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Archive for September, 2010

Posted by The Agonist on September 21st, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Marisa Taylor | Washington | Sept 21

McClatchy Newspapers – Ignoring calls to scrutinize troubled contractors, the U.S. military has awarded a portion of a $490 million contract to an American corporation that’s under investigation for possible fraud.

The Army Corps of Engineers awarded the contract to Louis Berger Group, a New Jersey-based company that federal prosecutors have acknowledged is being investigated for allegedly overbilling the U.S. government.

The contract will be shared with Cummins Power Generation and is for providing generators, building power plants and installing high-voltage transmission systems in “conflict and disaster response locations worldwide,” according to a news release posted last week on Louis Berger’s website.

The decision to continue doing business with Louis Berger has fueled criticism that the Obama administration is willing to overlook criminal allegations in its zeal to rebuild Afghanistan and Iraq. Louis Berger is handling some of the most important U.S. projects in Afghanistan, and it and Cummins also have a seven-year contract with the Army to provide emergency power operations and maintenance in Iraq.

Cummins isn’t under scrutiny in the investigation of Louis Berger.

The overbilling allegations arise from a 2006 whistleblower lawsuit that accused Louis Berger of manipulating overhead cost data and overhead rate proposals submitted to the U.S. government and several states, including Massachusetts, Nevada and Virginia, McClatchy reported Sunday.

Two months after the government learned of the employee’s allegations, the U.S. Agency for International Development tapped Louis Berger to oversee another $1.4 billion in reconstruction contracts in Afghanistan.

Court documents reveal that the Justice Department is negotiating a deal that could “aid in preserving the company’s continuing eligibility to participate” in federal contracting in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

** Government has let Blackwater, KBR off the hook, too

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Posted by Tom Engelhardt on September 21st, 2010

This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

One and a Half Cheers for American Decline
The Future’s Not Ours — and That’s Good News

By Tom Engelhardt

Compare two assessments of the American future:

In the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in which 61% of Americans interviewed considered “things in the nation” to be “on the wrong track,” 66% did “not feel confident that life for our children’s generation will be better than it has been for us.” (Seven percent were “not sure,” and only 27% “felt confident.”)  But here was the polling question you’re least likely to see discussed in your local newspaper or by Washington-based pundits: “Do you think America is in a state of decline, or do you feel that this is not the case?” Sixty-five percent of respondents chose as their answer: “in a state of decline.”

Meanwhile, Afghan war commander General David Petraeus was interviewed last week by Martha Raddatz of ABC News.  Asked whether the American war in Afghanistan, almost a decade old, was finally on the right counterinsurgency track and could go on for another nine or ten years, Petraeus agreed that we were just at the beginning of the process, that the “clock” was only now ticking, and that we needed “realistic expectations” about what could happen and how fast.  “Progress” in Afghanistan, he commented, was often so slow that it could feel like “watching grass grow or paint dry.”

Now, I’m not a betting man, but I’d head for Vegas tomorrow and put my money down against the general and on Americans generally when it comes to assessing the future.  I’d put money on the fact that the United States is indeed “in a state of decline” and I’d make a wager at odds that U.S. troops won’t be in Afghanistan in nine or ten years.  And I’d venture to suggest as well that the two bets would be intimately connected, and that the American people understand at a visceral level far more than Washington cares to know about our real situation in the world.  And I’d put my money on one more thing: however lousy it may feel, it’s not all bad news, not by a long shot.

Decline Today, Not Tomorrow

Let’s start with Afghanistan.  Yes, we’ve been “in,” or intimately involved with, Afghanistan not just for almost a decade, but for a significant chunk of the last 30 years.  And for much of that time we’ve poured our wealth into creating chaos and mayhem there in the name of “freedom,” “liberation,” “reconstruction,” and “nation-building.”  We started in the distant days of the Reagan administration with the CIA funneling vast sums of money and advanced weaponry into the anti-Soviet jihad.  At that time, we happily supported outright terror tactics, including car-bomb and even camel-bomb attacks on the Soviets in Afghan cities and bomb attacks on movie theaters as well.  These acts were committed by Islamic fundamentalists of the most extreme sort, and our officials, labeling them “freedom fighters,” couldn’t say enough nice things about them.

That was our expensive first decade in Afghanistan.  In 1989, when the Russians withdrew in defeat, we departed in triumph.  You know the next round well enough: we returned in 2001, armed and eager, carrying suitcases full of cash, and ready to fight many of the same fundamentalists we (or our allies the Pakistanis) had set loose, funded, and armed in the previous two decades.

If, back in 1979, you had told a polling group of Americans that their country would soon embark on a never-ending war that would involve spending hundreds of billions of dollars, building staggering numbers of military bases, squandering startling sums (including at least $27 billion to train Afghan military and police forces whose most striking trait is desertion), losing significant numbers of American lives (and huge numbers of Afghan ones), and launching the first robot air war in history, and then asked them to pick the likely country, not one in a million would have chosen Afghani-where(?).  And yet, today, our leading general (“perhaps the greatest general of his generation”) doesn’t blink at the mention of another 9 or 10 years doing more of the same.

After 30 years, it might almost seem logical.  Why not 10 more?  The answer is that you have to be the Washington equivalent of blind, deaf, and dumb not to know why not, and Americans aren’t any of those.  They know what Washington is in denial about, because they’re living American decline in the flesh, even if Washington isn’t.  Not yet anyway.  And they know they’re living it not in some distant future, but right now.

Here’s a simple reality: the U.S. is an imperial power in decline — and not just the sort of decline which is going to affect your children or grandchildren someday.  We’re talking about massive unemployment that’s going nowhere and an economy which shows no sign of ever returning good jobs to this country on a significant scale, even if “good times” do come back sooner or later.  We’re talking about an aging, fraying infrastructure — with its collapsing bridges and exploding gas pipelines — that a little cosmetic surgery isn’t going to help.

And whatever the underlying historical trends, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and company accelerated this process immeasurably.  You can thank their two mad wars, their all-planet-all-the-time Global War on Terror, their dumping of almost unlimited taxpayer dollars into the Pentagon and war planning for the distant future, and their scheme to privatize the military and mind-meld it with a small group of crony capitalist privateers, not to speak of ramping up an already impressively over-muscled national security state into a national state of fear, while leaving the financial community to turn the country into a giant, mortgaged Ponzi scheme.  It was the equivalent of driving a car in need of a major tune-up directly off the nearest cliff — and the rest, including the economic meltdown of 2008, is, as they say, history, which we’re all now experiencing in real time.  Then, thank the Obama administration for not having the nerve to reverse course while it might still have mattered.

Public Opinion and Elite Opinion

The problem in all this isn’t the American people.  They already know the score. The problem is Afghan war commander Petraeus.  It’s Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.  It’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  It’s National Security Adviser James Jones.  It’s all those sober official types, military and civilian, who pass for “realists,” and are now managing “America’s global military presence,” its vast garrisons, its wars and alarums.  All of them are living in Cloud Cuckoo Land.

Ordinary Americans aren’t.  They know what’s going down, and to judge by polls, they have a perfectly realistic assessment of what needs to be done.  Jim Lobe of Inter Press Service recently reported on the release of a major biennial survey, “Constrained Internationalism: Adapting to New Realities,” by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs (CCGA).  Here’s the heart of it, as Lobe describes it:

“The survey’s main message, however, was that the U.S. public is looking increasingly toward reducing Washington’s role in world affairs, especially in conflicts that do not directly concern it. While two-thirds of citizens believe Washington should take an ‘active part in world affairs,’ 49% — by far the highest percentage since the CCGA first started asking the question in the mid-1970s — agreed with the proposition that the U.S. should ‘mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own.’

“Moreover, 91% of respondents agreed that it was ‘more important at this time for the [U.S.] to fix problems at home’ than to address challenges to the (U.S.) abroad — up from 82% who responded to that question in CCGA’s last survey in 2008.”

That striking 49% figure is no isolated outlier.  As Charles Kupchan and Peter Trubowitz point out in an article in the journal International Security, a December 2009 Pew poll got the same 49% response to the same “mind its own business” question.  It was, they comment, “the highest response ever recorded, far surpassing the 32% expressing that attitude in 1972, during the height of opposition to the Vietnam War.”

Along the same lines, the CCGA survey found significant majorities expressing an urge for their government to cooperate with China, but not actively work to limit the growth of its power, and not to support Israel if it were to attack Iran.  Similarly, they opted for a “lighter military footprint” and a lessening in the U.S. role as “world policeman.”  When it comes to the Afghan War specifically, the latest polls and reporting indicate that skepticism about it continues to rise.  All of this adds up not to traditional “isolationism,” but to a realistic foreign policy, one appropriate to a nation not garrisoning the planet or dreaming of global hegemony.

This may simply reflect a visceral sense of imperial decline under the pressure of two unpopular wars.  Explain it as you will, it’s exactly what Washington is incapable of facing.  A CCGA survey of elite, inside-the-Beltway opinion would undoubtedly find much of America’s leadership class still trapped inside an older global paradigm and so willing to continue pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into Afghanistan and elsewhere rather than consider altering the American posture on the planet.

Imperial Denial Won’t Stop Decline

Despite much planning during and after World War II for a future role as the planet’s preeminent power, Washington used to act as if its “responsibilities” as the “leader of the Free World” had been thrust upon it.  That, of course, was before the Soviet Union collapsed.  After 1991, it became commonplace for pundits and officials alike to refer to the U.S. as the only “sheriff” in town, the “global policeman,” or the planet’s “sole superpower.”

Whatever the American people might then have thought a post-Cold War “peace dividend” would mean, elites in Washington already knew, and acted accordingly.  As in any casino when you’re on a roll, they doubled down their bets, investing the fruits of victory in more of the same — especially in the garrisoning and control of the oil-rich Persian Gulf region.  And when the good fortune only seemed to continue and the sole enemies left in military terms proved to be a few regional “rogue states” of no great importance and small non-state groups, it went to their heads in a big way.

In the wake of 9/11, that “twenty-first century Pearl Harbor,” the new crew in Washington and the pundits and think-tankers surrounding them saw a planet ripe for the taking.  Having already fallen in love with the U.S. military, they made the mistake of believing that military power and global power were the same thing and that the U.S. had all it needed of both.  They were convinced that a Pax Americana in the Greater Middle East was within their grasp if only they acted boldly, and they didn’t doubt for a moment that they could roll back Russia — they were, after all, former Cold Warriors — and put China in its place at the same time.  Their language was memorable.  They spoke of “cakewalks” and a “military lite,” of “shock and awe” aerial blitzes and missions accomplished.  When they joked around, a typical line went: “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad.  Real men want to go to Tehran.”

And they meant it.  They were ready to walk the walk — or so they thought.  This was the remarkably brief period when the idea of “empire” or “empire lite” was proudly embraced and friendly pundits started comparing the United States to the Roman or British empires.  It’s hard to believe how recently that was and how relatively silent the present crew in Washington has fallen when it comes to the glories of American power.

Now, they just hope to get by, in itself a sign of decline.  That’s why we’ve entered a period when, except for inanely repetitious, overblown references to the threat of al-Qaeda, no one in Washington cares to offer Americans an explanation — any explanation — of why we’re fighting globally.  They prefer to manage the pain, while holding the line.  They prefer to leak the news, for example, that in Afghanistan no policy changes are in the offing any time soon.  As the Washington Post reported recently, “The White House calculus is that the strategy retains enough public and political support to weather any near-term objections. Officials do not expect real pressure for progress and a more precise definition of goals to build until next year…”

It’s not that they don’t see decline at all, but that they prefer to think of it as a mild, decades-long process, the sort of thing that might lead to a diminution of American power by 2025.  At the edges, however, you can feel other assessments creeping up — in, for instance, former Condoleezza Rice National Security Council deputy Robert Blackwill’s recent call for the U.S. to pull back its troops to northern Afghanistan, ceding the Pashtun south to the Taliban.

Sooner or later — and I doubt it will take as long as many imagine — you’ll hear far more voices, ever closer to the heartlands of American power, rising in anxiety or even fear.  Don’t think nine or ten years either.  This won’t be a matter of choice.  Our leadership may be delusional, but there will be nothing more to double down with, and so “America’s global military presence” will begin to crumble.  And whether they want it or not, whether there’s even an antiwar movement or not, those troops will start coming home, not to a happy nation or to an upbeat situation, but home in any case.

It may sound terrible, and in Afghanistan and elsewhere, terrible things will indeed happen in the interim, while at home the economy will, at best, limp along, the infrastructure will continue to deteriorate, more jobs will march south, and American finances will worsen.  If we’re not quite heading for what Arianna Huffington, in her provocative new book, calls “Third World America,” we’re not heading for further fame and fortune either.

But cheer up.  The news isn’t all bad.  Truly.  We’ve just gotten way too used to the idea that the United States must be the planet’s preeminent nation, the global hegemon, the sole superpower, numero uno.  We’ve convinced ourselves that neither we nor the world can exist without our special management.

So here’s the good news: it’s actually going to feel better to be just another nation, one more country, even if a large and powerful one, on this overcrowded planet, rather than the nation.  It’s going to feel better to only arm ourselves to defend our actual borders, rather than constantly fighting distant wars or skirmishes and endlessly preparing for more of the same.  It’s going to feel better not to be engaged in an arms race of one or playing the role of the globe’s major arms dealer.  It’s going to feel better to focus on American problems, maybe experiment a little at home, and offer the world some real models for a difficult future, instead of talking incessantly about what a model we are while we bomb and torture and assassinate abroad with impunity.

So take some pleasure in this: our troops are coming home and you’re going to see it happen.  And in the not so very distant future it won’t be our job to “police” the world or be the “global sheriff.” And won’t that be a relief?  We can form actual coalitions of equals to do things worth doing globally and never have to organize another “coalition of the billing,” twisting arms and bribing others to do our military bidding.

Since by the time we get anywhere near such a world, our leaders will have run this country into the ground, it’s hard to offer the traditional three cheers for such a future.  But how about at least one-and-a-half prospective cheers for the possible return of perspective to our American world, for a significant lessening, even if not the decisive ending, of an American imperial role and of the massive military “footprint” that goes with it.

It’s going to happen.  Put your money on it.

And thank you, George W. Bush (though I never thought I’d say that), you’ve given an old guy a shot at seeing the fruits of American decline myself.  I’m looking forward.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com.  His latest book, The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s (Haymarket Books), has just been published. You can catch him discussing war American-style and his book in a Timothy MacBain TomCast video by clicking here.

[Note: To view the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll mentioned in paragraph two of this piece, click here (pdf file).  My thanks go to two friends, Jim Peck and Jim Lobe, for conversations that made a difference in writing this essay, and to Christopher Holmes and Andy Kroll for keeping me honest.  To read more of Lobe’s work, check out his blog, Lobelog, filled with energetic pieces by him and especially his young associates and also his archive of articles.  Thanks as well go to Antiwar.com (as well as Jason Ditz’s daily summaries at that site), Juan Cole’s Informed Comment website, and Paul Woodward’s the War in Context website, all invaluable to me when it comes to gathering information daily on our various wars.  (While you’re at it, check out this provocative little piece by Woodward on the way weapons outlive the empires that peddle them.)]

Copyright 2010 Tom Engelhardt

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on September 20th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

When people say that the US military has been broken by two dumb occupations of lands only marginally important to US national interests, perpetuated by both Republican and Democratic presidents, this is part of what they mean:

When Lt. Col. Dave Wilson took command of a battalion of the 4th Brigade of the 1st Armored Division, the unit had just returned to Texas from 14 months traveling some of Iraq's most dangerous roads as part of a logistics mission.

What he found, he said, was a unit far more damaged than the single death it had suffered in its two deployments to Iraq.

Nearly 70 soldiers in his 1,163-member battalion had tested positive for drugs: methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana. Others were abusing prescription drugs. Troops were passing around a tape of a female lieutenant having sex with five soldiers from the unit. Seven soldiers in the brigade died from drug overdoses and traffic accidents when they returned to Fort Bliss, near El Paso, after their first deployment.

"The inmates were running the prison," Wilson said.

Drug abuse and suicide rates are at record highs, misdemeanours committed while in uniform have almost doubled in the last five years, sexual assaults by those in uniform have trippled since 2001.

Over a million US servicemen and women have passed through Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001. Estimates on how many suffer from some form of PTSD-related illness range from 40-60%. If current psychological data on how mental illness spreads its hurt like ripples in a pool are any guide, each of them will adversly affect between five and twelve friends and close family, who will see negative behavioural changes themselves ranging from mild PTSD-like symptoms to full shell-shock caused by a mentally ill but still abusive partner or parent.

And this is why you should care. The American victims of Bush's adventures, continued by Obama, are your brothers, sisters, parents, spouses and friends. Their troubles will affect your sister, your brother…you get the idea. This is one area where both Iraq and Afghanistan are like Vietnam.

Bring them ALL home.

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Posted by The Agonist on September 20th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

In interviews in recent weeks, Gen. David Petraeus has been taking a line on what will happen in mid-2011 that challenges President Barack Obama’s intention to begin a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by that date. This new Petraeus line is the culmination of a brazen bait and switch maneuver on the war by the most powerful military commander in modern U.S. history.

It represents a new stage in the process by which Petraeus, abetted by his allies in the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen, has appropriated much of the power over decisions on war policy that rightly belongs to the commander-in-chief.

President Obama agreed to the troop surge for Afghanistan last November on the explicit condition that Petraeus and the Pentagon agreed to begin handing over real responsibility for security to the Afghan army and begin a real drawdown of U.S. troops by July 2011. The account by Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter, based on interviews with those who participated in the meetings on Afghanistan last fall, shows that Obama was quite clear and determined about the war policy he wanted in Afghanistan:

There would be no nationwide counterinsurgency strategy; the Pentagon was to present a “targeted” plan for protecting population centers, training Afghan security forces, and beginning a real—not a token—withdrawal within 18 months of the escalation.

Alter reports precisely what happened in the climactic meeting of November 29, 2009:

Inside the Oval Office, Obama asked Petraeus, “David, tell me now, I want you to be honest with me. You can do this in 18 months?”

“Sir, I’m confident we can train and hand over to the ANA [Afghan National Army] in that time frame,” Petraeus replied.

“Good. No problem,” the president said. “If you can’t do the things you say you can in 18 months, then no one is going to suggest that we stay, right?”

“Yes, sir, in agreement,” Petraeus said.

Petraeus was agreeing that, if the counterinsurgency strategy was not going well at the end of the 18-months, he would not use that as an argument that he needed more time to demonstrate the success of the strategy. Obama was using a JFK-like tactic to “box in” Petraeus.

But Petraeus has now revealed in the media offensive that began in mid-August that his agreement to the Obama plan was the “bait” in his bait and switch maneuver.

He has now let it be known that he may not go along with beginning a troop drawdown in July 2011 as he had agreed with Obama. When asked on “Meet the Press” on August 15 whether he might tell Obama that the drawdown should be delayed beyond mid-2011, Petraeus said, “Certainly, yes”.

And in an another challenge to the agreement with Obama, Petraeus suggested in an interview with ABC news last week that there could no clear-cut “hand-off” of primary responsibility for security to the ANA next July. Instead, Petraeus described the July 2011 “transition” in Afghanistan as, “You do a bit less and the Afghans do a little bit more instead of saying, ‘Tag, you’re it. You take the ball and run with it. We’re out of here.’”

Setting aside his obviously tendentious characterization of a real security hand-off, Petraeus’s baby steps approach to the post-July 2011 transition is clearly at odds with Petraeus’s assurance to Obama last November that he could “train and hand over to the ANA” by July 2011.

These new Petraeus line on July 2011 represents the “switch” in his bait and switch maneuver. Along with Gates and Mullen, Petraeus had agreed to one set of terms for the troop surge last November. Now he is advocating an altogether different war policy.

Given the widely-publicized excerpt from Alter’s book in Newsweek last May, Petraeus’s commitment to Obama last November is hardly a state secret. But in American politics, if the news media decide not to refer to an event, it is equivalent to expunging it from effective historical memory.

That is exactly what has happened to the Obama-Petraeus agreement. Not a single reference to that agreement has appeared in news media coverage of Petraeus’s statements relating to July 2011.

Instead of firing Petraeus for his perfidy on the November 2009 agreement, meanwhile, Obama has thus far passively accepting Petraeus’s bait and switch maneuver, just as he truckled to Petraeus and Odierno on withdrawal from Iraq last year.

The Petraeus bait and switch is a yet another fire-bell in the night – a warning that Petraeus has gained unprecedented power over U.S. war policy. By drawing Obama into a deepening of U.S. military involvement in an unnecessary and self-destructive war on the false pretense that he supported Obama’s policy and then turning on that November 2009 policy once he became commander, Petraeus is acting as though he intends to prevent the President from carrying out the policy on which he had decided.

Unless Petraeus’s bait and switch is decisively rebuffed by the White House, the country’s descent into de facto military control over war policy will continue and accelerate.

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on September 19th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Gareth Porter

In interviews in recent weeks, Gen. David Petraeus has been taking a line on what will happen in mid-2011 that challenges President Barack Obama’s intention to begin a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by that date. This new Petraeus line is the culmination of a brazen bait and switch maneuver on the war by the most powerful military commander in modern U.S. history.

It represents a new stage in the process by which Petraeus, abetted by his allies in the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen, has appropriated much of the power over decisions on war policy that rightly belongs to the commander-in-chief.

President Obama agreed to the troop surge for Afghanistan last November on the explicit condition that Petraeus and the Pentagon agreed to begin handing over real responsibility for security to the Afghan army and begin a real drawdown of U.S. troops by July 2011. The account by Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter, based on interviews with those who participated in the meetings on Afghanistan last fall, shows that Obama was quite clear and determined about the war policy he wanted in Afghanistan:

There would be no nationwide counterinsurgency strategy; the Pentagon was to present a “targeted” plan for protecting population centers, training Afghan security forces, and beginning a real—not a token—withdrawal within 18 months of the escalation.

Alter reports precisely what happened in the climactic meeting of November 29, 2009:

Inside the Oval Office, Obama asked Petraeus, “David, tell me now, I want you to be honest with me. You can do this in 18 months?”

Sir, I’m confident we can train and hand over to the ANA [Afghan National Army] in that time frame,” Petraeus replied.

Good. No problem,” the president said. “If you can’t do the things you say you can in 18 months, then no one is going to suggest that we stay, right?”

Yes, sir, in agreement,” Petraeus said.

Petraeus was agreeing that, if the counterinsurgency strategy was not going well at the end of the 18-months, he would not use that as an argument that he needed more time to demonstrate the success of the strategy. Obama was using a JFK-like tactic to “box in” Petraeus.

But Petraeus has now revealed in the media offensive that began in mid-August that his agreement to the Obama plan was the “bait” in his bait and switch maneuver.

He has now let it be known that he may not go along with beginning a troop drawdown in July 2011 as he had agreed with Obama. When asked on “Meet the Press” on August 15 whether he might tell Obama that the drawdown should be delayed beyond mid-2011, Petraeus said, “Certainly, yes”.

And in an another challenge to the agreement with Obama, Petraeus suggested in an interview with ABC news last week that there could no clear-cut “hand-off” of primary responsibility for security to the ANA next July. Instead, Petraeus described the July 2011 “transition” in Afghanistan as, “You do a bit less and the Afghans do a little bit more instead of saying, ‘Tag, you’re it. You take the ball and run with it. We’re out of here.’”

Setting aside his obviously tendentious characterization of a real security hand-off, Petraeus’s baby steps approach to the post-July 2011 transition is clearly at odds with Petraeus’s assurance to Obama last November that he could “train and hand over to the ANA” by July 2011.

These new Petraeus line on July 2011 represents the “switch” in his bait and switch maneuver. Along with Gates and Mullen, Petraeus had agreed to one set of terms for the troop surge last November. Now he is advocating an altogether different war policy.

Given the widely-publicized excerpt from Alter’s book in Newsweek last May, Petraeus’s commitment to Obama last November is hardly a state secret. But in American politics, if the news media decide not to refer to an event, it is equivalent to expunging it from effective historical memory.

That is exactly what has happened to the Obama-Petraeus agreement. Not a single reference to that agreement has appeared in news media coverage of Petraeus’s statements relating to July 2011.

Instead of firing Petraeus for his perfidy on the November 2009 agreement, meanwhile, Obama has thus far passively accepting Petraeus’s bait and switch maneuver, just as he truckled to Petraeus and Odierno on withdrawal from Iraq last year.

The Petraeus bait and switch is a yet another fire-bell in the night – a warning that Petraeus has gained unprecedented power over U.S. war policy. By drawing Obama into a deepening of U.S. military involvement in an unnecessary and self-destructive war on the false pretense that he supported Obama’s policy and then turning on that November 2009 policy once he became commander, Petraeus is acting as though he intends to prevent the President from carrying out the policy on which he had decided.

Unless Petraeus’s bait and switch is decisively rebuffed by the White House, the country’s descent into de facto military control over war policy will continue and accelerate.

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on September 18th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

The Afghanistan Study Group made somewhat a stir when it released its report and was criticised for being inaccurate and for not providing an answer to "how does this end?" Gregg Carlstrom has a good roundup of the study and reactions over at Al Jazeera.

But one voice missing has been our good friend Josh Mull, the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation's Rethink Afghanistan project. Josh is in Kabul where he's helping Small World News monitor events in the Afghan parliamentary elections, so he's been too busy to post.

However, he did share his thoughts on the ASG and its most-linked critic Joshua Foust by email with Newshoggers, which we now reproduce with his kind permission.

Regards, Steve Hynd

So having read Foust's blogs in their entirety (here, here and here), there's a running theme that needs to addressed. But first, what he gets right:

1. Drones – Their radicalizing effect cannot be ignored, and this is the primary flaw with the light footprint/CT-Plus strategy. In political terms, it is certainly the most effective argument to be made against drones (as well as night raids, etc). There is also the international and constitutional legal problems (extra-judicial executions, massacring civilians, assassinations,etc) but there is zero foundation for a legal debate in the US. Nobody knows what any of that stuff means, much less its relationship to government policy. If we take anything at all away from Foust's criticism, it absolutely has to be this point. I cannot emphasize that enough.

2. Troop strength – 30,000 was pulled out of somebody's ass. It's just a number that sounds good, like when they price things with .99c. We're supposed to read that as ONLY 30,000 – what a bargain! EXCEPT WE HAD 30,000 TROOPS THERE FOR 7 YEARS! Breaking news to no one: it failed. Obviously I don't say this as an argument for more troops, it is in reality evidence of the farcical nature of discussing military strength (or military anything) as an instrument for achieving US interests in Afghanistan (whatever the hell they are). What can 50,000 accomplish that 30,000 can't? What is100,000 accomplishing that 35,000 wasn't accomplishing before? Did Afghanistan get better after the escalation? It's pretty clear that it did not. Is it going to get better with only 30,000 again? Guess.

And just my bit to add to that

3. Clemons claims the paper was meant to stimulate debate. THIS IS THE DEBATE. What else are we waiting for? Nobody said it was going to be easy, or pleasant, or even that we would win – they just said it would be a debate. That said, I don't actually support much what of the paper says, it's very flimsy. My problem with Foust's response, and the shameful cheerleading pushing it through social media, is that it was hung around the anti-war movement's neck, as well as "The Left" (whoever the $%# that is). If the ASG is what passes for anti-war, then we're in trouble. How about a timetable if the war is such a bad idea? How about slashing the funding? How about some accountability for crimes; not even big ones like aggression, but simple things like torture and disappearances? See, I don't give a damn about Foust attacking the report, I give a damn that he attacked us – and out of ignorance at that!

And that leads into the running theme of Foust's criticisms, as well as more broadly in the [insert your favorite derisive classification] blogosphere. Afghanistan experts, analysts, etc. love to criticize folks back home, especially in the political realm, for being ignorant about Afghanistan but the real problem is that it is those same experts and analysts who are ignorant about the United States.

Go ahead and put on the pakoul and live in a village in Badakhshan for 20 years if you want to, it's not going to tell you anything about our state economies disintegrating before our eyes (Hello, California!) while our tax money goes to pay for Blackwater's prostitutes and Hellfire missiles that obliterate men, women, and children indiscriminately. It's great if you know Pashto and can tell a Kuchi from a Hazara, but that doesn't prevent the apocalyptic suicide rates in our military, it doesn't heal their wounds or pay for their treatment, and it doesn't bring back the thousands of dead and the countless more who'll die still. Terribly sorry, but we're Americans, not Afghans, and if they're in the middle of a gruesome civil war – well, our country is crumbling, now is the time for priorities.

The "Anti-War Movement" is not monolithic anymore than the "Taliban" is. Cindy Sheehan is not the same as Derrick Crowe, David Swanson is not the same as Robert Naiman, Alan Grayson is not the same as ANSWER. There are seemingly endless variations, factions and sub-factions, organizations, institutions, and organic manifestations that make up the anti-war movement. To select any one person, faction, organization, or worse – one slapdash policy paper – as illustrative of the entire American movement is ignorant at the very best.

But it's bigger than that, isn't it? It's not just the anti-war movement, or the left, or whatever, that they are ignorant of. It's the very complexity and nuance of the entire United States – politically, economically, culturally – everything!

Take this statement by Foust:

Ignoring the vaguely Soviet-overtones of pleasing a disembodied “establishment”
in order to derive value*, this is, to me, deeply revelatory—rather than getting
their facts straight, which is a process Clemons, to his unique credit, says
they struggled with—the ASG seemed to care more about appealing to their peers
in Washington that they have the answers.

Excuse me, but why ignore the OBVIOUS Soviet overtones of pleasing the establishment? What country are we talking about again? Do we not understand that the United States government has been captured by bankers, corporations, and financial special interests? Do we not understand that the Mainstream Media is a real thing, that it is pacifying and poisonous to democracy? Do we not understand that we can't just go to Washington with Mr. Smith and say some bullshit about freedom and expect to get all of our policies made law? What about the backlash of the catastrophic global depression – the violent, racist groups (Tea Party) exploding in popularity and political power? Wake up, this is happening, and yes, part of making policy in this environment is having a bunch of fancypants academics signing a wobbly "Study Group" report in order to find a place in some senator's inbox. You're goddamn right it's Soviet.

The Left is not anti-war. Most liberals and progressives spend the bulk of their time furiously obsessing about whatever utterly crazy comment Michelle Bachmann just made while the party in power blows trillions on war and corporate welfare. They will attack Glenn Greenwald to triangulate themselves as good Democrats, meanwhile President Obama really is compiling lists of American citizens for assassination – with missiles! – a High Crime and Misdemeanor if I ever heard one. I would love it, LOVE IT, if the "Left" were anti-war, but the reality is they are not even remotely close to it.

To come back to the ASG, the point made by Clemons was that this was to stimulate debate, and Foust et. al's. response to it IS that debate. Our role, however, is not to defend the ASG or its conclusions. Our role is to define ourselves, make it clear who we are, what we are doing, and why it is that we're doing it.

A win in this situation is preventing these kinds of smears, these kinds of attacks, and these kinds of misunderstandings about our movement from ever happening again. Foust should know better, but he's not the only one. The next time this happens, the next time some analyst, journalist, expert, whatever writes about the anti-war movement, they need to understand exactly what they're dealing with.

OK, I'm done with my sloppy rant. Goodnight from Kabul. I can't wait to come home – with a couple hundred thousand of my fellow American citizens.

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on September 17th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

Unless you're one of the dumber-than-mud fighting keyboardists who insist that all terrorists are cockroaches (and you don't negotiate with cockroaches), you'll have noticed that everyone from General David Petraeus on up has said that there will be no purely military solution in Afghanistan, that reintegration and reconciliation for the Taliban is the only thing that can bring lasting peace there. You'll have also noticed the conventional wisdom that the Taliban say they are too successful to negotiate right now – that the US military's troop Surge(tm) escalation will have to pound on them a while before they're ready to come to the negotiating table. (Which begs the question of what the US military was doing for the previous eight years if not trying to pound on the Taliban until they were a bit more submissive, but nevermind.)

However, Robert Naiman has an interesting and mostly convincing post today in which he claims that the Obama administration hasn't exactly been rushing to the negotiating table either - missing an opportunity to put the Taliban leadership on the spot in a way that would help de-legitimize them in Afghanistan's South. He has a couple of suggestions for action rather than empty rhetoric:

What currently feasible – they could be done this week – Administration policies would be consistent with making national political reconciliation a priority? Here are three.

1. The Obama Administration could signal its willingness to agree to a timetable for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan – similar to the agreement we now have with Iraq – as part of a peace deal.

There are many ways to signal. It doesn't have to be a formal announcement. A "senior Administration official" could tell a reporter that the Obama Administration is considering this. The British could say it, and the Obama Administration could ostentatiously say nothing. A senior Democratic Senator perceived to be close to the Administration on foreign policy could say it, and the Obama Administration could ostentatiously say nothing.

Obviously, a key objective of the insurgency is to drive foreign forces out of the country. By sending this signal, the Obama Administration would be saying, "You want us out? Fine. Negotiate with us, and we will leave faster."

Note that "the US should establish a timetable for military withdrawal" is already the position of the majority of Americans and 60% of the House Democratic Caucus. So by signaling its willingness to establish a timetable for full military withdrawal as part of a peace deal, the Obama Administration would simply be suggesting its willingness to agree as part of a negotiation to do that which a majority of Americans already want the U.S. to do even if there is no negotiation.

2. The Obama Administration could signal that it is willing to end "night raids" in Afghanistan if serious negotiations commence. Night raids – which indiscriminately kill civilians and violate the sanctity of the Afghan home – are arguably the policy of the U.S. military occupation most hated by Afghan public opinion and the Afghan government, which has long called for them to end, so offering to end them would be a powerful incentive to promote talks.

3. The Obama Administration could signal that it is willing to "downsize and eventually end military operations in southern Afghanistan" – as called for by the Afghanistan Study Group – to promote negotiations.

Naiman's certainly correct that such proposals would put pressure on the Taliban leadership's rhetoric that they see no need to negotiate while they're winning.

Negotiations surface issues: you have to say what you want, and what you are willing to accept. Right now, no-one, not even a U.S. government official, can clearly articulate what the U.S. really wants in Afghanistan, and what the U.S. is willing to accept. What exactly the Taliban want, or are willing to accept, besides driving out foreign forces, has also been the subject of fierce debate.

The Taliban would be forced to respond somehow or be subject to internal pressures towards factionalization – we already know some Taliban leaders are more amenable to dealmaking than others, because Pakistan's ISI arrested Baradur to stop him making a deal without them - and external pressures from supporters among the populace who are simply tired of all war all the time. As Naiman writes "when true positions begin to be revealed, they become the subject of political debate and political pressure".

I wrote a long time ago that, eventually, you have to talk to terrorists if you want to end the terror war. But first, someone has to be willing to actually start the conversation. That seems to me likely to be more successful in bringing the Taliban to the table for serious purposes than any number of whack-a-mole offensives.

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Posted by Just Foreign Policy on September 17th, 2010

From our partners at Just Foreign Policy

A major contribution of the "inside experts" Afghanistan Study Group report (read here ; send to your reps in Congress here), released last week to spur Washington debate towards de-escalating the war at the next fork in the road is that its very first recommendation is this:

1. Emphasize power-sharing and political inclusion.
The U.S. should fast-track a peace process designed to decentralize power within Afghanistan and encourage a power-sharing balance among the principal parties.

Predictably, there appear to have been two principal objections so far to this proposal:

1. Oh my God. How dare you suggest that the U.S. should support a peace deal with the Afghan insurgency. You must be some kind of amoral monster.

2. Ho hum. Nothing new here. Everyone already knows this. Why do you tax our patience by stating the obvious as if it were a profound revelation? This is already Administration policy. Move along, nothing to see here.

It should go without saying that these two objections are, as a matter of logic, mutually exclusive. A real peace process leading to a new political dispensation in Afghanistan that ends the civil war could be the worst idea in human history, or it could be a commonplace that everyone already knows and is already Administration policy. But it cannot be both.

read more

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on September 17th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Dave Anderson:

This is interesting and potentially very destabilizing.  Pakistan is more Steve's beat, but I think we need a quick placeholder.  The Christian Science Monitor reports a leading Pakistani political leader and exile has been stabbed to death in London:

Much of Pakistan is on edge following the assassination of exiled
political leader Imran Farooq in front of his London home on Thursday.
In Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, schools and shops closed and public
transportation shut down as members of Mr. Farooq’s Muttahida Qaumi
Movement (MQM) gathered to grieve…

Last month, dozens of Pakistanis were killed and more than 100 injured
in violence that erupted after MQM leader Raza Haider was gunned down
while attending a funeral in Karachi.

From the US perspective, Karachi is the entreport for 50% or more of all supplies by weight that ISAF/NATO forces in Afghanistan.  Chaos in the city crimps the supply line. 

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on September 16th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

Josh Foust explains the Afghan parliamentary elections:

Because of the systematic voter intimidation, the disenfranchisement of women, the unavailability of polling stations in the most vulnerable regions, and the re-emergence of many regional strongmen who’d laid low the past several years, there is every indication that this year’s election will be marked by even more massive fraud. This means those who lose the election can and will contest it, with the end result that this and future elections will all be tainted as being illegitimate. In other words, the massive, systematic cheating in the last two elections will discredit the very idea of democracy in Afghanistan — perhaps permanently.

And the upshot of that lack of legitimacy will be that occupying forces will still be in the lead vis-a-vis who actually decides what happens in Afghanistan for the forseeable future – protestations about Afghan sovereignty not withstanding.

Special Forces officer Col. David Maxwell:

Though FM 3-24 discusses the importance of host nation legitimacy and even our Security Forces Assistance and Irregular Warfare definitions discuss the importance of legitimacy and the “relevant population” we continue to employ US military forces as battlespace owners which drives the mindset among US military commanders that we are in charge of operations because we “own” the battlespace (despite being in a sovereign country!) De facto we make ourselves the occupying force.

when the US takes the lead and pushes the host nation to a secondary role in its own country then the US takes on the role of occupier. They are conducting “pacification operations”

But endlessly reaching for COIN-based, decades-long occupation and pacification operations as the best answer to problems is the very definition of creating an accidental Empire. It is touted as the "fix", yet it will only create more, long-term, problems. If you don't believe that, go look at the most unstable parts of the world – the ones policymakers in the US are looking at COIN to fix – and reflect that they are all at root results of the British and French colonial adventures.

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