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Juan Cole: Obama's Domino Theory, Ann Jones: Wars Come Home

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  • Ed Pearl
    http://informationclearinghouse.info/article22321.htm Obama s Domino Theory Obama broke with his pledge of straight talk to the public and fell back on
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 1, 2009

      Obama's Domino Theory

      Obama broke with his pledge of straight talk to the public and fell back on
      Bush-style boogeymen and implausible conspiracy theories.

      By Juan Cole

      March 31, 2009 "Salon" -- President Barack Obama may or may not be doing the
      right thing in Afghanistan, but the rationale he gave for it on Friday is
      almost certainly wrong. Obama has presented us with a 21st century version
      of the domino theory. The U.S. is not, contrary to what the president said,
      mainly fighting "al-Qaida" in Afghanistan. In blaming everything on
      al-Qaida, Obama broke with his pledge of straight talk to the public and
      fell back on Bush-style boogeymen and implausible conspiracy theories.

      Obama realizes that after seven years, Afghanistan war fatigue has begun to
      set in with the American people. Some 51 percent of Americans now oppose the
      Afghanistan war, and 64 percent of Democrats do. The president is therefore
      escalating in the teeth of substantial domestic opposition, especially from
      his own party, as voters worry about spending billions more dollars abroad
      while the U.S. economy is in serious trouble.

      He acknowledged that we deserve a "straightforward answer" as to why the
      U.S. and NATO are still fighting there. "So let me be clear," he said,
      "Al-Qaida and its allies -- the terrorists who planned and supported the
      9/11 attacks -- are in Pakistan and Afghanistan." But his characterization
      of what is going on now in Afghanistan, almost eight years after 9/11, was
      simply not true, and was, indeed, positively misleading. "And if the Afghan
      government falls to the Taliban," he said, "or allows al-Qaida to go
      unchallenged -- that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to
      kill as many of our people as they possibly can."

      Obama described the same sort of domino effect that Washington elites used
      to ascribe to international communism. In the updated, al-Qaida version, the
      Taliban might take Kunar Province, and then all of Afghanistan, and might
      again host al-Qaida, and might then threaten the shores of the United
      States. He even managed to add an analog to Cambodia to the scenario,
      saying, "The future of Afghanistan is inextricably linked to the future of
      its neighbor, Pakistan," and warned, "Make no mistake: Al-Qaida and its
      extremist allies are a cancer that risks killing Pakistan from within."

      This latter-day domino theory of al-Qaida takeovers in South Asia is just as
      implausible as its earlier iteration in Southeast Asia (ask Thailand or the
      Philippines). Most of the allegations are not true or are vastly
      exaggerated. There are very few al-Qaida fighters based in Afghanistan
      proper. What is being called the "Taliban" is mostly not Taliban at all (in
      the sense of seminary graduates loyal to Mullah Omar). The groups being
      branded "Taliban" only have substantial influence in 8 to 10 percent of
      Afghanistan, and only 4 percent of Afghans say they support them. Some 58
      percent of Afghans say that a return of the Taliban is the biggest threat to
      their country, but almost no one expects it to happen. Moreover, with regard
      to Pakistan, there is no danger of militants based in the remote Federally
      Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) taking over that country or "killing" it.

      The Kabul government is not on the verge of falling to the Taliban. The
      Afghan government has 80,000 troops, who benefit from close U.S. air
      support, and the total number of Taliban fighters in the Pashtun provinces
      is estimated at 10,000 to 15,000. Kabul is in danger of losing control of
      some villages in the provinces to dissident Pashtun warlords styled
      "Taliban," though it is not clear why the new Afghan army could not expel
      them if they did so. A smaller, poorly equipped Northern Alliance army
      defeated 60,000 Taliban with U.S. air support in 2001. And there is no
      prospect of "al-Qaida" reestablishing bases in Afghanistan from which it
      could attack the United States. If al-Qaida did come back to Afghanistan, it
      could simply be bombed and would be attacked by the new Afghan army.

      While the emergence of "Pakistani Taliban" in the Federally Administered
      Tribal Areas is a blow to Pakistan's security, they have just been defeated
      in one of the seven major tribal agencies, Bajaur, by a concerted and
      months-long campaign of the highly professional and well-equipped Pakistani
      army. United States Secretary of Defense Robert Gates replied last summer to
      the idea that al-Qaida is regrouping in Pakistan and forms a new and vital
      threat to the West: "Actually, I don't agree with that assessment, because
      when al-Qaida was in Afghanistan, they had the partnership of a government.
      They had ready access to international communications, ready access to
      travel, and so on. Their circumstances in the FATA (Federally Administered
      Tribal Areas) and on the Pakistani side of the border are much more
      primitive. And it's much more difficult for them to move around, much more
      difficult for them to communicate."

      As for a threat to Pakistan, the FATA areas are smaller than Connecticut,
      with a total population of a little over 3 million, while Pakistan itself is
      bigger than Texas, with a population more than half that of the entire
      United States. A few thousand Pashtun tribesmen cannot take over Pakistan,
      nor can they "kill" it. The Pakistani public just forced a military dictator
      out of office and forced the reinstatement of the Supreme Court, which
      oversees secular law. Over three-quarters of Pakistanis said in a poll last
      summer that they had an unfavorable view of the Taliban, and a recent poll
      found that 90 percent of them worried about terrorism. To be sure,
      Pakistanis are on the whole highly opposed to the U.S. military presence in
      the region, and most outside the tribal areas object to U.S. Predator drone
      strikes on Pakistani territory. The danger is that the U.S. strikes may make
      the radicals seem victims of Western imperialism and so sympathetic to the
      Pakistani public.

      Obama's dark vision of the overthrow of the Afghanistan government by
      al-Qaida-linked Taliban or the "killing" of Pakistan by small tribal groups
      differs little from the equally apocalyptic and implausible warnings issued
      by John McCain and Dick Cheney about an "al-Qaida" victory in Iraq.
      Ominously, the president's views are contradicted by those of his own
      secretary of defense. Pashtun tribes in northwestern Pakistan and southern
      Afghanistan have a long history of dissidence, feuding and rebellion, which
      is now being branded Talibanism and configured as a dire menace to the
      Western way of life. Obama has added yet another domino theory to the
      history of Washington's justifications for massive military interventions in
      Asia. When a policymaker gets the rationale for action wrong, he is at
      particular risk of falling into mission creep and stubborn commitment to a
      doomed and unnecessary enterprise.

      Juan Cole teaches Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University
      of Michigan. His weblog on the contemporary Middle East is Informed Comment.

      © 2009 Salon.com




      Tomgram: Ann Jones, Wars Abroad Continue at Home
      March 31, 2009

      Whether it's $900 billion, more than one trillion dollars, or even, in the
      long run, several trillion dollars, the spiraling costs of George Bush's
      wars -- one of which is now in the grim process of becoming "Obama's War" --
      are indisputable. It's hardly less disputable that those wars to "protect"
      America from "global terror" have contributed significantly to the country's
      economic meltdown, that the harder we pursued (and continue to pursue) those
      wars abroad, the less safe the underpinnings of our world became. Thought of
      another way, that famous line of the cartoon character Pogo, "We have met
      the enemy and he is us," couldn't be more apt.

      It's no less indisputable that the costs of these wars have been borne,
      above and beyond the norm, by those sent to fight them. Recently, Mark
      Benjamin and Michael de Yoanna of Salon.com wrote a powerful series about
      the startling rise in suicides in the U.S. Army, tracing, in part, what
      happens when soldiers are repeatedly sent back to war zones, often already
      suffering from war's invisible wounds.

      Some costs of war are, however, far harder to notice, no less tote up,
      though no less real for that. Ann Jones is a TomDispatch regular, as well as
      the author of Kabul in Winter (a beautifully written reminder of just how
      long America's war in Afghanistan has been going on) and of Women Who Kill,
      a contemporary classic to be reissued this fall by the Feminist Press. (That
      invaluable press, by the way, issued in two volumes the vivid, on-the-spot
      writings of the Baghdad blogger Riverbend, who, among millions of Iraqi
      refugees fleeing abroad, has not been heard from since October 27, 2007.)
      The following essay on war and women has been adapted from Jones's new
      introduction to that book.

      Who said "women and children first"? I don't know about sinking ships, but
      when it comes to sinking societies at least, that phrase, as Jones makes
      clear, counts for little.


      Death on the Home Front
      Women in the Crosshairs
      By Ann Jones

      Wake up, America. The boys are coming home, and they're not the boys who
      went away.

      On New Year's Day, the New York Times welcomed the advent of 2009 by
      reporting that, since returning from Iraq, nine members of the Fort Carson,
      Colorado, Fourth Brigade Combat team had been charged with homicide. Five of
      the murders they were responsible for took place in 2008 when, in addition,
      "charges of domestic violence, rape and sexual assault" at the base rose
      sharply. Some of the murder victims were chosen at random; four were fellow
      soldiers -- all men. Three were wives or girlfriends.

      For the full story, click on
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