tag: Afghanistan

Oct 2015

Launching airstrikes from a glass house

Vladimir Putin is a dangerous, authoritarian despot. This fact is illustrated both by current Russian domestic policy (towards minorities, opposition groups and free-thinkers) and foreign policy (in Ukraine and now Syria).

It seems likely to me that Russian intervention in Syria will have a fairly disastrous outcome. Putin’s military will almost certainly kill and maim many thousands of Syrian civilians in an attempt to prop up the vicious local dictator, Assad, who also routinely kills and maims Syrian civilians. It is a hideous state of affairs.

I don’t claim to know exactly what’s best for Syria and its people; but I am 100% convinced that turning it into Guernica writ large is not the solution. So I – and I hope all right-thinking people and governments – unequivocally condemn Russian policy in this case.

Get the hell out of there, Russia!

That said; the faux-outrage emerging from the United States government and media is nauseating. Any global condemnation of Putin is effectively undermined when the American government joins the chorus. So long as the US military is bombing hospitals in Afghanistan and providing active support to the murderous Saudi Arabian campaign in Yemen, their government should shut the hell up.

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own?

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Feb 2012

On This Deity: The Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan

This time last year I published a piece over at Dorian’s site, On This Deity. It commemorated the final withdrawal – on this day in 1989 – of Soviet troops from Afghanistan and the end of that disastrous, bloody and futile invasion.

Afghanistan is BurningIn my piece I draw the obvious parallels between the ill-fated Soviet occupation of that central Asian country and the modern US-led Western occupation. In both cases the stated reason for the invasion was to combat terrorism. In both cases the invaders believed they were liberating the people of Afghanistan from the clutches of an aggressive religious fundamentalism. In both cases the occupying forces went about trying to install relatively progressive policies: the insistence on a national legal system that would supersede tribal and Sharia laws; the promotion of greater equality for women (just as, if not more, aggressively pursued by the Soviet puppet regime than by the US puppet regime it should be noted); the establishment of secular health and education facilities; the de-politicisation and secularisation of the police force and civil administration.

All of these policies were pursued vigorously by the Soviet occupiers. Just as they have been by the western forces. And – I would suggest – with roughly the same level of success. Perhaps the current occupation has it slightly easier thanks to the relative lack of external support for the Afghan militants. Whatever aid being supplied to the Taliban opposition by dissident Saudis, sympathetic elements within the Pakistani security forces and Iranian smugglers is as nothing compared to the huge resources made available to the mujahideen by the CIA during the 1980s. Indeed, it was fairly obvious to the world that the United States was fighting a proxy war against the USSR in Afghanistan. They pumped money, weapons and military training personnel into Afghanistan on a massive scale and in so doing, they strengthened the ultra-reactionary Islamist elements within Afghan society. Those very same elements who are now killing US and other western troops today.

Rarely has the old adage about being careful what you wish for been so dramatically demonstrated in the arena of world affairs. The United States wished to turn the fundamentalist elements of Afghan society into a force capable of resisting a superpower. I suspect they no longer find Charlie Wilson’s War quite so clever.

Just as with the fall of the Soviet Union – an empire that was militarily over-extended and consumed from within by an economic system that was unfit for purpose – the United States must surely now face up to its own slow collapse. They are mired in debt that nobody sane believes will ever be repaid, and which is being aggressively ignored by both debtor and creditors alike in the mistaken belief that the elephant in the room can be trusted not to break the furniture so long as nobody talks about it. They are rapidly reaching the limits of their ability to intimidate the world with military power (how long before China decides to repossess the US 5th fleet in lieu of the money they are owed?) And while there is currently little sign of a wane in their cultural influence, that too can hardly be far away. On top of that, the rifts in US society – between their own religious fundamentalists and the besieged bastions of liberal secularism – threaten to rip the nation to pieces from within.

Just as the collapse of the Soviet Union cannot be blamed on their invasion of Afghanistan – the invasion functioned both as a symptom of that collapse and one contributing factor; so the US involvement in that nation will not, historically, be viewed as the reason for the decline of America. However, it will be heralded as an obvious symptom of western self-delusion and over-extension. And I suspect it will also be considered a contributing factor – albeit a relatively minor one, compared to our psychotic financial system and the inability of consumer capitalism to cope with resource depletion.

So today we pause to recall the final humiliation of the once proud Red Army. And we take a moment to look a few years into the future at that humiliation being mirrored on the other side of that old Cold War divide.

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Dec 2011

Speaking ill of the dead

A couple of days ago I awoke to discover that Christopher Hitchens had died. The news was initially conveyed to me by my twitter stream which was knee deep in tributes and impassioned insistences that we had lost “a great thinker”. There were other opinions scattered amongst the hagiography, but by and large they were in the minority. He was described as “the beau ideal of the public intellectual” by Vanity Fair magazine. And even those from whom one might expect a little balance seemed determined to speak no ill of the dead… a convention, incidentally, that Hitchens himself was unwilling to follow. Some of those who dared question the posthumous near-canonisation of the man have been accused of being “spiteful” or “insensitive”, apparently unaware of the insensitivity and spitefulness of the man they are defending. Read, for example, the views of Hitchens on Jerry Falwell – expressed live on CNN the day following Falwell’s death. I have no time for the loathsome Falwell, but the double-standards of some of those defending Hitchens is breath-taking to witness.

Christopher HitchensEven the normally fearless Billy Bragg sought to “add [his] voice to those who mourn the loss of Christopher Hitchens”. Bragg then went on to compare Hitchens favourably to George Orwell and express his admiration for the writer’s “compulsion to speak his mind”. About the worst thing he could find to say about him was that he “didn’t always agree with him”. I wonder if I were to spend the last decade of my life writing exultant articles in defence of cluster bombs and endless wars (in which young men are sent to kill and die overseas while I eat and drink myself slowly to death in luxury)… if I were to write a series of borderline racist articles about the followers of Islam and loudly champion the “clash of civilisations” like the most boorish of George Bush’s neoconservative cheerleaders… I wonder if I were to resort to calling women who dared to criticise the Bush administration’s foreign policy “sluts” and “fucking fat slags”… I wonder if the worst I would get from stalwarts of The Left would be “well, I didn’t always agree with him”?

I certainly hope not.

The fact of the matter is, Christopher Hitchens may have been a half-decent writer (and that’s as far as I’d go incidentally… “half-decent”) and he may well have been an engaging and witty conversationalist (I don’t know as I never met the man). He certainly didn’t pull any punches, and was willing to express his opinion even when it might land him in hot water. But you know what… attend any meeting of a neo-fascist organisation (the BNP, the KKK, or your local equivalent) and you’ll find plenty of people willing to express opinions that might land them in hot water. I’m obviously not suggesting Hitchens was a member or sympathiser of such groups; but if it’s just the willingness to express unpleasant opinions in public that earns you respect, why isn’t the press filled with columns lauding the greatness of “Racist Tram Woman”?

Incidentally, I should also make it clear that I do not wish cancer or death on anyone (well, there may be the occasional dictator or mass-murderer who I’d be happy to see die in a bizarre gardening accident). I feel no happiness or satisfaction at the death of Hitchens and I wish those who knew him comfort in their grief. I’m not saying “Yay! Hitchens is dead”, I’m saying “Hang on a second, now that he is dead, why are we forgetting about all the horrible things he said and supported?”

And I’m aware that many seem willing to give Hitchens a pass because of his position on religion. A position which I personally find simple-minded and as far from “the beau ideal of the public intellectual” as it is possible to get. Humanity does indeed need to re-evaluate our relationship with religion, but that the discussion appears to be happening between religious extremists and the narrow atheist fundamentalism of Hitchens, Dawkins and the rest is just depressing. I always thought the mark of a true intellectual was that they could appreciate the nuances in complex issues and could navigate controversial and difficult discussions without resorting to pathetic insults and nonsense generalisations. No?

Perhaps my view of intellectualism needs to be revised given the recent celebration of Hitchens. Perhaps modern intellectualism is to be found in the championing of repellent military tactics such as cluster munitions while denouncing your critics as fucking fat slags. Perhaps it is to be found in taking delight in war, mayhem and violent death (from a distance of course… if Orwell really was Hitchens’ hero, then why did he never take up a rifle and face down the Taliban in Helmand province himself?) Perhaps we get the intellectuals we deserve… and judging by our violent, crass and deeply narcissistic society, perhaps we don’t deserve much better than Hitchens.

Photo courtesy of The Independent

I had just about finished writing this piece when I encountered Glenn Greenwald’s article over at Salon.com which makes pretty much exactly the same points, uses many of the same examples and goes into rather more depth than my own piece. As a result I almost scrapped this piece and tweeted a link to Salon instead. But in the end I figured that it’s an opinion that’s worthy of repeating.

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Feb 2011

On This Deity: 15th February 1989

Check out my new piece over at On This Deity

15th February 1989: The Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Empires fall. It’s what they do. It’s inevitable.

Sometimes the collapse is due to the depletion of essential resources. Sometimes it’s a result of being overwhelmed by external aggressors. Sometimes it’s plague or a natural disaster that does it. And if all else fails, invading Afghanistan will do the trick.

read the rest …

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Aug 2010

Exodus. Movement of da people

Back in April I predicted that the collapse of the Irish economy would lead to a new wave of Irish emigration. Figures published a few days ago confirm that this is now underway.

In fact, in a survey of EU members, outward migration from Ireland is already almost double that of Lithuania — the country with the second-highest rate. The Irish per annum emigration rate currently stands at 9 per thousand people. That’s almost 1%. Which is very high indeed. What makes it even more startling is the contrast with a decade ago when Ireland’s inward migration was the second highest in the EU (at 8.4 per thousand).

Of course, this fact suggests that much of the current exodus is a result of our immigrant population returning home. The people who came to Ireland to meet the massive demand for labour have seen that demand dry up, and those who didn’t put down roots are now moving on to pastures new. It’s a strategy that served the Irish well for almost 200 years.

Destination Unknown

But according to the Economic Social Research Institute, while returning foreign nationals do make up the largest percentage of the current emigration, young Irish males also account for a very large proportion. Of course, it’s hardly a coincidence that this particular demographic would usually form the bulk of the workers in the construction sector. When the choice is between an ever-decreasing dole cheque or a job in exotic climes, a lot of young men find themselves choosing a one-way ticket to Melbourne.

And even the fact that an increasing number (albeit still a very small number) have chosen to join the British army and seek their action in Helmand province rather than the nightclubs and beaches of Australia doesn’t surprise me. Personally I don’t ever get bored, but I’m told it can be a powerful motivator*. After all, what other explanation can there be? I can get my head around young British men signing up to be shot at, half a planet away from home. Misguided though they are, I assume they believe that at some level they are protecting British interests, and that’s important to them.

Presumably though, that can’t be the motivation for the average Irish lad who signs up. So it must be boredom. Either that, or they just want to do violence to strangers.

I dunno, maybe I’m being harsh. Maybe they seek a kind of nobility… the life of The Warrior. Honour in duty and all that stuff. Frankly I think it’s all a big con. Defending your home from attack… yes, there’s an honour in that. But flying to Central Asia to kill people who pose no real threat to you or those you love? There are vested interests who want young people to do that, and they’ve fed them a bunch of lies to get them to willingly comply.

It’s been the same for millennia.

Of course, the youngsters getting shot at beneath a British flag in Afghanistan don’t exactly form a significant proportion of the new wave of Irish emigration. They are merely a dramatic example of the desperation that faces many, now that the corpse of Celtic Tiger has finally begun to stink. For me, growing up in Dublin in the 1970s, Ireland was a place that promised little and delievered even less. The generation born in 1990 were raised in a completely different Ireland. One that offered excitement, prosperity and fulfillment. Leastways, that’s how it seemed.

The reality, of course, wasn’t like that at all. Built on debt and absurd claims of everlasting growth, it was the hollow promise of consumerism. A dark, gaping emptiness that gnawed away at the soul of Irish society. Better to be promised nothing and take delivery of it, than be promised happiness and fulfillment only to take delivery of alienation and neurosis. The Celtic Tiger was a hoax from the start. Even the good days weren’t all that good. Yeah, we’ve got plasma screen televisions and BMWs but we’ll be paying for them long after they’re landfill.

Trouble is, the generation leaving their teens now have been raised on those promises. Indoctrinated — like so many others, the world over — by celebrity culture and advertising. Genuine fulfillment in family, friends and community becomes almost impossible to achieve when you’ve been raised in a culture that savagely undermines them. From infants they’ve been shown a world where wealth equates with happiness. And denied the opportunity to test it for themselves, they simply don’t understand it’s a lie.

* In an interview he gave in 1980, JG Ballard said “everywhere is infinitely exciting, given the transforming power of the imagination”. I recall reading that and nodding vigorously; it’s something I’ve felt my whole life.

Image copyright: prozac1 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Mar 2010

Expectations born of madness

Top US officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have been calling for the military to go after the militants in these regions.

All this comes at a time when Pakistan’s government is already under a great deal of domestic criticism.

This is mainly due to increased missile strikes by the US targeting Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders in the tribal areas.

These have turned a sometimes ambivalent tribal population against the Pakistan military.

Analysts say the tribesmen see the strikes, which have claimed more lives of civilians than of militants, as contiguous with the military operation.

I was imagining a scenario where the roles were reversed back on September 11th 2001. How different everything would be. If an extremist group of fundamentalist Christians had crashed a cargo plane full of explosives into The Great Mosque in Mecca. And now, almost a decade on, unmanned drones adorned with Islam’s Crescent Moon are levelling homes in Texas and Utah. Sometimes, killing sympathisers and extremists. More often, killing regular American families.

Obama and Hillary Clinton

Embracing the insanity of their predecessor

Can you imagine how much pressure the world would need to put on the US government to make them turn a blind eye to this bombing campaign? Which is exactly what America expects of the Pakistani authorities.

And would the people of America see these raids as justified? Or would they instead swear bloody vengeance on the perpetrators, and view the complicity of their own government as the most despicable betrayal in American history?

Expecting the government of Pakistan to accept the regular killing of innocent civilians — people whose interests they are supposed to represent — by a foreign military. Even when that killing is done in error…

It’s unreasonable. And it is a demonstration, among many, of the psychotic nature of The War Against Terror and of modern politics in general.

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Feb 2008

Doublethink (part 326)

Prince Harry interviewed on Channel 4 News tonight:

“I would never want to put somebody else’s life in danger”.

From the man who’s been calling in air strikes on buildings for the last ten weeks.


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Mar 2006

Blood for oil

Thanks in large part to Oliver Kamm (see previous post) I’ve spent the last few hours thinking about the Iraq war and the various justifications put forward by those in favour of it. My ex-flatmate, Gyrus, and I used to play a game whenever we watched the news… each time a politician or authority figure (police chief, army general, etc.) made a statement; we would imagine that they meant the exact opposite of what they said. The number of times this little thought-experiment would result in the news bulletin making far more sense became really quite frightening.

Anyways, I have no doubt that there are many people out there (for example Jarndyce… see his comment on my last post) who are not “pro-War” per se, but who feel there were valid reasons for us to invade Iraq. Jarndyce’s position (and correct me if I’m wrong on this) is essentially the “humanitarian interventionist” one. In the case of Iraq, the ongoing humanitarian crisis could be attributed to the historical actions of Western imperialist policies (starting with our division of the region into administrative zones / nations that suited us, rather than the people living there; all the way up to our installation and support of undemocratic royal families and dictators). It was our meddling in the region that brought the situation in Iraq to a crisis-point. Therefore we had a moral obligation to set things right. This could never be achieved with Saddam Hussein or his sons in power, and we were the only ones who could remove them.

I fundamentally agree with the assessment that our historical involvement in the region is in no small part to blame for the hardships faced by the Iraqi people under Saddam Hussein (even ignoring the issue of economic sanctions). I also agree that this fact does indeed place upon us an “obligation going back decades at least” (to quote Jarndyce). Where I disagree is in the belief that this obligation would best be served by an invasion of the country.

I am also convinced that those who planned and executed the invasion did not have our obligation to the Iraqi people fixed foremost in their mind. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say that their only interest in the Iraqi people was ensuring that they didn’t kill so many of them that it became a Public Relations disaster as well as a humanitarian one. To those who call me cynical, I have just two words to say… “cluster bombs”.

No invasion of a country which involves the use of cluster munitions has got the interests of the general populace at heart. And that’s not being simplistic. No matter what the benefits of cluster bombs may be from a military standpoint, if you are planning an operation aimed primarily at the liberation of a people; i.e. one with a large humanitarian component; then the very first thing that gets said at the very first meeting must be “Well, put your heads together folks, we need to find a way of doing this without cluster bombs.” If that isn’t the first decision, then please don’t stink up my air with bullshit about humanitarian intervention. Er, not you Jarndyce… the people who decided that cluster bombs (or even that wonderful neo-napalm they’ve got that’s absolutely not napalm) were OK.

Y’know there was talk – in the interests of accuracy – of renaming “cluster munitions” as “child killers”. Apparently someone in the marketing department of Bombs Inc. vetoed the idea though.

War against change

This war, like so much of what gets done by those in power, happened for exactly the opposite reason than was claimed. It was not carried out to rid Saddam Hussein of WMD. It was not carried out to free the Iraqi people from tyranny and deliver them unto democracy. It was not carried out for any reason that had anything to do with Iraqi people or the Iraqi leadership at all. It was carried out entirely because of Iraqi geology.

In other words, the war that was billed as “bringing change to Iraq” was neither about “bringing change” nor “Iraq”. It was actually about “preventing change in America”. It was a war to ensure free-market (read: US) access to Iraqi oil reserves. A war to keep Americans in their SUVs for an extra half decade or so. A war to maintain the status quo in the last major oil basin on the planet.

Shifting US bases out of Saudi Arabia and into Iraq and Afghanistan is precisely what I would do if I believed the world’s oil reserves needed to be secured by military force. Afghanistan though not itself oil rich, presents a convenient buffer between China (the great military competitor when it comes to oil) and the Gulf States. Also, US bases in Afghanistan have a tactical sphere of influence that includes much of the Central Asian gas fields.

Saudi Arabia will remain pro-American so long as the House of Saud is in power. And pulling US troops out of Saudi was a necessary step towards ensuring that occurs. Pouring them into Iraq on the pretence of self-defence / spreading democracy (hang on a second, weren’t we spreading democracy from bases in non-democratic regimes? How does that work?) was an obvious move. It removes an antagonist from the area, places the troops on top of the second largest oil reserves (but remaining next-door to the largest), while also putting the squeeze on Iran… another antagonist and oil-rich nation.

Is it just me, or is it wildly coincidental that the precise strategic moves that are required to bring Gulf oil almost totally under US military dominance happen to be the same moves that we need to take in order to spread democracy to those poor downtrodden Arabs?

We Western oil consumers are just lucky that way I guess.

And yes, I’m aware that the market economists will jump in and insist that these ideas are fanciful… after all, why seize the oil when we can just buy it? To them, let me point out that this essay is written – as is everything here – based upon my belief that the theory of an imminent or recent peak in global oil production is correct. But perhaps more importantly, I’m not the only one who believes it.

In September 2005, the US Army produced a report entitled Energy Trends and Their Implications for U.S. Army Installations (PDF – 1.2mb). One of their conclusions was “The days of inexpensive, convenient, abundant energy sources are quickly drawing to a close.”

In summary, the outlook for petroleum is not good. This especially applies to conventional oil, which has been the lowest cost resource. Production peaks for non-OPEC conventional oil are at hand; many nations have already past their peak, or are now producing at peak capacity.

The same report points out that “there is no viable substitute for petroleum” on the horizon.

So can it really be a coincidence that the US military (the single largest consumer of global crude oil products) which believes that a time is imminent when energy supplies will need to be secured by means other than economic, just happens to be implementing a policy in the Gulf which appears designed to secure those very reserves by force of occupation; yet is really all about improving the lives of the locals?

All this despite singularly failing to improve the lives of the locals, yet oddly spending a huge amount of time securing the oil infrastructure.

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