The Open Dimension

Commentary on social issues; politics; religion and spirituality

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Location: Laguna Hills, California, United States

I am a semi-retired psychotherapist/psychiatric social worker and certified hypnotherapist. Originally a practicing attorney, I changed careers during the 1980's. My interests include history, constitutional law, Hindustani classical music, yoga, meditation and spirituality.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Obama's Position on Afghanistan ( Tom Hayden, May 16, 2012, Tom )

US President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan earlier this month. (AP Photo)As a candidate opposing the Iraq War, Barack Obama improved his hawkish credentials by promising to track down Osama bin Laden, expand drone attacks, and escalate the American troop numbers in Afghanistan. Three years later, bin Laden is dead, the drones inflame Pakistan opinion and complicate a peace settlement, and 33,000 American troops are scheduled to pull out by the end of 2012 with “steady withdrawals” to continue after. Sixty-eight thousand US troops will remain in Afghanistan by this year’s end, with the deadline for withdrawing most of them by December 2014.By the numbers, Afghanistan has already directly cost taxpayers $528.8 billion, and the Obama request for Afghanistan this fiscal year is $107 billion. That does not include the hidden, indirect costs — accrual such as long-term Social Security, disability, and medical care for veterans, etc. — partly spurred by an order last year from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal, which will add hundreds of billions, if not trillions to the ultimate financial impact of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The president’s internal political calculation in 2008 was that he could never pull out of Afghanistan without killing Al Qaeda’s top leadership and building a firewall against a Taliban return to power. While perhaps correct politically, this has led to an Afghan quagmire shaken by severe contradictions.Hamid Karzai remains an unpopular, unreliable president whose term ends in 2014, the year of the troop withdrawal deadline. He seeks $3.5-$6 billion each of the next two years to build up the Afghan armed forces, plus a Western commitment to funding for at least another decade, an impossible expectation. (New York Times, December 5, 2011)According to Pentagon evaluations, those troops are unable to function independently, though insurgent infiltrators are skilled at shooting NATO allies. (20 percent of NATO fatalities this year, according to the New York Times, April 28, 2012)Foreign aid to Afghanistan equals its entire gross national product and, according to the World Bank, “cannot be sustained.” (New York Times, December 6, 2011) “Intractable Graft by Elite Afghans” makes reform out of reach. (New York Times, March 7, 2012)

Earlier this year, the Taliban indicated through intermediaries a willingness to hold dialogue with the West, in Qatar, but demanded the release of several detainees now in Guantanamo, possibly in exchange for an American POW, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Those discussions are in trouble, partly because of Republican opposition to releasing US-held Taliban combatants. As a result, the Obama administration’s hope for progress in negotiations has hit the skids.Despite these insuperable obstacles, Obama will try mightily at the Chicago summit to indicate that the Afghanistan war is winding down, aware that an implosion is possible as Karzai trembles, millionaire Afghans flee the country, and the Afghan forces flounder.

The Republicans will blame Obama for “losing” Afghanistan while trying to avoid any recommendations of their own.Obama’s latest Afghanistan speech indicates where he is headed in a situation clearly out of control:He has narrowed the mission to an obtainable one, “to make sure that al-Qaeda could never again use this country [Afghanistan] to launch attacks against us.”In Chicago, NATO will announce the “goal” of Afghan forces to be “in the lead for combat” by next year. NATO, however, will fight alongside them when needed.

”Current troop reductions will continue on a “firm timeline” and “at a steady pace”, with Afghans becoming “fully responsible for the security of their country” by December 2014.The US will continue to focus on counter-terrorism and training, without building permanent bases or patrolling Afghan cities and mountains. The US, however, will use Afghan military “facilities” on a short-term basis.

Obama is offering a “negotiated peace” with the Taliban, as long as they “break with Al Qaeda, renounce violence, and abide by Afghan laws,” respect Afghan sovereignty. This is a retreat from the original US demand that the Taliban and other insurgents abide by the Afghan Constitution. This opens the possibilities of a new power-sharing arrangement of some kind.Obama’s offer to Pakistan that they be an “equal partner” in the negotiated outcome suggests that Pakistan’s interests and alliances in Afghanistan will be respected, thus ending the rationale for drone strikes over Pakistan

Obama,s statement “we must give Afghanistan the opportunity to stabilize,” can be interpreted as only rhetoric, or a veiled indication that the Afghan elite will have only a “decent interval” before being replaced, the same offer Henry Kissinger proposed for South Vietnam before it collapsed in 1975.If this seems much to muddled a process, it is because it is being rushed for the Chicago summit and is beyond US control in any event.But if Obama campaigns on ending the Iraq War and “winding down” Afghanistan, it will only accelerate the march to the exits. No one wants to be the last American soldier to die, or the last Western country to suffer casualties, in an unwinnable, unaffordable war that Americans do not much care about.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Don't Believe the NATO Hype ( Joseph Gerson Huffington Post, 5/10/2012 )

As the NATO summit in Chicago approaches, misplaced paranoia is striking deep. A near-police-state regime is being imposed, not only to "protect" heads of state from protesters, but also to severely limit the freedoms of speech and assembly. Even nurses -- the United States' most trusted medical professionals -- have been deemed too dangerous to be allowed to rally.

Beyond this hysteria, peace, labor and immigrant rights activists and scholars are gathering in Chicago for the May 18-19 Counter-Summit for Peace and Economic Justice, to present the case against NATO-driven militarism.---- The U.S./NATO war in Afghanistan must end.

Plans to use the summit to ratify fighting in Central Asia until 2024 spells death, suffering and disaster for all involved.There is an alternative to creating stability in one of the world's poorest nations: All-party Afghan negotiations -- including civil society -- and a regional peacemaking process

The United States is in decline. Students can't afford the world-class educations that are essential to both their economic security and the nation's revitalization. Our infrastructure and transportation systems are in disrepair, lagging behind those in many other nations. U.S. defense spending nearly equals the next 17 countries' military spending -- combined! And the Bush tax cuts have made the one percent exceedingly richer. This slow motion debacle must be stopped.

There is an alternative: Cut military spending and restore a truly progressive income tax. Investing in civilian job creation for clean energy, health care, education and 21st century infrastructure could produce far more jobs than sending troops to fight in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Philippines.

NATO was never an entirely defensive alliance. Former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski describes NATO allies as "vassals" and explained that NATO provides a toehold from which to dominate Eurasia. Most people and nations resist being dominated. Since the end of the Cold War, at great expense, NATO has not focused on Europe, but on "out of area" operations like the Afghan and Libyan wars and partnerships from Mauritania to Turkistan, with more to come in Latin America to East Asia.There is an alternative: Retire NATO. Bring our troops and weapons home and close overseas bases. U.S. policy should not focus on preparing for and fighting wars that support corrupt regimes or overthrow dictators while leaving nations divided among armed militias with no functioning national governments.

We suffer from 21st century Jim Crow segregation. More than two million people -- most of them people of color -- are in prison. An estimated 11 million undocumented people, the vast majority tax paying workers and their families, are forced to live in the shadows, fearing deportation and family separations due to draconian federal policies like "Secure Communities and "E-Verify." Children of immigrants who have excelled in school are denied access to college educations.There are alternatives: Suspend those police-state immigration policies. Enact comprehensive immigration reform to expedite the path to citizenship. Mandate in-state tuition for all in-state students.

Four years into the Bush Depression little has been done to address the "betrayal of American prosperity," as detailed by Reagan-era trade tsar Clyde Prestowitz. The super-rich are getting richer. The middle class is shrinking. Millions of workers and their families suffer a jobless "recovery," while corporations maximize profits and CEO salaries by sending manufacturing jobs abroad. And the campaign for European-style "austerity" means greater unemployment.

There are alternatives: Stop foreclosures. Revise tax laws to remove incentives for off-shoring jobs and restore progressive income tax policies like those of the (Republican) Eisenhower era. Invest in job creation by focusing on essential social services, 21st century education and training, and building modern infrastructures that our children will need to live decent lives and to hold their own in the global economy.

Frederick Douglass, the courageous abolitionist, taught that power cedes nothing without a struggle. And the old folk saying reminds us that "we make our road by walking." That's why we're coming to Chicago from Boston and San Bernadine, Tennessee and Toronto, Afghanistan, Afghanistan, Africa and Asia.

The Counter Summit will be the forum to build the movement needed to follow the French in withdrawing from Afghanistan and overcoming nationally self-destructive austerity.Peacefully, in the streets, we can support the Afghan and Iraq Vets whose discarded medals scream that war and military alliances are not the answer; that we need jobs, justice and a caring society if there is to be a 21st century American dream and greater peace in the world.

(Dr. Joseph Gerson is Co-Convener of the Network for a NATO-Free Future and Director of Programs for the American Friends Service Committee in New England.)