Levees Not War
Protect the Coast with Multiple Lines of Defense.

Posts Tagged ‘afghanistan’

Bush White House Ignored 9/11 Warnings

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

The Deafness Before the Storm

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Briefly noted, highly recommended:

Kurt Eichenwald, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and a former reporter for the New York Times, wrote a strong but restrained op-ed piece for the Times yesterday describing in more detail than is generally known how the George W. Bush administration ignored repeated CIA warnings of an imminent attack on the U.S. by Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda—an attack expected to be of major proportions. The administration was focused on Saddam Hussein and did not want to hear about Osama bin Laden.

Eichenwald’s account matches the testimony of Richard A. Clarke, chairman of the White House’s Counter-terrorism Security Group (1992–2003), as well as key findings of the 9/11 Commission. As Clarke details in his book Against All Enemies, he tried from Bush’s first days in office till 9/11 itself to get a meeting with the president and vice president Dick Cheney and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, but was repeatedly rebuffed.

Before we post a few excerpts below, let us note that despite receiving all these increasingly urgent presidential briefings before and throughout August 2001, George W. Bush remained on vacation until September 4. (Just imagine a Democratic president doing this—or not being impeached afterward.)

Let us also point out that Mitt Romney’s foreign policy team is mainly staffed by former Bush administration “neocons.” Mr. Romney, who did not mention the war in Afghanistan even once in his nomination acceptance speech (transcript here), has said that Russia “is without question our number one geopolitical foe.” Russia, really? So, how seriously would Romney take similar warnings?

From “The Deafness before the Storm” by Kurt Eichenwald:

The direct warnings to Mr. Bush about the possibility of a Qaeda attack began in the spring of 2001. By May 1, the Central Intelligence Agency told the White House of a report that “a group presently in the United States” was planning a terrorist operation. Weeks later, on June 22, the daily brief reported that Qaeda strikes could be “imminent,” although intelligence suggested the time frame was flexible. 

. . . the White House failed to take significant action. Officials at the Counterterrorism Center of the C.I.A. grew apoplectic. On July 9, at a meeting of the counterterrorism group, one official suggested that the staff put in for a transfer so that somebody else would be responsible when the attack took place, two people who were there told me in interviews. The suggestion was batted down, they said, because there would be no time to train anyone else. 

Could the 9/11 attack have been stopped, had the Bush team reacted with urgency to the warnings contained in all of those daily briefs? We can’t ever know. And that may be the most agonizing reality of all.

Read “The Deafness before the Storm” in full here.

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Quick question: Would the U.S. be at war today in Afghanistan 11 years later—or ever—if the Supreme Court had not stopped the counting of votes in December 2000? Afghanistan and Pakistan and Yemen and all the other places where the War on Terror(ism) is ongoing? (Richard A. Clarke served as counterterrorism security adviser in the White House from the 1980s to 2003, serving under president Ronald Reagan through George W. Bush.)

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Kurt Eichenwald is also the author of 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars, just published. See his Sept. 12 interview with Democracy Now! here.

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More about September 11 at Levees Not War: 

Is Katrina More Significant Than September 11? (9/11/10)

We’re Not Forgetting (9/11/11)

Anti-Islamic Furor Helps al Qaeda, Endangers America: On the proposed Islamic cultural center in lower Manhattan (Aug. 23, 2010)

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Obama’s Troop Drawdown Is Little, Late, But a Start

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

In Announcing 15-month, 1/3 Troop Reduction, Is President Ignoring or Responding to Public Opinion and Bipartisan Congressional Trend Against War?

The announcement of a 33,000-troop drawdown is more than we would have gotten from the previous president; bu though we’re disappointed at the glacial pace, peace activists must keep pressing for a quicker end to the Afghan War.

When President Obama took office in Jan. 2009 there were 34,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. In his first year he doubled that number to about 65,000, and then in Dec. 2009 he announced a “surge” of 30,000 more. Since August 2010 U.S. forces in Afghanistan have numbered 100,000. In announcing a drawdown of 33,000 troops by next summer, the president now in effect acknowledges that the counter-insurgency strategy favored by General David Petraeus is not working, or has reached its limits; American troops now will pursue a counter-terrorism strategy. Last night in a 13-minute address Obama announced:

. . . starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer, fully recovering the surge I announced at West Point. After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead. Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security. [transcript of remarks here]

But this will only bring us back to the roughly 65,000 troops that were stationed in Afghanistan when Obama announced the surge. And when our mission changes in 2014 “from combat to support,” how many American troops will still be in Afghanistan? Our mission in Iraq, too, has changed from combat to support, yet we still have 85,000 active duty military personnel stationed in Iraq at a monthly cost of about $4 billion. (For that matter, U.S. military personnel number some 50,000 in Germany, 35,000 in Japan, and 25,000 in South Korea. How long does the government intend to keep this going?)

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A Reader Replies re: the Killing of Osama bin Laden

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

Our friend Archie in New Rochelle, New York, takes issue with part of yesterday’s post on the killing of Osama bin Laden. The points Archie makes about bin Laden’s pre-9/11 relationship to the United States—or the U.S.’s to bin Laden—are factually correct (and see Further Reading list below). Whether you agree with his argument or not, we regard Archie as one of the most knowledgeable writers and editors we’ve ever known: thoughtful, sober, and principled. And a good friend whose views we respect.

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Re: “Mission Accomplished. Now Focus on Threats Closer to Home”:

I’m with you on the second part of your message, which I read as that we need to deal with the problems we have created. I’m not with you on the idea that killing bin Laden is “a good thing.” I think a good thing would have been capturing him and, with the cooperation of others (who were not prejudicially involved), making him confront the things he did.

You may say, he and a lot of others can’t be expected to be held accountable because they are either (model A:) evil; or (model B:) mentally ill. I think that if these are the standards we’re “upholding,” we need to be clear that we are applying them to others when we’re unwilling to apply them to ourselves. To a large degree, we made bin Laden: he was our Golden Boy when he was anti-Soviet, just as Saddam Hussein was our Golden Boy when he was anti-Iranian. Bin Laden hid out in our client state Afghanistan, and then in our client state Pakistan. His family had gotten rich in our client state Saudi Arabia. The main difference between the client states is that Afghanistan and Pakistan are leftovers from the days when we had to support anyone who opposed our enemies—that is, anyone who was opposed to the Soviet Union or to a state (India) that was friendly with the Soviet Union—while Saudi Arabia’s main attraction—is there any other?—is oil (hello, Libya!). Pakistan illustrates the proposition, I forget at the moment whose, that we were so morally dominated by the Soviet Union (by “Communism”) that we signed up with any crook or tyrant who announced that he was opposed to it—Franco, the Diem brothers, you name ’em. Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s least democratic states, represents the proposition, so clearly seen here in the Slave Trade, as in more recent endeavors, that Money Talks. That we’re so worked up about the acts of a “twisted” member of the power structure of either of these countries speaks volumes.

Let’s deal with our own criminals.

—Archie Hobson

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Mission Accomplished. Now Focus on Threats Closer to Home.

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

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[ cross-posted at Daily Kos ]

Last September, Levees Not War raised the question whether Hurricane Katrina was a more significant catastrophe than 9/11, more emblematic in terms of chronic ills afflicting the United States. Now the question is raised whether the nation faces internal political and economic dangers more pernicious and destructive than Osama bin Laden, lethal as he was, ever posed.

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Well, this ought to change the subject from royal weddings and birth certificates for a few days.

It is a good thing that Osama bin Laden is dead, and good that it was U.S. forces that killed him. There is a certain (long-delayed) revenge satisfied in that, shared pretty much equally across the nation.* It is also good for this president—politically and for his standing within the military and foreign policy establishment—that his promise to bring bin Laden to justice—to death, that is—has been fulfilled. (Click here for public reaction photos; here for newspaper front pages; and here for bin Laden’s life in pictures—including a shot of him as a mujahedin wearing a very American-looking uniform in the Afghan war against the Soviets in the 1980s.)

Much will be said and written by better-informed and deeper-thinking authorities, but on this important occasion we wanted in our own modest way to offer a few observations we think worth keeping in mind.

First, Americans must not gloat about the killing of this enemy. It’s done. It’s good that it’s done. Any loud grandstanding or other exploitation of this event for political or commercial self-promotion should be avoided. It should not be an occasion to further insult Arabs and Muslims. There was and is an enormous sense of injustice, impoverishment, and wounded pride among Muslims that bin Laden was able to exploit for his own purposes against the West, the U.S. in particular. No good will come from any further demonization of Arabs and Muslims. Instead we should hope that the independence movements in the Middle East will succeed, as peacefully as possible, in the Egyptian model. (The photo at right shows Arab-Americans in Dearborn, Michigan, cheering the death of bin Laden.)

Next, we hope that this “mission accomplished” will energize the anti-war movement (such as it is) and hasten the de-escalation of the wars in Afghanistan/Pakistan and in Iraq and Libya. Much of the justification—the figurehead or “poster child” of the terrorist enemy—is now removed. Can we get back to rebuilding the United States?

No, of course not. The war machine, we fear, will grind on. (Defense appropriations are higher than they ever were during the Cold War against the Soviet Union.) There will be calls from the likes of John McCain and other neocon “security” promoters to identify new threats that call for ever-expanding aggressions overseas. Verily, with only a few exceptions, we tend to see these forces as greater threats to peace and national security than anything outside our borders.

The abuse of this president and demonization of new enemies will go on. We expect that within days—on Fox News it’s probably already under way—fresh insults and unfounded accusations and outright foolishness will prevail. Sometimes it seems the United States—or the far right, so-called conservative dimension of the national psyche—cannot exist without an enemy, whether in the form of despised immigrants, anarchists, communists, socialists, minorities, etc.

Pardon our pessimism, but aside from the brave working people’s resistance movement in Wisconsin and elsewhere in the Midwest where labor rights are under assault, there’s been little to inspire confidence in improvements. The long-awaited killing of bin Laden is not going to change agenda of Grover Norquist, Karl Rove, the Koch brothers, FreedomWorks, or Americans for Prosperity—nor will it infuse fresh adrenaline into the hearts of Democrats. The far-right corporatists of the Republican party will continue slashing away at the social safety net, insulting workers and the unemployed alike. And, very likely—unless the public forcefully demands that they stand up and fight—the timid centrist-corporatists known as congressional Democrats will continue to allow the savaging of Medicare, Social Security, and any semblance of health care reform and financial regulation. (We use the word “corporatist” because the radical extremists running amok in Washington and statehouses across the nation have nothing to do with conserving.)

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10th Year of Afghan War Begins

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

America Slogs On, “Dead or Alive”

Briefly, sadly noted: Today, October 7, 2010, begins the tenth year of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. How’s that hunt for Osama bin Laden going? How’s that expansion into Pakistan going? How much taxpayer-supplied money has the U.S. spent on the war in Afghanistan? That we can answer: more than $352 billion (thanks to the National Priorities Project). How many dead? 1,321 U.S., 339 U.K., 472 other: total = 2,132 (per iCasualties.org). These are not statistics, but individual human lives lost forever.

What are they dying for? For how much longer? If “we’re fighting for freedom,” are we free to say “enough”? Free to withhold our taxes from the Pentagon? (Didn’t think so.)

Does “Operation Enduring Freedom” = War That Never Ends?

For the first year or so, we like most Americans agreed with the necessity of an invasion of Afghanistan because we trusted that the U.S. and allied forces actually intended to and would be able to capture bin Laden and crush al Qaeda (and not just drive them down to Pakistan). That was a long time ago. Readers can see our views on the whole damn thing in hard-hitting, award-winning posts like “Deeper into Afghanistan: 360 Degrees of Damnation” and “Afghanistan: More Insane Than a Quagmire.” Other Afghan War pieces can be found here.

Lastly, let us quote again the revealing remarks by former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski that suggest what the U.S. is in for (note the count of 10 years), and the sobering observation by Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit:

“. . . the reality, secretly guarded until now, is . . . [that] . . . it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. . . . That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap. . . . The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter. We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.”

Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter; interview with Le Nouvel Observateur (Paris), January 15–21, 1998

“Notwithstanding the damage al Qaeda and the Taliban have suffered . . . bin Laden’s forces now have the United States where they have wanted it, on the ground in Afghanistan where Islamist insurgents can seek to reprise their 1980s’ victory over the Red Army [of the Soviet Union]. Al Qaeda now has the chance to prove bin Laden’s thesis that the United States cannot maintain long-term, casualty-producing military engagements . . .”

Michael Scheuer, Through Our Enemies’ Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America (2002)

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Is Katrina More Significant Than September 11?

Saturday, September 11th, 2010

Thoughts on Two American Traumas

[ Cross-posted at Daily Kos. ]

Between 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, which do you think gets most attention, and why?

What if the national focus on 9/11 is exaggerated and the nation should focus instead on 8/29—Hurricane Katrina—as the catastrophe that signifies the greatest threat to America? The fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina has received high-profile attention, marked by the release of feature films (Spike Lee, Harry Shearer), hour-long special reports (Brian Williams, Anderson Cooper), and a presidential address at Xavier University, so we’re not complaining that Katrina has been ignored.

We were in Manhattan on September 11, 2001, and saw men and women in dust- and debris-covered clothing walking the streets in a daze and crossing the 59th Street Bridge into Queens as from an apocalypse. We heard distraught eyewitnesses on pay phones talking about seeing the burning, falling bodies (“Look, Mommy, the birds are on fire”); we have heard first-person accounts from survivors who were just 20 feet away when their coworkers fleeing the burning towers were crushed beneath chunks of falling metal the size of garbage trucks. We’ve heard accounts from neighbors who were trapped on the E train near the World Trade Center while frantic escapees pounded on the doors to get in. The haunting stories, the anguish go on and on. Many others have experienced far worse than we can ever imagine. So, the following thoughts are by no means intended to diminish the trauma of September 11 or the necessity of dealing with al Qaeda and other extremist threats.

Anorexia of the Homeland: Making War While “Starving the Beast”

And yet we think maybe the challenges this nation faces are more accurately represented by the natural and bureaucratic/political disaster suffered on August 29, 2005, and in the following days, weeks, months, years. The United States is falling apart from a lack of funding of every kind of infrastructure—resulting from neglect, indifference, and a mean-spirited conservative agenda that seeks to roll back the progressive reforms of the 20th century. Our nation is in a downward spiral because of political unwillingness to protect the environment and our fellow citizens who are poor, jobless, homeless, in need of medical care and decent education. Our coasts and cities are vulnerable because of long-term environmental neglect and denial of the effects of industry—global warming, rising sea levels, intensified storms resulting from warming seas—and because corporate-captive politicians of both parties have put industrial and political interests ahead of what’s best for the planet, humanity, and other life forms. Even if 9/11 had never happened, all these conditions would still threaten our way of life.

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As Combat Troops Leave Iraq, Where’s Our National Security?

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

Out of Iraq, on to Afghanistan

The last combat troops have left Iraq, as a convoy of the 4th Stryker Brigade rumbled in the wee hours of August 19, 2010, from Iraq toward U.S. bases in Kuwait. At the end of August, Operation Iraqi Freedom will end and 50,000 advisory and security troops will remain in Iraq until the end of 2011 for a new phase to be known as Operation New Dawn. (May we have a new dawn in the United States, please?—or is it not “morning in America” anymore?)

Michael Gordon of the New York Times reports here on how the U.S. State Department, with about 2,400 civilian employees protected by up to 7,000 private security guards, will continue the training of Iraqi police and assist with political stabilization and other functions—including counterterrorism—in an effort to help Iraq rebuild without the presence of U.S. combat troops. The 2,400 civilian State Department employees will work at the Baghdad embassy and regional outposts in Mosul, Kirkuk, and at consulates in Erbil and Basra. Gordon writes:

The startup cost of building and sustaining two embassy branch offices—one in Kirkuk and the other in Mosul—and of hiring security contractors, buying new equipment and setting up two consulates in Basra and Erbil is about $1 billion. It will cost another $500 million or so to make the two consulates permanent. And getting the police training program under way will cost about $800 million.

So, the combat forces are withdrawing, returning to the Homeland. Some soldiers will get to rejoin their families after a long time away—we wish them well—and others will have to redeploy in maybe six months to Afghanistan, where Obama’s surge continues.

Where’s That “Mission Accomplished” Feeling?

It is surely a good thing that the combat forces are withdrawing from Iraq, but why don’t we feel any pleasure or pride? What has been accomplished, aside from doubling the price of a gallon of gas and making Iran the main power in the region? The soldiers themselves surely feel some pride and relief, and after all their hard work they deserve more than a good cigar. But what have we gained? Where is the security? The United States is immeasurably poorer, more weak and divided than when this war began—economically, socially, politically. As of this writing, 4,415 American soldiers are dead; tens of thousands are wounded, many critically, missing limbs, and some with unimaginable brain and neurological injuries, and alarming numbers have committed suicide: 27 in July alone, 32 in June. (In addition to all the Iraqi dead—estimates are around 100,000—there have been 179 British dead and 139 from other Coalition nations.) And then there’s the psychological, soul damage the soldiers suffer, and the broken marriages, the frayed family relationships, the children who have grown from infants to eight- and ten-year-olds hardly even knowing their fathers or mothers who have been away on multiple deployments and come home virtually strangers with scant job prospects here in the Homeland. But Saddam Hussein is no longer in power, so maybe it’s all worthwhile.

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WikiLeaks’s Afghan War Diary:
A “Pentagon Papers” for Our Time

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

“In releasing the Pentagon Papers I acted in hope I still hold: that truths that changed me could help Americans free themselves and other victims from our longest war.” —Daniel Ellsberg, Papers on the War (1972)

There’s a kind of appropriate, ironic justice that the Internet, which was originally developed by the Defense Department (as ARPANET)—with taxpayer dollars, naturally—now serves as the delivery system for spilling to the world a trove of secret U.S. military reports on the war in Afghanistan (also funded by the American public): a “Pentagon Papers” for our time. WikiLeaks.org, which in April released a U.S. military video of an Apache helicopter gunship killing civilians and Reuters journalists in Baghdad, has posted on the Internet about 92,000 SIGACTS (significant activity reports) from the Afghan war written between 2004 and 2009. Before posting the secret field reports, WikiLeaks provided to the New York Times, the Guardian (U.K.), and the German magazine Der Spiegel an advance peek. (Click here for a video of a press conference with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, shown above.)

(We meant to write about this earlier, but we’ve been so busy reading all 92,000 documents. Hey, the New York Times had a two-week jump-start! And this leak comes just a week after we bought a first edition of Daniel Ellsberg’s Papers on the War (1972)—in Woodstock, no less. Coincidence? You decide.)

WikiLeaks’s Afghan War Diary was unloaded within days of Newsweek’s publication of a “Rethinking Afghanistan” cover story bluntly titled “We’re Not Winning. It’s Not Worth It” by national security veteran Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations (not a hotbed of radicalism), and just weeks after the Rolling Stone profile of “The Runaway General” Stanley McChrystal IED’d the war effort and cast doubt on the troops’ support of the whole counterinsurgency strategy that Washington hoped would turn the war around. (As the New Yorker’s Amy Davidson points out, Gen. McChrystal himself leaked a report last September when it suited him, an early instance of the insubordination that got him fired.)

“What Does It Mean to Tell the Truth About a War?”

Although much of the WikiLeaks material is dismissed as routine—the White House predictably says there’s “nothing new here”—the documents reveal facts that will be news to the general public, further depressing an already war-weary, crisis-strained nation. Among the reports’ key revelations or substantiations:

  • The double-dealing of our “partner” Pakistan, whose intelligence service, ISI, has colluded with the Taliban to fight against U.S. and Afghan and coalition forces
  • New documentation of close working relationship, including financial support, between Pakistan’s military elite and the Afghanistan Taliban
  • Pakistani ISI agents have coordinated with the Taliban to kill American soldiers and have plotted to assassinate Afghan leaders
  • The U.S. has covered up evidence that Taliban insurgents are using surface-to-air missiles to bring down U.S. helicopters
  • Civilian deaths from drone attacks and other operations are far higher than admitted by the U.S.
  • The Taliban have massively escalated their roadside bombings, killing more than 2,000 civilians
  • A secret U.S. Special Forces unit hunts down and kills Taliban leaders for “kill or capture” without trial
  • To destroy Taliban targets, the Coalition is using Reaper drones remote-controlled from a base in Nevada

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