Friday, March 15, 2013

Dan Klaidman Obama Use of Drones

CONAN: We're talking with Daniel Klaidman, author of "Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency." 

KLAIDMAN: Yeah, that's exactly right. This was three days after Barack Obama took office, only hours before he had signed these executive orders that rolled back some of the - what he viewed as the excesses of the previous administration's counterterrorism policies, Guantanamo, torture, shutting down the CIA detention facilities. And then, on January 23, John Brennan, his chief counterterrorism advisor, came to him and had to give him the news that the very first drone strike of his presidency had gone very badly wrong and a Pakistani tribal elder and much of his family, a pro-peace person, had been wiped out in this drone strike.

And the president was quite troubled by it. He called in the holdover CIA chief, Michael Hayden and his deputy, and he asked him what had happened here. And this was a kind of an important moment for him. Ironically, he ended up embracing the program, and it's also kind of an inflection point in his presidency.

CONAN: And we learn in your article that there are different types of strikes defined by the quality, I guess, of the intelligence that's involved in deciding what's a target and what isn't.
KLAIDMAN: That's exactly right. And this is what the president was learning in that meeting with Michael Hayden. He was learning the difference between a signature strike and a personality strike. And this particular strike was a signature strike in which they know that the people that they're going after have certain signatures or characteristics associated with terrorism, but they don't know exactly who they are. And Steve Kappes, who is the deputy CIA director, said to the president, we know there are a lot of men down there, military-age men, who could be associated with terrorism. We don't know their identities exactly.
The president cut him off and said, well, that's just not good enough for me. But over time, he was persuaded that this was a policy that, in the end, was rather effective, and not only did he accept it, but he ramped up those strikes in Pakistan.
KLAIDMAN: Well, he was always uncomfortable with it. According to some of his closest advisers, he would squirm. And, in fact, you know, the - his evolution on drones, it's not just a straight line. He would go back and forth and, you know, at times, he would say, I'm just not sure about this. I'm not sure if we're getting people who are genuinely - who are genuine threats to the United States. He was kind of a supple decision-maker when it came to these drone strikes.
There's one sort of instructive anecdote, which you can see him going back and forth. This is in late 2009, and he authorizes strikes against a certain number of members of al-Qaida in Yemen, but then says no to a couple of others. I think because it wasn't clear that they were demonstrable threats against the United States. But then in mid-operation, David Petraeus, who was then the general-in-charge of that area, had a clear - they had a clear shot at one of the individuals that the president had not approved. So John Brennan, the president's chief counterterrorism advisor, and Hoss Cartwright, then the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had a hurry-up meeting with the president and said, you know, there's an opportunity to go after this person.
Now, you did not approve of this strike, but General Petraeus would like to be able to do this. And the president says, well, is it clear that this is who it is? Do we have the legal authority to do it? And will we - can we ensure that we will not kill civilians, women and children? And the answers were all yes to those questions. And he said, again, this was in mid-execution, OK, we can do it. And so they did. But when these kinds of things happen, the president sometimes would then, in quiet conversations with Cartwright or Brennan, sometimes turn these issues again over in his mind and say, well, you know, God, did we really - was that really an appropriate strike?
The president goes around the room to solicit the opinions of members of his national security team. There is a consensus, for the most part, that they can do this. And then he asks Hoss Cartwright, who's sitting along the wall, what he thinks. And Cartwright says, well, Mr. President, you need to think very carefully about these kinds of actions.

And, remember, this was a president who has been elected in part to wind down the wars of 9/11. He was very loath to risk opening up new fronts.
KLAIDMAN: This is just another turn in that evolution. This was something that the president had resisted for a long time. In one meeting with his counterterrorism advisors, when a military - one of the - his military advisors said, refer to the campaign in Yemen. The president cut him off and said, no, no, no. There's no campaign in Yemen. We're going to remain AQ focused, al-Qaida focused. But recently, really in the last couple of months, as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the al-Qaida affiliate in Yemen has been able to take advantage of the turmoil in that country with the Arab Spring, with the fall of President Saleh there, they've managed to take a lot more territory.
They've seized territory in the strategic south near the Gulf of Aden. And the more territory they have, the more training camps they have, the better they - better ability that they have to plot and train and perhaps attack the United States, which is something we know that they want to do. And so the president was finally persuaded by the military that it had become a core United States interest, security interest, to begin dealing with that issue and to start helping the Yemeni army deal with the al-Qaida threat, not just worrying about whether they're going to be attacking the United States. That those two issues overlapped.

KLAIDMAN: Yeah. It's quite extraordinary. You know, there is a vigorous, to use the Washington term, interagency process, where individual targets will be nominated. That's the term that the military uses. And then it's subjected to some scrutiny and vetting by various agencies; the Pentagon, the state department, the CIA. The National Security Council's involved. They have these secure videoconferences where these things get debated. Individual cases can be debated for weeks before there's a decision. Do they have the legal justification? Is it the right policy?
But then ultimately, it goes to John Brennan and to Hoss Cartwright, and they would sometimes disappear into the Oval Office with the president, and the three of them would make the decision. Sometimes the president would scale back the list. And as I said before, occasionally he would widen the aperture, as the military likes to say, and increase the list. But the president also would sometimes have to be pulled out of black tie dinners or John Brennan sometimes would have to interrupt family time with the first lady and his children so that the president could come out and make these grim calls.
CONAN: There are two other main characters in this, and they are the legal advisers, the top lawyers at the State Department and the Pentagon, Harold Koh and Jeh Johnson, and very different people who sometimes allies, but more often adversaries.
KLAIDMAN: That's right. This is a fascinating part of the story, I think. Harold Koh is the former dean of the Yale Law School. He was the assistant secretary of state for human rights during the Clinton administration, probably one of the more revered human rights lawyers of his generation. And he would find himself in these killing meetings. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Afghans on Afghanistan


Fariba Nawa - Afghani Perspective on US Intervention

Published on Apr 07, 2009 in Politics

"Most Afghans support US presence.   Main fear, is to go back to civil war after Soviets and US pulled out, worst than soviet invasion.     They want the US to stay and help rebuild.   If soldiers leave, back to civil war, or Taliban.   Some do like Taliban, but in desperation, Taliban brought them back to medieval times, no opportunities, especially for women.   Afghans depend on this effort.   Very different that Iraq.  Afghans don't consider US an occupation. not like Iraq."
2011 interview

NAWA: It is in line with the culture and history. Thirty years ago, women were going to school and working and had many rights that they do not have now. Even if we can go back in time during the monarchy in Afghanistan, it would be better than what is going on now.
However, after the Taliban, great gains have been made for women. Two point seven million girls are in school right now, and during the Taliban, as we all know, they weren't allowed to go to school. Women are working. There are 69 members in parliament.
What I would like to see is that progress continuing, not going backwards.
MARTIN: I wanted to ask about that. Do you think that there has been progress? You've traveled around Afghanistan for more than a decade now. Do you think that women's rights have improved since the Taliban lost power?
NAWA: Absolutely. But the problem has been the continuing war and violence, and therefore the level of domestic violence and violence against women has apparently gone up. Oxfam just came out with a report saying that there are more cases reported and the reason I think there's more violence reported is partly because of that progress. Women feel that they can report these things.
There are more self-immolations now and this is a very strange way to look at it, but that's one way of struggling, of speaking up for women. Under the Taliban, women were muffled in every single way and I was there under the Taliban, as well as after, to see the problems they were having.

 Dr. Huma Ahmed-Ghosh

Afghanistan has always had elite and middle-class women who asserted their rights and marched towards modernization. But despite these examples, the lot of most Afghan women in rural areas has been one of oppression through tribal customs and dictates. Those women who were publicly visible throughout the history of Afghanistan belonged to the royalty or elite and represented a very tiny population of the country. They do act as role models and provide a window into the possibility that social change can occur and illustrate the potential that women from different strata of society can 
Journal of International Women’s Studies Vol 4 #3 May 2003 11 
attempt change in their lives. Magnus and Naby (1998:13) claim that, “The internalization of democracy based on western individualism rather than traditional Afghan Islamic communalism, gender-blind social interaction, and the elevation of the individual above society, does not appear to be part of the emerging regional or Afghan worldview.” I agree, especially in light of the non-deliverance of rights and promised goods by western democracies to their own populations. In Afghanistan, democracy and an assertion of women’s rights can occur when the state is in an economically and politically stable condition, assisted by men and women inside and outside of Afghanistan. Democracy will occur as a process of social change that the whole nation needs to undergo. When this happens, a society built on democratic-oriented ideology will regard women as equal partners in the social, political, and economic reconstruction of Afghanistan. 
Today Afghanistan is in such a desperate state that without external help and financial aid its future will be further jeopardized. It is against this political backdrop that one has to understand women’s situation in Afghanistan. Major dilemmas will always exist as to the most appropriate path to follow. There will always be debates about a so-called western model, urban elite model, Islamic model, and fundamentalist model. The basic (may I say fundamental) need is to ensure that women, like men, have access to resources for survival like education, jobs, mobility and public visibility. They too, like men, need to be ascribed status and respect for their decisions. 
At the crossroads of Islamic fundamentalism and westernization, especially in terms of women’s status, Afghanistan provides the testing grounds for the future of hybridization. The current socio-political situation provides a basis for new insights into theoretical constructions of modernity, secularism and gender equality. The situation of women in the future of Afghanistan might challenge the dominant discourse on citizenship and feminism as defined by the West and provide to non-western nations and minorities in western nations an alternative that can bring social justice and economic equality to all. For women in Afghanistan participation in the economic reconstruction of the country is essential to realize their dreams of a cohesive and peaceful nation; becoming “victims” of Islamic burqas and Western “liberation” is the least of their concern. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

peter bergen and afghan success

As a result of the U.S.-led occupation of Afghanistan and the enterprising spirit of the Afghans themselves, Kabul is now rebuilt, the villagers are back, and the once-ubiquitous de-miners have all but disappeared. Furthermore, millions of Afghans have voted with their feet: Since the fall of the Taliban, more than 5 million have returned home. By way of contrast, some 2 million Iraqis left their country during the recent war there. Only a tiny fraction of those refugees has gone back.

The country to which those millions of Afghans have returned is in fundamental respects very different from the one it was before the 9/11 attacks. Let's start with the most obvious point: The Taliban are removed from power. This was a movement that gave sanctuary not only to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, but also to pretty much every jihadi militant group from around the Muslim world.

Thanks to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, al Qaeda ("the base" in Arabic) lost the best base it ever had: a country in which it ran something of a parallel state, with training camps churning out thousands of recruits and from which bin Laden and his henchmen conducted their own foreign policy, attacking U.S. embassies and warships, and planned the deadliest mass murder in American history.

 -- the chances of the Taliban coming back to run Afghanistan are now vanishingly small. Favorable views of the Taliban in polling across Afghanistan over the past several years are consistently no more than 10 percent. There is nothing like experiencing life under the Taliban to convince Afghans that the group cannot deliver on its promises of an Islamist utopia here on Earth. And if the Taliban have scant chance of returning to power, their al Qaeda buddies have even less chance of returning to Afghanistan in any meaningful way. Few Muslim countries harbor a more hostile view of al Qaeda and its Arab leaders than Afghanistan.

Afghans have good reasons to fear the Taliban. The group imprisoned half the population inside their homes, preventing women from having jobs and girls from attending school. Although Afghanistan today remains a deeply conservative Muslim society, proportionately more women are now serving in the Afghan parliament than in the U.S. Congress. And while only fewer than 1 million children, almost entirely boys, were in school under the Taliban, now more than 8 million children are in school, more than a third of whom are girls.
One of the most common questions pollsters ask is, "Is your country going in the right direction?" A poll by Rasmussen at the end of December found that 33 percent of American voters believed their country was going in the right direction. By contrast, a poll of some 6,000 Afghans conducted by the well-regarded Asia Foundation found that in 2012, 52 percent of Afghans thought their country was on the right track.
This finding isn't so surprising when you consider what remained of the Afghan economy under the Taliban. There were just six commercial banks in the entire country, and, according to the IMF, they were "largely inactive." There was virtually no phone system. Once-bustling Kabul was a city of ghosts, its population down to half a million. Businesses were shuttered, just a few cars drove on the streets, and the 9 p.m. curfew was rigorously enforced by young Taliban foot soldiers wearing distinctive black turbans, their eyes rimmed with black kohl eyeliner, which gave them a look that was both feline and fierce. Radio Voice of Sharia was one of the only sources of Afghan news, and it blared Taliban propaganda. Taliban cabinet ministers huddled around stoves in their offices during the bitter Afghan winters, lecturing visitors like myself about that great Muslim leader, Osama bin Laden.
When I visited Kabul in the winter of 1999, I was the sole guest at the Inter-Continental, the only hotel where the Taliban would allow foreigners to stay. What once passed for a glamorous hotel in 1970s Kabul was now not much more than a bombed-out shell. As the sole guest, I was lucky to get one of the few rooms with still-intact windows to ward off the frigid Afghan winter. The staff at the hotel besieged me with requests for money, which was understandable as the economy was then so bad that even doctors were earning only $6 a month.
Afghanistan's GDP in 2001 was some $2 billion -- about the size of Burkina Faso's. In a decade, GDP has gone up to $20 billion (though much of it is attributable to foreign aid). Today, one in two Afghans has a cell phone, which they use for everything from getting their salaries wired to them to making utility payments. There are also now dozens of newspapers and TV channels. Where once Kabul's streets were largely silent, they are now a bedlam of traffic and thriving small businesses.
much more,1