Monday, October 09, 2006

October Anniversaries

Although this is being written some nine hours after the first reports of North Korea’s nuclear test at 10:00am Pyongyang time, details are still flowing in on the test such as the explosive force – estimated between 5 and 15 kilotons, comparable to Hiroshima which was 15 kilotons – and indications that the test may not have been completely successful. Moreover, the pundits are speculating about possible action by the UN Security Council which has scheduled an emergency meeting later today in New York. So I will defer direct comment on this subject other than to note that this test will undoubtedly produce calls for more spending on missile defense by the United States, which in turn will ratchet up Defense Department spending even more than projected last month by the Congressional Research Service in its September 22 report to Congress on “The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11.”

(If you missed it, that cost estimate was $509 billion. And that total does not include sums just made public yesterday. The Army says it needs $17.1 billion in 2007 to repair and replace damaged and destroyed equipment plus $13 billion for each of the next six years. The Marine Corp’s bill in 2007 for equipment repair and replacement is $13 billion. These latter by themselves add $108.1 billion to cost of fighting terror.)

Lest we forget, today just happens to fall between two important dates in George Bush’s global war on terror. Five years ago yesterday, October 8, 2001 in Afghanistan (October 7 in Washington), the first U.S. bombs and missiles hit al-Qaeda training bases and government buildings in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Ironically, the attack came four days after Bush pledge $320 million in additional humanitarian aid to Afghanistan on top of the $184 million pledged earlier in the year.

(What is often missed in the chronology of that period is that on the same day he pledged the added millions, Bush called up for active duty 3,283 Army Reservists and Army National Guard soldiers, almost doubling (to 7,765) earlier post-September 11, 2001 activations.)

Over time, the declared U.S. goals in that war included:

- capturing or killing Osama bin Laden and other senior al-Qaeda figures responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S.;

- removing “oppressive” Taliban policies toward women, including restrictions on education, voting, employment outside the home, movement, and dress;

- reform of government from autocracy to parliamentary/presidential democracy and the rule of law;

- integrating the economy into the broader economic activity of the region;

- developing peaceful relations with neighboring countries and fighting terrorism; and

- eliminating or at least reducing the acreage devoted to poppy production for opium.

In a December 2001 interview with Jim Lehrer on PBS, Secretary of State Colin Powell said: “I think one can make the case that the power of al-Qaeda as an organization functioning in Afghanistan has been fractured, if not destroyed….they're on the run, and… they're sure not who they were six weeks ago.”

Today, where does Afghanistan stand?

- Osama bin Laden and the Taliban’s Mullah Omar are still free, probably in Pakistan;

- Taliban fighters are challenging U.S. and NATO forces for control of Afghan provinces running the entire length of the border with Pakistan;

- Afghan President Hamid Karzai controls little more than the area of the capital, Kabul, and he is at odds with neighboring Pakistan to the south, the former Soviet Central Asian Republics to the north, and with former warlords-turned-governors in some Afghan provinces;

- “morality” police impose strict dress codes on women, insist on men wearing beards, break up any gatherings in which men and women freely mingle, require women to be escorted by male relatives whenever they leave their homes, and prevent women from driving cars,;

- women find it difficult to maintain outside employment in occupations where they would have contact with men other than relatives;

- educational opportunities for women and girls are disappearing, with Taliban or other “conservative” groups in rural areas threatening teachers and burning schoolhouses;

- poppy production reached an all-time high last year; and

- the economy remains so precarious that latest estimates project the government has only six to eight months to improve conditions before it loses the population’s support.

Tomorrow, October 10, marks the fourth anniversary of the completion of congressional action on the resolution authorizing President Bush to use the Armed Forces of the United States to protect the nation’s security against Iraq. (Bush signed the bill October 16, 2002.)

Again, over time, the Bush White House had justified its March 19, 2003 invasion of Iraq with a rolling litany of “crimes” by Saddam Hussein that were “offensive” to civilized nations and posed a “threat to U.S. security” – which, under the October 10 resolution, Bush claimed authority to:

- enforce UN Security Council resolutions demanding Saddam give up weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and end all programs on WMD;

- liberate Iraq from a brutal dictator and create a democracy in the heart of the Middle East;

- restore the Iraqi economy and, using a revitalized oil sector, give Iraqis the opportunity to live in peace with prosperity; and

- create an ally in the war on terror.

Four years later, the overall pattern in Iraq mirrors the pattern of failure in Afghanistan. The single difference is that Saddam and most of his lieutenants have been captured or killed. But Iraq is verging on becoming a failed state politically and economically. The four central provinces are in seemingly intractable chaos with armed militias operating beyond control of the government which, unlike Afghanistan, cannot claim to control even the capital city and its 7 million residents. The Iraqis have less trust in the “reformed” police force than they in Saddam’s day. Moreover, basic services normally provided by government are either non-existent or unpredictable, and production in the oil sector, which was to be the engine of the new economic boom, remains depressed.

Ironically, compared to the freedoms that women enjoyed during Saddam’s rule, in this new, more “religious” Iraq, the status of women is being progressively curtailed and shows no sign of stopping. And as to the last point, don’t be surprised should Iraq, once the coalition forces leave the country (and assuming it holds together as one country), distance itself from the U.S. and U.S. policies.

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