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This article, by Harvey Wassereman, was published by the Rag Blog, October 24, 2009
Some military coups are still done the old-fashioned way. Tanks surround the capital, generals grab the radio station, the slaughter begins.
Here, the Declaration of Independence scorned King George III for elevating his army over our colonial legislatures. The founders opposed a standing army. Our first Commander George Washington warned against military entanglements. So did Dwight Eisenhower nearly two centuries later. These "quaint" monuments to civilian rule form the core of our constitutional culture.
So when the Pentagon wants to trash inconvenient opposition and escalate yet another war, it seeks subtler means. For example: the "virtual coup" now being staged in league with the New York Times, aimed at plunging us catastrophically deeper into Afghanistan.
It's how they drove us into the abyss in Vietnam and Iraq. It demands we decide who will rule -- the Pentagon, or the public.
It was the military's manipulative misreporting in Vietnam that fueled Lyndon Johnson's 1965 disastrous escalation. With the much-medalled William Westmoreland front and center, the Pentagon concocted a non-existent attack in the Gulf of Tonkin, warned that a communist victory would bring on the Apocalypse, told LBJ he could win, and ran its occupation army up to 550,000 troops.
When its last advisors fled in shame off that Saigon rooftop, the Pentagon blamed those who had opposed the war from the start. It assaulted the heroic independent reporters who exposed the war's true horrors. It even attacked the corporate media that had been its willing partner in the war's creation.
To its credit, the Times broke from its early support, making welcome history by publishing the Pentagon Papers, among much else. As today, it published opposing views all the way through.
But its big guns enlisted again in Iraq. The Bush Administration needed no convincing, but the American public did. Led by warhawk cheerleaders Thomas Friedman and Judith Miller, the Journal of Record sold a war based on Weapons of Mass Destruction and Dick Cheney's "grateful" Iraqi citizenry, both of which were non-existent.
Today central casting has brought us Stanley McChrystal to rerun the role of Westmoreland/Cheney. Now the hero of an endless stream of hauntingly familiar puff pieces, the General's carefully leaked "secret" demand for "a bare minimum" of 40,000 more troops to avoid "mission failure" has become the ultimate blackmail note, the core of a virtual coup in the making.
It comes as the Times concocts a report on "frustrations and anxiety [that] are on the rise within the military." Among “active duty and retired senior officers” there is "concern that the president is moving too slowly, is revisiting a war strategy he announced in March and is unduly influenced by political advisers in the Situation Room."
"Unduly influenced by political advisers?" Does this mean that for the Commander in Chief, elected by the people of the United States, advice is duly acceptable only from hawks in uniform?
Joining Tom Friedman (again!) is the Times's Roger Cohen, who says Obama needs "endurance" because if we lose in "Afghanistan, Pakistan and Pashtunistan" there "would be a disaster for Western security."
Sub in "Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos" and you can be reminded that our military is again backing a cabal of world-class heroin dealers.
And would the "loss" of AfPak, whatever that means, be a greater "disaster for Western security" than another trillion dollars diverted from education, health care, the environment, and domestic employment in a nation in deep financial chaos?
McChrystal is certainly entitled to his First Amendment rights. But so far, the American public is not buying. Polls show the country deeply divided, with slight majorities opposed to McChrystal's demand for more troops. That means, there is nothing like the public consensus that should be required for any military excursion.
The key may be the money. In the booming sixties, we could "afford" to blow $100 billion or more on a futile, senseless war merely by bankrupting our health care system, blowing college tuitions through the roof, sacking our infrastructure, failing to upgrade our grid and power systems, debasing our currency, falling from an exporting powerhouse to an import addict, and much more.
The Pentagon's gratuitous squander of another trillion in Iraq has helped squeeze the last of that "fat" out of our economy. A U.S. far beyond the brink of bankruptcy is being told to "stay the course" in the Graveyard of Great Powers, a country the size of Texas, a deathtrap to every invader for the past 2,300 years, including the Soviet Union. Pakistan is about twice the size of California. AfPak together have more than 200,000,000 people, more than 2/3 the population of the U.S.
Official military reports say there are about 100 members of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Despite the global nature of terrorism we are allegedly there to stamp out, no other nation seems compelled to join us there in any meaningful way.
Obama was elected in large part because the American public has sensed that -- unlike his predecessor or opponent -- he is intelligent enough to grasp all this. He ran promising a full commitment in Afghanistan. Now he has dared to take his time making a final decision. But will he have the courage to stand against the brass at crunch time?
Robert Gates, the Bush holdover at Defense, who won't set a timetable for withdrawal, has gone public with his demand for more troops. As Yale's David Bromwich puts it, the brass at The Times wants "a large escalation in Afghanistan. The paper has been made nervous by signs that the president may not make the big push for a bigger war; and they are showing what the rest of his time in office will be like if he does not cooperate."
In other words, the virtual tanks have again surrounded the White House.
We cannot let them win. Another bloody, trillion-dollar Lone Ranger fiasco will definitively end any hope for health care, employment, education, the environment, a decent life for our children.
As usual, the Pentagon will be enriched and empowered. We will be impoverished and disenfranchised. Isn't that what coups are all about?
So when the military and its minions demand we defer to their "experts," we might recall the Cuban Missile Crisis. At its most terrifying peak, President John Kennedy -- himself genuine war hero -- polled the Joint Chiefs on how to respond to Soviet warheads in the western hemisphere. The generals unanimously demanded a nuclear attack. Thankfully, the president and his brother, the Attorney General, stood their ground.
Obama must now do the same. There are nuances in all global conflicts. But in an electronic age, when perception means virtually everything, the question is not just what happens in Afghanistan.
It is who rules here at home -- the Pentagon, or the public.
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 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.
This article, by Rick Rozoff, was posted to his blog rickrozoff.wordpress.com, September 24, 2009
Over the past week U.S. newspapers and television networks have been abuzz with reports that Washington and its NATO allies are planning an unprecedented increase of troops for the war in Afghanistan, even in addition to the 17,000 new American and several thousand NATO forces that have been committed to the war so far this year.
The number, based on as yet unsubstantiated reports of what U.S. and NATO commander Stanley McChrystal and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen have demanded of the White House, range from 10,000 to 45,000.
Fox News has cited figures as high as 45,000 more American soldiers and ABC News as many as 40,000. On September 15 the Christian Science Monitor wrote of “perhaps as many as 45,000.”
The similarity of the estimates indicate that a number has been agreed upon and America’s obedient media is preparing domestic audiences for the possibility of the largest escalation of foreign armed forces in Afghanistan’s history. Only seven years ago the United States had 5,000 troops in the country, but was scheduled to have 68,000 by December even before the reports of new deployments surfaced.
An additional 45,000 troops would bring the U.S. total to 113,000. There are also 35,000 troops from some 50 other nations serving under NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in the nation, which would raise combined troop strength under McChrystal’s command to 148,000 if the larger number of rumored increases materializes.
As the former Soviet Union withdrew its soldiers from Afghanistan twenty years ago the New York Times reported “At the height of the Soviet commitment, according to Western intelligence estimates, there were 115,000 troops deployed.” 
Nearly 150,000 U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan would represent the largest foreign military presence ever in the land.
Rather than addressing this historic watershed, the American media is full of innuendos and “privileged” speculation on who has leaked the information and why, as to commercial news operations the tawdry world of Byzantine intrigues among and between American politicians, generals and the Fourth Estate is of more importance that the lengthiest and largest war in the world.
One that has been estimated by the chief of the British armed forces and other leading Western officials to last decades and that has already been extended into Pakistan, a nation with a population almost six times that of Afghanistan and in possession of nuclear weapons.
Two weeks ago the Dutch media reported that during a visit to the Netherlands “General Stanley McChrystal [said] he is considering the possibility of merging…Operation Enduring Freedom with NATO’s ISAF force.”  That is, not only would he continue to command all U.S. and NATO troops, but the two commands would be melded into one.
The call for up to 45,000 more American troops was first adumbrated in mid-September by U.S. armed forces chief Michael Mullen, with the Associated Press stating “The top U.S. military officer says that winning in Afghanistan will probably mean sending more troops.” 
Four days later, September 19, Reuters reported that “The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan has drawn up a long-awaited and detailed request for additional troops but has not yet sent it to Washington, a spokesman said on Saturday.
“He said General Stanley McChrystal completed the document this week, setting out exactly how many U.S. and NATO troops, Afghan security force members and civilians he thinks he needs.” 
The Pentagon spokesman mentioned above, Lieutenant-Colonel Tadd Sholtis, said, “We’re working with Washington as well as the other NATO participants about how it’s best to submit this,” refusing to divulge any details. 
Two days later the Washington Post published a 66-page “redacted” version of General McChrystal’s Commander’s Initial Assessment which began with this background information:
“On 26 June, 2009, the United States Secretary of Defense directed Commander, United States Central Command (CDRUSCENTCOM), to provide a multidisciplinary assessment of the situation in Afghanistan. On 02 July, 2009, Commander, NATO International Security Assistance Force (COMISAF) / U.S. Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A), received direction from CDRUSCENTCOM to complete the overall review.
“On 01 July, 2009, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe and NATO Secretary General also issued a similar directive.
“COMISAF [Commander, NATO International Security Assistance Force] subsequently issued an order to the ISAF staff and component commands to conduct a comprehensive review to assess the overall situation, review plans and ongoing efforts, and identify revisions to operational, tactical and strategic guidance.”
The main focus of the report, not surprising given McChrystal’s previous role as head of the Joint Special Operations Command, the Pentagon’s preeminent special operations unit, in Iraq, is concentrated and intensified counterinsurgency war.
It includes the demand that “NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) requires a new strategy….This new strategy must also be properly resourced and executed through an integrated civilian-military counterinsurgency campaign….This is a different kind of fight. We must conduct classic counterinsurgency operations in an environment that is uniquely complex….Success demands a comprehensive counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign.”
McChrystal’s evaluation also indicates that the war will not only escalate within Afghanistan but will also be stepped up inside Pakistan and may even target Iran.
“Afghanistan’s insurgency is clearly supported from Pakistan. Senior leaders of the major Afghan insurgent groups are based in Pakistan, are linked with al Qaeda and other violent extremist groups, and are reportedly aided by some elements of Pakistan’s ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence].
“Iranian Qods Force [part of the nation's army] is reportedly training fighters for certain Taliban groups and providing other forms of military assistance to insurgents. Iran’s current policies and actions do not pose a short-term threat to the mission, but Iran has the capability to threaten the mission in the future.”
That the ISI has had links to armed extremists is no revelation. The Pentagon and the CIA worked hand-in-glove with it from 1979 onward to subvert successive governments in Afghanistan. That Iran is “training fighters for certain Taliban groups” is a provocational fabrication.
As to who is responsible for the thirty-year disaster that is Afghanistan, McChrystal’s assessment contains a sentence that may get past most readers. It is this:
“The major insurgent groups in order of their threat to the mission are: the Quetta Shura Taliban (05T), the Haqqani Network (HQN), and the Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin (HiG).”
The last-named is the guerrilla force of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the largest recipient of hundreds of millions (perhaps billions) of U.S. dollars provided by the CIA to the Peshawar Seven Mujahideen bloc fighting the Soviet-backed government of Afghanistan from 1978-1992.
While hosting Hekmatyar and his allies at the White House in 1985 then President Ronald Reagan referred to his guests as “the moral equivalents of America’s founding fathers.”
Throughout the 1980s the CIA official in large part tasked to assist the Mujahideen with funds, arms and training was Robert Gates, now U.S. Secretary of Defense.
Last December BBC News reported:
“In his book, From the Shadows, published in 1996, Mr Gates defended the role of the CIA in undertaking covert action which, he argued, helped to win the Cold War.
“In a speech in 1999, Mr Gates said that its most important role was in Afghanistan.
“‘CIA had important successes in covert action. Perhaps the most consequential of all was Afghanistan where CIA, with its management, funnelled billions of dollars in supplies and weapons to the mujahideen, and the resistance was thus able to fight the vaunted Soviet army to a standoff and eventually force a political decision to withdraw,’ he said.” 
Now according to McChrystal the same Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who was cultivated and sponsored by McChrystal’s current boss, Gates, is in charge of one of the three groups the Pentagon and NATO are waging ever-escalating counterinsurgency operations in South Asia against.
To make matters even more intriguing, former British foreign secretary Robin Cook – as loyal a pro-American Atlanticist as exists – conceded in the Guardian on July 8, 2005 that “Bin Laden was…a product of a monumental miscalculation by western security agencies. Throughout the 80s he was armed by the CIA and funded by the Saudis to wage jihad against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. Al-Qaida, literally ‘the database’, was originally the computer file of the thousands of mujahideen who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians.”
Russian analyst and vice president of the Center for Political Technologies Sergey Mikheev was quoted in early September as contending that “Afghanistan is a stage in the division of the world after the bipolar system failed. They [U.S. and NATO] wanted to consolidate their grip on Eurasia…and deployed a lot of troops there. The Taliban card was played, although nobody had been interested in the Taliban before.” 
Pentagon chief Gates’ 27 years in the CIA, including his tenure as director of the agency from 1991-1993, is being brought to bear on the Afghan war according to the Los Angeles Times of September 19, 2009, which revealed that “The CIA is deploying teams of spies, analysts and paramilitary operatives to Afghanistan, part of a broad intelligence ’surge’ that will make its station there among the largest in the agency’s history, U.S. officials say.
“When complete, the CIA’s presence in the country is expected to rival the size of its massive stations in Iraq and Vietnam at the height of those wars. Precise numbers are classified, but one U.S. official said the agency already has nearly 700 employees in Afghanistan.
“The intelligence expansion goes beyond the CIA to involve every major spy service, officials said, including the National Security Agency, which intercepts calls and e-mails, as well as the Defense Intelligence Agency, which tracks military threats.”
U.S. and NATO Commander McChrystal will put the CIA to immediate use in his plans for an all-out counterinsurgency campaign. The Los Angeles Times article added:
“McChrystal is expected to expand the use of teams that combine CIA operatives with special operations soldiers. In Iraq, where he oversaw the special operations forces from 2003 to 2008, McChrystal used such teams to speed up the cycle of gathering intelligence and carrying out raids aimed at killing or capturing insurgents.
“The CIA is also carrying out an escalating campaign of unmanned Predator missile strikes on Al Qaeda and insurgent strongholds in Pakistan. The number of strikes so far this year, 37, already exceeds the 2008 total, according to data compiled by the Long War Journal website, which tracks Predator strikes in Pakistan.”
Indeed, on September 13 it was reported that “Two NATO fighter jets reportedly flew inside Pakistan’s airspace for nearly two hours on Saturday.
“The airspace violation took place in different parts of the Khyber Agency bordering the Afghan border.” 
Two days later “NATO fighter jets in Afghanistan…violated Pakistani airspace and dropped bombs on the country’s northwest region.
“NATO warplanes bombed the South Waziristan tribal region….Moreover, CIA operated spy drone planes continued low-altitude flights in several towns of the Waziristan region.” 
The dramatic upsurge in CIA deployments in South Asia won’t be limited to Afghanistan. Neighboring Pakistan will be further overrun by U.S. intelligence operatives also.
On September 12 a petition was filed in the Supreme Court of Pakistan contesting the announced expansion of the U.S. embassy in the nation’s capital.
“Pakistani media have been reporting that the United States plans to deploy a large number of marines with the plan to expand its embassy in Islamabad.” 
The challenge was organized by Barrister Zafarullah Khan, who “said that Saudi Arabia was also trying to get 700,000 acres (283,400 hectares) of land in the country.”
He was quoted on the day of the presentation of the petition as warning “Giving away Pakistani land to U.S. and Arab countries in this fashion is a threat for the stability and sovereignty of the country” and “further added that the purpose of giving the land to U.S. embassy was to establish an American military base…there.
“He maintained that such a big land was enough even to construct a military airport.” 
Intelligence personnel and special forces are being matched by military equipment in the intensification of the West’s war in South Asia.
On September 10 Reuters revealed in an article titled “U.S. eyes military equipment in Iraq for Pakistan” that “The Pentagon has proposed transferring U.S. military equipment from Iraq to Pakistani security forces to help Islamabad step up its offensive against the Taliban….”
A U.S. armed forces publication a few days afterward wrote that “U.S. hardware is moving out of Iraq by the ton, much of it going straight to the overstretched forces in increasingly volatile Afghanistan” and “The U.S. military has already started moving an estimated 1.5 million pieces of equipment – everything from batteries to tanks – by ground, rail and air either to Afghanistan for immediate use….” 
In the middle of this month “U.S. military leaders infused Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s ideas of how to win the war in Afghanistan” by conducting a large-scale counterinsurgency exercise in Grafenwoehr, Germany.
“Dozens of Pashtun speakers joined more than 6,500 U.S. troops and civilians in an exercise for the Afghanistan-bound 173rd Airborne Brigade and Iraq-bound 12th Combat Aviation Brigade. It was the largest such exercise ever held by the U.S. military outside of the United States….” 
The Pentagon and NATO have their work cut out for them.
“A security map by the London-based International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) showed a deepening security crisis with substantial Taliban activity in at least 97 percent of the war-ravaged country.
“The Council added that the militants now have a permanent presence in 80 percent of the country.” 
The United States is not alone in sinking deeper into the Afghan morass.
On September 14 U.S. ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder, in celebrating the “resilience and deep-seated support from our allies for what is happening in Afghanistan,” was equally enthusiastic in proclaiming “Over 40 percent of the body bags that leave Afghanistan do not go to the U.S. They go to other countries….” 
Daalder also gave the lie to earlier claims that NATO troop increases leading up to last month’s presidential election were temporary in nature by acknowledging that “Many of the extra troops that NATO countries sent to Afghanistan for the August presidential elections would stay on.” 
Leading up to the Washington Post’s publication of the McChrystal assessment, NATO’s Military Committee held a two-day conference in Lisbon, Portugal which was attended by McChrystal and NATO’s two Strategic Commanders, Admiral Stavridis (Supreme Allied Commander, Operations) and General Abrial (Supreme Allied Commander, Transformation) which “focused mainly on the operation in Afghanistan and on the New Strategic Concept.” 
The 28 NATO defense chiefs present laid a wreath to the Alliance’s first war dead, those killed in Afghanistan.
Earlier this month the Washington Post reported that “The U.S. military and NATO are launching a major overhaul of the way they recruit, train and equip Afghanistan’s security forces,” an announcement that came “in advance of expected recommendations by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal.” 
The article quoted Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee:
“We’re going to need many more trainers, hopefully including a much larger number of NATO trainers. We’re going to need a surge of equipment that is coming out of Iraq and, instead of coming home, a great deal of it should be going to Afghanistan instead.” 
According to the same report, this month NATO will “will establish a new command led by a three-star military officer to oversee recruiting and generating Afghan forces.
“The goal is to ‘bring more coherence’ to uncoordinated efforts by NATO contingents in Afghanistan while underscoring that the mission ‘is not just America’s challenge’…” 
Contributing to its quota of body bags, NATO has experienced losses in Afghanistan that have reached record levels. “According to the icasualties website, 363 foreign soldiers have died in Afghanistan so far this year, compared to 294 for all of 2008.” 
In September Britain has lost its 216th soldier in the nearly eight-year war. Canada lost its 131st. Denmark its 25th. Italy its 20th. Poland, where a recent poll showed 81 percent support for immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan, its 12th.
Russian ambassador to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov, who had been in the nation in the 1980s, was cited by Associated Press on September 12 as saying that in 2002 the U.S. had 5,000 troops in the nation and “Taliban controlled just a small corner of the country’s southeast.”
“Now we have Taliban fighting in the peaceful Kunduz and Baghlan (provinces) with your (NATO’s) 100,000 troops. And if this trend is the rule, if you bring 200,000 soldiers here, all of Afghanistan will be under the Taliban.”
Associated Press also cited Kabulov’s concern that “the U.S. and its allies are competing with Russia for influence in the energy-rich region….Afghanistan remains a strategic prize because of its location near the gas and oil fields of Iran, the Caspian Sea, Central Asia and the Persian Gulf.”
He also said “Russia has questions about NATO’s intentions in Afghanistan, which…lies outside of the alliance’s ‘political domain’” and “Moscow is concerned that NATO is building permanent bases in the region.”
The concerns are legitimate in light of this month’s latest quadrennial report by the Pentagon on security threats which “put emerging superpower China and former Cold War foe Russia alongside Iran and North Korea on a list of the four main nations challenging American interests.” 
At the same time a U.S. military newspaper reported on statements by Pentagon chief Robert Gates:
“Gates said the roughly $6.5 billion he has proposed to upgrade the [Air Force] fleet assures U.S. domination of the skies for decades.
“By the time China produces its first – 5th generation – fighter, he said, the U.S. will have more than 1,000 F-22s and F-35s. And while the U.S. conducted 35,000 refueling missions last year, Russia performed about 30.
“The secretary also highlighted new efforts to support robust space and cyber commands, as well as the new Global Strike Command that oversees the nuclear arsenal.” 
To add to Russian and Chinese apprehensions about NATO’s role in South and Central Asia, ten days ago the U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan, which borders Russia and China, “offered to Kazakhstan to take part in the peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan.”
At the opening ceremony of the NATO Steppe Eagle-2009 military exercises in that nation Richard Hoagland said “Kazakhstan may again become part of the international NATO peacekeeping force in Afghanistan.” 
Radio Free Europe reported on September 16 that NATO was to sign new agreements with Kyrgyzstan, which also borders China, for the use of the Manas Air Base that as many as 200,000 U.S. and NATO troops have passed through since the beginning of the Afghan war.
On the same day NATO’ plans for expanding transit routes through the South Caucasus and the Caspian Sea region were described. “[T]he air corridor through Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan is the most feasible.
“This route will be best suited if ISAF transport planes fly directly to Baku from Turkey or any other NATO member….Moreover, it [Azerbaijan] is not a CSTO [Collective Security Treaty Organization] member, which allows Azerbaijan more freedom for maneuver in the region when dealing with NATO.” 
Just as troops serving under NATO command in the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan now include those from almost fifty countries on five continents, so the broadening scope of the war is absorbing vaster tracts of Eurasia and the Middle East.
America’s longest armed conflict since that in Indochina and NATO’s first ground war threatens to not only remain the world’s most dangerous conflagration but also one that plunges the 21st Century into a war without end.
New York Times, February 16, 1989
Radio Netherlands, September 12, 2009
Associated Press, September 15, 2009
Reuters, September 19, 2009
BBC News, December 1, 2008
Russia Today, September 7, 2009
Asian News International, September 13, 2009
Press TV, September 15, 2009
Xinhua News, September 12, 2009
Stars and Stripes, September 19, 2009
Stars and Stripes, September 13, 2009
Trend News Agency, September 11, 2009
Reuters, September 14, 2009
NATO, September 20, 2009
Washington Post, September 12, 2009
Agence France-Presse, September 22, 2009
Agence France-Presse, September 15, 2009
Stars and Stripes, September 16, 2009
Interfax, September 14, 2009
Jamestown Foundation, Eurasia Daily Monitor, September 16, 2009
This article, by Simon Tisdall, was originally published in The Guardian, September 7, 2009
Afghanistan's election debacle has increased the crushing weight of intractable problems besetting western policymakers
Hopes that a successful Afghan presidential election would assist western efforts to secure, stabilise and develop the country recede with every percentage point that is added to Hamid Karzai's tally. Karzai is said to have obtained 48.6% of the vote against 31.7% for his nearest rival with about 25% of ballots still to count. Only a small miracle or a massive counter-fraud can now stop him surpassing the 50% threshold required for re-election.
Karzai's looming "victory" is viewed with gloom in western capitals. It is believed, and not only by his opponents, to have been achieved via blatant, systematic, indefensible vote-rigging, bribery and intimidation. It was already tainted by pre-poll pacts between Karzai and notorious warlords and drug-traffickers. It was facilitated by the collusion of corrupt provincial officials afraid of losing their jobs. And it followed US and British failure to find a viable alternative candidate, or to install an Afghan "chief executive" or a western diplomatic satrap, to curb Karzai's powers.
The election debacle has thus increased, rather than eased, the crushing weight of intractable problems besetting western policymakers and soldiers struggling to make sense of Afghanistan. These difficulties are approaching critical mass as civilian deaths continue, western casualties mount and public support slides. Notwithstanding Gordon Brown's Afghan plan, enunciated last Friday, pressing decisions about what to do next, and how, will be made in the Oval Office, not Downing Street.
Barack Obama faces no shortage of advice, primarily from his top Afghan commander, General Stanley McChrystal, who has been reviewing strategy. McChrystal's broad conclusions – giving priority to protecting the Afghan people and enhancing government and civilian capacity – have already been leaked. Decisions on more specific proposals, such as raising US troop levels by 40-45,000 to well over 100,000 and pushing for more Nato troops, too, are now imminent.
Raising force levels again (he already sent an extra 21,000 earlier this year) represents an enormous political risk for Obama and one he is not in particularly good shape to take. His approval ratings have fallen faster than any first term president since Gerald Ford, he faces increasing resistance to his domestic agenda, notably healthcare reform, and the Afghan imbroglio is being recast by conservatives as Obama's "war of choice" rather than the "war of necessity" that he describes.
As in Britain, there is no consensus over war aims: is it self-defence, is it democracy promotion, is it nation-building, or is it about smashing the heroin trade? Few seem to agree. Among US allies there is diminishing appetite for the fight; it has become a divisive election issue in Germany while Japan's new government has pledged to end its involvement. On top of that, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs, and defence secretary Robert Gates freely admit time is running short to turn things around. Congressional Democrats, mindful of next year's mid-term polls, heartily agree.
Speaking last week, Mullen suggested the worsening security situation in Afghanistan must be reversed within the next 12 to 18 months or else the game would be up. "I think it is serious and it is deteriorating and I've said over the last couple of years that the Taliban insurgency has gotten better, more sophisticated," Mullen said. He spoke after a Washington Post-ABC News poll found most Americans felt the war was not worth fighting. Yet another international conference on Afghanistan, as proposed by Brown and Germany's Angela Merkel, is unlikely to change this dynamic.
Amid myriad solicited and unsolicited suggestions, Obama's choice boils down to two options: take full ownership of the war and dig in for the long haul, or lower one's sights and walk away as quick as is decent.
Opinions about which way he should jump vary hugely. George Will, honorary archdeacon of American conservative columnists, surprised his fans last week by advocating retreat. Washington should wash its hands of a country where travelling around is "like walking through the Old Testament", he said. "Forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively reviewed policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, air strikes and small, potent special forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500 mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters."
Will's offshore strategy ignored the fact that Afghanistan is landlocked – but it was clear what he meant.
Others urge Obama to roll his sleeves up and get stuck in. "Is winning in Afghanistan in the US vital national interest? I believe it is," said Thomas McClanahan in the Kansas City Star. "Pulling out would hand the jihadists a triumph and once again open up Afghanistan as a launching pad for terrorist strikes." Bruce Riedel, an Obama adviser, and Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution were at pains in the Wall Street Journal to emphasise western achievements, including economic growth and falling support for the Taliban, that they said should not be lightly squandered.
Just how high Afghanistan still stands in American consciousness, and why, was illustrated by a timely Chicago Tribune editorial. It complained Obama had not "spent enough time reminding Americans that an Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban and al-Qaida would regain its role as a terrorism hatchery". September would be crucial for the US debate on what to do, it added. "As that plays out, none of us should forget how that lawless country tolerated the development of one particularly heinous terror plot. It came to fruition eight years ago this week, on the 11th of the month."
This article, by Jason Ditz, was posted to Antiwar.com, May 11, 2009
According to the Pentagon, a US soldier today opened fire on his fellow GIs at Camp Liberty in Baghdad, Iraq, killing five of them and wounding two others. The soldier in question is reportedly in custody over the incident.
The shooting is said to have occurred at a counseling center on the base, where soldiers receive help for combat-related stress. No other details were readily available about the incident, which ties a bombing last month in Mosul for the most US soldiers killed in a single incident in 2009.
President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates both expressed “shock” at the shootings, and Gates said they were still investigating the incident.
This article, by Gareth Porter, was posted to Alternet, March 26, 2009
WASHINGTON, Mar 25 (IPS) -- Despite President Barack Obama’s statement at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina Feb. 27 that he had "chosen a timeline that will remove our combat brigades over the next 18 months," a number of Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs), which have been the basic U.S. Army combat unit in Iraq for six years, will remain in Iraq after that date under a new non-combat label.
A spokesman for Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Lt. Col. Patrick S. Ryder, told IPS Tuesday that "several advisory and assistance brigades" would be part of a U.S. command in Iraq that will be "re-designated" as a "transition force headquarters" after August 2010.
But the "advisory and assistance brigades" to remain in Iraq after that date will in fact be the same as BCTs, except for the addition of a few dozen officers who would carry out the advice and assistance missions, according to military officials involved in the planning process.
Gates has hinted that the withdrawal of combat brigades will be accomplished through an administrative sleight of hand rather than by actually withdrawing all the combat brigade teams. Appearing on "Meet the Press" Mar. 1, Gates said the "transition force" would have "a very different kind of mission," and that the units remaining in Iraq "will be characterized differently."
"They will be called advisory and assistance brigades," said Gates. "They won't be called combat brigades."
Obama’s decision to go along with the military proposal for a "transition force" of 35,000 to 50,000 troops thus represents a complete abandonment of his own original policy of combat troop withdrawal and an acceptance of what the military wanted all along -- the continued presence of several combat brigades in Iraq well beyond mid-2010.
National Security Council officials declined to comment on the question of whether combat brigades were actually going to be left in Iraq beyond August 2010 under the policy announced by Obama Feb. 27.
The term that has been used internally within the Army to designate the units that will form a large part of the "transition force" is not "Advisory and Assistance Brigades" but "Brigades Enhanced for Stability Operations" (BESO).
Lt. Col. Gary Tallman, a spokesman for the Joint Staff, confirmed Monday that BESO will be the Army unit deployed to Iraq for the purpose of the transition force. Tallman said the decision-making process now underway involving CENTCOM and the Army is to determine "the exact composition of the BESO".
But the U.S. Army has already been developing the outlines of the BESO for the past few months. The only change to the existing BCT structure that is being planned is the addition of advisory and assistance skills rather than any reduction in its combat power. The BCT is organized around two or three battalions of motorized infantry but also includes all the support elements, including its own artillery support, needed to sustain the full spectrum of military operations.
Those are permanent features of all variants of the BCT, which will not be altered in the new version to be deployed under a "transition force," according to specialists on the BCT.
They say the only issue on which the Army is still engaged in discussions with field commanders is what standard augmentation a BCT will need for its new mission.
Maj. Larry Burns of the Army Combined Arms Centre at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, told IPS that Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey directed the Combined Arms Centre, which specialises in Army mission and doctrine, to work on giving the BCTs the capability to carry out a training and advisory assistance mission.
The essence of the BESO variant of the BCTs, according to Burns, is that the Military Transition Teams working directly with Iraqi military units will no longer operate independently but will be integrated into the BCTs.
That development would continue a trend already begun in Iraq in which the BCTs have gradually acquired operational control over the previously independent Military Transition Teams, according to Maj. Robert Thornton of the Joint Center for International and Security Force Assistance at Fort Leavenworth.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, the commander of Army Training and Doctrine Command, has issued Planning Guidance calling for further refinement of the BESO. After further work on the additional personnel requirements, Casey was briefed on the proposed enhancement of the BCT for the second time in a month at a conference of four-star generals on Feb. 18, according to Burns.
Other names for the new variant that were used in recent months but eventually dropped made it explicitly clear that it is simply a slightly augmented BCT. Those names, according to Burns, included "Brigade Combat Team-Security Force Assistance" and "Brigade Combat Team for Stability Operations."
The plan to deploy several augmented BCTs represents the culmination of the strategy of "relabeling" or "remissioning" of BCTs in Iraq that was developed by U.S. military leaders in the wake of the surge of candidate Barack Obama to near-certain victory in the presidential election last year.
Late last year, Gen. David Petraeus, the CENTCOM chief, and Gen. Ray Odierno, the top commander in Iraq, were unhappy with Obama’s pledge to withdraw all U.S. combat brigades within 16 months. But military planners quickly hit on the relabeling scheme as a way of avoiding the complete withdrawal of BCTs in an Obama administration.
The New York Times revealed Dec. 4 that Pentagon planners were talking about "relabeling" of U.S. combat units as "training and support" units in a Dec. 4 story, but provided no details. Pentagon planners were projecting that as many as 70,000 U.S. troops would be maintained in Iraq "for a substantial time even beyond 2011".
That report suggested that the strategy envisioned keeping the bulk of the existing BCTs in Iraq as under a new label indicating an advisory and support mission.
Secretary Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen discussed a plan to re-designate U.S. combat troops as support troops at a meeting with Obama in Chicago on Dec. 15, according a report in the Times three days later.
Gates and Mullen reportedly speculated at the meeting on whether Iraqis would permit such "re-labeled" combat forces to remain in Iraqi cities and towns after next June, despite the fact that the U.S.-Iraq withdrawal agreement signed in November 2008 called for all U.S. combat forces to be withdrawn from populated areas by the end of June 2010.
That report suggests that Obama was well aware that giving the Petraeus and Odierno a free hand to determine the composition of a "transition force" of 35,000 to 50,000 troops meant that most combat brigades would remain in Iraq rather than being withdrawn, as he ostensibly promised the U.S. public on Feb. 27.
This article, by Patrick Dunn, was posted to Common Dreams, February 23, 2009
With a new administration taking office in Washington, and an era of profound economic crisis on the horizon, the U.S. military apparatus is undergoing a strategic makeover. In many respects, conditions "on the ground" have remained essentially the same: violence rages on in Iraq (Obama and his commanders disagree about whether to extend the fighting for another sixteen or twenty-three months); air strikes continue to kill Pakistani civilians (though now at a much higher rate); Palestinians and Israelis continue to suffer under U.S.-funded occupation; corporate war profiteers continue to receive high-level government appointments; the U.S. military budget pushes along on its path of annual expansion. And yet at the same time the elite managers of the military-industrial complex are engineering a shift in both their marketing image and their operational focus. Blackwater Worldwide has changed its name to Xe; military recruitment figures have increased as the economy declines; weapons programs are being advertised as instruments of "job creation"; torture and secret imprisonment have been symbolically expunged from the national conscience; Marine commanders are proposing a full-scale transfer of forces from Iraq to Afghanistan.
This last item is particularly relevant, as President Obama has ordered an immediate fifty percent increase of U.S. troops in Afghanistan (from 36,000 to 53,500), with thousands more expected to deploy by early summer. In the face of sustained public opposition to the Iraq war, the military establishment has found it necessary to direct its ambitions elsewhere – and with Robert Gates staying on as Defense Secretary, the "surge" gimmick that sold so well in the context of Iraq is now being used to promote a similar strategy in the historically unconquerable terrain of Afghanistan. Evidently, the hope of the new administration is that a fresh White House image, renewed international support, and the appearance of a connection to the 9/11 attacks will turn Afghanistan into a preferred venue for its highly profitable "global war on terror."
For many rank-and-file GIs, however, this image of the war in Afghanistan as a "good war" is not at all convincing. Extreme climate, austere geography, and vague military strategies combine to make the country into a hellish environment for day-to-day ground operations. Moreover, those familiar with life in the region are doubtful that a U.S.-led "troop surge" will contribute substantially to the well-being of the Afghan people.
But in the eyes of some enlistees, the problems with the war in Afghanistan extend far beyond the agonies of wartime experience, or doubts about the underlying geopolitical strategy.
A groundbreaking event in Chicago this week featured a panel of six military veterans, all of whom have spoken out not only against the war in Iraq, or even against the war in Afghanistan, but against the "global war on terror" as a whole. The panel was organized by the Chicago chapter of Iraq Veterans against the War (IVAW), and its participants set a bold and courageous tone for GI resistance in the age of Obama-imperialism.
One of the veterans, Tyler Zabel, could face deployment to Afghanistan at any moment. A member of the Illinois Army National Guard who enlisted at the age of seventeen, Tyler has already survived a horrifying ordeal at the hands of the military bureaucracy. After completing basic training at Fort Benning, GA, Tyler returned to Chicago and began the application process to become a Conscientious Objector. Having joined the military in order to serve the people of his country, he was appalled by the rampant bloodlust and blind conformity he witnessed during his time at Fort Benning. After meeting a young woman in Chicago who had experienced war first-hand during her childhood in El Salvador, his perspective was deepened and he became a committed pacifist.
The military's application system for Conscientious Objectors seems designed to prevent people like Tyler – who are morally opposed to the combat missions for which they are being trained – from acting on their moral convictions. In addition to three official interviews (including both a religious and a psychological evaluation), Tyler was required to submit a long essay explaining his refusal to engage in combat. Only then would he begin the excruciating process of waiting for his application to be reviewed, which usually takes between six months and one year, during which time the applicant remains an active member of his unit.
In Tyler's case, however, the system was especially unfriendly. One of the first officers he consulted about his application, his squad leader Sergeant First Class Washington, provided false information about Tyler's eligibility, claiming that his lack of religious affiliation would prevent him from becoming a CO. (This has not been true since a Supreme Court decision in 1971 expanded the basis for Conscientious Objection beyond religious grounds.) The same officer also withheld a key document pertaining to Tyler's case – document AR 600-43 – falsely claiming that the information it contained was classified. (The document is in fact available through the IVAW website.)
Then, a few months later, when it seemed that the worst was over, Tyler received a call from the military notifying him that he would be deployed to Afghanistan in one week. He was flabbergasted. Normal practice within the military allows six months advance notice for calls such as this – and Tyler had already informed the military at length of his pacifism and opposition to the war in Afghanistan. Suddenly, his life was thrown into a state of panic. The personal transformation he had undergone during the previous year, his relationships, his work, his life itself – the U.S. government was asking him to sacrifice all of this for a war that he found morally abhorrent.
But this was not the end. Just one day before Tyler was scheduled to leave for Afghanistan, he received another call from the military indicating that he would not have to deploy after all. Then, as if this torment was not enough, he was contacted yet again a month later with reissued orders for deployment.
In Tyler's mind, this was the last straw. Instead of reporting for deployment, he decided to go AWOL and face the risk of military prosecution. After weeks in hiding – during which time he could not work and rarely left his home – he decided to turn himself in to his old unit. The response of his commanders was to "demote" him to a lower rank – indicating that their intention was not to enforce military policy, but to manipulate Tyler (an active war resister) into psychological submission. This indication was confirmed earlier this month when Tyler's commanders failed to contact him for drill practice, as is the unit's routine procedure; when he telephoned them to resolve the confusion, his commanders accused him of insubordination for his absence. Confronted with this final pattern of abuse, Tyler knew that it was time to get out of the military for good. Instead of reporting to his unit, he stayed home and has not gone back since.
For several months Tyler has lived in a state of legal and existential limbo, knowing that the military could show up at any moment to haul him off to prison (or worse, to Afghanistan). He has received advice from numerous activists and politicians, but his best allies have been fellow veterans from IVAW, whose support has strengthened his will and inspired him to speak out publicly. Now, empowered by these relations of solidarity, he is determined not only to resist the military's internal abuses, but to combat the spread of militarism throughout society. "They need this war [in Afghanistan] to continue to expand the military-industrial complex," he says, "which our society now depends on" – but we can resist this expansion by "closing the door to recruitment, and opening the door for resistance," both within and outside the military.
Tyler's moral opposition to the military-industrial complex was echoed by the other members of the IVAW panel in Chicago. Two national guardsmen (one of whom is now a militant labor organizer with the IWW) described their success at fomenting resistance among fellow rank-and-file guard members. By sharing ideas and literature at their base, they were able to establish strong personal relationships that served as a bottom-up defense against the military's institutionalized discipline. Another AWOL veteran described the U.S. military as an institution whose mission is to "exterminate" the oppressed people of the world "like so many cockroaches," while emphasizing the damage inflicted on vulnerable enlistees by the military's "racist, sexist, and homophobic practices."
All members of the panel recognized the need for movements of counter-recruitment and anti-militarization to intensify under the new political administration. As Fallujah veteran D. Paul Muller pointed out, the armed forces are under strict orders to "keep the recruitment numbers up, keep the high school students coming in." With wealthy financial institutions tightening their budgets, military planners are under pressure to ensure that taxpayer funds continue to flow into the massive "defense" economy. Competition among lobbyists and policymakers for access to these funds has escalated in recent months, and the various branches of the military are devising new marketing strategies to cope with this financially starved environment.
In order to prevent the further militarization of our society, and to steer public wealth towards investment in non-military social programs, we will need an alternative culture that counteracts the military's attempts to prey on desperate communities in a time of crisis. The war resisters from IVAW have paved the way for such an alternative by creating a culture of disobedience within the military's own ranks. By supporting their efforts – and by developing cooperative networks that will sustain these and other projects of demilitarization – we can begin the work of freeing our society from its dependence on war profiteering and military power.