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Archive for September, 2010

Posted by The Agonist on September 30th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Leo Shane III | Washington | September 30

Stars & Stripes – When the book “The $3 Trillion War” was released two years ago, its authors were widely accused of exaggerating the long-term costs of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, the researchers believe those estimates were too low.

Joseph Stiglitz, who received the 2000 Nobel Prize for Economics, and Linda Bilmes, a public policy professor at Harvard University, said the number of veterans seeking post-combat medical care and the cost of treating those individuals is about 30 percent higher than they estimated in 2008.

That, combined with increases in the cost of military medical care and the lagging economy, will likely push the true long-term cost of military operations and future medical care of veterans over the $4 trillion mark. It could reach $6 trillion under a worst-case financial scenario.

“It is obvious now that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been far more costly, in terms of both blood and treasure, than its advocates suggested at the outset,” Stiglitz said before the House Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday.

“Even with more realistic estimates, we might have come to the same decision about going to war. But the absence of reliable estimates meant there was no opportunity for a meaningful debate. It has also prevented us from planning ahead for future costs.”

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Posted by Peace Action West on September 30th, 2010

From our partners at Peace Action West

You have heard me praise congressional candidate Bill Hedrick for months now. This Thursday you have a chance to find out for yourself why I’m so excited about Bill’s run for Congress, and why he is so deserving of our support. Please join us this Thursday to hear from Bill about his campaign and help him out in these critical final weeks.

Thursday, September 30th

6:00pm – 8:00pm

Fundraiser with pro-peace candidate Bill Hedrick

Home of supporter Dwane Baughman

2373 Washington St. (at Webster)

San Francisco

Minimum suggested donation of $25.

To RSVP, email kira@hedrickforcongress.com,

or call 414-324-2325.

If we want to see real progressives get elected in tough districts, we need to step up and provide the grassroots funding and support to make it happen.  No one else is going to lead the charge. Meeting a sincere, outspoken progressive candidate like Bill will be great motivation as we gear up for the election less than six weeks away.  And don’t forget to sign up to give two hours of your time on Saturday, October 2nd or Tuesday, October 5th to phone from home to turn out voters for Bill.

I hope to see you tonight.

Paid for by the Peace Action West Voter Fund.

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on September 30th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

Yesterday morning I wrote about how similiar current cross-border strikes into Pakistan were to raids in September 2008 that ended up with the Khyber Pass supply routes to NATO troops in Afghanistan being closed five times in as many months – and how those closures taught NATO a lesson about consequences for a while, at least.

Now, it appears that both Pakistani civilians and border guards have been killed by the recent round of attacks.

PESHAWAR: Nato choppers have yet another time encroached Pakistani airspace by launching fresh shelling in Kurrum Agency, Thursday morning, Geo News reported.

According to preliminary reports, at least three FC men lost their lives and as many sustained injuries in Nato-backed air strikes.

…It may be mentioned; Nato and ISAF copters killed nearly 6 civilians and over 11 were injured in an air strike occurred in Matah Sangarh area last week.

Government protested with Nato against encroaching Pakistani airspace following the killing of 30 civilians.

And now it's being reported that Pakistan has closed NATO's supply routes in retribution. I honestly didn't think they'd do it "formally", just let the local militants do it for them — but there you have it.

Pity Petraeus didn't ask former commander in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, if those raids were a good idea. Or maybe he should have read this from Kabul Press on the 12th September (h/t Bernhardt)

Taliban Could Defeat NATO in 30 Days – Logistics is the Achilles heel of Western forces

Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s announcement on September 8, 2010, that the Taliban was close to victory against NATO should not be dismissed. The Taliban have the military capacity to shut down the NATO supply links to Pakistan and other adjoining countries. NATO and American forces have such exorbitant daily supply needs that the Taliban could force some or potentially most Western forces to retreat from Afghanistan within 30 days.

But I'm sure Pakistan's General Kayani will now helpfully email him a copy.

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Posted by Just Foreign Policy on September 29th, 2010

From our partners at Just Foreign Policy

For the Washington Post, there’s no such thing as a war that America can’t afford.

In an editorial today, the Washington Post takes President Obama to task for being concerned about the cost of the war in Afghanistan and the fact that it conflicts with domestic priorities. That the Washington Post, a knee-jerk supporter of war for empire, would slam President Obama for this is the opposite of surprising. Nonetheless, what the Washington Post actually said in its editorial is still breathtaking:

 

Mr. Obama repeatedly cites the cost of the war and the need to shift resources to domestic priorities — though spending on Afghanistan is well below 1 percent of U.S. gross domestic product.

We have been led to believe that official Washington is seized with urgency about long-term projections of U.S. budget deficits. Yet here is the Washington Post, downplaying the cost of the war in Afghanistan on the grounds that it is "well below 1 percent" of U.S. GDP.

Logically, there are two possibilities.

One possibility is that the Washington Post is saying that in the future, we can ignore any government expenditure or savings that amounts to less than 1% of U.S. GDP as being too small to bother about.

The other possibility is that according to the Washington Post there are two standards for judging costs. One standard is for war, in which an expenditure of less than 1% of GDP is too small to bother about. The other standard is for domestic spending that benefits the majority of Americans, in which a reduction of government expenditure of less than 1% of GDP is something that should be seriously considered.

read more

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on September 29th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

Here's an amazing admission by Lt. General Bill Caldwell, the guy in charge of training Afghans so "we can stand down as they stand up": there are 1,200 less soldiers in the Afghan National Army than there were a year ago. (hat tip: @petulantsage.)

 

Caldwell went on to try to spin this as "momentum" and "progress", saying that over 100,000 young Afghans had been recruited into the Army and Police in the last ten months. However, Caldwell also said that to continue that recruitment and meet targets the training mission needed 1,500 additional trainers he's been trying to blackmail out of other NATO members – after the U.S. has already refused to provide them.

Caldwell has been saying, loudly, "no trainers, no transition to Afghan control", but so far other members of NATO remain as reluctant to add to their troop presences in Afghanistan – even trainers – as they have been since at least the London Conference in January. And even if those trainers arrived, all they'd be doing would be giving some instruction to thousands of Afghans who are going to desert with their weapons and new expertise anyways.

Back in August, Caldwell made the amazing admission that to reach targets, 86,000 more people would have to be recruited to the ANA because 49,000 will walk away for a net gain of 37,000 troops. The desertion problem was just as bad for the police: to meet targets the US and its allies would have to train 56,000 men, of whom 37,000 would desrt for a net gain of only 19,000. Even the ones that remain have a 90% illiteracy rate and drug use rates approaching 100% if you include using marijuana and hashish, which the US military doesn't for it's Afghan recruits.

Now it seems attrition rates are even worse than Caldwell admitted back then. Any additional trainers would therefore be training even more sub-standard recruits with an even higher desertion rate so that Caldwell can hit his targets some day – and he's already preparing the ground for his boss, General Petraeus, to say the US will have to extend it's timetable for withdrawal beyond 2011.

But what happens then? Even the recruits that pass training – at horrendous expense which the Afghan government wouldn't be able to afford in its wildest dreams if US taxpayers weren't footing the bill – have a desertion rate of around 12-17% annually or more. The day after those trainers stop training new cannon fodder, it all begins to fall apart again – which is why I say that the current strategy is not sensible, is all about face-saving for careerist generals and politicians, and amounts to papering over the cracks long enough to head for the exits.

Meanwhile, the West will have spent another $1 trillion or so and another 1,000 or more soldiers will have died on this face-saving exercise. We could pack up and leave right now and nothing essential would change in Afghanistan compared to the future of that nation as determined by current US strategy. So why don't we?

(But whether we do or don't, can someone on the Hill please ask questions about Lt. General Caldwell's competence? He was Bush's hand-picked spinmeister to get Petraeus' back in Iraq in '07 and he certainly seems to be more about style than substance in Afghanistan too.)

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on September 28th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

Joshua Foust mounts a spirited and comprehensive defense of Afghan president Hamid Karzai over at Foreign Policy mag's Af/Pak Channel today. A "must read", Joshua argues that Karzai is as much a victim of unfortunate circumstance as an instigator, and that no other possible candidate would do any better than Karzai given the tightrope an Afghan president must walk.

He’s representing a population that is growing increasingly disillusioned with Western promises and actions. The Taliban is making steady progress in affecting vast swaths of territory. There is incredible pressure in Kabul to negotiate some sort of end to the fighting — and not necessarily on terms the U.S. wants to see. Karzai only has two real bargaining chips: political influence, and money. When the United States installed him in Kabul in 2002, no one considered Hamid Karzai a particularly corrupt individual — certainly not by Afghan standards. But to fulfill the duties of his office, Karzai had no choice but to trade money and money-making positions to get even minimal results.

Afghanistan does not have the benefit of strong institutions, so governance is based on relationships and patronage — trading favors, or appointments, for money. In the West, it is normally called corruption. In Afghanistan, though, corruption is, unfortunately, how the system works….With only limited power to coerce his rivals, and moral suasion of limited value in a land ruled by ruthless, unsentimental men, corruption is just about the only tool an Afghan president has.

 

Western governments have nonetheless hammered Karzai on corruption and ineffectiveness, threatening to withhold aid unless he acts swiftly and decisively to clean up his act. The international community wants to de-personalize Afghan power politics, replacing the current system of patronage with something more formal and institutionalized. Yet to focus only on corruption is to address symptoms rather than causes: if the president can only govern through corruption, then the system, not the president, is the problem.

 

maybe it’s less a question about Karzai than about U.S. expectations. If those can’t be met, Washington has a much bigger problem on its hands.

 Well, yeah. Trying to stand up a pro-Western democracy that isn't too corrupt and can defend itself, when Western militaries are occupying the country and killing civilians, when warlords and powerbrokers need to be bought off and where there isn't nearly enough revenue to pay for the security forces is a big problem. It's a problem which may be inherently insoluble even in the long term and for which the presence of 130,000 Western troops is certainly counter-productive.

 

Peace will come to Afghanistan when the various factions of Karzai's government come to some kind of deal with the Taliban's various factions – and that deal may well not be one the West will like very much. Tough. It's their country. We're back to the Real Pottery Barn Rule: "you broke it, pay up and get the fuck out of our store; it's none of your business whether we fix things up or burn the store down around our own ears."

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Posted by The Agonist on September 28th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Baqir Sajjad Syed | Islamabad | Sept 28

Dawn – Nato reversed its position on aerial strikes by its helicopter gunships inside Pakistan on Monday after Islamabad warned the US-led forces in Afghanistan of counter-measures.

International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), which had earlier defended the aerial engagement as an action ‘under the right of self-defence’, later in the evening, according to military sources, informed Pakistani commanders that they were trying to establish that their helicopters during the operation did not cross into Pakistani territory.

Isaf spokesman Capt Ryan Donald had earlier said: “The Isaf helicopters did cross into Pakistan territory to engage the insurgents. Isaf maintains the right to self-defence, and that’s why they crossed the Pakistan border.”

The strongly-worded protest communicated by Pakistan to Nato headquarters in Brussels reminded the military alliance that its mandate for operations in Afghanistan ended at Afghan border and there were no hot pursuit rules agreed with Pakistan.

Military sources said the message communicated to the Nato command was crystal clear that in view of declining public support for war on terror, the security of Nato supply routes through Pakistan could be threatened in the aftermath of the new air campaign.
.
Analysts say Pakistan could only stop US-led forces from such violations by tactfully using its leverages that largely relate to the support for war on terror and the supply routes.

Describing the cross-border air raids as ‘violation of its sovereignty and the UN mandate for coalition operations in Afghanistan’, the protest statement issued by the Foreign Office said: “In the absence of immediate corrective measures, Pakistan will be constrained to consider response options.”

(According to AFP, Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit said in the statement: “These incidents are a clear violation and breach of the UN mandate under which Isaf operates.” The statement said Isaf had been asked not to participate in any military action that violated the UN mandate and infringed upon Pakistan’s sovereignty. It said Pakistan had always emphasised the need for “coordinated and joint action” against militants.)

Military sources said the message communicated to the Nato command was crystal clear that in view of declining public support for war on terror, the security of Nato supply routes through Pakistan could be threatened in the aftermath of the new air campaign.

Analysts say Pakistan could only stop US-led forces from such violations by tactfully using its leverages that largely relate to the support for war on terror and the supply routes.

Nato was asked to coordinate its actions with Pakistan military and avoid crossing the ‘red lines’ — a euphemism for Pakistani sensitivities.

More than 50 people, many of them believed to be fighters of the Haqqani network, were killed over the past couple of days in three Nato/Isaf air strikes in Pakistani tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan.

Nato’s Apache helicopters were said to be ‘in hot pursuit’ of the militants crossing back into Pakistani territory to get to their sanctuaries.

The Nato attacks came after an escalation in drone strikes by the US against militant hideouts and other targets in North Waziristan, an indication that the US-led forces were changing their tactics to dismantle the militant network in the tribal region long considered to be the springboard for violence in Afghanistan.

About 20 drone strikes by unmanned Predator aircraft have taken place in September so far — the highest for a month since the Americans started using drones inside Pakistan in 2004.

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on September 28th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

The New York Times headline is an interesting break from the run-of-the-mill: "Petraeus Says Taliban Have Reached Out to Karzai". Notice the direction of the reaching out, and who is revealing it.

“There are very high-level Taliban leaders who have sought to reach out to the highest levels of the Afghan government, and they have done that,” General Petraeus said.

“Now President Karzai’s conditions are very clear, very established, and, certainly, we support them as we did in Iraq, as the British did in Northern Ireland,” he said. “This is the way you end insurgencies.”

A spokesman for President Karzai confirmed that there had been contacts at every level, but he cautioned that they still could not be characterized as even the beginning of negotiations.

“In the last few months, there have been signs and signals from different levels of Afghan Taliban,” said Waheed Omer, the spokesman.

“There are signs that they are ready for talks, and this intensified after the president announced the program of reintegration and reconciliation after the peace jirga,” he said, referring to a June peace assembly, adding, “but no formal negotiations or discussions have begun.”

Bingo!

There are going to be some – probably including Petraeus - who will argue that the Afghan Surge beat back the Taliban's ascending momentum and brought them to the negotiating table. The argument is laughable. There is no even slight "progress" in Afghanistan and if anyone was reluctant to come to the table – from word one – it was the U.S. under two administrations, not the Taliban. If anything, the Surge has been spun to save enough face that the U.S. and it's Western allies can now allow negotiations to proceed without looking like complete losers.

The signs have been there for a couple of years now that Karzai was simply tired of all the bloodshed and would make just about any deal if the fighting might end. Now, it seems that either the Taliban feel the same way too – after all, they also are Afghans – or they feel the US will finally do a deal of some kind. The basic preconditions for talks are there. It's early days yet, probably with several more years of NATO occupation of at least of part of Afghanistan to come and as Bernard Finel says, most of the issues of procedure and preconditions have yet to be resolved. But that's because most cannot be resolved without attempting to sit down and seeing how it all goes.

Looking forward to when talks do finally begin, the key players - outwith the Afghan government, US and Taliban – will be Pakistan and India, with China and Iran slightly more marginal, Russia and the rest of Afghanistan's near neighbours essentially getting what the central players decide. The likeliest regional spoiler is India – will it accept some form of return to the status quo ante bellum where Pakistan has some form of "strategic space" in Afghanistan through its sponsorship of the Taliban? What's going to be in it for India?

As for Petraeus: well, he's the general who took a demotion to rescue Afghanistan after his minion got canned, the man who will doubtless preside over at least a few more years of 130,000+ troops in-country (the argument will be that they're needed for security while talks play out, so no meaningful drawdown, folks) and he'll be front-and-center at negotiations no matter who else is involved. The Teflon General's career for the win! Whatever he decides to do after that, he'll get it.

But still, Petraeus' continuing messiahdom will probably be a small price to pay for this actual real, live light at the end of the tunnel…unless he decides to be president and figures he can do it all again in some other poor nation, of course.

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Posted by Peace Action West on September 27th, 2010

From our partners at Peace Action West

While the pundits paint doomsday scenarios of the upcoming elections, real progressives are quietly working day and night to reshape the former conservative bastion of southern California’s Inland Empire. And they can win—with your help.

We’ve already introduced you to peace candidate Bill Hedrick in California’s 44th district. Right next door, Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet is fighting to unseat Republican Mary Bono Mack.

Click here to support Steve Pougnet’s campaign to flip California’s 45th district.

The contrast between these two couldn’t be clearer. When they went head to head in the district’s first debate in 8 years, Pougnet said he disagreed with President Obama’s plan to wait to start withdrawing troops from Afghanistan until July 2011: “It’s time now.” [1] Bono Mack’s response? “You are so wrong.” Bono Mack came out swinging against the “Obama/Pougnet policy of appeasement”—meaning engagement with Iran rather than a repetition of decades of failed policy. [2] Bono Mack’s alternative? “We must enact strong foreign policy.” Bono Mack is desperately trying to link Steve Pougnet with Obama and Pelosi while offering up vague platitudes instead of leadership. It’s time to send her packing.

While Democrats are on the defensive around the country, Steve Pougnet’s campaign is gaining national attention as a real opportunity to kick out a Republican who is dragging down progress with her poor voting record. He needs your help in these last critical weeks before the November election. Click here to donate.

Let’s show the pundits and politicians that we can erase the enthusiasm gap—when they give us something to be enthusiastic about.  Thank you for helping us elect the people who will step up and make the change we want to see.

Paid for by the Peace Action West Voter Fund.

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Posted by alexthurston on September 27th, 2010

This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

[Note for TomDispatch readers: Andrew Bacevich's new book, Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War, is now deservedly a New York Times bestseller. This website first posted the introduction to the book, "The Unmaking of a Company Man," already among TD's most popular pieces, in August. If you missed it, check it out by clicking here. The book has since received superb reviews in the New York Times ("a tough-minded, bracing and intelligent polemic against some 60 years of American militarism... the country is lucky to have a fierce, smart peacemonger like Bacevich"") and Washington Post ("brilliant"). Make sure it's on your bookshelf and a small reminder: whenever you travel to Amazon.com by clicking on a TomDispatch book link or book-cover link and buy a book we recommend or anything else, we get a small cut of your purchase, which helps keep us afloat. Many thanks. Tom]

We know the endpoint of the story: another bestseller for Bob Woodward, in this case about a president sandbagged by his own high command and administration officials at one another’s throats over an inherited war gone wrong. But where did the story actually begin? Well, here’s the strange thing: in a sense, Woodward’s new book, Obama’s Wars, which focuses heavily on an administration review of Afghan war policy in the fall of 2009, begins with… Woodward. Of course — thank heavens for American media amnesia — amid all the attention his book is getting, no one seems to recall that part of the tale.

Here it is: President Obama got sandbagged by the leaked release of what became known as “the McChrystal plan,” a call by his war commander in the field General Stanley McChrystal (and assumedly the man above him, then-Centcom Commander General David Petraeus) for a 40,000-troop counterinsurgency “surge.” As it happened, Bob Woodward, Washington Post reporter, not bestselling book writer, was assumedly the recipient of that judiciously leaked plan from a still-unknown figure, generally suspected of being in or close to the military. On September 21, 2009, Woodward was the one who then framed the story, writing the first stern front-page piece about the needs of the U.S. military in Afghanistan. Its headline laid out, from that moment on, the president’s options: “McChrystal: More Forces or “Mission Failure’” And its first paragraph went this way: “The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan warns in an urgent, confidential assessment of the war that he needs more forces within the next year and bluntly states that without them, the eight-year conflict “will likely result in failure,’ according to a copy of the 66-page document obtained by The Washington Post.”

The frustration of a commander-in-chief backed into a corner by his own generals, the angry backbiting Woodward reportedly reveals in his book, all of it was, at least in part, a product of that leak and how it played out. In other words, looked at a certain way, Woodward facilitated the manufacture of the subject for his own bestseller. A nifty trick for Washington’s leading stenographer.

The set of leaks — how appropriate for Woodward — that were the drumbeat of publicity for the new book over the last week also offered a classic outline of just how limited inside-the-Beltway policy options invariably turn out to be (no matter how fierce the debate about them). As one Washington Post piece put it: “[T]he only options that were seriously considered in the White House involved 30,000 to 40,000 more troops.” All in all, it’s a striking example of how the system really works, of how incestuously and narrowly — to cite the title of Andrew Bacevich’s bestselling new book — Washington rules. Tom

Prisoners of War
Bob Woodward and All the President’s Men (2010 Edition)

By Andrew J. Bacevich

Once a serious journalist, the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward now makes a very fine living as chief gossip-monger of the governing class. Early on in his career, along with Carl Bernstein, his partner at the time, Woodward confronted power. Today, by relentlessly exalting Washington trivia, he flatters power. His reporting does not inform. It titillates.

A new Woodward book, Obama’s Wars, is a guaranteed blockbuster. It’s out this week, already causing a stir, and guaranteed to be forgotten the week after dropping off the bestseller lists. For good reason: when it comes to substance, any book written by Woodward has about as much heft as the latest potboiler penned by the likes of James Patterson or Tom Clancy.

Back in 2002, for example, during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, Woodward treated us to Bush at War. Based on interviews with unidentified officials close to President George W. Bush, the book offered a portrait of the president-as-resolute-war-leader that put him in a league with Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. But the book’s real juice came from what it revealed about events behind the scenes. “Bush’s war cabinet is riven with feuding,” reported the Times of London, which credited Woodward with revealing “the furious arguments and personal animosity” that divided Bush’s lieutenants.

Of course, the problem with the Bush administration wasn’t that folks on the inside didn’t play nice with one another. No, the problem was that the president and his inner circle committed a long series of catastrophic errors that produced an unnecessary and grotesquely mismanaged war. That war has cost the country dearly — although the people who engineered that catastrophe, many of them having pocketed handsome advances on their forthcoming memoirs, continue to manage quite well, thank you.

To judge by the publicity blitzkrieg announcing the arrival of Obama’s Wars in your local bookstore, the big news out of Washington is that, even today, politics there remains an intensely competitive sport, with the participants, whether in anger or frustration, sometimes speaking ill of one another.

Essentially, news reports indicate, Woodward has updated his script from 2002. The characters have different names, but the plot remains the same. Talk about jumping the shark.

So we learn that Obama political adviser David Axelrod doesn’t fully trust Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. National security adviser James Jones, a retired Marine general, doesn’t much care for the likes of Axelrod, and will say so behind his back. Almost everyone thinks Richard Holbrooke, chief State Department impresario of the AfPak portfolio, is a jerk. And — stop the presses — when under the influence of alcohol, General David Petraeus, commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, is alleged to use the word “f**ked.” These are the sort of shocking revelations that make you a headliner on the Sunday morning talk shows.

Based on what we have learned so far from those select few provided with advance copies of the book — mostly reporters for the Post and The New York Times who, for whatever reason, seem happy to serve as its shills — Obama’s Wars contains hints of another story, the significance of which seems to have eluded Woodward.

The theme of that story is not whether Dick likes Jane, but whether the Constitution remains an operative document. The Constitution explicitly assigns to the president the role of commander-in-chief. Responsibility for the direction of American wars rests with him. According to the principle of civilian control, senior military officers advise and execute, but it’s the president who decides. That’s the theory, at least. Reality turns out to be considerably different and, to be kind about it, more complicated.

Obama’s Wars reportedly contains this comment by President Obama to Secretary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates regarding Afghanistan: “I’m not doing 10 years… I’m not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars.”

Aren’t you, Mr. President? Don’t be so sure.

Obama’s Wars also affirms what we already suspected about the decision-making process that led up to the president’s announcement at West Point in December 2009 to prolong and escalate the war. Bluntly put, the Pentagon gamed the process to exclude any possibility of Obama rendering a decision not to its liking.

Pick your surge: 20,000 troops? Or 30,000 troops? Or 40,000 troops? Only the most powerful man in the world — or Goldilocks contemplating three bowls of porridge — could handle a decision like that. Even as Obama opted for the middle course, the real decision had already been made elsewhere by others: the war in Afghanistan would expand and continue.

And then there’s this from the estimable General David Petraeus: “I don’t think you win this war,” Woodward quotes the field commander as saying. “I think you keep fighting… This is the kind of fight we’re in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids’ lives.”

Here we confront a series of questions to which Woodward (not to mention the rest of Washington) remains steadfastly oblivious. Why fight a war that even the general in charge says can’t be won? What will the perpetuation of this conflict cost? Who will it benefit? Does the ostensibly most powerful nation in the world have no choice but to wage permanent war? Are there no alternatives? Can Obama shut down an unwinnable war now about to enter its tenth year? Or is he — along with the rest of us — a prisoner of war?

President Obama has repeatedly stated that in July 2011 a withdrawal of U. S. troops from Afghanistan will commence. No one quite knows exactly what that means. Will the withdrawal be symbolic? General Petraeus has already made it abundantly clear that he will entertain nothing more. Or will July signal that the Afghan War — and by extension the Global War on Terror launched nine years ago — is finally coming to an end?

Between now and next summer attentive Americans will learn much about how national security policy is actually formulated and who is really in charge. Just don’t expect Bob Woodward to offer any enlightenment on the subject.

Andrew J. Bacevich is professor of history and international relations at Boston University. His new book is Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War.

Copyright 2010 Andrew J. Bacevich

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