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Debunking the Rationale for War in Afghanistan March 30, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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by Gareth Porter

After the Bush administration went to war based on charges of WMD programs that were later found to have been nonexistent, you would think there would be a strong demand for a thorough examination of the strategic rationale the next time an administration proposes a new war or a major escalation of an existing one.

Yet there has been no public examination of the Obama administration strategic argument that the United States must do whatever is necessary in Afghanistan to ensure that al Qaeda cannot have a safe haven there. The assumption seems to be that that there is no need to inquire about the soundness of that premise, because al Qaeda planned the 9/11 terrorist attacks from Afghanistan.

But the rationale for U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan that seemed obvious in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks no longer applies today. Osama bin Laden and the central al Qaeda organization left Afghanistan in late 2001 for Pakistan, where they have now established an even more secure base than they had in Afghanistan, thanks to the strong organization of Islamic militants in the Northwest tribal region of Pakistan. So the real al Qaeda safe haven problem is not about Afghanistan but about Pakistan.

Instead of candidly acknowledging that the al Qaeda safe haven problem is located in Pakistan, however, Barack Obama’s first major statement on the war in Afghanistan sought to obscure that problem. Obama said, “[W]e have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future.”

That made it sound like al Qaeda still has a base in Afghanistan. The “White Paper” of his Interagency Policy Group, however, contradicts that formulation. It states the U.S. goal as “to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its safe havens in Pakistan, and to prevent their return to Pakistan or Afghanistan.” Obama’s suggestion that U.S. forces are somehow fighting to defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan marks the first clear instance of playing fast and loose with the facts in order to increase the very weak public support for the war.

If the real problem is ending an al Qaeda safe haven in Pakistan, then going to war in Afghanistan makes sense only if one assumes that al Qaeda is going to be pushed out Pakistan or in danger of being destroyed there. The real question, therefore, is whether there is any realistic possibility that the Pakistan government can shut down al Qaeda’s safe haven.

The honest answer must be that the possibility is vanishingly small — at least for next generation. A report on Pakistan by a panel of experts headed by John Kerry and Chuck Hagel and published by the Atlantic Council last month provides a detailed analysis that suggests why it is so unlikely. It describes a Pakistani army that is demoralized and lacking a viable strategy for dealing with the burgeoning jihadi movement in the Northwest tribal region which has sheltered al Qaeda. It recalls how Pakistan was on the brink of economic collapse last fall, and was forced by the IMF to accept a crippling austerity plan. And it warns that a military takeover is likely if dramatic steps are not taken in the coming year, and that the military leadership is no better prepared than civilian politicians to cope with the country’s problems.

Pakistan is not even on the U.S. side in its war against al Qaeda and the Taliban, as was confirmed by a report in the The New York Times March 25. Despite previous pledges that ISI, the Pakistani military’s intelligence agency, had ended its covert assistance to the Taliban, The Times detaiIs ISI ‘s continuing provision of “money, military supplies and strategic planning guidance” to Taliban commanders fighting U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke and CENTCOM chief Gen. David Petraeus conceded in an interviews with PBS that Pakistani assistance to the Taliban is a central problem and that trying to get the Pakistani military to end its support for the Taliban is their highest priority.

But the idea that the Obama administration’s “regional strategy” is going to change a Pakistani strategic fixation on India that has persisted ever since the Pakistani military was created is nothing but wishful thinking. No less an enthusiast for war in Afghanistan than neoconservative military analyst Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute testified at a House subcommittee hearing Thursday that the Pakistani Army actually defines itself in terms of the threat from India and opined that It would require “a multi-generational effort” to change that perspective.

As for closing down al Qaeda’s sanctuary in Pakistan, a report by Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post from Pakistan last September showed that U.S. intelligence had no human assets in the tribal region, and that Pakistani military was doing nothing to change that. CIA Director Leon Panetta’s statement that drone bombing attacks “are probably the most effective weapon we have to try to disrupt al Qaeda right now” is a pretty good indication that there is little chance of the United States rolling up al Qaeda in Pakistan unilaterally.

The war in Afghanistan is being justified, in effect, as a “preventive war,” but the contingency it is supposed to prevent — an al Qaeda base in Afghanistan — is one that that isn’t going to occur, regardless of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. In that regard, the rationale for this war is very much like the rationale for the invasion of Iraq, which was that the United States had to prevent the acquisition by Saddam Hussein of a nuclear weapon.

Although the war in Afghanistan cannot solve the al Qaeda problem in Pakistan, it can accelerate the destabilization of Pakistan and strengthening the jihadi movement there. Even air attacks by drone aircraft in Pakistan, which is now settled U.S. policy, create a powerful political backlash in favor of the militants in Pakistan. But once the administration’s “regional” approach to changing Pakistani policy stalls, we can expect growing pressure from the military to resume U.S. Special Operations forces cross-border raids against Taliban sanctuaries inside Pakistan. And that would certainly lead to more serious destabilizing developments, such as increased ideological splits within the Pakistani military. The National Intelligence Council warned the Bush administration about the near certainty of such consequences last August, as I reported for IPS September 9.

The administration’s rationale for escalating war in Afghanistan does not stand up to careful examination. Not only is Afghanistan not a war of necessity, as it is being portrayed by the administration; it is a war that is very likely to make the terrible mess in Pakistan substantially worse and increase the likelihood of spreading chaos in that country.

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist on U.S. national security policy who has been independent since a brief period of university teaching in the 1980s. Dr. Porter is the author of four books, the latest of which is Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam (University of California Press, 2005). He has written regularly for Inter Press Service on U.S. policy toward Iraq and Iran since 2005.


Iran in the Crosshairs March 5, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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By Gareth Porter and Ray McGovern

www.consortiumnews.com,  March 4, 2009

Last year, the Middle East dodged the danger of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities and the inevitable spread of hostilities.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen was sent to tell the Israelis that the United States would not support such an attack, and after the fiasco in Georgia, the Russians too sent stern warnings to Tel Aviv.

But now the specter of an Israeli strike has reappeared. Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s incoming prime minister, is far more committed to an attack on Iran than his predecessors. 

Remember when Joe Biden told supporters of Barack Obama last October that Obama would be tested in his first six months in office?

There is good reason to believe he was referring to the likelihood that Netanyahu would become prime minister after the February 2009 Israeli election, and that he would waste little time finding a pretext to attack Iran. 

Netanyahu has been laying the groundwork for such an attack for years, constantly repeating that Tehran is “preparing another Holocaust” a la Germany in the Thirties.

He keeps hammering home the “existential” threat that would be posed to Israel (with its 200-300 nuclear weapons) if Iran had just one.

Netanyahu has made no bones about the fact that his preferred solution to the problem is a massive air attack on Iranian nuclear facilities and other military targets, and that he would not wait for any evidence that Iran had actually manufactured a weapon before doing so.

It would be, you see, a Bush-type “preventive” war. Netanyahu would fully expect Iranian retaliation of some kind and knee-jerk U.S. intervention on Israel’s side. 

If such adventurism were to prevail, it would be a tragedy not only for Iran and the United States but for Israel as well. And it would bring to Israel more serious risk than at any time since its implantation in Palestine. 

It is also completely unnecessary. There has never been a shred of evidence that Iran has any intention of committing suicide by attacking Israel.

Nor is it clear that Iran has irrevocably decided to seek nuclear weapons.

The U.S. intelligence community determined unanimously in its most recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, completed in November 2007, that Iran had abandoned the nuclear weaponization part of its nuclear development program in 2003 and had not resumed such work. 

Largely forgotten is the fact that this estimate also concluded that Iran would extend the halt to its nuclear weapons program if the United States were to offer “credible” opportunities for Iran to achieve its “security, prestige and goals for regional influence.” 

In other words, the way to avoid an Iranian nuclear weapon is not the threat of an attack – which is very likely to have the opposite effect – but to give Iran additional reason to continue the halt in weaponization. 

Unfortunately, it is far from clear that President Obama understands that he must draw a hard line against an Israeli attack. Some of his old-think advisers believe the threat of an attack should be part of his overall strategy.

The President’s adviser on proliferation, Gary Samore, declared last September, “We…want the Iranians to believe that if they actually try to make nuclear weapons, or if they build secret facilities that we detect, they run the risk of being attacked.”

What needs to happen: President Obama needs to order an update of the 2007 intelligence estimate on Iran.

Then he should ask for a briefing by intelligence analysts able to think outside the box, including the ones who concluded in 2007 that Iran needs positive incentives to continue to forego work on nuclear weapons.

Obama should encourage his diplomats to pursue talks at a senior level with their Iranian counterparts, with the objective of reaching agreements that will give Iran just the kind of incentives the intelligence analysts had in mind.

And he must tell Netanyahu that the U.S. will not support an Israeli attack on Iran. Indeed, the U.S. will not tolerate it.

Gareth Porter is an investigative journalist and historian and the author of Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam. Ray McGovern was an Army Intelligence Officer and CIA analyst for almost 30 years and is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). 

State Department Ushers in Dennis Ross in the Dark of the Night February 25, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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Cheryl Biren-Wright

http://cherylbirenwright.wordpress.com , February 24, 2009

Late last night, according to the Washington Post, the State Department announced that Dennis Ross will be the “special adviser to Secretary of State Clinton responsible for developing a strategy for engaging Iran.”

The State Department, in fact, has yet to specifically cite Iran in Ross’s title. Dennis Ross will be “adviser to the secretary of state for the Gulf and Southwest Asia.” State Department officials, the Washington Post reports, said the title is a euphemism for Iran.

For months many concerns have been raised over the prospect of a Ross appointment as a special envoy to or an adviser on Iran. To assign the former diplomat who actively supports not only coercive actions against Iran, but the policy option of a preventive military attack seems counterintuitive to the need for trust in this highly sensitive relationship.

In 2007 and 2008 Dennis Ross, working on the Presidential Task Force for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), convened the report “How to Deepen the U.S.-Israel Cooperation on the Iranian Nuclear Challenge.”

This task force met numerous times including a two-day retreat in Virginia with ten Israeli counterparts. In an effort to bring aboard those who had the ear of the major presidential candidates at the time, signatories included Richard Clarke, Anthony Lake, Susan Rice, Vin Weber and James Woolsey.

The report focused on halting Iran’s nuclear program and indicated that it’s not just a bomb they are worried about but also Iran having influence in the region. It criticized the November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that found that Iran had halted the weaponization component of its nuclear program in 2003 for “reducing the sense of urgency for additional pressure.” It added that “Israeli intelligence analysts have doubts about both the facts and duration of Iran’s suspension of weaponization efforts.”

The first section of the report titled “The Importance of Prevention” raises concerns that the U.S. might favor deterrence over prevention. Prevention in this case would be the act of a preventive military strike against Iran. It points out that “Americans should recognize that deterrence is, in Israeli eyes, an unattractive alternative to prevention, because if deterrence fails, Israel would suffer terribly.” The result of this, they explain, would be that Israel may decide to act independently against Iran.

While this may be a valid concern, it raises the question of whether the United States should support preventive military action simply because Israel might do it first. The report criticizes Iran for not abiding by UN Security Council resolutions calling on it to suspend its enrichment program, but Ross and his fellow signatories show little concern for the UN Charter that requires that member nations refrain from the threat or use of force and that if a dispute is not settled it shall be referred to the Security Council which will make recommendations. While the Charter allows for military action in self-defense, no strong case for even an imminent attack currently exists.

The United States has been down this preventive route before most recently in March 2003. That Dennis Ross and the folks on this task force don’t seem to take into account the disastrous effects of the preventive attack on Iraq and would consider this option with Iran is at the minimum an unsettling notion.

Interestingly, after recognizing the “abiding commitment” the United States has to Israel, they make a point of stating that “critics who argue that Israel has manipulated the U.S. government to act counter to the American national interest, which – if properly understood – would see Israel as a liability.” “We reject that critique,” reads the report.

The task force recommends four policy options when dealing with Iran. The first two involve diplomatic engagement and political and economic pressure. It advises that Israel be brought in “as a full partner in planning discussions regarding initiatives involving the UN Security Council; and U.S-EU, U.S.-Arab, and other relevant forums.”

The other two policy options include “coercive options such as an embargo on Iran’s sale of oil or import of refined petroleum products, and preventive military action.”

Before signing off, the report revisits the issue of the relationship with Israel and the United States. It calls for the president to use the “bully pulpit” to educate the American public that Iran poses a direct threat to the United States quickly adding, “The central argument is that preventing Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability is not special pleading for America’s ally Israel – it is vital to America’s own security.”

When considering that Dennis Ross will be “responsible for developing a strategy for engaging Iran,” it is important to note that the blueprint for this strategy from Ross’s perspective is deeply rooted in WINEPs presidential task force that endorses the policy option of a preventive strike and included not just American statesmen, diplomats and scholars, but ten anonymous Israeli counterparts.

While the State Department continues to use vague language about the connection between Dennis Ross and Iran, WINEP’s presidential task force makes clear that Ross will not be alone at the table.

Barack Obama: International Outlaw? January 30, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, About War, Barack Obama.
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Have we become so inured to the United States government willy-nilly violating international law that it hardly registers in the mainstream media when the new “change” president continues in the same tradition?


Of all the disappointments and mis-appointments (Gates and Clinton, Sumers and Rubin) Barack Obama has laid on his most progressive followers, none compares with his continuing to send missiles into Pakistan.


The most fundamental principle of international law is that no nation has the right to unilaterally attack another unless first attacked.  In his notorious National Security Strategy document of 2002, George W. Bush introduced what has become know as the Bush Doctrine, which includes the notion that the United States reserves the right to engage in “preventive” war.  This euphemism for international outlawry is used to justify the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq.  Then, by declaring a phony “war on terrorism,” Bush in effect created a justification for the United States to attack anyone at any time.


In the context of international legal vacuum (no court with the authority or wherewithal to prosecute a criminal government) and a “might makes right” U.S. foreign policy, the United States military can pretty much get away with whatever its Commander-in-Chief decides to do.


Barack Obama was elected by the American people precisely to cease and desist from such unlawful practices as torture, spying on its own people, holding prisoners indefinitely without charges, and unprovoked attacks on sovereign nations.


Sadly, he authorized missile attacks on Pakistan on January 23 (BBC) and January 26 (Reuters) in which as many as 22 were killed, including at least three children (according to reports).


According to the Reuters report of January 27, Obama’s Secretary of Defence, the Bush holdover Robert Gates stated, “Both President Bush and President Obama have made clear that we will go after al Qaeda wherever al Qaeda is and we will continue to pursue that.”


Along with Obama’s stated intention to escalate the War in Afghanistan, this bodes ill for the kind of change he led us to expect.  One speculates that Obama may feel he needs to show the hawks and his military commanders that he has sufficient macho to fulfill the role of Commander in Chief.  Much has been made of the historic antecedent to the election of the country’s first African-American president, the Civil Right Movement and in particular Dr. King.  What we should remember is that Dr. King faced angry racist police in the South and their vicious dogs; he spent time in their jails; whereas Barack Obama rose to the presidency through making inspirational speeches and raising millions of campaign dollars.  What he has yet to show us is that he is a man of courage.


It is tragic that he has not had the guts from the beginning to face down the hawks in his own party much less the militaristic Republicans.  It is not too late.  We know he can talk the talk.  We need to see him walk the walk.

(For more on the Pakistan attack, read Amy Goodman’s interview on Democracynow!


“Remember Pearl Harbor!” December 7, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in George W. Bush, Iraq and Afghanistan, Political Commentary.
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Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. (Photo: National Archive and Records Administration)
Sunday 07 December 2008

by: John Lamperti, t r u t h o u t | Perspective, www.truthout.org

“Pre-emptive” war, then and now.

    The name Pearl Harbor resonates in American history; it is synonymous with the U.S. entry into World War II. It stands for tragedy – and for treachery. On December 7, 1941, Japanese carrier-based aircraft attacked United States naval and air forces in the Hawaiian Islands, and scored a major victory. Over 2,300 U.S. military personnel lost their lives – almost half of them when the battleship Arizona was blown up and sunk by bombs and torpedoes. The U. S. Pacific fleet was devastated.[1] The next day President Franklin Roosevelt called for a declaration of war, and described December 7, 1941, and the Japanese attack as “a date which will live in infamy.”

    But why, exactly, was the Pearl Harbor attack “infamous”? The Japanese planes attacked strictly military targets and there were relatively few civilian casualties.[2] The battle was a terrible blow for the American forces, which were taken completely by surprise. But a surprise attack is not infamous in wartime; every military commander would like to attack by surprise if possible. Nor did the bitter facts of U.S. defeat and heavy losses make the raid criminal. President Roosevelt used the word “infamy” because the raid was an act of military aggression. Until that moment Japan and the United States were not at war, although their conflicting interests had been threatening to boil over. The attack turned a dispute into a war; Pearl Harbor was a crime because the Japanese struck first.

    Sixty years after Pearl Harbor, the administration of G. W. Bush has made “preemption” an official part of U.S. policy. According to this so-called “Bush Doctrine,” the United States claims the right to use military force whenever it determines that its security or economic interests may be threatened by another nation in the future. The Bush National Security Strategy of 2002 states that “The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction – and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively.”[3] In other words, if it is to our advantage, we will strike first – begin a war – when we see a potential threat.

    That is exactly what the Japanese did in 1941, when the United States posed a huge threat to their leaders’ conception of Japan’s national interests. With bases reaching across the Pacific, the U.S. Navy, in particular, was potentially a major obstacle to Japanese expansion in China and Southeast Asia. Moreover, the United States had imposed an embargo on oil and steel shipments to Japan, a nation that depended on imports and had oil reserves sufficient for only about two years. By November 1941, negotiations to resolve or defuse these issues had stalled. Japanese military planners, by then in control of their country’s government, saw armed conflict with the United States as inevitable, and disabling U.S. naval power in the Pacific seemed essential for achieving their goals. They judged that a high-risk, high-gain surprise attack would give Japan its best chance for success. That is, they chose preemption.

    After the war, the United States and its allies did not accept Japanese or German claims that their preemptive acts had been legitimate. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson was the chief allied prosecutor of major Axis war criminals. In August 1945 Jackson wrote: “We must make it clear to the Germans that the wrong for which their fallen leaders are on trial is not that they lost the war, but that they started it… Our position is that no grievances or policies will justify resort to aggressive war. It is utterly renounced and condemned as an instrument of policy.”[4] During the next few years, officials and military officers of both Germany and Japan were tried and convicted for planning and carrying out aggression by their countries’ armed forces. There was no exception for “preemptive war,” although some of the accused tried to use that concept in their defense.[5] The Bush administration’s doctrine thus represents a reversal of long-standing principles of international law, principles that the United States has championed in the past.

    In the years since 2002, far from reconsidering its doctrine of preemption, the Bush administration has reaffirmed and extended it. The invasion of Iraq in 2003, for example, was supposed to preempt the use by that nation of “weapons of mass destruction,”[6] weapons which did not exist and could not in any case have threatened U.S. security. Moreover, the administration’s policy now specifically includes the possible use of nuclear weapons. The new (2005) nuclear doctrine identifies four conditions in which preemptive use of nuclear weapons could occur, including “An adversary intending to use weapons of mass destruction against U.S., multinational, or allies’ forces or civilian populations.”[7] The preamble states: “The US does not make positive statements defining the circumstances under which it would use nuclear weapons.” This “calculated ambiguity” is said to “reinforce deterrence”; it is a sort of “mad dog” strategy meant to induce fear of our dangerous unpredictability. Such threats are both dangerous and immoral. Instead, there should be absolute clarity that this country will never attack another with nuclear weapons; starting a nuclear war would be an act that would truly “live in infamy.” A declared U.S. “no first use” policy is long overdue, as part of a genuine campaign for world-wide abolition.

    The Bush administration has also broadened the scope of non-nuclear preemption, calling its policy an “expansive new definition of self-defense.” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and other officials recently cited this doctrine to justify attacks such as the October 26 raid inside Syria and others inside Pakistan. The policy, they said, permits strikes on “militant targets” in a sovereign nation without its consent when that nation does not act on its own as the U.S. wishes.[8]

    If these standards are applied to the Japan of 1941, the Pearl Harbor attack can no longer be seen as criminal; certainly George W. Bush and his associates are in no position to condemn it. For the rest of us, December 7, 1941 will remain a “day of infamy” as the war crimes tribunals concluded and as virtually all Americans have believed ever since. And if Japan’s attack on that day was infamous, the policy of preemption must be condemned as well. Preemptive war was not legitimate for the Japanese in 1941, and it is not legitimate for the United States today.

    Any policy that plans for “preemptive” or “preventive” war to promote national interests must be considered criminal, for the same reasons as was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It is an urgent challenge for incoming U.S. President Barack Obama to repudiate the Bush Doctrine and correct this dangerous situation. The United States must once again “renounce and condemn” any policy of preemptive war.

    – – – – –


    [1] In addition to the Arizona, the battleship Oklahoma was lost, three others were sunk or beached but later salvaged, and three more were damaged. In all, 18 ships were sunk or seriously damaged, 188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed, and 158 other planes were damaged. The Japanese lost 29 planes in the raid. (From Walter Lord, Day of Infamy, first edition 1957.)

    [2] 68 civilians were killed and 35 others wounded. There were some 40 explosions in the city of Honolulu, but all except one were caused by U.S. antiaircraft fire. (Lord, page 212.)

    [3] The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, White House document, September 17, 2002, page. 19. Available on the web.

    [4] Department of State Bulletin, June 10, 1945.

    [5] Nazi leaders claimed, for example, that the 1940 German invasion of neutral Denmark and Norway was preemption, needed to “protect” them from an imminent British attack and occupation.

    [6] The introduction of this terminology may have been intended to blur the distinction between chemical and biological weapons, which Iraq could conceivably have possessed in 2003 (although it in fact did not), and true weapons of mass destruction, i.e. nuclear weapons, which it could not have possessed.

    [7] JP 3-12: Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations. Cited by Hans M. Kristensen in Arms Control Today, September 2005.

    [8] Thom Shanker, “Gates Gives Rationale for Expanded Deterrence,” New York Times, October 28, 2008.


     John Lamperti is a Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at Dartmouth College. He is the author of several books on the theory of probability and on random processes. Since 1985 one of his main interests has been Central America and what the United States has been doing there. He is the author of “Enrique Alvarez Cordova: Life of a Salvadoran Revolutionary and Gentleman“(MacFarland, 2006).