Monday, May 31, 2010

Towards a Real Memorial Day

Historian Andrew J. Bacevich's son was killed in action in Iraq three years ago. Today, Bacevich publishes in the Los Angeles Times, in part:
.....His death changed many things, among them my own hitherto casual attitude toward Memorial Day.

Here in New England, where we now make our home, deejays and local news anchors still proclaim Memorial Day weekend the unofficial start of summer, as if unearthing some fresh discovery. Folks with cottages to open up take to the highways, pushing through traffic toward seashore or mountains. Our trek will be considerably shorter and simpler: We will make the five-minute drive to our son's gravesite.

For us, personal loss has rendered the last Monday in May into the day of remembrance that it was originally intended to be. Yet loss has also invested Memorial Day with political significance, posing uncomfortable questions.

The fallen gave their lives so we might enjoy freedom: However comforting, this commonplace assertion qualifies at best as a half-truth. Who can doubt that the soldier killed in battle at Gettysburg or on Omaha Beach died while advancing the cause of liberty? Whether one can say the same about the Americans who lost their lives assaulting Mexico City in 1847, suppressing Filipino demands for independence after 1898 or chasing rebels in 1920s Nicaragua is less clear, however.

In recent decades especially, the connection between American military intervention and American freedom has become ever more tenuous. Meanwhile, competence has proved notably hard to come by. Rather than being a one-off event, Vietnam inaugurated an era in which the United States has routinely misunderstood and repeatedly misused military power. Even as political authorities sent U. S. forces into action with ever greater frequency, decisive results — what we used to call victory — became more elusive. From Beirut and Bosnia to Iraq and Somalia, the troops served and sacrificed while expending huge sums of taxpayer money. How their exertions were helping to keep Americans free became increasingly difficult to discern.

The ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, already the longest shooting war in U.S. history, embodies these trends. Just about no one, from the senior field commander on down, considers the war there winnable in any meaningful sense. Arguments for perpetuating the U.S. military commitment resemble those once offered to justify Vietnam: We can't afford to look weak; American credibility is on the line.

How exactly did we get ourselves in such a fix, engaged in never-ending wars that we cannot win and cannot afford? Is the ineptitude of our generals the problem? Or is it the folly of our elected rulers? Or could it perhaps be our own lazy inattention? Rather than contemplating the reality of what American wars, past or present, have wrought, we choose to look away, preferring the beach, the ballgame and the prospect of another summer.

So while politicians promise peace and Congress ponies up the money for war, the troops head back for yet another combat tour. And more American families will be given the opportunity to experience Memorial Day in ways they never expected.
Bacevich's new book, "Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War," will be out this summer.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Do the Brits Have a Plan B for Afghanistan?

To get out!

The new Foreign Secretary William Hague arrived in Afghanistan Saturday with a warning that Britain wants to withdraw its troops as soon as possible. 

But the new Tory Defence Secretary Liam Fox accompanying Hague went further in a yet-to-be-published interview with The Times newspaper before arriving in Kabul.

Fox made clear the visit would focus on speeding up the withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan, and that no new troops would be deployed:

We need to accept we are at the limit of numbers now and I would like the forces to come back as soon as possible. We have to reset expectations and timelines.

National security is the focus now. We are not a global policeman. We are not in Afghanistan for the sake of the education policy in a broken 13th-century country. We are there so the people of Britain and our global interests are not threatened.
Is there a new deputy sheriff in town?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Afghanistan Is Radioactive

I was party to a bone scan today. In the early moments of the procedure a conversation broke out. It went like this, verbatim:
Patient: Do you ever get any wise guys in here?

Radiologist: What do you mean? You were in a couple of years ago....

Patient: Wise guys who complain that you're using the same ol' technology?

Radiologist: We do what we do. What would a wise guy complain about?

Patient: Wiseguys -- I'm not one of them -- might complain that you're using pre-Obama technology ....

Radiologist: That oil spill? Is that post-Obama, isn't it?

Patient: No, that's a Bush-era oil spill. Bush set it up.

Radiologist: Well, it's just too bad that the government doesn't have enough money to inspect every single oil well and coal mine, isn't it?

Patient: Fuck if we don't! We have enough money to inspect every godamned toilet and out-house in Afghanistan! Huh??

Radiologist: [Pressing down firmly on patient's chest]: Calm down. We can't have you shaking up the old equipment in here until this is over. This country has been 'round a few centuries. It's going to be okay.

Patient: Which country? the USA or Afghanistan?

Radiologist: USA, but I get your point. The USA is becoming more like Afghanistan every day. Bombs and bullets going off like elsewhere.
Enough said.

Friday, May 7, 2010

End the Occupation/War in Afghanistan

This month, we have a rare opportunity to fundamentally change the course of U.S. policy towards Afghanistan: Senator Russ Feingold, Representative Jim McGovern, and Representative Walter Jones (a Republican!) have introduced legislation -- H.R. 5015 in the House and S. 3197 in the Senate -- that would require President Obama to establish a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. military forces. If this legislation attracts enough support, it could reach the House floor as an amendment, allowing Congress a fundamental -- and widely reported -- vote on the direction of U.S. policy.
The key idea of the Feingold-McGovern-Jones bill is straightforward. By January 1 - or within 3 months of the enactment of the bill, if that is earlier - the President is required to submit to Congress a plan for the redeployment of the U.S. military from Afghanistan, with a timetable for doing so. After submitting the plan, the President has to update Congress every 90 days on how the implementation of the plan is going.

Mark your calendar: May 11th, National Call-In Day on the Feingold-McGovern Bill

To prepare for this date enlist in this campaign and:

Call your representatives in Congress – (call the switchboard at 202-225-3121 and be transferred to the Rep or Senator’s office) – try to get a staff person who handles Afghanistan on the phone, and:

For Members of the House:
  1. If their office has not co-sponsored the McGovern-Jones bill (current 64 co-sponsors are shown in this spreadsheet), ask them to co-sponsor it.

  2. Ask them to oppose the $33 billion war supplemental for Afghanistan.
For Senators:
  1. Urge them to co-sponsor the Feingold bill. (so far, the Feingold bill has no co-sponsors.)

  2. Ask them to oppose the $33 billion war supplemental for Afghanistan.

Take notes. Email your information back to NoEscalationOrg. Only by taking names and numbers do we get any leverage!