Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Yerushalayim, should I ever forget thee. . .

Shana Tova, Athbhliain faoi Mhaise Daoibh, Happy New Year to all my Hebrew homies.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Coming Soon To An 'Anti-War' Placard Near You.

It wasn't Pakistan but the CIA that created the savage Haqqani Taliban network that US Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen has been belatedly fingering as the chief culprit in Afghanistan's agonies, the hideously corrupt gasbag Rehman Malik, Pakistan's Interior Minister, declared on Sunday.

It is an outrageous lie, as anyone even vaguely familiar with the terrorist savageries visited upon the people of South Asia over the past three decades will know. But I don't expect that this will matter in the least to fashionable "left-wing" opinion among the world's rich white people, where the consensus has for some long while served with remarkable precision as an echo of the lumpen view incited by right-wing Pakistani chauvinists.

After al Qaida’s July 7, 2005 suicide bombings in London claimed the lives of 52 innocents, London Mayor Ken Livingstone declared: “The Americans recruited and trained Osama Bin Laden, taught him how to kill, to make bombs, and set him off to kill the Russians and drive them out of Afghanistan.” That was a lie, and a lie of the most elaborate kind, and a lie specifically manufactured by hard-right Pakistani propagandists. When a U.S. Navy SEALs team killed Bin Laden in Abottabad, Pakistan, American documentary film huckster Michael Moore, that darling of rich white pseuds, typed the news into his Twitter account this way: "The monster we created-yes, WE-in the 1980s by ARMING, FUNDING, &TRAINING him in the art of terror agnst the USSR, finally had 2 b put down." That was a particularly spectacular propaganda lie, of the most self-serving variety.

To keep my publisher happy, I will now remind readers in the most self-serving way that all of this and more is exposed in my book, Come from The Shadows, coming soon to a fine bookstore near you. Now back to our story.

For all the self-serving reasons you should expect, the thing known as "the Haqqani network" that is beginning to show up in the discourse of the capitulationist NATO capitals as a thing we are left with the impression is somehow separate from the phenomenon known as the "Taliban," is in fact no such thing. It is the very nexus of Talibanism.

The shorthand use of the term "Haqqani network" is instructive in the way the mere words we use oftentimes allow lies to creep into our conversations unnoticed. The term "Haqqani" comes not from a family name, like Gambino or Soprano, although to be fair to headline writers it is useful to employ it that way if only to provide readers with an immediate grasp of the network's nature and function. In fact, however, the name comes from a madrassa in Akora Khattak, Pakistan, known as Darul uloom Haqqania. Its headmaster and chancellor, Maulana Sami ul-Haq, is not without reason known as the godfather of the Taliban.

Over the years, the Darul uloom Haqqania has dispatched thousands of zombies to post-grad throat-slitting and suicide-bombing assignments in Afghanistan, Kashmir, Punjab, Balochistan, and other such locales. Just one famous alumnus is Mullah Omar, "commander of the faithful" and supremo of the Quetta Shura Taliban, the genocidal cult funded and armed by Pakistan's Interservices Intelligence Agency (with no help from the CIA, incidentally) to seize and run Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, and which has been the scourge of the Afghan republic ever since. Another alumnus is the mass-murderer who calls himself Jalaluddin Haqqani, whose son Sirajuddin now more or less runs the network from its Binladenist bases in Waziristan and across the Afghan border in Paktia, Khost and other such mountainous wastelands. Sirajuddin is a senior member of Omar's Quetta Shura.

To go along with the lie that the Haqqani network was created by the CIA, one will have to first open the lid of the memory-hole and chuck in the fact that Jalaluddin had already declared a global jihad against the entire civilized world, not least the Afghan republic of Mohammed Daoud Khan, by the mid-1970s. This is long before Jimmy Carter got the bright idea of upsetting the Cold War applecart by funding Afghan jihadists, a decision he made long before the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, and a long, long time before the CIA decided to subcontract and outsource its entire foreign policy in Afghanistan to the ISI''s torturers and death squads.

During the CIA-ISI enterprise that came to be known as the anti-Soviet jihad, Jalaluddin reaped enormous profits from his role as guide-outfitter, caterer, hall-rental agent and logistics consultant to the eight crime syndicates ISI strategists deployed to make war upon pro-democracy Afghan resistance leaders and Soviet occupation forces alike. But Jalaluddin and his several sons and cousins and nephews and their various and sundry Palestinian, Yemeni, and Chechen affiliates were at their dirty work long before the CIA came along, and they continued long after the CIA was caught with its pants down on September 11.

Sirajuddin's hard boys have been wildly successful of late, taking advantage of the spectacular opportunity created for them by the peace-talks and troops-out lobby in the NATO capitals to terrorize and position themselves for power post-2014 with an accelerated campaign of bombing, suicide attacks and assassinations. Last week, its victims included the tragic figure Berhanuddin Rabbani, the head of President Hamid Karzai's ludicrous "High Peace Council." Yesterday, its target was the CIA's headquarters in Kabul. Two weeks ago it was the US embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul, with cell phone evidence helpfully revealing that the attackers were in direct communication with the ISI before and during the attack.

That is what the "network" does, with the ISI providing its care and feeding, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards weighing in with ordnance, and with parasites like Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik providing cover all the while.

The Americans have enough blood on their hands from the anti-Soviet jihad days without having to add to the charge list a trumped-up allegation that the CIA manufactured the Haqqani network. It is a lie. But what is the "network," as we now find ourselves describing the entity that the "conventional wisdom" purports to apprehend as the party with which peace negotiations must somehow proceed?

In an exhaustive and astonishing 53-page spilling-the-beans exercise gleaned from thousands of pages of intercepted jihadist communiques and declassified intelligence reports, the Haqqani network is what lead authors Don Rassler and Vahid Brown of West Point's Combating Terrorism Center prefer to call "the fountainhead of jihad."

What the document exposes is the nexus at which the ISI, Mullah Omar, the Haqqanis and al Qaida continue to operate as they have for more than three decades. It involves the Hamas godfathers who cut their teeth in Afghanistan, along with Gaddafist mercenaries, Saudi billionaires, Turkistani crackpots - the whole blood-crazed schmeer.

The so-called Haqqani network also takes in Lashkar-e-Taiba, best known for the November, 2008 Mumbai atrocity that left at least 166 people dead. It includes Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, best known for its 2002 kidnapping and murder of the American journalist Daniel Pearl, but better known among its Hazara and Baloch victims as a vast ISI-supported murder network that has assassinated hundreds of innocents for crimes of faith over the past few years, and which only last week slaughtered 29 Shia pilgrims in Balochistan for the crime of being Shia.

If you really think "peace talks" are the way forward in any of this, you will want to try imagining peace talks with this elaborate complex of barbarism. If you really think that Joint Chiefs boss Mike Mullen is merely taking the opportunity of his pending retirement to say mean things about the thugs that run the military-industrial complex we lazily call "Pakistan," a quick read of the West Point study will do you good (.pdf here). To cite:

"The scholarly and policy communities have misapprehended the precise local context for the development of global jihadism," is the way the authors delicately and diplomatically describe the fashionable delusions the Obama White House hopes to provide "war weary" Americans as an excuse to abandon Afghanistan and put a stake in the heart of a sovereign and democratic Afghan republic. "It is vital that the policy community correct the course that has taken this erroneous assessment for granted and recognize the Haqqani network’s region of refuge for what it has always been – the fountainhead of jihad."

I'm not holding my breath in hopes that "the policy community" will do any such thing. When lies entrench themselves in the conventional wisdom, they are not so easily uprooted.

But one lives in hope.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

"The Fountainhead of Jihad": Source Of The US Failure In Afghanistan

In recent days, Admiral Michael Mullen, the soon-to-retire chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has explicitly identified Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency as an active accomplice of al Qaeda's Waziristan landlord- the Haqqani network, led by Surajuddin Haqqani of the Taliban's Quetta Shura. The Haqqanis also form the main support system for Pakistan's Terik-e-Taliban, Laskar-e-Taiba and several other jihadist fronts.

The Haqqanis carried off the recent assault on the US embassy in Kabul - cell phone evidence shows that the attackers were in communication with the ISI before and during the attack - and were involved in last week's assassination of former Afghan president Berhanuddin Rabbani.

In a meticulously researched 53-page dossier proving Mullen's contention that Pakistan's ISI is "exporting" terror into Afghanistan and is using the Haqqani Taliban as an "arm" of its operations, Don Rassler and Vahid Brown of West Point's Combating Terrorism Center show just how preposterously ill-informed the US policy in Afghanistan has been over the past decade. From the outset, The Pakistanis have played America like a cheap fiddle:

"The scholarly and policy communities have misapprehended the precise local context for the development of global jihadism – a context to be found in the Haqqanisʹ Paktia and not Azzamʹs Peshawar – and have underestimated the Haqqani network’s critical role in sustaining cycles of violence far beyond its region of overt influence. In the wake of Usama bin Ladin’s death, the al‐Qa’ida organization may face an uncertain future, but the nexus of resources and relationships that the Haqqani network carefully assembled over the course of three decades and which helped to foster al‐Qa’ida’s rise remains firmly in place. Positioned between two unstable states, and operating beyond their effective sovereignty, the Haqqani network has long been mistaken for a local actor with largely local concerns. It is vital that the policy community correct the course that has taken this erroneous assessment for granted and recognize the Haqqani network’s region of refuge for what it has always been – the fountainhead of jihad."

Friday, September 23, 2011

Masumi Sakaue: Brian Boru's March.

Properly done:

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

This Is What 'Negotiating With The Taliban' Will Get You.

. . . Were it not for the rivers of blood that have already flowed from the peace-talks folly, it would be almost comical.

On August 18, British ambassador Sir William Patey, like a character straight out of a Monty Python upper-class twit sketch, tweeted a photograph of himself with Taliban envoy and former Guantanamo inmate Abdul Zaeef at an embassy dinner party, with this note: "Good to see former Talib Zaeef leading prayers - a small gesture of reconciliation." Hours later, a Taliban suicide attack on the British Council in Kabul had left eight people dead.

Only a week ago, Taliban bandits fired rocket-propelled grenades at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, hitting NATO's headquarters and several other buildings in an attack that killed seven Afghans. Cameron Munter, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, was then reduced to the indignity of admitting that the Taliban faction that carried out the job was working under the care and protection of the Pakistan military. He was then forced to stoop to publicly plead with Pakistan to maybe consider knocking it off.

During our conversation last spring, Rabbani made it plain that he saw a road to peace in Afghanistan, and that it would have to begin with national reconciliation among and between the country's Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, between Sunni and Shia, and so on. "Definitely, we want peace. We don't want war," he said. But if the road taken was to include powersharing with the Taliban, and if the purpose of reconciliation was intended to serve the vultures that gaze over Afghanistan from their perches in Islamabad and Tehran, it would mean a descent into the most savage kind of warfare.

Until Barack Obama's election, President Karzai's eccentric entreaties to his fellow Pashtun "sons of the soil" (Talibanism is almost wholly a Pashtun pathology) were tolerated by most Afghans, who are not Pashtun. The 43 nations contributing to the International Security Assistance Force in the country also put up with it. While the New Democratic Party persists in weirdly claiming credit for the idea, Canada had already gone the distance with it by helping bankroll a reintegration effort that disarmed tens of thousands of militia fighters among the country's Uzbek, Hazara, and Tajik minorities.

What Rabbani feared was that the Pashtun outlanders - the Talibs who refused to give up the gun - would be able to hold out until NATO would end up backing Karzai's survival-mode offers of power-sharing with Mullah Omar and the rest. That has now come to pass. . .Link

That's from my epitaph on the tomb of shaheed Ustad Berhanuddin Rabbani, in today's Ottawa Citizen. Rabanni, and my conversations with him, feature prominently in my book, Come From the Shadows, out next month.

I certainly hope that the "troops out and peace talks" crowd are pleased with themselves now. In Canada, we have been hectored and browbeaten and instructed to give all credit and praise for this racket to the late New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton, a man we have been told was prescient to the point of clairvoyance for being first out of the blocks to counsel the very course that has been unfolding in all its slaughterhouse glory these past two years in Afghanistan. Well, comrades, you want credit? Take it, by all means.

In the punditti echo-chamber today, the near-deafening line is that Rabbani's assassination will serve as a "blow" to the peace-talks gambit. In the New Yorker, Dexter Filkins reports that Rabbani's assassination by a Taliban emissary with a bomb in his turban should be "a blow to the very idea that reconciliation with the Taliban is possible—or even desirable." Our own Lauryn Oates pointed out the obvious idiocy two weeks before Rabbani's killing, as she has been doing ever since the faddish stupidity took hold of the idle rich of the NATO capitals some years ago.

In this morning's Independent, we read that "Haroun Mir, a political analyst in Kabul, said that the latest assassination was a further blow for peace." The headline on Alisa Rubin's account in today's New York Times: Assassination Deals Blow to Peace Process in Afghanistan. In the Financial Times, Rabbani's killing is said to be "another blow to the apparently slender prospects of negotiating an end to the fighting before Nato combat forces withdraw in 2014." In the Telegraph: "His death therefore can only be interpreted as an incisive blow to the peace process."

I am not holding my breath. In Washington, Paris, London and Toronto, the fantasists to whose eyes John Lennon's Imagine still brings puppy tears are not going to surrender their hold on the political culture just because some Muzzie they'd never heard of got blown up in Afghanistan yesterday.

The Afghan hope for national reconciliation in the form of a truth and reconciliation initiative and a law prohibiting warlords from holding office was dealt a death blow long ago. Rabbani's assassination may well serve as a fatal blow to the fiction that the NATO countries' capitulation to the Talibs and their co-jihadists and their financiers in Tehran, Rawalpindi and Islamabad is an "Afghan-led" process. Getting that lie behind us can't be a bad thing. But I have no reason to believe that the lies will end here. Neither will the absurd proposition that one can reason within what is in fact a fanatical revolt against reason itself.

When the Taliban fired rockets at the founding jirga of the High Peace Council in Kabul in June 2010, putting the fear of Allah into the 1,600 kalan nafar Karzai had there assembled, the message did not disturb anyone at their morning crepes in the Annex. The delusions did not end when the brave Afghan security chief Amrullah Saleh was obliged to resign by Afghan president Hamid Karzai's insistence that he go along with the lie that it was not the Taliban, it must have been someone else who fired the rockets and dispatched three whackjobs with suicide vests in the direction of the gathering.

The pantomime continued even though the Taliban stepped up their assassination campaign and went on to slaughter more Afghans last year than in any year since their regrouping in 2006. "The tide of war is receding," Barack Obama soothingly reassured his fan base, just when all the evidence had confirmed that the tide of war was rising like some kind of tsunami - and that is exactly what is to be expected when you give the Taliban every reason to fight and maim and terrorize their way to their best advantage at the 2014 troop-withdrawal abandonment Obama so helpfully announced in advance.

We heard the same murmured gee-golly doubts about the wisdom of proceeding with the peace-talks racket when the Taliban assassinated Syed Khili, the police chief in Kunduz. We heard the same timid suggestion that maybe the Taliban aren't really interested in peace when they butchered Daoud Daoud, the northern police commander, and when they killed Kandahar police chief Khan Mohammed, and when they killed Karzai adviser Jan Mohammad Khan, and even when they killed Karzai's gangland half-brother Ahmed Wali Karzai in Kandahar.

We heard the same dire whisperings of a "blow" to the so-called peace process when a Taliban suicide squad attacked the Intercontinental Hotel in June, and when a Taliban suicide attack left eight Afghans dead at the British Council in Kabul last month, and last week when they attacked the U.S. Embassy and NATO HQ in Kabul, killing seven Afghans.

And just what, exactly, is the point of persisting in the lie? What does the world's top one per cent in riches propose to leave the Afghan people, who still hover at the bottom one per cent? Even if it were possible for the handsome American president to "lead from behind" and conjure the terms of some squalid capitulation to the Taliban - that is now the West's definition of victory in Afghanistan, please note - what should we expect our brave Afghan friends to do then?

“They will go to the mountains to fight for their rights,” says the courageous Afghan MP Fawzi Koofi. Says Amrullah Saleh: "First, a massacre campaign will start. The human cost in this country will easily be up to two million people killed, at least."

Friday, September 09, 2011

Terrorism Works. Check Your Head.

My contribution to the remembrance of the September 11 atrocity, in today's Ottawa Citizen. A lot of people will not like it:

. . .It isn't a pleasant thing to say, and it will be badly out of tune with the sombre music we will all be hearing in commemoration of the Sept. 11 atrocity, but the thing about terrorism is that it works.

It will seem callous to notice that even though fewer than 3,000 people were killed that day in New York, at the Pentagon and in that field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, you would have thought that America had been attacked by monsters from outer space. But that's just one way terrorism works.

The shocking obscenity of it - the passenger planes plunging into sides of the Twin Towers, the seismic shock of the towers collapsing in a deafening mangle of smoke and corpses and twisted metal, the live-action spectacle of the Manhattan skyline vanishing behind a cloud of cinders and ash - that's just how it starts. The terror works its way down into the tectonics only afterwards.

It is only after the blunt trauma that the infection sets in. The propaganda of the deed carries on tormenting the collective unconscious with endless loops of digital footage captured by hundreds of little movie cameras, from right up close, from passing helicopters, from across the East River, in vivid, pornographic detail.

The toxins spread through the culture's lymphatic systems, and less than a decade after everyone was only nervously snickering at the very idea of a "war on terror" as something that was practically, theoretically, and even grammatically impossible, "peace with terror" is now broadly held to be entrenched in the very foundation of conventional wisdom. That's how terrorism works. It's in the way it frightens us to retreat into comforting lies and delusion.

The dissonance is such that in June, in announcing the details of his anticipated troop drawdown in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama could soothe Americans with the reassurance that "the tide of war is receding." It didn't matter that a United Nations report had just set out in melancholy detail exactly how fast it was rising. In Afghanistan, the Taliban and their co-jihadists slaughtered more than 2,000 Afghan civilians in 2010 - three quarters of all the Afghans who died in the conflict that year, and more dead Afghans than in any year since the Taliban's resurgence in 2006. . .

Terrorism works.

Just for bloody once, it would nice to see some evidence that the comfortable classes in Europe and North America were capable of mustering sufficient empathy and human decency to notice that the victims of terror are the living. They live in Kandahar, in Kabul, in Peshawar, in Quetta, and on and on and on.

It is not about the numbers. All it takes is one mentally handicapped boy to be convinced to put a bomb under his coat and walk into a crowded market. One.

It is not about the dead. They no longer cower in terror. They are the dead.

Mourn the dead. Fight for the living. No surrender.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

In Iran, an ecological disaster and an indigenous people's revolt.

“We are ready to lay down our lives,” their chant went. “We are all Babak’s soldiers.”

This is a very important story, co-authored by my pal Sohrab Ahmari and Peter Kohanloo, about a little-noticed "environmental" crisis in Iran. It's noteworthy that the mullahocracy reacts by insisting on a distinction between "the environment" and politics.

This is a false distinction that routinely encumbers debates about "environmental issues" in the world's democracies as well. Too often, environmentalists are happy to go along with it because they get their own little romper room where everything is nicely shade-grown, organic, and eco-this, and eco-that. Just for starters, this does not help aboriginal peoples, whose interests are especially vulnerable to ecological perturbation. Something very similar is at work in Iran, to the detriment of the democracy movement, and to the benefit of the regime.

Sohrab and Peter put it this way:

"Sadly, the ideology underlying Iran’s establishment reform movement too often mirrors the regime’s. In continuing to insist, for example, that democratic activists work within the framework of the current constitution – the same one that mandates absolute allegiance to a supreme religious 'guide' – the reformists fail to confront the structural flaws embedded in that corrupt document. Moreover, in morally situating their movement within the broad Islamist fold, Iran’s reformers betray the age-old yearning for an authentic and inclusive Iranian identity.

"That yearning is perhaps the democrats’ greatest strategic asset against the mullahs. Yet until activists successfully capitalize on it, radical Islamism – in all its forms – will have the last laugh in Iran. And the joke will be told at the expense of the country’s boundless human potential."

Read it all.

Post Gadaffi Libya: Islamist Gangsters And Racist Pogroms?

I've been an optimist about the Libyan revolution and was pleased to see that the rebels' call for NATO help was heard over the crescendo of leftish mewling, anti-interventionist shouting and right-wing isolationist alarum-raising. My optimism has been borne out.

But as my pal Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi quite rightly points out, not everything is so rosy, and if things go pear-shaped then NATO must be prepared to take "severe retaliation" against counterrevolutionary backsliding.

"In any event, it is worth recalling that the Iraqi Shi'a politicians and public figures who pushed for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 (e.g. Ahmad Chalabi, who is the first cousin of my aunt's husband in Baghdad) repeatedly affirmed that their sole interest was in creating a genuinely free and democratic Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime. Yet once in power through the interim Iraqi Governing Council, whether for reasons of ideological conviction or political expediency, they effectively turned the de-Baa'thification process into "de-Sunnification" in the hope of creating a majoritarian Shi'a democracy. This only aggravated sectarian tensions and culminated in the civil war around Baghdad in 2006."

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Taliban Talks: You Can't Say It's An Idea Whose Time Hasn't Come

Michael Petrou of Macleans magazine has very succinctly enumerated a few very simple questions about the proposition that Afghanistan's agony can be remedied by negotiating some sort of bargain with the Taliban - the "conventional wisdom" that Stephen Lewis was only the latest to admonish us to credit to the New Democrats' lately deceased party leader. Petrou also notices something flimsy about the edifice:

"Jack Layton, one of the first politicians in Canada to advocate dealing with the Taliban, cited Pakistan’s peace talks with the Taliban in that country as a model of what could be pursued in Afghanistan. But Pakistan’s experience was a disaster. The Taliban broke every deal they agreed to, using the resulting ceasefires to gather their forces and push closer toward Islamabad. The Pakistan government and military were eventually forced to confront them, but only after they had surrendered large swaths of Pakistani territory to women-hating decapitators. There’s little reason to believe Afghanistan’s Taliban are more trustworthy."

That last sentence is a figure of speech known as a meiosis, which is a kind of humorous understatement. It is a modest way of coping with the complete absence of any evidence that the Taliban have ever entered into any truce arrangement of any description anywhere except for the explicit purpose of breaking it later at their convenience. All the evidence shows that the Taliban have gone on to break every deal they've ever struck with anyone, and that includes the deals they struck with Lakhdar Brahimi while he was the UN's Special Envoy to them during their most savage and genocidal years in Afghanistan, between 1997 and 1999. Would it be offensive and inappropriate and too soon to mention that Brahimi was the very man the late Jack Layton proposed to lead the NDP's Taliban-talks racket in Kabul? I hope not.

I'd like to be open-minded about this, but if I am going to be told to believe in faeries, the evidence of crumbly dragonfly wings won't do. If I am asked to believe in unicorns, being shown the pointy end of a narwhal tusk will not be enough. On the other hand, if we are to be persistently admonished by the demands of hagiography to give the late Jack Layton every credit for being the first politician of any standing in North America to pinch from, present as his own invention and heartily espouse a negotiations formula composed by Aghan crypto-fascists, Khomeinists, Arab League racketeers and the dodgier generals of the Pakistani ISI, then maybe we should be generous enough to just do it.

Reasonable people may give the late Jack his due for such a distinction, but not everyone is going to go along with the fairytale that there was anything progressive, innovative, made-in-Canada or "in keeping with Canadian values" about any of it. In the labour of competing with Talibs for the slippery loyalties of the gangland bosses who make up his Pashtun power base, Hamid Karzai has been relying on it as his preferred work-avoidance mechanism since 2004. Long before Layton and the NDP's Paul Dewar put their licence plate on it, the Arab League's Mokhtar Lamani, best known for securing a deal between the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Christian rightists of the early Bush years to keep gay rights and birth control off the UN agenda, had nearly driven it into the ground. It's been a make-work project and an agenda-filler for every big-turbaned Khomeinist imam and every lowbrow jackass warlord from Persepolis to Peshawar since September 11, 2001.

Lauryn Oates suggests that it is high time we all agreed to get real about what's actually going on here. What do we imagine the Taliban want out of "peace" negotiations, anyway? "What the Taliban want, they already have: violence. They merely want more of it, with fewer restrictions. Foreign armies, democracy, humanitarian agencies – all of these are major nuisances when you wish to lay down Islamo-fascist law and brutally subdue a population. . . for the Taliban, violence is not a means to an end, but the end itself."

The Taliban have made it quite plain, by word and deed, that they have no intention of negotiating anything except the general outlines of the civilized world's capitulation to them and the forward-planning terms of NATO's surrender of the Afghan people to their custody.

Again to give credit where it's due, it's sure starting to seem like an idea whose time has come. At the confluence of some of the most powerful forces in the rich countries of the world, from the Tea Party mental cases of the US Republican Party to the Troops Out celebrities among Obama Democrats, to Chinese state bankers and Guardian editorialists, there is now more than enough motive and an open field of opportunity to sell Afghans back into slavery as cheaply and as quickly as appearances will allow. In the NATO capitals, to be politically sophisticated on the Afghan question is now merely a function of how talented you are at making the taxpayers feel good about themselves as they do so.

Monday, September 05, 2011

From Toronto To Mahallah, An Injury To One Is An Injury To All.

The cause of labour is the thing we're supposed to celebrate on Labour Day but there is damned little to celebrate and much to give us pause to reflect on the sorry state of the international workers' movement, and on the low calibre of the trade union leadership.

Canadian workers need look no further than labour's prospects within their own country to find an increasingly bleak scene. If such measurements as gross domestic product are anything to go by, Canada is one of the richest countries of the world. Why, then, is it now a rare thing to find a steady union job in the private sector that pays wages sufficient to raise a family, own a home and send the kids to university?

Labour conditions in Canada are intimately related to the struggles of workers around the world. The economy within which we all work is global in reach (where do you think your iPhone comes from?), the duties of solidarity extend without regard to national boundaries, and the old cause - workers' liberty, a fair day's pay for an honest day's work, freedom of speech and association, safe working conditions - was and remains a universal cause.

Among the many obstacles in the way of both effective union representation and global workers' solidarity, perhaps the most difficult to surmount is the the persistence of boss unions and "yellow dog" contracts. This is especially so in China, where the party-dominated All-China Federation of Trade Unions remains the only legal forum for workers' unity. The daunting question in China's case is whether the world's free trade unions should collaborate with the ACFTU and the many principled officers among its affiliates, or refuse to recognize the ACFTU's claims to legitimacy altogether.

Han Dongfang, director of the China Labour Bulletin, sets out the confounding dilemma: Chinese workers are increasingly turning to riots and wildcat strikes, but the discontent is effectively forcing the ACFTU and its affiliates to prove their worth for fear that Chinese workers will begin to bolt from the government-run edifice en masse. As the Fortune 500 companies increasingly invest in Chinese production, workers are reaping some benefits, but they're also suffering savage working conditions that the ACFTU has not only tolerated, but has actively encouraged.

This is why Chinese workers are taking matters into their own hands: "They are demanding better pay and working conditions and an end to the social injustice and discrimination they see around them every day. But with no real trade union that can articulate those demands, workers are left with little option but to take to the streets." Han is inclined to encourage free trade unions outside China to engage with the ACFTU as it becomes more responsive to the workers it claims to represent: "Constructive engagement with the ACFTU at this point in history could produce real benefits – not just for the union itself but for China's workers' movement."

Not so fast, cautions Tim Pringle of London's School of Oriental and African Studies: "The challenge for international union collaboration is that high-level collaboration – delegations, banquets, speeches – only endorses the status quo. The focus of collaboration needs to be at the grassroots level, which has been pioneered by the International Labour Organization and needs to be taken up by the global union federations."

In Iran, there's little to debate along these lines. The pitiless regime and its scab union apparatus will tolerate no dissent, and certainly no independent trade unions. Wages and working conditions under the Khomeinist tyranny continue to plummet, and if you try to organize a real union, you'll be counting yourself lucky if all that happens is you find yourself subjected to arbitrary imprisonment and torture.

Canada's labour movement has become an increasingly public-sector affair, a means by which contractual relations between the public's institutions and civil servants are mediated and arbitrated. To the dismay of Canadian trade unionists who properly expect higher standards of the movement, the commitments Canadian labour centrals make to international solidarity rarely move beyond the occasional and embarrassing eruptions of fashionable Israel-bashing and union-sponsored holiday-making in Cuba.

This is a terrible shame. Imagine the use Canadian trade unions could be making of themselves in the context of the revolutionary developments underway in the "Arab spring." Were it not for the persistent bravery of Egypt's textile workers' unions, it could well be that Hosni Mubarek would still be top dog in Egypt. Whatever the meagre fruits the Egyptian uprising has been shown to yield so far, a dismantling of the country's corrupt boss-union complex is a huge leap forward, and its demise is well underway. Credit for this victory goes to the fiercely independent union leadership in Mahallah, whose strikes set the stage for the January 25 uprising. Just around the corner: the 22,000 workers at Mahallah's Egypt Weaving and Textile Company are hitting the bricks for an "open-ended strike" later this week.

In Bahrain, the regime continues its savage repression of democrats and reformers, with particularly cruel attention paid to sacking, jailing and persecuting trade union activists. The General Federation of Bahraini Trade Unions reports that the regime's witch hunts have caused more than 2,000 union activists and rank-and-filers to be summarily dismissed from their jobs.“The Bahrain government is continuing its campaign of punitive action against workers who have simply exercised their rights under international law, causing real suffering to them and their families," reports the International Trade Union Confederation's general secretary, Sharan Burrow.

One would think that Egyptians and Bahrainis who would look to their Canadian brothers and sisters for support might be pleased to find that a former Canadian Arab Federation bigshot is comfortably ensconced as a vice-president of the Canadian Labour Congress. Alas, Ali Mallah has failed to have given so much as an inkling of a damn about our Arab brothers and sisters, being instead too busy giving active courage and comfort to the Islamist enemies of Arab trade unionists and in betraying the Israeli labour federation Hisdatrut with his demands for a boycott of all the products of Israeli workers' labours.

Closer to home, the Toronto Workers' Action Centre is doing necessary and important work and deserves greater union support. Wage theft is a crime. Criminals deserve to go to jail. Workers deserve their wages, and we all deserve unions that make us strong.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

A Most Illuminating And Amusing Censor-Dodge On Iranian State Television.

Conniptions of umbrage have broken out across the Khomeinist punditocracy after a too-candid live television interview slipped onto Iran's national airwaves from Tehran, and on one of regime's most-watched propaganda stations no less. Fury followed the brave Afghan journalist Fazolrahman Oria's appearance, after the news program's producer had somehow mistaken Oria for a Khomeinist Afghan patsy. Big mistake.

When the interviewer questioned Oria about the role Afghanistan's neighbors might play in his country's security, Oria quite plainly and directly spoke the truth: "Under the current conditions, in which the entire globe has become a small village, Afghanistan is only a small house in this village. Our neighbors, including Iran and Pakistan, have never wanted and still do not want Afghanistan to become a democracy, to have a popular political system accepted by its people. Iran and Pakistan would like instability in Afghanistan, and over the past ten years, and even the past 30 years, Iran's intervention has been destructive to Afghanistan's internal affairs. That is why Afghanistan's neighbors, including Iran and Pakistan, cannot play a role in the peace and security of Afghanistan."


Oria's interviewer responds: "Of course, Mr. Oria, this is your personal view. I agree with you regarding Pakistan, but not Iran." Oria wasn't having any of that backchat, but he remained polite: "I respect your opinion about Iran, but Iran does not have friendly relations with any of its neighbors, and is in deep isolation and crisis."

At this point, the interview, which was to last 20 minutes, came to a sudden and expeditious conclusion, about two minutes in.

Talking later with Deutsche Welle, Oria stuck by his guns, and without too much attention to politeness. He told Deutsche Welle: "Iran and Pakistan are the enemies of the people of Afghanistan."

But, Herr Oria, whatever might you mean?

"I am an Afghan and live in Afghanistan. I am a completely independent journalist. I see Iran's interference in Afghanistan's cultural, political, military and intelligence affairs on a daily basis."

For our Dari/Farsi-speaking visitors:

Two Very Quiet Coups.

In Kabul today, the spectacle of armed soldiers barring nine MPs from taking their seats in the Wolesi Jirga marks the unseemly denouement of a protracted constitutional struggle between the presidential palace and the Afghan parliament, between Hamid Karzai and the Electoral Complaints Commission, between the rule of the khan and the rule of law. The khan won. Meanwhile, in Washington, a long and ugly policy war among and between the most senior White House, State Department and Pentagon personalities involved in the Afghanistan file has run its course. The American denouement: Joe Biden won.

The dynamics behind these two slow and quiet coups are intimately related, and although not widely noticed, their synergies have been in plain view for some long while.

In Washington, Afghanistan's last best partner in the cause of a sovereign and democratic Afghan republic was the solidly anti-capitulation General Stanley McChrystal. When the White House defenestrated McChrystal last June, Barack Obama, who is easily the most charming American president since JFK, effortlessly convinced his citizens that McChrystal's ouster was the unfortunate but necessary consequence of - wait for it - some saucy comments the general and his clerks had made to a Rolling Stone correspondent, in a bar, in Paris. The endgame of that caper is that now, within the beltway, Afghanistan's fate has fallen to Biden, easily the dumbest American vice-president since Dan Quayle. Or maybe Spiro Agnew. Your call.

It was just days before McChrystal was banished from command in Washington last summer that Hamid Karzai took the opportunity to rid himself of McChrystal's closest Afghan counterpart, Amrullah Saleh. The battle-hardened and fiercely anti-capitulation chief of Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security was NATO's last best partner in the cause of a Taliban-free Afghan future. Karzai, in his own uniquely charming, robe-swishing and dandy-hat-wearing way, managed to convince a lot of people who should have known better that Saleh had to go because - wait for it - he had failed to prevent a Taliban bomb from landing in the vicinity of Karzai's laughing-stock "peace jirga" in Kabul.

I well remember the morning in Kabul when news broke that Saleh was gone. The sky was filled with helicopters. Squads of hard boys from the various branches of the Afghan National Security Forces were racing around the streets in their armoured trucks. The sharp tang of foreboding hung in the air. That evening I gathered with a crowd of sombre Afghan journalists to watch Saleh's press conference on television. Technically, Saleh had resigned, and when one of Karzai's officials appeared on screen to contradict Saleh and repeat the official Karzai line that it could not have been the dear brothers of the Taliban who had attacked the jirga, it must have been someone else, the room erupted in laughter.

It helps to cleave to a sense of humour about it all. History will tend to repeat itself as farce. For all the agonies that America's fiscal and economic predicament must necessarily bring to bear upon the U.S. engagement in Afghanistan, can we not at least notice the farce and get real for once about where all the money goes? How is it possible that Afghanistan's annual gross domestic product, which trundled along at less than $2 billion during the half-century preceding 2001, is now still less than $15 billion in its entirety a decade after September 11, and yet Biden and his entourage manage to get away with telling Americans that those ungrateful Afghans are costing the U.S. treasury more than $100 billion a year?

Without dwelling on such details as the $10 billion the U.S. military spends annually on air conditioning for itself in Afghanistan, or its lavish payments to such U.S. contractors as KBR ($13.1 billion between 2007 and 2009), or the shell-game costs of President Obama's civilian surge in the near-tripling to 1,300 of the number of senior USAid bureaucrats in Afghanistan whose annual costs to the U.S treasury, factoring in their security details, each amount to roughly $500,000 a year, or the costs of the innumerable low-level USAid contractors who bill out at $900 a day, enough to pay half the annual salary of an Afghan schoolteacher (gosh, these numbers do add up), here's a modest proposal.

Dear Joe:

Since your policy consists of putting a shiv into the ribs of the entire democratic project in Afghanistan anyway, why not just take your $100 billion a year and go home? Since you're solely concerned with American "security interests" in Afghanistan, you could simply re-invest a fraction of that amount, say 15 per cent, in the anti-Taliban forces of Amrullah Saleh, the Basej-e-Melli, Abdullah Abdullah, and the rest. An educated guess would have Saleh's crowd handily running through the Taliban like wolves through flocks of sheep and leaving little but bones within a year or two, and pleased to be taking the battle into Peshawar and straight down into Quetta if needs be. Their tactics would not likely satisfy the Marquess of Queensberry, mind you, but all you'd have to worry about in that regard is the employment of sufficient staff in Washington to field complaint calls from Code Pink and Dennis Kucinich.

Downside: You and the sinister political tendency you represent would have to manage without the dodge of that sniggering, eye-rolling and smartass advantage you've enjoyed in deconstructing the folly of the very idea of a "war on terror." Upside: You will no longer be kept awake at night wondering when the penny will drop and everyone will finally notice that the preposterous idea of negotiating peace and reconciliation with terror is a dumber and greater folly, by at least an order of magnitude.

One last quick observation.

Anyone who thinks the "war in Afghanistan" is ending just because that's what the handsome American president says, do note that in the Washington Post story reporting today's events in Kabul, Ahmad Behzad, the Afghan parliament's deputy speaker, is quoted thus: "With the support of the people, we will use political and civil means to stand against the coup of Mr. Karzai, and this coup will be doomed.” Last summer in Kabul I spent an illuminating afternoon with Behzad. He's a bright young legislator from Herat, and only one of several senior Afghan democrats I met (and whose prescience is presented in my forthcoming book) who were quite candid in telling me on the record that should "political and civil means" fail, the response to any American-induced capitulation to the dark forces of reaction besieging Afghanistan will require resort to arms.

Should it come to that cataclysm, no matter which side wins, the post-apocalyptic landscape will not feature a victor that could be called, no matter how far you'd want to bend the euphemism, an "American ally." Here's Behzad's assessment of what Biden's troops-out and peace-talks policy had already accomplished, by last December, in Afghanistan:

"The consequences of talks and negotiations with the terrorist groups, including the Taliban, has been devastating and damaging. First, it has encouraged the Taliban. With the proposition of this motto, Taliban revived and planned to exert more pressure on the government of Afghanistan and the foreign forces to gain better and bigger privileges. That part of the society who no more had any hope for the Taliban gained hopes that this group will again emerge in the political scene. Third, the government of Afghanistan is trying to give Taliban privileges by releasing the Taliban captives who were caught in fights against the political system of Afghanistan. It has given Taliban more supremacy as they have again joined their ranks."

As the last nine months have proved with a preponderance of the most unimpeachably gruesome evidence, events have played out exactly in the way Behzad anticipated.

Nice work, Joe.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Long Live The Revolution.

In Havana, the Cuban regime has announced that it is withdrawing its diplomatic mission in Libya and it will refuse to recognize the revolutionary government in Tripoli. In Paris, the 60-nation "Friends of Libya" group has released billions of dollars in frozen funds for humanitarian and reconstruction needs. Meanwhile, at the bottom of the sea, "Lenin waits for Islamists on the ashheap of history":

And The Award For Pompous, Preening Pop-Culture Douchebag of The Decade Goes To. . .

Julian Assange, the Wikileaks archgeek, radical-chic avatar, the Chinese Communist Party's nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, Michael Moore's joint-venturer, absconding debtor, American celebrity pornographer Larry Flynt's fair-haired boy, darling of Cindy Sheehan, Medea Benjamin, Bianca Jagger, and of Heather Mallick, for "lo, he hath made truthful information available unto citizens of the planet."

Lo, Assange hath now been found to have released more than 1,000 cables outing individual political activists - several thousand tagged as sources who could be placed in danger - and more than 150 cables outing whistleblowers, people persecuted by their governments, and victims of sex crimes.

Such is his courage in speaking truth to power that Assange had already prompted Zimbabwe's chief executioner to set up a commission to pursue treason charges against the dissidents so bravely outed by Wikileaks. Assange had already equipped the Cuban regime with evidences to mount investigations of that poor country's subversive youth. In the police state of Belarus, where hundreds of journalists and opposition activists were already languishing in prison, Assange's official "gatekeeper," a holocaust-denying antisemite, was happy to meet with officials of the regime after boasting of being in possession of documents proving ties between Belarussian democrats and the foul American imperialist aggressor.

To his grovelling fan base, none of this mattered a damn: Hands off he who sticks it to the man! Neither was the fawning glitterati bothered in the least by such such small matters as the pleadings of Amnesty International, the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, the Open Society Institute, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and the Kabul office of the International Crisis Group, each of which begged Assange to desist from recklessly endangering the lives of scores of the most brave and innocent of our Afghan comrades. All they got for their trouble was a warning from Assange that if they didn't shut their gobs: "I shall issue a press release."

Now, Assange's enablers in the mainstream media, the corporations Assange's supporters relied upon to cloak their hero in a patina of muckraking legitimacy, are frantically bailing. In an unprecedented joint statement issued by the Guardian, the New York Times, El Pais, Der Speigel and Le Monde, we read: "We deplore the decision of Wikileaks to publish the unredacted state department cables, which may put sources at risk. . . We cannot defend the needless publication of the complete data – indeed, we are united in condemning it. The decision to publish by Julian Assange was his, and his alone."

Fair enough. Should death come to any one of the innocents, the brave dissidents, the journalists and rape victims and democrats to have been exposed by this vulgar spectacle of onanistic avante-garde exhibitionism, perhaps a not-guilty plea to the charge of accessory to murder might have some merit. Count yourself lucky. Should anything so remotely absurd as "our own Arab spring" of celebrated elite Senate page fantasy come to pass, you'd be swinging from the gallows. The lot of you.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Warsaw Ghetto, January 1943. Homs, Syria, August 2011: "NATO must help us."

Because the Baathist regime has closed Syria to the outside world, it has been nearly impossible to discern anything but the most opaque picture of the popular uprising underway in the country. All that can be said with any certainty is that the rebellion has been almost wholly non-violent, and the Baathist reaction has been savagely violent. At long last we have a first-hand account, in this alarming report from the journalist Wolfgang Bauer, now published in Zeit, just returned from Homs. The regime of Bashar al-Assad is waging an all-out war on the Syrian people.

In Homs, the streets are now shooting ranges. The authorities have converted 25 schools and warehouses into prisons. Tanks are stationed at intersections. The city's residents have barricaded their lanes with uprooted electricity poles and garbage bins; at night they switch off the street lights to make it harder for government snipers to take aim. Streaks of red gunfire and artillery light up the night sky as intelligence agents roam hospital corridors and kill suspected protestors in their beds - doctors all over the country have established underground hospitals and clandestine pharmacies in apartments. Every morning, the city tenses up. Soldiers travel in buses to take up their positions. Demonstrators fill the streets, but the protests last a few minutes before the army begins firing. In Homs, nearly half the people are Sunni, a fifth are Alawites, and the rest are Christians, Yazidi and Zaidi. Solidarity is breaking down. The cracks between the communities are widening each day.

"Homs now resembles Beirut in the 1980s, divided along ethnic and religious lines where it’s too dangerous for people to travel in a particular direction because they will be shot if they do so," Bauer reports. The conditions also present the most eerie and chilling echo of Warsaw, 1943.

Armed secret police are moving from door to door. Now and again, a volley of gunshots shatters the silence in the streets. Ahmed, who is in his mid-50s, steps out of his home straight-backed to conceal his fear. “They smell it,” he says. “They’re trained for that.” As Ahmed steps out, I, the visitor from abroad, flee to the back rooms of the apartment. Ahmed and Faten’s house is my hideout. The family elders have discussed and decided that they’ve decided to risk everything for me, their freedom and their lives so that this story can be written. “You must report!” Ahmed had said. “The world must know what’s happening in our city!”

A resistance leader asks: “What differentiates us from Benghazi, from Libya?” There appears to be the makings of a tragic split between the local resistance committees and the leaders of Syria's democratic opposition front, mobilizing outside the country. About those leaders, another rebel leader says: “They all sleep safely in their beds. We request NATO help us!”

As Kate Seelye notices: "If they are to be convinced otherwise, they will need to see the establishment of a broad-based opposition leadership whose public face is comprises respected dissidents living in exile, like Ghalioun, who reject armed struggle to achieve their aims."

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Liberalism's Archdruid, Scourge of Islamism & Its Apologists, Glances Over His Shoulder.

The progressive thinkers from Muslim backgrounds, the people who have chosen to retain their religious identity and the people who have chosen to foreswear it, the people who have experienced for themselves the atmosphere of the Muslim Brotherhood and its fraternal organizations, the jihadis who have contemplated their course in life and have elected to become thoughtful and articulate exjihadis, the people who know what it is to be locked in an Egyptian jail, the people who find no difficulty in invoking in a single breath their own experiences and the principles of John Stuart Mill, the people who know how to distinguish a genuine feminism from the Islamist variety—these people, the Muslim liberals (or liberal ex-Muslims, as the case may be), will turn out to be the counterparts of the Soviet and Eastern Bloc dissidents. All the efforts of American commandos and drones notwithstanding, they are the ones who will bring the movement down.

. . .In the visible zones, the Arab Spring has aroused in the Western countries almost none of the enthusiasm that greeted its Eastern Bloc antecedent. We will lift a pinky. In Syria, perhaps not even that much. Is it true that, militarily, we and our allies are stretched to the limit, or beyond, or worse? It must be true. The news from different fronts aches the heart. Still, the longer the tyrants of Libya and Syria go on murdering their own pehttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifople, the more disastrous for everyone, and not just their own people. I know that President Obama has other problems. But why he is so reluctant to try to influence the international mood? Once upon a time, huge crowds of Germans assembled to hear him speak. Today even his oratory leads from behind. Perhaps the Obama administration’s hard-nosed experts on the Middle East are instructing the president that liberalism is a doomed cause. . .

Magisterial. You'll want to put your feet up.

If I have come under any major intellectual influences at all these past few years, or if there are ideas that have in any way guided me in my own pedestrian inquiries, I would have to name Paul Berman and the ideas I encountered in two of his books, Power and the Idealists and Terror and Liberalism.

Pants On Fire.

This is going to be an interesting discussion. Good for Jacqueline Windh for kicking it off, and I should thank her for asking me to get it going.

Another way to think about the contested boundaries between fiction and non-fiction is as fields and pastures separated by tangles and willow and blackthorn, such that the old stone walls are wholly occluded. You know the wall is in there somewhere, but you don't quite know where, and you can admit as much and even thrash around in the hedgerows looking for it, and you can deliberately trespass, but you can't expect the reader to pretend that trespassing is not what you're doing. The hard stone wall is there, somewhere, and some poor gadgies built it either of their own volition or on someone's orders, sometime, and to pretend there are no walls is to be blithe about the distinctions between graveyards and barley fields, between a poor man's gort and a landlord's garden. It's a kind of self-indulgence unavailable to people who toil between the walls in the actually-existing fields of the world, and who write about and sing about fields and walls that are themselves great works of monumental art. I confess that my predispositions cause me to find any disregard for actually-existing people and fields and songs to be contemptible.

Timothy Garton Ash gets it. Facts are subversive.