Reacting: William Bradley on Huffington Post

I couldn’t help but react to William Bradley’s April 30th Huffington Post column on Afghanistan and Pakistan.  It had some interesting points, but it was also filled with vaguely orientalist notions of Pakistani security issues.

There were the noble generals, the scary ISI, and the invisible 170 million civilians who would soon fall to a marauding Taliban.

So naturally, I had to comment.  You can read my three 250 word responses below.  They were published as comments on the HuffPo website.

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Failed State Fetish

The news is certainly troubling.  Taliban fighters get a “peace” treaty from the national Pakistani government, and then expand from Swat to neighboring Buner.  A vast national military seems unable or unwilling to respond, and everyone scratches their heads wondering what is next.

But does this really mean that Pakistan is on the verge of falling to the Taliban?  If you look at the details, it is a notion deserving of skepticism.

In a column for CNN, New America Foundation fellow Peter Bergen puts the current bad news in the context of Pakistan’s historic challenges:

bergen1The present crisis with the Taliban is not nearly as severe as the genuinely existential crises that Pakistan has faced and weathered in the past. Pakistan has fought three major wars with India and has lost each encounter, including the 1971 war in which one half of the country seceded to become Bangladesh.  Pakistan’s key leaders have succumbed to the assassin’s bullet or bomb or the hangman’s noose, and the country has seen four military coups since its birth in 1947. Yet the Pakistani polity has limped on.

When looking for reasons why the Taliban don’t pose a nation-destroying threat, this history of “hard knocks” isn’t exactly what one has in mind.  But it does put the current border insurgency in its proper context.  Pakistan has experienced far greater challenges in the past, and Pakistan still exists as a nation.

Indeed, one can even look to India for additional context.  Many think of India as a simple example of democracy rising, but you could easily string together a series of anecdotes to paint a more nuanced picture:  two Indian states currently under military control (Kashmir and Manipur), two more states with ongoing Maoist insurrections (Chhattisghar and Jharkhand), past and present separatist movements elsewhere.  Continue reading

The IMF and the Taliban

imfAmong the many factors at play in the growth of the Pakistani “neo-Taliban” is the story of poverty and a failed government response to basic human needs. With the global recession underway, things have only gotten only worse for those near the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder in Pakistan and elsewhere.

As the World Bank puts it:

“Estimates of the additional number of people trapped in extreme poverty in 2009 as a result of the financial crisis range from 50 to 90 million.”

With that in mind, it can be easy to view this weekend’s IMF/World Bank meetings as good news:  lots of talk of providing money to Pakistan and other developing nations to help during the recession.

Unfortunately, the IMF is talking about providing loans.

That means more long-term debt for the very nations that can least afford to pay it off. To make things worse, many of these loans are likely to come with the kinds of conditions that will further limit social welfare spending.

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Chris Matthews, Cold Warrior

Amidst all the buzz around new U.S.-Cuba relations, Chris Matthews found a way to sound the old Cold War alarm.  Avoiding the messy details of real history, Mr. Matthews criticized President Obama’s call for a new U.S.-Cuba relationship:

chris-matthewsWell, I just am not a Castro fan. You know, he [Castro] bought the wrong ticket. He bet on communism. He bet on the Soviet Union. If that side had won, he would be marching through Fifth Avenue, overseeing the executions in Central Park….So, I don’t really want to help Castro.

Summoning ghosts from the 80′s flick Red Dawn, Matthews revealed a history of Cuba that never existed.  There was never such a “bet” to be made.  Continue reading

Pirates, Propaganda, and CNN

“Heroes and villians” — it is standard rhetorical fare for elected officials, media outlets, and the general public.  We all want our uplifting stories of freedom, set against the backdrop of immorality and danger.

somalia_sm_2007The story of the Somali pirates is no exception.  This is not to say many of the pirates are in fact anything other than bandits.  When someone points a gun at someone else and take them hostage, the range of scenarios in which the gun-toter  could be considered anything but a criminal start to narrow greatly.

But the dominant narrative has obscured other realities on the ground.  Somalis are apparently quite angry at European ships, and with good reason.  In a widely circulated essay on The Huffington Post, Independent (UK) newspaper journalist Johann Hari spells out the gruesome details:

In 1991, the government of Somalia – in the Horn of Africa – collapsed … As soon as the government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken…People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died. Continue reading

The Nonprofit Newspaper?

Good reporting on U.S. foreign policy requires good reporting, period.  As newspapers shrink and reporters get laid off, accurate American discourse about our actions in the world becomes less likely.

newspapers3

The best (worst) example is Iraq.  Even before the Obama Administration began, flagging public interest intersected with shrinking media budgets to result in Baghdad reporting cutbacks.

In less expensive parts of the world, we can expect more of the same. As newspapers go belly-up, the pool of funds available to hire foreign correspondents is declining as well.  Citizens of  the Superpower who depend on mainstream media are going to have even less information about America’s global footprint.

But instead of watching our for-profit media institutions go out of business, maybe we should stop thinking of them in business terms.   Liberal media critic Eric Alterman just published a fine column on a topic getting increasing play in some circles:  the nonprofit newspaper.

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The Al Qaeda two-step shuffle

Al Qaeda and the “war on terror” seem to be the ultimate linguistic props.  Now you see them, now you don’t.

First, the disappearance — the Washington Post reports in late March on the new name for the “war on terror”:

In a memo e-mailed this week to Pentagon staff members, the Defense Department’s office of security review noted that “this administration prefers to avoid using the term ‘Long War’ or ‘Global War on Terror’ [GWOT.] Please use ‘Overseas Contingency Operation.’ “

Then, the reappearance — President Obama speaking on Afghanistan at a NATO summit a week later:

“France recognises that having al-Qaeda operate safe havens that can be used to launch attacks is a threat not just to the United States but to Europe…  In fact it is probably more likely that al-Qaeda would be able to launch a serious terrorist attack in Europe than in the United States because of proximity.”

At least we are getting some variety.  Under the Bush Administration, it was all Al Qaeda, all the time.

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The anguish of the innocent

AP photo:  Chakwal, Pakistan

Associated Press (AP): Relatives of victims killed by a suicide bomber in a mosque, react in a hospital in Chakwal city in Punjab province, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Islamabad, Pakistan, Sunday, April 5, 2009.

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“That wasn’t a date…”

Did they shake hands?  Did they chat?  Was there a peck on the cheek?  As with all first dates, it depends on who you talk to.

The New York Times reported that a pair of top diplomats from the U.S. and Iran had a polite chat at an international conference on Afghanistan this Tuesday.  According to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

“It was cordial, unplanned and they agreed to stay in touch,” Mrs. Clinton said to reporters at the end of the conference. “I myself did not have any direct contact with the Iranian delegation.”

But not so fast.  As the BBC later reported, an Iranian government spokesperson denied the whole thing:

“No meeting or talk, be it formal or informal, official or unofficial between Iran and US officials took place on the sideline of this conference…We categorically deny the reports published in this regard.”

One thing is for sure.  The delicate dance has begun.

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