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Mainstream, Vol XLIX, No 8, February 12, 2011

Obama Doctrine of War for Peace in South Asia

Saturday 19 February 2011, by Arshi Khan

BOOK REVIEW

Obama’s Wars by Bob Woodward; New York, London, Toronto, Sydney: Simon & Schuster; 2010; pp. 441; price: US $ 30.

There is a general perception and practice of referencing the American political system headed by the US President as the success case of democracy and federalism based on the ‘general will’ of the American citizens and elected representatives. There is also a common belief all around the world to regard the office of the President as the symbol of the democratic mandate of the most civilised people of the Atlantic who spread the light of the Manifest Destiny, Enlightenment, Liberty and Peace wherever needed. On the other hand, the Statue of Liberty in New York, democratic notions of George Washington, Jefferson and Madison as well as the peace project of Woodrow Wilson have now become the objects of American museums and archives. In the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville speculated on the future of democracy in the United States, discussing the possible threats to democracy and possible dangers of democracy. These included his belief that democracy has a tendency to degenerate into ‘soft despotism’ as well as the risk of developing a tyranny of the majority.

In pursuit of massive material benefits, paramountcy of the sovereign state and the Machiavellian principle of power maintenance by its territorial expansion, the American leaders have a history of taking over the lands of Native Americans (now reduced to 1.37 per cent of the total American population), upsurpiag the territories of Mexico in the 1840s, creating the President of the United States of America (POTUS) as the perverted form of Hobbesian Leviathan who abuses the people’s mandate to deny other nations and states of their fundamental rights and human rights. The US President is known more by its acts of threats of violence, economic sanctions, and aggressions particularly after dropping Atom Bombs over Japan in August 1945. The POTUS has a history of proxy wars and opposition vis-à-vis the erstwhile socialist Soviet Union and now the People’s Republic of China, besides other states’ like Venezuela, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Myanmar, Libya.

On the other hand, Israel has been the US’ closest friend in the world despite its illegal birth, unlawful territorial expansion, violation of human rights, invasion of Lebanon and Syria, illegal settlements of Zionists in the West Bank and East Jerusalem (fully belonging to the Palestinians under the UNSC Resolutions 242, 338 and the Madrid, Oslo agreements of 1991, 1993) and construction of a 490 mile-long Israeli Wall in Palestinian territories. From 1973 to 2003, the UN Security Council adopted approxi-mately 100 resolutions on the Middle East that were, again, most critical of Israel. The US vetoed a total of 37 resolutions. By contrast, Israel has consistently been America’s top UN ally.

Moreover, the POTUS has also a history of killing millions of people in Vietnam, Latin America, Iraq and Afghanistan. It toppled and resisted most of the nationalist governments and leaders who mobilised national resources for domestic development and the well-being of the people. Now it is clear that the main US agenda in Iraq was not Saddam Hussein but to secure its military bases; and it sponsored loony people in power (whose commitment to the Iraqis is questionable). Similarly its allegations against Iran over the latter’s civil nuclear energy programme are directed against the existing government and the system to ensure a safe passage around Iraq. Even before the collapse of the Soviet Union, it conceptualised, recruited, trained, and funded militancy among Muslims for misusing them as a force against the Soviet military and political presence in Afghanistan. Such facts have been highlighted by Mahmood Mamdani in his book—Good Muslim, Bad Muslim. (pp. 130-177)

In March 1985, Reagan signed the National Security Decision Directive 166, authorising “stepped-up covert military aid to the Mujahideen, and made clear that the secret Afghan war had a new goal: to defeat Soviet troops in Afghanistan through covert action”. (Mamdani, 128) The blue-print for the Afghan jihad was worked out by the CIA in collaboration with the ISI of Pakistan. (p. 130) Osama bin Laden was recruited, with US approval at the highest level, by Prince Turki al-Faisal, then head of the Saudi Intelligence. In 1986, he worked as the major contractor to build a large CIA funded project—the Khost Tunnel complex deep under the mountains close to the Pakistani border. The Khost complex housed a major arms depot, training facility and a medical centre for the Mujahideen. (p. 133) It was in 1989 that he parted ways from other Mujahideen to fight beyond the Afghan borders by forming the Al-Qaeda (the Base). Thus he emerged as the organiser and patron of the most prominent privatised arm of the American jihad. (Ibid.)

MAMDANI has been quoted in Los Angeles Times on the issue of the rise of the Taliban. (p. 160) The CIA was the key to the forging of the link between Islam and terror in Central Asia and to giving radical Islamists international reach and ambition. (p. 163) Ahmed Rashid wrote in Foreign Affairs, November-December 1999, that with the support of the CIA and ISI, some 35,000 Muslim radicals from 40 Islamic countries joined Afghanistan’s fight between 1982 and 1992. Tens of thousands more came to study in Pakistani madrasas. Eventually more than 100,000 foreign Muslim radicals were directly influenced by the Afghan jihad. According to Abdel Monam Saidali of the Al-Ahram Centre for Strategic Studies in Cairo, bin Laden and the “Afghan Arabs” had been imparted “with very sophisticated types of training that was allowed to them by the CIA”. Eric Weiner, Ted Clark wrote in Weekend Sunday on August 16, 1998 that the CIA’s Beardman confirmed, in this regard, that Osama bin Laden was not aware of the role he was playing on behalf of Washington. In the words of bin Laden (quoted by Beardman): “Neither I, nor my brothers saw evidence of American help.” After the Soviet Union collapsed, anti-Sovietism of the US was replaced by anti-Taliban and anti-Al-Qaeda crusades which culminated first into the war against terrorism and then the fight against the extremist forces based in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and so on. Therefore, the CIA created a new enemy much before the political death of the old one. The new enemy was neither a force against the US agenda of democracy, human rights and globalisation, nor did it represent the Islamic ethos of inculcating the spirit of good neighbourlines, tolerance, and peaceful course of action. They wanted to transform political Islam into militancy and terrorism.

It is important to recall that the CIA and the ISI had sidelined the moderate Mujahideen and inducted the extremist elements for waging war against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. They were trained and indoctrinated in a particular way under the covert action programme of the CIA. After the tragic terrorist attacks in the US in September 1991, it attacked Afghanistan for removing the Taliban Government, whose leaders had been once commended by Reagan, and to weed out the Al-Qaeda terrorists.

The US succeeded in bombing the civilian places in Afghanistan and in 2009 the CIA started drone bombings in the tribal areas bordering Pakistan. Pakistan has a 1500 km long border with Afghanistan. The US neither helped Afghanistan to build a stable democracy with minimum security and dignity to the people nor brought security and stability to Pakistan from terrorists and the frustrated citizens of the bombed regions. But it certainly succeeded in perpetuating anarchy in both the places; this automatically produced safe-havens for terrorists and the affected people were compelled to join them due to growing frustration and helpless-ness. This chaotic situation would provide pretexts to the US for strengthening its position and image. Over eight years of the US’ hostile engagement in Afghanistan and the wastage of huge economic resources for destroying the life of the common people have discredited the US policy in this area. American journalist Bob Woodward has confirmed this fact, in his book Obama’s Wars, published in September 2010; he feels the Taliban are not completely defeated in Afghanistan as is mentioned in military and intelligence briefings. Moreover, free space has been provided to the American intelligence agencies, particularly the CIA, to project then as being stronger them their actual potential and strength.

THE net result is that America’s war on terror has now been extended towards war against extremism which is left undefined. Religious extremism is referred to as fundamentalism and being orthodox in belief. There also seems to be the agenda of hegemon to identify terrorism mainly with the Islamic face, practices and attires in order to influence and control most of the Muslim dominated countries which are rich in natural resources. I again point to the statement of an Israeli Major-General quoted by Mamdani: “Iraq is not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is the Middle East, the Arab world and the Muslim world. Iraq will be the first step in this direction; winning the war against terrorism means structurally changing the entire area.” (p. 201) Bob categorically states that Lashkar-e-Taiba was created and continues to be funded and protected by the ISI (p. 45) while Mamdani’s book gives details of the Muslim militancy nurtured by the CIA for religious wars in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

It is important to note that the US first identified the Al-Qaeda with 9/11 terrorists, then tagged them with Saddam Hussein extending them to the Taliban and now to the western front of Pakistan. In my indepth study of this book I found that the Al-Qaeda has not been defined and its nature, affiliations and strength are vaguely presented in pages 162-163, 202, 224, 227, 231, 246, 258, 260, 269-270, 284-285, 288, 296-297, 305-306, 315, 328, and 334, without any specific elaboration. So it creates an undefined space for the intelligence for war-games.

On the pretext of the Al-Qaeda, the US is creating different regional and national versions of the Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen, Somalia and so on. The US military officials call the contingency plan as the ‘retribution’ plan. In the event of another 9/11-like attack on the US, it would bomb/attack every known Al-Qaeda compound or training camp (located in Pakistan) in the US intelligence database (p. 46) whereas from both the long report of General McCrystal and the pronouncements of top US executives including Obama, it is clear that they are not interested in defeating the Taliban. (pp. 220, 228) In this context, the role of the CIA has been magnified as being the saviour of the world and the POTUS seems to be bound by it. Bob Woodward’s book, which basically consists of reports, interviews, meeting notes, letters, emails, diaries etc., brings out the penetrative and decisive aspects of the CIA. These are not only limited to briefings but also work as a guiding principle and force for the POTUS.

There is also the background information given by Bob that the US is extremely annoyed with the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, mainly for his criticism of US attacks, while lamenting the deaths of the civilians caused by US bombings. Keeping Afghanistan vulnerable to subversive forces due to the lack of a strong government, security, rule of law, freedom and minimum normalisation, and perpetuating the Hobbesian state of nature-like situation of confirmed anarchy, the US is now moving to accelerate bombings in tribal areas as well as other areas of Pakistan. (pp. 105-109) The US, that is mainly guided by those elements which created terrorists and the Al-Qaeda, is not prepared to assist Pakistan to tame such forces. Even President Zardari, the President of Pakistan, whose subservient attitude and yes-man role to the US is acknowledged in the book, accused the US of not attacking the Tahrik-e-Taliban, Pakistan bases on which Islamabad had provided every concrete information.

Zardari also said that at one time the CIA worked with TTP leader Baitullah Mehsud. (p. 117) American diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad, to whom Zardari conveyed the above-mentioned facts, and Bob Woodward have termed it a conspiracy theory. (p. 121)

OBAMA’S WARS is a status report card of the 18 months of Barack H. Obama as the POTUS whose rhetoric of ‘no war’ lost its colour following the final election of Obama as the head of the state and government. The book contains 33 chapters running into a total of 441 pages. Bob Woodward has looked into the different forces such as the CIA and his poll colleagues, friends and advisors forming his new team which transformed Obama from a man of peace to a man of war. All the chapters systematically prove the primacy of the CIA and pro-CIA agencies of the US in the formulation of Obama’s policies on international affairs that have been concised in view of the urgency of US engagement in Afghanistan and Pakistan as this area is the epicentre of global disorder. Such type of formulation certainly raises many questions.

Bob Woodward begins with Obama’s meeting with the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Mike McConnell, and the head of the CIA’s analysis division, Michael J. Morell in Chicago on November 6, 2008. McConnell narrated the drone operations in Pakistan, $ 25 million reward on Mullah Omar’s head, the Quetta Shura Taliban, the Al-Qaeda threat in the Arabian Peninsula, Iranian nuclear programme, North Korea’s acquisition of nuclear material for making six bombs and the cyber attack threat shadowing the People’s Republic of China and terrorists. (pp. 7-10) Obama was so much impressed that he asked McConnell to brief his entire Cabinet. Obama told one of his closest advisors: “I am inheriting a world that could blow up any minute in half-a-dozen ways, and I will have some powerful but limited and perhaps even dubious tools to keep it from happening.” (p. 11) This was similar to what dominated the policy of Bush to root out terror and making no distinction between those who plan these acts and those who harbour the terrorists. (p. 45) This is something like talking about the eradication of malaria without controlling the swamps. Bob should have scrutinised the annual $ 50 billion fund allocated to the CIA.

Obama picked up James Logan Jones and later Thomas E. Donilon as the National Security Advisor and both of them have been the driving force behind Obama’s deep interest in Afghanistan. The National Security Council’s unofficial “war czar”, Douglas Edward Lute, who played a key role in shaping the Obama Administration’s Afghanistan strategy, continues to be Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Adviser, Iraq and Afghanistan since May 2007. He is known for supervising the role of the NATO forces and the CIA’s covert paramilitary war in Afghanistan. The Green Berets and Joint Special Operations Command each had their own wars. The CIA-sponsored intelligence agency—Afghanistan’s National Directorate for Security—was also fighting separate wars. (p. 42) His 25-page report delivered to Bush in early November 2008 focused on Pakistan as much more strategically troubling than Afghanistan because of safe-havens for the Al-Qaeda therein threatening the US. (p. 43)

Bob also mentions about the brutal Mumbai attack in 2008 for which Bush, in his last hours in power, rightly accused foreign terrorists which put the focus back on Pakistan without going into the details of its engineering that involved other elements as part of the covert CIA action. In 26/11, only 10 gunmen held the 15 million people of Mumbai captive and fired for over 50 hours killing in the process extremely valuable police officers investigating the mystery of bomb blasts in India. (p. 45) On the basis of CIA information, Bush told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that there was no involvement of the Pakistan Government. (p. 46) The then CIA chief, Hyden, was told by the ISI chief in his special visit to the CIA headquarters in late December 2008 that two retired Pakistan Army officers (having ISI links) were among the planners of 26/11, but they were not authorised by the ISI. However, the book does not mention anything more about the two Army officers. Bob writes that the terrorists relied on the global positioning system device, google earth maps and commercially available encryption devices and remote control triggers. (p. 47) They spoke with handlers back in Pakistan with satellite phones. Here it becomes clear that the terrorists had either frequently toured Mumbai or were assisted and coordinated by the locals.

ONE of the most interesting parts of the book relates to the meeting of Hyden with Obama on 9 December 9, 2008. Hyden said: “We do covert action at the CIA.” This includes secretly funding regime change—literally buying a country’s government, recruiting people to betray their countries through espionage. The one target the CIA loved to recruit is the American President. It wanted “no one between it and the White House”. (p. 50) When the Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, did not include in the daily brief to the President the individual incident of terrorism on Christmas Day in 2009 by the 23-year-old Nigerian who attempted to detonate a bomb which fizzled in his underwear, he was forced to resign. Blair said: “I think the CIA is fundamentally an organisation that’s like a really finely trained, not very smart, dangerous animal that needs to be controlled very closely by adults.” (p. 371)

In his briefings to Obama, Hyden mentioned the current CIA covert actions to conduct clandestine, lethal counter-terrorism operations and other programmes to stop terrorism worldwide. The operations were active in more than 60 countries. (p. 51) Ergun Erun and Turgut Ozkan of the Centre of Excellence—Defence against Terrorism (Ankara) give an interesting data of terrorist incidents in 58 countries. Hyden told Obama that 80 per cent of America’s worldwide unmanned aerial Predator drone strikes were in Pakistan. “We own the sky, drones take off and land at secret bases in Pakistan.” (p. 52) He explained to Obama about the proposed actions against Iran, North Korea, as also the lethal and other operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. The CIA had a continuing and deep involvement with the Iraqi Government and the Iraqi security forces. He claimed that the CIA ‘owned’ certain entities and people. (p. 52) In addition he said that the CIA pumped tens of millions of dollars into a number of foreign intelligence services, such as the Jordanian General Intelligence Department which, he said, the CIA also ‘owned’. (p. 53) To Obama, he also spoke about the clandestine efforts in the Darfur region.

The Xinhua news agency report of December 31, 2010 provides the data that the US launched the greatest number of drone air strikes (122) into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in 2010 killing 995 persons. On June 2, 2010, UN Human Research Council investigator Philip Alston’s team released a report critical of the US actions in FATA. Senator John McCain said in a press conference on January 7, 2011 that the United States will continue the “effective” drone attacks in northwest Pakistan’s tribal region near the Afghan border even if it has no agreement with Pakistan. Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst, served as a policy adviser to the presidential campaign of Barack Obama who appointed him as the chair of the White House review to overhaul the US policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan in February 2009. Riedel claims to know most of the ISI chiefs after 1980. He is the main person behind Obama’s policy of Af-Pak containment. On March 18, 2009 he told Obama that the Al-Qaeda was as dangerous as they were on September 10, 2001. (p. 105) He urged Obama to focus on Pakistan. (pp. 105-106, 108-109) On March 26, Obama said at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building that the US mission was ‘to disrupt, dismantle and defeat the Al-Qaeda’. Multiple intelligence estimates have warned that the Al-Qaeda is actively planning attacks on the US homeland from its safe-haven in Pakistan. (p. 113) Such remarks became part of editorial appreciations.

It is important to underline that the issue of the Taliban is of lesser priority. We also find a few cases of the individuals involved in failed terrorist explosions in North America and Europe that seem to be a part of the CIA’s handiwork to magnify the threat of the Al-Qaeda beyond all proportions for pressurising the POTUS to continue the war on terror.

Bob’s book is a good piece of collected and edited information from different sources; but it lacks analysis and constructive suggestions. His writings are favouarble to the CIA project and its officials but he has deliberately ignored others who didn’t want the CIA’s takeover of the elected presidency through persuasive and other methods. He has raised the issues and concerns of the present Administration in the context of Afghanistan but overlooked the problems of common Afghanis including the humanitarian concerns of Karzai. As an experienced journalist he should have asked the POTUS and others on the war crimes of Israel and human rights violations by American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has not even criticised the US Government for ignoring the systematic terrorism of Israel against Palestinians.

Nevertheless, Bob needs to be commended for making successful efforts at digging out some aspects of the US Administration’s functioning after Obama took charge. He collected infor-mation from those sources which are difficult to be approached by scholars.

Dr Arshi Khan is an Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh.

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