Friday, July 31, 2009

ROME — Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa insisted that Italy would not withdraw from Afghanistan after a key ally of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi called for a troop pullout, in an interview published Monday.

Umberto Bossi, the reform minister and head of the anti-immigrant Northern League, said at the weekend that he "would bring them all home" after three Italian soldiers were slightly wounded in Afghanistan.

Asked if there was a date for the return of Italian soldiers, La Russa told Corriere della Sera: "I don't know. Not right now. We will come home when the mission is finished: when the Afghan government will be able to control its territory, when the army and police will be able to face off with the rebels."

La Russa downplayed the comments made by Bossi, whose Northern League gives the conservative Berlusconi a clear majority in parliament.

"These last few years, Bossi has become softer, a good family man. And he said this phrase at the end of a party ... in a family atmosphere. But there is no controversy within the government," La Russa said.

But a second minister from the Northern League, Roberto Calderoli, said Italians want the troops to come home. Italy has around 3,250 soldiers in Afghanistan taking part in a NATO-led mission in the war-scarred country.

"The majority of Italians think like Bossi," he told la Repubblica newspaper.

Citing "a problem of financial resources," Calderoli said Italy should review its missions abroad, including in Lebanon and the Balkans.

"If we don't have them (financial resources), let's return home. Lebanon and the Balkans, we drop them, and regarding Afghanistan, let's think about it," he said.

La Russa said he did not expect the Northern League to vote against foreign military missions in the future but admitted that it would be "a problem" if it did so.

"We are members of NATO, which entails rights and duties. Returning (troops to Italy) would have economic and political consequences," he said.
July Worst US Month in Afghanistan, Best in Iraq
By Al Pessin
The Pentagon
31 July 2009

A US Navy member awaits a team to carry transfer case containing remains of a US Navy Airman Darren Ethan Tate in Del., 09 Jul 2009
The month of July had the highest death toll for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since the war began nearly eight years ago, and the lowest death toll in Iraq since that war began six years ago. In Afghanistan, at least 43 Americans were killed, among 75 coalition troops. In Iraq, the U.S. death toll was seven.

The statistics reflect the changing role of U.S. troops in both war zones.

In Iraq, American combat forces left the populated areas at the end of June. Only U.S. trainers operate with Iraqi units in the cities, while combat troops work in the countryside or wait on their bases in case Iraqi units need help.

In Afghanistan, by contrast, thousands of U.S. troops have been pouring in, part of the near doubling of the American military presence ordered by President Barack Obama. About 4,000 of those troops, along with British and Afghan forces, launched an offensive in southern Helmand Province, a Taliban stronghold, and took heavy casualties.

Former State Department official Wayne White, now of the Middle East Institute, says high U.S. casualty rates in Afghanistan will likely continue for some time.

"As we ramp up our presence and we go after these bad guys who are very tough skilled fighters, seemingly much more capable of sustained combat than even the Iraqi insurgents, we will see higher U.S. casualties," he said.

People gather around the wreckage of car destroyed in car bomb explosion near a Shiite mosque in Baghdad, Iraq, 31 Jul 2009
White is also concerned that U.S. casualties in Iraq could rise again, if security deteriorates and the Iraqi military asks for help in some areas. But he says Iraqi leaders will do everything possible to prevent that from happening. The United States is scheduled to sharply reduce its troop presence in Iraq next year, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates said this week that process could start earlier than planned if the security situation remains stable.

In Afghanistan, an opposite move is being contemplated. Civilian advisers to the new U.S. and NATO commander, General Stanley McChrystal said this week they have told him he needs more U.S. troops to put down the Taliban and other insurgent groups. The general's decision on what to ask Secretary Gates and President Obama to provide is expected in about two weeks.

Wayne White says General McChrystal's assessment and possible troop request may not be what the top officials want to hear.

"He's got a big task ahead of him. And I believe that probably the administration will be even more surprised than it has been over how badly the situation has deteriorated in Afghanistan, and may have to send him additional troops, with great reluctance on their part," said White.

That reluctance stems from a concern Secretary Gates has expressed about possibly alienating some Afghans by having a very large U.S. troop presence, and from a desire not to have more months like July with high American casualty figures.
Israel and Afghanistan are similar in one respect: neither will ever really be a threat because the population is so individualized, and so prone to dissent, that they have never in history stood together in significant masse on any real issue. There is always safe haven for alternative viewpoints. Even the Taliban has been massively contested before, during, and after its rule and inception.

Give them a chance as they say, and they'll get it right.
Keep tax dollars out of war zones

First published in print: Thursday, July 30, 2009

Most Americans are unaware of how much of their tax dollars have gone to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last eight years.

Congress recently appropriated another $84.8 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the remainder of the 2009 fiscal year ending Sept. 30, bringing total war-related spending for Iraq to $687 billion and for Afghanistan to $228 billion, with a total war cost of $915.1 billion.

To put these figures into perspective, the National Priorities Project, a nonprofit research organization, calculated spending per congressional district, and looked at what the money would have bought in the form of domestic services. Here's how the Capital Region looks:

Congressional District 20: The district's share comes to $2.8 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan war spending since 2001. For the same amount of money, the following could have been provided (nationally): 965,992 children with health care for one year or 5.2 million homes with renewable electricity for one year.

Congressional District 21: The district's share of $2.5 billion could have provided 286,188 Head Start places for children for a year, or 48,480 public safety officers for a year.

I am alarmed and disappointed by the lost services because of war funding. The continued funneling of billions of taxpayer dollars into war is unacceptable and wrong, especially when the Capital Region and other communities across the U.S. are suffering the effects of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Our national security and opportunities for a lasting global peace are strengthened and achieved when direct international support enables populations (especially the women and children) to become socially, economically and politically empowered to end tyranny, corruption and violence.

Brian Trautman

By Doug Stanton
(Scribner; 393 pages; $28)
The Obama administration hopes that Operation Khanjar, or Dagger Strike, will reclaim southern Afghanistan from the Taliban. The surge in fighting in Helmand province, followed by development, is intended to regain momentum in the faltering war effort and to reverse Afghanistan's downward spiral. It comes on the eve of Afghan presidential elections already delayed once because of insecurity.

Across the border, the Pakistani army has launched its own offensive. Punctuated by dramatic U.S. drone strikes, these operations have produced uncertain results against militants in the tribal areas but have unleashed an appalling humanitarian crisis within Pakistan by creating 2.5 million refugees.

While most Americans are focused on the recession, America's two war theaters - one in Iraq, the other stretching across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border - have quietly been transformed by harrowing demographic upheaval. Long the world's largest refugee population, 3 million Afghans remain abroad. Recent fighting has displaced a quarter-million people internally. More than 1.5 million Iraqis have fled their country, and 2.7 million more remain internally displaced. Far from the view of the United States, 10 million men, women and children languish in tent cities and other insecure surroundings with only the dimmest of prospects for returning to stable homes.

Few in Washington could have imagined in 2001 that American efforts to secure the country against terrorism would have shaped a landscape haunted by ghostly flows of millions of homeless and uprooted - migrations of biblical scale, whose consequences may be with us for generations. The question of political imagination is critical.

So what were the architects of the war in Afghanistan thinking? In "The Graveyard of Empires," Seth G. Jones, a political scientist who conducted hundreds of interviews in the United States and Afghanistan, offers a valuable window onto how officials have understood the military campaign. Initially scornful of "nation building," the Bush administration tried to stabilize the country on the cheap. It then shifted resources to Iraq.

In "Horse Soldiers," journalist Doug Stanton paints a colorful, if oversize, portrait of the resourceful warriors who implemented these policies under dicey conditions in northern Afghanistan in 2001. Having hurriedly improvised their supplies by shopping at REI and ordering from Shotgun News, they hit the ground with guns, vodka for the local strongman and feed for the horses that they would ride (the first time in the saddle for most) into battle.

Neither author intended to write an expose, and both are generally fawning toward military authorities in particular. Stanton casts his story as a heroic Western. Jones spares most of the important policymakers from criticism, except then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney and Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith. Instead, he points the finger for the "squandering" of the American victory implausibly at a tight-fisted bureaucratic agency, the Office of Management and Budget. He also faults corrupt Afghan officials and the Europeans, echoing U.S. soldiers who have given ISAF, NATO's International Security Assistance Force, their own translation: "I Saw Americans Fight" or "I Suck at Fighting."

But each account, in its own way, reveals that American civilian and military elites, abetted by social scientists in think tanks and universities, have a wildly distorted view of their capacity to remake far-flung parts of the world. Stanton quotes a Special Forces operative who likened his team's fight with the Taliban to a battle between "The Jetsons" and "the Flintstones." Another "had the job of getting inside" the head of Abdul Rashid Dostum, the strongman with whom Special Forces collaborated, and "predicting what he would do even before Dostum himself knew" (even if he did not speak any of Dostum's many languages).

Despite disagreements between Secretary of State Colin Powell and Rumsfeld, Jones tells us, there was broad agreement, as Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage put it, that "Panama was a good model for stabilizing Afghanistan." In one of the most insightful parts of Jones' book, we learn that there was also a consensus, based on a misreading of the Soviet experience, that a "light footprint" would avoid the quagmire that the Soviets faced. (In fact, Jones shows, the Soviets were undermanned. Confined to cities, they left the countryside to the guerrillas, much as the coalition forces have today.)

In short, the United States mistook the Taliban for a movement from the Stone Age that could be easily vanquished by modern technology and technocratic governance. Drawing mechanically on dubious historical examples, policymakers believed that the Latin American interventions that toppled Manuel Noriega in Panama and others could be replicated in Central Asia. In reality, the United States is not sure whom it is fighting in Afghanistan.

Many readers will find "Horse Soldiers" entertaining as a kind of adventure story, and even skeptics will admire the courage of its heroes. Those searching for a more sober account will appreciate "In the Graveyard of Empires" and the author's case for government reform as the most fundamental solution to Afghanistan's problems. Yet both books unwittingly offer other lessons: They expose a staggering myopia on the part of U.S. political elites who imagine that they can reshape the world by force of arms - a misjudgment whose results growing masses of refugees and civilian casualties must bear, far from America's shores.

Robert D. Crews, an assistant professor of history at Stanford, co-edited "The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan" (Harvard University Press, 2008). E-mail him at

Read more:
The Ball jar company confirmed this week that sales of canning jars are up thirty percent this year. Hundreds of news stories from around the web discuss how canning has been becoming something of a lost art, and people are delighted to see it making a comeback. Peaches and pears and cherries ole.
More news from today.

As British troops wind down their role in the occupation of Iraq, Colombian troops are on their way to Afghanistan. CBS News is reporting a group of elite Colombian Special Operations forces are set to join the US occupation of Afghanistan as early as next month. Colombia is the top recipient of US aid in the Americas despite having one of its worst human rights records and the world’s second-largest internally displaced population after Sudan. A “top US official” told CBS News, “The more Afghanistan can look like Colombia, the better.”

8 Killed in Afghan Bombing
In other news from Afghanistan, eight people were killed Tuesday in a bombing of a NATO convoy in Helmand province. The victims were all Afghan contract workers hired to escort the convoy.

Afghanistan Offers to Repatriate Gitmo Teen
At Guantanamo Bay, a teenage Afghan prisoner has been transferred to a section reserved for those cleared for release. The prisoner, Mohamed Jawad, was as young as twelve at the time of his capture seven years ago in Afghanistan. Last week, the Obama administration admitted it could no longer hold Jawad as an enemy combatant after a federal judge ruled his confession was obtained through torture, but it had asked to continue imprisoning Jawad until deciding whether to bring him to the US for a criminal trial. On Tuesday, the Afghan government said it’s prepared to send a plane to bring Jawad home.

Rights Group Sues UK for Torture, Rendition of Ex-Gitmo Prisoner
In Britain, the human rights group Reprieve has filed suit against the British government over the rendition and torture of a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner. Reprieve says Britain allowed the rendition of Mohammed Madni through the US airbase on the British-controlled island of Diego Garcia. Madni spent three months in Egypt, where he was tortured and then sent to Guantanamo Bay, where he was jailed for six years until his 2008 release. Reprieve director Clive Stafford Smith called on the British government to issue an apology.

Clive Stafford Smith: “I think the first thing that the British government needs to say to Mr. Madni are three simple words: ‘We are sorry.’ You know, that’s the most important thing for a victim under these circumstances, and for Mr Madni, he wants to make sure that rules are set in place to make sure no one else is put in this situation in the future. He has suffered already, but he doesn’t want other people to suffer the sort of torture and abuse he’s been through.”

Smith says the case could bring the first official confirmation of British involvement in the rendition of US prisoners across multiple borders.
It looks like my husband's tomato dreams are at long last a reality. Hundreds of tomatoes hang heavy on Phil's verdant vines, filling paths in our front yard, back alley and rooftop garden with leaves and ripening fruit. Green tape supports the thick stems that have outgrown metal cages; some are tied to neighbor's trees, some are secured to doorknobs rendering side doors nonoperational for the duration.

I look at those vines and envision rows of wide-mouthed, pint jars filled with crushed tomatoes. Red, juicy fruit, alluringly sweet yet balanced with herbaceous acidity.

Yes, canning is chic, evidenced by the burgeoning sales of canning jars. A sagging economy has fueled frugality. Those thrifty values along with the trend of eating locally grown produce have contributed to the can-at-home revival.

The result: A desk stacked with new canning books filled with great recipes and helpful tips. Here are two of my favorites:

"Well-Preserved: Recipes and Techniques for Putting Up Small Batches of Seasonal Foods" by Eugenia Bone (Clarkson Potter, $29.95)

This book is a jewel because it offers easy-to-follow, low-tech canning formulas and recipes that use each preserved product.

Bone's commonsense words make canning approachable. Her voice is that of a farmers' market devotee putting up produce at home in a small Manhattan kitchen. She says that even for people with busy lifestyles, canning can become part of a regular routine.

"Canning is significantly easier than remembering your pin code for your computer, or figuring out your Blackberry," she says. "It is the same as cooking; you just have to pay attention. If you are sautéing a piece of meat, you can't go and answer the phone and talk. It is the same with canning.

"If I need a pound of asparagus for dinner, I get three pounds. I use one more burner to put up 2 pounds of pickled asparagus. I can do that while I am hanging around the kitchen cooking dinner. I'm cooking anyway, and canning is just another part of that. I wish more people would realize that you can do this. It can become a lifestyle and no more difficult than anything else you do — like making your bed."

She says that her strategy is to buy and can seasonally, producing just enough to last until the next season. She only cans an amount that her family can eat.

"I want to finish out the year, no more than that," she says. "By the time June 20 shows up, I want to have finished all my Cherries in Wine from the previous year."

And as for economic benefits of canning Mr. Wonderful's tomato crop, she says to look at what I won't be buying in February — expensive vine-ripened out-of-season tomatoes.

"The more expensive the product determines the amount of savings," she says. "If your palate is demanding, the savings are greater, because you won't be looking for flavorful, expensive produce come winter.

"Besides, the tomatoes you can are so much better."

Delicious. I can hardly wait to sample my renditions of her Canned Tomatoes, Pickled Asparagus, and Cherries In Wine. And it will be helpful to have her recipes on hand for dishes that use those pantry treats.

"The Complete Book of Pickling: 250 Recipes, From Pickles and Relishes to Chutneys and Salsas" by Jennifer MacKenzie (Robert Rose, $24.95) is another great resource.

Home economist MacKenzie knows that pickled condiments can add gusto to otherwise humdrum meals. She became enamored with pickles as a child.

"I was lucky because my mom made a lot of pickles," MacKenzie says. "My Aunt Thelma's Bread-and-Butter Pickles are my first memory. I love to eat them, and I love to make them. I love them with grilled cheese sandwiches. But ironically, Thelma isn't my aunt. I found out she was a distant relation by marriage."

Most of her recipes offer big-batch yields. Her "aunt's" recipe yields 5 quart jars of pickles, a formula that uses 8 pounds of pickling cucumbers. But if you prefer, MacKenzie says you can make half a batch, warning that you may run out of pickles before the next cucumber season once everyone gets a taste.

For delectable appetizers, her Blueberry, Tart Apple and Onion Chutney is spooned atop small wedges of Brie cheese placed on bite-size slices of rustic nut bread. Made with fruit, vinegar, sugar and spices, it's a sweet-sour chunky concoction that is has the deep mahogany hue. She says it is also tasty on grilled chicken or sandwiches.

"I like to use it on a smoked turkey or ham sandwich," she says. "It adds a whole lot of life, much more than mustard or mayonnaise.

"And the Peach and Sweet Pepper Chutney is delicious, too. When we get peaches in season, they are so wonderful. I like to spoon this chutney on grilled fish or chicken or use it as a bruschetta topping (on thin, toasted slices of French baguette). It's very versatile."

Oh my, I think I'd better roll up my sleeves and clear some space in my pantry.

Recipe: Canned Tomatoes

Author Eugenia Bone says that Pickled Asparagus is often used as a condiment, but she likes to use a handful as a straight up vegetable. She also serves it as a first-course salad accompanied with hard-cooked eggs. She says that Jersey Giants, the purple-topped asparagus are delicious and meaty, but they will stain the vinegar solution. She says that's okay.

Recipe: Pickled Asparagus

Bone says that Cherries In Wine is delicious in both savory and sweet dishes. "I love having them on hand for unexpected company," she says. "All I have to do is dump 1/2 cup into a wineglass and top with whipped cream for an elegant dessert."
Afghanistan — “The Verbiage About ‘Democracy‘s War’”

The latest manifestation of the media monopoly reinforcing a “parliamentary consensus” involves the US-UK war on Afghanistan. In an article entitled, ‘Back our boys — they fight for your lives,’ Sue Carroll asks in the Mirror:

Enjoy your barbecue at the weekend? Sleep easy in your bed last night? Get to work without any problems? I trust you did because this is what liberty is all about. The right to live safely in a civilised community free from the oppression of thugs and fanatics who wouldn’t think twice about crushing our democracy and slaughtering us as we sleep.

It’s hard-earned, this easy living. Millions of men have died for our freedom and more are losing their lives in Afghanistan to protect us. So less of the hand-wringing please about whether we should or should not be fighting a war against the Taliban. It’s a no-brainer.

This is the approved propaganda view, not just of the current conflict, but of every war throughout history. The Telegraph comments:

“The conflict in Afghanistan is complex and difficult but it is, on balance, a war worth fighting to crush the camps which train terrorists for assaults on Western cities.”9

There are problems, in fact absurdities, but conveniently, the Telegraph reminds us, “The Obama surge is addressing all that.”9 Indeed, the Telegraph did a good job of explaining Obama’s utility and popularity right across the political spectrum:

“If this anti-Iraq war disciple of ‘soft power’ feels the need to put 20,000 more American troops in harm’s way, there surely must be good reason for concern.”10

We can be sure Obama knows best. Curiously, the disciple of “soft power” has (“temporarily”) increased the size of the US Army by 22,000 soldiers, raising the total number of active US soldiers from 547,000 to 569,000.

In 2004, an Egyptian academic described how hatred of the US is rooted in its support for “every possible anti-democratic government in the Arab-Islamic world… When we hear American officials speaking of freedom, democracy and such values, they make terms like these sound obscene.”11

The Financial Times reported: “while only might can destroy al-Qaeda, its expanding support base can be eroded only by policies Arabs and Muslims see as just”. Destroying al-Qaeda will therefore have little effect if “the underlying conditions that facilitated the group’s emergence and popularity – political oppression and economic marginalisation – will persist.”12

Two political scientists commented:

“Delicate social and political problems cannot be bombed or ‘missiled’ out of existence… Violence can be likened to a virus; the more you bombard it, the more it spreads.”13

Ami Ayalon, the head of Israel’s General Security Service (Shabak) from 1996 to 2000, has suggested that “those who want victory” against terror without addressing underlying grievances “want an unending war.”14

This appeared to be obvious to the editors of the Guardian in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks. On September 15, 2001, a Guardian editorial observed:

“But America’s dilemma, once the verbiage about ‘democracy’s war’ and ‘freedom’s brightest beacon’ is cut away, is that its military options, to the extent that they are currently understood, are largely unsuited to the task in hand.

“Indeed, much of what appears to be under contemplation will just make matters worse. For consider: any major air and/or ground attack mounted against Afghanistan in pursuit of prime suspect Osama bin Laden will certainly produce civilian casualties. It may not produce Bin Laden (who may not even be there). Such an attack would inflame Muslim opinion and hand the terrorists a second triumph: following Manhattan, here would be the ‘holy war’ they have long sought to provoke.“15

Consider how the ideological blinkers had fallen over the Guardian’s eyes by 2006 in relation to “democracy’s war”, when it referred to “the foreigners helping steer this long-suffering country towards stability and democracy.”16

More recently, the Guardian noted that the reality in Afghanistan “is a country where security is getting worse and advances – such as democracy, the return of refugees and universal education – are under threat.”17

Not only had “the verbiage about ‘democracy’s war’” been more than verbiage, it had resulted in actual democracy, which was now under threat.

By striking contrast, the war correspondent Reginald Thompson commented on attempts to bring “democracy” to the Korean peninsula by force of arms in the 1950s. In his superb book, Cry Korea, published in 1951, Thompson wrote:

“What a mockery it was to name this kind of thing democracy! What a Quixotic business – at best – to try to establish it, to imagine it possible to establish an evolutionary result without evolution.”18

Thompson was even able to comprehend Chinese suspicions:

“But would the USA or the UN leave Korea? China might think not – it was already apparent to all observers that democracy is not a saleable commodity but an evolutionary growth in certain circumstances. It might take a long time to take root, even given the circumstances, in a peasant country like Korea, accustomed only to tyranny of one kind of another. So that the US and UN role might be reasonably that of conquerors and colonisers.”19

By contrast, an Independent leader comments:

“We need to be mentally prepared for the duration of this vital mission to secure Afghanistan’s democratic future, as well as the likely human cost.”20

Roger Alton, the pro-Iraq war editor of the Independent, remains onside:

The Western mission in Afghanistan, though overshadowed by the foolish invasion of Iraq and often poorly carried out these past eight years, remains a worthy one… Nato troops, including Britain’s contingent, are in Afghanistan at the invitation of the democratically elected government of President Hamid Karzai. And their purpose is to protect civilians from the depredations of the Taliban while the Afghan army builds up the capacity to take over the job.

They are also fighting for the protection of British citizens. Some three-quarters of UK terror plots under surveillance by the authorities have links to militants based on the Afghan/ Pakistan border. The Taliban granted al-Qa’ida a base before 2001. There is no reason to suppose they would not do the same again if they returned to power. Our own security is bound up with the safety of the Afghan people.20

In a rare departure from the propaganda norm, the Guardian published comments by former diplomat and deputy governor in occupied Iraq, Rory Stewart, now Ryan Family professor of the practice of human rights, Harvard University:

Afghanistan’s political and strategic significance has been grossly exaggerated. The idea that we are there so we don’t have to fight terrorists in Britain is absurd. The terrorist cells and training camps are not in Afghanistan. The people the Americans and British are fighting in Afghanistan are mostly local tribesmen resisting foreign forces. Does al-Qaida still require large terrorist training camps to organise attacks?

Could they not plan in Hamburg and train at flight schools in Florida; or meet in Bradford and build morale on an adventure training course in Wales? Those who argue that we have the right strategy provided we have enough troops and equipment were saying not long ago that if we had only had 7,000 troops in Helmand instead of 5,000, we could defeat the Taliban.

Impressively honest, but Stewart’s views on Afghanistan have been mentioned in a total of four articles in the entire UK national press. As ever, opinion that falls outside the parliamentary consensus “has difficulty in finding expression”.
Positively weird.

US on verge of closing anthrax probe after 8 years
By DEVLIN BARRETT (AP) – 5 days ago

WASHINGTON — A year after government scientist Bruce Ivins killed himself while under investigation for the lethal anthrax letters of 2001, the Justice Department is on the verge of closing the long, costly and vexing case.

Several law enforcement officials told The Associated Press that the department had tentatively planned last week to close the case, but backed away from that decision after government lawyers said they needed more time to review the evidence and determine what further information can be made public without compromising grand jury secrecy or privacy laws.

Officials told the AP the decision to close the case has been put off for what may be weeks, as the FBI and Justice Department continue to wrestle with an investigation that has led many to question the quality of their work and the certainty of their conclusions.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal deliberations about the case.

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd declined to comment on the discussions but said the agency and the FBI continue working to conclude the investigation. "We anticipate closing the case in the near future," Boyd added.

The anthrax letters were sent to lawmakers and news organizations as the nation reeled in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

With childish, blocky handwriting and chilling scientific expertise, the letters spread death through the mail.

The spores killed five people: Two Washington, D.C., postal workers, a New York City hospital worker, a Florida photo editor and a 94-year-old Connecticut woman who had no known contact with any of the poisoned letters. Seventeen other people were sickened.

For years, the FBI chased leads. Authorities tried to build a case against biowarfare expert Steven Hatfill, but ultimately had to pay him a multimillion-dollar settlement.

Then, last year, they announced that the mystery had been solved, but the suspect was dead. Authorities said in the days before the mailings, Ivins had logged unusual hours alone in his lab at the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md. They also say he threw investigators off his trail by supplying false leads as he ostensibly tried to help them find the killer.

As the FBI closed in on Ivins last summer, the 62-year-old microbiologist took a fatal overdose of Tylenol, dying on July 29, 2008. After Ivins' suicide, FBI Director Robert Mueller said the investigation found Ivins was the culprit, and prosecutors said they were confident he acted alone. Officials insisted they were on the verge of indicting him and could have convicted him.

Skeptics — including prominent lawmakers — pointed to the bureau's long, misguided pursuit of Hatfill, and noted there was no evidence suggesting Ivins was ever in New Jersey when the letters were mailed there.

This week, the National Academy of Sciences is set to begin a formal review of the FBI's scientific methods in tracing the particular strain of anthrax used in the mailings to samples Ivins had at his Fort Detrick lab.

Closing the case, even if some new details are released, seems unlikely to do much to sway those like Rep. Rush Holt, whose New Jersey district is home to some of the stricken postal workers.

"Most people affected — the families, the post office workers — will not feel there's closure in this case, and the people of New Jersey will not be able to be confident that there isn't still a murderer in their midst," said Holt.

Holt said the FBI built an "entirely circumstantial" case against Ivins.

"I watched as they went off on wild goose chases and then conveniently have a suspect who isn't around to defend himself," the New Jersey Democrat said. "Dr. Ivins was an oddball, no question, but you don't build a case on that."

In preparation for an announcement prosecutors had decided to close the "Amerithrax" case, investigators wrote a 110-page summary of their work, laying out the timeline of events over the past eight years, according to the officials speaking on condition of anonymity.

That 110-page review was pared down to about 40 pages, and then a still-shorter version. Now it's unclear if any of those documents will be released.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who was the target of one of the letters, has said he does not believe Ivins acted alone.

Ivins' lawyer, Paul Kemp, has long maintained that the scientist was innocent and would have been cleared at any trial. Some of Ivins' colleagues also doubt the FBI's conclusions.

Plenty of questions remain unanswered, whenever they close the investigation, Kemp said.

"The case continues to remain an open sore with no conclusive evidence, and it is still devastating to (Ivins') family," said Kemp.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press
Citigroup is projecting that unemployment in Spain will rise from its current 17.9% to 22% next year.

Spain's unemployment is largely driven by the bursting of its housing bubble.

As I wrote last December:

Housing bubbles are now bursting in China, France, Spain, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Eastern Europe, and many other regions.

And the bubble in commercial real estate is also bursting world-wide. See this.
So - unfortunately - unemployment could be a problem globally.
Several of my favorite, most memorable quotations come to mind these days as I sadly observe what seems to me like abject, deferential genuflection before Washington’s Democratic Party majority by major labor and progressive organizations in this country.

Oddly enough, it is a poet and not a politician that provides the first insight into the problem. It is Oscar Wilde who famously quipped with his brilliant Irish wit that “true friends stab you in the front.” You have to think about that for a moment.

Maybe the much ballyhooed hope in President Obama has in fact stunned into silence the American reform majority that elected him. Maybe getting snubbed by Obama in the front is more disorienting and confusing than getting stabbed directly in the back by Republicans?

Let us consider a few developments since Obama’s election.

Recall that it was only in May that the heroic pro-choice Dr. George Tillman was murdered in cold blood. Not too long ago, such a violent challenge to the rights of women would have unleashed a massive series of public protests exposing the lies and provocations of right-wing anti-abortionists.

Instead, the National Organization for Women (NOW), Planned Parenthood and other prominent women’s rights organizations followed Obama’s lead and limited themselves to issuing paper condemnations, urging letters to Congress and proposing specific legislation.

Of course these are important initiatives, but only in conjunction with action campaigns. Without broad national mobilizations organized by large independent organizations like NOW, we are left with the deafening silence of the pro-choice majority. This vacuum leaves the two major parties defining terms of the debate.

What are Friends For?

Close acquaintances can get close enough to stab us in the front because we do not expect deception as they approach.

The Mafia has long understood this. Recall the “Godfather’s” Don Corleone explaining to his son Michael that he should anticipate the dirty traitor would be a close member of their own crime family.

But it doesn’t really feel any different being stabbed front or back.

Ask the poor beleaguered people of Afghanistan. The Democratic administration is dramatically escalating US military intervention in that country above what we had during the Bush administration. Where is This extremely popular liberal organization gained millions of supporters for its anti-war stance during the 2008 national elections.

Today, their once loud voice for peace is but a whisper.

Then, of course, there is the bankrupt economy supposedly heading towards a “jobless recovery.” A ridiculous oxymoron conjured up by Wall St. sycophants in the administration who steadfastly refuse to support wage increases and a massive federal jobs program as the most effective relief for suffering working class families.

Facing this crisis, or rather backing away from it, the national AFL-CIO kept the midnight oil burning lobbying legislators but it wasn’t enough to keep the lights on at worksites across the country. Millions are laid off and just go home, if they still have one.

There has been not one significant protest.

Not even the United Auto Workers (UAW) with its long proud history asserted itself when they were falsely blamed for driving the industry collapse that was actually steered by the auto barons. Not in one plant, not in one shop was there any resistance organized by national labor leaders even though the dramatic local example in Chicago of the Republic Glass factory workers occupying their plant still lingers in our memory.

The malaise doesn’t stop there. We are witnessing labor’s number one legislative priority, the Employee Free Choice Act, being ripped apart on Capitol Hill like a gazelle carcass on the African savanna and yet labor sits quietly in their tents waiting to be rescued.

Do You Want to Be Lunch?

I’m Mad as Hell!” Peter Finch once shouted from his office window in the 1976 Sidney Lumet film, Network.

Where now is that same spirit of resistance? How much economic and social injustice has to happen before the labor and progressive movement leaders begin shouting "we're not going to take it anymore?"

Just as it doesn’t feel very good being stabbed anywhere, it also doesn’t really make any difference whether you are eaten, as Malcolm X pithily observed, by the “‘liberal’ fox or the ‘conservative’ wolf.’”

Malcolm X himself didn’t want to be anyone’s lunch so he warned against both the stealth Democratic foxes and the unrepentant carnivorous Republican wolves of his day.

Consider the largely unchallenged lies of racist politicians like Senator Sessions and commentators like Pat Buchanan who flagrantly mischaracterize affirmative action during Congressional hearings for Judge Sotomayor. The Democratic majority sidestepped the whole discussion instead of defending affirmative action gains in the last quarter century.

And then there is the painful truth that discussion of a Single-Payer government medical plan has been completely marginalized by both parties in Congress. Grass-roots organizations are doing their best to expose the lies spread by insurance companies but there is no echo in Washington and no prospect for mass street actions proposed by any organization with real clout.

It’s also completely wrong to expect the administration to lead a staunch defense of Medicare, Social Security and the GI Bill as three examples of essential government programs benefitting millions? It won’t happen. The job has to be done by a re-energized social protest movement. Right-wing mouthpieces would stutter and stumble if challenged to explain their opposition to these hugely popular programs as “socialistic.”

Finally, we had to endure the ridiculous spectacle of reactionaries mischaracterizing President Obama’s plan to lapse Bush’s tax largesse for the super rich as “Marxist redistribution of wealth.” Where are the voices from powerful national organizations explaining loud and clear that dramatic and steady redistribution of wealth upward actually began in the early 1980s and, oops, continued under both Democratic and Republican administrations?

Perhaps the truth is too embarrassing for some of President Obama’s liberal allies to admit, but whatever the reason, none of these conservative political blows will be answered effectively unless unions and progressive organizations stop waiting for cues from “friends” in Washington.

That’s why it was so refreshing to see significant opposition briefly emerge to successfully shed a bright light on Obama’s inaction and extreme hypocrisy regarding equal rights for Gays. The White House felt the pressure.

We must honestly admit, however, that overall, recent attacks against working people, women and minorities have gone largely unchallenged. No national demonstrations, rallies or protests. No civil-disobedience sit-ins, nothing.

I Dreamed I saw Joe Hill Last Night

Joe Hill possessed the absolute defiance and determination we need today in our reform movement leaders. Hill was an Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) itinerant labor organizer who was murdered by the mine-owners controlled Utah state government in 1915. Joe’s admonition to his supporters that they “don’t waste any time mourning, organize,” is of course known the world over.

But the lesser-known next sentence in his final testament is also very powerful. Joe asked IWW leader Big Bill Haywood if he “could have my body hauled to the state line to be buried? I don't want to be found dead in Utah.” 1

That’s taking the lies leveled against him and throwing it right back in the faces of his accusers. Standing up to those in power with his last breath, Joe yelled “Fire” just before execution by firing squad.

I don’t see any of these bold, daring impulses today from leaders of our larger political organizations. As a result, when looking at politics in America, emotions range from anger to disappointment. But there is room for optimism.

The historical record provides ample evidence that people will ultimately act in their class interests. Sooner or later, today’s profoundly depoliticized mass will experience a liberating social awakening just as yesteryears’ slaves, serfs and colonial oppressed have all eventually done.

That’s when modern Joe Hill rebels will emerge and perhaps be capable of assuming the leadership of the unions and other mass organizations of working people.

But why is it taking so damn long?

I’ll throw in one last quote that addresses that issue. This time the concise and insightful nugget comes from an expatriate African-America woman living in Paris. She appears in Michael Moore’s exceptional film “Sicko.”

Moore asked why millions of French people demonstrate on social issues rather often whereas nothing like that happens in America. Paraphrasing this woman, she poignantly responded that “in France, the government is afraid of the people. In the United States, it is the people who are afraid of the government.”

Enough said. This woman’s words of wisdom concisely describe, for me, the basic dilemma in this country.

Until and unless we chickens grow some sharp teeth and learn to bite back when chased by either a wolf or a fox, we will likely be running around with our heads cut off. Now I realize that it goes against the laws of nature for chickens to grow teeth, but we humans already have incisors and two legs to hold us upright enough to get up off our knees.

All that is necessary is the insight to discern when we are being suckered and the will to stand up and bite back against both our foes and those posing as friends.

1. In fact, Joe’s ashes were placed in small envelopes and spread by his comrades to every state in the union, except Utah, with several requests from other countries as well.

Source: The Exception
Unless otherwise stated, everything on this blog is current from the same week that it was published.
Is our moral shtick in the gutter? Well, yah..

Helen Thomas
Secrecy is endemic in all governments. It goes with the turf, especially if their leaders hope to hide illegal or immoral behavior, such as torture of foreign prisoners. Many Americans heaved a sigh of...
U.S. loses moral high ground with torture
U.S. loses moral high ground with torture

Secrecy is endemic in all governments. It goes with the turf, especially if their leaders hope to hide illegal or immoral behavior, such as torture of foreign prisoners.

Many Americans heaved a sigh of relief last January when President Obama banned the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Image-wise, it made the administration look more humane than the Bush-Cheney team. But that is not the whole story.

Obama left unaddressed the possibility of torture in secret foreign prisons under our control as in Abu Ghraib in Iraq or Bagram in Afghanistan, not to mention the "black sites" sponsored by our foreign clients in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, Thailand and other countries.

"The United States will not torture," Obama said in his directive. But he has been silent on the question of whether the U.S. would help others do the torturing.

Members of Congress knew a lot about U.S. torture practices. But Republicans loyal to Bush and Democrats, too, played along and kept silent at the horror of it all.

During the Martin Luther King March on Washington in the 1960's, a rabbi who had been in a German concentration camp said: "The greatest sin of all in the Nazi era was silence."

Why did no bells ring for the U.S. lawmakers -- particularly those privy to the brutality -- when briefed on the abusive treatment of the captives?

Did they owe more allegiance to the CIA rather than the honor of our country?

There are hair-raising reports of methods that Americans -- including private contractors -- have used to coerce information from our prisoners.

They include slamming a prisoner against a wall; denying him sleep and food; waterboarding him under so-called enhanced interrogation; and keeping him in a crate filled with insects.

I remember when President Ronald Reagan, marveling at the courage of American soldiers, used to say: "Where do we get such men?" And I have to ask: "Where did we get such people who would inflict so much pain and ruthlessness on others?"

William Rivers Pitt, a best-selling author who wrote "The Greatest Sedition is Silence," recently raised the emotional question of whether U.S. adoption of torture has debased the international standards for treatment of prisoners and that our enemies may now feel that they can torture Americans.

Pitt specifically expressed concern about Army Pvt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan last month.

American military leaders had warned Bush over and over that U.S. torture of prisoners could boomerang against our troops. But he would not listen.

Obama has blocked publication of pictures of the harsh treatment of prisoners from our two ongoing wars -- in Iraq and Afghanistan -- but the word still gets around.

Read more:
US drones to target Taliban in Afghan war: report
(AFP) – 15 hours ago

WASHINGTON — The US military plans to use more drone aircraft to target Taliban militants in Afghanistan while focusing less on hunting down Al-Qaeda figures, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Although defeating the Al-Qaeda terror network remains an overriding goal for Washington, officials now believe the best way to pursue that objective is to ensure stability in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan instead of Al-Qaeda manhunts, the paper said, citing US government and Defense Department officials.

It was more important to prevent a slide towards violence and anarchy that could be exploited by Al-Qaeda, which used Afghanistan to stage its attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, the officials said.

"We might still be too focused on Bin Laden," an official told the Times. "We should probably reassess our priorities."

The shift in priorities for the drone fleet comes despite President Barack Obama's declaration that defeating and dismantling Al-Qaeda is the primary goal of his strategy for the Afghan war.

Eight drones that have been devoted to tracking Al-Qaeda in remote Afghan mountains will be transferred to the fight against insurgents, the paper said.

And the US Central Command plans to send about 12 more drones to the Afghan front, including some aircraft that have been assigned to Iraq -- a move resisted by US commanders there.

The drones are in high demand and the military faces difficult choices in deciding how best to deploy the aircraft which are in short supply.

The armed Predators and Reapers can loiter over targets for hours and are viewed as an invaluable resource for both intelligence and military operations.

The drones are also used to target Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in neighboring Pakistan though the US government does not publicly discuss those operations.

The new commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, has ordered an elaborate review of how the mission uses surveillance aircraft.

McChrystal favors using the drones in a more concentrated way instead of spreading the aircraft across the country so regional commands can use the plans for short periods each day.

The military also plans to increase the number of flights of U2 spy planes in Afghanistan and all of the Air Force's unmanned Global Hawks -- a much larger plane designed for surveillance -- will be shifted to Afghanistan, officials said.

Copyright © 2009 AFP.
An interesting article in the Chronicle Herald.
Feminist Majority Foundation and the Afghan Women's Mission are locked in a bitter controversy over what's best for the women of Afghanistan.

The two groups are natural and historical allies. But the Feminist Majority has now endorsed President Obama's decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan -- arguing that the administration's new strategy is necessary to prevent the return of the brutal oppression of women by the Taliban regime.

The Afghan Women's Mission, along with an associated Afghan feminist group, contends that more troops and more fighting will only result in further casualties on both sides and fuel the already-flourishing insurgency.

Sonali Kolhatkar, founder of the Afghan Women's Mission (AWM) and Mariam Rawi of the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) wrote last month on AlterNet:

[C]oalition troops are combat forces and are there to fight a war, not to preserve peace... Women always disproportionately suffer the effects of war, and to think that women's rights can be won with bullets and bloodshed is a position dangerous in its naïveté.
Kolhatkar, in a subsequent interview with the Huffington Post, added that the withdrawal of U.S. troops would actually "take away the rationale of the Taliban: the foreign occupiers."

Feminist Majority founder Ellie Smeal and board member Helen Cho responded in turn, writing that "recently these terrorists have destroyed hundreds of girls schools, killed journalists, local women's leaders and killed women teachers in front of their students."

"If the U.S. was to pull out of Afghanistan," they warned, "the United States would be once again breaking its promise to the Afghan people, and the country would likely fall under Taliban control."

A Long History With Afghanistan

Story continues below The Feminist Majority boasts that they were the first American organization to call attention to the plight of women under the Taliban -- back in 1996 -- when they circulated countless images of burqa-shrouded Afghan women.

Their campaign culminated in pressuring Unocal to withdraw its support for a pipeline, slated to be run through Afghanistan, which would have furnished the Taliban regime with handsome royalties.

The group also sponsored the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), one of the Afghan feminist groups now opposed to troop escalation, to give a speaking tour in the United States.

The View From Afghanistan

When the United States invaded Afghanistan after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the plight of oppressed Afghan women was one of the public justifications. But eight years later, RAWA's Kolhatkar argues, "Women in the vast majority of Afghanistan live in precisely the same conditions" as they did under the Taliban, "with one notable difference: they are surrounded by war." Despite the presence of a few women in public office and the enrollment of some women and girls in schools, many argue that these changes are little more than cosmetic.

RAWA's 2,000 active members live in Afghanistan and in refugee camps in Pakistan and Iran. They are "totally underground, they're constantly moving around... they change their names and they don't stay in one place long," explains Kolhatkar. "They are marked women." Those caught even reading their magazine have been locked up by both the Taliban and the Northern Alliance.

On their website, their main platform, they are very clear, "RAWA believes that freedom and democracy can't be donated; it is the duty of the people of a country to fight and achieve these values."

So far the U.S. has not done much to help their cause.

"[W]e put some of the worst [warlords] back in power. Karzai's law [legalizing marital rape] was not an accident," said Kolhatkar. The drug war only makes things worse. "The drugs are the lifeline for the Taliban and the cash crops of the misogynists... Poor families that have gone into debt with the warlords have had to sell their daughters to pay off their debts."

And despite the Obama administration's refocusing of regional goals, the abysmal 8-year legacy in the region gives little reason to hope that a safer, less militarized day-to-day existence for Afghans with emerge anytime soon.

RAWA and the AWM call for UN peacekeepers, the initiation of a disarmament process, the building up of justice and educational institutions, a war crimes tribunal and an Afghan Human Rights commission

"The UN won't do it," warned the Feminist Majority's Smeal. Though she says that she too would like to see such changes in Afghanistan, "we made this mess and we have an obligation to do something about it."

This past June was the bloodiest month in Afghanistan since the war began.
Nor is it true that those on the left who did not support Obama’s campaign are hopeless sectarians who reject any partial struggles that do not directly strike at the heart of capitalist rule. This is clearly not true of Solidarity, the International Socialist Organization, the Greens, or the comrades around Black Agenda Report. While these groups differed about the importance or effectiveness of third party campaigns like that of Cynthia McKinney , none reject struggling for reforms—the end of US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, for single-payer health care, for amnesty and an easy road to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, in defense of affirmative action and social programs. We did not support Obama because neither he nor the pro-corporate, neo-liberal Democratic Party support these struggles.
Bruce Campion-Smith
Ottawa bureau chief
OTTAWA–In all of Afghanistan's fighting seasons this decade, none has been as deadly as this one.

Even NATO commanders have struggled to find new words to convey their grief as they cope with the worst month on record for casualties among coalition forces that invaded the country in 2001.

News releases announcing the latest deaths arrive almost daily, expressing "great sorrow," "sincere condolences," "heartfelt condolences" and "deepest sympathies" to the families of the slain soldiers.

So far this month, 72 coalition soldiers – including five Canadians – have died, many as a result of offensive operations by British and American forces in southern Afghanistan to seize territory long under Taliban influence.

The previous monthly high was 46 last August, according to the website

But will the International Security Assistance Force be able to hold these hard-won regions to ensure insurgents don't come back?

The answer will determine the fate of the mission and the future of the troubled nation, experts say. And it's a question sure to prompt new questions about the NATO military alliance and Canada's own pledge to withdraw its troops in 2011.

"We are at an important point in Afghanistan's history and NATO's work there, and a testing point," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said this week.

Britain this week announced the end of Operation Panther's Claw, a five-week offensive to push out insurgents from parts of Helmand province in southern Afghanistan in advance of elections on Aug. 20.

Commanders declared the operation a success, but conceded the heavy price – Britain has lost 22 soldiers in July, pushing its death toll in Afghanistan past the losses suffered in Iraq. Britain has now lost 191 soldiers in Afghanistan, compared with 179 in Iraq.

That stiff toll is sparking fresh questions about the quality of equipment provided to front-line British troops and fuelling public doubts in Britain whether the Afghan war is winnable.

But in an address at NATO's Brussels headquarters Monday, Miliband said the coalition must stay.

"NATO needs to show the Afghan people that we will not abandon them to Taliban retribution; that our forces will stay until Afghan communities can protect themselves," he said. "It is only when the cooperation, passive and active, of ordinary Afghans is removed that the insurgency will be fatally undermined."

The offensive push in southern Afghanistan has taken coalition troops into the "belly of the beast," so a rise in violence was expected, said Seth Jones, an expert on Afghanistan with the Rand Corp., a U.S. think tank.

"You're talking about areas where there is a major Taliban presence that either territory is controlled or ... influenced by Taliban operations," Jones said in an interview.

But Jones questions whether coalition forces have enough troops to ensure a long-term presence in these newly seized territories.

"It's hard to know what the long-term commitment is going to be. I mean the challenge in the south, including with the Canadians in Kandahar, has been holding territory," he said.

"I really don't see the numbers from either NATO or Afghan national security forces for this size territory," said Jones, author of the recently released book In the Graveyard of Empires: America's War in Afghanistan.

That's why ISAF will have to develop a strategy to win over local tribes and clans and have them act as the "de facto holding force," said Jones, recently returned from Lashkar Gah in Helmand.

At stake is the loyalty of local Afghans, whose support is vital to ending the insurgency, yet who remain wary of backing the coalition for fear of Taliban retribution should the coalition forces pull up stakes and leave.

"The question is going to be eight months from now what is the situation looking like ... If territory is not held, which has been the big problem, it's a very dangerous message to be signalling to the locals," Jones said.

He conceded that the Canadian plan to withdraw from Kandahar in 2011 doesn't help ease the fears of local Afghans. "I think there are questions about NATO's staying power," he said.

Military historian Jack Granatstein says Canadians likely could have been convinced to keep more than 2,000 troops in Afghanistan, if Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other federal politicians had done more to tell the public about the goals of the mission.

"The government ... has simply not been willing for the last two years to explain to people why we are there, what we are doing," he said. "We should stay, but I think it's very difficult to sustain a commitment to a military operation without public support. And the way you get public support is to have your political leaders tell you why you are there and why it's important."

Defence Minister Peter MacKay linked the spike in violence to the upcoming elections but denied insurgents were getting the upper hand.

"There's no question that this has been a very difficult and active fighting season. With the election on, that is another factor. There's an attempt by the insurgents, the Taliban to destabilize and give people a feeling they are waiting in the wings," MacKay said this week.

He said the surge of U.S. troops in southern Afghanistan – an extra 17,000 soldiers are being deployed – would help bring stability while allowing Canadians to "recalibrate and focus" on development projects and training the Afghan army.

"We're working very closely, collaborating with all the NATO allies, but the American surge of troops is inevitably, in my view, going to make a difference, a positive difference," MacKay said.
Pakistani scientist ruled fit to stand trial in US
(AFP) – 1 day ago

NEW YORK — A US-educated Pakistani scientist who allegedly tried to shoot US officers in Afghanistan last year will stand trial October 19, a US judge has ordered.

Ending months of examinations into the mental state of Aafia Siddiqui, Judge Richard Berman, in the US District Court in Manhattan, ruled that she was competent to be tried on murder charges.

The written ruling issued on Wednesday followed expert testimony that found Siddiqui, 37, was faking insanity to avoid trial.

She was brought to New York a year ago after allegedly trying to shoot US army and FBI officers while in Afghan custody.

She was also on a 2004 US list of people suspected of links to Al-Qaeda, although not charged.

The case has sparked controversy in Pakistan and among human rights advocates who say Siddiqui was abducted by Pakistani security services in 2003 and may have been held in a secret US or allied prison in Afghanistan until her sudden reappearance in 2008.

Siddiqui is from Pakistan and studied neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brandeis University.

Copyright © 2009 AFP.

Saving the Bankers With a Make-Believe War
Written by Peter Chamberlin

Pakistanis and Americans have a common problem, which is also shared by every other country on the planet–corruption in high places. The world is made to fret over the impending loss of the entire capitalist system by the overlords of the Western media, even though, the only loss for the common man will be the chains that bind him. We are all supposed to be grieving deeply for the collapse of the money system which has made so many people rich, people whom the media tells us we all want to be just like.

The media, no matter how hard it keeps from telling the truth and how much it twists and deforms the facts to fit the official spin set by Washington, cannot snuff-out all the tiny lights of awareness that are springing-up all over the world. Washington and Islamabad have both tightly controlled their national media, never allowing the cutting truth, or trouble-making bearers of explosive truth the print space or air time in the “legitimate press.” No one is allowed to rock the looters’ boats as they struggle to transfer their ill-gotten treasures to shore before they too lose everything in the coming collapse.

The Western media leads popular opinion to sympathize with the struggling corporate raiders, in order to help orchestrate the greatest transfer of wealth in human history. The media portrays the “war of terror” as a great struggle to save civilization, even though true “civilization” (the liberation of every soul through universal human rights) has not yet evolved. The media’s one purpose it to try to encourage the “free world” to sacrifice its children in a senseless struggle to preserve the destructive forces that have made the destruction of the old order inevitable.

Emergency measures, both economic and military, have been forced upon us, to carry on a war that is destroying both freedom and democracy, while maintaining the fiction that the war defends both. The media whips popular opinion into a frenzy to build patriotic blood-lust within the mob and the desire to kill millions of strangers for crimes that our leaders swear they fully intend to commit. The Western media and the Pakistani media, like the governments which they serve, are pushing the people to a fatal war, seeking to outrun the rising mob that wants the leaders’ heads.

We have glimpsed the truth about our leaders, and our knowledge is frightening them to death. The “good old boy” network that dominates in every country (and cumulatively controls the world) lives on borrowed time, as the power of the people is a building tsunami of change which is barreling down upon them. This is a secret that, for them, must remain hidden from the silent majority. The people are breathing down their necks and they are running scared, head-on into a great wall of their own making.

Pakistan is the great wall. The empire’s dreams, as always, are about to be shattered in Waziristan. It is not that the Army is about to suddenly develop a collective spine and stand-up for the Pakistani people against the American aggression; it is that the people themselves, who are fed-up with the games and lies and are ready to hold the Army responsible for all military attacks in the tribal regions. No matter how much they might complain about American airstrikes in Pakistan, it is all for show. The American attacks are driving Pakistan’s war choices, contrary to the will of the Pakistani people. The Army will eventually fight on America’s terms, if they want to have a seat at America’s “victory” banquet, after seizing everyone’s everything. They have all grown quite wealthy at your expense.

Smiling demonic faces sold us all a bill of goods, as we were drawn into a make-believe battle to “save civilization” from the savages, never bothering to describe the mission, or tell us how they would accomplish it, and at what cost. No one told you that Pakistan’s choice had been made for it, to destroy Pakistan, in order to save it, just like in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Every aspect of this new war has two dimensions—the official media version of events and the buried truth. If the government or the media ever merges the two conflicting dimensions and the paradox is revealed, then the war effort will collapse, as the criminal conspirators will have their cover blown. Somewhere, just below the surface, most people suspect that the truth about the war remains hidden from us. It is the responsibility of the true research journalists to confirm people’s suspicions about the war and the empire, by revealing the hidden truths.

As long as the American and Pakistani people are willing to play-along and pretend that a bunch of “stirred-up Muslims” are capable of destroying the world, or even just one important country, like Pakistan, then the game can go on and the empire builders can continue to lay their foundations for a world united in permanent limited war. The empire of the smiling faces must be brought to an end, by exposing the hollow rhetoric that drives this war.

It is not civilization itself that is in danger of collapsing; it is the parasitic system of international financing, which feeds-off both the civilized world and the developing world, which is in danger of destruction, a danger that the smiling face parasites created by their own greed. We have been tricked into entering into a full-blown world war to save the bankers and the network of cronyism that gives them their ultimate power.

The bankers’ system is not endangered by wild “Islamists” in any way; it is enriched by the expanding resource wars made possible by their destabilizing actions. It is not enough that the bankers and their minions have raped trillions out of the pockets of the American taxpayers, now they must also have the trillions, or quadrillions of energy bucks represented by the vast resources of south-central Asia, Africa and S. America.

America is not in any danger that its leaders have not created themselves, just as Pakistan is not in any danger other than that manufactured by its own military government, while serving America’s will. The only real danger we face is from our own dangerous leaders, just as the only real danger faced by our elitist leaders is that which emanates from the people becoming aware of their plans and beginning to offer stiff resistance to the idea of shipping their sons and daughters away to be abused by the military and then sent-off to kill or die in the latest resource wars.

The funny thing about resources, is that they will always be available to those who want them. Obtaining these resources only requires money, a lot less than that which is currently being spent by our government in its attempt to take the natural resources from others. We are not waging war in the gas and oil regions of the world for the right to purchase their products (we can already do that); we are fighting to own that which is not ours.

Stop your sons and daughters from serving in this bankers’ war. Convince them to serve their own countries, not the evil smiling parasites that have taken over all countries and brought the world to ruin.

It’s time for the world revolution.
From Australia's OLO (online opinion):

The war in Afghanistan is unwinnable and there is little justification for Australia being involved. Rudd has not had the courage to take the Australian people into his confidence, instead allowing the Chief of the Australian Defence Force, Angus Houston, to hint that Australian troops would be withdrawn in four or five years time when training of the Afghan Army will be complete, a task the USSR attempted but which collapsed on the withdrawal of the Russian Army from Afghanistan.
In France, a New Generation of Women Says Non to Nude Sunbathing
By Bruce Crumley / Paris Thursday, Jul. 30, 2009A woman sunbathes on the beach during the 62nd International Cannes Film Festival in May 2009
Kristian Dowling / Getty

For decades, the French have relished any opportunity to mock Americans for their supposed childish Yankee puritanism when it comes to matters of sex. These days, though, France is experiencing its own blush of youthful prudishness as an entire generation of younger French women says "Non, merci," to the summer tradition of topless sunbathing.

Since France's summer vacation season kicked off in early July, the French press has repeatedly sounded the alarm over the shrinking number of topless women on the nation's beaches. As eagle-eyed reporters have made quite clear, the prevailing trend among sun-loving women these days is to use both pieces of their bikini. Le Monokini, C'est Fini! , shouted Le Parisien in its report from a Mediterranean beach. "Nude Breasts Are Less Trendy" concurred free daily Metro France. "The practice has become common, and therefore less compelling as a fashion," says sociologist Jean-Claude Kaufmann. "When the local baker takes off her top despite her 60-year age and sagging breasts, the gesture loses its social distinction as one of youthful beauty." Some note that the return to more modest costumes is in part a response to rising concerns about skin cancer.

But the trend is also part of a wider social movement by younger French women who are shunning the less-inhibited habits of previous generations. If burning bras and going topless were the ways French women of the 1970s and '80s demonstrated their freedom, their daughters and grand-daughters seem less comfortable with exposed flesh. "The values of our time are more conservative, traditional and familial," says Kaufmann.

A survey titled "Women and Nudity" by polling agency Ifop captures the mood. It found that younger French women not only have a problem with nudity — but actually consider themselves prudish. Fully 88% of the women questioned qualified themselves as pudique — a term that can mean anything from "modest" or "prim" to "priggish." And they aren't joking. Though 90% said they get naked with their husband or partner, 59% avoid being nude around their children. Sixty-three percent said they refused to undress around female friends; 22% said they considered a woman in her underwear already naked.
(See TIME's France covers.)

With sensitivities like those, it's little wonder the poll found French women had strong opinions about public nakedness. Nearly 50% said they were bothered by total nudity on beaches or naturist camps, and 37% said they were disturbed by publicly exposed breasts or buttocks. Forty-five percent of respondents reported they'd prefer to see a lot less flesh hanging out in full view — male or female.

Those attitudes got even more pronounced with respondents aged 18-24. A quarter of women within that group described themselves as very pudique, and 20% saw any nudity as tantamount to indecency. That, sociologists say, explains the changing scenery on French beaches. Younger women disinclined to baring themselves make up the majority of female sunbathers; those still willing to go topless are usually older French women.
(See pictures of sunbathing in France on

"There aren't any rules, but, yeah, it's true when you're at the beach and look around, the only topless women anymore are older," says Elodie, 19, as she visited an artificial beach along the Seine known as Paris Plage recently. Elodie pointed out that a municipal fine — and frequently lousy weather — make going topless at Paris Plage a nonstarter. When asked whether she went topless on vacation beaches — and what factors made her decide when she did and didn't — Elodie's reply was as chilly as it was logical. "All those things," she said, "are personal concerns."
Afghan rebuilding, S'pore-style

Fri, Jul 31, 2009
my paper

by Koh Hui Theng

ORCHARD Road - or a version of that famous shopping thoroughfare - could arise in battered Kabul, capital of Afghanistan.

That's the dream that drives World Bank consultant Najla Sabri, and she hopes Singapore know-how can make it real.

She and 33 other Afghans were in Singapore for a weeklong United Nations-organised study trip hosted by the Singapore International Foundation (SIF).

It was an emotional and inspiring outing for the Kabul resident, who is in her early 30s. She looks forward to the day her war-ravaged nation can rebuild itself to world-class standards, 'like Singapore has done'.

As part of the Hiroshima Fellowship for Afghanistan 2009 - a UN Institute for Training and Research programme - the group visited places like the Singapore General Hospital and the Urban Redevelopment Authority to learn about infrastructure and capacity development.

One key moment came when Ms Sabri saw URA's masterplan for Singapore's downtown area.

She told my paper: 'You're very clear about what your building needs are and what the people want. In Kabul, we can't even agree on where a building should be placed.'

Where might a 'Kabul Orchard Road' emerge? Perhaps in Froshga, Kabul's main bazaar.

'Afghan citizens go there (Froshga) to shop and get daily necessities, but we always rush back after running our errands because security is an issue,' said Ms Sabri.

'With (August) presidential elections drawing near, we try to avoid walking or driving near United States convoys too, as they are usually targeted by terrorists.'

She added: 'Singapore is a thousand times smaller than Afghanistan, but you're able to live in harmony and use limited resources to develop (your) infrastructure. We are starting from zero, so we have much to learn from you.'

The Afghans have attended workshops on management and leadership skills. They are leaving tomorrow. SIF has been aiding Afghanistan's reconstruction efforts since 2004.

Said Ms Margaret Thevarakom, deputy director of international volunteerism, 39: 'Giving the Afghans a first-hand understanding of what we do in Singapore means they can apply what they have learnt when they get back home. Where Afghanistan is at now is where we were 44 years ago. In addition, they have suffered a war.'
Army missteps left troops in Afghanistan open to deadly attack, study reveals
A study by an Army historian documents several missteps, including lack of supplies, equipment and aerial surveillance, that led to one of the bloodiest clashes in the Afghanistan war. The battle at the remote mountain outpost of Wanat, where nine American troops were killed and 27 were wounded, is now the subject of an inquiry by the Department of Defense's Inspector General.

By Hal Bernton and Cheryl Phillips

Seattle Times staff reporters

Cpl. Jason Bogar, of Seattle

Cpl. Jason Bogar, center, poses with other soldiers from his unit in the Waigal Valley in Afghanistan. Only one of the five soldiers, Spc. Chris McKaig, on the far right, survived the battle at Wanat. Also pictured are Spc. Pruitt Rainey, left, Pfc. Jonathan Ayers and Spc. Gunnar Zwilling.

In the days leading up to the attack at Wanat, Afghanistan, the soldiers alternated fortifying the camp, although they lacked enough equipment and supplies, with rest periods, which were necessary because the unit was running out of water. Bogar rests at left.

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In the days before one of the fiercest battles in America's eight-year war in Afghanistan, Army Capt. Benjamin Pry argued for more surveillance flights to help his beleaguered unit of fewer than 50 soldiers.

Since moving into a new outpost on July 8, 2008, they had struggled with shortages of water, fuel, food and heavy machinery to help defend against an enemy attack that they believed would eventually come. Lacking excavating equipment, the troops dug fortifications by scraping the rocky soil with spades and bare hands.

Then on July 12, headquarters commanders diverted drones — remotely operated planes outfitted with cameras to spot enemy movements — to another area. Pry argued so hard to undo that decision that he said he breached professional etiquette. Still, he was unsuccessful.

"We had no support from brigade, division or theater level assets at the time," Pry told Army historians in a study obtained by The Seattle Times.

That study, written by historian Douglas Cubbison of the U.S. Army Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., documented missteps that preceded some of the bloodiest combat to date for American troops in the Afghanistan war.

Early in the morning of July 13, the outpost at the village of Wanat came under assault from some 200 enemy troops. The attack claimed the lives of nine Army soldiers — including Cpl. Jason Bogar, 25, of Seattle — and wounded 27 others, precipitating the withdrawal of U.S. troops from a valley in eastern Afghanistan.

The 254-page unreleased study challenges the Army's official battle investigation, which had concluded that leaders displayed "sound military analysis" and that no blame could be placed on commanders.

Cubbison noted suspect decisions by commanders, who allowed an understaffed platoon to plant itself in hostile territory without adequate support.

In the Wanat battle study, Cubbison concluded that:

• No senior commander visited Wanat before establishing it as an outpost, and it was "highly questionable" whether these commanders exercised due diligence when they ordered a platoon to move there.

• The lack of heavy equipment to fortify defenses and the lack of intelligence support directly contributed to the casualties suffered last July 13.

The Army institute is a military think tank that helps evaluate Army capabilities and operations.

Cubbison noted that some soldiers who stepped forward to talk did so at the "risk of being professionally censured."

Army officials say the study is far from finished. They described it as a working paper that is not yet even a draft. They said there would be more interviews and a peer review, and declined to comment on the findings. "It's not done," Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon, told The Seattle Times on Thursday.

Cubbison could not be reached for comment for this story. A spokesman for the Army institute confirmed that the study was not yet complete.

The extensively footnoted study, based on numerous interviews with soldiers and other sources, also documents the heroism of those who fought that day and prevented the outpost from being overrun.

It also offers a sweeping narrative of the events leading up to the battle, when much of what was going wrong with the war in Afghanistan last summer was going wrong in Wanat.

The study already is raising questions in Washington, D.C.

Sen. James Webb, D-Va., wrote in a July 9 letter to the Defense Department's Office of Inspector General that he believes "more thorough consideration of senior command accountability is warranted."

By then, the Inspector General's office had already opened an inquiry into Wanat in response to a hotline complaint received in November from one of several parents pressing for more information.

"It's been over a year since the nine soldiers were killed, and I just want the truth to come out," said David Brostrom, a retired Army colonel whose son, 1st Lt. Jonathan Brostrom, 24, died in the battle.

Bogar's mother, Carlene Cross, of Issaquah, said, "They need to tell people what happened so they can make changes and it doesn't happen again."

Battling insurgents

They called themselves "Chosen Company," and their informal mascot was a Marvel Comics figure known as The Punisher, a lone soldier who took jobs nobody else would do.

Based out of Italy, C Company was part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Command Team and had earned a reputation as a savvy, combat-hardened unit of paratroopers.

Bogar was a Bothell High School graduate who joined the Washington National Guard in 2000 and then became caught up in military life. He served in Iraq, assisted in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and then went to Afghanistan. After returning, he joined the active-duty Army with the belief that the military would send him to film school, according to his mother.

Instead, he ended up in Afghanistan.

In June 2007, the company was sent to the Waigal Valley, a remote, rugged corner of eastern Afghanistan that hosted insurgent groups. The insurgents often recruited young villagers eager for income and a chance to test their warrior skills.

The company had three platoons, but only two of them — fewer than 80 soldiers — were sent to the valley. Cubbison wrote that those two platoons were overextended as they tried to staff Spartan combat outposts.

Early on, they faced tough fighting. Soldiers were involved in hand-to-hand combat in August 2007 as insurgents tried to overrun one of the outposts. Then, in November 2007, six Americans were killed in an ambush.

An incident in January 2008 was a blow to both troop morale and attempts to cooperate with Afghan forces.

Platoon leader Sgt. Matthew Kahler was killed by an Afghan soldier who leaned out of a bunker, fired a shot and then fled. After an investigation, the killing was ruled an accident.

But soldiers in the platoon believed that it was deliberate, according to the study and Bogar's diary entry obtained by The Seattle Times.

"He [Kahler] walked up stating loudly we are Americans," Bogar wrote. "But [he] was still shot in the head.

"It was planned and they all knew exactly what they were doing."

Kahler's death was followed by a period of intense warfare that continued through the summer of 2008. Despite all the fighting, the U.S. was not gaining ground in the valley.

The Army closed one outpost in November, planned to close a second one known as Bella and then open a new outpost in Wanat on a mountain slope at an elevation of about 4,000 feet. Meanwhile, on July 4, a U.S. attack near Bella inflamed the local communities against the Americans, according to the study. A convoy of pickups was speeding away from an area that was the source of hostile fire. U.S. Apache helicopters fired on the trucks, killing 17, including doctors, nurses and staff of a local health clinic.

It was unclear what happened. Capt. Pry, the company intelligence officer, believed insurgents had forced their way onto the convoy. Still, for the enemy it was a propaganda victory.

"I think July 4 was a disaster both for the people of [Waigal] valley and the Coalition forces," said Sami Nurstani, a valley resident, in an interview published in the study.

The anger over the death of civilians, Nurstani said, led to the attack nine days later on Wanat.

Hampered by shortages

On the evening of July 8, 2008, soldiers began arriving at Wanat. By the next morning, there were 47 U.S. military troops, including several Marines, and some 24 Afghan National Army paratroopers at the site.

An Afghan construction company had been hired to build up the defenses with heavy equipment. But that company never showed up, so there were shortages of equipment and supplies for such crucial tasks as constructing overhead cover or bunkers, according to the study.

The company did have a Bobcat, a small excavating machine. But it couldn't reach high enough to stack containers to place mortars at a 7-foot height. Instead, they were placed only at 4-foot level, where they would be less effective. Even the Bobcat was unreliable, breaking down for a day.

The soldiers were also constrained during the next four days by a shortage of drinking water. "I remember on the 10th, 11th we [were] down to less than a liter of water per person and subsequently we did not dig or work to conserve our energy and water supply," said Spc. Michael Santiago, in an interview for the study.

Some of the biggest gaps in defenses were in a key observation post. There were three fighting positions there, but no posts or stakes left to prop up the single strand of concertina wire. So it was just placed on the ground, according to the study.

Bogar urged his buddies to stack up sandbags as high as they could in a fortified position on the south end of the observation post. One of the other soldiers dubbed that encampment "The Alamo," according to Bogar's mother, Cross.

In the four days preceding the attacks, there were numerous troubling signs.

Soldiers noticed small groups of men who had gathered in a village bazaar and had watched development of the fortifications. Women and children were noticeably absent. A group of five men was spotted moving across the mountains in the dead of night.

At a dinner meeting in the village on July 12, a father and son known as staunch pro-Americans warned that the soldiers should shoot anyone they saw in the hills, and even asked if C Company had drone surveillance.

But by that evening, the drone flights had been diverted to help another operation.

"This action, with a platoon deployed at high risk, is on its face incomprehensible," wrote Webb, the U.S. senator, in his letter to the Army.

Last July's attack

The attack began at about 4 a.m., led by a fierce volley of rocket-propelled grenades that targeted key defenses and rendered the unit's mortars ineffective. The gravest situation was at an observation post manned by Bogar and eight other soldiers who came under a withering onslaught.

"This first round of explosions was devastatingly accurate, and everybody in the OP [observation post] was immediately wounded, stunned or both," wrote Cubbison.

Spc. Tyler Stafford suffered searing leg burns and shrapnel wounds to his arms as he was blown out of his machine-gun position. Stafford ended up next to Spc. Matthew Phillips, a Georgian known for his sharpshooting. He watched Phillips throw a grenade and then get knocked back down, mortally wounded.

Stafford then crawled to a hole in the southern part of the post, where Bogar was firing an automatic weapon perched atop a sandbag. Bogar fired hundreds of rounds until the barrel of his weapon became white-hot and jammed. Then he tended to Stafford's wounds.

"He saw how bad my arm was bleeding and he grabbed a tourniquet and put it on my arm," Stafford told The Seattle Times. "He saved a lot of blood from coming out of me."

Sgt. Ryan Pitts also had been wounded, by a rocket-propelled grenade. Bogar tied a tourniquet around Pitts' leg.

Bogar then ventured to another part of the observation post to use another machine gun.

Stafford and Pitts survived the battle. Bogar was eventually killed. His body was recovered on a hillside terrace outside the post, possibly dragged there by an insurgent, according to the study.

At the observation post, insurgents penetrated the concertina wire but never took control. After several hours of fighting, the battle turned as American helicopter gunships strafed enemy positions, bombers dropped their loads and more troops were sent in.

Army medical teams were able to evacuate all the wounded soldiers, flying amid smoke, burning vehicles and ground fire. "Their incredible courage ... is solely responsible for this miracle," Cubbison wrote.

Troops held on

By the end of the battle, 75 percent of the U.S. troops were wounded or dead.

Still, the troops held on to the enclave. Cubbison writes that the successful defense of the Wanat outpost was a "magnificent tactical victory ... as remarkable as any small unit action in American military history."

But the tactical victory, according to the study, was followed by a strategic setback as the valley two days later was ceded to enemy control. Residents who had cooperated with U.S. forces over a three-year period were left vulnerable to retaliation by insurgents.

Col. Charles Preysler, who headed the brigade that included Chosen Company, bristled at any notion that Wanat held any long-term importance in the Army's plans for the valley.

In a July 2008 interview with Stars and Stripes, he downplayed the significance of the withdrawal. He said that Wanat was just a temporary site where solders and vehicles gathered for a few nights. "We do that routinely. We're always doing that when we go out and stay in an area for longer than a few hours, and that's what it is. So there is nothing to abandon," Preysler said.

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or and Cheryl Phillips: 206-464-2411 or
Responding to a Cheerleader for the Afghan War

Posted by Guy Saperstein, News Hoggers at 9:57 PM on July 29, 2009.

Liberal hawk Peter Bergen fails to address core questions about the occupation, such as why the US is fighting the Taliban in the first place. Post Tools
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Ed. Note: Recently, Peter Bergen of the New America Foundation had an op-ed published by the Washington Monthly entitled "Winning The Good War." It has been widely and approvingly linked by Democrat interventionists as a bolster to their support for Obama's staying Bush's course in Afghanistan. Co-Founder of the National Security/Foreign Policy New Ideas Fund and civil rights lawyer Guy Saperstein has written a letter in response to Bergen's column (this letter first appeared on News Hoggers):

Liberal Hawks like Peter Bergen are not merely ascendant, they have become dominant, so it is important to look at their arguments and see if they make any sense.

While I am impressed with Bergen's knowledge of Afghanistan, in a long article he fails to address the core questions about Afghanistan: Why are we fighting the Taliban? There are crucial differences between the goals of al Qaeda and the Taliban, so why are we treating them the same? Why do we have 70,000 combat troops, plus private mercenaries there? How many more will be needed? What are the metrics of success or failure? How long will we be there? What will it ultimately cost? What is the exit strategy? Are there alternatives to the military model? And what are the real strategic threats to America and is spending hundreds of millions more in Afghanistan getting in the way of dealing with more important national security issues?

Bergen calls Afghanistan the "Good War," and it might have been that when it was harboring al Qaeda, but everyone, including General Patraeus acknowledges al Qaeda left Afghanistan long ago -- pushed out by our military intervention. In the absence of al Qaeda, we have simply substituted the Taliban as our enemy, without Bergen, or apparently anyone, asking whether this makes any sense. And should we consider it a success that al Qaeda has been pushed from a country with little or no strategic significance into nuclear-armed Pakistan, one of the potentially most dangerous countries on earth? Is it a success that now we are beholden to Pakistan to control al Qaeda, a task they have undertaken with mixed motives and weak results?

Al Qaeda has an international agenda, sees America as a long-term obstacle to its goals, and, of course, attacked the American homeland. But the Taliban never attacked America and no one claims the Taliban has any interest or capacity in attacking the United States homeland. It wants to take power in Afghanistan and it is fighting U.S. soldiers because these soldiers present an impediment to that goal. While the Taliban are not nice people, should America spend another trillion dollars, or more, on top of the $3 trillion cost of the War in Iraq [which Bergen also supported] to prevent the Taliban from taking power in Afghanistan? And while Bergen suggests the U.S. must reform not only the Afghanistan army and government, but also provide long-term "stability and prosperity" so that it "will never again be a launching pad" for terrorism, does this apply as well to the many weak and failed nations around the world which potentially could be launching pads for terrorism? Do we invade and rebuild them all? And with the American economy faltering and falling deeper into debt to its most important strategic rival, China, can we afford the luxury of fighting expensive wars wherever terrorism might arise?

Is negotiation and accommodation possible with the Taliban, or even part of it? Is there a deal to be made with the Taliban which allowed it to pursue its goal of retaking power in Afghanistan, provided that no terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda be allowed to operate in the country? Should we pursue such a deal?

And while I don't wish to argue tactics with Bergen, the Army's operation manual on counter-insurgency recommends one combat soldier for every twenty of population for success: With Afghanistan being a country of 13 million people, the 20:1 ratio would mean 650,000 combat troops. Is that where Bergen thinks we are trending, or should trend? If so, then Afghanistan will start looking like Vietnam.

The problem with Bergen's analysis is the same problem as the Administration's war effort: They both are full of talk of tactics and logistics, founded on unarticulated assumptions and lacking a long-term strategic vision or even consideration of less intensive, and perhaps more effective, alternatives. President Obama promised metrics and an exit strategy, but, to date, none have been forthcoming, either from the President or cheerleaders like Peter Bergen.