“Who Is The Taliban?”

From  Anand Gopal  at The Nation:

When US-led forces toppled the Taliban government in November 2001, Afghans celebrated the downfall of a reviled and discredited regime. “We felt like dancing in the streets,” one Kabuli told me. As US-backed forces marched into Kabul, remnants of the old Taliban regime split into three groups. The first, including many Kabul-based bureaucrats and functionaries, simply surrendered to the Americans; some even joined the Karzai government. The second, comprising the movement’s senior leadership, including “Commander of the Faithful” Mullah Omar, fled across the border into Pakistan, where they remain to this day. The third and largest group–foot soldiers, local commanders and provincial officials–quietly melted into the landscape, returning to their villages to wait and see which way the wind would blow.

Meanwhile, the country was quickly being carved up by warlords and criminals. On the brand-new highway connecting Kabul to Kandahar and Herat, built with millions of Washington’s dollars, well-organized groups of bandits would regularly terrorize travelers. Last year “thirty, maybe fifty criminals, some in police uniforms, stopped our bus and shot [out] our windows,” Muhammadullah, the owner of a bus company that regularly uses the route, told me. “They searched our vehicle and stole everything from everyone.” Criminal syndicates, often with government connections, organized kidnapping sprees in urban centers. Often, those few who were caught would simply be released after the right palms were greased.

Into this landscape of violence and criminality rode the Taliban, promising law and order–just as they did when they first formed in the mid-1990s, when they were welcomed by many Afghans as relief from the rapacious post-Soviet warlords. Within two years after the 2001 invasion, the exiled leadership, based in Quetta, Pakistan, began reactivating networks of fighters who had blended into Afghan villages. They resurrected relationships with Pashtun tribes. (The insurgents, historically a predominantly Pashtun movement and mostly concentrated in the country’s south and east, still have very little influence among other minority ethnic groups like the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hezaras.) With funds from wealthy Arab donors and training from ISI, the Pakistani intelligence apparatus, they were able to bring weapons and expertise into Pashtun villages.

In one village after another, the Taliban drove out the remaining minority of government sympathizers through intimidation and assassination. Then they won over the majority with promises of security and efficiency. They implemented a harsh version of Sharia law, cutting off the hands of thieves and shooting adulterers. They were brutal, but they were also incorruptible. Justice no longer went to the highest bidder. “There’s no crime anymore, unlike before,” said Abdul Halim, who lives in a district under Taliban control.

The insurgents conscripted fighters from the villages they operated in, often paying $200 a month–more than double the typical police salary. They adjudicated disputes between tribes and between landowners. They protected poppy fields from the eradication attempts of the central government and foreign armies–a move that won the support of poor farmers whose only stable income came from poppy cultivation. The areas under insurgent control were consigned to having neither reconstruction nor social services, but for rural villagers who had seen much foreign intervention and little economic progress under the Karzai government, this was hardly new.

At the same time, the Taliban’s ideology began to transform. “We are fighting to free our country from foreign domination,” Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi told me over the phone. “The Indians fought for their independence against the British. Even the Americans once waged an insurgency to free their own country.” This emerging nationalistic streak appeals to Pashtun villagers, who have grown weary of the American and NATO presence.

Read the whole thing here

The Future of Afghanistan

From Tom Englhardt:

One of the eerier reports on the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan appeared recently in the New York Times. Journalist John Burns visited the Russian ambassador in Kabul, Zamir N. Kabulov, who, back in the 1980s, when the Russians were the Americans in Afghanistan, and the Americans were launching the jihad that would eventually wend its way to the 9/11 attacks… well, you get the idea…

In any case, Kabulov was, in the years of the Soviet occupation, a KGB agent in the same city and, in the 1990s, an adviser to a U.N. peacekeeping envoy during the Afghan civil war that followed. “They’ve already repeated all of our mistakes,” he told Burns, speaking of the American/NATO effort in the country. “Now,” he added, “they’re making mistakes of their own, ones for which we do not own the copyright.” His list of Soviet-style American mistakes included: underestimating “the resistance,” an over-reliance on air power, a failure to understand the Afghan “irritative allergy” to foreign occupation, “and thinking that because they swept into Kabul easily, the occupation would be untroubled.” Of present occupiers who have stopped by to catch his sorry tale, Kabulov concludes world-wearily, “They listen, but they do not hear.”

The question is: Does this experience really have to be repeated to the bitter end — in the case of the Soviets, a calamitous defeat and retreat from Afghanistan, followed by years of civil war in that wrecked country, and finally the rise of the Pakistani-backed Taliban? The answer is: perhaps. There is no question that the advisers President Obama will be listening to are already exploring more complex strategies in Afghanistan, including possible negotiations with “reconcilable elements” of the Taliban. But these all remain military-plus strategies at whose heart lies the kind of troop surge that candidate Obama called for so vehemently — and, given the fate of the previous 2007 U.S./NATO “surge” in Afghanistan, this, too, has failure written all over it.

If you want a glimmer of hope when it comes to the spreading Afghan War — American missile-armed drones have been attacking across the Pakistani border regularly in recent months — consider that Barack Obama has made ex-CIA official Bruce Reidel a key advisor on the deteriorating Pakistani situation. And Reidel recently reviewed startlingly favorably Tariq Ali’s must-read, hard-hitting new book on Pakistan (and so Afghanistan and so American policy), The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power for the Washington Post. (“My employers of the past three decades, the CIA and the Brookings Institution, get their share of blame,” Reidel wrote. “So do both of the current presidential candidates…”)

Ali believes that there could be a grand, brokered regional solution to the Afghan War, essentially a military-minus strategy. Let’s hope Reidel and others are willing to listen to that, too; otherwise it will certainly be “Obama’s war,” and — for anyone old enough to remember — haven’t we been through that before? Tom

Read Tariq Ali’s post, “Operation Enduring Disaster: Breaking with Afghan Policy

Bush Lied & America Believed

It’s a good thing Bush is nearly gone, because America’s tendency to believe what suits it seems to be unending:

So, Vladimir Putin was right: It was Georgia that started the war with Russia, and once again it was President Bush who got caught in a lie. As The New York Times reported last week, “Newly available accounts by independent military observers of the beginning of the war between Georgia and Russia this summer call into question the long-standing Georgian assertion that it was acting defensively against separatist and Russian aggression.”

The Bush White House knew—but kept from the American public—facts concerning provocation by Georgia’s U.S.-trained forces, which killed civilians in the capital of South Ossetia before Russian troops crossed the border. The provocation has also been documented in a BBC investigative report and by a growing consensus of other reliable sources. [the rest is here]

Just why would anyone believe Bush?


Chris Floyd at Counterpunch:

As the United States enters a new and unprecedented political era — or, as killjoy cynics might put it, as the American empire gets a new set of temporary managers — the fate of the “dissident” movement that arose under the Bush Regime seems greatly occluded. So many of those who set out their stalls as bold outsiders “speaking truth to power” now find themselves on the inside, enthralled by power, speaking for power, as it is personified by President-elect Barack Obama — who, ironically, has consistently repudiated many of the tenets and principles that provoked the dissidents’ outrage in the first place.

I’m feeling like a “killjoy cynic”, even as I know I shouldn’t – oh well, we all cave to pressure sometimes!  But hey, I’ve heard the cynic label before and in the end, I’m not buying.  The election of Barack Obama to the Presidency of the United States represented a moment of change in that country – finally, the politics of race were set aside among those people who voted for him at least, and a racialized man holds the top office in the land.  It would be a mistake to think that racial politics have been transcended, as some people have said.  The truth is, it would be dangerous to let the celebrations elide that fact, because it is the constant pressure of people on and in politics that will inevitably bring change and keep it – and that’s as it should be.  No one man can embody the aspirations of all the people who need change.  Obama certainly doesn’t.

“Progressives”, or some of them, seem to be taking this election as their own.  Also dangerous, since most people agree that Obama is no progressive politician.  Perhaps, and it’s a big “perhaps”, Obama represents a new way of doing politics, though I’ve seen no evidence of that myself.  But a new way of doing politics doesn’t guarantee the substance – I’d take LBJ’s way of doing politics with respect to civil rights and poverty and constant pressure to equalize society and provide justice [And don’t get me wrong. LBJ was a total blockhead when it came to the Vietnam War; but at least he got some other things right – Obama shows no signs of doing even that].

The self-congratulations and celebrations that are going on in the US really do worry me because I think all the excitement does lead to a “letting down of the guard” with respect to what Obama actually stands for and the guard may stay down when he actually starts doing stuff.  People want so much to believe in him, they will give him time and they will allow him to fail.  The US and the world doesn’t have time and, though there is always the chance of failure, we can’t afford to forget to hold politicians accountable, not even for a moment.  If Obama had won American Idol I’d give him his honeymoon period.  For the President of the US, at this moment in history, there can be no honeymoon.

Hundreds and thousands of jobs are being lost in the US and around the world.  There is no sign that things will get better soon and to make things get better in the long run will require careful attention and action.  And the goals must be clear to achieve the results desired by progressives.  There are people who have good ideas about how to stimulate the economy without propping up the system as it has been and I want Obama to be listening to them.  He isn’t doing that right now.  The only thing that could get him to do it would be constant challenge and pressure from the people who want an economic system that redistributes wealth rather than concentrating it in the hands of the wealthy.

By far the most difficult problem that faces racial minorities and women in the US is economic inequality.  The gains made by women and African Americans are always contingent – always capable of being retracted or withdrawn outright and we have seen much of that in the last eight years under George W. Bush, but we saw it before with Ronald Reagan; Bill Clinton was able to do very little to fix it – in fact, the reduction of taxes of the wealthy began under Clinton and he accomplished more that way than George W. Bush.

Of course, the problem of the concentration of power in the executive branch of government accomplished under George W. is also still with us and Obama has shown little sign of understanding that either.  The war in Iraq presses and Afghanistan and Pakistan are waiting.  Have a close look at what Barack Obama has said about these things.

Chris Floyd again:

So for those of dissident bent who would still like to speak truth about power – and who are not sending their CVs to the Obama transition team or signing on as happy warriors to defend the new imperial managers from revenge attacks by bitter partisans of the ousted faction — the question of how best to comport oneself in this brave new world takes on some urgency. In this regard, we would like to suggest the following conceptual framework for analyzing and understanding the moral, ethical, social, economic and legal implications of the policies and actions of the coming administration. (And it even comes with its own handy acronym!):

“WIBDI: What If Bush Did It?”

This user-friendly analytical tool provides a quick and easy way of determining the value of any given policy while correcting one’s perception for partisan bias. Simply take a particular action or proposal and submit it to the WIBDI test: If Bush did this, would you think it was OK? Or would you condemn it as the act of a warmonger, or a tyrant, or a corrupt corporate tool, etc.? The just-concluded campaign has already shown us how our hordes of our quondam dissidents have signally failed this test, excusing, countenancing, defending or even embracing the actions and positions enumerated below by Chris Hedges:

“Sen. Barack Obama’s vote to renew the Patriot Act, his votes to continue to fund the Iraq war, his backing of the FISA Reform Act, his craven courting of the Israeli lobby, his support of the death penalty, his refusal to champion universal, single-payer not-for-profit health care for all Americans, his call to increase troop levels and expand the war in Afghanistan, his failure to call for a reduction in the bloated and wasteful defense spending and his lobbying for the huge taxpayer swindle known as the bailout…”

To which we could add his bellicose saber-rattling at Iran, his promise to roll back “Russian aggression” and extend war-triggering treaty protection to an aggressive Georgian regime (which cluster-bombed its own people, as we learned this week), his advocacy of destabilizing and civilian-shredding military strikes in Pakistan, his opposition to gay marriage (and campaigning with gay-bashing preachers), and his support for extending the death penalty to cover non-fatal offenses, and so on.

Any one of these positions would be roundly condemned by “progressives” if they were taken or advocated by George W. Bush — as in fact many of them have been. Indeed, one of the most remarkable things about this campaign is how Obama has managed to embody the deep and desperate thirst for change among millions of America — hence the genuinely moving scenes of jubilation and revived hope that have greeted his victory — while his actual positions in many if not most key areas track very closely with Bush’s, if they are not actually identical with them.

Take Iran, for example. Obama has taken what is regarded as a more nuanced position, holding out the promise of direct negotiations with Iranian leaders. Yet he has repeatedly stated what the outcome of these “negotiations” must be: Iran must “abandon its nuclear program.” If it does not, then more and more draconian sanctions will be applied, with the clear threat of military action if these don’t bring Tehran to heel. This is, chapter and verse, the precise policy followed by Bush, who has also repeatedly offered to “negotiate” with Iran as long as they agree to surrender on every point before talks begin.

And, as with Bush, Obama’s stern warnings apply not only to any nuclear weapons program (which even Bush’s intelligence services say Iran no longer has), but to any nuclear energy program whatsoever. Obama has repeatedly and consistently said that Iran must not even be allowed to enrich uranium, which is necessary to any nuclear energy program. (The fact that Iran is legally entitled to pursue nuclear energy development under international non-proliferation treaties which it has signed — while nuclear-armed U.S. allies like Israel and India have not — is of course entirely irrelevant in the discussion. The Washington hegemon decides which laws apply, and to whom, and when.)

Again, if Iran does not agree to these predetermined conditions of the “negotiation,” then, as Obama has also repeatedly promised, “all options remain on the table,” a totality which must of necessity include the nuclear option. Indeed, his chief advisor for the region, Dennis Ross — the man who, as Michael Flynn reports at Antiwar.com, is confident that he will play a leading if not the principal role in formulating Middle East policy for President Obama — was involved in the development of a new report by an influential bipartisan “think tank” that is, essentially, an action plan for war with Iran. As Flynn notes:

“…the report argues that “Cold War deterrence” is not persuasive in the context of Iran’s program, due in large measure to the “Islamic Republic’s extremist ideology.” Even a peaceful indigenous uranium enrichment program would place the entire Middle East region “under a cloud of ambiguity given uncertain Iranian capacities and intentions.”

“Among the report’s proposals are undertaking a major military buildup in the Gulf; pressuring Russia to halt weapons assistance; and, if the U.S. agrees to hold direct talks with Tehran without insisting that the country first cease enrichment activities, setting a predetermined compliance deadline and be prepared to apply increasingly harsh repercussions if these are not met, leading ultimately to U.S. military strikes.”

Ross was a protégé of Paul Wolfowitz and has long-standing associations with the group of warmongering “intellectuals” known loosely as the neo-cons, who evidently will continue to hover in and around the inner circles of power in the “new” Washington.

So if President Obama, heeding his own band of neo-con outriders, ultimately finds the Iranians too evil and stubborn to give up their lawful and intensely supervised nuclear program, and decides — reluctantly, of course, as “a last resort” — to launch, say, a “limited strike to bring them back to the bargaining table,” will American “progressives” utilize the WIBDI tool, and lead marches in the street against this Bush-like use of unilateral force? Or will they suddenly discover the wisdom and effectiveness of judiciously applied, expertly managed “pre-emptive” strikes? (“You can trust Obama; he’s too cool and rational to go off half-cocked the way Bush  would. If he says we need to do this, then you know that it’s been well thought-out and the right thing to do.”) Indeed, will they not follow the injunction of Joe Biden, and “gird their loins” to stand with Obama in the face of an unpopular policy, even if “it’s not gonna be apparent initially…that we’re right”?

This is just one example, and perhaps an extreme one. The managers of the empire may have already decided that the Iran gambit would not be cost-effective under present circumstances; or alternatively, Bush might just push the button for a hit on Tehran before he slinks off into well-wadded obscurity, thus rendering moot the above scenario. But the principle remains the same. In measuring and judging the operations of power, we must judge an action or policy for what it is, in reality, and for what it does, to actual living human beings, and not for who has ordered it.

It’s not fun raining on the parade and pulling a long face amidst the celebration.  But it’s important.  As to whether or not it’s useful, that will depend on who pays attention to the “hold-the-cake” sayers.  I’m well into understanding how these next years could be just as frustrating, in their own way, as watching George Bush.  For me, the celebration that’s worth having is that people are engaged with politics just now in a way they haven’t been since the ’60s.  After all the whining I’ve heard lately about how the Boomers messed up, I’ll say only that if this generation manages to hold their politicians to account now as they were then, there may be accomplishments deserving of long-term celebration.



NATO Threatened

Murray Dobbin on the weakening of NATO and the growing possibility that the US (and Canada) will be isolated from the EU:

With the end of the Cold War, many analysts and policy makers imagined that the developed world might actually move away from its irrational attachment to militarization and war. The most optimistic envisioned a huge, international peace dividend, shifting untold billions previously spent on conventional and nuclear weapons to tackling poverty and inequality around the world.

Alas, the U.S. had no intention of dismantling NATO. For the U.S., it was simple: NATO provided the sheen of legitimacy for the extension of U.S. power well beyond its original mandate of Europe.

But ironically the Bush administration — the most imperial of U.S. governments in generations — may well go down in history as the one that crippled NATO and effectively left the U.S. isolated.

If there is a silver lining to the grotesque destruction of human life in Iraq and Afghanistan and the inexplicably stupid adventure in Georgia, it is the possibility that the U.S. will lose its already reluctant EU partners in making the world safe for U.S. oil companies.

NATO risks, if not outright dissolution, then certainly a credibility crisis leading to political and military paralysis. NATO watchers repeatedly declare that losing in Afghanistan simply “isn’t an option.” But as virtually every analyst not on mind-altering drugs is saying, losing in Afghanistan with the current commitment of NATO partners is, in fact, the only option. The longer they stay, the more inept and indecisive they appear. To even maintain the status quo there needs to be a doubling of the troop levels, and this simply will not happen. European populations have no stomach for body bags from a war that is not in Europe’s interests. France is now rethinking its existing commitment, despite its president’s statement to the contrary.

When, not if, the EU members of NATO pack their bags, it will be the end of any extra-territorial adventures. The U.S. will be totally on its own, save for Israel and, regrettably, Canada.

Read the rest here

Taliban in Afghanistan

From Immanuel Wallerstein at the Monthly Review:

Obama has founded his campaign and become attractive to the American voters in large part on the basis of his position on the Iraq war.  He opposed it publicly since 2002.  He has called it a “dumb” war.  He voted against the “surge.”  He has called for a withdrawal over 16 months of all combat troops.  He has refused to agree that it was wrong to oppose the surge.

While doing all that, he has always argued that the United States should do more in Afghanistan.  This explicitly includes sending 10,000 more troops as soon as possible.  He does not seem to think that the war there is somehow dumb.  He does seem to think that the United States can “win” that war — with more troops and with more assistance from NATO.  Once president, he may be in for a rude surprise.

Obama would do well to reflect upon the recent interview in Le Monde given by Gérard Chaliand.   Chaliand is a leading geostrategist, specializing in so-called irregular wars.  He knows Afghanistan exceedingly well, having been in and out of there over the last thirty years.  He spent much time with the mujahidin during their struggle against Soviet troops in the 1980s.  He currently spends several months a year in Kabul at the Center for Conflict and Peace Studies, of which he was one of the founders.

He is very clear on the military situation. “Victory is impossible in Afghanistan. . . .  Today, one must try to negotiate.  There is no other solution.”  Why?  Because the Taliban control the local powers throughout the east and south of the country, where Pashtun populations prevail.  Doubling the number of Western troops, doubling the projected size of the government’s army, and spending far more than the present 10% of outside aid for economic development might change the situation.  But Chaliand doubts, and so do I, that this is politically likely for the United States and the NATO countries.  The German Foreign Minister has already warned Obama not to press Germany for more troops to fight the Taliban.  It is not that the Taliban can win either, says Chaliand.  Rather there is a “military impasse.”  The Taliban, who are geopolitically astute, are patiently waiting until the West “gets tired of a war that drags on.”

To see how the United States has got itself into this cul-de-sac, we have to go back a little bit into history.  Since the nineteenth century, Afghanistan has been the focal point of the “great game” between Russia and Great Britain (now succeeded by the United States).  No one has ever gained long-term control over this crucial zone of transit.

Today, Afghanistan has on its border a state called Pakistan, which has a large Pashtun population precisely on the border.  Pakistan’s prime geopolitical interest is to have a friendly Afghanistan, lest India — but also Russia, the United States, and/or Iran — come to dominate it.  Pakistan has been supporting in one way or another the Pashtun majority, which today means the Taliban.  Pakistan is not about to stop doing this.

Under President Carter, the United States decided to try to oust a so-called Communist government deemed too close to Russia.  We know now, via the release of archives from the Carter administration as well as via a famous interview given ten years ago by Zbigniew Brzezinski, then Carter’s National Security Advisor, that U.S. support of the mujahidin predated by at least six months the intrusion of Soviet troops.  Indeed, one of the objectives was precisely to lure the Soviet Union into intervening militarily on the correct assumption that this would ultimately badly misfire and weaken the Soviet regime at home.  Bravo!  It did that.  But the U.S. policy also at the same time spawned both Al-Qaeda and the Taliban — a classic case of blowback for the United States.  In any case, none other than Brzezinski is warning Obama against repeating the Soviet error.

So, Obama is promising something today he is in no position to deliver.  It is all very well for him to receive the implicit endorsement of the Iraqi government for his Iraq proposals.  He is riding high on that, and will reap credit from the U.S. and world public for his stance.  But he can undo that credit by failing to deliver on an impossible promise concerning Afghanistan.  His gang of 300 advisors is not serving him very well on this issue.  Obama knows how to be prudent when necessary.  He is not being very prudent at all on Afghanistan.

The Future of NATO

Gwynne Dyer on Georgia and NATO:

The rhetoric in the new NATO members has been almost as hysterical as that in Georgia itself, where President Mikhail Saakashvili has been calling the Russians “21st century barbarians” who “despise everything new, everything modern, everything European, everything civilized.” Similar rhetoric pervades the parallel universe of the U.S. media, where the fact that it was Georgia that started this war by unleashing a merciless artillery barrage on South Ossetia and then invading it has been virtually erased from the story-line.

Very few Americans know that there was only one battalion of Russian peacekeeping troops (less than 1,000 men) in South Ossetia when the Georgian tanks rolled in less than two weeks ago. It’s all “plucky little Georgia” and democratic values versus the Russian bear.

It’s a rousing morality tale that hits all the right notes for an American sensibility, and it’s not just Georgia’s PR firms that are pushing this line. It’s also the U.S. State Department and the Pentagon, which had been building Georgia up as a key U.S. ally on Russia’s southern flank. Yet U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice looked deeply uncomfortable on Friday in Tbilisi as she stood beside the ranting Saakashvili.

Perhaps she was pondering the fact that while the “new Europe” of former Soviet-bloc countries uncritically backs Georgia and the U.S. commitment there, the “old Europe” of Germany, France, Italy and their neighbours mostly does not. This is a problem if she wishes to pursue her goal of bringing Georgia and Ukraine into NATO, since “old Europe” is the core of NATO, with three times the population and five times the wealth of “new Europe.”

Read the rest here

Nuclear Playground

The United States and Poland signed an agreement Wednesday in Poland to locate part of a controversial U.S. missile defense system in that country.  

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice traveled to Warsaw for the signing ceremony with Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski, the BBC reported.

The agreement calls for 10 interceptor missiles to be located in an unused military base near Poland’s Baltic Coast to protest Europe against possible long-range attacks. The United States signed an agreement to place a radar tracking system on Czech Republic soil last month.

The deals with the two former Soviet satellites angered Russia, which says its national security is threatened by the missile defense system.

Poland will receive short-range Patriot missiles and a guarantee of U.S. assistance if Poland is attacked, the British broadcaster reported.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski said Wednesday the missile shield was a defense system, not a threat, so “no one who has good intentions toward us and toward the Western world should be afraid of it.”

here ya go

If Canada signed a pact with Russia allowing them to build a “defensive” missile site in Ontario, what do you think the US would say:

BTW, Patriot Missiles can’t hit anything coming from Iran.  They’re short range missiles.  Iran can’t “send” anything anyway.  And on Lehrer Newshour, Fred Kagan just said the “invasion” of Georgia helped speed up the deal.  That rather gives the lie to it being a “defense” system.  Then he said the idea that this defense system is directed at Russia is “laughable”.  “The Russian reaction is insane.  The Russian reaction is itself a provocation.”  Say what?  No wonder the Russians are upset.

There is no justification for the Bush administration’s ratcheting up of the rhetoric.  Fred Kagan says:  “They started it.”  ZOMG, are we in a nuclear playground?  Macho is all Bush knows.

Must Read Essays

On the war in Georgia and the response of the US and other NATO countries, such as mine, see this

And for a great analysis (as always) of the FBI’s disintegrating case against supposed anthrax conspirator Bruce Ivins, who lost his life to the allegations, see this and Tom Englehardt

UPDATE:  And on Russia, Georgia and the US, see Jim Kunstler.  Here’s a bit:

The feeble American response to Russia’s assertion of power in the Caucasus of Central Asia was appropriate, since our claims of influence in that part of the world are laughable. The US had taken advantage of temporary confusion in Russia, during the ten-year-long post-Soviet-collapse interval, and set up a client government in Georgia, complete with military advisors, sales of weapons, and even the promise of club membership in the western alliance known as NATO. These blandishments were all in the service of the Baku-to-Ceyhan oil pipeline, which was designed specifically to drain the oil region around the Caspian Basin with an outlet on the Mediterranean, avoiding unfriendly nations all along the way.

UPDATE II:  I’m into passing you off to other writers tonight.  Check out this piece on the US administrations struggle to muzzle al-Jazeera:

After more than six years as a prisoner of the United States, former TV cameraman Sami al-Hajj is back at work with Al-Jazeera, the largest broadcaster in the Arab world, a thorn in the side of most Arab governments – and, by most indications, a target of deep hostility from the Bush administration.

Al-Hajj, 39, was the longest-held journalist in U.S. custody at the time of his release in May, and the only one ever held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Military authorities repeatedly accused him of being a terrorist in league with al Qaeda, then released him without charges.

His case is emblematic of the poisoned relationship between the U.S. government and a television network with 40 million viewers in the Middle East.

Since 2001, Bush administration officials have regularly denounced Al-Jazeera as an anti-American propaganda organ and a mouthpiece for terrorists, and have periodically urged its chief patron, the emir of Qatar, to rein it in.

The United States even founded a rival Arab-language network, Al Hurra, in 2004, but commentators on the region generally agree it hasn’t made a dent in Al-Jazeera’s popularity.

Al-Jazeera has also been hit twice by U.S. artillery fire. One shelling destroyed its Kabul bureau in November 2001. The second struck a Baghdad office in April 2003, killing correspondent Tareq Ayoub. The U.S. military concluded both shellings were accidents.

According to the Defense Department, al-Hajj was just another suspected terrorist among the 780 who have been held as enemy combatants since January 2002 at Guantanamo. But his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, says al-Hajj’s imprisonment was all about Al-Jazeera.

When I read things like this, about people held for years at Guantanamo without charge and then being released without any charges ever having been laid, I often think I’m living in a whole different world than the one I’ve been used to.  Perhaps that’s because administrations like that of George W. Bush are able to  carry off these anti-democratic, anti-rule of law acts right out in the open with apparently little fear of being held to account.  Ever.  And rightly so it seems.  I mean “rightly” with respect to accountability of course.