Category Archives: Taliban

US’ Afghan War: Imperialism’s Limit exposed

US Afghanistan War reveals imperialism’s limit. It’s, as Mao said decades ago, a paper tiger. The war is the evidence.

The just published The Washington Post report – “The Afghanistan Papers: A secret history of the war, At war with the truth”, (by Craig Whitlock, December 9, 2019) – carries the story of this limit. It’s, to some, a story of corruption. To another section, the war is mismanaged, which is inefficiency, wrong planning, etc. But, the root of the failure is in the deep: Imperialism’s characteristic.

The 18 years long war with nearly $1 trillion taxpayers’ money is costlier as the US people lost 2,300 of their citizens – US troops. More than 20,000 US troops were injured in the war. And, since 2001, more than 775,000 US troops have deployed to Afghanistan. Three US presidents — George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump — and their military commanders tried/are trying to win the Afghan war.

Citing the WaPo report, Slate in its report “The War in Afghanistan was Doomed from the start, The main culprit? Corruption” (by Fred Kaplan on December 9, 2019) said:

The war in Afghanistan has been a muddle from the beginning, steered by vague and wavering strategies, fueled by falsely rosy reports of progress from the battlefield, and almost certainly doomed to failure all along.

This is the inescapable conclusion of a secret U.S. government history of the war — consisting of 2,000 pages, based on interviews with more than 400 participants — obtained and published by The Washington Post on December 9, 2019 after years of legal battles to declassify the documents.

Written by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, an agency created by Congress in 2008 to investigate waste and fraud, the report, titled Lessons Learned, is the most thorough official critique of an ongoing American war since the Vietnam War review commissioned in 1967 by then – Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.

The Afghan War Doc, if it may be dubbed in this way, is a significant document for studying imperialism that exposes its inner working system, its character and a number of its weaknesses. It’s not only an exposure of the national security bureaucracy of the state waging the war; it’s also a revelation of the state – the way the state perceives, thinks, analyzes, calculates, plans, acts. It points its fingers to the politics and political process of the state involved before pointing fingers to the national security bureaucracy; because this bureaucracy can’t move a millimeter in any direction without directives from any faction of the political leadership of the state, and all the factions of the political leadership move along the routes the political process permits.

Citing the WaPo report, the Slate report said: The war has been “built on ignorance, lies, and counterproductive policies.”

No state intentionally or deliberately wages war on ignorance, lies and counterproductive policies. The state machine’s inherent process produces ignorance, lies, etc. It means somewhere in the machine lies are produced, ignorance is manufactured, and the machine perceives lies, etc. are beneficial to it. Where’s this “somewhere”? How it survives and operates with lies, corruption, etc.? The bourgeois politicians, academia, its theoreticians don’t look into this “somewhere”, into this process of manufacturing ignorance, lies, corruption.

Slate said in its report:

Central to the current war effort — and to its failure — was corruption. [….] The United States failed because the billions of dollars we poured into the country only made Afghanistan’s corruption worse.

A state machine, most powerful in today’s world as is widely perceived, fails to check corruption in the machine it has constructed in the land – Afghanistan – it’s waging its longest war! It’s a “riddle” – money poured to win a war, and the money is eating out the war-effort. The state fails to manage either money or war. In spite of this fact of failure, the state dreams to dictate the world!

The WaPo report said:

[S]enior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth […] making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.

It was lying to the taxpayers, the citizens employing the officials to carry on duties the citizens entrusted to the officials. And, the state can’t control the lying business. It’s the state’s failure – a few persons employed by the state were misleading the state and the entire body of the taxpayers, and the state is not a lifeless identity as there are hundreds of intelligent persons including veteran politicians. And, the state machine is not separate from these persons – officials and political leaders in charge of the affairs. Alternatively, there’s something else behind this deliberate job of “deviating” from truth, if it’s deviation, if not usual practice, which is not. Any of the two is serious failure, fatal ultimately, if this – deviation from truth – is the case.

The documents, according to the WaPo, were generated by a federal project examining the root failures of the longest armed conflict in US history. The US government tried to shield the identities of the vast majority of those interviewed for the project and conceal nearly all of their remarks. The WaPo won release of the documents under the Freedom of Information Act after a three-year legal battle. It took three years and two federal lawsuits for the WaPo to pry loose 2,000 pages of interview records. US officials constantly said they were making progress. They were not, and they knew it. It shows bourgeois state is not inherently and always transparent. State machine serving a class can never be always transparent. Moreover, who decides what to release publicly or not? Isn’t it a group of officials? Marxist political scientists already discussed this issue – role of executive – many times. Thus, they – the officials – stand above taxpayers, citizens.

The documents show:

  1. Bush and Obama had polar-opposite plans to win the war. Both were destined to fail.
  2. Despite vows the US wouldn’t get mired in “nation-building” in Afghanistan, it has wasted billions doing just that. The US has allocated more than $133 billion to build up Afghanistan — more than it spent, adjusted for inflation, to revive the whole of Western Europe with the Marshall Plan after World War II. An unidentified former State Department official told government interviewers in 2015: “The timeframe for creating a strong central government is 100 years, which we didn’t have.”
  3. The US flooded the country with money — then ignored the graft it fueled.
  4. Afghan security forces, despite years of training, were dogged by incompetence and corruption.
  5. The US war on drugs in Afghanistan has imploded at nearly every turn.
  6. The US government has not carried out a comprehensive accounting of how much it has spent on the war, but the costs are staggering.
  7. US officials acknowledged that their war strategies were fatally flawed.

“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers in 2015. He added: “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”

“If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction . . . 2,400 lives lost,” Lute added, blaming the deaths of US military personnel on bureaucratic breakdowns among Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department.

So, it’s found:

  1. Lack of knowledge! [Unbelievable in the case of the state widely perceived as the most powerful in the world.]
  2. No comprehensive war plan! [Also unbelievable.]
  3. No accounting! [How much money the taxpayers spent behind inspectors to check with spending? A lot.]
  4. The US people were not aware of the real picture. What’s the level of transparency, accountability, and the media claiming to be free? [The WaPo’s legal struggle to get the documents is evidence of “free” flow of info, and the decisive role of the executive branch.]
  5. A breakdown within the system of Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department – a system with elected politicians and employed persons.

Then, what does this signify? Is it a powerful, vibrant, working system? Only fools keep trust on this machine, which appears, with a shortsighted view, very powerful, but very weak to its core in the long-term.

Since 2001, the US Defense Department, State Department and US Agency for International Development (USAID) have spent or appropriated between $934 billion and $978 billion, according to an inflation-adjusted estimate calculated by Neta Crawford, a political science professor and co-director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University. These figures do not include money spent by other agencies including the CIA and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“What did we get for this $1 trillion effort? Was it worth $1 trillion?” Jeffrey Eggers, a retired Navy SEAL and White House staffer for Bush and Obama, told government interviewers. He added, “After the killing of Osama bin Laden, I said that Osama was probably laughing in his watery grave considering how much we have spent on Afghanistan.”

The documents, the WaPo report said, also contradict a long chorus of public statements from US presidents, military commanders and diplomats who assured the US taxpayers year after year that they were making progress in Afghanistan and the war was worth fighting.

The report said:

Several of those interviewed described explicit and sustained efforts by the US government to deliberately mislead the public. They said it was common at military headquarters in Kabul — and at the White House — to distort statistics to make it appear the United States was winning the war when that was not the case. [Emphasis added.]

‘Every data point was altered to present the best picture possible,’ Bob Crowley, an Army colonel who served as a senior counterinsurgency adviser to US military commanders in 2013 and 2014, told government interviewers. ‘Surveys, for instance, were totally unreliable but reinforced that everything we were doing was right and we became a self-licking ice cream cone.’ [Emphasis added.]

John Sopko, the head of the federal agency that conducted the interviews, acknowledged to The Post that the documents show ‘the American people have constantly been lied to. [Emphasis added.]

Diplomats and envoys from this state constantly advise Third and Fourth World countries to be factual regarding all aspects of life in these countries. Do they have any moral ground for delivering this sort of sermon? Neither the mainstream politics nor the MSM in these countries raise this question when these diplomats shower sermons; even a group of the organizations and persons claiming to be anti-imperialist feel shy to raise the question.

The interviews are the byproduct of a project led by Sopko’s agency, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the agency the US Congress created in 2008 to investigate waste and fraud in the war zone. Reports SIGAR produced, said WaPo, were “written in dense bureaucratic prose and focused on an alphabet soup of government initiatives, left out the harshest and most frank criticisms from the interviews.”

The reports omitted the names of more than 90 percent of the people interviewed. While a few officials agreed to speak on the record to SIGAR, the agency said it promised anonymity to everyone else it interviewed to avoid controversy over politically sensitive matters.

James Dobbins, a former senior US diplomat who served as a special envoy to Afghanistan under Bush and Obama, told government interviewers: “[W]e clearly failed in Afghanistan.”

The WaPo obtained hundreds of pages of previously classified memos about the Afghan war that were dictated by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld between 2001 and 2006. Dubbed “snowflakes” by Rumsfeld and his staff, according to the WaPo, “the memos are brief instructions or comments that the Pentagon boss dictated to his underlings, often several times a day. Most of his snowflake collection — an estimated 59,000 pages — remained secret.”

Bourgeois state business is mostly secretive until it gets pressure to act in another way although its propaganda machine relentlessly sings the opposite song.

The report said:

Fundamental disagreements went unresolved. Some U.S. officials wanted to [….] to reshape the regional balance of power among Pakistan, India, Iran and Russia.

No confusion in finding a great game – an imperialist strategy.

The interviews reveal US military commanders’ struggle to identify their enemy and the logic behind their war:

Was al-Qaeda the enemy, or the Taliban? Was Pakistan a friend or an adversary? What about the Islamic State and the bewildering array of foreign jihadists, let alone the warlords on the CIA’s payroll?

According to the documents, the US government never settled on an answer.

As a result, in the field, U.S. troops often couldn’t tell friend from foe.

They thought I was going to come to them with a map to show them where the good guys and bad guys live,” an unnamed former adviser to an Army Special Forces team told government interviewers in 2017. “It took several conversations for them to understand that I did not have that information in my hands. At first, they just kept asking: ‘But who are the bad guys, where are they?’

The view wasn’t any clearer from the Pentagon.

“I have no visibility into who the bad guys are,” Rumsfeld complained in a September 8, 2003, snowflake. “We are woefully deficient in human intelligence.”

It seems the machine is blind. And, it’s not the war machine that appears blind, but the state running the war machine. And, in ultimate analysis, the state machine and the war machine are not separate identities. In actual sense, the machine isn’t blind; it has no alternative other than acting blindly. And, humans direct the machine. So, the flaw is not of the machine. It’s the human identities that have to act in that way.

During the peak of the fighting from 2009 to 2012, the report said, “US lawmakers and military commanders believed the more they spent on schools, bridges, canals and other civil-works projects, the faster security would improve. Aid workers told government interviewers it was a colossal misjudgment, akin to pumping kerosene on a dying campfire just to keep the flame alive.”

One unnamed executive with the USAID guessed that 90 percent of the money they spent was overkill: “We lost objectivity. We were given money, told to spend it and we did, without reason.”

Many aid workers blamed the US Congress for what they saw as a mindless rush to spend.

One unidentified contractor told government interviewers he was expected to dole out $3 million daily for projects in a single Afghan district roughly the size of a US county. He once asked a visiting congressman whether the lawmaker could responsibly spend that kind of money back home: “He said hell no. ‘Well, sir, that’s what you just obligated us to spend and I’m doing it for communities that live in mud huts with no windows.’”

The huge aid that Washington spent on Afghanistan also gave rise to historic levels of corruption.

In public, US officials insisted they had no tolerance for graft. But they admitted the US government looked the other way while Afghan power brokers – allies of Washington – plundered with impunity.

Christopher Kolenda, an Army colonel who deployed to Afghanistan several times and advised three US generals in charge of the war, said that the Afghan government led by President Karzai had “self-organized into a kleptocracy” by 2006 – and that US officials failed to recognize the lethal threat it posed to their strategy.

Kolenda added, “Foreign aid is part of how” the Afghan kleptocrats “get rents to pay for the positions they purchased.”

Kolenda told government interviewers: “Kleptocracy, however, is like brain cancer; it’s fatal.”

By allowing corruption to fester, US officials told interviewers, they helped destroy the popular legitimacy of the Afghan government they were fighting to prop up. With judges and police chiefs and bureaucrats extorting bribes, many Afghans soured on democracy and turned to the Taliban to enforce order.

“Our biggest single project, sadly and inadvertently, of course, may have been the development of mass corruption,” Crocker, who served as the top US diplomat in Kabul in 2002 and again from 2011 to 2012, told government interviewers.

In China, the US had almost the same experience with Chiang while they – Chiang and the US – were fighting the Chinese people under the leadership of Mao.

Year after year, US generals have said in public they are making steady progress on the central plank of their strategy: to train an Afghan army and police force capable of defending the country without foreign help.

In the interviews, however, US military trainers described the Afghan security forces as incompetent, unmotivated and rife with deserters. They also accused Afghan commanders of pocketing salaries — paid by US taxpayers — for tens of thousands of “ghost soldiers.”

More than 60,000 members of Afghan security forces have been killed, a casualty rate that US commanders have called unsustainable, said the report.

A US military officer estimated that one-third of police recruits were “drug addicts or Taliban.” Yet another called them “stealing fools” who looted so much fuel from US bases that they perpetually smelled of gasoline.

With this force, imperialism can’t win its war.

The report said:

Afghanistan became the world’s leading source of opium. The US has spent about $9 billion to fight the problem over the past 18 years, but Afghan farmers are cultivating more opium poppies than ever. Last year, Afghanistan was responsible for 82 percent of global opium production, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Former officials said almost everything they did to constrain opium farming backfired. Douglas Lute, the White House’s Afghan war czar from 2007 to 2013, said: “I thought we should have specified a flourishing drug trade – this is the only part of the market that’s working.”

Bravo, enterprise with drug trade! And, they instruct and accuse many countries about drug dealings.

The report finds:

US never figured out ways to incorporate a war on drugs into its war against al-Qaeda. By 2006, US officials feared that narco-traffickers had become stronger than the Afghan government and that money from the drug trade was powering the insurgency.

Their drug-war is an amazing story: At first, Afghan poppy farmers were paid by the British state to destroy their crops, which only encouraged them to grow more the next season. Later, the US government eradicated poppy fields without compensation, which only infuriated farmers and encouraged them to side with the Taliban.

An intelligent brain they have!

US military officials, according to the report, have resorted to an old tactic from Vietnam – manipulating public opinion. In news conferences and other public appearances, those in charge of the war have followed the same talking points for 18 years. No matter how the war is going, they emphasized that they were making progress.

Rumsfeld had received a string of unusually dire warnings from the war zone in 2006. After returning from a fact-finding mission to Afghanistan, Barry McCaffrey, a retired Army general, reported the Taliban had made an impressive comeback: “[W]e will encounter some very unpleasant surprises in the coming 24 months.” “The Afghan national leadership are collectively terrified that we will tip-toe out of Afghanistan […] and the whole thing will collapse again into mayhem,” McCaffrey wrote in June 2006. Two months later, Marin Strmecki, a civilian adviser to Rumsfeld, gave the Pentagon chief a classified, 40-page report stuffed with worse news. It said “enormous popular discontent is building” against the Afghan government because of its corruption and incompetence. It also said that the Taliban was growing stronger, thanks to support from Pakistan, a US ally.

Yet with Rumsfeld’s personal blessing, the Pentagon buried the bleak warnings and told the public a very different story.

In October 2006, Rumsfeld’s speechwriters delivered a paper – “Afghanistan: Five Years Later.” Overflowing with optimism, it highlighted more than 50 promising facts and figures, from the number of Afghan women trained in “improved poultry management” (more than 19,000) to the “average speed on most roads” (up 300 percent).

“Five years on, there is a multitude of good news,” it read. “While it has become fashionable in some circles to call Afghanistan a forgotten war, or to say the United States has lost its focus, the facts belie the myths.”

Rumsfeld thought it was brilliant.

“This paper,” he wrote in a memo, “is an excellent piece. How do we use it? Should it be an article? An Op-ed piece? A handout? A press briefing? All of the above? I think it ought to get it to a lot of people.”

His staffers made sure it did. They circulated a version to reporters and posted it on Pentagon websites. Generals followed their boss: Present picture of “progress” in the war front.

Thus, they market “facts”, and groups of politicians in countries rely on them.

During US’ Vietnam War, it was the same story. The report recollected:

US military commanders relied on dubious measurements to persuade Americans that they were winning.

Most notoriously, the Pentagon highlighted ‘body counts,’ or the number of enemy fighters killed, and inflated the figures as a measurement of success.

In Afghanistan, with occasional exceptions, the U.S. military has generally avoided publicizing body counts. […] [T]he government routinely touted statistics that officials knew were distorted, spurious or downright false.

Since 2001, an estimated 157,000 people have been killed in the war in Afghanistan. This includes Afghan civilians and security forces, humanitarian aid workers, Taliban fighters and other insurgents, US military contractors, journalists and media workers, US military personnel, NATO and coalition troops.

A person identified only as a senior National Security Council official said there was constant pressure from the Obama White House and Pentagon to produce figures to show the troop surge of 2009 to 2011 was working, despite hard evidence to the contrary, said the report.

“It was impossible to create good metrics. We tried using troop numbers trained, violence levels, control of territory and none of it painted an accurate picture,” the senior NSC official told government interviewers in 2016. “The metrics were always manipulated for the duration of the war.”

Even when casualty counts and other figures looked bad, the senior NSC official said, the White House and Pentagon would spin them to the point of absurdity. Suicide bombings in Kabul were portrayed as a sign of the Taliban’s desperation, that the insurgents were too weak to engage in direct combat. Meanwhile, a rise in US troop deaths was cited as proof that American forces were taking the fight to the enemy.

In other field reports sent up the chain of command, military officers and diplomats took the same line. Regardless of conditions on the ground, they claimed they were making progress.

“From the ambassadors down to the low level, [they all say] we are doing a great job,” Michael Flynn, a retired three-star Army general, told government interviewers in 2015. “Really? So if we are doing such a great job, why does it feel like we are losing?”

Bob Crowley, the retired Army colonel who served as a counterinsurgency adviser in Afghanistan in 2013 and 2014, told government interviewers “truth was rarely welcome” at military headquarters in Kabul.

“Bad news was often stifled,” he said. “There was more freedom to share bad news if it was small – we’re running over kids with our MRAPs [armored vehicles] – because those things could be changed with policy directives. But when we tried to air larger strategic concerns about the willingness, capacity or corruption of the Afghan government, it was clear it wasn’t welcome.”

John Garofano, a Naval War College strategist who advised Marines in Helmand province in 2011, said military officials in the field devoted an inordinate amount of resources to churning out color-coded charts that heralded positive results.

But, Garofano said, nobody dared to question whether the charts and numbers were credible or meaningful.

“There was not a willingness to answer questions such as, what is the meaning of this number of schools that you have built? How has that progressed you towards your goal?” he said. “How do you show this as evidence of success and not just evidence of effort or evidence of just doing a good thing?”

Other senior officials said they placed great importance on one statistic in particular, albeit one the US government rarely likes to discuss in public.

“I do think the key benchmark is the one I’ve suggested, which is how many Afghans are getting killed,” James Dobbins, the former US diplomat, told a Senate panel in 2009. “If the number’s going up, you’re losing. If the number’s going down, you’re winning. It’s as simple as that.”

What are these: War-facts? Is this the way public is informed? Is this the way public are informed in a “free” society that claims fostering of free flow of information? Why facts are manipulated? It’s the fear of public, and public opinion. Imperialism fears public and public opinion, at home and abroad.

Ryan Crocker, former ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq, told the investigators in a 2016 interview, “You just cannot put those amounts of money into a very fragile state and society, and not have it fuel corruption.” He added that the same thing happened in Iraq, where corruption is “pandemic and deeply rooted” and where “it’s hard to see how a better political order can ever be established.”

A big problem, Crocker said, was a perennial “American urge,” when intervening in a foreign conflict, to “start fixing everything as fast as we can.” Pouring in billions of dollars, and that flows in the pockets of the powerful. The report estimates that 40 percent of US aid to Afghanistan was pocketed by officials, gangsters, or the insurgents.

Sarah Chayes, who served as an adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and who lived in Afghanistan for several years, told the investigators in 2015 that the problem was rooted in Washington. A major obstacle here, she said, was the “culture” in the State Department and the Pentagon, which focused on building relationships with their counterparts abroad. Since Afghan officials at all levels were corrupt, officials feared that going after corruption would endanger those relationships.

Chayes also said it was a big mistake to be “obsessed with chasing” the Taliban, to the point of neglecting the country’s political dynamics. We didn’t realize that many Afghans were “thrilled with the Taliban” for kicking corrupt warlords out of power. Instead, we aligned ourselves with the warlords, on the adage that “the enemy of our enemy is our friend”—and, as a result, further alienated the Afghan people and further enriched the corrupt powers, which in turn further inflamed the anti-government terrorists.

It’s a question that why a political leadership was moving in the way while a number of officials were identifying the problem realistically: Neglecting the political dynamics?

In September 2009, as the Obama administration was debating a new policy toward the Afghanistan war, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified at a Senate hearing that the main problem “is clearly the lack of legitimacy of the government” in Kabul.

Senator Lindsey Graham pushed the issue. “We could send a million troops, and that wouldn’t restore legitimacy in the government?” he asked.

“That is correct,” Mullen replied. The threat of corruption, he added, “is every bit as significant as the Taliban.”

Around this same time, during the closed-door National Security Council sessions, Mullen was urging then-president Obama to create a counterinsurgency strategy based on helping the Afghan government win the hearts and minds of its people – not addressing how to do this, if the government lacked legitimacy.

Almost all of Obama’s advisers sided with Mullen, a notable exception being then-vice president Joe Biden, who thought counterinsurgency wouldn’t work.

It’s impossible for imperialism to win hearts and minds of a people against whom it wages war while it depends on corrupt allies.

When General David Petraeus became commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2010, he appointed an anti-corruption task force. Sarah Chayes was one of its members. The task force concluded that corruption, from Kabul on down, was impeding the war effort and that the U.S. should cut off aid to the entire network of corruption. Petraeus sympathized with the findings, but he needed then-Afghan president Karzai’s cooperation to fight the war at all, and so he rejected the recommendation.

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However, the Pentagon released a statement saying there has been “no intent” by the department to mislead Congress or the public.

On October 11, 2001, a few days after the US started bombing the Taliban, a reporter asked Bush: “Can you avoid being drawn into a Vietnam-like quagmire in Afghanistan?”

“We learned some very important lessons in Vietnam,” Bush replied confidently. “People often ask me, ‘How long will this last?’ This particular battlefront will last as long as it takes to bring al-Qaeda to justice. It may happen tomorrow, it may happen a month from now, it may take a year or two. But we will prevail.”

“All together now – quagmire!” Rumsfeld joked at a news conference on November 27, 2001.

“The days of providing a blank check are over. . . . It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan,” said then-president Barack Obama, in a speech at the US Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

“Are we losing this war? Absolutely no way. Can the enemy win it? Absolutely no way,” said Army Major General Jeffrey Schloesser, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, in a news briefing from Afghanistan.

But, what does the reality say today?

  1. Afghanistan is a quagmire for the US.
  2. Lessons from Vietnam have not been learned by the US.
  3. US hirelings in Afghanistan are failing to take responsibility of their security.
  4. US is not winning its Afghan War.

The questions are

  1. Why imperialism is failing to learn the Vietnam-lesson?
  2. Why imperialism is bogged down in its Afghan-quagmire?
  3. Why imperialism’s hirelings are failing to take charge of its security?
  4. Why imperialism is embedded with its Afghan-corruption?
  5. Why such manipulation of facts while presenting Afghan-picture to its public?

The brief answer to the questions is: These are part of imperialism’s working mechanism, which its economic interests define.

It can’t move away despite rationality tells differently. Imperialism has its own rationality, which is fundamentally different from rationality of other economic interests. It has to depend on its hirelings. It can’t depend on others. That’s because of economic interests. Moreover, the way taxpayers see reality is completely different from the way imperialism sees. Imperialism’s way of looking at incidents and processes are determined by its interests; and it’s impossible for imperialism to ignore its interests, which makes it impossible to act differently. And, this doesn’t depend on personal choice/preference or characteristics of this or that political leader.

Imperialism’s Afghan War is not a war conducted by the US only. There’s involvement of other NATO powers. Keeping this – the NATO’s Afghan War – in mind helps perceive the imperialist system’s involvement and failure in the country. It’s not the US’ war only. It’s imperialism’s war against a people; and a war, which is part of imperialism’s world strategy.

The failures, the lies, the manipulation with facts, the “non”-understanding with political dynamics are not of a few persons/generals/bureaucrats/politicians, or of a single imperialist country. It’s part of a political process that connects a particular type of economic interest ingrained among armaments industry, military contractors, suppliers of military hardware, lobbying firms, political interests bent on dominating others for self-interests, and thus making a system with complex connections, a system based on particular characteristics of an economy.

Only a people politically organized and mobilized can change this course of imperialism if imperialism is correctly identified with all its characteristics. And, in today’s world, it’s difficult to perceive any people’s struggle without taking into consideration imperialism’s anti-people role.

Empires Are a Secret until They Start Falling

In the past, we have written about the 2020s as a decade when the United States Empire will end. This is based on Alfred McCoy’s predictions (listen to our interview with him on Clearing the FOG). Sociologist and peace scholar John Galtung believes US Empire will fall much faster, losing world dominance by 2020. Much of what he predicted when he said this in 2016 is happening now. In particular, there is a rise in “reactionary fascism” or a desire to go back to the “good old days,” the cost of maintaining the empire is taking an increasing economic toll and other countries are starting to rebuke the US, both its requests for military assistance and its unfair economic demands.

What this means for people in the United States and around the world depends on whether we can build a mass popular movement with the clarity of vision, skills, and solidarity necessary to navigate what is and will surely be a turbulent period. There are no guarantees as to the outcome. Failure to act could result in a disastrous scenario – at best, that the US will continue to try to hold on to power by waging economic and military warfare abroad, weakening the economy at home, and undermining necessities such as housing, healthcare, education and the transition to a Green economy. At worst, as Galtung describes, there could be “an inevitable and final war” involving nuclear weapons.

The People’s Mobilization to Stop the US War Machine and Save the Planet is next weekend. CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS. You must register in advance for the Monday night solidarity event. RSVP at bit.ly/RSVPapathtopeace. And sign the Global Appeal for Peace here.

When Empire Is In Decline

Alfred McCoy says that it is only when empires are in decline that people begin to recognize they live in an empire and start to talk about it. While discussion of empire hasn’t broken into the corporate media, it is certainly happening in the independent media. A concerted effort by a popular movement could bring it to the fore, just as Occupy changed the political dialogue about wealth inequality and the power of money. People in the US need to face some stark realities when it comes to declining US global power.

For starters, the United States does not currently have the capacity to wage a “Great Power Conflict” even though that is the goal of the national security strategy. The loss of its manufacturing base and lack of access to minerals necessary for producing weapons and electronics means the US does not have the resources to fight a great war. Much of the US’ manufacturing has been outsourced to other countries, including those targeted by US foreign policy. Resources necessary for weapons and electronics are in China, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Venezuela. It’s no surprise that the US is maintaining a military presence in Afghanistan, has increased its presence in Africa through AFRICOM and is struggling to wrest control of Venezuela.

Despite these attempts, the US is not having success. There is no military solution for the US in Afghanistan. As Moon of Alabama explains, the Taliban has taken control of more territory than it has had since the US started the war and has no reason to negotiate with the US. He advises, “The U.S. should just leave as long as it can. There will come a point when the only way out will be by helicopter from the embassy roof.”

Alexander Rubinstein writes the failures in Afghanistan can be attributed to Zalmay Khalilzad, currently the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation. Khalilzad has led US foreign policy in Afganistan and Iraq since the presidency of George W. Bush, and before that worked with Carter’s National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, who provided crucial support for the Mujahideen to draw the Soviet Union into a quagmire. The writing is on the wall that the US must leave Afghanistan, but that is unlikely to happen as long as people such as Khalilzad and Elliott Abrams, who has a similar ideology, are in charge.

As the US-led coup in Venezuela continues to fail due to a lack of support for it within the country, resilience to the effects of the unilateral coercive economic measures (sanctions) and exposure of attempts to create chaos and terror by paramilitary mercenaries, the US grows increasingly desperate in its tactics. There has already been a failed assassination attempt against President Maduro, a US freight company tied to the CIA has been caught smuggling weapons and the US and its Puppet Guaido have been implicated in a terrorist plot as the failed coup enters a more dangerous phase. This week, the Organization of American States voted to invoke a treaty, the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (TIAR), which would allow military intervention. Mexico strongly opposed that possibility. This comes as Venezuela has strengthened troops at the Colombian border after discovering terrorist training camps on the Colombian side. With allies such as Russia and China, an attack on Venezuela would not only hurt the region but could go global.

Despite the Asian Pivot under President Obama during his first administration and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper’s comment this week that the US is directing a lot of energy toward China, analysts predict the US will fail to achieve dominance in the Asia-Pacific. China is purchasing weapons from Russia that are superior to US systems, is strengthening its military coordination with Russia through drills and is expanding its global ties through the Belt and Road Initiative. Matthew Ehret writes in Strategic Culture, “Those American military officials promoting the obsolete doctrine of Full Spectrum dominance are dancing to the tune of a song that stopped playing some time ago. Both Russia and China have changed the rules of the game on a multitude of levels….”

Protests in Hong Kong, as we described in a recent newsletter, are being used to stoke greater anti-China sentiment in the US. As often occurs, the sophisticated propaganda arm of US-backed color revolutions excites leftist activists, but each day it becomes clearer just how deep the US’ influence is. K. J. Noh provides a helpful guide – a list of seven signs a protest is not a popular progressive uprising. One sign is Hong Kong protesters are supporting a bill in the US Congress, the so-called “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.” The bill would allow the United States to sanction Hong Kong officials.

Andre Vltchek attended a recent protest and interviewed some of the participants. He found the democracy protesters have little grasp on the oppression Hong Kongers faced under British colonization, they attack anyone who disagrees with them and they are destroying public infrastructure. One of the protest leaders, Joshua Wong, is openly meeting with figures connected to US regime change efforts, and NED-backed organizations are planning an anti-China protest in Washington, DC on September 29. Their new propaganda symbol is a Chinese flag with a Swastika on it. No surprise that was evident at the protests in Hong Kong this weekend.

The US is already at war with China with battlefronts on trade and the Asian Pacific. The propaganda around Hong Kong showing prejudice against China is part of manufacturing consent for the conflict between the US and China, which will define the 21st Century. US militarism is also escalating to involve space. This week, the US conducted its first space war game and Putin warned of a space arms race.

Our Tasks as Activists

It was good news this past week that President Trump asked John Bolton, a white supremacist neocon who disrupted any attempts at negotiation, to resign from his position as National Security Adviser. Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report writes, “Every sane person on the planet should be glad to see Bolton go.” But, even with Bolton gone, the US War Machine will rage on with bi-partisan support. Whether Trump starts to live up to his campaign rhetoric of non-intervention remains to be seen. The appointment of Michael Kozak as the new US envoy to Latin America is a bad sign.

Almost two centuries of Manifest Destiny that went beyond North America to spread US Empire across the globe will not end overnight. It will take a concerted effort to build a national consensus against the dominant ideologies of white supremacy and US exceptionalism to change the course of US foreign policy. Fundamental tasks of that effort include education, organizing and mobilizing. Below are some examples of each.

Education:

The Palestinian Great March of Return, a weekly nonviolent protest in Gaza demanding the right of return granted by the United Nations, continues and each week Israelis injure and murder unarmed Palestinians. Abby Martin and Mike Prysner of The Empire Files produced an excellent documentary about it, “Gaza Fights For Freedom,” and are touring the country to raise awareness. Listen to our interview with Abby Martin on Clearing the FOG. Find a showing near you or organize one.

The United States uses unilateral coercive measures (sanctions) that are illegal under international law to wage war on other countries. The Treasury Department currently lists 20 countries sanctioned by the US, but the US also uses threats of sanctions to wield power. Sanctions are warfare, even though they are not commonly viewed that way. They result in the suffering and death of mostly civilians. Kevin Cashman and Cavan Kharrazian explain how sanctions work, why they violate international law and how they threaten global stability.

Organizing:

Alison Bodine and Ali Yerevani encourage activists to avoid the organizing pitfall of getting caught up in debates about the internal politics of countries targeted by US imperialism. Our tasks, as citizens of imperialist countries, are to stop our governments from intervening in the affairs of other countries and demand they respect international law. We also have a task of building solidarity with civilians of other countries. It will require a global mass movement to address major issues such as the climate crisis, wealth inequality, colonization, and violence.

Citizen to citizen diplomacy is critical in building this mass movement and solidarity. Ann Wright, retired from the military and State Department, writes about the challenges of citizen to citizen diplomacy as she tours Russia. Ajamu Baraka, national organizer of Black Alliance for Peace, reminds us that war and militarism are class issues in his address to an international meeting of trade unions held in Syria.

We are strong believers in breaking out of the confines of the narrative presented by corporate media about countries outside the US. Our trips to Iran and Venezuela this year were invaluable learning experiences. We hope to visit more targeted countries. An effort that came out of these trips is the new Global Appeal for Peace, first steps toward creating an international network to complement the more than 120 non-aligned movement countries that are resolved to respect international law and sovereignty and take action to create peace and prevent the catastrophic climate crisis. Sign on to this effort at GlobalAppeal4Peace.net.

Mobilizing:

The People’s Mobilization to Stop the US War Machine and Save the Planet starts next weekend. On Saturday night, Black Alliance for Peace is sponsoring a discussion, “Race, Militarism and Black Resistance in the ‘Americas’” in the Bronx. On Sunday we will rally and march to the UN with Embassy Protectors, Roger Waters and many more. On Monday night, we have a special solidarity night at Community Church of New York. Registration is required as there will be high-level representatives of impacted countries speaking about the challenges they face. Click here to register.

Rage Against the US War Machine will take place October 11 and 12 in Washington, DC. This is the second annual event organized by March on the Pentagon. Click here for details.

We also ask you to join the Embassy Protectors Defense Committee. Sign the petition to drop the Trump administration’s charges against us for protecting the Venezuelan Embassy this spring. We are facing up to a year in prison and exorbitant fines even though it was the US State Department that violated the Vienna Convention by raiding the embassy in May. We will tour Northern California in October and are planning more tours to raise awareness that the struggle to end the US  coup and interventions in Venezuela continues.

John Galtung predicts that the fall of the US Empire could have a devastating impact on domestic cohesion in the United States. As the US loses its position of global supremacy, we have an opportunity to fundamentally reshape what we as a nation represent. We can become cooperative global citizens in a world free of oppression, violence, and poverty if we do the work of joining in international solidarity for these goals.

A Morning in Afghanistan

On a very warm September morning in Kabul, several dozen men, women, and children sit on the carpeted floor of a room at the Afghan Peace Volunteers’ Borderfree Center. The women cluster together. All wear burqas, but because of the heat they push the steel blue veils back, revealing their faces. Most of the men wear traditional tunics and pakol hats.

Parents and children alike listen intently to Masoma, a young Afghan woman who coordinates the Center’s “Street Kids School.” She explains the importance of steady attendance, and parents nod in agreement. Most of the 100 students come on time for their Friday classes, but a handful had recently skipped, showing up only on the day when the center distributes monthly food rations for the Street Kids families.

The previous Friday, those who had missed more than two classes prior to the food distribution day walked away empty-handed — a hard lesson, but the volunteer teachers felt they must abide by the short list of rules governing the center. Anyone who misses classes two or more times in a month won’t receive the ration.

Then Masoma’s colleague, Dr. Hakim, stands and poses two blunt requests. “Please raise your hand,” he says, “if you and your family have at least enough resources to meet your basic needs.”

About six hands are raised. Next he asks people to raise a hand if they couldn’t make ends meet. Seven hands go up. Hakim says his organization wants to help families become self-reliant so that after their children leave the Street Kids School, they will have another way to acquire essentials like beans, rice, and cooking oil.

Hakim now asks people to raise their hands if they could send one family member, like an older brother, to a three-month course on how to repair mobile phones. The idea is well-received. Notebook papers are circulated to gather parents’ names, and, if possible, mobile phone numbers. Several women seek Masoma’s help to write their names. She assures them she will stay in touch.

A tall young man, Habib, carrying a large tray of bananas and apples, politely offers fruit to each guest. Six years ago, Afghan Peace Volunteers members had befriended Habib when they met him in a busy market-place. His father had been killed when a bomb exploded in Kabul. I remember watching him work on a dusty, crowded street during a chilly afternoon shortly after he and his family had taken up residence in a miserable shack in Kabul. His little brother walked alongside him, holding his hand, while Habib carried a scale and asked people to weigh themselves on it. Habib looked forlorn and worried. The shy, anxious youngster had been regularly beaten by an uncle who tried to force him to join a militia; he now recognizes that Habib was wise to run away from the militia.

Today, Habib towers over me. Yesterday, he spoke eagerly at a small group meeting he had helped plan about ways to build caring relationships. Over the past three years, he has learned to read and write and has been at the top of his classes at a government school. He has also developed some construction skills. When I remark that several walls at the center were repaired and newly painted, Masoma smiled happily. “Habib!” she says. “He was a big help.”

A few adults linger alongside the center’s shady garden, filled with fruit trees, grapevines, herbs, and flowers. Some of the Afghan Peace Volunteers used permaculture methods to design and cultivate the space. Others recently dedicated themselves to a “renewable energy team.” Last year, the team helped forty-four families acquire solar energy. This year they hope to expand the effort.

Over the past week, young volunteers have gathered to plan for an upcoming “On the Road to Peace” conference. This will be the Afghan Peace Volunteers’ third annual gathering of participants from each of Afghanistan’s thirty-four provinces. The conference offers four days of intensive learning and discovery about cross-cultural understanding, nonviolence, and ways to abolish war.

Yesterday, Dr. Hakim and I asked for complete quiet inside the center’s “office” — a large room lined with bookcases, file cabinets, mats, and sturdy pillows. In the center of the room, a jumble of cords and power strips are connected to a solar power battery, a fan, a router, and a collection of  cell phones and laptops.

Earlier, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! had invited Dr. Hakim and I to participate in interviews regarding President Trump’s sudden decision to call off a secret meeting he claimed to have arranged between himself, Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani, and representatives of the Taliban who have been meeting with United States envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. Sitting on the floor, we huddled over Dr. Hakim’s well-worn laptop waiting for Democracy Now! engineers to contact us by Skype.

Hakim and I suggested that neither Trump nor any of the negotiators in Doha were participating in a genuine peace process. Rather, it was a cruel charade, with each side seeking greater leverage by demonstrating their willingness to kill innocent people.

Many people living in Afghanistan greatly fear increased Taliban power over their cities, villages, roadways, and crumbling infrastructure. Taliban war crimes are frequently covered in global media. Less obvious to people in the U.S., but horribly real for people in Afghanistan, are acts of aerial terrorism regularly waged by the United States military.

Writing for The Daily Beast earlier this year, Andrew Quilty described how one Afghan family in the Helmand province suffered a vicious attack on their home last November. Two Taliban fighters had come to their home, insisting that Obaidullah, the householder, let them in. He pleaded with them to leave, but instead the Taliban fighters fired on a joint United States and Afghan military convoy. Shortly thereafter, a United States A-10 Warthog plane strafed Obaidullah’s home.

“Hundreds of rounds of ammunition—bullets the size of large carrots—fired by a weapon designed to disable armoured tanks, poured out of the plane’s Gatling gun,” Quilty wrote. “The two Taliban fighters had fled. Instead, Obaidullah and his fifteen-year-old son Esmatullah were killed; thirteen others suffered broken bones and shrapnel injuries from head to toe. One boy, fourteen-year-old Ehsanullah, lost both his eyes.”

In a report on civilian casualties, the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan attributed a rise in civilian deaths in 2019 to an escalation of the U.S. air war in the country. In addition, countless night raids carried out by joint U.S./Afghan forces have struck terror in families whose loved ones were killed in front of them. Ordinary Afghans whom I have met with in the past week are acutely aware of the night raids and link the gruesome pattern of killing civilians to United States trainers and the CIA.

Before Donald Trump pulled back U.S. participation, there had been nine rounds of talks, and the United States special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was supposedly edging closer to a “peace” deal with the Taliban.

A genuine peace process would hold all warring parties accountable for crimes against humanity and would call for an immediate end to U.S. and NATO militarism in Afghanistan. It would urge the United States to humbly acknowledge the recklessness of its invasion and occupation. Reliable non-governmental parties would be asked to develop ways for Afghans to receive reparations from all countries who’ve participated in the past eighteen years of war. Those responsible for pursuing a genuine peace process would need mentors and advisors. I recommend the Afghan Peace Volunteers.

Parents of Borderfree Street Kids School Students

 

Habib (standing, left) serves fruit to parents at the Borderfree Street Kids School

 

• Photos by Dr. Hakim

• This article first appeared in The Progressive Magazine

Inevitable Withdrawal: The US-Taliban Deal

It took gallons and flagons of blood, but it eventuated, a squeeze of history into a parchment of possibility: the Taliban eventually pushed the sole superpower on this expiring earth to a deal of some consequence.  (The stress is on the some – the consequence is almost always unknown.)  “In principle, on paper, yes we have reached an agreement,” claimed the US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad on the Afghan channel ToloNews.  “But it is not final until the president of the United States also agrees to it.”

The agreement entails the withdrawal (the public relations feature of the exercise teasingly calls this “pulling out”) of 5,400 troops from the current complement of 14,000 within 135 days of signature.  Five military bases will close or be transferred to the Afghan government.  In return, the Taliban has given an undertaking never to host forces with the intention of attacking the US and its interests.

Exactitude, however, is eluding the press and those keen to get to the marrow.  Word on the policy grapevine is that this is part of an inexorable process that will see a full evacuation within 16 months, though this remains gossip.

The entire process has its exclusions, qualifications and mutual deceptions.  In it is a concession, reluctant but ultimately accepted, that the Taliban was a credible power that could never be ignored.  To date, the US has held nine rounds of talks, a seemingly dragged out process with one ultimate outcome: a reduction, and ultimate exit of combat forces.

The Taliban was not, as the thesis of certain US strategists, a foreign bacillus moving its way through the Afghan body politic, the imposition of a global fundamentalist corporation.  Corrupt local officials of the second rank, however, were also very much part and parcel of the effort, rendering any containment strategy meaningless.

A narrative popular and equally fallacious was the notion that the Taliban had suffered defeat and would miraculously move into the back pages of history.  Similar views were expressed during the failed effort by the United States to combat the Viet Cong in South Vietnam.  An elaborate calculus was created, a mirage facilitated through language: the body count became a means of confusing numbers with political effect.

Time and time again, the Taliban demonstrated that B52s, well-equipped foreign forces and cruise missiles could not extricate them from the land that has claimed so many empires.  Politics can only ever be the realisation of tribes, collectives, peoples; weapons and material are unkind and useful companions, but never viable electors or officials.

Even now, the desire to remain from those in overfunded think tanks and well-furnished boardrooms, namely former diplomats engaged on the Afghan project, is stubborn and delusionary.  If withdrawal is to take place, goes that tune, it should hinge on a pre-existing peace agreement.  An open letter published by the Atlantic Council by nine former US State Department officials previously connected with the country is a babbling affair.  “If a peace agreement is going to succeed, we and others need to be committed to continued support for peace consolidation.  This will require monitoring compliance, tamping down of those extremists opposed to peace, and supporting good governance and economic growth with international assistance.”

The presumptuousness of this tone is remarkable, heavy with work planning jargon and spread sheet nonsense.  There is no peace to keep, nor governance worth preserving.  Instead, the authors of the note, including such failed bureaucratic luminaries as John Negroponte, Robert P. Finn and Ronald E. Neumann, opt for the imperial line: the US can afford staying in Afghanistan because the Afghans are the ones fighting and dying.  (Again, this is Vietnam redux, an Afghan equivalent of Vietnamisation.)  In their words, “US fatalities are tragic, but the number of those killed in combat make up less than 20 percent of the US troops who died in non-combat training incidents.”  All good, then.

In a sign of ruthless bargaining, the Taliban continued the bloodletting even as the deal was being ironed of evident wrinkles.  This movement knows nothing of peace but all about the life of war: death is its sovereign; corpses, its crop.  On Monday, the Green Village in Kabul was targeted by a truck bomb, leaving 16 dead (this toll being bound to rise).  It was a reminder that the Taliban, masters of whole swathes of the countryside, can also strike deep in the capital itself.  The killings also supplied the Afghan government a salutary reminder of its impotence, underscored by the fact that President Ashraf Ghani played no role in the Qatar talks.

This leaves us with the realisation that much cruelty is on the horizon.  The victory of the Taliban is an occasion to cheer the bloodying of the imperialist’s nose.  But they will not leave documents of enlightenment, speeches to inspire.  This agreement will provide little comfort for those keen to read a text unmolested or seek an education free of crippling dogma. Interior cannibalisation is assured, with civil war a distinct possibility.  Tribal war is bound to continue.

As this takes place, the hope for President Donald Trump and his officials will no doubt be similar to the British when they finally upped stakes on instruction from Prime Minister David Cameron: forget that the whole thing ever happened.

Remnants of War

Intense fighting and hideous attacks battered Afghans throughout their country last week as negotiators in Qatar weighed the benefits and costs of  a peace agreement that might stop the bloodshed.

In Kabul at least 40 people, including one child, were killed in a complex Taliban attack. Dozens of children whose school was partially collapsed by a massive car bomb were injured. Of these, 21 were hospitalized with serious injuries.

New York Times correspondent Mujib Mashal posted (on Twitter) a photo of an elementary school child being carried into the Italian Emergency Surgical Center for Victims of War in Kabul. “Blood on his face,” Mashal writes, describing the child. “Still in shock. Still clutching that pencil.”

The same attack damaged a television station, a government facility and an adjoining private war museum.

Operated by OMAR, (Organization for Mine Clearance and Afghan Rehabilitation), a group dedicated to the never-ending and often dangerous work of mine-clearance and disposal, the war museum houses ordnance and land mines used in Afghanistan during four decades of warfare. In 2012, young Afghan Peace Volunteers took me to see the museum. I recall a small exhibit showing remnants of a United States cluster bomb. The remnants are called bomblets, and each cluster bomb consists of 202 bomblets. They resemble children’s playthings, items that could be stepped on, driven over or picked up by curious children.

The U.S. dropped 1,228 cluster bombs in Afghanistan between October 2001 and March 2002 alone. The Afghan landscape is now littered by anti-personnel and anti-tank mines which OMAR is striving to remove, where permitted, before more Afghan civilians are killed. Research by the Mine Action Program of Afghanistan indicates, in the first three months of the current year, 130 Afghan boys and girls were casualties of “ERW:” “Explosive Remnants of War”.

As negotiations inched forward, two Afghan government airstrikes, possibly using United States assistance, hit civilians, killing 7 members of a family in the Baghlan province and four civilians in a clinic in Maidan Wardak province.

The Taliban, U.S. Government, and every other warring party in Afghanistan must be asked: “How many more civilians, including children, are you willing to kill and maim?”

The second time I visited the OMAR museum was with my friend Martha Hennessy. We were asked not to take photos, but Martha had already snapped a picture of a carpet carefully woven to illustrate several types of land mines Afghans should watch out for. The carpet was hung on a wall, but actual mines lie in the paths to be traversed by innocent Afghans. On the phone with me discussing the recent Kabul attack, Martha mentioned that carpet and reflected on the terrible carpeting of Afghanistan with barbarous ordnance.

Photo by Martha Hennessy

Martha now faces up to 20 years in prison for protesting the most barbarous and inhumane weaponry ever invented.

Martha, a granddaughter of the Catholic Worker Movement’s founder Dorothy Day, is one of seven Catholic activists, the “King’s Bay Plowshares Seven“, whose April 4, 2018 action was in accord with their deeply held beliefs that life is sacred, and must not be taken in war. The U.S. naval base at King’s Bay, Georgia houses nuclear-missile-armed Trident submarines. Entering without permission, they hung banners, displayed crime scene tape and poured their blood on the base grounds. They protested the U.S.’ preparations, far exceeding those of any other nation, to commit “omnicide”, to carpet the world in fire, in fallout, in the snows of a deadly “nuclear winter,” in ash. For the past fifteen months, they’ve awaited trial on charges of conspiracy, destruction of property on a naval station, depredation of government property, and trespass. They feel that U.S. readiness for war must be put on trial now, or potentially never.

Another of Martha’s co-defendants has been a guest, like us, of the Afghan Peace Volunteers. Our friend Carmen Trotta recalls a visit to the Emergency Surgical Center for Victims of War, an Italy-based hospital that treated many victims of the recent Kabul attacks. In 2014 we had visited the hospital to donate blood, and met Jamshaid and Farshaid, young teens who had survived a suicide bomb attack on the United States military base in Bagram. They had been standing outside their school outside the base when the attack happened. Farshaid’s leg had been amputated. Jamshaid had lost much of his vision. We asked Michaela Paschetto, a young Italian nurse, how they were faring.

“Today was a bad day for them,” she said. “Really, I don’t ask so many questions,” she continued. “It becomes too much.”

“I didn’t know what to say,” Carmen recalls. “I honestly couldn’t think of a word to say.”

Carmen, Martha and each of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 will have their say, however brief, in a Brunswick County federal court on August 7. Oral arguments will be heard including several motions as well as their belief they opposed the U.S. nuclear arsenal in accord with their religious faith. They have consistently opposed weapons and wars and just as steadfastly served, as members of Dorothy Day’s movement, their impoverished neighbors. They understand the wars, the omnicidal weapons awaiting their use at King’s Bay, and the suffering of the U.S. poor as, in some sense, all part of a global war on the poor.

Depending on whether we resist or acquiesce, grieve or complacently ignore, we ourselves risk becoming the tragic, perpetually dangerous remnants of war.

Why Shouldn’t the Boston Marathon Bomber Vote? U.S. Politicians Radicalized Him

Last month, 2020 U.S. presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders stirred controversy at a CNN town hall after answering a loaded question about whether his position on extending voting rights to incarcerated felons barred any exceptions such as the Boston Marathon bomber currently on death row. It was impossible for Sanders to respond honestly without being entrapped by the inclusion of Dzhokar Tsarnaev as an example, but the self-professed ‘democratic socialist’ gave a reflective explanation of the complexities of the issue behind his reasoning. The 77-year old Senator from Vermont’s thoughtful answer possibly avoided a campaign fate like that which befell 1988 Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis after he gave a widely perceived clinical reply in the presidential debates to whether he favored the death penalty for a hypothetical rapist and murderer of his own wife. Nevertheless, enough damage was done for a brief media firestorm to ensue following the televised event.

The backlash was entirely predictable across mainstream media, as were the reactions on both sides of the isle exemplifying the all too familiar shallow discourse of U.S. politics. Fox News and Donald Trump did the expected flag-waving, while Democratic Party ‘progressives’ tried to salvage the legitimate issue of voter suppression distorted by the question in what was another coordinated hit by CNN. The network previously exploited its conflicts of interest with the political establishment by colluding with the Democratic National Committee (DNC) against Sanders in 2016 with then-host and party chair Donna Brazile’s slipping of debate questions to his primary opponent, Hillary Clinton. While the Democratic status quo continues to sabotage any remotely progressive candidates in its field, Trump has created a distraction from the GOP’s systematic disenfranchisement campaign that purged ballots of racial minorities and the poor with wild exaggerations of the number of illegal immigrants registered to vote. It is hardly surprising that the world superpower with more than 800 military bases around the globe would also have such a large prison population that enfranchising its inhabitants would swing the outcome of its elections. Meanwhile, the bankrupt Democratic leadership has shown little concern for the voter suppression attacks compared to its ongoing obsession with bogus allegations of Russian meddling.

Sanders’ opponents gave rebuttals including South Bend, Indiana “Mayor Pete” Buttigieg who staunchly opposed such a measure. Buttigieg, who has risen in recent polls, is a former naval intelligence officer and in addition to opposing enfranchising all Americans has even spoken out against former President Barack Obama’s granting of clemency to army intelligence whistleblower Chelsea Manning. Buttigieg is the latest example in what has been an extraordinary amount of ex-military and intelligence operatives from the CIA, Pentagon, National Security Council and U.S. State Department to run for public office as Democratic entrants in the past year, including 11 who were victorious in the 2018 mid-term elections. In fact, the recent inundation of intelligence personnel into positions of government during the Trump era as a whole is without parallel. Buttigieg is joined in the race by Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, a House Armed Services Committee member and affiliate of the Serve America Political Action Committee, an organization which channels corporate donations to political candidates with previous experience in the intelligence community, military branches or D.C. foreign policy blob. This trend illustrates the party’s overall hawkish turn to the right where the military-security complex has taken advantage of the anti-Russia hysteria by implanting a batch of veterans of the U.S. war industry into refashioning the Democratic Party to its liking. Not to say Obama didn’t already expand Bush policies, but the latest ‘blue wave’ has fully congealed the party structure with the intelligence apparatus.

It’s no surprise that Sanders’ center-right rivals with military-intelligence backgrounds would contradict his position on granting political suffrage to all citizens, including the 25-year old Kyrgyzstani-American convicted terrorist of Chechen descent awaiting execution at ADX Florence in Colorado. Completely missing from the subsequent conversation, however, is that the surviving Boston Marathon bomber was radicalized as a result of the military-security complex and its vaguely defined but never-ending ‘War on Terror’ that every candidate, including Sanders himself, supports. More disturbing is that Dzokhar Tsarnaev’s alleged path to extremism under the wing of older brother Tamerlan was not simply in purported retaliation to U.S. wars but was possibly more direct. The Chechen brothers may have become Oswald-like patsies in a FBI and CIA-coordinated sting operation gone wrong as a close look at the evidence surrounding the April 2013 bombings which killed 3 people and injured hundreds of others suggests a high probability the attack was facilitated by the U.S. domestic intelligence services who entrapped the Tsarnaevs for recruitment as assets or informants. They were then likely coaxed into committing a crime they never otherwise would have, if they even committed it at all.

No real understanding of the ‘War on Terror’ can be grasped without first revisiting the history of U.S. foreign policy which precipitated the present crisis the world is in today. A path can be traced from current domestic terrorism back to the catastrophic U.S. foreign policy move during the Carter administration under his National Security Adviser, the vehemently Russophobic Warsaw-native Zbigniew Brzezinski, who directed the Pentagon to provide covert support for the Afghan Mujahedin as part of the CIA’s Operation Cyclone program. This decision was made while the spy agency was still reeling from its discredited reputation after the Church-Pike Committees and Rockefeller Commission exposed its numerous abuses and illicit activities in the decades prior. Thereafter, the use of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) became the CIA’s modus operandi to serve as go-betweens shielding its activities using think factories like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and other innocuously named “soft power” organizations to achieve its foreign objectives.

Support for the mujaheddin proxy army forced the Marxist Afghan government into requesting military assistance from the USSR, which was then framed by the West as a Soviet “invasion.” The U.S. backing of the jihadists was a deliberate effort to siphon Soviet involvement into a Vietnam-esque quagmire at Brzezinski’s own callous admittance. Continuing through the 1980s under the Reagan Doctrine, the CIA followed his blueprint providing arms and funds to the Afghan Islamist insurgency waging a guerrilla campaign against the socialist People’s Democratic Republic of Afghanistan in coordination with the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency and Saudi Arabia. As a consequence, U.S. money and weapons ended up in the hands of militants who would later form the nucleus of Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

After the Berlin wall fell, the Anglosphere continued its support of jihadists to facilitate the breakup of the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s where U.S. subsidies went to Al-Qaeda elements in the Bosnian mujaheddin and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in their war against Serbia, the Balkan nation with the closest cultural and economic ties to Moscow. Meanwhile, the former Soviet states and Eastern bloc were granted their ‘independence’ with the stumbling block of IMF lending enslavement. However, one area remained a federal subject within the new Russian Federation to the dissatisfaction of Brzezinski and his elite cohorts who coveted a total dismemberment of Eurasia following the reestablishment of free enterprise in Eastern Europe. The Chechen Republic with Western encouragement sought its independence from Russia resulting in a decade of violence and two wars while its close proximity of less than 70 miles from the oil-rich Caspian Sea made it a target for destabilization.

Brezinski had previously formed the Nationalities Working Group (NWG) which had been devoted to undermining the Soviet Union by whipping up ethnic divisions, particularly the many different non-Russian Muslim groups of the Caucausus. Meanwhile, the wellspring of the puritanical Wahhabist strain of Islam, Saudi Arabia, had spread its ultraconservative ideology from the Middle East to Russia’s predominantly Muslim southern border region. Tasked with fomenting secessionist terrorism and instability in the area once the Iron Curtain dissolved was the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya NGO, founded by the neocon cabal Freedom House, as well as The Jamestown Foundation, a Eurasia-centered think tank established during the Cold War by former CIA director William Casey, a man who once famously stated “We’ll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false.”

Those able to see through the war propaganda in Syria today have been horrified by the West’s rebranding of salafist groups in the Levant as ‘moderate rebels.’ Yet, that is exactly how the same media marketed Islamist terrorists in the Chechen Wars who committed countless deadly attacks including the barbaric seizure of hundreds of innocent schoolchildren, hospital patients and theatre goers as hostages throughout Russia. In a 2009 WikiLeaks cable, Deputy Secretary of Russia’s Security Council Vladimir Nazarov confronted the U.S. Director for Russian and Eurasian Affairs on the National Security Council, William Solomon, about the ties between Western NGOs and Chechen “rebels”:

Nazarov complained about U.S. NGOs that ostensibly foster separatist and extremist sentiments in the region and noted that for leaders in the region foreign interference is a sore subject. Nazarov claimed there are documented connections between terrorists in the North Caucasus and groups in Afghanistan and Iraq. Moreover, he claimed Russia has evidence that one of the participants in the 2004 Beslan school massacre met with individuals in London (Nazarov appeared to be pointing to a connection with British special services, but could have also been alluding to Chechen leader in exile Zakayev). Because of this, Nazarov said, the Russian government did not believe the UK government is serious about counter-terrorism cooperation.

In 1977, when Brzezinski was in the Carter White House, the CIA Station Chief in Kabul was an operations officer named Graham Fuller. Under Ronald Reagan, Fuller was promoted to vice-chair of the National Intelligence Council and became infamous for penning the study that influenced the administration’s decision to use a covert route selling arms to Tehran to fund another group of anti-communist “freedom fighters” in Nicaragua which culminated in the Iran-Contra scandal. Pushed into abrupt retirement amid the fallout, Fuller became a political scientist for foreign policy think tanks such as the RAND Corporation in the vein of Brzezinski, Henry Kissinger and Samuel P. Huntington, who even cited Fuller’s work in his highly influential The Clash of Civilizations. Fuller’s orientalist writings mostly focused on geopolitical questions in relation to the Muslim world, and his activities are so extensive he is currently facing an arrest warrant in Turkey for his links to the Islamic cleric Fetullah Gülen whom the Erdogan government believes directed the 2016 coup attempt that has strained relations between Washington and Ankara. In 1999 Fuller wrote of how Islam was useful for Western regime change aspirations:

In the West the words Islamic fundamentalism conjure up images of bearded men with turbans and women covered in black shrouds. And some Islamist movements do indeed contain reactionary and violent elements. But we should not let stereotypes blind us to the fact that there are also powerful modernising forces at work within these movements. Political Islam is about change. In this sense, modern. Islamist movements may be the main vehicle for bringing about change in the Muslim world and the break-up of the old “dinosaur” regimes.

It just so happens that Ruslan Tsarni, one of the uncles of the Tsarnaev brothers, was married to Fuller’s daughter Samantha in the 1990s while he was an employee for the CIA-contracted RAND Corporation. In the aftermath of the bombing in Boston in 2013, interviews with ‘Uncle Ruslan’ by the media were widely circulated where he gave an overdone performance condemning his two nephews while verifying everything in the FBI’s portrayal of them. Are we really supposed to believe this connection is by chance? The media gave virtually no attention to the fact that Tsarni not only worked as a consultant for CIA-fronts like RAND and USAID and as a contractor for Halliburton but even established an entity called the Congress of Chechen International Organizations which supplied Islamic separatist militants in the Caucasus while using his father in-law Fuller’s home address in Maryland as its registered place of residence.

Tsarni’s feigned denunciation of his nephews could not have contrasted more with the wholehearted and impassioned pleas by the mother of the two suspects, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, who insisted that her two sons were set-up by the FBI and alleged that the family had contact with agents long before the bombing took place. The FBI was forced to admit they had indeed investigated Tamerlan Tsarnaev two years prior after being warned by the Federal Security Service (FSB) of Russia that he was a follower of radical Islam, but this didn’t prevent the Islamophobic legacy media from smearing the grieving mother as a crazed anti-American. The yellow press downplayed the significance of the 2011 tip from the FSB likely because it came after the older Chechen brother had attended workshops in Tblisi, Georgia while traveling abroad that were operated by an organization called the Caucasus Fund of Georgia. According to documents obtained by the Moscow-based Isvestia newspaper from Georgian counter-intelligence, the Caucasus Fund was financed by none other than the Jamestown Foundation. Graham Fuller himself has given keynote speeches at Jamestown events and corporate media could only have purposefully avoided piecing together the glaring ‘coincidences’ surrounding the Tsarnaev brothers and their uncle.

The FBI’s previous contact with Tamerlan Tsarnaev and their inability to prevent the April 2013 attack, as has been the case with so many others like it, increases the likelihood that the brothers could very well have been part of a undercover operation gone awry like their mother believes. Leaving aside the extremely suspicious death of Ibragim Todashev, Tamerlan’s friend, at the hands of agents where he had allegedly confessed in an interview to an earlier triple homicide that implicated his deceased companion, FBI records indicate that the domestic security service has proliferated its use of sting operations in recent years as part of its counterterrorism program. Nearly three quarters of all suspects apprehended in foiled plots who professed allegiance to ISIS have been through undercover deception, raising significant ethical questions about the agency’s practices. The New York Times reported in 2016:

The F.B.I. has significantly increased its use of stings in terrorism cases, employing agents and informants to pose as jihadists, bomb makers, gun dealers or online “friends” in hundreds of investigations into Americans suspected of supporting the Islamic State, records and interviews show.

If nearly two out of every three terror plots is being engineered with the ensnaring of vulnerable individuals whom the FBI believes have sympathies toward extremism, how many would not have attempted such acts had the operations not taken place? It is clear that the War on Terror has a business model and in order to meet its quotas, terrorist attacks that would otherwise happen randomly and infrequently are being manufactured on an industrial scale. If ISIS poses such a serious threat to homeland security, why are such orchestrations by the FBI necessary? Like Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Afghan-born suspect in the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting, Omar Mateen, had been surveilled by the FBI for a full year prior to the 2016 Florida massacre in a sting operation, while his father had been a longtime confidential informant. One can’t help but wonder how many of these tragedies are such cases of entrapment with deadly outcomes or if it would explain the increasingly routine nature of domestic terrorism in the U.S.

Samuel Huntington argued in The Clash of Civilizations that in the post-Soviet sphere, Islam would emerge as the primary foe of Western hegemony. It is worth noting that Huntington did not include the Christian Orthodox nations of Serbia, Russia, Belarus or Armenia as part of the West in his nine “core civilizations” but rather as “torn countries” divided between their civilizational heritage and close ties with Asia. His false paradigm became a conceptual justification for the U.S. empire’s unilateral dominion where an amorphous ‘war on Islamic terrorism’ replaced the absence of another superpower or viable threat after the end of the Cold War. That was until the return to the international stage of a competent Moscow and Beijing in today’s multipolar world where the machinations of Brzezinski and his apprentices like Fuller are still useful on the global chessboard in stoking the flames of religious fundamentalism to undercut the East.

It is significant that Brzezinski never considered himself a neocon and saw the post-9/11 management of empire by the Bush administration in the Middle East as the U.S. falling into the same trap he had laid for the Soviets in Afghanistan, despite the Wolfowitz Doctrine being an obvious inevitable outgrowth of the chain of events he set in motion. As for his colleague Huntington, the recent attacks in Sri Lanka and New Zealand against Christians and Muslims alike show the far reach of consequences from his prophesy of civilizational conflict. Like Brzezinski, the neocons carried out Huntington’s international relations thesis into what the author saw as a mutation of his vision. Indeed, 9/11 has been used to murder and displace millions of Muslims in seven nations, none of which ever attacked the U.S. Nevertheless, both Atlanticist manipulators gave birth to a cycle with blowback like the Boston Marathon bombing that will only be repeated if the lessons of our hidden history remain unlearned.

Reluctant Soldier, Confused Peacenik

Bowe Bergdahl captured the American imagination in 2009 when he disappeared from what had become his living hell. His battalion commander, Lt Baker, was not only an obnoxious tyrant (handing out Field-Grade Article 15s, just short of a court martial, supposedly for being out of uniform, but in fact for complaining about the mission to a Guardian photo-journalist in a video broadcast), but he had ordered them to build the OB (observation post) Mest on a cemetery, defiling, even defecating on gravestones near the FOB (forward operating base) Sharana.

He was as much a victim of the latest American COIN (counterintelligence) strategy as a deserter. Taken captive by the enemy (Taliban) under the protection of an ally (Pakistan), embodying the self-enforcing illogic of the entire war.

The FOB’s OP (army talk is littered with acronyms and abbreviations, quickly reducing any text or conversation to gobbledygook) would transfer authority to Afghan troops operate under US troops, the idea being to eventually leave the Afghans in sole charge. They would establish security, identify the Taliban, separate them from the local population, show the villagers they were better off with Karzai and the Americans in charge. Abracadabra. The Taliban would just disappear, as they very well ought to.

But it’s not the Taliban who have disappeared. Between 2006 and 2014, 20,000 soldiers have deserted from Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 2001 the army pressed charges against less than 2,000, half pleaded guilty, 78 were tried and convicted. That pales in comparison to more than half a million Vietnam draft resisters/ deserters from 1966 to 1973. Desertion is as American as apple pie.

Bergdahl’s 4 weeks of hell sent him over the edge. He forgot the most important rule about the army. Don’t think. Just obey orders. Your superior is always right. It’s not clear what exactly B decided he was going to do, but he snuck away in the night, careful not to be noticed and headed for … hmmm. I guess he hadn’t really decided anything other than giving himself over to the Taliban, which was pretty easy. Hours after dawn, the word got out and Taliban equivalent of UPS picked up their load and whisked him across the border into FATA (federal administrative tribal areas) in Pakistan, just out of reach of the US army.1

Domino or butterfly effect?

His desertion (he eventually ignored his defence lawyer and pleaded guilty) set in motion a domino effect on a massive scale, but not the one the prosecution tried to pin on him: that B’s desertion led to soldiers’ deaths. The early angry accusations soon melted under examination, leaving B’s actions as a butterfly effect in a chaotic world.

Even his hated superior Baker later admitted that DUSTWUN (missing soldier alert), while difficult, had also produced some of the greatest disruptions of Taliban networks that he had seen at any point during the war. Commanders in the field used the search for Bergdahl as a justification for more aggressive tactics to achieve stability in the area.

It was a great way to motivate troops — rescuing a soldier was more ‘fun’ that just terrorizing hostile Afghans. It was a real mission, not the phony one they would be doing otherwise. “Everyone knew it was going on.”

Baker sounds like a real SOB (making all the troops shave 6 times in a row because one missed a stray hair, screaming two inches from their faces). Insisting the OB be built on a cemetery and desecrating graves set off an alarm in B’s mind. Afghan soldiers were known to turn their guns on their American comrades for less. But, what the hell, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,2 Afghanistan is FUBAR.3

In American Cipher: Bowe Bergdahl and the US Tragedy in Afghanistan, Farwell and Ames don’t need any purple prose. Hard facts do the trick. For instance, in 2007 a soldier in B’s 2nd Platoon, Blackfoot Company, 1/501, Evan Vela, killed an unarmed captive Iraqi on orders from his superior, staff sergeant Hensley. He was court-martialed and sentenced to 10 years. Rather than murder, Henley was acquitted, charged only with a minor infraction.

It would be hard to beat Sergeant Robert Bales who slipped off base in Kandahar twice in one night in 2012 and shot 16 civilians in their homes in front of their families. At least he got life. It’s a miracle that B’s handlers didn’t string him up in response when they heard of this.

B enlists in 2008  and he is deployed in May 2009. At the end of training (Fort Richardson, Alaska), Command Sergeant Major Wolfe told them: I know you all joined because you want to rape, pillage and kill. That’s why I joined. But you need to think about COIN, winning over local farmers, merchants, drivers.

The training screams of cognitive dissonance. During training, they would chant ‘trained to kill, kill we will.’ Sex assaults and rapes were rampant at Fort Richardson.

FOB Sharana was built on a Soviet base. A/C barracks, dvd players, internet, lots of video games, hot showers, porcelain toilets, a basketball court, coffee shops, as much food as they wanted any time. But a strict dress code and shaving regime. Logistics brought in steak and lobster dinners for officers.

B’s one mission was in an MRAP (mine-resistant ambush-protected) armored vehicle, sent to retrieve an EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) team’s truck but the mountain road was too narrow, they hit an IED (improvised explosive device), another vehicle was disabled, they came under Taliban fire, and were saved by air support.

What should have been a few hours to retrieve a damaged truck had become a week-long ordeal. And to top it off, Baker glared at them when they returned. “What, you couldn’t shave?”

B’s instincts were right.  He and his only real friend, Joseph Coe ate dinner with the Afghan soldiers up the hill most evenings. Coe grew up in a missionary family in the highlands of Venezuela, and refused to be party to Bergdahl’s later vilification by his fellow soldiers. B and Coe realized befriending the Afghans was the right thing to do, and a commonsense precaution against ‘green on blue’ (Afghan soldier/ police killing Americans). The Afghan soldiers were friendly and welcomed them. The soldiers never learned their names, nicknaming them ‘ice cream’, ‘crazy eyes’. They called their translators John or Jack.

Bergdahl respected the Afghans, realized the occupiers had to respect their culture, i.e., the cemetery. Eating with the Afghans was like having a meal with his neighbours on the prairies in Idaho, Peruvian Quechua shepherds. He didn’t want to die fighting them, when he knew they were in the right. “These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid, that they have no idea how to live.”

What he was supposed to do for the next two years had nothing to do with helping them. So he put his fate in their hands. He knew he would survive. His rash, quixotic decision became an important symbolic gesture pointing to the way out of this latest imperial deadend.

Behind the scenes, there are human terrain teams (anthropologists), provincial reconstruction teams (a hydra of military, state department and USAID NGOs), tactical human intelligence teams (liquor and porn as bribes). The disconnect with the ‘kill we will’ foot soldiers, the face of the occupiers to most Afghan, makes their existence meaningless.

B lasted a month before he wrote a scathing email to his folks:

We don’t even care when we hear each other talk about running their children down in the dirt streets with our armored trucks… We make fun of them in front of their faces, and laugh at them for not understanding we are insulting them […] I am sorry for everything. The horror that is America is disgusting.

Then left his weapon and night vision goggles on his neatly made cot, and fled to the arms of the Taliban.

Peace on Earth

B’s captors immediately offered a deal: 25 Taliban prisoners and $9m. The offer was rejected without any attempt to negotiate. The Taliban continued to offer a deal but the mantra from Bush and Obama was ‘we don’t negotiate with terrorists.’

There were over 100 kidnappings from 2001–11, mostly journalists and missionaries. All were released with a quiet negotiations and a ransom. B was a test case for both sides, as a prisoner exchange would give the Taliban de facto recognition. It wasn’t the puppet Karzai/ Ghani but the US president negotiating with the Taliban.

The authors dismiss the possibility that Bergdahl might have converted to Islam, that his anti-imperialist lecture, delivered on Christmas day 2009  courtesy of his captors and social media, was surely just a forced confession, though it was quite articulate, not “absurd”, as Farwell and Ames state.  He mentions the indignities suffered by Muslim prisoners in Bagram, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and other secret prisons around the world, “but the Taliban treated me as human being with dignity. Aren’t our leaders simply the puppets of the lobbies that pay for their election campaigns?”

He (or rather his Taliban minders) refer to Veterans for Peace activist and ex-Marine Matthew Hoh, who resigned from his  foreign service posting in Kabul interview, and in an interview with CNN‘s Wolf Blitzer in November 2009 read from his resignation letter: American combat troops are not defeating al-qaeda by their presence in Afghanistan. All they are doing is just fighting people who are fighting us because we’re occupying them.

B’s testimony “grows more dogmatic–and more absurd.” Come on! Give the Taliban at least an A for crafting a coherent agitprop video showing MRAPs, dead ISAF soldiers, a video of an improvised IED. Ok, “We have forced them to strap large amounts of explosives to their precious bodies, to leave their homes and children to kill us.” — is a bit over the top. But it’s a lot closer to the truth than the US version of events.

A few days after B’s bombshell, CIA agent Hamam al-Balawi blew himself and his US minders up at the CIA base in nearby Khost, leaving behind his martyr video. Both Bs were under the direction of the Haqqani network,4 with the knowledge (and help) of Pakistan’s ISI (Inter-services Intelligence). For newly arrived Major General Michael Flynn, director of intelligence for NATO’s ISAF coalition, not a Christmas to remember.

B became a lightning rod for the increasing frustration over this unending war. Fox news interviewed spy novelist and  retired lt col Ralph Peters:

This private is a liar. We’re not sure if he’s a deserter. Collaborating with the enemy. The Taliban can save us a lot of legal hassles and legal bills.

Whew! Carte blanche to slice B’s head off. The interview was censored, but only for fear it served the Taliban. Flynn called him a jihadi. 23 veteran Congressmen published an open letter reminding McCain and others that they made statements contrary to their beliefs to stay alive.

B’s mother: the Taliban was now a part of our family

After years of stonewalling, B’s father Bob realized the government was incapable of diplomacy and he decided to go to Pakistan to give himself in exchange for his son. He used twitter, quoting from the Koran, with a message of radical peace. He travelled to visit a mosque in Washington, where the imam taught him to pray. He wore a kufi and grew his beard, knowing that the Taliban would see him on social media, trying to appeal to the Pashtun values and customs. B’s mother Jani told him, “the Taliban was now a part of our family.”

He talked with his pastor about overlaps between Calvinism and Islam. He realized peace would only come by understanding the men who held his son. Without peace, his son would never come home. The Bergdahls respected, embraced the enemy. The Christological overtones are everywhere. B’s 40 days in the wilderness, suffering for our sins, resurrection from the dead, love thine enemy …

For Bob and Jani, their prayers were answered. Obama had to wrap this up, and though he should have got Congressional approval, he just quietly released ‘the Taliban 5’ to Qatar and sent a SEAL rescue team to scoop up B, filmed by his captors for the world to see. Obama “broke the law by not informing Congress,” fumed Republican House Armed Services Committee Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon.

Obama was getting his own back. He had vowed in 2009 that he would close Guantanamo and had been shafted. Convincing him was Holbrooke’s adviser Barney Rubin who reminded Obama that of the 5 Taliban, 3 had surrendered, 2 were detained after they showed up for appointments saying they wanted to help us.

Vietnam

No doubt others who were traumatized by the war in Afghanistan will find healing as have the Bergdahls, by acknowledging the guilt of being part of this invasion and destruction of a country and its people. This happened — is still happening — after the liberation of Vietnam.

One of many Vietnam vets who have returned to Vietnam looking for closure, Chuck Searcy moved to Vietnam in 1995 as representative of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, and helped launch Project RENEW in Quang Tri Province, to clean up UXO (unexploded ordnance) and provide medical assistance, rehabilitation, and income generation for UXO victims. Like Hoh, Searcy is active in Veterans For Peace, based in Vietnam. In 2003 Searcy was awarded Vietnam’s National Friendship Medal.

Bergdahl hoped to cause an emergency, a Goliath moment which would give him the chance to bring his commanding officer Baker’s leadership failures to light, to steer the US intervention towards the truth. A DUSTWUN was the most powerful weapon B had.

The day after he shipped his things home, he sent an email from Sharana to a group of friends in Idaho quoting Atlas Shrugged‘s John Galt:

It is not the being of value who fails the system. It is the system that has failed the man. The system should be remade to fit the man who holds value as worth.

B aimed to bring the gears of system to a halt, his own personal (nonviolent) 9/11, and remake it.

It worked, sort of. When the dust finally settled, Bowe was handed a dishonorable discharge (instead of life), and a few pay deductions, but awarded two good conduct medals for service in captivity. Even Trump had stopped calling for his execution, and started negotiating with the Taliban, which is exactly what Bergdahl’s very brave, but also very risky, act was all about.

In a March 1, 2019 interview on C-Span, ex-Marine and foreign service official Matthew Hoh makes the point that the war actually began in 1973 with the overthrow of the king. He doesn’t make the point that the logical secular trajectory led to socialism, nor does he point to the US arming and supporting the Islamists as the real crime.

But Bergdahl’s trajectory is the logical one today — looking to the enemy for an answer. Whether or not Bowe took the shuhada and became a Muslim, his reaching out to the Taliban and his father and mother’s realization that “the Taliban are part of our family,” says it all.

An earlier version of B’s monkey-wrench-into-the-killer-machine, during the Vietnam war, is Christopher Boyce,  who worked for the National Reconnaissance Office in the 1970s, and discovered the CIA were deposing Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in Australia for wanting to close US military bases and withdraw Australian troops from Vietnam. Boyce saw that the CIA was undermining not just Australia but other democratic, industrialized allies. Boyce figured the press was useless. The media’s earlier disclosure of CIA involvement in the 1973 Chilean coup d’état had not changed anything for the better.

If he was going to make a splash, he’d have to turn to the ‘enemy’. Then, it was the Soviet Union. Despite his solidly conservative upbringing, he, like B, came to realize that the ‘enemy’ was almost by definition the ‘good guy’. His crossing the line and spying for the Soviet Union was much like B’s — very risky, harrowing, to say the least, life-changing.

He spent 25 years in prison as penance, and now lives quietly in Oregon, not so far from the Bergdahls. Another gripping story of defying the empire and living to tell the tale.

Now if only Boyce’s wildly idealistic expose had saved Whitlam and brought down US imperialism back in the 1970s. Or at least if we could rewind our tape to 1979, and see the Soviet Union and its attempt to shore up the faltering secular socialist government in Afghanistan, as “part of our family”, to be embraced, not vilified and destroyed. If only our present was the counterfactual history, not the peaceful, secular Afghanistan of yore.

Boyce and Bergdahl sensed who the real enemy is. They aimed for Goliath’s eye with their stone and hit it, but to no avail. Boyce’s logic pointed to socialism. Bergdahl’s saga points to Islam. The best thing in the 1970s was to make peace with the Soviet Union, not to destroy it. Now, it is for the US to embrace Islam’s message of peace. There Is No Alternative.

  1. There are at least four spying agencies all at cross-purposes. The oldest the army’s, which was supposed to close when the CIA was created but secretly kept working. Under the army was also a special unofficial service which carried out very secret things like Iran-contra. Then there’s the FBI, responsible for any American in a non-combat country. Also the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). All had their claim to Bergdahl. The search for Bergdahl was as much a war between the CIA (secretly allowed to do things in Pakistan) against the army’s spymasters, the FBI and the DEA. The army ‘won’. Sort of.
  2. Army jargon for WTF (what the f&#k)
  3. ‘Fucked Up Beyond All Repair.’
  4. Jalaluddin Haqqani, who visited the Reagan White House and was once described by Texas politician Charlie Wilson as “goodness personified.”

Nonviolent Versus Violent Peace in Afghanistan and the World

“Salam (peace)!” is how Afghans greet one another, some of them simultaneously placing a hand over their hearts.

But, while everyone including Afghans wants peace, the Afghan Peace Volunteers and I have observed that the human species appears to be stuck on violent peace. We think that this is because most of us are reared as armed doves, like the one drawn by Wifred Hildonen for Cartoon Stock below.

There is a new Peacemaker in town!

Using Wilfred’s cartoon analogy, the Afghan Peace Volunteers and I are differentiating violent peace from nonviolent peace based on whether a society includes or excludes the use of weapons and armies as a resort to secure peace.

To date, the earth has housed violent peace. Human beings are the armed doves inhabiting the planet under the threat of lethal weapons, including 14,575 nuclear warheads. Even small island countries like Singapore are spending more and more money to acquire superior weaponry from the military industrial complex

We’re not differentiating between violent and nonviolent peace to judge anyone, as we would only be judging ourselves. We’ve tried nothing but violent peace in Afghanistan, to everyone’s loss. The time is overdue to pursue peace without weapons or armies, so that we can all enjoy the kind of peace we human beings dream about.

So, please trust your humanity, and trust that we share that humanity too. Like you, we wish to protect and defend our loved ones, so we don’t make this call on the people of the world lightly: “Don’t just pause. Stop! Consider nonviolent peace. It won’t harm you. It is the love we’ve always wanted!”

We so badly want societies that are highly organized on the foundation of love. This is already happening in many places through the local establishment of egalitarian, nonviolent practices. Joan Boaz said, “That’s all nonviolence is – organized love”.

It is happening among the Afghan Peace Volunteers, like with Afghan 11th grade student Rashid, whose story I had begun telling in a previous post.

Rashid

Rashid’s father was killed in a suicide bombing attack on a mosque in Kabul, for which a Pakistani militant group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, claimed responsibility. Rashi’s father was selling oranges at the mosque. Rashid was so devastated by this loss that he became inconsolably depressed and couldn’t bring himself to attend school for three months.

Once during a counselling session, I was listening to Rashid describe the tightness and pain he feels in his chest when he remembers the prison-like religious school he was forcefully enrolled in. Rashid recalled the incessant punishments in class, and the loneliness….The tears started pouring down his cheeks, not the sort of tears that sought any attention, but flowy, tender tears.

“Do you think you can heal yourself of the war inside you?” I asked Rashid recently.

“Yes, by changing the way I think. I can ask questions, and look for evidence before I believe any claim about war or other matters,” he replied.

I asked what he would say if his mother asked to take revenge against the Pakistani “terrorists”, or against the Afghan extremists who, through traumatic indoctrination at the religious school, tried to brainwash him into joining them to wage the “holy war”.

“I will tell her: If I take revenge, you know that they will retaliate with even fiercer vengeance. You could be hurt. I could lose everything,” Rashid said.

I probed deeper, as my own personal journey towards understanding war and peace involved a freeing up of my basic assumptions, “After all that your mother has gone through, don’t you think that it’s her right to fight back?”

“Teacher,” Rashid explained to me, “There is an Afghan saying, “Blood cannot wash away blood.” Taking revenge doesn’t work.”

“But, Rashid, how will you be able to allay your mother’s fears, or even your own fears, if there were no military forces to defend you and your mom? Who will protect you?”

“My father was killed even when the Afghan army and the US/NATO forces were here defending us in Kabul. What we need is a people’s defense, in which the people bring security by conversing with the groups in conflict. We shouldn’t use weapons, because if we do, others will also use weapons against us. Look at the current peace negotiations in Afghanistan. While they negotiate, the sides in conflict are increasing their fighting and killing! How is peace ever going to come?” Rashid explained.

Rashid was stating what even the US Joint Chief of Staff, Marine Corps General Joe Dunford and the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres had both said on different occasions, “There is no military solution in Afghanistan.”

“I used to admire those who looked strong holding dangerous weapons like this or like that…,” Rashid said, switching his arm posture as if he was holding a gun. “I used to think that Afghanistan must have an army to defend the country. I was a fan of the army generals.”

In most countries of the world today, saying something like this will get serious censure, “Rashid is unpatriotic. He is a traitor, maybe a Talib!” As armed doves, we consider the military almost sacred.

“Now, though I respect army generals and even militants as human beings, I don’t like what they do. I used to think that fighting proves how courageous I am. I was like a smart phone that was programmed by a system run by the government,” Rashid said.

I was reminded that I was speaking to a young person who belongs to the digital age and smart phone generation. It’s youth like Rashid and Swedish climate activist Greta Thurnberg who are rising up to change our obsolete and unresponsive systems. Greta had said:

We can’t save the world by playing by the rules because the rules have to change.

I could see Rashid applying his mind, the way he does in school, getting first position in his 10th grade class last year, “after the classmate who paid bribes for his grades left school”.

“Is it possible to re-program the human smart phone?” I asked, though I’ve been thinking that with the repetitive war negotiations among fully armed players in the Afghan conflict, neither adult human beings nor our communication systems are very smart.

“Of course, once we understand the systems that did the programming, we can un-install the program, or format it!” Rashid quipped.

Rashid thinks we can reprogram ourselves for nonviolent peace

Rashid is becoming the other dove that is within him, the nonviolent dove who offers an olive branch, without any weapon strapped under his wing.

What’s in store for Afghanistan?

Where’s the voting booth?

It’s time to think about the likely future of poor Afghanistan. It isn’t terribly bright, but we have to, so the sooner, the better.

There are probably still a few neocons dreaming of a happy puppet state emerging from the shambles. The “grand strategy” was laid out by PNAC (Project for a New American Century) in 2000, calling for the US to maintain its unrivaled superpower status. This required a “new Pearl Harbor” to justify launching preemptive wars against suspect nations (after Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Somalia, Libya, Sudan, Iran and Yemen).

This Pearl Harbor II just happened to come along a year later, prompting Bush II to coin “the Axis of evil” to include Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and “Beyond the Axis of Evil” to include Cuba, Libya, and Syria. The plan was to bring all these countries under US hegemony by installing western-friendly regimes under a patina of electoral democracy.

US military ‘successes’

A skeptic might point out that none of these countries is any friendlier to the US twenty years later. There have been drastic changes, but so far only for the worse. That skeptic would point out that, in fact, the US has had a very spotty military record since WWII, which it ‘won’ in Europe only after the Soviet army had subdued the Nazis, and against Japan only by using the first (and hopefully last) weapon of mass destruction on a massive scale, leveling two cities and killing 200,000 people in a few seconds.

There have been no ‘wars’ since WWII. The Korea ‘war’ was really just an invasion of a war-devastated nation to assert American control. It was actually a continuation of WWII, since no peace was signed with the Korean liberators, and is still ongoing, as Kim Jong Un stubbornly insists on pointing out. At least it was called a war and congress dutifully supported it.

Vietnam was a similar invasion to prop up the French colonial regime, but was never declared as a ‘war’. Despite attempts to rehabilitate it as an honourable war, no rational person sees it other than a huge stain on the US. 60,000 Americans died. The fallout continues, as the survivors among the 600,000 draftees are still getting treatment for battle injuries, especially  PTSD.

Then there was the turkey shoot in 1991, called the first Iraq war. Again, it was not a war, but a loudly trumpeted and meticulously planned invasion, killing 100,000 turkeys (sorry, Iraqis), but only 383 Americans.

“We have finally kicked the Vietnam syndrome,” Bush I famously bragged. A new, leaner, meaner US military was tooted. It looked like the post-Soviet period, the 1990s, would be a useful “unipolar moment” to proceed with regime change, a blank check after 9/11 to cleanse the world of those evil axis types.

Reality is never kind. The unipolar moment disappeared without a trace (sorry, forgot Kosovo). The world in 2000 was in far worse shape than it was before the Soviet Union collapsed, before that unipolar moment came along.

PNAC and the 9/11 blank check was a last-ditch attempt to bring the world under US control. Yet another war was declared, ‘the war against terrorism’, another blank check, a war against a feeling (of dread). First stop, Afghanistan.

And, in fact, almost all the nasties were invaded. Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria all experienced US soldiers, bombs and drones, and are all more or less paralyzed and devastated. Iran is too big a mouthful and has only had a very cold shoulder, plus subversion and support for Iranian terrorists. So far, it got off lucky.

Do a Nixon?

Afghanistan was supposed to be simple. Poof! The Taliban just disappeared and the US set up shop. But then the Taliban resurged. The strategy to hold on was Vietnam-style counterinsurgency, but that didn’t work then or now.

What to do? There is only one way out now for Trump. Do a Nixon: negotiate, declare victory, and leave. The Taliban haven’t budged on their terms. They demanded direct talks with the US to arrange their departure. Only then would they talk to the current ‘government’. This was their position 18 years ago.

That is essentially what Nixon did in 1975 for Vietnam, though he carried out carpet bombing in Laos and Cambodia at the very end, hoping to cow the Vietnamese. It’s unlikely Trump will do that, but who knows?

What post-occupation scenario awaits Afghanis?

There will be a settling of accounts with the US-installed regime. The Taliban is still the official government (though only Saudi Arabia and Pakistan officially recognized them). The current Northern Alliance led government will not just disappear, but it will not have an easy time finding a place.

In an attempt to give its invasion credibility and erase the memory of Taliban rule, the US parachuted in the last King of Afghanistan, Mohammed Zahir Shah, in 2002 to preside over a Loya Jirga, but then panicked, as many of the delegates were prepared to vote for Zahir Shah and block the US-backed Hamid Karzai. The US, ably represented by Zalmay Khalilzad, were able to twist enough arms to prevail.

The leaders since 2001 can only be described as US puppets. Hamid Karzai was a fundraiser in the 1980s for the mujahideen, Ashraf Ghani, an anthropology prof in the US, and in the 1990s, a WB official. At least Karzai recognized the Taliban initially, and was even requested by the Taliban to serve as their ambassador but refused, telling friends that he felt Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was wrongly using them.

When Karzai threw in his lot with the Northern Alliance, the Taliban assassinated his father. Ghani was working for the World Bank at the time. Not surprisingly, the Taliban did not negotiate with Karzai and are not likely to have a heart-to-heart reconciliation with Ghani.

The Taliban have not unveiled any election-ready platform. But what the Taliban has in mind is probably something along the lines of Iran: a modest electoral system under sharia law. They are salafi, mostly trained in Deobandi madrassahs in Pakistan, not as extreme as the Saudis, and with no tribal/ monarchical pretensions. They never thought much of the Saudis, seen as compromised by their alliance with the US.

Despite (or because of) their intimate geopolitical ties with Pakistan, they are unlikely to take much advice from there. Pashtunistan is still a sore point, and Pakistan has little to offer, itself in dire economic straits. India, Iran and Russia will be the most important regional actors, the UN the umbrella, though the Taliban will look to the Saudis for financing reconstruction. The Taliban have few foreign friends anymore, so they will have to do some serious rethinking.

There is no room for the US (or al-Qaeda) in this, except as part of an international program of reconstruction. If Syria is anything to go by (or Vietnam), that means zilch. The US motto in its ‘wars’: ‘Let them clean up the mess we made.’

How to get there

The Taliban attended a conference in Moscow of regional countries China, Iran, India, and Pakistan in February, the first in which they have participated. The United States attended in an observer capacity, while the Kabul sent members of a government-appointed Peace Council.

The Taliban did not indulge in any negotiations with its foes, but merely called for the United States to undertake a number of “confidence-building measures”, starting with a deadline for a full withdrawal from the country.

It is fitting that the Taliban came to Moscow, capital of the Soviet invaders who the mujahideen expelled, and that Zamir Kabulov, the last Soviet ambassador to Afghanistan, was the messenger who would tell the current invaders, the US, (no doubt with a feeling of schadenfreude) to get the hell out.

Kabulov passed on the bad news: “All political prisoners [must] be freed and anti-Taliban sanctions, which were imposed back in 1997, be lifted. … With participation in the meeting, the international status of the Islamic Emirate will be strengthened even further.”

This, of course, is what the Taliban insisted on 18 years ago. So 18 years, $1.07 trillion, 2,372 US soldiers dead — for nothing?  The US State Department is furious. Not only the dastardly Russians, Chinese and Iranians, but wild card Trump himself — all are ganging up against the US hegemon, undermining …

What are they undermining? A failed state on US life-support?

‘State’ just doesn’t get it. The Russians, Iranians, Indians, Pakistanis et al are the regional powers who can make or break Afghanistan. The US has had almost two decades and all the counterinsurgency in the world isn’t going to help. Time to leave. Period.

Mr. Niet

Former US Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker calls this “a surrender negotiation”; i.e., the US surrender to the Taliban. Better to keep the troops there as long as necessary to get the conditions the US wants; i.e., the Taliban must recognize the US-installed government as the official government. The best the Taliban could expect is to be allowed to play at western-style elections, which can always be arranged or cancelled.

This is what’s left of the PNAC plan for all the axis-of-evil types. It sort of worked in Iraq (until the Iranians came along). It didn’t work at all in Syria (what is Lebanon doing in the list?) or Somalia. It required destroying Libya and Yemen. Sudan and Iran are on hold.

So can Trump just pull a Nixon on all of them? Declare victory and leave? Stop trying to be the world hegemon? Israel has Jerusalem. Isn’t that parting gift enough?

Meeting in Moscow: The Taliban Meets the Afghan Opposition

It had the semblance of a play lacking key actors.  They were deemed the difficult ones, and a decision was made to go through with the performance.  The Taliban were willing to talk with their adversaries, but they were keen on doing so with opposition politicians rather than the stick-in-the-mud types in government led by the current President Ashraf Ghani.  The assessment from The New York Times over the whole affair held at the President Hotel in Moscow was that the meeting could only be, at best, “a brainstorming session”.

The Taliban officials going to Moscow were a different crew, at least in terms of perceptions.  These were not the intemperate salad day youths of 1996, yanking cassettes from car stereos in Kandahar and ranting against all matters musical and female.  These were men of diplomacy, their guns holstered.  Gone were visions of seizing the whole of Afghanistan and establishing a broader theocratic state.  Doing so, by their admission, would not bring the state to peaceful order.   Nor, and here there will be questions, did they seem unwilling to reconsider their position on broader notion of human rights.

The claims from the Taliban demonstrate their continued boldness and durability.  Enemies have come and gone, and they remain steadfast in imposing order.  Their brutality remains common and assertive, but they have become wiser, more discerning in their heavy-handedness. “Peace is more difficult than war,” suggested Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, one of the members of the negotiating party to head to Moscow.

The January draft agreement arising from a series of meetings with US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, suggests a commitment on the part of the US to withdraw its forces from the country with a Taliban promise to prevent Afghanistan being used as a staging ground for jihadists in future.

The Wednesday statement did little to add flesh to any potential bargain but did outline nine points.  Continued intra-Afghan talks would take place – the usual talks about talks; involving the cooperation of regional countries and others were “essential to determine lasting and nationwide peace in Afghanistan”.

One aspiration stood out, making all aware about the traumatic divisions in a society that has resisted internally and externally imposed changes for generations.  Unity has been impossible; centralisation of the state an impracticable and unrealisable dream.  “All parties agreed that the values such as respect for the principles of Islam in all parts of the system, the principle that Afghanistan is a common home to all Afghans, support to a powerful centralised government with all ethnicities having a role in it, protecting national sovereignty and promoting social justice, to keep Afghanistan neutral in all regional and international conflicts, protecting Afghanistan’s national and religious values and undertaking a unified and single policy.”

The other aspirations follow on from the first: the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghan soil; an affirmation of Afghanistan’s sovereignty and the principle of non-interference.  Then come promises to protect “social, economic, political and educational rights of the Afghan women in line with Islamic principles, protection of political and social rights of the entire people of Afghanistan and protection of freedom of speech in line with Islamic principles.”

Ghani’s spokesman Samim Arif expressed his sentiments on the gathering.  “On the issue of the peace process, we respect the views of all parts of society, including the politicians.  But the ownership and the leadership of the peace process is the authority of the Afghan government.”

Ghani was even blunter: “With whom, what will they agree upon there?  Where is their executive power?  Let hundreds of such meetings be held, but these would only be paper (agreements) unless there is an agreement by the Afghan government; Afghanistan’s national assembly and Afghanistan’s legal institutions.” Ghani might as well have asked himself those same questions, his rule itself very much a paper based one, his claims to executive authority adventurous at best.

Notwithstanding the activities in Moscow, there will no doubt be a good number of Afghans, left confused by years of external intervention and promptings, concerned by this affirmation and legitimation of Taliban rule.  While the Moscow declaration insists on observing various rights previously anathema to Taliban theocracy, these are provisional within the remit of “Islamic principles”, which have been shown to be roughly interpreted when needed.  Schools may continue being threatened under any new regime; education for females face the prospects of being reined in (religious reasons apply, naturally), as they always tend to in areas of Taliban occupation.  Aired guarantees are simply that.

The gathering in Moscow signalled one undeniable reality: the Taliban as a political force cannot be ignored.  Remarks made in the immediate aftermath of the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 by US-led forces that the Taliban would be blown to smithereens and wiped off the lunar face of the country have come to nought.  These fighters have lasted the distance; corrupt officials in Kabul, pampered and sponsored by foreign largesse, remain estranged and politically weak.  The Trump administration, prone to erratic spots of unilateral viciousness, is keen on easing part of the imperium’s commitments in the Middle East.  Eyes will be on Kabul to see how far this goes.