Tag Archives: War

Other Countries Using Drones to Kill Our President? That’ll Never Happen

Nothing embodies the law of unintended consequences more than weapons systems. When drones were first introduced as possible battlefield tools, contractors said that there was nothing to worry about in terms of them being converted into weapons systems. They would only be used for surveillance. Now we’re using them to kill top government officials.

Iran Is Not What You Think

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            War, many people believe, often results from cultural differences and misunderstandings. President Trump’s assassination of General Qassem Suleimeni has Americans considering the possibility that we may soon add Iran to our list of unwinnable wars in the Middle East. As that calculus unfolds, no one questions the assumption that there are irreconcilable differences between our two peoples that can only be worked out via more bloodshed.

            Nothing could be further than the truth. No other people in the world are more temperamentally similar to Americans than Iranians. Certainly, the Iranians’ religion is different. So is their language. But we are a lot more like them than most Americans, and that includes members of the news media, assume.

            The problem is, very few Americans have been to Iran. The absence of diplomatic relations following the 1979 Islamic revolution and the ensuing hostage crisis that brought down Jimmy Carter’s presidency, coupled with trade sanctions that prohibit American airlines from providing direct air service make it all but impossible for the most intrepid of travelers to get inside the country and see what’s going on for themselves.

            I’m not an expert on Iran. But this seems like an appropriate time to share what I learned nine years ago when I visited that country.

            As I said, getting in wasn’t easy. I paid numerous visits to the closest thing Iran has to a consulate in New York, Iran’s Mission to the United Nations, to little avail. Ultimately I shelled out a $5700 “arrangement fee” (some would call it a bribe) to a Washington D.C.-based agency that worked through the Iranian Interests section of the Pakistani embassy there to secure visas for myself and two fellow cartoonists.

            The main purpose of our trip was travel through Afghanistan for a book I was writing. Since our itinerary through that war-torn country would end with the Afghan city of Herat near the Iranian border, we wanted to leave via Iran after some tourism and rest and relaxation.

            You can get an idea of how unusual our plan was from the incredulous reaction of the Afghan border policeman who greeted us after we crossed the border from Tajikistan. “Point of exit?” he asked. When we told him Iran, he laughed. “You are American! There is no way,” he replied. When he showed our Iranian visas to his colleagues, they couldn’t believe their eyes. “How did you get these?” they wanted to know.

            Several weeks later, we walked across the border between northwestern Afghanistan and northeastern Iran. It seemed incredibly simple. We were already stamped in and on the curb outside the customs office waiting for a taxi when three bemused agents of Iran’s feared Ettela intelligence service tapped us on our shoulders and invited us into separate interrogation rooms. They grilled us for hours. Before they released us my agent asked me: “Do you know why we questioned you so diligently?” I didn’t. “You three,” he replied, “are the first Americans to cross this border since 1979.” I don’t know if that’s true. Clearly we were rare birds.

            The first thing that struck me, especially compared to the bleak devastation of Afghanistan, was how modern Iran was, even in this remote corner of the nation. Americans have an impression of the Middle East as a bunch of dusty pockmarked ruins and sand, but Iran looked and felt like Turkey or Israel in terms of its terrain and infrastructure. The second was how nice everyone was, even/especially after learning we were American.

            As required by the government, we had arranged for a travel agent to meet us and shepherd us around. He was a nice guy even though he liked to scam our money; we kept being put up in two-star hotels after we paid him for four.

            From the start, Iran wasn’t what we assumed. On the train ride to Mashhad, our fixer disappeared for about an hour. Upon his return he apologized and explained that he had picked up a woman who had taken him to her cabin for a quickie. His promiscuity wasn’t unusual. We were repeatedly flirted with or propositioned by women. The desk clerks at our hotel asked our fixer about our long beards, which we had grown out in order to blend in in rural Afghanistan. “Are your friends fanatics?” they wanted to know. “Would they spend the night with us?”

            Along with our beards we had acquired the traditional shalwar kameez white robes worn by conservative Afghans. Our fixer suggested we had a unique opportunity to smuggle ourselves into the haram (forbidden) section of the Imam Reza shrine so we could check out the stunning Timurid architecture. If anyone talked to us, our fixer advised, pretend not to understand them. Muslims come from all over the world to pray there so we could pretend to speak a different language. Worshipers circled the tomb of the 9th century Shia martyr Ali al-Ridha seemingly in a trance but, whenever someone spent too long in the center an attendant lightly dipped a pink feather duster strung from a pole onto the offender to ask him to move on.

            Two incidents stood out for me.

            At our hotel in Tehran we overheard a European couple complaining to the desk clerks that they had been mugged or pickpocketed, I don’t remember which, the night before. They had been robbed of €1200. The clerks repeatedly entreated them to report the loss to the police but the Europeans were understandably hesitant. The next day I encountered the pair in the elevator. “You won’t believe what happened,” the wife told me. “We went to the police and they gave us €1200.” There was a law that foreign tourists had to be made whole if they suffered a financial loss due to crime. Iranians we talked to were surprised that it wasn’t the same in the West.

            We flew from Tehran to Istanbul. At our last security checkpoint in Iran airport security personnel ordered us to remove our baggage from the conveyor belt leading to the x-ray machine. Great, I thought, we’re going to be detained. “You are guests in our country,” the equivalent of the TSA guy advised us. “It would be rude to subject you to a search.” We were Americans, citizens of the Great Satan, at Ayatollah Khomeini International Airport!

            Not everything was sweetness and light.

            There was always a sense of tension that comes with knowing that law-breaking could come with grave consequences. For the most part, however, we followed the rules. Most of the people we saw obeyed them too, but just barely. Many women wore the tightfitting manteau and barely covered their hair.

            When our Turkish Airlines flight lifted up from Tehran, many of the women on board dumped their chadors, revealing skin and sexy outfits and makeup. People smiled. Flight attendants began serving beer. This is what Iran would feel like if Iran’s government, which is not popular, were to go away tomorrow.

Trump’s latest actions and America’s myopic foreign policy, however, ensure that the religious government will probably remain in place for the foreseeable future.

            So does the fact that very few Americans have gotten to know Iran.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

 

 

Remember When Military Veterans Ran on Actual Records of Accomplishment?

He was a difficult personality and his policy toward Native Americans was atrocious, but Andrew Jackson had an actual record of military accomplishment when he ran for president. No one could argue that Ulysses S. Grant wasn’t ready for the presidency when he ran. Dwight Eisenhower led the biggest naval armada in human history and played a crucial role in defeating Adolf Hitler. JFK is experience as the captain of the PT 109 during World War II was a legendary example of grace, courage and leadership under terrible circumstances. Now Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, who by all accounts never experienced combat, is bragging about his desk work in Afghanistan to convince us to vote for him.

Democrats, Always in Touch with the Concerns of the American Voter

Democratic and many Republican voters share the same priorities in their lives. They want to live in a safer world. They want a real healthcare system, a cleaner planet, jobs that pay well, less poverty all around. So why is the Democratic Party singularly focused on impeaching President Trump over his attempt to influence the president of Ukraine?

It’s Not like Progressives Are Exactly Suffering Because They Didn’t Vote for Hillary

Democratic centrists say nothing is more important than defeating Donald Trump. That’s their argument, again, for why progressives should support a centrist Democratic nominee. But it’s not like progressives suffered when Hillary Clinton lost or that they would be better off if Hillary Clinton were running for reelection today.

If Medicare-for-All Were a War, No One Would Ask: How Do We Pay It?

Whenever someone wants to start a war, nobody ever asks how we are going to pay for it. But when there is a proposal to help people with basic human needs, suddenly the budget becomes a top consideration.

Where’s Your Football, Lucy?

President Trump’s order to withdraw American troops who created a buffer zone between Turkey and Kurdish-controlled areas of Iraq was a controversial movie seen as a betrayal of a long-time American ally. But there’s a long history of US forces making extravagant promises to local forces, then withdrawing and leaving them to the wolves.

Now Drones Are Coming For Us and Our Allies. This Could Have Been Avoided.

For the last 18 years, the United States has enjoyed a virtual monopoly on drone assassination warfare. Now, as predicted, other countries are starting to use unmanned aerial vehicles, as seen with the recent attack against Saudi oil refineries. This might have been avoided if the U.S. had not set such a terrible precedent.

Once Again in Afghanistan, the U.S. Proves It Can’t Be Trusted

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The first draft of this column came not to bury but to praise Donald Trump. I planned to applaud the president’s peace initiative with the Taliban, his strategy of ignoring the corrupt and discredited puppet regime Bush installed in Kabul and his desire to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan. This was a move I have been almost alone in promoting since the U.S. idiotically invaded the country in 2001 and I congratulate Trump for having the courage to unwind Bush and Obama’s mistakes. The Afghan people should be allowed to shape their future free of imperialist interference.

But then, hours before representatives of the Taliban which controls about half of Afghanistan were set to board a plane to Washington where they were scheduled to meet with Trump at Camp David, the president canceled their visit and scuttled years of progress toward ending America’s longest war, which has killed more than 2,300 U.S. servicemen and at least 30,000 Afghans. “He claimed that it was because the Taliban had been behind a recent attack that killed an American soldier,” reported Politico.

There is, of course, no requirement that combatants observe a ceasefire during peace negotiations. Richard Nixon’s “Christmas bombing” campaign in 1972, which killed 1,600 Vietnamese civilians, was a U.S. attempt to soften up North Vietnam at the upcoming Paris peace talks. The United States has killed numerous Taliban soldiers throughout 2019.

“This [decision to scuttle peace talks] will lead to more losses to the U.S.,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman. “Its credibility will be affected, its anti-peace stance will be exposed to the world, losses to lives and assets will increase.” He is right.

Few Americans pay attention to Afghanistan. Fewer still are aware of America’s history of proving itself an untrustworthy diplomatic partner in that war-torn country—a tradition that Trump’s fickleness continues. “The Taliban have never trusted American promises; [Trump’s] volte-face will only deepen that mistrust,” observes The Economist.

In the late 1990s Afghanistan was the world’s leading producer of opium. The U.S. and its European allies were seeking to mitigate a heroin epidemic and the Clinton Administration was negotiating terms for a pipeline to carry oil and natural gas from Central Asia via Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean. So, even though the U.S. had imposed sanctions on the Taliban who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 and denied them diplomatic recognition, Clinton paid the Taliban $114 million in 2000 to encourage them to ban the farming of opium poppies. Bush followed up with $43 million in 2001.

For the most part the Taliban held up their side of the bargain. Their ban on poppy cultivation reduced production of exported heroin by about 65%. Considering Afghanistan’s primitive infrastructure, poor communications and fractious political culture during an ongoing civil war, that was as much as the U.S. could have hoped for.

But tensions grew between the Taliban and the U.S. over the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline project. The U.S. tried to lowball the Taliban with below-market transit fees, the Taliban refused and American negotiators became angry. “Accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or we bury you under a carpet of bombs,” a U.S. negotiator snapped at her Taliban counterparts at a meeting in Islamabad. It was August 2001, three months after Secretary of State Colin Powell paid the Taliban $43 million and weeks before 9/11.

It’s impossible to know for certain why the U.S. chose to invade Afghanistan, which had nothing to do with the attacks. The hijackers were recruited from and funded by Saudi Arabia. Osama bin Laden lived in Pakistan, where the terrorists were trained. Central Asia watchers speculated that the U.S. was more interested in controlling the then-only pipeline carrying the world’s largest untapped energy reserves than catching bin Laden.

We do know what the Taliban took away from the experience. They cut a deal, did their part and got bombed, invaded and occupied in return.

Both sides say they are open to resuming talks. If and when they do, the Taliban—who, after all, didn’t invade anyone and are defending their territory from foreign aggression—hold the moral high ground over the United States.

Heckuva job, Donnie.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

Troops “Fight for Freedom” — Against Whom?

We are constantly being told that American soldiers who serve in wars thousands of miles away on the other side of the world are “fighting for our freedoms.” Without exception, however, there is no evidence that any force we fight can actually attack US territory. So how on earth does that make sense? The truth is, American soldiers fight for one reason: to prop up unpopular dictatorships overseas.