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Archive for November, 2010

Posted by alexthurston on November 24th, 2010

This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

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[Note for TomDispatch Readers:  Last Saturday, Chalmers Johnson died.  I’m particularly proud that, in his last years, he did much of his most penetrating analysis of American militarism and our war state for this website.  He penned his first piece for TomDispatch, “Assassins R Us,” in November 2003, called for abolishing the CIA here in November 2004, described how the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq had opened the way for the looting of that country’s (and so the human) patrimony in “The Smash of Civilizations” in July 2005, and so on, up to August of this year when his final piece, “Portrait of a Sagging Empire,” appeared.  (Because I knew by then that he would never write again, I introduced that piece with a little stroll of my own down memory lane -- the story of how I came to edit and publish his book Blowback.)  A striking selection of the best of his recent TomDispatch pieces (as well as others) can be found in his final remarkable book, Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope.  The TD search window works well if you want to explore the work of one of the great critical thinkers of our post-9/11 world.  He’s gone, but his books will outlive us all.  This site will not post again until the Monday after Thanksgiving.  I’ll be traveling and, much as I do try, I may be worse than usual at answering emails.  Tom]

How to Schedule a War 
The Incredible Shrinking Withdrawal Date 

By Tom Engelhardt

Going, going, gone!  You can almost hear the announcer’s voice throbbing with excitement, only we’re not talking about home runs here, but about the disappearing date on which, for the United States and its military, the Afghan War will officially end.

Practically speaking, the answer to when it will be over is: just this side of never.  If you take the word of our Afghan War commander, the secretary of defense, and top officials of the Obama administration and NATO, we’re not leaving any time soon.  As with any clever time traveler, every date that’s set always contains a verbal escape hatch into the future.

In my 1950s childhood, there was a cheesy (if thrilling) sci-fi flick, The Incredible Shrinking Man, about a fellow who passed through a radioactive cloud in the Pacific Ocean and soon noticed that his suits were too big for him.  Next thing you knew, he was living in a doll house, holding off his pet cat, and fighting an ordinary spider transformed into a monster.  Finally, he disappeared entirely leaving behind only a sonorous voice to tell us that he had entered a universe where “the unbelievably small and the unbelievably vast eventually meet, like the closing of a gigantic circle.”

In recent weeks, without a radioactive cloud in sight, the date for serious drawdowns of American troops in Afghanistan has followed a similar path toward the vanishing point and is now threatening to disappear “over the horizon” (a place where, we are regularly told, American troops will lurk once they have finally handed their duties over to the Afghan forces they are training).

If you remember, back in December 2009 President Obama spoke of July 2011 as a firm date to “begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan,” the moment assumedly when the beginning of the end of the war would come into sight.  In July of this year, Afghan President Hamid Karzai spoke of 2014 as the date when Afghan security forces “will be responsible for all military and law enforcement operations throughout our country.”

Administration officials, anxious about the effect that 2011 date was having on an American public grown weary of an unpopular war and on an enemy waiting for us to depart, grabbed Karzai’s date and ran with it (leaving many of his caveats about the war the Americans were fighting, particularly his desire to reduce the American presence, in the dust).  Now, 2014 is hyped as the new 2011.

It has, in fact, been widely reported that Obama officials have been working in concert to “play down” the president’s 2011 date, while refocusing attention on 2014. In recent weeks, top administration officials have been little short of voluble on the subject.  Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (“We’re not getting out. We’re talking about probably a years-long process.”), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen, attending a security conference in Australia, all “cited 2014… as the key date for handing over the defense of Afghanistan to the Afghans themselves.”  The New York Times headlined its report on the suddenly prominent change in timing this way: “U.S. Tweaks Message on Troops in Afghanistan.”

Quite a tweak.  Added Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller: “The message shift is effectively a victory for the military, which has long said the July 2011 deadline undermined its mission by making Afghans reluctant to work with troops perceived to be leaving shortly.” 

Inflection Points and Aspirational Goals

Barely had 2014 risen into the headlines, however, before that date, too, began to be chipped away.  As a start, it turned out that American planners weren’t talking about just any old day in 2014, but its last one.  As Lieutenant General William Caldwell, head of the NATO training program for Afghan security forces, put it while holding a Q&A with a group of bloggers, “They’re talking about December 31st, 2014.  It’s the end of December in 2014… that [Afghan] President Karzai has said they want Afghan security forces in the lead.”

Nor, officials rushed to say, was anyone talking about 2014 as a date for all American troops to head for the exits, just “combat troops” — and maybe not even all of them.  Possibly tens of thousands of trainers and other so-called non-combat forces would stay on to help with the “transition process.” This follows the Iraq pattern where 50,000 American troops remain after the departure of U.S. “combat” forces to great media fanfare.  Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, was typical in calling for “the substantial combat forces [to] be phased out at the end of 2014, four years from now.”  (Note the usual verbal escape hatch, in this case “substantial,” lurking in his statement.)

Last Saturday, behind “closed doors” at a NATO summit in Lisbon, Portugal, Afghan War commander General David Petraeus presented European leaders with a “phased four-year plan” to “wind down American and allied fighting in Afghanistan.” Not surprisingly, it had the end of 2014 in its sights and the president quickly confirmed that “transition” date, even while opening plenty of post-2014 wiggle room.  By then, as he described it,our footprint” would only be “significantly reduced.” (He also claimed that, post-2014, the U.S. would be maintaining a “counterterrorism capability” in Afghanistan — and Iraq — for which “platforms to… execute… counterterrorism operations,” assumedly bases, would be needed.)

Meanwhile, unnamed “senior U.S. officials” in Lisbon were clearly buttonholing reporters to “cast doubt on whether the United States, the dominant power in the 28-nation alliance, would end its own combat mission before 2015.”  As always, the usual qualifying phrases were profusely in evidence.

Throughout these weeks, the “tweaking” — that is, the further chipping away at 2014 as a hard and fast date for anything — only continued.  Mark Sedwill, NATO’s civilian counterpart to U.S. commander General David Petraeus, insisted that 2014 was nothing more than “an inflection point” in an ever more drawn-out drawdown process.  That process, he insisted, would likely extend to “2015 and beyond,” which, of course, put 2016 officially into play.  And keep in mind that this is only for combat troops, not those assigned to “train and support” or keep “a strategic over watch” on Afghan forces.

On the eve of NATO’s Lisbon meeting, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell, waxing near poetic, declared 2014 nothing more than an “aspirational goal,” rather than an actual deadline.  As the conference began, NATO’s Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen insisted that the alliance would be committed in Afghanistan “as long as it takes.”  And new British Chief of the Defense Staff General Sir David Richards suggested that, given the difficulty of ever defeating the Taliban (or al-Qaeda) militarily, NATO should be preparing plans to maintain a role for its troops for the next 30 to 40 years.

War Extender

Here, then, is a brief history of American time in Afghanistan.  After all, this isn’t our first Afghan War, but our second.  The first, the CIA’s anti-Soviet jihad (in which the Agency funded a number of the fundamentalist extremists we’re now fighting in the second), lasted a decade, from 1980 until 1989 when the Soviets withdrew in defeat.

In October 2001, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration launched America’s second Afghan War, taking Kabul that November as the Taliban dissolved.  The power of the American military to achieve quick and total victory seemed undeniable, even after Osama bin Laden slipped out of Tora Bora that December and escaped into Pakistan’s tribal borderlands.

However, it evidently never crossed the minds of President Bush’s top officials to simply declare victory and get out.  Instead, as the U.S. would do in Iraq after the invasion of 2003, the Pentagon started building a new infrastructure of military bases (in this case, on the ruins of the old Soviet base infrastructure).  At the same time, the former Cold Warriors in Washington let their dreams about pushing the former commies of the former Soviet Union out of the former soviet socialist republics of Central Asia, places where, everyone knew, you could just about swim in black gold and run geopolitically wild.

Then, when the invasion of Iraq was launched in March 2003, Afghanistan, still a “war” (if barely) was forgotten, while the Taliban returned to the field, built up their strength, and launched an insurgency that has only gained momentum to this moment.  In 2008, before leaving office, George W. Bush bumped his favorite general, Iraq surge commander Petraeus, upstairs to become the head of the Central Command which oversees America’s war zones in the Greater Middle East, including Afghanistan.

Already the guru of counterinsurgency (known familiarly as COIN), Petraeus had, in 2006, overseen the production of the military’s new war-fighting bible, a how-to manual dusted off from the Vietnam era’s failed version of COIN and made new and magical again.  In June 2010, eight and a half years into our Second Afghan War, at President Obama’s request, Petraeus took over as Afghan War commander.  It was clear then that time was short — with an administration review of Afghan war strategy coming up at year’s end and results needed quickly.  The American war was also in terrible shape.

In the new COIN-ish U.S. Army, however, it is a dogma of almost biblical faith that counterinsurgencies don’t produce quick results; that, to be successful, they must be pursued for years on end.  As Petraeus put it back in 2007 when talking about Iraq, “[T]ypically, I think historically, counterinsurgency operations have gone at least nine or 10 years.”  Recently, in an interview with Martha Raddatz of ABC News, he made a nod toward exactly the same timeframe for Afghanistan, one accepted as bedrock knowledge in the world of the COINistas.

What this meant was that, whether as CENTCOM commander or Afghan War commander, Petraeus was looking for two potentially contradictory results at the same time.  Somehow, he needed to wrest those nine to 10 years of war-fighting from a president looking for a tighter schedule and, in a war going terribly sour, he needed almost instant evidence of “progress” that would fit the president’s coming December “review” of the war and might pacify unhappy publics in the U.S. and Europe.

Now let’s do the math.  At the moment, depending on how you care to count, we are in the 10th year of our second Afghan War or the 20th year of war interruptus.  Since June 2009, Petraeus and various helpers have stretched the schedule to 2014 for (most) American combat troops and at least 2015 or 2016 for the rest.  If you were to start counting from the president’s December surge address, that’s potentially seven more years.  In other words, we’re now talking about either a 15-year war or an on-and-off again quarter-century one.  All evidence shows that the Pentagon’s war planners would like to extend those already vague dates even further into the future.

On Ticking Clocks in Washington and Kabul

Up to now, only one of General Petraeus’s two campaigns has been under discussion here: the other one, fought out these last years not in Afghanistan, but in Washington and NATO capitals, over how to schedule a war.  Think of it as the war for a free hand in determining how long the Afghan War is to be fought.

It has been run from General Petraeus’s headquarters in Kabul, the giant five-sided military headquarters on the Potomac presided over by Secretary of Defense Gates, and various think-tanks filled with America’s militarized intelligentsia scattered around Washington — and it has proven a classically successful “clear, hold, build” counterinsurgency operation.  Pacification in Washington and a number of European capitals has occurred with remarkably few casualties.  (Former Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal, axed by the president for insubordination, has been the exception, not the rule.)

Slowly but decisively, Petraeus and company constricted President Obama’s war-planning choices to two options: more and yet more.  In late 2009, the president agreed to that second surge of troops (the first had been announced that March), not to speak of CIA agents, drones, private contractors, and State Department and other civilian government employees. In his December “surge” address at West Point (for the nation but visibly to the military), Obama had the temerity as commander-in-chief to name a specific, soon-to-arrive date — July 2011 — for beginning a serious troop drawdown.  It was then that the COIN campaign in Washington ramped up into high gear with the goal of driving the prospective end of the war back by years.

It took bare hours after the president’s address for administration officials to begin leaking to media sources that his drawdown would be “conditions based” — a phrase guaranteed to suck the meaning out of any deadline.  (The president had indeed acknowledged in his address that his administration would take into account “conditions on the ground.”)  Soon, the Secretary of Defense and others took to the airwaves in a months-long campaign emphasizing that drawdown in Afghanistan didn’t really mean drawdown, that leaving by no means meant leaving, and that the future was endlessly open to interpretation.

With the ratification in Lisbon of that 2014 date “and beyond,” the political clocks — an image General Petraeus loves — in Washington, European capitals, and American Kabul are now ticking more or less in unison.

Two other “clocks” are, however, ticking more like bombs.  If counterinsurgency is a hearts and minds campaign, then the other target of General Petraeus’s first COIN campaign has been the restive hearts and minds of the American and European publics.  Last year a Dutch government fell over popular opposition to Afghanistan and, even as NATO met last weekend, thousands of antiwar protestors marched in London and Lisbon.  Europeans generally want out and their governments know it, but (as has been true since 1945) the continent’s leaders have no idea how to say “no” to Washington.  In the U.S., too, the Afghan war grows ever more unpopular, and while it was forgotten during the election season, no politician should count on that phenomenon lasting forever.

And then, of course, there’s the literal ticking bomb, the actual war in Afghanistan.  In that campaign, despite a drumbeat of American/NATO publicity about “progress,” the news has been grim indeed.  American and NATO casualties have been higher this year than at any other moment in the war; the Taliban seems if anything more entrenched in more parts of the country; the Afghan public, ever more puzzled and less happy with foreign troops and contractors traipsing across the land; and Hamid Karzai, the president of the country, sensing a situation gone truly sour, has been regularly challenging the way General Petraeus is fighting the war in his country. (The nerve!)

No less unsettling, General Petraeus himself has seemed unnerved.  He was declared “irked” by Karzai’s comments and was said to have warned Afghan officials that their president’s criticism might be making his “own position ‘untenable,’” which was taken as a resignation threat.  Meanwhile, the COIN-meister was in the process of imposing a new battle plan on Afghanistan that leaves counterinsurgency (at least as usually described) in a roadside ditch.  No more is the byword “protect the people,” or “clear, hold, build”; now, it’s smash, kill, destroy.  The war commander has loosed American firepower in a major way in the Taliban strongholds of southern Afghanistan.

Early this year, then-commander McChrystal had significantly cut back on U.S. air strikes as a COIN-ish measure meant to lessen civilian casualties.  No longer.  In a striking reversal, air power has been called in — and in a big way.  In October, U.S. planes launched missiles or bombs on 1,000 separate Afghan missions, numbers seldom seen since the 2001 invasion.  The Army has similarly loosed its massively powerful High Mobility Artillery Rocket System in the area around the southern city of Kandahar.  Civilian deaths are rising rapidly.  Dreaded Special Operations night raids on Afghan homes by “capture/kill” teams have tripled with 1,572 such operations over the last three months.  (These are the tactics on which Karzai recently challenged Petraeus.)  With them, the body count has also arrived.  American officials are eagerly boasting to reporters about their numerical efficiency in taking out mid-level Taliban leaders (“…368 insurgent leaders killed or captured, and 968 lower-level insurgents killed and 2,477 captured, according to NATO statistics”).

In the districts around Kandahar, a newly reported American tactic is simply to raze individual houses or even whole villages believed to be booby-trapped by the Taliban, as well as tree lines “where insurgents could hide.”  American troops have also been “blow[ing] up outbuildings, flatten[ing] agricultural walls, and carv[ing] new ‘military roads,’ because existing ones are so heavily mined… right through farms and compounds.”  And now, reports Rajiv Chandrasekaran of the Washington Post, the Marines are also sending the first contingent of M1 Abrams tanks (with a “main gun that can destroy a house more than a mile away”) into the south. Such tanks, previously held back for fear of reminding Afghans of their Russian occupiers, are, according to an unnamed U.S. officer he quotes, bringing “awe, shock, and firepower” to the south.

None of this, of course, has anything to do with winning hearts and minds, just obliterating them.  Not surprisingly, such tactics also generate villagers fleeing embattled farmlands often for “squalid” refugee camps in overcrowded cities.

Flip of the COIN

Suddenly, this war for which General Petraeus has won his counterinsurgency warriors at least a four- to-six-year reprieve is being fought as if there were no tomorrow.  Here, for instance, is a brief description from a British Guardian reporter in Kandahar of what the night part of the war now feels like from a distance:

“After the sun sets, the air becomes noisy with US jets dropping bombs that bleach the dark out of the sky in their sudden eruptions; with the ripping sound of the mini-guns of the Kiowa helicopter gunships and A-10 Warthogs hunting in the nearby desert.  The night is also lit up by brilliant flares that fall as slow as floating snowflakes, a visible sign of the commando raids into the villages beyond. It is a conflict heard, but not often witnessed.”

None of this qualifies as “counterinsurgency,” at least as described by the general and his followers.  It does, however, resemble where counterinsurgencies have usually headed — directly into the charnel house of history.

Chandrasekaran quotes a civilian adviser to the NATO command in Kabul this way: “Because Petraeus is the author of the COIN [counterinsurgency] manual, he can do whatever he wants.  He can manage the optics better than McChrystal could.  If he wants to turn it up to 11, he feels he has the moral authority to do it.”

We have no access to the mind of David Petraeus.  We don’t know just why he is bringing in the big guns or suddenly fighting his war as if there were no tomorrow.  We don’t know whether he fears the loss of the backing of an American president or the American people or even the U.S. military itself, whether he despairs of President Karzai or the Taliban, or the whole mission, or whether he has launched his version of a blitz in the most hopeful of moods.  We don’t know whether he sees the contradiction in any of this, though no one, the general included, should be surprised when, for all the talk of rational planning and strategy, the irrationality of war — the mass killing of other human beings — grabs us by the throat and shakes us for all we’re worth.

Petraeus has flipped a COIN and taken a gamble.  However it turns out for him, one thing is certain: Afghans will once again pay with their homes, farms, livelihoods, and lives, while Americans, Europeans, and Canadians will pay with lives and treasure invested in a war that couldn’t be more bizarre, a war with no end in sight.  If this goes on to 2014 “and beyond,” heaven help us.

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

Copyright 2010 Tom Engelhardt

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Posted by The Agonist on November 24th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Nov 22

Reuters – The U.S. military has released a new report assessing the campaign in Afghanistan, where Western forces are battling an expanding Taliban insurgency.

Below are highlights from the report, which the Pentagon must submit to Congress twice a year. The findings cover the period from April 1 to Sept. 30, 2010.

Full Report here
more after the jump

SECURITY

* The Pentagon said the arrival of fresh troops this year in Afghanistan coincided with a surge in violence.

* It found all types of violent incidents in Afghanistan increased from April through September, up 300 percent from 2007, except for the use of roadside bombs.

* Following pressure from U.S. leaders, the number of civilian casualties caused by foreign forces fell during the report period, the Pentagon found.

* The focus of NATO operations remained in southern Afghanistan, “protecting the most threatened population in the heart of the Taliban-led insurgency in Helmand and Kandahar provinces,” the report said.

* Afghan police and army are recruiting new members but illiteracy and an insufficient number of officers remain a challenge in efforts to build up local security forces.

* The Pentagon found that the Afghan Interior Ministry was seen as “not being able to accomplish its mission without significant coalition assistance.”

CORRUPTION

* In a stern assessment, the U.S. military questioned the Afghan government’s commitment to fighting corruption.

* The Pentagon said, “Afghan government intentions to combat sub-national governance corruption remain unclear,” citing government intervention in anti-corruption cases or efforts.

* “Corruption continues to have a corrosive effect on (international) efforts in Afghanistan. Afghan perceptions of injustice and the abuse of power fuel the insurgency in many areas more than the Afghan government’s inability to provide services do,” the report found.

RECONSTRUCTION, GOVERNANCE AND GROWTH

* The Pentagon called improvements to governance and development in Afghanistan a “long-term” endeavor that would require ongoing international assistance.

* Governance across Afghanistan is hindered by corruption and a lack of funding and trained, educated officials.

* The report found extensive preparations for the Sept. 18 parliamentary polls but said concerns remained about the validity of the electoral process.

* The Afghan government is working to improve its revenue collection but is still able to cover only 54 percent of its operating expenditures without outside help.

PAKISTAN

* The Pentagon said that Pakistan’s ability to defeat insurgents would be impaired in the short term due to the extremist fight it faces at home and to recent flooding.

* While safe havens along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border remain a problem, the Pentagon said that Pakistani military “cooperation and coordination with Afghan and (foreign) forces continues to improve.”

* The Pakistani military recently approved a foreign troop presence in Quetta, Pakistan. U.S. officials declined to elaborate on that statement.

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Posted by Just Foreign Policy on November 23rd, 2010

From our partners at Just Foreign Policy

Press reports have suggested that Administration officials are trying to make Democratic voters forget that the Administration promised to start drawing down troops from Afghanistan in July 2011 by "pivoting" to the "aspirational goal" that "most" U.S. "combat troops" will be withdrawn by 2014. The Administration still says it will withdraw some troops in July 2011, but press reports suggest that the Administration may try to make this a "symbolic" withdrawal, not the "serious drawdown" (as Speaker Pelosi put it) involving "a whole lot of people" (as Vice-President Biden put it) that Democrats were led to expect.

But if these press reports about Administration strategy are correct, Administration political strategists may have another think coming. Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg suggests that continued escalation of the war in Afghanistan would be likely to draw a primary challenge, the Christian Science Monitor reports:

 

As Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg was leaving a Monitor breakfast last week, he was asked about the possibility that President Obama might face a Democratic primary challenge in 2012.

Mr. Greenberg’s two-word answer: "Watch Afghanistan."

As the Monitor notes, a recent Quinnipiac University poll found that 62 percent of Democrats say US troops should not be in Afghanistan.

read more

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on November 23rd, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

A report last week by veteran Af/Pak analyst Ahmed Rashid, nicely timed for the Lisbon summit at which NATO rolled out its "aspirational" date of 2014 for an Afghan transition, says that Afghan president Hamid Karzai has never been so anti-Western and anti-American in his views. In an interview with Karzai, Rashid writes:

it was quite clear to me that his views on global events, on the future course of NATO’s military surge in southern Afghanistan, and on nation building efforts throughout his country have undergone a sea change. His single overriding aim now is making peace with the Taliban and ending the war—and he is convinced it will help resolve all the other problems he faces, such as corruption, bad governance, and the lack of an administration.

Karzai’s new outlook is the most dramatic political shift he has undergone in the twenty-six years that I have known him. Although it is partly fueled by conspiracy theories, it is also based on nine years of ever growing frustration with the West.

He no longer supports the war on terrorism as defined by Washington and says that the current military surge in the south by the United States and its NATO allies is unhelpful because it relies on body counts of dead Taliban as a measure of progress against the insurgency, which to many would be a throwback to Vietnam and a contradiction of Petraeus’s new counterinsurgency theory to win over the people.

…Karzai also maintains that there is a political alternative to NATO: much more of the onus could be placed on countries in the region– especially Iran and Pakistan—to end the war and help reach a settlement with the Taliban. Senior Western and Afghan officials in Kabul say Iran has stepped up its support to the Taliban in western Afghanistan in recent months, possibly as a bargaining chip for future talks on a peace settlement. For its part, Pakistan, where the entire leadership of the Taliban is based, wants a leading part in any talks that NATO or Karzai may have with the Taliban. Yet Karzai told me that in the last six months neither Iran nor Pakistan has provided any substantive support to facilitate peacemaking.

But it's not just Karzai "we" have a "problem" with. Now we have the case of the imposter Taliban, the shopkeeper from Quetta who was given pots of money by NATO in the mistaken belief that he was senior Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour come to negotiate a peace deal.

While Karzai says he has never met anyone claiming to be Mansour, in direct contradiction of reports on the affair, General David Petraeus says "That is not a surprise to see that particular story today." The latter is scarcely surprising either – NYT reporter Dexter Filkins is a favorite of the General's, often given the inside track by his staff. But if we take Petraeus and reports at face value then the imposter's been known about for some time. So why the timing of the story's release now, in the aftermath of Lisbon?

Well, the subliminal messaging of both these stories – that Karzai doesn't stand with the West any longer and that we've no idea if the people he's negotiating with are actually Taliban or not – is that the "negotiated settlement" track is likely a dead end. So we'd better get behind the 2014 transition track, right? That would very much suit General Petraeus.

Update: With truly magnificent timing, Michael Cohen has a great post on the Taliban imposter story:

This story is yet one more reason to conclude that the time has come for the United States to trim its sails in Afghanistan, more toward military de-escalation and lay the groundwork for a long-term political settlement. Indeed, this excellent new report from the folks at CAP makes precisely this point – it's the best report I've seen to date about an alternative course for the war in Afghanistan. 

The problem, however, it that this conclusion may seem a bit counter-intuitive. After all, isn't the obvious response to the "impostor" story that it just shows the folly of trying to negotiate with the Taliban – or even identify moderate elements within the movement? 

Actually yes! But that doesn't mean political reconciliation is the wrong course. It means the way we are going about it is all wrong.

Instead of relying on ISAF to move political negotiations forward or reach out to Taliban moderates (as it is they seem far more geared toward sowing discontent rather than laying the groundwork for reconciliation) this incident speaks to the need for an outside and independent mediator to facilitate talks, a political framework that acknowledges the legitimate aspirations of the Taliban insurgency and above all the centrality of a political, not military solution, for ending the war in Afghanistan.

It seems that the entire ISAF political strategy (and it's hard to even use those words) is predicated on not finding a workable political solution, but dividing and conquering the enemy or pounding them into submission. In short, negotiations are just another way to "win" in Afghanistan. The conflict is still seen by top policymakers as a black and white struggle between good guys and bad guys.

What is lacking is a recognition that the Taliban (who are certainly bad guys) will likely have a long-term role to play in Afghanistan's future – and that this is something that all sides in the conflict, particularly the US, are going to have to accept.  Now in an ideal world, the Taliban wouldn't play much of any role in Afghanistan's future – but we don't live in an ideal world and we are far past the point where it's even possible for the US to dictate the terms of Afghanistan's future. We have neither the time nor the resources nor the inclination nor the knowledge to do such a thing.

Excellent stuff, Michael.

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on November 22nd, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

Your Af/Pak "must-read" for today is by analyst Alex Strick van Linschoten, who lives in Kandahar. In a piece entitled "Five Things David Petraeus Wants You To Believe" he sets out the problems with Petraeus happy-talk about "momentum" in Afghanistan. It's essentially un-excerptable so read the whole thing but Alex argues, convincingly, that the happy-talk points to endless occupation, not to any kind of exit strategy: 

–"the surge has failed to shift public opinion in favour of either the American presence or the Afghan government"

–"there are serious problems with decapitating the insurgency without a sense of where all of this is leading politically"

–"members of the Taliban’s political wing see Petraeus as one of the key obstacles to a negotiated settlement"

–"Mullah Mohammad Omar retains ample power to act as a spoiler in any negotiations, so any sidelining or retirement from the leadership would have to be agreed upon or instigated by him"

–"There is now a deep seated suspicion of the foreign involvement, rooted in a failure to understand western interests or goals in southern Afghanistan.  Unless this is addressed head-on, everything else being done is meaningless."

Alex isn't the only person who sees America's sytematic inability to look beyond its own nose as a spoiler for any Afghan exit. Anatol Lievin, the veteran British analyst, agrees:

“The NATO approach now reminds me of a version of the old Soviet strategy,” he said. “They are building up the army and trying to hold the center. COIN is dead.”

But NATO and the United States had lessons to learn from the Soviets, he insisted. The all or nothing, with-us-or-against-us approach is just not working.

“The United States’ military strategy in Afghanistan is deeply flawed,” he said. “In general, they understand Afghanistan much less well than the Soviets. They are even more arrogant. Their approach is kill and capture, or require absolute submission… But Afghanistan is not a place of clear battle lines. We cannot seem to get our minds around the full pragmatism of the ordinary Afghan.”

In many parts of the country, Lieven pointed out, families keep one son in the Taliban and another in the army or police. Depending on which way the battle goes, they will choose their side.

…“The United States is saying that we are building up the Afghan state, but then they treat that state with absolute contempt,” said Lieven. “It is farcical.”

NATO's 2014 timeline is already being called "aspirational" by the likes of Pentagon spokesperson Geoff Morell, easily sidelined just as 2011 is to be, and NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen officials has said the date is not a deadline. Even Politico has noticed there's no actual plan, just some vague hopes:

In fact, the transition plan is more of a hope than a detailed road map. The provinces to be handed over next year by NATO and U.S. forces have yet to be selected, officials said, and the prospects for transition in parts of the country facing the fiercest fighting are murky at best. Decisions about whether to negotiate with the Taliban have yet to be made and disagreements remain about what concessions could be made.

Some experts said the NATO meeting’s focus on a transition by 2014 effectively put the cart before the horse, setting a relatively distant goal for a handover while urgent issues about the current strategy remain unresolved.

“What concerns me is a dangerous mix of false optimism and a basic misunderstanding of the problem in Afghanistan, as well as a bias toward process solutions to political problems,” said Joshua Rovner, a professor at the Naval War College. “The reason it's so popular is that it lets us skip to points C and D … without resolving A and B.”

When it comes to ending the occupation of Afghanistan, the main problem isn't the Karzai government or even the Taliban – it's the occupiers. Despite admitting that there will be no purely military settlement, time after time, they continue to roadblock any political options that don't involve getting things their own way. So we're looking at another $485 billion and untold numbers of lives because America's powerful people cannot countenance the word "defeat" in any shape or form. That's the very definition of hubris.

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Posted by The Agonist on November 22nd, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Steve Hynd | Nov 22 | Newshoggers

Your Af/Pak “must-read” for today is by analyst Alex Strick van Linschoten, who lives in Kandahar. In a piece entitled “Five Things David Petraeus Wants You To Believe” he sets out the problems with Petraeus happy-talk about “momentum” in Afghanistan. It’s essentially un-excerptable so read the whole thing but Alex argues, convincingly, that the happy-talk points to endless occupation, not to any kind of exit strategy:

–”the surge has failed to shift public opinion in favour of either the American presence or the Afghan government”

–”there are serious problems with decapitating the insurgency without a sense of where all of this is leading politically”

–”members of the Taliban’s political wing see Petraeus as one of the key obstacles to a negotiated settlement”

–”Mullah Mohammad Omar retains ample power to act as a spoiler in any negotiations, so any sidelining or retirement from the leadership would have to be agreed upon or instigated by him”

–”There is now a deep seated suspicion of the foreign involvement, rooted in a failure to understand western interests or goals in southern Afghanistan. Unless this is addressed head-on, everything else being done is meaningless.”

read more at Newshoggers

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Posted by alexthurston on November 22nd, 2010

This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

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[Note for TomDispatch Readers: I’m sad to report that Chalmers Johnson died on Saturday.  He was a stalwart of this site, writing for it regularly from its early moments.  Without the slightest doubt, he was one of the most remarkable authors I’ve had the pleasure to edit, no less be friends with.  He saw our devolving American world with striking clarity and prescience.  He wrote about it with precision, passion, and courage.  He never softened a thought or cut a corner.  I dedicated my new book to him, writing that he was “the most astute observer of the American way of war I know.  He broke the ground and made the difference.”  I wouldn’t change a word.  He was a man on a journey from Depression-era Arizona through the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and deep into a world in which the foundations of the American empire, too, began to shudder.  A scholar of Japan, one-time Cold Warrior, and CIA consultant, in the twenty-first century, he became the most trenchant critic of American militarism around.  I first read a book of his -- on Communist peasants in North China facing the Japanese “kill-all, burn-all, loot-all” campaigns of the late 1930s -- when I was 20.  I last read him this week at age 66.  I benefited from every word he wrote.  His Blowback Trilogy (BlowbackThe Sorrows of Empire, and Nemesis.) will be with us for decades to come.  His final work, Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope, is a testament to his enduring power, even as his body was failing him. To my mind, his final question was this: What would the “sole superpower” look like as a bankrupt country?  He asked that question.  Nobody, I suspect, has the answer.  We may find out.  “Adios,” he invariably said as he signed off on the phone.  Adios, Chal.  Tom]

These last years of blissful peace have left Republican Congressman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, soon to be the new chair of the House Armed Services Committee, in a true panic. How, he wonders, will a starved military ever get the necessary money for the weapons it needs to keep us safe, and where exactly is that military heading, anyway?  “My concern is we end up back with a ‘bow and arrow’ — I’m hoping not,” McKeon said about Obama-era austerity measures at the Pentagon.  Get ready America: the dovish days of the Obama presidency are over.  With the midterm elections successfully behind them, the hawks are taking flight and they’re bound for Washington.

Don’t you remember those halcyon days under Obama when we traded guns for butter, the military shrank, and peace was at hand?  Me neither.  These last years, of course, have seen the largest military budget in history, the repeated doubling down on one war, a pretend conclusion to another, the building up of the structure of U.S. military bases across the Greater Middle East and a massive build-up of such bases in Afghanistan, as well as the violent escalation of conflicts in nations not at war with the U.S., and record numbers of Special Forces troops — the military’s expanding secret military — sent into 75 countries (15 more than at the end of the Bush era).

With doves like these, who needs hawks?  And yet, you’re going to see a new batch of Republican hawks landing anyway.  There may be so many competitors, when it comes to war funding, that — as David Swanson makes clear — you won’t know whether our conflicts are Obama’s wars, McKeon’s wars, or… well, you’ll have plenty of choices when it comes to continuing to boost military budgets well beyond Bush-era levels.  TomDispatch regular Swanson, an antiwar organizer and all-around dynamo, who now runs the website War Is a Crime, among other things, is just publishing his latest book, War Is A Lie, as this post appears.  In his usual vigorous fashion, he takes on every argument used to justify war and all the lies we’ve unfortunately grown so painfully familiar with these last years.  Tom

The New War Congress 
An Obama-Republican War Alliance?
 
By David Swanson

To understand just how bad the 112th Congress, elected on November 2nd and taking office on January 3rd, is likely to be for peace on Earth, one has to understand how incredibly awful the 110th and 111th Congresses have been during the past four years and then measure the ways in which things are likely to become even worse. 

Oddly enough, doing so brings some surprising silver linings into view.

The House and Senate have had Democratic majorities for the past four years.  In January, the House will be run by Republicans, while the Democratic majority in the Senate will shrink.  We still tend to call the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan “Bush’s wars.”  Republicans are often the most outspoken supporters of these wars, while many Democrats label themselves “critics” and “opponents.”

Such wars, however, can’t happen without funding, and the past four years of funding alone amount to a longer period of war-making than U.S. participation in either of the world wars.  We tend to think of those past four years as a winding down of “Bush’s wars,” even though in that period Congress actually appropriated funding to escalate the war in Iraq and then the war in Afghanistan, before the U.S. troop presence in Iraq was reduced.

But here’s the curious thing: while the Democrats suffered a net loss of more than 60 seats in the House in the midterm elections just past, only three of the defeated Democrats had voted against funding an escalation in Afghanistan this past July 27th.  Three other anti-war Democrats (by which I mean those who have actually voted against war funding) retired this year, as did two anti-war Republicans.  Another anti-war Democrat, Carolyn Kilpatrick of Michigan, lost in a primary to Congressman-elect Hansen Clarke, who is also likely to vote against war funding.  And one more anti-war Democrat, Dan Maffei from western New York, is in a race that still hasn’t been decided.  But among the 102 Democrats and 12 Republicans who voted “no” to funding the Afghan War escalation in July, at least 104 will be back in the 112th Congress.

That July vote proved a high point in several years of efforts by the peace movement, efforts not always on the media’s radar, to persuade members of Congress to stop funding our wars.  Still a long way off from the 218-vote majority needed to succeed, there’s no reason to believe that anti-war congress members won’t see their numbers continue to climb above 114 — especially with popular support for the Afghan War sinking fast — if a bill to fund primarily war is brought to a vote in 2011.

Which President Will Obama Be in 2012?

The July funding vote also marked a transition to the coming Republican House in that more Republicans (160) voted “yes” than Democrats (148).  That gap is likely to widen.  The Democrats will have fewer than 100 House Members in January who haven’t already turned against America’s most recent wars.  The Republicans will have about 225.  Assuming a libertarian influence does not sweep through the Republican caucus, and assuming the Democrats don’t regress in their path toward peace-making, we are likely to see wars that will be considered by Americans in the years to come as Republican-Obama (or Obama-Republican) in nature.

The notion of a war alliance between the Republicans and the president they love to hate may sound outlandish, but commentators like Jeff Cohen who have paid attention to the paths charted by Bill Clinton’s presidency have been raising this possibility since Barack Obama entered the Oval Office.  That doesn’t mean it won’t be awkward.  The new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), for example, is aimed at reducing the deployment and potential for proliferation of nuclear weapons.  Obama supports it.  Last week, we watched the spectacle of Republican senators who previously expressed support for the treaty turning against it, apparently placing opposition to the president ahead of their own views on national security.

That does not, however, mean that they are likely to place opposition to the President ahead of their support for wars that ultimately weaken national security.  In fact, it’s quite possible that, in 2011, they will try to separate themselves from the president by proposing even more war funding than he asks for and daring him not to sign the bills, or by packaging into war bills measures Obama opposes but not enough to issue a veto.

For Obama’s part, while he has always striven to work with the Republicans, a sharp break with the Democrats will not appeal to him.  If the polls were to show that liberals had begun identifying him as the leader of Republican wars, the pressure on him to scale back war-making, especially in Afghanistan, might rise. 

If the economy, as expected, does not improve significantly, and if people begin to associate the lack of money for jobs programs with the staggering sums put into the wars, the president might find himself with serious fears about his reelection — or even about getting the Democratic Party’s nomination a second time.  His fate is now regularly being compared to that of Bill Clinton, who was indeed reelected in 1996 following a Republican midterm trouncing. (In his successful campaign to return to the Oval Office, Clinton got an assist from Ross Perot, a third-party candidate who drew off Republican votes and whose role might be repeated in 2012 by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.)

History, however, has its own surprises; sometimes it’s the chapters from the past you’re not thinking about that get repeated.  Here, for instance, are three presidents who are not Bill Clinton and whose experiences might prove relevant: Lyndon Johnson’s war-making in Vietnam led to his decision not to run for reelection in 1968; opposition to abuses of war powers was likely a factor in similar decisions by Harry Truman in 1952 in the midst of an unpopular war in Korea and James Polk in 1848 after a controversial war against Mexico.

The Unkindest Cut

Bills that fund wars along with the rest of the military and what we have, for the past 62 years, so misleadingly called the “Defense” Department, are harder to persuade Congress members to vote against than bills primarily funding wars.  “Defense” bills and the overall size of the military have been steadily growing every year, including 2010.  Oddly enough, even with a Republican Congress filled with warhawks, the possibility still exists that that trend could be reversed.

After all, right-wing forces in (and out of) Washington, D.C., have managed to turn the federal budget deficit into a Saddam-Hussein-style bogeyman.  While the goal of many of those promoting this vision of deficit terror may have been intent on getting Wall Street’s fingers into our Social Security savings or defunding public schools, military waste could become collateral damage in the process.

The bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, known on television as “the deficit commission” and on progressive blogs as “the catfood commission” (in honor of what it could leave our senior citizens dining on), has not yet released its proposals for reducing the deficit, but the two chairmen, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, have published their own set of preliminary proposals that include reducing the military budget by $100 billion.  The proposal is, in part, vague but — in a new twist for Washington’s elite — even includes a suggested reduction by one-third in spending on the vast empire of bases the U.S. controls globally.

Commission member and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) has proposed cutting only slightly more — $110.7 billion — from the military budget as part of a package of reforms that, unlike the chairmen’s proposals, taxes the rich, invests in jobs, and strengthens Social Security.  Even if a similar proposal finally makes it out of the full commission, the new Republican House is unlikely to pass anything of the sort unless there is a genuine swell of public pressure.

Far more than $110.7 billion could, in fact, be cut out of the Pentagon budget to the benefit of national security, and even greater savings could, of course, be had by actually ending the Afghan and Iraq wars, a possibility not considered in these proposals.  If military cuts are packaged with major cuts to Social Security or just about anything else, progressives will be as likely as Republicans to oppose the package.

While the new Republican House will fund the wars at least as often and as fulsomely as the outgoing Democratic House, namely 100% of the time, the votes will undoubtedly look different.  The Democratic leadership has tended to allow progressive Democrats the opportunity to vote for antiwar measures as amendments to war-funding bills.  These measures have ranged from bans on all war funding to requests for non-binding exit strategies.  They have not passed, but have generated news coverage.  They may also, however, have made it easier for some Democrats to establish their antiwar credentials by voting “yes” on these amendments — before turning around and voting for the war funding.  If the funding is the only war vote they are allowed, some of them may be more likely to vote “no.”

On March 10, 2010, Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) used a parliamentary maneuver (that will still be available to him as a member of the minority) to force a lengthy floor debate on a resolution to end the war in Afghanistan.  Kucinich has said that he will introduce a similar resolution in January 2011 that would require the war to end by December 31, 2012.  That will provide an initial opportunity for Congress watchers to assess the lay of the land in the 112th Congress.  It will likely also be the first time that war is powerfully labeled as the property of the president and the Republicans.

The other place public discussion of the wars will occur is in committee hearings, and all of the House committees will now have Republican chairs, including Buck McKeon (R-CA) in Armed Services, and Darrell Issa (R-CA) in Oversight and Government Reform.  In recent decades, the oversight committee has only been vigorously used when the chairman has not belonged to the president’s party.  This was the case in 2007-2008 when Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) investigated the Bush administration, even though he did allow high officials and government departments to simply refuse compliance with subpoenas the committee issued.  It will be interesting to see how Republican committee chairs respond to a similar defiance of subpoenas during the next two years.

A Hotbed of Military Expansionism

The Armed Services Committee is likely to be a hotbed of military expansionism.  Incoming Chairman McKeon wants Afghan War commander General David Petraeus to testify in December (even before he becomes chairman) on the Obama administration’s upcoming review of Afghan war policy, while the Pentagon reportedly does not want him to because there is no good news to report.  While Chairman McKeon may insist on such newsworthy witnesses next year, his goal will be war expansion, pure and simple.

In fact, McKeon is eager to update the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) to grant the president the ongoing authority to make war on nations never involved in the 9/11 attacks.  This will continue to strip Congress of its war-making powers.  It will similarly continue to strip Americans of rights like the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures that President Obama has tended to justify more on the basis of the original AUMF than on the alleged inherent powers of the presidency that Bush’s lawyers leaned on so heavily.

The president has been making it ever clearer in these post election weeks that he’s in no hurry to end the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.  The scheduled end date for the occupation of Iraq, December 31, 2011, will now arrive while Republicans control a Congress that might conceivably, under Democrats, have been shamed into insisting on its right to finally end that war.  Republicans and their friends at the Washington Post are now arguing avidly for the continuation of existing wars in the way their side always argues, by pushing the envelope and demanding so much more — such as a war on Iran — that the existing level of madness comes to seem positively sane.

The most silvery of possible silver linings here may lie in the possibility of a reborn peace movement.  George W. Bush’s new memoir actually reveals the surprising strength the peace movement had achieved by 2006.  In that year, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who was publicly denouncing any opposition to war, privately urged Bush to bring troops out of Iraq before the congressional elections.  But that was the last year in which the interests of the peace movement were aligned with those of groups and funders that take their lead from the Democratic Party.

In November 2008, the last of the major funders of the peace movement took their checkbooks and departed.  Were they at long last to take this moment to build the opposite of Fox News and the Tea Party, a machine independent of political parties pushing an agenda of peace and justice, anything would be possible.

David Swanson is the author of the just published book War Is A Lie and Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union. He blogs at Let’s Try Democracy and War Is a Crime.

Copyright 2010 David Swanson

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Posted by The Agonist on November 22nd, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Jonathon Burch | Kabul | Nov 22

Reuters – Afghan cities are like a network of villages where children may well be safer than in London or New York, NATO’s top civilian envoy to Afghanistan has said.

“The children are probably safer here than they would be in London, New York or Glasgow or many other cities,” Mark Sedwill said during an interview to be aired on Monday on Children’s BBC (CBBC).

He made the comment in response to a question from the show’s presenter about reports the programme, Newsround, had received from Afghan children in Kabul who said they felt unsafe on the streets because of the risk of bombs.

A report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in November 2009 said Afghanistan was the world’s most dangerous place to be born.

Violence across Afghanistan is at its worst since the Taliban were overthrown by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001, with civilian and military casualties at record levels.

A total of 74 children were killed in the first half of the year by homemade bombs or in suicide attacks, an increase of 155 percent for the same period in 2009.

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on November 21st, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

The editors of the UK's Independent newspaper are making a lot of sense:

Nato's new policy of disengagement is neither as clear nor as quick as it should be, but it is a welcome recognition that the end state in Afghanistan is never going to be perfect and that an open-ended commitment creates as many problems as it solves. The confusion continued in Lisbon, where Nato leaders managed to contradict each other while insisting that they were completely united. British officials briefed journalists that there would be no combat operations after 2014. American officials described the date as "an aspirational timeline". Nato officials said: "This isn't a calendar-based process." Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Nato Secretary General, promised that international forces would stay "as long as it takes". Perhaps he meant that Nato forces would stay in a support role for as long as it takes? No; he went on to say of the handover of combat duties to the Afghan army: "We will not transition until our Afghan partners are ready."

This has been the problem throughout the Obama recalibration: that the political imperative to show a "light at the end of the tunnel" to domestic opinion, in the US and the UK, conflicts with the military need to show resolve to see the job through. Matt Cavanagh, an adviser to Gordon Brown, makes the point in an article in next month's Prospect that "the messages had gone to the wrong audiences – the insurgency saw the light at the end of the tunnel, while to the public at home Afghanistan still felt like a war without end". That difficulty is inherent in any process of planned withdrawal. The best answer to it is to make the pull-out quick, which is what The Independent on Sunday advocated last year. Twelve months ago, we suggested setting a date 12 months ahead. Nothing has happened in that year to persuade us that we were mistaken.

…Military timetables are largely irrelevant or counter-productive to the achievement of a level of tolerable stability and the containment of any future threat from al-Qa'ida. The search for a political settlement in Afghanistan is what matters, and it must be intensified urgently.

Everyone admits this is true. McChrystal, Petraeus, Mullen, Gates, Obama, Karzai, the list of those who have said there will be no military resolution in Afghanistan goes on and on. Even Mullah Omar admits it, although he says any non-military resolution of this "meaningless, imposed and unwinnable war" cannot proceed until all foreign troops leave. Yet we're still largely talking about military "solutions", talking about "reversing the insurgency's momentum" and "driving it to the negotiating table" sometime in the next five years - after eight years of such talk already.

As Matt Yglesias writes, the real reason the West is still in Afghanistan after all these years "is that to much too great extent it’s really a problem about internal conflicts" in the West's corridors of power. And by West, we really mean the U.S. The rest follow, out of economic or diplomatic necessity.

The current predominant faction within the US military wants "something called a 'win' achieved through something called 'counterinsurgency'" and is quite willing to spin the facts to say that the only reason that hasn't been achieved yet is because there hasn't been a real COIN doctrine put in place yet. Indeed, COIN's greatest proponents think they have the moral authority to define COIN dogma as they go along. But it's all really just a mystery religion based upon ignoring ignore a key factor – human nature. The reason "real" COIN has never been tried to date and never will be is that whether we talk about "enemy centric" COIN or "population centric" COIN, the actual truth on the ground is that it is all and always "force protection" COIN.

While the COIN faction spins, leaks and bullies to promulgate its cult, it would be relatively powerless without a concommitant cult of American exceptionalism, based entirely upon use of the military, in the corridors of civilian power. To them, COIN is just a new variety of "Can we invade it? Yes we can!" One that lets them reach for the same military hammer for every nail while assuring themselves that it is a "kinder, gentler, war" and that nation-building at gunpoint is in any way possible.

Yet even as the evidence accumulates that such COIN nation-building is either outright impossible or impossible in practical terms for the U.S. in its current financial straits, those in the corridor of power continue to "stay the course". They follow what Andrew Bacevich calls the "Washington Rules".

Bacevich describes two components that define U.S. foreign policy. The first is what he dubs the “American credo,” which calls on “the United States — and the United States alone — to lead save, liberate, and ultimately transform the world.” Second is what he calls the “sacred trinity,” which requires that the United States “maintain a global military presence, to configure its forces for global power projections, and to counter existing or anticipated threats by relying on a policy of global interventionism.”

These rules, Bacevich argues, are no longer vital to the existence of the United States, and have led to actions that threaten to break the army and bankrupt the treasury. Rather, they are kept in place by individuals who derive personal benefit from their continuance. Bacevich does not hesitate to blame a Washington class that “clings to its credo and trinity not out of necessity, but out of parochial self-interest laced with inertia.”

Be they politicians or pundits, think-tankers or journalists, the "serious people" inside the Beltway cannot accept any variation on the word "defeat". The loss of worldview, of prestige and personal pride – and most importantly for many the loss of votes from the American people they've been selling the Washington Rules to for too many years – make that a non-starter. And so we're treated to a non-sensical policy of escalation and prolongment that might be subtitled "desperately seeking every which way but lose" which even so ends up as an intensely negative result. Still, as long as it can be labelled a draw or a win, that's ok by them.

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Posted by The Agonist on November 21st, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Jon Boone | Kabul | Nov 22

The GuardianHamid Karzai may overturn election body’s ruling over ballot in which polling station closures hit Pashtun votes

Almost one in 10 of Afghanistan’s victorious parliamentary candidates were disqualified for cheating today after an investigation into widespread fraud during September’s election.

Twenty-one candidates were stripped of their win by the electoral complaints commission (ECC) for “irregularities, usage of fake votes and the influence of provincial officials”. The disqualifications will heighten tensions in the country with the publication of the final election results only days away.

It is more than two months since Afghans went to the polls for only the second time to elect MPs. The results are likely to dramatically reduce the influence of Pashtuns, the country’s largest ethnic group, who have traditionally dominated Afghanistan.

They have lost around 20 seats, with their final tally set to be roughly 90, meaning they will be a minority in the parliament of 249 MPs. Pashtun voters tend to live in areas of high insecurity where many polling stations were unable to open.

The international community had hoped the election would not be as traumatic as last year’s presidential poll, which was wrecked by astonishing levels of fraud committed on behalf of president Hamid Karzai.

hypocrites

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