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Fri

31

Jul

2009

The Other face of Barack Obama - 1
Friday, 31 July 2009 15:21
by Daan de Wit

Barack Obama has now been president of the most powerful country in the world for over half a year. His swearing in was experienced as a relief - a breath of fresh air following the Bush-Cheney years. In a new series, DeepJournal explores some of the new president's major policy arenas. What is the practice behind the perception of America's new hero, President Barack Obama? In this first part: The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan

The article has been translated by Ben Kearney

One of the problems that President Bush had was the wars that America was waging in Iraq and Afghanistan. These two military conflicts are only the latest in a long line, says [video, 1'10] investigative journalist John Pilger: 'Since WWII there have been 72 interventions by the United States'. During the race for the White House, Obama promised that he would withdraw American troops from Iraq. Now it appears that around a third of the troops will remain after 2010. It also appears that the war in Afghanistan is escalating while Obama has started another war: by proxyin Pakistan.

Iraq


By the end of 2011, the remaining troops will also be gone, reports CNN. 'All U.S. troops have to be out of Iraq by December 31, 2011, under an agreement the Bush administration signed with the Iraqi government last year'. That departure date is the result of a decision by Bush. If up to Obama, the troops might just stay longer. 'Our commanders must have the flexibility they need in order to respond to these challenges, and President Obama assured me that there is a 'Plan B'', 'the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee John McHugh said in a statement', writes AFP. NBC's Pentagon correspondent, Jim Miklaszeswki, says [video, 1'15] to David Gregory: 'In fact military commanders, despite this Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government that all US forces would be out by the end of 2011, are already making plans for a significant number of American troops to remain in Iraq beyond that 2011 deadline, assuming that Status of Forces Agreement would be renegotiated. And one senior military commander told us that he expects large numbers of American troops to be in Iraq for the next 15 to 20 years'. Gregory: '15 to 20 years, I think that takes a moment to really sink in'. And that's even without mentioning the biggest embassy in the world - the one in Baghdad. Or the huge number of private contractors in Iraq - a military to civilian ratio of 1 to 1. Or that a majority of Americans are opposed to both wars. A minority is thus for the war. Barack Obama belongs to that group.

'Obama's speech at Camp Lejeune delivered a number of lines — wrapped in laudatory rhetoric — that could have been delivered by Bush himself, writes Jeremy Scahill. "I want to be very clear," Obama told the military audience. "We sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein's regime — and you got the job done." Perhaps it bears remembering that "removing Saddam" was justification two or three offered by the Bush administration after the WMD fraud was exposed'.

Afghanistan

When troops are pulled from Iraq, it does not mean that less American GI's are seeing action. For Obama is picking up where Bush left off, and is even taking it a step further - to Afghanistan. 'Soldiers pulled from Iraq duty, sent straight to Afghanistan', is the headline from CNN. 'The soldiers had barely arrived in Iraq before they got new orders — get ready for Afghanistan. [...] None of the soldiers with whom CNN traveled to Afghanistan knew what to expect when they hit the ground in Kandahar'. And it's still not enough. Michael G. Vickers, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict, said last week: 'Before additional U.S. troops arrived there in the spring, the U.S. footprint was about 30,000 military members. Within the next two months, that number will increase to 68,000. [...] Vickers couldn't be specific on whether this would be a temporary “surge” similar to the Iraqi surge in 2007', writes the U.S. Department of Defense. But it could end up being even more. ISAF commander General Stanley McChrystal will present a report later this month: 'The review is also expected to recommend that the number of Afghan troops be increased beyond the goal of 134,000, other military sources said'. Obama's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, says that extra troops 'could end up creating a pressure in Pakistan, which would add to the instability'.
 

Afghanistan was and is a difficult country to keep under the thumb. And moreover: 'July, little more than half over, has already become the deadliest month for US-led forces since the war began nearly eight years ago. A total of 46 occupation troops have been killed, 24 of them Americans. This death toll—approximately three a day—is equivalent to what took place during the heaviest fighting in Iraq', writes Bill Van Auken on July 17th. In less than two weeks those numbers are already drastically out-of-date : not 46, but 67 deaths. The other numbers make an impression as well. Van Auken: '[...] the US Air Force, [...] reported that it had dropped 437 bombs on Afghanistan in June. Close-air support missions flown thus far in 2009 by US warplanes had risen to 17,420 by the end of June, the Air Force command reported. This compares to 19,092 for all of 2008'.

In June the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the White House, together with Nancy Pelosi , was trying 'to muscle through a $106 billion war funding bill today'. But among Democrats enthusiasm for this is not very high: 'I see no reason to be keeping our troops in Iraq that much longer and to start into Afghanistan when there's no end in sight," Woolsey said Monday. "If we were voting on funds to bring our troops home from Iraq, I'd vote for it in a minute. ... I just hope we're not repeating the mistake we made in Iraq'. The solution? '[...] the White House has threatened to pull support from Democratic freshmen who vote no'. Author Norman Solomon wonders: 'But why would a president choose to single out fellow Democrats in their first congressional term? Because, according to conventional wisdom, they're the most politically vulnerable and the easiest to intimidate'. In the end the 106 billion dollar package was approved. By the end of this fiscal year, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will have cost Americans 915 billion dollars. 'Asked if the United States was winning in Afghanistan, a war he effectively adopted as his own last month by ordering an additional 17,000 troops sent there, Mr. Obama replied flatly, “No.”'

The West is going to great lengths in Afghanistan, and does so at a high price in money and human life. But who can say why? Van Auken: 'The original pretexts given for waging the war in Afghanistan have fallen by the wayside. The authorization of the use of military force legislation passed by the US Congress in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks on Washington and New York City was predicated on the American military being used to hunt down those blamed for these atrocities—Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, a name that now goes virtually unmentioned in official Washington circles'. Earlier this month I spoke with a soldier who had just completed a tour of duty in Afghanistan for the Dutch army and whose greatest wish it was to ask the Dutch Minister of Defense why The Netherlands is fighting in Afghanistan. He certainly has his suspicions. It was expressed in large part by Bill Van Auken: 'The only reason left for what is now clearly Obama's war is the real and original one—the utilization of American military might to assert Washington's dominance over the oil-rich and geo-strategically vital region of Central Asia'. Karen Kwiatkowski, former lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force and Pentagon desk officer, sees [video, 3'15] yet another possibility: 'If you're asking me: What's the reason we're in Afghanistan? It's because of Iran. We want to be in a military position, in an operational position to threaten Iran from next door'. The American presence in Afghanistan also has consequences for what happens on another border, writes The New York Times: 'Pakistani officials have told the Obama administration that the Marines fighting the Taliban in southern Afghanistan will force militants across the border into Pakistan [...]'.

Pakistan

The American fight in Pakistan - a friendly, sovereign state against which there has been no declaration of war - had already begun under Bush. Obama is continuing the attacks with remote-controlled drones. But he wants even more. He is demanding that Pakistan step up the fight against the Taliban. There is a lot at stake for Pakistan. A lot of money: 'The Obama administration plans to dramatically increase civilian aid to Pakistan [...] A threefold increase in civilian aid would come on top of more than $10 billion in mostly military assistance since 2001'. The money is part of the U.S.'s 'new strategy on Afghanistan and the surrounding region, hoping the overture will lead to more effective steps by the Pakistani military to shut down insurgent sanctuaries, U.S. officials said', writes the LA Times. The Pakistani attacks in the Swat Valley have resulted in 2.5 million refugees in the past couple of months. Unicef warns that 'as many as 1 million people could remain displaced until December because of the widespread destruction in their home towns, such as Mingora'. The Pakistani military carries out the attacks, but does so at the request of the White House. Because of this, the attacks in the Swat Valley, as well as a potential new offensive in South Waziristan, are also being seen as Obama's war.

Why are bombs falling in Pakistan? 'So let me be clear: Al Qaeda and its allies — the terrorists who planned and supported the 9/11 attacks — are in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Multiple intelligence estimates have warned that al Qaeda is actively planning attacks on the United States homeland from its safe haven in Pakistan. And if the Afghan government falls to the Taliban — or allows al Qaeda to go unchallenged — that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can. [...] It is [...] an international security challenge of the highest order. [...] The safety of people around the world is at stake'. This quote does not come with the squinting look of George W. Bush, but is spoken with the warm voice of President Obama. While Obama was making his statement, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley twittered: 'Listning Prez on FOX anounce his Afhgan stategy Now it bcomes Obama War Not Bush war any longer'.

America is not simply sitting on the sidelines, it has actively taken part in the battle. So what are the numbers? 'The CIA is said to have carried out at least 16 Predator strikes in Pakistan during the first four months of this year, compared with 36 strikes in the whole of 2008. These have killed about 161 people since President Obama's inauguration, according to news reports in Pakistan'. The attacks have killed a total of around 700 people, of which 14 were so-called Al-Qaida fighters. Back in February The New York Times wrote: 'The strikes are another sign that President Obama is continuing, and in some cases extending, Bush administration policy [...]'.

Carol Grisanti of NBC News explains [video] that one of the ways in which the CIA determines its targets is through the hiring of informants. They hire people to place chips on military targets in return for monetary compensation. The chips transmit a signal that tells the Predator drone, controlled by remote from a U.S. Air Force Base in the American state of Nevada, where to deliver it's bombs. Grisanti says that the people who plant the chips are often turned over to the Taliban afterwards. This way their handler doesn't have to pay them. In her report Grisanti plays a taped confession recorded by the Taliban. Their captive is the 19 year-old Habibur Rehman. He talks about his assignment: 'This man gave us chips wrapped in cigarette paper. He then told us to do our job'. 'I thought this was a very easy job', Rehman said in the video before he was killed, reports Grisanti. 'The money was good so I started throwing the chips all over. I knew people were dying because of what I was doing, but I needed the money'. Grisanti explains in her report: 'They are promised money. A hundred dollars in the tribal areas is a fortune'.

America is also providing military training to the Pakistanis. '[...] Special Forces personnel will focus on training Pakistan's Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force [...]. The project, which draws on proposals first discussed under the Bush administration, is a joint effort with the U.K., senior U.S. officials said', reports the Wall Street Journal. Earlier the New York Times made it clear that the U.S. involvement wouldn't stop there: 'American Special Operations troops based in Afghanistan have also carried out a number of operations into Pakistan's tribal areas since early September, when a commando raid that killed a number of militants was publicly condemned by Pakistani officials. According to a senior American military official, the commando missions since September have been primarily to gather intelligence'. The fact that White House interest in Pakistan was big under Bush and is getting even bigger under Obama can be seen in this news bulletin: 'The White House has asked Congress for — and seems likely to receive — $736 million to build a new U.S. embassy in Islamabad, along with permanent housing for U.S. government civilians and new office space in the Pakistani capital'. The embassy will cost just as much as the one that the Americans built in Baghdad.
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