Deja Vu All Over Again (And Again, And Again, And…)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, Canuckistan:

Stephen Harper is leaving the door open once again to extending Canada’s military participation in the costly Afghanistan war.

When the Official Opposition NDP pressed the Prime Minister on Wednesday about reports the United States has asked Canada to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014, Mr. Harper said the government would “examine all options.”

[...]

If the Prime Minister extended Canada’s military deployment beyond 2014, it would be the fourth time he has prolonged the soldiering commitment to Afghanistan – including 2006, 2008 and 2010.

Speaking in the Commons on Wednesday, Mr. Harper denied reports the United States has asked Canada to keep special forces soldiers in Afghanistan past 2014, his latest promised date for withdrawal.

As our new Leader of the Official Opposition aptly noted during Question Period yesterday, Canadians “want this mission to end. It was supposed to end in 2006. It was supposed to end in 2009. It was supposed to end in 2011. It is supposed to end in 2014. When will it finally end?””

Oh, and that last excerpted bit I highlighted, where the PM denies reports that Uncle Sam is trying to keep Canada in the Great Game for another Friedman or three? Methinks Mr. Harper is being a little coy. Mealsothinks that it’s a damn good thing Afghanistan is (for now, anyway) almost completely under the Campaign 2012 Village radar.

Because, considering the collective combat exhaustion of the USian polity, the last thing the Obama team needs are ill-timed reports that it’s secretly planning to continue America’s excellent (and highly unpopular) imperial Central Asian misadventure past it’s latest expiration date.

(Originally posted at Agonist.org)

Looking Backward in the Year 2011

by matttbastard

Der Spiegel runs down W’s “tragic legacy” in the long, long, looooong decade of U.S. decline that followed 9/11:

America was trapped in Iraq for years, where a victory was a long time coming and was never a real one. It is currently trapped in Afghanistan, where victory no longer even seems possible. And it is trapped in an embrace with his its ally Pakistan, which it does not trust and yet cannot release.

These are costly defeats for America and the rest of the world. According to a conservative estimate of Brown University, there have been almost 140,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq. The massive retaliation cost more than $3 trillion (€2.2 trillion) — dollars that would have been better used in America’s schools or in the wallets of US citizens.

For a short time after the attacks, the country seemed united. Americans embraced each other. Even the cold city of New York suddenly seemed warm. But instead of cultivating public spirit, President Bush sought to find a pretext — any pretext — to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. This is his most tragic legacy, the fact that America can no longer even mourn its victims properly — because Americans have long been not just victims, but also perpetrators.

Hey, at least Chimpy managed to pull things together after 2006, making his “one of the more successful [presidencies] in U.S. history” [sic].

[Insert pregnant pause/needle scratch here.]

Ahem, yes, well, as they say, read the whole damn thing — and pray that abumuqawama only temporarily took leave of his senses (wait — he’s one of those CNAS Pollyanas who still think COIN  is somehow going to Underpants Gnome a NATO victory in Afghanistan; all hope = lost.)

(Image: smiteme, Flickr)

Obligatory WFT McChrystal?! Post

by matttbastard

Cole drops an Apocalypse Now reference, while The Artist Formerly Known as Tacitus thinks shitcanning is imperative if the republic is to survive the impact of McChrystal’s insta-infamous still-unpublished Rolling Stone interview [h/t Ben Smith].

Perhaps.

Laura Rozen usually has sound instincts and excellent sources:

One early thought: does [McChrystal] want to get fired for insubordination before his strategy is shown to fail?

But I also think Ed Morrissey might be illustrating ye olde canard about stopped clocks with this apt (if cynical) observation:

 [T]o paraphrase Lyndon Johnson, Obama may prefer to keep McChrystal in the tent even if he’s pissing out, rather than outside the tent pissing into it.  Once relieved of his command, McChrystal may have a lot more to say about the Obama administration than what will appear in Rolling Stone this month.

The good general is now walking backwards at quite the furious pace for someone supposedly trying to commit career seppuko. Plus, as Spackerman notes, thanks to the swift and overwhelmingly negative fallout from his comments, the White House may believe that “a chastened McChrystal isn’t going to say anything else outside of his lane to any reporter.”  We’ll have to see if the groveling, coupled with pragmatic political considerations, gives McChrystal a last-minute reprieve as he walks the Green Mile.

Last word, via the 140:

McChrystal oversaw prisoner abuse and Pat Tillman cover-up, but let’s get mad at him for a rude interview. [links added]

Touche.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

Cynical Calculations

by matttbastard

Cosign with Thomas H. Johnson and M. Chris Mason, who incisively and cooly slice away the bullshit surrounding Obama’s Afghanistan escalation:

Obama’s new “strategy” is no strategy at all. It is a cynical and politically motivated rehash of Iraq policy: Toss in a few more troops, throw together something resembling local security forces, buy off the enemies, and get the hell out before it all blows up. Even the dimmest bulb listening to the president’s speech could not have missed the obvious link between the withdrawal date for combat troops from Iraq (2010), the date for beginning troop reductions in Afghanistan (2011), and the domestic U.S. election cycle.

[...]

The only conclusion one can reach from the president’s speech, after eliminating the impossible, is that the administration has made a difficult but pragmatic decision: The war in Afghanistan is unwinnable, and the president’s second term and progressive domestic agenda cannot be sacrificed to a lost cause the way that President Lyndon B. Johnson’s was for Vietnam. The result of that calculation was what we heard on Dec. 1: platitudes about commitment and a just cause; historical amnesia; and a continuation of the exact same failed policies that got the United States into this mess back in 2001, concocted by the same ship of fools, many of whom are still providing remarkably bad advice to this administration.

[...]

In office less than a year, the Obama administration has already been seduced by the old beltway calculus that sometimes a little wrong must be done to get re-elected and achieve a greater good.

As they say, read the whole damn thing.

(Photo: Peter Casier, World Food Program, used under a Creative Commons License)

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

US Health Care Reform: Made in…Afghanistan?

by matttbastard

Stephen M. Walt, commenting on Obama’s recent AfPak escalation and the incongruity of domestic spending initatives vs expensive foreign military endeavours on the part of the US:

As I’ve said before, Americans have come to believe that spending government revenues on U.S. citizens here at home is usually a bad thing and should be viewed with suspicion, but spending billions on vast social engineering projects overseas is the hallmark of patriotism and should never be questioned. This position makes no sense, but it is hard to think of a prominent U.S. leader who is making an explicit case for doing somewhat less abroad so that we can afford to build a better future here at home. Debates about foreign policy, grand strategy, and military engagement — including the current debate over Obama’s decision to add another30,000-plus troops in Afghanistan — tend to occur in isolation from a discussion of other priorities, as if there were no tradeoffs between what we do for others and what we are able to do for Americans here at home.

Thankfully, E-Mart has proposed a modest solution to one particularly contentious domestic issue currently mired in the US Senate:

Maybe we can set up an efficient health insurance delivery system in Iraq or Afghanistan and then import it to the States. Call it a part of our COIN strategy, get Petraeus to endorse it and then ship it home under cover of night.

Wow. That’s so crazy, it just might work.

Le sigh.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

Keeping Things in Perspective

by matttbastard

Remember: Torture (and Afghanistan in toto) isn’t about ‘us’, it’s about ‘them’:

“What disturbs me most – this story is all about Canada and Canada’s moral authority on the international stage and about which minister will have to resign. And sooner or later Canada will leave and it’s over.

I would just remind people that for Afghans it is not over. And for the Afghans who have worked closely with the Canadians up to this point, what do you think is going to happen to them when you’re gone?

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

On Analogy and Imperial Ambition

by matttbastard

What was that about Afghanistan not being even remotely analogous to Vietnam?

Andrew Bacevich:

Implementing the McChrystal plan will perpetuate the longstanding fundamentals of US national security policy: maintaining a global military presence, configuring US forces for global power projection, and employing those forces to intervene on a global basis. The McChrystal plan modestly updates these fundamentals to account for the lessons of 9/11 and Iraq, cultural awareness and sensitivity nudging aside advanced technology as the signature of American military power, for example. Yet at its core, the McChrystal plan aims to avert change. Its purpose – despite 9/11 and despite the failures of Iraq – is to preserve the status quo.

[...]

If the president assents to McChrystal’s request, he will void his promise of change at least so far as national security policy is concerned. The Afghanistan war will continue until the end of his first term and probably beyond. It will consume hundreds of billions of dollars. It will result in hundreds or perhaps thousands more American combat deaths – costs that the hawks are loath to acknowledge.

Bah — costs, shmosts. Remember, kids: Failure is not an option; No end but victory; Clap harder, etc. Positive reinforcement is like the platinum card of force projection — and one can always refinance the mounting debt if the interest proves too great.

Glennzilla (h/t):

Obama deserves some credit for at least refusing to capitulate immediately to the military’s demands without taking time to consider alternative options.  Russ Feingold just wrote another Op-Ed arguing for a withdrawal timetable from Afghanistan, but that option is not even part of the Washington debate.  The only issue is whether to escalate and, if so, by how much.  The Washington Post today reported that as part of Obama’s March order for 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan, “the White House has also authorized — and the Pentagon is deploying — at least 13,000 troops beyond that number.”  With Democrats like Feinstein controlling the U.S. Senate, is it any wonder that our status as a perpetual war nation appears to continue indefinitely?

Ah well, if we can’t actually be granted meaningful Change in the direction of US foreign policy, at least we can vicariously cling to the imperial hopes and dreams of those who profit from the expansionist state.

Yes, we can.

Oh, and for us Canucks, the prospect of US forces committing to a protracted, NATO-lead COIN campaign in Afghanistan combined with soaring Tory poll numbers would appear to put Harper’s long-promised 2011 exit date for Canadian combat troops in serious question.

Ok, I guess there are some differences between Afghanistan and Vietnam — at least Canada knew enough to stay out of that tar pit.

Related: First Van Jones, now Joe Biden?! Seriously, Arianna Huffington (or her ghost-writer, natch) desperately needs to get over the notion that being out of power somehow magically imparts one greater influence (and PONIES!)

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

Snap Back to Reality

by matttbastard

Hey, remember when US VP Joe Biden was counted among the leading Democratic voices that supported militaristic nation-building in the Middle East/Central-South Asia back in the day?

Good times.

Now?

Well, not so much, thanks to the corruption-laden clusterfuck in Afghanistan:

Nothing shook [Biden's] faith quite as much as what you might call the Karzai dinners. The first occurred in February 2008, during a fact-finding trip to Afghanistan that Biden took with fellow senators John Kerry and Chuck Hagel. Dining on platters of rice and lamb at the heavily fortified presidential palace in Kabul, Biden and his colleagues grilled Karzai about reports of corruption and the growing opium trade in the country, which the president disingenuously denied. An increasingly impatient Biden challenged Karzai’s assertions until he lost his temper. Biden finally stood up and threw down his napkin, declaring, “This meeting is over,” before he marched out of the room with Hagel and Kerry. It was a similar story nearly a year later. As Obama prepared to assume the presidency in January, he dispatched Biden on a regional fact-finding trip. Again Biden dined with Karzai, and, again, the meeting was contentious. Reiterating his prior complaints about corruption, Biden warned Karzai that the Bush administration’s kid-glove treatment was over; the new team would demand more of him.

Biden’s revised view of Karzai was pivotal. Whereas he had once felt that, with sufficient U.S. support, Afghanistan could be stabilized, now he wasn’t so sure. “He’s aware that a basic rule of counterinsurgency is that you need a reliable local partner,” says one person who has worked with Biden in the past. The trip also left Biden wondering about the clarity of America’s mission. At the White House, he told colleagues that “if you asked ten different U.S. officials in that country what their mission was, you’d get ten different answers,” according to a senior White House aide.

Welcome to reality, Joe. Hopefully he can make the following point, as articulated byDDay, perfectly clear to the CiC:

Obama has a responsibility, not to rubber-stamp the views of Washington hawks and counter-insurgency lovers, but to outline the best possible policy for the future. I don’t see how committing 100,000-plus troops to Afghanistan for five years or more, to defend an illegitimate government, to fight an invisible enemy, fits with that mandate.

Now if only the veep would learn how to use ‘literally’ in proper context.

Related: Must-watch interview with former British Foreign Service operative and Afghanistan expert Rory Stewart, director of the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Stewart contends Obama’s options are politically limited when it comes to refusing Gen. McChrystal’s immediate demand for more troops — but that the situation on the ground also means that any escalation in US forces will turn out to be a one-time only occurance.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

Anything, Anything

by matttbastard

As extremism’s transition from vice to virtue seemingly reaches its apotheosis, Republican Sen. Jim DeMint upped the ante yesterday in the GOP Tourette’s strategy to fight Democratic health reform legislation:

DEMINT: The problem is, the war in Afghanistan and our economy are our two biggest issues. But he’s working on other issues such as health care and he’s putting off the decision on Afghanistan which I think puts our troops at risk. So he needs to focus on priorities right now and not try to ram so many things down our throat here in Congress. He needs to address the issue of Afghanistan quickly.

Easily distracted House Minority Whip Eric Cantor also picked up the new talking point:

“With Afghanistan now becoming such a very troublesome issue, we should be making progress on health care so it doesn’t get in the way of a very, very important national security issue… . Central Asia is the Persian Gulf of the 21st century. We are foolish to be ignoring that threat right now.

“Health care in this building has made it so that it seems we can’t get anything else done. We have burning issues out there is this country… .”

Yeah, um, so, exactly what vital legislation sitting on the back burner has the GOP proposed this session, besides endless birther amendments? Anyone? Bueller?

Besides, as Steve Benen charitably notes:

All available evidence suggests Afghanistan is a major topic of discussion in the West Wing, and Obama is overseeing a deliberate, thorough review of the future of U.S. policy. If there was no debate over health care reform, the exact same thing would be happening.

Jim DeMint thinks deliberation “puts our troops at risk.” Jim DeMint isn’t very bright.

Perhaps not, but DeMint’s dimbulb assertion is not offered without purpose. Mike Stickings bluntly cuts through the bullshit:

Obviously, DeMint is trying to score political points by pitting Obama against the troops (i.e., by making shit up) — a lame but typically Republican smear — but he’s also trying to derail health-care reform by putting up any and all obstructions he can find, however ridiculous.

“[P]utting up any and all obstructions he can find, however ridiculous” — an apt summation of the GOP’s overall legislative agenda since the inauguration. Yes, kids, these are indeed the wingnut discourse-vandals with whom the USian ‘left’ is expected to chart common ground, else the Villagers collectively weep, gnash teeth, clutch pearls, demonstratively collapse upon fainting couches, etc. Now, call me a raging partisan, but isn’t it kinda sorta hard for progressives to converge with a catch-as-catch-can right-wing ideological perspective that appears to have been warped by too many tuna fish bag lunch policy seminars at the American Enterprise Institute (or from a lifetime spent huffing airplane glue — thin line, natch)?

Let’s be honest: the only ‘burning issue’ on the Republican boiler plate is causing President Obama and Democrats in Congress to fail in the effort to reform health insurance, no matter what is proposed.

It seems all-too-apparent that GOP partisans will say and do anything in their crusade to “break” the Democratic Party prior to 2010.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

Read this Now: 7 Years in Limbo

by matttbastard

Adam Serwer of the American Prospect has been doing yeoman’s work as of late doggedly covering US detainee issues. His recent feature on former child soldier Mohammed Jawad is truly essential reading:

The story is an old one for Jawad’s lawyers — they believe the government knows it cannot justify holding him, but it doesn’t want to let him go. More galling to Jawad’s defense counsel is the fact that the government sought to include Jawad’s confessions to Afghan authorities, obtained through torture, as evidence against his release. In July, his lawyers filed a motion to suppress the confessions, which made up about 90 percent of the evidence against him. This time, the government chose not to challenge the motion — but failed to commit to his release. Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle eviscerated the government for having little cause to continue holding him. “This guy has been there seven years — seven years,” Huvelle said. “Without his statements, I don’t understand your case. I really don’t.”

At the core of the dispute over the detention of suspects like Jawad is whether or not there are, as President Barack Obama claims, “detainees at Guantánamo who cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger to the American people.” This is the so-called “fifth category” of detainees — exactly how many there are, the government has yet to determine. (Assistant Attorney General David Kris told Congress in July that half of the Guantánamo detainees’ cases had been reviewed, and none had yet been put into the “fifth category.”) “There will be some, who we have picked up and who are in Guantánamo ? who for a variety of reasons can’t be prosecuted,” says former CIA counsel Jeff Smith. “We have convincing intelligence information, but it is not enough to prosecute them.”

[Maj. David Frakt, one of Jawad's lawyers] isn’t buying the administration’s assertion about the necessity of preventive detention — the practice of imprisoning suspected terrorists even in cases where the government cannot prove they have committed crimes. “When you look at the minimal amount of evidence required to convict someone of something like material support for terrorism, and they don’t even have that much, how is it that we know that these people are so dangerous?” he asks. Frakt’s concerns likely have a great deal to do with the way the government has treated his client — and not only because it tried to get his coerced confession admitted as evidence.
Montalvo says government officials “believe they have a guilty guy who tried to hurt Americans.”

But after seven years of failing to justify his detention, the government agreed on July 29 to release Jawad to return home to Afghanistan — though it implied he might still be subject to criminal prosecution.

Standard read-the-whole-damn-thing rules apply.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers