Archive for July 28, 2009

I was baffled by the cavalier attitude displayed yesterday by Richard Holbrooke about violence in Afghanistan. Sounding positively Dick-Cheney-ish, Dick Holbrooke waved away concerns about the potential of widespread violence to damage the legitimacy of the upcoming elections. Here he is during an NPR interview, emphasis mine:

Q: Wouldn’t the people, though, who can’t vote think maybe it wasn’t fair because their voices can’t be heard?

HOLBROOKE: Does that invalidate the election? If that’s true, the 2004 election in the United States should be questioned. Because a lot of the voters in Ohio stood in lines and the polls closed and they were left out there not voting. And that was in the world’s greatest and oldest democracy.

Elections are rarely perfect. This election, in unprecedented wartime conditions, is certainly not going to be without its rough spots. It’s the integrity of the voting process in the middle of a brutal war. How many countries would have had the courage to hold an election under these circumstances? But Afghanistan is, and they should be given credit for it.

Yes, Dick, obviously those are analogous situations. We all remember the Taliban planting IEDs in Cleveland and the women immolating themselves in despair brought on by widespread rape by government officials in Columbus. The press was full of reports of Blackwater guards brandishing guns at passers-by. Remember when John Edwards almost got assassinated? I totally get your point!

Or not:

Hundreds of polling stations could be closed in Afghanistan’s most violent regions, raising concerns that many ethnic Pashtuns will be unable to vote in next month’s presidential elections. That could undermine the legitimacy of the election, cause turmoil and possibly deprive President Hamid Karzai of a first-round victory.

Compare Holbrooke’s statement with this little gem from the other Dick (Cheney), coincidentally from 2004:

“Twenty years ago we had a similar situation in El Salvador. We had hal[sic] guerrilla insurgency [that] controlled roughly a third of the country, 75,000 people dead, and we held free elections. I was there as an observer on behalf of the Congress. The human drive for freedom, the determination of these people to vote, was unbelievable. The terrorists would come in and shoot up polling places; as soon as they left, the voters would come back and get in line and would not be denied the right to vote.”

Coincidence? Not on your life.

The timing of Holbrooke’s comments defending the legitimacy of the election, coming before the election takes place, exposes the game plan for the weeks ahead. Holbrooke is seeking to preempt questions about election legitimacy before the election takes place because the administration plans to defend the legitimacy of the election no matter what. That’s because this is what occupiers do–what Edward Herman calls “ratification-of-conquest.”  The Obama administration needs to be able to point to a “legitimate” election so they can translate that legitimacy into a perception of legitimacy for their entire Afghanistan policy.

For an example of how this works, see Dick Cheney, January 2006:

And I think we’ve had a lot of good news out of Iraq over the course of the last year. It’s hard sometimes to see through that, given the continued level of violence, obviously.

But when you look at the fact that they’ve made every political deadline that’s been set: January elections, wrote a constitution in the summer, ratified it in October, national elections in December. It’s been a — I think a remarkable success story so far.

We’ve still got a lot of work to do, but I think the president has made the point repeatedly out there that the only way we lose is if we pack is it in and go home. And we’re clearly not going to do that.

Or Dick Cheney, Feb. 23, 2007:

When asked whether the Bush administration had a failed strategy in Iraq, Cheney pushed back hard, insisting there had been significant progress.

“A failed strategy? Let’s see. We didn’t fail when we got rid of Saddam,” Cheney said. “We didn’t fail when we held elections. We didn’t fail when we got a constitution written. Those are all success stories.”

But, most infamously, see Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, May/June, 2005, emphasis mine:

On CNN’s ”Larry King Live” on Monday, Vice President Dick Cheney said of the violence in Iraq, ”I think they’re in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.”

This is after May became the deadliest month for US forces since the January elections, with 76 US military casualties.

At a press conference on Tuesday, President Bush was asked about the US casualties and the deaths of 760 Iraqis since the new Iraqi government was named April 28. A reporter asked Bush, ”Do you think that the insurgency is gaining strength and becoming more lethal?”

Bush responded, ”I think the Iraqi people dealt the insurgents a serious blow when they, when we had the elections.”

For the record, this month is already the deadliest month of the Afghanistan war so far.

Purple fingers, anyone?

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Much has been made of the so-called “civilian surge” that’s supposed to accompany the military escalation in Afghanistan, but it comes with an ugly caveat: a civilian surge means an escalation in the presence of private military contractors like Xe, formerly known as Blackwater, acting as guards and bodyguards.

Nancy Youssef’s McClatchy article last week details how the security firms are clamping down around civilian life in Kabul and beyond, driving resentment (emphasis mine).

Huge intimidating convoys of armored SUVs now are common sights in the city’s growing traffic jams. …Nearly every day, there’s some incident involving security teams pointing guns out of windows at frightened commuters.

“I have not faced an incident myself, but in front of me I saw foreigners shoot and kill two people in a small bus. We feel like we are condemned in our own country. They came from thousands of miles away, and my car can’t go in front of them. We are not happy about this situation,” said Mohammad Aziz Azizi, 45, the head of a cultural society.

For anyone who’s visited Baghdad in recent years, the feeling is familiar: the tension of never knowing when violence might break out, when a wrong turn or a moment of inattention might bring one face-to-face with a security guard whose first priority is to protect the life of the person he’s assigned to.

We’ve seen this movie before.

These for-profit mercenaries managed to not only incense Iraqis, but U.S. troops as well with their gung-ho brandish-weapons-and-shoot-first mode of operation. A civilian surge of the type pushed by supporters of the military escalation in Afghanistan, though, has the effect of flooding Afghanistan with contractors working for Blackwater and its cousins. Spencer Ackerman:

But what about the firms hired to protect the new State Department personnel on their way to Afghanistan? State Department security contractors like Blackwater Xe, Triple Canopy and DynCorp have been tied to more population-alienating abuses than the ones who work for the Defense Department.

The use of these contractors accompanying a “civilian surge” has a corrosive effect on life in Kabul, and have become a serious political problem for the continued U.S. occupation. Again, from Youssef’s article:

“In the mind of the Afghan people, democracy is tied to the arrival of the foreign forces,” said Wahed Mughzada, a political analyst. “They don’t like it.”

That’s contributing to growing calls for a timetable for U.S. forces to withdraw, said Ashraf Ghani, a leading candidate in next month’s presidential elections. He’s suggesting that the U.S. withdraw in seven years.

“The Afghans want the use of forces to be predictable. They feel they are not being heard,” Ghani said. “The pre-eminent issue is justice.”

Further, as the U.S. counterinsurgency operation established forward operating bases, we will likely see even more private security firms hired and sent to Afghanistan to act as guards.

So let’s recap. First, we find out that the supposed “civilian” surge in Afghanistan would be largely made up of military personnel. Now, we find that it requires widening the use of civilian contractors, including those from the very companies responsible for carnage and popular outrage in Iraq.

This is all starting to feel so very familiar.