Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
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This article, by Chris Hedges, was posted to Common Dreams.org, November 2, 2009
The warlords we champion in Afghanistan are as venal, as opposed to the rights of women and basic democratic freedoms, and as heavily involved in opium trafficking as the Taliban. The moral lines we draw between us and our adversaries are fictional. The uplifting narratives used to justify the war in Afghanistan are pathetic attempts to redeem acts of senseless brutality. War cannot be waged to instill any virtue, including democracy or the liberation of women. War always empowers those who have a penchant for violence and access to weapons. War turns the moral order upside down and abolishes all discussions of human rights. War banishes the just and the decent to the margins of society. And the weapons of war do not separate the innocent and the damned. An aerial drone is our version of an improvised explosive device. An iron fragmentation bomb is our answer to a suicide bomb. A burst from a belt-fed machine gun causes the same terror and bloodshed among civilians no matter who pulls the trigger.
"We need to tear the mask off of the fundamentalist warlords who after the tragedy of 9/11 replaced the Taliban," Malalai Joya, who was expelled from the Afghan parliament two years ago for denouncing government corruption and the Western occupation, told me during her visit to New York last week. "They used the mask of democracy to take power. They continue this deception. These warlords are mentally the same as the Taliban. The only change is physical. These warlords during the civil war in Afghanistan from 1992 to 1996 killed 65,000 innocent people. They have committed human rights violations, like the Taliban, against women and many others."
"In eight years less than 2,000 Talib have been killed and more than 8,000 innocent civilians has been killed," she went on. "We believe that this is not war on terror. This is war on innocent civilians. Look at the massacres carried out by NATO forces in Afghanistan. Look what they did in May in the Farah province, where more than 150 civilians were killed, most of them women and children. They used white phosphorus and cluster bombs. There were 200 civilians on 9th of September killed in the Kunduz province, again most of them women and children. You can see the Web site of professor Marc Herold, this democratic man, to know better the war crimes in Afghanistan imposed on our people. The United States and NATO eight years ago occupied my country under the banner of woman's rights and democracy. But they have only pushed us from the frying pan into the fire. They put into power men who are photocopies of the Taliban."
Afghanistan's boom in the trade in opium, used to produce heroin, over the past eight years of occupation has funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to the Taliban, al-Qaida, local warlords, criminal gangs, kidnappers, private armies, drug traffickers and many of the senior figures in the government of Hamid Karzai. The New York Times reported that the brother of President Karzai, Ahmed Wali Karzai, has been collecting money from the CIA although he is a major player in the illegal opium business. Afghanistan produces 92 percent of the world's opium in a trade that is worth some $65 billion, the United Nations estimates. This opium feeds some 15 million addicts worldwide and kills around 100,000 people annually. These fatalities should be added to the rolls of war dead.
Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said that the drug trade has permitted the Taliban to thrive and expand despite the presence of 100,000 NATO troops.
"The Taliban's direct involvement in the opium trade allows them to fund a war machine that is becoming technologically more complex and increasingly widespread," said Costa.
The UNODC estimates the Taliban earned $90 million to $160 million a year from taxing the production and smuggling of opium and heroin between 2005 and 2009, as much as double the amount it earned annually while it was in power nearly a decade ago. And Costa described the Afghan-Pakistani border as "the world's largest free trade zone in anything and everything that is illicit," an area blighted by drugs, weapons and illegal immigration. The "perfect storm of drugs and terrorism" may be on the move along drug trafficking routes through Central Asia, he warned. Profits made from opium are being pumped into militant groups in Central Asia and "a big part of the region could be engulfed in large-scale terrorism, endangering its massive energy resources," Costa said.
"Afghanistan, after eight years of occupation, has become a world center for drugs," Joya told me. "The drug lords are the only ones with power. How can you expect these people to stop the planting of opium and halt the drug trade? How is it that the Taliban when they were in power destroyed the opium production and a superpower not only cannot destroy the opium production but allows it to increase? And while all this goes on, those who support the war talk to you about women's rights. We do not have human rights now in most provinces. It is as easy to kill a woman in my country as it is to kill a bird. In some big cities like Kabul some women have access to jobs and education, but in most of the country the situation for women is hell. Rape, kidnapping and domestic violence are increasing. These fundamentalists during the so-called free elections made a misogynist law against Shia women in Afghanistan. This law has even been signed by Hamid Karzai. All these crimes are happening under the name of democracy."
Thousands of Afghan civilians have died from insurgent and foreign military violence. And American and NATO forces are responsible for almost half the civilian deaths in Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of Afghan civilians have also died from displacement, starvation, disease, exposure, lack of medical treatment, crime and lawlessness resulting from the war.
Joya argues that Karzai and his rival Abdullah Abdullah, who has withdrawn from the Nov. 7 runoff election, will do nothing to halt the transformation of Afghanistan into a narco-state. She said that NATO, by choosing sides in a battle between two corrupt and brutal opponents, has lost all its legitimacy in the country.
The recent resignation of a high-level U.S. diplomat in Afghanistan, Matthew Hoh, was in part tied to the drug problem. Hoh wrote in his resignation letter that Karzi's government is filled with "glaring corruption and unabashed graft." Karzi, he wrote, is a president "whose confidants and chief advisers comprise drug lords and war crimes villains who mock our own rule of law and counter-narcotics effort."
Joya said, "Where do you think the $36 billion of money poured into country by the international community have gone? This money went into the pockets of the drug lords and the warlords. There are 18 million people in Afghanistan who live on less than $2 a day while these warlords get rich. The Taliban and warlords together contribute to this fascism while the occupation forces are bombing and killing innocent civilians. When we do not have security how can we even talk about human rights or women's rights?"
"This election under the shade of Afghan war-lordism, drug-lordism, corruption and occupation forces has no legitimacy at all," she said. "The result will be like the same donkey but with new saddles. It is not important who is voting. It is important who is counting. And this is our problem. Many of those who go with the Taliban do not support the Taliban, but they are fed up with these warlords and this injustice and they go with the Taliban to take revenge. I do not agree with them, but I understand them. Most of my people are against the Taliban and the warlords, which is why millions did not take part in this tragic drama of an election."
"The U.S. wastes taxpayers' money and the blood of their soldiers by supporting such a mafia corrupt system of Hamid Karzai," said Joya, who changes houses in Kabul frequently because of the numerous death threats made against her. "Eight years is long enough to learn about Karzai and Abdullah. They chained my country to the center of drugs. If Obama was really honest he would support the democratic-minded people of my country. We have a lot [of those people]. But he does not support the democratic-minded people of my country. He is going to start war in Pakistan by attacking in the border area of Pakistan. More civilians have been killed in the Obama period than even during the criminal Bush."
"My people are sandwiched between two powerful enemies," she lamented. "The occupation forces from the sky bomb and kill innocent civilians. On the ground, Taliban and these warlords deliver fascism. As NATO kills more civilians the resistance to the foreign troops increases. If the U.S. government and NATO do not leave voluntarily my people will give to them the same lesson they gave to Russia and to the English who three times tried to occupy Afghanistan. It is easier for us to fight against one enemy rather than two."
Time to replace the Pentagon with the Peace Corps. It accomplishes far more with far less.
This article, by Greg Grant, was posted to Military.com, October 26, 2009
Sen. John Kerry told a Washington audience today that Afghan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s call for an expanded counterinsurgency campaign reaches “too far, too fast.” Instead, Kerry called for a more “narrowly focused” counterinsurgency strategy that would dial down U.S. war aims, forge a closer alliance with Afghan ethnic groups that reject the mostly Pashtun based insurgency, reduce the U.S. military effort to just the restive southern and eastern parts of the country and use the power of the U.S. dollar to peel away Taliban fighters motivated more by money than an extremist ideology.
Speaking to a packed house at the Council on Foreign Relations Monday, Kerry lashed out at the Bush administration for its neglect and “gross mishandling” of the war in Afghanistan for nearly eight years and allowing the Taliban to regain a foothold in the country. Fresh from saving the Afghan political process through many hours spent cajoling and convincing Afghan president Hamid Karzai to agree to a runoff election, Kerry said a more narrowly defined war there is winnable, but requires a major shift in strategy.
Policymakers and the news media have become overly focused on whether the Obama administration will grant McChrystal his request for more troops, a debate that misses the larger point, Kerry said. Since progress in Afghanistan will only come once people at the village level see real improvements in their everyday lives, what is needed are many more civilian experts in rural development, not tens of thousands more infantry.
Kerry said the “cornerstone” of U.S. strategy should be building an Afghan military and “governance” capacity that is just good enough so that responsibility for the country’s security can be transferred to the Afghan government and American troops can be withdrawn. Success in Afghanistan means transferring that responsibility as soon as possible while also leaving behind a country that cannot again become a safe haven for Al Qaeda. Defeating the Taliban is not a requirement, he said, nor is establishing a “flawless democracy.” Many Taliban fighters can be bought off and he put the number of irreconcilables at no more than 3,000 to 4,000.
While he would back sending “some” additional troops to reverse the Taliban gains and regain the initiative, he said troop levels must be tied to real measures of progress, such as combating the Kabul government’s legendary corruption and demonstrating to the Afghan people that their government has their interests in mind. American commanders must also determine if there are enough Afghan troops to partner with U.S. units. While some assessments say there are 92,000 soldiers in the Afghan army, Kerry said U.S. commanders in Afghanistan said the real number of effectives is closer to 50,000.
There are not enough U.S., NATO and Afghan troops to pursue a population centric counterinsurgency across the entire country, he said, an effort that would require some 600,000 troops, if one strictly adheres to counterinsurgency math. Rolling back the Taliban doesn’t require anywhere near that number of counterinsurgents, he said, as much of the country, particularly in the north and west, are already hostile to the insurgents. Kerry said the military should work more closely with the tribes and build up a tribal intelligence network, particularly among the Pashtuns; he did not say how the military, which has been trying to do just that since 2001, should pull it off.
Kerry said NATO countries must beef up their troop presence and better unify their command structure.
This email, describing the attack on US base in Eastern Afghanistan that cost the lives of 8 American GIs, was forwarded to Military Resistance, October 6, 2009.
The morning began with the siren signaling incoming. I ignored it. I hate putting on my gear and besides the big boy voice had dutifully reminded me that I should remain in hard shelter.
I didn’t argue by deed or word.
In the meantime the 155’s began to blaze away in support of some action that did not affect me.
Later I was called out of my room to help in the aid station.
Two of the COB (combat operations base) were in the midst of a full on assault by the Taliban.
Rumor had it they had made it inside the wire signaled by claymores just outside the gate exploding in response to encroachment.
Later some treated would say that some of the Afghan Army had turned their weapons on them.
I quickly changed and found the Aid Station in the midst of preparations. The toll was 12 casualties coming in with 5 KIA. This would later be amended to 15 counting Afghan forces. I was in the way and ill prepared to offer much assistance but did whatever I was instructed to.
I was asked if I could be a recorder, that is to record the ongoing medical treatment of a casualty at a specific bed, I dutifully answered yes.
I had reservations. The only MasCal I’d ever experienced was in JRTC, did this make me ready? I would find out but not for hours.
The fighting was ongoing and in answer of support the 155’s ceased only to be replaced by jet after jet as well as rotary support.
I knew it must be bad just seeing the amount of firepower flying in to make defense of our troops. The area had to be secured in order to enable evacuation of the wounded by Blackhawk.
Later SGT S would relay to me that he had word of a billion dollars worth of munitions being dropped to that end. Familiar faces showed up in support of the effort as well. Tom, an Army Doc with some other providers arrived in support.
When word finally came that the first to be evacuated were on the way over 9 hours had passed.
The number of wounded remained the same meaning that these guys had held on all day, some with horrible injuries.
All day soldiers had been waiting dutifully outside to help the ambulatory patients while the litter of patients would brought directly to the aid station. The big boy voiced beckoned those that were a specific blood type report to the aid station.
Later those that were CLS (combat life support) certified were called in support of those we would soon be treating.
Finally word came that the first medevac had come in. I was asked to tag the casualties as they came in order to track them.
The first litter patient came in and there was no time to affix the wrist band so I followed him back. My heart was racing. I put the bracelet on quickly and got the hell out of the way as the FST began quickly in a measured fashion working on the patient.
I think he was American.
I hurried back to the door as the next patient was coming in. It was an Afghan Army Soldier. I again followed the casualty to affix his bracelet. I again met the next patient at the door. It was another Afghan soldier. He could walk but he had to be guided in as his was face bandaged up. With shaking hands I put on the bracelet. The medics got him on a stretcher and began assessing his wounds.
SPFC H would later recount how the soldier had taken shrapnel to the face and lost both eyes, his nose and some of his lip.
The next casualties coming in were to be all ambulatory. Some of us had 5 minutes to collect ourselves. For most it meant cleaning up and resetting for the due in casualties. For the FST, it continued to be a fight to save a soldiers life.
The next casualties arrived and I was tasked to record. SGT A would treat and I would try to relay in shorthand what he was doing and what the soldier had suffered.
Throughout the night it shocked me how calm these patients were. Had I sustained these injuries I would have been beside myself. I reminded myself that they had had hours to reconcile to some degree what had happened to them.
Our patient had been peppered by shrapnel on his left side, from is face down to his thigh. His left arm had been fractured as well.
His response to all of this was calm and information. He told us that he’d been shot in the forearm a previous deployment. Once he was appropriately cared for I remember the call coming for people to perform CPR.
SGT M told me later the First American brought in went into cardiac arrest. He’d gone back to perform CPR to no avail. The docs cracked his chest and began massaging his heart. He didn’t make it.
The next patient to come through that I saw was another Afghan Army. He had major damage to his right arm. They removed his bandages and they immediately wept blood. He had chunks missing from his arm. The closest I can approximate the injury to is the effect a melon baller has on a cantaloupe. That is was his arm looked like.
I was then called by name to my surprise to assist with a new situation. Wow I was needed specifically.
To my dread, Capt P was having issues with the X-Ray plate reader. I secretly hoped was a simple problem with a simple solution. At first it appeared that way.
The CPT explained that that the plate was not being brought into the machine for exposure. When I went to grab the plate it fell into the machine and naturally the x-ray was spoiled due to it’s high velocity delivery. The plate had not been fed in correctly and my hands had dislodged it allowing gravity to deliver the plate unceremoniously onto the carriage. A grinding noise ensued and what might’ve been a simple problem was exacerbated. A grinding motor came in response to the melee that had just ensued.
I grabbed my tools and began disassembling the unit while fielding questions of the unit’s operability. It was out of commission until I could resolve the issue. This scared the hell out of me.
Up to this point I knew all I had to do was my best but that ultimately the lives of the injured rested squarely on the shoulders of the medics and doctors. I was flustered and had no idea if I could remedy the situation; after all I had worked on such a machine only once previously. I stopped and thought, long enough to realize I was taking apart the backside. The motor is to front left, this is where I needed to be!
I took my queue from the medics and began working at a measured pace. Once I opened the unit up seeing what I needed to see I quickly diagnosed the problem and fixed the unit.
While still reassembling the unit the reader was again back in use. One patient had to be sent back out to another facility with the x-ray down. The Afghan Army soldier with the injured arm needed immediate attention.
I was relieved at my success and also that all eyes were no longer on me. I had never been in such a situation and came out no worse for wear.
In the end, it had become more of a group effort than I had anticipated. I had counted on the medical folks to handle everything. While I know I by no means saved the day - it was gratifying to see a real need for my skills. In the end I don’t think I’d have managed so well if I had not witnessed the controlled chaos. Throughout everything, I witnessed a synergy between all those present. All of the things every one of us learned came in to play and the theoretical use during training came to fruition via an actual event wonderfully successful.
It was an altogether exhausting day, both gratifying and heart wrenching. For my part I will never forget it. For others present it will be perhaps yet another tragedy marked by heartfelt effort.
This article, by Martin Fletcher, was published iun the London Times, October 9, 2009
American soldiers serving in Afghanistan are depressed and deeply disillusioned, according to the chaplains of two US battalions that have spent nine months on the front line in the war against the Taliban.
Many feel that they are risking their lives -- and that colleagues have died -- for a futile mission and an Afghan population that does nothing to help them, the chaplains told The Times in their makeshift chapel on this fortress-like base in a dusty, brown valley southwest of Kabul.
"The many soldiers who come to see us have a sense of futility and anger about being here. They are really in a state of depression and despair and just want to get back to their families," said Captain Jeff Masengale, of the 10th Mountain Division's 2-87 Infantry Battalion.
"They feel they are risking their lives for progress that's hard to discern," said Captain Sam Rico, of the Division's 4-25 Field Artillery Battalion. "They are tired, strained, confused and just want to get through." The chaplains said that they were speaking out because the men could not.
The base is not, it has to be said, obviously downcast, and many troops do not share the chaplains' assessment. The soldiers are, by nature and training, upbeat, driven by a strong sense of duty, and they do their jobs as best they can. Re-enlistment rates are surprisingly good for the 2-87, though poor for the 4-25. Several men approached by The Times, however, readily admitted that their morale had slumped.
"We're lost -- that's how I feel. I'm not exactly sure why we're here," said Specialist Raquime Mercer, 20, whose closest friend was shot dead by a renegade Afghan policeman last Friday. "I need a clear-cut purpose if I'm going to get hurt out here or if I'm going to die."
Sergeant Christopher Hughes, 37, from Detroit, has lost six colleagues and survived two roadside bombs. Asked if the mission was worthwhile, he replied: "If I knew exactly what the mission was, probably so, but I don't."
The only soldiers who thought it was going well "work in an office, not on the ground." In his opinion "the whole country is going to s***."
The battalion's 1,500 soldiers are nine months in to a year-long deployment that has proved extraordinarily tough. Their goal was to secure the mountainous Wardak province and then to win the people's allegiance through development and good governance. They have, instead, found themselves locked in an increasingly vicious battle with the Taliban.
They have been targeted by at least 300 roadside bombs, about 180 of which have exploded. Nineteen men have been killed in action, with another committing suicide. About a hundred have been flown home with amputations, severe burns and other injuries likely to cause permanent disability, and many of those have not been replaced. More than two dozen mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs) have been knocked out of action.
Living conditions are good -- abundant food, air-conditioned tents, hot water, free internet -- but most of the men are on their second, third or fourth tours of Afghanistan and Iraq, with barely a year between each. Staff Sergeant Erika Cheney, Airborne's mental health specialist, expressed concern about their mental state -- especially those in scattered outposts -- and believes that many have mild post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). "They're tired, frustrated, scared. A lot of them are afraid to go out but will still go," she said.
Lieutenant Peter Hjelmstad, 2-87's Medical Platoon Leader, said sleeplessness and anger attacks were common.
A dozen men have been confined to desk jobs because they can no longer handle missions outside the base. One long-serving officer who has lost three friends this tour said he sometimes returned to his room at night and cried, or played war games on his laptop. "It's a release. It's a method of coping." He has nightmares and sleeps little, and it does not help that the base is frequently shaken by outgoing artillery fire. He was briefly overcome as he recalled how, when a lorry backfired during his most recent home leave, he grabbed his young son and dived between two parked cars.
The chaplains said soldiers were seeking their help in unprecedented numbers. "Everyone you meet is just down, and you meet them everywhere -- in the weight room, dining facility, getting mail," said Captain Rico. Even "hard men" were coming to their tent chapel and breaking down.
The men are frustrated by the lack of obvious purpose or progress. "The soldiers' biggest question is: what can we do to make this war stop. Catch one person? Assault one objective? Soldiers want definite answers, other than to stop the Taliban, because that almost seems impossible. It's hard to catch someone you can't see," said Specialist Mercer.
"It's a very frustrating mission," said Lieutenant Hjelmstad. "The average soldier sees a friend blown up and his instinct is to retaliate or believe it's for something [worthwhile], but it's not like other wars where your buddy died but they took the hill. There's no tangible reward for the sacrifice. It's hard to say Wardak is better than when we got here."
Captain Masengale, a soldier for 12 years before he became a chaplain, said: "We want to believe in a cause but we don't know what that cause is."
The soldiers are angry that colleagues are losing their lives while trying to help a population that will not help them. "You give them all the humanitarian assistance that they want and they're still going to lie to you. They'll tell you there's no Taliban anywhere in the area and as soon as you roll away, ten feet from their house, you get shot at again," said Specialist Eric Petty, from Georgia.
Captain Rico told of the disgust of a medic who was asked to treat an insurgent shortly after pulling a colleague's charred corpse from a bombed vehicle.
The soldiers complain that rules of engagement designed to minimise civilian casualties mean that they fight with one arm tied behind their backs. "They're a joke," said one. "You get shot at but can do nothing about it. You have to see the person with the weapon. It's not enough to know which house the shooting's coming from."
The soldiers joke that their Isaf arm badges stand not for International Security Assistance Force but "I Suck At Fighting" or "I Support Afghan Farmers."
To compound matters, soldiers are mainly being killed not in combat but on routine journeys, by roadside bombs planted by an invisible enemy. "That's very demoralising," said Captain Masengale.
The constant deployments are, meanwhile, playing havoc with the soldiers' private lives. "They're killing families," he said. "Divorces are skyrocketing. PTSD is off the scale. There have been hundreds of injuries that send soldiers home and affect families for the rest of their lives."
The chaplains said that many soldiers had lost their desire to help Afghanistan. "All they want to do is make it home alive and go back to their wives and children and visit the families who have lost husbands and fathers over here. It comes down to just surviving," said Captain Masengale.
"If we make it back with ten toes and ten fingers the mission is successful," Sergeant Hughes said.
"You carry on for the guys to your left or right," added Specialist Mercer.
The chaplains have themselves struggled to cope with so much distress. "We have to encourage them, strengthen them and send them out again. No one comes in and says, 'I've had a great day on a mission'. It's all pain," said Captain Masengale. "The only way we've been able to make it is having each other."
Lieutenant-Colonel Kimo Gallahue, 2-87's commanding officer, denied that his men were demoralised, and insisted they had achieved a great deal over the past nine months. A triathlete and former rugby player, he admitted pushing his men hard, but argued that taking the fight to the enemy was the best form of defence.
He said the security situation had worsened because the insurgents had chosen to fight in Wardak province, not abandon it. He said, however, that the situation would have been catastrophic without his men. They had managed to keep open the key Kabul-to-Kandahar highway which dissects Wardak, and prevent the province becoming a launch pad for attacks on the capital, which is barely 20 miles from its border. Above all, Colonel Gallahue argued that counter-insurgency -- winning the allegiance of the indigenous population through security, development and good governance -- was a long and laborious process that could not be completed in a year. "These 12 months have been, for me, laying the groundwork for future success," he said.
At morning service on Sunday, the two chaplains sought to boost the spirits of their flock with uplifting hymns, accompanied by video footage of beautiful lakes, oceans and rivers.
Captain Rico offered a particularly apposite reading from Corinthians: "We are afflicted in every way but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed."
This article, by Fred Branfman, was published by Truthdig, October 9, 2009
[Under Vice President Joe] Biden’s approach … American forces would concentrate on eliminating the Qaeda leadership, primarily in Pakistan, using Special Operations forces, Predator missile strikes and other surgical tactics. — The New York Times, Sept. 30, 2009
Biden has argued against increasing the number of U.S. combat troops in Afghanistan. …— The Washington Post, Oct. 2, 2009
Statesmen must be judged by the consequences of their actions. Whatever Nixon and Kissinger intended for Cambodia, their efforts created catastrophe. — William Shawcross, “Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia” (2002)
“I think you’re closer to the World War II generals than you are to the Vietnam ones.” Dwight Eisenhower was the obvious model. “You may not realize it, but you have more influence than any other military leader in this country right now. More than the Joint Chiefs. You can make a case for you not staying, because there’s no job after this that will compare to it.” The implied suggestion was politics. — Bob Woodward quoting Gen. Jack Keane mentoring his protégé, Gen. David Petraeus, in “The War Within: A Secret White House History, 2006-2008” (2009)
The Oct. 7 Wall Street Journal reports that President Barack Obama is reading Gordon Goldstein’s “Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam,” a warning against heeding inevitable military requests for more troops. But however valuable Goldstein’s book might be, William Shawcross’ book “Sideshow: Nixon, Kissinger and the Destruction of Cambodia” is far more relevant and significant. For no matter how much Gen. David Petraeus, Gen. Stanley McChrystal and other hawks disagree with the Biden doves on troop increases, both sides reportedly concur on the importance of going after Taliban and al-Qaida “sanctuaries” in Pakistan, a policy eerily reminiscent of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger’s disastrous decision to widen the Vietnam War into Cambodia in 1969. The Obama administration has already begun to escalate the fighting in Pakistan, a policy that could make even the Nixon-Kissinger destruction of Cambodia seem like a pleasant memory.
If U.S. military leaders are right that they cannot prevail in Afghanistan without escalating into Pakistan, this is the strongest possible argument for withdrawing from Afghanistan. For nothing, not even Taliban rule in Kabul, could justify allowing the tiny Afghan tail to wag a giant, nuclear-armed Pakistani dog whose stability is clearly America’s very top priority in the region. Further instability in Pakistan would only benefit al-Qaida, which has already made deep inroads into Pakistan and is unlikely to return to Afghanistan even if the U.S. withdraws from there. Former N.Y. Times correspondent Stephen Kinzer is right: “It should be engraved on the minds of every American diplomat: Do nothing that will further destabilize Pakistan” (from the “Rethink Afghanistan” video).
Irving Kristol’s recent death reminded us of his phrase “the law of unintended consequences,” referring to neoconservative attacks on well-meaning liberal domestic policies. Both neo- and garden-variety conservatives, however, have never been willing to apply this same “law” to their far greater international disasters. There is no record, for example, of Kristol’s son Bill or his fellow conservatives acknowledging the blow to U.S. interests and the enormous human suffering—including over 1 million Iraqis dead, wounded or made homeless—caused by the neoconservative-engineered invasion of Iraq.
As indifferent to non-American human suffering as have been conservatives, neoconservatives and neo-Stalinists like Dick Cheney, however, they presumably did not intend to see their invasion of Iraq destroy the Bush presidency, bring to power Barack Obama and congressional Democrats, strengthen anti-American terrorist forces around the globe, and vastly increase worldwide hatred for America due to the Bush administration’s making torture an official state policy for the first time in American history.
Given the U.S. history of unintended consequences in Cambodia and Iraq, not to mention Iran and dozens of other instances, it seems at first glance incredible that so-called Obama doves are seriously calling for increasing drone strikes and clandestine U.S. ground incursions into Pakistan, while pressuring the Pakistani army to expand fighting even though its campaign into the Swat Valley has already produced Pakistan’s greatest humanitarian disaster since 1947. The most likely explanation for this irrationality is at least partly that they see escalation in Pakistan as a necessary political counterweight to the Petraeus-McChrystal push for a troop buildup in Afghanistan, which they oppose.
Their concern is understandable. Bob Woodward has reported how Petraeus mentor Gen. Jack Keane has already begun prepping Petraeus for a run for president. A Republican Party desperate for leaders other than Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee will probably draft him as a presidential candidate if he can continue to avoid blame for his disastrous mismanagement of the Af-Pak theater. Petraeus protégé McChrystal’s disloyal and unprecedented public pressure on Obama for a troop buildup has clearly functioned as an attempt to blame Obama for the inevitable Afghan disasters to come even if Petraeus does not run for president. Obama’s aides are undoubtedly desperate to find a credible alternative to a growing U.S. troop buildup and skyrocketing American casualties in Afghanistan.
Though understandable, however, escalating in Pakistan would be dangerously and foolishly myopic, risking “unintended consequences” far exceeding even the disasters of Indochina and Iraq, and crippling the Obama presidency even more than if it were to withdraw from an Afghanistan where al-Qaida is no longer present and to which it is unlikely to return.
Petraeus, as the military chief of the Af-Pak theater enjoying even greater “influence” than the Joint Chiefs, has already seen his forays into Pakistan drive the Taliban and al-Qaida eastward, vastly increase both their strength and that of homegrown terrorists, create a vast upsurge in popular anti-American feeling, divide the Pakistani military, and destabilize an already unpopular and corrupt Pakistani government. Further destabilizing a nuclear-armed Pakistan already engaged in a cold and sometimes hot war with India could lead to a U.S. foreign policy crisis dwarfing Afghanistan and Iraq combined.
Shawcross’ “Sideshow” provides a cautionary tale of the kind of unintended consequences that going after enemy “sanctuaries” can lead to. President Nixon, after taking office in January 1969, and Henry Kissinger, who directed U.S. policy and bombing in Cambodia, decided to go after North Vietnamese “sanctuaries” in the sparsely populated northeast regions of an otherwise neutral and peaceful Cambodia. They began by unilaterally conducting secret and massive B-52 bombing raids, violating both the U.S. Constitution and the Nuremberg principles. When the bombing raids did not succeed, they invaded Cambodia with U.S. and South Vietnamese forces. When that failed they escalated their bombing, using B-52s against civilian targets in one of the most savage bombing campaigns of civilians in history. They also created and propped up the corrupt and totally incompetent regime of Gen. Lon Nol, who had overthrown Prince Sihanouk, until Nol’s loss to the murderous Khmer Rouge in April 1975.
The “unintended consequences” of the Nixon-Kissinger attempt to destroy North Vietnamese “sanctuaries” in Cambodia included:
Driving the North Vietnamese westward into Cambodia, weakening and destabilizing the Lon Nol government.
Transforming the Khmer Rouge from a small and ineffectual force numbering no more than a few hundred into a large army capable of defeating the combined forces of U.S. airpower and the Lon Nol army. Had Nixon and Kissinger respected Sihanouk and not bombed and invaded Cambodia, there is little reason to believe that the Khmer Rouge would have taken power.
Fostering widespread pogroms and massacres of Vietnamese citizens of Cambodia, poisoning Vietnamese-Cambodian relations even further.
Murdering, maiming, impoverishing and starving countless Cambodians, even before the Khmer Rouge came to power.
And this occurred in a nation of only 7 million that posed little threat to anyone beyond Vietnam. The Pakistan issue, of course, is far, far more serious.
Interestingly enough, Kissinger—like so many others, including his protégé Richard Holbrooke—appears to have learned nothing from his destruction of Cambodia. Writing in Newsweek on Oct. 3, Kissinger opined that “a sudden reversal of American policy would fundamentally affect domestic stability in Pakistan by freeing the Qaeda forces along the Afghan border for even deeper incursions into Pakistan, threatening domestic chaos.” Of course, the opposite is true in reality. It is the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan that has driven “the Qaeda forces”—and the Taliban—further east into Pakistan, threatening the same kind of “domestic chaos” that Kissinger produced 40 years ago when his bombing drove the North Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge further west into Cambodia.
But Kissinger’s remark about what al-Qaida might do in the event of a U.S. withdrawal is more to the point. He is fatuous in suggesting that an American withdrawal from Pakistan would “free” al-Qaida to move more deeply into Pakistan. Al-Qaida is already making deep inroads into Pakistan beyond the Northwest Frontier Territories and is likely to continue to do so whatever happens in Afghanistan. But if so, this raises a basic question: Why are we fighting in Afghanistan if “Qaeda forces” are unlikely to return there even if the Taliban wins?
It is impossible at this point to predict the precise “unintended consequences” of further U.S. escalation in Pakistan. Experts worry that dissident elements in the Pakistani military might supply one or more of Pakistan’s dozens of nuclear weapons to terrorists; that anti-American terrorist forces could increase as unexpectedly as did the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia; that a further strengthening of al-Qaida could lead to new 9/11s; that the Pakistani government could be weakened from within; and that tensions between Pakistan and India could reach unprecedentedly dangerous level.
Two things are certain at this point, however.
First, the U.S. has even less control over events in Pakistan than it does in Afghanistan. It is the height of hubris, the arrogance of power and sheer folly to continue unleashing forces there which it cannot control.
Second, despite the horror of the Nixon-Kissinger destruction of Cambodia, it did indeed remain a “sideshow.” Today, it is Afghanistan which is the sideshow. Allowing Pakistan to become the main event would constitute the greatest U.S foreign policy error of the post-World War II era, destroy the Obama presidency and lead to the election of an authoritarian Republican president in 2012 who could make us yearn for the days of George W. Bush.
This article, by Ann Tyson was published in the Washington Post, October 8, 2009
Army officers gathered at a convention in Washington this week said senior White House officials should not have rebuked Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, for saying publicly that a scaled-back war effort would not succeed.
The hallways at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center buzzed with sympathy for McChrystal, who has said the U.S.-led effort in Afghanistan risks failure without a rapid infusion of additional forces. Obama and his advisers are now debating strategy in Afghanistan, with some officials arguing against additional deployments.
"It was definitely a hand slap," one Army officer said of the statement last weekend by national security adviser James L. Jones, a retired Marine general, that military officials should pass advice to President Obama through their chain of command. The Army officer, like others attending the annual meeting of the Association of the United States Army, spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the politically sensitive issue.
A number of senior Army officers compared McChrystal to Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the Army chief of staff who warned before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 that it would take several hundred thousand troops to secure the country -- advice that was dismissed as "wildly off the mark" by then Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz.
"You know what happened to Shinseki," said one Army general, referring to what many officers believe was the Bush administration's punitive treatment of the general, now Obama's secretary of veteran affairs. Shinseki's assessment was vindicated when President George W. Bush increased U.S. troop levels in Iraq.
"We take the kids to war and ask them to take a bullet. So you won't stop Stan from saying what he thinks is best for the mission and the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines," said the general, who is an acquaintance of McChrystal's.
Other officers faulted the Obama and Bush administrations for failing to define the mission in Afghanistan, leaving a series of commanders to do so on their own. "McChrystal was sent to fix Afghanistan -- is that to get rid of the Taliban or al-Qaeda?" said a one-star Army general. "Without the mission being defined well, you've left it to them to decide what to do."
Several officers said such tensions arose because the military is serving a civilian leadership. "You kind of get used to it after years of service," the Army general said. "We tend to live with it."
Some officers observed that political leaders must commit the resources needed to fulfill their goals. If not, they said, the goals must change. "Gen. McChrystal has given an assessment of what the military strategy should be to achieve the political objective," said an Army officer who served in Afghanistan under McChrystal and his predecessor, Gen. David D. McKiernan, who was abruptly relieved in May by the Pentagon leadership.
"It comes down to: How much am I willing to commit, and if I can't contribute what the commander needs, do I have to change my objective? It happens time and time again with senior military commanders and civilian leaders." Policy in Afghanistan
For years, U.S. commanders in Afghanistan have said they need thousands of additional troops to combat a growing Taliban insurgency and to train the Afghan army and police forces. As the violence began to increase in the country in 2006 and 2007, the Bush administration made it clear to commanders that no significant troop increase in Afghanistan was possible given the priority placed on quelling the violence in Iraq, according to officers familiar with decisions at that time. McKiernan made a very public appeal for tens of thousands of additional forces, and that led to initial troop increases first under Bush and then Obama.
When McChrystal was selected by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to replace McKiernan, the belief in military circles was that he would be given the resources to conduct a comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan -- finally providing what officers had long believed was necessary to try to stem increasing violence.
The Pentagon has also pressed NATO and other international allies to supply more forces, but Army officers at the convention voiced concern that signs of division within the Obama administration over Afghanistan strategy could sap the commitment of governments struggling to maintain public support for a sustained campaign.
Several officers simply shrugged off the civilian admonishments to the military -- most recently issued by Gates, who on Monday pointedly told hundreds of Army personnel attending an opening ceremony of the convention that military advice should be candid but private.
"The public admonishments -- fine. If you made general, you've been chewed out a few times," said one senior Army general.
Officers said there was no question that McChrystal and other commanders would carry out whatever decisions Obama makes. "We will tell you what we think, but we are also soldiers, so if the president gives an order, we will execute it," the senior officer said.
This article, by Peter Baker and Eric Schmitt, was published in The New York Times, October 7, 2009
WASHINGTON — President Obama’s national security team is moving to reframe its war strategy by emphasizing the campaign against Al Qaeda in Pakistan while arguing that the Taliban in Afghanistan do not pose a direct threat to the United States, officials said Wednesday.
As Mr. Obama met with advisers for three hours to discuss Pakistan, the White House said he had not decided whether to approve a proposed troop buildup in Afghanistan. But the shift in thinking, outlined by senior administration officials on Wednesday, suggests that the president has been presented with an approach that would not require all of the additional troops that his commanding general in the region has requested.
It remains unclear whether everyone in Mr. Obama’s war cabinet fully accepts this view. While Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has argued for months against increasing troops in Afghanistan because Pakistan was the greater priority, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates have both warned that the Taliban remain linked to Al Qaeda and would give their fighters havens again if the Taliban regained control of all or large parts of Afghanistan, making it a mistake to think of them as separate problems.
Moreover, Mr. Obama’s commander there, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, has argued that success demands a substantial expansion of the American presence, up to 40,000 more troops. Any decision that provides less will expose the president to criticism, especially from Republicans, that his policy is a prescription for failure.
The White House appears to be trying to prepare the ground to counter that by focusing attention on recent successes against Qaeda cells in Pakistan. The approach described by administration officials on Wednesday amounted to an alternative to the analysis presented by General McChrystal. If, as the White House has asserted in recent weeks, it has improved the ability of the United States to reduce the threat from Al Qaeda, then the war in Afghanistan is less central to American security.
In reviewing General McChrystal’s request, the White House is rethinking what was, just six months ago, a strategy that viewed Pakistan and Afghanistan as a single integrated problem. Now the discussions in the White House Situation Room, according to several administration officials and outsiders who have spoken with them, are focusing on related but separate strategies for fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
“Clearly, Al Qaeda is a threat not only to the U.S. homeland and American interests abroad, but it has a murderous agenda,” one senior administration official said in an interview initiated by the White House on Wednesday on the condition of anonymity because the strategy review has not been finished. “We want to destroy its leadership, its infrastructure and its capability.”
The official contrasted that with the Afghan Taliban, which the administration has begun to define as an indigenous group that aspires to reclaim territory and rule the country but does not express ambitions of attacking the United States. “When the two are aligned, it’s mainly on the tactical front,” the official said, noting that Al Qaeda has fewer than 100 fighters in Afghanistan.Another official, who also was authorized to speak but not to be identified, said the different views of Al Qaeda and the Taliban were driving the president’s review. “To the extent that Al Qaeda has been degraded, and it has, and to the extent you believe you need to focus on destroying it going forward, what is required going forward?” the official asked. “And to prevent it from having a safe haven?”
The officials argued that while Al Qaeda was a foreign body, the Taliban could not be wholly removed from Afghanistan because they were too ingrained in the country. Moreover, the forces often described as Taliban are actually an amalgamation of militants that includes local warlords like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the Haqqani network or others driven by local grievances rather than jihadist ideology.
Mr. Obama has defined his mission in Afghanistan and Pakistan as trying “to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda and other extremist networks around the world.” But he made it clear during a visit to the National Counterterrorism Center on Tuesday that the larger goal behind the mission was to protect the United States. “That’s the principal threat to the American people,” he said.
Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said Wednesday that Mr. Obama’s “primary focus is on groups and their allies that can strike our homeland, strike our allies, or groups who would provide safe haven for those that wish to do that.”
The discussion about whether the Taliban pose a threat to the United States has been at the heart of the administration’s debate about what to do in Afghanistan. Some in the Biden camp say that the Taliban can be contained with current troop levels and eventually by Afghan forces trained by the United States.
Moreover, they suggest that the Taliban have no interest in letting Al Qaeda back into Afghanistan because that was what cost them power when they were toppled by American-backed Afghan rebels in 2001.
“The policy people and the intelligence people inside are having a big argument over this,” said Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations who has advised Mr. Biden. “Is the Taliban a loose collection of people we can split up? Can we split the Taliban from Al Qaeda? If the Taliban comes back to power in parts of Afghanistan, are they going to bring Al Qaeda back with them?”
Some analysts say that the Taliban and Al Qaeda have actually grown closer since the first American bombs fell on the Shomali Plain north of Kabul eight years ago Tuesday.
“The kind of separation that existed between the Taliban and Al Qaeda in 2001 really doesn’t exist anymore,” said Anthony H. Cordesman, a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who has advised General McChrystal. “You have much more ideological elements in the Taliban. In the east, they’re really mixed in with Al Qaeda.”
Frances Fragos Townsend, who was President George W. Bush’s homeland security adviser, said the two groups remained linked.
“It’s a dangerous argument to assume that the Taliban won’t revert to where they were pre-9/11 and provide Al Qaeda sanctuary,” she said. Referring to General McChrystal, she added, “If you don’t give him the troops he asked for and continue with the Predator strikes, you can kill them one at a time, but you’re not going to drain the swamp.”
Officials said Wednesday that General McChrystal’s official request for additional forces was forwarded to Mr. Obama last week. Mr. Gates’s spokesman, Geoff Morrell, said Mr. Gates had given Mr. Obama “an informal copy” at the president’s request.
The meeting on Wednesday was Mr. Obama’s third with his full national security team. Another is scheduled for Friday to talk about Afghanistan and then a fifth is planned, possibly for next week. Mr. Gibbs said the president was still several weeks away from a decision.
This article, by Christi Parson, was published in the LA Times, October 6, 2009
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Monday that President Obama's advisors should keep their guidance private, in effect admonishing the top commander in Afghanistan for publicly advocating an approach requiring more troops even as the White House reassesses its strategy.
The comment by Gates came a day after Obama's national security advisor, James L. Jones, said that military commanders should convey their advice through the chain of command -- a reaction to Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's public statements in support of his troop-intensive strategy for stabilizing Afghanistan.
The exchanges suggested some disarray in the Obama administration's attempts to forge a new policy on Afghanistan and underscored wide differences among top officials over the correct approach.
In May, Obama tapped McChrystal, a special forces commander, to take charge of the Afghanistan effort and institute a sweeping counterinsurgency strategy. Obama and McChrystal spoke Friday aboard Air Force One on an airport tarmac in Copenhagen, and White House officials did not detail what the two talked about.
Still, Pentagon officials dismissed suggestions Monday that the 55-year-old commander was in any professional jeopardy. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said it would be "absurd" to think McChrystal had lost favor or standing with the administration.
Gates' comments, in an address before an Assn. of the U.S. Army meeting, came in the midst of what the Pentagon chief called a "hyper-partisan" debate over Afghanistan policy. Many Republicans and even some leading Democrats demand the president comply with commanders' troop requests.
The deaths of eight U.S. service members in an insurgent attack in a remote area over the weekend fueled the political fight. At least one prominent Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, argued that the failure to send more troops would lead to additional deaths.
With public opinion turning against the war, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will meet today with congressional leaders. The president is scheduled to chair a strategy session Wednesday with top advisors.
Gates, demanding room for the administration's deliberations, said the resulting decisions would be among the most important of Obama's presidency.
"It is important that we take our time to do all we can to get this right," Gates said in his address. "And in this process, it is imperative that all of us taking part in these deliberations, civilians and military alike, provide our best advice to the president candidly but privately."
Morrell said Gates' comments were not solely directed at McChrystal.
"He is urging all military and civilian advisors to the president to keep their counsel to him private," Morrell said. "At this stage in the deliberations about Afghanistan, no one involved should be speaking publicly about them."
In London last week, McChrystal said his strategy stood the best chance of success in Afghanistan. The general has submitted a request for up to 40,000 additional troops to support his approach to the war.
In a question-and-answer session after the speech, he rejected proposals to limit U.S. involvement to attacking extremists and pursuing Al Qaeda militants, the type of plan Biden favors.
Asked whether it would be sufficient in the future for the U.S. to limit itself to targeted strikes at militants in Afghanistan, he said: "A strategy that does not leave Afghanistan in a stable position is probably a shortsighted strategy."
On Sunday, Jones seemed to suggestthat McChrystal was talking out of turn and that military advice should "come up through the chain of command."
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, echoing comments by Jones and Gates, said the process Obama is following is "one of the most open" she has seen.
"It is unusual for all advice about military matters to be in public for a president," Clinton said in a joint appearance with Gates before students at George Washington University.
Gates, responding to a question about whether McChrystal was being "muzzled," said the U.S. and allied commander would testify before Congress, as Republicans are demanding, once Obama has made his strategy decisions.
Gates and Clinton said the U.S. objective in Afghanistan remains to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat" Al Qaeda, but the plans for achieving that goal are under review.
However, the administration is not considering plans to leave Afghanistan, Gates said.
For Obama, it is the second such assessment in only nine months. Though he has long considered Afghanistan a "war of necessity," Obama was confronted with flagging U.S. fortunes when he took office in January and launched a strategy review.
In March, he unveiled the results: a sweeping strategy seen as a victory for advocates of deeper U.S. involvement that could require larger numbers of U.S. troops working to protect the Afghan population and build trust in the country's government.
Obama replaced the former allied commander, Gen. David D. McKiernan, with McChrystal, an expert in the counterinsurgency style of warfare. He also gave wide latitude to Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in the Mideast, and to his special representative for the region, Richard Holbrooke, a supporter of a large U.S. effort.
An immediate job for the revamped military strategy was to safeguard Afghanistan's August presidential election, which officials regarded as key to restoring the Afghan public's trust in the government.
Toward that end, Obama ordered 21,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, a deployment increasing the U.S. force to more than 60,000. In addition, there are about 38,000 North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led troops.
The U.S. and NATO-led forces succeeded in keeping the presidential election free of widespread violence. Incumbent President Hamid Karzai claimed victory, but the balloting was marred by charges of rampant fraud.
As the election dispute threatened to further undermine public confidence in the government, Obama last month appeared to back off the pledge to go with deeper U.S. involvement. By late September, Obama said additional reviews were needed to fine-tune the U.S. strategy, both in the wake of the botched election and deteriorating security.
Both Clinton and Gates defended the pace of the White House assessment.
"We're trying to look at it from the ground up," Clinton said, and "further our core objectives of protecting our country."
This article, by Ron Jacobs, was published by CounterPunch, October 7, 2009
In 1967 Norman Mailer released a novel titled Why Are We In Vietnam? This exercise by Mailer is the story of a couple 18 year-old Texans off on a hunting trip with their wealthy fathers. The quartet are consumed with an overload of braggadocio and testosterone. The story of the trip, which is full of whiskey and tales of past sexual conquests, racial slurs and assumptions of American exceptionalism, is told through the eyes of one of the younger men. It is obviously meant as a psychological metaphor for why the US fought in Vietnam. Like the film The Deer Hunter and a number of other films having to do with killing America's enemies, the nature of US machismo and its curious confusion with racism and homophobia, Why Are We In Vietnam? puts forth the proposition that not only is the rugged individualism of the white-skinned pioneer essential to the myth of the US conquest of the North America continent, it is also essential to the expansion of US capitalism as well.
If one explores this idea in the context of recent history both on Wall Street and in Washington's current overseas adventures, it become clearer why very few folks in Imperial Washington – though not in the rest of the country -- want to get out of Iraq or Afghanistan. The projection of military power overseas becomes compensation for the shrinking economic power of Wall Street. Liberal and right wing believers whose stock in the church of capital has fallen can still feel good about themselves as long as their mission continues overseas against the Muslim and peasant hordes. As for the heretics within, let the loudmouth preachers of right wing radio condemn those citizens to the mercies of the angry white men and Sarah Palin--their Joan of Arc. Once the heretics have been burned at the stake of right wing rhetoric, the armies of the right will end their Tea Parties, pick up their weapons and take back the White House, installing a white person back in the Presidential bedrooms. Once done, that black man who's in those bedrooms right now would no longer be a threat, having been emasculated just like a Scottsboro Boy..
So, while Mr. Obama (that black man) ponders whether or not he should continue the US projection of power into Afghanistan begun by his predecessor, Texan George Bush, or pull out, one wonders if Obama is part of the hunting party on par with the plantation's generals or is he just the guy who must retrieve and dress the kill? .
If he accepts General McChrystal's call for more troops and the consequent increase in bloodshed, does Obama then become a trusted equal to the generals or the Pentagon's Stepin' Fetchit? If he rejects this and future calls to escalate this fruitless war, will he be sent back into the kitchen to wait for the bell telling him to bring out the next course or will it represent a defeat for the current crop of General Custers?.
Then again, there's the Biden option. This proposal would repackage the war in Afghanistan under its original wrapping as part of the "war on terror." This repackaging would require a bit of convoluted convincing since national security adviser Ret. General James Jones told the media that "fewer than 100 Al-Qaida (the bogeymen of Islamic terror) are operating in Afghanistan." Of course, the hawks in DC counter this statement with the argument that it is precisely because there are US troops in Afghanistan that Al Qaida's strength has diminished. However, the fault in this line of reasoning can be found in the supposition of its supporters that the Taliban must be defeated to keep Al Qaida on the run. Why? Because at the same time that Al Qaida's activities in Afghanistan have diminished, the strength of Taliban and other resistance forces have grown. In other words, even though Al Qaida forces have almost ended operations in Afghanistan, the resistance to western occupation has grown..
Then there’s the question of Pakistan. In recent weeks, US officials have begun to suggest the existence of a Taliban formation in the Baluchistan province of Pakistan. Furthermore, US Ambassador Anne W. Patterson and a junior US diplomat – Deputy Head of Mission Gerald Feierstein in Pakistan -- have threatened US air strikes on the city of Quetta where this grouping—called the Quetta shira by western media—are supposed to be quartered. These threats have been met by calls for the expulsion of these diplomats in at least one Pakistani media outlets. If US troop numbers are increased in Afghanistan, the staging of a ground invasion into Waziristan or Baluchistan or air strikes not carried out by drones launched in Nevada becomes that much easier. If changing the situation in Pakistan is a dominant reason for the current debate over mission and troop numbers in Afghanistan and the battle in Afghanistan is considered just part of that equation, then there is little doubt that US troops will remain in that country for the foreseeable future. Furthermore, the likelihood of their numbers increasing becomes even greater. On Monday Obama said withdrawal from Afghanistan wasn’t an option.
This article, by Tom Engelhardt, was posted to Alternet, September 26, 2009
Front and center in the debate over the Afghan War these days are General Stanley "Stan" McChrystal, Afghan war commander, whose "classified, pre-decisional" and devastating report -- almost eight years and at least $220 billion later, the war is a complete disaster -- was conveniently, not to say suspiciously, leaked to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post by we-know-not-who at a particularly embarrassing moment for Barack Obama; Admiral Michael "Mike" Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has been increasingly vocal about a "deteriorating" war and the need for more American boots on the ground; and the president himself, who blitzed every TV show in sight last Sunday and Monday for his health reform program, but spent significant time expressing doubts about sending more American troops to Afghanistan. ("I'm not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan... or sending a message that America is here for the duration.")
On the other hand, here's someone you haven't seen front and center for a while: General David Petraeus. He was, of course, George W. Bush's pick to lead the president's last-ditch effort in Iraq. He was the poster boy for Bush's military policies in his last two years. He was the highly praised architect and symbol of "the surge." He appeared repeatedly, his chest a mass of medals and ribbons, for heavily publicized, widely televised congressional testimony, complete with charts and graphs, that was meant, at least in part, for the American public. He was the man who, to use an image from that period which has recently resurfaced, managed to synchronize the American and Baghdad "clocks," pacifying for a time both the home and war fronts.
He never met a journalist, as far as we can tell, he didn't want to woo. (And he clearly won over the influential Tom Ricks, then of the Washington Post, who wrote The Gamble, a bestselling paean to him and his sub-commanders.) From the look of it, he's the most political general to come down the pike since, in 1951 in the midst of the Korean War, General Douglas MacArthur said his goodbyes to Congress after being cashiered by President Truman for insubordination -- for, in effect, wanting to run his own war and the foreign policy that went with it. It was Petraeus who brought Vietnam-era counterinsurgency doctrine (COIN) back from the crypt, overseeing the writing of a new Army counterinsurgency manual that would make it central to both the ongoing wars and what are already being referred to as the "next" ones.
Before he left office, Bush advanced his favorite general to the head of U.S. Central Command, which oversees the former president's Global War on Terror across the energy heartlands of the planet from Egypt to Pakistan. The command is, of course, especially focused on Bush's two full-scale wars: the Iraq War, now being pursued under Petraeus's former subordinate, General Ray Odierno, and the Afghan War, for which Petraeus seems to have personally handpicked a new commanding general, Stan McChrystal. From the military's dark side world of special ops and targeted assassinations, McChrystal had operated in Iraq and was also part of an Army promotion board headed by Petraeus that advanced the careers of officers committed to counterinsurgency. To install McChrystal in May, Obama abruptly sacked the then-Afghan war commander, General David McKiernan, in what was then considered, with some exaggeration, a new MacArthur moment.
On taking over, McChrystal, who had previously been a counterterrorism guy (and isn't about to give that up, either), swore fealty to counterinsurgency doctrine (that is, to Petraeus) by proclaiming that the American goal in Afghanistan must not be primarily to hunt down and kill Taliban insurgents, but to "protect the population." He also turned to a "team" of civilian experts, largely gathered from Washington think-tanks, a number of whom had been involved in planning out Petraeus's Iraq surge of 2007, to make an assessment of the state of the war and what needed to be done. Think of them as the Surgettes.
As in many official reassessments, the cast of characters essentially guaranteed the results before a single meeting was held. Based on past history and opinions, this team could only provide one Petraeus-approved answer to the war: more -- more troops, up to 40,000-45,000 of them, and other resources for an American counterinsurgency operation without end.
Hence, even if McChrystal's name is on it, the report slipped to Bob Woodward which just sandbagged the president has a distinctly Petraeusian shape to it. In a piece linked to Woodward's bombshell in the Washington Post, Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Karen DeYoung wrote of unnamed officials in Washington who claimed "the military has been trying to push Obama into a corner." The language in the coverage elsewhere has been similar.
There is, wrote DeYoung a day later, now a "rupture" between the military "pushing for an early decision to send more troops" and civilian policymakers "increasingly doubtful of an escalating nation-building effort." Nancy Youssef of McClatchy News wrote about how "mixed signals" from Washington were causing "increasing ire from U.S. commanders in Afghanistan"; a group of McClatchy reporters talked of military advocates of escalation feeling "frustration" over "White House dithering." David Sanger of the New York Times described "a split between an American military that says it needs more troops now and an American president clearly reluctant to leap into that abyss." "Impatient" is about the calmest word you'll see for the attitude of the military top command right now.
Buyer's Remorse, the Afghan War, and the President
In the midst of all this, between Admiral Mullen and General McChrystal is, it seems, a missing man. The most photogenic general in our recent history, the man who created the doctrine and oversees the war, the man who is now shaping the U.S. Army (and its future plans and career patterns), is somehow, at this crucial moment, out of the Washington spotlight. This last week General Petraeus was, in fact, in England, giving a speech and writing an article for the (London) Times laying out his basic "protect the population" version of counterinsurgency and praising our British allies by quoting one of their great imperial plunderers. ("If Cecil Rhodes was correct in his wonderful observation that 'being an Englishman is the greatest prize in the lottery of life,' and I'm inclined to think that he was, then the second greatest prize in the lottery of life must be to be a friend of an Englishman, and based on that, the more than 230,000 men and women in uniform who work with your country's finest day by day are very lucky indeed, as am I.")
Only at mid-week, with Washington aboil, did he arrive in the capital for a counterinsurgency conference at the National Press Club and quietly "endorse" "General McChrystal's assessment." Whatever the look of things, however, it's unlikely that Petraeus is actually on the sidelines at this moment of heightened tension. He is undoubtedly still The Man.
So much is, of course, happening just beyond the sightlines of those of us who are mere citizens of this country, which is why inference and guesswork are, unfortunately, the order of the day. Read any account in a major newspaper right now and it's guaranteed to be chock-a-block full of senior officials and top military officers who are never "authorized to speak," but nonetheless yak away from behind a scrim of anonymity. Petraeus may or may not be one of them, but the odds are reasonable that this is still a Petraeus Moment.
If so, Obama has only himself to blame. He took up Afghanistan ("the right war") in the presidential campaign as proof that, despite wanting to end the war in Iraq, he was tough. (Why is it that a Democratic candidate needs a war or threat of war to trash-talk about in order to prove his "strength," when doing so is obviously a sign of weakness?)
Once in office, Obama compounded the damage by doubling down his bet on the war. In March, he introduced a "comprehensive new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan" in his first significant public statement on the subject, which had expansion written all over it. He also agreed to send in 21,000 more troops (which, by the way, Petraeus reportedly convinced him to do). In August, in another sign of weakness masquerading as strength, before an unenthusiastic audience at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, he unnecessarily declared: "This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity." All of this he will now pay for at the hands of Petraeus, or if not him, then a coterie of military men behind the latest push for a new kind of Afghan War.
As it happens, this was never Obama's "war of necessity." It was always Petraeus's. And the new report from McChrystal and the Surgettes is undoubtedly Petraeus's progeny as well. It seems, in fact, cleverly put together to catch a cautious president, who wasn't cautious enough about his war of choice, in a potentially devastating trap. The military insistence on quick action on a troop decision sets up a devastating choice for the president: "Failure to provide adequate resources also risks a longer conflict, greater casualties, higher overall costs, and ultimately, a critical loss of political support. Any of these risks, in turn, are likely to result in mission failure." Go against your chosen general and the failure that follows is yours alone. (Unnamed figures supposedly close to McChrystal are already launching test balloons, passed on by others, suggesting that the general might resign in protest if the president doesn't deliver -- a possibility he has denied even considering.) On the other hand, offer him somewhere between 15,000 and 45,000 more American troops as well as other resources, and the failure that follows will still be yours.
It's a basic lose-lose proposition and, as journalist Eric Schmitt wrote in a New York Times assessment of the situation, "it will be very hard to say no to General McChrystal." No wonder the president and some of his men are dragging their feet and looking elsewhere. As one typically anonymous "defense analyst" quoted in the Los Angeles Times said, the administration is suffering "buyer's remorse for this war... They never really thought about what was required, and now they have sticker shock."
Admittedly, according to the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 51% of Americans are against sending in more troops. (Who knows how they would react to a president who went on TV to announce that he had genuinely reconsidered?) Official Washington is another matter. For General Petraeus, who claims to have no political ambitions but is periodically mentioned as the Eisenhower of 2012, how potentially peachy to launch your campaign against the president who lost you the war.
A Petraeus Moment?
In the present context, the media language being used to describe this military-civilian conflict of wills -- frustration, impatience, split, rupture, ire -- may fall short of capturing the import of a moment which has been brewing, institutionally speaking, for a long time. There have been increasing numbers of generals' "revolts" of various sorts in our recent past. Of course, George W. Bush was insistent on turning planning over to his generals (though only when he liked them), something Barack Obama criticized him for during the election campaign. ("The job of the commander in chief is to listen to the best counsel available and to listen even to people you don't agree with and then ultimately you make the final decision and you take responsibility for those actions.")
Now, it looks as if we are about to have a civilian-military encounter of the first order in which Obama will indeed need to take responsibility for difficult actions (or the lack thereof). If a genuine clash heats up, expect more discussion of "MacArthur moments," but this will not be Truman versus MacArthur redux, and not just because Petraeus seems to be a subtler political player than MacArthur ever was.
Over the nearly six decades that separate us from Truman's great moment, the Pentagon has become a far more overwhelming institution. In Afghanistan, as in Washington, it has swallowed up much of what once was intelligence, as it is swallowing up much of what once was diplomacy. It is linked to one of the two businesses, the Pentagon-subsidized weapons industry, which has proven an American success story even in the worst of economic times (the other remains Hollywood). It now holds a far different position in a society that seems to feed on war.
It's one thing for the leaders of a country to say that war should be left to the generals when suddenly embroiled in conflict, quite another when that country is eternally in a state of war. In such a case, if you turn crucial war decisions over to the military, you functionally turn foreign policy over to them as well. All of this is made more complicated, because the cast of "civilians" theoretically pitted against the military right now includes Karl W. Eikenberry, a retired lieutenant general who is the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Douglas Lute, a lieutenant general who is the president's special advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan (dubbed the "war czar" when he held the same position in the Bush administration), and James Jones, a retired Marine Corps general, who is national security advisor, not to speak of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The question is: will an already heavily militarized foreign policy geared to endless global war be surrendered to the generals? Depending on what Obama does, the answer to that question may not be fully, or even largely, clarified this time around. He may quietly give way, or they may, or compromises may be reached behind the scenes. After all, careers and political futures are at stake.
But consider us warned. This is a question that is not likely to go away and that may determine what this country becomes.
We know what a MacArthur moment was; we may find out soon enough what a Petraeus moment is.