Saturday, October 17, 2009

When Is The News The News And Not Some Shill’s Nut Shellings?

When Is The News The News And Not Some Shill’s Nut Shellings?

Maddow Confronts Americans For Prosperity’s Tim Phillips, Pt. 1/2

Maddow confronts Americans for Prosperity’s Tim Phillips, pt. 2/2

Same Old Mistakes In New Afghan War
analysis – as prescient then as today – described a country in which "Afghan reactionary forces [were] skilfully taking advantage of the almost ...See all stories on this topic

Soviet military archives show latest international intervention in Afghanistan has learnt nothing from the war two decades ago.

Eight years into the war in Afghanistan: the most senior defence official running the conflict receives a letter from one of his officers. It is a depressing list of political and tactical failures.

"We should honestly admit," he writes, "that our efforts over the last eight years have not led to the expected results. Huge material resources and considerable casualties did not produce a positive end result – stabilization of military-political situation in the country. The protracted character of the military struggle and the absence of any serious success, which could lead to a breakthrough in the entire strategic situation, led to the formation in the minds of the majority of the population of the mistrust in the abilities of the regime."

"The experience of the past years," he continues bleakly, "clearly shows that the Afghan problem cannot be solved by military means only. We should decisively reject our illusions and undertake principally new steps, taking into account the lessons of the past, and the real situation in the country..."

The date is 17 August… 1987. The writer is Colonel K. Tsagalov and he is addressing the newly appointed Soviet defence minister, Dmitry Yazov.

Fast-forward 22 years to the confidential briefing paper prepared for President Barack Obama by the senior US general in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, in August 2009, eight years into the US-led intervention in Afghanistan.

"The weakness of state institutions, malign actions of power-brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various officials, and Isaf's own errors, have given Afghans little reason to support their government," McChrystal argued in a document leaked to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post. He said the consequence had been a "crisis of confidence among Afghans. Further, a perception that our resolve is uncertain makes Afghans reluctant to align with us against the insurgents".

The American led-effort, wrote McChrystal, echoing Tsaglov, was laboring under its own illusions regarding its competence. "Afghan social, political, economic, and cultural affairs are complex and poorly understood. [Nato and the US] does not sufficiently appreciate the dynamics in local communities, nor how the insurgency, corruption, incompetent officials, power-brokers, and criminality all combine to affect the Afghan population." The war was in danger of being lost.

In Washington the talk in recent weeks has been of a "Vietnam moment". Commentators have pored over new studies of that war, looking deep into the heart of one US military debacle in order to think their way out of another. But what if Afghanistan – as Artemy Kalinovsky argued inForeign Policy magazine last month – is not the new Vietnam but rather "the new Afghanistan"?

Should not US and British policy makers be studying the lessons of the Soviet Union's disastrous war from 1979-89, if they want to avoid history's mistakes?

Kalinovsky writes: "The US army/marine corps counterinsurgency field manual does not mention the Soviet experience once. One analyst told me that when she suggested including the conflict as a way to inform current policy, Pentagon officials seemed to have little awareness about what Moscow had been trying to do there or for how long.

Yet, to cite one parallel, McChrystal has just announced he wants to relocate isolated firebases – including one at Kamdesh that came close to being overwhelmed by Taliban fighters on 3 October – to relocate troops in population centres. The Russians, confronted by a widening conflict, were forced to adopt the same strategy.

The Soviet war, at its conclusion, cost more than a million Afghan lives, 26,000 Soviet soldiers died and more than five million Afghans fled the devastated country. Soviet troop numbers reached 108,000 at their peak. True, the mujahideen, unlike the Taliban today, benefited from US and other foreign military aid. And the present conflict has lacked the same intensity, with 800 US soldiers killed and more than 220 Britons, in addition to thousands of Afghans.

But while the scale is different, a study of Soviet archives shows the intellectual failures associated with both wars are the same, a point reinforced by the official history of the Soviet war, prepared by Russia's general staff after the retreat.

"The Soviet government and the Soviet high command," its authors bitterly observed, "did not study Afghanistan's national-historic factors before committing Soviet forces. If they had, they would have found a history of many centuries of resisting various conquerors. The Afghan considers any foreigner carrying weapons as an alien occupier."

The reality too, as Kalinovsky argued last month, is that neither the Russians nor the Americans intended to become embroiled in long wars. Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet leader who ordered the Soviet invasion to bring down the brutal Afghan communist president, Hafizullah Amin, in 1979, hoped troops could be home within months, leaving military and other advisers – backed by huge economic and logistical support – to build a communist government that could stand on its own feet. It was an error repeated by the US-led efforts to rebuild the country as a democratic state.

Professor Chris Bellamy of Cranfield University – an expert on Soviet military history, whose students include serving British army officers – is one of many struck by the similarities. "I remember meeting a Russian general after the Soviet war," he recalled. "He said to me – we should have read Kipling! Now it has come round again, we should have read the Soviet history of Afghanistan."

Belatedly, said Bellamy, his institution had been approached to run a course for British officers en route to Afghanistan on the country's culture and society.

The Soviet preoccupation with Afghanistan – even in the months before the invasion as the number of Soviet military advisers reached thousands – seems strikingly familiar. At a meeting in the Kremlin on 1 April 1979, after an uprising in Herat against the Afghan communist government, Moscow's most senior officials, including Brezhnev, considered a report by foreign minister Andrei Gromyko, defense minister Dmitry Ustinov and KGB director Yuri Andropov. Their analysis – as prescient then as today – described a country in which "Afghan reactionary forces [were] skillfully taking advantage of the almost complete illiteracy of the population, complex international and inter-tribal conflicts, religious fanaticism and nationalism".

It depicted a mujahideen insurgency in transition – as the neo-Taliban insurgency would also develop – "from covert subversive actions to open armed forms of activity" the aim of which was to "widen the front of the struggle, to force the government to disperse its forces across different regions".

Just as western officials now home in on the failings of the Hamid Karzai regime three decades later, the Soviet leadership lamented the lack of legitimacy and authority of their man in Kabul – Nur Mohammad Taraki – recommending, as US and British officials would do later, that the primary task of the Afghan leaders was to "create a new state apparatus, reorganize and strengthen the army and gather practical experience in building a state and party".

It was this desire – insistence on a modern, centralised state similar to the one the international community would seek – that the Soviet Union realised was one of the biggest factors to its catastrophe in Afghanistan.

As a result, in both conflicts foreign forces have found themselves propping up a minority grouping with unsustainable claims to nationwide legitimacy. Russia backed the narrowly represented supporters of the PDPA, the fractious and divided Afghan communist party; now Nato has promoted a small elite surrounding Karzai's weak government.

"The similarities are striking," said Gregory Feifer, American author ofThe Great Gamble, a highly praised new history of the Soviet intervention. "I am reminded of it every time I hear an official talk about national reconciliation. The Soviets spoke about nothing else for nine years. But the goals were different, if the tactics often were similar."

Reading translations of the Soviet record at the National Security Archive and the Cold War International History Project in the US, it is not only the obvious points of comparison that stand out but the detail. Just as US and Nato forces would struggle after the new Taliban insurgency to prevent fighters returning to areas already cleared, the Russians suffered a similar problem while officers complained about the quality of their Afghan army comrades.

Soviet officials complain of not being able to win on the battlefield decisively and of losing the "propaganda war". Recently US envoy Richard Holbrooke and McChrystal have talked of the need "to wrest the information initiative from the Taliban and other groups".

Arne Westad, the London School of Economics history professor who was one of the first to study the Soviet archive, is "constantly stunned" by the parallels. "I remember interviewing a member of the presidium of the Soviet foreign ministry, who dissented from the official line. He warned [the Soviets] that they needed to examine the British experience in Afghanistan and was derided. He was told: it is not the same. It was a different army. But it is [the same]."

Westad is concerned that while the Russians began to demonstrate a more flexible military approach after 1983, Nato and US forces appear to be slower to adapt. In particular, there has been a refusal to lose the old obsession with establishing a unified, "modern" state. Afghanistan is a tribal society where power traditionally has been mediated through qawm– overlapping local patronage networks – and where attempts to carve out a modern state, first tried by the autocratic Mohammad Daoud Khan in the 1970s, until the present day have been a motor for conflict. "It is the biggest problem," he said. "It is like trying to fit a saddle on a cow."

By the time Colonel Tsaglov put pen to paper, Mikhail Gorbachev, shocked by the failure of the intervention and increasing public anger at Russian losses, had already decided to pull out. This week, by contrast, Obama is expected to announce his decision to escalate the war and send yet more soldiers. In the end it was the endless death toll – as much as the crippling cost – that persuaded Gorbachev to call for withdrawal.

Anatoly Chernaev, a close colleague of Gorbachev, recorded the moment in his diary on 17 October 1985 after attending the Politburo meeting. "[Gorbachev] read several heart-rending letters… There is a good deal of everything [in the letters]: international duty?! For what? Do the Afghans themselves want us to fulfil this duty? And is this duty worth the lives of our boys, who do not understand what they are fighting for? Besides the letters filled with tears, mothers' grief over the dead and the crippled, heart-rending descriptions of funerals, there are letters of accusation: the Politburo made a mistake and it should be rectified, the sooner the better."

Thirty years after Russian troops entered Afghanistan to remove a government, Nato, like the Soviets, is confronted by ethnic divisions, corruption and weak government; by a population of which large parts are hostile to foreign intervention and hostile to attempts to modernize and centralize the state.

With troop commitments creeping towards the Soviet total, the unanswered question is whether this war can end in a different manner to the predecessor it mirrors in such startling fashion.

The Media's Glenn Beck Problem

October 16, 2009 10:26 pm ET

It's no coincidence that when members of the media talk about the media these days, they tend to talk about two things: the supposed importance of right-wing media like Fox News, and claims that the rest of the media lean to the left. The two concepts are fundamentally intertwined and mutually reinforcing -- and deeply flawed.

It may seem odd that much of the news media would simultaneously pronounce itself guilty of liberal bias and spend the year after a presidential election won convincingly by the more progressive candidate talking about the importance and influence of a conservative cable channel whose viewership consists of about 1 percent of the nation. But both of those somewhat inconsistent media memes can be explained by journalists' frequent inability to see where the center of the country really is. That inability makes journalists think they are further left of center than they actually are (even assuming they are at all to the left of center). And it makes them inflate the importance of right-wing operatives masquerading as media figures -- people who would have far less influence if actual reporters stopped buying their nonsense.

Their hateful views and adversarial relationship with the truth place the likes of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh on the far-right fringe of a party and movement that have lost the popular vote in four of the past five presidential elections and that holds only 40 percent of the seats in Congress. They are on the far-right edge of a party that is far to the right of the rest of the country.

And, it must be said, they do not tell the truth. They lie about things large and small. They lie to smear their adversaries, and they lie for no real reason at all. Their lies should disqualify them from ever being taken seriously. But instead, the media have decided that if anything they say turns out to contain a sliver of truth, everything they say must be paid immediate attention.

That's what happened when, after years of making absurd claims about ACORN -- remember the lie that ACORN was going to get billions of stimulus dollars? -- some conservative activists induced a statistically insignificant number of the organization's low-level employees to behave badly. The rest of the media rushed to cover the "scandal" -- and to beat themselves up for not having taken their cues from Beck & Co. sooner. The ombudsmen for the The Washington Post and The New York Times, for example, scolded their papers for being too slow to report on Beck-generated controversies and gave credence to conservative claims that the delay was the result of liberal bias.

What few journalists seem to understand is that once you accept someone like Glenn Beck as a legitimate media figure, it skews your view of the rest of the media. This is not a new phenomenon -- not by any means. More than two years ago, I argued that once you accept Ann Coulter, who calls John Edwards a "faggot," as a legitimate guest on shows like NBC's Today, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd -- who merely calls Edwards a "girl" -- seems positively reasonable. Thus the entire media discourse is shoved in the direction of its least legitimate participants.

That's how reporters -- and not just those on Rupert Murdoch's payroll -- come to see the non-Beck, non-Hannity "reporters" at Fox News as fair and balanced. The "news" division at Fox spreads falsehoods and right-wing nonsense round the clock, but many journalists have bought into the idea that while Fox's "opinion" hosts may be conservatives, the rest of the channel plays it down the middle. After all, compared to a crazy liar like Glenn Beck, Fox's "news" programs seem perfectly legitimate and impartial. But judged by any reasonable standard, they are nothing of the kind.

And, of course, if you believe that the rest of Fox News is, as Washington Post reporter Ed O'Keefe put it this week, "straight news shows," that affects how you view other news organizations. Just asAmerica's Newsroom on Fox appears to play things down the middle in comparison to a dishonest demagogue like Glenn Beck, other news organizations appear liberal in comparison with America's Newsroom.

And that's how MSNBC -- which gives three hours of airtime each day to conservative former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough and another hour to Clinton-hating, liberal-bashing misogynist Chris Matthews, employs Pat Buchanan, whose very name has been synonymous with bigotry for decades, and regularly traffics in conservative misinformation and right-wing framing -- comes to be described as "liberal": simply because it also employs the only overtly left-of-center hosts in all of television news.

And that's how you end up with the perverse situation in which newspapers like The Washington Postare described by reporters at the Post and elsewhere as "liberal" despite hounding the Clintons for years over a phony real estate "scandal," harassing Al Gore for lies he didn't tell, handing the 2000 election to George W. Bush on a platter, and trading in their press passes for pom-poms during Bush's march to war with a nation that didn't attack us.

And so we have a poisonous media environment in which the "conservative media" consist of lying conspiracy theorists who are out to destroy President Obama and any other liberal they come across, and the "mainstream press" is considered "liberal" even as it "leans over so far backward to avoid the charge of left bias that it ends up either neutered or leaning to the right."

That's some range, isn't it? From right-wing liars who purposefully traffic in conservative misinformation all the way across the spectrum to frightened liberals who accidentally traffic in conservative misinformation.

That's the real problem with Glenn Beck and Fox News. It isn't that they misinform the 1 percent of Americans who watch their nonsense (the vast majority of whom already agree with them). It's that the rest of the media run to the right in response to Fox -- even while becoming more and more convinced that they are guilty of liberal bias.

Jamison Foser is a Senior Fellow at Media Matters for America, a progressive media watchdog and research and information center based in Washington, D.C. Foser also contributes to County Fair, a media blog featuring links to progressive media criticism from around the Web, as well as original commentary. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook or sign up to receive his columns by email.

Binyam Mohamed: Judges Overrule Attempt To Suppress Torture Evidence: High court orders publication of US report, saying British foreign secretary's actions were harmful to the rule of law

David Miliband, the foreign secretary, acted in a way that was harmful to the rule of law by suppressing evidence about what the government knew of the illegal treatment of Binyam Mohamed, a British resident who was held in a secret prison in Pakistan, the high court has ruled.

In a devastating judgment, two senior judges roundly dismissed the foreign secretary's claims that disclosing the evidence would harm national security and threaten the UK's vital intelligence-sharing arrangements with the US.

In what they described as an "unprecedented" and "exceptional" case, to which the Guardian is a party, they ordered the release of a seven-paragraph summary of what the CIA told British officials – and maybe ministers – about Ethiopian-born Mohamed before he was secretly interrogated by an MI5 officer in 2002.

"The suppression of reports of wrongdoing by officials in circumstances which cannot in any way affect national security is inimical to the rule of law," Lord Justice Thomas and Mr Justice Lloyd Jones ruled. "Championing the rule of law, not subordinating it, is the cornerstone of democracy."

The summary is a CIA account given to British intelligence "whilst [Mohamed] was held in Pakistan ... prior to his interview by an officer of the Security Service", the judges said. The officer, known only as Witness B, is being investigated by the Metropolitan police for "possible criminal wrongdoing".

The seven-page document will not be released until the result of an appeal is known. However, the judges made clear their anger at the position adopted by Miliband, MI5, and MI6 in their hard-hitting judgment.

An explanation was needed, they said, about "what the United Kingdom government actually knew about what was alleged to be cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or torture, in particular what Witness B knew before he interviewed [Mohamed] ... in Pakistan". The judges added that it was important to explain what MI5 "and others knew when they provided further information to the United States to be used in the interrogation".

There was a "compelling public interest" to disclose what Miliband wanted to suppress, they said; there was nothing in the seven-paragraph summary that had anything remotely to do with "secret intelligence".

"In our view, as a court in the United Kingdom, a vital public interest requires, for reasons of democratic accountability and the rule of law in the United Kingdom, that a summary of the most important evidence relating to the involvement of the British security services in wrongdoing be placed in the public domain in the United Kingdom."

The judges sharply criticised the way Miliband and his lawyers tried topersuade the Obama administration to back the suppression of the CIA material. Lawyers acting for Mohamed, the Guardian and other media organisations pointed out that Obama had himself set up an inquiry into CIA practices and published details of their interrogation techniques.

In the end, Miliband had to rely for help on a CIA letter to MI6 claiming that disclosure of the document would harm the security of the US and UK.

The judges made it clear they did not believe the claim was credible. "The public interest in making the paragraphs public is overwhelming," they said.

The document would show what Witness B – an MI5 officer who interrogated Mohamed in Pakistan in 2002 – knew about Mohamed's condition before he questioned him incognito in a Pakistani jail, the judges said.

The CIA secretly flew Mohamed to Morocco, Afghanistan and then Guantánamo Bay, the court has heard. The judges criticised MI5 and MI6 for the belated disclosure of documents that revealed an MI5 officer was in Morocco when Mohamed was held there in a secret jail.

Miliband's lawyers continued to argue that a number of passages in the judges' ruling must be redacted as well as the seven-paragraph CIA document.

Jonathan Evans, the head of MI5, admitted in a speech at Bristol University on Thursday that the Security Service had been "slow to detect the emerging pattern of US practice in the period after 9/11".

"But it is important to recognise that we do not control what other countries do, that operational decisions have to be taken with the knowledge available, even if it is incomplete, and that when the emerging pattern of US policy was detected, necessary improvements were made."

He repeated the mantra that MI5 "does not torture people, nor do we collude in torture or solicit others to torture people on our behalf".

However, he said the situation posed a dilemma. "Given the pressing need to understand and uncover al-Qaida's plans, were we to deal, however circumspectly, with those security services who had experience of working against al-Qaida on their own territory, or were we to refuse to deal with them, accepting that in so doing we would be cutting off a potentially vital source of information that would prevent attacks in the west?

"In my view we would have been derelict in our duty if we had not worked, circumspectly, with overseas liaisons who were in a position to provide intelligence that could safeguard this country from attack. I have every confidence in the behaviour of my officers in what were difficult and, at times, dangerous circumstances".

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