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Obama at the Precipice

William J. Astore, tomgram
It’s early in 1965, and President Lyndon B. Johnson faces a critical decision. Should he escalate in Vietnam? Should he say “yes” to the request from U.S. commanders for more troops? Or should he change strategy, downsize the American commitment, even withdraw completely, a decision that would help him focus on his top domestic priority, “The Great Society” he hopes to build?

We all know what happened. LBJ listened to the generals and foreign policy experts and escalated, with tragic consequences for the United States and calamitous results for the Vietnamese people on the receiving end of American firepower. Drawn deeper and deeper into Vietnam, LBJ would soon lose his way and eventually his will, refusing to run for reelection in 1968.

President Obama now stands at the edge of a similar precipice. Should he acquiesce to General Stanley A. McChrystal’s call for 40,000 to 60,000 or more U.S. troops for Afghanistan? Or should he pursue a new strategy, downsizing our commitment, even withdrawing completely, a decision that would help him focus on national health care, among his other top domestic priorities?

The die, I fear, is cast. In his “war of necessity,” Obama has evidently already ruled out even considering a “reduction” option, no less a withdrawal one, and will likely settle on an “escalate lite” program involving more troops (though not as many as McChrystal has urged), more American trainers for the Afghan army, and even a further escalation of the drone war over the Pakistani borderlands and new special operations actions.

By failing his first big test as commander-in-chief this way, Obama will likely ensure himself a one-term presidency, and someday be seen as a man like LBJ whose biggest dreams broke upon the shoals of an unwinnable war…
(11 Oct 2009)

Fighting the Taliban

M. Reza Pirbhai, Counterpunch
With US and NATO commanders on the battlefield of Afghanistan calling for more troops, how best to defeat the Taliban is being hotly debated by Washington’s policy-makers and their media pundits. Yet, nowhere are the types of questions posed by Arundhati Roy (the acclaimed Indian novelist and social activist) on a recent visit to Pakistan to be heard in the mainstream US discourse. Clarifying the purpose of her trip during an address at the Karachi Press Club, she stated, “I’m here to understand what you mean when you say Taliban…Do you mean a militant? Do you mean an ideology? Exactly what is it that is being fought?”

The reason that such questions are not frequently addressed in the US mainstream seems patently clear. The answers require one to move beyond the atrocities of ‘9/11’ and such pat ideas as the ‘threat’ posed the ‘civilized world’ by the Taliban/al-Qaida ‘militant’ and their ‘ideology,’ as well as the ‘human rights’ and ‘anti-woman’ abuses they perpetrate in their ‘Muslim’ homelands. In fact, Roy’s questions require the respondent to first and foremost recall that precursors to the Taliban – groups and leaders with similar ideologies and methods, including Usama bin Laden – were wholehearted supported by the US, with Saudi Arabian and Pakistani assistance, during the 1980’s, when fighting the USSR and its Afghani ally, the Najibullah regime. Of course, acknowledging that the Taliban-style ‘militant’ was an ally and his ‘ideology’ was considered an asset, not to be fought but nurtured and supported, is no great revelation. Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged exactly this in an appearance before the House Appropriations Committee in late April, 2009. She stated:

“Let’s remember here… the people we are fighting today we funded them twenty years ago… and we did it because we were locked in a struggle with the Soviet Union. They invaded Afghanistan… and we did not want to see them control Central Asia and we went to work… and it was President Reagan in partnership with Congress led by Democrats who said you know what it sounds like a pretty good idea… let’s deal with the ISI and the Pakistan military and let’s go recruit these mujahideen. And great, let them come from Saudi Arabia and other countries, importing their Wahhabi brand of Islam so that we can go beat the Soviet Union. And guess what … they (Soviets) retreated … they lost billions of dollars and it led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. So there is a very strong argument which is… it wasn’t a bad investment in terms of Soviet Union but let’s be careful with what we sow… because we will harvest.”

What Clinton neglected to mention, however, and Congress avoided asking, is the full extent and duration of that support, as well as the actual date and circumstances under which the ally was reassessed as an enemy, leaving the impression that the US withdrew after the USSR was defeated in 1989, only to return after the atrocious ‘harvest’ of ‘9/11.’…
(15 Oct 2009)

Is Escalation Obama’s Only Choice in Afghanistan?

Tony Karon, Time magazine
The acceptance by Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai that ballot fraud has stripped him of his first-round re-election victory potentially removes the last obstacle cited by the Obama Administration to sending thousands more U.S. troops into the war. White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said over the weekend that reinforcements could not be sent until the allegations of electoral fraud had been resolved, because the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy depends on defending a legitimate government. But the Afghan electoral commission’s ruling that, after fraudulent ballots were discarded, Karzai had failed to win an outright majority in the first round of voting means that he’ll have to face a runoff race against his closest challenger, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.

The White House logic that a decision on sending further troops would have to wait for the election debacle to be resolved is faulty, however. And Defense Secretary Robert Gates was among those willing to point that out. “We’re not just going to sit on our hands, waiting for the outcome of this election and for the emergence of a government in Kabul,” Gates said Tuesday. “The outcome of the elections and the problems with the elections have complicated the situation for us. But the reality is, it’s not going to be complicated one day and simple the next.”

Indeed, for purposes of creating a representative government as the foundation of U.S. counterinsurgency strategy, the key flaw of Afghanistan’s August election was not the widespread ballot fraud; it was the fact that almost 3 out of 4 voters didn’t show up at the polls because of the Taliban security threat. So, while a runoff election might satisfy the fraud complaints, it won’t make the resulting government much more representative unless millions more voters show up at the polls this time. But the deteriorating security situation and limits of the appeal of both candidates give little reason to expect that the rerun would see a voter surge; turnout in a runoff, if anything, could be even lower.
(X Sept 2009)

Pakistan targets key Taliban town

BBC news
Fierce fighting is continuing for a fourth day in South Waziristan as Pakistani troops battle to gain control of the key Taliban-held town of Kotkai.
The army said it had secured the heights around Kotkai, the home to top Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud.

Up to 100,000 civilians have fled the conflict zone, according to the army.

The army says it has killed nearly 80 militants so far. The Taliban deny the claim. Journalists are denied access to the area and cannot verify the reports.

Pakistani troops – backed by artillery, gunship helicopters and fighter jets – were reported to have briefly taken control of Kotkai in the course of fighting overnight.

…South and North Waziristan form a lethal militant belt from where insurgents have launched attacks across north-west Pakistan as well as into parts of eastern Afghanistan.

South Waziristan is considered to be the first significant sanctuary for Islamic militants outside Afghanistan since the 11 September attacks in the US. It also has numerous training camps for suicide bombers…
(20 Oct 2009)