Friday, January 8, 2010

Obamastan: Where New & Promising Presidencies Go to Fail

So, why are we there? One reason is as likely as another, is my best guess.
Each day I keep trying to steal moments of discretionary time to fit the finishing touches on a putative game-changing post. Such a goal is illusory, of course, because there are those - even in the Liberal camp - who will not list to reason. They prefer to enlist their support in the Military-Industrial Complex's newest crusade: to make Afghanistan safe for Democracy or Democracy safe from Afghanistan.

I can't tell which it is from one day to the next. 

Their commitment to the Obama-McChrystal 18- month 18-year plan is based upon faith, hope, prayer, and even the CIC's personality cult. In the face of this, no effort on my part, no matter how my artful word-smithing improves (lots of room, there!), is going to convert minds I've always felt to be redeemable.

So once again, I retreat, saving my time and effort by resorting to the words of others. Today. I am reproducing the voice of one of greatest contemporary authorities on Western and Central Asia - that I read anyways.

Juan Cole is Professor of History at the University of Michigan, author of several books on Islam and politics. He is most renown on the Internet for his blog, Informed Comment.

Today he posted his review of President Obama's latest rant about terrorism in which Cole laments the Administration's retreat into buying off on the Cheneysque mythology of a American-led Global War on Terror (GWOT). Here are the concluding paragraphs of his Obama: The Age of the War on Al-Qaeda, which I trust will prove worthy of my readers' consideration:

Obama most unfortunately has allowed the right wing to maneuver him in to reviving the use of the word 'war,' and he is now talking about a 'war on al-Qaeda.' It is not a war, and cannot be fought like a war, and the word is just as misleading now as it was in the Bush-Cheney era. It is a counter-terrorism struggle. Highlighting al-Qaeda, moreover, gives Bin Laden what he always wanted, to parlay a few thousand cranks with weapons training into the central preoccupation of a superpower. Why not say, for our democracy to flourish, we must do good counter-terrorism? Wars imply a Pentagon role, and military action alone is more likely to provoke terrorism than to end it. In fact, if Bush had not invaded Iraq, al-Qaeda might well have died off by now.

Obama again talked about winning hearts and minds for the US in the Muslim world. But as the case of the Palestinian/Jordanian double agent, Humam al-Balawi, who detonated a suicide bomb at Forward Operating Base Campbell in Afghanistan showed, as long as the US backs Israeli encroachments on Palestinian land and Israeli attacks on and sieges of Palestinians, winning hearts and minds is complicated and in many cases impossible. The American right wing keeps repeating the stupid mantra that extremists and militants are 'evil' or 'hate us for who we are.' Maybe some are obsessed like that. But most do cite specific policies that enrage them, like the invasion of Iraq or the gradual ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. Vigilante violence is always wrong*, and their grievances give them no warrant to harm innocents (which is evil). But if winning hearts and minds is the issue, then US policy in the Middle East is an impediment. The large US footprint Obama is creating in Afghanistan has the potential to be another such obstacle.

A viable Palestinian state, a US withdrawal from Iraq, and an end to the Afghanistan war would do more to drain the swamp of al-Qaeda collectively than all the intelligence reviews and reorganizations in the world.
I would love to be on Obama's Presidential bus as much as I enjoyed being on his Campaign bus. But I'm not getting back aboard until Barry changes out the route, the bumpersticker, and the driver(s). Until that happens, I'd rather walk.


  1. Great quote from Juan Cole and he brings excellent reasoning to the fore that will largely go unheard.
    --I only disagree with one of Cole's points: Bin Laden actually didn't ever get what he wanted (he wanted the United States and the West as far away from Mecca as possible), The US and western nations are in the middle East in an unprecedented deployment for the last decade.
    Cole should remember that Bin Laden's focus was Egypt before the Persian Gulf War of 1991-1992, it was when the Saudi's refused his help after Saddam Hussein decided to move on Kuwait and the House of Saud instead approached their old friend from the Carlyle Group, then President George HW Bush, that Bin Laden decided that the United States, (who Bin Laden had no issues taking millions of dollars in support from in the eighties when he was fighting the Soviets) was the new embodiment of all evil.

    Lastly I'll just say, I know that analogies between this conflict and others always end up in the splitting of hairs so I'll just say:

    Afghanistan isn't another Vietnam;
    -Afghanistan is another Afghanistan.
    Just ask the Russians.


  2. it was when the Saudi's refused his help after Saddam Hussein decided to move on Kuwait

    What help did OBL offer the Saudis at this point?

  3. Afghanistan is not Vietnam.
    -Afghanistan is worse than Vietnam
    Logistics, logistics, logistics!

  4. Yeah OBL wanted to launch the same type of guerrila war against Saddam's forces. I always assumed the Saudis didn't want to give OBL any more power than he already had, in hindsight had the House of Saud chosen to fund a guerilla war in Kuwait-who knows what would have happened?

    I think Juan Cole is 100% right here. Most Americans don't understand, I mean really grasp the significance of Palestine in this matter.

  5. * [Footnote]:

    I think Cole is 99% correct. This should be re-written and changed from:

    Vigilante violence is always wrong...


    Vigilante violence is almost always wrong...

    Vigilante violence in behalf of the Sea Shepherds is entirely defensible.

    I meant to get this footnote completed before Mad Mike read it.

  6. Vigil,
    OK Juan Cole is 98% right-the Sea Shepherds and Charles Bronson in the Death Wish movies.

  7. @Vig, re: “What help did OBL offer the Saudis at this point?”

    -Bin Laden offered to help defend Saudi Arabia with his former mujahideen fighters against the nearby Iraqi forces in 1990, Bin Laden felt he was organized and his methods had been proven in Afghanistan.

    According to former ABC correspondent/reporter John Miller (who actually interveiwed Bin Laden face to face in the 1990s): after the former Soviet Union left Afghanistan in 1989, Bin Laden came back to Saudi Arabia a “hero of jihad” the very next year. Bin Laden’s Arab Legion was credited in the region with ousting the Soviets from Afghanistan.
    When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in late 1990 the House of Saud felt it was in danger, since its oil fields were close to Kuwait’s border and Saddam Hussein acting under some spurious aspiration of “unifying the region.”
    Bin Laden, now the equivalent of General MacArthur in the region reached out to King Fahd, and the Defense Ministers of Saudi Arabia, telling them they could not enlist the help of “non-Muslim” fighters or soldiers, -that only Muslims (Remember that part of Bin Laden’s platform is an insistance on Sharia law in the region) should be fighting in “The Kingdom.” Bin Laden's offer was flatly refused. It is widely held that King Fahd in fact reached out to the Bushes, -not the other way around. When the U.S. troops were deployed, specifically establishing a large make-shift military base within Saudi Arabian territory, Bin Laden denounced the House of Saud and publicly said that the US presence near Mecca “profaned the soil.” The House of Saud attempted to “silence” Bin Laden, and he went underground.

  8. Oso, on the Saudis & OBL. I think the Saudis made the right decision. (You may disagree.) But IMO, throwing Saddam out Kuwait was a good war for Daddy Bush and the rest of us. (Although it took Margaret Thatcher to put a steel rod up Bush I's backside where there was no spine.) Yes, I was so gung-ho, I came close to praying that Saddam would not withdraw voluntarily before we could make some hamburger out of his troops.

    Those were the days! (I don't anticipate agreement from you!)

  9. Thanks for your POV on this, SJ!

  10. @Vig, Oso,
    If you ever get a chance to read that John Miller interview with Bin Laden, it's pretty illuminating, here's a link to the actual transcript:

    although if you can find the video on Youtube somewhere I recommend watching that also, but read it first...
    -Everybody tends to forget that this asshole (Bin Laden) has an actual political platform, and specifically he has very concrete ideas about "redress" in actual numbers of American lives. He is no joke. He is a dedicated and violent fundamentalist and the US placing a military base near Mecca in 1991 sent him over the edge. This lunatic had no problem with US support when he was fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan.

  11. Thanks for the link, SJ. I will certainly follow it up. Some one (a conservative) has pointed out in these pages that OBL initially cared not a whit about Palestine. It was Saudi national interests he was obsessed with. Your analysis is convincing: General Osama bin MacArthur went bat shit crazy when his offer of foreign fighters was declined in favor of Bush's and Thatcher's foreign fighters. Is that the way it was?

  12. LOL on the Vigilante footnote and we are, for once, in TOTAL AGREEMENT on the Sea Shepherd and of course those cool Charles Bronson movies, and of course, Liam Neeson in TAKEN!! Wait. How about Clint Eastwood in FORGIVEN. How about....Sorry Vigil. I got carried away...

  13. Great discussion and I've said all along how the reactionaries are controlling the debate. Tea baggers have the republican party as their hostage. Obama is being forced to used phrases like "war on terror" so the righties won't call him a sissy. Much like the lead up to the Iraq invasion. Democrats and republicans alike had to line up in favor of war so they wouldn't be called soft on terror or whatever. I wonder if the reactionaries will manipulate us into another invasion of a country that is no threat.

    I'm still with MadMike on patience. My patience is wearing thin already. It may be gone long before the surge timeline is complete because our President is slowly cowtowing to the chicken hawks that demand tough talk.

  14. I don't know that he is "cowtowing," as much as he is listening to both sides of the argument. Regardless Truth, you are well named my friend:-)

  15. @Vig,
    I'll go with John Miller's appraisal of the situation anytime over anyone else's, since he actually risked his life to go talk to this maniac Osama Bin Laden and had the balls to insist he be able to tape it all.
    According to Miller and others, the general but rarely uttered consensus is that Bin Laden was extremely popular, "too popular" for the House of Saud's liking. When he insisted to them that he should be not only be providing their defense -but leading it-, it probably scared the shit out of King Fahd. Miller, no longer a reporter and now here at home with the FBI, as well as others in the CIA have said the Saudi government could not afford having Bin Laden "become as powerful as he was popular."
    The House of Saud went to their old buddies from the Carlyle group and got help from someone they could be sure had no interest in deposing them: President George HW Bush. Bin Laden called the House of Saud "infidels" and "Americans" for going to the United States, and King Fahd'd had enough out of him. They turned around and put a price on Bin Laden's head, Bin Laden then went underground and soon after he'd be targeting Americans almost exclusively.
    I can't say that his concerns over Palestinians was sincere or not, either scenario is as likely. The guy is fairly committed, crazy, religious nut, but not without his hypocrisies: he accepted weapons and millions of dollars, and other assistance from the CIA while he fought the Soviets in the 1980s and by all accounts appreciated the help...
    That was then.

  16. @Vig,
    --and again, there's the thing with the U.S. military base just miles near Mecca and Medina.
    It apparently drove Bin Laden over the edge.

  17. One clue to the 91 invasion of Iraq is [April Glaspie] our ambassador to Iraq. Her conversation with Sadam 8 days prior to his invasion of Kuwait. She basically gave him the green light.

    OBL and his A/Q were also very connected with the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Wahabbi sect in Saudi Arabia. Sudan was ready to give up OBL, but we did not take him. Mullah Omar was ready to turn him over, but we did not take him.

  18. Here is the transcript of the conversation between Glaspie and Sadam.

  19. @Reality Zone
    Thanks for that link-
    It's all just a bunch of maffias in the end isn't it?
    You could practically re-film Scorsese's "Good Fellas" set it in the Middle East and just cast Saddam Hussein, King Fahd, George HW Bush, and Osama Bin Laden lookalikes and it would be essentially the same tale.

  20. Reality Zone, you will never convince me that Mullah Omar was close to turning Osama over to anyone for 9-11. That was just the feebly-offered mythology invented by the leftwingers to argue against USA's invasion of Afghanistan.

  21. Leftwingers are defined as anyone to the left of me.

  22. SJ; Try this one. Remember the baby incubators in Kuwait? The Kuwaiti ambassadors daughter. Here are the shadows behind the 91 invasion.

  23. MESSENGER: LOL Not to worry i am waaaaay left of you. Mullah Omar asked for proof of OBL'S complicity in 9/11. He was never given that proof.

  24. MESSENGER; Try this one.

  25. @Reality Zone-Thanks***
    I saw the related Frontline doc when it aired on PBS, I'm glad they've put it all online.
    Thanks again-

  26. R-Zone, I'm with Messenger on this. This link establishes nothing. Mullah was stonewalling. It was better to pulverize the the Taliban than be caught negotiating with vermin. There never have been any socially redeeming qualities attached to the Taliban. Not then. Not now.

    The only problem with what Bush did was Bush himself. I can't prove it, but I fervently believe Gore would have gotten bin Laden.

  27. I stand by the "cowtowing" statement MadMike. The right wing talking heads got to the President with their nonsense aboutObama not saying "War on terror" enough to their liking.

    Of course we know that nothing Obama does short of delivering the Saviour from the Virgin Mary would make these fools happy. Then again, that would piss them off because a black man had his hands on a lady's privates.

    There;s just no pleasing these jokers.

  28. VIG; I cannot prove that OBL is dead. But, I fervently believe he is dead, and has been dead for some time. Probably even before 2004.
    Forward the clock to NOW. The "Taliban" controls 80% of Afghanistan. Will we have to sooner or later negotiate with the vermin Taliban?
    We are not the "socially redeeming" police of the world. It is their country, and it is their fight. NOT OURS. The Taliban will eliminate the 100 A/Q that are left in Afghanistan if we left yesterday.

  29. I'm also with Messenger on this one!!

  30. Screw it, I blame the American people on this situation who regularly refuse to break away from their daily dose of reality shows, video games, and entertainment news to actually learn and listen about what is going on.

    With such short attentions spans it damn easy to fall into five-minute sound bite traps where such words as "War", "Sissy", "socialist", and any number of others words that are focus group tested to have the greatest impact.

    Obama ain't perfect and he has made some mistakes but with us lefties almost making him a messiah and the right opposing him even breathing the guy is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't.

  31. "The buck stops with me." That part of the speech, while obviously not original, was very important. This, in that it showed 1) resolve and 2) leadership. He also didn't blame Bush and/or throw the Dutch under the bus (something that some of his more shameless on-line supporters are doing in spades). As to whether we call it a war or not, I really don't give a shit. I just want to kill as many terrorists (yes, another word that I'm reasonably flexible with) as we can without creating more. And, yes,that's where I DO part with the President, his extra large footprint in Afganistan, etc..

  32. I can understand your dilemma, Vig. Being on the team when it goes astray is a hardship. I'm of the same mind as you on this issue. I'm not abandoning the bus, but I sure hell am hanging on the side! LOL I do think it's important to stay supportive of the President as the President, while I don't have support all of his policies. I like you post... as usual. Information that broadens my understanding. :-)