In August, I’ll be releasing through Melbourne University Press my new book, Profits of Doom: How Vulture Capitalism is Swallowing the World. In the same month in Sydney (and hopefully Melbourne and overseas after that), there will be this below. Many more details in the coming while:
The country provides the vast majority of the world’s heroin. The longest war in US history has done nothing to arrest this. In fact, as I examined during my visit there last year and show in my forthcoming book, Profits of Doom, drug addiction is a major problem for men, women and children.
Wired details what Washington should have understood from 2001:
ZARI, Afghanistan — Because of the poppies, the raw material for most of the world’s heroin, the list of things 1st Lt. Christopher Gackstatter and his 2nd Platoon can’t do in Sartok is far longer than the list of things they can.
Marching into the mud-walled village in this sun-baked district of southern Afghanistan on an April 24 intelligence-gathering mission, the boyish 25-year-old lieutenant and his roughly dozen riflemen and machine gunners are mindful of the many poppy-related prohibitions, developed over 12 painful years of war, that have been passed down to their Bravo Company by the higher unit, 3-41 Infantry, part of the Texas-based 1st Brigade of the 1st Armored Division.
They’re not allowed to actually step foot in Sartok’s many acres of poppy fields or damage the fields in any way.
They can’t even threaten to destroy the fields or send in Afghan troops to burn, plow under or poison the delicate, pastel-colored flowers.
Nor can they discourage poppy farmers, however gently, from growing their illicit crop, which is hardier and commands a higher price than alternatives such as wheat. Poppy cultivation has been illegal in Afghanistan since 2001 but still represents a full quarter of the country’s gross domestic product and a major source of revenue for the Taliban, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Many of the middlemen who buy up raw poppy paste for onward sale to heroin-producers hail from the insurgent group.
The rules are fairly new and reflect a subtle but profound shift in the way the U.S. Army thinks about Afghanistan, its people and culture and conflict. Having furtively experimented with every possible approach to Afghan poppies since 2001 — from blissfully ignoring them to actively destroying them and everything in between — today the ground-combat branch has made peace with poppies, viewing them as a potential good thing for Afghanistan and the Army.
But Gackstatter’s brigade, in southern Afghanistan’s Kandahar province since January, is also the last full-up U.S. combat brigade to be deployed to Afghanistan in America’s longest-running war. It’s the last chance for U.S. troops to make a major impact in this part of the country. After that, the American contingent shifts to a strictly advisory role. The poppy trade will be left to the Afghans to handle — or not.
Welcome to the insane US-led war in Afghanistan (via New York Times):
For more than a decade, wads of American dollars packed into suitcases, backpacks and, on occasion, plastic shopping bags have been dropped off every month or so at the offices of Afghanistan’s president — courtesy of the Central Intelligence Agency.
All told, tens of millions of dollars have flowed from the C.I.A. to the office of President Hamid Karzai, according to current and former advisers to the Afghan leader.
“We called it ‘ghost money,’ ” said Khalil Roman, who served as Mr. Karzai’s chief of staff from 2002 until 2005. “It came in secret, and it left in secret.”
The C.I.A., which declined to comment for this article, has long been known to support some relatives and close aides of Mr. Karzai. But the new accounts of off-the-books cash delivered directly to his office show payments on a vaster scale, and with a far greater impact on everyday governing.
Moreover, there is little evidence that the payments bought the influence the C.I.A. sought. Instead, some American officials said, the cash has fueled corruption and empowered warlords, undermining Washington’s exit strategy from Afghanistan.
“The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan,” one American official said, “was the United States.”
The United States was not alone in delivering cash to the president. Mr. Karzai acknowledged a few years ago that Iran regularly gave bags of cash to one of his top aides.
At the time, in 2010, American officials jumped on the payments as evidence of an aggressive Iranian campaign to buy influence and poison Afghanistan’s relations with the United States. What they did not say was that the C.I.A. was also plying the presidential palace with cash — and unlike the Iranians, it still is.
I’m proud to announce the following in Sydney in August (with Melbourne and hopefully overseas to follow soon after.) This will compliment my book on the subject out in the same month. More information in the coming months:
Disaster capitalism is the ideology of our age, supported by the vast bulk of the political and media elites. And yet its work is often done by stealth. Privatised war and outsourced detention centres. Mining companies pillaging precious land in developing countries. Struggling nations invaded by NGOs and the corporate dollar. Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein travels to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea and across Australia to reveal the reality of this largely hidden world. Who is involved and why? Can it be stopped? What are the alternatives in a globalised world?
The Addison Road Community Centre (ARCC) and Reverse Garbage are proud to present a collection of Loewenstein’s photos and film from his travels to reveal the reality of our privatised world. The images and footage will show inspiring people who resist privatised changes to their world. His evocative work will shock, inspire and provoke and make you realise that the planet is being changed without your consent. But hope is alive; Loewenstein will show why.
Between 17 August and 15 September ARCC will also present a range of films, music, discussions, art and public engagement on disaster capitalism. Stay tuned for more details at www.addisonrdcentre.org.au
Typically astute thoughts by the Afghanistan Analysts Network’s Kate Clark on the clusterfuck that the West is leaving in the country:
Obama did indeed struggle to define victory in his state of the union address (read the text here). The US mission, he said, would achieve its mission by defeating ‘the core al-Qaeda’ by the end of 2014, but surely this was something that was achieved by 2002? The sense of déjà vu only continued as Obama went on to say, ‘We are negotiating an agreement with the Afghan government that focuses on two missions: training and equipping Afghan forces so that the country does not again slip into chaos, and counter-terrorism efforts that allow us to pursue the remnants of al Qaeda and their affiliates.’ The ‘remnants’ term will be familiar to anyone here in the early years after the 2001 intervention to describe what US forces were doing in Afghanistan. Post-2014, it seems, they will be pursuing remnants again. (And what exactly are ‘their affiliates’: the Taleban, and if so, which ones? The Afghan Taleban or parts of them, like the Haqqani network? The Pakistani Taleban, Lashkar-e Tayba, Lashkar-e Jhangvi and so on?) Once more, it hardly sounds like victory or indeed mission accomplished.
Moving story by Habib Zahori, a reporter for The New York Times’s Kabul bureau. During my visit to the country last year I constantly heard how the war consumed the lives of most Afghans, though I deeply respected the individuals who tried and not let it control their lives:
It is a cliché anymore to note that three decades of war have changed Afghanistan. But sometimes, even the little differences have the power to shock when they are noticed — like the realization of how profoundly war has worked its way into everyday conversations, and has even changed vocabulary.
My family is originally from the Arghandab district of Kandahar Province, in the south where the Taliban are strong. Arghandab is famous for its pomegranate orchards and its greenery. Although my parents have been living in Kabul for the past 30 years, we still own a small house and some farmland there that relatives look after. My parents visit every now and then, especially when someone dies or if someone is getting married, and out of curiosity, I sometimes come along.
It was during one of these visits that I noticed how war- and military-related terminology had crept into the language of the locals. Words like “ISAF,” “casualties,” “suicide attack,” “Al Qaeda,” “night raid” and many others have become part of my relatives’ daily conversations.
For example, one of my relatives, Mohammed, had lent some money to a villager who had not paid it back on time. One Friday after lunch, I heard his side of a telephone call with the borrower, who still was not able to pay. Joking, Mohammed brought the phone up to his mouth and said, “You gotta pay me back, or I’ll send a squad of zanmargai” — suicide bombers. Then, he laughed.
The changes may be most noticeable in the south, where war and its terminology have become inseparable companions to my people. But if you could take a walk through any Afghan bazaar and listen to people’s conversations — in either Dari or Pashto, the main Afghan languages — you would start seeing the pattern.
When two friends tease each other and one gets angry, maybe he will say: “Leave me alone, or I’ll put on the vest” — referring to an explosive suicide vest. If you are a little Westernized and express slightly different ideas from the predominant ones, then you are called either “Son of Bush” or “Son of Obama.” On the other hand, if you are even slightly religious, especially if you have a beard, then you are called “Al Qaeda” or “Taliban.”
As our languages have changed, perhaps it is not so surprising that poets have changed along with them. Many younger poets, in particular, are focusing on scenes of suicide bombing, the Taliban, American soldiers and civilian casualties.
After an American soldier killed 16 civilians, mostly children, in Panjwai district last year, Majid Qara, a young Afghan poet, wrote a poem criticizing the Americans, and it fast became widely shared on social media here in Afghanistan.
Here is part of another poem, by Matiullah Turab, a Pashtun from eastern Afghanistan.
War is a female fly
female flies lay 100 eggs every day.
War is destruction, calamity
it brings disaster.
War is gambling
don’t get used to any winnings.
Jeremy Scahill and Rick Rowley speak to Huffington Post Live:
History repeats. Leaders learn nothing or don’t want to. Countless media hacks repeat the talking points about fighting “terrorism” and ask few questions. The “war on terror” has been a catastrophic debacle from day one. If you ask the civilians who suffer under its wrath, which most reporters don’t, you’ll know that.
To listen to David Cameron’s rhetoric this week, it could be 2001 all over again. Eleven years into the war on terror, it might have been Tony Blair speaking after 9/11. As thebloody siege of the part BP-operated In Amenas gas plant in Algeria came to an end, the British prime minister claimed, like George Bush and Blair before him, that the country faced an “existential” and “global threat” to “our interests and way of life”.
While British RAF aircraft backed French military intervention against Islamist rebels in Mali, and troops were reported to be on alert for deployment to the west African state, Cameron promised that a “generational struggle” would be pursued with “iron resolve”. The fight over the new front in the terror war in North Africa and the Sahel region, he warned, could go on for decades.
So in austerity-blighted Britain, just as thousands of soldiers are being made redundant, while Barack Obama has declared that “a decade of war is now ending”, armed intervention is being ratcheted up in yet another part of the Muslim world. Of course, it’s French troops in action this time. But even in Britain the talk is of escalating drone attacks and special forces, and Cameron has refused to rule out troops on the ground.
You’d think the war on terror had been a huge success, the way the western powers keep at it, Groundhog Day-style. In reality, it has been a disastrous failure, even in its own terms – which is why the Obama administration felt it had to change its name to “overseas contingency operations”, until US defence secretary Leon Panetta revived the old title this week.
Instead of fighting terror, it has fuelled it everywhere it’s been unleashed: from Afghanistan to Pakistan, from Iraq to Yemen, spreading it from Osama bin Laden’s Afghan lairs eastwards to central Asia and westwards to North Africa – as US, British and other western forces have invaded, bombed, tortured and kidnapped their way across the Arab and Muslim world for over a decade.
So a violent jihadist movement that grew out of western intervention, occupation and support for dictatorship was countered with more of the same. And the law of unintended consequences has meanwhile been played out in spectacular fashion: from the original incubation of al-Qaida in the mujahideen war against the Soviet Union, to the spread of terror from western-occupied Afghanistan to Pakistan, to the strategic boost to Iran delivered by the US-British invasion of Iraq.
When it came to Libya, the blowback was much faster – and Mali took the impact. Nato’s intervention in Libya’s civil war nearly two years ago escalated the killing and ethnic cleansing, and played the decisive role in the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime. In the ensuing maelstrom, Tuareg people who had fought for Gaddafi went home to Mali and weapons caches flooded over the border.
All this is anyway about a good deal more than terrorism. Underlying the growing western military involvement in Africa – from the spread of American bases under the US Africa Command to France’s resumption of its post-colonial habit of routine armed intervention – is a struggle for resources and strategic control, in the face of China’s expanding economic role in the continent. In north and west Africa, that’s not just about oil and gas, but also uranium in countries like Niger – and Mali. Terrorism has long since become a catch-all cover for legitimising aggressive war.
The idea that jihadists in Mali, or Somalia for that matter, pose an existential threat to Britain, France, the US or the wider world is utter nonsense. But the opening of a new front in the war on terror in north Africa and the Sahel, accompanied by another murderous drone campaign, is a potential disaster for the region and risks a new blowback beyond it.
Kill Anything that Moves is a new book by Nick Turse that uncovers the reality of American brutality during the Vietnam war. There were countless My-Lai type massacres.
Here he writes about the legacy of that war and its relevance to (virtual) media silence over the human cost of US-led wars since 9/11:
Leaving aside those who perished from disease, hunger, or lack of medical care, at least 3.8 million Vietnamese died violent war deaths according to researchers from Harvard Medical School and the University of Washington. The best estimate we have is that 2 million of them were civilians. Using a very conservative extrapolation, this suggests that 5.3 million civilians were wounded during the war, for a total of 7.3 million Vietnamese civilian casualties overall. To such figures might be added an estimated 11.7 millionVietnamese forced from their homes and turned into refugees, up to 4.8 million sprayed with toxic herbicides like Agent Orange, an estimated 800,000 to 1.3 million war orphans, and 1 million war widows.
The numbers are staggering, the suffering incalculable, the misery almost incomprehensible to most Americans but not, perhaps, to an Iraqi.
No one will ever know just how many Iraqis died in the wake of the U.S. invasion of 2003. In a country with an estimated population of about 25 million at the time, a much-debated survey — the results of which were published in the British medical journal The Lancet – suggested more than601,000 violent “excess deaths” had occurred by 2006. Another survey indicated that more than 1.2 million Iraqi civilians had died because of the war (and the various internal conflicts that flowed from it) as of 2007. The Associated Press tallied up records of 110,600 deaths by early 2009. An Iraqi family health survey fixed the number at 151,000 violent deaths by June 2006. Official documents made public by Wikileaks counted 109,000 deaths, including 66,081 civilian deaths, between 2004 and 2009. Iraq Body Counthas tallied as many as 121,220 documented cases of violent civilian deaths alone.
Then there are those 3.2 million Iraqis who were internally displaced or fled the violence to other lands, only to find uncertainty and deprivation in places like Jordan, Iran, and now war-torn Syria. By 2011, 9% or more of Iraq’s women, as many as 1 million, were widows (a number that skyrocketed in the years after the U.S. invasion). A recent survey found that 800,000 to 1 million Iraqi children had lost one or both parents, a figure that only grows with the continuing violence that the U.S. unleashed but never stamped out.
Today, the country, which experienced an enormous brain drain of professionals, has a total of 200 social workers and psychiatrists to aid all those, armed and unarmed, who suffered every sort of horror and trauma. (In just the last seven years, by comparison, the U.S. Veterans Administration has hired7,000 new mental health professionals to deal with Americans who have been psychologically scarred by war.)