Only Israel Likes U.S. Foreign Policy

“Disregard for world opinion as well as the opinion of the U.S. citizenry defines the U.S. government. “

 

(Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)

Most of the world does not like U.S. foreign policy

VIJAY PRASHAD

This article was produced by Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Last week, the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to condemn the U.S. embargo against Cuba. 189 member-nations of the world said that Cuba does not deserve this embargo, which began in 1961 and has continued — unabated — to this day. Only two countries — the United States and Israel — voted against the motion. No country abstained.

Cuba’s minister for foreign affairs, Bruno Eduardo Rodríguez Parrilla, said that the U.S. embargo has cost the small socialist island state upwards of $933.678 billion, with the losses in the past year amounting to $4.3 billion (twice the amount of foreign direct investment into the island). This embargo, Rodríguez Parrilla said as he put the resolution forward, is an “act of genocide” against the island and its people.

The Group of 77 and the Non-Aligned Movement — both important groupings of the Global South — as well as regional groupings from Africa to Latin America backed the resolution. China’s representative to the UN, Ma Zhaoxu, made the case that the U.S. embargo on Cuba prevented the island from meeting its obligations to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Last year, the United States strengthened the embargo with an attack on the tourism sector (83 hotels were placed on the banned list). It is likely that the Trump administration will deepen its assault on Cuba.

Threats by the United States did not convert the vote of otherwise reliable U.S. allies. Each year since 1992 a resolution of this kind has come before the UN General Assembly. Each year the world has overwhelmingly voted against the U.S. embargo. This year was no different.

The world is worried about the United States

You don’t need a Pew poll to know which way the world thinks.

But it is useful. Last month, Pew Research Center released a poll that looked at the image of Donald Trump and the United States in 25 countries around the world. In most countries, neither Trump nor the United States come off well. Seventy percent of the populations in these countries have no confidence in Trump. The same number of people believe that the United States does not take the interests of other countries into consideration when moving policies forward. This is evident with the U.S. embargo on Cuba.

Neither the people of Canada nor Mexico — the closest neighbors of the United States — has a favorable view of either Trump or the United States. Only Israel, which voted with the United States over the embargo on Cuba, has a high opinion of Trump and of the United States.

Beyond the Pew poll, it is evident from the atmosphere in the United Nations that the countries of the world—even close U.S. allies—fear U.S. policy on a number of issues. Cuba is a canary in the coal mine. But even clearer is the U.S. policy of ramping up sanctions against Iran.

The world does not want to strangle Iran

At the debate over the U.S. embargo on Cuba, Iran’s representative to the UN — Gholamali Khoshroo — detailed how the U.S. has withdrawn from several international agreements and how the U.S. has failed to implement UN Security Council resolutions that it does not like. Behind Khoshroo’s comments lay the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal agreed upon by Iran and the UN Security Council members, the United Nations and the European Union. This deal was sanctified by a UN Security Council resolution. Trump’s unilateral move to scuttle the nuclear deal and the return of sanctions against Iran this week replicates — Khoshroo intimated — the long-standing and unpopular sanctions against Cuba. The United States, Khoshroo said, should “sincerely apologize” to the people of Cuba and Iran.

As the new U.S. sanctions regime went into place against Iran, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters in Ankara, “U.S. sanctions on Iran are wrong. For us, they are steps aimed at unbalancing the world. We don’t want to live in an imperialist world.” Erdogan is not alone here. Even countries with close ties to the United States — such as India and Japan — are against the sanctions. They may not use words like “imperialist,” but their actions clearly bristle at the heavy-handedness of the U.S. government when it comes to its use of instruments such as financial sanctions.

It was clear that China was never going to honor the new U.S. sanctions on Iran. Nor were Turkey and Iraq, and nor were the three large economies of Asia that rely on Iranian oil (India, Japan and South Korea). No wonder that the United States gave these countries waivers to the sanctions. These countries — including India and Japan — have been discussing the need for an alternative financial system so that they can do trade with countries that are sanctioned by the United States. They do not believe that the United States should be allowed to suffocate world trade through its control over banking systems and through the world’s reliance upon the dollar. Pressure to build alternatives no longer comes from the margins; it comes from Tokyo and New Delhi, from Frankfurt and Seoul.

One major casualty of the U.S. sanctions on Iran will be Afghanistan, already ripped apart by almost two decades of war. Afghanistan relies upon Iranian oil and — during this year — non-oil trade rose by 30 percent. India’s project to help build the port in Chabahar is linked to opening new land routes into Afghanistan. Just as the U.S. sanctions went into place against Iran, Ahmad Reshad Popal, director general of Afghanistan’s Customs Department, opened the Farah crossing to Iranian goods—a snub to U.S. policy. Even Afghanistan, virtually under U.S. occupation, cannot abide by the U.S. policy on Iran. Nor even can the NATO troops, whose trucks are fueled — in part — by Iranian oil.

The world does not want an Iraq War in South America

George W. Bush used the term “axis of evil” to lump together Iran, Iraq and North Korea. Of the three, the U.S. could only go to war against Iraq in 2003. Pressure for regime change in North Korea was held back by its nuclear weapons program, and pressure for regime change in Iran continues.

Donald Trump has now come up with a new term — “troika of tyranny,” which includes Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. In Miami, Trump’s close adviser John Bolton gave a speech where he inaugurated this term. He spoke of the right-wing turn in Latin America and the isolation — as far as he was concerned—of socialist governments. Bolton celebrated the election of men such as Jair Bolsonaro (Brazil) and Ivan Duque (Colombia), men who he said are committed to “free-market principles and open, transparent, and accountable governance.” No mention here of the grotesque views of Bolsonaro or the militarism of both men.

Bolton called the leaders of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela “strongmen.” There is no more “clownish, pitiful” figure — to borrow from Bolton — than Bolsonaro, no more authoritarian heads of government than Bolsonaro, Duque and Trump. Duque has taken Colombia into NATO, a sign that the Colombian military will now answer more to Washington than to the Colombian people.

In his speech, Bolton threatened the governments in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Trump’s administration, he said, “is taking direct action against all three regimes” — “direct action” a key phrase here.

Such actions against these countries are not new.

The United States invaded Cuba in 1898 and held it as a virtual colony till the Cuban Revolution of 1959. Pressure on the Cuban Revolution intensified by 1961, with the U.S. forcing an embargo on the island, attempting an invasion of the country and attempting to assassinate the leadership of the revolution.

United States Marines entered Nicaragua in 1909 and occupied the country till 1933. When the Marines left, the national liberation forces under Augusto César Sandino attempted to free the country. Sandino was assassinated, and a U.S.-backed dictatorship by the Somoza family ruled the country till 1979. That year, the Sandinistas—named after Sandino—overthrew the dictatorship. In response, the U.S. funded the Contras (short form for counter-revolutionary forces), who prosecuted a bloody war against the small country.

Ever since Hugo Chavez came to power in Venezuela, the U.S. has tried to overthrow the Bolivarian revolution that he inaugurated. A failed coup in 2002 was followed up by various forms of intimidation and sanctions. In 2015, U.S. President Barack Obama declared that Venezuela was an “extraordinary threat to U.S. security” and slapped sanctions on the country. It is this policy that Trump has since continued.

Itchy fingers in the Trump administration are eager to start a shooting war somewhere in South America—either Cuba, Nicaragua or Venezuela. The appetite for this is not there in the United Nations. Nor is it shared in Latin America. But that has never stopped the United States.

Disregard for world opinion as well as the opinion of the U.S. citizenry defines the U.S. government. Thirty-six million people around the world, half a million of them in New York City, protested on February 15, 2003, to prevent the U.S. war on Iraq. George W. Bush did not pay attention to them. Nor will Trump.

Last August, Trump asked his advisers why the U.S. can’t just invade Venezuela. The next day, on August 11, 2017, Trump said he was considering the “military option” for Venezuela. At a private dinner with four Latin American allies, Trump asked if they wanted the U.S. to invade Venezuela. Each of them said no. Not sure if their opinions count.

 

VIJAY PRASHAD

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He has written more than twenty books, including The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World(The New Press, 2007), The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South(Verso, 2013), The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution(University of California Press, 2016) and Red Star Over the Third World(LeftWord, 2017). He writes regularly for Frontline, the Hindu, Newsclick, AlterNet and BirGün.

 

 

The Double Standards of US Foreign Policy

“So the United States bombed Syria because Syria bombed Syria, to teach Syria not to bomb Syria?”

[Was Vietnam The Greatest Disaster in All of US Foreign Policy?  No…we are still in the greatest foreign policy disaster in All US history…Thank you Bush.]

The Double Standards of US Foreign Policy

It’s easy for many Americans to perceive the effects of war as short-lived, this is in part due to mainstream media’s lack of coverage; the aftermath and hypocrisy of war are rarely presented. While the news might show the public a glimpse of the initial bombings raining down on the “US enemy,” this is stealthily unveiled through the eyes of the military industrial complex, romanticizing the attacks while fascinating over the American firepower strength.

“I am guided by the beauty of our weapon,” Brian Williams said cheerfully on MSNBC as he watched the Pentagon-provided footage of the US missile strike in Syria, quoting Leonard Cohen’s song “First We Take Manhattan.”

A heroic narrative was quickly molded on the public and all logic was thrown out the window; the United States was portrayed as the good guys stopping the evil dictator Assad from bombing his own people, hence no one stopped to ask the most glaring question of them all, “So the United States bombed Syria because Syria bombed Syria, to teach Syria not to bomb Syria?”

To make matters worse, the US strikes were on Assad’s alleged chemical weapons sites, as if launching more than 100 missiles at chemical weapons storage facilities wouldn’t risk creating a greater hazard and possibly contaminate the surrounding areas. Nonetheless, it was later revealed that the labs bombed were actually an anti-venom medical facility, with zero relation to toxic weapons. Syrian’s who worked at the facility were in shock to learn they had been hit, “If there were chemical weapons, we would not be able to stand here. I’ve been here since 5:30 am in full health – I’m not coughing,” said one of the workers; according to them, they were only producing antidotes to scorpion and snake venom while running tests on chemical products used in making food, medicine and children’s toys. Somehow mainstream media failed to report on this, or the fact that inspectors from the OPCW had inspected the building numerous times and concluded that it did not produce any chemical weapons. Moreover, why would anyone have a chemical weapons facility in the middle of their capital? One would think you would try hiding it a bit better.

The truth is US foreign policy exhibits certain patterns that are not so easy to detect because of mainstream media’s distortion of reality.

There’s no doubt that this is extremely reminiscent to Bill Clinton’s missile attack on the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan. Due to Clinton claim that the plant produced VX nerve for Bin Laden, the US bombed it under the pretext of stopping the production of chemical weapons. Of course it was later revealed that this was completely false. The plant was merely producing most of the pharmaceuticals in veterinary drugs, and as one of the poorest countries in Africa that was currently under an embargo, it suffered a horrific humanitarian crisis as a result of Clinton’s attacks; the casualties were estimated at tens of thousands – many of them children who died from malaria, tuberculosis, and other treatable diseases. Sudanians no longer had access to lifesaving medicine, and just like in Syria, the plant had recently been inspected and cleared before the attack; the World Health Organization granted it a “good practicing license.”

“The point is you bomb anyone you want to” Noam Chomsky said. “It’s a western crime and therefore it was legitimate. Just suppose that Al-Qaeda blew up half the pharmaceutical supplies in the US or England or Israel or any country in which people lived, human beings, not ants, people, can you imagine the reaction, you’d probably have a nuclear war, but when we do it to a poor African country it didn’t happen, not discussed.”

Moreover, prior to Trumps attack on Assad, a US led coalition had actually been caught using chemical weapons in Syria; munitions loaded with white phosphorus were being used by the US led forces battling the Islamic State. This was indiscriminately used over civilian populated areas. Similarly, during the Iraq war in the Second Battle of Fallujah, the US used chemical weapons on civilians during their bombardment, leading to irreversible health problems among Fallujah’s population. Ironically, this was also done under the pretext of stopping an evil dictator – Saddam Hussein from possessing chemical weapons, an outright lie that was later proven false after no chemical weapons were found; instead the US used them on Iraqi civilians, poisoning generations with cancer and birth defects. Maybe if the public knew that America helped Saddam launch some of the worst chemical attacks in history back in 1988, they would’ve been less eager to invade.

Nonetheless, when it comes to the US attacks on Assad, all of this is contingent on the theory that he bombed his own people, a ridiculous proposition at a time when Assad has almost won the war against ISIS. Why would he want to use chemical weapons on civilians and drag the West back into conflict when he almost regained full control of Syria? The mainstream media refused to ask any of these blatant questions.

Yet behind the scenes, a professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) had already questioned Assad’s alleged chemical attacks in Khan Shaykhun a year earlier.

“I have reviewed the [White House’s] document carefully, and I believe it can be shown without doubt, that the document does not provide any evidence whatsoever that the US government has concrete knowledge that the government of Syria was the source of the chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun.” Professor Ted Postol said. “The video evidence that is being used in the UN report actually shows evidence of tampering with the site,” he said in an interview with RT.

If the media had done its job the public would have known that the US has a history of using chemical weapons on civilians and that no evidence actually exists that proves Assad bombed his own people, yet this would allow for the double standard of US foreign policy to be clear as day, making the job of the military industrial complex much more difficult.

Marcelo Guadiana writes for the Borgen Project and RouserNews, focusing on war and poverty. He is a senior at UMass Boston a B.A. in economics.

Sea of Azov

Sea of Azov

The sea [ Sea of Azov] is considered an internal sea of Russia and Ukraine, and its use is governed by an agreement between these countries ratified in 2003…The Sea of Azov is the shallowest sea in the world with an average depth of 7 metres (23 ft) and maximum depth of 14 metres (46 ft)–wiki 

Arleigh Burke-class destroyer draft: 30.5 ft deep, 505-509 ft long, 66 ft wide

Kerch Bridge that has only 33 meters clearance.

US preparing to sail warship into Black Sea: CNN

Air Force Flies ‘Extraordinary’ Mission Over Ukraine In Rebuke Of Russian ‘Escalation’

“The flight comes on the heels of an unusual U.S. Navy freedom-of-navigation operation in the vicinity of Peter the Great Bay [in the Sea of Japan–ed]. The guided-missile destroyer USS McCambell conducted the operation”

Top general: No discussion of military response to Kerch Strait incident

 

The top military officer in the United States said Thursday there has been no discussion of a military response to Russia’s actions against Ukraine near the Sea of Azov.

Joint Chief of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford was responding to a question at a Washington Post event about providing Ukraine with naval weaponry as some have called for in the wake of last month’s incident in the Kerch Strait.

“There is not a discussion ongoing right now about a military dimension in response to the Sea of Azov,” Dunford told moderator David Ignatius. “Obviously, my job in uniform is to make sure the president has options available should he decide to respond with military force. But there has been no military response nor has there been a discussion about a military response to the Sea of Azov in public.”

Last month, Russia fired on Ukrainian ships as they tried to transit the Kerch Strait, which links the Sea of Azov to the Black Sea. Several crew members were injured, and Russia seized three ships. Moscow has been detaining the sailors from the ships since.

Earlier Thursday, the Pentagon announced that the U.S. military and several allies took part in an “extraordinary” flight over Ukraine as part of the Open Skies Treaty that was meant to send a message to Russia.

During the Washington Post event, Dunford said the Kerch Strait incident is part of a pattern of behavior from Russia meant to test the international community.

“And in this case, clear violations of sovereignty have taken place, and that doesn’t by any means indicate that there should be a military response,” he continued. “But I think the international community certainly has got to respond diplomatically or economically or in the security space, or Russia will continue to do what they’ve been doing over the last couple of years.”

Dunford added that he has not “specifically” spoken about the incident with his Russian counterpart, with whom he is in regular contact to prevent the U.S. and Russian militaries from coming into direct conflict.

The Kerch Strait incident is one of several recent developments that have ratcheted up U.S.-Russia tension in recent weeks.

This week, the United States also gave Russia 60 days to come back into compliance with a landmark arms control treaty or else the United States would stop adhering to it. Russia denies it has violated what’s known as the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

Dunford said Russia’s continued violations of the INF Treaty could affect the extension of a separate treaty known as New START. That treaty, which caps the number of deployed nuclear warheads for each country, expires in 2021 with the option for a five-year extension.

“It’d be best if Russia would comply with the INF, which would set the conditions for a broader conversation about other arms control agreements, to include the extension of START,” he said. “I will not obviously make this decision– I’ll make recommendations. But it’s very difficult for me to envision progress in extending START II, as an example, if the foundation of that is noncompliance with the INF Treaty.”

 

M 4.7 EARTHQUAKE – RUSSIA-UKRAINE BORDER REGION [SEA OF AZOV] – 2018-10-15

 

The consequences of the explosion in college in Kerch–OCT 17, 2018

NEGOTIATING WITH A FRACTURED TALIBAN

“The Pakistani Taliban are the key to the entire psyop.  Understanding who they actually are and what master they really serve is vital to understanding what is going down in the homeland of the “Islamic bomb.”

The Tehreek Taliban emerged from S. Punjab, spreading from there to S. Waziristan.  Contrary to popular deceptions, they are an “anti-Taliban” force.  Like everything else in Pakistan, they were meant to play a “double-game,” pretending to be part of the real Pashtun Afghan Taliban, while waging war in secret upon them.  Musharraf and his generals created this “Taliban” force that was not really Taliban, by utilizing “Islamists,” who were not really Muslims.  They were created to serve as a safe “loyal opposition,” who pretended to wage a fake war of terror for American audiences, without risking a fight with real rogue terror groups.  The plan was to use military men to lead the criminal gangs of real revolutionaries and ordinary rabble,

The Tehreek Taliban are not really “Taliban,” they are more accurately described as a      counter-Taliban force, an “anti-Taliban.”  Like all the real Taliban, they follow a counterfeit Saudi Wahabi version of Islam.  Unlike the real Afghan Taliban, their warped Wahabi Islam has been blended with another, even more radical “Islam” from India, Deobandi Islam.  The result is the most sectarian bloodthirsty form of Sunni Islam yet devised, to them, anyone who doesn’t follow this perverse Wahabi-Deobandi fusion, just like them, is “Kfir,” the unbelievers.  We are discussing the religious faith of people like Baitullah and Hakeemullah Mehsud, the same people who are now waging war in Pakistan.”– Waging War Upon Ourselves

Anti-Taliban Faction 2nd In Command, Who Called Afghan Peace Talks “A Lie”, Assassinated By Drone Strike Today

NEGOTIATING WITH A FRACTURED TALIBAN

The evolution of the Taliban over the last two decades underscores the group’s continued influence and its enhanced confidence in pursuing military action in Afghanistan. Since the Taliban’s spring offensive in 2015, the security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated significantly. According to a report by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), 5,166 civilian casualties were recorded in the first half of 2016. UNAMA attributed nearly half of these causalities to anti-government forces such as the Taliban. Moreover, this security scenario has presented greater challenges to consensus-building within the Afghan government, particularly at a time when multiple actors—such as Russiaand Chinahave volunteered to engage with the Taliban. Growing fragmentation within the Taliban itself also negatively impacts peace talks since the group’s varying attitudes towards dialogue and cooperation make it difficult to assess which faction allows for the most productive engagement. This combination of internal and external factors make it increasingly unlikely that meaningful negotiations will take place soon.

The dramatic rise of the Taliban at the end of 1994 was, in some ways, both a nightmare and gift to the people of Afghanistan. On the one hand, the Taliban provided ordinary Afghans with hopes of more responsive and inclusive governance. But on the other hand, by the time the Taliban centralized power in 1996, the regime’s ruthless, dictatorial system came to light. The Taliban resorted to one-man rule through Mullah Muhammad Omar, which ultimately exposed serious weaknesses within the movement. As the Afghan economy collapsed and public sympathy for the Taliban diminished, signs of dissent within the leadership grew.

Sixteen years of war with the United States and the death of Mullah Omar have drastically changed the group’s power structure, which has seen two leadership changes since 2015. Various Taliban factions raised objections to the way both leaders, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour and Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada, were appointed. After Mullah Mansour succeeded Mullah Omar as the head of Taliban, it was reportedthat the Taliban Shura Council was not consulted before his appointment. Syed Tayyab Agha, the leader of the Afghan Taliban’s political office in Qatar, consequently resigned in protest.

As Mansour fought his way through such dissent and opposition, Mullah Muhammad Rasool launched his own faction, calling it the “Higher Council of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” Two prominent figures, Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi and Mullah Dadullah, rose high in the ranks of this group. Rasool’s faction, however, suffered a setback when Dadullah, who accused Mansour of conspiring with Pakistani intelligence to hide Mullah Omar’s death, was reportedly killed in August by Mansour’s loyalists. Following Mansour’s own death by a U.S. airstrike, Akhundzada was ridiculed by some Taliban faithful for his lack of battlefield experience. The head of the Military Council, Mullah Ibrahim Sadar, reportedly refused to send cash from opium-rich Helmand to the Quetta Shura following Akhundzada’s appointment.

These fragmentations are impacting long-established dynamics of authority within the Taliban. Despite discontent within their ranks, however, the Taliban has succeeded in prolonging the conflict with international and Afghan security forces. While some Taliban factions wish to engage in peace talks with the Afghan government, their voices are often overruledby hardliners who desire outright victory. The political crisis in the Afghan government combined with the territorial advances made by the Taliban have further encouraged the Taliban to follow its familiar military line. Additionally, the presence of the Islamic State (IS) inside Afghanistan has made the situation even more complicated and dangerous. The leadership crisis within the  Afghan Taliban presented an opportunity to the IS branch in Afghanistan, and shortly after they established their presence, several disenchanted members of the Taliban pledged allegiance to IS.

Even though fragmentation and internal disaffection make peace talks unlikely, engaging with the Taliban remains an important aspect of achieving peace in Afghanistan. In June, President Ashraf Ghani led a regional conference where he appealed to participating countries, including Pakistan, India, Iran, Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia, to cooperate with the Kabul government in combating terrorism. He also issued an ultimatum to the Taliban, warning them to accept peace or “face consequences.” The Taliban dismissed the Kabul process as “futile.”

Though the Taliban have shown interest in the flexible approach adopted by the “Moscow Tripartite” (China, Pakistan, and Russia), which would allow for the removal of certain Taliban members from United Nations sanctions list as part of peace negotiations, they have refused to support the Russian-sponsored negotiations on the grounds that the talks are motivated solely by the “political agenda” of the organizers. Many fear that the growing relationship between Russia and the militants will grant the Taliban legitimacy as a potent military and political force. The involvement of multiple actors in negotiating with the Taliban has caused further chaos and confusion within the group. This has arguably prevented the various Taliban fragments from rallying around their mutual interests and working towards a peaceful solution.

Afghanistan faces a far deeper crisis today than in the past. Thus, dealing with a fractured Taliban becomes even more critical. Regional powers continue to engage with the Taliban to monopolize their influence in Afghanistan and Pakistan still has not done enough to curb the Taliban and Haqqani network inside its own territory. Likewise, Russia sees the Taliban as a bulwark against IS and as an effective means of limiting U.S. power in the region. Meanwhile, the United States’ attention is divided between IS and the Taliban. These external pressures are further compacted to growing domestic opposition to the Ghani government. Once again, the complex issue of reconciliation and reintegration of the Taliban, arguably a key aspect of winning the counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan, has been relegated to the back burner.

***

Editor’s Note: Click here to read this article in Urdu

Image 1Wikimedia Commons via Aslan Media, Flickr

Image 2U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Benjamin Addison via Flickr

Posted in AfghanistanMilitancyTerrorism


Neha Dwivedi

Neha Dwivedi

Neha Dwivedi is an SAV Visiting Fellow, July 2018. She holds a Master’s degree in Geopolitics and International Relations from Manipal Academy of Higher Education in Manipal, India. Her research interests include Afghanistan, emerging geopolitics of the Middle East, refugee crises, Islam and identity politics, and regional aspects of human rights. Previously, she was associated with the Centre for Studies in International Relations and Development (CSIRD) in Kolkata as a research intern. She has also contributed articles for The Diplomat magazine. Formerly, she worked as a journalist at the online news platform, Saddahaq.

TALKING TO THE TALIBAN–AT WHAT COST?

TALKING TO THE TALIBAN: AT WHAT COST?

The peace talks with the Afghan Taliban have apparently reached a high note with U.S. President Donald Trump declaring that the United States is in the midst of very strong negotiations in Afghanistan. Amid reportssuggesting this is a crucial opportunity for the United States to settle the seventeen-year war, questions have been raised regarding the feasibility of the Afghan presidential elections that are scheduled to be held in April 2019. Even as efforts are being made to engage the Taliban in talks, the group continues to launch deadly attacks on civilians and Afghan security forces. They also attended the recent Moscow-held peace talksboycotted by Washington, but attended by members of the Afghan Peace Council–where they repeatedly assailed the Afghan government for its failures. Taliban leaders are playing by their rules, demonstrating that they will continue to undermine the government of Afghanistan, engage in peace negotiations on their own terms alone, and spell trouble for the future of Afghan democracy.

Flouting the Afghan Government

During the recently held multilateral peace talks in Russia, which saw the representation of several regional players, including India, China, Pakistan, and Iran, the Afghan Taliban openly disregarded President Ghani and his government. Touted by analysts as a triumph for Russian diplomacy, the Moscow conference signals the failure of the peace commission that was representing the Afghan government to counter the narrative of the Afghan Taliban. At the recent Moscow talks, the Afghan Taliban, in its statement on the conditions for settlement, raised numbers released by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), according to which American bombardments in Afghanistan have exceptionally increased and are killing more civilians. While these numbers might be true, it is undeniable that raising them at an international platform allows the Afghan Taliban—itself responsible for 42 percent of total deaths in Afghanistan—to promote itself as a potential legitimate government for Afghanistan.

The rising confidence of the Taliban is also reflected in its referral to the organization as “Islamic Emirate” at least 61 times at the Moscow talks, where their remarks were as assertive and contentious as ever. Their insistence on the reestablishment of an “Islamic Government” was also seen in the official statement after the three-day meeting between the Taliban and high level delegation of U.S. officials in Qatar. These developments signal the existence of an emboldened Taliban and an undermined Afghan government that has failed to convince the Afghan Taliban to accept its legitimacy.

Kabul in Disarray

Touted by analysts as a triumph for Russian diplomacy, the Moscow conference signals the failure of the peace commission that was representing the Afghan government to counter the narrative of the Afghan Taliban.

A sense of urgency is palpable in the developments surrounding the Afghan peace process. On a Thanksgiving teleconference call with U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan, President Trump, while conveying the United States’ strength in ongoing peace negotiations, also hinted at his skepticism about the success of such efforts. Uncertainty regarding the peace talks seems natural considering the recent developments portraying the weakness of the Afghan government. Per the New York Times, at least 242 Afghan security force members were killed from November 9th  to the 15th. Contradicting to the claims of the U.S. military, which says that the Taliban has 28,000 to 40,000 fighters in its rank and file, the Long War Journal reported that the Taliban likely has more than 70,000 fighters. Additionally, the government of Afghanistan has been steadily losing territory. Compared to November 2015, when the central government had control over 72 percent of the country, it now governs only 55.5 percent of the country’s districts.

The Afghan government is also beset with disagreements and internal rivalries. Significant questions were raised concerning the state of the Afghan National Unity Government (NUG) after the resignation of National Security Adviser Hanif Atmar in September. The same month also witnessed other top officials such as Interior Minister Wais Barmak, Defense Minister Tariq Shah Bahrami, and Chief of the National Directorate of Security (NDS) Masoom Stanekzai offering their resignations, all of which were rejected by Ghani. Serious differences have been observed between the Afghan political circle and the security agencies throughout 2018. Afghan politicians have criticized security agencies for engaging in political issues and levied accusations that members of the security apparatus collaborate with the Afghan Taliban. The fractious political climate amidst preparations for peace talks and presidential elections will only favor the Afghan Taliban, which has mocked the Afghan government before for its lack of unity.

 Our Conditions, Our Rules

With the United States directly engaging with the Taliban, much is being said and written about the conditions defined by the latter to reach a settlement. However, the Taliban’s refusal to talk to the Afghan government while constantly mocking it as stooges of the U.S. government and attacking its legitimacy demonstrates that the road to peace remains far off. It continues to remain adamant about not engaging with the Afghan government, even as President Ghani assembles a team of Afghan government officials to hold talks with the Taliban. As visible from the Moscow talks, its demand for the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan also continues to prevail.

As evidenced by the Taliban’s statement in Moscow, the Taliban is cognizant of the U.S. strategy of pressurizing and bringing the group to the talking table. There is a sense of hastiness in the actions of the United States, as evidenced by its abrupt decision to directly engage with the Taliban and even to discuss the presence of U.S. bases in Afghanistan. However, the Taliban’s actions haven’t suggested that it is seeking to compromise on its preconditions. On the contrary, its tone has become stronger with every negotiation. At present, it does not appear willing to depart from its preconditions.

If American policymakers were to disagree with the Taliban on their preconditions and conditions, they would likely put an end to the peace efforts that have been gaining momentum since the Eid ceasefire. The United States would once again have to opt for the same old strategy of hoping to pressurize the Taliban through tactical military victories, a policy which has been failing until now.

As the debate in Afghanistan now begins to shift towards whether the government should delay elections in favor of peace talks, there are concerns that such concessions could weaken the democratic set up of the country. Even so, the move has received support from within the Afghan government and the academic community on the grounds that the likeliness of deal would decrease as long as the Taliban can’t be sure that the incoming Afghan president will be on board with the tenets of a newly-inked peace deal. While the argument does possess logic, it is certain that the Taliban will leverage its position in negotiations if elections are delayed. The Taliban believes that it is their religious duty to oppose Afghan elections, as they are “un-Islamic” in nature. Postponing of elections would support their propaganda about the illegitimacy of the Afghan government. Thus, any delay in elections in favor of peace talks would bolster the confidence of the group. Importantly, there is no guarantee that the Afghan Taliban would stick to their promises even after the decision to delay the elections.

It is conceivable that the United States, which appears to be both hopeful and desperate for a peace deal, might give into the pressure of the deteriorating security situation and agree to some of the Taliban’s preconditions and conditions, including the removal of its leaders from UN sanctions list, a formal recognition of its political office, and the elimination of U.S. presence in Afghanistan. But if American policymakers were to disagree with the Taliban on their preconditions and conditions, they would likely put an end to the peace efforts that have been gaining momentum since the Eid ceasefire. The United States would once again have to opt for the same old strategy of hoping to pressurize the Taliban through tactical military victories, a policy which has been failing until now.

***

Image 1: U.S. Department of State via Flickr 

Image 2: Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Poland To Close “Suwalki Gap” Between Kalingrad, Russia, Using New “Fort Trump”

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Cunning plan: Poland wants to set up a US military base right next to Russia’s Kaliningrad

Cunning plan: Poland wants to set up a US military base right next to Russia’s Kaliningrad

Poland and the US are reportedly in talks over setting up an American military base on the border with Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea. How serious, and most importantly, how realistic are Warsaw’s plans?

Polish diplomatic sources told Russian paper Izvestiya that a US military base could soon appear very close to Kaliningrad. Even though the final decision is yet to be made, the most likely site for the base has reportedly been picked.

It’s the town of Orzysz, mere 140km (87 miles) away from Kaliningrad. Among its advantages as a location for a permanent military base is Orzysz’s proximity to the Russian border. Besides that, it has all the necessary infrastructure, including a training facility.

READ MORE: ‘Obvious threat’: Russian officials warn Poland not to proceed with permanent US military base

Another argument in favor, which advocates of the idea put forward, is that Orzysz is in the part of Poland that’s key in terms of conducting both defensive and offensive military operations. Polish experts believe that troops deployed here in advance would boost the defensive capacity not only of the northeastern part of the country, but also of the Baltic states. The latter point is questionable, however, as the authors of this idea don’t go into any detail about how it might be implemented when it comes to Lithuania and Latvia, let alone Estonia.

Polish experts are also cited as saying that the permanent presence of US troops in the area would ensure a more effective defense for Poland in general. However, it’s impossible to deploy any substantial military force in terms of manpower and combat strength to a single military base. In a best-scenario, we’re talking about a brigade or a division at most.

However, a hypothetical war with Russia could turn into a protracted world war that would definitely involve coalitions, with their forces and equipment.

ALSO ON RT.COM‘Our build-up is defensive, Russia’s aggressive,’ says NATO after Putin’s remark – but is that fair?To sketch it out, this hypothetical large-scale conflict would involve all-out use of all types of weapons, maximum-intensity hostilities, and – I should emphasize this specifically – constant danger of nuclear weapons, followed by unrestricted use of all means of mass destruction, starting with all the strategic nuclear weapons.

In a war this huge it would be impossible to achieve military objectives of any significance with the force of just one brigade or division.

Looking at such a small number of troops and the location of their base as some kind of staging area for launching an offensive against Russia is also unreasonable. For that, you’d need a fundamentally different kind of military force, and I don’t mean at a tactical level, but at the operational and strategic level. First of all, there has to be an airfield network to allow tactical air forces in.

If Poland wants to get ready for aggression that badly, it needs to start with preparing its territory for battle; the country needs to brace itself for war in general.

In that case, Poland would need to raise adequate troops in terms of numbers and combat strength and think of a plan to efficiently deploy troops to strategic sectors. This would require much more than building a single military base.

In other words, Warsaw would need to get the entire country and its armed forces ready for a full-scale war instead of resorting to half-measures. However, it seems that Poland has not yet started this process and has not even discussed it in fact.

ALSO ON RT.COMState Department claims that Russia is stronger than EU is blatant disinformationAs for deploying one brigade or division in eastern Poland, this seems to be a purely cosmetic gesture because it will not boost the country’s defenses significantly. What it will do, however, is further deteriorate relations with Moscow. There are no other foreseeable military or political gains that the current Polish plan can bring about.

But Poland’s fear of a hypothetical armed invasion of its territory by Russia can be explained otherwise. History has shown that on more than one occasion the Western allies of Poland were unprepared to provide it with any palpable help and support other than friendly advice. In September 1939, for example, neither Great Britain nor France did anything at all to help Warsaw reflect the act of aggression which Nazi Germany perpetrated against Poland.

That’s why a deployment of foreign troops on Polish territory could help reach a long-sought-after result as the government of Poland sees it. If a military conflict erupts then NATO forces, primarily US troops, would be involved in fighting, one way or another.

ALSO ON RT.COMCannon fodder for nuclear war: What the US division deployed to Poland will becomeSuch ideas have been circulating among politicians and the military in Warsaw for quite a while. In September, this year the Polish government came up with the idea of building a US military base in Poland, nicknamed “Fort Trump,” which it has been called unofficially ever since.

Today, the viability of a permanent military presence of the US in Poland is under discussion. There are currently about 3,000 US troops deployed in Poland on a rotation basis. Decision makers in Warsaw seem to think that bringing in American troops on a permanent basis will help improve security in the region.

Yet, another increase in NATO’s presence on Russia’s doorstep may in fact undermine stability as Moscow sees the growing military activities of the US-led alliance in eastern Europe as threat to national security.

Russia has repeatedly said that it’s not going to attack anyone but it has to protect its borders against any potential attack. It warned that if a US military base is built on the Polish territory, it will have to take countermeasures. The Kremlin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov was earlier quoted as saying that Russia would not turn a blind eye to “the breach of parity.”

By Mikhail Khodarenok, military commentator for Gazeta.ru

Bio:

Mikhail Khodarenok is a retired colonel. He graduated from the Minsk Higher Engineering School of Anti-Aircraft Missile Defense (1976) and the Command Academy of the Air Defense Forces (1986).
Commanding officer of the S-75 AA missile battalion (1980-1983).
Deputy commanding officer of a SAM regiment (1986-1988).
Senior officer at the High Command of the Air Defense Forces (1988–1992).
Officer at the main operational directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces(1992–2000).
Graduated from the Military Academy of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (1998).
Worked as an analyst at Nezavisimaya Gazeta (2000-2003) and editor-in-chief of Voyenno-Promyshlennyi Kuriyer (2010-2015).

Think your frien

Afghanistan Peace Talks Stick on Bases–US Wants 2, Taliban None

 


U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, second left, arrives at NATO's Resolute Support mission in Kabul, Afghanistan on Sept. 7, 2018.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, second left, arrives at NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Kabul, Afghanistan on Sept. 7, 2018.

Negotiations between the United States and the Afghan Taliban for a political settlement to end the protracted war in Afghanistan are stuck over the issue of maintenance of U.S. military bases in the country, according to Waheed Muzhda, a former Taliban official in Kabul who remains in regular contact with Taliban leaders.

The “U.S. wants the Taliban to accept at least two military bases, Bagram and Shorabak (home base of Mullah Dadullah Faction, site or recent drone killing of Rasoul Taliban leader,Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi). The Taliban are not willing to accept it,” Muzhda said, adding the insurgent leaders are unwilling to accept anything more than a nominal number of troops required to secure the U.S. diplomatic mission.

Pentagon spokesman Army Lt. Col. Kone Faulkner declined to comment on Muzhda’s claim, saying, “Questions concerning any diplomatic negotiations need be addressed directly with the U.S. State Department.”

US combat forces unwelcome

However, high-level sources in Washington who deal with Afghanistan confirmed to VOA on condition of anonymity that maintenance of certain military bases in Afghanistan was a top priority for the U.S. government.

Christopher Kolenda, a retired colonel and former Pentagon adviser who held informal talks this year with the Taliban in Doha, told VOA in an earlier interview last month the insurgent group considers U.S. combat troops an occupying force and wants them out.

“Their No. 1 reason for war, their casus belli, if you will, is the occupation. So, they’re not going to just simply say, ‘We’re OK with U.S. combat troops running around Afghanistan.’ Because that’s what they’re fighting to prevent, from their point of view,” he said.

He said the Taliban did show some willingness to allow foreign troops to train Afghan forces, but only if a new government formed after a negotiated settlement, that would likely include the Taliban, agreed to their presence. Speaking to VOA again Friday, he said he was not aware of any U.S. demand at this time to maintain the two bases after a peace agreement.

Following Kolenda’s initial contacts with the Taliban, in which retired U.S. diplomat Robin Raphel also accompanied him, Alice Wells, principal deputy assistant secretary for South and Central Asia at the U.S. State Department, met Taliban officials in Doha, Qatar, in July.

Alice Wells, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state, meets with Pakistani army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa to discuss how to ensure peace in Afghanistan following a recent cease-fire between the Taliban and Kabul, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, July 3, 2018.
Alice Wells, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state, meets with Pakistani army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa to discuss how to ensure peace in Afghanistan following a recent cease-fire between the Taliban and Kabul, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, July 3, 2018.

The meeting was widely believed to be a response to Taliban demands to negotiate directly with the United States, rather than the Afghan government in Kabul, which they consider a “puppet regime.”

President Ashraf Ghani has offered the Taliban unconditional negotiations anytime, anywhere.

Other Taliban priorities

Prisoner release is another high priority for the Taliban, according to Muzhda.

Reuters reports Taliban officials are preparing a three-to-four member delegation for another round of talks with the United States and want the group’s prisoners freed to “meet again for another great cause.”

The third major demand, an implementation of Shariah, or Islamic law, is more for the optics.

The Taliban accept 80 percent or more of the current Afghan constitution, he said, but think the current constitution was formed under what they term the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan.

Khalilullah Safi, an Afghan peace activist who has previously worked with Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, an international group that has organized several meetings on Afghanistan that included the Taliban, agrees the group largely accepts the Afghan constitution. ​

FILE - Afghan shopkeepers try to recover items from burning shops after a Taliban attack in Ghazni city, Afghanistan, Aug. 14, 2018.
FILE – Afghan shopkeepers try to recover items from burning shops after a Taliban attack in Ghazni city, Afghanistan, Aug. 14, 2018. 

Cease-fire

Hopes for peace talks received a boost after an unprecedented cease-fire in June this year, on Eid-al-Fitr, a Muslim holy festival marking the end of Ramadan, led to several days of almost calm in the otherwise volatile country.

But violence picked up pace after the cease-fire was over, with the Taliban launching major offensives and putting Afghan security forces under severe pressure.

Safi said one reason for the increase in violence was that the Taliban wanted to prove that a fatwa by up to 2,000 Muslim scholars outlawing suicide bombings and denouncing Taliban violence had no impact on the morale of their cadre.

Others believe the Taliban want to strengthen their position before possible negotiations with the U.S.

US air bases

The Bagram air base, about 60 kilometers north of Kabul, is the largest military base housing U.S. forces in Afghanistan. It includes runways capable of handling aircraft of any size.

When high-level U.S. officials such as the secretaries of state or defense visit Afghanistan, their planes land in Bagram, before taking helicopters from there to Kabul for meetings. The latest such trip was when Secretary of Defense James Mattis arrived in Bagram earlier this month.

Shorabak, a military base in Helmand province in the south of the country, houses U.S. and Afghan forces. The province produces most of the world’s opium. The drug trade helps fuel the insurgency. It is also one of the most volatile provinces with the highest number of casualties among foreign troops.