U. S. Involvement in Afghanistan Risks Conflict with Pakistan

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Map of Pakistan

Image by Omer Wazir via Flickr

After 9-11, the American people were understandably angry, wanting someone to blame. Osama bin Laden was the target of most of the anger, and rightfully so, given his leadership in Al Qaeda, the organization that planned and carried out the 9-11 hijackings. Mr. Bush’s call for the United States and its allies to attack states sheltering Al Qaeda members, especially the Taliban government of Afghanistan, seemed reasonable to most Americans. However, it was not.

The CIA had the right idea–send small special forces units in to hunt down Mr. Bin Laden and his allies and halt the effectiveness of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Instead, Mr. Bush, on the advice of Mr. Cheney and Mr. Rumsfeld, decided on a full scale attack on Afghanistan for the purpose of destroying the Taliban government. The history since then has been one of intractable problems–a resurgent Taliban, the corrupt Karzai¬† government that lacks the support of the majority of the people, a rising number of deaths and injuries to U. S. and allied soldiers. What is most dangerous is the increasing danger of conflict with nuclear-armed Pakistan. The NATO attack on Pakistani positions, ostensibly in self-defense, killed two dozen Pakistani troops. In response, Pakistan closed the border with Afghanistan, cutting off 30% of allied supplies. The Pakistani people, especially in the western regions, hate the United States and are pushing for a new Islamic government in Pakistan. The present government hangs onto power by a thread. If that government falls and is replaced by one hostile to U. S. interests, what will allied forces do if attacked by Pakistani forces? They will have to respond in self-defense, and conflict may escalate from there. While one might argue that this will not lead to nuclear conflict since even as Islamic government would not want to face the total destruction that results from a massive allied reply to any nuclear attack, making such an assumption is dangerous. A government totally dedicated to the tenants of extremist Islam may want to go out in a flash of martyrdom if it resulted in the loss of a U. S. base in the region or in a large number of American casualties.¬† It is only of limited comfort that Pakistan does not have a delivery system to send a nuclear weapon to the United States–unless they employed terrorists.

The United States needs to remove its forces from Afghanistan, allow the Karzai government to negotiate with the Taliban and other interests to set up a solution to the armed conflict raging between tribes and warlords in Afghanistan. The U. S. should have learned its lesson in Iraq–which has a Shite government friendly to Iran, which has done nothing about the wholesale persecution of Christians, and which most likely will not be sufficient to maintain order, even with several thousand mercenaries hired by the United States government. An immediate withdrawal would be ideal to avoid further costs of the war, both in lives, money spend, and in costs to the reputation of the United States in Central Asia and in Muslim countries in general. Then the United States needs to pursue a more humble foreign policy focused on American interests with war being used as a last resort, not a first resort.

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Obama and the Patriot Act

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Rand Paul campaigning in Kentucky.

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President Obama has signed an extension of the worst surveillance procedures of the Patriot Act. No records of a private citizen are safe from government intrusion. I commend Senator Rand Paul for standing up for liberty. Between Democrats who by nature love the expansion of federal power, and Republican “Red State Fascists” who have no problem with the expansion of law enforcement power, what freedom the United States has left is eroding. We now have a government that can check anyone’s phone records, anyone’s internet records, and invade a person’s private life in a vain attempt to find potential terrorists. Defenders of the Patriot Act claim it would only be used against people suspected of terrorism, but history shows when the government can do harm to the innocent, it will. Sadly, most people will go along with losing their freedom for an ephemeral security that they will never have this side of heaven. The public’s fears of terrorism are constantly used by the federal government to justify expansion of power in a world where a person is more likely to die of a myriad of diseases and accidents, as well as domestic homicide, than by terrorism. The media as a whole, “conservative” or liberal, supports the Patriot Act, and many Americans are stooges of the media. Government schools have failed to teach them critical thinking skills, and the decline of classical rhetoric classes in high school and college/university education keeps the public unaware of the government and media’s manipulative techniques. It is easy to become cynical and believe that the American people are getting the government they deserve. But the vote in the House was closer than the vote in the Senate, and this offers some hope that Rand and Ron Paul and his allies will be able to gain more support when the next renewal of the “Patriot Act” (talk about doublespeak!) comes before Congress. The actions of President Obama do not surprise me–he campaigned against the same provisions of the Patriot Act he now supports. He is a typical politician who says what he needs to say to gain power and then goes back on his promises when the election is over. To their credit, some liberals, such as Nat Hentoff (an honest man and a true civil libertarian), recognize this and have sharply criticized the president. Most of the rest, sadly, follow him like sheep. Maybe the American people will wake up; polls have revealed growing unease with the Patriot Act. The federal government has much more immediate power to harm the American people than terrorists–and Americans should keep that in mind.

If You See Something, Say Something?

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Official portrait of United States Secretary o...

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At http://drudgereport.com/flash2n.htm is an article on the “If you see something, say something” campaign, in which there is a short video message encouraging people to speak up if they notice any suspicious activity. This campaign has expanded to Wal-Marts. On the surface, this sounds like a great idea–perhaps the government is aware of threats against public places and wants citizens to be particularly diligent. Janet Napolitano‘s policy, then, could be seen as benevolent. After, it is a voluntary campaign–no one is being forced to turn in their neighbors.

Still, I find the policy troubling because of the long history of “witch hunts” in the United States. During and after World War I, good, patriotic citizens were imprisoned by the government for speaking out against the war. After the war, the government campaign was against the far left, but citizen’s civil rights were routinely violated. Although the “Red Scare” really did locate some Communists in the U. S. government, as is now confirmed by KGB records, it tended at times to run to excess. J. Edgar Hoover encouraged citizens to spy on their neighbors to determine whether they were engaged in any activity suggestive of Communist affiliation. His book on Communism seems to accept the view that “There is a Communist around every corner.” This belief was a recipe for abuse, and Hoover’s FBI did spy on prominent Americans and other citizens he feared as being soft on Communism.

Now we have another plan telling people to be alert for potential terrorists. This is risky; suppose a person has a neighb0r who makes replicas of weapons from the War between the States for reinacters. The person could then claim that his neighor is messing around with explosive material–and federal law enforcement would disturb an innocent man because of his hobby. Or suppose a slightly autistic individual or someone with a similar condition is seen behaving strangely and awkwardly in a store. Someone watching that person might turn him in, believing him to be a threat.

I suppose I’m cynical, but usually when the government encourages people to watch their neighbors, this means that the government wants the American people’s minds to wander away from policy failures by the current administration. These policies are distractions–and I wonder how many real terrorists would be apprehended as the result of the “If you see something, say something” campaign. I doubt that many have been, or even one. American society is already composed of mainly isolated individuals living in their own tiny worlds and who do not interact with many people face to face. Let’s not add paranoia and potential government abuse of power to this mix.