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Archive for June, 2010

Posted by Peace Action West on June 24th, 2010

From our partners at Peace Action West

By all appearances, Obama’s move to replace McChrystal with Petraeus is a doubling down on the current strategy in Afghanistan. In his statement announcing the change, the president sought to make that clear, saying “This is a change in personnel, but it is not a change in policy.”

Well, here’s a news flash: All the junior-high smack talk and towel snapping in Michael Hastings runaway Rolling Stone feature is window dressing to a powerful case for why we should chuck the whole war, not just the General.

For one, the story about respect for civilian authority here doesn’t just apply to McChrystal’s attitude towards the President. Hastings documents how the military has taken over traditionally civilian roles in the war, mucking it up in the process and leaving the US diplomatic and civilian apparatus starved of stature and resources. The drama and personality conflicts between the military jarheads and diplomatic nerds is no doubt entertaining, but I think it’s worth highlighting that a great big

Part of the problem is structural: The Defense Department budget exceeds $600 billion a year, while the State Department receives only $50 billion.

In addition, there’s a leadership vacuum on diplomatic matters has allowed the military to call the shots.

While McChrystal and his men are in indisputable command of all military aspects of the war, there is no equivalent position on the diplomatic or political side. Instead, an assortment of administration players compete over the Afghan portfolio: U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, Special Representative to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke, National Security Advisor Jim Jones and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, not to mention 40 or so other coalition ambassadors and a host of talking heads who try to insert themselves into the mess, from John Kerry to John McCain. This diplomatic incoherence has effectively allowed McChrystal’s team to call the shots and hampered efforts to build a stable and credible government in Afghanistan. “It jeopardizes the mission,” says Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who supports McChrystal. “The military cannot by itself create governance reform.”

It’s also interesting to note that McChrystal was at least partly able to create that vacuum with a move to lock out Karl Eikenberry, the former military commander in Afghanistan and the US Ambassador who famously expressed deep reservations on the McChrystal’s counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy.

By far the most crucial – and strained – relationship is between McChrystal and Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador. According to those close to the two men, Eikenberry – a retired three-star general who served in Afghanistan in 2002 and 2005 – can’t stand that his former subordinate is now calling the shots. He’s also furious that McChrystal, backed by NATO’s allies, refused to put Eikenberry in the pivotal role of viceroy in Afghanistan, which would have made him the diplomatic equivalent of the general. The job instead went to British Ambassador Mark Sedwill – a move that effectively increased McChrystal’s influence over diplomacy by shutting out a powerful rival. “In reality, that position needs to be filled by an American for it to have weight,” says a U.S. official familiar with the negotiations.

All this power has meant that McChrystal has been able to turn Afghanistan into a proving ground for COIN, a style of warfare that, as Hastings puts it, “essentially rebrands the military, expanding its authority (and its funding) to encompass the diplomatic and political sides of warfare: Think the Green Berets as an armed Peace Corps.”

COIN calls for sending huge numbers of ground troops to not only destroy the enemy, but to live among the civilian population and slowly rebuild, or build from scratch, another nation’s government – a process that even its staunchest advocates admit requires years, if not decades, to achieve.

The problem is, this glove does not fit. Soldiers are trained to fight. They may be highly intelligent with the best intentions, but they aren’t diplomats, they aren’t aid workers, they aren’t skilled in managing development projects. As the pace of civilian deaths has accelerated, Afghans certainly haven’t taken to seeing the US presence as a trusted ally, or as McChrystal posed, as a guest.

In fact, by building up his BFF status with Hamid Karzai, McChrystal has likely helped telegraph the impression of Karzai as a puppet of the government and undermined the leader’s credibility. Of course that’s not what McChrystal intended, as he “accompanied the president on more than 10 trips around the country, standing beside him at political meetings, or shuras, in Kandahar.”

The confusion is top to bottom in Afghanistan, and some in the military have applauded McChrystal’s departure because of his directives meant to minimize civilian deaths. Those directives get right the fact that civilian deaths are a key strategic failing if you are trying to rebuild. What they get wrong is it’s an impossible task to fight a war without killing the wrong people. The problem is the war itself, and McChrystal’s attempts to turn the war into some kind of “kinder, gentler” war aren’t working.

Hastings documents the backlash from soldiers, who feel their lives are on the line when their ability to use lethal force is tightly restricted. It’s McChrystal’s Q&A session with a couple dozen soldiers, reeling from the recent death of one of their comrades, that most poignantly illustrates how confused and frustrated many must be.

During the question-and-answer period, the frustration boils over. The soldiers complain about not being allowed to use lethal force, about watching insurgents they detain be freed for lack of evidence. They want to be able to fight – like they did in Iraq, like they had in Afghanistan before McChrystal. “We aren’t putting fear into the Taliban,” one soldier says.

“Winning hearts and minds in COIN is a coldblooded thing,” McChrystal says, citing an oft-repeated maxim that you can’t kill your way out of Afghanistan. “The Russians killed 1 million Afghans, and that didn’t work.”

“I’m not saying go out and kill everybody, sir,” the soldier persists. “You say we’ve stopped the momentum of the insurgency. I don’t believe that’s true in this area. The more we pull back, the more we restrain ourselves, the stronger it’s getting.”

“I agree with you,” McChrystal says. “In this area, we’ve not made progress, probably. You have to show strength here, you have to use fire. What I’m telling you is, fire costs you. What do you want to do? You want to wipe the population out here and resettle it?”

A soldier complains that under the rules, any insurgent who doesn’t have a weapon is immediately assumed to be a civilian. “That’s the way this game is,” McChrystal says. “It’s complex. I can’t just decide: It’s shirts and skins, and we’ll kill all the shirts.”

As the discussion ends, McChrystal seems to sense that he hasn’t succeeded at easing the men’s anger. He makes one last-ditch effort to reach them, acknowledging the death of Cpl. Ingram. “There’s no way I can make that easier,” he tells them. “No way I can pretend it won’t hurt. No way I can tell you not to feel that. . . . I will tell you, you’re doing a great job. Don’t let the frustration get to you.” The session ends with no clapping, and no real resolution. McChrystal may have sold President Obama on counterinsurgency, but many of his own men aren’t buying it.

But as bad as things have gotten, McChrystal and the Obama administration appear undeterred, with McChrystal in the article quoted as suggesting the possibility of another infusion of troops. This blind dedication to a strategy, to the point of ideology, was the reason he should be fired.

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Posted by Peace Action West on June 24th, 2010

From our partners at Peace Action West

Not surprisingly, the vast majority of the media coverage around Michael Hastings’ incendiary profile of General Stanley McChrystal has focused on the junior high antics and petty name-calling of McChrystal and his staff. I can’t deny that I was entertained (and simultaneously dismayed) by the portrayal of a bunch of drunken fools bellowing what they call an Afghanistan “song” (“Afghanistan!” at the top of their lungs) and what could be a record number of f-bombs in one piece of journalism.

Aside from the immaturity and lack of self-awareness displayed in the article, the attitude toward civilian leadership is cause for concern. If Obama is to stick to his July 2011 start date for withdrawal, and hopefully bow to increasing congressional and public pressure to change course and set an end date, he can’t be dealing with a military core command that mocks the civilian leadership and disrespects the fact that the administration is the bottom line on policy. However, the president’s decision to relieve McChrystal of his command avoids the central issue—that the strategy supported and carried out by McChrystal is a failure. On the Daily Beast, Peter Beinart lays out the opportunity this blowup provides, noting, “[Obama] should use McChrystal’s transgression to install a general who will publicly and unambiguously declare that America’s days in Afghanistan are numbered.” Instead, he has appointed General Petraeus—the one other person most closely identified with the unrealistic counterinsurgency strategy.

Many of the previous profiles of McChrystal have fawned over his discipline and ascetic lifestyle. Hastings gets to the heart of the myth behind the man and how it has blinded readers and journalists to the problems with the Afghanistan strategy:

It’s a kind of superhuman narrative that has built up around him, a staple in almost every media profile, as if the ability to go without sleep and food translates into the possibility of a man single-handedly winning the war.

Retired Colonel Douglas MacGregor gets straight to the point:

“The entire COIN strategy is a fraud perpetuated on the American people,” says Douglas Macgregor, a retired colonel and leading critic of counterinsurgency who attended West Point with McChrystal. “The idea that we are going to spend a trillion dollars to reshape the culture of the Islamic world is utter nonsense.”

There has been nothing but bad news pouring out of Afghanistan in recent weeks. Hastings provides just a brief summary here:

Today, as McChrystal gears up for an offensive in southern Afghanistan, the prospects for any kind of success look bleak. In June, the death toll for U.S. troops passed 1,000, and the number of IEDs has doubled. Spending hundreds of billions of dollars on the fifth-poorest country on earth has failed to win over the civilian population, whose attitude toward U.S. troops ranges from intensely wary to openly hostile. The biggest military operation of the year – a ferocious offensive that began in February to retake the southern town of Marja – continues to drag on, prompting McChrystal himself to refer to it as a “bleeding ulcer.” In June, Afghanistan officially outpaced Vietnam as the longest war in American history – and Obama has quietly begun to back away from the deadline he set for withdrawing U.S. troops in July of next year. The president finds himself stuck in something even more insane than a quagmire: a quagmire he knowingly walked into, even though it’s precisely the kind of gigantic, mind-numbing, multigenerational nation-building project he explicitly said he didn’t want.

McChrystal has attempted to fight a different kind of war in Afghanistan. He has been appropriately lauded for his recognition that civilian casualties are a strategic disaster (not to mention a moral one). But Hastings reveals that this big picture strategic vision is not at all popular with troops in the field.

During the question-and-answer period, the frustration boils over. The soldiers complain about not being allowed to use lethal force, about watching insurgents they detain be freed for lack of evidence. They want to be able to fight – like they did in Iraq, like they had in Afghanistan before McChrystal. “We aren’t putting fear into the Taliban,” one soldier says.

The point here is not that McChrystal “gets it” and the troops on the ground are just angry louts who want to “get their f***ing gun on.” Soldiers are trained to kill, and they are being put in dangerous situations where their presence is fueling violence and they fear for their lives. It is unrealistic to think you can fight an indigenous insurgency while avoiding accidental killings of innocent civilians. But as McChrystal points out, killing a lot more Afghans isn’t going to “win” the war either. I’ve argued before that the COIN strategy is a fantasy, as have many others.

McChrystal did not take kindly to others raising these truths about his beloved COIN approach. Retired General Karl Eikenberry, now Ambassador to Afghanistan, pointed out the flaws and offered alternative approaches in a series of classified cables to the State Department. Rather than considering an alternative viewpoint, McChrystal disparaged the motives of someone with on the ground civilian and military experience in Afghanistan: “Here’s one that covers his flank for the history books. Now if we fail, they can say, ‘I told you so.’”

As the New York Times editorial board pointed out before the resignation was announced:

Instead of answering questions about his media strategy, General McChrystal should be explaining what went wrong with his first major offensive in Marja and how he plans to do better in Kandahar. Instead of General McChrystal having to apologize to Mr. Holbrooke and Mr. Eikenberry, they all should be working a lot harder to come up with a plan for managing relations with Afghanistan’s deeply flawed president, Hamid Karzai.

Are we going to get those answers from General Petraeus? It seems doubtful. He is the torchbearer for COIN, having written the Counterinsurgency Field Manual. He doesn’t seem to have his eye on an endgame in Afghanistan. When questioned by Congress about the meaning of the July 2011 start date for withdrawal, Petraeus said it is “not the date the U.S. heads for the exits.” At this point, there is no clear indication of what kind of drawdown would happen then, and Secretary Gates is denying reports that “a whole lot” of troops would leave at that time. When facing tough questioning by Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Petraeus echoed McChrystal’s lack of interest in opposing views of the war, saying “serendipity” was responsible for reductions in violence after US troops’ moving out of an area, rather than considering that the military presence might be exacerbating the violence.

This is what makes our continued work to pressure Congress and the administration so vital:

“If Americans pulled back and started paying attention to this war, it would become even less popular,” a senior adviser to McChrystal says. Such realism, however, doesn’t prevent advocates of counterinsurgency from dreaming big: Instead of beginning to withdraw troops next year, as Obama promised, the military hopes to ramp up its counterinsurgency campaign even further. “There’s a possibility we could ask for another surge of U.S. forces next summer if we see success here,” a senior military official in Kabul tells me.

President Obama said in his announcement today, “This is a change in personnel, but it is not a change in policy.” What we need is both. Rather than allowing the military to further sink the US into a quagmire in Afghanistan, we need to be pushing them toward the exits, and replacing the strategy with diplomacy, development, political reconciliation and civilian counterterrorism efforts. We can start by telling the House to support Rep. McGovern’s bill to require a timeline for withdrawal and to vote against the $33 billion to escalate the war.

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on June 23rd, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

Commentary By Ron Beasley

I grew up on anti war songs in the 60s and we’ve had dammed few of them when we’ve needed them recently. They don’t get the play they got in the 60s and early 70’s but they are out there and here is a good one.

Of course the anti war songs of the 60’s may have been a bit more subtle;

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Posted by The Agonist on June 23rd, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

General Stanley McChrystal, visionary commander of our legions in Afghanistan, has been recalled to Washington after some incautious words regarding his civilian superiors in a prominent journal of military science called Rolling Stone – doubtless homage to “Rolling Thunder,” the storied air campaign over North Vietnam.

McChrystal’s recall from the head of his troops could not have come at a less auspicious time. The general’s brilliant campaigns throughout Afghanistan over the last year have driven the Taliban foe from the field of battle and into a desperate enclave in Kandahar, where they are surrendering in their thousands to our forces. Everywhere, the locals are cheering on the Yanks as they drive through liberated villages and head for Kandahar and victory.

The idea of civilians second-guessing this man is repugnant to soldier and civilian alike. McChrystal has been highly decorated for clerical service in command centers from Alexandria (the one not far from DC) to Kabul (the one pretty far from reality). Atop his rows of bureaucratic ribbons rests an Expert Infantryman Badge, which denotes no combat service and may be likened to winning a varsity letter in high school. Little wonder the war has been progressing as it has.

With the Patton of Pashtunistan held in Washington by meddlesome civilians, the Taliban is reversing the tides of war. Indeed, this dire scenario is being advanced in the halls of the Pentagon and the RNC. “All was going well until yesterday,” one unidentified colonel darkly announced, before looking down solemnly at his bureaucratic ribbons and Expert Infantryman Badge. An RNC staffer added, “We’re getting reports that Taliban activity has spread from Kandahar.” He then looked down somberly at his Wharton B-School crest. The American people will be demanding to know, Who lost Afghanistan? And these men will provide an answer the public will undoubtedly accept.

General David Petraeus, the Victor of Baghdad, has had very little to say on the contretemps. This parallels his lack of commentary on almost all events in Afghanistan since he was made the CENTCOM overlord in Florida. Observers note that Petraeus is content with his Iraqi laurels and will magnanimously let events in Afghanistan be attributed to McChrystal.

What lies in store for McChrystal? The venerable code of the samurai comes to mind. And so does the opening to Branded in which Chuck Connors had his epaulets cut off and sabre broken before being tunefully marched out of the fort. But honor and justice have advanced since then; they’re just not so dramatic. One option might be to refuse any offer to resign and to send McChrystal right back to Kabul, epaulets and sabre intact, to finish the job – to see it through to the end – whatever that may be. Let’s just see that he has all he needs over there, including a Huey on the embassy roof.

~ ©2010 Brian M. Downing
Brian M. Downing is the author of several works of political and military history, including The Military Revolution and Political Change and The Paths of Glory: War and Social Change in America from the Great War to Vietnam.  He can be reached at brianmdowning@gmail.com.

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Posted by Peace Action West on June 23rd, 2010

From our partners at Peace Action West

The U.S. State Department has awarded a $120 million contract to the U.S. Training Center, a business unit of the notorious military contractor formerly known as Blackwater (now known by the cryptic name Xe). The company is to begin work as soon as possible, providing security services in the Afghan cities of  Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif for up to a year.

Despite formal accusations against five senior company officials on bribery, weapons and conspiracy charges, and the killing of innocent civilians in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. Government still chooses to fund their heinous behavior with taxpayers’ dollars.

Jan Schakowsky, chair of the Intelligence Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, promptly released a statement in response to the awarded contract to Blackwater:

“I was extremely disappointed to learn that the United States Training Center (USTC), the company formerly known as Blackwater, has been awarded another lucrative U.S. State Department task order for protective security services in Afghanistan. This is a company whose cowboy-like behavior has not only resulted in civilian deaths; it has also jeopardized our mission and the safety of U.S. troops and diplomatic personnel worldwide. Instead of punishing Blackwater for its extensive history of serious abuses the State Department is rewarding the company with up to $120 million in taxpayer funds.

“I strongly believe that the former Blackwater should not be receiving further U.S. contracts, and I have repeatedly urged the U.S. government to no longer do business with this company. Though the name Blackwater has become synonymous with the worst of contractor abuses, the bigger problem is our dangerous reliance on such companies for the business of waging war. Our use of private contractors undermines our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have introduced legislation, the Stop Outsourcing Security Act (H.R. 4650), which would phase out private security contractors.”

As we’ve addressed before, the public needs to make its voice heard loud enough so that the government has no other alternative than to end this trend of using private contractors.

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on June 22nd, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

Commentary By Ron Beasley

It's going to be difficult for us
…prosecute…a war far away from home with the divisions we have
here….I'm very depressed about it. Because I see no program from
either Defense or State that gives me much hope of doing anything,
except just praying and gasping to hold on…and hope they'll quit.
I don't believe they're every going to quit. And I don't see
…any…plan for victory—militarily or diplomatically.

~LBJ to Robert McNamara, June 21, 1965.

Reaching For Glory by Michael Beschloss

General Stanley McChrystal's alcohol induced candor is a blessing – we will once again be forced to take a look at Afghanistan.  Other than some old stale news about mineral wealth and ponies there has been no good news out of that graveyard of empires.  You have to wonder if there are conversations like the one above taking place in the White House.  Some how I doubt it – LBJ was much wiser than Obama although not wise enough to listen to his gut.  McChrystal spoke out because he is frustrated – so is everyone else.  There is no end in sight, a majority of Americans now question the war and within a year it will be a 100% US effort.  You can call  it a war or COIN or anything else but you can't win if you are making enemies faster than you kill them.  And as Dave pointed out below the Afghanistan adventure does not pass the cost/benefit test even if there was a chance of winning.  I have rarely agreed with Pat Buchanan but he got it exactly right when he said "they don't hate us because of who we are but because of where we are" and that where is the Muslim world.  Don't forget that the reason bin Laden himself gave for the attack of 911 was US military personnel in the holy land of Saudi Arabia.  It's time to bring are troops home and defend our borders from within our borders.  In the process we might make a few less enemies and make a real start in reducing the deficit.

After LBJ had given up on Vietnam in 1965 over 50,000 Americans died because LBJ was under pressure from the Democratic hawks, that would later become the Republican neocons, to continue.  To those who say Afghanistan if not Vietnam I ask how much different is it.  Obama is not as wise as LBJ but even he must see the futility before too long.  Will he have the spine to say enough is enough?

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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Posted by The Agonist on June 22nd, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

. . . to play multi-dimensional chess with Gen. McChrystal, as this Reuters story points out.

And yet, sources are telling Joe Klein that McChrystal has tendered his resignation:

Joe Klein on CNN claims one “good source” tells him McChrystal has offered resignation.

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Posted by Peace Action West on June 22nd, 2010

From our partners at Peace Action West

While we have seen hours of footage of members of Congress (rightfully) beating up on BP CEO Tony Hayward about the oil spill in the Gulf, Pentagon officials haven’t faced much tough questioning about a war in Afghanistan that has already cost thousands of lives and more than $270 billion.  We got a refreshing break from that last week when Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) (from my hometown congressional district, I’m proud to say), spoke for the American people who question the wisdom of continuing the war when questioning General David Petraeus:

I disagree with you, basically, on the premise that our continued military presence in Afghanistan actually strengthens our national security. Since the surge of troops in southern and eastern Afghanistan started, we have seen only increased levels of violence, coupled with an incompetent and corrupt Afghan government. I am of the belief that continuing with this surge and increasing the level of American forces will have the same result — more American lives lost, and we will be no closer to success.

Pingree pointed out that the American public is growing increasingly skeptical (and with good reason) given the increasing loss of life and money and the lack of signs of success.  Not surprisingly, Petraeus’ answers weren’t satisfactory for skeptics of the administration’s strategy, as Win Without War noted:

Pingree: “Pulling out of an area not only reduces the level of violence, the local Afghan leaders sometimes end up turning against the Taliban … ‘If you pull out the coalition forces, you open up the natural seams between the traditional leaders and the Johhny-come-lately Taliban.’ According to Lt. Col. [Robert] Brown, his patrolling troops [in Kamdesh] ‘were just providing a recruitment tool for the insurgency” … Is our presence fueling violence and the insurgency in Afghanistan?”

Petraeus: “First of all, with respect for the Lt. Col., there may be cases where you pull out of an area and serendipity results in the form of local leaders who stand up to the Taliban.”

Faced with facts that don’t fit the Pentagon’s strategy of fighting our way to peace, Gen. Petraeus chose to credit serendipity.

Concern about the current strategy in Afghanistan is growing. But the administration is only going to be forced to change course if there is enough pressure coming from the public and from within Congress.  Other members of Congress should join Rep. Pingree in creating a clamor for a new strategy in Afghanistan.

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Posted by Peace Action West on June 22nd, 2010

From our partners at Peace Action West

It’s sad to say that every time I sit down to write to you about Afghanistan, there is more bad news to report. At least 26 NATO soldiers were killed in Afghanistan last week. General McChrystal is facing the reality that Afghans in Kandahar oppose the planned military offensive there, but the US has not seriously explored any viable alternatives. Last week, the war in Afghanistan became the longest war in US history, surpassing US involvement in the disastrous war in Vietnam. Against this backdrop, the House is planning to vote on spending another $33 billion to escalate the war in Afghanistan.

Click here to tell your representative to vote against the war funding and in favor of an exit strategy.

You and I understand that the situation in Afghanistan will not get better if we stay stuck on the same counterproductive path. Thanks to your efforts, our representatives in Congress are starting to catch up. Last month, 18 senators voted to require the president to develop a timeline for withdrawal in Afghanistan. That might seem like a small number, but it was the first time these senators stepped up to push back against the administration’s open-ended strategy, and the list included Democrats in senior Senate leadership positions.

Now it’s the House’s turn. As we reported to you before, the bill is loaded up with money for important programs like Haiti relief and oil spill cleanup. We have joined other groups and leaders in Congress to urge the Democratic leadership to have a separate vote on the chunk of funding devoted to the war in Afghanistan so representatives can vote their consciences.  Rep. McGovern’s bill requiring a timeline for withdrawal now has 94 cosponsors, and he will offer it as an amendment. We need a strong showing to demonstrate that momentum is building against the war in Afghanistan and create political space for the administration to start working to get us out of this costly and tragic war. Click here to write to your representative.

Military leaders and hawkish politicians like to talk tough about fighting in Afghanistan. But New York Times columnist Bob Herbert called on the US government to demonstrate true courage—the courage to leave Afghanistan.  That courage is only going to come from a groundswell of public support for them to do the right thing. Take action today.

Thank you for creating that groundswell.

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Posted by DownWithTyranny on June 22nd, 2010

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

Are these the good guys or the bad guys?

Republicans have held their “Party of No” freak flag high– the one that says “Obstruction now, Obstruction tomorrow, Obstruction forever.” But there has been one issue on which they have been relatively supportive of Obama: expanding and escalating the occupation of and the war against Afghanistan. They were gung ho behind it under Bush and they’ve generally voted for Obama’s pursuit of Bush’s misguided policies. But that could be changing.

Increasingly senile, even more mean-spirited than ever, and in danger of losing a tough reelection bid to a crackpot teabagger, John McCain has been attempting to make political capital by attacking Obama for being some kind of a peacenik. Obama is hardly a peacenik and his strategy for Afghanistan is still an enigma. Yesterday on ABC’s “This Week,” Emanuel seemed to downplay the administration’s stated goal of starting a withdrawal in July of next year but wound up exposing Obama’s divided and irresolute leadership. “Everybody knows there’s a firm date, and that firm date is a date… deals with the troops that are part of the surge, the additional 30,000. What will be determined at that date or going into that date will be the scale and scope of that reduction… That’s not changing. Everybody agreed on that date. General Petraeus did. Secretary Gates did. As also Admiral Mullen agreed,” he said. And the goal is to take this opportunity, focus on what needs to get done, and then on July 2011, is to begin the reduction of troops.” Who’s in charge? Who knows?

Everybody knows the firm date only dealt with the escalation of 30,000? I must have missed that somehow. I get the impression that the Pentagon is trying to increase pressure on the White House to let them keep the war going. That’s what generals do… always. (How else would they get to test out their new toys– like this, the fabulous new pain ray?) Is Obama man enough to stand up to them? Not from anything I’ve been able to see. He seems more concerned with an impossible balancing act than actually ending a war that can never be won.

Gates was on Fox hinting that the war could just keep chugging along indefinitely and that no firm decisions have been made, despite Biden’s assertion to Jonathan Alter that “In July of 2011, you’re going to see a whole lot of people moving out. Bet on it.” What makes it worse is that if clueless political hacks like Richard Lugar and, worse yet, Dianne Feinstein, have anything to do with the war’s prosecution, we’re all doomed:

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