Friday, February 27, 2009

Unusual Suspect

Crazy sure is funny, until someone gets hurt. For now, we can just laugh at the absurdity. And hope no one dares take it seriously.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

That Jindal Rebuttal Speech...

I saw this train wreck coming as soon as it rounded the corner in that bizarre camera angle (what the frack was up with that?!?). Once he began speaking in that eerie voice and even more disturbing smile, I settled in for the hilarity and hijinks I knew would eventually ensue. So absolutely no further commentary needed. The frustrated talking heads of the conservative movement have said it all. Jindal as the GOPs rising star seems dismally doubtful. But the comedy his speech illicited is something to treasure. We as a nation, needed to laugh again.

More after the fold:


Friday, February 20, 2009

Once You See What Truly Happened in Gaza, It Will Change You Forever

When I traveled to Gaza last week, everywhere I went, a photo haunted me...of a young Palestinian girl who is literally buried alive in the rubble from a bomb blast, with just her head protruding from the ruins. Her eyes are closed, her mouth partially open, as if she were in a deep sleep. Dried blood covers her lips, her cheeks, her hair. Someone with a glove is reaching down to touch her forehead, showing one final gesture of kindness in the midst of such inhumanity. What was this little girl's name, I wonder. How old was she? Was she sleeping when the bomb hit her home? Did she die a quick death or a slow, agonizing one? Where are her parents, her siblings? How are they faring? Of the 1,330 Palestinians killed by the Israeli military during the 22-day invasion of Gaza, 437 were children. Let me repeat that: 437 children -- each as beautiful and precious as our own.

This is the chilling introduction to Medea Benjamin's article on the suffering Gaza has endured. I repost the full article below, unedited.

Once You See What Truly Happened in Gaza, It Will Change You Forever

By Medea Benjamin, AlterNet

Posted on February 19, 2009

When I traveled to Gaza last week, everywhere I went, a photo haunted me. I saw it in a brochure called "Gaza will not die" that Hamas gives out to visitors at the border crossing. A poster-sized version was posted outside a makeshift memorial at the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. And now that I am back home, the image comes to me when I look at children playing in the park, when I glance at the school across the street, when I go to sleep at night.

It is a photo of a young Palestinian girl who is literally buried alive in the rubble from a bomb blast, with just her head protruding from the ruins. Her eyes are closed, her mouth partially open, as if she were in a deep sleep. Dried blood covers her lips, her cheeks, her hair. Someone with a glove is reaching down to touch her forehead, showing one final gesture of kindness in the midst of such inhumanity.

What was this little girl's name, I wonder. How old was she? Was she sleeping when the bomb hit her home? Did she die a quick death or a slow, agonizing one? Where are her parents, her siblings? How are they faring?

Of the 1,330 Palestinians killed by the Israeli military during the 22-day invasion of Gaza, 437 were children. Let me repeat that: 437 children -- each as beautiful and precious as our own.

As a Jew, an American and a mother, I felt compelled to witness, firsthand, what my people and my taxdollars had done during this invasion. Visiting Gaza filled me with unbearable sadness. Unlike the primitive weapons of Hamas, the Israelis had so many sophisticated ways to murder, maim and destroy-unmanned drones, F-16s dropping "smart bombs" that miss, Apache helicopters launching missiles, tanks firing from the ground, ships shelling Gaza from the sea. So many horrific weapons stamped with Made in the USA. While Hamas' attacks on Israeli villages are deplorable, Israel's disproportionate response is unconscionable, with 1,330 Palestinians dead vs. 13 Israelis.

If the invasion was designed to destroy Hamas, it failed miserably. Not only is Hamas still in control, but it retains much popular support. If the invasion was designed as a form of collective punishment, it succeeded, leaving behind a trail of grieving mothers, angry fathers and traumatized children.

To get a sense of the devastation, check out a slide show circulating on the internet called Gaza: Massacre of Children ( It should be required viewing for all who supported this invasion of Gaza. Babies charred like shish-kebabs. Limbs chopped off. Features melted from white phosphorus. Faces crying out in pain, gripped by fear, overcome by grief.

Anyone who can view the slides and still repeat the mantra that "Israel has the right to self-defense" or "Hamas brought this upon its own people," or worse yet, "the Israeli military didn't go far enough," does a horrible disservice not only to the Palestinian people, but to humanity.

Compassion, the greatest virtue in all major religions, is the basic human emotion prompted by the suffering of others, and it triggers a desire to alleviate that suffering. True compassion is not circumscribed by one's faith or the nationality of those suffering. It crosses borders; it speaks a universal language; it shares a common spirituality. Those who have suffered themselves, such as Holocaust victims, are supposed to have the deepest well of compassion.

The Israeli election was in full swing while was I visiting Gaza. As I looked out on the ruins of schools, playgrounds, homes, mosques and clinics, I recalled the words of Benjamin Netanyahu, "No matter how strong the blows that Hamas received from Israel, it's not enough." As I talked to distraught mothers whose children were on life support in a bombed hospital, I thought of the "moderate" woman in the race, Tzipi Livni, who vowed that she would not negotiate with Hamas, insisted that "terror must be fought with force and lots of force" and warned that "if by ending the operation we have yet to achieve deterrence, we will continue until they get the message."

"The message," I can report, has been received. It is a message that Israel is run by war criminals, that the lives of Palestinians mean nothing to them. Even more chilling is the pro-war message sent by the Israeli people with their votes for Netanyahu, Livni and anti-Arab racist Avigdor Lieberman.

How tragic that nation born out of the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust has become a nation that supports the slaughter of Palestinians.

Here in the U.S., Congress ignored the suffering of the Palestinians and pledged its unwavering support for the Israeli state. All but five members out of 535 voted for a resolution justifying the invasion, falsely holding Hamas solely responsible for breaking the ceasefire and praising Israel for facilitating humanitarian aid to Gaza at a time when food supplies were rotting at the closed borders.

One glimmer of hope we found among people in Gaza was the Obama administration. Many were upset that Obama did not speak out during the invasion and that peace envoy George Mitchell, on his first trip to the Middle East, did not visit Gaza or even Syria. But they felt that Mitchell was a good choice and Obama, if given the space by the American people, could play a positive role.

Who can provide that space for Obama? Who can respond to the call for justice from the Palestinian people? Who can counter AIPAC, the powerful lobby that supports Israeli aggression?

An organized, mobilized, coordinated grassroots movement is the critical counterforce, and within that movement, those who have a particularly powerful voice are American Jews. We have the beginnings of a such a counterforce within the American Jewish community. Across the United States, Jews joined marches, sit-ins, die-ins, even chained themselves to Israeli consulates in protest. Jewish groups like J Street and Brit Tzedek v'Shalom lobby for a diplomatic solution. Tikkun organizes for a Jewish spiritual renewal grounded in social justice. The Middle East Children's Alliance and Madre send humanitarian aid to Palestine. Women in Black hold compelling weekly vigils. American Jews for a Just Peace plants olive trees on the West Bank. Jewish Voice for Peace promotes divestment from corporations that profit from occupation. Jews Against the Occupation calls for an end to U.S. aid to Israel.

We need greater coordination among these groups and within the broader movement. And we need more people and more sustained involvement, especially Jewish Americans. In loving memory of our ancestors and for the future of our-and Palestinian-children, more American Jews should speak out and reach out. As Sholom Schwartzbard, a member of Jews Against the Occupation, explained at a New York City protest, "We know from our own history what being sealed behind barbed wire and checkpoints is like, and we know that ‘Never Again' means not anyone, not anywhere -- or it means nothing at all."

On March 7, I will return to Gaza with a large international delegation, bringing aid but more importantly, pressuring the Israeli, U.S. and Egyptian governments to open the borders and lift the siege. Many members of the delegation are Jews. We will travel in the spirit of tikkun olam, repairing the world, but with a heavy sense of responsibility, shame and yes, compassion. We will never be able to bring back to life the little girl buried in the rubble. But we can-and will--hold her in our hearts as we bring a message from America and a growing number of American Jews: To Gaza, With Love.

For information about joining the trip to Gaza, contact

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK:Women for Peace.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Getting Afghanistan Right

So it's official. President Obama yesterday announced plans to send 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan. The "undebated war," often referred to as the "good war," is about to get its very own "surge." This is nothing new from Obama. Throughout his campaign, he has long used Afghanistan and the surrounding region as his "look-and-talk-tough" Democratic issue, hoping to counter his more hawkish rivals. Many, including myself, disagreed heavily with this stance, but kept quiet (mostly) about it. That is, we voiced our disapproval but didn't make it a massive issue. Now it's reckoning day. And there's a sinking feeling as we watch a would-be progressive President try to subjugate a region that has left other would-be empires broken and scattered in its deserts. As if eight years isn't enough; as if US and NATO airstrikes haven't alienated the populace; as if a corrupt propped up government in Kabul hasn't helped Taliban recruiting efforts even more, we want to throw another 17,000 troops and a few billion dollars at it.

Attempting to form a constructive stance on the issue, writers and bloggers including Robert Greenwald of Brave New Films, Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, Alex Thurston and Jason Rosenbaum of The Seminal, and Howie Klein of DownWithTyranny, has put together a project termed "GetAfghanistanRight" whose purpose is to both talk directly to President Obama and inform the larger public.

More after the fold.

We oppose military escalation in Afghanistan and support non-military solutions to the conflict.

Get Afghanistan Right


Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Business of War in the Democratic Republic of Congo: Who Benefits?

"This is all money," says a Western mining executive, his hand sweeping over a geological map toward the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He is explaining why, in 1997, he and planeloads of other businessmen were flocking to the impoverished country and vying for the attention of then-rebel leader Laurent Kabila. The executive could just as accurately have said, "This is all war."

In examining the happenings in the DRC and other regions, the question often asked is "why?" Too often, popular media accounts resort to simplistic stories of "ethnic" conflict or small local regional conflicts. In truth however, the happenings in the DRC (as in many other "third world" regions) are part of a brutal resource war, in which local, regional, transnational and international players are heavily involved. A 2001 article in Dollars and Sense called The Business of War in the Democratic Republic Of Congo: Who benefits? by Dena Montague and Frieda Berrigan examined this often underreported relationship. It is reposted here in full.

More below the fold:

The Business of War in the Democratic Republic of Congo: Who Benefits?

by Dena Montague and Frida Berrigan

"This is all money," says a Western mining executive, his hand sweeping over a geological map toward the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He is explaining why, in 1997, he and planeloads of other businessmen were flocking to the impoverished country and vying for the attention of then-rebel leader Laurent Kabila. The executive could just as accurately have said, "This is all war."

The interplay among a seemingly endless supply of mineral resources, the greed of multinational corporations desperate to cash in on that wealth, and the provision of arms and military training to political tyrants has helped to produce the spiral of conflicts that have engulfed the continent – what many regard as "Africa’s First World War."

When Westerners reach for their cell phones or pagers, turn on their computers, propose marriage with diamond rings, or board airplanes, few of them make the connection between their ability to use technology or buy luxury goods and a war raging in the DRC, half a world away. In what has been called the richest patch of earth on the planet, the DRC’s wealth has also been its curse. The DRC holds millions of tons of diamonds, copper, cobalt, zinc, manganese, uranium (the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were built using Congolese uranium), niobium, and tantalum. Tantalum, also referred to as coltan, is a particularly valuable resource – used to make mobile phones, night vision goggles, fiber optics, and capacitors (the component that maintains the electrical charge in computer chips). In fact, a global shortage of coltan caused a wave of parental panic in the United States last Christmas when it resulted in the scarcity of the popular PlayStation 2. The DRC holds 80% of the world’s coltan reserves, more than 60% of the world’s cobalt, and the world’s largest supply of high-grade copper.

These minerals are vital to maintaining U.S. military dominance, economic prosperity, and consumer satisfaction. Because the United States does not have a domestic supply of many essential minerals, the U.S. government identifies sources of strategic minerals, particularly in Third World countries, then encourages U.S. corporations to invest in and facilitate production of the needed materials. Historically, the DRC (formerly Zaire) has been an important source of strategic minerals for the United States. In the mid-1960s, the U.S. government installed the dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko, which ensured U.S. access to those minerals for more than 30 years.

Today, the United States claims that it has no interest in the DRC other than a peaceful resolution to the current war. Yet U.S. businessmen and politicians are still going to extreme lengths to gain and preserve sole access to the DRC’s mineral resources. And to protect these economic interests, the U.S. government continues to provide millions of dollars in arms and military training to known human rights abusers and undemocratic regimes. Thus, the DRC’s mineral wealth is both an impetus for war and an impediment to stopping it.

Background to the War

Under colonialism, the Western countries perfected a system of divide-and-rule in Central Africa, callously dividing ancestral lands and orchestrating strife between ethnic groups. The current crisis represents a continuation of these insidious practices.

A flash point for the current war is the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, in which nearly one million people were killed. The U.S. government made every effort to block humanitarian intervention that could have stopped the slaughter of Rwandan Tutsis by the Hutu government, actively lobbying the United Nations to hold off on sending peacekeepers to the region. In the absence of UN forces, Paul Kagame, a U.S.-trained army commander, led the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in a military action that toppled the Hutu regime. After Kagame became Rwanda’s vice president (a very powerful position) and defense minister, the United States sent $75 million in military aid to the new government. Additionally, U.S. Green Berets began to provide "humanitarian training" to Rwandan troops.

In October 1996, Kagame’s RPF joined with members of Yoweri Museveni’s Ugandan People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) and Laurent Kabila, a Congolese rebel leader, in an invasion of Zaire. In 1997, they succeeded in toppling Mobutu. They also sought to dismantle camps controlled by the Hutu militia responsible for the Rwandan genocide. The coalition, known as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (AFDL), included U.S.-trained troops. Although Rwandan troops who participated in the AFDL invasion committed gross human rights abuses that a UN report labeled "crimes against humanity," the U.S. government continued to provide military support to the Kagame regime.

During the conflict, U.S. corporations treated rebel-controlled Zaireian territory as open for business, even while Mobutu remained the internationally-recognized leader of Zaire. Once the AFDL took control of Katanga (one of the DRC’s richest mineral patches), Western friends and allies began negotiating with Kabila for access to mineral resources.

Under rebel leadership, the method of exploiting these resources fundamentally changed. During Mobutu’s reign, locally-based Congolese strongmen had controlled the distribution of resources on the government’s behalf, effectively limiting the potential for massive mining deals. But after the AFDL invasion, well-connected Western businessmen were able to secure much larger mining interests than in previous years.

For example, in May 1997, American Mineral Fields (AMF) – whose chair is Mike McMurrough, a personal friend of President Clinton – cut a $1 billion mining deal with Kabila. According to Kabila advisors and news reports, the negotiations began immediately after Kabila captured Goma (a city right across the border with Rwanda) in February 1997, and were handled by Kabila’s U.S.-trained finance commissioner. The deal allowed AMF to perform feasibility studies on reactivating the Kipushi mine, a high-grade zinc and copper deposit. The company also landed exclusive exploration rights to an estimated 1.4 million tons of copper and 270,000 tons of cobalt (about ten times the volume of current world cobalt production). While AMF admits that political problems have slowed the pace of its DRC operations, the company continues to develop plans for the Kipushi mine.

Also in 1997, Bechtel, the engineering and construction company, established a strong relationship with Kabila. Bechtel – whose history of collaboration with the CIA is well-documented in Laton McCartney’s 1989 book, Friends in High Places – drew up a master development plan and inventory of the country’s mineral resources free of charge. Bechtel also commissioned and paid for NASA satellite studies of the country for infrared maps of its mineral potential. Bechtel estimates that the DRC’s mineral ores alone are worth $157 billion.

At the same time, Kabila enjoyed the support of Western military interests. Kabila was in frequent contact with Richard Orth, former deputy of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency for Africa. The agency, which operates as an arm of the Pentagon, supplies military intelligence to warfighters and weapons dealers around the world. During the Clinton administration, Orth was appointed U.S. military attaché to Kigali, the Rwandan capital, shortly before Kabila began his march across the DRC. Additionally, former Pentagon officials acted as military advisers to Kabila in Goma, producing a dangerous mix of business, politics and military power.

Renewed War in the East

After Kabila’s rise to power, the desire for mineral wealth helped to escalate conflict between the DRC on the one hand and Rwanda and Uganda on the other. In August 1998, after falling out with Kabila, Kagame of Rwanda and Museveni of Uganda launched a new invasion of the DRC. Both leaders claimed that they entered the DRC to undermine Kabila’s power and protect their borders from rebel groups that threatened to destabilize their countries.

In the name of pursuing peace, Kabila’s former allies have been able to advance their own mineral interests. During the AFDL war, top Rwandan and Ugandan military officials learned first-hand about the lucrative business of mining. Since the 1998 war began, territories controlled by Rwandan- and Ugandan-supported rebel groups have become de facto states where mining companies have openly expressed interest in investing. Rwanda is allied with Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD-Goma), while the Ugandan government has formed a close relationship with leaders of the Congolese Liberation Front (CLF), a Mobutuist rebel movement. The RCD and the CLF now control the entire eastern region of the DRC, the wealthiest in terms of natural resources.

Both Rwanda and Uganda provide arms and training to their respective rebel allies and have set up extensive links to facilitate the exploitation of mineral resources. Along with their rebel allies, the two countries seized raw materials stockpiled in DRC territory and looted money from DRC banks. Rwanda and Uganda also set up colonial-style systems of governance, appointing local authorities to oversee their territories in the DRC. Meanwhile, high-ranking members of the Rwandan and Uganda military (including relatives of Kagame and Museveni) retain significant control over illegal mineral exploitation. Local Congolese, including children, are forced to work in the mines for little or no pay, under guard of Rwandan and Ugandan troops. Rwanda prisoners also participate in mining. To transport weapons to the rebels in the DRC, and to fly resources out of the DRC to Rwanda and Uganda, the authorities rely on private companies owned or controlled by Kagame’s and Museveni’s friends and relatives. They also utilize international connections made during the AFDL war.

The illegal mining has been a huge windfall for Rwanda and Uganda. The two countries have very few mineral reserves of their own. But since they began extracting the DRC’s resources, their mineral exports have increased dramatically. For example, between 1996 and 1997, the volume of Rwanda’s coltan production doubled, bringing the Rwandans and their rebel allies up to $20 million a month in revenue. Also, the volume of Rwanda’s diamond exports rose from about 166 carats in 1998 to some 30,500 in 2000 – a 184-fold increase! From 1997 to 1998, the annual volume of Uganda’s diamond exports jumped from approximately 1,500 carats to about 11,300, or nearly eight-fold; since 1996, Ugandan gold exports have increased tenfold. The final destination for many of these minerals is the United States.

Western corporations and financial institutions have encouraged the exploitation. For example, in 1999, RCD-Goma’s financial arm – known as SONEX – received $5 million in loans from Citibank New York. Additionally, a member of the U.S. Ambassador to the Congo’s honorary council in Bukavu has been promoting deals between U.S. companies and coltan dealers in the eastern region. He is also acting chair of a group of coltan-exporting companies based in Bukavu. (Bukavu is located in RCD-held territory.)

U.S. military aid has contributed significantly to the crisis. During the Cold War, the U.S. government shipped $400 million in arms and training to Mobutu. After Mobutu was overthrown, the Clinton administration transferred its military allegiance to Rwanda and Uganda, although even the U.S. State Department has accused both countries of widespread corruption and human rights abuses. During his historic visit to Africa in 1998, President Clinton praised Presidents Kagame and Musevini as leaders of the "African Renaissance," just a few months before they launched their deadly invasion of the DRC with U.S. weapons and training. The United States is not the only culprit; many other countries, including France, Serbia, North Korea, China, and Belgium, share responsibility. But the U.S. presence has helped to open networks and supply lines, providing an increased number of arms to the region.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank have knowingly contributed to the war effort. The international lending institutions praised both Rwanda and Uganda for increasing their gross domestic product (GDP), which resulted from the illegal mining of DRC resources. Although the IMF and World Bank were aware that the rise in GDP coincided with the DRC war, and that it was derived from exports of natural resources that neither country normally produced, they nonetheless touted both nations as economic success stories. Although Uganda in particular has made significant strides in improving access to education and reducing the rate of new AIDS infections, debt relief has also allowed it the space to appropriate more money for its military ventures.

Although rebels control half of the DRC’s territory, deals with the Congolese government itself are still attractive. In January 2000, Chevron – the corporation that named an oil tanker after National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice – announced a three-year, $75 million spending program in the DRC, thus challenging the notion that war discourages foreign investment. In 1999, the company, which has been present in the Congo for 40 years, was producing 17,700 barrels of oil a day. It hopes that, by 2002, production will increase to 21,000 barrels per day. The gamble seems to be paying off. When Joseph Kabila, Laurent Kabila’s son and successor, visited the United States earlier this year, he reassured Chevron officials that stability under his leadership would ensure a safe environment for investment.

Of course, because of war and ongoing political unrest, these deals may not endure. But considering the potential for billions of dollars in profits, many mining corporations believe the investment is worth the risk. As one investor put it, "It is a good moment to come: it is in difficult times that you can get the most advantage."

Prospects for Peace

In August 1999, Uganda, Rwanda, and their rebel allies, among others, signed a cease-fire agreement with the DRC at Lusaka, Zambia. The agreement, which the U.S. government heavily supported, gave the Rwandan- and Ugandan-backed rebels significant power in developing a new Congolese government. It also allowed them to collaborate with the Congolese army in monitoring the withdrawal of foreign troops. If implemented, the Lusaka accord could bring the peace and stability that some Western corporations prefer.

But the demand for mineral resources continues to drive the DRC conflict. In April 2001, a scathing UN report argued that Presidents Kagame and Museveni are "on the verge of becoming the godfathers of the illegal exploitation of natural resources and the continuation of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo." The two leaders, the report alleged, have turned their armies into "armies of business."

In light of these findings, the UN report calls for sweeping restrictions on Uganda, Rwanda and their Congolese-based rebel allies. These would include: embargoing the import or export of strategic minerals; embargoing the supply of weapons; freezing the financial assets of rebel movements and their leaders; and freezing the assets of companies or individuals who continue to illegally exploit the DRC’s natural resources.

These proposals, however, would obstruct Western corporations’ access to strategic minerals. Not surprisingly, the U.S. State Department has indicated that it is unlikely to recommend sanctions against its African allies. According to East African media reports, U.S. diplomats continue to view Rwanda and Uganda as "strategic allies in the Great Lakes region" and "would not want to upset relations with them at this time." Additionally, UN sources say that James Cunningham, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, has simply asked Uganda to "address in a constructive way" the UN’s findings. The IMF and World Bank have also indicated that their policies toward Rwanda and Uganda will remain unchanged.

Since 1994, close to four million people have perished in Rwanda and the eastern region of Congo. Many of the deaths are due to direct combat and torture by the belligerent parties, but most have been caused by starvation and malnutrition. Health services are practically nonexistent, and even where they do exist, many cannot reach them. Thousands of people hiding in the forest from soldiers have watched their villages burned to the ground and their families tortured. Soldiers have looted their possessions, their crops and their life’s savings. Foreign soldiers have manipulated ethnic tensions and encouraged neighbor killing neighbor. Oblivious to the suffering, many Westerners continue to reap the benefits of the rich Congolese soil.

Despite recent troop withdrawals, the illegal mining and trade continues unabated. The real party fueling the conflict is foreign capital investment by corporations, with the tacit support of their own governments. This war of genocidal proportions cannot end until U.S. and other Western corporations and governments are forced to change their priorities. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other organizations have helped to raise international awareness about the urgency of the situation in the DRC, through campaigns against "blood diamonds," economic exploitation, and the massive humanitarian crisis the country faces.

But the DRC’s future is in the hands of its youth, the next generation, the students and grassroots organizers who are dedicated to establishing peace and stability in their country. It remains to be seen whether the United States will encourage this hopeful spirit of change and democracy, or continue to enable the exploitation and destruction of the most resource-rich country on the African continent.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Israel's Right-Wing Makeover

Right wing ideologue Benjamin Netanyahu has swept to power in the elections. Coming with him are pro-settler politicians who are firmly against any Palestinian state, and militarists who are itching to preemptively wage war on Iran--along with anyone else in the neighborhood. To top it off, an anti-Arab ultra-nationalist, Avigdor Lieberman (who thinks apartheid for the Palestinians is a good idea, and at whose rallies Israeli teens chant "Death to Arabs") now has the position of "kingmaker" in the new emergent government. There's no misreading this--Israel as a state has tilted radically to the right, with leaders who are best compared to the neocons of the Bush era. And the left, defeated and humiliated, has been reduced to a minority voice.

It boggles the mind to think that the architects of the recent massacre in Gaza, are actually to the *left* of the people now in power. It seems the "extremists" are no longer restricted and blockaded in Gaza--they now have compatriots in Tel Aviv. Troubling for an Obama administration eager to wrangle out some form of Mid East peace, hope and change did not come to Israel.

More below the fold.

The Palestinian reaction:

Fatah leaders on the ground see the Israeli election as confirming what they already knew: that there's nothing to be gained by continuing the charade of U.S.-sponsored talks-about-talks with the Israelis. They could not get what they needed from Olmert, and they know his successors will be even more hardline. From the Palestinian perspective, the past eight years of waiting for negotiations with Israel has left Abbas empty-handed, while the latest Gaza conflict has put Hamas in a stronger position than ever in Palestinian public opinion.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Obama Strikes Back! (and it's about time)

Finally! After nearly two weeks of letting the GOP bash the Obama administration's intended stimulus plan, the head guy in charge is finally firing back. Seeming lost in some feel-good fog of "bipartisanship," the White House has allowed obstructionist Republicans to whittle away important portions of the package, all the while bashing it as "pork" or "wasteful spending." They even managed to twist the administration's arm and insert a series of useless tax cuts. And what did the the President get back in return? Not a single Republican in the House voted for the bill.

Realizing that a party that allows Rush Limbaugh to dictate it's agenda can't be trusted to deal with economic matters seriously, Obama yesterday finally hit back at his critics--calling out their hypocrisy and chiding them for what he termed "ideological blockage." My favorite line:

Now, you have some people, very sincere, who philosophically just think the government has no business interfering in the marketplace. And in fact there are several who've suggested that FDR was wrong to intervene back in the New Deal. They're fighting battles that I thought were resolved a pretty long time ago.

Pure gold. Excerpts of the news conference after the fold.

Transcript: President Obama's Feb. 9 press conference, released by the White House

Courtesy, CBS News

OBAMA: Good evening, everybody. Please be seated.

Before I take your questions tonight, I'd like to speak briefly about the state of our economy and why I believe we need to put this recovery plan in motion as soon as possible.

I took a trip to Elkhart, Indiana today. Elkhart is a place that has lost jobs faster than anywhere else in America. In one year, the unemployment rate went from 4.7 percent to 15.3 percent. Companies that have sustained this community for years are shedding jobs at an alarming speed, and the people who've lost them have no idea what to do or who to turn to. They can't pay their bills and they've stopped spending money. And because they've stopped spending money, more businesses have been forced to lay off more workers. In fact, local TV stations have started running public service announcements that tell people where to find food banks, even as the food banks don't have enough to meet the demand.

As we speak, similar scenes are playing out in cities and towns across America. Last Monday more than a thousand men and women stood in line for 35 firefighter jobs in Miami. Last month our economy lost 598,000 jobs, which is nearly the equivalent of losing every single job in the state of Maine. And if there's anyone out there who still doesn't believe this constitutes a full-blown crisis, I suggest speaking to one of the millions of Americans whose lives have been turned upside down because they don't know where their next paycheck is coming from.

And that is why the single most important part of this Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Plan is the fact that it will save or create up to 4 million jobs -- because that's what America needs most right now.

It is absolutely true that we can't depend on government alone to create jobs or economic growth. That is and must be the role of the private sector. But at this particular moment, with the private sector so weakened by this recession, the federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back into life. It is only government that can break the vicious cycle where lost jobs lead to people spending less money which leads to even more layoffs. And breaking that cycle is exactly what the plan that's moving through Congress is designed to do.

When passed, this plan will ensure that Americans who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own can receive greater unemployment benefits and continue their health care coverage. We'll also provide a $2,500 tax credit to folks who are struggling to pay the costs of their college tuition, and $1,000 worth of badly needed tax relief to working and middle class families. These steps will put more money in the pockets of those Americans who are most likely to spend it, and that will help break the cycle and get our economy moving.

But as we've learned very clearly and conclusively over the last eight years, tax cuts alone can't solve all of our economic problems -- especially tax cuts that are targeted to the wealthiest few Americans. We have tried that strategy time and time again, and it's only helped lead us to the crisis we face right now.

And that's why we have come together around a plan that combines hundreds of billions in tax cuts for the middle class with direct investment in areas like health care, energy, education, and infrastructure -- investments that will save jobs, create new jobs and new businesses, and help our economy grow again, now and in the future.

More than 90 percent of the jobs created by this plan will be in the private sector. They're not going to be make-work jobs, but jobs doing the work that America desperately needs done, jobs rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, repairing our dangerously deficient dams and levees so that we don't face another Katrina. They'll be jobs building the wind turbines and solar panels and fuel-efficient cars that will lower our dependence on foreign oil, and modernizing our costly health care system that will save us billions of dollars and countless lives.

They'll be jobs creating the 21st century classrooms, libraries, and labs for millions of children across America. And they'll be the jobs of firefighters and teachers and police officers that would otherwise be eliminated if we do not provide states with some relief.

After many weeks of debate and discussion, the plan that ultimately emerges from Congress must be big enough and bold enough to meet the size of the economic challenges that we face right now. It's a plan that is already supported by businesses representing almost every industry in America; by both the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO. It contains input, ideas, and compromises from both Democrats and Republicans. It also contains an unprecedented level of transparency and accountability, so that every American will be able to go online and see where and how we're spending every dime. What it does not contain, however, is a single pet project, not a single earmark, and it has been stripped of the projects members of both parties found most objectionable.

Now, despite all of this, the plan is not perfect. No plan is. I can't tell you for sure that everything in this plan will work exactly as we hope, but I can tell you with complete confidence that a failure to act will only deepen this crisis as well as the pain felt by millions of Americans. My administration inherited a deficit of over $1 trillion, but because we also inherited the most profound economic emergency since the Great Depression, doing a little or nothing at all will result in even greater deficits, even greater job loss, even greater loss of income, and even greater loss of confidence. Those are deficits that could turn a crisis into a catastrophe. And I refuse to let that happen. As long as I hold this office, I will do whatever it takes to put this economy back on track and put this country back to work.

I want to thank the members of Congress who've worked so hard to move this plan forward. But I also want to urge all members of Congress to act without delay in the coming week to resolve their differences and pass this plan.

We find ourselves in a rare moment where the citizens of our country and all countries are watching and waiting for us to lead. It's a responsibility that this generation did not ask for, but one that we must accept for the future and our children and our grandchildren. And the strongest democracies flourish from frequent and lively debate, but they endure when people of every background and belief find a way to set aside smaller differences in service of a greater purpose.

That's the test facing the United States of America in this winter of our hardship. And it is our duty as leaders and citizens to stay true to that purpose in the weeks and months ahead. After a day of speaking with and listening to the fundamentally decent men and women who call this nation home, I have full faith and confidence that we can do it. But we're going to have to work together. That's what I intend to promote in the weeks and days ahead.


Monday, February 9, 2009

What If You Had a World War- And No One Cared ?

Why do we care about some wars and not about others? Why does Darfur arouse such passion in decent people all over the world, but the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or DRC (the country until a decade or so ago known as Zaire), which has taken the lives of far more people—4 million between 1996 and 2001, according to some informed estimates—for the most part remains what relief workers brutally but not inaccurately call an “orphan conflict”?

Such are the questions asked by French writer Gerard Prunier in his book Africa’s World War: Congo, Rwandan Genocide and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe.

The awful truth is, the current horrors of the Congo are the tailspin of the long shamefully ignored late 1990s war in the region, that drew in numerous factions, countries, international backers (in arms and finances) and resulted in the deaths of some 4 million Congolese. That war itself spun out (in part) of players and actors in the equally neglected genocidal horror in Rwanda, that killed three quarters of a million people. The causational link between these two tragedies is direct and glaring. And the chaos that has resulted from rapacious resource-greedy regional neighbors with silent international partners and a country left debilated by a western backed dictator (Mobutu) and strangling IMF debt (accrued western bribes to Mobutu) have all served to make a deadly cocktail that remains a glaring hole in the heart of a continent and the world. One way or the other, we're all responsible for the Congo, and we'll all pay.

David Rieff at Truthdig examines Prunier's book and tries to answer some of the vexing moral questions these tragedies pose to Africa and the world. Read article here or after the fold.

David Rieff on ‘Africa’s World War’

Posted on Feb 6, 2009
By David Rieff

There is a bitter old joke that asks the question, “Why is Hiroshima so much more remembered than Nagasaki,” to which the reply goes, “Nagasaki had a lousy press agent.” It may not be funny, but, as the history of war over the last half-century demonstrates all too vividly, it is still all too relevant. Why do we care about some wars and not about others? For example, why is it possible, virtually at a moment’s notice, to mobilize tens of thousands of people anywhere from Vienna to Melbourne to demonstrate in support of the suffering people of Gaza, but virtually impossible to mobilize even a small fraction of these numbers in support of the suffering people of Zimbabwe?

Some would say the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a special case, and that opposing Israel’s policies is also a way of opposing American hegemony and thus is bound to have perennial global appeal. But even if this is so, it does not explain the gap in the attention paid to wars in which United States involvement is not crucial. Why does Darfur arouse such passion in decent people all over the world, but the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or DRC (the country until a decade or so ago known as Zaire), which has taken the lives of far more people—4 million between 1996 and 2001, according to some informed estimates—for the most part remains what relief workers brutally but not inaccurately call an “orphan conflict”?

This is one of the morally and historically crucial questions that French writer Gerard Prunier, whose career has ranged from journalism to far more direct engagement in many of the African crises that have concerned him over the past three decades, seeks to answer in a magisterial new book on the bloodbath in the DRC, “Africa’s World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe.” As he remarks pointedly—and this as someone passionately committed to an outside intervention in Darfur—“during 2005, 1,600 articles were published on the Darfur crisis; only 300 were published on the DRC … even though the Congo situation killed over three times as many people as Darfur.”

Prunier first became known to general readers in the English-speaking world (though he is one of the few French writers whose prose style in English is absolutely on a par with the way he writes in his native tongue) for what seemed at the time the definitive book on the Rwandan genocide of 1994. “The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide” was both a history and an impassioned indictment of French complicity in the mass slaughter of the Rwandan Tutsis. Later, Prunier would reconsider his stance. In “Africa’s World War,” he writes ruefully and unsparingly of the pitfalls of political sympathy and of the ways in which writers’ biographies shape their opinions: “Getting to know the Tutsi exiles [from Rwanda] in Uganda in 1986-1989 was my ‘formative experience,’ later reinforced by visiting the RPF [the Tutsi exile army, the Rwandan Patriotic Front] in Byumba in June 1992.”

There are many reasons why the public debate over issues like Rwanda tends to be so simultaneously superficial and sentimental. It would certainly be much improved, however, were more journalists willing to re-examine their positions in the way that Prunier has done, at great cost to himself. For if siding with the RPF earned him the plaudits of the great and the good in the English-speaking world and in much of Europe as well, his turn against the government of former RPF commander Paul Kagame in Kigali and the myriad human rights violations it committed after overthrowing the genocidal Hutu Power regime has won him only slanderous claims that he has somehow morphed into an apologist for the genocide.

Prunier himself is painfully aware of this, writing despairingly of a simultaneous “lack of interest at the [Western] government level, and the short attention span of the general public” with regard to African crises. Where the crises in Rwanda, Burundi and the DRC are concerned, Prunier observes, the effect was to reduce a situation of major conflict and appalling human suffering “to a comic book atmosphere in which absolute horror alternates with periods of complete disinterest from the non-specialists.” And he is withering about the way in which the Western default position rarely strays from stereotyped categories about Africa. Thus, he observes, “the desperate African struggle for survival is bowdlerized beyond recognition, and at times the participant-observer has the feeling of being caught between a Shakespearian tragedy and a hiccupping computer.”

The explicit goal of “Africa’s World War” is both to set the record straight—or at the very least, as Prunier puts it, to state “the problem correctly”—on the Congolese conflict of the late 1990s and its partial origins in the Rwandan genocide, and to ask a more general question about contemporary Africa: whether that war which engulfed one-third of the African continent marked a watershed in what Prunier himself views as both a moment of general crisis and of epochal transformation in the aftermath of the Cold War, the fall of the apartheid regime in South Africa, and the Rwandan genocide, or, instead, was, however terrible, a problem specific to Congolese history that was only to be expected when the U.S.-supported dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko finally came to its inglorious end.

Prunier’s own view is that it was both. “By 1996,” he writes, “the Zairean core of the [African] continent had become a hologram flickering on the brink of its own destruction.” At the same time, however, Prunier is drawn to the analogy between the war in Congo—which involved not just Congolese and Rwandans but military forces of Angola, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Burundi and Namibia—and impacted conflicts from Sudan and Congo-Brazzaville all the way to Libya, and the Thirty Years’ War in Europe in the 17th century. Like that conflict more than 300 years earlier, Prunier suggests, the Congolese war took place because of African leaders’ personal [rather than national—the point is a key one for Prunier] “ambitions, prejudices, and security fears.”

On Prunier’s account, there was no one who more exemplified this than the Rwandan leader Paul Kagame. Though he remarks in passing that “Kigali politics are only slightly more transparent than Pyongyang’s,” Prunier makes an emphatic case for Kagame having sought the destabilization of the DRC both out of legitimate fears of the renewal of the genocide by Hutu Power extremists who had taken refuge in large militarized refugee camps in eastern DRC after Kagame’s forces chased them out of Rwanda in the summer of 1994. These security fears were well known at the time, and in fact were cited by the Rwandans themselves and their many supporters in the United States and Western Europe as the moral imperative behind the Rwandan intervention (Prunier points out how Gen. Kagame came to be seen in the West as leader of “the exemplary victims”).

Prunier does not dismiss this. Despite accusations leveled at him from Kigali and from the Kagame regime’s foreign supporters, he is no genocide “negationist.” But what he does do—and the corrective is an essential one if we are ever to understand what the Congolese war was really about—is restore to its rightful importance the fact that Kagame had been one of a number of African leaders—most notably, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere—who had been plotting for some time to orchestrate Mobutu’s overthrow. Prunier is not arguing that the Hutu militias across the border were simply a flag of convenience for Kagame. But in his view, the Tutsi government’s security fears were only part of the rationale even if, as Prunier remarks acidly, Rwanda got its casus belli in 1996 “courtesy of a totally blind Zairian political class.”

“Wars begin where you will but do not end where you please,” Machiavelli instructed the Prince. The Congolese war exemplifies the truth of this adage, and not only for the Rwandans. What Prunier lays out in great detail and with great authority is the extent to which all the belligerents blundered and improvised, while, all the while, it was the Congolese people who paid the price for the ambitions of modern-day princes from a dozen countries. As Prunier puts it, although all wars are terrible, “the Congolese continental conflict was particularly horrible, not only because it caused the deaths of nearly four million human beings but because of the massive suffering it visited on the surviving civilian populations.”

That suffering goes on today, even if the shifting alliances that have marked the Congolese conflict from its inception have led President Kagame to abandon his erstwhile protégé, the Congolese Tutsi militia commander Laurent Nkunda, and instead make common cause with his erstwhile enemy, the central government of the DRC, against both Nkunda and the Hutu Power militiamen still active in the forests of the eastern part of the country.

Prunier is not entirely pessimistic (at least by normally intelligent rather than contemporary American standards). In his view, there is a sound basis for believing that such a violent and general conflict will not soon recur. “The death (and rebirth) of Zaire,” he writes, “is a unique case,” adding that “no other country in Africa, probably not even Nigeria or South Africa, has the potential for creating such a continent wide upheaval.” This is not to say that he minimizes the long-term, continentwide effects of the war, a conflict that he describes as a transforming moment for Africa that marked the continent’s entry into “the modern age.”

This is cold comfort, and no one is more painfully aware of this fact than Prunier himself. He may speak of enormous, inchoate political processes at work across the continent, but he never loses sight of the fact that what he calls the “powerless raw material” is the suffering population of the DRC. One of the most remarkable qualities of this remarkable book is Prunier’s ability to combine cool analysis and scholarly dispassion without losing sight of its horror. He is dismissive of most outside observers and what he calls their “wish for things that are good to hear” even when the subject is a terrible war. For Prunier, the truth is elsewhere, and there is no doubt that he is speaking personally when he writes that “the violence of what has happened in eastern and central Africa has left few of those who looked at it from up close completely intact.”

There can be no finer response from an observer than that, and this moral commitment is what makes “Africa’s World War” much more than simply an authoritative history, as valuable as that would be in and of itself. This is a profound book, and, to use an old-fashioned word, a noble one.

David Rieff is the author of numerous books, including “A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis,” “At the Point of a Gun: Democratic Dreams and Armed Intervention” and, most recently, “Swimming in a Sea of Death: A Son’s Memoir.”


Sunday, February 1, 2009

Terror from the Skies

Last week saw yet another "suspected" US missile strike in Pakistan. More than likely from a US unmanned Predator drone, the missile strike would be about the 38th since last August. Altogether, some 132 people have been killed in Pakistan by these attacks. And while the US, in a type of non-denial, denial, contends they are meant to "disrupt" Taliban and terror networks, they inevitably take the lives of civilians. In this case, while Western newspapers claimed anywhere from 1 to 10 "insurgents" had been killed, locals claimed "...three children lost their lives."

Begun by the Bush administration, these controversial (and illegal) acts of non-declared war have been resistant to any "change" brought about the new administration. A "hawk" on this issue, President Obama had asserted forcefully that he would use such measures since the campaign trail. It looks like he's making good on the threat. Meanwhile however, these missile strikes are unleashing terror on suspected enemies and innocents alike, and creating growing resentment in Pakistan that could blowback on the government--seen as either impotent against, or in alliance with, the US.

This past week journalist Bill Moyers sat down with historian Marilyn Young, author of the forthcoming Boming Civilians: A Twentieth Century History and former Pentagon official Pierre Sprey, who helped found the military reform movement, to discuss the ethics, effectiveness and danger of America's longtime reliance on aerial bombardment--from Vietnam to Afghanistan--as a form of war and pacification.

Watch video here.

Transcript below the fold.

January 30, 2009

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the JOURNAL.

Very often in the White House, the most momentous decisions are, at the time, the least dramatic, the least discussed. And they don't make news, or history, until much later, when their consequences bubble to the surface downstream. There are observers who think that could prove to be the case with a decision made within hours of Barack Obama's swearing in last week.

It started as a few lines in wire reports - a bit of buzz on the web - then a story here and there in the weekend papers. Unmanned American drones like this one, called Predators, honing in on villages in Pakistan, near the border with Afghanistan, striking like silent intruders in the night, against suspected terrorists.

Early accounts of casualties varied from a dozen to more than 20 dead and wounded. One Pakistani security official told THE WASHINGTON POST that perhaps ten insurgents had been killed, maybe even a high value target, a senior member of al Qaeda or the Taliban. Then the TIMES of London quoted locals who said "... three children lost their lives" when the missiles destroyed several homes.

Since last August, 38 suspected U.S. missile strikes have killed at least 132 people in Pakistan, where allegedly we are not at war.

In next door Afghanistan, the number is much higher. For seven years American and NATO forces have been chasing Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda and the Taliban, not only with Predator drones, but with guided missiles and bomber raids as well. According to the United Nations and the organization Human Rights Watch, aerial bombing has killed or wounded more than a thousand civilians, what the Pentagon calls, "collateral damage."

The death of civilians has brought sharp criticism, including from some of our NATO allies and the president of Afghanistan. They believe the bombing is turning people in both Afghanistan and Pakistan against the West, actually undermining an effective campaign against terrorists.

The bombing of civilians from the sky is an old and questionable practice, argued over since the moment the military began to fly. It was deliberate strategy in World Wars I and II. American presidents approved it in Korea and extensively in Vietnam, again in the first Gulf War, then in Bosnia and Kosovo, and six years ago during the campaign of "shock and awe" over Iraq.

But what lifted those reports last weekend out of the routine is the simple fact that for the first time the air strikes occurred on President Obama's watch. As he said during his campaign, and as Secretary of Defense Gates reaffirmed this week, Obama is escalating America's military presence in Afghanistan. He may increase it to as many as 60,000 troops this year.

When I read the first story about the Predator strikes last weekend, I thought back to 1964, and another president.

LYNDON JOHNSON: My fellow Americans...

BILL MOYERS: After an encounter in the Gulf of Tonkin between American destroyers and North Vietnamese torpedo boats, President Lyndon Johnson ordered bombing raids over North Vietnam.

LYNDON JOHNSON: Air action is now in execution...

BILL MOYERS: LBJ said we want no wider war, but wider war is what we got, eleven years of it.

Now military analysts and historians, including my two guests are wondering aloud - could Afghanistan become "Obama's war," a quagmire that threatens to define his presidency, as Vietnam defined LBJ's?

Marilyn Young is a professor of history at New York University. She's published numerous books and essays on foreign policy, including THE VIETNAM WARS, 1945-1990, THE NEW AMERICAN EMPIRE and IRAQ AND THE LESSONS OF VIETNAM. She is the co-editor of a collection of essays to be released next month titled BOMBING CIVILIANS: A TWENTIETH-CENTURY HISTORY.

Pierre Sprey is a former Pentagon official, one of Defense Secretary Robert McNamara's famous "whiz kids" who helped design and develop two of the military's most successful airplanes, the F-16 Falcon Fighter and the A-10 Warthog Tankbuster. But in the late 1970s, with a handful of Pentagon and congressional insiders, Sprey helped found the military reform movement. They risked their careers taking issue with a defense bureaucracy spending more and more money for fewer and fewer, often ineffective weapons.

You will find an essay with his shared by-line in this new book, AMERICA'S DEFENSE MELTDOWN, published by the Center for Defense Information.

Welcome to both of you.


PIERRE SPREY: Thank you.

BILL MOYERS: Marilyn, what did you think last weekend when four days into the Obama administration we read those reports of the strikes in Pakistan?

MARILYN YOUNG: My heart sank. It absolutely sank. It had been very high. I had been, like I think the rest of the country, feeling immensely encouraged and inspired by this new administration and by the energy and vigor with which he began. And then comes this piece of old stuff on approach to a complicated question that in comes in the form of a bomb and a bomb in the most dangerous of all places. And, yeah, my heart sank, literally.

BILL MOYERS: Our military, Pierre, says it's sure that it's striking militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan. And that they're not targeting civilians. Can they be sure? From your experience, can they be sure?

PIERRE SPREY: I'm sure that their purpose is to strike militants. I have no doubt of that whatsoever. But with the weapons they use and with the extremely flawed intelligence they have.


PIERRE SPREY: I'd be astonished if one in five people they kill or wound is in fact, a militant.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean "flawed intelligence"?

PIERRE SPREY: You can't tell with a camera or an infrared sensor or something whether somebody's a Taliban. In the end, you're relying on either, you know, some form of intercepted communications, which doesn't point at a person. It just, you know, points at a radio or a cell phone or something like that. Or, most likely, you're relying on some Afghani of unknown veracity and unknown motivation and who may, may very well be trying to settle a blood feud rather than give you good information.

BILL MOYERS: But don't these drone planes and Predator missiles provide a commander-in-chief, a President of the United States, with enormous political convenience for being able to order military action without risking American lives?



MARILYN YOUNG: Yeah, it's-


MARILYN YOUNG: Simple. Yeah.



PIERRE SPREY: A very dangerous option because it's so convenient and because at home it's politically acceptable because our boys aren't dying on the ground, it gets us into tremendous trouble, which, of course, in general is true of bombing.

BILL MOYERS: And your-

PIERRE SPREY: Bombing is always politically popular relative to sending infantry and killing our boys.

BILL MOYERS: Aren't these drone planes and these Predator missiles effective? Don't they get the bad guys, even though they might kill a few civilians?

PIERRE SPREY: Their importance is enormously exaggerated, as is their glamour. A Predator is a very large radio-controlled model airplane with a 48-foot wingspan and a snowmobile motor in the back. It only goes about 80 miles an hour. And it stays up for 10, 15 hours and carries a missile. And when they launch the missile, the missile is not pinpoint accurate. You know, if it's a house, reasonably often it hits the house it's aimed at. And when it does, it usually kills a bunch of other people around.

MARILYN YOUNG: And it's true, you can aim at this table. But the question is who's sitting at - well, they might want to aim at this table. But, you know, who's sitting at the table? And you don't know. Or actually you do want to hit Pierre but you don't want to hit the two of us. Unfortunately, pieces of what hit him hit us. And we are severely injured or dead. But really Pierre is what you wanted and Pierre is what you got. And this is supposed to be a triumph. And it seems to me that it is a triumph in the most abstract sense. And if you are on the ground as one of these things come at you, the material meaning of being bombed becomes very clear. And that's not ever discussed or taken into account.

BILL MOYERS: The material meaning?

MARILYN YOUNG: Yes. What it feels like to be bombed, not to be in the crosshairs going down but to be on the ground looking up. And the footage that we have in the sense we have of drones is of someone 10,000 miles away pushing a button and, wham, there it goes. But nobody's sitting there on the ground looking at what happens after it goes up.

PIERRE SPREY: And what happens on the ground is for every one of those impacts you get five or ten times as many recruits for the Taliban as you've eliminated. The people that we're trying to convince to become adherents to our cause have turned rigidly hostile to our cause in part because of bombing and in part because of, you know, other killing of civilians from ground forces. But we're dealing with a society here, that's based on honor, you know? The Pashtun are very ancient people.

BILL MOYERS: This is the tribe in the southern part of the-

PIERRE SPREY: Well, it's not a tribe. It's a nation. This is 40 million people spread across Afghanistan and Pakistan, you know, who don't even recognize that border. It's their land.

BILL MOYERS: Forty million?

PIERRE SPREY: There's 40 million of them. That's a nation, not a tribe. Within it are tribal groupings and so on. But they all speak the common language. And they all have a very similar, very rigid, in lots of ways very admirable code of honor much stronger than their adherence to Islam.

PIERRE SPREY: They have to resist, you know, being invaded, occupied, bombed, and killed. It's a matter of honor. And they're willing to die in unbelievable numbers to do that.

BILL MOYERS: Are you suggesting that these strikes could be contributed to the destabilization of Pakistan, one of our allies?

MARILYN YOUNG: It's clear that they're doing that. I mean, there never was before an organization called Taliban in Pakistan. This didn't exist as an organization. It does now. It's unclear to me as well the relationship between our punitive enemy, al Qaeda, and the Taliban. That's unclear. And it's, it's very unclear what American policy will be with respect to either group. Mainly what's unclear is what our goal is in Afghanistan. It's really unclear.

BILL MOYERS: Well, we went there to get Osama bin Laden after 9/11 and to free Afghanistan from the brutal grip of the Taliban, religious extremists who were wrecking misery and creating a base there for al Qaeda, right? That was-

PIERRE SPREY: And we failed miserably on both missions, you know? al Qaeda's obviously flourishing, undoubtedly stronger around the world than it was when we started this in 2001. And what did we liberate the country from? We certainly caused the Taliban to withdraw. We didn't defeat them. They withdrew. And Afghanistan turned into a battleground for warring huge, extremely violent drug gangs. All these provincial governors, all these people we call warlords euphemistically are large-scale drug gangsters.


PIERRE SPREY: And the country was ripped apart by them. And that's why the Taliban is coming back.

BILL MOYERS: You saw the story in "The Washington Post" this week from Secretary of Defense Gates who says, you know, we're not longer going to be involved with these gangsters you talk about, with a corrupt government of Karzai in Kabul. We're going to concentrate instead on doing something about the mess you just described by waging a war that will ultimately defeat the insurgents. That was, in effect, his message. New strategy.


BILL MOYERS: Involvement with the civilian government.

MARILYN YOUNG: And we'll focus on the provinces. And there is also an implication from earlier stories that there will be an effort to buy off various warlords to try and import some of what was done in Iraq into Afghanistan. The problem is the focus remains a military solution to what all the other information I have says is a political problem. So I don't care how you slice the military tactic, so long as your notion is that you can actually deal with this in a military way, you're just going to march deeper and deeper into what Pete Seeger used to call the Big Muddy or I guess in Afghanistan it's pretty dry. It would be some other expression. But the point is if you can't figure out a political way to deal in Afghanistan then you can only compound the compound mess that Pierre talked about.

PIERRE SPREY: Yeah, the military approach is always and the conventional think tank approach and the General Petraeus approach is, first, we'll establish security.

MARILYN YOUNG: Right. That's-

PIERRE SPREY: And then we'll fix the government.


PIERRE SPREY: That doesn't work. In fact, that's already failed. And the more we try to fix the security situation, the more we will drive these people, particularly the Pashtun, into implacable opposition. And whether the military solution is more bombing from Predators or from F-16s or more special forces on the ground, you know, attacking villages and inadvertently killing lots of civilians, it doesn't matter. As long as security comes first, the mission will fail because these people are sick and tired of a government that's oppressing them and a foreigner who's killing them.

BILL MOYERS: There was a photo the other day of a protest in Pakistan, a few days after a drone attacked. The banner reads, quote, "Bombing on tribes. Obama's first gift to Pakistan." Now, that's part of the blowback, isn't it?

PIERRE SPREY: That's incredibly dangerous.


PIERRE SPREY: I mean, I don't think people in America have any sense of how dangerous that is. By bombing into those areas, those traditional Pashtun areas, that the Pakistani government long ago made a pact, you know, at the founding of the state of Pakistan to never invade those areas and to leave the Pashtun to govern themselves. And we are forcing the Pakistanis to break that pact, both on the ground with their army. And we're breaking it by bombing the Pashtun in Pakistan. That is taking a weak and also rotten Pakistani government and crumbling it. That's putting them on the horns of a dilemma that they don't need. Why is that so dangerous to us? Because this is a nuclear armed country. And when they fall apart and fall into the hands of people like, people that are running Afghanistan, you could have a nuclear war with India, you know? I mean, we're talking about not just blowback but we're talking about catastrophe could result.

MARILYN YOUNG: You know, the thing that gets me, Obama appoints George Mitchell and he says what we're going to do is listen. What we're going to do is figure we're just going to listen. And in his first press interview on that Arab TV network, which was a brilliant move I thought, he talked about respect. BARACK OBAMA [SOT]: We are ready to initiate a new partnership based on mutual respect and mutual interest.

MARILYN YOUNG: He used the word "respect" repeatedly. And it's an excellent word to use and an important one. He, it's not impossible to say we're going to pause in Afghanistan and listen. We're going to think about it. We're going to figure it out. We're not going to move militarily at this moment until we know what we're doing.

BILL MOYERS: But suppose, Marilyn that somebody from the Pentagon came to the White House right after the inauguration and said, "You know, we've had this drone attack planned. And we've spotted these insurgents whom we think really are militants--"


BILL MOYERS: "and killers in their own right. And we want to - we want you to approve this raid." And suppose he had said no four days after the inauguration and that had been leaked. You know what would have happened on all of the right-wing talk radio shows in.


BILL MOYERS: And maybe "The Washington Post" and editorial page and others like that. He has no backbone, right? I mean, wasn't he in a sense, trapped by this option?

MARILYN YOUNG: Yeah, but that's, that's you know, he's read history. He should at least or he should have been very familiar with the Johnson administration. That's exactly the trap that Johnson walked into. And it's not necessary. I have this odd notion that the American public is actually, in the main, adult enough to listen and think and to respond to a president who says, I'm going to tell you what's going on. For eight years there has been miasma, lies, deception, bizarre behavior. We're going to change that and not just economically and not just domestically. But we're really going to see what we're doing everywhere. That means I did not approve a military move I was urged to approve because I want to know what I'm doing. And I'm sure my fellow citizens will join me in wishing to know what it is the United States is doing militarily before it does it.

PIERRE SPREY: I would applaud, I would have the utmost admiration.


PIERRE SPREY: For any leader, even for a senator or congressman who had the guts to say exactly what you just said. But it's not in the cards. And we knew it wasn't in the cards when during the campaign Obama subscribed to the fact that we're in a war on terror.


PIERRE SPREY: This is not a war on terror. You know? And anybody who starts from the premise that it's a war on terror is heading straight into disasters error.


PIERRE SPREY: And he said-

BILL MOYERS: I don't understand that because George W. Bush defined this as a war on terror. And I think Obama must be using the same invocation, you know?


BILL MOYERS: This is all part of the war on terror. He said it in his inaugural address.

PIERRE SPREY: Yes, he said that. I was appalled. You talk about our hearts sinking.

PIERRE SPREY: 9/11 was not an act of war.

BILL MOYERS: What was it?

PIERRE SPREY: It was a criminal act. It was a simple.


PIERRE SPREY: Criminal act by a bunch of lunatic fanatic violent people who needed to be tracked down and apprehended and tried exactly as you would with any other lunatic violent person, like we do with our own domestic terrorists, like the guy who bombed the Oklahoma federal building.

BILL MOYERS: Federal building. Right.

PIERRE SPREY: You know? Exactly the same thing we did to him is what we should have launched on a huge basis, of course, on a huge international police basis and not called it.

MARILYN YOUNG: And there would have been totally international support.

PIERRE SPREY: It's not a war.


PIERRE SPREY: We, by calling it a war, we have glorified al Qaeda. We have glorified the cause of violent radical Islam. All that tiny minority have become heroes. And we made them heroes. We made their propaganda. We made their case for them.

BILL MOYERS: Let me read you an excerpt from the official White House statement on foreign policy under President Obama. Quote, "Obama and Biden will refocus American resources on the greatest threat to our security, the resurgence of al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They will increase our troop levels in Afghanistan, press our allies in NATO to do the same, and dedicate more resources to revitalize Afghanistan's economic development." There you have a very clear statement of their intentions that we're going to concentrate on the war. And in fact by the end of this year there'll be 60,000, not 30,000 American troops in Afghanistan. And there's no indication the strikes, the air strikes that are killing civilians are going to stop.

PIERRE SPREY: And the 60,000-


PIERRE SPREY: -will be useless.


PIERRE SPREY: You know, the Russians at the peak of their invasion - who dealt with the Afghanis a good deal more brutally than we did - had over 150,000 and a trained a 250,000 man Afghan army. And they lost. 60,000 is a recipe for failure, defeat, and ultimately a disgraceful withdrawal by the United States. One way or another, no matter how nice a face we put on it, we'll be kicked out of there just like we were kicked out of Vietnam.

BILL MOYERS: Speaking of Vietnam, and you've written so much about this, we have a conversation between President Johnson and, your old boss, Secretary of Defense McNamara about bombing. Take a look at this. ROBERT McNAMARA [SOT]: If we hurt them enough it isn't so much that they don't have more men as it is that they can't get the men to fight because the men know that once they get assigned to that task their chances of living are small. And I, myself, believe that's the only chance we have of winning this thing. And when they see they're getting killed in such high rates in the South and they see that supplies are less likely to come down from the North, I think it will just hurt their morale a little bit more. And to me that's the only way to win, because we're not killing enough of them to make it impossible for the North to continue to fight. But we are killing enough to destroy the morale of those people down there if they think this is going to have to go on forever. PRESIDENT JOHNSON [SOT]: All right. Go ahead, Bob. ROBERT McNAMARA: Thanks.

BILL MOYERS: Now, Secretary McNamara and President Johnson were talking about a different kind of bombing from the drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan and a lot more of it. But do you see a historical parallel there?

PIERRE SPREY: Absolutely.

MARILYN YOUNG: Oh, yeah. I mean, the notion that you will break the will of the enemy, I - that's such a depressing clip. I just can't - I mean, it just sinks me right back into the moment when all that was going on. Winston Churchill is held up as a great hero because he defies German bombing and says we will fight them everywhere. They can't break our will. And he is considered a great hero. McNamara is incapable of reading that same spirit back into his enemy. Instead, he assumes that he can bomb them into submission. And it's the same notion now that you can scare them, break their will. And the drone, this precise thing, is maybe, in the minds of those who use it, even more scary because you don't see us but we see you. And zap we gotcha. But it's, again, an effort to deal with a political issue with force. And it doesn't work.

BILL MOYERS: Pierre, as I said in the introduction, you helped develop a couple of very effective fighter planes. Is there a moral dimension to this use of drones that you didn't see in a more conventional kind of weapon?

PIERRE SPREY: There's a moral dimension to every kind of bombing that destroys civilians, particularly bombing that destroys more civilians than military people. You can't avoid it. There's nothing notable about the drones that changes that. And the moral dimension is very simple. And it dates back to the original theologian of bombing, Julio Doue, a rather fanatical Italian from World War I who first hypothesized, wrongly, that you could destroy an enemy's morale, exactly what you said, and win victories without any ground armies if you simply bombed them enough. And secondly, that the bombers would always get through, that they would always defeat fighter opposition and antiaircraft opposition. Both propositions have been provided in history over and over and over again to be not only wrong but thumpingly wrong.

BILL MOYERS: Has civilian bombing ever been effective, Marilyn?

MARILYN YOUNG: I can't think. Can you?

PIERRE SPREY: The answer is no.


PIERRE SPREY: Very simply, no.

BILL MOYERS: Here you say there are none.

MARILYN YOUNG: No. I don't think ever.

PIERRE SPREY: And by the way-


PIERRE SPREY: You know? Churchill tried it. Churchill, by the way, after that brave stand to resist the Germans, turned around and, for politic reasons, just like our leaders, decided that it would be a great idea to simply area bomb Germany. What that means is to kill civilians. And they deliberately set out to kill German civilians on the same premise of Julio Doue that we would kind of kill them into submission. And it failed miserably.

BILL MOYERS: Does it seem to you that President Obama believes he can escape the outcome in Afghanistan that George W. Bush did not escape in Iraq?

MARILYN YOUNG: Right. I think he does think he can escape it. I think anybody would imagine coming into fresh into power would imagine he can make it happen better. If he didn't believe that, he would not have said - he would not have signed off on the drone attack. So I think he thinks he can escape it. And by fiddling within the same set of tactics that the Bush administration did. And isn't it any - there's no new thinking going on.

PIERRE SPREY: See, that's the problem.


PIERRE SPREY: Is - he's surrounded by people who tell him, you know, "Boss, you know, all we need is, like, 30,000 more people here to secure the nation. And we need to get rid of Karzai because he's a problem. And we got a few more Band-aids here, and it'll all be fine." So-

BILL MOYERS: We couldn't keep up with who we were getting rid of in Saigon, you know? I'm serious about that.

PIERRE SPREY: Exactly. And we're-


PIERRE SPREY: It's - same thing's going to happen when we get rid of Karzai because the people behind him are worse. And they will be worse. And Obama is going to be in exactly that situation, surrounded by a bunch of Robert McNamaras, except not so smart.

BILL MOYERS: So do you believe "The New York Times" was accurate the other day when it said Afghanistan could quickly come to define the Obama presidency?

MARILYN YOUNG: I hope not. I cannot tell you how much I hope not. I think - he's got so much he wants to do. And he has so many good things he wants to do. And he starts out, you know, really marvelously, trying to do those good things. And if he is deflected, as Johnson was, that would be, well, it's this sort of tragedies that America's good at. It turns out to be as much a tragedy for the people we're supposedly engaged with as it is for us.

PIERRE SPREY: I'm pessimistic on that. I'm more pessimistic than Marilyn.


PIERRE SPREY: I think he will be trapped in it. I think.

MARILYN YOUNG: I'm hopeful.

PIERRE SPREY: I mean, he's already-

MARILYN YOUNG: I'm not, I knock wood a lot.

PIERRE SPREY: He's already so committed through his campaign of reinforcing Afghanistan and continuing the path we've been on unless he finds an act of enormous political will and courage and a way of explaining it to the American people that, you know, we've engaged on a path that's wrong and that's not going to work. And I'm about to reverse course. That's really hard to do.

MARILYN YOUNG: You know, it's-

PIERRE SPREY: And if he doesn't reverse course, it's the same quicksand. It's deeper and deeper, step by step.

MARILYN YOUNG: See, suppose that Osama bin Laden stayed where he was. Suppose he did. I mean, the acts of terror occur or they don't occur and they're deflected or they're not deflected no matter where he's living, right?


MARILYN YOUNG: So the question of why we're in Afghanistan looms very large indeed.

PIERRE SPREY: Absolutely.

MARILYN YOUNG: Since it doesn't seem to relate in any way I can really name with precision American security.

BILL MOYERS: Two important books, "Bombing Civilians: A 20th Century History," with Marilyn Young, and "America's Defense Meltdown: Pentagon Reform for President Obama and the New Congress," with an important chapter from Pierre Sprey. Thank you both for being with me on the Journal.

MARILYN YOUNG: Thank you, Bill.

PIERRE SPREY: Thank you, Bill.