Encircling Empire: Report #18—Elections, Independence, Counterinsurgency



Encircling Empire Reports is a selection of essays, blog posts, and news reports covering a given time period, providing links and representative extracts or key passages from each resource, usually focusing on certain countries/continents and/or processes in each report. The focus of the reports ranges from imperialism discussed in broad strokes, to specific facets of imperialism: militarization and militarism; militainment; “humanitarian intervention” and the “responsibility to protect”; regime-change; nation-building; counterinsurgency; state terrorism; the economics of empire; soft power, psychological operations, and strategic information operations; and, the ideologies and moral constructions of contemporary imperialist thought. In keeping with the dualistic theme–the empire that encircles us, and the encircling of empire by resistance and collapse–we also attempt to provide coverage of anti-imperialism, anti-war struggles, and the direct resistance against imperialist intervention, as well as covering the decline of U.S. and European geopolitical hegemony.

(When links expire–and they certainly will in many cases–either use the full title of each item, inside quotation marks, and use that as a search term, or use the expired URL and use http://web.archive.org to do a search in its Wayback Machine.)

This report covers the period from September 25 to November 5, 2012.

This and previous issues have been archived on a dedicated site—please see: ENCIRCLING EMPIRE.

For frequent updates, please “like” our Facebook page.

Given the enormous mass of online publishing on key events since the last report, as well as the numerous analyses, this report will be deliberately brief by being very selecting and presenting a list of the top items worth reading/viewing/reviewing and that represent at least a few of the important marks of this period. The list below is not ranked in order of preference, but in terms of topical areas.

This report ranges from the U.S. elections, to the election in Venezuela that occurred in early October, to the upcoming elections in Zimbabwe, and the prospects for the 2014 election in Afghanistan. In addition, the featured reports discuss the strategic and economic location of Australia with reference to China and the U.S.’ belligerent stance toward China, calling for greater independence in Australian foreign policy. The folly and failure of the imperial war of occupation in Afghanistan continues to be one of our main concerns, this time with some hints about what the legacy of foreign occupation might spell for Afghanistan in the near and long terms. And whatever happened to the much touted counterinsurgency wave in the U.S. establishment, with all of its promises of fighting a smarter war, aided by cultural knowledge, and better able to win hearts and minds? Well, its chief gurus are looking for new jobs. One of them recently became a headmaster at a prep school. No apologies needed, but we did tell you that you would fail–had you listened, you might have saved a few hundred billion dollars and thousands of lives, but our advice was not “relevant” to you.

(1) The progressive case against Obama: Bottom line: The president is complicit in creating an increasingly unequal — and unjust — society,” by Matt Stoller, Salon, October 27, 2012. In one of the clearest, most detailed, and logically persuasive articles there is, Stoller does a great job of dismantling the arguments that one should vote for Obama because he is “better” than Romney, or that one should at least vote for Obama in strategic swing states, while of course not falling for the position that this somehow endorses or facilitates Romney. In the process of unfolding his argument, Stoller provides great examples of how inequality, authoritarianism, and militarism, have vastly increased thanks directly to decisions taken by Obama–not because he passively inherited a crisis, but because his government has actively sought to disenfranchise and marginalize the working and middle classes. The article indirectly shows the manifest failure of the so-called “left” in the U.S. in the intention to somehow “push” Obama to the left, by first misunderstanding the fact of Obama’s neoliberalism and his continuation, even escalation, of Bush-era policies. By voting for Obama, the only “push” that becomes apparent is that of the left being shoved further into the margins. Here are some key passages from the article:

“The bailouts and the associated Federal Reserve actions were not primarily shifts of funds to bankers; they were a guarantee that property rights for a certain class of creditors were immune from challenge or market forces….Property rights for debtors simply increasingly exist solely at the pleasure of the powerful. The lack of prosecution of Wall Street executives, the ability of banks to borrow at 0 percent from the Federal Reserve while most of us face credit card rates of 15-30 percent, and the bailouts are all part of the re-creation of the American system of law around Obama’s oligarchy.”

“Under Bush, economic inequality was bad, as 65 cents of every dollar of income growth went to the top 1 percent. Under Obama, however, that number is 93 cents out of every dollar. That’s right, under Barack Obama there is more economic inequality than under George W. Bush. And if you look at the chart above, most of this shift happened in 2009-2010, when Democrats controlled Congress. This was not, in other words, the doing of the mean Republican Congress.”

“the Bush administration was willing to write down mortgages in response to Democratic pressure, but it was Obama who said no, we want a foreclosure crisis.”

Read the article for much more.

Also by Matt Stoller, please see: “Broken Democratic Platform Promises from 2008.”

(2) Torture Creep: Why are more Americans accepting Bush-era policies than ever before?” by Amy Zegart, September 25, 2012. Closely related to the article above, which refers to this one, Zegart outlines the extraordinary increase in popular U.S. attitudes that favour drone strikes, the assassination of foreign leaders, torture, and even using nuclear weapons to “kill terrorists”. This may remind one of the fact that the vast majority of Americans one meets today, as many as eight out of ten of them, supported the invasion of Iraq back in 2003. The article looks at three possible causes for this, including a very interesting section dealing with media effects.

(3) Contrasting Elections: Venezuela and the US,” by Mark Vorpahl, TruthOut, October 14, 2012. October saw the victory by Hugo Chavez and the PSUV, in yet another democratically contested election that saw a massive turnout of over 80% of voters, with the results publicly acknowledged and accepted as legitimate by the opposition, and in a system of voting that received high praise from foreign observers. Vorpahl points to some other key contrasts with U.S. politics:

“In Venezuela, under Chavez, the privatization of its oil industry has been reversed and when some large private companies have been found to be unable or unwilling to fulfill social needs, the government has taken them over for the benefit of the people. In contrast, when Wall Street’s greed plunged the U.S. into an economic crisis, it was showered with trillions of taxpayer dollars in the form of bailouts and loans while workers were left to suffer the consequences.”

“…Venezuela ranks first in a list of 12 Latin American countries that have reduced inequalities amongst their members [in contrast with the U.S. where income inequality has dramatically increased]”

“When Chavez was first elected president, unemployment was 16.1 percent. Today it has been reduced to 6.5 percent (1) with one of the highest minimum wages in Latin America and food stipends. In contrast, in the U.S., 23 million remain unemployed or underemployed while the minimum wage has dramatically fallen behind the cost of living.”

“In Venezuela extreme poverty has shrunk from 21 percent in 1999, to 6.9 percent today. For the United States, the movement is in just the opposite direction. According to the Census Bureau last year another 2.6 million Americans fell below the official poverty line on top of the 46.2 million already there. This resulted in the highest number of citizens in poverty since the Census Bureau started tracking the figure 52 years ago.”

“Millions of U.S. families have been kicked onto the streets because of the high rate of forecloses. There are no foreclosures in Venezuela.”

…and millions came out into the streets of Caracas to show their support for Chavez. Meanwhile, in the U.S. which has ten times as many people and Venezuela, Obama and Romney have at best been able to rally a few thousand.



(4) Carter Center Study Mission Pre-Election Report for the Oct. 7, 2012, Venezuelan Presidential Election,” by the Carter Center, October 5, 2012. While the report on the whole is not without its fair share of criticisms of the government and how the electoral campaign was conducted, it did produce a number of key findings that simply demolish some of the common myths propagated in the U.S. media about politics in Venezuela. Here are just some sample passages to that effect:

“the market share of the state-owned media, particularly television, is quite small. According to media consultants, Venezuelan state TV channels had just a 5.4 percent audience share; 61.4 percent were watching privately owned television channels; and 33.1 percent were watching paid TV”

“Political party and domestic observer technical experts have participated in the 16 pre-election audits of the entire automated system, including hardware and software as well as the fingerprint databases, in the most open process to date, according to opposition technical experts. The MUD experts who have participated in the audits have said they are confident in the security mechanisms and the secrecy of the vote”

(5) A Hall of Shame for Venezuelan Elections Coverage,” by Keane Bhatt, NACLA, October 8, 2012. An excellent overview of “the most typical distortions, gratuitous slurs, and incorrect predictions” that dominated Western media coverage of Venezuela’s election, before it was actually won by Chavez (which then saw the same media detractors revert to being silent).

(6) Why the US Demonises Venezuela’s Democracy,” by Mark Weisbrot, Venezuela Analysis, October 4, 2012:

“Such is the state of misrepresentation of Venezuela – it is probably the most lied-about country in the world – that a journalist can say almost anything about Chávez or his government and it is unlikely to be challenged, so long as it is negative. Even worse, Rather referred to Chávez as “the dictator” – a term that few, if any, political scientists familiar with the country would countenance….”

“In Washington, democracy has a simple definition: does a government do what the state department wants it to do? And of course here, the idea of politicians actually delivering on what they promised to voters is also an unfamiliar concept. So it is not just Venezuela that regularly comes under fire from the Washington establishment: all of the left and newly independent governments of South America, including Argentina, Ecuador, and Bolivia are in the crosshairs….”

(7)Post 2008, Zimbabwe’s electoral landscape has shifted,” New Zimbabwe, October 31, 2012. Just a few of the points on why the candidate backed by Washington is headed towards electoral oblivion:

“PRIME Minister Morgan Tsvangirai may have come within a whisker of winning the presidential election in the economic turmoil of 2008, but in 2013, when Zimbabweans are expected to choose between President Robert Mugabe and the Prime Minister in entirely different economic circumstances, it seems very unlikely that history will repeat itself….”

“….Annual average inflation has been reduced to about 5 percent. Zimbabwe’s Gross Domestic Product grew by over 20% between 2009 and 2011. Small businesses are thriving, in part because of Zanu PF’s indigenisation exercise, an economic strategy vehemently opposed by Tsvangirai’s MDC-T but which has nevertheless been able to persuade banks to extend loans to locals and, in some cases, even in lieu of collateral.”

“The most vulnerable population in Zimbabwe, the rural community, seems to have awakened to the reality that the land they acquired during President Mugabe’s land reform programme is perhaps their only means of survival.”

“….Our hypocritical Prime Minister is enjoying the luxury of occupying a private residence estimated at nearly US$4 million and at the same time feigning concern for the thousands of families living in squalid conditions in Mbare…”

(8)Zimbabwe on the Upswing: The past four years have shown that it is possible to have a Zimbabwean government that serves the people,” by Morgan Tsvangirai, Wall Street Journal, October 23, 2012. Interestingly here is an op-ed by Tsvagirai himself, that seems to agree with some of the main points in the article above, about current conditions in Zimbabwe, contra the many encrusted myths:

“But in the past four years, we have taught our colleagues at home and around the world that it is possible to have a Zimbabwean government that serves the people….it is important to recognize that Zimbabwe is undergoing a sensitive process of political, economic and societal revival. We are bringing about a new culture of governance. We have curbed hyperinflation while enhancing our economic infrastructure. We are rehabilitating our education sector….We are providing food security and fortifying a skill-intensive labor market…”

(9) Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Voices from the Field:

See also: “Heart of Africa: Zimbabwe Land Reforms and the “Decolonization” of Africa

(10) Vote WikiLeaks: U.S. 2012 Election Campaign Video

(11)Australia-US Relations in the ‘Asian Century’: Australia has been captured by the US policy of containing China,” by former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, Arena, November 2012. “In the light of recent events can we say that the United States is a country with a realistic view of the world?” asks Malcolm Fraser in this important article that is very critical of the current nature of Australia-U.S. strategic relations, especially with reference to China and Australia’s place in the Pacific and that apparent war-mongering by Obama:

“Let there be no mistake with today’s policies, the United States is in charge of our destiny and that fills me with concern. The imperative for Australia is to make sure that Australian governments place the interests of the people of Australia first. We must be subservient to no one. We must preserve alliances certainly, but must not extend the scope of those alliances in a way that binds us to follow the United States into wars that are contrary to our own interests.”

(12)During visit to France, Pauline Marois criticizes Canadian foreign policy under Stephen Harper,” Kevin Dougherty, Postmedia News, October 16, 2012.

The present foreign policy of Canada does not correspond to our values or our interests,” said the new Quebec Premier, Pauline Marois, leader of the pro-sovereignty Parti Québécois when she recently spoke at the Institut Francais des relations internationales. In particular, Marois condemned how far Canada had departed from its tradition of mediation, peacekeeping and “openness,” especially relevant in light of the alarmingly extremist positions taken by the fanatically pro-Israel and pro-U.S. government of Stephen Harper, with his own disposition towards favouring armed conflict. Marois’ speech held open the prospect of an independent Quebec that would be free of its associations with Canada and free to chart a very different foreign policy.

(13)Afghanistan: The Long, Hard Road to the 2014 Transition,” International Crisis Group, Asia Report N°2368, October 2012. You can also see the full report and the media release. Clearly, there is great worry, with reasonable cause, that all of the U.S. investments in Afghanistan, will come to naught. This report provides another example of how Obama’s “transition” process, which also captured Romney’s agreement, reveals an underlying admission of failure and defeat. More importantly, it looks the conditions for an extended civil war in Afghanistan will be the most immediate legacy of the foreign occupation. See the next article in conjunction with this one.

(14)Afghanistan security forces report raises fears over long-term stability: US government watchdog warns that country is unlikely to be able to maintain facilities after foreign troops pull out in 2014,” by Emma Graham-Harrison, The Guardian, November 1, 2012. This article covers the October 30, 2012, report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

In line with the observation made on the previous item, the report summarized by this article makes it clear that Afghanistan is building up military forces which it cannot possibly sustain after the withdrawal of foreign occupation forces. This means a large mass of armed men, left stranded by a weak state that cannot afford them–which means that the U.S. and NATO have effectively created a new army of warlords, and established conditions not just for military coups but for a renewed round of civil war.

(15)Review – The Counter-Counter Insurgency Manual,” by James Hevia, e-IR, August 3, 2012. One extract:

González, Andrew Bickford, and Hugh Gusterson draw attention to how the militarization of knowledge about human behavior, beliefs, and social interactions can only distort any notion of knowledge as social scientists understand the term. More importantly, because insurgencies by their very nature are intimately linked to the ordinary population of the “host nation,” the “people” become as much of a problem and a target as the insurgents. Rather than being a resource for furthering human understanding, militarized social science produces the “people” and their practices as objects to be worked on and manipulated. Disturbingly, as Gusterson adds, none of this is particularly new. The current configuration is reminiscent of the Cold War era, when the physical and social sciences were enrolled into “national security” projects, and thick networks of social relations were made between the military, universities, and private enterprise. In Vietnam, for example, the social sciences were used as applied, instrumental knowledge, the purpose of which was to break the National Liberation Front’s underground network. Social scientists were part of teams producing “actionable intelligence” in a program with the cumbersome title “Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support.”

It should come as no surprise, therefore, to see a reductive and distorted view of social scientific theory and methodology evident in the intelligence chapter of the Counterinsurgency Field Manual. As David Price points out, these sections are a hodge-podge of plagiarized passages from the writings of numerous well-known anthropologists and social-cultural theorists. Moreover, the dubious ethics in the construction of the intelligence chapter is paralleled by the tortured logic of Sarah Sewell’s defense of counterinsurgency in her introduction to the University of Chicago Press’s publication of the manual. Greg Fledman points out that Sewell, the Director of Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, seems less concerned with rights and more with counterinsurgency’s promise to provide stability in “ungoverned space.” Here she is one with Pentagon planners who worry about the “non-integrating gap,” the two-thirds or more of the world that the US military monitors, intervenes in and occupies through its thousand or more bases and through its combat commands, the most recent of which is AFRICOM. As Catherine Bestman explains, countering terrorism is the ostensible purpose of AFRICOM. The more plausible reason for its existence, Bestman argues, however, has to do with oil and China’s growing presence throughout Africa.

(16)Learning to Eat Soup with a Spoon,” by Kelly Beaucar Vlahos, The American Conservative, August 31, 2012:

Lt. Col. John Nagl was at his peak.

It was 2007, the shimmery dawn of the group think experiment we now call the mass COIN (counterinsurgency) delusion. Nagl’s boss, Gen. David Petraeus, Washington’s newest demigod, had convinced everyone that his Surge Strategy could tame the wild disaster that had become the Iraq War. Nagl, who had positioned himself at Petraeus’s elbow to sell that formula, was now sitting in full dress uniform, his hair in regulation “high and tight,” whacking nimbly at the pathetic softballs lobbed by Jon Stewart who was being embarrassingly — and uncharacteristically — deferential to his decorated guest….

….Today, there is no better symbol for the dramatic failure of COIN, the fading of the COINdinistas and the loss that is U.S war policy in Afghanistan than this week’s news that Nagl is leaving Washington to be the headmaster of The Haverford School, a rich preparatory school (grades k-12) for boys on Philadelphia’s Main Line….

While Nagl was pushing COIN, Obama surged tens of thousands more young men (practically boys) and women into Afghanistan. Many were killed, countless were maimed physically and psychologically. The FM 3-24 bible is now being rewritten because everyone feels free to acknowledge how lame it is. Even the most die-hard optimists now say the war is lost. How much the Afghans lost, and how much our Army lost as an institution from this painful diversion from reality, we’ll never know.

An outrageously funny, ironic article, with lots of links to related news and reports, this has to be one of the top items for this week. No wonder then that proponents for the Human Terrain System have become awfully silent.

3 thoughts on “Encircling Empire: Report #18—Elections, Independence, Counterinsurgency

  1. John Allison

    Thanks for this compilation of support for my decsion to vote Green, meaningless as it might seem. The rampant fear, stirred by media headlines of “knife-edge” and “cliff-hanger” election competition within the Janus face of the ruling Partycracy – will get at least half of the voters, they hope, to validate their system of oppression and misinformation. My vote, at least, won’t count in that tally; and will be ignored in California where the Big Oh! has already won.
    We do need the kind of grass-roots based system that we see in the block organization in Cuba, from which the elected bodies are informed, instead of the current US one in which that is the inverse. I thought the Matt Stoller attempt to face the hard challenges of building a real People’s Government was brave and a daunting challenge to us all, even the great majority of USans who don’t know anything’s wrong with this system that keeps them ignorant. It is indeed a challenge to overcome THAT.

  2. John Allison

    Excellent resource for the few who aren’t part of the Partycracy.
    Stoller has it right, and bravely outlines the nature of the challenge we face in crreating a true people’s government from under this oppressive and very effeicient system of oppression.

  3. Maximilian Forte

    Thanks very much John. This one might also interest you, at least I found it was pretty compelling:

    US Elections: From the “Lesser to the Greater Evil”. The Demise of Critical Liberalism:

    There is ample evidence that the Obama Presidency has pulled the US political spectrum further to the Right. On most domestic and foreign policy issues Obama has embraced extremist positions surpassing his Republican predecessor and in the process devastating what remained of the peace and social movements of the past decade. Moreover, the Obama Presidency has laid the groundwork for the immediate future promising a further extension of regressive policies following the presidential elections: cuts in Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. Incumbents and their opposition compete over hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign funding from wealthy donors, which they will have to repay in the post-election period in billion dollar handouts, subsidies, tax abatements, anti-labor and environmental policies. Not a single positive proposal was put forth by the Obama campaign but numerous militarist and regressive social policies were articulated. The Obama campaign ran a fear campaign, playing off of the reactionary proposals of the Romney-Tea Party alliance: a cover for his own record of unprecedented military spending, sequential wars, immigrant expulsions, mortgage foreclosures and Wall Street bailouts….

    ….With or without the re-election of Obama, his regime and policies have laid the groundwork for an ever more regressive and reactionary social agenda: living standards including health, welfare, social security will be cut drastically. Afro-Americans will remain invisible except to the police and racist judicial system. Immigrants will be hunted down and driven out of homes and jobs: immigrant student dreams will become nightmares of fear and trepidation. Death squads, proxy and drone wars will multiply to prop up a bankrupt US empire. Unaccountable and hypocritical progressives will shift gears and criticize the president they elected; or if it’s Romney they will attack the same vices they overlooked during Obama’s electoral campaign: more cuts in public spending and climate change will result in greater deterioration in everyday life and basic infrastructure; more floods, fires, plagues and blackouts. New Yorkers will learn to detox their toilet water; they might be drinking and bathing in it.

Comments are closed