Thursday, December 31, 2009

Early Reports on Standing Up the "Afghanistan National Army" Continue to Flow In

The Fly-Paper Strategy of President Obama is working. Our troops and civilians are over in Afghanistan getting killed so we won't get killed over here, in the homeland.

I'm not trying to be funny. This is a tragedy. We lost at least eight good Americans carrying out policies which are, on their face, irresponsible and hopeless.

Our dead were members of the PRT, which is the provincial reconstruction team. No doubt they were CIA. I fully support the CIA. These civilian personnel were killed by General McChrystal's ludicrous policy of having Americans "partner" with the so-called "Afghan National Army".

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, told the BBC in an email that the bomber was wearing a A.N.A. uniform when he managed to breach security at the base, detonating his explosives belt in the gym:
This deadly attack was carried out by a valorous Afghan army member when the American officials were busy gaining information about the mujahideen
Correspondent Kim Ghattas, Washington observes
It is probably the deadliest attack against US intelligence officials since the start of the war in 2001.

What was unusual about this attack was that the suicide bomber was able to detonate his explosives inside the base. In the past, such attacks would have mostly killed Afghan labourers lined up outside a base, looking for work.
In otherwords, Readers, were it not for the A.N.A., this bomber could not have gotten his bombing ass inside our CIA compound.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Early Reports Are in on U.S. Mentoring of the "Afghanistan National Army"

When it's friendly fire that kills from American guns, bombs or rockets it's said to have been "accidental", "mistaken", or "collateral". I think everyone accepts that. But when our American servicemen and servicewomen are on the receiving end, it is never accidental. It is always deliberate and personal.

A Tuesday shooting, described by Italian officials as intentional, took place about 11.30am at a military base in the Bala Murghab district of Badghis province. A member of the Afghan National Army (ANA) killed a U.S. service member and wounded two Italian soldiers when he opened fire on foreign troops. The Italian defense ministry said the shooting occurred during a routine supply operation and,

It was not an error ... He shot voluntarily.
Afghan General Jalander Shah Bahnam said the Afghan soldier fired on NATO troops who sought to prevent him from approaching a helicopter landing zone, the Associated Press reported.

This was the latest in a string of such incidents, which have underlined the difficulty US and NATO forces face in turning over the country's security to Afghan troops with questionable loyalty and competence.

Last month, an Afghan policeman killed five British soldiers at a military compound in southern Helmand province. The Taliban said he was one of their fighters who had infiltrated the force and the incident prompted Britain to improve its vetting procedure for Afghan police.

Four U.S. troops were killed and three wounded by Afghan soldiers in two other incidents earlier this year, one in the northeast and one just south of Kabul.

Last month, an Afghan policeman attacked a military compound in southern Helmand province, killing five British soldiers.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Macarthur 'Daddy' Walton

Rest In Eternal Peace

Walton, A gentle man, author, and counselor, died peacefully surrounded by loving friends and family on December 22, 2009, at his home in Minneapolis.

Friends and family will gather to celebrate his LIFE on Tuesday, Dec. 29 at 5 pm at the Ascension Church, 1723 Bryant Avenue North, Minneapolis.

To honor his passion for helping others and his work as a community organizer, memorials are preferred to the Mac Walton African American Youth Leadership Scholarship c/o Visitation Monastery, 1527 Fremont Avenue North, Minneapolis, MN 55411.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Obama's Indecent Interval

By 1971, Nixon and Kissinger understood that "winning" in Vietnam was no longer in the cards — so they shifted from trying to win the war to trying to win the next election. As Nixon put it in March 1971: "We can't have [Saigon] knocked over brutally … "

Kissinger finished the thought " … before the election."

So Nixon and Kissinger pushed the South Vietnamese to "stand on their own," promising we'd support them if necessary. But at the same time, Kissinger assured the North Vietnamese — through China — that the U.S. wouldn't intervene to prevent a North Vietnamese victory — as long as that victory didn't come with embarrassing speed.

Kissinger's talking points for his 1972 meeting with Chinese Premier Chou En-lai on the topic of Vietnam included a promise that the U.S. would withdraw all troops and "leave the political evolution of Vietnam to the Vietnamese." The U.S. would "let objective realities" — North Vietnamese military superiority — "shape the political future." In the margins of his briefing book, Kissinger scrawled a handwritten elaboration for Chou: "We want a decent interval. You have our assurance."

The "decent interval" strategy worked. By declaring that "peace was at hand," Kissinger took the wind out of antiwar Democrat George McGovern's sails, and Nixon won reelection.

In other words, Nixon came to Lyndon Johnson's realization that however little Vietnam meant to American national interests, it wasn't worth the blood and treasure squandered on it. All they needed electorally was a little respect and a little time so that it didn't look like we were run out of Indo China on a rail the way the French were.

President Barack Obama is certainly smart enough to understand how little Afghanistan stacks up in the grander scheme of American core interests. So, what's going on here?

Gynne Dyer suggests that the President has simply inherited a myth too big to fail:

...assertions that al-Qaeda needs Afghanistan as a base [constitute] a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of terrorist operations, but it permeates American thinking on the subject. Even if Obama knows better himself, he cannot hope to disabuse his fellow Americans of that delusion in the time available.

Instead, he goes along with it, even saying that Afghanistan and Pakistan are “the epicentre of the violent extremism practiced by al-Qaeda....Since 9/11, al-Qaeda's safe-havens have been the source of attacks against London and Amman and Bali.” This is utter nonsense, but even if he knows it is nonsense, he cannot say so publicly.

Al-Qaeda doesn’t run training camps any more; it leaves that to the various local groups that spring up and try to follow its example both in the Muslim world and in the West. The template for Islamist terrorism is now available everywhere, so al-Qaeda no longer needs a specific territorial base. For the purpose of planning actual terrorist attacks, it never did.

Terrorist operations don’t require “bases”; they need a couple of hotel rooms or a safe house somewhere. The operational planning for the 9/11 attacks was done in Germany and the United States. The London attacks were planned in Yorkshire, the Amman attack probably in Syria, and the Bali attacks in Jakarta.
The worse case scenario?
If the Taliban conquered all of Afghanistan and then invited al-Qaeda to set up camps there–neither of which is a necessary consequence of an American withdrawal–what additional advantages would al-Qaeda enjoy?

Well, it could then fly its people in and out through Kabul in addition to using Karachi and Lahore, but they’d face even stiffer security checks at the far end of the flight. It hardly seems worth it.

The leaders of al-Qaeda would certainly like to see the Taliban regain power in Kabul, since it was al-Qaeda’s attacks on the United States on 9/11, specifically intended to provoke a U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, that brought the Taliban regime down in the first place. But al-Qaeda takes no part in the Taliban’s war in Afghanistan: it is strictly an Afghan operation.

Even if Obama does not believe the Washington orthodoxy, which insists that who controls Afghanistan is a question of great importance to American security, his short-term strategy must respect that orthodoxy. Hence the “surge”. But the speed with which that surge is to be followed by an American withdrawal suggests that he may really know better.

July 2011 is not a long time away: all the Taliban leaders have to do is wait 18 months and then collect their winnings. If they are intelligent and pragmatic men–which they are–they may even let the foreign forces make some apparent progress in the meantime, so that the security situation looks promising when the time comes to start pulling the U.S. troops out.

In fact, the Taliban might not even try to collect their winnings right away after the foreigners leave. There’s no point in risking a backlash in the United States that might bring the American troops back.
Vietnam Redux:
This is actually how the Vietnam war ended. The United States went through a major exercise in “Vietnamization” in the early 1970s, and the last American combat troops left South Vietnam in 1973. At that point, the security situation in the south seemed fairly good–and the North Vietnamese politely waited until 1975 to collect their winnings.

In doing so, they granted Henry Kissinger, national security adviser to President Richard Nixon, the “decent interval” he had requested. A decent interval, that is, between the departure of the American troops and the victory of the forces that they had been fighting, so that it did not look too much like an American defeat. In practical political terms, that is also the best outcome that Obama can now hope for in Afghanistan.

If that is Obama’s real strategy, then he can take consolation in the fact that nothing bad happened to American interests after the North Vietnamese victory in 1975. Nothing bad is likely to happen to American interests in the event of a Taliban victory, either. Nor is a Taliban victory even a foregone conclusion after an American withdrawal, since they would still have to overcome all the other ethnic forces in the country.
But, for the time being, al Qaeda has us right where it wants us:
The biggest risk Obama runs with this strategy is that it gives al-Qaeda a motive to launch new attacks against the United States. The Taliban want the U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, but al-Qaeda wants them to be stuck there indefinitely, taking casualties and killing Muslims. It’s unlikely that al-Qaeda can just order a terrorist attack in the United States, but if it looks like the U.S. troops are really going home, then it may well try.
OTOH, maybe Obama is a true believer:
...maybe all this analysis is too clever by half. Maybe Obama just thinks he can win the war in Afghanistan in the next 18 months. In that case, his presidency is doomed.
Is that it? Either Barack Obama is destined to becoming a second Lyndon Johnson sacrificing a slam-dunk second term or a second Richard Nixon with a secret plan to end the war? I can't believe this simple dichotomy really sums it up. For one thing, all American patriots that I am aware of just want Barry to become a second FDR.

Speaking of which, here's my map of Afghanistan, BTW, and don't forget to click!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Let The Taliban and the Warlords Have Afghanistan

They will get in eventually in 10, 15 or 20 years. Why not let them have it now?
The blogosphere is much like the world of print journalism. Sparks of brilliance occasionally flash some illuminating light on events only to be splashed away and left awash by repetitive spin and trivia. The validity of what was said ten days ago is obscured by today's trivia.

What I'd really like to do, fed up with President McChrystal's War Obama's War as I am, is to post one definitive critique about United States' Iraq-AfPak policy; to leave it on The Vigil's front page, allow comments, but not to post anything on top of it; and then to return and revisit it all in several months' or years' time. I am tempted to do that.

In selecting a piece which accurately encapsulates my thinking, I could certainly do worse than posting parts of Andrew Bacevich's piece in Commonweal. It's a lengthy piece so I will only re-read it to you in part:

He begins by reflecting on the legacy of the discredited prophet, Woodrow Wilson and his vision of the United States as a crusader state promising to eliminate tyranny, ensure the triumph of liberty, and achieve permanent peace. As often happens in history, a gang of murderous details, realities and complexities mugged the Wilsonian Conceit, producing unprecedented and unanticipated calamities down the road. Bacevich:

So it is today with Afghanistan, the conflict that George W. Bush began, then ignored, and finally bequeathed to his successor. Barack Obama has embraced that conflict as "the war we must win." Those who celebrated Bush's militancy back in the intoxicating days when he was promising to rid the world of evil see Obama's enthusiasm for pressing on in Afghanistan as a vindication of sorts. They are right to do so.

The misguided and mismanaged global war on terror reduced Bush's presidency to ruin. The candidate whose run for high office derived its energy from an implicit promise to repudiate all that Bush had wrought now seems intent on salvaging something useful from that failed enterprise-even if that means putting his own presidency at risk. When it comes to Afghanistan, Obama may be singing in a different key, but to anyone with an ear for music-especially for military marches-the melody remains intact.

Candidate Obama once derided the notion that the United States is called upon to determine the fate of Iraq. President Obama expresses a willingness to expend untold billions-not to mention who knows how many lives-in order to determine the fate of Afghanistan. Liberals may have interpreted Obama's campaign pledge to ramp up the U.S. military commitment to Afghanistan as calculated to insulate himself from the charge of being a national-security wimp. Events have exposed that interpretation as incorrect. It turns out-apparently-that the president genuinely views this remote, landlocked, primitive Central Asian country as a vital U.S. national-security interest.

What is it about Afghanistan, possessing next to nothing that the United States requires, that justifies such lavish attention? In Washington, this question goes not only unanswered but unasked. Among Democrats and Republicans alike, with few exceptions, Afghanistan's importance is simply assumed-much the way fifty years ago otherwise intelligent people simply assumed that the United States had a vital interest in ensuring the survival of South Vietnam. As then, so today, the assumption does not stand up to even casual scrutiny.

Tune in to the Sunday talk shows or consult the op-ed pages and you might conclude otherwise. Those who profess to be in the know insist that the fight in Afghanistan is essential to keeping America safe. The events of September 11, 2001, ostensibly occurred because we ignored Afghanistan. Preventing the recurrence of those events, therefore, requires that we fix the place.

Yet this widely accepted line of reasoning overlooks the primary reason why the 9/11 conspiracy succeeded: federal, state, and local agencies responsible for basic security fell down on the job, failing to install even minimally adequate security measures in the nation's airports. The national-security apparatus wasn't paying attention-indeed, it ignored or downplayed all sorts of warning signs, not least of all Osama bin Laden's declaration of war against the United States. Consumed with its ABC agenda-"anything but Clinton" was the Bush administration's watchword in those days-the people at the top didn't have their eye on the ball. So we let ourselves get sucker-punched. Averting a recurrence of that awful day does not require the semipermanent occupation and pacification of distant countries like Afghanistan. Rather, it requires that the United States erect and maintain robust defenses.

Fixing Afghanistan is not only unnecessary, it's also likely to prove impossible. Not for nothing has the place acquired the nickname Graveyard of Empires. Of course, Americans, insistent that the dominion over which they preside does not meet the definition of empire, evince little interest in how Brits, Russians, or other foreigners have fared in attempting to impose their will on the Afghans. As General David McKiernan put it,

There's always an inclination to relate what we're doing with previous nations .... I think that's a very unhealthy comparison.
McKiernan was expressing a view common among the ranks of the political and military elite: We're Americans. We're different. Therefore, the experience of others does not apply.

..... Six-plus years after it began, Operation Iraqi Freedom has consumed something like a trillion dollars-with the meter still running-and has taken the lives of more than forty-three hundred American soldiers. Meanwhile, in Baghdad and other major Iraqi cities, car bombs continue to detonate at regular intervals, killing and maiming dozens. Anyone inclined to put Iraq in the nation's rearview mirror is simply deluded. Not long ago General Raymond Odierno, Petraeus's successor and the fifth U.S. commander in Baghdad, expressed the view that the insurgency in Iraq is likely to drag on for an-other five, ten, or fifteen years. Events may well show that Odierno is an optimist.

..... to describe Iraq as a success, and as a model for application elsewhere, is nothing short of obscene. The great unacknowledged lesson of Iraq is the one that the writer Norman Mailer identified decades ago: "Fighting a war to fix something works about as good as going to a whorehouse to get rid of a clap."

For those who, despite all this, still hanker to have a go at nation building, why start with Afghanistan? Why not first fix, say, Mexico? In terms of its importance to the United States, our southern neighbor-a major supplier of oil and drugs among other commodities deemed vital to the American way of life-outranks Afghanistan by several orders of magnitude.

If one believes that moral considerations rather than self-interest should inform foreign policy, Mexico still qualifies for priority attention. Consider the theft of California. Or consider more recently how the American appetite for illicit drugs and our liberal gun laws have corroded Mexican institutions and produced an epidemic of violence afflicting ordinary Mexicans. We owe these people, big-time.

Yet any politician calling for the commitment of sixty thousand U.S. troops to Mexico to secure those interests or acquit those moral obligations would be laughed out of Washington-and rightly so. Any pundit proposing that the United States assume responsibility for eliminating the corruption that is endemic in Mexican politics while establishing in Mexico City effective mechanisms of governance would have his license to pontificate revoked. Anyone suggesting that the United States possesses the wisdom and the wherewithal to solve the problem of Mexican drug trafficking, to endow Mexico with competent security forces, and to reform the Mexican school system (while protecting the rights of Mexican women) would be dismissed as a lunatic. Meanwhile, those who promote such programs for Afghanistan, ignoring questions of cost and ignoring as well the corruption and ineffectiveness that pervade our own institutions, are treated like sages.

The contrast between Washington's preoccupation with Afghanistan and its relative indifference to Mexico testifies to the distortion of U.S. national security priorities induced by George W. Bush in his post-9/11 prophetic mode-distortions now being endorsed by Bush's successor. It also testifies to a vast failure of imagination to which our governing classes have succumbed.

This failure of imagination makes it literally impossible for those who possess either authority or influence in Washington to consider the possibility (a) that the solution to America's problems is to be found not out there-where "there" in this case is Central Asia-but here at home; (b) that the people out there, rather than requiring our ministrations, may well be capable of managing their own affairs relying on their own methods; and (c) that to disregard (a) and (b) is to open the door to great mischief and in all likelihood to perpetrate no small amount of evil....

..... So the answer to the question of the hour-What should the United States do about Afghanistan?-comes down to this: A sense of realism and a sense of proportion should oblige us to take a minimalist approach. As with Uruguay or Fiji or Estonia or other countries where U.S. interests are limited, the United States should undertake to secure those interests at the lowest cost possible.

..... It would be much better to let local authorities do the heavy lifting. Provided appropriate incentives, the tribal chiefs who actually run Afghanistan are best positioned to prevent terrorist networks from establishing a large-scale presence. As a backup, intensive surveillance complemented with precision punitive strikes (assuming we can manage to kill the right people) will suffice to disrupt Al Qaeda's plans. Certainly, that approach offers a cheaper and more efficient alter-native to establishing a large-scale and long-term U.S. ground presence-which, as the U.S. campaigns in both Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated, has the unintended effect of handing jihadists a recruiting tool that they are quick to exploit.

In the immediate wake of 9/11, all the talk-much of it emanating from neoconservative quarters-was about achieving a "decisive victory" over terror. The reality is that we can't eliminate every last armed militant harboring a grudge against the West. Nor do we need to. As long as we maintain adequate defenses, Al Qaeda operatives, hunkered down in their caves, pose no more than a modest threat. As for the Taliban, unless they manage to establish enclaves in places like New Jersey or Miami, the danger they pose to the United States falls several notches below the threat posed by Cuba, which is no threat at all.

As for the putatively existential challenge posed by Islamic radicalism, that project will prove ultimately to be a self-defeating one. What violent Islamists have on offer-a rejection of modernity that aims to restore the caliphate and unify the ummah [community]-doesn't sell. In this regard, Iran-its nuclear aspirations the subject of much hand-wringing-offers considerable cause for hope. Much like the Castro revolution that once elicited so much angst in Washington, the Islamic revolution launched in 1979 has failed resoundingly. Observers once feared that the revolution inspired and led by the Ayatollah Khomeini would sweep across the Persian Gulf. In fact, it has accomplished precious little. Within Iran itself, the Islamic republic no longer represents the hopes and aspirations of the Iranian people, as the tens of thousands of protesters who recently filled the streets of Tehran and other Iranian cities made evident. Here we see foretold the fate awaiting the revolutionary cause that Osama bin Laden purports to promote.

In short, time is on our side, not on the side of those who proclaim their intention of turning back the clock to the fifteenth century. The ethos of consumption and individual autonomy, privileging the here and now over the eternal, will conquer the Muslim world as surely as it is conquering East Asia and as surely as it has already conquered what was once known as Christendom. It's the wreckage left in the wake of that conquest that demands our attention. If the United States today has a saving mission, it is to save itself. Speaking in the midst of another unnecessary war back in 1967, Martin Luther King got it exactly right: "Come home, America." The prophet of that era urged his countrymen to take on "the triple evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism."
There you have it. What would that other esteemed recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize have said? Other than that Afghanistan is much more simple than you might imagine? In my opinion, Professor Bacevich has covered more bases than 70%, say, of Washington's political class.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Nobel Laureate

It was another nuanced and elite Obama speech. Meaning, it was the best he or anyone could have mustered, under the circumstances. Of course he could have done better by declining the Nobel Peace prize. Or, at the last moment, in light of his surrender of the direction of foreign policy to the Pentagon, he could have accepted and then surrendered the prize right back. Put it on "hold". Alternatively, the esteemed Nobel Prize committee, having baited him with the Peace prize could have switched it at the last moment for the Nobel Prize for Literature; or for poetry; or for oratory. Because our President can certainly talk the talk of peace; it's only when he tries to walk his talk that he trips and stumbles.

But if it had to be the Peace Prize, I just wonder why Nobel didn't decide to give it to John "Flipper" McCain? What would have been the bloody difference?

I have come to hate politics and have recently thought a lot about not writing/blogging about it anymore. I am so tired of dwelling on what divides us Americans, one from the other. But whenever I think of Iraq and Afghanistan, my fatigue yields to rage. Nothing and no one has been able to convince me that the wars of George W. Bush do not represent the greatest self-administered foreign policy debacle in our nation's history. And, let's not kid ourselves as many pundits try to, that Bush is over and done and gone. He's not gone. And the people who held his loosened reins over his warhorses in Iraq and Afghanistan still wield them now.

My readers are tired of Afghanistan, too. Their fatigue is palpable. I feel it through the words in comments; I certainly pick it up by the absence of some of my faithful commentariat. But to those I say, if you are tired now of Afghanistan, think how tired you're going to be in 2024?
That's the year Karsai says we can expect not to have to fund armed the forces (police and military) of Afghanistan. As a short-timer, I have it easier than most of you; I certainly will not have to live all those 14 years out.

But I think most Americans are the same as the way they were during Bush's unnecessary invasion and occupation of Iraq; they obediently went shopping at the bidding of their President. "Don't worry about it. I'm the decider." He said at one point.

Well, on the cusp of President Obama's determination to find purpose and "mission" for our lost patrols in Afghanistan, I don't think my fellow Americans really want to give that desert quagmire much thought either. It doesn't sell advertising like Tiger Woods does. For example, there was not one word about Afghanistan in my Los Angeles Times this morning. Not one bloody word.

Out of sight, out of mind?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Between I-Wreck & Afghanistan: Not Surging; Only Splurging

When I am lying at bed in the early morning hours 5:05, listening to the BBC, my mind is crystal clear. Something happens to me between than and now after hours of coffee, dawg attending to, wife interaction and work. So, by now, I don't know where to start unless it's where I broke off.

Maybe let's try a different approach.

By now it should be McChrystal clear that Iraq should not work as an example of what to do in Afghanistan. The splurge of resources (it's been called 'surge') did not settle anything.

Just look at this morning's news: More than 127 Iraqis are killed by five explosions orchestrated in Baghdad. As soon as we begin to draw forces down, the uncivil warriors which Bush's wanton invasion loosed, are loose again. Nothing lasting has been gained through General Petreaus' venture. The resumption of internecine ethnic cleansing between the Kurds, Shia, and Sunnite militia waits for further American redeployment.

In Afghanistan, where empires go to die, splurging or surging will not work any better. In this latter war of choice, we are dealing with a medieval, non-state. It's a irregular chess board of inpentratable valleys and hard rock mountains, the way Matt Hoh describes it. There never has been a central government in Afghanistan. It's an oxymoron to speak of rebuilding state infrastructures; there are no foundations there.

McChrystal's idea is to train an Afghan National Army (ANA). Such an entity exists only in acronyms. There's no need to train Afghans how to bear arms. Afghans don't need no 2nd amendment. They know shooting and bombing. If you really want a nation-state in Afghanistan, and you should have given that some thought before now, there's no secret about who can muster enough blood and iron to weld something new and different out of Chaosistan. That would be some conglomeration of the war lords and the Taliban who aren't as logistically challenged as is NATO. And please, let's not forget that that acronym stands for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.


This whole thing started as a mandated retaliation for the 9/11 attacks and pursuit of the brains behind it. We all remember now how and why George Bush diverted our posse away from getting this outlaw, Osama bin Laden, 'dead or alive' as he promised. Our lingering presence in Afghanistan morphed, through inattention as much as through anything else, into an indefinite occupation. Now there is an insurrection. Who can be surprised by that?

What is surprising is that the man I supported as a presidential candidate, the author whose books I read, can't deliver on his promise to enact change we can believe in. It's fully expected that successful candidates campaign in poetry and govern in prose. Once in the White House, the American People expect of their president a full reassessment of all things foreign and domestic. Now, I understand that his agenda is overloaded with domestic items as well as global problems. If he hasn't been able to personally re-think it all from top to bottom - that's understandable. That's what his aids and advisors are supposed to do for him.

But what he has apparently done is entrust Afghanistan and Iraqistan to the same people to whom Bush ended up entrusting his bloddy messes: the uniforms and suits in the Pentagon. And to service their enduring agendas, these latter agenda-setters have led my putative Agent-of-Change around by the short hairs.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Allahu Akbar! Marg bar dictato!

In Iran, December 7th has a whole different meaning.

National Students' Day marks a violent 1953 protest against a visit by then Vice President Richard M. Nixon after a U.S.-backed coup d'etat that ousted the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and restored the absolute rule of the monarch Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. National Student Day has become and annual event during which University students commemorate three scholars killed by the Shah's during the anti-Nixon rally on this date in 1953.

Until 10 years ago, the annual protests were supported by the government. But more recently they have served as a rallying point for anti-government demonstrations, usually only on campus grounds.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Time for Me to Move On - Maybe

I've been thinking about hanging it up - this thing we call "blogging". Rather, I've been thinking of taking my blogging shingle down and hang up something in its place. For most of its history, The Vigil has attempted to address and unravel the major issues of the Bush Era and in the Bush Era's wake. There have been some minor, self-absorbed, detours maybe. But that is what we've tried to do.

Of late, I've been afflicted by a growing sense of deja vu stalking me. Suddenly, in the aftermath of the Obamanation abomination of the President's West Point speech, I realize I'm firmly in its grips. The last time I experienced the same sense of helplessness was in 1965. That was the year I woke up to the fact that (1) governments lie to citizens they govern, and that (2) my government was lying to me. I was a babe in the woods (er, college) then. I took it personally. I was hypersensitive. Not so, now.

Now that I am a jaded old codger who thinks he's see it all, there is another problem: a dismal prospect that I will have to live through another national nightmare like that of the Johnson-Nixon era. Because you see - as so often has been pointed out - all of the arguments pro- and con- about the Vietnam War were fully developed, delineated, understood and repetitively rehearsed by 1965. All of them. But we had to go through eight more years of grinding a generation (
58,236) of American youth into hamburger, before we were out of where (we had known all along) we never should have been into in the first place.

This is going to happen again, I realize now, after Obama's West Point moment. And I ask myself, why watch this re-run again? What more is there to say? Why repeat the same old tiring truths? Why trot out the same tired-out ol' sermons for the same ol' semi-comatose choirs? Like,

If the only tool you have in your tool chest is a $1,000,000,000 jackhammer,
every problem you encounter is gonna look like cement.

It won't take that much more from Obama, that slick-talking used-war salesman for whom I happily voted last year, to get me to quit blogging. For good. I mean it. Why bother?

OTOH, maybe I won't be able to quit. 'Cuz maybe I understand Descartes now:

I blog.
Therefore, I'm not chopped liver.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Tale of Two Speeches

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way.
Had Charles Dickens been sitting at my keyboard tonight, watching my beloved 44th President of the United States speaking at West Point, he would have been point-on by writing,
It was the best of speeches in one of the worse of times ....
That accurately expresses my sentiments.

I am glad Barack Obama is the most powerful man in the world and that I had a micro- and nano- role in electing him president. He certainly beat the other choice(s) in 2009 to smithereens. In halfway normal times where my once great country might have faced either a grim domestic crisis or a grim foreign crisis, I am confident he would have measured up close to Lincolnian stature. At least to JFK's or RFK's level. But, in the post Busheney world, we do not live any where close to middling times. As a blogging friend of mine (please identify yourself for credit!) recently observed, these days we don't talk about whether our glass is half full or half empty; we have to focus on the crack in the bottom of the glass.

I guess my point is that if any one can pull off what Obama told us tonight he's planning to do, it would have to be Number 44. He is extraordinarily gifted, and that ability to persuade from the bully pulpit is not to be easily discounted. But I'm not buying.

It's not that we don't have the troops with the professional training, technical talents, and heroic fortitude. We do. I'm proud of them. And I think 99% of my readers are, too.

The problem I have with this Afghanistan policy of Obama is, first and foremost, professional training, technical talents, and heroic fortitude do not constitute sustainable resources when you consider the realities on the ground in Afghanistan. We are broke, as a nation. We can't even afford victory in Afghanistan, however that is defined. And, in Afghanistan, no notion of victory I can imagine is anywhere close to being possible

So, I would have to say that BHO's West Point speech was perfectly honest for normal or even partially sub-normal times. However, in these interesting times, I would have preferred that he would have taken another tack, altogether. 

For example, here's an alternative speech that I think takes full measure of our current circumstances. Adam Hanft penned it earlier today; too late, as it were, to be inserted into the President's teleprompter; but not too late for history. Obama could have said,
Winston Churchill was a great orator who knew the power of the simple declarative.

On June 17th, 1940, he got on the radio and said to his country: "The news from France is very bad."

And so in that spirit of directness, I stand before you tonight and say the news from Afghanistan is very bad.

The war in Afghanistan began on October 7th, 2001, and here is where we stand on the evening of December 1st, 2009:

Put in the starkest terms, we have not been able to defeat the Taliban, to eliminate the pervasive corruption and drug trade that undermine the country's very existence, to establish even the rudimentary foundations of a stable nation.

Whatever successes we've had have come because we've bribed some local militias and tribal chiefs with wads of cash. When America has to compromise its values by supporting warlords who just happen to be on our side of ancient tribal conflicts, something is very wrong.

I listened to the generals and added thousands of troops since I became president. But the Taliban insurgency is growing in strength every day. That's not because we don't have courageous troops and brilliant generals. It's because we don't have the support of the people of Afghanistan. And the truth is that no matter how many troops you have on the ground, you cannot succeed where you are not welcome.

Consider these numbers: In 2005, more than 80% of Afghanis gave the United States a rating of good or excellent; this year, the same number has plummeted to 30%.

To me, that says there is something fundamentally misguided about our efforts. We're spending billions of dollars and risking American blood and treasure on an effort to protect the Afghani people from the depredations of the Taliban, and yet the local population views us more unfavorably year after year.

We have invested billions to build a stable society, but our effort hasn't been matched by enough legitimate, dedicated efforts on their side to put Afghanistan on the path to become an honest and open nation. While there are some admirable people in the Afghan Army and police force who deserve our respect, these are fundamentally broken institutions where the right amount of money stuffed in the right pocket can buy anything you want.

For seven years Afghanis lived under the brutal thumb of the Taliban; basic human rights were violated, girls couldn't go to school and women couldn't work.

Even though we liberated that country - and I don't use that word lightly - America, as I have told you, is still largely mistrusted and often loathed. With real unemployment pushing twenty percent at home, with 20,000 people a day joining the food stamps program, with more than forty million people lacking health insurance, I can't justify a further investment in Afghanistan.

If I sent in 40,000 troops - the number requested by General McChrystal - I am sure we would have some short-term success. Our troops are well-trained and well-equipped. But it's not the short-term that deeply troubles me.

I believe that the presence of more American troops on the ground would make it easier for the Taliban to recruit and to grow stronger, since there is no palpable national desire for our involvement and for the positive change we can bring about. More American boots on the ground feed their mythology. We are a commercial for our enemies.

If the country of Afghanistan won't step up, we shouldn't step out. That is the hard but implacable truth.

Of course, all this would be different if there were national security issues at stake. There were clearly such issues in the balance when we launched our attack on the Taliban. They gave safe harbor to al Qaeda. It was in al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan where many of the perpetrators of the September 11th attacks learned their evil trade and where Osama bin Laden was permitted to set up shop.

But we have largely dismantled Al Qaeda and decimated its leadership. At the same time, their support has been dropping around the Muslim world. Polls show that the number of Muslims supporting suicide bombings in places like Indonesia and Lebanon has dropped by more than half over the last five years. In Saudi Arabia, only 10 percent of the population now has a favorable view of Al Qaeda.

The tide is naturally turning as the twisted ideology of Al Qaeda is being seen for what it is. Now I am not naïve, I know that they will continue to recruit disillusioned Muslim youth, and that we are engaged in an enduring struggle against their belief system and their concrete plans to kill Americans around the world.

If I thought that sending more troops to Afghanistan would prevent an al Qaeda attack against American interests, I would not hesitate to take the steps - despite my frustration with the Afghan people who haven't taken their own futures in their own hands.

But I believe that increasing our troop commitment will create the illusion of progress in a war where conclusion is the only progress. We have sophisticated drones and enough troops on the ground to prevent al Qaeda from re-establishing itself. That should be our only goal. Not nation-building, not defeating the Taliban, but simply preventing those who perpetrated the September 11th attacks to be in a position to harm a single American, anywhere in the world.

So my message tonight is a simple one. I respect my generals who are asking for more troops, but I have not been convinced that more troops are the long-term answer. In fact, more troops are a long-term disaster, because they will only create a situation from which it will be more difficult to extricate ourselves. I have seen no evidence that the sacrifices we've made to date have resulted in an Afghanistan that is more unified in its mission to create a strong, proud and just nation. So I have no reason to believe that intensified sacrifice will change this.

I am telling the Afghan government and the Afghan people that they need to get their act together, and that we will start to draw down our troops at a reasonable and prudent level starting now.

If this tough medicine galvanizes the nation into action, if I see real efforts made to eliminate corruption,

to suppress the drug trade, to put tribal differences aside to begin the difficult and complex - but noble task of creating a modern nation, I will reconsider.

But until that time, and as long as - to paraphrase Churchill once again -the news from Afghanistan is very bad; I'm not authorizing a single additional brave American to be deployed there.
As I read these words that might have been, in my mind's eye I can see President Obama saying them. I can hear his voice deliver a speech for the ages.

Monday, November 30, 2009

A Letter to the President on Afghanistan?

I know many readers will sneer that it's too late and that it's an utterly waste of time and effort. Maybe. Maybe not. But if Michael Moore goes to the trouble of showing me the site, I'm going to put my effort along side his. Invite my readers to do the same, copying and pasting their letters in the comments below. Or, readers can comment below explaining why they did not want to waste their time and effort. But I do not think anyone can just read and say nothing. Afghanistan is that huge.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Mac Walton

A Post-Thanksgiving Expression of Gratitude
Dear Mac,

Your book of memoirs and memories arrived in my Saturday's mail. It is everything I had hoped for and more.

It brings back to me names which I have long neglected whenever I recall my lifetime. I'm not talking just of the legendary Rev Martin Luther King Jr, Jackie Robinson, and Rosa Parks. They are too big to mention. I'm talking about those who also served like Bayard Rustin, who was a giant to me at the time of my college graduation. But there are also radical heroes like James Forman whom I remember as a gifted, perceptive, poignant spokesman and leader. Thank you, also for reminding your readers that Angela Davis and Harry Belafonte still walk among us. And thanks for reminding us that so many others are still with us in spirit.

Your Madison, Wisconsin memories were especially evocative of my localities of Colorado Springs and Claremont in the 60's. But your poetry, taken in all, gives you street cred for having been a consistent Progressive for a lifetime, wall-to-wall. Unlike myself, you never took a three-decade long sabbatical.

But more than this: I am thankful, grateful, proud, that I now own Rebellious Sixties. Through it, I now feel you, and feel your strength. Only through it, have I realized the "Strong", in daddyBstrong. I get it.

Daddy, I thank you for your witness and your life among us; your writing on line and in print is a gift to all of us. Forever.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009


I'm thankful I got a Trophy Wife (40 years now!), and a Trophy Dawg; I got some kids and they have their own kids (who know my name!) I got a few friends (on line & off); I got a small house, a small yard, a part-time job, a car, a boat; I got mobility and I got some time left. But I got some things yet to say, see, do and write. So, I'm guessing that I got enuf'. And so, I guess I'm more than thankful for what I got and also for knowing that who I am and what I got don't add up to spit as long as there are so many I know of who don't have what they need to live a more simple life than I do. I'm glad I have more questions than answers. But in the future, I just hope I do better sustaining the pain involved in asking right questions and hearing true answers.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Before Obama Crosses this Bridge to Nowhere ...

It would be informative to reflect on the words of one who's been there before.

Bill Moyers has announced the ending of his acclaimed Journal, sometime in 2010. Before he passes from the scene, and at this moment that our 44th President crosses the bridge of no return in Afghanistan, I wanted to record the cautionary tones of one crossed a similar bridge with our 36th President.

Moyers introduced his most recent Journal with these words:

Our country wonders this weekend what is on President Obama's mind. He is apparently, about to bring months of deliberation to a close and answer General Stanley McChrystal's request for more troops in Afghanistan. When he finally announces how many, why, and at what cost, he will most likely have defined his presidency, for the consequences will be far-reaching and unpredictable. As I read and listen and wait with all of you for answers, I have been thinking about the mind of another president, Lyndon B. Johnson.

I was 30 years old, a White House Assistant, working on politics and domestic policy. I watched and listened as LBJ made his fateful decisions about Vietnam. He had been thrust into office by the murder of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963-- 46 years ago this weekend. And within hours of taking the oath of office was told that the situation in South Vietnam was far worse than he knew.

Less than four weeks before Kennedy's death, the South Vietnamese president had himself been assassinated in a coup by his generals, a coup the Kennedy Administration had encouraged.

South Vietnam was in chaos, and even as President Johnson tried to calm our own grieving country, in those first weeks in office, he received one briefing after another about the deteriorating situation in Southeast Asia.

....Granted, Barack Obama is not Lyndon Johnson, Afghanistan is not Vietnam and this is now, not then. But listen and you will hear echoes and refrains that resonate today.
Moyers replays excerpts of recorded telephone conversations LBJ had with personal advisors and friends which convey his tortured conscience:
And nine months I'm just an inherited-I'm a trustee. I've got to win an election. Or Nixon or somebody else has.....

The Republicans are going to make a political issue out of it, every one of them, even Dirksen....

.... I will tell you the more I just stayed awake last night thinking about this thing, the more I think of it, I don't know what in the hell it looks to me like we're getting into another Korea [...] I don't think it's worth fighting for and I don't think we can get out. And it's just the biggest damned mess that I ever saw.

.... What the hell is Vietnam worth to me? What is Laos worth to me? What is it worth to this country?

.... It's damned easy to get in a war but it's gonna be awfully hard to ever extricate yourself if you get in.

..... all of my military people tell me and my economic people that we cannot do this to the extent of the commitment we have now. It's got to be materially increased. And the outcome is not really predictable at the moment.....

Well, I opposed it in '54. But we're there now, and there's only one of three things you can do. One is run and let the dominoes start falling over. And God Almighty, what they said about us leaving China would just be warming up, compared to what they'd say now. I see Nixon is raising hell about it today. Goldwater too. You can run or you can fight, as we are doing. Or you can sit down and agree to neutralize all of it.

Anytime you got that many people against you that far away from your home base, it's bad.
Bill Moyers concludes,
Now in a different world, at a different time, and with a different president, we face the prospect of enlarging a different war. But once again we're fighting in remote provinces against an enemy who can bleed us slowly and wait us out, because he will still be there when we are gone.

Once again, we are caught between warring factions in a country where other foreign powers fail before us. Once again, every setback brings a call for more troops, although no one can say how long they will be there or what it means to win. Once again, the government we are trying to help is hopelessly corrupt and incompetent.

And once again, a President pushing for critical change at home is being pressured to stop dithering, be tough, show he's got the guts, by sending young people seven thousand miles from home to fight and die, while their own country is coming apart.

And once again, the loudest case for enlarging the war is being made by those who will not have to fight it, who will be safely in their beds while the war grinds on. And once again, a small circle of advisers debates the course of action, but one man will make the decision.

We will never know what would have happened if Lyndon Johnson had said no to more war. We know what happened because he said yes.
As I listen to these recorded telephonic conversations, I conclude that LBJ was more interested in appeasing the Republicans than the Communists. In other words, his short term political interests took precedent over his best guess as to the long term interests of his country.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Down with the Warfare State!

Why should warfare-for-all be off-budget if Medicare-for-All isn't?
Senior House Democrats have introduced legislation that would impose a surtax beginning in 2011 to cover the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The bill was unveiled late Thursday by David R. Obey of Wisconsin, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, and has the backing of John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, and John B. Larson of Connecticut, chairman of the Democratic Caucus.

The three lawmakers said in a joint statement:
For the last year, as we've struggled to pass health care reform, we've been told that we have to pay for the bill -- and the cost over the next decade will be about a trillion dollars.

Now the president is being asked to consider an enlarged counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan, which proponents tell us will take at least a decade and would also cost about a trillion dollars. But unlike the health care bill, that would not be paid for. We believe that's wrong.

The only people who've paid any price for our military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan are our military families. We believe that if this war is to be fought, it's only fair that everyone share the burden
Discussing the idea earlier this month, Murtha said he knew the bill would not be enacted and that advocates of a surtax were simply trying to send a message about the moral obligation to pay for the wars.

The bill would require the president to set the surtax so that it fully pays for the previous year's war cost. But it would allow for a one-year delay in the implementation of the tax if the president determines that the economy is too weak to sustain that kind of tax change. It also would exempt military members who have served in combat since Sept. 11, 2001, along with their families, and the families of soldiers killed in combat.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Malalai Joya In her Own Words

 A Profile in Courage

Among those voices raised in opposition to American escalation is that of a very young and very articulate Afghan woman.

The story of Malalai Joya turns everything we have been told about Afghanistan inside out. In the official rhetoric, she is what we have been fighting for. Here is a young Afghan woman who set up a secret underground school for girls under the Taliban and – when they were toppled – cast off the burka, ran for parliament, and took on the religious fundamentalists.

Joya was four days old when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. On that day, her father dropped out of his studies to fight the invading Communist army, and vanished into the mountains.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Last Stop Before Obamastan

I've been out of town and on the road for the last several days. My regular readers can only imagine my off-line frustrations at having access only to the retail news offerings of the MSM: it doesn't serve any useful purpose to throw one's shoes at your hosts' TV's. I do not understand how anyone more intelligent than I, like my sons, can take this clustered stuff passively. Their immune system is stronger than mine.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Afghanistan: Newz & Viewz from the Front

UN to withdraw 600 staff from Afghanistan after Kabul attack

The United Nations has announced that it will temporarily remove 600 of its foreign workers from Afghanistan. The decision comes as a result of last week's deadly attack against the international organization that killed five UN employees and three Afghans.

Despite reassurances that the UN is not pulling out of Afghanistan, the Geneva Lunch, an online newspaper for the international community, reports that the UN special representative in Kabul, Kai Eide, has offered a stern warning to the Hamid Karzai government amid ailing security conditions in Afghanistan.
There is a belief among some, that the international community [presence] will continue whatever happens because of the strategic importance of Afghanistan. I would like to emphasize that that's not true.
In other words, the fig-leaf facade of legitimacy for Western presence in Afghanistan - elections - has completely eroded.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Five U.K. Soldiers Fragged at Afghan Police Base

Five U.K. soldiers were killed yesterday in a shooting at an Afghan police base in southern Helmand province, making this the deadliest year for British troops in more than two decades.

The soldiers are believed to have been shot by a “rogue” Afghan policeman who opened fire in a police compound in the Nad-e’Ali district. Six soldiers and two Afghan policemen were wounded in the incident. The gunman and a possible accomplice escaped and a search is under way.

Opposition Conservatives and former military officials accuse Brown of failing to provide enough helicopters and vehicles to defeat the Taliban.

Kim Howells' Statement

Professor Kim Howells (MP), has been serving as chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, a Committee of Parliamentarians that oversees the work of Britain's intelligence and security agencies. Professor Howells writes that it's time to pull out of Afghanistan and spruce-up internal security in Britain:
I backed the war, but the chance looks squandered. Local agencies battling terrorism need the funds being spilt in Helmand.

For the best part of seven years the British public appeared to accept the argument that, if we didn't deploy our troops to fight al-Qaida terrorists in Afghanistan, we might be forced to fight them on the streets of Britain. In recent months ... The public may be asking whether deploying large numbers of British forces to Afghanistan at great cost, in lives lost as well as in pounds sterling, is actually the most effective way of preventing Islamic terrorist murders in the UK ... like me, they are considering that there may be more effective alternatives to the deployment and wondering why there has been little discussion about them ....

Seven years of military involvement and civilian aid in Afghanistan have succeeded in subduing al-Qaida's activities in that country, but have not destroyed the organisation or its leader, Osama bin Laden. Nor have they succeeded in eliminating al-Qaida's protectors, the Taliban. There can be no guarantee that the next seven years will bring significantly greater success and, even if they do, it is salutary to remember that Afghanistan has never been the sole location of terrorist training camps.

If we accept that al-Qaida continues to pose a deadly threat to the UK, and if we know that it is capable of changing the locations of its bases and modifying its attack plans, we must accept that we have a duty to question the wisdom of prioritising, in terms of government spending on counter-terrorism, the deployment of our forces to Afghanistan. It is time to ask whether the fight against those who are intent on murdering British citizens might better be served by diverting into the work of the UK Border Agency and our police and intelligence services much of the additional finance and resources swallowed up by the costs of maintaining British forces in Afghanistan.

It would be better, in other words, to bring home the great majority of our fighting men and women and concentrate on using the money saved to secure our own borders, gather intelligence on terrorist activities inside Britain, expand our intelligence operations abroad, co-operate with foreign intelligence services, and counter the propaganda of those who encourage terrorism.

Such a shift in focus would have the benefit of exposing far fewer British servicemen and women to the deadly threats of Taliban snipers and roadside bombs, but would also have momentous implications for UK foreign and defence policy ....

Life inside the UK would have to change. There would be more intrusive surveillance in certain communities, more police officers on the streets, more border officials at harbours and airports, more inspectors of vehicles and vessels entering the country, and a re-examination of arrangements that facilitate the "free movement" of people and products across our frontiers with the rest of the EU.

Some of these changes will generate great opposition, but many of them will be welcomed. If media reports are true, the British public is becoming increasingly hostile to the notion that any of our service personnel should be killed or wounded in support of difficult outcomes and flawed regimes in faraway countries.

.... Lieutenant General Jim Dutton, the highly respected British deputy commander of Nato's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, said recently that the ideal number required to turn the tide in a country like Afghanistan, with its 28 million people, is around half a million .... I doubt whether the presence, even of another 40,000 American troops – brave and efficient though they are – will guarantee that the Taliban and their allies will no longer be able to terrorise and control significant stretches of countryside, rural communities and key roads. Recent attacks in Kabul and other centres suggest that the present balance of territorial control is at best likely to remain – or, more likely, to shift in favour of the Taliban.


Bin Laden, along with his admirers and followers, won't wait around for the future of Afghanistan to be resolved. Their preparation and training for terrorism hasn't stopped, and Britain has no choice but to continue to seek out his bombers and those of other terrorist organisations. Our police forces, intelligence and border agencies have mammoth tasks. Their budgets already are much larger than they were in the years prior to the attacks on New York and London in 2001 and 2005, but they will have to grow larger still if they are to prevent further atrocities, not least when the eyes of the world will be on London during the 2012 Olympics.

The public will want to know, of course, where the money to pay for all this will come from. It won't be easy but it is time to tell them that it will come from the savings that will accrue from not having to pay for the war in Afghanistan. Sooner rather than later a properly planned, phased withdrawal of our forces from Helmand province has to be announced. If it is an answer that serves, also, to focus the minds of those in the Kabul government who have shown such a poverty of leadership over the past seven years, then so much the better.
Keeping Afghanistan Safe from Democracy

Robert Scheer:
The most idiotic thing being said about America’s involvement in Afghanistan is that the best way to protect the 68,000 U.S. troops there now is by putting an additional 40,000 in harm’s way.

People who argue for that plan clearly have not read Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s report pushing for escalation. The general is as honest as he is wrong in laying out the purpose of this would-be expanded mission, which is to remold Afghanistan in a Western image by making U.S. troops far more vulnerable, rather than less so.

He is honest in arguing that American troops would have to be deployed throughout the rugged and otherwise inhospitable terrain of rural Afghanistan, entering intimately into the ways of local life so as to win the hearts and minds of a people who clearly wish we would not extend the favor. He is wrong in indicating, without providing any evidence to support the proposition, that this very costly and highly improbable quest to be the first foreign power to successfully model life in Afghanistan would be connected with defeating the al-Qaida terrorists.

.... Obama must know the truth of Matthew Hoh's words and should heed them before he marches down the disastrous path pursued by another Democratic president, Lyndon Johnson—who, we now know from his White House telephone tapes, sacrificed the youth of this country in a war that he always knew never made sense.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Hillary in Lahore

At the superficial level from whence I observe Pakistani politics, I feel at a loss as far as getting my bearings. The more I read about Pakistani politics, the more reluctant I am to say anything about it, because I am likely to be proven wrong the next minute. Like I have often half-jokingly repeated, Americans learn their political geography by going to war with countries. That is, only most reluctantly do we scrutinize others - only when our back is up against the wall. (I currently feel my back is against a wall.) We have never been at war with Pakistan. So we don't understand Pakistanis. In this instance, therefore, I am saying, we have to study-up pronto, in proactive mode, because we are rapidly becoming major stakeholders in a functioning Pakistani state.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Will Matthew Hoh Turn Out to be the Daniel Ellsberg of 21st Century?

I don't know, of course, because time will always determine that. But he has certainly spoken truth to power.

Here is the full text of his letter of resignation:

Ambassador Nancy J. Powell
Director General of the Foreign Service and
Director of Human Resources
U.S. Department of State
2201 C. Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Ambassador Powell:

It is with great regret and disappointment I submit my resignation from my appointment as a Political Officer in the Foreign Service and my post as the Senior Civilian Representative for the U.S. Government in Zabul Province. I have served six of the previous ten years in service to our country overseas, to include deployment as a U.S. Marine officer and Department of Defense civilian in the Euphrates and Tigris River Valleys of Iraq in 2004-2005 and 2006-2007. I did not enter into this position lightly or with any undue expectations nor did I believe my assignment would be without sacrifice, hardship or difficulty. However, in the course of my five months of service in Afghanistan, in both Regional Commands East and South, I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States' presence in Afghanistan. I have doubts and reservations about our current strategy and planned future strategy, but my resignation is based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end. To put simply: I fail to see the value or the worth in continued U.S. casualties or expenditures of resources in support of the Afghan government in what is, truly, a 35-year old civil war.

This fall will mark the eighth year of U.S. combat, governance and development operations within Afghanistan. Next fall, the United States' occupation will equal in length the Soviet Union's own physical involvement in Afghanistan. Like the Soviets, we continue to secure and bolster a failing state, while encouraging an ideology and system of government unknown and unwanted by its people.

If the history of Afghanistan is one great stage play, the United States is no more than a supporting actor, among several previously, in a tragedy that not only pits tribes, valleys, clans, villages and families against one another, but, from at least the end of King Zahir Shah's reign, has violently and savagely pitted the urban, secular, educated and modern of Afghanistan against the rural, religious, illiterate and traditional. It is this latter group that composes and supports the Pashtun insurgency. The Pashtun insurgency, which is composed of multiple, seemingly infinite, local groups, is fed by what is perceived by the Pashtun people as a continued and sustained assault, going back centuries, on Pashtun land, culture, traditions and religion by internal and external enemies. The U.S. and NATO presence and operations in Pashtun valleys and villages, as well as Afghan army and police unites that are led and composed of non-Pashtun soldiers and police, provide an occupation force against which the insurgency is justified. In both RC East and South, I have observed that the bulk of the insurgency fights not for the white banner of the Taliban, but rather against the presence of foreign soldiers and taxes imposed by an unrepresentative government in Kabul.

The United States military presence in Afghanistan greatly contributes to the legitimacy and strategic message of the Pashtun insurgency. In a like manner our backing of the Afghan government in its current form continues to distance the government from the people. The Afghan government's failings particularly when weighed against the sacrifice of American lives and dollars, appear legion and metastatic:
  • Glaring corruption and unabashed graft;
  • President whose confidants and chief advisers comprise drug lords and war crimes villains, who mock our own rule of law and counternarcotics efforts;
  • A system of prvincial and district leaders constituted of local power brokers, opportunists and strongmen allied to the United States solely for, and limited by, the value of our USAID and CERP contracts and whose own political and economic interests stand nothing to gain from any positive or genuine attempts at reconciliation; and
  • The recent election process dominated by fraud and discredited by low voter turnout, which has created an enormous victory for our enemy who now claims a popular boycott and will call into question worldwide our government's military, economic and diplomatic support for an invalid and illegitimate Afghan government.
Our support for this kind of government, coupled with a misunderstanding of the insurgency's true nature, reminds me horribly of our involvement with South Vietnam; an unpopular and corrupt government we backed at the expense of our Nation's own internal peace, against an insurgency whose nationalism we arrogantly and ignorantly mistook as a rival to our own Cold War ideology.

I find specious the reasons we ask for bloodshed and sacrifice from our young men and women in Afghanistan. If honest, our stated strategy of securing Afghanistan to prevent al-Qaeda resurgence or regrouping would require us to additionally invade and occupy western Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, etc. Our presence in Afghanistan has only increased destabilization and insurgency in Pakistan where we rightly fear a toppled or weakened Pakistani government may lose control of its nuclear weapons. However, again, to follow the logic of our stated goals we should garrison Pakistan, not Afghanistan. More so, the September 11th attacks, as well as the Madrid and London bombings, were primarily planned and organized in Western Europe; a point that highlights the threat is not one tied to traditional geographic or political boundaries. Finally, if our concern is for a failed state crippled by corruption and poverty and under assault from criminal and drug lords, then if we bear our military and financial contributions to Afghanistan, we must reevaluate and increase our commitment to and involvement in Mexico.

Eight years into war, no nation has ever known as more dedicated, well trained, experienced and disciplined military as the U.S. Armed Forces. I do not believe any military force has ever been tasked with such a complex, opaque and Sisyphean mission as the U.S. Military has received in Afghanistan. The tactical proficiency and performance of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines is unmatched and unquestioned. However, this is not the European or Pacific theaters of World War II, but rather is a war for which our leaders, uniformed civilian and elected, have inadequately prepared and resourced our men and women. Our forces, devoted and faithful, have been committed to conflict in an indefinite and unplanned manner that has become a cavalier, politically expedient and Pollyannaish misadventure. Similarly, the United State has a dedicated and talented cadre of civilians, both U.S. government employees and contractors, who believe in and sacrifice for their mission, but have been ineffectually trained and led with guidance and intent shaped more by the political climate in Washington, D.C. than in Afghan cities, villages, mountains and valleys.

"We are spending oursleves into oblivion" a very talented and intelligent commander, one of America's best, briefs every visitor, staff delegation and senior officer. We are mortgaging our Nation's economy on a war, which, even with increased commitment, will remain a draw for years to come. Success and victory, whatever they may be, will be realized not in years, after billions more spent, but in decades and generations. The United States does not enjoy a national treasury for such success and victory.

I realize the emotion and tone of my letter and ask you excuse any ill temper. I trust you understand the nature of this war and the sacrifices made by so many thousands of families who have been separated from loved ones deployed in defense of our Nation and whose homes bear the fractures, upheavals and scars of multiple and compounded deployments. Thousands of our men and women have returned home with physical and mental wounds, some that will never heal or will only worsen with time. The dead return only in bodily form to be received by families who must be reassured their dead haves sacrificed for a purpose worthy of futures lost, love vanished, and promised dreams unkept. I have lost confidence such assurances can anymore be made. As such, I submit my resignation.


Senior Civilian Representative
Zabul Province, Afghanistan
I have elected not to add emphasis or boldfacing to encourage the reluctant/impatient reader to recognize, pause, and reflect over major points. There is just too much in this statement not to let it be taken in as a whole. It contains a major historical witness which, in the future, will haunt all those would-be statesmen who do not heed its message today.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Matthew Hoh: A Senior U.S. Civilian Advisor in Afghanistan Resigns in Protest

Matthew Hoh 36, is a former Marine Corps captain with combat experience in Iraq. Hoh had also served in uniform at the Pentagon, and as a civilian in Iraq and at the State Department. By July, he was the senior U.S. civilian in Zabul province, a Taliban hotbed.

But last month, in a move that has sent ripples all the way to the White House, Hoh, became the first U.S. official known to resign in protest over the Afghan war, which he had come to believe simply fueled the insurgency. Hoh wrote Sept. 10 in a four-page letter to the department's head of personnel,

I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States' presence in Afghanistan. I have doubts and reservations about our current strategy and planned future strategy, but my resignation is based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end.
The reaction to Hoh's letter was immediate. Senior U.S. officials, concerned that they would lose an outstanding officer and perhaps gain a prominent critic, appealed to him to stay.

U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry brought him to Kabul and offered him a job on his senior embassy staff. Hoh declined. From there, he was flown home for a face-to-face meeting with Richard C. Holbrooke, the administration's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. In an interview, Holbrooke said,

We took his letter very seriously, because he was a good officer. We all thought that given how serious his letter was, how much commitment there was, and his prior track record, we should pay close attention to him .... I agreed with much of his analysis. ... [I asked Hoh] ... if he really wanted to affect policy and help reduce the cost of the war on lives and treasure. [ why not be] inside the building, rather than outside, where you can get a lot of attention but you won't have the same political impact?
At first Hoh accepted the argument and the job, but changed his mind a week later. Last Friday, in an interview Friday, two days after his resignation became final, Hoh explained,

I recognized the career implications, but it wasn't the right thing to do .... I'm not some peacenik, pot-smoking hippie who wants everyone to be in love. [This was]the second-best job I've ever had ... There are plenty of dudes who need to be killed.... I was never more happy than when our Iraq team whacked a bunch of guys.
The text of his four-page resignation is not yet available to me. According to accounts, he wrote that many Afghans, are fighting the United States largely because its troops are there — a growing military presence in villages and valleys where outsiders, including other Afghans, are not welcome and where the corrupt, U.S.-backed national government is rejected. While the Taliban is a malign presence, and Pakistan-based al-Qaeda needs to be confronted, the United States is asking its troops to die in Afghanistan for what is essentially a far-off civil war.

Hoh's journey — from Marine, reconstruction expert and diplomat to war protester — was not an easy one. Over the weeks he spent thinking about and drafting his resignation letter, he said,

I felt physically nauseous at times... I realize what I'm getting into . . . what people are going to say about me. I never thought I would be doing this. [but] I want people in Iowa, people in Arkansas, people in Arizona, to call their congressman and say, 'Listen, I don't think this is right .... American families, must be reassured their dead have sacrificed for a purpose worthy of futures lost, love vanished, and promised dreams unkept. I have lost confidence such assurances can be made any more.

At one point in his duties, Hoh had been assigned to research a response to a question asked by Adm. Mike Mullen, (chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) during an April visit: why the U.S. military had been operating for years in the Korengal Valley, an isolated spot near Afghanistan's eastern border with Pakistan where a number of Americans had been killed?

Hoh concluded that there was no good reason. The people of Korengal didn't want them; the insurgency appeared to have arrived in strength only after the Americans did, and the battle between the two forces had achieved only a bloody stalemate. Korengal and other areas, he said, taught him

... how localized the insurgency was. I didn't realize that a group in this valley here has no connection with an insurgent group two kilometers away. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of groups across Afghanistan, had few ideological ties to the Taliban but took its money to fight the foreign intruders and maintain their own local power bases.

That's really what kind of shook me. I thought it was more nationalistic. But it's localism. I would call it 'valley-ism'.
Hoh had hopes that the Obama administration might bring some new thinking.
I already had a lot of frustration. But I knew at that point, the new administration was . . . going to do things differently. So I thought I'd give it another chance.
Nevertheless, Hoh's doubts increased with Afghanistan's Aug. 20 presidential election, marked by low turnout and widespread fraud. He concluded, that the conflict
...has violently and savagely pitted the urban, secular, educated and modern of Afghanistan against the rural, religious, illiterate and traditional. It is this latter group that composes and supports the Pashtun insurgency ... the truth is that the majority are residents with loyalties to their families, villages, valleys and to their financial supporters... multiple, seemingly infinite, local groups. [The insurgency] is fed by what is perceived by the Pashtun people as a continued and sustained assault, going back centuries, on Pashtun land, culture, traditions and religion by internal and external enemies. The U.S. and Nato presence in Pashtun valleys and villages, as well as Afghan army and police units that are led and composed of non-Pashtun soldiers and police, provide an occupation force against which the insurgency is justified.
This week, Hoh is scheduled to meet with Vice President Biden's foreign policy adviser, Antony Blinken, at Blinken's invitation. Hoh is certain to recommend force reduction:
We want to have some kind of governance there, and we have some obligation for it not to be a bloodbath. But you have to draw the line somewhere, and say this is their problem to solve.
Because, Readers, it isn't even nationalism in Afghanistan. It's Valleyism! Primitive. Medieval. Pathetic.