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Crime and Punishment in Afghanistan

29 Aug

Atrocity in Kabul, Geopolitical Crime in Washington

Exploding a suicide bomb on Afghan civilians fleeing for their lives at the Kabul International Airport on August 26, 2021 was a terrorist crime of the greatest magnitude and a gross expression of political sociopathology by the perpetrators, Islamic State-Khorosan or ISIS-k. Those responsible for such deliberative mayhem should be held accountable in accordance with law to the extent feasible.

Yet for President Biden to rely on virtually the same vengeful trope employed by George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks represents a dehumanizing demoralizing descent into the domain of primitive vengeance. These are Biden’ words predictably highlighted by the media, uttered with contempt: “Know this: we will not forgive, we will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.” And Biden made sure there would be no misunderstanding by adding the imperial reassurance of being law unto oneself: “We will respond with force and precision, at the place we choose and at the moment of our choosing.” Not a word about the relevance of law and justice, much less the kind of phrasing the U.S. Government would expect, and demand, if the target of such violence occurred within Russia or China—‘within the parameters of international law.’ At least, Biden didn’t follow Bush down the dark corridor of declaring a second ‘war on terror,’ limiting his pledge to the presumed attackers, in the spirit of what seems like an international variant of ‘vigilante justice,’ the first phase of which was a drone attack against ISIS-k personnel allegedly connected with the airport atrocity. 

A parallel theme in Biden’s post-attack remarks glamorized the mission of the departing American military, which had the effect of covering up the inexplicably abrupt collapse of a prolonged state-building undertaking by the United States. True, the American soldiers who were killed or wounded were tragic victims of terrorism on the last days of service in Afghanistan, but to call professional soldiers carrying out chaotic evacuation orders ‘heroes’ is to divert attention from those who devised such a disastrous mission, which refers to the whole 20 years of expensive, bloody, destructive futility that leave the country in a shambles with bleak future prospects. Not a word of lamentation or acknowledgement of this colossal failure, which involved no meaningful course correction after the high-profile commitment was made two decades. From the counterterror operation that ended with the killing or dispersing of the al-Qaeda operative the American presence was enlarged without debate or authorization to one of regime change followed by state-building and ‘democracy promotion,’ but disguised as ‘reconstruction’ of the state post-Taliban defeat.

Yet Afghanistan is far from the first state-building collapse that the U.S. has sponsored for years before negotiating a humiliating exit that was sugar-coated to blur the strategic disaster, which also hid the responsibility of no less than four presidential administration of putting young Americans in harm’s way for no justifiable purpose. Worse than the specific failure in Afghanistan is the systemic inability to acknowledge and at least make a long overdue effort to learn finally that military superiority is not enough to overcome determined national resistance. Having experienced costly failures in Vietnam, Libya, Iraq, elsewhere and yet refusing to grasp the non-viability of Western military intervention and imposed state-building blueprints in the post-colonial world is not only a major explanation of American imperial decline. It is also a guaranteed recipe for the continued adherence to a dangerously obsolete and nihilistic version of geopolitics, which lacks the agency of the colonial era to transform in a stable and self-serving manner what it conquers. Such post-colonial undertakings more destructively than ever carry out the work of demolition, leaving behind a lengthy trail of death and destruction when the intervenors finally decide to go home, pulling out its personnel, equipment, and some of its collaborating natives who made themselves politically vulnerable to the ‘rough justice’ of the nationalist movements they are seen to have betrayed. Of course, among those that are desperate to leave, are those many Afghans fearful of the future of their impoverished country for diverse reasons, including famine and deep poverty, economic refugees that deserve as much empathy as those who for opportunistic or ideological reasons sided with the American project. 

The Domestic Roots of Geopolitical Obsession  

H.L.Mencken, the American humorist of a century ago, perceptively observely that “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.” It is a signature failure of democracy in the United States that the most respected media platforms continue to be dominated by the stale views of retired generals and admirals, high-level intelligence officials, and Beltway think tank servants of the political class in America, while the dissident voices of genuine critics are kept from the citizenry, consigned to the wilderness of obscure internet venues. Yes, there is a public level of civic illiteracy subsumed beneath the self-blinding cult of ‘American exceptionalism’ that seems incurably so addicted to national innocence and accompanying virtues as to be unable to interpret and act in accord with obvious precepts of national interest. Our leaders tell us constantly ‘we are better than this’ or Americans can do anything if united and determined while inculcating our worst tendencies. 

President Biden presents himself as “a student of history” who declared that he knew of “no conflict..where when a war was ending, one side was able to guarantee that everyone that wanted to be extracted from that country could get out.” Instead of ‘ending’ Biden should have said ‘lost,’ and referred to those Afghan allies trapped within as having made a losing gamble, and hence were desperate to be ‘extracted,’ a mechanistic formulation that crept its way into the president’s text. Had Biden chosen the more accurate word, ‘rescued,’ it might have signaled the start of the long journey on a rightful path of remorse, responsibility, and accountability. Unlike the intervening imperial forces, those among the Afghan people that were coopted, corrupted, or induced to collaborate, not only put their life in jeopardy but often endanger the wellbeing of their entire families.

The real story of why this state-building failure was hidden from view for so long, and why it was undertaken in the first place, has yet to be revealed to or understood by the American public. The United States, having been on a war footing ever since 1940 has effectively militarized the international dimensions of the American global state, impoverished the political and moral imagination of the political class shaping foreign policy, and put the American ship of state on a collision course with history, as well as sacrificing such vital national goals as domestic wellbeing and ecological sustainability. The outcome in Afghanistan more than other similar foreign policy failures, has exposed the underbelly of militarized capitalism—special interests, private sector paramilitary operations of for-profit organizations promote war-making for mercenaries, arms sales, well-funded NGOs engaged in a variety of humanitarian tasks helpful to ‘winning the hearts and minds’ of the resident population. Such a web of activities and goals underpin and sustain these ‘benevolent’ interventions enabling the delusional security paradigm based on ‘political realism’ to postpone as long as possible the whiplash of ‘political reality.’ Whoever cries ‘fire’ is sidelined as ‘leftist’ or ‘socialist,’ effectively silenced, while the two political parties squabble bitterly over who is to be blamed for ‘the last act,’ conservatives complaining about the lack of ‘strategic patience’ while mainstream liberals talk about the misfortune of a well-intentioned undertaking gone awry that had been made for the benefit of others and to promote more humane and stable national, regional, and global conditions.

Controlling the Discourse

Yet the post-conflict discourse of the political class is once again being shaped by those that insist on ‘looking forward,’ and certainly not lamenting what has collapsed, and why. This means above all refusing to analyze why trillions invested in training and equipping Afghan military and police forces, and creating a national governance structure, which could not and would not prevent the virtually bloodless takeover in a few weeks by the ragtag, poorly equipped Taliban. We should remember that when the Soviet were forced to withdraw by the American funded and CIA organized mujhadeen resistance, it took three years of fighting to dislodge the ‘puppet government’ they left behind in 1989. In contrast, as soon as the Americans signaled their acceptance of defeat, negotiating a nonviolent departure in February 2020 during the last year of Trump’s presidency in Doha, the Taliban “began gaining ground. It was a campaign of persistence, with the Taliban betting that the US would lose patience and leave, and they were right.” [NYTimes, Aug 27, 2021] 

There was also many establishment expressions of dismay that the U.S. Government had relied on the Taliban to provide for airport security during the evacuation process, and skeptical dismissal of their pledges to govern differently the second time around, including a more inclusive approach to  the multi-ethnic makeup of country with respect to governance, along with their promise of better treatment of women and improved relations with the outside world. The United States has expediently trusted the Taliban at the airport and received positive reports from the American military commanders on the scene, but its political leaders and influential media platforms continue to express hostile and skeptical views of the Taliban expressions of their reformed political identity, refusing to let the Taliban escape from the terrorist box that has confined them over the past 20+ years. As with Hamas, it seems preferable from the Western viewpoint of its broader political agenda to refuse to accept, much less encourage, or even explore the genuineness of such a professed commitment of Taliban to a changed identity. The result as with Hamas is to create such pressure on the politically victorious group that indeed they are faced with the choice of surrender or terrorist forms of resistance. 

If indeed Afghanistan is abruptly denied foreign economic assistance formerly supplied by the intervening coalition, then it will erase the US/NATO failure, and few tears will be shed in Washington as it notes the humanitarian catastrophe that ensues in the country. In this sense, Vietnam was fortunate in that it had China as an adversary, which meant that their nationalist victory could be somewhat acknowledged and subsequent economic development permitted. If the Biden presidency was not preoccupied by its covering over the humiliating record of geopolitical failure in Afghanistan and had some real empathy for the Afghan people it would give every benefit of doubt and encouragement to the Taliban at this stage, including massive economic relief, hoping for the best, and at least trying to make it happen.

Concluding Laments

There are deeper questions raised by the latest phase of the Afghan nightmare that haunt the future of the United States:

–Why can’t the American political class learn from China that the 21st century path to prosperity, security, and reputation is primarily based on adhering to these policies?–efficient state/society relations, especially with regard to private savings and public investments, respect for the sovereignty, autonomy, and self-determination of other states, and fulfilling geopolitical ambitions beyond national borders by win/win infrastructure contributions to the development of other countries;

–When will the political class in America have the elusive blend of self-confidence and humility to understand why the United States has become the enemy and preferred target of acutely discontented people and their political movements around the world, and make appropriate adjustments, including giving up its worldwide network of military bases and naval commands? Security in the future depends on cooperative networks of global solidarity and not on innovations in military technology that turn the world into a single battlefield in a global forever war. 

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT IN AFGHANISTAN

Atrocity in Kabul, Geopolitical Crime in Washington

Exploding a suicide bomb on Afghan civilians fleeing for their lives at the Kabul International Airport on August 26, 2021 was a terrorist crime of the greatest magnitude and a gross expression of political sociopathology by the perpetrators, Islamic State-Khorosan or ISIS-k. Those responsible for such deliberative mayhem should be held accountable in accordance with law to the extent feasible.

Yet for President Biden to rely on virtually the same vengeful trope employed by George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks represents a dehumanizing demoralizing descent into the domain of primitive vengeance. These are Biden’ words predictably highlighted by the media, uttered with contempt: “Know this: we will not forgive, we will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.” And Biden made sure there would be no misunderstanding by adding the imperial reassurance of being law unto oneself: “We will respond with force and precision, at the place we choose and at the moment of our choosing.” Not a word about the relevance of law and justice, much less the kind of phrasing the U.S. Government would expect, and demand, if the target of such violence occurred within Russia or China—‘within the parameters of international law.’ At least, Biden didn’t follow Bush down the dark corridor of declaring a second ‘war on terror,’ limiting his pledge to the presumed attackers, in the spirit of what seems like an international variant of ‘vigilante justice,’ the first phase of which was a drone attack against ISIS-k personnel allegedly connected with the airport atrocity. 

A parallel theme in Biden’s post-attack remarks glamorized the mission of the departing American military, which had the effect of covering up the inexplicably abrupt collapse of a prolonged state-building undertaking by the United States. True, the American soldiers who were killed or wounded were tragic victims of terrorism on the last days of service in Afghanistan, but to call professional soldiers carrying out chaotic evacuation orders ‘heroes’ is to divert attention from those who devised such a disastrous mission, which refers to the whole 20 years of expensive, bloody, destructive futility that leave the country in a shambles with bleak future prospects. Not a word of lamentation or acknowledgement of this colossal failure, which involved no meaningful course correction after the high-profile commitment was made two decades. From the counterterror operation that ended with the killing or dispersing of the al-Qaeda operative the American presence was enlarged without debate or authorization to one of regime change followed by state-building and ‘democracy promotion,’ but disguised as ‘reconstruction’ of the state post-Taliban defeat.

Yet Afghanistan is far from the first state-building collapse that the U.S. has sponsored for years before negotiating a humiliating exit that was sugar-coated to blur the strategic disaster, which also hid the responsibility of no less than four presidential administration of putting young Americans in harm’s way for no justifiable purpose. Worse than the specific failure in Afghanistan is the systemic inability to acknowledge and at least make a long overdue effort to learn finally that military superiority is not enough to overcome determined national resistance. Having experienced costly failures in Vietnam, Libya, Iraq, elsewhere and yet refusing to grasp the non-viability of Western military intervention and imposed state-building blueprints in the post-colonial world is not only a major explanation of American imperial decline. It is also a guaranteed recipe for the continued adherence to a dangerously obsolete and nihilistic version of geopolitics, which lacks the agency of the colonial era to transform in a stable and self-serving manner what it conquers. Such post-colonial undertakings more destructively than ever carry out the work of demolition, leaving behind a lengthy trail of death and destruction when the intervenors finally decide to go home, pulling out its personnel, equipment, and some of its collaborating natives who made themselves politically vulnerable to the ‘rough justice’ of the nationalist movements they are seen to have betrayed. Of course, among those that are desperate to leave, are those many Afghans fearful of the future of their impoverished country for diverse reasons, including famine and deep poverty, economic refugees that deserve as much empathy as those who for opportunistic or ideological reasons sided with the American project. 

The Domestic Roots of Geopolitical Obsession  

H.L.Mencken, the American humorist of a century ago, perceptively observely that “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.” It is a signature failure of democracy in the United States that the most respected media platforms continue to be dominated by the stale views of retired generals and admirals, high-level intelligence officials, and Beltway think tank servants of the political class in America, while the dissident voices of genuine critics are kept from the citizenry, consigned to the wilderness of obscure internet venues. Yes, there is a public level of civic illiteracy subsumed beneath the self-blinding cult of ‘American exceptionalism’ that seems incurably so addicted to national innocence and accompanying virtues as to be unable to interpret and act in accord with obvious precepts of national interest. Our leaders tell us constantly ‘we are better than this’ or Americans can do anything if united and determined while inculcating our worst tendencies. 

President Biden presents himself as “a student of history” who declared that he knew of “no conflict..where when a war was ending, one side was able to guarantee that everyone that wanted to be extracted from that country could get out.” Instead of ‘ending’ Biden should have said ‘lost,’ and referred to those Afghan allies trapped within as having made a losing gamble, and hence were desperate to be ‘extracted,’ a mechanistic formulation that crept its way into the president’s text. Had Biden chosen the more accurate word, ‘rescued,’ it might have signaled the start of the long journey on a rightful path of remorse, responsibility, and accountability. Unlike the intervening imperial forces, those among the Afghan people that were coopted, corrupted, or induced to collaborate, not only put their life in jeopardy but often endanger the wellbeing of their entire families.

The real story of why this state-building failure was hidden from view for so long, and why it was undertaken in the first place, has yet to be revealed to or understood by the American public. The United States, having been on a war footing ever since 1940 has effectively militarized the international dimensions of the American global state, impoverished the political and moral imagination of the political class shaping foreign policy, and put the American ship of state on a collision course with history, as well as sacrificing such vital national goals as domestic wellbeing and ecological sustainability. The outcome in Afghanistan more than other similar foreign policy failures, has exposed the underbelly of militarized capitalism—special interests, private sector paramilitary operations of for-profit organizations promote war-making for mercenaries, arms sales, well-funded NGOs engaged in a variety of humanitarian tasks helpful to ‘winning the hearts and minds’ of the resident population. Such a web of activities and goals underpin and sustain these ‘benevolent’ interventions enabling the delusional security paradigm based on ‘political realism’ to postpone as long as possible the whiplash of ‘political reality.’ Whoever cries ‘fire’ is sidelined as ‘leftist’ or ‘socialist,’ effectively silenced, while the two political parties squabble bitterly over who is to be blamed for ‘the last act,’ conservatives complaining about the lack of ‘strategic patience’ while mainstream liberals talk about the misfortune of a well-intentioned undertaking gone awry that had been made for the benefit of others and to promote more humane and stable national, regional, and global conditions.

Controlling the Discourse

Yet the post-conflict discourse of the political class is once again being shaped by those that insist on ‘looking forward,’ and certainly not lamenting what has collapsed, and why. This means above all refusing to analyze why trillions invested in training and equipping Afghan military and police forces, and creating a national governance structure, which could not and would not prevent the virtually bloodless takeover in a few weeks by the ragtag, poorly equipped Taliban. We should remember that when the Soviet were forced to withdraw by the American funded and CIA organized mujhadeen resistance, it took three years of fighting to dislodge the ‘puppet government’ they left behind in 1989. In contrast, as soon as the Americans signaled their acceptance of defeat, negotiating a nonviolent departure in February 2020 during the last year of Trump’s presidency in Doha, the Taliban “began gaining ground. It was a campaign of persistence, with the Taliban betting that the US would lose patience and leave, and they were right.” [NYTimes, Aug 27, 2021] 

There was also many establishment expressions of dismay that the U.S. Government had relied on the Taliban to provide for airport security during the evacuation process, and skeptical dismissal of their pledges to govern differently the second time around, including a more inclusive approach to  the multi-ethnic makeup of country with respect to governance, along with their promise of better treatment of women and improved relations with the outside world. The United States has expediently trusted the Taliban at the airport and received positive reports from the American military commanders on the scene, but its political leaders and influential media platforms continue to express hostile and skeptical views of the Taliban expressions of their reformed political identity, refusing to let the Taliban escape from the terrorist box that has confined them over the past 20+ years. As with Hamas, it seems preferable from the Western viewpoint of its broader political agenda to refuse to accept, much less encourage, or even explore the genuineness of such a professed commitment of Taliban to a changed identity. The result as with Hamas is to create such pressure on the politically victorious group that indeed they are faced with the choice of surrender or terrorist forms of resistance. 

If indeed Afghanistan is abruptly denied foreign economic assistance formerly supplied by the intervening coalition, then it will erase the US/NATO failure, and few tears will be shed in Washington as it notes the humanitarian catastrophe that ensues in the country. In this sense, Vietnam was fortunate in that it had China as an adversary, which meant that their nationalist victory could be somewhat acknowledged and subsequent economic development permitted. If the Biden presidency was not preoccupied by its covering over the humiliating record of geopolitical failure in Afghanistan and had some real empathy for the Afghan people it would give every benefit of doubt and encouragement to the Taliban at this stage, including massive economic relief, hoping for the best, and at least trying to make it happen.

Concluding Laments

There are deeper questions raised by the latest phase of the Afghan nightmare that haunt the future of the United States:

–Why can’t the American political class learn from China that the 21st century path to prosperity, security, and reputation is primarily based on adhering to these policies?–efficient state/society relations, especially with regard to private savings and public investments, respect for the sovereignty, autonomy, and self-determination of other states, and fulfilling geopolitical ambitions beyond national borders by win/win infrastructure contributions to the development of other countries;

–When will the political class in America have the elusive blend of self-confidence and humility to understand why the United States has become the enemy and preferred target of acutely discontented people and their political movements around the world, and make appropriate adjustments, including giving up its worldwide network of military bases and naval commands? Security in the future depends on cooperative networks of global solidarity and not on innovations in military technology that turn the world into a single battlefield in a global forever war. 

Demystifying Geopolitical Crime and Afghan Debacle

26 Aug

Further Thoughts on Demystifying the Afghan Tragedy and the US-led NATO Geopolitical Crime

The CNN and other liberal media focus on deciphering the humanitarian chaos surrounding the airport at Kabul encourages a mindless preoccupation with the tactical considerations relating to the withdrawal from Afghanistan, diverting attention from its core significance whether by design or selective perception. It seems affirmatively preoccupied with the political necessity for Biden to complete the withdrawal of American citizens, especially members of the armed forces and government officials without the loss of a single American life. Perhaps, this priority is accepted as natural given the continuing privileging of ultra-nationalist values. It has the unspoken implication that the loss of Afghan lives, no matter how great and at what scale, are regrettable especially if the victims were associated with the American presence, but is nevertheless treated as not nearly as vital in the same sense as the loss of a single American life.

Such an implicit hierarchy of human worth has many unsavory implications, including the stark fact of Washington’s refusal to take any responsibility for having endangered Afghan lives by compromising their loyalty to their own country. This issue is never even addressed by the Biden presidency or the media beyond facilitating evacuation of those Afghans compromised by their relations with the American occupation of their country, which has failed to accept any responsibility for the permanent settlement of Afghans presumed to be refugees. If Afghans are killed during or immediately after the bungled withdrawal process it is likely to be presented as one more facet of a humanitarian crisis, the magnitude of which will be explained away as at worst a further display of imperial ineptitude in the manner the withdrawal was carried out evoking memories of Vietnam over forty years ago, or more likely, presented as a confirmation of the alleged continuing barbarity of the Taliban.

It is with this foregrounding of the scenes at the Kabul Airport that I turn to three aspects of these events that has been insufficiently commented upon:
(1) A state-building regime-changing intervention by the West in a non-Western country should be understood in the 21st century as a species of ‘geopolitical crime’ under post-colonial conditions. One element of this crime is the recruitment of a large number oof ‘natives’ as facilitators and collaborators, who live well as long as the intervention lasts, but are alienated from the resistance movements going on in their own country, and are merged in the minds of national anti-interventionists as integral to the imperial project and, hence, widely regarded as corrupt sellouts and treasonous enemies of self-determination of their nation, who must escape their own country to avoid retribution.

As a result this cohort of Afghans who worked with and for the Americans, including their families, become fearful for their lives and wellbeing when such an imposed state-building project ends in abject failure. This leaves such individuals and their families with no good choices. They can remain in Afghanistan and face the pentup fury or vengeful impulse of the victors or they can head for the exits. Imperial propaganda to the effect that Afghan anti-interventionists are bloodthirsty, may be true although likely exaggerated, but functions to shift blame and responsibility away from Washington, and prevents learning the lesson that this kind of geopolitical crime when it fails, destroys the lives of those in the society that were earlier proclaimed the greatest beneficiaries of such a regime-change and state-building undertaking. The irresponsibility of the intervenors is underscored by their refusal to accept the burden of providing a permanent safe haven for Afghans who chose the losing and wrong side in a just war of national resistance. Among the justifications for using such pejorative language is the evident lack of deep support for this coercive American state-building project as evidenced by the failure to mount any sort of defense against the poorly armed Taliban after the US signaled its intention to withdraw from the internal Afghan war. Such a moment of illuminating truth recalls Washington surprise that the supposedly secure and formidable Shah’s modernizing regime in Iran fell without much of a fight to an unarmed popular resistance movement in 1978-79.

(2) Drawing an Afghan analogy to the fall of Saigon in 1975 is suggestive of the absence of self-criticism in America’s political class, producing repetition, and gratuitous suffering for those aligned with the occupation and a gross state-building failure. As well those innocent segments of the Afghan population that opposed the popular movement for ideological or human rights reasons are left to suffer the consequences of the political outcome without being offered a safe exit or safe haven.

But there are important differences between what happened in Saigon and what is happening these days in Kabul that are taken into account in a perceptive article by Paul Street, “Eight Key Points on America’s Defeat in Afghanistan,” CounterPunch, Aug. 24, 2021. Street’s main observation is that the failures of anticipation were far more inexcusable in Kabul than in Saigon because the victorious National Liberation Front was in mainstream of national resistance movements, while the Taliban did have a bloody past with an unrepudiated jihadist code of behavior that was especially threatening for women and girls. This alone should have at least alerted those in the Pentagon and elsewhere in Washinton to the necessity of devising withdrawal and resettlement plans that took better account of the wellbeing of Afghans, and not worry only about those Afghans who had staffed the NATO state-building undertaking for the past twenty years. There was no reason to rely on Taliban pledges of amnesty and protection of human rights, given their past but there was also every reason to encourage its leader to live up to thes pledges of a more benign approach given that the Taliban had achieved a second chance to implement a kinder version of Islamic governance.

This is especially true given the earlier American-led effort to give the Soviets in Byzezinski’s muscular geopolitics as providing Washington an opportunity to give Moscow its own ‘Vietnam War’ in the Afghanistan of the 1980s. Such an objective led the U.S. Government to arm, support, and subsidize jihadist resistance, including forces under the leadership of Osama Bin Laden that formed the nucleus of Al Qaeda that was to attack the United States twenty years later. Many informed commentators believe that without the American counter-intervention to defeat the Soviet mission in Afghanistan the Taliban would never have been able to take over control over the whole country in 1996, and maybe never. The largely unacknowledged boomerang or blowback effects of instrumentalizing Islamic extremism for Cold War geopolitics has played out in Afghanistan in particularly tragic ways for the people of the country. It remains to be seen whether Afghanistan’s neighbors are able and willing, especially Pakistan, to make massive contributions to undo some of the massive damage done by the anguishing decades of combat, corruption, and occupation, which includes manipulating the international drug trade for nefarious political purposes. Even so, the primary responsibility for mitigating the collateral humanitarian damage for this severe geopolitical crime belongs to the United States and its NATO partners, G-7 allies.

(3) I had the opportunity to listen on August 23rd to retired General David Petraeus answer some questions put to him by a fawning and craven moderator during an on the record event sponsored by the Atlantic Council. I was shocked to hear this eminent, articulate, and highly intelligent former military commander lament what he called the lack of ‘strategic patience’ by the United States as constituting his primary worry about the course of events generated by what he regarded as an abrupt, ill-considered, and imprudent withdrawal by American forces. Twenty years, the longest war in American history, was evidently not enough. Petraeus went on to argue that the drawdown of American forces to between 2,500 and 3,000 was a sustainable presence, making it highly affordable and a good security investment, which could also be counted on keeping the Kabul government afloat a bit longer. Its main strategic benefit would be allow Americans to have military bases that would be regionally useful in relation to anticipated renewed counterterrorism operations and, above all, to engage China competitively in the region.

What I found startling at the height of the panic observed the world over on TV, was the unabashed agreement of Petraeus and the fawning moderator, that the US would again need to be intervening and state-building in the future, and must not be led by its Afghan failure to interpret the experience as a signal to the political class to repudiate imperial post-colonial militarized geopolitics in Asia and elsewhere. No mention was made of China’s rise with its minimal dependence on military capabilities, which was characterized mainly by win/win economistic internationalism and a hands off approach to military intervention in foreign societies.

I was struck by the utter unwillingness of Petraeus to confront either the realities of imperial decline or its reliance on obsolete geopolitics in a global setting that was making it clear that the future security for the West, and even human survival, depended on leading states making strong commitments to on behalf of imperative global public goods, which would entail an abandonment of global militarism as anachronistic and unaffordable.

The tone of the discussion was one of how to do better ‘going forward’ rather than to waste energy by crying over the ‘spilt milk’ of past mistakes including investing trillion to construct a ghost state that could hardly extend its writ beyond the city limits of Kabul. What depressed me most about the Petraeus performance, and a related Atlantic Council discussion the next day of the humanitarian crisis generated by the chaotic withdrawal was the steadfast refusal of the political class to engage in strategic self-criticism as distinct from bemoaning existing tactical errors of judgment prompted by domestic partisan politics. As evidenced by the choice of homogenous participants in these staged events channeled to elites in the United States is that the definitive voices of national policy are retired generals and diplomats as cheered on by journalist from the Wall Street Journal, CNN, NY Times, and Washington Post, pillars of the political class ruling the electorate in 2021. It was a depressing display of how the political class in the United States continues to seem incapable of thinking strategically outside of a militarist box, a sure sign of imperial morbidity.

What the prolonged intervention leaves behind is an impoverished country of nearly 40 million, with virtually no capacity to sustain itself without massive outside economic assistance. Given this reality after twenty years of occupation and supposed guardianship the most fundamental failure of the American post-9/11 operation was its utter inability to improve living standards and help Afghanistan gain some measure of self-sufficiency and self-governing capability. The feeling at this stage is that the American-led Western agenda in the country was nothing more than a convenient platform for an extended counterterrorism operation with scant concern for the people of the country. This overlooks the many heroic efforts of Western NGOs to improve the life experience of the Afghan people, especially that of women, but without the protective capabilities of an Afghan government with authentic indigenous roots this has again become a mission impossible. The bottom line as of the end of August 2021 is that the Afghan refugees and the Afghan nation need and deserve massive international assistance led by the United States, and if this is not forthcoming tragedy will be added to tragedy.  

Are the 13 Demands to Qatar a ‘Geopolitical Crime’?

11 Jul

[Prefatory Note: the following post is part of an ongoing project assessing the international relations and international law Gulf Crisis that was initiated by a coalition of four countries, issuing a set of 13 demands directed at the government of Qatar. Qatar rejected the demands as contrary to its sovereign rights and international law, and at the same time offered to mediate the dispute. The Gulf Coalition rejected the approach, insisting on Qatar’s compliance, and causing harm to the state of Qatar and those resident in the country by blocking access and abruptly cutting relations. The essay below evaluates this experience from the perspective of whether the confrontation should be treated as a ‘Geopolitical Crime,” itself an innovative and controversial idea that I developed in a lecture at Queen Mary’s University in London at the end of March, 2018.]

 

Confronting Qatar: Gulf Crisis or Geopolitical Crime? Evaluating an Innovative Approach to Confrontational Diplomacy

 

Points of Departure

 

The general designation of the year long confrontation between the Gulf Coalition (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt) and Qatar has been one-sided from its inception. A series of demands were directed at Qatar in the form of an ultimatum. The demands were unreasonable, challenging Qatar’s sovereign rights, and violating the most fundamental precepts of international law. [For detailed demonstration see Falk, “A Normative Evaluation of the Gulf Crisis,” Policy Brief #1, Feb. 2018] The Gulf Coalition refused Qatar’s repeated formal expressions of a willingness to accept a negotiated or a mediated end of the confrontation. Such willingness was particularly forthcoming as Qatar was the wrongfully harmed party due to the policies put into operation by the Gulf Coalition to reinforce its demands with punitive acts. By way of contrast the Gulf Coalition has so far defiantly refused even to consider a diplomatic resolution of the crisis, pushing its agenda by issuing threats and warnings.

 

For these reasons it has been deeply misleading to refer to the inflamed situation involving Qatar as a crisis, which in international relations is a normatively neutral term, referring to a set of circumstances that involves a dangerous and unresolved encounter between adversaries. It is the argument of this policy brief that a more accurate way of grasping the true character of the situation, given the unprovoked wrongfulness and one-sidedness of this confrontation, as well as the disparities in size and power is to treat the confrontation under the rubric of ‘Geopolitical Crime.’

 

The question posed from this perspective is to consider whether the Gulf Coalition should be viewed as responsible for committing an a serious and ongoing Geopolitical Crime, the victims of which are the State of Qatar, and its people, as well third parties and foreign nationals hurt by the blockade and other coercive measures adopted by the Gulf Coalition. To inquire from this perspective first requires clarification as to the nature and status of what is here being called a Geopolitical Crime.

 

The allegations of Geopolitical Crime is certainly not intended to contradict or displace the assertion that Qatar has also been harmed by violations of public international law as a result of Gulf Coalition threats and acts. The reasons to bring up claims of Geopolitical Criminality is to emphasize the possibility of an appropriate informal and more flexible approach to the allocation of responsibility for harm caused and hopefully add diplomatic weight to efforts to end the confrontation and restore normalcy to the sub-regional politics of the Gulf. Alleging a Geopolitical Crime has no implications for waiving or overlooking recourse to several overlapping remedies under international law. [To be discussed in subsequent policy brief]

 

It should also be realized that even without claiming any status of Geopolitical Crime within international criminal law, the nature of the ‘crime’ is controversial, and needs to be appreciated as a proposed innovation with respect to diplomacy and international ethics. Yet it appears to be beneficial step toward creating greater compliance by dominant global and regional actors with widely accepted international norms, as well as mounting a challenge to current patterns of impunity

with respect to the crimes of such actors. As matters now stand, geopolitical actors

form part of the vertical structure of existing world order, which effectively exempts these actors from any obligation to conform to international law whenever its rules collide with the pursuit of their national interests and strategic priorities. In this respect, this kind of deference to power has the effect of making international law a weapon of the strong against the weak. It thus parallels the Un Charter that grants a right of veto to the five Permanent Members of the Security Council, which amounts to telling these five countries that for them adherence to the Un Charter is essentially voluntarywhile for the other 188 or so sovereign states adherence is mandatory. As was said of the Un when established, it is an institution designed to regulate the mice while the lions roam free.

 

In effect, the assertion of Geopolitical Crime offers a modest means for potentially extending the reach of international law to regulate the behavior of the lions, modifying the normative structures that have so far only been effective in keeping weaker states, the mice, either submissive or discouraged from engaging in disruptive behavior. Geopolitics is the vertical dimension of world order, while the relations of ordinary states is the horizontal dimension, subject to the norm of juridical equality, which ignores the relevance of political inequality, subverting law by treating equals unequally. In the current impasse Qatar is denied the protection of its fundamental rights because the Gulf Coalition is taking advantage of its sub-regional geopolitical status to engage in coercive diplomacy while avoiding legal accountability.

 

Yet the proposal to supplement international criminal law by recognizing Geopolitical Crimes is about more than giving Qatar an additional line of political and moral argument by which to vindicate their specific grievances arising from the pressures exerted by the Gulf Coalition. It is a wider response to the realization that throughout history much human suffering, devastating warfare, economic exploitation, social collapse, and political abuse have resulted directly or indirectly from the commission of Geopolitical Crimes, which have not been acknowledged, much less prevented and apprehended. The position taken here is that the delimitation of Geopolitical Crime will have a positive effect on international public opinion and civil society, and could tip the balance of diplomatic activity in concrete ways helpful to victims of Geopolitical Crime. Without such a categorization, there is an operative set of beliefs that geopolitical behavior is completely unregulated and discretionary, and at most is subject to criticism as imprudent or as in this instance

that sub-regional geopolitics should give way to promote regional and global geopolitical goals, either defined by reference to counterterrorism or as establishing a unified front against Iran.

 

 

The nature and relevance of Geopolitical Crimes

An important techical point: Geopolitical Crimes are notnow recognized as such by international criminal law, and could not be made the subject of a valid complaint to the International Criminal Court (ICC). At the same time, Geopolitical Crimes are important markers of wrongful behavior in a variety of international contexts and offer helpful criteria for resolving dangerous and harmful situations of the sort facing the government of Qatar. It may be useful to consider Geopolitical Crimes as a species of illegitimateinternational behavior, and as such, politicallyand morallywrongful, although definitely outside the present scope of legalaccountability.

 

Geopolitical Crimes are wrongful acts of those sovereign states with geopolitical capabilities to adopt policies that deliberately are harmful to other sovereign states and to people. Geopolitical actors can be contrasted with ordinary sovereign states,

although the existence of power disparities are relative and contextual. Thus, the United States may be a geopolitical actor in relation to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Coalition while these actors are geopolitical actors in relation to Qatar, which is the case for the situation here being considered.

 

A geopolitical relationship does not result in the commission of a Geopolitical Crime unless there is evidence of an intention to cause harm or a negligent failure to perceive the probable effects of actions and policies. Among prominent historical examples of Geopolitical Crime is the Versailles ‘peace diplomacy’ as it affected Europe and the Middle East, taking the forms of imposing a punitive peace on Germany after World War I, and privileging colonial ambition over the wellbeing

of resident peoples and societies after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire by imposing European territorial communities in place of the millet system of ethnic and religious communities. The Balfour Declaration and its incorporation in arrangements imposed on Palestine and its majority Arab population is another illustration of a Geopolitical Crime. [For further elaboration of these examples see Falk, ISCI Annual Lecture, Queen Mary’s University London, March 2018] A more recent example of a Geopolitical Crime in the Middle East resulted from the imposition of indiscriminate sanctions on Iraq after the Gulf War of 1991 that produced several hundred thousand civilian deaths, and was maintained in the face of official knowledge of these lethal impacts on innocent lives by the U.S. Government.

 

Extending this analysis to Qatar, the question is whether the Gulf Coalition wrongfully adopted and maintained policies foreseeably harmful to the people and state of Qatar. Both wrongfulness and awareness are elements of the crime. The wrongfulness seems demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt by the explicit nature of the 13 Demands that also confirms awareness that was acknowledged by periodic reassertion of the demands by high officials representing Gulf Coalition governments. The conciliatory responses of the Qatar Governmet to these wrongful demands and accompanying coercive diplomacy strengthens the allegation of Geopolitical Crime.

 

 

The Pros and Cons of Claiming Geopolitical Crime

 

As suggested, describing wrongdoing by geopolitical actors as Geopolitical Crime is controversial, and needs to be carefully evaluated as a general tactic for extending normative constraints to geopolitical actors. The goal is to protect those states and  people harmed by this almost totally unregulated and very damaging forms of international wrongdoing. There are two types of Geopolitical Crimes that are associated with major loopholes in the effective coverage of international law: first, diplomatic initiatives that cause foreseeable harm, yet are not prohibited by existing international law, such as punitive sanctions imposed by a victorious country on a devastated and defeated country; secondly, diplomatic moves that violate existing legal norms, even to the extent of being crimes against humanity or gross violations of international criminal law, but are not enforceable against geopolitical actors and their close allies, creating double standards with respect to the implementation of legal norms.

 

The contention here is that the Gulf Coalition demands and coercive acts fall under the second category of Geopolitical Crime, that is, involving prohibited behavior that is beyond the present reach of enforceablelaw, leaving Qatar seemingly without an effective formal remedy. The appeal of reliance on an allegation of Geopolitical Crime is to awake the conscience of the world to this vulnerability, mobilizing pressures on the Gulf Coalition to drop their demands, restore normal relations by ending blockade, boycott, and any other coercive measures directed at Qatar, and ideally, accept responsibility for all damages sustained by Qatar, Qataris, and third parties caught in this web of wrongdoing.

 

Given this complexity it seems helpful to assess whether the advantages of alleging that the Gulf Coalition behavior is a Geopolitical Crimes outweighs the disadvantages before the leadership of Qatar determines at this stage its best policy options.

 

As far as advantages are concerned, the following factors are relevant:

–to allege a Geopolitical Crime does not require any elaborate preparations or expense;

–the text of the 13 Demands is so manifestly in violation of Qatar’s fundamental rights as to make a persuasive presentation;

–as the allegation is informal it leaves open a path to a diplomatic resolution of the situation, avoiding formal embarrassment of the Gulf Coalition member states;

–relying on a Geopolitical Crime argument makes Qatar’s grievances easy for the media and public to grasp, and puts Qatar’s position in a clear and sympathetic manner;

–advancing this argument is a constructive contribution by way of filling the gaps in international law by a recourse to moral and political considerations, particularly helpful for weaker sovereign states and a step to legal accountability by geopolitical actors who are now able to avoid, or at least evade, legal obligations.

 

As far as disadvantages are concerned, the following factors are relevant:

–the allegation of Geopolitical Crime will be regarded as controversial, and even provocative, and could have the effect of escalating the confrontation, making a solution more difficult to obtain;

–as the concept of Geopolitical Crime is threatening to other major political actors in the world, it might be viewed as an unwelcome, and even dangerous innovation, which could discourage diplomatic attempts by such countries as the United States from continuing to seek reconciliation and compromise among the parties;

–as Geopolitical Crime challenges directly the Gulf Coalition it might obstruct moves toward reconciliation and compromise, as well as make terms of a solution more difficult to agree upon;

–if the Qatar primary goal is to end the confrontation, and nothing more, the emphasis on Geopolitical Crime could make a reconciliation process more complicated as it would likely introduce issues of liability and responsibility with respect to private interests.

 

 

In the end, a choice must be made as to whether at this stage of the encounter with the Gulf Coalition putting forward the Geopolitical Crime argument helps Qatar attain its spectrum of goals including peace, reconciliation, mediation, and harmony among Gulf countries and unity within the Gulf Cooperation Council.

 

Whatever decision is reached it seems helpful to be aware of the Geopolitical Crime approach as possibly applicable to this type of difficult situation facing the leadership of the sovereign state of Qatar.

 

8 June 2018