Tag Archives: afghanistan

Obama is Soft on Trrr

2 Feb

From Andrew Sullivan:

In a matter of months, both leaders of the Qaeda-allied Taliban in Pakistan have been targeted and killed by US drone attacks. The latest was in retaliation for the murder of CIA officials in a suicide attack by a double agent who turned on the US. If you add this record – and there are many examples of similar surgical strikes decapitating Qaeda figures in the last year – to the ramp-up of forces in Afghanistan and overhaul of strategy there, I think you can make a very solid case that in the war on Jihadist terrorism, Obama is proving far more effective – in both soft and hard power – than the Bush administration ever was.

The Republicans will not concede this, because their war is not really at this point on al Qaeda. It’s on Obama.

Remember that next time some Bush deadender tries to tell you that Obama is soft on terrorism.

Hi, Karl! Hi, Dick!

Obama’s Realpolitik

11 Dec

Yesterday, we saw more proof of the 220 year old truism of American politics: the office of the Presidency moderates all men. My evidence? While accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, in front of the assembled European gliberati and commentariat, President Obama made the case for Just War to fight evil in the world.

Nobel Hawk

There was no better opportunity for Obama to echo his community activist Peacenik roots. Instead, he channeled a combination of Kissinger Realpolitik, Wilsonian nation building and Bush’s Neoconservative pre-emptive intervention. In his normal cautious, considerate way, Obama tried to wrap his head around a desire for peace and a need for war.

I’m responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land. Some will kill, and some will be killed. And so I come here with an acute sense of the costs of armed conflict — filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with the other.

You see, there is a problem.

I understand why war is not popular, but I also know this: The belief that peace is desirable is rarely enough to achieve it. Peace requires responsibility. Peace entails sacrifice.

After considering the pros and cons, he concludes that dreams of peace are an ideal that have little place in this concrete world.

We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations — acting individually or in concert — will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified. (. . .)

I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

There is a limit to reason when facing the evils of this world. George W. Bush could have said the line himself. And the justification for a President of the United States to have this view, to boldly advocate for the use of violence to face international evil? American Exceptionalism.

But the world must remember that it was not simply international institutions — not just treaties and declarations — that brought stability to a post-World War II world. Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest — because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if others’ children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity. (. . .)

A couple weeks ago I wrote a Thanksgiving post noting our liberty. I received some unexpected comments, asking what was so special about American liberty, and noting the dangers of American Exceptionalism. It was a response I did not expect. In our polarized political landscape, I suppose the only two recognized positions are American Exceptionalism and Blame America First. It occurs to me that to want to run for President, one must be an American Exceptionalist. Why else seek the job? And perhaps the reason grassroots Democrats and Liberals are occasionally uncomfortable with their Presidential nominee is that they display that American Exceptionalism a little too strongly, with not nearly enough apology or cowing. Because make no mistake: America elects American Exceptionalist Presidents. Ask John Kerry and Michael Dukakis.

Afghanistan as Choice

2 Dec

Afghanistan has been at the center of larger geopolitical struggles essentially since before its creation as a distinct nation-state.  It has been essentially ungoverned and ungovernable since a coup in 1973 deposed King, and the political situation led to the Soviet invasion in 1979.  The United States gave aid and support to the mujaheddin fighting the Soviets, and al Qaeda arose directly out of that mujaheddin movement. When the Soviets left, they turned their ire to the United States; the great satan which supports Israel and its policies towards the Palestinians, and maintains bases in Saudi Arabia.

When the United States attacked the Taliban in 2001 in the wake of 9/11 for providing safe haven to al Qaeda, they were defeated within a matter of weeks, and al Qaeda’s leadership fled, mostly into Pakistan’s border areas. Qaeda leadership has, for the most part, been captured with some very high profile exceptions, and its operations have been decimated as compared with early 2001.

By all accounts, the defeat of the Taliban and cessation of Qaeda’s safe haven in Afghanistan represented a military victory, and the establishment of the Karzai government in 2004 represented a political victory.  Unfortunately, Karzai turned out to be too corrupt for his own good, and the Taliban returned and has helped to keep Afghanistan ungovernable, dangerous, and unstable over the past few years.

Brian writes that Obama’s middling way on Afghanistan is not leadership.  There is some validity to that argument, because foreign military decisions should not know domestic political considerations.  Obama has been too happy to find compromise where none was needed nor sought.  If it hasn’t become crystal clear to him yet that he could all but adopt every word and deed of Saint Ronald of Reagan, and his political opponents would continue to call him a socialist Kenyan sleeper agent usurper, then I don’t know what his problem is.  The efforts to find bipartisan support need to end.  Obama needs to be Obama, and he needs to start telling Republicans to get on board or get the hell out of his way.

He is right, however, that Afghanistan needs to get the message that our military support – and the blood of our servicepeople – is not limitless.  After all, let’s be clear, our quarrel is not with the Taliban, per se.  If we want to go after every oppressive, misogynist dictatorship or theocracy, then we’ll be quite busy indeed, forever.  Our fight is against al Qaeda, and any other entity that would do harm to the United States and its people, property, and interests at home and abroad.  Right now the only safe haven they arguably have is in Pakistan.  But we can’t invade Pakistan for a variety of reasons.

If we go into this with the understanding that we’re not going to turn Afghanistan into Switzerland, then we’ve turned a corner.  There’s no reason for American troops to spend another day in that medieval failed state.  I don’t blame Obama for doing what he thinks will help get us out without leaving a complete military disaster, but I think there’s no way for Afghanistan to not be a disaster.  Afghani peace, unity, and progress must come from the Afghani people, not from an occupying power. Politicians in Washington are loath to spend money to improve our own infrastructure.  How can we expect them to spend on Afghanistan’s?  And why should we?

America has spent far too much money and shed far too much blood in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past few years.  Iraq was a needless and pointless war of choice.  Its stated goal of halting Hussein’s WMD production turned out to be a hoax, and the removal of Saddam Hussein from power has done nothing to promote the neoconservative dream of stability and peace for the Middle East in general and Israel in particular.  The war in Afghanistan has morphed from a war of necessity into yet another war of choice, and the time has come to tackle with that fact.  There is no victory to be achieved there, beyond what we’ve already accomplished.

Our war of necessity is against al Qaeda and its progeny.  Let’s call it what it is, and redouble our efforts to destroy it.  Victory at this point?  Capture Osama bin Laden and parade him in shackles through the streets of New York.  Victory won’t be how many square feet of dust we control in Afghanistan or how many drones can rain hell over Waziri villages.  It won’t be which warlord is running which province.  It will be, at this point, largely symbolic.

And if the US manages to capture bin Laden under an Obama administration, I have no doubt that his detractors would find fundamental constitutional and Biblical fault with it.

Middling is Not Leadership

1 Dec

This evening, President Obama revealed his plan for Afghanistan after a nine month re-review of strategy. Which in turn revealed his fundamental weakness as President: his confusion in equating compromise for leadership. Finding the middle way does not keep everyone happy – it reinforces divisions and provides fodder for legitimate criticism from all. Just enough effort to lose, but not quite enough to win.

Obama Afghanistan

This focus on the middling way, and not decisively choosing one path, has been seen before in Obama’s other high profile policy initiatives. He compromised on a $787B stimulus package that was big enough to sink us in record debt, but not actually large enough to provide the economic kick to help us grow out of our doldrums. He has continued to compromise on healthcare to the point that the current bill will neither provide universal coverage nor solve the market forces or legal issues that impact our systemic problems.

And the trend continues in Afghanistan. He decides to deploy more troops (30,000), but fewer than the number requested (40,000, or more, according to some sources). Leadership would be pulling out all together. Or making a commitment to winning and following through, and sending the full required amount – if you don’t trust the 40,000 number was the true requirement, fire General McChrystal and hire a general you do trust. Does he think he is placating some constituency by not deploying the full amount? Keep conservatives happy by remaining “dedicated” to the war, but keep liberals happy because the number is not as big as it could be? The US military has the extra 10,000 troops. Why send just enough to lose?

The same could be asked about the combined build-up/pull-out strategy. Afghanistan presents a clear national security threat and priority for the United States, which is why we must send more troops now . . . and start removing them 18 months later. President Obama made it clear that just because we start removing troops at a certain point, that doesn’t mean they will all be gone by a specific date. Why then set a date to start leaving at all? Are hawks supposed to be happy we escalate, but doves happy we are leaving? This war policy can not be all things to all people. This is no longer the election campaign, where the goal is to solicit votes from all disparate groups. Policy making needs to be above that.

In addition, the timing chosen (seemingly at random – why 18 months?) presents an obvious political difficulty. In Afghanistan, there are war “seasons,” because the harsh terrain and weather do not allow much fighting in the winter. So the fighting “season” starts when the mountain passes clear of snow, which is approximately May each year. Violence then surges from that point until October or November, when it naturally slows. Soooo, these additional troops will be present for only one fighting season, in 2010. Then, they will be pulled in 2011 in June . . . just as fighting will naturally increase. How politically possible will it be to pull out troops as violence is increasing? If President Obama is willing to do that, how serious is he in his committment to this fight in the first place?

I have said previously that any strategy is better than limbo. That is still true. But this middle way is not unifying leadership. It is pablum.

You call it Dithering, I call it Careful Deliberation

13 Nov

After all, this isn’t the land of make-believe. This is real life with real consequences, ranging from the very personal to the geopolitical.

Colin Powell advises President Obama:

“If you decide to send more troops or that’s what you feel it is necessary, make sure you have a good understanding of what those troops are going to be doing and some assurance that the additional troops will be successful,” Powell says he told the president. “You can’t guarantee success in a very complex theater like Afghanistan and increasingly with the Pakistan problem next door, but you have to have some sense of what these additional troops will be able to do.

“And secondly, take your time,” Powell said, “and third, you’ve got to ensure that you’re putting this commitment on a solid base, and the base is a little soft right now. We’ve got a president in Afghanistan that had a rough election; a lot of corruption associated with the election; a lot of corruption in the government. And he has been told — Mr. Karzai has been told, and I know him very well — he’s been told he’s got to do something about this; he’s got to do something about the drug problem, and he’s got to start pulling the Afghan people together. And so the president has to measure that; what kind of base is he putting this new strategy on because it isn’t just what we do; what do the Afghans do. And as I said a moment ago, it’s made particularly difficult because of the unstable situation along the Pakistan border and in Pakistan.”

General McChrystal wants a troop surge. Ambassador Eikenberry says that’s exactly the wrong thing to do.

Either way, the fact that the administration isn’t rushing into anything, and is carefully weighing not only the immediate effect of the various options, but also their long-term efficacy, is heartening.

The Cost of Patience

29 Oct

President Obama has a reputation as a deliberate thinker. He considers all sides of the issue. He asks a lot of questions, and encourages debate. These all seem like more admirable qualities after a President who had a reputation for rash, and incorrect, judgments.

But lets be clear. There is a cost for deliberation. It is not free.

One hundred dead in Peshawar, Pakistan yesterdayTwenty four Americans dead in Afghanistan in the last two days, and eight dead in an attack on a UN guest house in Kabul. Bombings in Baghdad kill 147 and wound 700, the worst car bombing in over two years. By the time this is posted, there will surely be another example.

As this is going on, President Obama is playing golf. Twenty four rounds in nine months. More than GWB in nearly three years, who fancied himself a golfer but gave it up because he thought it would look bad. Let’s see, does it?

 Perception is Reality

Obama also made a speech in Florida a couple days ago where he said he would not be rushed to judgment in adjusting his war plans.

“I won’t risk your lives unless it is absolutely necessary.”

Too late. Already risked because we’re already there. This is not an academic exercise. You may wish we never went into Iraq, or that Afghanistan is not a hard slog, but we did and it is. It has to be dealt with. You fired one general and promoted another, the right one. He reviewed the situation and made a recommendation. If you don’t trust his recommendation, why did you ask for the review? Why do another White House review on top of the field general’s? I don’t think you want a reputation of picking bombing targets in the WH, a la LBJ.

McChrystal, Petraus and Odierno are as good of a leadership team as the US military has ever constructed. They all learned lessons the hard way on the battlefield, changed course, and found success. You’ve gathered information for nine months – it is time to make a decision. Be the CinC, not the ivory tower professor. While you dweedle, you aren’t inconveniencing  students waiting outside your door for office hours.  We’re losing soldiers being shot out of the sky.

You said a President should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. Do it.

Obama’s Iraq?

27 Feb


Most sensible analysts say the Bush Administration made their biggest mistake in Iraq when they entered into the conflict without a discernible strategy beyond the invasion and a striking lack of an exit strategy.  Is President Obama making similar mistakes in Afghanistan?

In a statement, the president said he would reinforce U.S. forces in Afghanistan with two brigade-sized forces — a Marine Corps unit this spring and an Army one this summer, plus supporting troops. The additional forces would number more than 12,000 and would supplement the current force of approximately 38,000, a senior Pentagon official said. The president might add further to the buildup in subsequent months, perhaps ultimately nearly doubling the current force, officials have said.

In unveiling the long-anticipated start of a shift in forces from Iraq to Afghanistan, Obama acknowledged the need for a change in strategy in Afghanistan, which his aides in the National Security Council, Joint Chiefs of Staff and Central Command have been developing.

Saying the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan “demands urgent attention and swift action,” Obama said the strategy is under construction. The troop increase could not wait for the strategy, he suggested.

While the Obama administration says a new strategy is in the works, it is counter-intuitive to supplement troop levels without a plan for their use or their exit. Can we learn anything from the history of Afghanistan?

The Soviets have painted a fairly simple lesson from which we can learn.  They had 500,000 troops in Afghanistan and could not control the peace.  The British might also have something to add seeing as how they also lost their ass in this country.


Some simple questions:

  • What is the goal?  Are we there to defeat the Taliban?  Win hearts and minds?  Defeat a counterinsurgency?
  • What are the measurable metric against which we will measure progress?
  • What is Plan B?  Plan C?
  • What international support can we rely upon?

Seems like we are re-committing ourselves to an open-ended conflict.  Can we afford it?

Seeing as how Obama has agreed to draw down combat forces in Iraq yet has still agreed to keep 50,000 troops in country as a “transition force” for an undetermined time, do we have the troops to support this two phase conflict?  I once studied under a political science professor who liked to say that empires are beasts that are always hungry.  Empires need to be fed and keeping the troops in Iraq and doubling down in Afghanistan is a way to keep the right wing off Obama’s back and keep the empire humming.

Laura Bush Goes to Afghanistan

11 Jun

First Lady Laura Bush is traveling around Afghanistan, and is traveling via troop transport aircraft.

The seats and atmosphere in said aircraft are, evidently, unfit for a First Lady, so special accommodations have been arranged:

As the always-entertaining and smug British press puts it,

With wood panelling, plush grey carpet, comfy leather seats and, most importantly, thick window shades, Mrs Bush could forget she was anywhere near the War on Terror being played out below the clouds.

While travelling she could have been entertained by her TV and DVD player, hosted cocktail parties or, alternatively, she could have a nap in a choice of two beds.

It is one of 11 ‘Senior Leader In Transit Conference Capsules’ the US government plans to position at various locations around the world, at a cost of £8,000 each.

That’s not the best part.

The best part is the name of the aircraft in which the Airstream trailer is found:

The Spirit of Strom Thurmond. No word on whether the aircraft is segregated by race.