Each of the photos below comes from a “best of…” collection. Click on each picture to see the source.
I have lived my entire adult life under occupation, with Israelis holding ultimate control over my movement and daily life.
When young Israeli police officers force me to sit on the cold ground and soldiers beat me during a peaceful protest, I smolder. No human being should be compelled to sit on the ground while exercising rights taken for granted throughout the West.
It is with deepening concern that I recognize the Obama administration is not yet capable of standing up to Israel and the pro-Israel lobby. Our dream of freedom is being crushed under the weight of immovable and constantly expanding Israeli settlements.
Days ago, the State Department spokesman, Ian Kelly, managed only to term such illegal building “dismaying.” The Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, stands up and walks out on the U.S. envoy, George Mitchell, every time the American envoy mentions East Jerusalem.
And Javier Solana, just prior to completing his stint as European Union foreign policy chief, claimed Palestinian moves toward statehood “have to be done with time, with calm, in an appropriate moment.” He adds: “I don’t think today is the moment to talk about that.”
When, precisely, is a good time for Palestinian freedom? I call on Mr. Solana’s replacement, Catherine Ashton, to take concrete actions to press for Palestinian freedom rather than postpone it.
If Israel insists on hewing to antiquated notions of determining the date of another people’s freedom then it is incumbent on Palestinians to organize ourselves and highlight the moral repugnance of such an outlook.
Through decades of occupation and dispossession, 90 percent of the Palestinian struggle has been nonviolent, with the vast majority of Palestinians supporting this method of struggle. Today, growing numbers of Palestinians are participating in organized nonviolent resistance.
In the face of European and American inaction, it is crucial that we continue to revive our culture of collective activism by vigorously and nonviolently resisting Israel’s domination over us. [continued…]
Al Qaeda’s main focus is harming the United States and Europe, but there hasn’t been a successful attack in these places directly commanded by Osama bin Laden and company since 9/11. The American invasion of Afghanistan devastated Al Qaeda’s core of top personnel and its training camps. In a recent briefing to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Marc Sageman, a former C.I.A. case officer, said that recent history “refutes claims by some heads of the intelligence community that all Islamist plots in the West can be traced back to the Afghan-Pakistani border.” The real threat is homegrown youths who gain inspiration from Osama bin Laden but little else beyond an occasional self-financed spell at a degraded Qaeda-linked training facility.
The 2003 invasion of Iraq encouraged many of these local plots, including the train bombings in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005. In their aftermaths, European law and security forces stopped plots from coming to fruition by stepping up coordination and tracking links among local extremists, their friends and friends of friends, while also improving relations with young Muslim immigrants through community outreach. Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have taken similar steps.
Now we need to bring this perspective to Afghanistan and Pakistan — one that is smart about cultures, customs and connections. The present policy of focusing on troop strength and drones, and trying to win over people by improving their lives with Western-style aid programs, only continues a long history of foreign involvement and failure. Reading a thousand years of Arab and Muslim history would show little in the way of patterns that would have helped to predict 9/11, but our predicament in Afghanistan rhymes with the past like a limerick.
A key factor helping the Taliban is the moral outrage of the Pashtun tribes against those who deny them autonomy, including a right to bear arms to defend their tribal code, known as Pashtunwali. Its sacred tenets include protecting women’s purity (namus), the right to personal revenge (badal), the sanctity of the guest (melmastia) and sanctuary (nanawateh). Among all Pashtun tribes, inheritance, wealth, social prestige and political status accrue through the father’s line.
This social structure means that there can be no suspicion that the male pedigree (often traceable in lineages spanning centuries) is “corrupted” by doubtful paternity. Thus, revenge for sexual misbehavior (rape, adultery, abduction) warrants killing seven members of the offending group and often the “offending” woman. Yet hospitality trumps vengeance: if a group accepts a guest, all must honor him, even if prior grounds justify revenge. That’s one reason American offers of millions for betraying Osama bin Laden fail.
Afghan hill societies have withstood centuries of would-be conquests by keeping order with Pashtunwali in the absence of central authority. When seemingly intractable conflicts arise, rival parties convene councils, or jirgas, of elders and third parties to seek solutions through consensus.
After 9/11, the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, assembled a council of clerics to judge his claim that Mr. bin Laden was the country’s guest and could not be surrendered. The clerics countered that because a guest should not cause his host problems, Mr. bin Laden should leave. But instead of keeping pressure on the Taliban to resolve the issue in ways they could live with, the United States ridiculed their deliberation and bombed them into a closer alliance with Al Qaeda. Pakistani Pashtuns then offered to help out their Afghan brethren.
American-sponsored “reconciliation” efforts between the Afghan government and the Taliban may be fatally flawed if they include demands that Pashtun hill tribes give up their arms and support a Constitution that values Western-inspired rights and judicial institutions over traditions that have sustained the tribes against all enemies.
The secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and the special envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke, suggest that victory in Afghanistan is possible if the Taliban who pursue self-interest rather than ideology can be co-opted with material incentives. But as the veteran war reporter Jason Burke of The Observer of London told me: “Today, the logical thing for the Pashtun conservatives is to stop fighting and get rich through narcotics or Western aid, the latter being much lower risk. But many won’t sell out.”
Why? In part because outsiders who ignore local group dynamics tend to ride roughshod over values they don’t grasp. My research with colleagues on group conflict in India, Indonesia, Iran, Morocco, Pakistan and the Palestinian territories found that helping to improve lives materially does little to reduce support for violence, and can even increase it if people feel such help compromises their most cherished values.
The original alliance between the Taliban and Al Qaeda was largely one of convenience between a poverty-stricken national movement and a transnational cause that brought it material help. American pressure on Pakistan to attack the Taliban and Al Qaeda in their sanctuary gave birth to the Pakistani Taliban, who forged their own ties to Al Qaeda to fight the Pakistani state.
While some Taliban groups use the rhetoric of global jihad to inspire ranks or enlist foreign fighters, the Pakistani Taliban show no inclination to go after Western interests abroad. Their attacks, which have included at least three assaults near nuclear facilities, warrant concerted action — but in Pakistan, not in Afghanistan. As Mr. Sageman, the former C.I.A. officer, puts it: “There’s no Qaeda in Afghanistan and no Afghans in Qaeda.”
Pakistan has long preferred a policy of “respect for the independence and sentiment of the tribes” that was advised in 1908 by Lord Curzon, the British viceroy of India who established the North-West Frontier Province as a buffer zone to “conciliate and contain” the Pashtun hill tribes. In 1948, Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, removed all troops from brigade level up in Waziristan and other tribal areas in a plan aptly called Operation Curzon.
The problem today is that Al Qaeda is prodding the Pakistani Taliban to hit state institutions in the hopes of provoking a full-scale invasion of the tribal areas by the Pakistani Army; the idea is that such an assault would rally the tribes to Al Qaeda’s cause and threaten the state. The United States has been pushing for exactly that sort of potentially disastrous action by Islamabad. [continued…]
Many decades ago as a fledgling C.I.A. officer in the field, I was naïvely convinced that if the facts were reported back to Washington correctly, everything else would take care of itself in policymaking. The first loss of innocence comes with the harsh recognition that “all politics are local” and that overseas realities bear only a partial relationship to foreign-policy formulation back home.
So in looking at President Obama’s new policy directions for Afghanistan, what goes down in Washington politics far outweighs analyses of local conditions.
I had hoped that Obama would level with the American people that the war in Afghanistan is not being won, indeed is not winnable within any practicable framework. But such an admission — however accurate — would sign the political death warrant of a president to be portrayed as having snatched defeat out of the jaws of “victory.”
The “objective” situation in Afghanistan remains a mess. Senior commanders acknowledge that we are not now winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan; indeed, we never can, and certainly not at gunpoint. Most Pashtuns will never accept a U.S. plan for Afghanistan’s future. The non-Pashtuns — Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, etc. — naturally welcome any outside support in what is a virtual civil war.
America has inadvertently ended up choosing sides in this war. U.S. forces are perceived by large numbers of Afghans as an occupying army inflicting large civilian casualties. The struggle has now metastasized into Pakistan — with even higher stakes. [continued…]
Obama’s new “strategy” is no strategy at all. It is a cynical and politically motivated rehash of Iraq policy: Toss in a few more troops, throw together something resembling local security forces, buy off the enemies, and get the hell out before it all blows up. Even the dimmest bulb listening to the president’s speech could not have missed the obvious link between the withdrawal date for combat troops from Iraq (2010), the date for beginning troop reductions in Afghanistan (2011), and the domestic U.S. election cycle.
So we are faced with a conundrum. Obama is one of the most intelligent men ever to hold the U.S. presidency. But no intelligent person could really believe that adding 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, a country four times larger than Vietnam, for a year or two, following the same game plan that has resulted in dismal failure there for the past eight years, could possibly have any impact on the outcome of the conflict.
Arthur Conan Doyle’s character Sherlock Holmes used to say that “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” The only conclusion one can reach from the president’s speech, after eliminating the impossible, is that the administration has made a difficult but pragmatic decision: The war in Afghanistan is unwinnable, and the president’s second term and progressive domestic agenda cannot be sacrificed to a lost cause the way that President Lyndon B. Johnson’s was for Vietnam. The result of that calculation was what we heard on Dec. 1: platitudes about commitment and a just cause; historical amnesia; and a continuation of the exact same failed policies that got the United States into this mess back in 2001, concocted by the same ship of fools, many of whom are still providing remarkably bad advice to this administration. [continued…]
Bigotry is on the rise in “the westerly excrescence of the continent of Asia.”
That unpoetic but topographically-precise description of Europe comes from the Oxford archeologist, Barry Cunliffe.
Whenever voices declaring that European culture is under threat are at their most strident, it’s always worth remembering the actual nature of Europe’s physical form.
As a continent it is nothing more than a malleable contrivance with its ambiguous, historically shifting eastern edge. As a result, it is and always has been, an ethnic and cultural melting pot.
Thus the irony when Europe’s self-appointed protectors take a firm stand in the name of its defense: they so often lack a real appreciation for the very thing to which they have pledged their allegiance.
Why is it that the people who most easily become possessed by ideas about cultural purity are themselves so often culturally impoverished?
Because culture in its richness and complexity is not the real issue.
This is about how individuals respond to the other.
Does the unfamiliar prompt interest and curiosity?
Or does it provoke fear?
Fear in response to the other says more about the fearful than it says about the objects they fear.
The fear of the foreign is at its root a fear of becoming foreign. It is a fear of becoming a stranger in one’s own land.
* * *
In the latest outbreak of European xenophobia, the minaret has become a missile in a campaign to ban their construction — that is, the construction of minarets, not missiles.
This is a curious iconic transformation. Is the Swiss People’s Party suggesting that Switzerland, in which currently there are only four minarets, is at risk of becoming a missile-minaret launching pad threatening the rest of Europe with Islamization? (After all, their posters depict missile-minarets ready for launch — not incoming missile-minarets about to explode.)
By Sunday it became apparent that Swiss voters had little interest in dissecting the visual absurdity of the campaign poster — a majority seemed to have bought the implicit message: Islam = violence, death and destruction.
The campaign’s final week of fear-mongering managed to raise support for the ban from 37% up to 57.5%, with passage in the majority of cantons meaning that a constitutional amendment will follow.
As The Guardian reported:
The controversial referendum on Sunday, accompanied by a prohibition campaign denounced as racist and in violation of human rights, is the latest tussle in Europe over the limits of multiculturalism and immigrant lifestyles.
Pushed by anti-immigrant rightwing populists, it has triggered months of debate in a country that uses direct democracy for single-issue politics. The referendum has turned into much more than a vote on architecture and urban planning.
“The minaret has got nothing to do with religion. It’s a symbol of political power, a prelude to the introduction of sharia law,” argued Ulrich Schlüer, of the rightwing Swiss People’s party, an architect of the campaign.
Two years ago the SPP became the strongest party in Switzerland, with an anti-immigrant election campaign that featured posters of three white sheep kicking a black sheep off a red and white Swiss flag. UN experts and human rights activists condemned the campaign as overtly racist.
This time the SPP has plastered the country with posters showing the same flag as a base for several black minarets, portrayed as missiles, alongside a woman clad in a black burqa. Church leaders, the Jewish community and Muslim leaders have all opposed the campaign. The foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, warned that a vote in favour risked turning Switzerland into “a target for Islamic terrorism”. The city of Basel and other towns have proscribed the incendiary posters.
Amnesty International said: “Freedom of religious belief is a basic human right and changing the Swiss constitution to ban the construction of minarets would clearly breach the rights of the country’s Muslims.”
UN human rights experts have said the proposed ban violates freedom of religion and liberty. The Swiss justice minister, Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, has agreed, declaring that it would breach anti-discrimination laws and rights to free religious observance, raising the question of why the campaign has been allowed.
Tariq Ramadan, Switzerland’s most famous Muslim, suggests that what his country’s Muslim population is being told is that the only good Swiss Muslim is an invisible Muslim.
Tariq Ramadan: One must respect the fear of ordinary citizens, while one also must resist in civic fashion populist parties which are instrumentalising fear in order to win elections. The majority of our fellow Swiss citizens are not racists: they are afraid and they would like to understand. Swiss people of the Muslim faith have a real responsibility to communicate and explain…. At the same time, one must refuse to allow populism to install itself. The problem is that the UDC [the Democratic Union of the Centre, another name for the Swiss People’s Party] initiative is using the symbol of the minaret to target Islam as a religion. I have had debates with Mr. Freysinger. [Oskar Freysinger is a parliamentarian in the Swiss People’s Party and a driving force in the campaign.] What does he say? That “Islam is not integratable into Swiss society.” So he says to me, to me, and I am Swiss like him, that “You are not a good Swiss person, you cannot be one, since your quality of being a Muslim prevents you from being a good Swiss person.” That is the foundation of the debate: the problem is Islam, not minarets.
Arnaud Bédat: But the minaret, you write so yourself, is not a pillar of Muslim faith.
TR: Yes, but is that a reason to say “Since it is not an obligation, you don’t need it”?… Does it have to be that the only good Swiss Muslim is an invisible Muslim? Is this the future of our pluralism and of our living together?
AB: Numerous Islamic countries forbid other religions on their territory — there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia, for example. Is it not ultimately logical that part of the West reject Islam on its territory?
TR: This is the oft-repeated argument of reciprocity. It is untenable. Respect for the rights and dignity of people is not a question of trade. It falls to us, to us in Switzerland, to preserve our principles of respect, and to not allow ourselves to be colonised by the unacceptable practices of other societies. Let us say first of all that it is wrong to say that religious minorities are always discriminated against in Muslim-majority societies. There are synagogues, churches and temples [there]. However, one should not deny the fact that discrimination and the denial of rights do occur, as in Saudi Arabia. One cannot hold Swiss citizens and residents of Muslim faith responsible for the actions of certain dictatorial governments from which they have often, by the way, fled for political or economic reasons. What one can expect from them [Swiss Muslims], nevertheless, from a moral point of view, is a denunciation of discrimination and ill treatment. That is something I do not stop doing, which has closed the doors of several countries, such as Saudi Arabia, to me.
AB: Do you dream, as you detractors claim, of a world that is entirely Muslim?
TR: No. I was born, have lived and have studied in Switzerland; my whole philosophical education comes from that. I have always believed that those who do not share my beliefs allow me to be more myself. The absolute power or uniformisation of a religion on earth would mean corruption and death. The worst that could happen to Muslims is if the whole world became Muslim! That is not even what God’s project is. There has to be diversity and difference. Because difference teaches us humility and respect.
To which I would add: The cultural ecosystem, or the ethnosphere as Wade Davis has named it, thrives on diversity.
Monoculture is inherently unstable because it lacks the strength that comes from constant adaptation necessitated by complexity and constant change.
Think about it. What would Europe be had it never been open to the influence of foreign cultures?
Christianity wasn’t born in Zurich — it came from the Middle East!
For most Israelis, the occupied West Bank — now mostly concealed behind a barrier far more imposing than the Berlin Wall — could be a million miles away. Even so, thousands really do know what it’s like. They have firsthand experience of the conditions imposed on ordinary Palestinians — they know because during their military service they had a direct role in imposing those conditions.
For the rest of us, beyond hearing testimony, seeing photographs and film, it is really only through an act of imagination that we can transport ourselves there and attempt to understand what it means to be living under military occupation.
The following film was created as a tool to help those of us who take freedom of movement for granted, to have a sense of what it means when that freedom is taken away.
The kill ratio was 100-to-1 in our favor. The destruction ratio was much, much greater than that. To this day, thousands of Gazans are living in tents because we won’t let them import cement to rebuild the homes we destroyed. We turned the Gaza Strip into a disaster area, a humanitarian case, and we’re keeping it that way with our blockade.
Meanwhile, here on the Israeli side of the border, it’s hard to remember when life was so safe and secure.
So let’s decide: Who was the victim of Operation Cast Lead, them or us?
No question – us. We Israelis were the victims and we still are. In fact, our victimhood is getting worse by the day. The Goldstone report was the real war crime. The Goldstone report, the UN debates, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Red Cross, B’Tselem, the traitorous soldiers of Breaking the Silence and the Rabin Academy – those were the true crimes against humanity. This is what’s meant by “war is hell.”
It is we who’ve been going through hell from the war in Gaza. It is we who’ve been suffering.
Gazans? Suffering? What’s everybody talking about?
We let them eat, don’t we?
This imaginary monologue is how we actually see ourselves today. We initiated the war in Gaza, we waged one of the most one-sided military campaigns anyone’s ever seen – and we’re the victims.
We’re fighting off the world with the Holocaust; witness Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the UN with his Auschwitz props. “We won’t go like lambs to the slaughter again,” vowed his protégé, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, in a cabinet discussion of the Goldstone report.
Auschwitz, lambs to the slaughter, Operation Cast Lead. To Israelis today, it’s all of a piece, it’s one story, one unbroken legacy of righteous victimhood.
The truth is that the State of Israel has never been a victim, and our likening of ourselves to the 6 million has been embarrassing from the beginning – but now? After what we did in Gaza? With the stranglehold we have on that society, while we over here live free and easy?
Victims? Lambs to the slaughter? Us?
No, this has gone beyond embarrassing; this is out-and-out shameful.
And, despite our excuses, it’s not that we’re “traumatized” by the past into believing that we’re still weak, still the frightened, powerless Jews about to be led to the gas chambers. Many Holocaust survivors still believe this, and to some very limited extent, this vestigial fear still takes up space in the Israeli mind.
But by now, 64 years after the Holocaust, 42 years after seeing in the Six Day War how strong we’d become, we know, whether we admit it to ourselves or not, that we aren’t the victims anymore. We know we aren’t a continuation of the 6 million but rather a deliberate and stark departure from them.
THE REASON we tell ourselves and the world that we are victims is because we know, whether we admit it to ourselves or not, that victimhood is power. Victimhood is freedom. A victim can’t be told to restrain himself. A victim fighting for survival can’t be accused of abusing his power because, after all, his back is to the wall, he’s desperate.
On the facts, it’s very hard to convince ourselves, let alone the world, that Gaza and its Kassams have pushed Fortress Israel’s back to the wall, that we’re desperate, that we’re struggling to survive. So, to convince ourselves and the world that this really is so, we do two things.
One, we refuse to acknowledge any facts that mar this image of ourselves as victims, and instead go over and over and over only the facts that fit the picture.
We talk only about the thousands of Kassams fired at Sderot; we never mention the thousands of Gazans we killed at the same time.
We talk only about Gilad Schalit; we never mention the 8,000 Palestinian prisoners we’re holding.
And we never mention our ongoing blockade of Gaza or the devastation it does to those people.
The second thing we do to convince ourselves and the world that we’re still victims is to never, ever, ever let go of the Holocaust – because that’s when we really were victims. Victims like nobody’s ever known, victims a million times worse than the Gazans.
Auschwitz, lambs to the slaughter. Remember us, the people of the Holocaust? That wasn’t the Middle East’s superpower you saw fighting in Gaza.
That was the 6 million.
So you can’t blame us. We’re immune from your criticism. We’re the biggest victims the world has ever known. We’re desperate, so don’t tell us about kill ratios and disproportionate use of force and collective punishment. We’re fighting for our survival.
This is what we tell ourselves and the world, and, in the face of what we did and are still doing in Gaza, it has become intolerable. We are not the 6 million. The 6 million were powerless Jews three generations ago; we cannot wrap our abuses of power in their tragedy.
Instead, let’s take a good, hard look at what we did and what we’re doing in Gaza. Then let’s take a good, hard look in the mirror. And then let’s admit who’s the true victim here and now, and, more importantly, who isn’t.
Editor’s Comment — Larry Derfner is a columnist for the conservative Jerusalem Post. Presumably the paper’s editors feel moderately comfortable publishing his provocative commentaries because the paper provides “balance” with other pieces by rabid Likudniks like Caroline Glick. Still, at this time I doubt that there is a single newspaper editor in the United States who would have the guts to publish Derfner’s piece.
Even so, the times they are a-changin’.
Americans are losing patience with Israel and the media knows it. It will be a while before we see a New York Times editorial calling for a cooling in US-Israeli relations, but the views of ordinary Americans are now percolating up through newspaper letters pages. This is where editors are testing the water to see how much space they might dare provide for more honesty when the topic is Israel.
Views once only voiced at the political margins of the blogosphere are now moving into the mainstream. Only yesterday, Andrew Sullivan — not known as an anti-Zionist — had this to say:
One question that should always be asked of an ally: what is that ally doing for the US? Since the end of the Cold War, that question has been increasingly hard to answer with respect to Israel.
Strategically, Israel is obviously a huge burden for the US, making relations with Muslim or Arab nations much harder, and undermining any attempt to portray American intervention in, say, Iraq or Afghanistan, as beneficent rather than predatory. It’s a big drain on the Treasury, as Israel consumes a vast amount of military and non-military aid.
Meanwhile, Congress continues to march in lockstep with the Israel lobby — but this can’t go on forever. As the taboos on criticizing Israel and questioning US-Israeli relations break down, members of Congress will come under increasing pressure to explain how they can justify supporting a country that has become a strategic liability at America’s expense. Israel’s most stalwart defenders should send their donations to a pro-Israel lobby of their choice, but they should no longer expect that support to be subsidized by the US taxpayer.
“… I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States’ presence in Afghanistan. I have doubts and reservations about our current strategy and planned future strategy, but my resignation is based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end. To put simply: I fail to see the value or the worth in continued U.S. casualties or expenditures or resources in support of the Afghan government in what is, truly, a 35-year old civil war.” From Matthew P Hoh, Senior Civilian Representative, Zabul Province, Afghanistan, in his letter of resignation to the State Department.
For weeks, President Obama and his advisers in the White House and from the Pentagon have been wrestling over the formulation of a revised strategy for Afghanistan. Central to that debate has been the question of how to respond to Gen Stanley McChrystal’s request for tens of thousands more American troops.
But perhaps the most important question — one which the president and his advisers have no doubt studiously avoided asking — is whether this war is worth fighting.
Matthew Hoh, a former US Marine captain who fought in Iraq, and who later served as a civilian State Department representative in the Zabul province of Afghanistan, in a letter of resignation submitted in early September, provided a definitive statement on the war’s failure — in its conception, its execution, and its aims. Rarely, if ever, has such an damning indictment of this war been so clearly and powerfully expressed.
The Washington Post reported:
The reaction to Hoh’s letter was immediate. Senior U.S. officials, concerned that they would lose an outstanding officer and perhaps gain a prominent critic, appealed to him to stay.
U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry brought him to Kabul and offered him a job on his senior embassy staff. Hoh declined. From there, he was flown home for a face-to-face meeting with Richard C. Holbrooke, the administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“We took his letter very seriously, because he was a good officer,” Holbrooke said in an interview. “We all thought that given how serious his letter was, how much commitment there was, and his prior track record, we should pay close attention to him.”
The Post has published Hoh’s letter in a printable format [PDF] which is likely to result in the whole letter not being widely read. In order to encourage readers to absorb the full force of this testimony, I’ve reproduced the letter in full below — the only place (as far as I’m aware) that it can currently be found on the web in a user-friendly format.
Dear Ambassador Powell,
It is with great regret and disappointment I submit my resignation from my appointment as a Political Officer in the Foreign Service and my post as the Senior Civilian Representative for the U.S. Government in Zabul Province. I have served six of the previous ten years in service to our country overseas, to include deployment as a U.S. Marine officer and Department of Defense civilian in the Euphrates and Tigris River Valleys of Iraq in 2004-2005 and 2006-2007. I did not enter into this position lightly or with any undue expectations nor did I believe my assignment would be without sacrifice hardship or difficulty. However, in the course of my five months of service in Afghanistan, in both Regional Commands East and South, I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States’ presence in Afghanistan. I have doubts and reservations about our current strategy and planned future strategy, but my resignation is based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end. To put simply: I fail to see the value or the worth in continued U.S. casualties or expenditures or resources in support of the Afghan government in what is, truly, a 35-year old civil war.
This fall will mark the eighth year of U.S. combat, governance and development operations within Afghanistan. Next fall, the United States’ occupation will equal in length the Soviet Union’s own physical involvement in Afghanistan. Like the Soviets, we continue to secure and bolster a failing state, while encouraging an ideology and system of government unknown and unwanted by its people.
If the history or Afghanistan is one great stage play, the United States is no more than a supporting actor, among several previously, in a tragedy that not only pits tribes, valleys, clans, villages and families against one another, but, from at least the end of King Zahir Shah’s reign, has violently and savagely pitted the urban, secular, educated and modem of Afghanistan against the rural, religious, illiterate and traditional. It is this latter group that composes and supports the Pashtun insurgency. The Pashtun insurgency, which is composed of multiple, seemingly infinite, local groups, is fed by what is perceived by the Pashtun people as a continued and sustained assault, going back centuries, on Pashtun land, culture, traditions and religion by internal and external enemies. The U.S. and NATO presence and operations in Pashtun valleys and villages, as well as Afghan army and police units that are led and composed of non-Pashtun soldiers and police, provide an occupation force against which the insurgency is justified. In both RC East and South, I have observed that the bulk of the insurgency fights not for the white banner of the Taliban, but rather against the presence of foreign soldiers and taxes imposed by an unrepresentative government in Kabul.
The United States military presence in Afghanistan greatly contributes to the legitimacy and strategic message of the Pashtun insurgency. In a like manner our backing of the Afghan government in its current form continues to distance the government from the people. The Afghan government’s failings, particularly when weighed against the sacrifice of American lives and dollars, appear legion and metastatic:
• Glaring corruption and unabashed graft;
• A President whose confidants and chief advisers comprise drug lords and war crimes villains, who mock our own rule of law and counternarcotics efforts;
• A system of provincial and district leaders constituted of local power brokers, opportunists and strongmen allied to the United States solely for, and limited by, the value of our USAID and CERP contracts and whose own political and economic interests stand nothing to gain from any positive or genuine attempts at reconciliation; and
• The recent election process dominated by fraud and discredited by low voter turnout, which has created an enormous victory for our enemy who now claims a popular boycott and will call into question worldwide our government’s military, economic and diplomatic support for an invalid and illegitimate Afghan government.
Our support for this kind of government, coupled with a misunderstanding of the insurgency’s true nature, reminds me horribly of our involvement with South Vietnam; an unpopular and corrupt government we backed at the expense of our Nation’s own internal peace, against an insurgency whose nationalism we arrogantly and ignorantly mistook as a rival to our own Cold War ideology.
I find specious the reasons we ask for bloodshed and sacrifice from our young men and women in Afghanistan. If honest, our stated strategy of securing Afghanistan to prevent al-Qaeda resurgence or regrouping would require us to additionally invade and occupy western Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, etc. Our presence in Afghanistan has only increased destabilization and insurgency in Pakistan where we rightly fear a toppled or weakened Pakistani government may lose control of nuclear weapons. However, again, to follow the logic of our stated goals we should garrison Pakistan, not Afghanistan. More so, the September 11th attacks, as well as the Madrid and London bombings, were primarily planned and organized in Western Europe; a point that highlights the threat is not one tied to traditional geographic or political boundaries. Finally, if our concern is for a failed state crippled by corruption and poverty and under assault from criminal and drug lords, then if we bear our military and financial contributions to Afghanistan, we must reevaluate our commitment to and involvement in Mexico.
Eight years into war, no nation has ever known a more dedicated, well trained, experienced and disciplined military as the U.S. Armed Forces. I do not believe any military force has ever been tasked with such a complex, opaque and Sisyphean mission as the U.S. military has received in Afghanistan. The tactical proficiency and performance of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines is unmatched and unquestioned. However, this is not the European or Pacific theaters of World War II, but rather is a war for which our leaders, uniformed, civilian and elected, have inadequately prepared and resourced our men and women. Our forces, devoted and faithful, have committed to conflict in an indefinite and unplanned manner that has become a cavalier, politically expedient and Pollyannaish misadventure. Similarly, the United States has a dedicated and talented cadre of civilians, both U.S. government employees and contractors, who believe in and sacrifice for their mission, but have been ineffectually trained and led with guidance and intent shaped more by the political climate in Washington, D.C. than in Afghan cities, villages, mountains and valleys.
“We are spending ourselves into oblivion” a very talented and intelligent commander, one of America’s best, briefs every visitor, staff delegation and senior officer. We are mortgaging our Nation’s economy on a war, which, even with increased commitment, will remain a draw for years to come. Success and victory, whatever they may be, will be realized not in years, after billions more spent, but in decades and generations. The United States does not enjoy a national treasury for such success and victory.
I realize the emotion and tone of my letter and ask you excuse any ill temper. I trust you understand the nature of this war and the sacrifices made by so many thousands of families who have been separated from loved ones deployed in defense of our Nation and whose homes bear the fractures, upheavals and scars of multiple and compounded deployments. Thousands of our men and women have returned home with physical and mental wounds, some that will never heal or will only worsen with time. The dead return only in bodily form to be received by families who must be reassured their dead have sacrificed for a purpose worthy of futures lost, love vanished, and promised dreams unkept. I have lost confidence such assurances can anymore be made. As such, l submit my resignation.
Matthew P. Hoh
Senior Civilian Representative
Zabul Province, Afghanistan
Mr. Frank Ruggiero
Ms. Dawn Liberi
Ambassador Anthony Wayne
Ambassador Karl Eikenberry
This letter was addressed to:
Ambassador Nancy J. Powell
Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
On August 5th, officials at the Central Intelligence Agency, in Langley, Virginia, watched a live video feed relaying closeup footage of one of the most wanted terrorists in Pakistan. Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Taliban in Pakistan, could be seen reclining on the rooftop of his father-in-law’s house, in Zanghara, a hamlet in South Waziristan. It was a hot summer night, and he was joined outside by his wife and his uncle, a medic; at one point, the remarkably crisp images showed that Mehsud, who suffered from diabetes and a kidney ailment, was receiving an intravenous drip.
The video was being captured by the infrared camera of a Predator drone, a remotely controlled, unmanned plane that had been hovering, undetected, two miles or so above the house. Pakistan’s Interior Minister, A. Rehman Malik, told me recently that Mehsud was resting on his back. Malik, using his hands to make a picture frame, explained that the Predator’s targeters could see Mehsud’s entire body, not just the top of his head. “It was a perfect picture,” Malik, who watched the videotape later, said. “We used to see James Bond movies where he talked into his shoe or his watch. We thought it was a fairy tale. But this was fact!” The image remained just as stable when the C.I.A. remotely launched two Hellfire missiles from the Predator. Authorities watched the fiery blast in real time. After the dust cloud dissipated, all that remained of Mehsud was a detached torso. Eleven others died: his wife, his father-in-law, his mother-in-law, a lieutenant, and seven bodyguards.
Pakistan’s government considered Mehsud its top enemy, holding him responsible for the vast majority of recent terrorist attacks inside the country, including the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, in December, 2007, and the bombing, last September, of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, which killed more than fifty people. Mehsud was also thought to have helped his Afghan confederates attack American and coalition troops across the border. Roger Cressey, a former counterterrorism official on the National Security Council, who is now a partner at Good Harbor, a consulting firm, told me, “Mehsud was someone both we and Pakistan were happy to see go up in smoke.” Indeed, there was no controversy when, a few days after the missile strike, CNN reported that President Barack Obama had authorized it.
However, at about the same time, there was widespread anger after the Wall Street Journal revealed that during the Bush Administration the C.I.A. had considered setting up hit squads to capture or kill Al Qaeda operatives around the world. The furor grew when the Times reported that the C.I.A. had turned to a private contractor to help with this highly sensitive operation: the controversial firm Blackwater, now known as Xe Services. Members of the Senate and House intelligence committees demanded investigations of the program, which, they said, had been hidden from them. And many legal experts argued that, had the program become fully operational, it would have violated a 1976 executive order, signed by President Gerald R. Ford, banning American intelligence forces from engaging in assassination.
Hina Shamsi, a human-rights lawyer at the New York University School of Law, was struck by the inconsistency of the public’s responses. “We got so upset about a targeted-killing program that didn’t happen,” she told me. “But the drone program exists. ” She said of the Predator program, “These are targeted international killings by the state.” The program, as it happens, also uses private contractors for a variety of tasks, including flying the drones. Employees of Xe Services maintain and load the Hellfire missiles on the aircraft. Vicki Divoll, a former C.I.A. lawyer, who now teaches at the U.S. Naval Academy, in Annapolis, observed, “People are a lot more comfortable with a Predator strike that kills many people than with a throat-slitting that kills one.” But, she added, “mechanized killing is still killing.” [continued…]
RICHARD GOLDSTONE: As I say, I accept the right of Israel, absolutely, to defend itself. But let me give you an example. Assuming the United States fighting Taliban, started bombing the whole food infrastructure of the people in the area where Taliban are- plowing up fields, bombing food factories, I don’t believe that this would be accepted as legitimate by the people of the United States.
BILL MOYERS: Do we need to change the rules of war in fighting terrorism?
RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Not at all, and you know, it struck me when I heard that Prime Minister Netanyahu suggested that the law of war needs to be changed. It seems to me to contain an implicit acceptance that they broke the law that now is, and that’s why it needs to be changed. [continued…]
Israel and its courts have always recognized that they are bound by norms of international law that it has formally ratified or that have become binding as customary international law upon all nations. The fact that the United Nations and too many members of the international community have unfairly singled out Israel for condemnation and failed to investigate horrible human rights violations in other countries cannot make Israel immune from the very standards it has accepted as binding upon it.
Israel has a strong history of investigating allegations made against its own officials reaching to the highest levels of government: the inquiries into the Yom Kippur War, Sabra and Shatila, Bus 300 and the Second Lebanon War.
Israel has an internationally renowned and respected judiciary that should be envy of many other countries in the region. It has the means and ability to investigate itself. Has it the will? [continued…]
Editor’s Comment — The Netanyahu government’s stonewalling of the Goldstone inquiry does not appear to have purely been an act of self-protection; it also seems to reflect a national spirit of impunity rooted in the conviction: “We had no choice.”
Having turned this declaration into a battle cry, violence was cleansed of doubt as Israel embarked on its own jihad. “We went into Gaza and God went into Gaza with us,” was how one Israeli Special Forces soldier put it.
When the enemy’s homes have been flattened, their bodies incinerated, their land defiled and their water poisoned and all of this is being done under God’s watchful eye and under His protection, the killers return to their homes expecting glorification, not to become the targets of an international inquiry.
As Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, meet at the United Nations today, “both sides have made clear that they’ll essentially be humoring Obama, showing up because the President of the United States expects it of them and not to relaunch long-stalled ‘final status’ peace negotiations, as the administration had hoped,” writes Tony Karon at Time magazine.
The conventional wisdom among most seasoned observers of the conflict is that the status quo is untenable — that at some point both sides will have to arrive at a mutually acceptable way of implementing a two-state solution.
The process that might lead to that point is as murky as ever.
The possibility that receives less consideration is that Israelis, living in a country forged through war — a country that has never really known peace — having become resigned to the apparent necessity of remaining on a perpetual war footing, have now reached a point where war is more than tolerable: it is acceptable.
War is what created Israel, has allowed it to exist and will guarantee its perpetuation. Many Israelis may pay lip-service to the notion that peace is desirable, yet it is their willingness to engage in war that makes them feel safe.
For Ariel Siegelman, an Israeli soldier who fought in Gaza in a special forces unit of the IDF, the key lesson from the 2006 war in Lebanon was this: “We learned that we had been living in an imaginary world and that the most dangerous type of war is the one that you call peace. We learned that we are not in fact in a ‘peace process’ at all. We are at war.”
In the Washington Post just this week, Jackson Diehl pointed out that even as the UN’s damning report on the war on Gaza brought renewed critical attention to the most recent conflict, “Operation Cast Lead, as the three-week operation is known in Israel, is generally regarded by the country’s military and political elite as a success.” (Diehl, with apparent satisfaction, predicted: “As for the Goldstone report [PDF], the heat it briefly produced last week will quickly dissipate”.)
Claiming that the wars in Lebanon and Gaza had for Israel both been qualified successes, Diehl suggested that Israel is far less fearful than are most of its allies about picking a fight with Iran.
… as with Gaza, even a partial and short-term reversal of the Iranian nuclear program may look to Israelis like a reasonable benefit — and the potential blowback overblown.
Americans who do not share Diehl’s neoconservative perspective, don’t need to ask themselves whether they share Israel’s view of itself; they simply need to decide whether the United States has a responsibility (or any legitimate excuse) for sustaining Israel’s war machine.
Without American arms, the Jewish state will not be starved of materiel — there are plenty of non-US arms manufacturers who would happily pick up the new demand.
The only issue is whether we should regard Israel’s wars as ours.
* * *
Israel’s military might and its fighting forces have been celebrated by Israelis and Israel’s supporters through numerous songs and videos. Here are a few: