Tag Archives: Iraq War

Terrors Passed But Not Forgotten

2 Mar

When I was in grade school, I saw this news reel (or one similar to it), of doddering but proud Civil War veterans marching in a 1939 Memorial Day parade. It struck me as chronologically absurd (if technologically possible, of course) that veterans of a war so remote and distant, captured only in occasional posed grainy black and white photos, could be present in an era of video as living and moving beings. Further, my grandparents (if not my parents and aunts and uncles as well) were quite alive and well when the newsreels were being shot, remembered knowing Civil War veterans, and provided a memory only once removed of not just history, but History.


So will my children and eventual grandchildren think of me, I wonder, on the occasion of the United States losing its last World War I veteran, Frank W. Buckles of West Virginia, aged 110 years. We are one of the last countries to lose our link with the Great War. Germany lost theirs (no relation to me, I believe) in 2008, France in 2009, Canada just last year. In fact, world-wide we are now down to two, both British, one a sailor living now in Australia, the other a waitress for the RAF. Each country marked the loss differently. Germany largely ignored the passing, while Britain has noted a multitude who represented different portions of the conflict: for example, Bertie Felstead, the last player of a Christmas Day football match between trenches.

Oh, how has the world changed in 110 years. We know now that Germany, late to building its empire, was looking for a reason to implement the Schlieffen Plan, ten years in the making. The British and French didn’t mind a tidy little war either to solidify their international status. With a continent only planning on when, not if, hostilities would arise, the Germans put their mathematical and planning skills (A number of troops in B railroad cars can travel C miles per day and disembark at a rate of D soldiers/minute to arrive at Paris in E days) to the test first. The massive casualties resulted from 20th century weapons being turned on 18th century troop formations. The slaughter was literally epic.

How distant is that method and manner of the Great War? Any hyperbolic attempt by today’s punditry to link yesterday’s colonialists and war mongers to today’s neo-colonialists, faux empire builders and neo-con hawks are grossly and offensively out of proportion. Human nature, and a national leader’s blood-lust sated at distance, have not changed, nor will they in our lifetimes. But the changing scale of the suffering is immense. The United States lost more soldiers at just the Second Battle of the Marne, where the Third Infantry Division earned its moniker “Rock of the Marne” for its stand with its back against the French river, than in the entirety of our current ten year conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq. Australia and New Zealand lost double that at Gallipoli. The technological revolutions in medicine and armor account for some of this. Wounded to killed ratios used to be 2:1. They are now 10:1. Traumatic Brain In jury (TBI) was unknown before the Balkan War, the first time modern western war met modern western medicine, because previously no one with a blast-induced brain injury survived the attack. And of course, in World War I, violence was still largely borne by standing armies. Today, much war suffering is inflicted on civilians caught in between.

If World War I now survives in general public memory, it does so as a cautionary tale. The sheer carnage was supposed to have ended all war, and yet it spawned another one, barely a generation later, still more terrible and destructive. The horrors of the trenches put a new face on a phenomenon that has existed as long as there have been men (and women) in war. In the Civil War they called it Soldier’s Heart, and attributed the symptoms to the prolonged wear of overtight gear and equipment. In World War I they called it shell-shock. The Marines at Peleliu called it was the thousand yard stare. Today we call it PTSD, and it affects many hidden members of our community (thank you to my colleague Chris for his work here).

Which brings us back to Mr. Frank W. Buckles. The men in the trenches saw something that would affect them the rest of their lives. JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis stared down the green dragon, the clouds of heavier-than-air chlorine gas that displaced oxygen and suffocated entire units, and determined that the only outlet for their experience was to write fantastical tales that rewrote the endings of their worst days. In later wars, Kurt Vonnegut similarly came unstuck in time witnessing the burning of Dresden, and Joseph Heller’s only logical response was irrationality. Mr. Buckles served as an ambulance driver behind the trenches for less than a year, less than one percent of his total life. In an incredible 110 years, Mr. Buckles travelled the world, farmed 300 acres in West Virginia, and was held by the Japanese in the Philippines as a civilian prisoner of war. Any of these events could have defined his life, especially his time at Los Banos prison camp, where he was captive for 38 months, more than three times longer than his entire time in World War I. And yet it was his first war, the Great War, that drove his later work. I don’t pretend to know whether this was due to his own choice, or luck at being the last survivor, or if he was pulled along like so many of the rest of us, forever and uncontrollably changed by combat. But in his last years he served as sole advocate, a final spokesmen surrounded by ghosts, asking his country to remember a war that only he now could.

Corwin Backlash, Davis Dodders, Bellavia Battles

23 Feb

Yesterday, tea party activist and hater of tolls Rus Thompson appeared on a radio program hosted by some mulleted, paranoid, Islamophobic, little person. There, Rus explained that he was disappointed that the Republican county chairs in NY-26 had rushed to select Jane Corwin, a solidly doctrinal Republican Assemblywoman, to run for that congressional seat.

Rus said good things about Batavian Iraq War veteran – and the Yin to Jon Powers’ Yang – David Bellavia, and Kathy from Williamsville, the Dr. Laura of uninformed jingoism.  When the noxious paranoiac radio host asked Rus whether he was familiar with Corwin’s policy positions, he replied that he wasn’t. He added that he hadn’t looked into them.

Afterwards, I asked this question on Facebook:

Rus Thompson is upset at the Republican chair’s selection of Jane Corwin because he doesn’t know where she stands on issues. Also, he hasn’t looked into them. WTF.

I tagged Rus in that, so it showed up on his wall, and he replied:

Assembly Member Jane L. Corwin refused to tell citizens where he/she stands on any of the issues addressed in the 2010 Political Courage Test, despite repeated requests from Vote Smart, national media, and prominent political leaders.

That is true – Corwin didn’t fill out the 2010 questionnaire. But…

So why not use the 2008 courage test? No one ran against Corwin in 2010, so why would she have bothered to complete a questionnaire? http://votesmart.org/npat.php?can_id=110467#18027

It’s interesting that the Democrats are split two or three different ways in WNY, and they openly bicker & fight over patronage jobs and benefits like rabid dogs all the time.  Yet when it comes time to coalesce behind a consensus candidate for high office like House or Senate, they set aside their petty little local differences and get it done.

The Republicans have traditionally been a unified lot, bickering and fighting over jobs and benefits largely behind the scenes while putting forth a unified front to the public. However, the tea party is completely satisfied to call out the party apparatus in public and split the party; on the one hand are those friendly to the apparatus who understand that winning elections is important, but so is handing out jobs and cutting deals. On the other hand is the tea party, which is, itself, split between the Palinists and the Paulists, and insists on having a seat that it hasn’t really earned at the party’s table.

You earn a seat at that table by doing more than just agitating – you have to do the grunt work that electoral politics demands, like petitioning, canvassing, stuffing envelopes, making phone calls, raising & donating money.  The tea party thinks it’s entitled to be an equal with Nick Langworthy because it gets media attention.  But the Palinist tea partiers are just conservative Republicans, nothing more.

In the meantime, tea party hero and serial emailer Carl Paladino has endorsed Jane Corwin’s candidacy:

I’m a proud member of the Tea Party movement in New York, and together we helped change the face of Congress in November. Jane Corwin will be another member in our movement to take our country back. As the 2nd most conservative member of the New York State Assembly in rankings by the New York State Conservative Party and the #1 Legislator of Unshackle Upstate, a New York reform organization, Jane knows we need to slash federal spending, balance the budget, end bailouts, oppose the Obama stimulus package and support repeal of Obamacare.

Not to be outdone, perennial candidate Leonard Roberto has also endorsed Corwin.  (I think we just got a strong hint as to where Roberto got that $50,000 he “personally” injected into his race just a week or so before election day).

It’s fun to watch the shenanigans.

Why go public and claim that Corwin was shoved down people’s throats as a nominee when you (1) aren’t part of the official selection process; (2) didn’t participate in the NY-26 race in 2008 or 2010; (3) haven’t articulated reasons why she’s unqualified or inappropriate; and (4) haven’t even investigated her positions on issues, and claim that they’re unavailable when they are, in fact, readily available?

Jack Davis is a $3 million man without a party.  He has successfully bullied and angered the Democrats and Republicans, because in Jack’s world, money talks, period. Hopefully the Democrats don’t return his undeserved calls, which leaves him with the option of hiring day laborers to gather petition signatures, most of which will be invalid.  The magic number is 3,500, and if Jack can hire a small army of people to get, say, 10,000 signatures, there’s a good chance he finds his way on the ballot. The problem with Davis is that his anti-immigrant, anti-trade xenophobia appeals not just to rightists, but also to many in labor, so it’s somewhat less predictable how his entry in the race might affect the outcome.

Politico is reporting that David Bellavia is “strongly considering” a race on either the Conservative Party line, or some other line. Bellavia was told in 2008 to step aside for Lee, as it wasn’t “his turn”, and he actively campaigned for Lee over the years, and organized veterans to do the same. Now, he believes it’s his turn, not Corwin’s, and he evidently feels betrayed that the party selected the well-funded Assemblywoman over him to run in this race.  National tea party consultants have injected themselves into the race and advocated for his run.  He released this statement (embed via Daily News):


In the meantime, the Democrats are biding their time, not rushing into anything for a race that hasn’t even been declared yet.  As of right now, the election to replace Chris Lee in NY-26 will take place in November 2012.

Tonight: “Sir! No Sir!”

4 Oct

Tonight at 7PM at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, Chapter 128 of Veterans for Peace will present the film, Sir! No Sir!

In August of 1968, two 19-year-old draft resisters—Bruce Cline and Bruce Beyer—took symbolic sanctuary in the Unitarian Universalist Church in Buffalo, NY, to highlight their opposition to the war in Vietnam. As they burned their orders to report for induction on the steps of the church, they were joined by Cline’s brother David. Wounded in combat and home on medical leave from Ft. Hood, David Cline heroically stood with the two resisters to proclaim his opposition to the war. The story of the church sanctuary is legendary and the story of David Cline’s struggle against American militarism spans four decades. David’s story weaves inexorably through the history of soldiers on the front lines of antiwar resistance.

In anticipation of an event in Ft. Erie, Ontario, on October 16th entitled Refusing Orders/Crossing Borders: a dialogue with American war resisters, Chapter #128 of Veterans for Peace presents a screening of David Zeiger’s 2005 film Sir! No Sir! This powerful film documents the struggle of antiwar GI organizers during the Indochina war. We hope this film screening will inspire people to travel to Canada to meet with Iraq war resisters seeking asylum in Canada.

“The past isn’t dead; it isn’t even past” — William Faulkner.

Sir! No Sir! is the story of one of the most vibrant and widespread upheavals of the 1960s—one that had a profound impact on American society, yet has been virtually obliterated from the collective memory of that time. Although the Vietnam War has been the subject of hundreds of fiction and nonfiction films, the story of the rebellion of thousands of American soldiers against the war has never been told in film. By the Pentagon’s own figures, from 1966–1971, 503,926 “incidents of desertion” occurred. By 1971 entire units were refusing to go into battle in unprecedented numbers. Stockades and federal prisons were filling up with soldiers jailed for their opposition to the war and the military.

“In the course of a few short years, over 200 underground newspapers were published by soldiers around the world; local and national antiwar GI organizations were joined by thousands; thousands more demonstrated against the war at every major base in the world in 1970 and 1971, including in Vietnam itself.” Using never before seen archival footage, as well as rare documents from the resistance, Zeiger’s documentary forcibly reveals the untold story of the GI movement to end the war in Vietnam.

“Perfectly timed with new doubts about the Iraq War” (Variety).

When Hallwalls’ Film Program first showed this film in January 2007, the screening quickly sold out, and a second screening had to be scheduled the following month to accommodate the demand.

Bruce Cline will introduce the film with a couple of ballads and Veterans for Peace chapter members will be on hand to discuss the film and upcoming event.

An End and a Beginning (Updated)

2 Sep

Operation Iraqi Freedom started on March 20, 2003, in tanks on the Kuwait-Iraq border, in aircraft launching from Saudi and Qatari airfields, and on ships in the Persian Gulf. It ended last night, on August 31st, 2010, in the Oval Office, in a disjointed speech, on national television.

Taking the place of Operation Iraqi Freedom is Operation New Dawn. As more Americans die in Iraq, and as troops stay past the 2011 deadline, and into the 2012 election year, Republicans will rightly ask what is so “new?” President Obama may have handed his opponents a “Mission: Accomplished” banner, which would be unfortunate. Because despite the President’s wish to “turn the page” in Iraq, the country, and our co-mingled troubles, still exist. Note that the excellent Washington Post correspondent, Tom Ricks, in his book “The Gamble” on the Surge, speculated that the major events for which the Iraq War will be known have not yet happened. The war continues, but by a different name.

Still, such a marker is a convenient time to ask how history will judge at least the first act, now that Operation Iraqi Freedom is complete. Here is the opening sentence to the book I would write on the subject:

In an overabundance of caution, and reflecting the vengeful mood of a country still wiping its bloody nose, President Bush ordered an invasion of Iraq, and after meeting only one of the stated goals of the conflict, ended it by staunching the worst of the blood spilt in the civil war he created.

President Obama is not in that sentence because he did not materially contribute in any way to the ability to change the operation’s name last night. It was Bush’s war, for good or ill, and he ended this phase, with the Surge in 2007, a new Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), and the troop draw down starting in 2008. In this example, President Obama is Andrew Johnson, not Richard Nixon. Lincoln ended the war, albeit infinitely more cleanly and decisively, no matter how many Union troops stayed in the South for years afterward. President Obama is due no more, and probably wishes no more, in any event.

My colleague, Alan, wrote a column today on the end of major combat in Iraq, and in it sought to address the run up to the war as the major issue to be discussed today. I respectfully, and overwhelmingly, disagree.

Why? Because America in 2010 is in far more danger of losing a long war in which it is stuck than beginning a new war with mixed evidence. I am more worried about our ability to pacify Afghanistan than our propensity to end up in open armed conflict with Iran or North Korea. Israel may bomb Iran, but we won’t. Afghanistan, however, is another matter. And so the proper topic to discuss today is what actions, by a President, allowed yesterday’s speech to happen, if we wish to see another one cheering our exit from Operation Enduring Freedom.

I understand Alan’s desire to beat the WMD and Neocon Hawk drum. It is effective and popular. Fortunately, I think history will give a more nuanced response. One tiny example; Alan says:

UNMOVIC inspectors under Hans Blix were in Iraq for 111 days, and they never found a single WMD.

United States troops were in Iraq for 2,724 days, and they never found a single WMD.

Alan provides a link for the first and not the second. Why? Because its not factually true. We found lots of chemical Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq [Updated Author Note: misleading reference to all types of WMDs, including bio, radiological and nuclear weapons, removed for the sake of clarity]. We found old nerve agent filled artillery shells in the Kurdish areas, where Saddam committed genocide in the 1980’s and 1990’s. We found weapons caches of empty bombs, mortars and projectiles, with the main chemical agent filler since evaporated, but still plenty dangerous to handle. We found mustard agent filled rounds in roadside bombs, where it was clear that insurgents were not aware of what type of explosive they were using. Soldiers ended up in hospitals with blister agent burns, nerve agent induced nausea, and the Technical Escort Unit, a Army outfit whose job it is to package and transport chemical weapons, stayed plenty busy flying from their hub in Baghdad all over the country. We found WMDs.

What we didn’t find was enough, or of the right type, to justify an invasion, 4500+ Americans lost, 45,000+ injured, and 100,000+ Iraqi’s killed.

But such debates are only relevant today if Secretary Clinton starts war-mongering in the UN about dropping bombs on Iran. The bigger question now is how to find “success” in Afghanistan. The litany of reasons why Afghanistan is a more difficult problem than Iraq is long and well known: it is larger, younger, more divided, less developed, and has a greater history of violence. The Persians, Turks, Brits and Germans (in that order) all recently successfully conquered Iraq. For such a list in Afghanistan, I have to go back several thousand years.

If I look for Hope in President Obama that we will be successful in Afghanistan, I am left with two troubling pieces of evidence from last night:

1) Then-candidate Obama predicted the Surge in Iraq would fail, and he was wrong. Very, very wrong. He predicted the fresh troops would make no difference, and then, when they did, he said military victory with no political reconciliation was no victory at all. Iraq does not have a government – what is different now? He spent too long reformulating the strategy for Afghanistan, only to end up with essentially the same plan he previously derided. The only thing similar between Iraq and Afghanistan is that it is hot in the summer. Just because a Surge was the right strategy for Iraq does not make it right for Afghanistan, especially when the only clear goal I know of for Afghanistan is to start leaving next year.

2) In an Oval Office speech, only the second of his 20 month tenure, on the end of major combat in Iraq, he spent nearly half the time talking not about Iraq, or Afghanistan, or the military, or foreign policy, but the economy and jobs. Either he is “taking his eye off the ball,” or has political ADD, or is pandering for elections. I find all three a problem, and I question his seriousness, and whether he considers fighting our nation’s wars a priority. 

Alan wants a return to the Powell Doctrine. Too late – we’ve already broke it and bought it. And anyway, it was the Powell Doctrine that got us into this mess. Let’s have some new ideas.

The War in Iraq (UPDATED)

1 Sep

Yesterday, President Barack Obama announced that the fighting in Iraq was finally over. All that was left was to get our people out and help the Iraqis transition into a self-sufficient government. The surge worked. Our political arm-twisting worked. Our efforts to better connect with community leaders on the ground worked. Obama praised the troops, praised President Bush, and reminded people that he had opposed the war. Republicans like John Boehner and John McCain took the opportunity to remind the American people that Obama is an America-hating motherf*cker.

But contrary to what Boehner and McCain said – that Obama should say in his speech that he was wrong about the surge and Bush was right, the thing we should be examining is whether we should have invaded a sovereign Iraq in the first place.

Back in 2002, America was still reeling from 9/11, and Iraq was subjected to myriad UN sanctions, inspection schemes, no-fly zones, and other restrictions stemming from its invasion of Kuwait and subsequent defeat a decade before. Saddam Hussein was undoubtedly a brutal dictator whose Ba’athist Arabic-unity, socialist ideology had been perverted into nothing more than an Arabic construct of fascism. His rule was corrupt and murderous, and he had started two expansionist wars during his reign, neither of which worked out well for his country. He, on the other hand, lived like a king.

But there are lots of bad actors running horribly brutal dictatorships around the world. We can’t invade them all. Nor, if you ask most Republicans when they’re being honest, should we. Just ask most Republican commentators when President Clinton got NATO militarily involved in Bosnia and Serbia.

Turning back to 2002, the UN had implemented a new set of sanctions based on what turned out to be incorrect intelligence that Iraq was developing nuclear weapons and stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. The UN – never one to rush into war – sent neutral inspectors into Iraq to look for these WMDs. Hans Blix’s team of inspectors went everywhere the US government told them to look. Spy satellites, after all, don’t lie.

UNMOVIC inspectors under Hans Blix were in Iraq for 111 days, and they never found a single WMD.

United States troops were in Iraq for 2,724 days, and they never found a single WMD. As I promised Brian here, I’ll clarify that statement. US forces did find stockpiles of old WMDs that the Saddam regime had in its possession, and which it had used against Iran, Kuwait, and the Kurds. The US did not, however, find any evidence of any new production or ramp-ups towards same. We know Saddam had used gas in Kuwait and on Kurds. But that’s not what we were sold in 2003 when Powell addressed the Security Council.

…the facts and Iraq’s behavior show that Saddam Hussein and his regime are concealing their efforts to produce more weapons of mass destruction…

…A second source, an Iraqi civil engineer in a position to know the details of the program, confirmed the existence of transportable facilities moving on trailers.

A third source, also in a position to know, reported in summer 2002 that Iraq had manufactured mobile production systems mounted on road trailer units and on rail cars.

Finally, a fourth source, an Iraqi major, who defected, confirmed that Iraq has mobile biological research laboratories, in addition to the production facilities I mentioned earlier….

The war was based on either poor information or lies. Neither one will resurrect a fallen American or innocent Iraqi civilian.

And the follow-up “rationales”? Hamas and Israel continue to murder each other. What a fundamental waste of lives, money, and dignity.

That was the legal basis on which we invaded Iraq – that they had deliberately violated UN sanctions regarding WMDs. There was no other legal rationale. What the Bush Administration’s neoconservative hawks did was just shift the objective to eliminating Ba’athism, regime change, stopping Iraq’s support for terror, help Israel in its efforts against terrorism, etc. After 7 years of battles, death, destruction, we gave Iraq its democracy, but the other regional goals have never been met. Instead, Iraq became flypaper for every disaffected, pimpled Arab teen who wanted to kill Americans. Once Saddam was gone, we had Zarqawi to deal with. Thousands of American men and women died.

So, to my mind, it’s not time to navel-gaze about whether the surge worked and whether Obama was wrong about it, and whether he is sufficiently remorseful or introspective about how wrong he was. Instead, we should re-evaluate why we invaded Iraq in the first place, further destabilizing an already unstable region; subjecting an oppressed people to 7+ years of war, terrorism, and occupation.

To my mind, it’s time to re-examine the so-called “Powell Doctrine”, which was completely disregarded in March 2003 by then-Secretary of State Colin Powell and his bosses.

  • Is a vital national security interest threatened?
  • Do we have a clear attainable objective?
  • Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
  • Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?
  • Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
  • Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?
  • Is the action supported by the American people?
  • Do we have genuine broad international support?
  • I’m glad it’s over, but that’s a lot of people dead to get rid of a petty dictator. Thank the troops for their service, but question their leaders for sending them there.

    A Video from Iraq

    6 Apr

    Forget the legalities of invading a sovereign, albeit despotic country. Gosh, Hans Blix’s inspections took place almost a decade ago.

    Think instead about Iraq from the neoconservatives’ standpoint. It didn’t matter to them that Iraq didn’t have WMDs, which gave the US the pretext for invasion. It didn’t matter to them that overthrowing a brutal and totalitarian dictatorship would lead to a massive power vacuum that would most likely be filled with the violent and opportunistic rather than earnest Daniel Webster types.

    What did the Iraq war do to make Americans safer at home and abroad? What did the Iraq war do to help bring peace and more security to Israel? What has the Iraq war done to turn Arab public opinion in favor of democracy and freedom and against radicalism?


    Ultimately, the Iraq war has cost America well over $700 billion since 2003. Over 4,000 Americans never came home. Countless innocent Iraqi civilians have died – for what, to save them from death or brutality at the hands of the Ba’athist dictator?

    Our priorities in this country are way fucked up when we wring out a vote over a calendar year on the question of whether to guarantee health insurance for all Americans, but we rushed into a now-seven-year-old war with a month’s worth of legislative debate and discussion, and an overwhelming “yea”.

    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.

    Bush ‘n Shoe Show

    14 Dec

    In other news, I think he was signed by the Mets later this afternoon.

    George H.W. and George W.

    2 Dec

    I found this article in the Observer to be quite interesting from a foreign-policy perspective. If George the younger has accomplished anything, he’s managed to give people a newfound respect and appreciation for his father.

    Perhaps the most ironic legacy of George W. Bush’s presidency is the service it has done to the reputation of his father, who seemed destined to be remembered as an unaccomplished one-termer when he lost his reelection bid (with just 37 percent of the vote) in 1992. By serially violating the basic principles that informed his father’s foreign policy and incurring such ghastly consequences, the younger Mr. Bush has stirred a widespread reassessment: The leadership that Americans took for granted under his father now seems like uncommon wisdom from a better, bygone era.

    And now, with only weeks remaining in the second Bush administration, that sentiment is being validated by the incoming Democratic president, a man who opposed the Iraq war back when Mr. Scowcroft did; who has repeatedly lamented that “we have taken our eye off the ball” in Afghanistan because of it; and who has unapologetically championed the kind of aggressive diplomacy endorsed by the Iraq Study Group.

    Daddy Bush’s posse repeatedly said in 2003 that invading Iraq was a mistake. Bush Junior was intent on reclaiming the Bush family’s good name by fixing what he thought his dad had done wrong – letting Saddam Hussein stay in power. The outcome is beyond ironic – it’s downright surreal.