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.

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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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Nothing’s Shocking

by matttbastard

Hey, remember the Scott Beauchamp teapot tempest? Well, reality (what with its inherent liberal bias) has provided an ironic (if tragic) coda to the tedious saga of manufactured wingnut outrage:

A senior enlisted Army soldier was convicted on Wednesday of killing four handcuffed and blindfolded Iraqi men with pistol shots to the backs of their heads shortly after arresting them in Baghdad two years ago, The Associated Press reported.

A military jury in Germany, where his unit is deployed, found the soldier, Master Sgt. John E. Hatley, guilty of premeditated murder in the deaths of the men, whom he and several other members of his unit had detained after a firefight with insurgents in Baghdad in spring 2007, according to testimony in the case.

Who is Master Sgt. John E. Hatley? Attaturk has the 411:

If you cannot place the name, Master Sgt. Hatley was the direct superior of Pvt. Scott Beauchamp and the person most used to discredit (along with the gay porn star) the New Republic diary of the life of a soldier in Iraq and the ways they dealt with the pressures of Operation Clusterfuck.

Stars and Stripes gives more details of what the NCO who, in a moment of bold understatement, claimed to be “no angel” did to earn his conviction:

Capt. John Riesenberg, assistant government trial counsel, told the jury that their sentence should be aimed at stopping other first sergeants and soldiers from doing what the Company A soldiers did.

“Send a message to the world that this is an army that recognizes that it is different, that American soldiers just don’t do this. They don’t execute detainees in the middle of the night by shooting them in the back of the head when they are bound and blindfolded and dump their bodies in a canal,” he said.

The killings occurred in March or April of 2007.

It was Hatley’s idea to kill the detainees, Riesenberg said.

A first sergeant in the U.S. Army came up with the idea to commit a brutal execution-style murder of detainees and he did it with his own men. He failed them, the Army, the Iraqi people and the American war effort,” Riesenberg said.

Except some American soldiers quite obviously do “execute detainees in the middle of the night by shooting them in the back of the head when they are bound and blindfolded and dump their bodies in a canal,” along with many other casual atrocities that get swept into the dustbin of history; such uncomfortable facts may not fit with the illusory narrative of duty, honour and exceptional virtue, but they DO occur, no matter how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise.

Yeah, well, wevs–at least there still isn’t concrete proof that they ran over any dogs.

As John Cole acidly notes, “That isn’t SOP.”

Related: More things that soldiers “just don’t do”: Heather Benedict on how women serving on the frontlines face the threat of sexual violence–from their fellow troops.

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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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‘I think so.’

by matttbastard

Again with the 'Saddam = Bin Laden's BFF' bullshit, Dick? Sigh...

No, Mr. Vice-President, I think not.

Really.

(Full Newshour interview transcript here. Make sure to have a bottle of Tums and a couple of Valium’s handy–it makes for a simulateously nauseating and infuriating read.  5 more days…)

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Got Somethin’ Stickin’ In My Eye

by matttbastard

The Washington Post reports today that (forcedly) retired General Eric Shinseki has been tapped by President-elect Obama to lead Veterans Affairs:

Shinseki, a 38-year veteran, is best known for his four years as Army chief of staff, and in particular his response to congressional questioning in February 2003 about troop levels necessary to protect a presumed military victory in Iraq.

Shinseki told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers” could be necessary, an assessment that was at odds with the announced determination of Pentagon leaders.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld reacted by telling reporters that Shinseki’s estimate “will prove to be high,” and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz called the assessment “way off the mark.”

Three years later, Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command and the chief architect of U.S. military strategy in Iraq, told the same Senate committee, “General Shinseki was right.”

James Fallows calls the pick “karmic justice”, while Booman says that after frustrating Democratic partisans with his conciliatory gestures to the outgoing presidency, “Obama has finally delivered a finger-in-the-eye moment to the Bush administration.”  Regardless, Shinseki is an excellent choice.  As Jonathan Singer puts it:

If Shinseki brings the type of focus and willingness to speak truth to power to the Veterans Affairs that he did to the military, he is going to make a real positive difference in the lives of those who greatly deserve better treatment from our government and be a very solid addition to Barack Obama’s cabinet.

Indeed.  Plus, it’s nice to finally see someone in Washington getting rewarded for being, um, right about something–especially after getting forced out of his position as Army chief of staff for choosing integrity over short-term self interest.  And, as Fallows (who wrote about Shinseki extensively for both the article and subsequent book Blind into Baghdad) reveals, “[d]espite being unfairly treated, despite being 100% vindicated by subsequent events, Shinseki kept his grievances entirely to himself.”

A finger in the eye?

Maybe.

Karmic justice?

You betcha.

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Pentagon Delivers ‘Operation: “Now It’s YOUR Problem”‘ Plan to President

by matttbastard

WaPo:

Pentagon leaders have recommended to President Bush that the United States make no further troop reductions in Iraq this year, administration officials said yesterday.

The plan, delivered this week, calls for extending a pause in drawdowns until late January or early February — after the Bush administration has left office. At that point, up to 7,500 of the approximately 146,000 troops in Iraq could be withdrawn, depending on conditions on the ground there.

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