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.

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“I know you’re into this transparency thing, but I don’t need to see your nipples!”

by matttbastard

Ok, after watching her razor-sharp performance last night at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, I’m now firmly convinced that Obama should totally dump Joe Biden at the local Amtrak station and bring aboard Wanda Sykes as running mate for his 2012 reelection bid–if only to FURTHER encourage brisk firearms sales in Real America (and stimulate teh Heartland’s moribund economy without direct government intervention!)

What?

Oh, come on — as if having a NEGRO LESBIAN FEMINIST in the White House (along with a dijon-loving Marxist) wouldn’t send the hyperparanoid teabagger set completely over the border into black helicopter/camouflage pajama country.

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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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John Sidney McChickenshit III.

by matttbastard

Josh Marshall:

McCain’s moral cowardice has been one of the subtexts of this campaign ever since he wound up the nomination and turned his attention to Barack Obama. But I did not realize it would reveal itself in such a physical dimension.

The tell came this week as McCain unearthed the Ayers story which, for whatever its merits, was fully aired months ago and has no clear relation to the particulars of October other than McCain’s collapsing poll numbers. He’s on it. Palin’s on it. He’s releasing slashing new TV ads like this one. Both of them are ginning their crowds up into spiraling gyres of right-wing delirium — a ready-made Lord of the Flies (and let’s admit that’s a gentle allusion, given the tone of these barnburners) if Obama happened into one of the auditoriums at the wrong moment.

He ever swaggered on for a couple days about how he was going to ‘take the gloves off‘ when he met up with Obama in Nashville. But when the two of them were there in each others physical presence … nothing. By a myriad of gestures and reactions Obama owned him.

Nor is it a matter of shifting off the tactics, because as soon as McCain made his hasty retreat from the stage at Debate #2 he was right back at it. In every other aspect of life, high and low, refined and unlovely, we have a word for that kind of behavior: cowardice.

And now Obama can lightly taunt McCain with that very cowardice, his inability to just say it to his face. And if my take on the inner workings of McCain’s mind at the moment is right that should simply unhinge him even more.

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

Frankly, I’ve always believed that the quickest way to show you’re a chump is to run around telling everyone about that aren’t one. You want to prove to the American people that you aren’t shook? Don’t talk them to death. Get in the ring and kick the other guys ass. It’s that simple. Screw all this talk about who’s tougher than who. Here is what I know: McCain will talk that shit about Ayers and brag about taking the gloves off. He will send his wife and Sarah Palin out to do his dirty work. But when faced with the man who he believes “palls around with terrorist” he played his position.

Joe Biden:

“All of the things they said about Barack Obama in the TV, on the TV, at their rallies, and now on YouTube … John McCain could not bring himself to look Barack Obama in the eye and say the same things to him,” Biden said this morning. “In my neighborhood, when you’ve got something to say to a guy, you look him in the eye and you say it to him.”

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The 2008 VP Debate: Winking and (Nearly) Nodding Off

by matttbastard

(h/t Top of the Ticket for the vid)

To quote the always-quotable John Lydon, “ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”  After generating an inordinate, unprecedented level of manufactured hype and controversy, I find myself fully in agreement with Melissa McEwan: last night’s highly anticipated political reality show vice-presidential debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden proved to be, for lack of a better word, unbelievably boring.  As Liss memorably puts it, “I may have fallen asleep if Palin’s mispronunciation of nuclear didn’t keep compelling me to jam pencils into my ears.”

Defying expectations (duh), Palin was serviceable if unspectacular in her role, no doubt due in large part to the favourable follow-up-free format, coupled with a novel “ignore the question” non sequitur strategy. She managed to achieve the bare minimum of what she was supposed to do: climb over the inch-high bar that had been deliberately erected in the sub-basement of collective public and pundit expectations, to the prefabricated delight of dime-turning conservative ‘critics’ like David Brooks and Peggy Noonan, both of whom, as Daniel Larison says, proved themselves to be intellectually incurious, easily impressed hacks:

She is not a person of thought but of action. ~Peggy Noonan

On Thursday night, Palin took her inexperience and made a mansion out of it. From her first “Nice to meet you. May I call you Joe?” she made it abundantly, unstoppably and relentlessly clear that she was not of Washington, did not admire Washington and knew little about Washington. She ran not only against Washington, but the whole East Coast, just to be safe. ~David Brooks

Noonan and Brooks actually fall over themselves trying to compliment Palin on the modest success of being coherent, but these excerpts are striking in that someone might have written them as withering, sarcastic criticism and instead they are supposed to be a celebration of her virtues. Noonan complains that Biden showed too much forbearance, but this is exactly what Noonan and Brooks show in their efforts to tip-toe around the obvious that for all her mastery of the non-answer and glittering generalities, to borrow Halcro’s language, she did not do very well.  Incredibly, her fans don’t seem to mind debasing the meaning of excellence if it allows them to call what we saw last night excellent.

Roger Simon of The Politico earnestly sums up the conventional wisdom circulating throughout The Village:

Sarah Palin was supposed to fall off the stage at her vice presidential debate Thursday evening. Instead, she ended up dominating it.

She not only kept Joe Biden on the defensive for much of the debate, she not only repeatedly attacked Barack Obama, but she looked like she was enjoying herself while doing it.

She smiled. She faced the camera. She was warm. She was human. Gosh and golly, she even dropped a bunch of g’s.

“John McCain doesn’t tell one thing to one group and somethin’ else to another,” she said. “Those huge tax breaks aren’t comin’ to those huge multinational corporations.”

She went out of her way to talk in everyday terms, saying things like “I betcha” and “We have a heckuva opportunity to learn” and “Darn right we need tax relief.”

[…]

True, a lot of her statements were of the fortune cookie variety. “At end of day,” she said, “if we are all working together for the greater good, it is going to be OK.”

But a lot of people like fortune cookies.

Politics as Chinese food–there’s an apt metaphor in there. Winking, “Joe Sixpack”, and “drill, baby, drill” may play well among the celebrity-obsessed Us Weekly constituency who, as Matt Taibbi noted in a recent Rolling Stone feature, “simply consume [candidates] as media entertainment”. But, after ninety minutes of being force-fed insubstantial talking points like “you betcha!”, “a pair of mavericks” and “hockey mom” wisdom, I was left feeling intellectually malnourished (and rather besotted).

One wonders what might have been, had Palin been thrust into a rousing, demanding debate format similar to the round-table free-for-all here in the Great White North that also took place last night, where, pace Simon, simply being warm, human and fact-free wouldn’t provide the same amount of superficial rhetorical traction.

One also must question whether Palin went too far in attempting to establish her outsider cred. According to Steve M, rather than cementing her populist bona fides, Palin’s (self) indulgent one-sided rap-session with the American people “points up the other huge problem with Palin, beyond her Bushite policy positions and her utter lack of qualifications for the job — her unbridled narcissism”:

Politicians tend to be narcissistic, obviously, but I think Palin’s self-obsession is the purest I’ve ever seen. Bill Clinton, for instance, can radiate narcissism, as can, say, Joe Biden (though not last night), but when Clinton and Biden are self-regarding, it’s because they think they’re masters of the task at hand — politics or statecraft. Palin’s self-regard is most nakedly obvious when she’s landed a zinger. The insufferably smug look she gets on her face makes clear that all she cares about is Sarah Palin winning. The reason she can’t master the policy proposals, or even describe them in any detail, is that her ego isn’t invested in doing anything except advancing the cause of herself.

Regardless, Lola Adesioye doesn’t think the folksy, Reaganesque appeal to middle America will have much of an impact beyond Palin’s hardcore support base:

The over-use of buzz word such as “hockey moms” and “Joe Sixpack” did give the impression that Palin is an ordinary person. But when you’re in the running to be vice-president of the most powerful nation in the world, that is not necessarily a good thing. Biden, on the other hand, came across as commanding, highly knowledgeable and statesman-like – someone you could trust in a crisis.

This impression is further buttressed by the results of last night’s CNN/Opinion Research Corproration instant reaction poll, which found that although a majority of respondents found Palin to be “more likable” than Biden, “87 percent of the people polled said Biden is qualified while only 42 percent said Palin is qualified [to assume the presidency].”  Oh, and speaking of Biden, he too defied expectations, avoiding any gender-based condescension or embarrassing verbal slip-ups.  Nor did he attempt to draw blood from his opponent.

Instead, Biden seemed content directing his most vigourous attacks towards John McCain, reining in his legendary self-satisfied verbosity and allowing Palin to directly appeal to her rural right-wing base (although, as Joan Walsh observes, Palin missed an opportunity to temporarily suspend the lipstick pitbull routine and display some genuine–or feigned–non-partisan compassion after Biden emotionally referenced the tragic deaths of his first wife and daughter).

All of which is fine; by next week, this largely–and, considering the by-default also-ran stature of its participants, appropriately–negligible debate will have been forgotten, as all eyes will once again be focused on the lead protagonists in the edge-of-your-seat prime-time contest that is the 2008 presidential election, which is proving to be the best damn reality TV program since season three of America’s Next Top Model.

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Joe Biden: Republican Silence on Economy is “Deafening” (Literally!)

by matttbastard

h/t Jed and Kyle Moore (via IM) for the vid

Heckuva job: The NY Times reports that the US unemployment rate hit a 5 year high this week, and is now on par with Canada’s for the first time since 1982 (ppsh, that’s nice — hey, check out McCain’s prime time numbers!):

The August jobs report seemed to suggest that the deterioration in the economy is accelerating. The unemployment rate has risen 1.4 percentage points over the last year and is now at its highest level since September 2003, when the economy was just beginning to emerge from a jobless recovery.

What’s more, those who swelled the unemployment rolls last month were adults, many over the age of 45, and not teen-agers, who were the main contributors to the jump in unemployment in May, when the rate rose to 5.5 percent from 5 percent in April. The nearly 600,000 people added to the unemployment roles in August included almost as many college graduates as those with only a high school degree.

Manufacturing companies shed the most jobs last month, 61,000, mostly at auto plants and in housing-related industries. There were also sharp cutbacks in the use of temporary workers, and across most of the work force hourly and weekly wages once again failed to keep pace with inflation.

The McCain campaign’s thoughtful strategic response to this latest economic body blow?

Piss on the legs of the working and middle classes and call it rain:

Hoping for a poll bounce out of the Republican convention at St Paul, Mr McCain, accompanied by Governor Sarah Palin, his vice-presidential running mate, hit the campaign trail in Cedarburg, Wisconsin, with a populist message.

“John McCain doesn’t run with the Washington herd,” Mrs Palin said, introducing the Republican nominee.

Mr McCain declared: “It’s over. It’s over. It’s over for the special interests. We’re going to start working for the people of this country.

He mentioned the jobless figures and said that these were “tough times” for Americans and promised to “stand on your side and fight for you”, cutting government spending and opening up new markets abroad. He vowed to “shake up Washington and get things done for you”.

The McCain campaign has dubbed their new tour, through many economically deprived areas, as the “Change is Coming” tour.

Yep, nothing boosts voter confidence and stirs the soul quite like hollow rhetoric (“Shake up Washington!” “We’re going to start working for the people of this country!”) from shameless political shills cynically and contemptuously treating the whining electorate like dolts unable to read between the lines of their monthly credit card statements.

“Change is coming”?

My angry black ass.

Charles Krauthammer (!) nails it:

The Republican brand is deeply tarnished. The opposition is running on “change” in a change election. So McCain gambled that he could steal the change issue for himself — a crazy brave, characteristically reckless, inconceivably difficult maneuver — by picking an authentically independent, tough-minded reformer. With Palin, he doubles down on change.

The problem is the inherent oddity of the incumbent party running on change. Here were Republicans — the party that controlled the White House for eight years and both houses of Congress for five — wildly cheering the promise to take on Washington. I don’t mean to be impolite, but who’s controlled Washington this decade?

Gee, damn good thing this election isn’t about the issues (nor, apparently, accountability).

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