International Affairs

By Ray LeMoine
This was written for the Guardian…

No place better exemplifies George Bush’s war on terror than the Green Zone. First occupied when Baghdad fell, the GZ is four square miles of the city’s finest real estate. Almost immediately the US put up 14-foot concrete blast walls, shutting out the local population. A British journalist I met in Baghdad once emailed me his take:

“The Green Zone was by far the most surreal experience of my life, with all the worst aspects of America fenced into it. Where else in the world could you find a disco playing the Bee-Gees with bulky men on steroids barging into it each other and groping the few chicks there; sweaty overweight US government employees eating Chinese takeout, then cannonballing into a former dictator’s huge swimming pool. Thank god it was zoned off. It’s enough to make you green in the face.”

And that wasn’t even the worst of it.

Nightly mortar attacks on the Green Zone started in mid-March 2004, beginning a siege that lasted four years. Back then I was living in the Republican Palace, the nerve centre of the US-led occupation. Before March, attacks were sporadic – maybe once a week – and there was still a general sense that Iraq might work out. Looking back, the mortars were foreboding. As March ended, Iraq turned and hope vanished.

By April 4 – a day now called Black Sunday – America was fighting a nationwide, dual uprising against Sunni and Shia. The Green Zone was paralysed. Nation-building ceased. From a Green Zone vantage, this was the moment America lost Iraq. It was the moment when usually tempered diplomats said “civil war” was coming, when westerners could no longer walk the streets without being kidnapped.

Now, Bush, about to leave office, is trying to secure his Iraq legacy. This month, America formally handed the Green Zone back to Iraq, complete with a baton-passing ceremony. The timing was not coincidental. Two days later, America opened a new $700m US embassy on 104-acres in the centre of the Green Zone, complete with ribbon-cutting pageantry. Technically, what the US gave back to Iraq was the Green Zone’s perimeter while keeping its heart. Bait and switch, pomp and circumstance, doublespeak – the Green Zone’s hallmarks.

While it made a fine place for security contractors to boot steroids and drink warm beer, the Green Zone came to signify American corruption, arrogance and profiteering, a power hub that somehow spent $100bn on nothing. But the wasted money has little consequence compared to US policy, implemented from the GZ, which led to the deaths of thousands. One early GZ scheme, disbanding the Iraqi army, practically created the insurgency. Another, ignoring thug cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s growing militia, meant combat that left thousands dead and made Sadr the most powerful man in Iraq. For these reasons and many more, the GZ should join Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay and Bagram as symbols of Bush-era disgrace.

These days, the Bush administration uses the late-game troop surge as proof of Iraq victory. But the US and Iraq are in a place that looks like early 2004. “Fragile” is the mantra of Ryan Crocker, US ambassador to Iraq. The main difference between now and 2004 is that hundreds of thousands Iraqi civilians are dead and millions are displaced.

All Bush did was take Iraq from fragile to hellish and back to fragile. From 2004 until 2006, the civil war germinated as Bush and his Green Zone team told us Iraq was “stabilising” through elections. By February 2006, Baghdad faced mass ethnic cleansing. The capital was rapidly partitioned into mini-Green Zones, each neighbourhood walled and surrounded by militia checkpoints. Iraq’s civil war peaked in September and October 2006, when over 7,000 Iraqis were killed in two months. The 2007-2008 surge provided additional security in the capital and later co-opted the former Sunni insurgency.

Bush did not win Iraq. The surge merely stopped bleeding from a self-inflicted wound. Current Iraqi politics are more akin to “Shakespearean drama than to nascent democracy,” according to the New York Times. Each political party has its own militia. Terrorism is down, but hardly gone – bombs killed 50 last week. President-elect Barack Obama is committed to “removing all combat troops” with room for a “residual force”, without defining the difference between “combat” and “residual”. This foggy language is a reminder that Bush’s war is far from over.


By Ray LeMoine

These pictures of the Isreali assualt on Gaza were taken today by Jeff Neumann from the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing. A sky like this makes you understand why they’re fighting over this land. The first pic is of a bomb dropped by an F-16. The second pic is of an F-16 that drops bombs. gazablast-1-of-1jet-1-of-1

By Ray LeMoine
I was at this Jamatt-ud-Dawa 2006 protest in Muazzafrabad, capital of Azad (free) Kashmir—or Pakistani Kashmir. Several thousands took to the streets, intermingling with bearded, elite Pakistani forces on “guard,” i.e. politicking. Back then the group was protesting being labeled “terrorists” by the Americans. But we helped with the earthquake, Dawa supporters said. Evidence suggests this “charity” is tied to the attacks in Mumbai:

Lashkar, long seen as a creation of the Pakistani intelligence service to help fight India in disputed Kashmir, was banned in Pakistan in 2002 under pressure from the U.S., a year after Washington and Britain listed it a terrorist group. It is since believed to have emerged under another name, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, though that group has denied links to the Mumbai attack.

Peace mon…one sign reads “Dawa”…
UPDATE, 12/1: The WaPost runs a longer story today:

The U.S. State Department declared Lashkar a terrorist organization in December 2001, days after it and another Kashmiri militant group, Jaish-i-Muhammad, or Army of Muhammad, were accused of attacking the Indian Parliament.

To get around the ban, Lashkar renamed itself Jamaat-ud-Dawa. It began to bill itself as a charitable organization and was instrumental in delivering aid to victims of the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir.

The U.S. government classified Jamaat-ud-Dawa as a terrorist group in April 2006, calling it an “alias” of Lashkar.

The pics above were taken in spring 2006.

Some speculate that India will respond with force. That will likely be the case in Indian-held Kashmir, which is occupied by hundreds of thousands of Indian troops. Maybe there will be more raids and round-ups. But India has to be careful. An overreaction could have grave consequences. A worst-case is a destabilized Karachi—a city three times larger than Baghdad, much poorer, with sectarian beef. I assume Obama-Clinton will push for a regional pact to fight terrorism in conjunction with an Israel-Palestine-style push for Kashmiri peace.

UPDATE: 12/2: Steve Coll on Jamaat/Laskhar via New Yorker blog:

In 2005, I travelled for The New Yorker to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to report on the earthquake that devastated the region. To facilitate international aid, the Pakistani government opened the region to journalists, creating a very rare opportunity to travel without escort and to poke around on the border. I was particularly interested in looking up Lashkar, which I had been following for many years. I made several visits to facilities run by its charity, called “Jamat-ud-Dawa,” which is today tolerated openly by the government of Pakistan but banned as a terrorist organization by the United States on the grounds that it is merely an alias for Lashkar.

In Muzuffarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir, Jamat had brought in a mobile surgical unit staffed by long-bearded doctors from Karachi and Lahore—very impressive young men, fluent in English, who offered a reminder that unlike, say, the Taliban, Lashkar draws some very talented people from urban professions. (With its hospitals, universities, and social-service wings, Lashkar is akin to Hezbollah or Hamas; it is a three-dimensional political and social movement with an armed wing, not merely a terrorist or paramilitary outfit.) As part of its earthquake relief work, Lashkar ferried supplies to remote villages isolated on the far side of the churning Neelum River, one of the two snow-fed canyon rivers that traverse the area. I asked to take a ride with its volunteers, and their media officer (yes, they have media officers) agreed.

We rode in a van to the river’s edge, scrambled down a rocky hillside and boarded one of Lashkar’s rubber pontoon boats, about fifteen feet long, with a large outboard motor—useful for carrying relief supplies, but not coincidentally, also useful for infiltrating militants into Indian-held Kashmir. It has long been an open secret, and a source of some hilarity among foreign correspondents, that under the guise of “humanitarian relief operations,” Lashkar practiced amphibious operations on a lake at its vast headquarters campus, outside Lahore. The events in Mumbai have taken the humor of these “humanitarian” rehearsals away. That day on the Neelum, I chatted with our thick-bearded captain in my very poor Arabic. He spoke Arabic as well—from his religious studies, he said, although he conceded, too, that he had travelled to Saudi Arabia, where it is well understood that Lashkar has raised money. I was also told that around the time of the earthquake they set up fund-raising operations in Britain, to tap the Pakistani diaspora there.

Earlier this year, I met with a Lashkar official in Lahore. We talked about how Jamat was getting along under international pressure. I took no notes and the conversation was intended for my informal guidance, but I came away with a number of impressions. On the one hand, the group’s bank accounts remain unmolested by the Pakistani government, which gives Lashkar quite a lot of running room; on the other, the group resents the accommodations reached between Pakistan’s government and the United States. Clearly, Lashkar knows what it must do to protect the Pakistan government from being exposed in the violent operations that Lashkar runs in Kashmir and elsewhere. For example, some of its younger volunteers wanted to join the fight with the Taliban in Western Pakistan and Afghanistan, my interlocutor said, and so Jamat had evolved an internal H.R. policy by which these young men would turn in their Jamat identity cards and go West “on their own time,” much as think tanks allow policy scholars to take leaves of absence to advise political campaigns.

One question that will certainly arise as the Mumbai investigations proceed is what the United States should insist the government of Pakistan do about Jamat and Lashkar. Even for a relative hawk on the subject of Pakistan’s support for Islamist militias, it’s a difficult question—comparable to the difficult question of managing Hezbollah’s place in the fragile Lebanese political system. To some extent, Pakistan’s policy of banning Lashkar and tolerating Jamat has helpfully reinforced Lashkar’s tendency toward nonviolent social work and proseltyzing. In the long run, this work is a threat to the secular character of Pakistan, but it is certainly preferable to revolutionary violence and upheaval right now. On the other hand, there is little doubt that the Army and I.S.I. continue to use Jamat’s legitimate front as a vehicle for prosecution of a long-running “double game” with the United States, in which Pakistan pledges fealty to American counterterrorism goals while at the same time facilitating guerrilla violence against India, particularly over the strategic territory of Kashmir, which Pakistan regards as vital to its national interests.

Lashkar is a big organization with multiple arms and priorities and its leadership is undoubtedly divided over how much risk to take in pursuit of violent operations in India, particularly given the comfort and even wealth the group’s leaders enjoy from their unmolested activities inside Pakistan. If the boys in Mumbai had support from Lashkar, did the group’s leader, Hafez Saeed, who runs Jamat, know of the plan? If so, that would be a radical act that would likely mean the end of his charity’s tenuous legitimacy.

If it can be credibly established that Saeed did not know—that this was a rogue operation of some sort, or a strategy cooked up by elements of Lashkar and groups such as the Pakistani Taliban or even Al Qaeda (perhaps conducted, too, with support from rogue elements of the Paksitan security forces)—that would be an even more complicated equation. I was at a conference this morning where another panelist well-versed in these issues said he would not be surprised if it turned out that Lashkar conceived the Mumbai attacks as a way to pull Pakistani Army units and attention away from the Afghan border and into defense positions in the east, to protect the country from the possibility of military retaliation by India. In any event, if the evidence does show that uncontrolled Lashkar elements carried out the attacks, it would force India’s government to judge how to calibrate policy toward a civilian-led Pakistan government and Army command that may have little control over the very same Islamist groups that it purposefully built up and supported just a few years ago. If the evidence shows that these were purposeful attacks endorsed by Saeed and aided by elements of the Army, then the Pakistan government will have no choice but to at least make a show of closing down Jamat and arresting Saeed. Unfortunately, it has taken such action in the past, but that action has turned out to be partially symbolic and constructed for international consumption, rather than marking a true and complete change in policy.

The U.S. can do a few useful things here. At a minimum, it can provide transparent information about the investigation and where the facts lead, so that the Indian and Pakistani political systems are on the same footing; it can indict individuals and groups that can be established as culpable for the Mumbai murders, no matter who those individuals and groups are—even if they include officers in the Pakistan Army; and it can emphasize in public that the United States seeks the end of all Pakistani support for terrorist groups, no matter whether they are operating in Afghanistan, Kashmir, or Mumbai.

Coll’s one of the best people to explain Jamaat/Lashkar-ISI ties. His book Ghost Wars is the ultimate guide to pre-911 Afghan/Pakistan-US politics.

You have to hand it to Jamaat/Lashkar. They chose the perfect moment to thrust Kashmir back to the spotlight. If there’s one thing I’d add to Coll’s list of things the US can do, it’s admitting that Kashmir and Afghanistan are the same war, at least to Pakistani Jihadis—how many times did I read signs linking India, the US, and Israel at the 2006 protest pictured above? America’s largely ignored Kashmir in the War on Terror. Thanks to Lashkar, that’s over now. Kashmir is now at the center of the foreign policy agenda. And with 400,000 Indian troops in de facto occupation of a Muslim land (80,000 killed since 1989), it’s about time the West pays attention to Kashmir like it does Israel-Palestine.

Ali Yusef pic of the Green Zone external road suicide bombed yest by a blonde chick.

I think my ex is in the Mid East but I haven’t heard from her:

“We saw an attractive woman with long blond hair heading towards Checkpoint 3,” said a 37-year-old soldier who gave his name as Abu Amir, or father of Amir, referring to a major pedestrian entrance to the Green Zone. “She talked with my two friends Hasan and Ibrahim for about 15 minutes.

“I was looking at her, but I had to go back to my job behind the blast wall,” the soldier recalled. “I heard the bomb at 8:30 a.m., and when I hurried out to my two friends, they were dead.”

Blond hair is rare among Iraqis.

That was a really bad joke. Sorry.

Anyway, violence remains perpetual in Baghdad. Three bombs killed 21 yestarday. Here’s a roundup of the day’s violence in the capital:

McClatchy reports political violence in Iraq on Monday. Baghdad:

– Around 7:30 a.m. a magnetic bomb detonated under a bus for Ministry of Trade employees carrying 18 passengers – 17 female employees and a child. Fourteen passengers were killed, including the child. Three women and the bus driver were wounded, police and witnesses said.

– Around 8:30 a.m. a female suicide bomber detonated near the checkpoint three outside the International Zone where the U.S. embassy and Iraqi government buildings are located. Iraqi police say five people were killed – three civilians and two Iraqi soldiers – and 2 others were wounded. The U.S. military confirmed one death, the Iraqi soldier, and eight injuries.

– Around 11 a.m. a roadside bomb targeted a police patrol in Sinaa street near the Technology University in the Karrada neighborhood (east Baghdad). One person was killed and five others were wounded, including three policemen.

– A mortar hit Meda’in town ( south of Baghdad). Six people were wounded.

I’m still one of the folks who doesn’t understand how we plan on removing all US troops by 2011. Yes, withdrawals should begin ASAP, but what are the parameters for reengagement, i.e. if mass sectarian violence breaks out?

The Battle For Foggy Bottom


By Ray LeMoine

Hillary Clinton plans to accept the job of secretary of state offered by Barack Obama, who is reaching out to former rivals to build a broad coalition administration, the Guardian has learned.

A British paper getting an unsourced scoop like this has left many scratching their heads. are “skeptical,” but note the Brits do know gossip.

Every other news organization is writing about Bill Clinton’s sketchy dealings. I understand all the controversy surrounding Bill and his world traveling, billionaire hanging out with, money taking from questionable autocrats style. But had Hillary beat Obama it wouldn’t have stopped her from the presidency, and thus makes all this “vetting” mute. Lil Annie Lowrey writes a great piece defending the selection, also in the Guardian:

Today, managing Foggy Bottom means managing a vast bureaucracy prone to infighting, particularly since the rise of the National Security Council, national security adviser and other executive-branch agents. Hillary ran a rocky campaign, so might she falter in dealing with the other entities and people managing American diplomacy, let alone her department?

Hillary ran a good campaign and runs an excellent Senate office. She surely would consult with Obama as to the next national security adviser, and already works well with fellow foreign-policy leader vice-president-elect Biden. She may not have extensive experience managing a massive bureaucracy, but few members of Congress do. More importantly, she surely possesses the leadership skills to criticise her own work and seek excellent managers within State.

Others complain about the choice highlight O’s and Hill’s differences on Iran and Pakistan policy, and point out the Obama campaign disliked Hillary. Politico:

“The specific policy area at issue seems to be one in which the two of them aren’t all that well-aligned,” wrote the liberal blogger Matthew Yglesias.

During the primary, top aides like David Plouffe and Robert Gibbs developed a particular distaste for all things Clinton, one that filtered down through the campaign.

Yes, early during the primaries, Obama said he’d talk to Iran “without preconditions.” And Hillary called him “naive.” But since then Obama’s position has moved closer to Hillary’s. Also, Obama has said he’d unilaterally attack Pakistan, a policy that’s already in place and is failing to halt the Taliban’s comeback. So shifting that position won’t be hard. On Iraq, both want the war to end, blah.

On the second point, let’s remember that Plouffe is likely not coming to DC and Gibbs is a dick. A more important Obama sage, David Axelrod, has worked with Clinton.

And of course the “progressives” are weighing in:

One writer on Daily Kos called Clinton “too centrist, too collaborationist, too accommodating.”

Wait, isn’t that what people said about Obama when he was a state senator? “Progressives” need to wake up and realize they voted for a guy who is to the right of Clinton domestically. Did they really think he wouldn’t possibly edge to the center on foreign policy as well? Not that it matters. Saying Hillary Clinton is “too centrist” on foreign policy forgets that US policy has remained largely the same for both parties since WWII—containment/Wilsonian internationalism—save a brief flirtation with Bush doctrine. If anything, the Clintons’ legacy is that of humanitarian intervention, which succeeded in ending the Balkan wars. 

I must admit being shocked by this whole thing, however. On the Sunday before the election, Hillary wrote an oped in the NYDN saying Obama would bring “all Americans” health care. That’s a distinct shift from the plan Obama had been offering, which would leave 15 million uninsured. I assumed a deal between the Clintons and Obama had been made, but never thought it involved State.

By Ray LeMoine
A lot of us want Obama to come in and launch an FDR-style new New Deal, complete with a new WPA and restructuring of all state-funded programs. But I just remembered that it was Lend-Lease, when we basically built the British an army on credit, that began the end of the Depression. Of course, America’s building itself a world-class, Jap and German beating military was what really relieved our economy—not to mention upgraded us from a third rate to super power. So, now that we spend more than all other nations combined on defense—some $500 billion a year—are we going to have to use our military to take back some booty? Ha, maybe gunboat diplomacy be the answer to our economic distress. Oh wait, Bush tried that with Iraq. We’re fucked.

By Ray LeMoine
Why are all terrorists drug dealers? And doesn’t that violate Islam and make them apostates?

Fake ass Muslim/drug dealing asshole

If selling coke isn’t haraam, what is?

For seven years we’ve been losing (or at least stalemated) in the Global War on Terror. In Afghanistan, the Taliban are stronger than ever. Iran de facto rules Iraq. Now comes word that Iran-backed Hezzbollah is tied to a Colombian drug ring. Funny, yes, but this is a potential PR coup. It’s long been known that Hamas makes the majority of the E consumed by Israeli kids trying to forget their military service. Likewise, the Taliban have been profiting (billions) off heroin. Hezzbollah’s been sketching around South America for awhile, mostly in Ciuadad Del Este, the tri-border region of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. But this is the first ties I’ve seen to Colombian coke ring:

Culminating a two-year investigation, authorities arrested at least 36 suspects in recent days, including an accused Lebanese kingpin in Bogota, the Colombian capital. Chekry Harb, who used the alias “Taliban,” acted as the hub of an unusual and alarming alliance between South American cocaine traffickers and Middle Eastern militants, Colombian investigators allege.

It’s time to start calling out the Taliban and Hezzbollah as non-Muslim drug dealing assholes…

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