Featured Post

Costs of racism in Trump's coronavirus response

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Withdrawal Psychosis: The War has Ended but the Danger has only Begun

“War is Hell!” This is the lesson General William Tecumseh Sherman learned from his experience in America's deadliest war for its people. He meant it to apply to all wars at all stages. He elaborated, “You might as well appeal against a thunderstorm as against these terrible hardships of war. War is cruelty, there is no use trying to reform it......it is all hell.” Those who expected a more peaceful, well organized, and gentler evacuation of US forces from Afghanistan have apparently forgotten this fact. The truth is that there has never been a better evacuation of a defeated occupying army than the one just carried out by the Biden administration in Afghanistan.

Failed military occupations never end well. It's always a debacle. Joe Biden managed this one better than most. The following brief survey of the withdrawal of the United States from Vietnam in 1975, Biden's withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the French withdrawal from Algeria, will bear this out. It will also show that they share some features in common, including the occupation government collapsing much faster than anyone expected, unnecessary refugee deaths in the crush to leave, and valuable arms caches falling into the hands of the victorious enemy.

One other feature of these bitter post-war periods is that the extreme right-wing attempts to use the emotions and forces unleashed by what I call “withdrawal psychosis,” to make gains in the direction of fascism, or even to topple governments. The rise of Adolph Hitler on the backs German grievances resulting from its defeat in WWI is the classic example, but there are many others. As we shall see, the far-right Le Pen dynasty in France was the sour grapes of the collapse of French colonial rule in Algeria. It is also more than historical coincidence that the “Reagan Revolution” occurred after the US withdrawal from Vietnam, or that the Soviet Union fell after its withdrawal from Afghanistan. In both cases the right was able leverage the widespread shame of defeat to force a shift in the direction of fascism at the center. Now we see the Trump Republicans trying to leverage the popular perception that Biden ended the war in Afghanistan in a withdrawal debacle to advance their agenda for defeating Biden's progressive program and establishing an unconstitutional fascist government over the United States. 

The withdrawal from a failed colonial project always creates a perfect storm for the extreme right-wing in the imperialist country. Due to the Shermanist nature of war, such evacuations never go well. NEVER! Even in situations where the population of the colonizing country has opposed the war for years, and been demanding an exit, their national pride is hurt as some images from the evacuation must inevitably prove embarrassing. There are also many constituencies among both the colonizing and colonized nations that strongly oppose the disengagement.

Martha Raddatz on assignment in Afghanistan
First among these are those who make a business of war. The military still has many soldiers not ready to give up the fight, and commanders that have built their careers on the war. There are always a lot of respected military figures that never supported withdrawal—and they get to have their say. There are always a lot of arms merchants, military contractors, reporters, aid workers, NGOs, etc. that have made their living off the war, sometimes for decades, and they are upset too.

The national pride is hurt, and the nation is embarrassed by the finally revealed truths of the war and the final outcome of the expenditure of so much blood and treasure. At the same time, the military that before represented the harshest reality of occupation, now get to shine like heroes. The baby killers suddenly become baby savers. The media figures and journalists, who have been the biggest boosters of the war, get to shape the narrative. The whole imperialist system is responsible for the war, and its outcome, but blame can't be allowed to fall where it squarely belongs—a national scapegoat is required.   

Under these conditions. the fascist elements try to rally those forces around them to further their agenda. These dynamics helped to create the Le Pen dynasty in France out of the fall of Algeria, and the Reagan years in the US after the fall of Vietnam. Now the Trump fascists are trying it again around the fall of Afghanistan—they are using it to build their insurrection—and they are making progress.

I. The fall of Saigon was worst 

Perhaps no people are more familiar with the hell of war than the Vietnamese. They started fighting for their national independence in 1945, first against the Japanese occupiers, then against the returning French colonialists, and finally against their American backers. They fought the United States the longest. Starting with US ground and air support for the French effort during, and preceding, its final defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, they fought the Americans for more than twenty years, and it was the Americans that extracted the highest price by killing more than three million Vietnamese, two-thirds of them civilians. And that hell didn't stop, neither for the Vietnamese nor the Americans, as the North Vietnamese, and their National Liberation Front allies made their triumph march to victory, while the Americans beat a hasty retreat, 30 years later in 1975. That finally ended what the Vietnamese called “The American War.” BTW, this is the same name the Afghans have given to their 20-year occupation by US forces—another “American War.”

As the North Vietnamese pushed south in the Spring of 1975, panic grew throughout South Vietnam and the roads became flooded by refugees fleeing the war. When Da Nang, South Vietnam's second largest city, was surrounded in March, all commercial flights out of the airport stopped. On 29 March, Saigon sent a plane to evacuate refugees thought to be hiding at the airport. It turned into a complete fiasco. When the plane landed, the tarmac was immediately swarmed by thousands of Vietnamese that had been hiding in hangers. South Vietnamese soldiers used their force of arms to push aside the women and children, and put themselves at the head of the line. When the over-packed plane finally took off, it did so by rolling over people clogging the runway—killing them, while other soldiers, angry at being left behind, opened fire on the ascending plane. Seven Vietnamese that had been clinging to the landing gear and cargo ramp fell to their deaths. One woman waved good-bye from 3,000 ft., as she fell. 

It was but a preview of the horrors to come. Hundreds more died as the thousands of refugees and soldiers that flocked to the Da Nang docks tried to use anything that floated to get to what they thought was safety in Saigon. Many more were trampled on the roads as soldiers, their officers having already fled, fought with refugees to be at the head of the lines.

A week after the fall of Da Nang, a South Vietnamese pilot defected and bombed the presidential palace in Saigon. Even as the communists were closing in on the capital, US Ambassador Graham Martin refused to consider an evacuation, fearing it would lead to widespread panic in the city. As many Americans, and Vietnamese with money, started leaving the city on commercial flights, the panic came anyway.

South Vietnamese government officials, and many others who had worked for the American war effort came to the US Embassy begging for a way out, but the US had no plans to evacuate their Vietnamese allies. The only US program to evacuate Vietnamese civilians was a plan to fly out 3,000 Vietnamese orphans code-named "Operation BabyLift." The first flight crashed, killing 138, including 78 children.  Finally, Washington ordered Ambassador Martin to begin the evacuation of US citizens. All over Saigon, quickie marriages were being performed for American men hoping to get their Vietnamese girlfriends out.

A week before the fall of Saigon, South Vietnamese President Thieu fled the country. Ambassador Martin had ordered him to step down, hoping the communists might negotiate. So as not to create more of a panic, evacuation flights were leaving in the dead of night from the Saigon airport, with Americans and a few closely connect Vietnamese, until the communists bombed it on April 28th. From then on, helicopters were the only way out. The next day, a secret code, the song “White Christmas” was played on the radio, signaling the start of the final withdrawal.

As word got out about the US evacuation, panicked Vietnamese surrounded the embassy, with people in the back squishing those in the front up against the gate. Eight hundred Americans, and thousands of their Vietnamese staff and their families were to be bused to the airport in convoys, but South Vietnamese soldiers, angry at being abandoned, surrounded the airport and refused to let it pass. The convoy had to turn around. Hundreds of Vietnamese that had been told to gather at various evacuation points around the city were simply abandoned.

April 29th, there were still two thousand Americans and Vietnamese at the US embassy, and the only way out was via helicopter. All that day, thousands of Vietnamese surrounded the embassy, crowding, panicked, trying to get in; looking up at the Chinooks coming and going. Some would scale the fence only to be beaten back by the Marines inside. As night fell, the pace increased, with helicopters landing and taking off every 10 minutes. They were ferrying the evacuates to ships of the 7th fleet in the South China Sea. South Vietnamese Air Force pilots were also escaping by helicopters, and as the decks filled up, with no place to land, many were pushed overboard, or simply ditched in the sea.

There now was complete chaos in Saigon. With the police and army gone, looting was taking place all over the city. There was little food in the besieged city, and people were hungry. Washington wanted to end the evacuation as soon as possible. With only 19 more helicopter flights planned, Ambassador Martin was told to take only Americans and leave the Vietnamese behind. At 4:30 am the next morning the embassy send out its last message and destroyed its communications equipment. The White House ordered the ambassador to leave on the next helicopter. Only the Marines were left. 

The US Marines scrambled up the stairs to the roof of the embassy, from which they were to be evacuated. They were chased by panicked Vietnamese. As the Marines climbed the stairs, they locked the doors behind them. The Vietnamese broke through the doors. The Marines threw canisters of CS gas down on them. All over Saigon, Vietnamese were burning or destroying anything that connected them to the Americans, pictures, documents, even high-heel shoes and mini-skirts.

The last two US soldiers killed in Vietnam, Charles McMahon and Darwin Judge, were left behind in a Saigon hospital. 

At 7:46 am, April 30th 1975, the last American helicopter left the roof of the embassy. Three hours later, North Vietnamese tanks rolled into the heart of the city. That's how it was done the first time the United States was forced to abandon a failed occupation.

II. On to Afghanistan

We now know that US involvement in Afghanistan begin about four years after it left Vietnam, even before the Soviet Union invaded. On July 3, 1979 President Jimmy Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the Mujaheddin fighting the pro-Soviet government in Kabul. The idea came from Carter's National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski. He thought that if the Mujaheddin could be built up to be a more formidable fighting force, the USSR would be forced to invade, which is exactly what happened. The idea, Brzezinski said, was to give the Soviet Union its own Vietnam war. The cautionary proverb, “When you begin a journey of revenge, start by digging two graves” comes to mind because Brzezinki's scheme also laid the basis for America's second Vietnam more than 40 years later.

The Brits were the first to invade Afghanistan in the modern era. They first sent troops into Kabul in 1839, only to be forced to retreat three years later. Further British attempts to conquer Afghanistan in 1879 and 1919 also ended in defeat. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 met with a similar fate, and they were forced to withdraw 10 years later. After the Afghanistan People’s Democratic Party was defeated in 1992, there was much squabbling among the various Mujaheddin factions. The Taliban was founded by some of those Mujaheddin in Kandahar in 1994 with Mohammed Omar as its leader. They desired an Afghanistan ruled by a very extreme version of Islamic law, and they came out on top

Role of Opium

One can't really understand the ebb and tide of various forces in Afghanistan without realizing that opium has long been the main cash crop in this dirt-poor country. Both the CIA and Taliban have been willing to use this drug trade to its political advantage. As the CIA was ramping up its support for the Mujaheddin fighting the Soviet-backed Afghan government, it looked the other way as opium production grew from roughly 110 tons annually in the 1970s to 2,200 tons in 1991. 

No cargo carrier likes to return with an empty load. In a pattern that they would repeat while supporting the anti-communists in Laos during the Vietnam war, and the contra fighting the Nicaraguan revolutionaries in the 1980s, the same transports that took weapons and supplies to the CIA-backed fighters, would bring drugs out on the return trip. Much of the drug traffic that has plagued American cities in past decades was enhanced by this activity. Air America, the CIA airline responsible for much of this trade in Southeast Asia, also played a role in the 1975 evacuation of Saigon. By 1984, 60% of the heroin in the US market, and a whopping 80% of the European heroin market, found its origins in the poppy field of Afghanistan, and a string of labs that had popped up along its border with Pakistan. 

After the Taliban banned opium production in 2000 the harvest was reduced by 94%. Together with a devastating drought, this caused much economic suffering and hunger in Afghanistan. It's one of the reasons the Taliban fell so quickly after the US invaded in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The Northern Alliance forces the US backed to overthrow the Taliban had already been fighting it to restore the opium business.  To a large extent, the struggle between the Taliban and the US-backed warlords was a turf war over who would reap the benefits of this profit. Even with the Taliban defeated, and the US-backed forces in power, the drug trade rolled on. In January 2013, Kam Air, the private Afghan airline from which Glenn Beck leased six planes for his Christian evacuation from Mazar-i-Sharif, was by investigated the US for opium smuggling. 

US beats Taliban back to the villages

Following 9/11, the United States issued an ultimatum to the Taliban—turn over Bin Laden and his crew or face the consequences. The Taliban said they would turn him over to the International Criminal Court, but not the aggrieved party. That wasn't good enough for the US, which then got NATO to invoke Article 5, the collective defense mandate, and the UN Security Council to pass Resolution 1368, which legitimized the invasion as an act of self-defense.

After the US, and it allies, Germany, Britain, Canada and others, began their attack on Oct. 7 with ballistic missiles, warplanes, and long-range bombers, the Taliban regime lost quickly with Kabul falling without a fight on Nov. 13, and Kandahar, birthplace of the Taliban, falling on Dec. 7. In just 2 months, the US and allies had already won. What followed was a 20-year foreign occupation, and fight against a resurgent Taliban.

As the Taliban started its 20-year struggle to return to power, it changed its attitude towards this drug trade. Instead of attempt to ban it, it encouraged and taxed it.  By 2007, the Afghan opium crop reached a record 8,038 tons, and provided 93% of the world's illegal heroin. In 2008, the Taliban collected an estimated $425 million in “taxes” on this trade. It was their main source of income in their long bid to return to power. By 2017 the annual Afghan opium harvest reached a staggering 9,920 tons.

In the early years of the US occupation, Colin Powell, George W. Bush's Secretary of State, suggested a strong anti-narcotics program to eradicate the opium crop with aerial defoliates, but US ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, and then finance minister Ashraf Ghani, who as president fled Kabul this August before the Taliban had fired a shot to take the city, opposed the program, claiming it would lead to “widespread impoverishment,” unless billions more was forthcoming in foreign aid.

Afghan civilians have paid the highest price in this war, both from Taliban terror and the US war on terror. One early example happened on July 1, 2002 when a US AC-130 gunship and B-52 bomber blew away a house full of wedding guests in Oruzgan, killing 30, and injuring 117. The US claimed it was self-defense because members of the wedding party fired into the air in celebration with their Kalashnikovs. Washington refused to issue an apology.

While the Aug. 29 Kabul drone strike that was supposed to be targeting an ISIS car bomber, but apparently killed ten including an aid worker and seven children, was been well reported on because it is seen as a component of Biden's fiasco, the US media rarely reported on the regularity of civilian deaths that accompanied the way the US waged this war, particularly as the number of drone strikes have been dramatically increased over the years. Without knowing the civilian carnage the US has caused, particularly in the countryside where 75% of the people live, one can never understand why so many Afghans would prefer Taliban rule to US occupation. 

By the end of his presidency, George W. Bush had 36,000 US troops fighting alongside 32,000 NATO forces. For George W. Bush Afghanistan was just a stopover on the way to Iraq. That was his real target. He was an oil man and Afghanistan didn't have any.

Obama passes on the Afghan War

Barack Obama came into office pledging to end the US military role in Afghanistan, and promising to unwind “a decade of war.” Instead, he wound up increasing US troop levels to the highest level of any US president, to more than 100,000 in 2011. That was about the same time he had withdrawn the final US combat forces from Iraq. Then ISIS made itself felt, and Obama sent 5,000 troops back into Iraq, while withdrawal plans for Afghanistan pretty much stalled. There were still about 8,400 US soldiers in Afghanistan when he left office in January 2017.

Trump's campaign promise

According to AP News “President Donald Trump made the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan a promise before the 2016 presidential election,” but he also told CNN, “at this point, you probably have to (stay) because that thing will collapse about two seconds after they leave." As his 2020 re-election bid approached, Trump saw the need to throw a bone to his campaign promise to bring US soldiers home from “endless wars.” With polling indicating 75% of US adults favored bring troops home from Afghanistan, Trump realigned his position to support the that popular opinion. 

Trump's pursuit of peace with the Taliban was never driven by what's best for Afghanistan, or even what's best for US foreign policy. It was driven by what Trump thought would help him get re-elected. Andrew Watkins, a senior analyst for Afghanistan at the International Crisis Group, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “There is very little faith that this American administration is following and implementing the February deal for any reasons other than domestic political concerns," 

After 9 Doha meetings in 18 months, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had negotiated a deal with the Taliban on February 29. Trump later said of these negotiations “We’re dealing very well with the Taliban.” He wasted no time using it to promote his campaign, telling a March 2 rally “Two days ago, the United States signed a deal with the Taliban so that after 19 years of conflict and very close to 20, we can finally begin to bring our amazing troops back home.” The Washington Post summed it up: "The United States was to get out of Afghanistan in 14 months and, in exchange, the Taliban agreed not to let Afghanistan become a haven for terrorists and to stop attacking U.S. service members." That set the check-out date for May 1, 2021, comfortably after the election.

In an effort to push the Taliban to make a deal, the US conducted a record number of air strikes on Taliban targets in 2019, as many as 900 per month. As the bombing increased, the allegations of civilian casualties reviewed by the Pentagon more than doubled to 563. The UN found that 546 civilians had been killed by US air strikes in 2019. The Trump Administration's response to the increasing number of complaints was to slash the number of people reviewing the complaints. The Pentagon has been less open about civilian causalities in Afghanistan, than they have in Iran and Syria. US media generally has been complicit in the cover-up. One of the things that so turned the Afghan people against the occupation was the way the Americans seem to be able to kill Afghan civilians with impunity. 

Trump didn't negotiate a general ceasefire. The Afghan government wasn't even at the table. It had no say in this agreement that left its forces fighting and dying while its US allies retired to the safety of a protected status. In the first 45 days after of agreement there were over 4,500 Taliban attacks on Afghan forces, resulting in over 900 causalities.

The agreement didn't include a denunciation of Al Qaeda, and there was no way to enforce it if the Taliban reneged. It did include Trump ordering the release of 5,000 captured Taliban fighters in 2020, and got the Pakistanis to release a top Taliban leader in its custody. Trump didn't waste any time in beginning the US drawdown either. Forward Operating Base Lightning, a US military base in southeast Afghanistan, was vacated less than a month after the agreement was signed. With the end of joint patrols, air support, and drone strikes, the Taliban went on the offensive against the Afghan army before the ink on the agreement was dry. After Trump's May 1 deadline expired, they moved rapidly to seize most of the country.

H.R. McMaster, one of Trump's national security advisors called it “a surrender agreement.” For Trump, it was entirely transactional. He gave the Taliban whatever it wanted so long as they gave him a peace deal he could announce before the election, and a lack of US casualties. By early October, Trump was promising that the US would be out of Afghanistan by Christmas. 

In spite of these campaign promises, his administration was doing little to insure an orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan. The US agreed to withdraw from five major military bases 135 days after the agreement was signed, and long before Biden's inauguration. As Secretary of State Tony Blinken told Congress “We inherited a deadline; we didn't inherit a plan.” For example, under the leadership of Stephen Miller, they were slow-walking the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program so that very few Afghan allies got the visas they were promised. The Trump Administration issued only 523 Afghan Special Immigrant Visas its last 10 months in office.

This was the situation Trump left Biden. He bragged President Biden “couldn't stop the process” of withdrawing from Afghanistan on whatever extension of the Trump timeline he could negotiate with the Taliban. Given what the world now knows about the relative strengths of the Taliban versus the Afghan army, the only other alternative would have been to massively increase US troop strength, probably back up to Obama era limits, and to go back to war with the Taliban.

Biden ends the war

Joe Biden did the one thing that his three predecessors in the White House failed to do. He really did remove US troops from Afghanistan. The heat he has taken for doing so gives you a clue why both Obama and Trump reneged on their promises to withdraw sooner. Wars are much easier to get into than get out of. This should be remembered by all future presidents.

Of course, Biden isn't being criticized so much for withdrawing from Afghanistan, as he is for the way he withdrew. Everybody agrees with withdrawing, even those who think he should have kept Bagram Airbase and 2,500 US troops there to maintain the status quo. The problem is the way the withdrawal played out. Like Vietnam, refugees fell from aircraft, but this time the cameras caught them. Thirteen US soldiers and several hundred Afghans were killed in a terrorist attack, and hundreds of US citizens and green-card holders, and thousands of Afghan SIV applicants, were left behind.

Still, he managed to extend the peace with the Taliban four months past the May 1st exit date negotiated by Trump, and by getting the cooperation of the Taliban in securing Kabul after the Afghan government collapsed and avoiding complete chaos in the city, they were able to get over a hundred thousand Americans and Afghan refugees through the inevitable mobs of people absolutely desperate to leave, into Kabul Airport, and onto planes out of Afghanistan. From that point-of-view, it was a remarkable success.

There was the one suicide bomber that got through, with the resulting tragic loss of life. Everyone knew the desperate crowds outside the airport gates represented a juicy “soft target” for a terrorist, and in Afghanistan there are many. Every day the evacuation was extended gave them more chances to try. The ISKP bomber saw the Taliban as enemy, maybe even more than the US. It would have been perfect if this evacuation had gone off without loss of life. It would have been another thing entirely had the peace not held with the Taliban, and the withdrawal had to be conducted under hostile enemy fire, as was the case with Vietnam. 

Biden's biggest problem was that he over-promised—he buckled under pressure. When George Stephanopoulos pressed him, he shouldn't have taken the expedient way out and promised to leave no Americans behind. That was his biggest blunder in this whole episode. They didn't even have an accurate count of US citizens in Afghanistan. How could they? He might as well promise that no lives would be lost in the next hurricane.

Lies Agreed Upon

There are a number of representations of the way Biden is supposed to have botched the withdrawal that are widely agreed upon, not only by the Fox News-type perpetual Biden critics, but also more mainstream media, and Democratic politicians, that are just flat out wrong:

1) Equating images of helicopters evacuating people from the US Embassy in Saigon in 1975 with those of helicopters evacuating people from the US Embassy in Kabul.

Fact Check: Helicopters were regularly used for transport from the embassy to the airport in Kabul, Ground transport was considered too dangerous or inconvenient. Those Afghanistan helo images could have come from long before the evacuation. On the other hand, after the national liberation fighters shelled the Saigon airport, helicopters became the only way out, and those helicopters weren't going to airports, they were going to US Navy ships off-shore. Similar images; used to mislead.

2) Biden should have held Bagram airbase because it's more secure, has two runways, and could handle more air traffic.

Fact Check: Of course it's more secure; it's in the middle of nowhere. The vast majority of those needing evacuation were in Kabul. Bagram is connected to Kabul by a couple of two-lane black-tops more than 40 miles long. Good luck getting a hundred thousand people to Bagram if ISKP setup terrorist ambushes along that road, which they would.

Those saying Biden should have kept Bagram are those opposing withdrawal in the first place. The only value in keeping Bagram is as a base for continuing the war. The Taliban would know that too, and probably see any attempt to hang on to Bagram as signaling an intention to continue the war. Any withdrawal, via Kabul or Bagram, would be a whole other kettle of fish sans Taliban cooperation. 

3) Thirteen US soldiers and 169 Afghans were killed by a terrorist attack,

Fact Check: True. One suicide bomber got through. Occasionally that happens.  Blame Biden? You might as well blame Biden for all the people killed in hurricanes on his watch, but also remember all the US soldiers and Afghan civilians that won't die in America's war in Afghanistan going forward.

4) Biden bears responsibility for 10 Afghan civilians, including an aid worker and 7 children being killed in a drone strike.

Fact Check: True. What isn't said is that this sort of thing happened all the time during the 20-year US war, but generally isn't investigated and reported by the media. More than 1444 Afghan civilians were killed in air strikes under Trump according to the Costs of War Project at Brown University. He relied much more on drones than Obama had.

3) and 4) are bookends of the same dilemma. In the former, a terrorist was allowed to get too close. In the later, they were too incautious in keeping away what they thought was a terrorist. 

III. Lessons from how fascists used the French withdrawal from Algeria

France occupied its North African colony Algeria for more than a hundred years from 1830 until its withdrawal in 1962 after a brutal French war in Algeria that lasted more than seven years. It started as a pacification operation, but by 1956, there were more than 400,000 French troops in Algeria, including 170,000 Muslim Algerians. The French were brutal in their counter-insurgency operations. The French paratroopers because famous for their torture techniques.

In that hundred-plus years of occupation, deep ties were developed between France and Algeria. The colony was operated for the benefit of France, and a French-Algerian settler community that saw Algeria as its home. Many had been born in Algeria, and may have never been to France, but they lived in privileged white communities, and compared to the Arabs they exploited, they lived well. They weren't going to give that up without a fight, and they had strong supporters back home.

Fascism in France

Even before World War Two, France had a strong fascist movement, and during the war, the pro-Nazi Vichy government enjoyed a lot more popular support than was admitted after the war. While badly hurt by the worldwide defeat of fascism, and especially the fall of Nazi Germany and Vicky France, the extreme right in France was never entirely defeated, and was always looking for a way back. With national pride already hurt by the French defeat in Vietnam at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, and now with what they saw as “another precipitate pullout and sacrifice [of] French honor,” in Algeria, these right-wing forces heard opportunity knocking.

In 1958, a military coup d'état was started by an army junta in Algiers. It forced the fall of the Fourth Republic and brought Charles De Gaulle to power as a president with extraordinary powers to prevent the “abandonment of Algeria.” French paratroopers from Algeria took the French island of Corsica in a bloodless action, and had a plan, Operation Resurrection, to take Paris and remove the French government if parliament refused De Gaulle. Based on this shift from civilian to military power, and the threat to use that power. De Gaulle was able to re-write the constitution and declare the Fifth Republic.

With opposition to the war growing and military victory proving elusive, De Gaulle changed course after he was elected president of the new Fifth Republic in February 1959, and announced plans to end the war. It was to take another 3 years of fighting and talking, but in July 1962 Algeria became independent. Although the referendum on this Algerian independence agreement won more than 91% approval among French voters and more that 99% among Algerians, it didn't go over well with the French colonialists and fascists. 

With independence came a flood of 900,000 European-Algerians (Pieds-noirs) back to France in a period of only a few months, 1.5 million before the flow slowed. Many fled in panic, fearing FLN revenge. France was not prepared to receive this large number for refugees and it caused a lot of turmoil. There was no attempt to evacuate any of the Algerian Muslims that had worked for France. They were disarmed, and left behind. While no action was taken by the FLN against most, one group, the Harkis, were considered traitors because of their service with the French Army. Many were murdered by the FLN, or lynch mobs. About 90,000 managed to escape to France, often with the help of French Army officers acting against orders.

In Algiers, some European volunteers and students, convinced that De Gaulle was betraying them, staged an insurrection. They threw up barricades in the streets and seized government buildings. It became known as “the week of barricades,” but in the end De Gaulle was able to rally most of the army to his side, and prevail. This didn't put an end to it.

There were several assassination attempts on de Gaulle, as well as attempted military coups. Most of these were carried out by an underground group, mainly French military people that opposed Algerian independence, including many that had been imprisoned and paroled for participation in the earlier rebellion, named the Organisation armée secrète (OAS). A number of right-wing groups were founded in this environment of national embarrassment, most notably the National Front for French Algeria (FNAF) which was founded in Paris in June 1960 with Jean-Marie Le Pen, a former Vichy supporter, as one of the principals.  Now led by his daughter Marine Le Pen, the National Front, renamed National Rally in 2018, remains the most dangerous fascist party in France today.

In Summary

Joe Biden's agenda has turned out to be more progressive than many expected. He campaigned as an anti-racist that took the Trump led resurgence of white supremacy head on. As president, he has championed the $15/hr. minimum wage, improved union protections for workers, increased voter protections, increased taxes on the rich and rich corporations, etc. In many ways, he is government like he expects to be a one-term president, and wants to set a few things straight while he still can. 

The 2020 US election showed that a majority of US voters rejected Trump, and the Republican party remade in his image. Even large segments of the bourgeoisie that benefited from his economic policies were ready to abandon him as the pandemic exposed the true costs of his inept administration. They were happy to see a competent politician like Biden replace Trump, but perhaps they got a little more than they bargained for. He is now campaigning for the biggest increase in social spending since the New Deal. Needless to say, this is strongly opposed by the capitalist class, and their mouthpieces. This is the context for trashing Biden on Afghanistan.

The January 6 insurrection marked the Trump fascist's turn from normal constitutional methods of obtaining political power to undemocratic methods designed to enforce minority rule. We've also seen that this movement is far from dead, and is continuing to contend for power. 

Actually, getting out of Afghanistan was another part of Biden's progressive agenda, but it was one that would inevitably create an opening that the extreme right would try to exploit to advance their assault on his broader progressive agenda, and build their forces in support of an undemocratic coup.

This is what is going on now. 

Although by any historical measure, the evacuation of over a hundred thousand people from a war with so little loss of life, should be considered a success, the sad reality is that there was some loss of life, and some people were left behind. No matter how unlikely that there would be no loss of life, and no one left behind, those looking to take down the Biden government have tried to use the negative images streaming from the evacuation, and the sense of national shame accompanying the withdrawal, to advance their cause.

In this case, Trump Republicans and those who oppose ending the war and withdrawing from Afghanistan, no matter how well executed, have been successful in getting much broader forces in media and politics to join in their chorus of condemnation, which they are now trying to parlay into a broadside against Biden's entire agenda.

Behind the scenes, I also suspect they are using their private, ex-special forces led, “hostage” rescue efforts, like those promoted by Glenn Beck, to build their para-military organizations.

As we have seen from the historical examples, what is happening in his post withdrawal period is not unusual. But it is happening while fascist forces circling around Trump are attempting a resurgence of white supremacist power by undemocratic means, and that makes it particularly dangerous.

Ending the US war in Afghanistan was long overdue. We must fight against the attempts by the insurrectionists to use the look of it to advance their cause. 

Clay Claiborne


Sunday, September 19, 2021

Why does Martha Raddatz hide civilian casualties of US drone strikes in Afghanistan?

Anyone familiar with the way the United States has waged war in Afghanistan knows that air strikes, increasingly carried out by drones, have been a big part of the package. Much more under Trump than even Obama. They also know that innocent civilians are too often killed by these air strikes, although those deaths receive little attention by major US media outlets.

The August 29 drone strike that killed 10 civilians, including 7 children was different. Most drone strikes happen out in the country where most Afghans live. This was different because it happened in Kabul, and because the media was there in force to cover the withdrawal story, and because it could be framed as another Biden Afghan withdrawal f*ck up. So, finally the story of a drone strike killing Afghan civilians is getting the much needed coverage it deserves.

But to make the story stick, it must be framed as a uniquely Biden screw-up, and not a general characteristic of how the US has conducted itself in Afghanistan over the past twenty years.

Martha Raddatz has covered the US war in Afghanistan from the beginning. She has also been one of the chief boosters of the war all these years. She has earned a role as a vital part of the US war machine. She knows very well that US drone strikes have killed civilians in the past, and while she is happy to put these ten civilian corpses at the feet of Joe Biden, she is keen to keep the secret that, really, this sort of thing has been happening all along in Afghanistan.

She gave another proof of that today, when she interviewed Admiral Mike Mullen about this most recent drone strike on ABC News This Week. You have to listen closely because the proof is in what Raddatz doesn't say:

Mullen: We've had drone strikes that were very effective over many years that didn't kill any civilians, and we've also had drone strikes which did ...

Raddatz: I want to turn to Chairman Milley. You've seen the stories...

A few minutes ago, Martha Raddatz was lamenting the deaths these ten civilians in this drone strike. Now she has a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff admitting there have been others, and she doesn't probe further? No follow up questions about those other civilian deaths in those other drone strikes?

What's up with that?

Clay Claiborne

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Did Oliver North call for the assassination of Joe Biden on Fox News Hannity?

Oliver North said on Hannity Monday:

Just one last thought, at one point he[Biden] said about the terrorists that had killed those thirteen Americans. He said he wouldn't forget. He was not going to forgive, and he would make them..he would bring them to justice. We ought to say that about Joe Biden right now.

What Biden actually said about how he would deal with those terrorists was,“We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay,"  and in case anybody mistakenly thought that meant he planned to arrest them and bring them to trial, the next day he ordered a drone strike that killed two for openers.

Oliver North knew perfectly well that when he made that analogy, he was comparing Joe Biden to the terrorists,  and suggesting they both should we dealt with the same way. He also knew perfectly well that Biden was advocating execution by the most violent means with no recourse to due process of law, and no pivot to "justice" hides that. Sean Hannity damn well knew it too.

I'll say this much. These Fox News mouth pieces need to be called to account for the way they advocate violence to their viewers. No good can come from talk like this.

Clay Claiborne.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Peter Alexander's racist question

NBC News White House reporter Peter Alexander asked Press Secretary Jen Psaki this question at today's White House Press Conference [my summary, see video for exact wording]:

Don't all these US weapons falling into the hands of the Taliban endanger Americans and Americans around the world, and Western interest?

I can give him a pass for looking out for Americans First, seeing that he's from an American news outlet. But after Jen Psaki told him they didn't think they left the Taliban with the capability to hit the United States at home, even Apache helicopters can't fly that far,  Peter shifted the proposed danger to Americans around the globe, and Western ...interests.

By Western interests he means, first and foremost "western" lives, of course, because when it comes terrorists, its lives that are most at risk. Unless, his concern is coldly for western capital, that is.

Most of what the US left in Afghanistan, and won't destroy, in the way of weapons, are small arms, vehicles, and light artillery, the kind of stuff useful in a regional war, or in suppressing a population. I expect it will be the Afghan people that will suffer first and foremost for that, then the people in the region, and, yes, finally "interests" all over the globe, be they "western" or not.

And BTW, one of the things wars always do—they always flood the world with small arms. Always. That is one of the ways the Hell outlives the War. There are still 45 ACPs and 30 cal. carbines killing on American streets that were brought back from the second world war.

Why didn't Peter Alexander ask about the danger the weapons we are leaving pose to the Afghans? Why is he concerned solely with American and Western interests? I think the NBC News White House correspondent is letting his white chauvinist priorities show. Enough so that I wrote this blog post, and posted the videos below, to call him out on it.

Clay Claiborne

Short Version

Full Clip for Context


Google Maps shows us "Biden should've held Bagram" is very bad advice

In this video production I put together on Sunday, I use Google Maps to understand 

—  Clay Claiborne

Why Biden Abandoned Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan

Illustrated Transcript

I'm no kind of military expert. In fact, I haven't served a day in the military in my life, but in this video I'm going to show you how you can use Google Maps, and a little common sense to show that the received wisdom from the politicians and media pundits that pushed the Afghan war on us in the first place, that Biden should have held Bagram Airbase, or as Senator Ben Sasse put it on ABC's This Week today:

"Abandoning Bagram airbase will be read about in military textbooks for decades as one of the stupidest military blunders ever. "

This Google Map shows the road from Kabul to Bagram. As you can see, it's 58 kilometers from Kabul, and can be expected to take an hour and twenty minutes by car on a good day.

While it's true that Bagram has two runways, as compared to Kabul's one. It's almost 60 kilometers from Kabul, where most of the people are. Everybody being evacuated would have to be pushed up that road before they could get on a plane. 

Martha Raddatz knows the Afghan War well. She's been with the war from the very beginning, and she's seen it from all angles. She has a real overview. In an earlier segment in that same This Week, she pointed out that traveling by road in Afghanistan ain't no cake walk:

       Tony Blinken: There's other ways to leave Afghanistan, including by road..."

       Martha Raddatiz: "That's a very dangerous trip."

What a fun trip the Kabul-Bagram Airport Road  could turn out to be. Especially if ISIS or Al Qaeda, or anybody should try to interfere.

Actually, there are two roads from Kabul to Bagram, but the same problems apply. This second doesn't look recommended. It is longer, and it takes longer, and I have to imagine the transits times on both will start to stretch out once you start putting a lot of traffic on them, and especially if you have to start probing for IEDs and landmines. Not to mention the problems we might have if the Taliban was to get it into their heads that the only reason we were hanging on to Bagram is to continue the occupation.

Here we've switched to the terrain view, and we can see that Bagram is pretty much in the middle of nothing.

Here we zone in, and we can see there's really not much to evacuate in the immediate neighborhood.

Here's a real closeup. We can see the former Soviet base nearby. Foreign occupations don't end well in Afghanistan. When will they ever learn.

Anyway, let's look at some of nearby names on the map.

Here's Karam. They have a high school and a bus stop. At least that's a start. It's close to the Airport Road, so it should be easy to evacuate.

Here's Daw-lat-sah, on the other side of Bagram. Please forgive my pronunciation. When Martin Sheen narrated my Vietnam Doc, he made me get recording of native speakers pronouncing all the Vietnamese names so he could get them right, but I'm on a reduced schedule here. 

Here Daw-lat-sah close up. I still don't see much there, so it would appear that Bagram is pretty much in the middle of no-where, which is good for a military base, security-wise and all, but bad for an evacuation point.

Parwan University seems to be the most substantial thing in the area.

Photo by Hashmat Noon

Here's a picture of what appears to be the main building.

Photo by Yahia Rahimi

Here's another view, pretty as its set against the mountains. We can see two cars, a pickup truck, and bus parked off to the side. Probably more around back.

Photo by Yahia Rahimi

Here's a better view of the whole campus. We can see three buildings and maybe a dozen people.

Photo by Hashmat Noon


Here we can see a courtyard or maybe a garden?

Photo by Yahia Rahimi

And now we say good-bye to Parwan University

Photo by Abdul mosawer Ahmadi

Very pretty flowers, but as we can see, there just isn't much to be evacuated from around Bagram.

Almost every American and Afghan to be evacuated would have to make that road trip from Kabul to Bagram, and as Martha said:

Martha Raddatiz: "That's a very dangerous trip."

So, you can see that all those pundits and politicians that are complaining that Biden didn't hold on to Bagram are just blowing so much smoke. You know that because they keep talking Bagram's two runways, without addressing these other problems.

Well, I say: One runway in the city is worth two in the bush.

And all those demanding that Biden retake Bagram really want this Forever War to continue.