Monday, February 8, 2010

US youth unemployment soars

US youth unemployment soars

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Even prior to the current economic crisis, today’s young adults were on average poorer and more in debt than their parents. Since the economic meltdown began in 2008, however, conditions facing young people have taken a sharp turn for the worse.

Teenage employment (16 to 19 years old) is officially 26.4 percent as of January, but the actual unemployment rate is much higher. More than half of young people aged 16-24—52.2 percent—do not have jobs, the highest since World War II. This includes those who are not looking for work, and are therefore not categorized as officially unemployed.

It is estimated that 6.9 million jobs for young workers have been erased during the current downturn.

This crushing unemployment for American youth is worst among black males between the ages of 16 and 19, with an unemployment rate of 50 percent. However, according to a report on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered,” fewer than 14 in 100 young black men actually have jobs.

A major factor in the dramatic rise of youth unemployment is competition with older workers, who are themselves facing a jobs crisis. More people 55 and older are now working than before the recession. As a result of the decline in wages, spouse’s unemployment and declining home valuations, older workers are not retiring. If they are laid off, they often seek entry-level positions that previously went to the young.

At the same time, incomes are plummeting for those just starting out. In 1969, only 10 percent of men in their early 30s were classified as low earners (less than the federal poverty rate). By 2004, it was 23 percent, and it has continued to grow.

A January 2010 report by the Kaiser Foundation highlighted one of the consequences of the systematic impoverishment of the youth. Young adults are the least likely to have access to health insurance of any group in the US, with an estimated 29.3 percent of the 19-29 age group lacking coverage.

Young adults who are working are less likely to have employer-sponsored health insurance and often cannot afford the cost of individual plans. According to the Kaiser study, of the young workers who have no coverage, more than half live in households with incomes below 150 percent of the federal poverty level.

“Without insurance coverage, these young adults risk both their physical health and their financial security,” Kaiser concluded, pointing out that young adults are in a critical developmental period in which many long term conditions and risks should be addressed.

In addition to the employment and cost factors, young people have been victimized by insurance companies that are enabled by state law to drop the children of covered adults once they turn 18 (23 for full time students).

Meanwhile, under the impact of enormous budget deficits, many states are eliminating low-income health services or insurance subsidies that had helped fill in the gap for young workers. For example, Tennessee subsidized the insurance costs for certain categories of workers in small businesses, but the state has now halted new enrollment.

Washington’s Basic Health plan, the first state-subsidized program when it began, will end by July unless it receives $160 million in new revenue. About 300 people a day are added to the waiting list, according to the Kaiser Foundation. Connecticut offers health insurance on an income-based sliding scale, but the state will freeze enrollment this year. A similar Pennsylvanian program’s wait list more than doubled in 2009.

Declining incomes and rising costs, especially for education, have led to a dramatic rise in debt for young Americans. A 2008 survey by Demos, “The Plastic Safety Net,” found that young people under 35 had an average of $9,111 in credit card debt. More than half used their credit cards to pay for basic living expenses.

Overall, 2009 credit card debt in the US increased by 18 percent, with consumers in many of the hardest-hit states piling up more than a 30 percent increase in revolving debt during the year. These states include Indiana, Michigan, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.

Dramatically contributing to the debt of young adults is the increasing burden of education costs. From 1982 to 2007, college tuition and fees increased by over 400 percent, even as financial aid shifted from grant-based aid to loans. The 2008-09 academic year showed a 25 percent increase in student loan disbursements, according to the US Education Department, pushing it up to $75 billion.

The Pew Charitable Trust did a study, “The Project on Student Debt,” which cited $23,200 as the average student debt loan. However, for tens of thousands, their debt is much higher.

US-China tensions continue over Google

US-China tensions continue over Google

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The US-China tensions have continued over Google’s criticism of alleged Chinese hacking and censorship. The Obama administration has used the issue as part of its intensifying pressure on Beijing since the beginning of the year, including a $US6.4 billion arms sale to Taiwan, a planned meeting with Tibet’s Dalai Lama and punitive US tariffs against Chinese goods.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton late last month called on China to conduct a transparent investigation into the hacking of Google and other US Internet companies since December. “Countries or individuals that engage in cyber attacks should face consequences and international condemnation,” she said.

Clinton’s speech signalled support for Google’s accusations that the Chinese government was involved in the sophisticated hacking of human rights activists’ email accounts. More broadly, she lectured the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) over Internet censorship and the need for “freedom of expression”.

After subsequently meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Yan Jiechi in London on the sideline of the Afghanistan conference, Clinton played down the tensions, saying: “Obviously, they feel strongly that they are much more open than perhaps they’re getting credit for.” But she reiterated that everyone should make sure “that no one uses the Internet for purposes of censorship or repression”.

It is clear that the Obama administration is pressing harder on the so-called human rights issue as part of a more aggressive stance against China. Last April, when Clinton visited Beijing in the midst of the global economic turmoil, the US was seeking Chinese assistance. She publicly declared that human right issues “should not” interfere with Washington-Beijing cooperation over the financial crisis.

US expressions of concern about democratic rights in China are completely cynical. Washington is well aware that the profits of American investors in China depend on a police-state regime that suppresses any opposition, particularly by the working class. The Tiananmen Square massacre in June 1989 evoked public criticism in Washington, but was soon followed by a flood of investment to take advantage of China’s regimented cheap labour.

James McGregor, head of the American Chamber of Commerce’s government relations committee in China, told the New York Times on January 27 that “most Western companies also need China more than ever”. Moreover, the newspaper noted, more and more Western political leaders are studying the “advantages” of Beijing’s autocratic regime that produced fast economic growth, “even if that means a stiff measure of domestic repression”.

The White House is also using the Google allegations to tighten Internet monitoring in the US. The Washington Post reported last week that Google was finalising a partnership with the National Security Agency to investigate the alleged Chinese hacking. The agreement has been delayed by public concern that this so-called “information sharing” would allow the US intelligence agency to monitor private online communications. Google had previously refused to participate in the NSA’s so-called Terrorist Surveillance Program that includes the warrantless interception of phone calls and emails in the name of “fighting terrorism”.

Google’s own stance over the hacking allegations is driven more by profit than concerns over democratic rights. After initially threatening to withdraw from China, the corporation toned down its rhetoric. Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s told the Financial Times on January 21 that the company was not pulling out of China. “We have a good business in China. This is about the censorship rules, not anything else,” he said.

At stake is a share in the world’s largest Internet market, estimated at 384 million users. After setting up in 2006, Google now accounts for 33.2 percent of Chinese search engine market—half its local rival of Baidu (66.1 percent). For the past four years, it has obediently implemented China’s censorship regime, along with Yahoo and other search engines.

Schmidt told the Financial Times Google would soon stop implementing the censorship restrictions, but gave no concrete timetable. Google did allow access to search results on sensitive issues such as the Dalai Lama, the banned Falun Gong religious movement and 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre—but only for a day or so.

Google users in China are mainly from the more educated urban middle-classes. Many are attracted by Google’s relatively wider online search power, compared to Baidu. By hinting at providing freer access to information, Google is hoping to boost its position against Baidu.

However, the Financial Times pointed out that China’s Internet users have particular characteristics—tending “to roam the web like a huge playground, whereas Europeans and Americans are more likely to use it as a gigantic library”. According to the China Internet Network Information Centre, 61.5 percent of local users are below the age of 29 and only 12.1 percent have a university degree. Some 42.5 percent have a monthly income of just $146 or less.

Deeply concerned about rising social tensions, Beijing encourages the use of the Internet as “a playground”. While vigorously policing the Internet to block sensitive political content and discussion, it turns a blind eye to the enforcement of intellectual property rights, allowing users access to free music, films and games. It is a situation, the Financial Times commented, “that helps keep the minds of many off topics that could prove inconvenient to their rulers”.

Behind US criticisms of the hacking of Google, there are also concerns about China’s ability to wage cyber warfare—that is, to disable enemy computer networks and communications, conduct espionage and disrupt vital utilities such as power supplies. According to a 2008 study by British/Israeli counter-surveillance corporation Spy-Ops, China’s cyber force had more than 10,000 personnel, with an offensive capability rating as 4.2 (1 is low and 5 is significant)—second only to the US.

The Western media generally inflates the threat of Chinese cyber attacks, highlighting previous hacking incidents, allegedly originating from China, on Western governments and arms contractors. US cyber threats against China are scarcely mentioned. Zhou Yonglin, the deputy chief of China’s National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team, declared last month that China was the world’s largest target for hackers, with more than 260,000 Internet addresses under assault last year. A large proportion, one in six, originated in the US.

Hacking and espionage go beyond the military and state agencies. In the US, China and other countries, the intelligence services have shady connections with various hackers’ organisations. A cyber security study published by US Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and commissioned by technology security firm McAfee acknowledged that the main source of cyber attacks internationally was the US.

The US military has definite cyber warfare plans. The Washington Post reported last month that the Pentagon is planning to establish a Cyber Command, not only to defend US military computer networks, “but to establish the Pentagon’s cyber strategy as the United States enters an era in which any major conflict will almost certainly involve an element of cyber warfare”.

As well as using Google’s hacking allegations to intensify political pressure on China, the US will undoubtedly use the accusations to justify this expansion of cyber warfare capacities.

Obama budget threatens funding for poor school districts

Obama budget threatens funding for poor school districts

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The Obama administration’s budget proposal for 2011 contains sweeping changes to funding for primary and secondary education. New rules would radically alter the guidelines for the distribution of funding to schools with high concentrations of low-income students, punishing students and teachers in these schools for failure to meet “college- or career-readiness” goals.

Obama will ask Congress for $49.7 billion in discretionary spending for the 2011 fiscal year for the Department of Education (DOE), a modest $3.5 billion or 7.5 percent increase over 2010. To put this into perspective, Obama’s request for spending in 2011 for the Department of Defense is $708.2 billion.

How the DOE will allocate its funds is also of critical importance. While details of the education proposal remain sketchy, the changes being pushed by Obama to what is known as Title I funding are to the right of the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001—the law that is widely recognized by teachers and parents as an attack on education, particularly in poorer school districts.

NCLB is the latest reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESAE), a federal statute enacted in 1965 that authorized and funded school development and resources and promoted parental involvement.

Under Title I of the act, the US Department of Education established a set of programs to distribute funding to schools and school districts with a high percentage of students from low-income families. To qualify, a school typically must have around 40 percent or more of its students coming from families with incomes falling below the federal poverty level, or about $22,000 annually for a family of four.

Under Obama’s proposals, a significant portion of these Title I funds would be distributed to poorer districts—not on the basis of economic need, but according to their “performance.” This would in effect penalize students and teachers in schools already operating with budgets funded by lower tax bases, and where increasing numbers of families are struggling under the growing impact of the economic crisis.

The change is modeled on Obama’s Race to the Top (RTTT) program, which is forcing states to compete for $4.3 billion in stimulus funds. Under RTTT, states that prohibit the use of test scores in teacher evaluations are ineligible for funds. States are also rewarded for opening up more charter schools, institutions that are privately run but receive federal money at the expense of public schools.

In line with Obama’s RTTT, the governing body of the New York City’s Department of Education voted last month to close 7 middle or elementary schools and 12 high schools. More than 10,000 students, the vast majority from poor and working-class communities, will be affected by the closures. This scenario will be repeated in communities across the country in the coming months.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan gave an indication of what the changes to Title I funding would mean in remarks at the Brookings Institution in Washington last May. He said, “When a school is chronically under-performing despite additional supports and other strategies, you have to consider bolder action, whether it’s changing the leadership, hiring a new staff or turning schools over to charter operators.”

In other words, “under-performing” schools could see funds withdrawn, and teacher and administrator firings; or they could be handed over to for-profit charter operators or shut down outright. Districts that reject evaluation and payment of teachers based on student performance—so-called merit pay—would be similarly penalized.

In much the same way as the Clinton administration gutted the welfare system, poor students in poor districts would no longer be “entitled” to Title I money, but would be forced to compete for the funds along with other equally cash-strapped schools. This is a fundamental and regressive change to a system of school funding that has been in place for four-and-a-half decades.

The New York Times quoted Jack Jones, president of the Center on Education Policy, who attended a recent media event where the Obama administration outlined its proposals. “They want to recast the law so that it is as close to Race to the Top as they can get it, making the money conditional on districts’ taking action to improve schools,” he said.

“Right now most federal money goes out in formulas, so schools know how much they’ll get, and then use it to provide services for poor children,” Jones added. “The department thinks that’s become too much of an entitlement. They want to upend that scheme by making states and districts pledge to take actions the administration considers reform, before they get the money.”

As in other areas of social spending, Obama is overseeing in education the dismantling of a vital public program for working families. While trillions of dollars have been allocated to bail out Wall Street and the banks, no such bailout is available for the public schools. School districts throughout the country, facing unprecedented budget crises, are responding with teacher layoffs, the closing down of schools, and the elimination of programs such as art, music and physical education.

The Obama administration contends it is seeking to move away from the Bush administration’s emphasis on math and reading in NCLB—and the consequent “teaching to the test” imposed on teachers—to focus more on college preparedness. But under conditions where school districts, particularly poorer ones, will be forced to compete for inadequate resources, the end result will be an overall dumbing down of public education.

Additionally, the stress placed on graduating students who are “career-ready” makes clear that the political establishment does not view affordable, high-quality college education as an opportunity that should be available to all young people. Rather, in working class and poorer districts, high schools should be geared towards producing workers for low-wage jobs.

In opposition to the interests of their own membership, teachers unions have been complicit in imposing the bipartisan attack on public education.

Last December, the Detroit Federation of Teachers union forced through a concessions contract with a concerted campaign of intimidation and threats directed against teachers. The DFT worked closely with the school district, the media, and the Democratic Party at both the local and national level.

Included in the rotten deal was a “Termination Incentive Plan,” proposed by DFT leaders, which amounts to a $10,000 pay cut for full-time teachers over two years at a rate of $500 a month. The plan was presented as a loan that the DFT claims will be returned when teachers retire or are laid off. In reality, it is aimed at compelling older, more senior teachers to leave their jobs, allowing the district to hire new teachers at lower pay and with no rights.

Other concessions in the pact include cuts to health benefits, a pay freeze and the imposition of “peer review” and merit pay. In line with a bill passed by the Michigan state legislature, the contract also opens the way for the expansion of “priority schools”—i.e., charter schools.

American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten took out a full-page ad in the New York Times in an effort to browbeat DFT members into accepting the contract. She argued that it was better for teachers to accept the attacks on wages, benefits and rights with the help of the unions, instead of in opposition to the union bureaucrats.

In a speech January 12 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Weingarten called on union members and school district management to collaborate in imposing such contracts on teachers, along with “accountability” schemes like merit pay.

According to the AFT web site’s report on the Weingarten speech, the AFT president “singled out several school districts that have made positive changes because of their trusting and respectful labor-management relationships, including in New Haven, Connecticut; St. Paul, Minnesota; and Detroit.”

Yemen and The Militarization of Strategic Waterways

Yemen and The Militarization of Strategic Waterways

"Whoever attains maritime supremacy in the Indian Ocean would be a prominent player on the international scene." (US Navy Geostrategist Rear Admiral Alfred Thayus Mahan (1840-1914))

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The Yemeni archipelago of Socotra in the Indian Ocean is located some 80 kilometres off the Horn of Africa and 380 kilometres South of the Yemeni coastline. The islands of Socotra are a wildlife reserve recognized by (UNESCO), as a World Natural Heritage Site.

Socotra is at the crossroads of the strategic naval waterways of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden (See map below). It is of crucial importance to the US military.


Among Washington's strategic objectives is the militarization of major sea ways. This strategic waterway links the Mediterranean to South Asia and the Far East, through the Suez Canal, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

It is a major transit route for oil tankers. A large share of China's industrial exports to Western Europe transits through this strategic waterway. Maritime trade from East and Southern Africa to Western Europe also transits within proximity of Socotra (Suqutra), through the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. (see map below). A military base in Socotra could be used to oversee the movement of vessels including war ships in an out of the Gulf of Aden.

"The [Indian] Ocean is a major sea lane connecting the Middle East, East Asia and Africa with Europe and the Americas. It has four crucial access waterways facilitating international maritime trade, that is the Suez Canal in Egypt, Bab-el-Mandeb (bordering Djibouti and Yemen), Straits of Hormuz (bordering Iran and Oman), and Straits of Malacca (bordering Indonesia and Malaysia). These ‘chokepoints’ are critical to world oil trade as huge amounts of oil pass through them." (Amjed Jaaved, A new hot-spot of rivalry, Pakistan Observer, July 1, 2009)


Sea Power

From a military standpoint, the Socotra archipelago is at a strategic maritime crossroads. Morever, the archipelago extends over a relatively large maritime area at the Eastern exit of the Gulf of Aden, from the island of Abd al Kuri, to the main island of Socotra. (See map 1 above) This maritime area of international transit lies in Yemeni territorial waters. The objective of the US is to police the entire Gulf of Aden seaway from the Yemeni to Somalian coastline. (See map 1).

Socotra is some 3000 km from the US naval base of Diego Garcia, which is among America's largest overseas military facilities.

The Socotra Military Base

On January 2nd, 2010, President Saleh and General David Petraeus, Commander of the US Central Command met for high level discussions behind closed doors.

The Saleh-Petraeus meeting was casually presented by the media as a timely response to the foiled Detroit Christmas bomb attack on Northwest flight 253. It had apparently been scheduled on an ad hoc basis as a means to coordinating counter-terrorism initiatives directed against "Al Qaeda in Yemen", including "the use [of] American drones and missiles on Yemen lands."

Several reports, however, confirmed that the Saleh-Petraeus meetings were intent upon redefining US military involvement in Yemen including the establishment of a full-fledged military base on the island of Socotra. Yemen's president Ali Abdullah Saleh was reported to have "surrendered Socotra for Americans who would set up a military base, pointing out that U.S. officials and the Yemeni government agreed to set up a military base in Socotra to counter pirates and al-Qaeda." (Fars News. January 19, 2010)

On January 1st, one day before the Saleh-Petraeus meetings in Sanaa, General Petraeus confirmed in a Baghdad press conference that "security assistance" to Yemen would more than double from 70 million to more than 150 million dollars, which represents a 14 fold increase since 2006. (Scramble for the Island of Bliss: Socotra!, War in Iraq, January 12, 2010. See also CNN January 9, 2010, The Guardian, December 28, 2009).

This doubling of military aid to Yemen was presented to World public opinion as a response to the Detroit bomb incident, which allegedly had been ordered by Al Qaeda operatives in Yemen.

The establishment of an air force base on the island of Socotra was described by the US media as part of the "Global war on Terrorism":

"Among the new programs, Saleh and Petraeus agreed to allow the use of American aircraft, perhaps drones, as well as "seaborne missiles"--as long as the operations have prior approval from the Yemenis, according to a senior Yemeni official who requested anonymity when speaking about sensitive subjects. U.S. officials say the island of Socotra, 200 miles off the Yemeni coast, will be beefed up from a small airstrip [under the jurisdiction of the Yemeni military] to a full base in order to support the larger aid program as well as battle Somali pirates. Petraeus is also trying to provide the Yemeni forces with basic equipment such as up-armored Humvees and possibly more helicopters." (Newsweek, Newsweek, January 18, 2010, emphasis added)

Existing runway and airport

US Naval Facility?

The proposed US Socotra military facility, however, is not limited to an air force base. A US naval base has also been contemplated.

The development of Socotra's naval infrastructure was already in the pipeline. Barely a few days prior (December 29, 2009) to the Petraeus-Saleh discussions (January 2, 2010), the Yemeni cabinet approved a US$14 million loan by Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED) in support of the development of Socotra's seaport project.


The Great Game

The Socotra archipelago is part of the Great Game opposing Russia and America.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union had a military presence in Socotra, which at the time was part of South Yemen.

Barely a year ago, the Russians entered into renewed discussions with the Yemeni government regarding the establishment of a Naval base on Socotra island. A year later, in January 2010, in the week following the Petraeus-Saleh meeting, a Russian Navy communiqué "confirmed that Russia did not give up its plans to have bases for its ships... on Socotra island." (DEFENSE and SECURITY (Russia), January 25, 2010)

The Petraeus-Saleh January 2, 2010 discussions were crucial in weakening Russian diplomatic overtures to the Yemeni government.

The US military has had its eye on the island of Socotra since the end of the Cold War.

In 1999, Socotra was chosen "as a site upon which the United States planned to build a signal intelligence system...." Yemeni opposition news media reported that "Yemen's administration had agreed to allow the U.S. military access to both a port and an airport on Socotra." According to the opposition daily Al-Haq, "a new civilian airport built on Socotra to promote tourism had conveniently been constructed in accordance with U.S. military specifications." (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pennsylvania), October 18, 2000)

The Militarization of the Indian Ocean

The establishment of a US military base in Socotra is part of the broader process of militarization of the Indian Ocean. The latter consists in integrating and linking Socotra into an existing structure as well as reinforcing the key role played by the Diego Garcia military base in the Chagos archipelago.

The US Navy's geostrategist Rear Admiral Alfred T. Mahan had intimated, prior to First World War, that "whoever attains maritime supremacy in the Indian Ocean [will] be a prominent player on the international scene.".(Indian Ocean and our Security).

What was at stake in Rear Admiral Mahan's writings was the strategic control by the US of major Ocean sea ways and of the Indian Ocean in particular: "This ocean is the key to the seven seas in the twenty-first century; the destiny of the world will be decided in these waters."


Destabilizing Pakistan

Destabilizing Pakistan

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Almost every day, reports come back from the CIA’s “secret” battlefield in the Pakistani tribal borderlands. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles -- that is, pilot-less drones -- shoot missiles (18 of themin a single attack on a tiny village last week) or drop bombs and then the news comes in: a certain number of al-Qaeda or Taliban leaders or suspected Arab or Uzbek or Afghan “militants”have died. The numbers are often remarkably precise. Sometimes they are attributed to U.S. sources, sometimes to the Pakistanis; sometimes, it’s hard to tell where the information comes from. In the Pakistani press, on the other hand, the numbers that come back are usually of civilian dead. They, too, tend to be precise.

Don’t let that precision fool you. Here’s the reality: There are no reporters on the ground and none of these figures can be taken as accurate. Let’s just consider the CIA side of things. Any information that comes from American sources (i.e. the CIA) has to be looked at with great wariness. As a start, the CIA’s history is one of deception. There’s no reason to take anything its sources say at face value. They will report just what they think it’s in their interest to report -- and the ongoing “success” of their drone strikes is distinctly in their interest.

Then, there’s history. In the present drone wars, as in the CIA’s bloody Phoenix Program in the Vietnam era, the Agency’s operatives, working in distinctly alien terrain, must rely on local sources (or possibly official Pakistani ones) for targeting intelligence. In Vietnam in the 1960s, the Agency’s Phoenix Program -- reportedly responsible for the assassination of 20,000 Vietnamese -- became, according to historian Marilyn Young, “an extortionist’s paradise, with payoffs as available for denunciation as for protection.” Once again, the CIA is reportedly passing out bags of money and anyone on the ground with a grudge, or the desire to eliminate an enemy, or simply the desire to make some of that money can undoubtedly feed information into the system, watch the drones do their damnedest, and then report back that more “terrorists” are dead. Just assume that at least some of those “militants” dying in Pakistan, and possibly many of them, aren’t who the CIA hopes they are.

Think of it as a foolproof situation, with an emphasis on the “fool.” And then keep in mind that, in December, the CIA’s local brain trust, undoubtedly the same people who were leaking precise news of “successes” in Pakistan, mistook a jihadist double agent from Jordan for an agent of theirs, gathered at an Agency base in Khost, Afghanistan, and let him wipe them out with a suicide bomb. Seven CIA operatives died, including the base chief. This should give us a grim clue as to the accuracy of the CIA’s insights into what’s happening on the ground in Pakistan, or into the real effects of their 24/7 robotic assassination program.

But there’s a deeper, more dangerous level of deception in Washington’s widening war in the region: self-deception. The CIA drone program, which the Agency’s Director Leon Panetta has called “the only game in town” when it comes to dismantling al-Qaeda, is just symptomatic of such self-deception. While the CIA and the U.S. military have been expending enormous effort studying the Afghan and Pakistani situations and consulting experts, and while the White House has conducted an extensive series of seminars-cum-policy-debates on both countries, you can count on one thing: none of them have spent significant time studying or thinking about us.

As a result, the seeming cleanliness and effectiveness of the drone-war solution undoubtedly only reinforces a sense in Washington that the world’s last great military power can still control this war -- that it can organize, order, prod, wheedle, and bribe both the Afghans and Pakistanis into doing what’s best, and if that doesn’t work, simply continue raining down the missiles and bombs. Beware Washington’s deep-seated belief that it controls events; that it is, however precariously, in the saddle; that, as Afghan War commander General Stanley McChrystal recently put it, there is a “corner” to “turn” out there, even if we haven’t quite turned it yet.

In fact, Washington is not in the saddle and that corner, if there, if turned, will have its own unpleasant surprises. Washington is, in this sense, as oblivious as those CIA operatives were as they waited for “their” Jordanian agent to give them supposedly vital information on the al-Qaeda leadership in the Pakistani tribal areas. Like their drones, the Americans in charge of this war are desperately far from the ground, and they don’t even seem to know it. It’s this that makes the analogy drawn by TomDispatch regular and author of Halliburton’s Army, Pratap Chatterjee, so unnerving. It’s time for Washington to examine not what we know about them, but what we don’t know about ourselves. Tom

Operation Breakfast Redux
Could Pakistan 2010 Go the Way of Cambodia 1969?
By Pratap Chatterjee

Sitting in air-conditioned comfort, cans of Coke and 7-Up within reach as they watched their screens, the ground controllers gave the order to strike under the cover of darkness. There had been no declaration of war. No advance warning, nothing, in fact, that would have alerted the "enemy" to the sudden, unprecedented bombing raids. The secret computer-guided strikes were authorized by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, just weeks after a new American president entered the Oval Office. They represented an effort to wipe out the enemy’s central headquarters whose location intelligence experts claimed to have pinpointed just across the border from the war-torn land where tens of thousands of American troops were fighting daily.

In remote villages where no reporters dared to go, far from the battlefields where Americans were dying, who knew whether the bombs that rained from the night sky had killed high-level insurgents or innocent civilians? For 14 months the raids continued and, after each one was completed, the commander of the bombing crews was instructed to relay a one-sentence message: "The ball game is over."

The campaign was called "Operation Breakfast," and, while it may sound like the CIA’s present air campaign over Pakistan, it wasn’t. You need to turn the clock back to another American war, four decades earlier, to March 18, 1969, to be exact. The target was an area of Cambodia known as the Fish Hook that jutted into South Vietnam, and Operation Breakfast would be but the first of dozens of top secret bombing raids. Later ones were named "Lunch," "Snack," and "Supper," and they went under the collective label "Menu." They were authorized by President Richard Nixon and were meant to destroy a (non-existent) "Bamboo Pentagon," a central headquarters in the Cambodian borderlands where North Vietnamese communists were supposedly orchestrating raids deep into South Vietnam.

Like President Obama today, Nixon had come to power promising stability in an age of unrest and with a vague plan to bringing peace to a nation at war. On the day he was sworn in, he read from the Biblical book of Isaiah: "They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks." He also spoke of transforming Washington’s bitter partisan politics into a new age of unity: "We cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one another, until we speak quietly enough so that our words can be heard as well as our voices."

Return to the Killing Fields

In recent years, many commentators and pundits have resorted to “the Vietnam analogy,” comparing first the American war in Iraq and now in Afghanistan to the Vietnam War. Despite a number of similarities, the analogy disintegrates quickly enough if you consider that U.S. military campaigns in post-invasion Afghanistan and Iraq against small forces of lightly-armed insurgents bear little resemblance to the large-scale war that Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon waged against both southern revolutionary guerrillas and the military of North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, who commanded a real army, with the backing of, and supplies from, the Soviet Union and China.

A more provocative -- and perhaps more ominous -- analogy today might be between the CIA’s escalating drone war in the contemporary Pakistani tribal borderlands and Richard Nixon’s secret bombing campaign against the Cambodian equivalent. To briefly recapitulate that ancient history: In the late 1960s, Cambodia was ruled by a “neutralist” king, Norodom Sihanouk, leading a weak government that had little relevance to its poor and barely educated citizens. In its borderlands, largely beyond its control, the North Vietnamese and Vietcong found “sanctuaries.”

Sihanouk, helpless to do anything, looked the other way. In the meantime, sheltered by local villagers in distant areas of rural Cambodia was a small insurgent group, little-known communist fundamentalists who called themselves the Khmer Rouge. (Think of them as the 1970s equivalent of the Pakistani Taliban who have settled into the wild borderlands of that country largely beyond the control of the Pakistani government.) They were then weak and incapable of challenging Sihanouk -- until, that is, those secret bombing raids by American B-52s began. As these intensified in the summer of 1969, areas of the country began to destabilize (helped on in 1970 by a U.S.-encouraged military coup in the capital Phnom Penh), and the Khmer Rouge began to gain strength.

You know the grim end of that old story.

Forty years, almost to the day, after Operation Breakfast began, I traveled to the town of Snuol, close to where the American bombs once fell. It is a quiet town, no longer remote, as modern roads and Chinese-led timber companies have systematically cut down the jungle that once sheltered anti-government rebels. I went in search of anyone who remembered the bombing raids, only to discover that few there were old enough to have been alive at the time, largely because the Khmer Rouge executed as much as a quarter of the total Cambodian population after they took power in 1975.

Eventually, a 15-minute ride out of town, I found an old soldier living by himself in a simple one-room house adorned with pictures of the old king, Sihanouk. His name was Kong Kan and he had first moved to the nearby town of Memot in 1960. A little further away, I ran into three more old men, Choenung Klou, Keo Long, and Hoe Huy, who had gathered at a newly built temple to chat.

All of them remembered the massive 1969 B-52 raids vividly and the arrival of U.S. troops the following year. "We thought the Americans had come to help us," said Choenung Klou. "But then they left and the [South] Vietnamese soldiers who came with them destroyed the villages and raped the women."

He had no love for the North Vietnamese communists either. "They would stay at people's houses, take our hammocks and food. We didn't like them and we were afraid of them."

Caught between two Vietnamese armies and with American planes carpet-bombing the countryside, increasing numbers of Cambodians soon came to believe that the Khmer Rouge, who were their countrymen, might help them. Like the Taliban of today, many of the Khmer Rouge were, in fact, teenaged villagers who had responded, under the pressure of war and disruption, to the distant call of an inspirational ideology and joined the resistance in the jungles.

"If you ask me why I joined the Khmer Rouge, the main reason is because of the American invasion," Hun Sen, the current prime minister of Cambodia, has said. "If there was no invasion, by now, I would be a pilot or a professor."

Six years after the bombings of Cambodia began, shortly after the last helicopter lifted off the U.S. embassy in Saigon and the flow of military aid to the crumbling government of Cambodia stopped, a reign of terror took hold in the capital, Phnom Penh.

The Khmer Rouge left the jungles and entered the capital where they began a systemic genocide against city dwellers and anyone who was educated. They vowed to restart history at Year Zero, a new era in which much of the past became irrelevant. Some two million people are believed to have died from executions, starvation, and forced labor in the camps established by the Angkar leadership of the Khmer Rouge commanded by Pol Pot.

Unraveling Pakistan

Could the same thing happen in Pakistan today? A new American president was ordering escalating drone attacks, in a country where no war has been declared, at the moment when I flew from Cambodia across South Asia to Afghanistan, so this question loomed large in my mind. Both there and just across the border, Operation Breakfast seems to be repeating itself.

In the Afghan capital, Kabul, I met earnest aid workers who drank late into the night in places like L'Atmosphere, a foreigner-only bar that could easily have doubled as a movie set for Saigon in the 1960s. Like modern-day equivalents of Graham Greene's "quiet American," these "consultants" describe a Third Way that is neither Western nor fundamentalist Islam.

At the very same time, CIA analysts in distant Virginia are using pilot-less drones and satellite technology to order strikes against supposed terrorist headquarters across the border in Pakistan. They are not so unlike the military men who watched radar screens in South Vietnam in the 1960s as the Cambodian air raids went on.

In 2009, on the orders of President Obama, the U.S. unloaded more missiles and bombs on Pakistan than President Bush did in the years of his secret drone war, and the strikes have been accelerating in number and intensity. By this January, there was a drone attack almost every other day. Even if, this time around, no one is using the code phrase, "the ball game is over," Washington continually hails success after success, terrorist leader after terrorist leader killed, implying that something approaching victory could be somewhere just over the horizon.

As in the 1960s in Cambodia, these strikes are, in actuality, having a devastating, destabilizing effect in Pakistan, not just on the targeted communities, but on public consciousness throughout the region. An article in the January 23rd New York Times indicated that the fury over these attacks has even spread into Pakistan's military establishment which, in a manner similar to Sihanouk in the 1960s, knows its limits in its tribal borderlands and is publicly uneasy about U.S. air strikes which undermine the country’s sovereignty. "Are you with us or against us?" the newspaper quoted a senior Pakistani military officer demanding of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates when he spoke last month at Pakistan's National Defense University.

Even pro-American Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has spoken out publicly against drone strikes. Of one such attack, he recently told reporters, "We strongly condemn this attack and the government will raise this issue at [the] diplomatic level."

Despite the public displays of outrage, however, the American strikes have undoubtedly been tacitly approved at the highest levels of the Pakistani government because of that country’s inability to control militants in its tribal borderlands. Similarly, Sihanouk finally looked the other way after the U.S. provided secret papers, code-named Vesuvius, as proof that the Vietnamese were operating from his country.

While most Democratic and Republican hawks have praised the growing drone war in the skies over Pakistan, some experts in the U.S. are starting to express worries about them (even if they don’t have the Cambodian analogy in mind). For example, John Arquilla, a professor of defense analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School who frequently advises the military, says that an expansion of the drone strikes "might even spark a social revolution in Pakistan."

Indeed, even General David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, wrote in a secret assessment on May 27, 2009: "Anti-U.S. sentiment has already been increasing in Pakistan… especially in regard to cross-border and reported drone strikes, which Pakistanis perceive to cause unacceptable civilian casualties." Quoting local polls, he wrote: "35 percent [of Pakistanis] say they do not support U.S. strikes into Pakistan, even if they are coordinated with the GOP [government of Pakistan] and the Pakistan Military ahead of time."

The Pakistani Army has, in fact, launched several significant operations against the Pakistani Taliban in Swat and in South Waziristan, just as Sihanouk initially ordered the Cambodian military to attack the Khmer Rouge and suppress peasant rebellions in Battambang Province. Again like Sihanouk in the late 1960s, however, the Pakistanis have balked at more comprehensive assaults on the Taliban, and especially on the Afghan Taliban using the border areas as “sanctuaries.”

The New Jihadists

What happens next is the $64 million question. Most Pakistani experts dismiss any suggestion that the Taliban has widespread support in their country, but it must be remembered that the Khmer Rouge was a fringe group with no more than 4,000 fighters at the time that Operation Breakfast began.

And if Cambodia's history is any guide to the future, the drone strikes do not have to create a groundswell for revolution. They only have to begin to destabilize Pakistan as would, for instance, the threatened spread of such strikes into the already unsettled province of Baluchistan, or any future American ground incursions into the country. A few charismatic intellectuals like Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot always have the possibility of taking it from there, rallying angry and unemployed youth to create an infrastructure for disruptive change.

Despite often repeated claims by both the Bush and Obama administrations that the drone raids are smashing al-Qaeda's intellectual leadership, more and more educated and disenchanted young men from around the world seem to be rallying to the fundamentalist cause.

Some have struck directly at American targets like Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old Nigerian who attempted to blow up a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas Day 2009, and Dr. Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi, the 32-year-old Jordanian double agent and suicide bomber who killed seven CIA operatives at a military base in Khost, southern Afghanistan, five days later.

Some have even been U.S.-born, like Anwar al-Awlaki, the 38-year-old Islamic preacher from New Mexico who has moved to Yemen; Adam Pearlman, a 32-year-old Southern Californian and al-Qaeda spokesman now known as "Azzam the American," who reportedly lives somewhere in the Afghan-Pakistan border regions; and Omar Hammami, the 25-year-old Syrian-American from Alabama believed to be an al-Shabaab leader in Somalia.

Like the Khmer Rouge before them, these new jihadists display no remorse for killing innocent civilians. "One of the sad truths I have come to see is that for this kind of mass violence, you don't need monsters," says Craig Etcheson, author of After the Killing Fields and founder of the Documentation Center of Cambodia. "Ordinary people will do just fine. This thing lives in all of us."

Even King Sihanouk, who had once ordered raids against the Khmer Rouge, eventually agreed to support them after he had been overthrown in a coup and was living in exile in China. Could the same thing happen to Pakistani politicians if they fall from grace and U.S. backing?

What threw Sihanouk's fragile government into serious disarray -- other than his own eccentricity and self-absorption -- was the devastating spillover of Nixon's war in Vietnam into Cambodia’s border regions. It finally brought the Khmer Rouge to power.

Pakistan 2010, with its enormous modern military and industrialized base, is hardly impoverished Cambodia 1969. Nonetheless, in that now ancient history lies both a potential analogy and a cautionary tale. Beware secret air wars that promise success and yet wreak havoc in lands that are not even enemy nations.

When his war plans were questioned, Nixon pressed ahead, despite a growing public distaste for his war. A similar dynamic seems to be underway today. In 1970, after Operation Breakfast was revealed by the New York Times, Nixon told his top military and national security aides: "We cannot sit here and let the enemy believe that Cambodia is our last gasp."

Had he refrained first from launching Operation Breakfast and then from supping on the whole “menu,” some historians like Etcheson believe a genocide would have been averted. It would be a sad day if the drone strikes, along with the endless war that the Obama administration has inherited and that is now spilling over ever more devastatingly into Pakistan, were to create a new class of fundamentalists who actually had the capacity to seize power.

School bombing exposes Obama's secret war inside Pakistan

School bombing exposes Obama’s secret war inside Pakistan

Go To Original

THE discovery of three American soldiers among the dead in a suicide bombing at the opening of a girls’ school in the northwestern Pakistan town of Dir last week reignited the fears of many Pakistanis that Washington was set on invading their country.

Barack Obama has banned the Bush-era term “war on terror” and dithered about sending extra troops to Afghanistan, but across the border in Pakistan, the US president has dramatically stepped up the covert war against Islamic extremists.

US airstrikes in Pakistan, launched from unmanned drones, are now averaging three a week, triple the number last year. “We're quietly seeing a geographical shift,” an intelligence officer said.

For the past month drones have pounded the tribal region of North Waziristan in apparent retaliation for the murder of seven CIA officers in Afghanistan by a Jordanian suicide bomber working with the Pakistani Taliban.

Last week America launched its first multiple drone attack, according to Pakistani security officials. Eighteen missiles were fired from eight unmanned aircraft in Dattakhel village, killing 16 people.

The discovery of the dead US soldiers revealed that America’s shadowy war in Pakistan not only involves drones but also small cadres of special operations soldiers.

Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, insisted that US troops were in Pakistan only to provide counter-insurgency training for the Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force operating in the tribal areas.

Other sources said there were about 200 US military inside the country. “I’m not sure you could just call it training,” one official said. “They are hardly behind the wire if they are on trips to schools in Dir.”

The three US soldiers, who have been described variously as special operations forces and civil affairs troops, were killed when their convoy was bombed as it travelled to the re-opening of the school. It had been rebuilt with US aid after being bombed by the Taliban last year.

Three schoolgirls, two villagers and a Pakistani soldier were also killed in the attack, for which the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility. More than 100 were wounded, mostly schoolgirls.

It was officially reported that the device was a remote-controlled bomb. It has now emerged that a suicide bomber rammed into the vehicle carrying the Americans. This suggests the bomber had inside information. “This attack was too perfect: they lay in wait for the convoy to pass and knew exactly which vehicle to hit,” a US military officer told the Long War Journal.

One of those killed was Sergeant Matthew Sluss-Tiller, 35, the father of a three-year-old daughter. His mother, Jane Blankenship, said her son had been in Pakistan on a civil affairs mission and had grown a beard for it.

One official suggested the “trainers” may be used to pick up intelligence on drone targets, particularly because the CIA did not trust its counterparts from the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence service that has close links to the Taliban.

The Americans insist the drone attacks have been a success, picking off the second and third tier of Al-Qaeda’s leadership. In August they killed Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistani Taliban. They recently claimed to have killed his successor, Hakimullah Mehsud, but Pakistan’s foreign minister said this had not been confirmed.

To the irritation of Washington, Islamabad has kept up a pretence that drone attacks are carried out without its approval, even though the aircraft are based in Pakistan.

Among the Pakistani public, there has been outcry at the attacks. Surveys constantly show that Pakistanis consider the US a greater threat than the Taliban, despite 3,021 Pakistani deaths in terrorist attacks last year.

If the drones are controversial, the presence of US soldiers on Pakistani soil is far more so. Despite a $1.5 billion (£959m) aid programme, Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, had to fly into Pakistan two weeks ago to reassure its military leadership. “Let me say definitively the US does not covet a single inch of Pakistani soil,” he told Pakistan’s National Defence University.