Tag Archives: US military

Changing Obama’s Military Mindset

As criticism of Obama’s recent decisions about releasing photographs and documents that pertain to torture or human rights abuses committed by US troops, there is an excellent essay by Howard Zinn in the latest issue of the Progressive (here) that puts Obama in context is a more constructive way.

First and foremost, Zinn reminds people that Obama is a politician – rather than a regular citizen – and that as such his decisions are guided far too often by politics, rather than ideal.  The caveat, however, is that as a politician, the public can pressure him in ways that others, such as corporate power brokers or unelected officials, are not.

As Zinn says “Our job is not to give him a blank check or simply be cheerleaders. It was good that we were cheerleaders while he was running for office, but it’s not good to be cheerleaders now. Because we want the country to go beyond where it has been in the past. We want to make a clean break from what it has been in the past.”  Zinn’s reference to the past goes well beyond the last 8 years under Bush II.

As Zinn states, “we have to get out of the mindset that got us into Iraq, but we’ve got to identify that mindset. And Obama has to be pulled by the people who elected him, by the people who are enthusiastic about him, to renounce that mindset. We’re the ones who have to tell him, “No, you’re on the wrong course with this militaristic idea of using force to accomplish things in the world. We won’t accomplish anything that way, and we’ll remain a hated country in the world.”

Obama has talked about a vision for this country. You have to have a vision, and now I want to tell Obama what his vision should be.

The vision should be of a nation that becomes liked all over the world. I won’t even say loved—it’ll take a while to build up to that. A nation that is not feared, not disliked, not hated, as too often we are, but a nation that is looked upon as peaceful, because we’ve withdrawn our military bases from all these countries.”

Whether progressives want to accept it or not, Obama at this point represents power, pure and simple, and as Frederick Douglass famously said  – power concedes nothing without a demand.  It doesn’t mean that we can’t still have hopes and aspirations for what the Obama administration might accomplish in the areas of health care, financial reform, etc, etc… but it does mean that if the left wants to see more radical change its going to have to fight for it, just as it against any other presidential administration in US history.

In the Wrong Hands

Shahan Mufti has an excellent new report about the selling of US military weapons and computer hardware in Pakistan’s black market.  Considering how much press has been dedicated to the porousness of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, it is about time that someone researched how the Taliban continues to get such sophisticated weapons.

As the article states “such sensitive technology and information is being traded in the open market is a bad sign for U.S. forces battling the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

“The Taliban have always had access to technology,” said Ahmed Rashid, author of “Taliban.”  The militant groups in Pakistan, he said, have been very well trained in the past while fighting in Kashmir and against the Soviets in Afghanistan. “This stuff has been available in Afghanistan, but they can use it in Pakistan now and probably do a lot more with it,” he said.

Hopefully reports such as this will also lead to a larger discussion about the ever growing arms market in the developing world.  Almost all of these weapons are made by the major powers – the US, Russia, China, France, Germany, etc. – and yet they end up in every corner of the developing world in Asia, Africa and Latin America.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.  Business is business for these companies and what the clients do with the weapons they have bought or whom they resell these weapons to is hardly their concern.

Looks like this will be yet another reason why the US is going to have a hard time bringing the growing insurgency in Afghanistan under control.

Update: The BBC ran a good breakdown of how widespread the Pentagon’s failure has been over the years in keeping track of weapons in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  (here)

Massacres follow failed U.S.-aided Uganda mission

Over the weekend, more light was shed on the level of involvement of US military personnel in a less than successful mission to shatter the Lord’s Resistance Army in a full length article by the NY Times.  The article, US Aided a Failed Plan to Rout Ugandan Rebels, points out that this was a mission personally signed off on by former President Bush in December and was the “first time the United States has helped plan such a specific military offensive with Uganda…[and that] no American forces ever got involved in the ground fighting in this isolated, rugged corner of Congo.”

What the article doesn’t explain is why this mission was suddenly given the green light.  Even though it is clear that the Lord’s Resistance Army’s (LRA) human rights violations have been particularly barbaric over the last 20 years in Uganda and more recently in Eastern Congo, nothing in the press describes why the decision was made to help with this particular mission in December 2008.  It seems doubtful that Bush wanted to bring to justice Joseph Kony, the mystical leader of the LRA, simply due to his refusal to sign off on a long awaited peace treaty or on account of the failure of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to physically bring his to trial.

What has become clear is that the mission largely failed and that it was poorly executed, which seems completely fitting with just about every military adventure that Bush sanctioned.  Supposedly, the joint mission resulted in about 14 members of the LRA getting killed, while over 900 Congolese civilians were massacred.  On the one hand, I don’t fault the US military, or even Bush, for the LRA’s heinous crimes against humanity, which were completely consistent with their actions over the years.  On the other hand, I do resent that this looks like yet another example of Bush doing a half ass job that result in hundreds of people getting killed due to a combination of incompetence, a lack of strategic planning, and a refusal to work with other international partners (in this case the UN peace keeping mission in the Congo, MUNOC) that were in the area.  Did Bush learn absolutely nothing from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?

I remember Bill Clinton once commenting that Bush’s ignorance about the world was not due to a lack of intellect, but rather a lack of intellectual curiosity.  Is this just another instance, where Bush wanted to do something right, but didn’t want to take the time and effort necessary to think it through?  Perhaps we will never know, but it does seem tragic that after being in office for 8 years why the Democratic Republic of Congo was being devastated that this best effort he could muster.

U.N. Unit Overwhelmed as Rwandan Hutus Lay Down Arms, Seek Repatriation

Today’s Washington Post has a report from the Congo that discusses the recent exodus of Hutu militiamen laying down there arms.  Considering that over 5.4 million people have died in the Democratic Republic of Congo due to the internal conflicts that have broken out after the leadership of the Rwandan interahamwe fled into the Eastern Congo following the 1994 genocide, this should come as a relief.  However, it is unclear whether this turn of events is a precursor to a lasting peace or simply a new twist in the war over Central Africa’s bounty of resources.

Just over two weeks ago, Tutsi General Laurant Nkunda, who had been one of the most powerful and feared rebel leaders in the Eastern Congo, surrendered to Rwandan officials in what many considered to have been a brokered backroom deal between the Rwandan and Congolese governments.  It is unclear whether or not Paul Kagame’s government will be willing to prosecute a Tutsi figure of Nkunda’s stature, but Nkunda’s once disciplined militia has quickly fallen to pieces.   So is this current turn of events further proof that things are shifting towards peace in the Congo.

There were several pieces of information that caught my attention within the Washington Post’s piece.

First of all, it seems that most of these changes have been prompted by “a potentially brutal joint Congolese-Rwandan military operation underway across these lush hills is aimed at forcibly disarming the estimated 6,500 Rwandan Hutu militiamen…[that] came as surprise to the UN peace keeping mission [in the Congo].”  Regardless of whether or not the UN’s MUNOC has been successful, it is interesting that they were kept out of the loop by both government to such an extent.  However, it gets even more interesting.

The Post article stated that “a small military team from the United States is in the region and is expected to assist with psychological operations aimed at [disarming the Hutu militia known as the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda] FDLR fighters. U.N. officials say the U.S. government could also help by arresting Rwandan militia leaders who, according to Rwandan and U.S. officials, are now living and working in the United States.”  So does this mean that members of the US military knew of this operation and also kept MUNOC uninformed as well?

Lastly, the article discusses that several of the people wanted for supporting the FDLR financially and politically live in the US, but have not been apprehended and could escape prosecution entirely.  Huh?

In a way, if this shift is real and the people of Eastern Congo finally have a chance to live in peace, then all of this is relatively unimportant.  However, given the US’s shameful history of undermining international institutions, such as the UN and ICC, over the last 20 years, I certainly hope that Obama and the Democrat led 111th Congress put an end to this once and for all.