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Archive for January, 2013

Posted by DownWithTyranny on January 16th, 2013

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

Karzai was in Washington last week and suddenly there was all this talk about how U.S. troops, despite his panic, would be leaving Afghanistan sooner rather than later– and perhaps leaving no troops behind to prop up Karzai’s weak government which isn’t seen as legitimate by wide swathes of the population. In fact, Karzai is from the same sub-tribe as Shah Shuja, who was restored, briefly, to the throne by the British in the First Afghan War (1838-’42) and of whom Dost Muhammad told his people, “The Shah is now a servant of the Kafir infidels.” When the British left Afghanistan, Shuja, widely viewed as their puppet and, like Karzai without credibility among the dominant Pashtuns, was assassinated.

Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, and his US counterpart Barack Obama have agreed to speed up the withdrawal of US combat troops as well as trade security responsibility from NATO to Afghan forces this spring.

After a long and deadly war, Obama announced plans to move US combat troops into an advisory role – slightly ahead of schedule– and also said any agreement on troop withdrawals must include an immunity agreement in which US soldiers are not subjected to Afghan law.

The president said the path of the US military remains clear and the war is moving toward a “responsible end” in 2014.

But the exact date, as well as how many troops are to remain, is still unclear.

U.S. policy is Afghanistan is not just a complete and costly failure, it no longer has any basis of support among Americans– neither on the left nor even on the right. Other than the Military Industrial Complex, which has profited so handsomely from it– and the Members of Congress in their pockets like McCain, Lindsay Graham, Miss McConnell, and Buck McKeon (who have all also profited handsomely)– everyone in America wants the U.S. to get out– and get out sooner rather than later. McConnell just got back from a quickie over there and says we need to keep 10,000 troops there after the 2014 pull-out. Here’s Rachel Maddow’s report on Obama’s announcement of the ending of U.S. involvement:

Her analysis (and Steve Clemons’)– the successful attainment of the benchmarks is pure, unadulterated bullshit– is spot on. But, getting out of that hellhole is a significant development and the completely predictable failure in Afghanistan is long overdue to end.

Recent “reports” from the war front have been of two kinds. Some official or analytical in nature and heavily circulated in Washington portray a war going terribly well. On the other hand, hard news from the ground tell a story of US fatigue, backtracking and tactical withdrawals or redeployments which do not bode well for defeating the Taliban or forcing them to the negotiations’ table.

  For example, while the US military’s decision to withdraw from the Pech valley was justified on tactical need to redeploy troops for the task of “protecting the population”, keen observers saw it as a humiliating retreat from what the Pentagon previously called a very strategic position and sacrificed some hundred soldiers defending it.

Likewise, strategic analysts close to the administration speak triumphantly of US surge and hi-tech firepower inflicting terrible cost on the Taliban, killing many insurgents and driving many more from their sanctuaries.

But news from the war front show the Taliban unrelenting, mounting counterattacks and escalating the war especially in areas where the US has “surged” its troops. And while the majority of the 400 Afghan districts are “calmer”, they remain mostly out of Kabul’s control.

Those with relatively long memories recall the then defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s claims that most of Afghanistan was secure in early 2003 and that American forces had changed their strategy from major combat operations to stabilisation and reconstruction project.

But the Taliban continued to carry daily attacks on government buildings, US positions and international organisations. Two years later, the US was to suffer the worst and deadliest year since the war began.

Today’s war pundits are in the same state of denial. For all practical purpose, Washington has given up on its counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy devised under McChrystal and Petreaus.

Instead, it is pursuing a heavy handed and terribly destructive crackdown that includes special operations, assassinations, mass demolitions, air and night raids etc that have led to anything but winning the country, let alone its hearts and minds.

The killing of nine Afghan children last week– all under the age of 12– by US attack helicopters has once again put the spotlight on the US military’s new aggressive methods.

The results are so devastating for the conduct of the war and to Washington’s clients, that President Karzai not only distanced himself from the US methods, but also publicly rejected Washington’s apology for the killings.

Nor is the recruitment and training of the Afghan forces going well. Indeed, many seem to give up on the idea that Afghan security forces could take matters into their hands if the US withdraws in the foreseeable future.

Worse, US strategic co-operation with Pakistan – the central pillar of Obama’s PakAf strategy– has cooled after the arrest of a CIA contractor for the killing of two Pakistanis even though he presumably enjoys diplomatic immunity.

Reportedly, it has also led to a “breakdown” in co-ordination between the two countries intelligence agencies, the CIA and the ISI.

  But the incident is merely a symptom of a bigger problem between the two countries. A reluctant partner, the Pakistani establishment and its military are unhappy with US strategy which they reckon could destabilise their country and strengthen Afghanistan and India at their expense.

That has not deterred Washington from offering ideas and money to repair the damage. However, it has become clear that unlike in recent years, future improvement in their bilateral relations will most probably come as a result of the US edging closer to Pakistan’s position, not the opposite.

All of which makes one wonder why certain Washington circles are rushing to advance the “success story.”

…The mere fact that the world’s mightiest superpower cannot win over the poorly armed Taliban after a long decade of fighting, means it has already failed strategically, regardless of the final outcome.

The escalation of violence and wasting billions more cannot change that. It is history. The quicker the Obama administration recognises its misfortunes, minimises its losses and convenes a regional conference over the future of Afghanistan under UN auspices, the easier it will be to evacuate without humiliation.

Whether the US eventually loses the war and declares victory; negotiates a settlement and withdraw its troops, remains to be seen. What is incontestable is that when you fight the week for too long, you also become weak.

All of which explains the rather blunt comments made in a speech at the end of February, by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates when he said “… any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it.”

Amen.

In the video below, Maddow also explains the issue of immunity for American troops in Afghanistan. No one wants U.S. troops in Afghanistan more than Karzai. If they go, he has to as well– either that or end up like Shah Shuja, dead. Karzai said he would ask the Afghan people about the immunity issue. But most Afghans want the U.S. troops out and consider immunity out of the question. Although that isn’t the way Karzai tells it. He told Christiane Amanpour on CNN that “I can tell you with relatively good confidence that they will say ‘alright, let’s do it. And I’m sure that they will understand.”

At the press conference, President Obama said that he had stressed to Karzai that “the United States already has arrangements like this with countries all around the world, and nowhere does the U.S. have any kind of security agreement with a country without immunity for our troops.”

In the final stages of the U.S. intervention in Iraq, President Obama was unable to obtain a similar agreement, propelling him to withdraw all U.S. forces from that country in December 2011.

Karzai rejected the notion that has been floated that the U.S. might leave “zero troops” in Afghanistan after the pullout is completed at the end of 2014. 

He told Amanpour that Afghans need some type of U.S. presence for “broader security and stability” after the withdrawal. For that reason, Karzai believes Afghans will have to grant the U.S. troops left there immunity.

“The United States will need to have a limited number of forces in Afghanistan,” he said, but was unwilling to give an exact number. “That’s not for us to decide. It is for the United States to decide what number of troops they will be keeping in Afghanistan and what strength of equipment those troops will have.”

The American people don’t want it and neither do most of Afghanistan’s people. When Obama says “unless there was some kind of immunity, it would not be possible for the U.S. to keep troops in Afghanistan after 2014,: that’s his way out– just like it was in Iraq. This morning Karzai announced the issue of immunity for U.S. troops in Afghanistan would be made by the end of the year. “The issue of immunity is under discussion (and) it is going to take eight to nine months before we reach agreement,” he told a news conference back in Kabul. He says it will require acquiescence from a Loya Jirga, a grand council. My guess is that most Afghans outside Karzai’s immediate circle would rather see Karzai and his clique dead than agree to immunity for foreign troops.

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Posted by Just Foreign Policy on January 7th, 2013

From our partners at Just Foreign Policy

The Obama-hating Neocon Right is trying to “Swift Boat” the expected nomination of Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense by making up a fantasy scare story that Hagel—a former U.S. Senator from Nebraska, long-respected moderate and thoughtful voice on foreign policy, and decorated Vietnam combat veteran—is “anti-Israel.”

The real reason the neocons hate Hagel is that he’s a war-skeptic and a diplomacy advocate. As a Senator, he voted for the Iraq war. But then he became an early and harsh critic of the war and called for it to end. Hagel was an early advocate of diplomatic engagement with Iran, has criticized discussion of a military strike by either the U.S. or Israel against Iran, and has also backed efforts to bring Iran to the table for talks on future peace in Afghanistan. Hagel has described the Pentagon as “bloated” and has said “the Pentagon needs to be pared down.”

We deserve a war-skeptic and diplomacy advocate as Defense Secretary. Americans voted against the foreign policy of the neocons in 2008 and 2012. But the neocons are still using their insider influence and slander tactics to try to dominate policy.

We cannot stand idly by as the neocons stage a coup of our foreign policy. All of us opposed to these tactics, including the President’s support base of liberal Democrats, must make our voices heard. That’s why we’ve set up a petition on MoveOn’s community petition site, SignOn, against the Swift Boat campaign on Chuck Hagel. Will you help us move this petition forward, so more MoveOn members will see it? You can sign and share the petition here:

http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/act/hagel-nomination

Just Foreign Policy’s Policy Director Robert Naiman explained what’s at stake in this fight in his blog on Huffington Post. You can read and share that here:

J Street Pushes Back on Neocon Bid to “Swift Boat” Chuck Hagel Nomination as Defense Secretary
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-naiman/j-street-chuck-hagel_b_23329…

read more

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Posted by DownWithTyranny on January 5th, 2013

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

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“The contradictions in his character and career are a reminder that no one, however powerful, is free of human frailty or immune to reversals of fortune. And that for us makes Gen. David Petraeus the most fascinating person of 2012.”

– Barbara Walters, at the end of the segment

by Ken

Huh? That’s what made General Petraeus “the most fascinating person of the year”? Seriously? ”No one is free of human frailty or immune to reversals of fortune”? Oh, for goodness’ sakes!

As it happens, I was already thinking about Gen. Normal Schwarzkopf, the commanding genius of Desert Storm. A man who came pretty much out of nowhere as far as most of us were concerned, did what he had to do (as the Guardian’s Michael Carlson put it, “[his] design proved as effective as he had convinced his superiors in Washington it would be”), and yes, did get the celebrity-makeover treatment in the aftermath.

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Does anyone else have this feeling that there is some kind of sea change in the “aura,” or the image projected, or something, as between “Stormin’ Norman” (a nickname I gather he hated, as well who in his right mind wouldn’t?) and this whole race of generals that has followed, whose careers seem, if not entirely “about,” then at least heavily concerned with, creating cults of personality built aroud — ta-da! — their very own personal generalissimo selves?

I trust I don’t have to call the roll. One by one they’ve been caught with their uniform pants down as it were, playing the public-relations card in a campaign of self-glorification that reminds me of nothing so much as the imperial hi-jinks of I, Claudius.

AWHILE BACK I MEANT TO RETURN TO THE
QUESTION OF HOW GOOD PETRAEUS WAS

Specifically, I intended to return to Dexter Filkins’s December 17 New Yorker piece “General Principles: How good was David Petraeus?

Filkins is looking at Petraeus’s performance in Iraq in the first place through the eyes of Thomas Ricks’s view (as expressed in his new book The Generals) of the disastrous failures of his predecessors running the show for us there.

In many ways, the biggest problem that the American military faced in Iraq was itself. When Petraeus and other officers tried to change the approach in Iraq, they hit a wall of entrenched resistance. After the war in Vietnam, American generals banished the idea of counter-insurgency, perhaps figuring that if they didn’t plan for such a war they wouldn’t have to fight one. Military academies were dominated by such notions as the “Powell doctrine,” which held that future wars should be fought with maximum force and brought to an end as quickly as possible. In Ricks’s telling, the American military, by the time of the attacks of September 11, 2001, was a sclerotic institution that rewarded mediocrity and punished innovative thinking. In recent years, eighty-four per cent of the Army’s majors have been promoted to lieutenant colonel—hardly a fine filter. Becoming a general was like gaining admission to an all-men’s golf club, where back-slapping conformity is prized above all else. When the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq began, the top U.S. field commander was General Tommy Franks, a shortsighted tactician who didn’t bother to plan for the occupation of either country. Franks had the good sense to step down in the summer of 2003, just as Iraq began to come apart.

Ricks argues, convincingly, that what changed in the military was the practice of firing commanders who failed to deliver results. His starting point is General George Marshall, the Army chief of staff during the Second World War, who culled underperforming generals and promoted the better ones, constructing a ruthlessly efficient fighting force. The practice withered during the Vietnam War, replaced with micromanagement by civilian leaders. (Recall photographs of Lyndon Johnson choosing bombing targets.) With even the most mediocre generals moving upward, the Army ossified at the top. Sanchez was not the exception; he was the rule. “Like the worst generals of the Vietnam era, he tended to descend into the weeds, where he was comfortable, ignoring the larger situation—which, after all, was his job,’’ Ricks writes. Yet Sanchez paid no price for his failures, Ricks notes: “The vocabulary of accountability had been lost.”

In Iraq, the generals, and increasingly their troops, trapped themselves inside their bases, cut off from the country they were trying to occupy. When their strategy didn’t work, they tended to redouble their efforts—capture more insurgents, turn over more neighborhoods to the Iraqi Army—and justify their actions in the impenetrable jargon that modern officers use with one another. Iraqi insurgents became “A.I.F.” (anti-Iraqi forces), Al Qaeda in Iraq was “A.Q.I.,” and a car bomb was an “S.V.B.I.E.D.” (suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device). Petraeus revelled in the jargon—among junior officers, his PowerPoint presentations were spoken of in reverent tones—but, at least in his case, the fancy terms were suggestive of his knowledge, and not the end of it. My own snap test for measuring an American general’s perceptiveness was how he pronounced Iraqi names. In 2006, I heard General J. D. Thurman, the commander presiding over Baghdad, pronounce the name of the Iraqi Prime Minister three different ways in a single interview, all of them incorrect. General Thurman apparently wasn’t talking to Iraqis—or, if he was, he wasn’t listening.

Petraeus was smarter and quicker than most of his colleagues. He wasn’t a rebel, at least on the surface. He loved the Army and relished its history, and the trappings and the medals, and, in talking to reporters, he was careful never to go too far. He didn’t have much combat experience, but that seemed to make it easier for him to see beyond the daily slog of killing insurgents. He had a Ph.D. from Princeton—dissertation title, “The American Military and the Lessons of Vietnam.” (This did not necessarily help his career, Kaplan writes: “He was aware of his reputation in certain circles as a schemer, a self-promoter, and, worst of all, an intellectual.”) He was preternaturally, pathologically competitive. Once, inside a building in Baghdad, Petraeus, then in his early fifties, challenged me to race him up the stairs. (He won.) Another time, he dared me to join him on a morning run in the Green Zone, accompanied by an armed guard. When the run was over, Petraeus initiated a pull-up contest, and did seventeen, an astounding number. “You can write that off on your income tax as education,’’ he said.

His emphasis on physical fitness sometimes seemed like a postmodern version of Hood’s courage: if our generals were not going to face physical danger, they could at least do more pushups than the men who would. Reporters loved it, and so did Petraeus’s fellow-soldiers. Being physically strong still matters in the U.S. Army. . . .

Which brings us straight back to the cult-of-personality and military-politics bullshit. And I don’t think we can have any illusion about the politics involved throughtout the ranks of the military. After all, has there ever been any sort of human hierarchical system that functioned without politics?

Clearly some that personal-fitness stuff has military applications. But we hear endless tales of the supreme fitness of our fighters in Afghanistan, the suggestion being that they are super-fitness cultists, and that seems to have very little to do with achieving success at whatever the heck our military objectives have been in Afghanistan — one obvious problem being that we don’t ever seem to have figured out just what our military objectives are in Afghanistan.

I’m not even sure I’m being fair to this modern run of generals and their obsessive personality cultism. More than anything it seems to express the kind of Type A personality we would probably all agree is quite a useful thing in a high-stakes, high-tension occupation like military command in a theater of war. And so it seems silly to set up criteria for manners and decorum in generals, just as it would be as applied to say, NFL linebackers.

That said, it also seems clear that all of General Petraeus’s prattling on about the paramount of discipline was kind of nonsense. Or maybe he himself once had it and then somewhere along the way decided to chuck it in favor of gratifying his immense manliness.

BUT TO RETURN ONCE AGAIN TO THE
QUESTION OF HOW GOOD PETRAEUS WAS . . .

I’m offering only some of Dexter Filkins’s evaluation, and even the part I’m offering is long, because the question turns out to be quite complex, having so much to do with surrounding circumstances — the people who preceded him in command, the people he commanded, the circumstances on the ground in the theater of war he commanded, and so on. You’ll note at the end Filkins’s clear suggestions that very little of what made Petraeus successful in Iraq (successful, that is, within very carefully defined terms), proved to have virtually no application to Afghanistan, again in consideration of that same range of factors that made the strategy workable in Iraq.

In the weeks since Petraeus’s resignation, some of his detractors have argued that his accomplishment in Iraq was merely to put an acceptable face on defeat. This is absurd. Petraeus was asked to shepherd a disastrous war; his achievements are real and substantial, and shouldn’t be obscured by something as irrelevant as an extramarital affair. By 2006, Iraqi society was disintegrating, and there were growing signs that the country’s neighbors—Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Syria—were preparing to intervene more forcefully. It seemed possible that Iraq would implode and take the whole region down with it. If Petraeus and his band had not got their chance—and, reading Kaplan’s book, it seems a miracle that they did—things could have gone terribly worse.

So how much of Petraeus’s success was due to Petraeus? He was smart, and he was diligent, but was that enough? “I have plenty of clever generals,’’ Napoleon purportedly said. “Just give me a lucky one.” Indeed, the crucial lesson of the surge is that it succeeded only because other things in Iraq were changing at exactly the right time. The most important of these was the Awakening, the name given to the cascading series of truces made by Sunni tribal leaders with their American occupiers. Many Sunnis were appalled by the sectarian attacks—and were also fearful of genocide at the hands of the Shiite death squads. They asked the Americans for help, and U.S. officers, sensing a chance to turn the tide against Al Qaeda, seized the opportunity.

By the time Petraeus arrived, the Awakening had already begun. Still, he made the decisive choice not just to make peace with the former insurgents but to pay them not to fight us. The program, called the Sons of Iraq, put a hundred thousand gunmen, most of them Sunni former insurgents, on the payroll, for three hundred dollars a month each. The idea strongly echoes the Army’s counter-insurgency field manual, drafted under Petraeus’s supervision: “Offering amnesty or a seemingly generous compromise can also cause divisions within an insurgency.” In this case, at least, it was a genteel way of describing old-fashioned baksheesh. By the end of 2007, the Americans were holding bicycle races with their former enemies.

Could the surge have worked without the Awakening? Almost certainly not. With the Sunni insurgency neutralized, the Americans were free to turn their firepower on the Shiite militias. After a series of assaults by the American and—surprise—Iraqi militaries, the Mahdi Army was on the run. Petraeus said to me in 2008, “As the Al Qaeda threat is gradually degraded, the reason for the militia is no longer there.” He was preparing to depart Iraq, and his experience there had aged him visibly. When I told him how dramatically Baghdad had improved, he seemed relieved but also surprised, as if he’d had no time to notice.

One more factor helped the surge: the Sunni and Shiite gunmen had made their neighborhoods confessionally pure; Baghdad was no longer the mixed city it had been for centuries. The civil war was a bloodbath, but it had the unintended effect of making it easier for the respective groups to protect themselves.

What does all this mean? For one thing, it made Petraeus’s success in Iraq very Iraqi; that is, hard to export. In 2009, on assuming office, President Obama pursued a fairly strict strategy of counter-insurgency in Afghanistan; Stanley McChrystal, who served as the presiding general until he was fired after he and his aides spoke too frankly to a reporter from Rolling Stone, shared many of Petraeus’s precepts. The idea was that if the Americans and their protégés in the Afghan Army could establish themselves in the villages, the Taliban would wither away. Obama sent in more than fifty thousand additional troops, and, for thirteen months, Petraeus himself led the effort.

[Paula] Broadwell’s book [All In: The Education of General David Petraeus] focusses almost exclusively on Petraeus’s time in Afghanistan; she dutifully records his movements, utterances, and hopes, and, to a lesser extent, those of the American forces. She spent almost no time thinking about, or talking to, the Afghans, whose allegiance we are presumably fighting for. “Petraeus believed that abandoning Afghanistan again would have disastrous consequences for America and for the region,’’ Broadwell writes. “It was vital that Afghanistan not once again be a sanctuary for Al-Qaeda. He would never give up.” But so what? The crucial question is whether his ideas—the ones enshrined in the counter-insurgency field manual—will carry the day in Afghanistan.

Increasingly, it seems that they will not. . . .

JUST ONE LAST NOTE . . .

Did anyone ever feel the impulse to glorify, or even evaluate, Norman Schwarzkopf’s personal philosophies and fitness and discipline and other gurulike attributes?

#
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