If one scans this week’s headlines they are all gloom and doom, running from despair and humiliation to disaster and debacle. But rarely do you see calls for a fundamental reset of the failed U.S. foreign policy of perpetual wars and a rethink the global leadership paradigm.
This is not surprising, since the mainstream media are, with rare exceptions, an essential part of the powerful lobby MICIMATT (the term coined by the former CIA analyst Raymond McGovern, who was responsible for Ronald Reagan’s morning briefs) that is actually in charge of this policy.
MICIMATT means “Military-Industrial-Congress-Intelligence-Media-Academia-Think-Tank” complex. Here are some results of its activity for the last 20 years.
According to the Watson Institute for International & Public Affairs of Brown University: over 801,000 people have died in the post-9/11 wars due to direct war violence, and several times as many due to the reverberating effects of war; over 335,000 civilians have been killed as a result of the fighting; 38 million — the number of war refugees and displaced persons. These horrific numbers do not include wounded but they are usually several times higher than those who are killed. According to Newsweek, “in 20 years of fighting, there have been almost 11,000 American deaths (including contractors) and more than 53,000 have been physically broken, while countless others suffer from traumatic brain injuries and other post-traumatic disorders.”
These numbers account only for American victims. Imagine their magnitude on the world scale. The author of this story, William Arkin, concludes that “after two decades of fighting, in fact, not one country in the Middle East—not one country in the world—can argue that it is safer than it was before 9/11. Every country that is now a part of the expanding battlefield of perpetual war is an even greater disaster zone than it was two decades ago.”
When I repeat Ronald Reagan’s famous “you ain’t seen nothing yet” I have in mind today’s visit of the Ukrainian delegation to Washington, where they will beg for more money and arms as well as doubling their efforts to drag America into yet another war, this time with nuclear Russia.
Needless to say, the MICIMATT will do everything possible to accommodate the visitors. The Ukrainian project was theirs in the first place. The same political technology that was used in Afghanistan to create, arm, and finance the Taliban against the Soviets is being now used to turn Ukraine against Russia. It started from the first day after collapse of the USSR 30 years ago. This time it is even more cynical than in Afghanistan, since we are talking about attempts to turn into enemies two Christian countries closely linked by centuries-long family, religious, economic, and cultural ties. I placed “family” in the first place, since it has always been my belief that it is one of the most precious western values, but it looks like it is not so for MICIMATT.
Russia is accused of annexing the Crimean peninsula and fomenting rebellion in the Donbas area, but besides being historically Russian territories with an ethnic Russian majority population it was a Western-backed coup in February 2014 that provoked Moscow into these actions. There are endless analyses from people in the know who present a clear picture of what happened at that time.
Just a few examples: “It’s not Russia that’s pushed Ukraine to the brink of war”, – says Seumas Milne in the Guardian, – “The reality is that, after two decades of eastward NATO expansion, this crisis was triggered by the west’s attempt to pull Ukraine decisively into its orbit and defense structure, via an explicitly anti-Moscow EU association agreement. No Russian government could have acquiesced in such a threat from the territory that was at the heart of both Russia and the Soviet Union. Putin’s absorption of Crimea and support for the rebellion in eastern Ukraine is clearly defensive, and the red line is now drawn: the east of Ukraine, at least, is not going to be swallowed up by NATO or the EU.”
This is from Ted Carpenter of the CATO Institute: “The extent of the Obama administration’s meddling in Ukraine’s politics was breathtaking… it was startling to have diplomatic representatives of a foreign country—and a country that routinely touts the need to respect democratic processes and the sovereignty of other nations—to be scheming about removing an elected government and replacing it with officials meriting U.S. approval…It was a grotesque distortion to portray the events in Ukraine as a purely indigenous, popular uprising. The Nuland‐Pyatt telephone conversation and other actions confirm that the United States was considerably more than a passive observer to the turbulence. Instead, U.S. officials were blatantly meddling in Ukraine. Such conduct was utterly improper. The United States had no right to try to orchestrate political outcomes in another country—especially one on the border of another great power.”
As Peter Kuznick from American University noted: “The U.S.-backed Ukrainian coup was the product of decades of U.S. maneuvering in its ill-fated quest for unipolarity. Zbigniew Brzezinski had written in his 1997 book Grand Chessboard that “Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire.” Other neocons like Wolfowitz, Libby, and Hadley shared this view. So when Bush called for NATO expansion to Ukraine and Georgia in 2008, the game was over so far as Putin was concerned. U.S. Ambassador to Russia William Burns, the current CIA director, sent Washington a confidential cable with the subject line “Nyet mean nyet: Russia’s NATO enlargement redlines.”
John Mearsheimer from the University of Chicago wrote this in the Foreign Affairs:
“The United States and its European allies share most of the responsibility for the Ukrainian crisis. The taproot of the trouble is NATO enlargement, the central element of a larger strategy to move Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit…For Putin, the illegal overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elected and pro-Russian president—which he rightly labeled a ‘coup’—was the final straw. He responded by taking Crimea, a peninsula he feared would host a NATO naval base.”
Finally, here is the opinion of the former U.S. Ambassador to USSR Jack Matlock in Time magazine titled: “Let Russia Take Crimea.”
“The fact is, like it or not, Ukraine is almost certainly better off without Crimea than with it. Nothing weakens a nation more than holding territory whose residents prefer to belong to another country. Though they may be difficult for all relevant parties to accept, the premises of a solution to the Ukrainian mess are clear: 1) The new constitution should provide for a federal structure of government giving at least as many rights to its provinces as American states have; 2) The Russian language must be given equal status with Ukrainian; and 3) There must be guarantees that Ukraine will not become a member of NATO, or any other military alliance that excludes Russia.”
Apparently, none of the participants of the pathetic “Crimean Platform” that met on August 23 in Kyiv to discuss how to return Crimea to Ukraine paid any attention to the opinion of the wise American diplomat. Instead of talking to ordinary folks in Crimea they preferred to engage in a fruitless discussion organized by the comic actor-turned President Zelensky – who is desperately trying to appease radical nationalists and the neo-Nazis who strikingly resemble their Afghan Taliban prototypes. Not a single Crimean Platform participant, or for that matter any Washington official, has criticized Zelensky for his water blockade to Crimea to the people that he claims belong to Ukraine.
Depriving people from drinking water is an international crime but it looks like they preferred to ignore it. No one raised alarm when the head of the “Servant of the People” pro-presidential faction David Arahamiya and Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany Andriy Melnyk warned Kyiv may be forced to acquire nuclear weapons to safeguard the country’s security if NATO does not accede to its membership demand.
Biden has a choice: build on the strategic stability talks with Putin that would be beneficial for both nations and mankind or listen to MICIMATT, and jump from Afghan to Ukrainian debacle, this time threatening Armageddon.
What Marine Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller posted on Facebook a couple of days after my interview put flesh on my observations regarding senior U.S. military officers — whether they are just dumb or insubordinate or both. (See: https://raymcgovern.com/2021/08/27/rot-at-the-top/ )
The courageous Scheller should be at Dover AFB today to speak the grim truth — there is no escaping it — that his fellow Marines and the others died in vain, and that no one is likely to be held accountable. AND that it is all foreordained to happen again, if the media put the inevitable “patriotic” gloss on the return of the bodies in the “transfer cases” known, back in the day, as coffins or caskets.
During Monday’s interview, we were able to discuss grim truths about military leadership at the top (or the lack thereof) and name some names as to who should be held to account. We talked about the vestigial organ called “National Intelligence Estimates” NIEs, and why they have fallen into disuse (more on that later); about how the prostitution of intelligence on Vietnam, which my colleague Sam Adams and I observed up close and personal and which ALWAYS happens when the U.S. Army is at war; about how you defeat terrorism (hint: it’s like eliminating malaria); about how Obama let himself be pushed around by the likes of Petraeus and Gates (and Biden, by the likes of McKenzie, Austin, and Milley); about how Daniel Hale is a fitting recipient of the 20th award by Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence; and about the key role played by the corporate media in defending culprit corporate-generals — media and generals both key parts of the MICIMATT — Military-Industrial-Congressional-Intelligence-Media-Academia-Think-Tank complex.
The discussion seemed to be bordering on hopeless, so I closed with a word of encouragement, citing I. F. Stone and his dismal-sounding, but nonetheless uplifting words. Perhaps they can inspire those of us dedicated to spreading truth around for as long as we can:
“The only kinds of fights worth fighting are those you’re going to lose, because somebody has to fight them and lose and lose and lose until someday, somebody who believes as you do wins.”
Meanwhile, we have to try to keep some balance — and even some sense of humor, as we continue to keep on keepin’ on. Required most of all, I believe, is solidarity. I recall a large banner at the Catholic Worker’s Jonah House in Baltimore. “The first duty of authentic discipleship is to support one another.” Let’s do that.
Do today’s bombings at Kabul airport have signs of a false flag attack? If prior intelligence was so accurate, why was attack not nipped in bud? Key question as always: CUI BONO – who profits from killing Americans at this point?
Biden better ask it, before he gets sucked back in.
Kiriakou knew Rizzo well and describes him as “the unapologetic godfather of the CIA’s torture program, a monstrous crime against humanity that he defended unabashedly until his death”. Kiriakou found himself atop the CIA’s WANTED list when he confirmed publicly that the CIA had been carrying out a White House-approved torture program, using techniques virtually identical to those in the Gestapo Handbuch. He (Kiriakou, not Rizzo) ended up having to do two years in prison.
So, why did Fordham Law School honor John Rizzo by inviting him to discuss, on Jan. 30, 2014, his book-length unapologetic apologia for the role he played in “dark-side” crimes like torture — including his passing along the Bush Justice Department “legal” opinions approving waterboarding, for example. Rizzo’s performance at Fordham was … well, it might be described as an “extraordinary rendition” – a shameless, ethically vacuous defense of the indefensible. The video of that event (sans a question I asked of Rizzo) can be seen at: http://www.centeronnationalsecurity.org/node/1049 .
Mr. Rizzo, I imagine you are feeling quite affirmed at being invited to Fordham, ‘The Jesuit University of New York City.’ I imagine President Rev. Joseph McShane, SJ had a hand in bringing you here, and in your book you make it clear that you share an admiration for Fordham alumnus John Brennan, now Director of the CIA. As for Brennan, though, not all were happy when McShane gave Brennan the honor of giving the university Commencement address in May 2012.”
“A graduating senior expressed his qualms to McShane, in the presence of others, about Brennan’s role in torture and in drone killings. McShane’s response was not what I learned in Fordham College 55 years ago. I had learned that torture inhabited the same moral category as rape and slavery – intrinsically evil, always wrong. Fordham’s president told the graduating senior, ‘Well, we don’t live in a black and white world, we live in a gray world.’
“Mr. Rizzo, am I right in thinking you must feel affirmed at being invited here, and at sharing President McShane’s views on torture as a gray area?”
It is generally frowned upon to speak ill of the dead. So, let’s turn our attention to today. Rizzo is gone, but so many of his accomplices are still at large, populating the media, as well as academia.
To designate what the Military-Industrial Complex (MIC), about which President Eisenhower warned us, has now become, I coined MICIMATT — the Military-Industrial-Congressional-Intelligence- Media-Academia-Think-Tank complex (an acronym endorsed by the likes of the late Stephen F. Cohen and Pepe Escobar). A few friends have advised me to drop the “M” for Media (no way will I do that! A controlled media is a sine quo non), and to cut “…Academia-Think-Tank …” from the end of the acronym. (Again, no way!)
Here’s just one example of how it works these days: “journalist” Ken Dilanian, when he was writing for the Los Angeles Times, regularly solicited reaction and comment on his draft articles from the CIA BEFORE publishing them. (Thanks to an FOIA request, we have exchanges of emails between Dilanian and John Brennan’s PR friends at CIA.)
At Fordham Law School’s think tank “Center on National Security”, Dilanian appears in the above photo with his nihil-obstat “fact-checker” Brennan, putting visual flesh on the “…Media-Academia-Think-Tank” part of the MICIMATT.
“Moral Decline and Political Servitude”
It is not as though the Jesuits who run Fordham had not been warned by one of their own prophets. In To Dwell in Peace, published 34 years ago, Daniel Berrigan, SJ, wrote of “the fall of a great enterprise,” the Jesuit university. He recorded his “hunch” that the university would end up “among those structures whose moral decline and political servitude signalize a larger falling away of the culture itself.”
Berrigan lamented that “highly placed” churchmen [violated] “the Christian tradition of nonviolence, as well as the secular boast of disinterested pursuit of truth. These are reduced to bombast, hauled out for formal occasions, believed by no one, practiced by no one.”
And Dan wrote his book well before Fordham gave a platform to aficionados of torture and “extraordinary rendition” and before Fordham awarded CIA Director John Brennan an honorary “Doctorate in Humane Letters” (sic) and named him “Distinguished Fellow for Global Security” at the Law School. The values of Rizzo and Brennan were not the same as the ones I learned at Fordham College, from which I graduated in 1961. The ethics drummed into me had not yet become “quaint” or “obsolete”.
I did not have to compromise those values while working as a CIA analyst working on Soviet foreign policy. But after retirement, and watch the on-steroids corruption of the entire agency under Cheney, Bush, and go-along-to-get-along directors, I had to find some symbolic way to dissociate from the CIA.
As an act of conscience, on March 2, 2006 I returned the Intelligence Commendation Medallion given me at retirement for “especially meritorious service”. I explained, “I do not want to be associated, however remotely, with an agency engaged in torture.”
By Sarah Chayes August 15, 2021 Updated: a day ago
“Really, all you need to know about Afghanistan” -Andrew Cockburn
I’ve been silent for a while. I’ve been silent about Afghanistan for longer. But too many things are going unsaid.
I won’t try to evoke the emotions, somehow both swirling and yet leaden: the grief, the anger, the sense of futility. Instead, as so often before, I will use my mind to shield my heart. And in the process, perhaps help you make some sense of what has happened.
For those of you who don’t know me, here is my background — the perspective from which I write tonight.
I covered the fall of the Taliban for NPR, making my way into their former capital, Kandahar, in December 2001, a few days after the collapse of their regime. Descending the last great hill into the desert city, I saw a dusty ghost town. Pickup trucks with rocket-launchers strapped to the struts patrolled the streets. People pulled on my militia friends’ sleeves, telling them where to find a Taliban weapons cache, or a last hold-out. But most remained indoors.
It was Ramadan. A few days later, at the holiday ending the month-long fast, the pent-up joy erupted. Kites took to the air. Horsemen on gorgeous, caparisoned chargers tore across a dusty common in sprint after sprint, with a festive audience cheering them on. This was Kandahar, the Taliban heartland. There was no panicked rush for the airport.
I reported for a month or so, then passed off to Steve Inskeep, now Morning Edition host. Within another couple of months, I was back, not as a reporter this time, but to try actually to do something. I stayed for a decade. I ran two non-profits in Kandahar, living in an ordinary house and speaking Pashtu, and eventually went to work for two commanders of the international troops, and then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (You can read about that time, and its lessons, in my first two books, The Punishment of Virtue and Thieves of State.)
From that standpoint — speaking as an American, as an adoptive Kandahari, and as a former senior U.S. government official — here are the key factors I see in today’s climax of a two-decade long fiasco:
Afghan government corruption, and the U.S. role enabling and reinforcing it. The last speaker of the Afghan parliament, Rahman Rahmani, I recently learned, is a multimillionaire, thanks to monopoly contracts to provide fuel and security to U.S. forces at their main base, Bagram. Is this the type of government people are likely to risk their lives to defend?
Two decades ago, young people in Kandahar were telling me how the proxy militias American forces had armed and provided with U.S. fatigues were shaking them down at checkpoints. By 2007, delegations of elders would visit me — the only American whose door was open and who spoke Pashtu so there would be no intermediaries to distort or report their words. Over candied almonds and glasses of green tea, they would get to some version of this: “The Taliban hit us on this cheek, and the government hits us on that cheek.” The old man serving as the group’s spokesman would physically smack himself in the face.
I and too many other people to count spent years of our lives trying to convince U.S. decision-makers that Afghans could not be expected to take risks on behalf of a government that was as hostile to their interests as the Taliban were. Note: it took me a while, and plenty of my own mistakes, to come to that realization. But I did.
For two decades, American leadership on the ground and in Washington proved unable to take in this simple message. I finally stopped trying to get it across when, in 2011, an interagency process reached the decision that the U.S. would not address corruption in Afghanistan. It was now explicit policy to ignore one of the two factors that would determine the fate of all our efforts. That’s when I knew today was inevitable.
Americans like to think of ourselves as having valiantly tried to bring democracy to Afghanistan. Afghans, so the narrative goes, just weren’t ready for it, or didn’t care enough about democracy to bother defending it. Or we’ll repeat the cliche that Afghans have always rejected foreign intervention; we’re just the latest in a long line.
I was there. Afghans did not reject us. They looked to us as exemplars of democracy and the rule of law. They thought that’s what we stood for.
And what did we stand for? What flourished on our watch? Cronyism, rampant corruption, a Ponzi scheme disguised as a banking system, designed by U.S. finance specialists during the very years that other U.S. finance specialists were incubating the crash of 2008. A government system where billionaires get to write the rules.
Is that American democracy?
Pakistan. The involvement of that country’s government — in particular its top military brass — in its neighbor’s affairs is the second factor that would determine the fate of the U.S. mission.
You may have heard that the Taliban first emerged in the early 1990s, in Kandahar. That is incorrect. I conducted dozens of conversations and interviews over the course of years, both with actors in the drama and ordinary people who watched events unfold in Kandahar and in Quetta, Pakistan. All of them said the Taliban first emerged in Pakistan.
The Taliban were a strategic project of the Pakistani military intelligence agency, the ISI. It even conducted market surveys in the villages around Kandahar, to test the label and the messaging. “Taliban” worked well. The image evoked was of the young students who apprenticed themselves to village religious leaders. They were known as sober, studious, and gentle. These Taliban, according to the ISI messaging, had no interest in government. They just wanted to get the militiamen who infested the city to stop extorting people at every turn in the road.
Both label and message were lies.
Within a few years, Usama bin Laden found his home with the Taliban, in their de facto capital, Kandahar, hardly an hour’s drive from Quetta. Then he organized the 9/11 attacks. Then he fled to Pakistan, where we finally found him, living in a safe house in Abbottabad, practically on the grounds of the Pakistani military academy. Even knowing what I knew, I was shocked. I never expected the ISI to be that brazen.
Meanwhile, ever since 2002, the ISI had been re-configuring the Taliban: helping it regroup, training and equipping units, developing military strategy, saving key operatives when U.S. personnel identified and targeted them. That’s why the Pakistani government got no advance warning of the Bin Laden raid. U.S. officials feared the ISI would warn him.
By 2011, my boss, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Taliban were a “virtual arm of the ISI.”
And now this.
Do we really suppose the Taliban, a rag-tag, disjointed militia hiding out in the hills, as we’ve so long been told, was able to execute such a sophisticated campaign plan with no international backing? Where do we suppose that campaign plan came from? Who gave the orders? Where did all those men, all that materiel, the endless supply of money to buy off local Afghan army and police commanders, come from? How is it that new officials were appointed in Kandahar within a day of the city’s fall? The new governor, mayor, director of education, and chief of police all speak with a Kandahari accent. But no one I know has ever heard of them. I speak with a Kandahari accent, too. Quetta is full of Pashtuns — the main ethic group in Afghanistan — and people of Afghan descent and their children. Who are these new officials?
Over those same years, by the way, the Pakistani military also provided nuclear technology to Iran and North Korea. But for two decades, while all this was going on, the United States insisted on considering Pakistan an ally. We still do.
Hamid Karzai. During my conversations in the early 2000s about the Pakistani government’s role in the Taliban’s initial rise, I learned this breathtaking fact: Hamid Karzai, the U.S. choice to pilot Afghanistan after we ousted their regime, was in fact the go-between who negotiated those very Taliban’s initial entry into Afghanistan in 1994.
I spent months probing the stories. I spoke to servants in the Karzai household. I spoke to a former Mujahideen commander, Mullah Naqib, who admitted to being persuaded by the label and the message Karzai was peddling. The old commander also admitted he was at his wits’ end at the misbehavior of his own men. I spoke with his chief lieutenant, who disagreed with his tribal elder and commander, and took his own men off to neighboring Helmand Province to keep fighting. I heard that Karzai’s own father broke with him over his support for this ISI project. Members of Karzai’s household and Quetta neighbors told me about Karzai’s frequent meetings with armed Taliban at his house there, in the months leading up to their seizure of power.
And lo. Karzai abruptly emerges from this vortex, at the head of a “coordinating committee” that will negotiate the Taliban’s return to power? Again?
It was like a repeat of that morning of May, 2011, when I first glimpsed the pictures of the safe-house where Usama bin Laden had been sheltered. Once again — even knowing everything I knew — I was shocked. I was shocked for about four seconds. Then everything seemed clear.
It is my belief that Karzai may have been a key go-between negotiating this surrender, just as he did in 1994, this time enlisting other discredited figures from Afghanistan’s past, as they were useful to him. Former co-head of the Afghan government, Abdullah Abdullah, could speak to his old battle-buddies, the Mujahideen commanders of the north and west. You may have heard some of their names as they surrendered their cities in recent days: Ismail Khan, Dostum, Atta Muhammad Noor. The other person mentioned together with Karzai is Gulbuddin Hikmatyar — a bona fide Taliban commander, who could take the lead in some conversations with them and with the ISI.
As Americans have witnessed in our own context — the #MeToo movement, for example, the uprising after the murder of George Floyd, or the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol — surprisingly abrupt events are often months or years in the quiet making. The abrupt collapse of 20 years’ effort in Afghanistan is, in my view, one of those cases.
Thinking this hypothesis through, I find myself wondering: what role did U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad play? And old friend of Karzai’s, he was the one who ran the negotiations with the Taliban for the Trump Administration, in which the Afghan government was forced to make concession after concession. Could President Biden truly have found no one else for that job, to replace an Afghan-American with obvious conflicts of interest, who was close to former Vice President Dick Cheney and who lobbied in favor of an oil pipeline through Afghanistan when the Taliban were last in power?
Self-Delusion. How many times did you read stories about the Afghan security forces’ steady progress? How often, over the past two decades, did you hear some U.S. official proclaim that the Taliban’s eye-catching attacks in urban settings were signs of their “desperation” and their “inability to control territory?” How many heart-warming accounts did you hear about all the good we were doing, especially for women and girls?
Who were we deluding? Ourselves?
What else are we deluding ourselves about?
One final point. I hold U.S. civilian leadership, across four administrations, largely responsible for today’s outcome. Military commanders certainly participated in the self-delusion. I can and did find fault with generals I worked for or observed. But the U.S. military is subject to civilian control. And the two primary problems identified above — corruption and Pakistan — are civilian issues. They are not problems men and women in uniform can solve. But faced with calls to do so, no top civilian decision-maker was willing to take either of these problems on. The political risk, for them, was too high.
Today, as many of those officials enjoy their retirement, who is suffering the cost?