Newsweek has posted its interview with Afghan president Hamid Karzai.
Q: But reportedly, the Pakistani Army will only take on the Pakistani Taliban, not the extremists in Pakistan who are the enemies of the United States. A: There is speculation [to this effect], but I think we should give Pakistan time to show that it will go in that direction as well. At this point we have no reason to be negative.
…Q: Is a lot of what is going on in Afghanistan a Pashtun rebellion, in the sense that the Pashtuns, who used to rule Afghanistan, feel left out as power has been ceded to the Tajiks and other groups? A: It is not that. The Pashtuns have been victims of terrorism all along for the past 30 years—just like the rest of Afghanistan and the rest of Pakistan. What we must do is provide the Pashtuns with protection, with resources, with reconstruction, and an environment in which they can send their children to school and educate them. They are actually victims.
Iran is said to have arrested an alleged Western spy in one of its nuclear enrichment facilities, the Fordo plant. This is to have taken place some two months ago, though the government has not spoken of this incident. News of this was released by Israel’s Channel 2 and elaborated by Hebrew Radio.
Times of London, on Monday, released a report based on its obtaining intelligence documents that claim strong evidence of nuclear weapon development. “The notes, from Iran’s most sensitive military nuclear project, describe a four-year plan to test a neutron initiator, the component of a nuclear bomb that triggers an explosion. Foreign intelligence agencies date them to early 2007, four years after Iran was thought to have suspended its weapons programme.”
From the same Times report: “A 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate concluded that weapons work was suspended in 2003 and officials said with “moderate confidence” that it had not resumed by mid-2007. Britain, Germany and France, however, believe that weapons work had already resumed by then.”
The publication of these documents coincide with increased pressure on Iran from Western governments, led by the US.
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Ramin Mehmanparast, has responded to the Times story, reaffirming the country’s claim that the nuclear program is purely civilian. “This claim has political aims, and it is psychological warfare,” he said. Tehran Times has more on this. Beyond the Times report, the claims of a weapons program have not been confirmed, and though the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has confirmed receipt of the intelligence documents it has made no ruling on their accuracy.
Middle East historian and expert on Middle East politics, Juan Cole, had in October written a salient article, Top Things you Think You Know about Iran that are not True, that addresses many of the assumptions made by the media. Cole’s article is good to keep in mind when assessing the political and security situation in relation to Iran, and it can help the reader sift through the many allegations and counter-claims between the West and Iran.
Some key points from Cole’s article:
Iran’s military budget is a little over $6 billion annually. Sweden, Singapore and Greece all have larger military budgets. Moreover, Iran is a country of 70 million, so that its per capita spending on defense is tiny compared to these others, since they are much smaller countries with regard to population. Iran spends less per capita on its military than any other country in the Persian Gulf region with the exception of the United Arab Emirates.
…Iran has a nuclear enrichment site at Natanz near Isfahan where it says it is trying to produce fuel for future civilian nuclear reactors to generate electricity. All Iranian leaders deny that this site is for weapons production, and the International Atomic Energy Agency has repeatedly inspected it and found no weapons program. Iran is not being completely transparent, generating some doubts, but all the evidence the IAEA and the CIA can gather points to there not being a weapons program… While Germany, Israel and recently the UK intelligence is more suspicious of Iranian intentions, all of them were badly wrong about Iraq’s alleged Weapons of Mass Destruction and Germany in particular was taken in by Curveball, a drunk Iraqi braggart.
…Iranian politicians are rational actors. If they were madmen, why haven’t they invaded any of their neighbors? Saddam Hussein of Iraq invaded both Iran and Kuwait. Israel invaded its neighbors more than once. In contrast, Iran has not started any wars. Demonizing people by calling them unbalanced is an old propaganda trick. The US elite was once unalterably opposed to China having nuclear science because they believed the Chinese are intrinsically irrational. This kind of talk is a form of racism.
Xinhua reports that the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council has called for a peaceful political solution to the issue of Iran’s nuclear program. The PGCC consists of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. According to the news report, “the PGCC emphasized the right of all countries in the region to have peaceful nuclear energy within the framework of international agreements, based on regulations of the International Atomic Energy Agency and under its supervision.”
These same Gulf countries have together, and individually, reiterated the same point on countries’ rights to a peaceful civilian nuclear program. This may well underscore their own nuclear ambitions. Many countries in the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia, and North Africa already have nuclear programs or are planning to set up new ones with the help of the US, Russia, Europe, or China.
The Council officially expressed its desire to seek a civilian nuclear program after its December 2006 summit.
The US, under president George W. Bush, has signed nuclear cooperation agreement with a number of Council members: with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Bahrain (click on each country name to read the agreement). All of these agreements were signed in 2008, save one with the UAE in 2009.
You can read more about the nuclear programs of other regional actors in an earlier report: A swarm of nuclear deals in the Middle East and Asia
A day after the Times of London story, The US House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a sanctions bill against Iran, as a response to the nuclear program. The US Senate has still to review the legislation. According to Dawn news, “The measure would empower US President Barack Obama to effectively block firms that supply Iran with refined petroleum products, or the ability to import or produce them at home, from doing business in the United States… Because of a lack of domestic refining capacity, oil-rich Iran is dependent on gasoline imports to meet about 40 per cent of domestic consumption. Iran gets most of those imports from the Swiss firm Vitol, the Swiss/Dutch firm Trafigura, France’s Total, the Swiss firm Glencore and British Petroleum, as well as the Indian firm Reliance.”
Al Jazeera on the US sanctions bill:
Americans for Peace Now (APN), which advocates for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, opposed the sanctions legislation because ”it is about sanctions that target the Iranian people, in the hope that if the people become miserable enough they will pressure their government to change course. This is a strategy that few experts believe will work, and a strategy that has a very poor track record in other contexts (Iraq, Cuba, Gaza).”
”Indeed, experience has demonstrated with sanctions like these, the most likely and immediate result will be a backlash by the people of Iran against the United States, not against the Iranian regime,” APN concluded.”
I would argue that, in general, economic sanctions have some strong similarities with blockages and sieges. During the long history of blockades and sieges, non-combatants have always been the first to suffer. This is because the defending ruling forces will always reserve the most secure position for themselves, and have first access to necessary supplies. This is simple strategic logic. Proponents of a siege often argue their innocence by claiming that the enemy has forced civilians into the front lines by taking the best for themselves. This assumes that the attacking force did not intend to gain from the economic hardship and strangulation that provides military and psychological benefits in military, economic, and political warfare. The political philosopher, Michael Walzer, references the British military historian B.H. Liddell Hart’s assertion that in the First World War the British blockade was a decisive factor in Germany’s defeat. Hart argues that “the spectre of slow enfeeblement ending in eventual collapse,” drove the enemy military to make desperate and disastrous military decisions. (Michael Walzer, 2000. ‘Just and Unjust Wars’, Basic Books, p. 160.)
On Wednesday, Iran claims to have successfully test-fired an upgraded medium-range ground-to-ground missile. Iran’s PressTV has more on the test of the Sejjil-2 missile. It claims that the “new version of the Sejjil-2 is faster during the powered flight portion of its trajectory and also during the re-entry phase. It is also harder to detect for anti-missile systems, as it is covered with anti-radar material.” It is designed to be “more efficient as it requires less amount of time for prelaunch preparations. This quality reduces the possibility of it being targeted prior to take off. According to comments made by Iran’s defense minister, Brigadier Ahmad Vahidi, the missile-launch is part of Iran’s efforts to boost deterrence capabilities.”
The announcement was made only hours after US House approved the sanctions bill, in a time of increased tension regarding Iran’s nuclear program.
AP on the missile test:
DJ Elliott maintains a site with a full breakdown of military deployment in Iraq, maps included. This ‘Order of Battle,’ as he states, contains “regular Army, Special Forces, Navy, Air Force, and Paramilitary Police.” The site, Montrose Toast, is regularly updated, one of the recent points of interest being a detailed map of Iraqi and US armed forces updated on 30 November 2009. This resource is very useful for those interested in learning about the details of military presence in Iraq.
Excerpt from Pulse, with video of the speech available on their website:
Pilger covers issues of both Australian and international import, from Iraq to Palestine and US foreign policy, to the Australian federal government’s racist intervention into remote Aboriginal communities. He calls for a breaking of media and public silence and for a peoples fifth estate as an alternative to our corporatist Murdochracies.
From the White House release:
Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Distinguished Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, citizens of America, and citizens of the world:
I receive this honor with deep gratitude and great humility. It is an award that speaks to our highest aspirations that for all the cruelty and hardship of our world, we are not mere prisoners of fate. Our actions matter, and can bend history in the direction of justice.
And yet I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the considerable controversy that your generous decision has generated. In part, this is because I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage. Compared to some of the giants of history who have received this prize Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela my accomplishments are slight. And then there are the men and women around the world who have been jailed and beaten in the pursuit of justice; those who toil in humanitarian organizations to relieve suffering; the unrecognized millions whose quiet acts of courage and compassion inspire even the most hardened of cynics. I cannot argue with those who find these men and women some known, some obscure to all but those they help to be far more deserving of this honor than I.
The US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations has recently released a report on the need for a policy in regards to Sri Lanka. The report, “Sri Lanka: Recharting US Strategy After the War,” indicates that the island nation is key to US strategic interests in the region.
“As Western countries became increasingly critical of the Sri Lankan Government’s handling of the war and human rights record, the Rajapaksa leadership cultivated ties with such countries as Burma, China, Iran, and Libya. The Chinese have invested billions of dollars in Sri Lanka through military loans, infrastructure loans, and port development, with none of the strings attached by Western nations. While the United States shares with the Indians and the Chinese a common interest in securing maritime trade routes through the Indian Ocean, the U.S. Government has invested relatively little in the economy or the security sector in Sri Lanka, instead focusing more on IDPs [Internally Displaced Persons] and civil society. As a result, Sri Lanka has grown politically and economically isolated from the West,” states the US Senate report.
The report’s writers make a case for a shift in US policy by emphasizing the geostrategic importance of the island: “Sri Lanka is located at the nexus of crucial maritime trading routes in the Indian Ocean connecting Europe and the Middle East to China and the rest of Asia.
“[...]A more multifaceted U.S. strategy would capitalize on the economic, trade, and security aspects of the relationship. This approach in turn could catalyze much-needed political reforms that will ultimately help secure longer term U.S. strategic interests in the Indian Ocean. U.S. strategy should also invest in Sinhalese parts of the country, instead of just focusing aid on the Tamil-dominated North and East.”
About 80 percent of China’s oil passes through the waterways near Sri Lanka, most of India’s imports of oil pass through the Indian Ocean, and “three-quarters of all Japan’s oil needs pass through [the Straight of Hormuz],” one of the chokepoints into the region’s open seas.
Robert D. Kaplan has written a noted article in the Foreign Affairs journal indicating that “India’s and China’s great-power aspirations, as well as their quests for energy security, have compelled the two countries ‘to redirect their gazes from land to the seas,’ according to James Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara, associate professors of strategy at the U.S. Naval War College. And the very fact that they are focusing on their sea power indicates how much more self-confident they feel on land. And so a map of the Indian Ocean exposes the contours of power politics in the twenty-first century.” Furthermore, “Already the world’s preeminent energy and trade interstate seaway, the Indian Ocean will matter even more in the future. One reason is that India and China, major trading partners locked in an uncomfortable embrace, are entering into a dynamic great-power rivalry in these waters—a competition that the United States, although now a declining hegemon, can keep in check by using its navy to act as a sea-based balancer.”
India continues to secure its naval presence by increasing its surveillance capability. A new listening post has reportedly begun to operate in Madagascar, linked with two other similar listening posts off of India’s west coast. The system will allow for surveillance of navies in large swaths of ocean from Africa’s east coast to India’s west coast. New Delhi considers the security of these lanes as vital to its economic health. Asia Times reports that “most of India’s trade is by sea,” and that, “nearly 89% of India’s oil imports arrive by sea.”
Another report released by the US, this one by Naval Intelligence, reviews Iran’s naval history and strategy: “Iran uses its naval forces for political ends such as naval diplomacy and strategic messaging. Most of all, Iranian naval forces are equipped to defend against perceived external threats. Public statements by Iranian leaders indicate that they would consider closing or controlling the Strait of Hormuz if provoked, thereby cutting off almost 30 percent of the world’s oil supply.” The document is titled ‘Iran’s Naval Forces‘.
The growing importance of the Asia-Pacific region: video talk by former head of the US Pacific Command
Retired admiral Timothy J. Keating, former head of the US Pacific Command (from 26 March 2007 to 19 October 2009) outlines the US alliance with Japan, the Republic of Korea, Australia, New Zealand, India, and the Philippines in maintaining its strategic interest in what he identifies as an increasingly important region to the US and to the world: the Asia-Pacific region. The US has over US$1 trillion of trade with the region annually, and the Asia-Pacific contains 15 of the 20 largest ports globally, 9 of which are in China. Admiral Keating also outlines the importance of US troops stationed in Japan (about 50,000), South Korea (about 28,000), and the Philippines (about 600 special operations forces).
Linda Hoaglund has a post on ANPO blog on the subject of U.S. president Obama’s latest visit to Japan and the Okinawan response to U.S. military bases in the prefecture. Below is an except:
During my stay in Okinawa,I realized just how little we Americans know of the anger that Okinawans feel about the U.S. military presence. Before I started making this film, I never realized that some 30 sprawling U.S. bases have covered more than 20% of the land area of this small island since the end of World War II.
As the rally began, mayors and members of parliament representing Okinawa spoke in open anger about the noise pollution caused by the incessant training of F-16 fighter jets, C-130 transport planes and Chinook helicopters, directly over the homes and streets of local towns, disturbing their daily lives and even their sleep. They reminded those assembled of the interminable rapes, murders and petty crimes, committed by American soldiers over the decades, which have largely been exempt from prosecution under the Status of Forces Agreement.
The Study Group on Okinawan External Affairs has published an open letter regarding the burden and future of US military bases on the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa.
The English and Japanese versions of this letter can also be found on Japan Focus and the Tokyo Progressive. These sites link to a short video clip on the issue by Linda Hoaglund; the video is also provided here.
November 9, 2009
President Barack Hussein Obama,
We are residents of Okinawa and we would like to express our views regarding the United States Marine Corps Futenma Air Station and the current agreement to build a new base in Nago City, Okinawa.
We urge you to withdraw all of USMC from Okinawa. The people of Okinawa have been and will continue to be firmly opposed to the current US plan to relocate the dangerous Futenma Air Station to another location within Okinawa. We demand that the Futenma Air Station be shut down and returned unconditionally. The USMC has been stationed in Okinawa since the mid 1950s. The only real solution to the Futenma problem is a total withdrawal of the USMC from Okinawa.
Here we respectfully state the reasons for our demand. First, the current agreement between the US and Japanese governments regarding the construction of a new USMC base in Nago City was reached without consultation with the government or the people of Okinawa in 2005 and 2006. As many recent election results and public opinion polls show, Okinawa’s people have been calling for relocating Futenma out of Okinawa.
Second, the sea area of the new base, located off shore of USMC Camp Schwab in Nago City, is a habitat for various endangered species, including dugong, the Asian manatee. It is unacceptable to destroy the highly valuable ocean environment with the construction of a military base.
Third, the US and Japanese governments agreed to close the USMC Futenma Base and return its land to Okinawa in 1996, with the condition that a replacement facility be constructed in Okinawa. However, the new facility has not yet been built. The fourteen years since have proven that it is simply not possible to squeeze a new military base in Okinawa, which has long suffered an overburden of US military presence.
Finally, when the closure of Futenma Air Station was first discussed, it was assumed that the ground combat element and logistic combat element would remain in Okinawa. However, since there is virtually no possibility of building a new air station in Okinawa, the USMC should relocate both the ground combat element and aviation combat element out of Okinawa. Indeed, it would be more logical and beneficial for the USMC if all the elements of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force were relocated together. Our proposal of a total withdrawal of USMC from Okinawa would actually fit the necessity of the MAGTF’s integration of elements most effectively. By withdrawing from Okinawa, the USMC could avoid the unreasonable arrangement of keeping some troops in Okinawa and stationing others in Guam or Hawaii. It would be more desirable for the USMC, while at the same time preserving the highly valuable ocean environment and satisfying the demands of the people of Okinawa.
In conclusion, we wish to urge the United States and Japanese governments to begin the process of planning for a total withdrawal of the USMC from Okinawa. Now is the time to act for “CHANGE” to create a better relationship between Japan and the United States. Both countries would benefit from a break with the status quo and a fresh perspective on the Futenma issue.
Study Group on Okinawa External Affairs
Hirayuki Agarie, Professor Emeritus, University of the Ryukyus
Akira Arakawa, Journalist
Moriteru Arasaki, Professor Emeritus, Okinawa University
Masaie Ishihara, Professor, Okinawa International University
Tatsuhiro Oshiro, Novelist
Masaaki Gabe, Professor, University of the Ryukyus
Manabu Sato, Professor, Okinawa International University
Kunitoshi Sakurai, President, Okinawa University
Jun Shimabukuro, Professor, University of the Ryukyus
Suzuyo Takazato, Former Vice-speaker, Naha City Assembly
Tetsumi Takara, Professor, University of the Ryukyus
Hiroyuki Teruya, Professor, Okinawa International University
Hiroshi Nakachi, Professor, Okinawa University
Nozato Yo, Journalist
Eiichi Hoshino, Professor, University of the Ryukyus
Kakeshi Miki, Journalist
Akiya Miyazato, Journalist
Akiko Yui, Journalist
(First published at Rabble.ca)
The US-NATO war in Afghanistan has dragged on for nearly eight long years. It has failed to bring sustainability or security from violence, and Afghans continue to suffer from an economy that has fallen on its knees after three decades of continuous warfare.
The national government cannot far project its authority past the capital city, Kabul. Beyond this area, the seal of state power must be delivered at gun point, not by the Afghan National Army or Police, but by foreign forces. A 2008 US government report concluded that, out of a total force of 80,000, not a single national police unit is “fully capable of performing its mission and over three-fourths of units… are assessed at the lowest capability rating.” The Afghan National Army is not much better.
So you have an Afghan security force that is embedded with handlers, and trainers from NATO countries, dependent on the military power and the logistical capacity of Western troops. Not exactly the perfect picture of self-sufficiency.
The local government is also permeated by foreign observers and advisers, through foreign government experts, and the UN. These informal power blocs dole out money to an otherwise financially unsustainable Afghan state. The total cost of the national army and police, an estimated US$3.5 billion annually, is many times greater than the entire revenue of the government, even before the planned expansion of an already bloated local security forces.
The continued spiral of violence and chaos has justified the long presence of foreign troops in an already war ravaged country that sits between three of the US’s geopolitical rivals: Russia, China, and Iran.
The irony of the failure to bring peace to the region by waging a US-led war in the pursuit of justice against Al Qaeda and in the name of a feckless militarized humanitarian mission has given the US and NATO justification to seek out military bases and maintain a military presence in Central Asia. The war can justify the appropriation of large sums of government budgets to reshape not just Afghanistan, but the region, through military action as well as by vigorous diplomatic maneuvering.
“It is imperative that no Eurasian challenger emerges, capable of dominating Eurasia and thus of also challenging America,” writes Zbigniew Brzezinski in his book, the ‘Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and its Geostrategic Imperatives.’ Brzezinski was the national security adviser to former US president Jimmy Carter.
Brzezinski adds that, “in that context, how America ‘manages’ Eurasia is critical… A power that dominates Eurasia would control two of the world’s three most advanced and economically productive regions. A mere glance at the map also suggests that control over Eurasia would almost automatically entail Africa’s subordination, rendering the Western Hemisphere and Oceania geopolitically peripheral to the world’s central continent. About 75 percent of the world’s people live in Eurasia, and most of the world’s physical wealth is there as well, both in its enterprises and underneath its soil. Eurasia accounts for about three-fourths of the world’s known energy resources.”
This continent-spanning contest, termed the Great Game, pivots around Central Asia, a region that happens to be instrumental to the emergence of the New Silk Road: an energy superhighway of oil and gas pipelines that is growing increasingly important.
Meanwhile, the UN estimates that the number of civilian deaths in Afghanistan has risen sharply, 40% higher in 2008 than in the previous year. The number of civilian dead rose to 2,118 last year. The report claims that 39% of these deaths were caused by coalition and Afghan forces, in great part as a result of air strikes.
The commitment of more US troops, trainers, and resources as well as the policy to expand the war into north western Pakistan implies that we should not expect a turn away from war in the short term. The emphasis has shifted within Eurasia, from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
(First published at Rabble.ca)