The “war on terror”, RIP

Have you heard? The war is over! The “Global War on Terror,” that is. At least for speechwriters at the Defense Department:

    The end of the Global War on Terror — or at least the use of that phrase — has been codified at the Pentagon. Reports that the phrase was being retired have been circulating for some time amongst senior administration officials, and this morning speechwriters and other staff were notified via this e-mail to use “Overseas Contingency Operation” instead.

So this means an end to preemptive strikes against “gathering threats”, no more hard slogging on the “central fronts” (either Afghanistan or Iraq), a quick resolution to that whole Guantanomo problem, and no more need for the president to worry about what authorities he has to detain “enemy combatants”, or whatever you want to call them? Well, no, no, no, and no. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — Many years ago I used to live close to a notoriously accident-prone nuclear reactor: Windscale. The name became synonymous with environmental peril. The British government’s answer to the problem was to change the name. Windscale became Sellafield. Of course, that didn’t resolve any of the environmental problems and within a few years Sellafield had become as toxic a name as Windscale.

So, now we have the Obama administration replacing a comic book name — war on terror — with an Orwellian piece of newspeak: Overseas Contingency Operation….

Will scenes like this now follow?

An immaculately uniformed military officer comes to your door. “It is with my deepest regret that I have to inform you that your son was just killed while serving his country in the Overseas Contingency Operation…”


“OK. I’ll speak English, off the record. Your son died in a foreign land fighting for a cause he didn’t understand against an enemy he never saw. If you want to know whether he and we wasted his life, I really don’t know the answer.”

Labor joins Likud in Israel’s unlikely new government

In a stormy meeting of Israel’s Labor party on Tuesday night, Ehud Barak dragged his party into joining a rightwing coalition government led by Likud’s Benyamin Netanyahu. With Labor on board, Netanyahu’s coalition, stitched together with an array of ultra-orthodox and nationalist parties, now has a majority in the 120-seat Knesset. The hawkish Likud leader is likely to be sworn in as prime minister on Tuesday, ushering out his disgraced predecessor, Ehud Olmert, who faces possible charges of corruption.

Having Barak, currently defense minister, at his side will give Netanyahu a veneer of international respectability. The Obama Administration and European capitals are horrified that the other members of Netanyahu’s coalition oppose the idea of Palestinian statehood. (See pictures of heartbreak in the Middle East.)

Convincing Laborites to join ranks with their longtime ideological rivals on the right was a tough sell for Barak. During his speech at the party convention in Tel Aviv, Barak’s voice sounded squeaky and defensive. He called for “national responsibility”, but this was dismissed by booing younger cadres as rank opportunism — Barak wanting to hanging onto his berth as defense minister at the expense of his party’s ideals and character. As Labor party secretary Eitan Cabel told TIME: “The ambitions of Barak are killing the Labor party, and I told him that.” [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — The Wall Street Journal provides a useful graphic showing how this coalition has been formed and how weak it is. But have no doubt, Washington, the Israel lobby, and The Quartet will all be breathing a sigh of relief.

Obama might be saying that the status quo is untenable, but nothing would have made that more undeniably obvious than the creation of an unadulterated right-wing Israeli government. Instead, Ehud Barak, unable to face the prospect of drifting off into the political wilderness, is going to provide cover to all those who want to pretend that the peace process is not well and truly dead.

Benjamin Netanyahu didn’t hesitate to seize the moment by declaring that he is a “partner for peace” — right after he had cut a secret deal with Avigdor Lieberman on expanding settlements. Haaretz reported:

    The plan is for the West Bank settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim to build 3000 new housing units on the territory, which stretches between it and Jerusalem, the source was quoted as saying.
    Construction in the area is particularly sensitive because it would create contiguity between the settlement and the capital, which in turn would prevent Palestinian construction between East Jerusalem and Ramallah.
    This would also make it difficult to reach agreement between Israel and the Palestinians on the question of permanent borders.

If Obama really believes that the status quo is untenable then it’s up to him to demonstrate that he means what he says.

Netanyahu is clearly ready to get straight back to business as usual: talking peace, building settlements.

Postcard from Pipelineistan

What happens on the immense battlefield for the control of Eurasia will provide the ultimate plot line in the tumultuous rush towards a new, polycentric world order, also known as the New Great Game.

Our good ol’ friend the nonsensical “Global War on Terror,” which the Pentagon has slyly rebranded “the Long War,” sports a far more important, if half-hidden, twin — a global energy war. I like to think of it as the Liquid War, because its bloodstream is the pipelines that crisscross the potential imperial battlefields of the planet. Put another way, if its crucial embattled frontier these days is the Caspian Basin, the whole of Eurasia is its chessboard. Think of it, geographically, as Pipelineistan.

All geopolitical junkies need a fix. Since the second half of the 1990s, I’ve been hooked on pipelines. I’ve crossed the Caspian in an Azeri cargo ship just to follow the $4 billion Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline, better known in this chess game by its acronym, BTC, through the Caucasus. (Oh, by the way, the map of Pipelineistan is chicken-scratched with acronyms, so get used to them!) [continued…]

Handling of ‘state secrets’ at issue

Civil liberties advocates are accusing the Obama administration of forsaking campaign rhetoric and adopting the same expansive arguments that his predecessor used to cloak some of the most sensitive intelligence-gathering programs of the Bush White House.

The first signs have come just weeks into the new administration, in a case filed by an Oregon charity suspected of funding terrorism. President Obama’s Justice Department not only sought to dismiss the lawsuit by arguing that it implicated “state secrets,” but also escalated the standoff — proposing that government lawyers might take classified documents from the court’s custody to keep the charity’s representatives from reviewing them.

The suit by the al-Haramain Islamic Foundation has proceeded further than any other in challenging the use of warrantless wiretaps, threatening to expose the inner workings of that program. It is the second time the new Justice Department has followed its predecessors in claiming the state-secrets privilege, which would allow the government to exclude evidence in a civil case on grounds that it jeopardizes national security. [continued…]

Who wants an Afghan ‘prime minister’?

This weekend, the people of Kabul celebrated the Persian new year. They thronged the lake below the Bala Hissar citadel, took picnics up to the old Kabul city walls and almost overwhelmed the ticket sellers at the gates of the gardens of Babur. By 2pm on Saturday, 15,000 visitors had paid a few Afghanis to stroll among the newly restored trees, paths and pavillions of the park. While walking from the lake to the gardens, the only other foreigners I saw were flying Black Hawk helicopters several hundred feet above. For a brief moment, there was a sight of Afghanistan without foreigners.

It is unlikely that President Obama was thinking about Babur’s gardens when he was talking about an “exit strategy” from Afghanistan. He too would no doubt like to see an Afghanistan without foreigners – other than tourists, mineral prosepctors, businessmen and perhaps, a few hundred aircrews and pilots living a couple of discreet bases. He is not the only one talking about looking for the way out. General David McKiernan, when I spoke to him in his headquarters in Kabul ten days ago, spoke of three to five years before a “tipping point” that might lead to an eventual departure, but that he insisted was the aim. The American ambassador, Bill Wood, said the same, balancing a vocal commitment to a long-term presence with a commitment to leave as soon as the task in Afghanistan had been achieved.

Obama gave another hint of how that task has been downsized in recent months – “relooked”, in McKiernan’s words – when he reminded the American people of their original aim in Afghanistan: that the country is never again a sanctuary for al-Qaeda. Nation-building has been parked for the moment unless it is absolutely essential to achieving the new, more limited aims. [continued…]

U.S. troops confront disciplined, wily, mobile Afghan insurgents

When the young American lieutenant and his 14 soldiers glanced up at the rock face, they thought that the major who’d planned the mission must have been kidding.

Elijah Carlson, a strapping, blue-eyed Southern Californian and a self-proclaimed “gun nut,” gripped the crumbling rock, tugged backward by 90-pounds of ammunition and gear. “If we fall back, we are dead!” he whispered to Lt. Jake Kerr, the platoon leader.

In seconds, a rock shot loose beneath one soldier’s boot and dropped 20 feet onto another soldier below, sending him tumbling 15 feet to the base and cracking his bulletproof side plate.

What transpired over the next 16 hours was the kind of clash that’s led Kerr’s commanders in the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, based at Fort Drum, N.Y., to conclude that there’s no “victory” waiting around the next bend in Afghanistan, only a relentless struggle with a fleet-footed, clever enemy. For Kerr, a recent West Point graduate who specialized in counterinsurgency, it was the first face-off with an often-elusive opponent and a case study in the complex politics of rural Afghanistan. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — Rural Afghanistan? Three-quarters of Afghanistan’s population live outside urban areas. Rural Afghanistan is Afghanistan.

U.S. weighs Sharif as partner in Pakistan

The opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif, sealed his place as the most popular politician in Pakistan this month when he defied his house detention and led a triumphant protest that forced the government to restore the country’s chief justice.

Now, as the Obama administration completes its review of strategy toward the region this week, his sudden ascent has raised an urgent question: Can Mr. Sharif, 59, a populist politician close to Islamic parties, be a reliable partner? Or will he use his popular support to blunt the military’s already fitful campaign against the insurgency of the Taliban and Al Qaeda?

A former two-time prime minister, Mr. Sharif once pressed for Islamic law for Pakistan, tested a nuclear bomb and was accused by his opponents of undemocratic behavior during his tenure in the late 1990s. [continued…]

Next foreign crisis could be next door

Mexico’s economy is being dragged down by the recession to the north. American addicts have turned Mexico into a drug superhighway, and its police and soldiers are under assault from American guns. Nafta promised 15 years ago that Mexican trucks would be allowed on American roads, but Congress said they were unsafe.

United States-Mexican relations are in the midst of what can be described as a neighborly feud, one that stretches along a lengthy shared fence. That border fence, which has become a wall in some places, is another irritant.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrives in Mexico on Wednesday for what will be the first in a parade of visits by top administration officials, including President Obama himself next month, to try to head off a major foreign policy crisis close to home. They will find a country mired in a deepening slump, miffed by signs of protectionism in its largest trading partner, and torn apart by a drug war for which many in Mexico blame customers in the United States. [continued…]

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