Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Spill cleanup workers face labor-camp conditions

Spill cleanup workers face labor-camp conditions

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Among the many victims of the BP spill are the thousands of cleanup workers hired by the company and contractors to lay boom, operate skimmer boats and comb beaches for oil.

On  beachCleanup workers in Gulf Shores, Alabama

The workers come from all over the United States—as far away as Alaska—and are of dozens of nationalities. Many do not speak English. Many have taken jobs cleaning up oil due to the very high unemployment rate—these are some of the only jobs available.

The beach cleanup workers work on the shores in dozens, handling toxic oil without full protective gear, breathing poisoned air and suffering dehydration and heat strokes under the hot sun. Over the past week, temperatures in Southern Louisiana have averaged over 90 degrees.

Many are concerned about falling ill from exposure to oil and dispersant. “I just want to work and get my paycheck; I don’t want to get sick from this,” said one worker, who asked to remain anonymous because he will lose his job for speaking to the media. “I’m concerned about my health.”

Cleanup employees were regularly having their wages withheld from them at some companies, according to a lead cleanup worker in Grand Isle, Louisiana, who asked to remain anonymous.

“We had our wages held for days on end last week,” the worker said in an interview on Saturday. “They do this every time; they hold the wages and bank the money,” he said.

WorkerA cleanup worker in Gulf Shores, Alabama

For the past two pay periods, Louisiana-based Ashland Services LLC, the labor contractor he works for, has given workers the same story. “Every pay period, they blame the late payments on the payroll company. But of course they don’t tell us the name of the company; that’s because it’s a lie; payroll companies don’t make those types of mistakes.”

“Last week there was almost a riot,” he added. “They have 600 people to pay and they only had 28 checks,” he said. “They had to call in the buses early and get everyone back to the tent city where we’re staying before it got out of control. They told everyone that checks would be waiting for them there but that was a lie too.”

BP gives the companies that hire cleanup workers a lump sum for the job, based on how much they think it will cost, he said. “They just bank the cash and pay the workers late to get some extra off the top.”

BusCleanup workers wait out a thunderstorm in Gulf Shores, Alabama

Some workers have been fired before the end of the pay period, without getting a single paycheck or having enough money to get home. When this happened to one worker, her fellow employees, not the contractor, took care of her. “We all pooled in enough money for her to buy bus tickets back,” said the worker.

“It’s just chaos down here,” he said. “We’ve had people working for weeks, and all of a sudden they’re told they’re not even hired; Ashland says they have no record of them working and don’t have their work applications. People are told to re-file applications over and over. They find every possible way to scam you out of your pay.”

“One girl I work with was told to re-file her application five times. This is a contracting company; how can you lose that many applications? How can you not take care of your people?” he said. “It’s not like it’s getting better, it’s getting worse.”

BP has subcontracted nearly all recovery activities to private contractors like Ashland Services. The workers on Grand Isle, Louisiana, are being paid as little as $12 an hour, and are forced to provide their own transportation to and from the region.

“I’ve worked with these disaster-relief companies before,” said Dean Blanchard, owner of a shrimp processing and distribution company in Grand Isle, Louisiana. “The worse it is, the more money they get. Their modus operandi is, let [the disaster] get as big as it can, then go to the bank,” he said.

The local fishermen brought in to clean up the spill face their own set of problems. They must stand idly by while the oil spill destroys the shores and bayous that have sustained their families for generations.

Walter, a skimming boat captain from Charleston, South Carolina, said that skimming is ineffective. “We’re barely doing anything. Out of 150 million gallons, we haven’t picked up two million,” he said. “They deliberately sunk all the oil to the bottom as a PR move. There just isn’t much for us to skim.”

John, a cleanup worker for BP from Missouri, said that a boat with six men can work a whole day, and only gather fifteen gallons of oil. Dean Blanchard has seen even worse figures, with some of the shrimping boats he works with reporting that they gathered only 4-5 gallons per day.

Kevin, a shrimper from Venice, said he was now doing cleanup work because no other work was available. “There will be nothing back here when this is over; I doubt they will ever get this well capped, even after they drill the relief wells.”

“I should be out there on the bayou. I got my boat all ready, and I’ve got nothing left,” he said.

Kevin said that his job is comparatively easy, since he works in air and water sampling. “My father has been on a skimming boat offshore for fifty days, without even a day on land to stretch his legs,” he said.

“The government should just pay cleanup workers by the gallon, or at least give them the ability to decide how they want to fight the spill,” said Blanchard. “The fishermen are fishers of the sea; they can catch anything; be it shrimp or anything else,” said Blanchard. “They are simple people, but they know what they’re doing. Now, they’re being hired to do nothing.”

Strawberries Can Give You Cancer? Poison Gases Being Used to Grow Crops

Strawberries Can Give You Cancer? Poison Gases Being Used to Grow Crops

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Mmm, fresh, red, plump, juicy strawberries. You know what tastes really great with them? It’s a secret I learned as a kid. Dip them in sour cream and then dip them in brown sugar. Delish. Or dip them in homemade whipped cream, or chocolate, or both. Or, if they are fresh picked, just eat them plain. But you know what doesn’t taste good with strawberries? Cancer.

Today, the scientists at Pesticide Action Network released a document called Poison Gases in the Field: Pesticides put California families in danger. It’s about tests done with a device called a Drift Catcher that monitors the air for fumigant pesticides. They gave it a try in the California town of Sisquoc to see how well local residents were protected from airborne, carcinogenic pesticides. The answer? Not well.

You see, nature doesn’t think much of commercially grown strawberries. That’s because nature doesn’t like monoculture – vast fields of a single species, year after year. So if you want to overcome nature by growing strawberries as a monoculture, you need some potent toxins to do so. And that begins with soil fumigation, a process that uses a deadly chemical to kill everything in the soil before you plant your strawberries.

The test in this case was with a soil fumigant called chloropicrin. After a soil fumigation in which all of the application rules were followed and no equipment failure occurred, scientists measured levels of chloropicrin in the air. they found that “Average levels over the 19-day period were 23 to 151 times higher than acceptable cancer risks.”

“What’s striking about these results is what they imply about fumigation in general,” says PANNA Staff Scientist Karl Tupper. “Sisquoc is not unique in terms of how close fumigated fields are to people’s homes. The application we monitored was typical as well—there were no blunders and the amount of chloropicrin used was not abnormally high.”

“So if this is happening in Sisquoc, it’s surely happening in other California communities, and it will certainly happen with methyl iodide if it’s registered,” concludes Tupper.

Methyl iodide is another soil fumigant – and a potent carcinogen – that the state of California is currently considering allowing. Aside from cancer, soil fumigants are linked to headaches, vomiting, severe lung irritation, neurological effects, reduced fertility, birth defects and higher rates of miscarriage.

So, if we do away with soil fumigants and we don’t allow the use of methyl iodide, does that mean we can’t grow any strawberries? Hardly. Sustainable farmers work WITH nature instead of trying to overcome it, nurturing soil life instead of killing it. And it’s very possible to grow strawberries sustainably:

“Sustainable farming is all about building healthy soil,” says organic farmer Jim Cochran of Swanton Berry Farm. “I’ve been growing strawberries for 25 years, and fumigant pesticides are the last thing I’d put in my soil.”

The Fate of the Internet. Decided in a Back Room

The Fate of the Internet. Decided in a Back Room.

The Wall Street Journal just reported that the Federal Communications Commission is holding "closed-door meetings"with industry to broker a deal on Net Neutrality – the rule that lets users determine their own Internet experience.

Given that the corporations at the table all profit from gaining control over information, the outcome won't be pretty.

The meetings include a small group of industry lobbyists representing the likes of AT&T, Verizon, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, and Google. They reportedly met for two-and-a-half hours on Monday morning and will convene another meeting today. The goal according to insiders is to "reach consensus" on rules of the road for the Internet.

This is what a failed democracy looks like: After years of avid public support for Net Neutrality – involving millions of people from across the political spectrum – the federal regulator quietly huddles with industry lobbyists to eliminate basic protections and serve Wall Street’s bottom line.

We’ve seen government cater to big business in the same ways, prior to the BP oil disaster and the subprime mortgage meltdown.

The Industry's regulatory capture of the Internet is now almost complete. The one agency tasked with oversight of communications now thinks it can wriggle free of its obligation to protect the open Internet, if only it can get industry to agree on a solution.

Congress is holding its own series of "closed-door" meetings and, while they’ve been ambiguous on the details, many remain skeptical on whether the process will lead to an outcome that serves the public interest. After all, this is the same Congress that is bankrolled by the phone and cable lobby in excess of $100 million.

Why is this so startling even for the more cynical among us? The Obama administration promised to embrace a new era of government transparency. It’s the tool we were supposed to use to pry open policymaking and expose it to the light of public scrutiny.

In that spirit, President Obama pledged to "take a backseat to no one" in his support for Net Neutrality. He appointed Julius Genachowski to head the FCC -- the man who crafted his pro-Net Neutrality platform in 2008.

But the mere existence of these private meetings reveals to us a chairman who has fallen far short of expectations. Instead Genachowski is shying from the need to fortify the Internet’s open architecture in favor of deals made between DC power brokers.

These deals will determine who ultimately controls Internet content and innovation. Will phone and cable companies succeed in their decade-long push to take ownership of both the infrastructure of the Internet and the information that flows across its pipes? Will they cut in a few giant companies like Google and the recording industry to get their way?

Whatever the outcome, the public – including the tens of millions of Americans who use the Internet every day and in every way – are not being given a seat at the table.

Genachowski’s closed-door sessions come after six months of public comments on whether the agency should proceed with a rule to protect Net Neutrality.

During that period, more than 85 percent of comments received by the agency called for a strong Net Neutrality rule. Look at it this way: If a candidate received more than 85 percent of the vote, wouldn’t she have a mandate to decide on the public’s behalf?

In Chairman Genachowski’s alternative view of reality, though, the public is immaterial, and industry consensus supreme.

Runaway Defense Spending Not Winning Any Wars

Runaway Defense Spending Not Winning Any Wars

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In Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, the major places of military interest to the United States today (disregarding the hundreds of other places where American soldiers and agents or mercenaries have been dispatched to suppress one or another outbreak of ethnic, tribal, religious or territorial conflict, the United States having appointed itself the enemy of Disorder), there are indications that things are coming apart.

In Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal has chosen casual insubordination; the American-sponsored Afghan president talks of making peace with the Taliban enemy and ordering the United States and NATO to leave the country (just when billion-dollar lodes of lithium, gold and the other minerals a modern nation and its leaders covet have been discovered).

There are disputes among Kurds, Turks, Iranians and Iraqis in Iraq, which the U.S. had considered more or less pacified, if still government-free. There is trouble in Somalia, Yemen and the Sahara. You might think the United States was not the most powerful nation on Earth.

In May, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates delivered a number of largely unpublicized talks on defense spending, which has been at flood tide for a number of years now, and not just since the 2001 al-Qaida attacks on New York and Washington—although those events “opened a gusher [to mix the metaphors] in defense spending that nearly doubled the base budget over the last decade.” American arms spending is meant to make Americans safe from its problems, but this is not working.

The secretary said that “the gusher has been turned off, and will stay off for a good period of time.” Congressional attempts to turn off or reduce military spending over the years have consistently failed because military spending is an electorally irresistible cause, even when the results are irrational, or even approach the ludicrous.

Secretary Gates supplied examples of the latter when he spoke to the Navy League annual convention at the beginning of May. He said that nearly all of the Navy’s major weapons programs under development or in production, including the Navy’s two principal projects, the so-called Littoral Combat Ship, together with the multiservice Joint Strike Fighter program (which some European governments unwisely contracted to join), are over budget, behind schedule and loaded with problems.

The ignored problem is why the United States buys these weapons.

It is buying the Littoral Combat Ship for shallow-water and coastal operations to put the Navy into the war against terror (or against pirates, or “violent extremists,” according to your choice of modish nomenclature), where the Navy has been embarrassingly absent, terrorists rarely being seaborne, while pirates often are (but they use inflatable Zodiacs). The vessel is likely to be completed (if the project is actually completed) at that foreseeable point in time when the United States gives up the war on terror out of frustration and failure (see below), and the Navy decides that it is a blue-water Navy after all and doesn’t need such ships.

Gates drew the attention of the Navy League to what the U.S. Navy already possesses:

Eleven large nuclear carrier groups patrolling the seas to confront enemy fleets. No other nation has even one such carrier group, so there are no fleets to confront. France (forever France!) has built one modern nuclear aircraft carrier and is thinking about whether it can afford another. No other navy has more than a few jump jet or helicopter carriers (the U.S. has 10 of these). The United States has 57 nuclear missile-carrying or attack submarines (more than all the rest of the world combined), plus 79 Aegis defensive missile ships carrying 8,000 vertically launched missiles. In all, the U.S. Navy is assessed as being equivalent to the combined next 13 navies in the world.

The Navy’s Marine Corps, with its own air and armored forces, has no foreign counterpart, and itself is larger than most foreign national armies.

Gates could have recited similar figures on the huge disproportion between the American Army and air forces and those of all the rest of the world put together (China and India excepted; both having ground forces twice or more as large as the American regular Army—American mercenary auxiliaries excluded—but those are ground armies not configured to fight the U.S., and their governments are unlikely to wish to do so).

Out of this titanic American power, no peace is being produced. Americans have, during the 65 years since the Second World War, been spending more than the military spending of all the rest of the world combined, with the avowed intention of pacification and global democracy.

It has fought wars or carried out military interventions in Korea, China (via Kuomintang mercenary forces and Tibetan tribesmen), Cuba (via exiles), Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq (twice), Iran, Somalia, Afghanistan (twice), Pakistan (with drones and special forces), Nicaragua (via “Contras”), Grenada, Panama, Dominican Republic, Sudan and Kosovo (with NATO). It has also been involved with coups in Guatemala, Chile, Greece and elsewhere. There probably are more, but this is what I recall.

My list, incomplete or otherwise, is not offered in indignation. Some of this was justified, most not; some has to be seen in the context of the times. The point of the list is a fact that no one seems to understand: Battles were won, but not a single war was won by the United States. There is not one victory (except as noted below), and not one of the interventions had a positive outcome except in Kosovo. The sole clear-cut military victories were in Grenada over a Cuban construction crew, and in Panama, where 500 civilians (the U.N. estimate) were killed in order to seize President Manuel Noriega and put him into a Miami jail cell. He has now served his term.

Another World Is Possible, Another Detroit Is Happening

Another World Is Possible, Another Detroit Is Happening

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DETROIT—“I have a dream.” Ask anyone where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. first proclaimed those words, and the response will most likely be at the March on Washington in August 1963. In fact, he delivered them two months earlier, on June 23, in Detroit, leading a march down Woodward Avenue.

King said:

“I have a dream that one day, right down in Georgia and Mississippi and Alabama, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to live together as brothers. ...

“I have a dream this afternoon that my four little children ... will be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

“I have a dream this afternoon that one day right here in Detroit, Negroes will be able to buy a house or rent a house anywhere that their money will carry them and they will be able to get a job.”

Forty-seven years later, thousands of people, of every hue, religion, class and age, might not have used those words exactly, but they marched down that same avenue here in Detroit in the same spirit, opening the U.S. Social Forum. More than 10,000 citizens, activists and organizers have come from around the world for four days of workshops, meetings and marches to strengthen social movements and advance a progressive agenda. Far larger than any tea party convention, it has gotten very little mainstream-media coverage. Not a tightly scripted, staged political convention, or a multiday music festival, the U.S. Social Forum defines itself as “an open meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences.” It is appropriate that the U.S. Social Forum should be held here, in this city that has endured the collapse of the auto industry and the worst of the foreclosure crisis. In Detroit, one is surrounded, simultaneously, by stark failures of capitalism and by a populace building an alternative, just and greener future.

Environmental writer Rebecca Solnit says of the decay of Detroit, “the continent has not seen a transformation like Detroit’s since the last days of the Maya.” The core of modern Detroit, the automobile industry, helped facilitate the creation of suburbs that ultimately spelled doom for vibrant inner cities. Detroit, which had 2 million residents in the mid-1950s, now has dwindled to around 800,000. Poverty, joblessness, depopulation and decay have created an almost post-apocalyptic scene here.

Carried within this dystopic, urban disaster, though, are the seeds of Detroit’s potential rebirth. Legendary Detroit organizer/philosopher Grace Lee Boggs helped organize the 1963 King march in Detroit. She turns 95 this week, and will be celebrated here at the U.S. Social Forum. We visited her at her home, which might well become a Detroit historic site because of the many organizations that were born there. She has lived in that same house for more than half a century, much of that time with her husband, the late political activist and autoworker Jimmy Boggs. Smiling, she says, “It’s really wonderful that the Social Forum decided to come to Detroit, because Detroit, which was once the symbol of miracles of industrialization and then became the symbol of the devastation of deindustrialization, is now the symbol of a new kind of society, of people who grow their own food, of people who try and help each other, to how we begin to think, not so much of getting jobs and advancing our own fortunes, but how we depend on each other. I mean, it’s another world that we’re creating here in Detroit.”

She reflects on the two delegations of young people attending the USSF with whom she has already met: “I hope they understand from Detroit that all of us, each of us, can become a cultural creative. ... We are creating a new culture. And we’re not doing it because we are such wonderful people. We’re doing it because we had to, not only to survive materially, but to survive as human beings.”

From urban gardens to collective businesses to electric cars, Detroit is beginning to chart an alternative path. As the great Indian writer Arundhati Roy has said, “Another world is not only possible, she’s on the way, and, on a quiet day, if you listen very carefully, you can hear her breathe.”

Prolonging the Gaza Failure

Prolonging the Gaza Failure

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The recent Israeli raid on the flotilla bringing aid to Gaza — which resulted in the deaths of nine civilians, more injuries, and near-global condemnation for Israel's actions — has brought a lot of attention to Gaza in the past few weeks. Unfortunately, much of the discourse has centered on the specific incident itself (such as who fired first and whether Israeli troops were right to protect themselves), and not about the politics and conditions in Gaza overall. Even Helen Thomas' controversial comments about Israel and the question of who will take her seat have gotten more and better coverage. The hardest-hitting questions — "When does America's unwavering defense of Israel begin to compromise our unwavering defense of free speech? Does our media display a casual bias against the Arab world and the suffering of the Palestinians?" — have come not from journalists, but from The Daily Show's Jon Stewart .

Aside from a few political pundits with ideological axes to grind, like Charles Krauthammer, most understand that there is a great humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The levels of poverty, food shortages, and overall suffering caused by the blockade are incredibly high. Numerous international organizations, including the United Nations, have criticized the policy, which blocks goods from entering Gaza. The flow of goods into Gaza is a quarter of what it was before Israel and Egypt began the blockade in June 2007, following the Hamas-led formation of the Palestinian government. Prior to the blockade, around 4,000 types of goods entered Gaza. After the blockade, this was limited to just over 80. Israel moved to expand this list after the flotilla attack to allow in soda, juice, jam, spices, shaving cream, potato chips, cookies and candy.

The blockade, the argument goes, is justified because Hamas has declared warfare on Israel. Thus, the blockade allows Israel to stop the flow of weapons to militants in the area, protecting its own security. It is unclear whether Hamas is fully committed to war, though, as they have supported some form of a two-state solution several times in the past. It is also unclear whether Israel's goals with the blockade are really related to security — a recently leaked Israeli government document says the blockade isn't about security, but rather "economic warfare" against Hamas. Meanwhile, the Gaza economy has, indeed, suffered brutally. The 2009 per-capita income was only $1,100, compared to $2,900 in the West Bank, $26,700 in Israel, and $46,300 in America. In 2010, the CIA World Fact Book did not list numbers for Gaza, and instead just referenced the West Bank.

The coercion argument that Israel and the United States adopt in support of the blockade is that Gaza is Hamas' stronghold in the Occupied Territories. The more pro-Western Fatah controls the West Bank. They believe Hamas, which was legitimately elected in a democratic election, is an Islamist group that stifles peace and security in the region. The only way forward, the logic goes, is to coerce Palestinians into abandoning Hamas through the blockade. If the blockade does that, then its main proponents — the governments in Israel, Egypt, and the United States — can claim success.

But the blockade does not appear to be succeeding at any level. And so the consequences of the blockade — civilian suffering, Israeli attacks on humanitarian vessels — become all the more questionable.

Civilians, not Hamas, have borne the blunt blow of the blockade. In Gaza, 70 percent of all factories have closed or are at minimal capacity because of their inability to conduct business. Sewage is pumped into the sea because parts needed for repairs are not allowed into Gaza. Eighty percent of Gaza residents receive humanitarian aid, up from 63 percent prior to the blockade. Of the total population of 1.5 million people, 300,000 do not even have an income, up threefold in just a year. The economic woes have strengthened a black market economy run by Hamas.

Nor has the blockade achieved its goal of removing Hamas from power or moderating its views. These conditions have only strengthened support for Hamas. In addition, the blockade has entrenched the institutional power of Hamas. And it has produced no incentive for Hamas to moderate its positions.

Anatomy of Political Islam

Experts who study political Islam have tried to break down Islamist group motivations into different categories. The three main ones embed political Islam in a religion or culture, in socioeconomic conditions, and in political institutions.

Only this institutional argument can explain the variation in Islamist group actions, a true litmus test for explanatory power. Socioeconomic arguments cannot explain why, for instance, the backbone of support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is the modern and western classes, instead of the older and traditional classes. They also cannot explain why the Brotherhood's popularity peaked not during the highest period of urbanization, but during the lowest. Religious or cultural arguments, meanwhile, don't account for the fluidity of Muslim identity. Indeed, there are often competing and contradictory identities. Also, if there is a common religious or cultural thread, why is there such variation among Islamist groups' actions?

The research on political Islam suggests that the role of institutions, particularly legitimate participation in the political process, explains the different actions of the different Islamist groups. Where these groups are allowed to be active participants in political contestation, such as in Morocco, Yemen, Jordan, and (to some extent) Egypt, they have incentives to moderate their views to ensure political survival. Where the groups are essentially forced underground, such as Syria, Libya, and Tunisia, they maintain their obdurate or extremist views.

Two Islamist groups operate in Jordan, the Islamic Action Front (IAF) and Islah. The Jordanian government gives the IAF some political space but not Islah. Not surprisingly, IAF has moderated its views in an effort to gain political power. The IAF hasn't moderated on the issue of sharia law, but that is partly because the opposition coalition they're part of doesn't place any pressure on them to concede any ground on that issue.

In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has continuously moderated over time as it aims for political survival, in cycles of inclusion and exclusion from the political system. In Morocco, the Party for Justice and Development (PJD) has also been allowed to participate politically, and has moderated its views. It went so far as to not campaign very strenuously in 2002, for fear of winning too much of the vote and provoking anger from the regime. In contrast, Al Adl has been excluded from the system, and has not moderated its views. Like Morocco, the Algerian regime has selectively integrated Islamists into politics, with similar results. The Justice and Development Party in Turkey has moderated quite significantly, which isn't surprising considering they actually took power through elections in 2003. They have even distanced themselves from Islamists over time. Finally, in Tunisia, Nehada has been excluded from the political system, even though the group is as moderate as the PJD in Morocco. Following all the research noted above, chances are this will solidify the extremist views in Nehada.

The Non-Evolution of Hamas

Hamas obviously was able to participate in Palestinian politics, and even won the elections in 2006. However, since that victory, Israel and the United States, among other countries, have tried to isolate Hamas. This bloc of boycotters has refused to meet with Hamas, preferring Fatah leadership. Along with Egypt, this bloc implemented the current blockade. They have tried to exclude Hamas from the global political stage as much as possible. By focusing so heavily on the Gaza Strip versus the West Bank, they have also tried to exclude Hamas from domestic politics — even though Hamas is supposed to be the governing Palestinian party.

This approach goes against a substantial amount of the actual research on political Islam, which suggests that moderation requires incentives. Where institutions are in place that reward deal-making, Islamist groups have done just that. They pay a political cost — exclusion from the system — if they stick to hard-line views. Islamist groups in Morocco, Turkey, Jordan, Algeria, and Egypt have moderated their policies for fear of losing political ground.

However, the efforts to isolate Hamas have done the opposite. The blockade and other forms of exclusion have helped solidify Hamas' power and weaken its opposition, while creating no incentives for Hamas to moderate its views. No matter one's views on political Islam, moving Islamist groups away from extremist views requires real inclusion, real opposition, and real dissonance.

Hamas seems willing to bargain. Many statements from their leaders suggest they are open to real negotiations with Israel on a peace settlement. In 2008, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal offered Israel "a truce if Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders, a truce of 10 years as a proof of recognition." The offer was made even more openly just a few weeks ago, when Mashaal told Charlie Rose that "when the occupation comes to an end, the resistance will end, as simple as that. If Israel would go to the 1967 borders, that will be the end of the Palestinian resistance."

But even if they aren't sincere in their statements, the blockade only makes things worse. It creates minimal incentives for moderation.

Beyond the Flotilla

Enter the flotilla of six ships from Turkey. They were bringing not weapons but supplies for Gaza: food, wheelchairs, medicine, and building materials. According to the blockade, building materials are banned. Israel directed the ships to a port where the goods would be inspected, but the flotilla declined the request. In the end, the Israeli navy shot and killed nine people on board the MV Mavi Marmara, the lead ship in the flotilla. The naval officers say they were attacked and acted in self-defense, while passengers on the ship have given the opposite story. Video footage of the attack is online. A former U.S. Marine onboard the Mavi Marmara has issued some strong statements about what happened. Much of the discussion now is centered on whether Israel's actions were legal, what actually happened onboard, and whether there will be an independent international investigation, something Israel is not willing to concede at this point.

Of course, the events that transpired aboard the ship are both tragic and serious, but the bigger picture is the blockade, not the raid. Indeed, the flotilla's mission was to commit an act of civil disobedience as a statement against the blockade. The incident should trigger a re-evaluation of that policy.

Senator Schumer said the other day that the blockade will ultimately lead to moderation and cooperation between the two parties — it will "strangle them economically until they see that's not the way to go. "

Even if one believes in Schumer's harsh vision, the "strangling" he talks about seems more likely to have the exact opposite effect. Given what we know about political Islam, this type of coercion will simply not work. Yet the blockade continues — under international pressure, Israel has, in recent days, proposed easing the blockade, but there are still questions as to whether it will be enough to truly relieve the distress on the ground. There is still no attempt to engage Hamas, even though a recent poll shows Palestinians overwhelmingly support an end to the conflict, creating major incentives for Hamas to negotiate for peace.

Where the blockade lies on the spectrum of morality and justice doesn't even matter. At its core, even with the proposed relief measures, unless Hamas is brought into the mix, the blockade is bad policy, period.

Purchases of U.S. Existing Homes Unexpectedly Dropped in May

Purchases of U.S. Existing Homes Unexpectedly Dropped in May

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Sales of U.S. previously owned homes unexpectedly fell in May as demand began to slip even before a government tax credit expires.

Purchases of existing houses, which are tabulated when a contract closes, decreased 2.2 percent to a 5.66 million annual rate, figures from the National Association of Realtors showed today in Washington. To receive a government incentive worth as much as $8,000, buyers must have signed contracts by the end of April and need to complete deals by the end of this month.

Builder shares dropped on concern the end of government stimulus, mounting foreclosures and unemployment may cause renewed weakness in the industry that precipitated the worst recession since the 1930s. Delays in processing contracts from last-minute buyers rushing to qualify for the tax break may also have contributed to the decrease, the agents’ group said.

Sales “will be pretty soft for the next few months,” said Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James & Associates Inc. in St. Petersburg, Florida, whose sales forecast was the closest among economists surveyed. “Ultimately, you’re going to need job growth to see a sustainable recovery in housing.”

Stocks fluctuated between gains and losses after the report as a positive sales report from Apple Inc. triggered a rally in technology shares, helping to overcome the housing data. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index was little changed at 1,112.84 at 1:04 p.m. in New York. The S&P Supercomposite Homebuilder index fell 0.4 percent.

Less Than Forecast

Existing home sales were forecast to rise to a 6.12 million rate, according to the median forecast of 74 economists in a Bloomberg News survey. Estimates ranged from 5.2 million to 6.5 million. The group revised April’s sales rate up to 5.79 million from the 5.77 million previously reported.

Purchases of existing homes increased 18 percent compared with a year earlier prior to adjusting for seasonal patterns.

The median price climbed 2.7 percent to $179,600 from $174,800 in May 2009.

The number of previously owned homes on the market dropped 3.4 percent to 3.89 million. At the current sales pace, it would take 8.3 months to sell those houses compared with 8.4 months at the end of the prior month.

Declines in inventories have slowed in recent months, posing a risk for the market, Lawrence Yun, the group’s chief economist, said in a press conference. Yun said this “overhang” in supply is a concern and may lead to further declines in property values in coming months.

Processing Delays

There may be as many as 180,000 buyers who will not be able to close on deals by this month’s deadline in order to qualify for the tax credit, Yun said, calling on the government to push the expiration date back.

A proposal to move the closing deadline to Sept. 30 from the end of this month is part of legislation extending unemployment benefits and providing $24 billion in aid to state governments that has stalled in Congress.

Last month’s drop in sales was led by an 18 percent plunge in the Northeast. Purchases in the Midwest were little changed, while those in the West climbed 4.9 percent and demand in the South increased 0.5 percent.

Federal Reserve policy makers, who begin a two-day meeting today, are forecast to commit to keeping interest rates near zero to help wean the world’s largest economy off government stimulus. The hazard posed by the European debt crisis, joblessness and a lack of inflation add to the reasons why central bankers will focus on sustaining the U.S. rebound.

Falling Orders

Hovnanian Enterprises Inc., the largest homebuilder in New Jersey, said orders fell 17 percent in the quarter ended April 30 from a year earlier, and contract signings slowed in May, indicating the tax credit helped pull some sales forward.

“The expiration of the federal homebuyer tax credit, the lack of job growth and a potential increase in foreclosures all pose risks to a housing industry recovery,” Ara K. Hovnanian, chief executive officer, said in a June 2 statement.

The window of opportunity for the tax credit has already passed for purchases of new houses, which are tabulated at contract signings and are considered a timelier barometer of the market. A Commerce Department report tomorrow will show new home sales plunged 19 percent to a 410,000 annual pace last month, according to the median forecast of economists surveyed.

Existing homes account for about 90 percent of the market.

Builders are being hurt by competition from foreclosed properties that are depressing property values. Foreclosures jumped to a record for the second consecutive month in May as lenders stepped up property seizures, according to RealtyTrac Inc., an Irvine, California-based data seller.

Cheaper borrowing costs are helping mitigate the damage. The average rate on a fixed 30-year mortgage was 4.75 percent last week, just shy of the record-low 4.71 percent reached in early December, according to data from Freddie Mac, the mortgage-finance company being supported by the U.S. government.

Afghanistan: The Longest Lost War (video)

Afghanistan: The Longest Lost War (video)

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Despite the most advanced military technology, the drones, the Special Forces, the increase in the number of trainees, advisers, NGOers and the building of more military bases, the Resistance is winning. Despite almost a decade of warfare, including an invasion and occupation, the U.S. military and its allies and client-state armed forces are losing the war in Afghanistan.

Outside of the central districts of a few cities and the military fortresses, the Afghan national resistance forces, in all of their complex local, regional and national alliances, are in control, of territory, people and administration.

The prolonged unending war has become a major drain on the morale of the US armed forces and undermined civilian support in the US, limiting the capacity of the White House to launch new imperial wars. The annual multi-billion dollar military expenditures, are exacerbating the out-of-control budget deficit and forcing harsh unpopular cuts on social programs, at all levels of government. There is no end in sight, as the Obama regime keeps increasing the number of troops by the tens of thousands and military expenditures by the dozens of billions but the resistance advances, both military and politically.

Faced with rising popular discontent and demands for fiscal restraint by a wide spectrum of banking and citizen groups, Obama and the general command have sought “partial exit” via the recruitment and training of a large scale long term Afghan mercenary army and police force under the direction of US and NATO officers.

The US Strategy: The Making of an Afghan Neocolony:

Between 2001-2010 the US military expenditures total $428 billion dollars; the colonial occupation has led to over 7,228 dead and wounded as of June 1, 2010. As the US military situation deteriorates, the White House escalates the number of troops resulting in a greater number of killed and wounded. During the past 18 months of the Obama regime more soldiers were killed or wounded than in the previous eight years.

The White House and Pentagon strategy is premised on massive flows of money, arms and an increase in the number of surrogates, mainly subsidized warlords and puppet western educated ex-pats. The White House “development aid” involves, literally, purchasing the transient loyalties of clan leaders. The White House attempts to give a veneer of legitimacy by running elections, which enhance the corrupt image of the incumbent puppet regime in Kabul and its regional associates.

On the military front, the Pentagon launches one “offensive” after another, announcing one success after another, followed by a retreat and return of the Resistance fighters. The US campaigns disrupt trade, agricultural harvests and markets, while the air assaults targeting “Taliban” and militants, more frequently than not end up killing more civilians celebrating weddings, religious holidays and shoppers at markets than combatants. The reason for the high percentage of civilian killings is clear to everyone except the US Generals: there are no distinctions between “militants” and millions of Afghan civilians since the former are an integral part of their communities.

The key and ultimately decisive problem facing the US occupation is that it is a colonial enclave in the midst of a colonized people. The US, its local puppets and its NATO allies are a foreign colonial army and its Afghan military and police recruits are seen as mere instruments perpetuating illegitimate rule. Every action, whether violent or benign, is perceived and interpreted as transgressing the norms and historical legacies of a proud and independent people. In everyday life, every move by the occupation is disruptive; nothing moves except by command of the foreign directed military and police. Under threat of force, people fake co-operation and then provide assistance to their fathers, brothers and sons in the Resistance. The recruits take the money and turn their arms over to the Resistance. The paid village informants are double agents or identified by their neighbors and targeted by insurgents.

The Afghan collaborators, Washington’s closest allies, are seen as corrupt traitors; transient rulers who have their bags packed and US passports in hand, ready to flee when the US is forced to exit. All the programs, “reconstruction” funds, training missions and “civic programs” have failed to win the allegiance of the Afghan people, now as in the past as well as in the future, because they are seen as part of the US military occupation ultimately based on violence.

Ten Reasons Why the Afghan Resistance Will Win:

- 1.) The Resistance has deep roots in the population – family community, linguistic and cultural ties which the US does not possess nor can “invent”; nor can these ties be bought, traded or replicated by their Afghan ‘collaborators’ or imposed by propaganda.

- 2.) The Resistance has fluid borders and broad international support especially with Pakistan but also with other anti-imperialist, Islamic groups who provide arms and volunteers and who engage in actively attacking the logistical transport supply lines of US-NATO military in Pakistan. They also pressure overseas US client regimes like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Somalia opening multiple fronts.

- 3.) Widespread infiltration, voluntary, active and passive support of the Resistance among the US recruited and trained Afghan military and police results in crucial intelligence on troop movements. Desertions and absenteeism undermines “military competence”.

- 4.) The scope and breadth of Resistance activity over extends the imperial armies at its current strength and causes it to rely on unreliable Afghan security, who have no stomach for killing their brethren, especially when directed against communities with relatives or ethnic kin.

- 5.) Resistance allies are more loyal, less corrupt and reliable because of deeply shared beliefs. US allies are loyal only because of ephemeral monetary gratification and the temporary presence of US military force.

- 6.) The Resistance appeals to the people in the name of a return to law and order in everyday life, which preceded the disruptive invasion. The US promise of positive outcomes following a successful war, have no popular resonance after a decade long destructive occupation.

- 7.) The US has no belief system that can compete with the religious-nationalist-traditionalist appeal of the Resistance to the vast majority of village, small town and displaced rural population.

- 8.) The Resistance’s support of Iraqi, Palestinian and other anti-imperialist forces has a positive appeal among the Afghan people who have seen the destructive results of US wars in Iraq and proxy wars in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. The US backed Israeli assault of Lebanon and the humanitarian ship destined for Palestine and the highly visible presence of Zionist militants in the US government, repels the more politically aware opinion leaders in Afghanistan.

- 9.) Afghans have, by force of circumstances, longer staying power in resisting the US military occupation, than the US people who have other, far more pressing needs and the US military with growing commitments in the Gulf.

- 10.) The Afghan Resistance does not normally kill civilians in combat missions since the US troops and NATO are clearly identified. Whereas, the opposite is not true. The Afghans who are part of the villages in occupied communities are subject to assassinations by “Special Forces” and drone bombings. In these circumstances ordinary people suffer the same military assaults as Resistance fighters.

A Failed Mission: The Incapacity to Build a Reliable, Effective Afghan Mercenary Army

A US government audit published in late June of this year demolished the Obama regime’s claims that it is succeeding in building an effective Afghan mercenary army and police capable of buttressing the current client regime in Kabul. The Report, based on a detailed analysis and field observations argues that the Obama Pentagon relies on “standards [which are] woefully inadequate, inflating the abilities of Afghan units that Mr. Obama called “core to our mission” (Financial Times, June 7, 2010, p1). In other words, Obama continues to play the con game, which he inaugurated during his electoral campaign with his phony promises of ‘change’ and “ending the wars”, and continued with his bail out of Wall Street in the name of ‘saving the economy’. He followed up by escalating the war in Afghanistan by sending 30,000 more troops and increasing military and police expenditures to $325.5 billion, approximately 132% higher than the last year of the Bush Administration (Congressional Research Service, FY 2010 Supplemental for Wars … June 2010).

The Obama regime’s phony claims of progress were based on self-serving bureaucratic and technical criteria, rather than the actual fighting performance and behavior of the Afghan mercenary army. The military command’s reports and progress reports were based on how many courses were taught, the length and breadth of training and the amount and quality of arms and equipment supplied to the Afghan troops. As the number of Afghan units passing the “training missions” increased from zero to 22, between 2008 - 2009, the Pentagon claimed extraordinary progress. To correct the errors, the Pentagon has turned to “field assessments by commanders” – which is also failing, since the officials have a vested interest in inflating the performance of the Afghans mercenaries under their command in order to secure promotions and merit badges. The Obama regime plans to increase the Afghan military from 97,000 in November 2009 to 134,000 in October 2010, to 171,000 in October 2011 a 75% increase in two years (Congressional Research Service 2010, p 13). The same increase occurs with the police: from 93,800 in November 2009 to 134,000 in October 2011 a 43% increase.

Obama’s claim that the war is gradually being handed over to the US “trained” Afghan army is fully belied by two other basic facts. The White House has requested $1.9 billion – double the 2009 level under Bush – for military construction of new bases and installations for a “long term presence” (which the con-man Obama claims does not mean a “permanent presence”). Secondly, using the familiar double-talk of the Obama regime, Secretary of Defense Gates and Admiral Mullen, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff now argue that Obama’s campaign promise of beginning the retirement of troops in July 2010 really means “a day we start transitioning … not a date we’re leaving”, which would be based on “conditions on the ground … a several year process” (Gates Testimony before Senate Armed Services Committee, December 2, 2009). In plain English “transitioning” is not “leaving”. It means staying, fighting and occupying Afghanistan for decades. It means adding more troops, building more bases. It means spending another $400 billion over the next 5 years. And it means doubling the number of American soldiers killed and wounded over the next 3 years, from over seven thousand to fourteen thousand.

The criteria of ‘success’ in Afghanizing the war is belied by the growing Americanizing of the bases, combat troops and expenditures. The reason is that the Afghan army figures are as phony as Obama’s promises. The number of US personnel is growing because the Afghan political puppets are so corrupt, ineffective and despised by their people that Washington has to surround them with “monitors”, “advisers” and “operatives” who in turn are totally incapable of relating to the needs and practices of the communities. Increased US “aid” has led to greater corruption, more unfulfilled promises and greater animosity from the would be popular recipients.

The fundamental problem is that this is an American war and that is why Afghan units suffer a 50% reduction of strength due to at a minimum, a 20% desertion rate, admitted by US military officials (Congressional Research, op cit, p.14). In other words, the Afghan recruits, take the money and their arms and return to their villages, neighborhoods, families, and perhaps not a few, use their military training, joining with the National Resistance. With such high levels of disaffection among Afghan recruits and even officials it is not surprising that the Resistance has such high quality intelligence on US troop movements. Given the degree of disaffection it is not surprising that some of the US intelligence collaborators are double agents or vulnerable to exposure and execution. Faced with a billion dollar recruitment program with high rates of desertion and the “turning of guns on their mentors,” the White House, Pentagon and Congress refuse to recognize the reality that the imperial occupations is the source of the resistance of almost the whole people. Instead they call for more trainees, more funds for “training programs”, more “transparent” mercenary contractors.

The reality is that with a bigger American occupation, with escalating military expenditures, the Resistance is growing, surrounding the major cities, targeting meetings in the center of Kabul and rocketing the biggest US military bases around the country. It is clear that the US has lost the war politically and is in the process of losing it militarily.

Despite the most advanced military technology, the drones, the Special Forces, the increase in the number of trainees, advisers, NGOers and the building of more military bases, the Resistance is winning. The White House by adding to the millions of displaced and murdered and maimed Afghans is increasing the hostility of the vast majority of the Afghans. Civilian killings are turning more and more of their military recruits into deserters and “unreliable” soldiers. Some of whom are ‘turned’ into committed combatants for the ‘other side’. As in Indo-China, Algeria and elsewhere, a popular, highly motivated guerrilla resistance army, deeply embedded in the national-religious culture of an oppressed population is proving more resistant, enduring and victorious over an alien high tech imperial army. Obama’s ‘rule or ruin’ Afghan War, sooner rather than later, will ruin America and end his shameful presidency.

U.S. strategy in Eurasia and drug production in Afghanistan

U.S. strategy in Eurasia and drug production in Afghanistan

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The following analysis offers a geopolitical perspective as a key for understanding the relationship between U.S. global strategy and the presence of North American forces in Afghanistan. U.S. penetration in the Eurasian landmass is examined with special emphasis on the Central Asian region, considered as the underbelly of Eurasia in the context of U.S. geopolitical interests. To identify the real players in the Afghan theatre, certain benchmarks generally used in studies relating to geopolitics and international relations have also been applied here. The main characteristics of potential candidates qualified to deal with the Afghan drug question are reviewed. Among these a particular role devolves on Iran, Russia ad China. In any event, due to the interrelation between U.S. strategy in Eurasia and the stabilization of Afghanistan, the latter can be fully achieved only within the framework of a Eurasian integration process.

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US Penetration and Encirclement of Eurasia.

In order to address properly, without any ideological prejudice, but with intellectual honesty, the question about drug production in Afghanistan and the related international problems, it is necessary and useful to define (even if in broad terms) the geopolitical framework and to further clarify certain concepts, usually assumed to be understood and widely shared.

The geopolitical framework

Considering today’s main global actors, namely the U.S., Russia, China and India, their geographic location in the two distinct areas of America and Eurasia and, above all, their relations in terms of power and world geo-strategy, Afghanistan constitutes, together with the Caucasus and the Central Asian Republics, a large area (fig. 1), whose destabilization offers an advantage to the U.S., i.e. to the only geopolitical player external to the Eurasian context. In particular, the destabilization of this large region affords the U.S. at least three geopolitical and geo-strategic opportunities: a) its progressive penetration in the Eurasian landmass; b) the containment of Russia; c) the creation of a vulnus in the Eurasian landmass.

U.S. penetration in Eurasia — U.S. encirclement of Eurasia

As stated by Henry Kissinger, the bi-oceanic nation of the U.S. is an island outside of the Eurasian Continent. From the geopolitical point of view, this particular location has determined the main vectors of U.S. expansion throughout the Planet. The first was the control of the entire Western hemisphere (North and South America), the second one has been the race for hegemony over the Euroafroasian landmass, that is to say the Eastern hemisphere.

With regard to the process of U.S. penetration into the Eurasian landmass, starting from the European peninsula, it is worth remembering that it began, in the course of WWI, with Washington’s interference in the internal quarrels between the European Nations and the Empires. The penetration continued during WWII. In April 1945, the so-called “Liberators” occupied the Western part of Europe up to East Berlin. Starting from this date, Washington and the Pentagon have regarded Europe, i.e. the Western side of Eurasia, like a U.S. bridgehead linking it to the Eurasian landmass. The U.S. imposed a similar role to the other occupied nation, Japan, representing the Eastern insular arc of Eurasia. From an Eurasian point of view, the North American “pincer” was the true outcome of WWII.

With the creation of certain military “tools” like NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) (1949), the security treaty among Australia, New Zealand, United States (ANZUS, 1951), the Baghdad Pact, that afterwards evolved into CENTO Pact (Central Treaty Organisation, 1959), the Manila Pact – SEATO (South East Asia Treaty Organization, 1954), the military encirclement of the whole Eurasian landmass was accomplished in less than one decade.

The third step of the U.S. long march towards the heart of Eurasia, starting from its Western side, was carried out in 1956, during the Suez crisis, with the progressive removal of France and, under certain aspects, also of Great Britain as geopolitical actors in the Mediterranean Sea. On account of the “special relationship” between Tel-Aviv and Washington, the U.S. became an important player in the Near Eastern region in a time lapse shorter than 10 years. Following its new role in the Near and Middle East, the U.S. was able either to consolidate its hegemonic leadership within the Western system or to consider the Mediterranean Sea as the starting point of the long road that would eventually enable U.S. troops to reach the Central Asian region. U.S. infiltration into the vast Eurasian zone occurred also in other geopolitical sectors, particularly the South-Eastern one (Korea, 1950-1953; Vietnam, 1960-1975).

In accordance with its strategy aimed at dominating the Eastern hemisphere, Washington worked also at the diplomatic level, focusing its attention on Beijing. With the creation of the axis Washington – Beijing, conceived in tandem by Kissinger and Nixon (1971-1972), the U.S. contributed towards exacerbating the fracture inside the so-called socialist field, constituted by China and URSS and, thus, to block any potential “welding” between the two “lungs” of Eurasia, China and Russia.

During the seventies, two main geopolitical axes faced each other within the Eurasian landmass: the Washington-Islamabad-Beijing axis and the Moscow-New Delhi one.

1979, the year of destabilization and its legacy for today’s Afghanistan

Among the many events affecting international relations whick took place in 1979, two are of pivotal importance for their role in upsetting the geopolitical equation, based at the time on the equilibrium between the United States and the URSS.

We are speaking of the Islamic revolution in Iran and of the Russian military involvement in Afghanistan.

Following the takeover of Iran by the Ayatollah Khomeyni, one of the essential pillars of the western geopolitical architecture, with the U.S. as the leader, was destroyed.

The Pahlavi monarchy could easily be used as a pawn in the fight between the U.S. and the URSS, and when it disappeared both Washington and the Pentagon were forced to envision a new role for the U.S. on the world scene. A new Iran, now autonomous and out of control, introduced a variation in the regional geopolitical chessboard, possibly able to induce a profound crisis within the “stable” bipolar system. Moreover, the new Iran, established as a regional power against the US and Israel, possessed such characteristics (especially its geographic extent and centrality, and its political-religious homogeneity) as to compete for the hegemony over at least part of the Middle-East, in open contrast to similar interests on the part of Ankara and Tel-Aviv, faithful allies of Washington, Islamabad, Baghdad and Riyadh. For such reasons, Washington strategists, in accordance with their bicentennial “geopolitics of chaos”, persuaded Saddam Hussein to start a war against Iran. The destabilization of the whole area allowed Washington and Western countries enough time to plan a long-term strategy and in the meantime to wear down the Soviet bear.

In an interview released to French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur [1], Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, revealed that the CIA had secretly operated in Afghanistan to undermine the regime in Kabul since July 1979, that is to say, five months before the Soviet invasion. Indeed, it was on July 3, 1979, that President Carter signed the first directive to provide secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. That very day the Polish-born U.S. strategist wrote a note to President Carter in which he explained that this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention. And this is precisely what happened the following month of December. In the same interview, Brzezinski recalls that, when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, he wrote another note to President Carter in which he expressed his opinion that at that point the USA had the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War.

In Brezinski’s opinion, this intervention was unsustainable for Moscow and in time would have led to the collapse of the Soviet Empire. In fact, the drawn out Soviet war in support of the communist regime in Kabul further contributed to the weakening of the Soviet Union, already engaged in a severe internal crisis, encompassing both political- bureaucratic and socio-economic aspects. As we now well know, the Soviet withdrawal from the Afghan theatre left behind an exhausted country, whose political situation, economy and geo-strategic assets were extremely weak. Indeed, after less than 10 years from the Teheran revolution, the entire region had been completely destabilized exclusively to the advantage of the western system. The parallel and unrestrained decline of the Soviet Union, accelerated by the Afghan adventure, and, afterwards in the nineties, by the dismemberment of the Yugoslav Federation (a sort of buffer state between the Western and Soviet blocks) changed the balance of power to favour U.S. expansionism in the Eurasian region.

After the bipolar system, a new geopolitical era began, that of the “unipolar moment”, in which the USA was the “hyperpuissance” (according to the definition of the French minister Hubert Védrine).

However, the new unipolar system was going to be short lived and indeed it ended at the beginning of the XXI century, when Russia re-emerged as a strategic challenger in global affairs and, at the same time, China and India, the two Asian giants, emerged as economic and strategic powers. On the global level, we have to consider also the growing weight of some countries of Indigenous Latin America, such as Brazil, Venezuela. The very important relations of these countries with China, Russia and Iran seem to acquire a strategic value and prefigure a new multipolar system, whose two main pillars could be constituted by Eurasia and Indigenous Latin America.

Afghanistan - due to its geographical characteristics, to its location in respect of the Soviet State (whose neighbouring nations Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan were, at that time, Soviet Republics), and to the wide variety of ethnic groups forming its population, different either in culture or in religion - represented for Washington an important portion of the so-called “arc of crisis”, namely that geographical region linking the southern boundaries of the USSR and the Arabian Sea. The Afghanistan trap for the URSS was therefore chosen for evident geopolitical and geo-strategic reasons.

From the geopolitical point of view, Afghanistan is clearly representative of a crisis zone, being from time immemorial a stage for the conflicts among Great Powers.

The area is now “ruled” by the governmental entity established by U.S. forces and named Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, but traditionally the Pashtun tribes have dominated over the other ethnic groups (Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, Turkmens, Balochs). Its history was intertwined with broader events involving the interaction and the prolonged fighting among the three neighbouring great geopolitical entities: the Moghul Empire, the Uzbek Khanate and the Persian Empire. In the 18th and 19th centuries, when the country was under the rule of the Kingdom of Afghanistan, the area became strategic in the rivalry and conflict between the British Empire and the Russian Empire for supremacy in Central Asia, termed "The Great Game". The Russian land empire, in its efforts to secure access to the Indian Ocean, to India and to China, collided with the interests of the British maritime empire, that, for its part, sought to expand into the Eurasian landmass, using India as a staging post, towards the East, to Burma, China, Tibet and the basin of the Yangtze river, and towards the West, to present-day Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, as far as the Caucasus, the Black Sea, to Mesopotamia and the Persian Gulf. Towards the end of the 20th century, in the framework of the bipolar system, Afghanistan became the battlefield where, once again, a maritime Power, the USA, confronted a land Power, the URSS.

The actors that confronted each other on this battlefield were basically: URSS troops, Afghan tribes and the so-called mujahideen, the latter were supported by US, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

After the withdrawal of the Soviet troops from the Afghan chessboard, the Taliban movement took on an increasingly important role in the region, on the basis of at least three main factors: a) ambiguous relations with some components of the Pakistani secret services; b) ambiguous relations with the U.S. (a sort of “legacy” stemming from the previous contacts between the U.S. and some components of the “mujahideen” movement which occurred during the Soviet - Afghan war); c) wahabism as an ideological-religious platform directly instrumental for the interests of Saudi Arabia in its projection towards certain zones as Bosnia, the Middle East area and the Caucasus (namely Chechnya and Dagestan).

The three elements mentioned above allowed the Taliban movement, on the one hand, to insert and root itself in the Afghan zone, gaining increasing importance at the military (with the creation and consolidation of the so-called sanctuaries) and economic (namely control of the drug traffic) levels, while impeding it, on the other hand, from becoming an autonomous organization. Actually, because of its infiltration by the U.S., Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the Taliban movement has to be considered as local organization directed by external players. Such considerations enable us to better understand and explain the choice made by Obama and Karzai to open a dialogue with the Talibans, and even to include some of them in local governments. Moreover, the apparent contradictory behaviour of the U.S. (and Karzai) in Afghanistan, could be explained in light of the theory and praxis according to which, entrusting the enemy with institutional responsibilities aims to weaken it, and follows the classic rule of U.S. geopolitical praxis to maintain in a state of crisis a region considered strategic.

As we well know now, the drug production in Afghanistan has gone up more or less 40 times since the country’s occupation by NATO.

If we examine the measures adopted so far by U.S. forces aimed at containing and overcoming the drug trafficking issue in the broader context of U.S. geopolitical policies, we can observe that U.S. and NATO forces are apparently “wasting” their time: drug production and distribution in the southern part of the country are still going on. As we well know, a large-scale drug production is impossible in this area, because of the ongoing fighting. Hence, U.S. and NATO forces are focusing their strategic interest in the northern part of the country. Here, they have built roads and bridges linking Afghanistan to Tajikistan (the road to Russia via Uzbekistan), Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan (see A. Barentsev, Afghan Heroine flow channelled to Russia, FONDSK). This modus operandi unveils the real intentions of the Pentagon and Washington: opening a road towards Russia, starting from Afghanistan and the Central Asian republics. In fact, NATO and other western forces are not waging a genuine fight against drug production and trafficking.

In this context, the reported US/NATO fight against drug production and trafficking in Afghanistan seems to belong to the realm of Western rhetoric rather than being a concrete fact (Fig. 2).

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Afghanistan and Central Asian area (to be compared with previous figure)

Similarly, the fight against the Taliban movement seems to be clearly subordinated to (and thus dependent on) the general strategy of the U.S. in the Eurasian landmass. Nowadays, this strategy consists in the setting up of military garrisons by the U.S. and its Western allies along the strip that, starting from Morocco, crosses the Mediterranean Sea and arrives as far as the Central Asian republics. The principal goals of these garrisons are: a) the separation of Europe from North Africa; b) the control of north Africa and the Near East (particularly the zone constituted by Turkey, Syria and Iran – using the Camp Bondsteel base, located in Kosovo); b) the containment of Russia, and, under certain aspects, of China too; c) an attempt at cutting the Eurasian landmass in two parts; d) the enlargement of the “arc of crisis” in the Central Asian area [Brzezinski defines this area the “Balkans of Eurasia” (the definition of President Carter’s former adviser rings more like a strategic plan than an objective description of the area)].

Creating a geopolitical chasm in Central Asia, i.e. a vulnus in the Eurasia landmass, could lead to hostility and enmity among the main players in Asia, Russia, India and China (fig. 3). The only beneficiary of this game would thus be the United States.

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The huge arc of crisis.

In addition to the attempt “to knife” Eurasia along the illustrated path (from the Mediterranean Sea up to the Central Asia), we observe that the U.S. can rely on (since 2008) AFRICOM and, of course, the related cooperative security locations in Africa: a useful military “device” which is also pointed in the direction of the Middle East and part of Central Asia (fig. 4).

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4 February 2007 Draft Map of the United States Africa Command (USAFRICOM) showing its creation from parts of USEUCOM, USCENTCOM and USPACOM. An updated definitive map from the Unified Command Plan 2008, signed by the President on December 17, 2008 can be found at

In order to understand the importance of the Central Asian zone for the strategy of the U.S. in terms of extending its hegemony over the Eurasian landmass, it is enough to glance at the following picture (fig. 5), illustrating the U.S. Commanders’ areas of responsibilities. The picture is representative of what we can call – paraphrasing the expression “the white man’s burden” formulated by the bard of British imperialism, Rudyard Kipling, 1899 – the "US’ burden".

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The US’ burden.

General remarks on "accepted and shared“ concepts

With a view to reaching a broader understanding of the complex dynamics presently at work on a global level, it is useful to criticize a number of general concepts which we consider to be widely accepted and shared. As we know, in the framework of a geopolitical analysis, the correct use of terms and concepts is at least as important as those related to the description of the reality through maps and diagrams. For instance, the so-called “globalization” is only a euphemistic expression for the economic expansionism of the U.S. and its capitalistic western allies (see Jacques Sapir, Le nouveau XXI siécle, Paris, 2008, p. 63-64). Even the rhetorical call for the defense of supposed “human rights”, or similar democratic values, put out by some think-thanks, governments or simple civilian activists, highlights the colonialist bias of the U.S. on the mass media and culture, without any consideration for other ways of life, like those expressed by non-western civilisations, i.e. more than three quarters of the world population. Among these concepts, we have to consider the most important one from the geopolitical (and international relations) point of view, that is the so-called International Community. The expression “International Community” does not mean anything in geopolitical terms. Actually, the International Community is not a real entity; its related concept sounds, simultaneously, like an aspiration of some utopian activists and a specific falsification of history.

In the real world as we know it - made up of states, nations, people, international organisations [generally based on (hegemonic) “alliances”] and, of course the relations among these entities - speaking in generic terms of an International Community actually means to mis-describe the real powers currently acting at global and local scales.

Considering now the focus of the International Forum on drug production in Afghanistan (Moscow, June 9-10 2010), aimed at finding “shared solutions” for the Afghan drug question in the context of the “International Community” (I.C.), as analysts, we honestly have to underline that instead of I.C. it is more pragmatic to speak of the real players involved (and that could be involved) in the Afghan zone.

The real players in the Afghan theatre

For analytical reasons is useful to aggregate the players involved in the Afghan theatre in the following three categories: external players; local players; players who could potentially become involved in the Afghan context. Afterwards we can easily define some conditions in order to delineate the characters of those partners who would be in a position to stabilize - effectively - the entire geopolitical area.

- External players: US and NATO-ISAF (except Turkey) forces are to be considered external players because they are totally foreign to the specific geopolitical area, even if conceived in a broad sense;

- Local players: among the local players we can enumerate the bordering countries (Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China, Pakistan), the tribes, the insurgent forces, the Taliban and the “governmental” entity led by Karzai.

- Regarding the players belonging to the third category as defined above, we can include the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), i.e. the main Eurasian organisations with a large experience in managing questions related to the border control and drug trafficking of Central Asian area, and the Eurasian Economic Community (EURASEC). Moreover we have to mention also ONU, in particularly the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODOC).

- Potential partners capable of overcoming the drug question in Afghanistan have to present at least the following characteristics: a) the knowledge of the local dynamics related to the ethnic, cultural, religious and economic aspects; b) the acknowledgement by the local population as part of the same cultural context (obviously in a broad sense); c) the will to coordinate collectively actions without any prejudice or mental reserve within a Eurasian program.

The partners presenting the features synthetically described above are those included in the second and third categories. As a matter of fact, U.S. and NATO – ISAF forces are perceived by the local population as what they really are: occupying forces. Moreover, considering NATO’s role as a hegemonic alliance led by Washington and acting within the framework of the U.S. global strategy, its presence in Afghanistan should be considered a serious obstacle to the stabilization of the entire area. The Taliban and even the governmental entity, do not appear, due to the ambiguous relations that they seem to have with the occupying U.S. forces, to be hopeful partners in a collaborative effort to triumph over the drug question in Afghanistan.

The real players with the ability to stabilize the area are - without any doubt - the Afghanistan bordering countries and the Eurasian organizations. Among the bordering countries, a special role could be played by Iran. Teheran is the only country that has demonstrated it can assure the security of Afghan-Iranian border, specially for drug trafficking. Also Moscow and Beijing assume an important function in the stabilization of the area and in the fight against drug trafficking, because Russia and China, it is worth to reiterating, are the main powers of the Eurasian organizations mentioned above. A strategic axis between the two “lungs” of Eurasia, balanced by the Central Asian republics and India, could constitute the lasting solution for the stabilization of the area and hence the drug question. Only in the framework of a shared Eurasian plan aimed at stabilizing the area – conceived and implemented by Eurasian players –, would it be possible to hold a dialogue with local tribes and with those insurgent movements which are clearly not directed by external players.


The stabilization of the Afghan area is an essential requirement for any plan aimed to tackle the drug production and trafficking problem.

However, because of the pivotal role of Afghanistan in the Middle East and in the Central Asian regions, the strategy to stabilize the area has to be conceived in the context of the integration of the Eurasian landmass. Candidates particularly interested to halt the drug production and traffic are the Afghanistan bordering countries.

U.S. and NATO forces, because of their clear geopolitical praxis aimed at hegemonizing the Eurasian landmass, are not credible candidates.

Kyrgyzstan: Bloodstained Geopolitical Chessboard

Kyrgyzstan: Bloodstained Geopolitical Chessboard

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Soon after the overthrow of President Bakaiev, ethnic clashes have suddenly flared up in Kyrgyzstan causing bloodshed and massive population displacement. Corruption and resultant poverty have had the better of the country’s civil peace. According to Rick Rozoff, this situation is a direct consequence of Washington’s maneuvers to hold on to their military base in Manas.

Events in a remote, landlocked and agrarian nation of slightly over five million people have become the center of world attention.

A week of violence which first erupted in Kyrgyzstan’s second largest city, Osh, in the south of the country, has resulted in the deaths of at least 120 civilians and in over 1,700 being injured.

More than 100,000 ethnic Uzbeks have fled Osh and the nearby city of Jalal-Abad (Jalalabad) and three-quarters of those have reportedly crossed the border into Uzbekistan.

A report of June 14 estimated that 50,000 were stranded on the Kyrgyz side of the border without food, water and other necessities. [1]

Witnesses describe attacks by gangs of ethnic Kyrgyz against Uzbeks with reports of government armed forces siding with the assailants.

The following day the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that 275,000 people in total had fled the violence-torn area.

On June 14 the deputy head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Osh, Severine Chappaz, was quoted as warning: "We are extremely concerned about the nature of the violence that is taking place and are getting reports of severe brutality, with an intent to kill and harm. The authorities are completely overwhelmed, as are the emergency services.

"The armed and security forces must do everything they can to protect the vulnerable and ensure that hospitals, ambulances, medical staff and other emergency services are not attacked." [2]

The government of neighboring Uzbekistan had registered 45,000 refugees by June 14, with an estimated 55,000 more on the way. United Nations representatives said that over 100,000 people had fled Kyrgyzstan, mainly ethnic Uzbeks to Uzbekistan, by June 15.

According to a news account of the preceding day, "Kyrgyz mobs burned Uzbek villages and slaughtered residents on Sunday, sending more than 75,000 Uzbeks fleeing across the border into Uzbekistan. Ethnic Uzbeks in a besieged neighbourhood of the Kyrgyz city of Osh said gangs, aided by the military, were carrying out genocide, burning residents out of their homes and shooting them as they fled." [3]

Accounts of hundreds of corpses in the streets and a hundred bodies buried in one unmarked grave have also surfaced.

The government of acting (unelected) president Roza Otunbayeva (the nation’s first ambassador to the United States in the early 1990s) called up all reservists under 50 years of age and issued shoot-to-kill orders in the affected areas.

On June 13 Russia deployed a reinforced battalion of as many as 650 airborne troops to the Kant Air Base in Kyrgyzstan where Russian air force units have been stationed since 2003. (Russia had also sent 150 paratroopers to the base after April’s overthrow of Otunbayeva’s predecessor Kurmanbek Bakiyev.)

On June 15 two chartered planes repatriated 195 Chinese nationals from Kyrgyzstan, flying them into the adjoining Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. By the following day almost 1,000 Chinese had been rescued.

India, Pakistan, Turkey and Russia also evacuated citizens from the nation.

Both the Collective Security Treaty Organization consisting of Russia, Kyrgyzstan and five other former Soviet republics and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization of China, Russia and all Central Asian nations except for Turkmenistan have addressed the Kyrgyz crisis.

This month’s bloody rampages were an aftershock of those following the overthrow of President Bakiyev in early April [4], following which at least 80 people were killed and over 1,500 injured. At that time Russian President Dmitry Medvedev warned that "Kyrgyzstan is on the threshold of a civil war." [5]

The current violence in Kyrgyzstan, which may prove to be terminal for the 19-year-old Central Asian state, is a continuation and inevitable culmination of that of April. The latter in turn occurred five years after the overthrow of the government of President Askar Akayev by a coalition of opposition forces led by Bakiyev, Otunbayeva and Felix Kulov, a coup that was widely celebrated in the West at the time as the high point of an inexorable wave of what were characterized as "color" and "rainbow" revolutions in the former Soviet Union and beyond.

Two months after the 2005 putsch in Kyrgyzstan, U.S. President George W. Bush was in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi where he crowed: "In recent months, the world has marvelled at the hopeful changes taking place from Baghdad to Beirut to Bishkek [the Kyrgyz capital]. But before there was a purple revolution in Iraq, or an orange revolution in Ukraine, a cedar revolution in Lebanon, there was a rose revolution in Georgia." [6]

Bush’s statement, his transparent endorsement of the "color revolution" model of extending U.S. domination over former Soviet states and Middle Eastern nations, has been echoed by former U.S. national security advisor and self-ordained geostrategic chess master Zbigniew Brzezinski who was quoted by a Kyrgyz news source as saying, "I believe revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan were a sincere and snap expression of the political will.” [7]

The ringleaders of the 2005 violent, unconstitutional takeover in Kyrgyzstan divided up top government posts, with Bakiyev becoming president, Kulov prime minister and Otunbayeva acting foreign minister.

Regarding the "hopeful changes" that Bush and Brzezinski acclaimed, it is worth recalling that the only two elected presidents in the young nation’s history are wanted men forced into exile. The "shock therapy" privatization of the nation’s economy in the 1990s, as disruptive as it was abrupt, laid the groundwork for subsequent destabilization, but that buildings are flammable is no defense for an arsonist.

The Pentagon opened the Manas Air Base (also named the Ganci Air Base by the U.S.) near the Kyrgyz capital in December of 2001, two months after the invasion of Afghanistan to support military operations in that nation.

The base, since last summer called the Transit Center at Manas, has seen hundreds of thousands of U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization combat troops pass through in the interim.

Washington’s civilian hit man for the expanding war in South Asia, which is the largest and most deadly war in the world currently with hundreds of thousands of troops involved and millions of civilians displaced on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, is Richard Holbrooke, appointed Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan after the new administration was installed in Washington in January of last year.

This February he visited Kyrgyzstan and the three other former Soviet Central Asian republics it borders: Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Shortly after returning to Washington, "Holbrooke said that the United States would soon renew an agreement to use the Manas airbase, where he said 35,000 US troops were transiting each month on their way in and out of Afghanistan." [8]

Afterward Major John Redfield of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said that during the next month, this March, 50,000 American troops had passed through the Kyrgyz base to and from Afghanistan, and the new commander of U.S. operations at Manas with the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing, Colonel Dwight Sones, recently disclosed that "55,000 servicemen were airlifted to Afghanistan via Manas in May." [9]

That is, 20,000 more troops a month over a three-month period and at a rate of almost two-thirds of a million annually.

In February of 2009 Kyrgyzstan’s parliament voted 78-1 to close the U.S. air base at Manas and President Kurmanbek Bakiyev signed a decree to do so.

The U.S. was given "180 days to withdraw some 1,200 personnel, aircraft and other equipment." [10] The following month Kyrgyz deputies also voted to expel military personnel from Australia, Denmark, Italy, Spain, South Korea, the Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Poland, Turkey and France, all nations providing troops for NATO’s International Assistance Security Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.

Popular internal opposition to the presence of U.S. and NATO forces in the country had been mounting as the Afghan war dragged on interminably and especially after the killing of a Kyrgyz civilian, Alexander Ivanov, by an American soldier in December of 2006 and the dumping of 80 tons of fuel into the atmosphere by U.S. military planes the year before. Many Kyrgyz also fear that the use of the air base at Manas for an attack against Iran could pull their nation into a second and far more catastrophic armed conflict.

The situation was made worse in August of 2008 when "A major depot with weapons and ammunition" was "found in a private house in Bishkek rented by U.S. nationals in an operation by Kyrgyz police....According to law enforcement officers, six heavy machine guns, 26 Kalashnikov assault-rifles, almost 3,000 cartridges for them, two Winchester rifles, four machine gun barrels, two grenade launches, four sniper guns, six Beretta pistols, 10,000 cartridges for a nine-millimetre pistol, 478 12-millimetre cartridges, 1,000 tracer cartridges and 123 empty magazines were found there.

"Police said the house belonged to a Kyrgyz national, who had rented it to US nationals.

"They also said there were several staffers of the U.S. Embassy to Kyrgyzstan having diplomatic immunity, as well as ten U.S. military in the house during the search." [11]

The U.S. claimed it had government permission to store the above-described arsenal in a private residence.

Last year Russia negotiated an extension of its military presence at the Kant Air Base for 49 years and offered the Kyrgyz government a $2 billion loan.

In June of 2009 the outgoing U.S. commander at Manas, Colonel Christopher Bence, "said the facility had started to wind down operations" and "has started to shut down and will close by mid-August." [12] He added "that over the past year alone 189,000 troops from 20 countries had moved to and out of Afghanistan via the Manas base" [13] and that "we have started shipping equipment and supplies to other locations and those shipments should be finished by August 18." [14] (Recall that 55,000 Western troops passed through the base last month alone.)

However, earlier in the month President Barack Obama sent a personal appeal to his Kyrgyz counterpart urging him to reverse the decision to expel U.S. military personnel, some 1,300 permanently assigned to the base, and "Kyrgyzstan showed more flexibility on the matter after receiving the letter...." [15]

On July 2 President Bakiyev signed an agreement to extend U.S. military presence at Manas after Washington offered $180 million a year for the use of the base, thereafter referred to as a transit center. "Rent for the land is $60 million as compared to $17.4 million Kyrgyzstan received for hosting the airbase." [16] In early August U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates sent a letter to President Bakiyev commending him for overriding the near-unanimous decision by his country’s parliament, including his own party’s deputies, to close down Pentagon operations, instead simply renaming the Manas Air Base while activity there was scheduled to increase.

A Russian report on the transition, a change more formal than substantive, said that "Many experts on Central Asian politics speculated that Bishkek was simply angling for more money and was not intending to close the base." [17]

It is in part a struggle over the $180 million in U.S. funds as well as the $2 billion in Russian aid pledged in February of last year that precipitated April’s phase two of the so-called Tulip Revolution.

Complementing the new arrangement with the Pentagon, last December Kyrgyzstan authorized the establishment of a NATO representative office in its capital. A spokesman for the nation’s parliament said at the time, "Until recently, the NATO representative office was located in the city of Astana, Kazakhstan." Kyrgyz Defense Minister Bakyt Kalyev stated: "NATO recently started to pay special attention to Central Asia in light of the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.

"The relocation of NATO’s official to the territory of Kyrgyzstan will proceed as part of the Partnership for Peace Program. One of the key reasons behind the transfer of the office from Astana to Bishkek is the fact that the territory of the republic houses the International Transit Center." [18]

Richard Holbrooke met with the Kyrgyz president this February to solidify plans for the Manas base.

This March it was announced that the Pentagon is to set up a "counter-terrorism" special forces training base in Kyrgyzstan.

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Le général David Petraeus, en costume traditionnel kyrghiz.

General David Petraeus, chief of U.S. Central Command, visited Kyrgyzstan and met with its president in March. "The visit [came] a day after US diplomats confirmed Washington would provide US$5.5 million to the Kyrgyz government toward the construction of a counter-terrorism training center in southern Kyrgyzstan." [19]

The day after this April’s uprising began a Pentagon spokesman said of the operations at Manas that "Our support to Afghanistan continues and has not been seriously affected, and we are hopeful that we will be able to resume full operations soon." [20]

A week later the government of then interim prime minister Roza Otunbayeva extended the lease for the Manas base another year. The next month a record number of Western troops passed through Kyrgyzstan in support of the war in Afghanistan.

On June 10 Robert Simmons, NATO’s Special Representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia, arrived in the Kyrgyz capital to further military cooperation with the new regime. "Simmons visits Kyrgyzstan each time the existence of the Transit Center at Manas, called Manas Air Base until 2009, is threatened. The high-ranking diplomat’s first visit to Bishkek took place in May 2005.

"Then, Washington was concerned about the base’s future after the March 2005 Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan that overthrew President Askar Akayev. Simmons paid another visit to the republic in February 2009, or two weeks before President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced his intention to close the base. This time, Simmons met with Roza Otunbayeva, head of the Kyrgyz interim government, and acting Finance Minister Temir Sariyev, who is responsible for budget income." [21]

In addition, "Kyrgyz media say Washington has paid $15 million in first-quarter lease payments ahead of schedule and promises to transfer the second tranche to the cash-strapped Kyrgyz budget soon." [22]

On June 8 EurasiaNet, "operated by the Central Eurasia Project of the Open Society Institute," [23] ran a feature entitled "Pentagon Looks to Plant New Facilities in Central Asia," which included these excerpts:

"The Pentagon is preparing to embark on a mini-building boom in Central Asia. A recently posted sources-sought survey indicates the US military wants to be involved in strategic construction projects in all five Central Asian states, including Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

"According to the notice posted on the Federal Business Opportunities (FBO) website in mid-May, the US Army Corps of Engineers wants to hear from respondents interested in participating in ’large-scale ground-up design-build construction projects in the following Central South Asian States (CASA): Kazakhstan; Kyrgyzstan; Tajikistan; Turkmenistan; and Uzbekistan.’

“’We anticipate two different projects in Kyrgyzstan. Both are estimated to be in the $5 million to $10 million dollar range.’” [24]

On June 14 Pentagon spokesman Colonel David Lapan told CNN that "the refueling and troop transport operations at the U.S. transit base in Manas, Kyrgyzstan, continue ’unabated’ by ethnic riots in the southern part of the country....Refueling operations had been halted while the United States negotiated new fuel contracts with the interim government...but late last week refueling started again." [25]

An analysis recently appeared on the website of the German international radio broadcaster Deutsche Welle which provided insightful background information regarding the current crisis in Kyrgyzstan:

"Bakiyev’s installation as president in 2005 with US backing may have provided Washington with a friendly government with whom to do business with but it also gave the US a significant foothold in a country that some strategists believe is paramount to its plans for regional dominance."

"The inclusion of Kyrgyzstan and three other central Asian states in NATO’s Partnership for Peace program in 1994 was seen as a major step toward increasing US military presence in the region which eventually led to the US base at Manas, outside Bishkek in the north, being established."

"While Manas remains a key hub for US operations in Afghanistan, it is also used as a NATO base - a situation which angers and concerns Russia which fears the eastern enlargement of its former Cold War opponent, putting Kyrgyzstan at the center of a power struggle for regional influence....Russia is also concerned about the possibility of being encircled by NATO member states should the alliance go ahead with its provocative eastern enlargement."

"The Chinese see increasing US influence as not only a threat to its plans for Eurasia, which along with promoting its emerging market policy also includes energy security and supply, but also a threat to the People’s Republic itself....Beijing [is] more concerned that the porous nature of the border is allowing US intelligence agencies to run covert destabilizing operations into the strategically vital and politically fragile [Xinjiang] province. Beijing believes the flow of people across the border gives US operations a perfect cover." [26]

Small and seemingly insignificant Kyrgyzstan is the country most vital to U.S. and NATO for the reinforcement and escalation of the war in Afghanistan, even more than Pakistan where NATO supply convoys are routinely attacked and destroyed.

The transit center in the country is the only base the Pentagon has in Central Asia after it was evicted from the Karshi-Khanabad Air Base in Uzbekistan five years ago.

Kyrgyzstan is Washington’s military outpost in a region where the interests of several major nations - Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Iran among them - converge. U.S. stratagems in the nation, whether attempts at the maintenance of a permanent military presence or rotating governments through the use of standard "regime change" maneuvers, will have consequences far more serious than what the status of the diminutive and impoverished Central Asian nation may otherwise indicate.