that would mean this withdrawal would be the first step towards a complete withdrawal of all U.S. troops, pulling out of all the 150,000+ U.S.-paid foreign mercenaries and contractors, closing all the U.S. military bases, and ending all U.S. efforts to control Iraqi oil.
So far that is not on Obama’s agenda.
The troop withdrawal as planned would leave behind as many as 50,000 U.S. troops. That’s an awful lot. Even Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi thinks that may be too much. She told Rachel Maddow, “I don’t know what the justification is for 50,000, at the present…I would think a third of that, maybe 20,000, a little more than a third, 15,000 or 20,000.”
Those troops won’t include officially designated “combat” troops. But those tens of thousands of troops will still be occupying Iraq. Doing what? Very likely, just what combat troops do — they would walk and talk and bomb and shoot like combat troops, but they’d be called something else. The New York Times spelled it out last December: describing how military planners believe Obama’s goal of pulling out combat troops “could be accomplished at least in part by re-labeling some units, so that those currently counted as combat troops could be ‘re-missioned,’ their efforts redefined as training and support for the Iraqis.” That would mean a retreat to the lies and deception that characterized this war during Bush years — something President Obama promised to leave behind. It would also mean military resistance in Iraq would continue, leading to more Iraqi and U.S. casualties.
Further, the U.S. agreement with Iraq calls for all U.S. forces to be out of Iraq by the end of December 2011. President Obama’s announcement later this week may even reflect something like this goal too. But. The agreement can be changed. Retired General Barry McCaffrey wrote an internal report for the Pentagon after a trip to Iraq last year, saying, “We should assume that the Iraqi government will eventually ask us to stay beyond 2011 with a residual force of trainers, counterterrorist capabilities, logistics, and air power.” My estimate? Perhaps a force of 20,000 to 40,000 troops.
And what if the reduction in ground troops is answered with an escalation of U.S. air power? The U.S. appears to be planning to control the skies over Iraq for years to come. That means even more Iraqi civilians being killed by the U.S. military. We need the withdraw all air and naval forces too — something the SOFA agreement mentions, but we have yet to hear anything from the Obama administration. The U.S. has been conducting continuous overflights and regular bombing of Iraq since January 1991 – isn’t 18 years of air war enough?
The U.S.-Iraq agreement (which was ratified by the Iraqi parliament but never brought to the U.S. Senate for ratification, as mandated by the Constitution) also requires that a national referendum be held in Iraq during the summer of 2009 to approve or reject the timetable. It is certainly possible that — if the referendum is held at all — a vast majority of Iraqis would call for an even earlier timeline, saying that two-and-a-half more years of occupation is too long. And it seems a real long-shot to imagine that the U.S. — despite the Obama administration’s commitment to diplomacy over force — would agree to abide by the popular will of the Iraqi people and pull out the troops immediately.
The military hasn’t been transformed with the election of President Obama. He is the commander in chief, but he has made clear his intention to listen to his military advisers (they pushed for the 19-month rather than 16-month withdrawal timeline). The oil companies and powerful contractors whose CEOs and stockholders have made billion dollar killings on Iraq contracts have not been transformed. Obama is president and has promised transparency in the contracting process, but he hasn’t promised to bring home all the mercenaries and contractors.
Mercenaries and Contractors
Ending the U.S. occupation means ending all U.S. funding for the giant contractors — Dyncorp, Bechtel, Blackwater — that serve as out-sourced private unaccountable components of the U.S. military. The contractor companies — and the mercenaries they hire — were part of what led to Abu Ghraib. (Blackwater’s recent name change to “Xe” should not allow its role in killing Iraqi civilians to be forgotten.) Even as some troops may be withdrawn, we will need to mobilize for congressional hearings, independent investigations, and more on the human rights violations and misuse of taxpayer funds by the war profiteers who run these companies. President Obama’s decision to close the Guantanamo prison shows his awareness of severity of the crimes committed there. Ending the funding of the contractors who carried out so many of those crimes should be a logical next step.
U.S. Military Bases
We’ve heard how long it will likely take to evacuate each of the 50+ U.S. military bases in Iraq (6 weeks for the small ones, 18 months for the biggest) but we haven’t heard any indication, let alone a promise, that they will actually be turned over to the Iraqis. The issue of bases places Iraq at the centerpiece of the broad global movement challenging the network of U.S. military bases all over the world. Opposition to the impact of those bases — environmental, social and women’s rights, economic and more — is rising in countries as diverse as Korea, Italy, Ecuador, Kyrgyzstan and more. In fact in some countries governments are joining with civil society to reject Washington’s global crusade. Kyrgyzstan decided to close the U.S. air base there, indicating they prefer Russian bribes to U.S. warplanes. (That decision may present the Obama administration with the unsavory prospect of renewing the U.S. alliance with Uzbekistan, whose government is characterized by some of the most egregious human rights violations in the world.) Ecuador has recently passed a new constitution prohibiting the presence of foreign military bases on their soil, and is in the process of ending its hosting of the U.S. airbase at Manta.
As the Obama administration seeks new ways to cut military spending, closing the 50+ Iraqi bases, particularly the five mega-bases becomes an urgent necessity. And the giant embassy-on-steroids that the Bush administration built to house up to 5,000 U.S. diplomats and officials should be closed down as a relic of an illegal war launched to maintain control of the country, people and resources of Iraq.
Certainly almost three more years of acknowledged occupation is way too long. That’s almost half again as long as the U.S. occupation of Iraq has been going today. But even so, if this 19-month partial withdrawal really was a first step towards a complete end of the Iraq war and occupation, if this really meant that the troops in Iraq would be brought home instead of redeployed to another failing war in Afghanistan, if this really meant that President Obama’s promise that “I will end the war” was about to be made real — then 19 months wouldn’t be so bad.
Then, at last, we could begin making good on our real debt to the people of Iraq. Make good on the U.S. obligations for compensation (money to Iraqis themselves, not to overpaid U.S. contractors), for reparations (including for the years of society-destroying economic sanctions), for support for Iraqi-led international help in peacekeeping and in demilitarizing Iraq after so many years of occupation and war.
So far, though, we’re not seeing any of that. So far, there are too many “buts.” We know there is no military solution in Iraq — and continuing an “occupation lite” to muscle out competitors in oil contracts, or to maintain a power-expansion presence in the region, or to create the illusion of “peace with honor” — none of these things justify continuing an illegal U.S. occupation. Pulling out any troops from Iraq is a good thing. But so far, our job hasn’t ended — to mobilize, to pressure, to continue to educate and advocate and agitate for a real end to the war. We have a lot of work to do.
Phyllis Bennis is director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, a senior analyst for Foreign Policy In Focus, and a fellow at the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam.
Tags: afghan police, afghan scam, Afghanistan War, america first, ann jones, bearing point, Bechtel, Blackwater, Bush, dyncorp, foreign aid, haliburton, Karzai, local militias, louis berger, Obama, Pentagon, private contractors, private war profiteers, privateers, privatization, roger hollander, Taliban, USAID
1 comment so far
11 January 2009
by: Ann Jones, TomDispatch.com
The first of 20,000 to 30,000 additional U.S. troops are scheduled to arrive in Afghanistan next month to re-win the war George W. Bush neglected to finish in his eagerness to start another one. However, “winning” the military campaign against the Taliban is the lesser half of the story.
Going into Afghanistan, the Bush administration called for a political campaign to reconstruct the country and thereby establish the authority of a stable, democratic Afghan central government. It was understood that the two campaigns – military and political/economic – had to go forward together; the success of each depended on the other. But the vision of a reconstructed, peaceful, stable, democratically governed Afghanistan faded fast. Most Afghans now believe that it was nothing but a cover story for the Bush administration’s real goal – to set up permanent bases in Afghanistan and occupy the country forever.
Whatever the truth of the matter, in the long run, it’s not soldiers but services that count – electricity, water, food, health care, justice, and jobs. Had the U.S. delivered the promised services on time, while employing Afghans to rebuild their own country according to their own priorities and under the supervision of their own government – a mini-Marshall Plan – they would now be in charge of their own defense. The forces on the other side, which we loosely call the Taliban, would also have lost much of their grounds for complaint.
Instead, the Bush administration perpetrated a scam. It used the system it set up to dispense reconstruction aid to both the countries it “liberated,” Afghanistan and Iraq, to transfer American taxpayer dollars from the national treasury directly into the pockets of private war profiteers. Think of Halliburton, Bechtel, and Blackwater in Iraq; Louis Berger Group, Bearing Point, and DynCorp International in Afghanistan. They’re all in it together. So far, the Bush administration has bamboozled Americans about its shady aid program. Nobody talks about it. Yet the aid scam, which would be a scandal if it weren’t so profitable for so many, explains far more than does troop strength about why, today, we are on the verge of watching the whole Afghan enterprise go belly up.
What’s worse, there’s no reason to expect that things will change significantly on Barack Obama’s watch. During the election campaign, he called repeatedly for more troops for “the right war” in Afghanistan (while pledging to draw-down U.S. forces in Iraq), but he has yet to say a significant word about the reconstruction mission. While many aid workers in that country remain full of good intentions, the delivery systems for and uses of U.S. aid have been so thoroughly corrupted that we can only expect more of the same – unless Obama cleans house fast. But given the monumental problems on his plate, how likely is that?
The Jolly Privateers
It’s hard to overstate the magnitude of the failure of American reconstruction in Afghanistan. While the U.S. has occupied the country – for seven years and counting – and efficiently set up a network of bases and prisons, it has yet to restore to Kabul, the capital, a mud brick city slightly more populous than Houston, a single one of the public services its citizens used to enjoy. When the Soviets occupied Afghanistan in the 1980s, they modernized the education system and built power plants, dams, factories, and apartment blocs, still the most coveted in the country. If, in the last seven years, George W. Bush did not get the lights back on in the capital, or the water flowing, or dispose of the sewage or trash, how can we assume Barack Obama will do any better with the corrupt system he’s about to inherit?
Between 2002 and 2008, the U.S. pledged $10.4 billion dollars in “development” (reconstruction) aid to Afghanistan, but actually delivered only $5 billion of that amount. Considering that the U.S. is spending $36 billion a year on the war in Afghanistan and about $8 billion a month on the war in Iraq, that $5 billion in development aid looks paltry indeed. But keep in mind that, in a country as poor as Afghanistan, a little well spent money can make a big difference.
The problem is not simply that the Bush administration skimped on aid, but that it handed it over to for-profit contractors. Privatization, as is now abundantly clear, enriches only the privateers and serves only their private interests.
Take one pertinent example. When the inspectors general of the Pentagon and State Department investigated the U.S. program to train the Afghan police in 2006, they found the number of men trained (about 30,000) to be less than half the number reported by the administration (70,000). The training had lasted eight weeks at most, with no in-the-field experience whatsoever. Only about half the equipment assigned to the police – including thousands of trucks – could be accounted for, and the men trained were then deemed “incapable of carrying out routine law enforcement work.”
The American privateer training the police – DynCorp – went on to win no-bid contracts to train police in Iraq with similar results. The total bill for American taxpayers from 2004 to 2006: $1.6 billion. It’s unclear whether that money came from the military or the development budget, but in either case it was wasted. The inspectors general reported that police incompetence contributed directly to increased opium production, the reinvigoration of the Taliban, and government corruption in general, thoroughly subverting much ballyhooed U.S. goals, both military and political.
In the does-no-one-ever-learn category: the latest American victory plan, announced in December, calls for recruiting and rearming local militias to combat the Taliban. Keep in mind that hundreds of millions of dollars, mostly donated by Japan, have already been spent to disarm local militias. A proposal to rearm them was soundly defeated last fall in the Afghan Parliament. Now, it’s again the plan du jour, rubber-stamped by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Afghans protest that such a plan amounts to sponsoring civil war, which, if true, would mean that American involvement in Afghanistan might be coming full circle – civil war being the state in which the U.S. left Afghanistan at the end of our proxy war against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. American commanders, however, insist that they must use militias because Afghan Army and police forces are “simply not available.” Maj. Gen. Michael S. Tucker, deputy commander of American forces, told the New York Times, “We don’t have enough police, [and] we don’t have time to get the police ready.” This, despite the State Department’s award to DynCorp last August of another $317.4 million contract “to continue training civilian police forces in Afghanistan,” a contract DynCorp CEO William Ballhaus greeted as “an opportunity to contribute to peace, stability and democracy in the world [and] support our government’s efforts to improve people’s lives.”
In other areas less obviously connected to security, American aid policy is no less self-serving or self-defeating. Although the Bush administration handpicked the Afghan president and claims to want to extend his authority throughout the country, it refuses to channel aid money through his government’s ministries. (It argues that the Afghan government is corrupt, which it is, in a pathetic, minor league sort of way.)
Instead of giving aid money for Afghan schools to the Ministry of Education, for example, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) funds private American contractors to start literacy programs for adults. As a result, Afghan teachers abandon the public schools and education administrators leave the Ministry for higher paying jobs with those contractors, further undermining public education and governance. The Bush administration may have no particular reason to sabotage its handpicked government, but it has had every reason to befriend private contractors who have, in turn, kicked back generously to election campaigns and Republican coffers.
There are other peculiar features of American development aid. Nearly half of it (47%) goes to support “technical assistance.” Translated, that means overpaid American “experts,” often totally unqualified – somebody’s good old college buddies – are paid handsomely to advise the locals on matters ranging from office procedures to pesticide use, even when the Afghans neither request nor welcome such advice. By contrast, the universally admired aid programs of Sweden and Ireland allocate only 4% and 2% respectively to such technical assistance, and when asked, they send real experts. American technical advisors, like American privateers, are paid by checks – big ones – that pass directly from the federal treasury to private accounts in American banks, thus helping to insure that about 86 cents of every dollar designated for U.S. “foreign” aid anywhere in the world never leaves the U.S.A.
American aid that actually makes it abroad arrives with strings attached. At least 70% of it is “tied” to the purchase of American products. A food aid program, for example, might require Afghanistan to purchase American agricultural products in preference to their own, thus putting Afghan farmers out of business or driving even more of them into the poppy trade. (The percentage of aid from Sweden, Ireland, and the United Kingdom that is similarly tied: zero.)
Testifying before a congressional subcommittee on May 8, 2001, Andrew Natsios, then head of USAID, described American aid as “a key foreign policy instrument [that] helps nations prepare for participation in the global trading system and become better markets for U.S. exports.” Such so-called aid cuts American business in right from the start. USAID has even developed a system for “preselecting” certain private contractors, then inviting only those preselected companies to apply for contracts the agency wants to issue.
Often, in fact, only one of the preselected contractors puts in for the job and then – if you need a hint as to what’s really going on – just happens to award subcontracts to some of the others. It’s remarkable, too, how many former USAID officials have passed through the famed revolving door in Washington to become highly paid consultants to private contractors – and vice versa. By January 2006, the Bush administration had co-opted USAID altogether. The once independent aid agency launched by President Kennedy in 1961 became a subsidiary of the State Department and a partner of the Pentagon.
Oh, and keep in mind one more thing: While the private contractors may be in it for the duration, most employees and technical experts in Afghanistan stay on the job only six months to a year because it’s considered such a “hardship post.” As a result, projects tend not to last long and to be remarkably unrelated to those that came before or will come after. Contractors collect the big bucks whether or not the aid they contracted to deliver benefits Afghans, or even reaches them.
These arrangements help explain why Afghanistan remains such a shambles.
The Afghan Scam
It’s not that American aid has done nothing. Check out the USAID website and you’ll find a summary of what is claimed for it (under the glorious heading of “Afghanistan Reborn”). It will inform you that USAID has completed literally thousands of projects in that country. The USAID loves numbers, but don’t be deceived by them. A thousand short-term USAID projects can’t hold a candle to one long, careful, patient program run, year after year, by a bunch of Afghans led by a single Swede.
If there has been any progress in Afghanistan, especially in and around Kabul, it’s largely been because two-thirds of the reconstruction aid to Afghanistan comes from other (mostly European) countries that do a better job, and partly because the country’s druglords spend big on palatial homes and services in the capital. But the one-third of international aid that is supposed to come from the U.S., and that might make a critical difference when added to the work of others, eternally falls into the wrong pockets.
What would Afghans have done differently, if they’d been in charge? They’d have built much smaller schools, and a lot more of them, in places more convenient to children than to foreign construction crews. Afghans would have hired Afghans to do the building. Louis Berger Group had the contract to build more than 1,000 schools at a cost of $274,000 per school. Already way behind schedule in 2005, they had finished only a small fraction of them when roofs began to collapse under the snows of winter.
Believe me, given that same $274,000, Afghans would have built 15 or 20 schools with good roofs. The same math can be applied to medical clinics. Afghans would also have chosen to repair irrigation systems and wells, to restore ruined orchards, vineyards, and fields. Amazingly enough, USAID initially had no agricultural programs in a country where rural subsistence farmers are 85% of the population. Now, after seven years, the agency finally claims to have “improved” irrigation on “nearly 15%” of arable land. And you can be sure that Afghans wouldn’t have chosen – again – the Louis Berger Group to rebuild the 389-mile long Kabul/Kandahar highway with foreign labor at a cost of $1 million per mile.
As things now stand, Afghans, as well as Afghan-Americans who go back to help their homeland, have to play by American rules. Recently an Afghan-American contractor who competed for reconstruction contracts told me that the American military is getting in on the aid scam. To apply for a contract, Afghan applicants now have to fill out a form (in English!) that may run to 50 pages. My informant, who asked to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, commented that it’s next to impossible to figure out “what they look for.” He won a contract only when he took a hint and hired an American “expert” – a retired military officer – to fill out the form. The expert claimed the “standard fee” for his service: 25% of the value of the contract.
Another Afghan-American informed me that he was proud to have worked with an American construction company building schools with USAID funds. Taken on as a translator, he persuaded the company not only to hire Afghan laborers, but also to raise their pay gradually from $1.00 per day to $10.00 per day. “They could feed their families,” he said, “and it was all cost over-run, so cost didn’t matter. The boss was already billing the government $10.00 to $15.00 an hour for labor, so he could afford to pay $10.00 a day and still make a profit.” My informant didn’t question the corruption in such over-billing. After all, Afghans often tack on something extra for themselves, and they don’t call it corruption either. But on this scale it adds up to millions going into the assumedly deep pockets of one American privateer.
Yet a third Afghan-American, a businessman who has worked on American projects in his homeland, insisted that when Bush pledged $10.4 billion in aid, President Karzai should have offered him a deal: “Give me $2 billion in cash, I’ll kick back the rest to you, and you can take your army and go home.”
“If Karzai had put the cash in an Afghan bank,” the businessman added, “and spent it himself on what people really need, both Afghanistan and Karzai would be in much better shape today.” Yes, he was half-joking, but he wasn’t wrong.
Don’t think of such stories, and thousands of others like them, as merely tales of the everyday theft or waste of a few hundred million dollars – a form of well-organized, routine graft that leaves the corruption of Karzai’s government in the shade and will undoubtedly continue unremarked upon in the Obama years. Those multi-millions that will continue to be poured down the Afghan drain really represent promises made to a people whose country and culture we have devastated more than once. They are promises made by our government, paid for by our taxpayers, and repeatedly broken.
These stories, which you’ll seldom hear about, are every bit as important as the debates about military strength and tactics and strategy in Afghanistan that dominate public discourse today. Those promises, made in our name, were once said to be why we fight; now – broken – they remind us that we’ve already lost.
Ann Jones wrote at length about the failure of American aid in Kabul in Winter (Metropolitan Books), a book about American meddling in Afghanistan as well as her experience as a humanitarian aid worker there from 2002 to 2006. For more information, visit her website. For a concise report on many of the defects in international aid mentioned here, check out Real Aid (pdf file), a report issued in 2005 by the South African NGO Action Aid.
The Crude Reality: Confessions of an Economic Hit Man: How the U.S. Uses Globalization to Cheat Poor Countries Out of Trillions November 14, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Latin America.
Tags: Add new tag, amazoniaporlavida, amy goodman, Bechtel, Carter Panama Canal, Casper Weinberger, Chas. T. Main, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, Democracy Now, Ecuador C.I.A. infiltration, Ecuador CIA, Ecuador envrionment, Ecuador external debt, Ecuador history, Ecuador natural resources, Ecuador petroleum, Ecuador Politics and Government, Ecuador Texaco, Ecuador Yasuni, George Schultz, IMF, Instituto Linguistico de Verano, Jaime Roldos, Jimmy Carter, John Perkins, Omar Torrijos, Panama Canal, Panama Canal Treaty, Panama Torrijos, roger hollander, Summer Institute of Linguistics, World Bank, Wycliffe Bible
add a comment
“La Cruda Realidad” (The Crude Reality), Foto: Lou Dematteis
I regularly receive reports from www.amazoniaporlavida.org, an environmental organization that is waging a campaign to prevent exploitation of petroleum in Ecuador’s ecologically sensitive Yasuni region.
A recent e-mail made reverence to a former U.S. agent, John Perkins, who describes himself as a former “economic hit man,” in a tell-all book.
I found an interesting interview with Perkins on Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now!” radio program, which sheds light on the problem as seen by today’s Ecuadorian environmental and anti-neoliberal activists.
First, my translation of the “Amazonia por la Vida” Report:
“In the Agenda of the United States and Its Intelligence Services”
When John Perkins was contracted by MAIN (a CIA front) to intervene in the political economy of Indonesia, Ecuador and Panama, he was told that by using macroeconomic statistics, he should be able, for example, to inflate the rate of economic growth in Indonesia from 6% to 19%. In the case of Ecuador, where he served as an economic advisor, he was told that, by manipulating its macroeconomic statistics, he should be able to put the country in debt to the point where they are trapped with the impossibility of repayment.
The CIA succeeded in manipulating Ecuadorian macroeconomic information to the point where in twenty years the country was in bankruptcy and had to over exploit and privatize its [natural] resources in order to deal with the debt.
In defining the statistics and the conditions of work in transnational corporations at that time [the 1970s] Texaco played an essential part. The former agent [Perkins] has revealed how Texaco was able to enter Ecuador via the Instituto Lingüístico de Verano [ILV, Summer Institute of Linguistics, a U.S. evangelical missionary organization, also known as the Wycliffe Bible Translators, with ties to the CIA], with whom he was also associated.
The CIA strategy was to establish the conditions for the re-taking of natural resources after they had been partially nationalized. Texaco, the company most affected, found itself in conflict with [Ecuadorian President] Jaime Roldós, who not only expelled the ILV from the country, but also refused the conditions to which Texaco aspired. After the assisination [of Roldós], [his successor] Oswaldo Hurtado reinstated the ILV and Texaco began its greatest campaign of explorations (John Perkins, “Confessions of an Economic Hitman,” 2004).
Evolution of the Total Ecuadorian External Debt (in millions of U.S. Dollars)
CEIDEX (Comisión Especial de Investigación de la Deuda Externa del Ecuador)
Now to John Perkins:
From the prologue to the “Democracy Now!” interview:
John Perkins, was a former respected member of the international banking community. In his book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man he describes how as a highly paid professional, he helped the U.S. cheat poor countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars by lending them more money than they could possibly repay and then take over their economies.
20 years ago Perkins began writing a book with the working title, “Conscience of an Economic Hit Men.”
Perkins writes, “The book was to be dedicated to the presidents of two countries, men who had been his clients whom I respected and thought of as kindred spirits–Jaime Roldós, president of Ecuador, and Omar Torrijos, president of Panama. Both had just died in fiery crashes. Their deaths were not accidental. They were assassinated because they opposed that fraternity of corporate, government, and banking heads whose goal is global empire. We Economic Hit Men failed to bring Roldós and Torrijos around, and the other type of hit men, the CIA-sanctioned jackals who were always right behind us, stepped in.
John Perkins goes on to write:
“I was persuaded to stop writing that book. I started it four more times during the next twenty years. On each occasion, my decision to begin again was influenced by current world events: the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1980, the first Gulf War, Somalia, and the rise of Osama bin Laden. However, threats or bribes always convinced me to stop.
John Perkins, from an interview with Amy Goodman on “Democracy Now!” November 9, 2004.
… I was initially recruited while I was in business school back in the late sixties by the National Security Agency, the nation’s largest and least understood spy organization; but ultimately I worked for private corporations.
… when the National Security Agency recruited me, they put me through a day of lie detector tests. They found out all my weaknesses and immediately seduced me. They used the strongest drugs in our culture, sex, power and money, to win me over. I come from a very old New England family, Calvinist, steeped in amazingly strong moral values. I think I, you know, I’m a good person overall, and I think my story really shows how this system and these powerful drugs of sex, money and power can seduce people, because I certainly was seduced. And if I hadn’t lived this life as an economic hit man, I think I’d have a hard time believing that anybody does these things
Basically what we were trained to do and what our job is to do is to build up the American empire. To bring—to create situations where as many resources as possible flow into this country, to our corporations, and our government, and in fact we’ve been very successful. We’ve built the largest empire in the history of the world. It’s been done over the last 50 years since World War II with very little military might, actually. It’s only in rare instances like Iraq where the military comes in as a last resort. This empire, unlike any other in the history of the world, has been built primarily through economic manipulation, through cheating, through fraud, through seducing people into our way of life, through the economic hit men. I was very much a part of that.
Well, the company I worked for was a company named Chas. T. Main in Boston, Massachusetts. We were about 2,000 employees, and I became its chief economist. I ended up having fifty people working for me. But my real job was deal-making. It was giving loans to other countries, huge loans, much bigger than they could possibly repay. One of the conditions of the loan—let’s say a $1 billion to a country like Indonesia or Ecuador—and this country would then have to give ninety percent of that loan back to a U.S. company, or U.S. companies, to build the infrastructure—a Halliburton or a Bechtel. These were big ones. Those companies would then go in and build an electrical system or ports or highways, and these would basically serve just a few of the very wealthiest families in those countries. The poor people in those countries would be stuck ultimately with this amazing debt that they couldn’t possibly repay. A country today like Ecuador owes over fifty percent of its national budget just to pay down its debt. And it really can’t do it. So, we literally have them over a barrel. So, when we want more oil, we go to Ecuador and say, “Look, you’re not able to repay your debts, therefore give our oil companies your Amazon rain forest, which are filled with oil.” And today we’re going in and destroying Amazonian rain forests, forcing Ecuador to give them to us because they’ve accumulated all this debt. So we make this big loan, most of it comes back to the United States, the country is left with the debt plus lots of interest, and they basically become our servants, our slaves. It’s an empire. There’s no two ways about it. It’s a huge empire. It’s been extremely successful.
[I worked] … very closely with the World Bank. The World Bank provides most of the money that’s used by economic hit men, it and the I.M.F.
Here is Perkins’ blood chilling account of the alleged assassination of Panama’s Omar Torrijos:
“Omar Torrijos, the President of Panama. Omar Torrijos had signed the Canal Treaty with Carter much—and, you know, it passed our congress by only one vote. It was a highly contended issue. And Torrijos then also went ahead and negotiated with the Japanese to build a sea-level canal. The Japanese wanted to finance and construct a sea-level canal in Panama. Torrijos talked to them about this which very much upset Bechtel Corporation, whose president was George Schultz and senior council was Casper Weinberger. When Carter was thrown out (and that’s an interesting story—how that actually happened), when he lost the election, and Reagan came in and Schultz came in as Secretary of State from Bechtel, and Weinberger came from Bechtel to be Secretary of Defense, they were extremely angry at Torrijos—tried to get him to renegotiate the Canal Treaty and not to talk to the Japanese. He adamantly refused. He was a very principled man. He had his problem, but he was a very principled man. He was an amazing man, Torrijos. And so, he died in a fiery airplane crash, which was connected to a tape recorder with explosives in it, which—I was there. I had been working with him. I knew that we economic hit men had failed. I knew the jackals were closing in on him, and the next thing, his plane exploded with a tape recorder with a bomb in it. There’s no question in my mind that it was C.I.A. sanctioned, and most—many Latin American investigators have come to the same conclusion. Of course, we never heard about that in our country.”