Friday, January 15, 2010

Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia …

by Mort Malkin

Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia …

A more complete list of Al Qaeda coffee houses is: Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Morocco, Germany New Jersey, and Florida. Afghanistan isn’t even number one or two. Marine General Jim Jones, the President’s National Security Advisor, admits there are fewer than 100 Al Qaeda loyalists left in Afghanistan. They are scattered and have no training camps there. The question comes to mind: So what are we doing there? A next-door corollary is why do we still have over 130,000 troops, and even more private contractors (mercenaries), in Iraq? Iraq, you may recall, never had and Al Qaeda jihadists before we invaded, and there are few there now. But, there were plenty of native Iraqi insurgents until we put them on the US payroll. In Afghanistan, we are approaching 100,000 official troops and plenty of CIA officers and BlackWater armed “advisors.” The people in the countryside know who’s who.

A more basic question is: what is Al Qaeda’s goal up to and how can we counter such evil intent? History, here, is instructive. Osama bin Laden is a member of the family that runs a richly successful enterprise, the Bin Laden Group in Saudi Arabia and beyond. It is a large family, all Saudi and all Sunni Muslims. Osama is more so. When the US convinced the royal family to allow a military base to be built on sacred Arabian soil and started to station American troops there, Osama got mad and decided on civil disobedience in the form of a truck bomb. So, in June 1996, he set off on his career as a jihadist.

It was not the first military base the US set up on foreign soil, but it began a great acceleration. Today there are perhaps 800 or 900 around the world outside of the US. The Pentagon is not quite sure of the exact number, but they are proud of the total achievement. OK, some of the bases are small and some countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia, and Russia still haven’t allowed them. Remember, we have Guantanamo in Cuba. Cuba! Bin Laden has become more convinced that America is the Great Satan. Bin Laden sent out a broadcast in 2004. He spoke about dollars and relative costs. He said, “Every dollar of Al Qaeda defeated a million dollars, by the permission of Allah. … It is easy for us to provoke and bait this administration. We are continuing this policy of bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy, Allah willing.”

The latest US president to declare war on Al Qaeda is Barack Obama. He has tried to convince the Pakistanis and now the Yemenis to accept American help in pursuing Al Qaeda. Somehow, we feel we don’t have to convince Afghanistan. We project our own anti Al Qaeda emotions and expect these countries to jump with joy at the prospect of US military operations on their soil and over their air space. Why aren’t they afraid of Al Qaeda?

Let’s consider these nations one at a time. Pakistan is mainly concerned with India, a brother member of the nuclear club. The Pakistanis feel that the Taliban will keep India in India. The Taliban is drawn from the Pashtun tribes of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran, a total population of about 50 million. The Taliban are Muslim fundamentalists, largely created by the Pakistan Military and Intelligence Services. The Pakistan Army won’t go into Pashtun areas in the northwest except briefly to show the flag. It’s the least they could do for the billions of dollars we give them in military aid. Al Qaeda is only a small part of the Pashtun, and Pakistan can’t be bothered with them except to holler “Osama Bin Laden” every year when the US Congress votes whether to send money to ally Pakistan. Geopolitics!

Yemen, at the southern border of Saudi Arabia, has its own insurgency, the Houthis. The few Al Qaeda training camps in the mountains are of no concern to the Yemeni government — the Houthis are Shia and Al Qaeda is Sunni. Al Qaeda you may remember was born in Saudi Arabia. To complicate matters further, a group of Socialist separatists in south Yemen have economic grievances and want to secede. So, now comes the US pressing Yemen to let in US troops and planes to go after (non-insurgent) Al Qaeda. Back in the White House, the staff is busy researching Byzantine politics, which seems all too relevant.

Then, we must look to Afghanistan. The country is 80% rural, has no oil deposits, and grows a large opium poppy crop. Afghanistan is controlled by various tribes — Pashtun, Uzbek, Tajik … — some of them religious zealots, a few secular. There are militias, drug makers, drug traffickers, kidnapping gangs, opportunist criminals … and corruption everywhere. Except for Kabul where the national government has some influence, Afghanistan is a country of local governance. The tribesmen are pretty good with rifles and roadside bombs. Look at what they did to the Russians, 120,000 strong with the latest weapons. Before the Russians, history tells us, the British, Persians, and Alexander the Great all suffered the same fate. The Afghans with their rare horsemanship and use of simple weapons have defended their homeland well for millennia. Yet, the Pentagon and the White House say their primary goal is to train the Afghan Army. The Russians smile knowingly.

In the US, individuals on both sides of the political divide have seen the lunacy of occupying Afghanistan. Robert Pape of the University of Chicago who wrote the book “Bombing To Win” says that occupation of a foreign country increases suicide bombing and terrorism. His strategy has led to the bombing of suspected Taliban officials, and homes of villagers, wedding parties, and outdoor markets. Professor Pape doesn’t say whether bombing is conducive to friendship between our countries. The progressive journalist Chris Hedges says that “military occupation and violence is always counterproductive … and creates more insurgents than it kills.” We might add that the military prison at Bagram and its subsidiary “The Black Jail” makes for hard feelings from the families of the 700 prisoners held there.

The Obama administration seems to be doing its best to spend ourselves into bankruptcy in accordance with bin Laden’s wishes. It costs $1 million to maintain one soldier in Afghanistan each year. It costs $400 per gallon to send gasoline to that landlocked country. How much does it cost for private contractors who number more than the troops? Not even the Pentagon, State Department, and Treasury meeting in secret can know.

Just think — for a $100 billion a year we could fund peace academies next door to West Point, Annapolis, and Colorado Springs to train diplomats, envoys, and state craft specialists. We could provide undergraduate scholarships for majors in international conflict resolution. On second thought, more education makes for more investigative reporters and more US dissidents here at home.

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