Thursday, December 08, 2016

America Accelerates its Asian Decline in Afghanistan




A lot of government/media misdirection going on concerning Afghanistan.

I read the tea leaves over at Asia Times in a piece on Ashraf Ghani’s public lovefest with Nadendra Modi at the “Heart of Asia” conference.  Pakistan and China were there, but got precious little “heart”.

The piece is titled “The hole at the Heart of Asia”.

To go beyond the Afghanistan/India link-up covered at AT, here’s my big picture take.

The US is drawing down in Afghanistan.

When the Soviets drew down in Afghanistan, this is what happened to their Kabul client:


Embarrassing.  To be avoided.

So the Obama administration is doing all it can to ensure the continued survival and viability of the Ghani administration in Kabul.

Even though the Taliban is feeling its oats and doing pretty well.

What I see happening:

First:

Determined media management to poor-mouth the Taliban’s prospects to keep Western donors/allies on board with the Ghani government.  Worth noting: Afghanistan is not just an American show; it’s a NATO/Atlanticist project.  Connoisseurs of the magnificent Atlanticist propaganda campaign in Syria will recognize the usual suspects at work.  

The Guardian, as noted in my Asia Times piece, ran a story that excessive civilian casualties inflicted by the Taliban were causing traditional donors to shy away.  Message/hopeful prophecy: Taliban running out of money! On the ropes!

The Guardian spin was disavowed by the alleged source.  Oops.

But Human Rights Watch picked up the “excessive civilian casualties” theme to try to deny the Taliban public relations traction for its own gambit: posing as noble protectors of Afghanistan’s national infrastructure and vital investment (including the big Chinese copper mine).

Second: 

Encourage Taliban division and disarray through targeted assassination, most notably by the drone strike that killed Taliban head Mullah Mansoor inside Pakistan in May.  This was supposed to build on the discombobulating factor of the tardy acknowledgment of the death of Mullah Omar and diminished authority of any successor, and encourage factional infighting and chaos within the Taliban.  Haven’t seen a lot of that, though.  Apparently, the new guy who runs the Taliban is a careful and capable guy.

Third:

Try to lure selected militant factions and warlords into the Kabul government to isolate and weaken the Taliban hardliners.

The big win here was getting buy-in from Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the most notorious pirate and warlord in Afghanistan’s recent history.  He was granted amnesty in a peace deal.  I expect in addition to the usual patriotic/political enticements, considerable treasure was provided by the United States to bring Hekmatyar around.  

Since US and Iran apparently tag teamed to deprive Hekmatyar of his previous nest egg—rumored to be $72 million—after the 2002 invasion put America in the Afghan saddle—interested to speculate what Hekmatyar considers a safe store of value nowadays.  Cash? Gold? Bitcoin?

Hekmatyar has apparently not emerged from hiding yet to enjoy his new status.  Cagy guy.

Fourth:

One of the more sinister elements is the emergence of ISIS just when the US needs it the most as a threat to the Taliban.  I see a similar dynamic in the Philippines, where Duterte is now dealing with a nasty Moro splinter group that has declared its allegiance to ISIS.  A recent discussion of Taliban strategy included this paragraph:

The recently signed peace accord of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of Hizb e Islami, with Afghan government has many connotations for the war theatre in Afghanistan. The former has already announced to support IS against Taliban in 2015. The accord will make anti-Taliban coalition strong to put extra pressure on Taliban insurgent fighters for a settlement with pro-Afghan forces.

[Update: Many thanks to bernard of Moon Of Alabama for pointing me to this fascinating in-depth piece from Afghanistan Analysts Network on how Afghanistan sheltered anti-Taliban/anti-Pakistan government & anti-ISI TTP militants even after they allied with the IS Caliphate in May 2015. So Afghanistan was also a practitioner of the time-honored practice of using disgruntled militants to attack other militants but, perhaps under US pressure, turned on them in July 2015 two months after they pledged allegiance to IS.  I would expect the Afghan (and US) governments will still be in the hunt for useful assets to pressure the Taliban--like Hekmatyar!--but they better not hang out the ISIS shingle. CH 12-8-2016]

Finally:

A full-court press on Pakistan to dial back support for the Taliban, weaken it, and exacerbate the divisions and infighting the US hopes to provoke.  This involves an ostentatious anti-Pakistan tilt and the and the old standby: threatening Islamabad.

Recall that Richard Armitage famously promised to bomb Pakistan back into the Stone Age if it didn’t get with the anti-Taliban program after 9/11.  

However, since this year the US is on its way out of Afghanistan instead of on the way in, a new heavy is needed to deliver the message.

I suspect in 2016 it’s “Stop supporting the Taliban or we greenlight India to unleash hell in every corner of Pakistan”.  As I point out in my AT article, there are ample opportunities for mischief, given the shaky state of Pakistan central government rule in Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan, the retaliatory escalation across the Kashmir Line of Control, unrest in the Tribal Areas and Patunkwa.  You name it, Pakistan’s got it.

Ghani’s tongue-bath for India was very much part of this initiative.

These five elements are the fun, easy parts.

The hard part is handling the People’s Republic of China.  Especially since the United States has rather cavalierly decided that India is the solution to all its South Asian woes: Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Chinese penetration.

Despite Ghani’s overt leap into Modi’s arms, China is still a big part of the Afghanistan equation, both through its backing of Pakistan and its direct involvement in Afghan security and economic development issues.

So Ghani would like to calibrate the policy so he’s not facing a hostile China across the border.  And the United States and India are trying to get the PRC to join them in pressuring Pakistan.

Trouble is, I think the toothpaste’s out of the tube.  By now the PRC regards Modi as fundamentally hostile to the Chinese project in Pakistan, indeed any significant Chinese presence in South Asia.  The PRC probably gives less weight to official Indian government handjobs and pays more attention to India’s current interest in playing the Tibetan and Uyghur separatist cards. 

It also probably regards Modi as fundamentally hostile to the continued viability of Pakistan.  The Western commentariat blithely ignores Modi’s irredentist attitude toward Pakistan, but the core belief of the RSS and the BJP is that Partition was a crime against Mother India (Bharat Mata) and a treasonous capitulation to the Muslim minority, and Pakistan, more than a failed state, lacks the legitimacy or right to survival of a genuine nation.

So the PRC will resist an expanded role for India in Afghanistan (which would take away the famous Pakistani “strategic depth” and expose it to the Indian threat from both east and west) and is unlikely to decisively support the call for Pakistan to cut off the Taliban—its key strategic asset and, now, bulwark against Indian influence, in Afghanistan.  

At the same time, I doubt Modi lacks the suicidal impulses displayed by the Soviet Union and the United States, and will not decisively and overtly intervene in Afghanistan to buttress its preferred regime in Kabul.  Another thing that the Western commentariat rather amusingly chooses to ignore is the rather absurd picture of a non-neighboring Hindu state—one presided, moreover, by the notorious alleged enabler of an anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat in 2002—presenting itself as the natural ally of Islamic and Turkic Afghanistan.

So, I doubt that the Taliban will be weakened enough to come into the Afghan government on Ghani’s terms, or that the Taliban will strengthen sufficiently to force itself into Kabul on its terms.

In other words, my prediction is for more bloody muddling in Afghanistan as the Taliban and Ghani and Pakistan and India and the PRC jostle for advantage.  

In my opinion, Afghanistan remains the most likely venue for the first major piece of Chinese military power projection since the 1979 Vietnam invasion.  If the security situation genuinely degrades—or if the PRC decides India is gaining too much of an upper hand and an Afghan security crisis needs to be fomented to justify an injection of PRC power—I wouldn’t be too surprised if some kind of PLA military presence materialized in northern Afghanistan.

Nobody in their right mind wants to put troops into Afghanistan.  But the PRC will, in my opinion, if it feels it has to in order to bring decisive force to bear where needed to keep a lid on things in Xinjiang.

To me, however, the current wild card is India.

If Modi decides that the US anti-Pakistan tilt is a rapidly wasting asset—Trump’s notorious phone call with Pakistan’s Sharif probably range some major alarm bells in New Delhi—he may be tempted to escalate his anti-Pakistan campaign and do as much damage as he can before the US tries to restrain India.

I would like to conclude this piece with the following observation.

In response to its declining strategic advantage, the United States has decided to abandon its position as balancer and restrainer of regional powers.  India and Japan are being encouraged to act as regional hegemons with US backing in order to restrain China in return for participating in Asian security initiatives dear to America’s heart (the “pivot”; the stabilization of Afghanistan).  

In bad news for the United States, both India and Japan are not obedient clients in the US “principled international order”.  They are now revisionist powers, i.e. they reject the US World War II victor/lawgiver narrative for Asia in favor of one centered on Japan as an Asian leader and decolonizer and independent India as a victory over Atlanticist imperialism.  They will exploit US backing to the hilt, but deference to US policy will be increasingly “honored in the breach” as they say in Shakespeare-land.

In other words:

WE HAVE GIVEN THE INITIATIVE IN ASIAN POLICY TO RISING REGIONAL HEGEMONS WHO ARE EQUALLY OPPOSED TO US AS WELL AS CHINESE DOMINATION.

In my opinion, this US gambit will be remembered as the ruinous miscalculation that 86'd the US position in Asia.

So it's worth the screaming-font treatment. 

“Asia run by Asians” is probably a good thing.  But probably not a good thing for US dreams of its “Pacific Century”.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Is America Ready for a War on White Privilege?

The answer might surprise you!


In my opinion, all political campaigns are identity based.  Shaking the money tree to the tune of $1 billion + it now takes to run a national campaign demands access to big money, deference to capital, and a willingness to promote political loyalties on the basis of identity, not class.  George Soros is not going to underwrite an anti-plutocrat jacquerie marching on Washington.

Post-election there has been a lot of defensive bleating by mainstream Dems that they did not run an identity politics campaign i.e. one that trafficked primarily in ethnic/gender allegiances to attract voters.

There is considerable spittle devoting to rebutting the idea that Clintonism was Vote Your Vag + African American tactical voting.   “Issues, ability, and values brought the voters to Clinton” is the refrain.

The campaign spin was that Clinton, a tired pol with more baggage than an Indian passenger train-- and who had interrupted her self-declared mission as champion of the oppressed for a resume-polishing stint as warmonger at the State Department--was Jesus in a pantsuit and the primary task of her campaign would be restraining the American public from skipping the election and making her president by acclamation.

Judging by the immortal exchange at Harvard between Kellyanne Conway and Jennifer Palmieri ("’I would rather lose than win the way you guys did,’ Palmieri said, her voice shaking” per NPR.  Well, Wish. Granted.) it looks like the Clinton campaign had partaken intemperately of its own Kool-Aid. 

Trouble is, Clinton was an establishment pol promoting a rather murky elitist and globalist agenda that pushed zero nationalist and populist buttons.  She was the candidate of the 1% and she needed help of some of the 99% to push her across the electoral finish line.  She and her handlers chose identity, not soak-the-rich faux populism as her path to the White House.  

Clinton’s strategists eventually chose identity-lite for the general election campaign, targeting voters whose idea of heaven is attending continuous performances of Hamilton for the rest of eternity, instead of unambiguously throwing out red meat to the blocs she was targeting to elect her.

 Coulda worked.  Shoulda worked.  Except Clinton was a clumsy campaigner with a less than galvanizing message.  Trump, a talented carny barker, ran his much narrower identity politics campaign as an outsider, igniting the bonfire of white anxiety and stoking it to white heat.  And, pending the outcome of the recounts, he did good enough to win.

Unsurprisingly, the Democratic Hamiltonians hang their hats on the coulda/should/mighta/might still.

This comes up a lot, complete with torrents of spicy rhetorical lava, when Sandernistas play the class card and claim their guy wudda won with a class-based appeal that would have lured a decisive number of white males into the Democratic camp.

Prudence might dictate looking at Sanders’ socialism-lite as a way to advantageously slice and dice the white electoral gristle.  

Inside the Democratic Party at this moment, however, vitriol carries the day as champions of the “woke” coalition—energized by African-Americans who, with the endorsement of John Lewis, placed all their eggs in the Clinton basket—point the finger of blame at everybody and anyone but themselves for failing to deliver the “Expect Us” rainbow triumph, and furiously resist Sandernista white “class” outreach.  

Problematically, repudiation of the Sandernista claim involves tarring both Sanders and the voters he was targeting as irredeemable, despicable racists who would have been deaf to any principled class-based appeal.

This kind of flamethrowing works OK if you won the election; but if you’ve lost, and find it necessary to dismiss almost half of the electorate as either Nazis or deluded fellow travelers—and sustain eye-bulging outrage for the duration of Trump’s administration-- it creates a certain awkwardness.

It’s also identity politics.  You can call it “identity politics by default: they started it!” but it’s basically “Admirables” vs. “Deplorables”  "Adorables" vs. "Deplorables". [Can't believed I missed that one first time around--CH, 12/6/16]  .Unity is derided as appeasement and the political dynamics are being driven toward increased polarization by a combination of money, self-interest, hurt pride, conviction, and calculation.  Judging by my Twitter timeline, not an infallible indicator I’ll admit, defining and running against the Trump Republican Party as bigoted scum is seen by some activists as a winning strategy as well as a moral imperative.

Sooner or later, the Democratic Party is going to have to decide whether an overt anti-white-male-racist posture is going to deliver the winning combination of advantageous demographics, fired-up base, and big-money support.  2018 (mid-terms) or 2020 (presidential)?  Or maybe sometime later?

In other words…

When will the War on White Privilege be fought?

Well, it was already roadtested during the primaries.  Hillary Clinton’s surrogates used it to eviscerate Bernie Sanders in the southern states, and POC activists still use it to deny Sandernistas a spot at the DNC strategy table/feeding trough.

White privilege issues took a dirt nap during the general, when avoiding the alienation of white voters nationwide took precedence over nailing down black Democratic support during the crucial southern primaries.

But I saw inklings of it back in June, when John Lewis organized a sit-in of Democrats on the floor of the House of Representatives to protest Republican inaction on gun control following the Pulse nightclub massacre.

Lewis was attempting to amplify the call President Barack Obama made for gun control legislation in his eulogy for Reverend Clement Pinckney, one of eight people, all African-Americans, massacred in a church in Charleston.  Obama framed the Charleston killings as a tragedy but also a catharsis, one that would bridge racial divides and unite Americans in a shared abhorrence of gun violence.

None of us can or should expect a transformation in race relations overnight.  Every time something like this happens, somebody says we have to have a conversation about race.  We talk a lot about race.  There’s no shortcut.  And we don’t need more talk.  (Applause.)  None of us should believe that a handful of gun safety measures will prevent every tragedy.  It will not.  

But it would be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allowed ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again. 

The political conditions were deemed to be ripe, since demographic and electoral shifts had forced the NRA in a deep, virtually monogamous relationship with the Republican Party and allowed the Democrats to seize the moral and political high ground as both national unifiers and gun control advocates.

The opportunity to amplify African American social and political aspirations through the broader issue of gun control was, I expect, seen as attractive both by African American and Democratic political strategists.

At Slate, Jamelle Bouie laid out the thinking:

[N]either [Pelosi] nor her caucus has to cater to vulnerable Democrats in the rural South or West. The kinds of voters Democrats once tried to attract by shying away from gun politics are Republicans now. And Democrats don’t believe they need to reach out to them. The politics, they argue, have turned… this past week is the clearest possible evidence that we're watching a new kind of Democratic Party, one in which a young black representative from Brooklyn named Hakeem Jeffries, speaking shortly before midnight, invokes Martin Luther King and Bull Connor in a call-and-response with his colleagues. One that's changing.

The GOP,at least in the eyes of liberal critics, had in contrast committed itself irrevocably to serving as the party of the white as the Democrats scooped up the rest of the rainbow.  

This understanding—that the Democrats were already on the winning side in the identity politics contest—perhaps provided the pretext for officially dismissing the overt influence of identity politics considerations and focus on ladling out Clinton pap in the general election instead.

 Beyond the predictable exploitation of the Republicans’ slavish devotion to the agenda of the NRA, there was an interesting kulturkampf subtext: that the dead hand of white conservative America was holding back the real America by its domination of institutions like the US Congress, which is pretty much lily-white.

In fact, a rather compelling case was made that, thanks to the vital alliance between the NRA and conservative Republicans, collateral damage of the effort to maintain GOP dominance was the unnecessary deaths of thousands of Americans due to gun violence.

Or as Bill Moyers put it:

Once again the Republican leaders of Congress have been revealed for what they are: useful stooges of the gun merchants who would sell to anyone — from the mentally ill to a terrorist-in-waiting to a lurking mass murderer. And the Republican Party once again has shown itself an enabler of death, the enemy of life, a threat to the republic itself.

Human decency as well as American progress, therefore, would dictate that these old white guys and their reactionary and self-serving agenda get booted from office and letting a new team dedicated to pushing America forward instead of holding it back take over.

It was a seductive narrative of what I like to call “White Twilight/Black Dawn!”  It exploited the rhetoric of intersectionality—shared experience of oppression as a defining political identity—to permit the African American community, as the prime wronged American ethnic bloc, to claim a position of moral and political leadership.

Of course, white privilege is sustained not only by racist domination of powerful institutions, but also by white votes, and direct confrontations with white political power, particularly on behalf of African Americans who compose only 14% of the US electorate, tend not to go well, particularly in national elections.  

African American activists’ ambitions to punch above their weight are increasingly hampered by their limited demographic clout and also by perceptions that their political strength has plateaued and the growing Hispanic demographic component will displace African Americans in the party league tables and hearts of political planners.  Hence the obsession with the “intersectional” force-multiplier narrative.

Add to that disturbing expressions of black militancy surrounding the shootings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, and I think a conscious decision was made by Clinton strategists in the summer of 2016 to soft-pedal racially-inflected attacks on white privilege (like Occupy stunts in Congress led by black male politicians!) and go with the positive but apparently fatally mushy “rainbow coalition” alignment (hugging black moms + Hamilton!).

The electoral results were not pretty.  Now the question is, rethink or double-down on race-inflected Democratic identity politics?

Is there a political future in an open, polarizing political campaign against conservative whites founded on the idea that they must surrender control of the public institutions they currently dominate?

Let it be said I am a believer in the fact of white privilege, as well as its beneficiary. 

There is a special circle in Unzworld Comment Section Hell devoted to flambéing folks who don’t understand that, far from reveling in unearned privilege, Caucasians are not enjoying anywhere near the advantages merited by their genetic and cultural endowments.  Well, fire up the barbie.

But…just for the sake of argument…let’s assume that the idea that pruning the white deadwood becomes a top priority for political activists.  How would that work?

Pretty well, I think.

The big story over the next thirty five years is the inexorable decline of the white vote from majority to plurality.  That kind of demographic trend is bloody chum in the political shark tank.

Some day some opportunistic and charismatic pol is going to stand up and sell the message that it’s time for the old whites to step aside and give the young people of color their shot.

Political happenstance will dictate, I think, how much racial justice and social progress we get, and how much co-option and corruption.  And I have a feeling that Hispanic as well as white factors will continue to marginalize black political clout.

But it’s not too early to think about what the war on white privilege might entail, and what choices might be made.