Trump tweets while Afghanistan burns

President Trump seems only dimly aware the turmoil in Afghanistan. Or maybe he has foreign policy related on the country and is simply unable to articulate it in 140 characters. Most likely, and more disquieting, his contradictory and unintentionally humorous tweets truly reflect his confused views.

trump

On July 23, 2016, two suicide bombers struck Kabul, Afghanistan, killing 80 and injuring 250 in the recent conflict’s most deadly attack. An average of 50 Afghan soldiers are killed a day, another 180 are lost to injuries and desertion. More than 10,000 soldiers died as well as thousands of civilians.

Advisor to the President of Afghanistan, Scott Guggenheim, hopes the new administration can achieve what the Democrats couldn’t:

“It breaks my heart to have to say this, but the Republican government is going to be better than the Democrats for Afghanistan,” he told May Jeong in her investigative report for Harper’s magazine (February, 2017).

“The Republicans will say ‘These guys are fighting radicals; we have to stay engaged with them.’”

The Taliban has an opposing view. A spokesman told Jeong:

“He should withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, and unlike other U.S. rulers, he should neither seek any more titles of ignominy for himself and American generals nor worsen American prestige, economy, and military by engaging in this futile war.”

The fog created by Trump’s lack of clarity has created an opportunity for Russia.  Vladimir Putin has reason to cheer the selection of Trump’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who is CEO of ExxonMobil and has met with Putin. Russia is investing in housing and factories in Afghanistan and recently sent ten thousand automatic rifles to Kabul in hopes of strengthening ties. An exit by the U.S. would aid Putin’s grasp for regional dominance.

Trump seems unaware of what his own military has to say. A Republican-led investigation determined that troops will remain at 8,400. The top commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, says: “We have adequate resources.”

While the Republican’s views might be clear, Trump’s foreign policy for Afghanistan remains impenetrable. On one hand is his principle of “America first” which suggests isolation. On the other, he speaks aggressively of the Islamic State: “Their days are numbered.”

Stephen Biddle, adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations told Jeong:

“His policies on the campaign trail were so mutually contradictory and changeable that he much harder to predict than an orthodox president would be.” “He talks about Afghanistan only when he’s cornered, and when cornered, he has said he simply wants to get out.”

Trump has more power than either Presidents George W. Bush or Barack Obama to bring peace to Afghanistan. He has the support of a Republican Congress and expanded executive powers.

But Trump’s war remains at home. He is paralyzed with his war against the media and his decrees by tweet only thicken the fog on foreign policy.

Jeong lives in Kabul and is fatalistic:

“The survivors of the conflict, awaiting the next chapter of diplomacy, have no choice but to be patient.”

Afghans live with hope and patience. That’s all they have with this president in power.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Syria’s climate refugees

“The start of the revolution was water and land,” says Mustafa Abdul Hamid, a 30-year-old farmer from Aleppo, Syria.

603fertilecrescent_large

The Arab Spring — that promise of political reform, the failed revolution, ISIS, civilian bombing, the misery of refugees, all started forty years ago with an ambitious plan to make Syria self-sufficient in food. Until they ran out of water, Syria had been relatively stable despite the oppressive Assad family regime.

The source of Syrian grief is climate change. In the 1970s, drilling wells for irrigation water seemed like a good idea. Back then, the military regime of the current president’s father launched a program to increase crop yield. As politicians are inclined to do, he paid no attention to aquifers or climate change.

“Farmers made up for water shortages by drilling wells to tap the country’s underground water reserves. When water tables retreated, people dug deeper,” explains reports John Wendle in Scientific American (March, 2016).

Wendle went to Syria to talk to farmers and to listen to refugees. “Climatologists say Syria is a grim preview of what could be in store for the larger Middle East, the Mediterranean and other parts of the world. The drought, they maintain, was exacerbated by climate change. The Fertile Crescent—the birthplace of agriculture some 12,000 years ago—is drying out. Syria’s drought has destroyed crops, killed livestock and displaced as many as 1.5 million Syrian farmers,” reports Wendle.

Life was good before the drought, Hamid recalls. He and his family farmed three hectares of topsoil so rich it was the color of henna. They grew wheat, fava beans, tomatoes and potatoes. Hamid used to harvest three-quarters of a metric ton of wheat per hectare in the years before the drought. Then the rains failed, and his yields plunged to barely half that amount. “All I needed was water,” he says. “And I didn’t have water. So things got very bad. The government wouldn’t allow us to drill for water. You’d go to prison.”

By 2005, the problem of water shortage was so obvious that it couldn’t be ignored and Assad’s son, the new president, made it illegal to dig new wells without purchasing a license.

Syrians who had bags of cash to bribe official drilled ever deeper into the receding water table; until the money and/or the water ran out.

The drought, aggravated by climate change touched off social turmoil that burst into civil war. The source of climate change as the underpinning of Syria’s woes is confirmed not only by a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences but by the farmers themselves that Wendle spoke to in refugee camps. “That’s exactly what happened,” they told him.

“What’s happening globally—and particularly in the Middle East—is that groundwater is going down at an alarming rate,” Colin Kelley of the University of California, told Wendle. “It’s almost as if we’re driving as fast as we can toward a cliff.”

Update on the Iraqi quagmire.

It’s time for the tredecennial review of the quagmire in Iraq. In my 2002 column, I cautioned:

“If Iraq were completely destroyed, it will break in three: a Shiite protectorate of Iran in the South, a Kurdish state in the north and a small Sunni state in the middle. That would completely destabilize the whole region, inflaming more conflict.”

SALADIN, IRAQ - AUGUST 31:  A Shiite militian flashes victory sign after Iraqi forces have entered the northern town of Amirli which had been under the siege of Islamic State militants for over two months in Saladin ,Iraq on August 31, 2014. Supported by Kurdish forces and Shiite militias, the Iraqi army launched an offensive shortly after the U.S. carried out airstrikes against Islamic State (IS) positions near the town, and dropped aid for the nearly 20,000 Shiite Turkmen trapped in Amirli. The government forces and Kurdish peshmerga forces have been fighting against the militant group to block their advance. (Stringer - Anadolu Agency)

(Stringer – Anadolu Agency)

Parts of that warning turned out to be true. Conflict has generated more conflict. The Kurds represent a coherent entity in the North, if not a Kurdish state. There is no Sunni state in the middle of Iraq but Anbar province is controlled by Sunni leaders of Saddam Hussein’s former party. Shiites are not just in the South. With the help of the U.S., they control government.

Whereas Canada declined involvement in the earlier invasion, now we are willing participants in the bombing of Iraq. The Harper government apparently believes that, while massive bombing didn’t fix the problem in the first place, a few more should do the trick.

Another difference is that the Prime Minster’s office sees the invasion as public relations opportunity. When Corporal Nathan Cirillo was killed at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, the PMO issued a video reminiscent of U.S. President Bush’s macho response to the attacks of September 9, 2001. Reporter Patrick Graham describes the chest-thumping by the PMO:

“Three months after Zehaf-Bibeau’s attack [on Cirillo], the PMO put out a jingoistic video  –a montage of the cenotaph and the gunfight on Parliament Hill that included a Royal Canadian Air Force pilot punching the air; presumably after a successful mission. The takeaway: Avenge Corporal Cirillo. Bomb ISIS (Walrus magazine, June, 2015).”

Canada’s bravado avoids a vexing question. How were millions of Iraqis overcome by a few thousand ISIS fighters?

“As Canada continues –indeed escalates –its war with ISIS, politicians and policy-makers need to grapple with that question in a serious way,” says Graham. “But based on it public pronouncements thus far, there is little evidence that government’s analysis has gone beyond patriotic slogans and images of pumped-up fighter pilots.”

The Shiite-Sunni conflict has extended fourteen centuries. Relations were calm until Hussein came to power in the 1970s when he banned Shiite ceremonies and ruthlessly put down a Shiite uprising.

The opportunity for revenge came when a Shiite was installed as head of the Iraqi government. With Prime Minister Maliki in control of the army, Sunnis were arrested under the country’s anti-terrorism laws. Sunni tribal leaders, who had joined the U.S. fight against al Qaeda, were cut off from positions of power.

No wonder that many Sunnis have welcomed ISIS over a Shiite army. “From a Sunni point of view, the U.S. occupation simply was replaced with an occupation run by Tehran’s proxy armies [the Shiites].”

The undisciplined and corrupt Shiite army simply folded in the face of a small, determined, ISIS force. Army morale had been undermined by incompetent officers who were more interested in extortion than building confidence within the rank and file.

It will be interesting to see whether Canada’s new government will carry on with war as a public relations exercise or take a more nuanced approach. I’ll let you know in 13 years.

End this war against our planet

The war against our planet began so long ago that it’s hard to imagine a time when military merchandise hasn’t been used to wreak havoc; not just on the battlefield but against the very ecosystems necessary for our survival.

earth

The application of technology to the battlefield began in earnest with World War II with atomic bombs, rockets, and poisonous gas. The machinery developed in wartime has been grinding ever since –to the extent that we don’t know what a planet at peace looks like.

The exact start of the war against the planet may be debatable. Rebecca Solnit suggests: “Nineteen forty-five is sometimes designated Year Zero.”

The devastation of World War II was a precursor of what was to follow. Sixty million were killed in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the South Pacific — 2.6 per cent of the earth’s population. The Soviet Union lost 1,700 towns and 70,000 villages and 24 million citizens. What the bombs missed, homelessness, displacement, poverty, and disease claimed. Many died in combat but millions more starved to death.

London lost one million homes and 30,000 were killed in one year alone. The bombing of Germany created firestorms and leveled cities. One survivor of the attacks on Dresden recalled the horror of seeing charred bodies and melted glass:  “We saw terrible things: cremated adults shrunk to the size of small children, pieces of arms and legs, dead people, whole families burned to death, burning people running to and fro.”

The destruction of historic sites and cities exceeded anything that the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and ISIS could muster combined. As bad as things were, they were about to get worse.

“From one perspective, what we call the world had never been more devastated. From another, however, the world was in magnificent, Edenic shape. No great garbage patch swirled around the Pacific, and albatrosses, sea turtles, and dolphins in remote reaches were not strangling on plastic they mistook for edible matter; we had not yet discarded the billion tons of plastic that will litter the earth for the foreseeable future, because plastic was a relatively new material just entering mass production,” says Solnit in Harper’s magazine.

Elephants and rhinos thrived in intact ecosystems. The Bengal tiger and the snow leopard were fine. The Atlantic cod fishery off the coast of Canada seemed inexhaustible.

War economies accelerated. The technology of war spun off seemingly benign products: plastics, fuels, fuel-guzzling vehicles. Ever more energy use accelerated the tonnes of garbage we throw into the air, water and land.

Anyone who is not delusional, amnesiac, or distracted can see what militarization has wrought. Those who are blind to the obvious pretend that: “pumping billions of tons of carbon into the upper atmosphere has no consequences, that the extraction processes — from mountaintop coal removal to fracking to pulling petroleum out of remote fragile places such as the ocean floor — are harmless.”

The war will end one way or another. The earth will prevail regardless of which side we are on.

Police and society

Kamloops’ support for Cpl. Michaud is well-deserved as he continues to recover after being shot during a routine traffic stop. Good relations between the RCMP and the Kamloops community indicates how different things are in Canada than the U.S. But we can’t take that for granted.

police

(G20 demonstrations in Toronto, 2010)

It’s unlikely that the citizens of in Ferguson, Missouri, will be holding a fund-raising dinner for any of their injured cops any time soon. Not after the controversial shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by the police last August.

Not after the police in Ferguson responded to a peaceful demonstration by citizens, hands in the air pleading “don’t shoot,” in full military gear and created a city under siege.

That doesn’t seem to fit into the police force motto to “serve and protect,” does it? Just where did they get all that military gear in the first place? It turns out that U.S. police are the “beneficiaries” of hand-me-down gear from the most well-financed army in the world.

You see, once the U.S. army invades a country, it has a lot of stuff left over; especially when you consider that the economy is based on the production of new weapons.

That’s how Ferguson, population 21 thousand, ended up with armoured vehicles, night-vision goggles, assault rifles, and assorted battle gear on hand, just in case things get ugly, writes John Lorinc in Walrus magazine.

Things are not as bad in Canada but we must be vigilant of mission creep. A similar program exists in Canada where the Canadian Forces has been transferring night-vision goggles and field equipment to the RCMP for years, including “de-armed” armoured fighting vehicles. Saskatoon police recently used their own AFV in a stand-off, and released aerial footage of the event.

The Vancouver police department bought at Lenco BearCat armoured rescue vehicle in 2007. York Region, north of Toronto, acquired a $340,000 Quebec-made “rolling fortress.” In Montreal and Quebec City, cops have taken to wearing camouflage pants, a practice that has raised eyebrows.

Police must be armed with weapons to match those of deranged shooters. If police had the carbines promised in Moncton, perhaps the death count of three RCMP could have been reduced.

However, a properly armed police force and a militarized one are not the same thing. It’s a mental mind-set as much as a material one and it works both ways. Once a community sees police as protecting moneyed corporate interests and state ideology, rather than the community’s, the trust is broken. Once police view criminal elements as being so wide-spread as to poison the community they serve, the community becomes the “other.”

Neil Boyd, criminologist at SFU doesn’t see militarization in Canada to the same degree as the U.S. However, “It is worrying on one level, because we think of militarization as armed conflict between states,” Boyd said. “As a society, that’s not consistent with the police model of keeping the peace. The question we have to ask is, Are the police more inclined to take an us-and-them approach, or are they simply acquiring more technology? ”

Canadians must remain vigilant against the militarization of police and the mind-set that can follow. Civil society depends on that delicate balance.

Do the right thing and bring Khadr home to Canada

The U.S. court will soon decide whether a Canadian boy is an enemy combatant guilty of war crimes.   Or was he a victim of adult coercion – – a child soldier? 

   Omar Khadr. Image: Wikipedia

Contradictions swirl about and the events that happened in 2002 when Omar Khadr was only15 years old but it seems by all reasonable accounts that he is innocent.

But for a moment, let’s assume the charges are true; that Khadr murdered a U.S. soldier on the battlefield in Afghanistan.

How could one soldier be convicted of murdering another when killing each other is what soldiers are expected to do, and they may be punished if they don’t?  That seems to be a problem admits John Bellinger, a legal advisor for the U.S. state department. “In a normal war, where both sides have the right to engage in combat with one another, if a soldier kills a soldier on the other side, it’s not murder.”

But, says Bellinger, Khadr’s case is different because he was a member of a terrorist group and it’s illegal for them to engage in war. Under U.S. law it’s illegal for al-Qaeda or the Taliban to even defend themselves. How convenient.  The U.S. enacted a law that prohibits soldiers in Afghanistan from defending themselves against invasion; an invasion that itself was illegal under international law since Afghanistan had neither threatened attack nor declared war on the U.S. And the law makes members of that group guilty of war crimes.

It gets more bizarre. The law making al-Qaeda and the Taliban soldiers into enemy combatants was enacted after Khadr’s alleged deed. Even in the unlikely event that the 15-year-old Omar knew the subtle nuances and protocols of military engagement, he could not have known that the actions of that day would be illegal under a future law.

Bizarre law aside, even the facts are in doubt. The U.S. military claims that Omar threw a grenade at a U.S. soldier, killing him. Now an eye-witness paints a different picture; the teenager was in the company of an adult who threw the grenade. Khadr was down on his knees facing away from battle when a U.S. soldier shot him twice in the back.  Let me see if I’ve got the charges straight: a U.S. soldier legally shot a combatant in the back while the combatant illegally defended himself while unarmed and down on his knees?

The tortured path that brought Omar Khadr to the battlefield was a similar path taken by the world’s child soldiers except that usually children are forcibly taken from their parents and taught how to kill. In Khadr’s case, his family groomed him for war.

A strong case can be made that Omar was brainwashed by his family into thinking that he had no other choice. From age 11, Omar’s tutorage into the world of terror started with trips to Afghanistan. It’s a family tradition. One of his bothers became suicide bomber, another paralyzed in a battle in which his father was killed. His mother and sister praised the glories of terrorism on national television.  Writer Sean Fine says: “Only an extraordinary 15-year-old could have withstood that grooming process (Globe and Mail, March 22)”.

The silence of the Canadian government has been deafening.  Other countries have repatriated citizens held as combatants at Guantanamo Bay, several in the case of Britain, but not Canada. The only “help” that the Canadian government has provided is to send intelligence officers to interrogate Omar without counsel, and pass the information on the U.S. in order to strengthen their case.

With help like that, it makes me wonder that if I were arrested under false charges in a foreign country I would be better off not asking for assistance from my government.  Kadar’s lawyers rightfully claim that these interrogations without counsel are illegal. They recently and went to Canada’s Supreme Court to obtain the results of that interrogation but have been stonewalled by the Canadian government which steadfastly stands behind the U.S. military even in the face of evidence pointing to injustice of a Canadian citizen in U.S. courts.

Instead of being complicit in the U.S. prosecution of a juvenile in what appears to an inevitable miscarriage of justice, why doesn’t Prime Minister Stephen Harper do the right thing and bring Kadar home?

Harper seems confident that Khadr will get a fair trial in the U.S.  I’m not so sure.

World domination plan falling into place for U.S. president

“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?” Robert Browning.

After the attacks on the morning of September 11, 2001,  U.S. President Bush’s mentors didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. They were looking for a provocation that would justify implementation of their plan but this was beyond their wildest visions.

defense

The first highjacked plane hit the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York at 8:45 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time.  The second tower was hit twenty minutes after that, and the third hit the Pentagon an hour later.

Soon after the initial attacks, President Bush took off in his jet from Sarasota, Florida.  He needed time to let it sink in.  High in the stratosphere, he struggled with mixed feelings of horror and guilt.  The president had been told of such attacks only a month earlier.  On August  6,  intelligence briefings had warned him of al Qaida plans and he had done nothing.

On the ground below, the twin towers collapsed into a hellish inferno, a fourth highjacked plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania, the White House had been evacuated, and a nervous nation wondered where their president was.  What would he tell the people?

Three hours the president’ realized that this was no time for admissions of guilt.  He landed in Louisiana and hurried to an underground bunker air force base to tape a TV message.  On the little screen he looked pale and shaken as he said “Make no mistake, the United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts.”

A few hours later the president was flown to another fortified location at the Strategic Air Command headquarters in Nebraska where he consulted his mentors.  What to do?  He didn’t need to think for long.  The plan had already been drafted years ago by the hawks in his father’s presidency, including vice president Dick Cheney.

The plan’s four installments were recently declassified under the title of Defense Strategy for the 1990’s, or the Plan for short.  “The Plan is for the United States to rule the world,” writes David Armstrong in his article, Dick Cheney’s Song of America (Harper’s Magazine, October, 2002).

When peace broke out in 1990 after the fall of the Soviet Empire there was a real threat to U.S. military.  Doves and peaceniks wanted a reduction in military spending.  Cheney saw this threat to his dream of military conquest of the world.  And he didn’t like the competition from his so-called friends.  A strong European Union and the rise of the Asian tigers threatened U.S. world commercial dominance.

Cheney’s plan called for continued military spending against unspecified threats – – he couldn’t suggest war against his allies.  To the question “what threat,” Cheney was unwilling to say.  The Plan’s audacious goal of world domination would have offended the sensibilities of the most Americans.

Its co-author, Colin Powell, called on the U.S. to be the “biggest bully on the block.”  It called for world supremacy through force;  invasion of Iraq to destabilize European oil interests; demonization of North Korea to destabilize Asia and counter efforts to reunite the Koreas, giving a reason for continued U.S. military occupation.

What Cheney needed some horrible event to galvanize public.  He needed “some catastrophic and catalyzing event-like a new Pearl Harbor,” as the president’s brother, Jeb Bush, had suggested.

The Plan grew more credible with each passing hour.  The president rehearsed the answers.  Could he convince Americans that an attack on Afghanistan was justifiable, despite evidence that al Qaida had left and spread around the globe?  Easy.  Could he sell the idea that, while they were in Afghanistan, they might as well invade Iraq and toss out Saddam Hussein and his fictional weapons of mass destruction?  No problem. Could he convince Americans that Iran and North Korea were the next targets because they were part of some unsubstantiated “axis of evil”, despite no logical connection between the countries?  He could.

Today, Bush’s Pearl Harbor had been delivered to him.  He had the right stuff to be the chief bully of the baddest army in the world.  When the president returned to Washington at 7 p.m. on September 11, he was ready to rumble.  World domination was within his reach.