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)

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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.

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Yappy MacKay: Nipping at the Heels of the Russian Bear

by matttbastard

Oh FFS:

Canadian fighter jets scrambled to intercept a Russian plane approaching Canadian airspace shortly before U.S. President Barack Obama visited Ottawa, the defence minister said Friday.

Peter MacKay said he wasn’t accusing Russia of deliberately timing the flight to coincide with the visit — when Canadian security was focused in Ottawa — but he did call it a “strong coincidence.”

“It was a strong coincidence which we met with … CF-18 fighter planes and world-class pilots that know their business,” said MacKay.

“[The pilots] sent a strong signal they should back off and stay out of our airspace.”

Now, I don’t mean to suggest that Peter MacKay is trying to overcompensate for possessing a teeny-tiny penis by swinging around Canada’s “CF-18 fighter planes and world-class pilots that know their business” like a pasty-faced Mr. Marcus clone.  But it’s certainly a strong coincidence.

Perhaps someone should ask his dog for confirmation.

Cough.

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Israel, Palestine and Demographic Realities

by matttbastard

Gershom Gorenberg, writing in the Jan-Feb issue of Foreign Policy, outlines the cold, harsh reality with regards to the efficacy of any so-called two-state solution (where Israel and the former occupied territories revert to pre-1967 borders, Israelis and Palestinians set aside lingering grievance and resentment to the delight of the global community, and Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft subsequently distribute free ponies for everyone!):

From my home in West Jerusalem, the road that Israelis use to head south toward Hebron runs through two tunnels in the mountains. Known simply as the Tunnel Road, it was built in the mid-1990s during the Oslo peace process, when Bethlehem was turned over to Palestinian rule and Israelis wanted a way to bypass the town on their way to settlements that remained in Israeli hands.

A turn from the Tunnel Road takes you past the Palestinian village of Hussan to Beitar Illit, a settlement covering two hills. The streets are lined with apartment buildings, faced in rough-cut, yellowish-white stone, all with red-tile roofs, so alike they could have been turned out by the same factory. In 1993, when Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat shook hands and peace seemed close enough to touch, about 4,000 people lived in Beitar Illit. Now, 34,000 live here, and more will soon move in.

The message written on the landscape is simple: Every day, the settlements expand. Every day, Israel grows more entangled in the West Bank. To a large degree, the Israeli and Palestinian publics have accepted the need for a two-state solution. But time, and the construction crews, are working against it. No one knows exactly where the point of no return is—when so many Israelis will have moved into so many homes beyond the pre-1967 border that there is no going back. But each passing day brings that tipping point nearer. If a solution is not achieved quickly, it might soon be out of reach.

According to Gorenberg, “[i]n 1993, when the Oslo process began, 116,000 Israelis lived in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank… . Last year, when Olmert resigned and elections were announced, the number of settlers in the West Bank had passed 290,000, living alongside 2.2 million Palestinians.”  And, following elections in February, “more than 300,000 Israelis are likely to be living in the West Bank, with the number continuing to climb [all emph. mine].”

Remember, several years back, the domestic PR headache posed by engaging in the forced removal of angry, militant Israeli settlers from their homes in Gaza?

Yeah, that–all over again, only with at least 35 times the population to send packing.

So, when people act as if a viable choice between pursuing a single or two-state solution with Israel and the former occupied territories still exists, one must first account for a very precious non-renewable resource, one that, as noted by Gorenberg, is in increasingly short supply:

Time.

Related
: John Bolton shows why he’s the AEI’s new go-to guy for solving tough diplomatic conundrums with his latest op-ed in the Washington Post, in which he proposes a three (yes, three) state zombie solution to Israel’s current post-colonial woes.  Yeah, that’s a brilliant idea — simply foist the entire Palestinian problem onto Egypt and Jordan, using all the diplomatic leverage that the US has accrued in the Middle East over the past 8 years (especially the past 6).  I’m sure that’ll fly in Cairo and Amman–especially if Brzezinski and Scowcroft throw in extra ponies to account for the extra state involved.

OMG PONIES!

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There Goes the Neighbourhood

by matttbastard

The New York Times:

Israel’s military operation in Gaza is aimed primarily at forcing Hamas to end its rocket barrages and military buildup. But it has another goal as well: to expunge the ghost of its flawed 2006 war against Hezbollah in Lebanon and re-establish Israeli deterrence.

[…]

“In the cabinet room today there was an energy, a feeling that after so long of showing restraint we had finally acted,” said Mark Regev, spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, speaking of the weekly government meeting that he attended.

Mark Heller, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, said that that energy reflected the deep feeling among average Israelis that the country had to regain its deterrent capacity.

“There has been a nagging sense of uncertainty in the last couple years of whether anyone is really afraid of Israel anymore,” he said. “The concern is that in the past — perhaps a mythical past — people didn’t mess with Israel because they were afraid of the consequences. Now the region is filled with provocative rhetoric about Israel the paper tiger. This operation is an attempt to re-establish the perception that if you provoke or attack you are going to pay a disproportionate price.

Which is, essentially, a banal affirmation of what Gideon Levy wrote yesterday:

The IDF launched a war yesterday whose end, as usual, is hoping someone watches over us.

[…]

A hero against the weak, it bombed dozens of targets from the air [Saturday], and the pictures of blood and fire are designed to show Israelis, Arabs and the entire world that the neighborhood bully’s strength has yet to wane. When the bully is on a rampage, nobody can stop him.

Y’know, most people respond to a midlife crisis of confidence by purchasing an impractical European sports car, or perhaps having a May-December relationship–not dropping heavy munitions on the neighbours (even if they are a pain in the ass sometimes). At least no one is accusing Barak of being soft (on Palestinian rocket fire) anymore.  Who needs little blue pills when you can call for a series of devastating air strikes, eh?

Related: Rabbi Michael Lerner says the best way to “destroy Hamas” is for Israel to “rebuild Gaza and the West Bank with a massive Marshall Plan type enterprise—adopt our Strategy of Generosity and renounce the strategy of domination.”

h/t Kai Chang (by way of Sylvia/M via IM)

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Quote of the Day: John McCain and “the Power of War”

by matttbastard

John McCain has been said to have neoconservative inclinations; to critics, this suggests a commitment to the unilateral deployment of military force to bring about a democratic transformation in once-hostile countries. The question of whether he’s a neocon, however, is not entirely relevant; McCain has advisers from both the neocon and realist camps, and he’s too inconsistent to be easily labeled. In one area, though, he has been more or less constant: his belief in the power of war to solve otherwise insoluble problems. This ideology of action has not been undermined by his horrific experience as a tortured POW during the Vietnam War, or by the Bush administration’s disastrous execution of the Iraq War. All this is not to suggest that McCain is heedlessly bellicose or reflexively willing to send U.S. soldiers into danger; he is the father of a marine and a Naval Academy midshipman, James McCain and John S. McCain IV, whose service he rarely mentions. And he opposed, presciently, keeping the Marines in Beirut in 1983, just before their barracks were bombed. But his willingness to speak frankly about the utility of military intervention sets him apart from his opponent. Senator Obama, though certainly no pacifist, envisions a world of cooperation and diplomacy; McCain sees a world of organic conflict and zero-sum competition.

– Jeffrey Goldberg, The Wars of John McCain

Related: Matt Bai takes a deeper look at how Vietnam has affected McCain’s view of international relations; Matthew Yglesias believes that, contra conventional wisdom, Obama holds an advantage over McCain in the foreign policy arena, and should, accordingly, campaign from a position of strength; former US Ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke says whomever comes out on top in November will, come January, “inherit a more difficult set of international challenges than any predecessor since World War II.”

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Quote of the Day: Literalizing a Metaphor

by matttbastard

To me, one of the problems of the paradigm of global war is that it has not signified war in the metaphorical sense, like war on AIDS, war on drugs, and war on poverty. It has signified war in a literal sense that the employment of military power, on a large scale, in pursuit of very large ambitions—like the liberation or dominance or transformation of Iraq—ought to really be the principle instrument in order to achieve our purposes. I think that takes us down the wrong road. I think, and others have argued, that a new version of containment actually provides the basis to begin thinking about how to prevent another 9/11. Not a new war, not a global war, not a protracted war. The answer to the problem is not to invade and occupy countries, which we did in Iraq and Afghanistan, but relying on other instruments of power to try to prevent Islamic radicalism from increasing its reach and its influence in the world.

I’ve reviewed [Robert] Kagan’s new book [The Return of History and the End of Dreams] in the most recent issue [of Foreign Affairs], and I was very critical of the book. I really didn’t like it, but the one thing that really bowled me over, and that I emphatically agree with, is that what the Islamists have on offer cannot win. The plan that they have, the concept for how people should live, is simply not responsive to what ordinary folk want for their lives. I mean, they are fighting against modernity, and as Robert Kagan says, that is a fight that they cannot win.

Almost everything on this struggle is on our side, and therefore we should approach it with the confidence and patience, and shouldn’t run pell-mell into these military adventures that the Bush administration has approached. Our adversaries are contemptible. Our adversaries are criminals. Our adversaries are murderers. We ought not to dignify their cause as if it were the equivalent of Marxism or Leninism or National Socialism or something of the last century, because they don’t deserve that type of status.

– Andrew Bacevich, from a recent interview with Greg Bruno of the Council on Foreign Relations

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