Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Afghanistan: A new strategy, a new surge

The secret documents released by Wikileaks may have unintended consequences that will be important to the people who will live, or not, with those consequences.

Alexander Cockburn writes the following:


The bitter truth is that wars are not often ended by disclosures of their horrors and futility in the press, with consequent public uproar.

Disclosures from the mid-1950s that the French were torturing Algerians amid the war of independence were numerous. Henri Alleg’s famous 1958 account of his torture, La Question, sold 60,000 copies in a single day. Torture duly became more pervasive, and the war more savage, under the supervision of a nominally Socialist French government.

After Ron Ridenhour and then Seymour Hersh broke the My Lai massacre in 1968 in Vietnam with over 500 men, women and babies methodically, beaten, sexually abused, tortured and then murdered by American GIs, -- a tactless disclosure of “methods” -- there was public revulsion, then an escalation in slaughter. The war ran for another seven years.

It is true, as Noam Chomsky pointed out to me last week, when I asked him for positive examples, that popular protest in the wake of press disclosures “impelled Congress to call off the direct US role in the grotesque bombing of rural Cambodia. Similarly in the late 70s, under popular pressure Congress barred Carter, later Reagan, from direct participation in virtual genocide in the Guatemalan highlands, so the Pentagon had to evade legislation in devious ways and Reagan had to call in terrorist states, primarily Israel, to carry out the massacres.”

Even though New York Times editors edited out the word “indiscriminate” from Thomas Friedman’s news report of Israel’s bombing of Beirut in 1982, tv news footage from Lebanon prompted President Reagan to order Israeli prime minister Begin to stop, and he did. (On one account, which I tend to believe, the late Michael Deaver, was watching live footage of the bombing in his White House office and went into Reagan, saying "This is disgusting and you should stop it.")

It happened again when Peres's forces bombed the UN compound in Qana in 1996, causing much international outrage, and Clinton ordered it ended. There was a repeat once more in 2006, with another bombing of Qana that aroused a lot of international protest. But as Chomsky concludes in his note to me, “I think one will find very few such examples, and almost none in the case of really major war crimes.”

So one can conclude pessimistically that exposure of war crimes, torture and so forth, often leads to intensification of the atrocities, with government and influential newspapers and commentators supervising a kind of hardening process.
"Yes, this - murder, torture, wholesale slaughter of civilians - is indeed what it takes." Even though this pattern is long-standing, it often comes as a great surprise. A friend of mine was at a dinner with the CBS news producers, shortly before they broke the Abu Ghraib tortures. Almost everyone at the table thought that Bush might well be impeached.

Bush should have been impeached for his war crimes as should Obama but that could only happen in an ideal world, one which we certainly do not inhabit. However, we can already see the intensification of the atrocities with what the Times announces as a “rethinking” of the Afghan strategy. The Times tells us that Obama’s first “strategy” is now a failure and that under David Petraeus the military, rather than winning the hearts and minds and “protecting” civilians, will now concentrate on assassinations of Taliban leaders. So is it a coincidence that right after the Wikileaks release of “secret” documents Obama is stepping up the hostility by increasing the bombing and the murders? It almost makes sense in a twisted way. When habitual liars are confronted with the truth most often they start telling more lies. Lies on top of lies. Or more to the point perhaps, the Imperial Masters cannot afford to let Wikileaks challenge their power in any way. What better way to show their aloofness to such paltry challenges to their power than to step up the murderous campaign of violence in Afghanistan? Still, there is little doubt that Obama would have done the same without the leaks. Petraeus is the axe man brought in to “surge” once again and those plans were in place before the Wikileaks latest leak.

By stepping up the assassination program the consequences are guaranteed. More innocent people will die because the assassination program kills civilians almost exclusively. A lot of people like to tell me what to write and what I should think while espousing the virtues of not telling people what to do and think. Rather than put into words my first reaction to this I would say we need to watch out for the do-gooders as much as anyone else because the do-gooders often do more damage than anyone else. History has too many examples of this to be ignored.


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