Encircling Empire: Report #2, 11-18 September 2010

EE: Report #2, 11—18 September 2010

Encircling Empire Reports is a selection of essays, blog posts, and news reports covering a given time period, which can usually be glimpsed in raw form at zero.collected. They are intended to be useful for those interested in: ● contemporary and critical political anthropology ● public anthropology ● imperialism and imperial decline ● militarism/militarization ● the political economy of the world system ● hegemony and soft power ● counterinsurgency ● revolution ● rebellion ● resistance ● protest ● activism ● advocacy ● critique. For past issues, click here.

This week’s focus is entirely on the war in Afghanistan and the shaping of U.S. politics around that war. The three parts of this report consist of: (1) Saturday’s parliamentary elections in Afghanistan; (2) The failure of U.S. counterinsurgency in Afghanistan; and, (3) Conservatives against the war in Afghanistan, and against empire generally.

Parliamentary Elections in Afghanistan

Another rigged election in Afghanistan,” by Tom Peters (18 September 2010):  elections amid serious street protests in Kabul, the withdrawal of U.N. staff, and pervasive signs of vote fraud again, and the fact that the “Independent Election Commission (IEC) has said that around 1,019, or 15 percent, of an initially planned 6,835 polling centres will not open due to a lack of security.” All of this, even with the “surge” and Petraeus’ claims of “progress.”

Mainstream media reported Taleban rocket attacks in southern Afghanistan, and an even lower voter turnout than last year, when there were fewer U.S. and NATO troops in place. Countrywide the voter turnout was lower than last year: “The election commission has yet to provide an overall turnout figure but said late Saturday that 3.6 million people cast ballots at the 86 percent of polling stations that had reported figures so far. Nearly 6 million ballots were cast in the presidential vote last year, out of 17 million registered voters.” That is a voter turnout of merely 21 per cent.

The Christian Science Monitor’s Ben Arnoldy in “Afghanistan election: How to campaign in a war zone,” reported that “the general security situation has deteriorated since last year’s presidential election, according to data from the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office (ANSO). The presidential vote took place in August 2009, which saw 1,093 attacks by antigovernment forces. This year, attacks in August jumped to 1,449. ‘It’s worse now that at any point since we’ve been keeping records,’ says ANSO director Nic Lee. ‘And it’s not just in areas where ISAF is pushing into’.”

These electoral problems are not going away anytime soon. The Guardian reports in “Afghanistan election problems will take years to fix, says watchdog,” that the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan has found that the “process is still beset by problems such as the lack of a reliable list of registered voters, insufficient candidate vetting and biased electoral organizations,” for example, “the Independent Complaints Commission, the body that works to identify fraud, has become less independent since the presidential vote. All of the commissioners are now appointed by the president. Karzai appointed two international commissioners to the group, which previously had three international members chosen by the United Nations.”

For these elections, only half as many international observers were to be present, compared to the August 2009 presidential elections, The New York Times reported.

U.S. Counterinsurgency on the Ropes; Ramped Up War to Continue

The New York Times’ Rod Norland reports in “Security in Afghanistan Is Deteriorating, Aid Groups Say”:

“Large parts of the country that were once completely safe, like most of the northern provinces, now have a substantial Taliban presence — even in areas where there are few Pashtuns, who previously were the Taliban’s only supporters. As NATO forces poured in and shifted to the south to battle the Taliban in their stronghold, the Taliban responded with a surge of their own, greatly increasing their activities in the north and parts of the east…. Unarmed government employees can no longer travel safely in 30 percent of the country’s 368 districts, according to published United Nations estimates, and there are districts deemed too dangerous to visit in all but one of the country’s 34 provinces…. The number of insurgent attacks has increased significantly; in August 2009, insurgents carried out 630 attacks. This August, they initiated at least 1,353, according to the Afghan N.G.O. Safety Office, an independent organization financed by Western governments and agencies to monitor safety for aid workers…. Last month, ISAF recorded 4,919 “kinetic events,” including small-arms fire, bombs and shelling, a 7 percent increase over the previous month, and a 49 percent increase over August 2009, according to Maj. Sunset R. Belinsky, an ISAF spokeswoman. August 2009 was itself an unusually active month for the insurgency as it sought to disrupt the presidential elections then.”

There is also a dynamic map showing the Taleban surge.

What other impressions can one draw from the U.S. surge other than the one depicted here?

Petraeus Spin on IED War Belied by Soaring Casualties,” by Gareth Porter is definitely worth reading in full. Porter reports that while General Petraeus has been claiming that Taleban IED attacks have “flattened” over the past year, the Pentagon’s very own Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) has produced data showing “that IEDs planted by Afghan insurgents killed nearly 40 percent more U.S. and NATO troops in the first eight months of 2010 than in the comparable period of 2009. The data also show that Taliban IEDs wounded 2,025 U.S. and NATO troops in the first eight months of this year – almost twice the 1,035 wounded in the same months last year.” Moreover, and this shows the failing of the counterinsurgency effort:

“The JIEDDO data on IED incidents by month also provides evidence that the U.S. and NATO forces have failed to win the trust of the population in the Pashtun provinces where the Taliban have been strongest. The JIEDDO figures show that the proportion of IEDs turned in by the population has continued to fall with each passing year since the NATO military buildup in Pashtun areas began in 2006. In late 2005, the civilian population was informing U.S. and NATO troops of about 15 percent of all IEDs planted. That proportion fell to just over nine percent in 2006, to less than seven percent in 2007 to about three percent in 2008, and again to 2.8 percent in 2009. In the first six months of 2010, that ratio dropped to 2.6 percent, and in May and June it fell to 1.4 and one percent, respectively.”

Efforts to Recruit Pashtuns in Afghan South Falter”: “Recent initiatives to recruit more southern Pashtuns into the Afghan security forces have faltered, leaving Afghanistan with a critical shortage of soldiers familiar with the Taliban’s main strongholds in the country’s south.”

Another failure of the counterinsurgency effort, and a key reversal (yet again) in an ever shifting policy whose tactics appear to be motivated by any expediency that will prolong war, is the Obama administration’s “revised” stance on corruption. Just as free and fair elections don’t matter as much, and now corruption too, and torture never mattered, pretty soon the targeting of children and abuse of women will fall by the wayside as well. See:

Attesting to NATO vulnerabilities, Matthew Nasuti of Kabul Press reports that the “Taleban Could Defeat NATO in 30 Days.”

A U.S. troop “drawdown” from Afghanistan in next year? Not very likely: Tom Engelhardt reports that the Pentagon is undertaking three $100 million air base projects. Another interesting fact in that report: the Pentagon has more generals and admirals than there are estimated members of Al Qaeda worldwide. That leads us to an interesting release from the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), which says that “the west’s counter-insurgency strategy [in Afghanistan] has ‘ballooned’ out of proportion to the original aim of preventing al-Qaida from mounting terrorist attacks there, and must be replaced by a less ambitious but more sensible policy of ‘containment and deterrence’.”

Max Boot, worried that funding for war is declining, objects to stimulus packages that create non-military jobs…he complains of the “loopy imbalance”: “What’s going on here? Is there an assumption in the administration that highway-building jobs are good but weapon-building jobs are bad?” Translation: I’m a neocon homunculus and I need you to put me out of my misery.

Conservatives against the War in Afghanistan; Conservatives against Empire

1. Patrick J. Buchanan

“Patrick J. Buchanan, Anti-Imperialist.” It does not sound quite right, does it? When one reads that, one might expect to see an image such as this one accompanying it:

And yet, here is a list of recent articles by Pat Buchanan on AntiWar.com:

Take the Deal, Mr. President

On sanctions against Iran:

“Not only did Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and President Lula da Silva of Brazil put their prestige on the line by flying to Tehran, the deal they got is a near-exact replica of the deal Obama offered Iran eight months ago. Why is President Obama slapping it away? Does he not want a deal? Has he already decided on the sanctions road that leads to war? Has the War Party captured the Obama presidency?”

Is the War Coming Home?

“This was the mantra after Sept. 11. We are hated not because of what we do in the Middle East, but because of who we are: people who love freedom and stand for women’s rights….In a way this is a comforting thought, because it absolves us of the need to think….We are being attacked over here because we are over there.”

Lift the Siege of Gaza

“President Obama should end his and his country’s shameful silence over the inhumane blockade of Gaza that is denying 1.5 million beleaguered people the basic necessities of a decent life….Time to start acting like America again.”

The Real Sin of Michael Steele

“Today, a majority of Americans do not believe the nine-year war in Afghanistan is any longer worth the rising cost in blood and money. And by declaring it a ‘war of necessity’ and tripling U.S. forces there, this president has made it ‘Obama’s war’ every bit as much as LBJ in 1964 and 1965 made Vietnam ‘Johnson’s War.’…to contend that those who want the withdrawals to begin sooner, or those who want them to begin later, are unpatriotic and do not support the troops is itself unpatriotic.”

What Price Afghanistan?

“While Barack Obama has promised a review of U.S. strategy and policy in December, at the present rate, hundreds more young Americans will by then have given up their lives. For what?”

GOP Blank Check for War?

“it is startling to learn 47 House Republicans just signed on to H.R. 1553 declaring unequivocal ‘support for Israel’s right to use all means necessary to confront and eliminate nuclear threats posed by Iran … including the use of military force.’ These Republicans have just given Tel Aviv a blank check for a preemptive war that Israel, unless it uses its nuclear weapons, can start but not finish. Fighting and finishing that war would fall to the armed forces of the United States. Whom do these Republicans represent?”

Liquidating the Empire

“A decade ago, Oldsmobile went. Last year, Pontiac. Saturn, Saab and Hummer were discontinued. A thousand GM dealerships shut down. To those who grew up in a ‘GM family,’ where buying a Chrysler was like converting to Islam, what happened to GM was deeply saddening. Yet the amputations had to be done — or GM would die. And the same may be about to happen to the American Imperium.”

2. Congressman Jason Chaffetz (Utah)

“2) Mr. President, it is time to bring our troops home.  If our mission in Afghanistan is simply to protect the populace and build the nation, then I believe the time has come to bring our troops home.

“We have successfully rooted out Al-Qaeda from Afghanistan.  Fewer than 100 Al-Qaeda operatives are operating in Afghanistan according to Retired General James L. Jones’ assessment of the situation.  ‘I don’t foresee the return of the Taliban,’ he said in an October 4 Associated Press report. Jones, who is President Obama’s National Security Advisor, continued: ‘Afghanistan is not in imminent danger of falling.  The al Qaeda presence is very diminished. The maximum estimate is less than 100 operating in the country, no bases, no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies’.”

3. Lou Dobbs

Petition to bring the troops home:

“I’ve decided that it’s time to bring our troops home. I hope you will join me in that effort. I am disgusted with what is happening with General McChrystal, General Petraeus and the general staff of the Pentagon, President Obama, this administration, and the previous administration have been waging war in Afghanistan for eight years.”

4. CATO Institute

“Is the War in Afghanistan Winnable?” Christopher Preble

“the better question is whether the resources that we have already ploughed into Afghanistan, and those that would be required in the medium to long term, could be better spent elsewhere. They most certainly could be….More important still is the question of whether the mission is essential to American national security interests….Or has it become an interest in itself?”

5. Campaign for Liberty

The Campaign for Liberty, most often heard about these days in connection with the “tea party,” was founded by Ron Paul. Its stated policy is non-interventionism and anti-militarism:

“With our Founding Fathers, we also believe in a noninterventionist foreign policy.  Inspired by the old Robert Taft wing of the Republican Party, we are convinced that the American people cannot remain free and prosperous with 700 military bases around the world, troops in 130 countries, and a steady diet of war propaganda. Our military overstretch is undermining our national defense and bankrupting our country.”

“Campaign For Liberty — Endless Occupation?” by Sheldon Richman

“We call the operation in Afghanistan a ‘war,’ but in fact U.S. forces are occupying the country in order to suppress any opposition to the corrupt and inept Karzai government that the United States helped put in power and has protected ever since….That they attack occupying forces and the governments those forces support means nothing more than that they want to rid their land of foreign troops. That doesn’t make them anti-American terrorists. It makes them Afghans. Let’s leave their country to them.”

“Campaign For Liberty — Terrorism and U.S. Foreign Policy” by Sheldon Richman

“It’s a perilous world, as our so-called leaders love to remind us. And for a change they’re right. It is a perilous world. But guess who is most responsible for the peril to Americans? Those very same ‘leaders’ and a long line of predecessors….For over 50 years U.S. administrations, for the sake of geopolitical hegemony and preferential access to resources, have treated much of the Muslim world like personal property….We kid ourselves when we pretend that history began on Sept. 11, 2001. Can anyone say with a straight face that before that date America was minding its own business according to the noninterventionist guidelines set out by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson?… We can keep pretending we are innocent victims. Or we can finally put the responsibility where it belongs: in Washington, D.C.”

6. Congressman Ron Paul (Texas): Spoken Word Poet?

Author of The Revolution: A Manifestosee from 02 mins. 32 secs:

4 thoughts on “Encircling Empire: Report #2, 11-18 September 2010

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  3. CM

    I wonder if Dr. Hanifi could comment on this piece I read on Afghan Online Press yesterday.

    It was linked from another site under the title In Afghanistan, boys are prized and girls live the part

    It is about the practice of allowing one of the girls in the family to live as a boy while she is a child for a variety of reasons – allaying questions of why there is no son in the family, allowing the child to work and bring in income as there are many widows in Afghanistan, allowing women to go out, which they could not do if they were unaccompanied by a male family member.

    Not without its problems, though.

    “Having grown up in Kabul in a middle-class family, [Siddiqui’s] parents allowed her to be educated through college, where she attended nursing school. She took on her future and professional life with certainty and confidence, presuming she would never be constricted by any of the rules that applied to women in Afghanistan.”

    But she was forced to marry and take on the role and behaviour of a woman again when she was an adult.

    “When you change back, it’s like you are born again, and you have to learn everything from the beginning,” she explained. “You get a whole new life. Again.”

    Siddiqui said she was lucky her husband turned out to be a good one. She had asked his permission to be interviewed and he agreed. He was understanding of her past, she said. He tolerated her cooking. Sometimes, he even encouraged her to wear trousers at home, she said. He knows it cheers her up.

    What makes me hope this is all true?

    “In a brief period of marital trouble, he once attempted to beat her, but after she hit him back, it never happened again.”

    A cheer erupted from this location in Canada. I hope she heard it nearly half-way around the world.

    1. M. Jamil Hanifi

      Bacha poshi (Dari, “wearing boy”) in Afghanistan has some semblance to the cultural features of “tom boy” girl in Anglo-America. Universally, in the construction of gender the borders of femininity are relatively flexible. Getting into and out of femininity is easier. I have not personally observed the practice of bacha poshi in Afghanistan but am informed about it. In the instances cited by Jenny Nordberg, it appears essentially as an improvisation, an individual (not institutional) adaptive response to the absence of male children in large urban households. The response is tempered by local cultural values as well as the level of education of the mother and her exposure to Western cultural features. It is a transitional and totally asexual manipulation of gender relations. Bacha poshi by girls is the Afghan version of a universal practical and creative alternative for the production of real or symbolic male power in political and civil society marked by patriarchy. The episodes narrated in Nordberg’s piece confirm this.

      As a ritual for placating supernatural powers to bestow a male member on the family, bacha poshi is a form of imitative magic. Variations of the ritual are practiced throughout the Middle East, Central and South Asia. It should be noted that bacha posh (Dari, literally, wearer of boy) is a Persian syntactic construct. I am unaware of the existence of the concept and practice of bacha posh among Paxtuns. Paxtu language does not produce a culturally meaningful equivalent of bacha posh.

      Ethnographic note: A tradition of men stepping into female roles exists in Persian dominated urban areas of Afghanistan. Transgender adult males called eezak dress as woman (including make-up and hairstyle) and dance at women’s gatherings during weddings. I have not seen the photograph Nancy Dupree refers to in her claim that Amir Habibullah’s harem was guarded by women in male clothes. However, there is historical evidence about khasi (Persian, castrated) male slaves (in male clothes) serving as guards in the harems of Habibullah and 19th century Persian-speaking rulers of Afghanistan.

      Right on Shukria Siddiqui! I would like to think that it wasn’t your “heavily built” body that shielded you from being beat up by your husband.

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