Wednesday, August 18, 2021

sloppy imperialism 2: what it means to be objectively anti-taliban

 When you criticize someone for using a shabby, cultish product to cure cancer, you are not being objectively pro-cancer. Similarly, if you criticize the shabby cultish foreign policy that got the U.S. into Afghanistan, you are not being objectively pro-Taliban.

I don’t speak Pashto and have never set foot in Kabul. But I have noticed a few things about the U.S. and imperialism in general. I’ve noticed how the American brand of sloppy imperialism is bad for peasants and good for strongmen. I’ve noticed that, in the years since the Cold War ended, the U.S. has tried to transform its sloppy imperialism into remote control imperialism. Bring out the drones, exert total control over the battlefield sphere, yadda yadda.
To this I say: give me a fucking break.
The moral and political rubicon was crossed when the U.S. refused the Taliban’s offer to either try Osama bin Laden or send him to a moslem country for trial. As American then did not notice, but the Middle East did, when Osama bin Laden escaped there was a less than adequate search for the man. In fact, it was so inadequate it made a mockery of the American moral position demanding Osama’s surrender. It is a bit like that La Fontaine fable, The Wolf and the Lamb, in which the wolf presents several inconsistent and false reasons for attacking the lamb, but does so anyway: "La raison du plus fort est toujours la meilleure".
Once the threshold was crossed, though, what would I – I as a railer at sloppy imperialism – have advised?
To my mind, imperialism doesn’t come cheap. What was needed, given the size of Afghanistan, was a U.S. force of at least 500,000 soldiers. What was needed was a five year occupation at the least. What was needed was putting in infrastructure on the American ticket. Electrification, minimum health care, education. The occupying power might well encourage civil society, of a type, but it would not be in name or deed a democracy. Corruption would be dealt with ruthlessly. Those who were the most corrupt would either be executed or jailed, as on this matter hangs the entire imperial exercise.
There would be no more NGO photo ops. Schooling, in Afghanistan, under the Americans was a pathetic theater. The stats as to building schools and graduating teachers disguised other stats, such as those contained in a report by the World Bank that the Bank chose not to publish in 2008, showing that 98 percent of the girl students dropped out by third grade, and 90 percent of boys had dropped out by sixth. (Rosemary Skaine, 2008). In Afghanistan, women have a long experience of rape, and are not going to send their girls to classes taught by men. Yet there are fewer female teachers, and as we know from numerous reports, teachers have to pay big bribes, amounting to a considerable part of their first years salary, just to get a post.
The trouble with this vision of Afghanistan is not the Afghanis. It is the Americans. To actually occupy and improve this central Asian space would require manpower and material that would demand a draft. You could do imperialism without a draft in the 19th century – but that moment died in the trenches of northern France in 1914. Americans speak of sacrifice tearfully, but when they have to, well, sacrifice, it is not popular. Furthermore, the amount of money needed would be in the hundreds of billions every year.
This goes against the sloppy imperialism ethos. Americans are willing to spend a trillion per year, more or less, on the military and intelligence because that money comes back into the pockets of the CEOs and stockholders of Defense contractors and radiates out in the American labor force. But spending money on making a national healthcare and educational system for Afghanis would hit the American funnybone: there is nothing as unpopular in America as foreign aid. In 2001-2005, spending on Afghanistan could have taken the place that was filled by the borrowing for the housing boom. But this is, to say the least, an unpopular way of heating up the economy.
Iraq survived, mostly, America’s sloppy imperialism. After Iraq, we did it to Libya – the perfect remote control imperialist enterprise. Ten years afterwards, Libya has yet to emerge from the fragments, the warlords, the plunge in lifestyle. And, surprise, Khaddafi’s son looks like he might become the ruler of Libya in the next year or two. The repressed return, especially when the repression is affected by minimal commitment of troops, mucho droning, and bubble gum.
No, you can’t cure cancer with Milk of Magnesia. And those who urge the Milk of Magnesia are not objectively anti-cancer – they are deeply non-serious.
PS - none of my nostrums are guaranteed to work. In fact, it is rare for an occupying power to succeed in fundamentally changing the occupied state in the modern era. But at least it has a chance.

The end of sloppy imperialism? The Afghanistan experience

 For thirty some years, I have had my ears filled with Americans - mostly white guys who of course never fought there - saying that we were winning goddamit in Vietnam. That we lost must be due to some evil stab in the back. These peeps evidently think that the 388,000 tons of Napalm dropped on Vietnam was just not enough - another spoonful of sugar and we woulda won!

A similar crackbrained meme has sprung up, inevitably, about the 20 year Afghanistan war. Another thousand soldiers, brave Americans, put on the mountain passes and presto chango, the wonderful democratic government of Afghanistan, our ally (or ventriloquist dummy) who we respect so much, but did exclude from our negotiations with the Taliban, would have shown the world that it could eliminate illiteracy in another measly half a century, or maybe seventy five years.
I've grown old, I've grown old/I shall keep the cuffs of my trousers rolled, or something like that. And so it goes - nothing is more dangerous than educating an American in international relations at some Ivy League school and plunking him or her into a think tank. It poses a danger to peoples everywhere

As we watch the gnashing of teeth among the elite who, twenty years ago, cheered on the invasion and asked no questions.

Afghanistan and Iraq took different trajectories. In Iraq, the U.S., try as it might, could not take over the central governing powers. The Shi'ite militias withstood sustained efforts by the U.S. to wipe them out. In consequence, Iraq is a shaky but independent entity. Afghanistan is another story. The U.S. basically took over the funding and security functions of the government, while pouring in money that went to U.S. defense companies and into the pockets of various corrupt local officials and Kabul elites. The habit of freeriding and lack of governance can be found in the stats. All those hearts going out to the women of Afghanistan seem curiously blind to the fact that, as of 2018, according to Unesco, only 28 percent of women were literate. And only 55 percent of men were literate. So, by UNESCO's count, since 1979, when only 5 percent of women were literate, we've had a rise of less than 30 percent. According to Asian Development Bank, after the 20 years of governance by the U.S., 47.3 percent of the people live below the poverty line. Combine these incredibly depressing statistics with the state of play when the Afghanistan government was given back one power - the control over the military, including the duty to supply them with food and wages - and their utter failure to do so and you have pretty much the picture for the Taliban's enormous advance. In American heads, the Taliban is beating women and destroying schools for girls - unfortunately, they don't have to, as the schooling for girls was part of the puppet theater Americans played for themselves, unreflected in the stats that show an utterly different case. Why is it that the American public has such a different picture of Afghanistan? I'd say that it is the provinciality of the American elites, including the media, who never bother to learn the languages of the places they report on or the people they govern. Language illiteracy points towards an even deeper disjunction between the American sahib and the average Afghanistan man or woman. That disjunction, transferred to the United States, allows for absolutely abstract discussions of what is happening in Afghanistan, without any reference, even, to statistically represented realities.

Looking back, Afghanistan is the latest - and probably not the last - country to be subjected to that malignity of the 20th century, America's sloppy imperialism. Western interventionism obscures various very distinct features of American sloppy imperialism, which favors corrupt states and rule from the homeland - the people sent out to the propped up states are not colonists, like the French in Indochina or the British in Kenya, but state functionaries who take up temporary residence. WIthin the imperial realm of the French, British, and Dutch, there were serious attempts at, for instance, learning the languages of the ruled. The United States in the Cold War sponsored something similar - anthropologists in Laos and the like. But it seems to me that the Middle Eastern wars signal a decline in that activity. From the reportes to the "experts" in Afghanistan, my impression is that the overwhelming majority had no fluency in the languages - a basic requirement for governance - and depended on a subaltern group for communication without understanding that groups own interests.

Monday, August 16, 2021

America - if we pretend it is so, it must be so!

 America's idiocracy rolls on. This NYT sub is a great expression of the lack of reality that has seized this country, from the anti-vaxxer Trump won contingent to the Trump was Putin's puppet we must support our freedom lovin' pals, like Saudi Arabia contingent.

Here, lets pick that header apart: after twenty years of supplying massive aid to the chief ally and host of the Taliban, Pakistan; after supervising the entry into the Afghanistan government the worst of the corrupt - and very anti-women - jihadis that the U.S. supported as freedom fighters in the 80s - after suppressing the poppy crop unsucessfully while providing nothing else - while watching successive U.S. puppets in Kabul do all they can to enrich themselves while earning zip loyalty from an armed force that only fought for money - and while knowing very well that the armed force was not being paid - the U.S. has to deal with a harrowing question - is it going to recognize reality or go on another fifty year binge of pretend, as it has done with Iran? Bets are on the binge!

The thumbsukcer war that is breaking out is firmly grounded in pretend, so a few remarks before it begins: a. if you set up a government as your "ally and supply it with billions that it couldn't collect in taxes or borrow; b. and you take over the task of governing, essentially making sure that said government won't, for instance, negotiate with the Taliban; so, c., said government and its infrastructure engages in massive peculation, siphoning off money from a citizenry whose role is confined to ritual voting; and d, you try to wean the government into the normal ways of governance, as for example, oh, paying the wages of its soldiers; and e., that doesn't happen, but a certain english speaking elite begins to enjoy a whole buncha western approved lifestyle choices - good home appliances, cultural goods, etc. then: f. your country will fall, and that small group that benefitted from the American lifestyle and exercized zero responsibility towards the rest of the country will quickly become the microsized cause du jour, no questions asked. Roll the film, this is the American way of sloppy imperialism. Every time.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Look back in Anger - Afganistan November 25, 2001 to August 15, 2020


Ah, how it all comes back!

Long before “fake news” was a cry to rally the yahoos at presidential candidate rallies, it was a quite m.o. of the media during the Bush golden years. My blog, limited inc, which goes back twenty years, contains a treasure of fools gold culled from the asinine, warmongering, fakin’ and lyin’ press – mostly in the realm of print. I am not and never have been a listener to news on the radio or a viewer of news on tv. Eccentrically, I consider tv one of the worst platforms for news, and radio is, to me, best when playing music, second best when doing drama or standup or some funky shit, and bottomlessly bad doing news. Of course, I’ve heard that in its time, Pacifica radio was primo, but that’s hearsay.

NPR, though, I did hear enough of in the Bush golden years to realize that it viewed its job as transforming hysterical America ueber alles-ism into dulcet toned America ueber alles-ism.

So much of news is in the non-reporting. What were the headlines on November 24, 2001? For the NYT, it was a curious headline: Pakistan again said to evacuate allies of Taliban.  The story, by Dexter Filkins, begins with a graf that tells us that Pakistani airplanes are evacuating Pakistani soldiers who fought with the Taliban. Not exactly a warshaking scenario, right? What Filkins didn’t say, and what was not headlined and burned into the American psyche, with all its peppy get up ‘n kill them Taliban, is that the evacuation was not just of Pakistani soldiers.

Here's a long quote from an intelligent assessment of what happened in Kunduz:

“The request was made by Musharraf [Pakistan’s president] to Bush, but Cheney took charg- a token of who was handling Mussharraf at the time. The approval was not shared with anyone at State… until well after the event. Musharraf said Pakistan need to save its dignity and its valued people. Two planes were involved, which made several sorties a night over several nights. They took off from air bases in Chitral and Gilgit in Pakistan’s northern areas, and landed in Kunduz, where the evacuees were waiting on the tartmac. Certainly hundreds and perhaps as many as one thousand people escaped. Hundreds of ISI officers, Taliban commandos and foot soldiers belonging to the IMU (Islamic movement of Uzbeckistan) and Al Qaeda personnel boarded the planes. What was sold as a minor extraction turned into a major air bridge.” - from 102 Days of War by Yaniv Barzilai

Well, the selling went down all right, signed by Dexter Filkins and the NYT. The voices that told us that Afghanistan’s Taliban was not down for the count, as its central commanders were saved, weren’t just mocked – the news didn’t give enough information to make mocking possible. Still, some got it. Ted Rall, writing in the Village Voice in December, 1981, under the headline “How we lost Afghanistan” already got it right by doing basic research. But the mainstream press had its story. And, as America is always just,naturally it attracts the best and brightest as its allies. Thus, when Musharraf retired as Pakistan’s president in 2008, he was given a tongue washing by the NYT:

“A commando at heart, and a man of often impetuous decisions, Pervez Musharraf ended Pakistan’s support of the Taliban leadership in Afghanistan after 9/11 and pledged to help the United States, becoming one of Washington’s most crucial allies in the campaign against terrorism.”

This is fake news with a bullet, my friends. Even the NYT knows it, so in one of those “walks with a schizo” that tells you that the editors at the paper are nervous about leaving reality for neverneverland entirely, they quote journalist Ahmed Rashid, whose words are modified to the format. Best not shock the Americans entirely:

“Musharraf continued to provide cover to the Taliban, but still managed to convince the Americans for many years that it was not a double game,” said Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani expert on the Taliban and the author of “Descent into Chaos,” a book that details the relationship between Mr. Musharraf and Washington. “It was a remarkable feat of balancing on the tightrope.”

Definitely that. And a remarkable feat of ensuring that the leadership of the Taliban escape unharmed and have the territory and supplies to go back. But that the U.S. is that pig ignorant, that Bush was a disaster on every level, that the slimy administration lied and lied with the help of the shiny centrist press – well, that is not a story anybody wants to headline, surely.

Ah, the memories! Rarely do you catch the NYT and the pseudo-liberal media in real lies, since they hedge the falsification. Thus, fake news instead of lying liars news. But sometimes they have to admit to lies in the interest of empire. From my blog, I reach back to the interesting case of Robert Levinson, which occurred at the end of the Golden Bush years. Levinson “disappeared” in Iran in 2007. The NYT was on the case, and for seven years kept up the heat: Iran had captured an innocent American businessman! And like all evil Islamicists, they put him in a dungeon. A businessman who made a border crossing mistake!

Well, after seven years the AP reported that Levinson was no businessman, but was a CIA agent. It was rather obvious that he was one: his family was in fact suing the CIA in court. So the public editor of the NYT, which was back when they had one, went into the case and found that the NYT had not had the wool pulled over their eyes. In fact, they’d always known the man they labelled an innocent American businessman was a CIA agent. But they held back the info not because they are in the service of the American establishment’s foreign policy – no, the answer will bring tears to your eyes, its so romantic and sweet.  As explained by the editor at the time, Jill Abramson:,

Holding a story entirely is “a very rare thing,” she said. “The more usual situation is to withhold a level of detail, and those decisions are excruciating.”

“In this case, Ms. Abramson said, the reason for holding back the story was not because of a government request about national security, but in deference to Mr. Levinson’s family. “What caused us to hold the story was their profound worry that he would be killed.”

Of course, that profound worry didn’t prevent them from outing dear old dad themselves. At the same time, Levinson’s disappearance, as Abramson might have known, was being used as yet another reason to attack Iran. But come hell or high water, the NYT, which would never ever ever ever ever hold back information because the government told them to – after all, the whole point is to inculcate a set of responses so the government doesn’t have to do that – but only for sweet reasons of family love.

Ah, the memories. And the forgetting – the long forgetting I’ve tried to do of America in the 2000-2010 period. Alas, what you forget can kill you – or others. In droves.

Jack Shafer, immortal moron, and our last twenty years

 I have a long memory for stupid media. Luckily, in the 2000-2003 period, it was all gathered together in one place: Slate! Today, let us celebrate Jack Shafer. Frankly, Shafer is an idiot and a valient member of the uncancelable media club. He goes from place to place within the DC circuit, always wrong, always smug, always promoted.

In 2003, Shafer presented his own greatest hits as he lambasted a much better reporter, Johnny Apple of the NYT. Johnny Apple had the unpatriotic instinct that the Afghanistan war fought in 2001 was going to lead to quagmire. The heresy! As Shafer unforgettably put it, Apple's view was"
"The United States has bitten off more than it can chew; the allied war effort is underpowered; we’ve underestimated the enemy—again!; air power is overrated; and guerrillas can do U.S. forces great damage as they did in Vietnam."
As Shafer contemptuously showed, what rot!
Ah, the things they said at the beginning of this century! The things they did! The fan club for the utter shit of the Bush foreign policy, the moronic smugness that would result in a sentence like: "the place is at least as governable as San Francisco." But fear not, failing upwards is the one iron rule of punditry. And when that rule is attacked, letters are written to Harper's magazine about how the entire freedom of expression is under attack!
I laugh until I want to vomit about the waste of the last twenty years.

Biden's foreign policy: let's bet everything on authoritarianism!

  And watch it all slip away (Por fin se va acabar) Or leave a garden for your kids to play (Jamás van a alcanzar)  --- The Black Angels, El...