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.