Monthly Archives: June 2012

Mexicans Believe that the US is Backing the Sinaloa Cartel

Great piece in FP on the subject.

Many Mexicans see US collusion with the Sinaloa cartel as obvious. 

Revelations like these, combined with the failure of the Mexican government to capture Chapo and El Mayo, lead people like Bojórquez to the same conclusion: The Sinaloa cartel cut a deal with Calderón when he came into office, whereby it would help Mexico City go after other cartels, such as the Zetas, in exchange for some amount of immunity. Calderón could only have done this, the argument goes, with high-level approval from Washington — and Fast and Furious, a way to help Chapo, is evidence of that devil’s bargain. (When one points out that many members of the Sinaloa cartel, including some alleged favorites of Chapo, have been captured recently, a common answer is that Chapo simply gave them up like pawns. His mastery knows no limits.)

The holes in this line of reasoning are numerous, but there’s history behind it. As former DEA chief Robert Bonner wrote in Foreign Affairsrecently, this resembles the approach his agency took against Colombia’s Medellín cartel in the 1990s. And Bonner recommends it for Mexico.

I’m sure that the so called experts will say that Mexicans are far too uneducated to truly understand American foreign policy when it comes to nose candy from Mexico. This is typical American behavior when it comes to what we damn well deserve, which is a foreign policy that asks no questions. In any case, I don’t think it’s important whether Mexicans are right or wrong about US collusion with certain cartels. The point is that this is a general feeling in Mexico, and there are certainly consequences to that kind of popular opinion, just as there are consequences to Yemenis feeling that their most recent elections were rigged by the US (which is a pretty obvious conclusion to come to). I think the Medellin example speaks volumes about what we’re willing to do to Central America. 

What costs have not been measured here? What will the blowback be for our repeated intervention in this country?

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Rumors of Afghan jihadist activity in Mali

The US Department of State seems to be encouraging rumors that Afghans and Pakistanis are going to Mali to support some kind of jihadist insurrection.

Question: I’m wondering if the U.S. has any concerns or evidence that there is this sort of jihadi Afghan-Pakistan connection going on in northern Mali and what you think the current situation there might mean for international – the international community. I mean, does the UN have to get involved now?

MS. NULAND: Well, I’m going to take the part about Afghans and others from far afield ending up in Mali. You know how strongly we feel that the instability in Mali is endangering the security and providing an opportunity for all kinds of nefarious actors to exploit the territory of the country. 

The UN is probably prepping a “peacekeeping force” at this very minute. 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Economic Theory Applied to Warfare: Adam Curtis on Counterinsurgency

Adam Curtis always has penetrating insights and excellent research pieces on thoughtful topics. His latest piece on the history of counterinsurgency is superb, threading together American counterinsurgency in the war on terror with the French theorist that created it.

I wanted to draw attention to one aspect of the piece that I would have loved to see drawn out.

Curtis explains how traditional economic theories of rational actors began to be applied to the public at large in war torn countries as a method of understanding informants and non-traditional insurgent hierarchies. 

The new theory was called:

The Cost/Benefit-Coercion theory of Counterinsurgency

It still believed in Galula’s theory of putting the local population into protected villages and making them feel safe. But it gave up on worrying about what was in the villagers heads and treated them instead as self-interested “rational actors” who would respond in more or less predictable ways to incentives – and to disincentives.

The theory was picked up by the Executive branch and put into practice. Curtis goes on to explain that this method of counterinsurgency is often seen by proponents as war by another means: people are dying already, so does it really matter if there are fewer battles and more targeted assassinations? Vietnam became the proving ground for this American counterinsurgency theory, a discipline still in its infancy. This was the Phoenix Programme:

The aim of the protected villages and all the incentives was to separate the population from the insurgents. The next objective was to destroy the insurgents – and to do this the CIA set up what they called The Phoenix Programme.

But the documentary goes on to show how the Phoenix programme created something much worse – which it was powerless both to understand or to stop.

The Rational Peasant approach looked at Vietnam as a society of millions of self-seeking rational individuals. In reality, Vietnamese society was far more complicated. Extended families had tangled and intricate histories of relationships – some were friendly but many were driven by rivalries and hatreds.

As the film makes clear this had created a powerful tradition of violent retribution in Vietnamese society – and it goes on to show how some of the militias that the Americans had created used the free rein their masters gave them, to kill and torture not communists, but other, innocent civilians against whom they had long-standing grudges or hatreds.

After such experiences in Vietnam the whole idea of Counterinsurgency in the American military was discredited. It was buried away and forgotten.

Vietnam today is a different place, emerging from a war that plunged the entire region into darkness. What interests me are the cultural artifacts of such a conflict: what remains after an imperial presence that fosters a culture of assassination leaves? I suppose I need to brush up on my Vietnamese to answer that question. 

The most troubling aspect of his Curtis’ piece is that we are ready to repeat the same mistakes. 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Indirect Costs: Limitations on Research due to Drug Prohibition

The scientist quoted in this article makes a very clear case for why drug prohibition negatively affects research efforts into the prohibited drugs. The cost to society due to such practices is simply not calculable.

Tagged , , , ,

Libya a Mixed Bag: Juan Cole on Libya / The Telegraph on Libya

Juan Cole reports from Libya, which he says is not perfect, but far from the dire situation often portrayed in the Western press (the latest portrayal written by Kissinger himself):

Henry Kissinger, in his recent op-ed against intervention in Syria, listed the erasure of the Libyan state as an argument against such interventions. I read the allegation with disbelief. Libya is not like Somalia! It isn’t even like Yemen. (The Libyans I talked to about Yemen sympathized with the country’s problems but were astonished to hear that some Western observers looked a their situations as similar!)

So imagine my surprise on visits to Benghazi, Misrata and Tripoli, to find that there were no militiamen to be seen, that most things were functioning normally, that there were police at traffic intersections, that there were children’s carnivals open till late, families out, that jewelry shops were open till 8 pm, that Arabs and Africans were working side by side, and that people were proud in Benghazi of having demonstrated against calls for decentralizing the country.

As someone who has lived in conflict situations, I take as a very serious gauge of security whether shops are open and how late they stay open. Jewelry shops in particular are easily looted, and the loot is light and easy to fence. But in Tripoli there was loads of gold in rows of jewelry shops, along with clothing stores newly stocked with Italian fashions. Shopkeepers I interviewed were fully stocked, confident and glad to finally be rid of Qaddafi’s erratic governance, under which they were never sure if they would make a profit because policies changed frequently.

It is definitely good to hear that the areas he visited are in good shape. I’d be interested to see where more rural areas stand, because if I’ve learned anything from Ibn Khaldun, it’s that the rural areas are the catalysts for social change.

He’s also experienced warzone political climates before:

I went to Libya expecting to find people nervous about going out, expecting to find a lot of shops shuttered, and expecting to be stopped at militia checkpoints (which was common in Beirut in the late 1970s when I lived there in the first years of the Civil War). Maybe such things exist in smaller provincial cities that I didn’t visit, like Gadames in the South. I don’t know. In the urban north, I found a society actively reconstructing itself where people clearly were going about their ordinary lives, where stores were open and people were sitting in sidewalk cafes, where there were no militiamen on the streets, no checkpoints, and where there were actually traffic cops directing traffic.

Reporters from the Telegraph have a completely different experience:

Six months after the death of Col Muammar Gaddafi, we were on the edge of a Libyan battlefield. Around us were armed men, tanks, bombed-out vehicles. The sound of gunfire was constant as artillery rounds and bullets whistled over our heads. This skirmish was not significant enough to be reported in the British press. But the dead were piling up: the militia we were with had lost 12 men with more than 100 wounded.

The battle was between two northern towns, Zuwara and Rigdalen. The population of neither can be more than 20,000. Yet, with both places teeming with arms, no functioning court system and a pathetically weak central government, even the smallest dispute can escalate into warfare

As I suspected, the rural situation is quite different. The perennial problem of paying soldiers is creeping up:

But for the time being the politicians are still figureheads, and the power is exercised by armed gangs. The government is desperate for these militias to return to civilian life before the elections, and has embarked on a hugely expensive programme to buy off fighters with cash payments worth approximately £1,000 each. But this programme is open to corruption.

We asked what they were doing. ‘We are revolutionaries. We have saved Libya, we want to be paid,’ they said, claiming that they had been excluded from the cash payments. At that moment a police convoy, lights blaring, came hurtling down the road. The militiamen let loose a volley of warning shots. The police swiftly turned round and drove away.

They remain optimistic, though:

That point is still a long way off. And yet at the end of our stay in Libya we felt fairly hopeful. Six months after the fall of Saddam Hussein there were already signs that Iraq was falling into civil war. Western visitors could travel only with heavy security; the Americans and British who had brought about the transition of power were hated. Ethnic cleansing was under way on a massive scale, and al-Qaeda was taking control of large parts of the country.

Preparations for a Malian Intervention Begin, and African Leaders Seek Foreign Help

According to All Africa, talks between Ansar Dine and the MNLA have broken down, meaning the joint state that was being planned has been scuttled. This comes as political violence continues in further south in the capital, where complicit army members allowed the interim president to be beaten by protesters.

It is interesting to watch ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) and their reaction to the crises in Mali: on the one hand, they strongly condemned the coup by Sango, and on the other, they are strongly condemning the Tuareg rebellion in the north. They have backed up these condemnations with travel restrictions. 

ECOWAS is also supporting French backed peacekeeping expedition into Mali with the intention of stopping the rebels in the north and restoring stability. The language used lumps all the northern rebel movements together as unacceptable:

While lauding the efforts of the mediator, President Blaise Compaore and the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS Chairman, President Alassane Ouattara of Côte d’Ivoire in restoring peace to Mali, the AU Chairman said the priorities for now were strengthening constitutional rule, restoring Mali’s territorial integrity and ensuring religious tolerance by rejecting the declaration of Islamic Shariah law in the north. Agreeing that Africans are people of dialogue, the Beninois leader warned that talks could not be allowed to continue without any end in sight while the secular nature of the Malian State was at stake.

He warned that the situation in Mali should not be allowed to become like that in Afghanistan with terrorists everywhere, adding that the free flow of heavy and light weapons, and drugs was dangerous to the whole sub-region. He described the behaviour of the Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, (MNLA), Ansar Dine and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, (AQMI) rebels in the north as intolerable, saying they were acting like terrorists.

The language of terrorism is, of course, silly, particularly when talking about Afghanistan. There are few “terrorists” in Afghanistan, that is, al-Qaeda operates elsewhere at the moment (if anywhere). What exists in Afghanistan is an ethnic conflict, where some Ghilzai Pashtun see the Taliban as fulfilling the role of liberators from the Durranis that traditionally have been the bureaucrats of a centralized Afghan state. The West has taken sides in this conflict, and has marginalized quite a few pashtuns by propping up an un-elected government of ethnic minorities and patsies. The Tuareg situation has been an ethnic conflict, so the comparison to Afghanistan isn’t too far off sans the terrorism language, which becomes synonymous with “stuff we don’t like”. 

In the most troubling developments yet, on par with rumors of wacko interpretations of Islam being enforced in the north, Niger’s ambassador to the US is beating the drums for US support for the intervention:

At an event here in Washington, Ambassador Sidikou warned that “Terrorists are consolidating their positions by the day in northern Mali, and we are just talking in countless meetings. Do we pretend to ignore their agenda?”

Sidikou said that agenda was to weaken the states in the region and to create sanctuary for extremist groups.

“We are talking to our friends in the U.S. to provide support, equipment, intelligence and training to armed forces in the region,” he continued. “Each day we allow Ansar Dine to act in Mali is another day against peace and security at the global level.”

Recent history shows that if you want to fight “terrorism”, the last country you should contact is the United States, a country that has done more for terrorism than any other in history. Yet African leaders are also framing this as part of a global struggle, just as the MNLA has done. It’s a sign of our times that this framing is going on, a product of globalization and communication technology.  The MNLA’s alliance with Ansar Dine, even if it is now defunct, has already assured US involvement here, if that involvement hasn’t already clandestinely happened. 

The UNHCR is very helpful, as usual:

A UNHCR official characterised the “sharp degeneration of the situation in Mali” as “totally unexpected”.

I don’t speak any of the local languages, but somehow I was expecting this. 

As usual, AllAfrica provides the best coverage of the area, and has done the research into what the prospect of intervention war actually means:

The prospect of U.S. or other Western soldiers actually going into Mali is also far off.

“The problem today is foreign fighters,” Rudolph Atallah, a former member of the U.S. Air Force and now a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank, said on Thursday.

“If you look at the letters that came from Osama bin Laden’s compound, he told his fighters to focus on Western targets. If the U.S. shows up with boots on the ground anywhere in that area, we give them a raison d’etre.”

Still, others suggest that the Islamist connection in Mali is being blown out of proportion.

“People today support Ansar Dine not primarily because of their ideology but because they have been able to deliver more than the other groups, materially and in terms of security,” says Anouar Boukhars, with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“The existence of various Islamist groups in northern Mali should not be overstated. Most Islamist movements in Mali do not advocate the use of violence.”

Subsequent events appear to bear out such nuanced caution. By Tuesday, just days after the initial announcement, the MNLA-Ansar Dine alliance had fallen apart, reportedly over disagreement on the imposition of Sharia law.

Nonetheless, the push for intervention continues apace, with some seeing the breakdown of the MNLA-Ansar Dine agreement leading to more instability.

“We’re ready to go, provided we have the support,” Ambassador Sidikou said on Thursday. “If we don’t move quickly, the situation we’ll face will be much worse than we have right now. It’s that simple.”