Friday, February 06, 2009

Obama's war challenges

Shurff Gen. John Craddock: Just shoot them thar drug dealers, boy!

Along with trying to stop the Republicans from continuing to destroy the American and world economies, Obama also has two disastrous wars still in progress to deal with.

This is an important article by Gareth Porter on the generals trying to railroad Obama on the Iraq War: Generals Seek to Reverse Obama Withdrawal Decision Inter Press Service 02/02/09. According to his report, Obama told Petraeus the Great to go back and bring him a plan to get the US combat troops out of Iraq in 16 months. Gareth does an interview with Antiwar[.com] Radio, also dated 02/02/09, talking about this story at more length.

Gareth in the interview talks about his continuing concerns about Robert Gates as Secretary of State.

Russia and Kyrgyzstan are also creating a new challenge for the US war in Afghanistan. Spencer Ackerman reports on it in Afghanistan Supply Base May Defect to Russia Washington Independent 02/03/09. Human rights attorney Scott Horton talks in The Mess at Manas No Comment blog 02/04/09 about how the bull-headed blundering of our glorious generals has made this particular problem more difficult.

Speaking of bull-headed generals, Der Spiegel Online reports in Nato-Oberbefehlshaber manövriert sich ins Aus von Susanne Koelbl, Hans-Jürgen Schlamp und Alexander Szandar 05.02.2009 reports on a pending order by American four-star General Bantz John Craddock, the current NATO's Supreme Allied Commander in Europe (SACUER), that declared any Afghan opium producers or dealers should be treated as military targets and (essentially) shot on sight.

See also Nato-Oberbefehlshaber erteilt rechtswidrigen Tötungsbefehl von Susanne Koelbl Der Spiegel Online 28.01.2009; NATO commander tones down drug lord orders AFP/Yahoo! News 02/04/09.

His idea included targeting buildings where drug processing is thought to be occurring. Both without any reason to believe there is any direct connection between the people being killed and actual insurgents - who are really who NATO is fighting in Afghanistan, not international terrorist groups. Given the fact that opium is easily the most profitable crop available to Afghan farmers, such an order could well turn out to be something like declaring a large portion of Afghan rural areas to be "free fire zones" like the good old days in Vietnam.

I'm calling this a "pending" order here; the AFP article explains that what Craddock put out was a "guidance" about an order he expected to issue. But according to the later Spiegel article, it was not meant to be a discussion paper, and NATO's explanation about it being only a "guidance" was meant to downplay it. The Spiegel reporters quote a recently retired NATO four-star general, Dieter Stöckmann, saying that at that level in the NATO command, a direction from SACEUR isn't normally technically called an order. But as he puts it, "Dies ist keine Empfehlung, sondern klipp und klar eine Anweisung und in der Sache bindend." (This is no recommendation, but rather very clearly an instruction and a binding one.)

Both German Gen. Egon Ramms, who is serving a senior military official at NATO in Brussels, and the American Gen. David McKiernan, commander of the NATO ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) objected to Sheriff Craddock's de facto orders, arguing that they were contrary to international law and the ISAF rules of engagement. Shurff Craddock backed down. And according to the Spiegel report, he may wind up having to resign his post over this.

We have to give Gens. McKiernan and Ramms credit for standing up against an illegal order. It's the duty of every general and every soldier to refuse to carry out an illegal order (or "guidance"). But it's not a small thing to do involving such a high-level military officer as Craddock. So that speaks well of both McKiernan and Ramms.

ISAF Commander Gen. David McKiernen: successfully stood up against an illegal order

I also can't help but notice, though, that this interchange occurred since Obama assumed the Presidency. And its also the case that prosecuting senior Bush administration and military officials that violated the laws against torture and possibly others as well has been a live topic of discussion and is clearly a real possibility. This is exactly why we need to have those crimes prosecuted. Laws are there for a reason. Neither Vice Presidents nor four-star generals should get away with giving illegal orders and no one should get away with carrying them out.

The earlier Spiegel article even says explicitly that after the Generals objected to his pending order Shurff Craddock was seen as a "loyaler Bush-Mann" and "unter dem neuen US-Präsidenten fürchtet, bald abgelöst zu werden" (feared that under the new US President he might be fired right away").

The current ISAF rules of engagement include going after drug dealers militarily if there is evidence they are supporting enemy guerrillas, which many of them do. The "Taliban" (Pashtun fighters) are heavily involved in drug dealing.

The Afghan government itself, as we might imagine, was not thrilled with Shurff Craddock's "guidance". Der Spiegel quotes the Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta saying, "Die Afghanen sind doch keine Hühner, die jeder jagen kann, wie er möchte". (The Afghans are certainly not chickens that anyone can hunt however he wants to.) I'm assuming my English versions is at least two translations away from the original, so I don't know if there was some particular phrase of figure of speech involved with the thing about shooting chickens. But it doesn't sound like the Foreign Minister thought Shurff Craddock showed anything like the proper concern for the lives of his country's citizens.

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