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Archive for March, 2011

Posted by Newshoggers.com on March 17th, 2011

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Robert Greenwald and Derrick Crowe

When testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, General David Petraeus told senators that he understood the frustration with the Afghanistan War, conceding that “we have spent an enormous amount of money.” The general has a gift for understatement.

We are spending $2 billion a week on this futile, brutal war that’s not making us safer, and even that “enormous” amount of money (to say nothing of the lives lost or broken) hasn’t hammered the square peg of a military solution into the round hold of the crisis in Afghanistan. News flash: if you can’t turn the war effort around with 30,000 more troops at a cost of $1 million per troop, per year, maybe the military solutions aren’t solutions after all.

To say the American people are “frustrated” is putting it very, very mildly. Despite the mainstream media’s best efforts to pretend there’s no war on (last year, Afghanistan coverage comprised about 4 percent of all news coverage), a large majority of Americans say they follow Afghanistan news closely. The vast majority of Americans now tell pollsters they want Congress to act to speed up troop withdrawals, and most likely voters want all troops out within a year. A record 64 percent now say that the war hasn’t been worth fighting, a 20-percent jump in opposition since President Obama announced his latest troop increase.

Millions of Americans are still burning in an economic hell while our leaders waste precious resources on Hellfire missiles. Just one statistic drives it home: the poverty rate for children in the U.S. may soon hit 25 percent. And while those kids are living in hotels or on the street, or wondering where their next meal will come from, Petraeus will keep right on “understanding” your frustration while he spends almost $10 billion a month that could be used right here at home, getting those kids and their families back on their feet. We can’t let that happen.

Brave New Foundation’s Rethink Afghanistan is fighting to get the truth out about this war while the mainstream media sleeps on it. If you’re fed up with this war that’s not making us safer and that’s not worth the cost, join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter, and join a local Rethink Afghanistan Meetup. Together we can make sure Petraeus and politicians in Washington, D.C. really understand our frustration and bring our troops home.

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Posted by alexthurston on March 17th, 2011

Taking the “War” Out of Air War
What U.S. Air Power Actually Does

By Tom Engelhardt

When men first made war in the air, the imagery that accompanied them was of knights jousting in the sky.  Just check out movies like Wings, which won the first Oscar for Best Picture in 1927 (or any Peanuts cartoon in which Snoopy takes on the Red Baron in a literal “dogfight”).  As late as 1986, five years after two American F-14s shot down two Soviet jets flown by Libyan pilots over the Mediterranean’s Gulf of Sidra, it was still possible to make the movie Top Gun.  In it, Tom Cruise played “Maverick,” a U.S. Naval aviator triumphantly involved in a similar incident.  (He shoots down three MiGs.) 

Admittedly, by then American air-power films had long been in decline.  In Vietnam, the U.S. had used its air superiority to devastating effect, bombing the north and blasting the south, but go to American Vietnam films and, while that U.S. patrol walks endlessly into a South Vietnamese village with mayhem to come, the air is largely devoid of planes. 

Consider Top Gun an anomaly.  Anyway, it’s been 25 years since that film topped the box-office — and don’t hold your breath for a repeat at your local multiplex.  After all, there’s nothing left to base such a film on. 

To put it simply, it’s time for Americans to take the “war” out of “air war.”  These days, we need a new set of terms to explain what U.S. air power actually does.

Start this way: American “air superiority” in any war the U.S. now fights is total.  In fact, the last time American jets met enemy planes of any sort in any skies was in the First Gulf War in 1991, and since Saddam Hussein’s once powerful air force didn’t offer much opposition — most of its planes fled to Iran — that was brief.  The last time U.S. pilots faced anything like a serious challenge in the skies was in North Vietnam in the early 1970s.  Before that, you have to go back to the Korean War in the early 1950s. 

This, in fact, is something American military types take great pride in.  Addressing the cadets of the Air Force Academy in early March, for example, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated: “There hasn’t been a U.S. Air Force airplane lost in air combat in nearly 40 years, or an American soldier attacked by enemy aircraft since Korea.”

And he’s probably right, though it’s also possible that the last American plane shot down in aerial combat was U.S. Navy pilot Michael Scott Speiker’s jet in the First Gulf War.  (The Navy continues to claim that the plane was felled by a surface-to-air missile.)  As an F-117A Stealth fighter was downed by a surface-to-air missile over Serbia in 1999, it’s been more than 11 years since such a plane was lost due to anything but mechanical malfunction.  Yet in those years, the U.S. has remained almost continuously at war somewhere and has used air power extensively, as in its “shock and awe” launch to the invasion of Iraq, which was meant to “decapitate” Saddam Hussein and the rest of the Iraqi leadership.  (No plane was lost, nor was an Iraqi leader of any sort taken out in those 50 decapitation attacks, but “dozens” of Iraqi civilians died.)  You might even say that air power, now ramping up again in Afghanistan, has continued to be the American way of war

From a military point of view, this is something worth bragging about.  It’s just that the obvious conclusions are never drawn from it. 

The Valor of Pilots

Let’s begin with this: to be a “Top Gun” in the U.S. military today is to be in staggeringly less danger than any American who gets into a car and heads just about anywhere, given this country’s annual toll of about 34,000 fatal car crashes.  In addition, there is far less difference than you might imagine between piloting a drone aircraft from a base thousands of miles away and being inside the cockpit of a fighter jet. 

Articles are now regularly written about drone aircraft “piloted” by teams sitting at consoles in places like Creech Air Force Base in Nevada.  Meanwhile, their planes are loosing Hellfire missiles thousands of miles away in Afghanistan (or, in the case of CIA “pilots,” in the Pakistani tribal borderlands).  Such news accounts often focus on the eerie safety of those pilots in “wartime” and their strange detachment from the actual dangers of war — as, for instance, in the sign those leaving Creech pass that warns them to “drive carefully” as this is “the most dangerous part of your day.”  

When it comes to pilots in planes flying over Afghanistan, we imagine something quite different — and yet we shouldn’t.  Based on the record, those pilots might as well be in Nevada, since there is no enemy that can touch them.  They are inviolate unless their own machines betray them and, with the rarest of imaginable exceptions, will remain so.

Nor does anyone here consider it an irony that the worst charge lodged by U.S. military spokespeople against their guerrilla enemies, whose recruits obviously can’t take to the skies, is that they use “human shields” as a defense.  This transgression against “the law of war” is typical of any outgunned guerrilla force which, in Mao Zedong’s dictum, sees immense benefit in “swimming” in a “sea” of civilians.  (If they didn’t do so and fought like members of a regular army, they would, of course, be slaughtered.) 

This is considered, however implicitly, a sign of ultimate cowardice.  On the other hand, while a drone pilot cannot (yet) get a combat award citation for “valor,” a jet fighter pilot can and no one — here at least — sees anything strange or cowardly about a form of warfare which guarantees the American side quite literal, godlike invulnerability.

War by its nature is often asymmetrical, as in Libya today, and sometimes hideously one-sided.  The retreat that turns into a rout that turns into a slaughter is a relative commonplace of battle.  But it cannot be war, as anyone has ever understood the word, if one side is never in danger.  And yet that is American air war as it has developed since World War II. 

It’s a long path from knightly aerial jousting to air war as… well, what?  We have no language for it, because accurate labels would prove deflating, pejorative, and exceedingly uncomfortable.  You would perhaps need to speak of cadets at the Air Force Academy being prepared for “air slaughter” or “air assassination,” depending on the circumstances. 

From those cadets to Secretary of Defense Gates to reporters covering our wars, no one here is likely to accept the taking of “war” out of air war.  And because of that, it is — conveniently — almost impossible for Americans to imagine how American-style war must seem to those in the lands where we fight. 

Apologies All Around

Consider for a moment one form of war-related naming where our language changes all the time.  That’s the naming of our new generations of weaponry.  In the case of those drones, the two main ones in U.S. battle zones at the moment are the Predator (as in the sci-fi film) and the Reaper (as in Grim).  In both cases, the names imply an urge for slaughter and a sense of superiority verging on immortality.

And yet we don’t take such names seriously.  Though we’ve seen the movies (and most Afghans haven’t), we don’t imagine our form of warfare as like that of the Predator, that alien hunter of human prey, or a Terminator, that machine version of the same.  If we did, we would have quite a different picture of ourselves, which would mean quite a different way of thinking about how we make war. 

From the point of view of Afghans, Pakistanis, or other potential target peoples, those drones buzzing in the sky must seem very much like real-life versions of Predators or Terminators.  They must, that is, seem alien and implacable like so many malign gods.  After all, the weaponry from those planes is loosed without recourse; no one on the ground can do a thing to prevent it and little to defend themselves; and often enough the missiles and bombs kill the innocent along with those our warriors consider the guilty.

Take a recent event on a distant hillside in Afghanistan’s Kunar Province where 10 boys, including two sets of brothers, were collecting wood for their families on a winter’s day when the predators — this time American helicopters evidently looking for insurgents who had rocketed a nearby American base — arrived.  Only one of the boys survived (with wounds) and he evidently described the experience as one of being “hunted” — as the Predator hunts humans or human hunters stalk animals.  They “hovered over us,” he said, “scanned us, and we saw a green flash,” then the helicopters rose and began firing.

For this particular nightmare, war commander General David Petraeus apologized directly to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has for years fruitlessly denounced U.S. and NATO air operations that have killed Afghan civilians.  When an angered Karzai refused to accept his apology, Secretary of Defense Gates, on a surprise visit to the country, apologized as well, as did President Obama.  And that was that — for the Americans.

Forget for a moment what this incident tells us about a form of warfare in which helicopter pilots, reasonably close to the ground (and modestly more vulnerable than pilots in planes), can’t tell boys with sticks from insurgents with guns.  The crucial thing to keep in mind is that, no matter how many apologies may be offered afterwards, this can’t stop.  According to the Wall Street Journal, death by helicopter is, in fact, on the rise.  It’s in the nature of this kind of warfare.  In fact, Afghan civilians have repeatedly, even repetitiously, been blown away from the air, with or without apologies, since 2001.  Over these years, Afghan participants at wedding parties, funerals, and other rites have, for example, been wiped out with relative regularity, only sometimes with apologies to follow. 

In the weeks that preceded the killing of those boys, for instance, a “NATO” — these are usually American — air attack took out four Afghan security guards protecting the work of a road construction firm and wounded a fifth, according to the police chief of Helmand Province; a similar “deeply regrettable incident” took out an Afghan army soldier, his wife, and his four children in Nangarhar Province; and a third, also in Kunar Province, wiped out 65 civilians, including women and children, according to Afghan government officials.  Karzai recently visited a hospital and wept as he held a child wounded in the attack whose leg had been amputated.

The U.S. military did not weep.  Instead, it rejected this claim of civilian deaths, insisting as it often does that the dead were “insurgents.”  It is now — and this is typical — “investigating” the incident.  General Petraeus managed to further offend Afghan officials when he visited the presidential palace in Kabul and reportedly claimed that some of the wounded children might have suffered burns not in an air attack but from their parents as punishment for bad behavior and were being counted in the casualty figures only to make them look worse.

Over the years, Afghan civilian casualties from the air have waxed and waned, depending on how much air power American commanders were willing to call in, but they have never ceased.  As history tells us, air power and civilian deaths are inextricably bound together.  They can’t be separated, no matter how much anyone talks about “surgical” strikes and precision bombing.  It’s simply the barbaric essence, the very nature of this kind of war, to kill noncombatants. 

One question sometimes raised about such casualties in Afghanistan is this: according to U.N. statistics, the Taliban (via roadside bombs and suicide bombers) kills far more civilians, including women and children, than do NATO forces, so why do the U.S.-caused deaths stick so in Afghan craws when we periodically investigate, apologize, and even pay survivors for their losses? 

New York Times reporter Alissa J. Rubin puzzled over this in a recent piece and offered the following answer: “[T]hose that are caused by NATO troops appear to reverberate more deeply because of underlying animosity about foreigners in the country.”  This seems reasonable as far as it goes, but don’t discount what air power adds to the foreignness of the situation. 

Consider what the 20-year-old brother of two of the dead boys from the Kunar helicopter attack told the Wall Street Journal in a phone interview: “The only option I have is to pick up a Kalashnikov, RPG [rocket-propelled grenade], or a suicide vest to fight.”

Whatever the Taliban may be, they remain part of Afghan society.  They are there on the ground.  They kill and they commit barbarities, but they suffer, too.  In our version of air “war,” however, the killing and the dying are perfectly and precisely, even surgically, separated.  We kill, they die.  It’s that simple.  Sometimes the ones we target to die do so; sometimes others stand in their stead.  But no matter.  We then deny, argue, investigate, apologize, and continue.  We are, in that sense, implacable.

And one more thing: since we are incapable of thinking of ourselves as either predators or Predators, no less emotionless Terminators, it becomes impossible for us to see that our air “war” on terror is, in reality, a machine for creating what we then call “terrorists.”  It is part of an American Global War for Terror.

In other words, although air power has long been held up as part of the solution to terrorism, and though the American military now regularly boasts about the enemy body counts it produces, and the precision with which it does so, all of that, even when accurate, is also a kind of delusion — and worse yet, one that transforms us into Predators and Terminators.   It’s not a pretty sight.

So count on this: there will be no more Top Guns.  No knights of the air.  No dogfights and sky-jousts.  No valor.  Just one-sided slaughter and targeted assassinations.  That is where air power has ended up.  Live with it. 

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). To listen to a TomCast audio version of this post, read by Ralph Pochoda, click here or download it to your iPod, here.

[Note of thanks: To Bill Astore, TomDispatch regular, for bringing his expert eye to bear on this post; to Christopher Holmes, superior copyeditor, who is now undoubtedly doing his best to get by in Japan (and is on my mind); to Jason Ditz, of the invaluable website Antwar.com, the rare person who continues to write regularly about the civilians who die in America’s wars, and to Ralph Pochoda for doing the audio version of this piece.]

Copyright 2011 Tom Engelhardt

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Posted by Peace Action West on March 17th, 2011

From our partners at Peace Action West

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) led a bipartisan group of 80 representatives in urging President Obama to make his promised withdrawal in July a significant one. The letter emphasizes the need to take a meaningful step toward ending the war:

Our nation’s economic and national security interests are not served by a policy of open-ended war in Afghanistan. At a time of severe economic distress, the war in Afghanistan is costing the United States more than $100 billion per year, excluding the long-term costs of care for returning military servicemembers. At the same time, military and intelligence officials agree that Al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan is diminished and that there will not be a military solution to resolve the current situation. It is simply unsustainable for our nation to maintain a costly, military-first strategy in Afghanistan.

A significant redeployment of U.S. troops from Afghanistan beginning in July 2011 will send a clear signal that the United States does not seek a permanent presence in Afghanistan. This transition will provide incentive for internal stakeholders to improve upon the political status quo, reduce corruption, and take meaningful steps toward the establishment of an effective, trustworthy, and inclusive governance structure. A meaningful start to withdrawal will also empower U.S. diplomatic engagement with regional and global stakeholders who share a common interest in the long-term stability of Afghanistan.

Read the whole letter and see the list of signers here.

Rep. Lee has done a wonderful job spearheading efforts to hold President Obama to his promise to begin a withdrawal and to make sure the milestone marks a real shift toward ending the war. She worked with colleagues in the Democratic National Committee, the organization responsible for electing Democrats next year, to pass a resolution calling for a “significant and sizable” withdrawal this summer.

This is a critical time for every member of Congress and every American to raise his or her voice calling for a clear end to the war. The administration is in the midst of analyzing the situation in Afghanistan and determining how many troops will come home. There are reasons to think they need to be pressured to get something other than a token withdrawal of a small number of troops.

Secretary Gates has continuously downplayed the July withdrawal, calling it a “judo” move to trick the Taliban rather than a real step toward removing US troops. General Petraeus was very cautious in his congressional testimony and said he would be offering “options” on how many troops to withdraw. Spencer Ackerman at Danger Room had this take on the testimony: “Translation: don’t expect many troops to come home from Afghanistan in 2011.” Defense Department officials have repeatedly talked about a US presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

Every member of Congress needs to be pressured to speak up and push for a real end to this war. Click here to email your representative and senators and urge them to cosponsor bills to bring our troops home from Afghanistan.

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Posted by Peace Action West on March 17th, 2011

From our partners at Peace Action West

Representatives Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and Walter Jones (R-NC), along with eight of their colleagues, have introduced a resolution that would require the president to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2011. Kucinich made the case for the resolution on the House floor:

More than 60% of the American people want us out of there. This war is already approaching a cost of a half a trillion dollars. We have Americans who are losing their jobs; their wages are being knocked down. We have Americans losing their homes, losing their retirement security; they can’t send their kids to colleges they want. And we are spending all this money on a war that is a waste of time, money, blood, and treasure to try to prop up a corrupt regime in Afghanistan.

Now, our occupation over there is fueled an insurgency. It’s time for this Congress to take the Constitutional responsibility under Article 1, Section 8. We haven’t done that with respect to Afghanistan. It’s time for us to do that. Let’s have an up or down vote. That’s what this resolution is about. I urge all Members of Congress to consider supporting the privileged resolution that ends the war in Afghanistan.

Rep. Kucinich introduced a similar resolution last year, the toughest legislation voted on in the House at the time, and it got support from 65 representatives. Given how public opposition to the war has grown, and conditions on the ground are worse in Afghanistan, there is no reason why this resolution shouldn’t get even more “yes” votes this year.

The debate and vote are happening on Thursday. Call your representative toll free at 1-800-427-8619 between 9am and 5pm Eastern Time Thursday and urge him or her to vote in favor of the H. Con. Res 28. If you’d like to call now and leave a voicemail, click here to search your representative and find a direct phone number.

 

 

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on March 15th, 2011

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Derrick Crowe

General David Petraeus is set to testify before Congress today, and he's expected to again try to put a positive spin on a war effort that's utterly failing to meet the goals set by its backers. While intelligence assessments show that tactical moves on the ground in Afghanistan have failed to fundamentally weaken the growing insurgency, Petraeus expected to offer "a mostly upbeat assessment today of military progress." Petraeus's Potemkin village tours of Afghanistan for visiting dignitaries may have "impressed" people like John McCain, but Defense Intelligence Agency head General Ronald Burgess rains all over the progress talk with the sobering news that the casualties inflicted on the Taliban have caused "no apparent degradation in their capacity to fight."

As if to underline Burgess' point, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a recruiting station for the Afghan Army, killing at least 35 people in northern Afghanistan on Monday.

Despite the assurances from the administration, the military and their think-tank allies, the massive troop escalations of 2009 and 2010 have failed to reverse the momentum of the insurgency or protect the Afghan population from insurgent intimidation and violence. From today's L.A. Times:

A report March 2 by the British Parliament's foreign affairs committee concluded that despite the "optimistic progress appraisals we heard from some military and official sources … the security situation across Afghanistan as a whole is deteriorating."

Counterinsurgency efforts in the south and east have "allowed the Taliban to expand its presence and control in other previously relatively stable areas in Afghanistan."

"The Taliban have the momentum, especially in the east and north," analyst Gilles Dorronsoro of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told the committee. "There is no change in the overall balance of power, and the Taliban are still making problems."

While the Taliban maintained momentum in 2010 and early 2011, the escalation strategy backed by Petraeus failed to protect Afghans from violence as promised, with 2010 being the deadliest year of the war so far for civilians.

One of the most hawkish of the Petraeus backers in the Senate, Senator McCain, is working hard to set the bounds for acceptable debate in Congress, but he, like the counterinsurgency campaign, is failing:

"I expect certainly some skepticism on both sides of the aisle," McCain said. "I don't see any kind of pressure to withdraw immediately."

McCain only sees what he wants to see, apparently. A Rasmussen poll conducted March 4-5, 2011, found that 52 percent of likely voters want all U.S. troops brought home this year, with more than half of those wanting them brought home immediately (31 percent of likely voters). In January, a USA TODAY/Gallup poll found that 72 percent of Americans want Congress to act this year to speed up troop withdrawals from Afghanistan (including 86 percent of Democrats, 72 percent of independents, and 61 percent of Republicans), with 41 percent strongly favoring such actions. And despite McCain's efforts to blot it out, there is, in fact, a resolution being offered before Congress "calling for Obama to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan either in 30 days or no later than Dec. 31, 2011."

Petraeus and McCain can try to spin this all they want, but the fact is that the counterinsurgency gamble failed, and the American people want our troops out, pronto. Nobody buys the counterinsurgency propaganda anymore, and the more these guys trot it out, the more damage it does to their credibility.

If you're fed up with this war that's not making us safer and that's not worth the cost, join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter, and join your neighbors for a Rethink Afghanistan Meetup in your hometown.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on March 15th, 2011

General David Petraeus is set to testify before Congress today, and he’s expected to again try to put a positive spin on a war effort that’s utterly failing to meet the goals set by its backers. While intelligence assessments show that tactical moves on the ground in Afghanistan have failed to fundamentally weaken the growing insurgency, Petraeus expected to offer “a mostly upbeat assessment today of military progress.” Petraeus’s Potemkin village tours of Afghanistan for visiting dignitaries may have “impressed” people like John McCain, but Defense Intelligence Agency head General Ronald Burgess rains all over the progress talk with the sobering news that the casualties inflicted on the Taliban have caused “no apparent degradation in their capacity to fight.”

As if to underline Burgess’ point, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a recruiting station for the Afghan Army, killing at least 35 people in northern Afghanistan on Monday.

Despite the assurances from the administration, the military and their think-tank allies, the massive troop escalations of 2009 and 2010 have failed to reverse the momentum of the insurgency or protect the Afghan population from insurgent intimidation and violence. From today’s L.A. Times:

A report March 2 by the British Parliament’s foreign affairs committee concluded that despite the “optimistic progress appraisals we heard from some military and official sources … the security situation across Afghanistan as a whole is deteriorating.” Counterinsurgency efforts in the south and east have “allowed the Taliban to expand its presence and control in other previously relatively stable areas in Afghanistan.”

“The Taliban have the momentum, especially in the east and north,” analyst Gilles Dorronsoro of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told the committee. “There is no change in the overall balance of power, and the Taliban are still making problems.”

While the Taliban maintained momentum in 2010 and early 2011, the escalation strategy backed by Petraeus failed to protect Afghans from violence as promised, with 2010 being the deadliest year of the war so far for civilians.

One of the most hawkish of the Petraeus backers in the Senate, Senator McCain, is working hard to set the bounds for acceptable debate in Congress, but he, like the counterinsurgency campaign, is failing:

“I expect certainly some skepticism on both sides of the aisle,” McCain said. “I don’t see any kind of pressure to withdraw immediately.”

McCain only sees what he wants to see, apparently. A Rasmussen poll conducted March 4-5, 2011, found that 52 percent of likely voters want all U.S. troops brought home this year, with more than half of those wanting them brought home immediately (31 percent of likely voters). In January, a USA TODAY/Gallup poll found that 72 percent of Americans want Congress to act this year to speed up troop withdrawals from Afghanistan (including 86 percent of Democrats, 72 percent of independents, and 61 percent of Republicans), with 41 percent strongly favoring such actions. And despite McCain’s efforts to blot it out, there is, in fact, a resolution being offered before Congress “calling for Obama to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan either in 30 days or no later than Dec. 31, 2011.”

Petraeus and McCain can try to spin this all they want, but the fact is that the counterinsurgency gamble failed, and the American people want our troops out, pronto. Nobody buys the counterinsurgency propaganda anymore, and the more these guys trot it out, the more damage it does to their credibility.

If you’re fed up with this war that’s not making us safer and that’s not worth the cost, join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter, and join your neighbors for a Rethink Afghanistan Meetup in your hometown.

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Posted by DownWithTyranny on March 14th, 2011

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

No doubt about it, Old Rummy’s got plenty to answer for, and our Peggy has done a swell job of nailing him to the wall for failing to begin to do so. She’s just got a dangerously and delusionally screwy idea of just what he has to answer for.

by Ken

A fair amount of attention is being paid to a Wall Street Journal column by Peggy Noonan skewering a fellow for whom she begins by professing kindly feelings, former Defense Secretary Donald “Old Rummy” Rumsfeld: “I like Donald Rumsfeld. I’ve always thought he was a hard-working, intelligent man. I respected his life in public service at the highest and most demanding levels.” Of course, as Howie tweeted yesterday, “When Peggy Noonan starts by writing ‘I like Donald Rumsfeld,’ you can be sure she’s going to rip him to shreds.”

I doubt that any DWT reader will shed tears over the ensuing shredding job. Of course it’s always fun when our friends on the Right are at each other’s throats. Naturally, since it’s Peggy Noonan, you expect that at the core the piece will be stupid, and our Peggy doesn’t disappoint (it fascinates me that you can be as smart as she is and yet have what comes out of your mouth or word processor be so crackers), but let’s come back to that.

Old Rummy’s recently published memoir, Known and Unknown, says our Peggy, “is so bad it’s news even a month after its debut.” And a lot of what she has to say seems to directly to the point.

Now I take with a grain of salt her complaint:

You’d expect such a book (all right—you’d hope) to be reflective, to be self-questioning and questioning of others, and to grapple with the ruin of U.S. foreign policy circa 2001-08. He was secretary of defense until 2006, in the innermost councils. He heard all the conversations. He was in on the decisions. You’d expect him to explain the overall, overarching strategic thinking that guided them. Since some of those decisions are in the process of turning out badly, and since he obviously loves his country, you’d expect him to critique and correct certain mindsets and assumptions so that later generations will learn.

You have to think Peggy is being disingenuous here, even with that belated distinction between what one expects and what one hopes. Really now, on what basis would any reasonable observer of the modern American political scene imagine that any “player,” least of all one as shifty and devious and secretive and especially self-serving, might even consider producing such as she describes. And surely nobody understands that better than Peggy, which is why I suspect disingenuousness rather than naiveté.

Nevertheless, on the theory that Old Rummy owes us such an accounting — and who could disagree? — her conclusion seems to me on the money:

When he doesn’t do this, when he merely asserts, defends and quotes his memos, you feel overwhelmed, again, by the terrible thought that there was no overall, overarching strategic thinking. There were only second-rate minds busily, consequentially at work.

And by now Peggy has already diagnosed the, er, literary technique Old Rummy has brought to bear on what he’s instead set out to do with the book:

It takes a long time to read because there are a lot of words, most of them boring. At first I thought this an unfortunate flaw, but I came to see it as strategy. He’s going to overwhelm you with wordage, with dates and supposed data, he’s going to bore you into submission, and at the end you’re going to throw up your hands and shout, “I know Iraq and Afghanistan were not Don Rumsfeld’s fault! I know this because I’ve now read his memos, which explain at great length why nothing is his fault.”

Fault of course isn’t the point.

Second-rateness marks the book, which is an extended effort at blame deflection. Mr. Rumsfeld didn’t ignore the generals, he listened to them too much. Not enough troops in Iraq? That would be Gen. Tommy Franks. Turkey’s refusal to allow U.S. troop movements? Secretary of State Colin Powell. America’s failure to find weapons of mass destruction? “Obviously the focus on WMD to the exclusion of almost all else was a public relations error.” Yes, I’d say so. He warned early on in a memo he quotes that the administration was putting too much emphasis on WMD. But put it in context: “Recent history is abundant with examples of flawed intelligence that have affected key national security decisions and contingency planning.”

“A WORD ON THE USE OF MEMOS IN MEMOIRS”

And then she makes a point that strikes me as brilliant.

A word on the use of memos in memoirs. Everyone in government now knows his memos can serve, years later, to illustrate his farsightedness and defend against charges of blindness, indifference, stupidity. So people in government send a lot of memos! “Memo to self: I’m deeply worried about Mideast crisis. Let’s solve West Bank problem immediately.” “Memo to Steve: I’m concerned about China. I’d like you to make sure it becomes democratic. Please move on this soonest, before lunch if you can.” A man in the Bush administration once told me of a guy who used to change the name on memos when they turned out to be smart. He’d make himself the sender so that when future scholars pored over the presidential library, they’d discover what a genius he was.

Most memos prove nothing. It is disturbing that so many Bush-era memoirs rely so heavily on them.

I’d like to think there are a bunch of political stiffs with book contracts in their rolltops, not to mention the legion planning to unleash their literary agents on an unsuspecting public, who are even now experiencing tightness in the gut if not waves of nausea. Memo-free memoirs? Has the woman gone mad? Does she not understand that the e-memo is Modern Technology’s gift to the ancient public arts of self-aggrandizement and butt-covering?

On the contrary, she seems to understand this only too well. And it’s hard not to chant “Amen” when she writes, “The terrible thing about the Rumsfeld book, and there is no polite way to say this, is the half-baked nature of the thinking within it. The quality of analysis and understanding of history is so mediocre, so insufficient to the moment.”

WHAT DOES OLD RUMMY HAVE TO ANSWER FOR?

The only problem comes when Peggy gets down to cases — to, as she puts it, “the point at which I tried to break the book’s spine.”

If you asked most Americans why we went into Afghanistan in the weeks after 9/11, they would answer, with perfect common sense, that it was to get the bad guys — to find or kill Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda followers, to topple the Taliban government that had given them aid and support, to destroy terrorist networks and operations. New York at the time of the invasion, October 2001, was still, literally, smoking; the whole town still carried the acrid smell of Ground Zero. The scenes of that day were still vivid and sharp. New York still isn’t over it and will never be over it, but what happened on 9/11 was fresh, and we wanted who did it to get caught.

America wanted — needed — to see U.S. troops pull Osama out of his cave by his beard and drag him in his urine-soaked robes into an American courtroom. Or, less good but still good, to find him, kill him, put his head in a Tiffany box with a bow, and hand-carry it to the president of the United States.

It wasn’t lust for vengeance, it was lust for justice, and for more than justice. Getting Osama would have shown the world what happens when you do a thing like 9/11 to a nation like America. It would have shown al Qaeda and their would-be camp followers what kind of unstoppable ferocity they were up against. It would have reminded the world that we are one great people with one terrible swift sword.

The failure to find bin Laden was a seminal moment in the history of the war in Afghanistan. And it was a catastrophe. From that moment — the moment he escaped his apparent hideout in Tora Bora and went on to make his sneering speeches and send them out to the world — from that moment everything about the Afghanistan war became unclear, unfocused, murky and confused. The administration in Washington, emboldened by what it called its victory over the Taliban, decided to move on Iraq. Its focus shifted, it took its eye off the ball, and Afghanistan is now what it is.

Now this last part is fine, and begins to point toward Old Rummy’s really monstrous failures and malfeasances. But the notion that the catastrophe was the failure to find bin Laden may be one of the stupidest things ever written. And it’s dangerously, delusionally stupid.

Oh, to be sure, to the extent that the failure to capture bin Laden was Old Rummy’s fault, he has something to answer for, and here again Peggy makes a strong case.

Needless to say, Tora Bora was the fault of someone else—Gen. Franks of course, and CIA Director George Tenet. “Franks had to determine whether attempting to apprehend one man on the run” was “worth the risks.” Needless to say “there were numerous operational details.” And of course, in a typical Rumsfeldian touch, he says he later learned CIA operatives on the ground had asked for help, but “I never received such a request from either Franks or Tenet and cannot imagine denying it if I had.” I can.

No problem here in so far as holding Old Rummy’s feet to the fire is concerned. But we don’t in fact know that it was ever within our power to capture bin Laden, and there ought to be some lesson to be learned — a colossally important lesson — about making out of something that may or may not be in our power something we need, let alone something on which our entire future depends. This is just childish playground whining. We gotta have him, we gotta have him.

And there’s no way of measuring the stupidity involved in assuming that we would have been a whit better of if we had captured him. For goodness’ sake, we haven’t even been able to handle Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Can you imagine, has Peggy even begun to imagine, how much worse off we might be if we were sitting on a captive Osama bin Laden?

The notion that some kind of justice might have been served is comical. Does Peggy have no conception of the concept of martyrs? I guess she thinks the world would have been somehow impressed if we had proved we always get our man, even though (1) the nature of reality is such that we can’t always assume that we can get our man, and (2) I don’t see any indication that the world gives a damn about it, or that we would necessarily be in any way better off if we had. The world has its opinions of the U.S. and of bin Laden, and I don’t see any of that changing if Old Rummy had bagged him. Of course people over on Peggy’s side of the American political spectrum don’t give a damn what the world thinks.

If Peggy had focused on the monumental catastrophe of the waste in life, destruction, billions of dollars down the tubes, and a military given over to the principles of totalitarian control (including officially sanctioned torture) involved in immersing the country in two never-ending wars, that would have been fine. If she had charged him with the megalomaniacal compulsion to control the all aspects of U.S. participation in the two invasions, including excluding the State Department or anyone else who might have considered what would happen after the next bombing, great.

Just as she suggests, Old Rummy has more to answer for than any single human being ought ever to have to answer for, and I gather that in his book he hasn’t taken so much as the first step toward illuminating what happened for the sake of history, in the hope of sparing us the repetition of those blunders. On all of that, she’s nailed the son of a bitch. I just don’t think she has a clue what exactly she’s nailed him for.

#
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Posted by Derrick Crowe on March 14th, 2011

This past Saturday, Rethinkers in communities all over the country joined their neighbors for “Rethink the Cost,” a worldwide Meetup day organized by Rethink Afghanistan. I attended the Meetup in Austin, Texas, and as always, it was a great experience. I got to know new friends who share my desire to end this war that’s not making us safer and that’s not worth the cost. Just as importantly, we made concrete plans to take local action to help end the war. Members of our Meetup decided to participate in an upcoming anti-war rally, and we’re chipping in to have a banner for our local Rethink Afghanistan Meetup printed which we’ll carry at the event. And, we made plans to get together and leaflet soon so we can spread the word about the need to bring our troops home.

We will plan other Rethink Afghanistan worldwide Meetup days over the next few months, but don’t feel like you have to wait for us! You can use the Rethink Afghanistan Meetup page to schedule your own events to get your local community together to work to bring troops home. For example, Rethinkers in Chicago used the tool to organize a peace vigil. Just go to the Rethink Afghanistan Meetup page, click on your local community’s link, and finish this sentence in the text field: “Let’s Meetup and…”

How did your local Meetup go? Do you have any photos you can share with us? Would you be willing to write a quick blog post about your local event? Contact derrick[at]bravenewfoundation.org and let us know. Or, leave your comments and photo links in the comments section of this post. Be sure to tag your photos and videos with either “RethinkAfghanistan” or “RethinktheCost”, and use the #rethinkafghanistan or #rethinkthecost hashtags for your related tweets.

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on March 13th, 2011

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

Is Afghanistan a sovereign nation or not? I guess we'll find out. During a meeting in Kunar to discuss recent civilian deaths including those of children, President Karzai said:

"On behalf of you and the Afghan people, today I would like to respectfully, and not arrogantly, ask Nato and the US forces to stop their operations in our land"

Karzai urged NATO to take its fight elsewhere, to "the places that we have been showing them in the last 9 years" – i.e. Pakistan.

I don't think Petraeus will be pleased. This is a quantum jump over Karzai's comments last November that NATO should "scale down" operation, and those comments got the Viceroy's panties all in a twist.

Somehow, I don't think NATO will stop. As Viceroy Petraeus, Obama and SecDef Gates have all reminded us in the last year, we pay lip-service to Afghan sovereignty but don't actually believe in it.

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on March 10th, 2011

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

As Derrick Crowe reminded us yesterday, the U.S. military's own COIN manual says:

"I-113. The primary objective of any COIN operation is to foster development of effective governance by a legitimate government."

But today, Colin Cookman reports that the Afghan government is about to hit a major fiscal wall:

The IMF refuses to approve an extension of its economic support program and credit lines for the Afghan government until the Kabul Bank issue is resolved, and its support program is a key condition for other international donors.

The European Union, whose institutions are collectively the second-largest donor to Afghanistan after the United States, warned last month that its commitments will be subject to review if the IMF agreement is not restored. And the United Kingdom, which is the largest single contributor to the Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund, or ARTF, announced on March 9 that it would indefinitely delay the disbursal of over $137 million in payments pending a resolution of the dispute. The ARTF, a World Bank-managed pool for donors, is the largest direct contributor to the government’s operating and development budgets. Without its continued support the basic functions of the Afghan government are at serious risk.

The Afghan government is heavily reliant on international financial assistance for its limited operations. Domestic revenue financed only 32 percent of its 2009-2010 budget. But the government is also weakened by the fact that the bulk of money flowing into the country bypasses the government entirely in favor of donor-selected personalities, programs, and priorities. The government managed a mere 23 percent of total aid Afghanistan received from 2002 to 2009.

How can you have "effective governance by a legitimate government" if there's no way to pay the bills? No matter how military tactics may be going, an overall political strategy that addresses that question is utterly absent. The Afghanistan misadventure should be declared over.

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