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)

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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!)

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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

On Hard Decisions, Afghanistan, and Unshitting the Bed.

by matttbastard

Pale just sent me this link, which has me right back to asking ‘what the fuck are we doing in Afghanistan again?’  Is it to promote civil society, install democracy and fight for women’s rights, as the Harpercons and the Bushies liked to go on about? Yeah, right; Joe Biden recently gave an interview on CNN where he basically said that it was too effing bad that Afghan women are still getting shat upon, but the primary reason why the US (and NATO) is in Afghanistan  is to keep America safe.

Ok, fine–I get that the US isn’t in the democracy promotion business any more.

Really.

I get it.

But, whether we like it or not,  for all intents and purposes,  NATO is the goddamn Afghan government–we (Canada included) are occupiers, with all the legal responsibilities that go along with that designation.  Karzai (aka The Mayor of Kabul) is a puppet; we pick and choose when and how we are going to pull his strings.  And the way the Obama admin is framing this? As I’ve said before, it’s pure Brzezinski realpolitik. We’ve swung from Utopian idealism to cold, amoral realism.

There is no balance.

Also, the manner in which some have been objecting to the ‘surge’ — the fact that Obama is putting in more troops, period–is the wrong complaint. There’s no point in putting in an additional 17,000 US combat troops because it’s JUST NOT ENOUGH.  Afghanistan needs several hundred thousand additional troops to provide adequate security and allow reconstruction to move forward. And even then it’s gonna be a 30-40 year project. Long. Term. So, if anything, Obama deserves to be spanked for trying to lazily emulate the Bush compromise surge in Iraq — a symbolic act to show that we are Doing Something, even if that Something is, ultimately, futile.

In other words, Obama’s Afghan strategy is a political gesture designed for domestic consumption that will do nothing to advance the stated mission in Afghanistan, nor measurably improve conditions on the ground.

So, we (as in ‘countries that make up NATO forces in the region’) face a decision:  do we want to do the Marshall Plan thing — go big, go hard, remake and rebuild Afghan (and, to a certain degree, Pakistani) society, long-term, FOR REAL–or mop up enough juuust enough to declare victory and get the fuck out before the shit hits the fan? I mean, post-WWII Germany, Japan? Decades-long projects, taken seriously without the half-assed measures and mixed messages about what exactly the mission and its desired outcomes were.  IF we are going to take the former route we need to do it RIGHT–or don’t do it at all.  Because we are investing priceless commodities–lives, money, and political capital–into this endeavor.

Problem is, many on the left are still acting like it’s 2002 and Afghanistan is Iraq,  arguing about whether the war and its stated goals (haphazard as they may have been) was the right thing to do. Newsflash, kiddies: it’s already been done–we broke it (oh, how we fucking broke it) and are once again the proud owners of another failed fucking state. Now we need to decide what the fuck we’re going to do with it.

And, unfortunately, sometimes there are no ideal options–merely the least-bad of a truly rotten bunch.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers