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Just Call ‘Em Troopers
The U.S. wants to “maximize international contributions” of troops, i.e., we’re begging for help in Iraq.

Afghani Poltergeist?
The war in Afghanistan, like in Iraq, was declared over. But they’re baa-aack…

‘Holy Joe’ and the ‘Black Vote’
The NAACP’s Kweisi Mfume lambasted Kucinich, Lieberman and Gephart. Lieberman is fighting back, but he has his own track record to contend with.

Fake Left, Ari!
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer spins his last spin — about yellow cake, no less — on his last day on the job.

Just Call Them Troopers
In the face of a steady barrage of guerrilla attacks and broken promises of relief from duty, troop morale in “post-war” Iraq is hitting new lows. Soldiers are sweltering in the Iraqi heat and in a growing hotbed of anti-American sentiment, and home may still be a long ways off. Meanwhile, the U.S. is cloaking pleas for back-up from abroad in pseudo-corporate jargon. A US State Department document stated that the US “wants to maximize international contributions to the work of the Coalition Provisional Authority.” Next we’ll be “aggressively growing our strategic synergies” in Iraq.

The U.S. “doesn’t and shouldn’t act alone,” according to Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith, which means, “put some troops where your mouth is, allies.” But the idea of sending their own soldiers into the current “don’t call it a quagmire” leaves even some of the US’s strongest allies cold. Japan, which has agreed to send 1,000 of its Self-Defense Forces to keep peace alongside US soldiers, stipulates that the troops’s activities be limited to “noncombatant areas,” Keizo Nabeshima of the Japan Times reports. India, whose ties with the US have been strengthened lately, still won’t send the US’s requested 17,000 troops to Iraq, the BBC reports.

The governments of countries initially opposed to the war (surprise, suprise) remain unconvinced that Saddam’s ousting was appropriately timed. Judy Dempsey and Guy Dinmore of the UK’s Financial Times report that NATO countries see no reason take over stabilizing Iraq, especially because, in the case of France and Germany, their troops are still engaged in a US-led mission to stabilize Afghanistan. All three countries have stated that only a UN mandate could force their hands to contribute troops to reconstruction efforts in Iraq.

The UN’s position is not all that’s keeping countries from sending their troops to help keep the “peace” in Iraq. Public opinion in India was a key factor in New Delhi’s decision not to send troops into the chaos. And even among the Japanese, many are worried that the noncombatant stipulation offers no guarantee. Sending troops to refuel warships is one thing, but in Iraq, “fighting on the ground could occur anytime, anywhere.” How will the Japanese government monitor its forces? The Japan Times‘s Nabeshima wonders:

“The Iraq bill stipulates that SDF troops will suspend their activities or evacuate an area when fighting breaks out. […] Defense Agency chief Shigeru Ishiba said SDF troops would discontinue their activities when they found themselves in a combat area. The question is: If fighting starts in an area, should SDF troops be permitted to suddenly stop supplying or otherwise supporting allied forces so that they can get out of there in a hurry?”

It’s a bad time for the US to be losing international support. The American public’s faith in the administration’s handling of Iraq is slipping, and fears are rising that the troops will be bogged down for much longer than anticipated, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll. But there’s no real relief in sight — instead, as the New York Times reports, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld just said the US might need to send more troops.

Meanwhile, the troops are ready to come home , and rescinded promises that they could do so are playing on soldiers’ already raw nerves. Ed O’Loughlin of Australia’s The Age reports:

“With the Iraq war still ticking over, Australia’s small contingent prudently gone and no sign of real relief from the tens of thousands of nebulous European and Asian troops promised by Rumsfeld, a lot of US soldiers in Iraq are beginning to feel cheated.

‘When I see all that’s going on it really makes me think for the first time about getting out of the military,’ said one officer, a captain and father of two. ‘You have to ask yourself if you really want to spend your whole life away from your home and your family. When you look at the missions we already have, there’s Korea, here, Germany, now they’re talking about Liberia. It’s like peanut butter. You can only spread it so thin.'”

Reporters at TomPaine.com spoke with another soldier, who was also an anti-war activist. “John” (who will remain anonymous, in deference to his family) was a loyal soldier, but stood against this war. Before he left to fight — and ultimately die — in a war he didn’t believe in, he told Pacifica radio’s Peacewatch:

‘It is almost unimaginable to expect that this war is going to create a better peace for anybody with the exception of a very small percentage of people.’

A patriot to the end, the soldier (dubbed “John” by Tom Paine‘s Chris Strohm and Ingrid Drake) served his country well in Iraq, acting as a peacemaker who saved lives even at the height of the conflict:

“One of his commanders wrote a letter after his death explaining a situation in which John negotiated a peaceful settlement to a potentially deadly situation. A group of Baath Party officials were found inside a house. Because he spoke Arabic, John entered the house and talked with the officials until he negotiated a surrender. His actions potentially saved the lives of both U.S. soldiers and Iraqis.

In letters home, John described the peace movement as ‘awesome,’ and said he hoped it would grow larger, never relent against the Bush administration, and help bring an end to the war.”

Afghani Poltergeist?
The White House’s wars, it seems, just won’t stay won. In Iraq, for instance, resistance to the American occupation is on its way to becoming a full-fledged guerrilla war — more than two months after George W. Bush announced that “major combat” had ended. Meanwhile, in defiance of a similar pronouncement by Donald Rumsfeld, America’s allies in Afghanistan are fighting each other while a resurgent Taliban emerges from hiding — well-armed and growing bolder by the day.

As the Christian Science Monitor‘s Owais Tohid reports, Afghan and Pakistani forces have fought a running series of battles along the border provinces separating the two countries. US troops and their Afghan allies regularly raid Afghanistan’s eastern provinces for Taliban, Al Qaeda and other Islamist fighters. Lately, the Pakistanis have joined in the hunt on the other side, conducting unprecedented sweeps in Pakistan’s essentially lawless Northwest Frontier Province, long known as a haven for Islamist fighters. Although the two sides are ostensibly seeking the same enemies, tensions are rising. Afghan president Hamid Karzai — whose writ ends at the Kabul city limits — has accused the Pakistani military of crossing the border and occupying Afghan land. Pakistani strongman Pervez Musharraff denies it. Last week, an enraged Afghan mob stormed the Pakistani embassy in Kabul, forcing its closure. Relations between the two countries, Tohid reports, are at the lowest point in recent memory.

All of this might not matter much, however, if the Taliban weren’t gaining ground while Karzai and Musharraff trade insults. Instead, as the BBC notes, Afghanistan has seen a surge in Taliban attacks in recent months. In fact, entire provinces are now off-limits to aid workers, and many villagers openly support the Islamist fighters in their midst. As Tohid writes, again, in the Monitor, heavyhanded US tactics and an anemic reconstruction effort — combined with villagers’ affinity for the Taliban’s brand of Islam — add up to an increasingly anti-American brew.

“Pashtuns in this region feel unrepresented by the Kabul government, despite the fact that President Hamid Karzai is a Pashtun. Raids and house searches by US troops in the area have only furthered hostility among residents. Meanwhile, a drought has covered the already arid region with dust, depriving many of their livelihoods. And there is no sign of international reconstruction work to better their lot.

The lifestyle and traditional beliefs of the population support the insurgents. Even today, bearded old men wear the black turbans favored by the ousted Taliban regime. Women cover themselves with burqas, and no music is played in the roadside hotels and cafes. Most belong to the same tribe as former Taliban ruler Mullah Omar.

‘I help the mujahideen by providing shelter in the villages. I help them transport their weapons through children when US forces launch any operation,’ says Jan. ‘These goras [white men] search our houses. Entering the houses of Pashtuns is disrespectful to us and to our women,’ he says angrily.”

Washington almost seems to be trying to do everything exactly wrong, in Afghanistan. Far from building bridges with the population, Ramtanu Maitra observes in the Asia Times, the US has put the warlords back in charge and allowed the poppy trade to skyrocket. At the same time, it has relied on Pakistan — whose army and intelligence services are still highly sympathetic to the Taliban, despite Musharraff’s forced conversion to freedom and democracy after Sept. 11, 2001 — to do the dirty work of tracking down Islamists.

“Following the American invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 and subsequent removal of the Taliban from power, competing agencies within the US government set about to prove their worth (with some individuals intensely involved in lining their pockets with the drug money) by adopting policies to ‘short-cut’ the process of Afghan reconstruction. One of these short-cuts involved a deal with the warlords. The deal was to allow the warlords to grow poppy, so that these warlords could buy arms and recruit militia to strengthen their ranks. In return, they would not only provide the Americans with the intelligence on where the al-Qaeda and the Taliban are hiding, but would also provide the Americans with fighters.

The second thing that the policy did was further weaken Karzai, who was running from pillar to post to get some cash to show some ‘improvement’ in living conditions in Kabul to justify his and the Americans’ presence, and he was deprived of revenue. The warlords claimed — and the American operatives endorsed their claims — that they needed the money to bolster their anti-Taliban militia and help the Americans find al-Qaeda members. As a result, the Afghan warlords, who were virtually eliminated by the Taliban, are now stronger than ever. In a few more years, these warlords will be strong enough to kick out their American benefactors and American puppets.

As if these developments do not portend a bad enough future for the immediate region, Washington felt compelled to introduce another. By pressurizing the Pakistan army to comb the border areas to ferret out the al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the Americans have given Pakistani troops a free hand to occupy Afghan territory and maintain control of the Taliban and al-Qaeda operations.”

Meanwhile, it’s increasingly clear that it’s not just the Taliban — or even scattered Al Qaeda remnants — that US forces have to worry about. Now, Mullah Omar has formed an alliance with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of the most radical of the Islamist warlords (and previously one of the Taliban’s worst enemies). Of late, Hekmatyar has stepped up his own strikes on American forces and their Afghan proxies all across the country. The latest — in which five Kandahar policemen were ambushed and killed — has been connected to his group, the Hezb-i-Islami.

Ironically, Hekmatyar and Washington go back a long way . During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, he was one of the White House’s favorite mujahedeen commanders, and the CIA showered him and his men with weapons and training. Later, during the civil war that followed the Soviet pullout, Washington stood back and watched as Hekmatyar shelled Kabul into submission.

Times change, though. Now, the old warlord has nothing but hatred for his erstwhile benefactors.

“‘I invite all Afghan factions to come and forget our differences … and oust the foreign troops, cut off the hands of the foreign meddlers,’ the gray-bearded Hekmatyar said, speaking in Pashtu.”

‘Holy Joe’ and ‘The Black Vote’
With nine democrats running in the primary — maybe ten if General Wesley Clark jumps on the ballot — there is quite a crowd vying for the support of the African American community. On Sunday Dennis Kucinich, Joseph Lieberman and Dick Gephart didn’t show up at an annual NAACP conference. Their absence, along with the president Bush’s, was noted with four prominently placed empty chairs. The absent candidates were declared irrelevant by the NAACP’s Kweisi Mfume, and those present were met with mixed reviews. One conference attendee from Florida put it best: “Anybody who comes into a convention and says ‘I like black people’ — I don’t think that’s going to work anymore.”

Joe Lieberman, didn’t show up at the weekend NAACP conference, but he is justifying his absence by… well, by professing that he, too, likes black people. A spokesman explained that even though Lieberman was busy fundraising this weekend, the Senator has been down with the movement since he marched with Dr. King in the sixties. ”No one should question Sen. Lieberman’s commitment to civil rights, racial equality and equal opportunity,” the spokesman said.

No one, that is, except perhaps those who have made a brief perusal of Lieberman’s track record. Doug Ireland in the LA Weekly put together a laundry list of Lieberman’s not-so-Democratic actions and statements to show that minority groups have ample reason to question Lieberman’s commitment to civil rights (and corporate accountabiliy, and most things that Democrats usually stand for, for that matter). Lieberman has close ties big business. His fang-less Committee on Governmental Affairs was a big part of the reason that Democrats got so little political advantage out of the Enron scandals. And as for his record with African Americans, well, let’s just say that Lieberman once went on record as a fan of Charles Murray. As Ireland writes:

    “[T]he New Haven Advocate’s excellent Paul Bass — who’s covered Lieberman for 22 years — wrote, ‘After meeting with racist scholar [and Bell Curve author] Charles Murray, Lieberman promoted Murray’s idea of taking children away from mothers on welfare and putting them in new government-run orphanages (rather than, for instance, boosting support for agencies seeking to keep together families in crisis).'”

Besides flirting with Murray, the Senator has also been a staunch opponent of affirmative action. He has close ties with the religious right, which have led him to fight for faith-based initiatives (that primarily benefit churches with ties to Bush) and against things like counseling for gay teens.

In 2000 the Lieberman-Gore ticket claimed nine out of 10 African-American votes. Lieberman enjoyed this support despite his strong ties to the Democratic Leadership Council — a body with a history relatively devoid of advocacy for key minority issues.

Lieberman’s NAACP no-show comes just a week after his meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus where Rep. Albert Wynn (D-Md) told reporters that , “basically, people were laughing at him.”

In spite of all this, Lieberman is still in the top tier of the polls. But in order for him to keep his credibility with black voters, he may have to clean up his act and put something more than lip service forward in support for the African American community. As Kweisi Mfume of the NAACP puts it, “We are interested in people who are interested in us […] This organization has dignity […] We are not going to allow anybody, Democrat or Republican, to take it for granted.”

Fake Left, Ari!
Departing White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer, stepped down on Monday — but not without a final eloquent farewell. During his last battle with the press, Fleischer called the suggestion that Nigerian uranium was a major premise for Bush’s invasion of Iraq, “a bunch of bull.” Meanwhile, Bush — in his usual cowboy-like vernacular — fired back at reporters who questioned his intelligence, saying his intelligence was “darn good.”

At Monday’s press conference, Fleischer was grilled for nearly 50 minutes during which only ten of the 70 questions were not about Iraq. Fleischer, true to form, found creative ways to dodge inquiries into if, or how, bogus intelligence found its way into Bush’s State of the Union address. When asked whether Washington believed British intelligence about Iraq trying to buy uranium from Africa, Fleischer responded, “I think this remains an issue about did Iraq seek uranium in Africa, an issue that very well may be true. We don’t know if it’s true — but nobody, but nobody, can say it is wrong. And, therefore, the judgment the White House has made is that it should not have risen to the level of the Presidential State of the Union address.”

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank gives a play-by-play of Fleischer’s spin tactics — here are just a few:

“Evasive Maneuver Three: The non-sequitur. Asked about what would be the harm in sharing intelligence sources now that former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein has been ousted, Fleischer replied: ‘The notion that because Iraq may or may not have been seeking uranium from Africa undermines the case for going to war with Saddam Hussein, ignores the fact that Saddam Hussein had biological weapons, chemical weapons.’

Evasive Maneuver Four: Reverse the burden of proof. Asked for evidence that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program, Fleischer said: ‘I turn it around. Why would anybody think that a leader as brutal as Saddam Hussein would not pursue weapons of mass destruction of biological and chemical and then say, “But I’m not interested in nuclear?”‘

Evasive Maneuver Five: The platitude. Asked whether the White House rolled the CIA, Fleischer replied: ‘I think it’s fair to say that both institutions have very dedicated professionals who are expert at what they do.'”

Fleischer’s last day in the White House was by no means smooth sailing. During the press conference, Fleischer was hit with questions like “Does the President stand by all the statements he made in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq to the American people?”, “Does the United States think that that intelligence is correct?”, and probably the best question came from Russell Mokhiber who, — referring to corporations convicted of crimes (i.e. Enron) donating money to the Republican Party — asked “Is the President okay with his Party taking millions of dollars from convicted criminals?” To which Ari responded, “I have no idea what you’re referring to,” he said, “Russell, you need to address your question to the Party and not cite the specifics.”

At the tail-end of the conference, Bob Deans, President of the White House Press Corps, stood and said that he had brought a cake for Fleischer, and deadpanned that it was “not a yellow cake.” Fleischer retorted, “Well, if it is, I’m sure we’ll find it.”

Fleischer later used the conference as an opportunity to criticize the press for creating a “media feeding frenzy that misinterprets why America went to war.”

While Fleischer was busy defending Washington’s current interpretiation of America’s reasons for going to war, Bush had his hands full defending his “darn good” intelligence. But both were unable to quell the sense of unrest around the yellow cake affair. As Daily News’ Richard Sisks points out, even some Republicans weren’t convinced by Bush’s speech:

“‘There’s a cloud hanging over this administration,’ Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) told CNN. Hagel said it was an open question whether high-level officials in the Bush administration ‘shaped and molded intelligence to serve their own purposes’ in arguing for war.”

Now that Ari has stepped down — what’s next? According to the Associated Press, he plans to start a public-relations firm. Ari says that he’ll continue to support his pal Bush, writes the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, by helping him with his 2004 presidential campaign, “I’m leaving the White House, but I’m not leaving President Bush,” Fleischer said.

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