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Milk Foo Young

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 17/09/2021 - 5:14am in

INGREDIENTS:-

½ cup crab meat (2 crabs, weighing about 1 lb)
2 slices ginger, (2 stalks spring onion)
6 egg whites
1 ¼ cups milk
3 tbsps cornflour
1 oz cooked ham (finely chopped)
1 oz vermicelli
Oil for deep frying (lard for better results)


Seasoning:-
¾ tsp. salt
½ tsp. monosodium glutamate

METHOD:-

  1. Clean crabs and steam with ginger and spring onion for 20 minutes. Pound to crush shell, extract all the crab meat from crabs.
  2. Mix milk with cornflour and egg whites, stir well and add in seasoning and crab meat.
  3. Deep fry vermicelli in hot oil until crispy; place on dish.
  4. Deep fry crab meat batter in very warm oil (150F), push it gently with spatula until it curdles. Drain pour over crispy vermicelli, sprinkle with finely chopped ham. Serve hot.

(Copyright Reserved) Printed in Hong Kong.

The Lie of Nation Building

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 13/09/2021 - 4:00am in

Residents of Marja returning to their village after it was retaken from the Taliban by US and Afghan forces, 2010Residents of Marja returning to their village after it was retaken from the Taliban by US and Afghan forces, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, February 2010

The great question of America’s twenty-year war in Afghanistan was not whether the Afghans were fit for democracy. It was whether democratic values were strong enough in the US to be projected onto a traumatized society seven thousand miles away. Those values include the accountability of the people in power, the consistent and universal application of human rights, a clear understanding of what policies are trying to achieve, the prevention of corrupt financial influence over political decisions, and the fundamental truthfulness of public utterances. In the first two decades of the twenty-first century, the American republic was fighting, and often losing, a domestic battle to uphold those values for its own citizens.

It is grimly unsurprising that the US could not infuse them into a very foreign country. While the political system of the US was approaching the crisis that culminated in the presidency of Donald Trump and the Capitol riots, its most enduring external adventure could not avoid moving in tandem toward the grim climax of the flight from Kabul. Afghanistan became a dark mirror held up to the travails of American democracy. It reflected back, sometimes in exaggerated forms, the weaknesses of the homeland’s political culture. Critics of the war argued that the US could not create a polity in its own image on the far side of the world. The tragic truth is that in many ways it did exactly that.

The easiest way to cope with the reality that the longest war in US history (longer than World War I, World War II, and Vietnam put together) has ended in defeat and an ignominious and deadly evacuation is to fall back on the belief that the Afghans were never capable of creating or sustaining a modern nation-state. The US, after all, spent $143 billion on “nation building” in Afghanistan. Adjusted for inflation, that is more than it spent on the Marshall Plan to rebuild Western Europe after World War II. Why did it not achieve similar results? The problem, it is comforting to conclude, must lie with the Afghans themselves: too backward, too poor, too inextricably entangled in medieval tribalism and obscurantist religion.

But even five years after the US-led invasion overthrew the Taliban regime in 2001, it was clear to those Americans who were paying close attention that the dichotomy between a regressive and recalcitrant people on the one hand and a progressive Western project of liberation and development on the other was entirely false. Sarah Chayes, who went to Afghanistan as an NPR correspondent covering the invasion and then stayed to live among Afghans in Kandahar, wrote in her brilliant 2006 book The Punishment of Virtue:

I have often been asked whether we in the West have the right to “impose democracy” on people who “just might not want it,” or might not be “ready for it.” I think, concerning Afghanistan at least, this question is exactly backward…. I have found that Afghans know precisely what democracy is—even if they might not be able to define the term. And they are crying out for it. They want from their government what most Americans and Europeans want from theirs: roads they can drive on, schools for their kids, doctors with certified qualifications…, a minimum of public accountability, and security…. And they want to participate in some real way in the fashioning of their nation’s destiny….

But Afghans were getting precious little of any of that…. American policy in Afghanistan was not imposing or even encouraging democracy, as the US government claimed it was. Instead, it was standing in the way of democracy. It was institutionalizing violence.

From the very beginning, the problem with the US involvement in Afghanistan lay essentially in the deficits in American democracy. A well-functioning republic makes decisions—especially those as serious as starting a war—by an open process of rational deliberation. It asks the obvious questions: What are we doing? Why are we doing it? What is the human and financial cost? What are the benefits? How and when does it end? The original sin of the Afghan war—one that would never be expiated—was the failure of American political institutions to meet these most basic standards of scrutiny.

The congressional mandate for the war was an “authorization for use of military force” that allowed the president to attack any entity “he determines” to have some connection with the September 11 attacks on the US. Just one member of Congress, Barbara Lee, voted against it. Her plea—“Some of us must say, ‘Let’s step back for a moment…and think through the implications of our actions today so that this does not spiral out of control”—was dismissed as verging on the treasonous. The aim of the US intervention in Afghanistan was, as President George W. Bush put it in October 2001, “to bring al-Qaeda to justice.” Whether this necessitated the defeat and banishment of the Taliban regime that had allowed Osama bin Laden’s network to plan the attacks on Afghan soil, and what government might take its place, were questions never even asked.

How could a project to create an Afghan democracy be founded on such a patent failure of democratic process? Without scrutiny, there could be no clarity of purpose. As Craig Whitlock puts it in The Afghanistan Papers—a gripping chronicle based on his own tenacious gathering for The Washington Post of hundreds of accounts given privately by American participants to the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) and on other official testimonies—after the initial phase the war was “waged against people who had nothing to do with 9/11.”

US troops entered Afghanistan on October 19, 2001, in alliance with the indigenous warlords whose chaotic misrule had been ended by the triumph of the Taliban in the late 1990s. By the time the Taliban was overthrown in December 2001, there were only 2,500 Americans serving in all of Afghanistan. When the last US soldiers left Kabul on August 30, 2021, 775,000 of them had served there and 2,300 had been killed. Throughout this time, Congress allowed the mission to become unmoored from its stated purpose of rooting out Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda and to drift into waters that the administrations of neither George W. Bush nor Barack Obama even managed to chart.

There was almost no understanding that the US was inaugurating what would turn out to be the second half of a civil war that has now lasted for more than forty years. On September 11, 2001, Richard Armitage, then the deputy secretary of state, by his own account cut off General Mahmood Ahmed, the head of the Pakistani military’s Inter-Services Intelligence, who was trying to explain to him who the Taliban were: “I said, ‘No, the history begins today.’”

This was the US version of Year Zero. There were two blank slates: Afghanistan and the official American mind. The SIGAR testimonies are remarkably frank in their admissions of near-total ignorance. “We did not know what we were doing,” says Richard Boucher, the Bush administration’s chief diplomat for the region, as assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia with responsibility for Afghanistan policy between 2006 and 2009. “We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking,” says Lieutenant General Douglas Lute, the White House “war czar” in both the Bush and Obama administrations.

To grasp the depth of the institutional ignorance from which this undertaking sprang, it is necessary merely to recall that not much more than a year before the US-led invasion of 2001, President Bill Clinton had decided that it would be a good idea to encourage Russia, whose occupation of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989 had turned it into a failed state riven by civil wars and drowned in blood, to launch a bombing campaign against the Taliban. As Roy Gutman wrote in How We Missed the Story (2008), a study of US Afghan policy in the years immediately before the invasion, “for the United States to endorse another Russian-led armed intervention barely a decade after the debacle that caused such suffering begged credulity.” But in a mindset in which “history begins today,” even the very recent Afghan past could be wiped from official American consciousness.

When the US took control of the country, the literal terms of engagement—the language used to define the entire project—were fuzzy and shifting. Was it a war? The answer would seem to be obvious, but the word itself was slippery. Some of the NATO armies involved in the mission were authorized only to take part in peacekeeping operations, so they were anxious that the idea of war be avoided. (It was not until 2010 that the German chancellor Angela Merkel admitted that her country’s troops were indeed at war in Afghanistan.) Whitlock quotes a senior NATO commander: “We checked with the legal team and they agree it’s not a war.” To bridge the semantic divide, the US commander of Afghan operations Stanley McChrystal added a line in an official report to describe the conflict as “not a war in the conventional sense.”

Was it then “nation building”? No and yes. Ryan Crocker, who briefly served as the US ambassador in Kabul after the defeat of the Taliban, explained to SIGAR that the mindset of Donald Rumsfeld and the other neoconservatives in the Bush administration was that “our job is about killing bad guys, so…we’re not going to get involved in nation-building.” As early as June 2002, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Joe Biden (who has recently claimed that nation building “never made any sense to me” even though he consistently supported it) reported that an aide to Bush had asked him, after a meeting with the president, “You are not going to mention nation-building, are you?”

Biden insisted at the time that the administration’s reluctance to use the phrase was “an incredible hang-up.” Yet in 2009 Barack Obama, whom Biden was then serving as vice-president, stressed that he opposed a drawn-out nation-building project while announcing the surge of US troop numbers to 100,000. And six months after that, when the then US head of Central Command David Petraeus was asked by the House Armed Services Committee whether the US was engaged in nation building, he replied, “We are indeed.” He added that “I’m just not going to evade [the question] and play rhetorical games.” This was an implicit acknowledgment that rhetorical games had become almost compulsory in official parlance. The US was spending hundreds of billions of dollars on a project that dared not speak its name.

This linguistic obfuscation attained the zenith of sinister absurdity in 2015 when Obama changed the name of the Afghanistan mission from Operation Enduring Freedom (the Bush administration’s term) to Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. Behind this shift lay what Whitlock calls “among the most egregious deceptions and lies that US leaders spread during two decades of warfare”—the illusion that American combat operations were ending when in fact they were carrying on pretty much as before.

The degradation of language hollowed out one of the most important words in the lexicon of the Western mission in Afghanistan: progress. The nation-building exercise was cast above all as progressive, and in certain respects—the rights of women and girls, rising life expectancy, improved levels of education, the flourishing of independent media and urban civil society—it was. But “progress” was also the word that, after the first flush of triumph, replaced the idea of military victory. The resumed war against the Taliban, which quickly regrouped in Pakistan before infiltrating rural Afghanistan again, was never being won; it was always “making good progress.” In 2003 Rumsfeld boasted that “signs of progress are everywhere.” Three years later Major General Robert Durbin, the commander in charge of training the Afghan security forces, told reporters that they “continue to show great progress each day.”

In 2007 Bush reassured Americans that “over the past five years, we’ve made real progress.” John Walters, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under Bush, boasted of the “enormous progress” being made in the elimination of opium poppy cultivation. “We’ve made a lot of progress,” said Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in 2011. And so ever onward in a progress that was going nowhere except around in a circle. There was in this a contagion of meaninglessness: when the same word was used to disguise military failure as to hail real and tangible improvements in the lives of many Afghans, even justified claims about the latter could come to seem doubtful.

But progress was America’s party line, and it was rigorously enforced. Just one of the fifteen US generals who commanded in Afghanistan (that number itself a mark of the inconsistency of leadership) crossed that line. In May 2009, at a press conference in Kabul, General David McKiernan said, truthfully, that the war was “stalemated” in the south and a “very tough fight” in the east. Hours later, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told him that he was being fired. McKiernan had earlier remarked dryly to one of his regional commanders that “we may have done too good a job explaining how bad it is over here.” His mistake, according to Whitlock, was that “unlike other commanding officers, he did not deceive the public with specious language.” His sacking made it clear to other US officials, both military and civilian, that mastery of speciousness was part of the job description. The mobilization of “alternative facts” that came to be associated with the era of Trump was already well underway in US statecraft, and it was heavily deployed in Afghanistan.

The misadventure may have begun in ignorance, but it morphed into something more complex—a deliberate unknowing. It is commonplace to characterize US policy in Afghanistan as self-deception. But whoever was being deceived, it was not those who were running the war. The Afghanistan Papers shows that, certainly after the first two years, very few of those at the top of the military and diplomatic establishments were deluded. They knew well that the Taliban was not defeated; that the Afghan national and local governments, police, and army were deeply corrupt; that military gains were fragile and often temporary; and that vast amounts of American money were being wasted and stolen. They knew that the Afghan state they were supporting was never any closer to being able to sustain itself independently.

But for two decades they all carried on regardless. In his SIGAR interview Crocker, who returned to Kabul as US ambassador in 2011, said of a vastly expensive dam project outside Kandahar that “I made the decision to go ahead with it, but I was sure it was never going to work.” The statement could stand for the entire US project in Afghanistan. Cognitive dissonance was not pathology—it was policy.

Afghanistan was not, of course, a blank slate. Nor, however, was it a timeless world of ancient and unchanging tribal allegiances. As a polity, it had in fact undergone radical and traumatic change since the Communist coup of 1978, the invasion by the Soviets, and the hideous civil war among the mujahideen that defeated them. Under all that pressure, traditional structures of authority had largely been replaced by the mandate of the gun.

In his rueful and melancholy The American War in Afghanistan: A History, Carter Malkasian, who worked closely with General Joseph Dunsford when he was US commander in Afghanistan and then, from 2015 to 2019, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, points out that the new tribalism was not at all the same as the old version. The tribal and religious leaders who came to power during and after the war against the Soviets were “not the old nobility or revered scholars,” but rather

commanders who had gained their position through military prowess, guns, and money…. Within the religious leaders, younger scholars trained in Pakistani madrasas or militarized in the war, filled the role of older scholars who had fled or died.

Chayes, writing in 2006, eloquently evoked the results of this process:

All the invisible bonds that weave a country together into a single polity had been dissolved. All the renunciations of personal sovereignty in exchange for the comforts and protections of a joint destiny had been retracted. Anyone claiming the allegiance of a few armed men felt entitled to strike out for himself. Scores of petty commanders fell to preying on their countrymen. This version of [Afghanistan] was a metastasized cancer; it had grown beyond the capacity of traditional tribal structures to contain it.

The recreation of a functioning state out of this implosion of nationhood was thus not primarily a matter of rooting out ancient and backward traditions. What it demanded, rather, was a confrontation with this new system of gangster fiefdoms. The Taliban, ironically, did this job very well. It created a state—albeit a viciously repressive and misogynistic one—that could take power back from the predatory warlords. It established a powerful notion of a “joint destiny” based on resistance to foreign invaders, the violent repression of internal ethnic minorities (especially the Hazara people, who allegedly descend from the Mongols), and an extremist version of Islam.

If the US was to succeed in creating for Afghans a similarly powerful idea of shared national enterprise, it had to do what the Taliban had done, except with democratic values as its binding force. It had to show that it was at least as capable as the Taliban had been at fending off the predators. That it utterly failed to do. This was, in a sense, a failure of faith. The Taliban believes passionately in its own worldview. The US did not really believe in the democratic virtues it espoused. It did not tell the truth. It was not committed to preventing corruption. Instead of breaking the power of the warlords, it restored them to power.

As Chayes pointed out, just five years after the US-led invasion there was already a contrast in the minds of ordinary Afghans between life as it had been under the Taliban and as it then was under the new regime. The Taliban was seen, undoubtedly, as more oppressive, but also more predictable. Its rules were outlandish and stultifying—everything from playing chess to cheering at sporting events to flying kites was banned—but everyone knew what they were. Under the American-backed government, by contrast, everything seemed arbitrary. A governor might be a decent public servant, or a thief and a thug.

An army checkpoint might be a genuine security operation, or it might be merely a shakedown in which anyone who wished to pass had to pay a bribe. In 2010 the United Nations estimated that Afghans were paying $2.5 billion every year in bribes—almost a quarter of the country’s official GDP—to soldiers and militia, to judges and government officials, even to doctors, nurses, and teachers. For Afghans, arbitrary government—by definition the opposite of republican democracy—was not a theoretical evil. It was a daily experience of random rapacity.

The US enabled this sense of the unpredictability of power by giving wildly different answers to the question at the center of the whole modernizing project. That question was wrapped up in another slippery word: culture. Was it or was it not okay for powerful Afghan men to own the bodies of others on the grounds that this was “their culture”? In relation to the rights of women, the Western powers decreed that it was not. The moral case for the occupation rested largely on the insistence that organized misogyny could not be tolerated just because it was deeply rooted in indigenous cultural practice.

The Taliban’s assault on women’s autonomy had been an all-out war. In her 2002 memoir The Sewing Circles of Herat, Christina Lamb has a long list of the laws that erased women as public beings, including: any woman showing her ankles must be whipped; no woman is allowed outside the home unless accompanied by a close male relative; women must be fully covered by the burqa; windows must be painted over so women cannot be seen from the outside; any woman with painted nails should have her fingers cut off. There was a “ban on laughing in public. No stranger should hear a woman’s voice.” Girls were prevented from attending even elementary school. Women were removed from all jobs outside the home.

To free women from this brutal gender apartheid—and to prevent the return to power of those who had imposed it—was undoubtedly a noble aim. But it always stood on shaky ground. Firstly, it was, as Malkasian acknowledges, a “moral cause for Americans” but “not an explicit strategic goal.” This goes to the heart of the difficulty: the moral argument for an open-ended American presence was never the same as the strategic purpose of the mission. Indeed, it is well to remember that, under the Clinton presidency, the US was prepared to recognize and work with the Taliban, vicious misogyny and all. When the Taliban took Kabul in 1996, the US drew up seventeen “talking points” for negotiations. As Gutman laconically noted, “The talking points omitted any mention of the sudden loss of women’s rights.” The establishment and defense of those rights were collateral effects of a counterterrorism operation. They were never defined as the primary goal of long-term American engagement.

Equally shaky was the American commitment to the principle underlying its insistence on equal dignity for Afghan women. That principle had to be instituted against the traditions of the rural Pashtun heartlands: men could not do what they pleased to women merely because that was part of an established way of life. But organized pedophilia was also a traditional practice, and the Americans tolerated and enabled it.

It is striking that in his history of the war, Malkasian mentions this issue in passing as one of the reasons why many Afghans welcomed Taliban rule, but returns to it as a post-2001 problem only in a single footnote, explaining local hostility to Dad Mohammed Khan, the warlord who was appointed chief of police in the town of Sangin: “The police chief and his men were also rumored to kidnap little boys out of the bazaar.” In fact, as The Afghanistan Papers confirms, the kidnapping and rape of boys by senior Afghan army and police officers was not a rumor. It was well known to American officials as an institutionalized practice. Whitlock summarizes the evidence from the official records:

Afghan military officers, warlords and other power brokers proclaimed their status by keeping tea boys or other adolescent male servants as sex slaves. US troops referred to the practice as “man-love Thursday” because Afghan pederasts would force boys to dress up or dance on Thursday evenings before the start of the Afghan weekend. Although American soldiers were sickened by the abuse, their commanders instructed them to look the other way because they didn’t want to alienate allies in the fight against the Taliban.

In 2015 Joseph Goldstein reported in The New York Times that US soldiers were instructed not to intervene in the kidnapping and rape of boys, even when the crimes were being committed on their own military bases. He interviewed a former Special Forces captain, Dan Quinn, who beat up a US-backed militia commander who had a boy chained to his bed. Quinn was relieved of his own command and sent home from Afghanistan. In response to the story, an army spokesman blithely confirmed that “there would be no express requirement that US military personnel in Afghanistan report” child sexual abuse by allied forces.

Apart from being morally abhorrent, the facilitation of these crimes exposed deep fault lines. One was the idea that it was best not to “alienate allies in the fight against the Taliban.” It suggests that these allies were not seen as the ordinary people of Afghanistan, the families whose children were kidnapped or the villagers who lived under this terror. As early as 2002, Jon Lee Anderson, in The Lion’s Grave, perhaps the most widely read American book about the US-led invasion, wrote that “one of the first things the Taliban did—a popular move—was to punish mujahideen commanders who were accused of rape or pederasty.” If this was known to be a popular move by the Taliban, did it not occur to American policymakers that taking the opposite approach might be unpopular and indeed alienating?

More broadly, the arbitrariness of the decision to disregard child rape undermined the principle of the universality of human rights on which US support for female equality was based. One US officer is recorded in The Afghanistan Papers explaining American tolerance of child abuse by saying, “You have to accept what they do and don’t interject your personal feelings about their culture.” But if this was so, why object to the Taliban’s confining women to their homes or banning music or destroying ancient images? The US, which has never managed to consistently apply human rights and the rule of law to its own citizens, could not do so for Afghans either.

The overlap between the failures of America’s own democracy and of its mission in Afghanistan is nowhere clearer than in the creation of a kleptocracy. One of the most basic functions of a democratic system is ensuring accountability for the use of public money. The Americans knew when they entered Afghanistan that corruption was already widespread. Their main response was to feed it with billions of taxpayers’ dollars. This was not naive or innocent. It too was policy. It was based on an article of faith for conservative Americans: trickle-down economics. If, in the US, you believed that it did not matter if some people became filthy rich by dubious means because some of their wealth would leak out to ordinary folk, why not apply that to Afghanistan?

In his SIGAR interview, Boucher said that it was better to funnel the vast sums of US aid to Afghan power brokers who “would probably take 20 percent for personal use” than to give it to “a bunch of expensive American experts.” He said, “I want it to disappear in Afghanistan, rather than in the Beltway. Probably in the end it is going to make sure that more of the money gets to some villager, maybe through five layers of corrupt officials, but still gets to some villager.”

Particularly striking here is Boucher’s assumption that genteel corruption is as endemic in Washington as the more flagrant kind is in Afghanistan. A democracy that cannot create accountability for the use of public money at home could not do so in a faraway society. This was also, for the entire project of building an Afghan democracy, ruinous. The villager who gets the last drops of aid after most of it has been filtered through five layers of corrupt officials knows all too well that he or she is not an equal citizen.

What was corrupted in all of this was the sense of an ending. “What,” as Major Joseph Claburn rather plaintively asked in 2011, “does it look like when it comes time for us to leave?” Because the ends being pursued were so ill-defined, the idea of an ending could not be fixed either. Twice—in 2003 and in 2014—the US officially declared an “end to combat operations” in Afghanistan. On neither occasion was this real or truthful or reflected on the ground. Finality, for the US, was something to be declared, not to be accomplished. Those who do not know what the last stage of their mission is will be outlasted, as America has been by the Taliban. It is an iron law that what cannot be concluded will be abandoned. That has been Afghanistan’s bitter fate.

Biden’s fate is to be the one who gave up the pretense of endless progress. It fell to the mournful man of compassion and empathy to deliver a heartless coup de grace. And even that parting shot was botched. It is a bleak commentary on the whole twenty-year episode that the US, on its departure, was almost as much in the dark as it had been on arrival, and no less concerned to keep up appearances. On July 23 Biden told his Afghan counterpart Ashraf Ghani that the critical question was the “perception” that “things are not going well in terms of the fight against the Taliban.” He suggested that “there is a need, whether it is true or not, there is a need to project a different picture.”

Less than a month before Ghani fled from Kabul, the US could not break the long-established habit of valuing a positive story more than the realities revealed by its own intelligence reports. This attitude extended even to the plight of Afghans whose lives were known to be in danger because they had worked with the Americans. The White House delayed for months the process of getting them to safety because it wanted to maintain the fiction that Afghan government forces would hold out against the Taliban. The great cloud of unknowing enveloped even the obvious truth that the circular progression of the war was about to close in on itself, forming a great hollow 0.

What is also unknown is how much this failure of American democracy will recoil on the politics of the homeland. Defeat in war has been, for some nations, the beginning of radical political change. It prompts reflection on the nature of the political order that has failed so badly. But the problem with the defeat in Afghanistan may be that, for America, it does not matter enough to make such self-examination imperative. Malkasian concludes that “the bigger story is probably how little the war featured in national life. Failure or success, Afghanistan was unimportant. Less than 0.3 percent of the population, including diplomats and contractors, served there.”

This is not a national trauma like Vietnam. There will be no great Maya Lin memorial to the Americans who gave their lives, still less to the 200,000 or so Afghans and Pakistanis who died. (Whitlock writes that the US started to count Afghan civilian deaths only in 2005, but then abandoned the database “for unspecified reasons.”) The shame and terror of the botched withdrawal has already become mere fodder for the tribal warfare of American politics, with Donald Trump recasting his own abject surrender to the Taliban—when he went over the heads of the supposedly sovereign Afghan government to negotiate an unhindered withdrawal—as Biden’s fault, and moreover as the “dumbest move ever made in US history.”

When it has served its partisan purpose, the collective impulse will be to write the whole thing off as an embarrassment. Since the US was so successful at not paying attention when the war was actually going on, it is hard to be optimistic about its capacity to do so in the long, dark aftermath.

Yet it should reflect, if only for its own sake. The war was not just a projection of American power into a troubled part of Asia. It was a test of the nature of that power. It showed that if war is the continuation of politics by other means, what was continued over twenty years in Afghanistan was a dangerous American nonchalance about the difficulty and fragility of democracy. The prevailing assumption over those years was that a stable democracy could be created and sustained without a commitment to telling the truth, without controlling the distorting effects of money, without standing up to the avidity of the rich, without proper mechanisms for open scrutiny and rational deliberation, without a commitment to moral standards that apply as much to our allies as to our enemies. Democracy without those values and systems has no substance. It will fall—and not just in Afghanistan.

The Americans running the show there were never convinced by the performance. They just could not stir themselves to do much about it. They watched the notion of a democratic republic they had conjured for a suffering people slip away bit by bit until it collapsed catastrophically. They settled into a strange pattern of dazed powerlessness. Successive American administrations, Republican and Democratic, became spectators at a drama in which the follies and dangers of their own domestic polity were played out in exotic foreign costumes. They failed to see that this story was also about themselves.

—September 8, 2021

The post The Lie of Nation Building appeared first on The New York Review of Books.

The Lie of Nation Building

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 13/09/2021 - 4:00am in

Residents of Marja returning to their village after it was retaken from the Taliban by US and Afghan forces, 2010Residents of Marja returning to their village after it was retaken from the Taliban by US and Afghan forces, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, February 2010

The great question of America’s twenty-year war in Afghanistan was not whether the Afghans were fit for democracy. It was whether democratic values were strong enough in the US to be projected onto a traumatized society seven thousand miles away. Those values include the accountability of the people in power, the consistent and universal application of human rights, a clear understanding of what policies are trying to achieve, the prevention of corrupt financial influence over political decisions, and the fundamental truthfulness of public utterances. In the first two decades of the twenty-first century, the American republic was fighting, and often losing, a domestic battle to uphold those values for its own citizens.

It is grimly unsurprising that the US could not infuse them into a very foreign country. While the political system of the US was approaching the crisis that culminated in the presidency of Donald Trump and the Capitol riots, its most enduring external adventure could not avoid moving in tandem toward the grim climax of the flight from Kabul. Afghanistan became a dark mirror held up to the travails of American democracy. It reflected back, sometimes in exaggerated forms, the weaknesses of the homeland’s political culture. Critics of the war argued that the US could not create a polity in its own image on the far side of the world. The tragic truth is that in many ways it did exactly that.

The easiest way to cope with the reality that the longest war in US history (longer than World War I, World War II, and Vietnam put together) has ended in defeat and an ignominious and deadly evacuation is to fall back on the belief that the Afghans were never capable of creating or sustaining a modern nation-state. The US, after all, spent $143 billion on “nation building” in Afghanistan. Adjusted for inflation, that is more than it spent on the Marshall Plan to rebuild Western Europe after World War II. Why did it not achieve similar results? The problem, it is comforting to conclude, must lie with the Afghans themselves: too backward, too poor, too inextricably entangled in medieval tribalism and obscurantist religion.

But even five years after the US-led invasion overthrew the Taliban regime in 2001, it was clear to those Americans who were paying close attention that the dichotomy between a regressive and recalcitrant people on the one hand and a progressive Western project of liberation and development on the other was entirely false. Sarah Chayes, who went to Afghanistan as an NPR correspondent covering the invasion and then stayed to live among Afghans in Kandahar, wrote in her brilliant 2006 book The Punishment of Virtue:

I have often been asked whether we in the West have the right to “impose democracy” on people who “just might not want it,” or might not be “ready for it.” I think, concerning Afghanistan at least, this question is exactly backward…. I have found that Afghans know precisely what democracy is—even if they might not be able to define the term. And they are crying out for it. They want from their government what most Americans and Europeans want from theirs: roads they can drive on, schools for their kids, doctors with certified qualifications…, a minimum of public accountability, and security…. And they want to participate in some real way in the fashioning of their nation’s destiny….

But Afghans were getting precious little of any of that…. American policy in Afghanistan was not imposing or even encouraging democracy, as the US government claimed it was. Instead, it was standing in the way of democracy. It was institutionalizing violence.

From the very beginning, the problem with the US involvement in Afghanistan lay essentially in the deficits in American democracy. A well-functioning republic makes decisions—especially those as serious as starting a war—by an open process of rational deliberation. It asks the obvious questions: What are we doing? Why are we doing it? What is the human and financial cost? What are the benefits? How and when does it end? The original sin of the Afghan war—one that would never be expiated—was the failure of American political institutions to meet these most basic standards of scrutiny.

The congressional mandate for the war was an “authorization for use of military force” that allowed the president to attack any entity “he determines” to have some connection with the September 11 attacks on the US. Just one member of Congress, Barbara Lee, voted against it. Her plea—“Some of us must say, ‘Let’s step back for a moment…and think through the implications of our actions today so that this does not spiral out of control”—was dismissed as verging on the treasonous. The aim of the US intervention in Afghanistan was, as President George W. Bush put it in October 2001, “to bring al-Qaeda to justice.” Whether this necessitated the defeat and banishment of the Taliban regime that had allowed Osama bin Laden’s network to plan the attacks on Afghan soil, and what government might take its place, were questions never even asked.

How could a project to create an Afghan democracy be founded on such a patent failure of democratic process? Without scrutiny, there could be no clarity of purpose. As Craig Whitlock puts it in The Afghanistan Papers—a gripping chronicle based on his own tenacious gathering for The Washington Post of hundreds of accounts given privately by American participants to the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) and on other official testimonies—after the initial phase the war was “waged against people who had nothing to do with 9/11.”

US troops entered Afghanistan on October 19, 2001, in alliance with the indigenous warlords whose chaotic misrule had been ended by the triumph of the Taliban in the late 1990s. By the time the Taliban was overthrown in December 2001, there were only 2,500 Americans serving in all of Afghanistan. When the last US soldiers left Kabul on August 30, 2021, 775,000 of them had served there and 2,300 had been killed. Throughout this time, Congress allowed the mission to become unmoored from its stated purpose of rooting out Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda and to drift into waters that the administrations of neither George W. Bush nor Barack Obama even managed to chart.

There was almost no understanding that the US was inaugurating what would turn out to be the second half of a civil war that has now lasted for more than forty years. On September 11, 2001, Richard Armitage, then the deputy secretary of state, by his own account cut off General Mahmood Ahmed, the head of the Pakistani military’s Inter-Services Intelligence, who was trying to explain to him who the Taliban were: “I said, ‘No, the history begins today.’”

This was the US version of Year Zero. There were two blank slates: Afghanistan and the official American mind. The SIGAR testimonies are remarkably frank in their admissions of near-total ignorance. “We did not know what we were doing,” says Richard Boucher, the Bush administration’s chief diplomat for the region, as assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia with responsibility for Afghanistan policy between 2006 and 2009. “We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking,” says Lieutenant General Douglas Lute, the White House “war czar” in both the Bush and Obama administrations.

To grasp the depth of the institutional ignorance from which this undertaking sprang, it is necessary merely to recall that not much more than a year before the US-led invasion of 2001, President Bill Clinton had decided that it would be a good idea to encourage Russia, whose occupation of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989 had turned it into a failed state riven by civil wars and drowned in blood, to launch a bombing campaign against the Taliban. As Roy Gutman wrote in How We Missed the Story (2008), a study of US Afghan policy in the years immediately before the invasion, “for the United States to endorse another Russian-led armed intervention barely a decade after the debacle that caused such suffering begged credulity.” But in a mindset in which “history begins today,” even the very recent Afghan past could be wiped from official American consciousness.

When the US took control of the country, the literal terms of engagement—the language used to define the entire project—were fuzzy and shifting. Was it a war? The answer would seem to be obvious, but the word itself was slippery. Some of the NATO armies involved in the mission were authorized only to take part in peacekeeping operations, so they were anxious that the idea of war be avoided. (It was not until 2010 that the German chancellor Angela Merkel admitted that her country’s troops were indeed at war in Afghanistan.) Whitlock quotes a senior NATO commander: “We checked with the legal team and they agree it’s not a war.” To bridge the semantic divide, the US commander of Afghan operations Stanley McChrystal added a line in an official report to describe the conflict as “not a war in the conventional sense.”

Was it then “nation building”? No and yes. Ryan Crocker, who briefly served as the US ambassador in Kabul after the defeat of the Taliban, explained to SIGAR that the mindset of Donald Rumsfeld and the other neoconservatives in the Bush administration was that “our job is about killing bad guys, so…we’re not going to get involved in nation-building.” As early as June 2002, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Joe Biden (who has recently claimed that nation building “never made any sense to me” even though he consistently supported it) reported that an aide to Bush had asked him, after a meeting with the president, “You are not going to mention nation-building, are you?”

Biden insisted at the time that the administration’s reluctance to use the phrase was “an incredible hang-up.” Yet in 2009 Barack Obama, whom Biden was then serving as vice-president, stressed that he opposed a drawn-out nation-building project while announcing the surge of US troop numbers to 100,000. And six months after that, when the then US head of Central Command David Petraeus was asked by the House Armed Services Committee whether the US was engaged in nation building, he replied, “We are indeed.” He added that “I’m just not going to evade [the question] and play rhetorical games.” This was an implicit acknowledgment that rhetorical games had become almost compulsory in official parlance. The US was spending hundreds of billions of dollars on a project that dared not speak its name.

This linguistic obfuscation attained the zenith of sinister absurdity in 2015 when Obama changed the name of the Afghanistan mission from Operation Enduring Freedom (the Bush administration’s term) to Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. Behind this shift lay what Whitlock calls “among the most egregious deceptions and lies that US leaders spread during two decades of warfare”—the illusion that American combat operations were ending when in fact they were carrying on pretty much as before.

The degradation of language hollowed out one of the most important words in the lexicon of the Western mission in Afghanistan: progress. The nation-building exercise was cast above all as progressive, and in certain respects—the rights of women and girls, rising life expectancy, improved levels of education, the flourishing of independent media and urban civil society—it was. But “progress” was also the word that, after the first flush of triumph, replaced the idea of military victory. The resumed war against the Taliban, which quickly regrouped in Pakistan before infiltrating rural Afghanistan again, was never being won; it was always “making good progress.” In 2003 Rumsfeld boasted that “signs of progress are everywhere.” Three years later Major General Robert Durbin, the commander in charge of training the Afghan security forces, told reporters that they “continue to show great progress each day.”

In 2007 Bush reassured Americans that “over the past five years, we’ve made real progress.” John Walters, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under Bush, boasted of the “enormous progress” being made in the elimination of opium poppy cultivation. “We’ve made a lot of progress,” said Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in 2011. And so ever onward in a progress that was going nowhere except around in a circle. There was in this a contagion of meaninglessness: when the same word was used to disguise military failure as to hail real and tangible improvements in the lives of many Afghans, even justified claims about the latter could come to seem doubtful.

But progress was America’s party line, and it was rigorously enforced. Just one of the fifteen US generals who commanded in Afghanistan (that number itself a mark of the inconsistency of leadership) crossed that line. In May 2009, at a press conference in Kabul, General David McKiernan said, truthfully, that the war was “stalemated” in the south and a “very tough fight” in the east. Hours later, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told him that he was being fired. McKiernan had earlier remarked dryly to one of his regional commanders that “we may have done too good a job explaining how bad it is over here.” His mistake, according to Whitlock, was that “unlike other commanding officers, he did not deceive the public with specious language.” His sacking made it clear to other US officials, both military and civilian, that mastery of speciousness was part of the job description. The mobilization of “alternative facts” that came to be associated with the era of Trump was already well underway in US statecraft, and it was heavily deployed in Afghanistan.

The misadventure may have begun in ignorance, but it morphed into something more complex—a deliberate unknowing. It is commonplace to characterize US policy in Afghanistan as self-deception. But whoever was being deceived, it was not those who were running the war. The Afghanistan Papers shows that, certainly after the first two years, very few of those at the top of the military and diplomatic establishments were deluded. They knew well that the Taliban was not defeated; that the Afghan national and local governments, police, and army were deeply corrupt; that military gains were fragile and often temporary; and that vast amounts of American money were being wasted and stolen. They knew that the Afghan state they were supporting was never any closer to being able to sustain itself independently.

But for two decades they all carried on regardless. In his SIGAR interview Crocker, who returned to Kabul as US ambassador in 2011, said of a vastly expensive dam project outside Kandahar that “I made the decision to go ahead with it, but I was sure it was never going to work.” The statement could stand for the entire US project in Afghanistan. Cognitive dissonance was not pathology—it was policy.

Afghanistan was not, of course, a blank slate. Nor, however, was it a timeless world of ancient and unchanging tribal allegiances. As a polity, it had in fact undergone radical and traumatic change since the Communist coup of 1978, the invasion by the Soviets, and the hideous civil war among the mujahideen that defeated them. Under all that pressure, traditional structures of authority had largely been replaced by the mandate of the gun.

In his rueful and melancholy The American War in Afghanistan: A History, Carter Malkasian, who worked closely with General Joseph Dunsford when he was US commander in Afghanistan and then, from 2015 to 2019, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, points out that the new tribalism was not at all the same as the old version. The tribal and religious leaders who came to power during and after the war against the Soviets were “not the old nobility or revered scholars,” but rather

commanders who had gained their position through military prowess, guns, and money…. Within the religious leaders, younger scholars trained in Pakistani madrasas or militarized in the war, filled the role of older scholars who had fled or died.

Chayes, writing in 2006, eloquently evoked the results of this process:

All the invisible bonds that weave a country together into a single polity had been dissolved. All the renunciations of personal sovereignty in exchange for the comforts and protections of a joint destiny had been retracted. Anyone claiming the allegiance of a few armed men felt entitled to strike out for himself. Scores of petty commanders fell to preying on their countrymen. This version of [Afghanistan] was a metastasized cancer; it had grown beyond the capacity of traditional tribal structures to contain it.

The recreation of a functioning state out of this implosion of nationhood was thus not primarily a matter of rooting out ancient and backward traditions. What it demanded, rather, was a confrontation with this new system of gangster fiefdoms. The Taliban, ironically, did this job very well. It created a state—albeit a viciously repressive and misogynistic one—that could take power back from the predatory warlords. It established a powerful notion of a “joint destiny” based on resistance to foreign invaders, the violent repression of internal ethnic minorities (especially the Hazara people, who allegedly descend from the Mongols), and an extremist version of Islam.

If the US was to succeed in creating for Afghans a similarly powerful idea of shared national enterprise, it had to do what the Taliban had done, except with democratic values as its binding force. It had to show that it was at least as capable as the Taliban had been at fending off the predators. That it utterly failed to do. This was, in a sense, a failure of faith. The Taliban believes passionately in its own worldview. The US did not really believe in the democratic virtues it espoused. It did not tell the truth. It was not committed to preventing corruption. Instead of breaking the power of the warlords, it restored them to power.

As Chayes pointed out, just five years after the US-led invasion there was already a contrast in the minds of ordinary Afghans between life as it had been under the Taliban and as it then was under the new regime. The Taliban was seen, undoubtedly, as more oppressive, but also more predictable. Its rules were outlandish and stultifying—everything from playing chess to cheering at sporting events to flying kites was banned—but everyone knew what they were. Under the American-backed government, by contrast, everything seemed arbitrary. A governor might be a decent public servant, or a thief and a thug.

An army checkpoint might be a genuine security operation, or it might be merely a shakedown in which anyone who wished to pass had to pay a bribe. In 2010 the United Nations estimated that Afghans were paying $2.5 billion every year in bribes—almost a quarter of the country’s official GDP—to soldiers and militia, to judges and government officials, even to doctors, nurses, and teachers. For Afghans, arbitrary government—by definition the opposite of republican democracy—was not a theoretical evil. It was a daily experience of random rapacity.

The US enabled this sense of the unpredictability of power by giving wildly different answers to the question at the center of the whole modernizing project. That question was wrapped up in another slippery word: culture. Was it or was it not okay for powerful Afghan men to own the bodies of others on the grounds that this was “their culture”? In relation to the rights of women, the Western powers decreed that it was not. The moral case for the occupation rested largely on the insistence that organized misogyny could not be tolerated just because it was deeply rooted in indigenous cultural practice.

The Taliban’s assault on women’s autonomy had been an all-out war. In her 2002 memoir The Sewing Circles of Herat, Christina Lamb has a long list of the laws that erased women as public beings, including: any woman showing her ankles must be whipped; no woman is allowed outside the home unless accompanied by a close male relative; women must be fully covered by the burqa; windows must be painted over so women cannot be seen from the outside; any woman with painted nails should have her fingers cut off. There was a “ban on laughing in public. No stranger should hear a woman’s voice.” Girls were prevented from attending even elementary school. Women were removed from all jobs outside the home.

To free women from this brutal gender apartheid—and to prevent the return to power of those who had imposed it—was undoubtedly a noble aim. But it always stood on shaky ground. Firstly, it was, as Malkasian acknowledges, a “moral cause for Americans” but “not an explicit strategic goal.” This goes to the heart of the difficulty: the moral argument for an open-ended American presence was never the same as the strategic purpose of the mission. Indeed, it is well to remember that, under the Clinton presidency, the US was prepared to recognize and work with the Taliban, vicious misogyny and all. When the Taliban took Kabul in 1996, the US drew up seventeen “talking points” for negotiations. As Gutman laconically noted, “The talking points omitted any mention of the sudden loss of women’s rights.” The establishment and defense of those rights were collateral effects of a counterterrorism operation. They were never defined as the primary goal of long-term American engagement.

Equally shaky was the American commitment to the principle underlying its insistence on equal dignity for Afghan women. That principle had to be instituted against the traditions of the rural Pashtun heartlands: men could not do what they pleased to women merely because that was part of an established way of life. But organized pedophilia was also a traditional practice, and the Americans tolerated and enabled it.

It is striking that in his history of the war, Malkasian mentions this issue in passing as one of the reasons why many Afghans welcomed Taliban rule, but returns to it as a post-2001 problem only in a single footnote, explaining local hostility to Dad Mohammed Khan, the warlord who was appointed chief of police in the town of Sangin: “The police chief and his men were also rumored to kidnap little boys out of the bazaar.” In fact, as The Afghanistan Papers confirms, the kidnapping and rape of boys by senior Afghan army and police officers was not a rumor. It was well known to American officials as an institutionalized practice. Whitlock summarizes the evidence from the official records:

Afghan military officers, warlords and other power brokers proclaimed their status by keeping tea boys or other adolescent male servants as sex slaves. US troops referred to the practice as “man-love Thursday” because Afghan pederasts would force boys to dress up or dance on Thursday evenings before the start of the Afghan weekend. Although American soldiers were sickened by the abuse, their commanders instructed them to look the other way because they didn’t want to alienate allies in the fight against the Taliban.

In 2015 Joseph Goldstein reported in The New York Times that US soldiers were instructed not to intervene in the kidnapping and rape of boys, even when the crimes were being committed on their own military bases. He interviewed a former Special Forces captain, Dan Quinn, who beat up a US-backed militia commander who had a boy chained to his bed. Quinn was relieved of his own command and sent home from Afghanistan. In response to the story, an army spokesman blithely confirmed that “there would be no express requirement that US military personnel in Afghanistan report” child sexual abuse by allied forces.

Apart from being morally abhorrent, the facilitation of these crimes exposed deep fault lines. One was the idea that it was best not to “alienate allies in the fight against the Taliban.” It suggests that these allies were not seen as the ordinary people of Afghanistan, the families whose children were kidnapped or the villagers who lived under this terror. As early as 2002, Jon Lee Anderson, in The Lion’s Grave, perhaps the most widely read American book about the US-led invasion, wrote that “one of the first things the Taliban did—a popular move—was to punish mujahideen commanders who were accused of rape or pederasty.” If this was known to be a popular move by the Taliban, did it not occur to American policymakers that taking the opposite approach might be unpopular and indeed alienating?

More broadly, the arbitrariness of the decision to disregard child rape undermined the principle of the universality of human rights on which US support for female equality was based. One US officer is recorded in The Afghanistan Papers explaining American tolerance of child abuse by saying, “You have to accept what they do and don’t interject your personal feelings about their culture.” But if this was so, why object to the Taliban’s confining women to their homes or banning music or destroying ancient images? The US, which has never managed to consistently apply human rights and the rule of law to its own citizens, could not do so for Afghans either.

The overlap between the failures of America’s own democracy and of its mission in Afghanistan is nowhere clearer than in the creation of a kleptocracy. One of the most basic functions of a democratic system is ensuring accountability for the use of public money. The Americans knew when they entered Afghanistan that corruption was already widespread. Their main response was to feed it with billions of taxpayers’ dollars. This was not naive or innocent. It too was policy. It was based on an article of faith for conservative Americans: trickle-down economics. If, in the US, you believed that it did not matter if some people became filthy rich by dubious means because some of their wealth would leak out to ordinary folk, why not apply that to Afghanistan?

In his SIGAR interview, Boucher said that it was better to funnel the vast sums of US aid to Afghan power brokers who “would probably take 20 percent for personal use” than to give it to “a bunch of expensive American experts.” He said, “I want it to disappear in Afghanistan, rather than in the Beltway. Probably in the end it is going to make sure that more of the money gets to some villager, maybe through five layers of corrupt officials, but still gets to some villager.”

Particularly striking here is Boucher’s assumption that genteel corruption is as endemic in Washington as the more flagrant kind is in Afghanistan. A democracy that cannot create accountability for the use of public money at home could not do so in a faraway society. This was also, for the entire project of building an Afghan democracy, ruinous. The villager who gets the last drops of aid after most of it has been filtered through five layers of corrupt officials knows all too well that he or she is not an equal citizen.

What was corrupted in all of this was the sense of an ending. “What,” as Major Joseph Claburn rather plaintively asked in 2011, “does it look like when it comes time for us to leave?” Because the ends being pursued were so ill-defined, the idea of an ending could not be fixed either. Twice—in 2003 and in 2014—the US officially declared an “end to combat operations” in Afghanistan. On neither occasion was this real or truthful or reflected on the ground. Finality, for the US, was something to be declared, not to be accomplished. Those who do not know what the last stage of their mission is will be outlasted, as America has been by the Taliban. It is an iron law that what cannot be concluded will be abandoned. That has been Afghanistan’s bitter fate.

Biden’s fate is to be the one who gave up the pretense of endless progress. It fell to the mournful man of compassion and empathy to deliver a heartless coup de grace. And even that parting shot was botched. It is a bleak commentary on the whole twenty-year episode that the US, on its departure, was almost as much in the dark as it had been on arrival, and no less concerned to keep up appearances. On July 23 Biden told his Afghan counterpart Ashraf Ghani that the critical question was the “perception” that “things are not going well in terms of the fight against the Taliban.” He suggested that “there is a need, whether it is true or not, there is a need to project a different picture.”

Less than a month before Ghani fled from Kabul, the US could not break the long-established habit of valuing a positive story more than the realities revealed by its own intelligence reports. This attitude extended even to the plight of Afghans whose lives were known to be in danger because they had worked with the Americans. The White House delayed for months the process of getting them to safety because it wanted to maintain the fiction that Afghan government forces would hold out against the Taliban. The great cloud of unknowing enveloped even the obvious truth that the circular progression of the war was about to close in on itself, forming a great hollow 0.

What is also unknown is how much this failure of American democracy will recoil on the politics of the homeland. Defeat in war has been, for some nations, the beginning of radical political change. It prompts reflection on the nature of the political order that has failed so badly. But the problem with the defeat in Afghanistan may be that, for America, it does not matter enough to make such self-examination imperative. Malkasian concludes that “the bigger story is probably how little the war featured in national life. Failure or success, Afghanistan was unimportant. Less than 0.3 percent of the population, including diplomats and contractors, served there.”

This is not a national trauma like Vietnam. There will be no great Maya Lin memorial to the Americans who gave their lives, still less to the 200,000 or so Afghans and Pakistanis who died. (Whitlock writes that the US started to count Afghan civilian deaths only in 2005, but then abandoned the database “for unspecified reasons.”) The shame and terror of the botched withdrawal has already become mere fodder for the tribal warfare of American politics, with Donald Trump recasting his own abject surrender to the Taliban—when he went over the heads of the supposedly sovereign Afghan government to negotiate an unhindered withdrawal—as Biden’s fault, and moreover as the “dumbest move ever made in US history.”

When it has served its partisan purpose, the collective impulse will be to write the whole thing off as an embarrassment. Since the US was so successful at not paying attention when the war was actually going on, it is hard to be optimistic about its capacity to do so in the long, dark aftermath.

Yet it should reflect, if only for its own sake. The war was not just a projection of American power into a troubled part of Asia. It was a test of the nature of that power. It showed that if war is the continuation of politics by other means, what was continued over twenty years in Afghanistan was a dangerous American nonchalance about the difficulty and fragility of democracy. The prevailing assumption over those years was that a stable democracy could be created and sustained without a commitment to telling the truth, without controlling the distorting effects of money, without standing up to the avidity of the rich, without proper mechanisms for open scrutiny and rational deliberation, without a commitment to moral standards that apply as much to our allies as to our enemies. Democracy without those values and systems has no substance. It will fall—and not just in Afghanistan.

The Americans running the show there were never convinced by the performance. They just could not stir themselves to do much about it. They watched the notion of a democratic republic they had conjured for a suffering people slip away bit by bit until it collapsed catastrophically. They settled into a strange pattern of dazed powerlessness. Successive American administrations, Republican and Democratic, became spectators at a drama in which the follies and dangers of their own domestic polity were played out in exotic foreign costumes. They failed to see that this story was also about themselves.

—September 8, 2021

The post The Lie of Nation Building appeared first on The New York Review of Books.

Four Months Later, Still No Vaccine Waiver

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 10/09/2021 - 8:31pm in

Click to share this on FacebookFour Months Later, Still No Vaccine Waiver

In May, the Biden administration made a bombshell declaration, endorsing a call to temporarily suspend intellectual property rights on COVID vaccines that health and trade experts say could greatly improve access to shots in the Global South — a move that appeared to mark a turning point in the global fight against the pandemic.

Months later, though, as the pandemic rages and the glaring gap in vaccine access grows, the effort remains blocked at the World Trade Organization (WTO). Any waiver for vaccines needs the green light from the organization’s TRIPS Council — the commission in charge of IP rights — and unanimous support from all 164 members. But as delegations return to Geneva after summer break, a long-circulated proposal backed by India and South Africa has yet to gain traction.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration — which has deep ties to the pharmaceutical industry — has proven unwilling to share vaccine recipes with other countries, as The Daily Poster reported earlier this week.

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“It’s really upsetting watching this process,” says Hu Yuan Qiong, policy co-coordinator and senior legal and policy advisor for Doctors Without Borders’ Access Campaign. “Viruses disregard whatever game we’re playing in human society, they just carry on and mutate.”

The deadlock is the product of multiple factors. Hostility from the United Kingdom and the European Union as well as criticism from Big Pharma have complicated efforts, but as experts tell The Daily Poster, so has the apparent unwillingness of the Biden administration to go beyond its four-month-old statement and actually start pressing for a waiver.

“I’ve been working on trade policy for a while and I know when the U.S. wants something, they get it,” Burcu Kilic, a trade policy expert at Public Citizen, tells The Daily Poster. “The U.S. should [play] a proactive role in this discussion.”

European Intransigence Amid Pharma’s Lobbying Blitz

One immediate obstacle is the United Kingdom. As Hu from Doctors Without Borders says, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has shown little interest in changing its position over the last few months. She says it’s effectively stuck to the talking points of AstraZeneca, pointing to the pharmaceutical company’s willingness to work with producers in the developing world as supposed evidence that a waiver is unnecessary.

Appearing before the TRIPS Council in June, for instance, the British government argued that technology transfers and voluntary licensing “exemplified by the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine” and its partnerships are “making real, positive impact.” In a statement, the U.K. said it was not “convinced how an IP waiver, if agreed, would increase the supply of COVID-19 goods.”

Hu doesn’t buy it. “We’ve explained to them, ‘We’re not just talking about AstraZeneca vaccines, we’re talking about many vaccines and many treatments,’” she says of the UK. “Maybe a company like AstraZeneca has done a little bit more than another company, but that will not solve the global issue.”

An ideal waiver on IP rights, she stresses, would also cover the two messenger RNA vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna, as well as medical equipment, technologies used for therapeutic treatment, and future vaccines.

Lobbying disclosure regulations in the U.K. are relatively weak. Only lobbyists working for third-party firms are required to sign the country’s lobbying register, which, as a result, covers just a small fraction of the country’s lobbyists, most of whom are employed in-house.

Still, British government departments are required to disclose information about meetings with external organizations — and according to records compiled by Transparency International and consulted by The Daily Poster, no single external organization in the UK has met more than with the British government since the beginning of 2021 than AstraZeneca. The Cambridge-based pharmaceutical giant beat out the country’s top business lobby, the Confederation of British Industry, and the Port of Dover, the massive seaport that has struggled to adjust to Brexit.

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In the meantime, the European Union also continues to oppose a proposed TRIPS waiver. While several national governments — including France and Spain — have said they support a waiver, what ultimately counts in Geneva is the stance of the EU’s executive branch, the European Commission. Rather than open up talks over the text backed by South Africa and India, the EU has offered up a separate proposal of its own, bogging down the discussion.

EU officials maintain a broad waiver on IP rights for vaccines doesn’t address the underlying problem of inadequate manufacturing capacity. According to this argument, even if producers in lower-income countries had the legal authority to start churning out COVID vaccines, they wouldn’t be able to because they lack the factories or technological know-how.

But Hu of Doctors Without Borders says that’s a red herring. Like many supporters of a temporary suspension in IP rights, she doesn’t claim a waiver will result in a transformation overnight. Instead she views it as a launching pad to a scenario in which knowledge, data, and technology can flow more freely between states and manufacturers.

“We can’t say, ‘Ok you have a law’ and then tomorrow start [producing],’ it’s not going to happen that fast,” she explains. “But the earlier you open the door, the more certainty you can provide for the producers so they can prepare… the longer they don’t allow this door to open, the more problems we’ll face.”

As The Daily Poster has previously reported, Big Pharma boasts a heavy presence in Brussels. Between March 2020 and May 2021, EU commissioners involved in medicine and vaccine issues met 140 times with pharmaceutical companies and just once with an organization that supports a waiver on IP rights, according to the Corporate Europe Observatory, a watchdog group. Last year, Europe’s top pharmaceutical lobby spent more than €5.25 million on lobbying EU officials, the eighth highest amount reported by any lobbying organization in the EU in 2020.

For Hu, Big Pharma’s political influence helps explain the hostility from both London and Brussels to a waiver. “We strongly believe there is a direct correlation,” she says.

Closely-related political and ideological factors help drive pushback as well — especially when it comes to Europe’s largest economy and most prominent opponent of a waiver, Germany.

The country is home to BioNTech, which developed the widely-used mRNA shot alongside Pfizer. Even though the latter company has reaped most of the vaccine’s financial rewards, Burcu Kilic of Public Citizen says that officials in Berlin seem to regard vaccine development as a source of national pride. For many within Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling party, the Christian Democratic Union, there is a sense that lifting IP protections amounts to a slap in the face to national industry.

“It goes beyond BioNTech,” Kilic says. “It’s about German inventions, German [small and mid-sized enterprises], Germany saving the world… it’s political but it’s also emotional.”

American Indifference

Both Hu and Kilic argue the U.S. should be more aggressive — by putting pressure on its allies to back a waiver or, at the very least, by jumpstarting serious negotiations.

Up until now, the Biden administration has largely kept to the sidelines on the issue of IP rights. However, the U.S. government may already have a strong case that it owns the IP on the Moderna vaccine, given its role in the shot’s development. The Biden administration could, in theory, share information about the dose with other producers — as the South Korean government has already requested.

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But even beyond the narrow issue of the Moderna shot, the American agency that negotiates trade policy, the United States Trade Representative (USTR), hasn’t issued a statement on the subject of a vaccine waiver since its widely-celebrated declaration of support back in May.

“That’s not usually what the U.S. or USTR does in these types of negotiations,” says Kilic from Public Citizen. “It’s like Lionel Messi saying ‘I want to be in the World Cup,’ but then he’s not playing. You say you want a waiver, but you don’t do anything about it.”

The USTR did not respond to a request for comment.

In any case, the WTO’s TRIPS Council is slated to meet informally next week, on September 14. After weeks of inaction, that meeting could prove the impetus for progress, even if a full breakthrough doesn’t come until later in the year.

Kilic remains optimistic that the deadlock will break. For one, she says political pressure is mounting on the U.S., EU, and UK. But she also argues the future of the WTO is at stake — a fact that helps explain why the organization’s newly-appointed director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has taken an active role in talks.

“In the last decade, the WTO became a non-functional organization, and there’s pressure on the WTO and the WTO leadership to do something about that,” Kilic says. “[The director-general] knows that if they let this go, this’ll be the end of the WTO.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean the result will be to the liking of those pushing for a broad waiver. Unlike India and South Africa, for instance, the U.S. has called for a waiver that covers vaccines alone — not medical equipment or other COVID-related treatments.

Kilic also expects Big Pharma to start flexing its muscles in the coming weeks. If a deal at the WTO appears inevitable, industry will want to shape that outcome in its favor. She says much of the final outcome may depend on the Biden administration.

“We need them to take the lead,” Kilic says of the U.S. “I believe there will be something, but the question is, what will it be?”

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9/11 horror triggered new wave of US terrorism and war

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 10/09/2021 - 1:48pm in

Western leaders often declare that the world changed forever on 9/11. The terrorist attacks in New York and Washington caused incredible shock and killed around 3000 people. But what 9/11 represented more than anything was the violence the US had inflicted worldwide for decades coming home.

The US response was to launch further conflicts as part of a “war on terror”. Alongside this came a frenzy about the supposed threat from “Islamic terrorism” that created a new wave of racism against Muslims and Arabs.

Twenty years on, the lead-up to the anniversary was marked by a further humiliation for US imperialism. As it retreated from Afghanistan, the government it had installed disintegrated.

This symbolised the failure, as well as the bloody cost, of the wars the US launched after 9/11. The Australian government was an enthusiastic backer as the only country apart from the UK to send troops as part of the invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq.

As the dominant global military power after 1945 the US took upon itself the right to rain destruction on any country that stood in its way. In Vietnam it killed three million people, including through indiscriminate “carpet bombing”. In 1991, when it invaded Iraq for the first time, it killed over 100,000 civilians and military conscripts. Then it bombed the country virtually every day for the next 12 years. US sanctions on basic medicines killed more than half a million children.

The US fuelled other wars through funding armed groups to destabilise governments it disliked, including the death squads unleashed on central America like the Nicaraguan Contras.

Academic Chalmers Johnson described the 9/11 attacks as “blowback” from the history of US intervention globally. Osama Bin Laden, who staged the attacks, had begun his career with the Afghan mujahideen fighting the Russians—another operation the US funded.

In 2001, Al Qaeda struck at symbols of American power, in New York’s financial centre and the Pentagon building. The US wanted revenge.

Its first target was Afghanistan, where it accused the Taliban of harbouring Bin Laden and his network. The Taliban were toppled after 72 days. Around 1000 civilians were killed by US bombs and up to 20,000 died from displacement and starvation.

US President George W Bush moved quickly to launch another war against Iraq. His officials had discussed invading Iraq in the days following 9/11, debating how to link Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein to the terrorist attacks. Millions saw through the lies that Iraq possessed “weapons of mass destruction”, with an enormous worldwide anti-war movement.

A new American century?

The Bush administration saw 9/11 as an opportunity to cement US global dominance for decades to come. Key figures including Vice-President Dick Cheney and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were part of a gang of Republican Party figures associated with the think-tank Project for a New American Century. They argued that the US needed to use its military power more aggressively to ensure it could never be rivalled by a potential competitor.

This was echoed in the Bush administration’s National Security Strategy document which endorsed unilateral US military action in order to “dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in the hopes of surpassing, or equalling, the power of the United States”.

It was a response to growing US weaknesses. After the Second World War the US economically dominated the world, with half of global manufacturing. Today it has declined in relative terms, commanding about a quarter of global production and rapidly losing ground to China.

But the US gamble on using its military strength to bolster its position has backfired disastrously.

The US strategy showed the continuation of imperialism in the 21st century.

The classical Marxist theory of imperialism, produced to explain the First World War by Nikolai Bukharin, showed how the major powers divided the world between themselves, to advance the interests of the large capitalist firms within each state. It was an outgrowth of capitalist competition for control of markets and raw materials.

Imperialism is not simply a system where the largest states dominate weaker states, but one of competition between the major powers. This remains true today, with the US focused on maintaining its dominant position against China and Russia, as well as attempting to push allied powers in Europe and Asia to work alongside it.

The US has written the rules of the global economic order since 1945 and wants to maintain this framework, allowing it to dominate the global economy.

US imperialism’s defeat

Invading Iraq was meant to give it control of the country’s vast oil reserves. It was to be the first of a series of military adventures. In early 2002 George Bush listed an “axis of evil” in the US’s sights, including Iran and North Korea.

Toppling Iraq’s Saddam Hussein proved easy. But disastrous mismanagement combined with a popular resistance movement eventually humbled the superpower.

Almost immediately, there was armed resistance to the US occupation. The city of Fallujah was one of the first to rise up, after US troops shot 13 people at a protest in April 2003. The US laid siege to the city, sealing at least 30,000 civilians inside as they bombed medical clinics and unleashed illegal white phosphorus explosives.

The US regained control of the country only through encouraging vicious sectarian divisions between Sunnis, Shias and Kurds. Up to a million Iraqis died in the violence that resulted.

But it failed to secure the pliant puppet regime it wanted. The result strengthened Iran, a long-term US adversary, which gained significant influence over the new Iraqi government.

The sectarian system the US left led to the rise of Islamic State, which briefly overran large areas of the country.

US imperialism has been left far weaker. Its failures in Iraq and Afghanistan have exposed the limits of its military power. The wars cost it $6.4 trillion with little to show for it.

Meanwhile the Chinese economy continued to grow through the global economic crisis after 2008 while the US hit the skids. China has also handled the COVID crisis far better than the US, where 650,000 have died.

Yet a weakened US, increasingly desperate to maintain its position, is only more dangerous. Its military power still outpaces that of any other country.

US President Joe Biden has continued Donald Trump’s confrontational approach towards China, declaring, “We are in a competition to win the 21st century, and the starting gun has gone off.” He has moved to strengthen military alliances with its neighbours, including Japan, India and South Korea. Naval patrols around the disputed areas of the South China Sea are increasing.

The US military is repositioning its forces to face China. Biden explicitly defended the decision to quit Afghanistan as necessary “to focus on the challenges that are in front of us” with an “increasingly assertive China”.

As it did over the past 20 years, the Australian government is urging on the conflict, talking up the prospect of war and pursuing its own arms build-up. It wants an expanded alliance with the US to lock the superpower into aggressive military action in our region.

This is only increasing the prospect of a major conflict between two nuclear-armed states. Just as the left did over Afghanistan and Iraq, we need to oppose this new drive to war and the racism and xenophobia that comes with it.

Twenty years of Islamophobia and the “war on terror”

In the aftermath of 9/11, world leaders were quick to blame “Islamic terrorism”. Islam as a whole was depicted as a “backward” or “violent” religion and all Muslims treated as suspect.

This served to justify the wars in the Middle East. Instead of recognising terrorism as a result of US policies that had devastated the region, Western leaders claimed they were the result of an evil ideology opposed to “Western values”.

Then Prime Minister John Howard accused the Muslim community in Australia of failing to “integrate” and claimed that “extremism” among Muslims was “not a problem that we have ever faced with other immigrant communities”. The Liberals claimed refugees arriving by boat, mostly from the Middle East, could be terrorists, using this to justify racism and anti-refugee policies.

Howard admitted that most Muslims had nothing to do with terrorism. But he continued to tar them all by claiming terrorism was a product of Islam and demanding that Muslim leaders do more to prevent it.

In late 2005 this led to the shocking racist riot at Cronulla beach, where Lebanese Australians were physically attacked by a racist mob. John Howard’s responded by claiming there was no “underlying racism” in Australia.

The Islamophobia has never stopped. After the emergence of Islamic State in 2014, Tony Abbott launched another scare campaign about terrorism and youth “radicalisation”. Scott Morrison has done the same, declaring after a mentally ill man stabbed one person to death in 2018 that, “The greatest threat to our way of life is radical, violent, extremist Islam.” There have been continual anti-terror raids, sometimes involving hundreds of police.

All this has been accompanied by a tidal wave of media reporting designed to terrify people.

Individual racist attacks have become common. A study in 2004 showed two-thirds of Muslims had experienced abuse or violence on the street since 9/11. Surveys have consistently fond that around 40 per cent of people admit to negative feelings about Muslims.

Islamophobia will be a lasting legacy of our rulers’ response to 9/11. We need to keep fighting the racism and insist that working class people unite against the government and bosses who pose the real threat to our living standards and lives.

By James Supple

The post 9/11 horror triggered new wave of US terrorism and war appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Iran’s Khuzestan province rocked by protests and strikes

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 03/09/2021 - 5:17pm in

Since Iran’s shambolic presidential election on 18 June, with the lowest turnout since the 1979 revolution of just 48.8 per cent, the country has again been rocked by protests and strikes, especially in the province of Khuzestan.

On 19 June, thousands of casual and short term contract workers in the massive oil and petrochemical complex in Asaluyeh (in the South, on the Persian Gulf coast) began their strike. The strikers used a unique tactic of walking off their job sites but staying in their dormitories and shared residential areas to make it harder for the company to replace them.

Within three days, workers from many different sites and from different companies joined the strike. All of a sudden, they started organising themselves and connected with each other via social media.

From the beginning they have had four major demands, which are historically significant because in 1979 striking oil workers sealed the fate of the Iranian revolution. These demands are:

1. Double the wages and set the minimum wage at 12 million Tomans ($AU700) per month. And pay all delayed wages immediately.

2. 20 days of work and 10 days rest must be implemented from the first day of work (as it is for permanent workers).

3. Improve the living conditions in workers’ camps and lunch sheds to a dignified standard. Also the safety and well-being of the camp’s environment must be enforced.

4. All agreements must be officially written and the government must force companies to comply with what has been agreed upon.

The strike grew rapidly, and four weeks in, nearly 20,000 workers from more than 100 sites and companies had stopped working, and were staying in their places of residence. This tactic reminds us of a famous quote from Marx’s Capital: “That the beds never get cold.” In this case the beds never go to “scabs” and are always kept warm by strikers. These and many class conscious acts show us the rich political understanding of Iranian workers.

Thousands of oil workers in Khuzestan province–where many oil rigs, complex crude oil pump stations, pipelines, gas and oil refineries are located–joined the strike, giving the strikers a huge boost of solidarity and strength. Khuzestan, and especially the city of Abadan with the biggest oil refinery in the world, was at the centre of the 1979 Iranian revolution.

By this time, with the experience and memory of the historical and decisive strike of 1978-9, workers got more organised, and for the first time they started to publish statements in the name of “Strike Organisation Council (Showra) for Oil Contract Workers”.

Many of these workers live in different parts of the province and the majority of them are ethnic Arabs or Bakhtiaris.

The strikers have received strong solidarity from other workers, including the workers at the Haft Tappeh sugar cane factory complex, who undertook one of the longest and eventually successful strikes in Iran’s recent history. Fundamentally their strike was against privatisation of that company, which is the same for the oil contract workers who are also exploited by private companies, often owned by state officials and their relatives.

Protests

Meanwhile, on 15 July protests against water shortages erupted in many cities around Khuzestan province. The majority of the protesters were Arab people and they chanted slogans about water, mismanagement, and anti-Arab discrimination. Many non-Arab people joined the protests. The regime responded violently and killed five people in the first two days.

The province had been suffering a major drought since March. It not only contains massive oil and natural gas fields, it is also home to almost a third of Iran’s freshwater rivers. Three major rivers (Dez, Karoun and Karkheh) run through the very fertile land of this province. Yet the Iranian government has built 18 massive dams on the Khuzestan rivers, diverting water for industries and agribusiness in other provinces, while the country’s military and economic elites profit. The majority of farmers are poor ethnic Arabs who spread from the Iran-Iraq border in the west of the province to the edge of the Zagros mountains.

Khuzestan has been home to an Arabic population since ancient times. Today Arabs account for nearly two million of the province’s 4.5 million population, but they are marginalised by the central authorities. Jobs in administration or the service sector are mostly reserved for the Persian population.

The discrimination against not only Arabs, but other ethnic minorities such as Kurds, Azeris, Baluchis, Turkmen, Lurs, has its roots from the mid-19th century. Before the revolution, the regime tried to relocate the Arab population close to the border with Iraq, and replaced them with people of Persian background from central Iran. The regime even named a newly created town Yaze-Nov (New Yazd, which refers to the ancient Persian city in central Iran).

Changing the Arab names of historical cities and districts into Persian ones was a simple way to deny the identity of Iran’s Arab minority. Regimes before and after the revolution also discriminated by denying them education in their own language in schools and universities. People are forced to speak Farsi to qualify for many jobs in the state bureaucracy, or in education, health, and even normal daily activities like retail. The state also encouraged jokes and slurs in popular culture against Arab people and their way of life, and mocked their accents when they spoke Farsi. Almost all appointed governors, government officials, and even top managers are from non-Arab backgrounds.

Arab people in Khuzestan have a very rich culture, rituals and literature. They are ethnically the same people as on the Iraqi side of the border in cities like Basra. Like most people in Iran, they are Shia Muslim. They are mostly farmers and are very dependent on land and fresh water which has run through this fertile land for thousands of years. Despite so much inequality and discrimination, Arabs in this area are very kind, warm and welcoming people.

They call Khuzestan their own ‘’Watan’’ (Homeland), but there is no common demand to separate from Iran. However, Iranian regimes have accused them of separatism to misinform the rest of country and as an excuse to brutally suppress them. Unfortunately, the massive disrespect of the government and a system of semi-apartheid for decades has legitimised anti-Arab racism.

Four months after the revolution in June 1979, the new regime sent the army and recently created so-called ‘’Revolutionary Guards’’ to suppress the Arab uprising in Khoramshahr and Abadan. Armed forces indiscriminately killed tens, injured hundreds, and imprisoned thousands more. In this uprising people only wanted their basic rights and culture, and they had an organisation led by young educated leftists. I was a teenager and living with my family in Abadan, and on 30 June 1980, I observed the massacre known as ‘’Black Wednesday’’.

The ensuing brutal Iran-Iraq war between 1980-88 was mostly fought on their lands. After the war, the government implemented its privatisation policy, which hit Arab people directly. Many natural resources, huge facilities like dams, and factories where they worked were put into the hands of corrupt private companies.

Like in the rest of the country, life for Arabs became harder and harder. Young Arabs have protested many times during the last 40 years and the regime came down hard on them by killing them in the streets, arresting them, torturing them while they served long prison sentences, and even executing them. But they rose again and again.

The mid-July wave of protest was the latest brutal and bloody episode in Khuzestan. The police, militia and secret services killed 14 youths under 30 years old, of which at least ten were Arabs. Hundreds were arrested and sent to unknown prisons. This protest lasted 25 days and spread to the west and centre of Iran.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei claimed to understand the protesters: “People showed their discontent, but we cannot have any complaint since the issue of water in the hot climate of Khuzestan is not a minor issue,” Khamenei was quoted as saying.

But the regime’s only answers are division and repression. The government again accused protesters of being separatists backed by foreign powers like Saudi Arabia. However, these efforts to divide the movement largely failed, and Arabs and Persians marched together. The determination and continued daily protest in Khuzestan by frustrated Arabs brought respect among the Iranian population, who responded with solidarity protests in their cities. In Lorestan, Kurdistan and Azerbaijan, as well as Tehran, demonstrators showed solidarity with the people of Khuzestan and the slogans became more radical. In many cities demonstrators shouted slogans like: “Death to the Dictator”, “Death to Khameneie”, “Khuzestan is Thirsty”, and “Free, Free Iran”.

The protests gained an international profile when Sajad Ganjzadeh dedicated his Olympic gold medal for karate to the people of Khuzestan (he was abruptly cut off from state-run TV!).

Across Iran, people are suffering under a corrupt and brutal regime, together with the West’s massive embargo and economic sanctions. The fifth wave of COVID-19 is killing more than 500 a day and the nation’s health infrastructure is inadequate. This explains why the Khuzestan solidarity protests quickly changed into anti-regime rallies.

The Iranian government temporarily blocked the internet, a move condemned in a statement signed by 55 reporters from the Journalist Union of Iran.

While the repression didn’t reach the levels seen in the November 2019 protests, when over 300 people were killed across Iran, Amnesty International reported many arrests and eight deaths, including a teenage boy, while scores of others were critically injured.

Ebrahim Raisi, the hand-picked presidential candidate of the theocratic regime, was officially sworn in on 5 August. He has huge economic and political challenges ahead of him, not least trying to have damaging US sanctions lifted.

He has promised to slash inflation, build four million homes in four years and create a million jobs per year. But with no real change to the theocracy’s neo-liberal policies, the deep discontent among Iran’s population is likely to intensify.

Meanwhile, the oil workers’ strike continues. On Thursday 19 August, the bosses in Hafshejan, where the workers’ council is strong, agreed to have talks with the workers. Both sides sent delegates for talks. Usually in Iran, this means that the bosses have capitulated. Some companies have agreed to all the workers’ demands. The two-month strike may end soon.

Now the “Strike Organisation Council (Showra) for Oil Contract Workers” is saying that the achievement and final agreement by the Hafshejan workers’ council could provide a model for all contract oil workers, and most of the other local worker councils agree.

History tells us that in Iran, if the all permanent full time oil workers in Iran join these workers on their next strike, this anti-worker, anti-people, anti-women regime can be kicked into the garbage bin of history.

By Behrouz Jalilian and Mark Goudkamp

The post Iran’s Khuzestan province rocked by protests and strikes appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Oreilles de Porc au Fromage (Pigs’ Ears with Cheese Sauce)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/09/2021 - 10:47am in

ingredients:
4 pigs’ ears
salt
2 carrots
2 onions
4 cloves
1 sprig thyme, or ½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
pepper
1 Tablespoon flour
2 Tablespoons butter
juice of 1 lemon
½ cup crumbled cantal or mild cheddar cheese
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1 cup heavy cream
nutmeg

instructions:

  1. Singe the ears and scrub them thoroughly. Place them in cold salt water, bring to a boil, and skim.
  2. Peel, wash, and slice the carrots. Add them to the ears together with the onions studded with cloves, the thyme, bay leaf, and pepper. Cook for 4 hours.
  3. Prepare a light brown roux with the flour and 1 tablespoon butter. Add 1 cup of the broth prepared in Step 2, cooking and stirring constantly until it thickens. Let cool.
  4. Stir in the egg yolks, cream, and lemon juice into the cooled sauce. Pour over the pigs’ ears and sprinkle with the cheese and a little grated nutmeg.
  5. Place in a buttered baking dish, dot with butter, and bake in a hot oven for 15 minutes.

A roux is a mixture made from equal parts of butter (or other fat) and flour cooked together for varying periods of time, depending upon its final use. It is the thickening agent in sauces and gravies. In this recipe the roux should be cooked only about 3 or 4 minutes, or until its color is light brown.

©Shufunotomo Co., Ltd., Japan, 1971. Published in the United States and Canada by BOBLEY PUBLISHING, a division of Illustrated World Encyclopedia, Inc. Printed in Japan.

Plátanos al Horno (Baked Bananas)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 03/08/2021 - 8:54am in

4 servings

You will need
4 large, ripe bananas
1 cup orange juice
4 tablespoons butter
½ cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
Optional: cream or whipped cream as a topping.

Peel and halve the bananas. Arrange them in a shallow buttered baking dish. Pour orange juice over the bananas. Dot with butter. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Bake at 350°F. for 30 minutes, basting occasionally with juice. Serve warm or cold. Fresh or whipped cream may be used as a topping.

© Shufunotomo Co., Ltd., Japan 1975

Australia outbids China on vaccines as contest for Pacific influence grows

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 29/07/2021 - 11:38am in

Vaccine diplomacy has become the latest front in Australia’s cold war with China as the two governments battle for influence in the Pacific islands.

The Australian government presents its COVID-19 vaccine donations as benevolent humanitarianism. Yet they are a continuation of its efforts to act as the superpower of the south Pacific, shutting out rival powers in what it sees as its own backyard.

Australia has outbid China, supplying 600,000 doses already to countries including Fiji, Papua New Guinea (PNG), Timor Leste, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu, in contrast to China’s 300,000 doses of Sinopharm.

Australia can afford to send the AstraZeneca vaccine to the region because it has an excess of domestically manufactured supply, due to low take up rates here.

This imperial rivalry with China is being played out in particular in one of Australia’s oldest former colonies—PNG.

In early July the Chinese state-owned Global Times accused Australian officials of “obstructing” PNG from authorising China’s Sinopharm vaccine for use there, a claim Australia has denied. China offered the vaccine to PNG in February, but the country chose to wait until it received World Health Organisation approval in May. By then it had already received AstraZeneca vaccines from the global COVAX initiative, as well as doses from Australia.

PNG dodged COVID in 2020 only to face an outbreak beginning in February this year, with a reported 17,000 cases and around 200 deaths in a country of eight million. With testing still limited the true number of cases is likely much higher.

The country has only 500 doctors, 4000 low-paid nurses and only 3000 hospital beds.

This small health professional ratio is a legacy of Australia’s approach to the health and education of PNGers in the period of colonial control, which only ended in 1975. In 1966 there were only eight university graduates.

The ratio of PNG doctors per 1000 people is the lowest in the South Pacific at 0.07 per cent. The average in the region is 0.5 per cent. The world average is 1.6 per cent.

In May last year the ABC reported of the Australian government’s “concern” should COVID overwhelm PNG’s already fragile health system.

However, this is not a genuine humanitarian concern for the Australian government but a fear that infections could spread to Australia, with islands in the Torres Strait as close as four kilometres from PNG, and also make it difficult for mining companies and other businesses operating there.

So much so, that either Scott Morrison or Foreign Minister Marise Payne were calling the PNG Prime Minister James Marape on an “almost daily” basis, “more than any other international leader”, according to ABC News.

PNG’s problems are the historical legacy of Australian plundering of its resources—copper, gold and oil—while spending nothing on PNG’s development or public services. Australian governments saw the country as a “strategic asset”, never to be released from Australia’s orbit.

In 1875, John Dungmore Lang, an eminent, nationalist Australian politician, urged that the six colonies create an Australian empire comprising Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea and various groups of islands in the Western Pacific.

As late as 1951, Liberal MP Paul Hasluck, the federal Minister for Territories, said PNG had “more than a century ahead” before it gained independence from Australia.

Morrison has promised to supply another 15 million doses of AstraZeneca to the South Pacific region in order to fulfil the government’s aim of the keeping out Chinese influence in the region.

The supply of vaccines has become a battle for imperialist influence, with the health of the people of PNG a secondary consideration.

By Tom Orsag

The post Australia outbids China on vaccines as contest for Pacific influence grows appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Dispatch from Malaysia: doctors on strike

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 28/07/2021 - 11:10am in

On 26 July, thousands of contract doctors across Malaysia walked off the job to demand permanent jobs and pathways to specialisation.

The wildcat strike was dubbed #HartalDoktorKontrak, hartal being an Indian word which evokes the anti-colonial general strikes of the 1940s.

There has not been a doctors’ strike since 1982, when junior doctors formally organised for the first time under the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) and won better pay and conditions including paid leave.

The contract system, introduced in 2016, was ostensibly a stop-gap measure to address the “oversupply” of medical graduates, with the promise that 60-70 per cent of contract doctors would be converted to permanent staff after five years of compulsory service in the public sector. Yet in the past five years, only 789 doctors (around 3 per cent) have ever been offered permanency. This situation is itself a result of decades of privatisation and healthcare cuts.

Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj of the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) traces the present situation back to the liberalisation of private medical colleges in the early 2000s. The massive intake quotas and student loan offerings (which ultimately benefited college bosses and government cronies) were not matched by increases in spots for medical internships and further training in specialist fields.

Privatisation of healthcare in general has concentrated the most skilled doctors and best equipment in the cities, behind expensive fees. The public hospital system only has about 10 per cent of the country’s experienced specialists but handles 75 per cent of admissions.

Contract doctors also face barriers applying for master’s programs. A recent offer from the government now means they’re technically eligible and those contract doctors who get study offers will have their job contract extended for four years plus their study will be fully funded.

However, they need to get this study offer during their first two-year contract following their medical internship, which the hartal movement says hardly ever happens.

Consequently, a whole generation of non-specialised doctors is currently being produced who are forced to find work in the private sector or overseas.

The hartal is about more than just working conditions. Striking doctors have explicitly argued that Malaysia’s poor and rural communities are exclusively dependent on public healthcare and that any attack on jobs in these places is an attack on healthcare as a human right.

How was the strike organised?

The hartal was significant because of its bottom-up organising. Malaysia prohibits public employees, including doctors, from joining unions. Doctors are represented by the MMA, which refused to throw its support behind the strike and was only willing to negotiate for its demands and organise a photo action, #CodeBlackMY, on 12 July.

Instead, doctors organised through Facebook groups originally meant for airing grievances. When the government responded to an MMA open letter by defending the use of contract hiring, calls to strike began to spread. Doctors selected representatives to reach out to media, activists and opposition politicians. Strike committees were elected at participating hospitals and a legal defence fund was prepared.

Faced with mounting strike pressure, the government first offered a one-year, then a two-year contract extension with fully funded specialisation training. The hartal movement rightfully rejected this offer, deriding it as nonsensical, and a “sugarcoating statement to shut us up”.

The contracts offered are not long enough for doctors to even apply for, and be accepted into, master’s programs. Tacking on one contract after another does not address their demand for job security.

The strike

Malaysia is currently fighting a catastrophic third wave of COVID-19. Several COVID hospitals are running on empty; doctors report that they have repeatedly breached 100 per cent capacity and are forced to share oxygen between 5-6 patients.

With more than 17,000 COVID-19 cases recorded the day before the strike, doctors knew they had to proceed carefully to avoid accusations of endangering patients.

Many permanent doctors showed solidarity with their junior counterparts by covering their shifts; further, each walkout lasted 5-30 minutes to pre-empt any backlash.

But the hartal still faced threats—from hospital bosses, who threatened to dismiss any doctors who “compromised their image”, the police, who opened investigations at Kuala Lumpur Hospital immediately after the strike, and the Ministry of Health, who patronisingly scolded doctors for betraying their Hippocratic Oath.

Striking doctors at one quarantine centre were also forced to call off their protest when they were threatened with arrest.

How will the doctors win?

The walkout was brave and defiant but the doctors know a one-day strike is not enough to win their demands. To maintain the pressure, the strike needs to spread to all 23,000 contract doctors and it needs to be sustained until the government gives in.

There is great potential for the doctors to link up their struggle with nurses, cleaning staff, pharmacists and other healthcare workers who have similar grievances.

The hartal itself comes amid the backdrop of widespread discontent at Malaysia’s COVID response. Prime Minister Mahiaddin Yassin declared a State of Emergency in January but this was transparently a move to cling to power.

The right-wing coalition he cobbled together during his February 2020 coup has been fragmenting. The Emergency failed to stem the third wave because the government continued to allow large factories to operate with lax safety standards and threatened migrant workers with deportation, discouraging them from getting vaccinated.

Public pressure eventually forced the King to call a parliamentary session, on the same day as the hartal. In that session, the government declared that it had retroactively lifted some of its Emergency ordinances.

Meanwhile, a coalition of activist groups under the banner of the Sekretariat Solidariti Rakyat (SSR; Secretariat of People’s Solidarity) has called on Malaysians to take to #Lawan (resist), and demand that Mahiaddin step down.

SSR has successfully held flash mobs and car convoys despite heavy police intimidation. These and other larger actions such as strikes will be crucial to coalescing the discontent against Mahiaddin into a coherent movement that can smash the Emergency and Mahiaddin’s government on a pro-worker basis.

With the Emergency looking increasingly fragile, this is a golden opportunity for unions and civil society to reassert themselves following last year’s crackdowns.

By Aisyah Huzani and Jason Wong

The post Dispatch from Malaysia: doctors on strike appeared first on Solidarity Online.

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