Daniel Schulman

Senior Editor

Based in DC, Dan covers politics and national security. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe Magazine, the Village Voice, the Columbia Journalism Review, and other publications. He is the author of the new Koch brothers biography, Sons of Wichita (Grand Central Publishing). Email him at dschulman (at) motherjones.com.

Get my RSS |

Ahmed Wali Karzai: The Devil We Knew

| Tue Jul. 12, 2011 7:45 AM EDT

At various points over the years, US military leaders and diplomats have pondered how to get rid of Ahmed Wali Karzai, the younger half-brother of the Afghan president and the key power broker in Kandahar province. But it was ultimately the Taliban that claimed credit for completing the job: Early reports suggest he was shot dead in his home on Tuesday morning by a bodyguard, an assassination the Taliban described as "one of our biggest achievements."

The fact that Ahmed Wali, or AWK as he was sometimes known, was considered such an impediment by both sides highlights the exceedingly complex role he played in this conflict. His death comes at a fragile stage of the war, as the Obama administration prepares to withdraw 33,000 troops by next summer in advance of a full-fledged security handover in 2014. Meanwhile, the Taliban is ever working to re-entrench itself after being beaten back by US military forces.

There was a time that military commanders viewed Ahmed Wali as such a barrier to progress in the restive south, where he officially chaired the Kandahar Provincial Council and unofficially controlled much of the region's economy, that efforts were afoot to remove him from power. (In 2010, there was even talk of taking potential "law enforcement actions" against Ahmed Wali and other "malign actors," according to a leaked State Department cable.) AWK was accused of being a key player in the opium trade and a high profile example of Afghanistan's out-of-control corruption problem. Afghan President Hamid Karzai demanded proof, and while a dossier was compiled enumerating AWK's misdeeds, the evidence was apparently never compelling enough to warrant his ouster. Also complicating matters was the fact that AWK was reportedly a longtime CIA asset who helped to run a paramilitary outfit called the Kandahar Strike Force, which aided agency personnel and US Special Forces teams on raids against the Taliban. (Ahmed Wali denied being on the CIA's payroll.)

Eventually, NATO military commanders adopted a better-with-us-than-against-us attitude to the mustachioed and perpetually scruffy Kandahari leader, who, years before becoming the kingmaker of the south, had worked in the family restaurant business in the US. AWK may have been corrupt, the thinking went, but he was still an important ally in a region where we had few. It was with his cooperation last year that coalition troops conducted a sustained offensive that forced Taliban insurgents out of their strongholds and brought a measure of peace to Kandahar. 

The question now is: What comes next? Love him or loathe him, Ahmed Wali was fluent in the unique, tribal politics of the region, and he held enough clout to bring a variety of competing interests to heel. AWK reportedly controlled a variety of economic activity in Kandahar, and he played a never-quite-defined role with the security outfits that protect convoys ferrying key military supplies back and forth to Kabul and elsewhere. With AWK gone, there are no shortage of regional power brokers, mostly of ill repute and some with suspected Taliban ties, who will be eager to fill the power vacuum and fight over the fiefdom of the man known as the King of Kandahar. You know what they say about the devil we know.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

RIP WTF 44

| Tue May 17, 2011 10:33 AM EDT

GOP Hill staffer Scott Graves is retiring his cheeky license plate, WTF 44, following my story yesterday identifying him as the owner of the apparently Obama-bashing Texas tags. "When I realized the meaning could be misconstrued, I ordered new plates," Graves, the legislative director for Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.), told Texas' San Angelo Standard Times in a statement. It seems a bit hard to imagine that Graves was not aware, at the very least, of the meaning of WTF. In fact, he used this shorthand in the appropriate context on his Twitter feed

So, if not a political jab at the president, what did the plate mean? Graves, via Conaway's press secretary, Sam Ray, did not elaborate to the Standard Times. Nor did Ray provide an alternative explanation when I contacted him for comment. Ray did speculate, weakly, that "maybe that was his number in football" after I suggested that perhaps WTF could stand for "West Texas Football." (Hey, I watch Friday Night Lights.) In any event, Ray never got back to me on what WTF 44 "really" meant.

It seems Conaway's staffers have chosen the strategy of just playing dumb on the matter. The Standard Times Washington correspondent, Trish Choate, was accidentally cc'd on some internal correspondence related to the plates issue. She reports:



In an email addressing Ray but also sent to the Standard-Times' Washington correspondent and Graves, Chief of Staff Richard Hudson referred to "KMC"—Kenneth Michael Conaway, saying: "Give KMC a 'heads-up.' When she talks to KMC next and she asks him about it, he just needs to decline to discuss his employees' personal vehicles. Or say something like, I didn't know about the plates, but I understand he's changed them."

There is one remaining question: Now that Graves is trading in his old plates, how should he personalize his new ones?

Memo to Americans United for Life: Our Questions Still Stand

| Tue Mar. 1, 2011 12:26 PM EST

Last Friday, as Nick Baumann and I completed our reporting on the anti-abortion group behind a nationwide push to broaden justifiable homicide laws to cover killings in the defense of fetuses, I contacted the organization, Americans United for Life, to request an interview. Specifically, I asked to speak with Denise Burke, AUL's vice president for legal affairs and the author of the model legislation, the Pregnant Woman’s Protection Act, that the group has pressed state lawmakers to introduce. An AUL spokeswoman told me that Burke was travelling, and asked me to submit my questions in writing. So I did. AUL never responded. Instead, the group waited until after the story was published to blast Mother Jones on its website for "dishonest" and "intentionally distorted" reporting, complaining that the "anti-life media once again got their facts wrong."

As we reported, AUL-inspired legislation has recently sparked controversy in South Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa, with critics claiming that the measures are so expansive that they could potentially invite—if not legalize—the killing of abortion doctors. We write:

That these measures have emerged simultaneously in a handful of states is no coincidence. It's part of a campaign orchestrated by a Washington-based anti-abortion group, which has lobbied state lawmakers to introduce legislation that it calls the "Pregnant Woman's Protection Act" [PDF]. Over the past two years, the group, Americans United for Life, has succeeded in passing versions of this bill in Missouri and Oklahoma. But there's a big difference between those bills and the measures floated recently in South Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa.

While the Oklahoma and Missouri laws specifically cover pregnant women, the latest measures are far more sweeping and would apply to third parties. The bills are so loosely worded, abortion-rights advocates say, that a pregnant woman could seek out an abortion and a boyfriend, husband—or, in some cases, just about anyone—could be justified in using deadly force to stop it.

It's not just anti-abortion groups that think these bills are bad news. Omaha's deputy chief of police recently testified that Nebraska's LB 232 "could be used to incite violence against abortion providers." And a spokesman for South Dakota's Republican governor—a staunch abortion foe—called the version of the bill introduced in that state "a very bad idea."

Wed Jul. 23, 2008 11:50 AM EDT
Tue Jul. 22, 2008 12:38 PM EDT
Mon Mar. 17, 2008 12:28 PM EDT
Thu Feb. 28, 2008 10:20 AM EST
Tue Feb. 26, 2008 5:55 PM EST
Wed Feb. 13, 2008 4:14 PM EST
Fri Jan. 18, 2008 9:27 AM EST
Thu Jan. 10, 2008 5:37 PM EST
Fri Nov. 2, 2007 4:39 PM EDT
Fri Nov. 2, 2007 10:13 AM EDT
Fri Oct. 26, 2007 10:50 AM EDT
Tue Oct. 23, 2007 1:13 PM EDT
Fri Aug. 24, 2007 12:36 PM EDT
Mon Aug. 13, 2007 8:59 AM EDT
Mon Aug. 6, 2007 1:24 PM EDT
Sun Aug. 5, 2007 12:02 PM EDT
Fri Aug. 3, 2007 12:02 PM EDT
Fri Jul. 27, 2007 11:10 AM EDT
Mon Jul. 23, 2007 3:47 PM EDT
Thu Jul. 19, 2007 4:57 PM EDT
Wed Jul. 18, 2007 10:36 PM EDT
Wed Jul. 18, 2007 11:05 AM EDT
Thu Jul. 12, 2007 11:05 AM EDT
Fri Jun. 29, 2007 2:14 PM EDT
Fri Jun. 29, 2007 12:28 PM EDT
Mon Jun. 4, 2007 2:39 PM EDT
Wed May. 2, 2007 12:10 PM EDT
Fri Apr. 13, 2007 2:23 PM EDT
Tue Apr. 10, 2007 11:53 AM EDT
Tue Apr. 3, 2007 12:21 PM EDT
Mon Apr. 2, 2007 2:59 PM EDT
Thu Jan. 25, 2007 4:58 PM EST
Thu Jan. 25, 2007 2:29 PM EST
Wed Jan. 24, 2007 4:17 PM EST
Tue Jan. 23, 2007 4:07 PM EST
Fri Jan. 19, 2007 10:52 AM EST