The Afghan Ingrate

Boy, that Hamid Karzai is a real peach, isn’t he?  The United States frees his country from the grip of the repressive Taliban, restores democracy to Afghanistan, and supports Karzai during long years where he doesn’t seem to be interested in much of anything except trying to line his own pockets and dodge responsibility for everything that happened in the country he was supposed to be governing, and he can’t leave office without taking a few parting shots at the U.S. of A.

After 13 years as president, the jug-eared Karzai and his trademark cap are finally leaving office with the same class, intense gratitude, and willingness to accept full responsibility that have characterized his years in power.  In his farewell speech, he blamed the United States for the ongoing war with the Taliban and said “that the Americans did not want peace because they had their own agenda and objectives.” 

We didn’t spend the blood of our soldiers and billions of dollars to prop up a tinpot like Hamid Karzai, we took out the Taliban to try to rid the world of safe haven for Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda, and other terrorist groups.  We tried to rebuild Afghanistan after the depredations of the Taliban and create a democracy in hopes of preventing terrorism from taking root again.  That’s why we ended up with Hamid, the corrupt hack — and now it’s galling to have to listen to the criticism of “leaders” like Karzai, who never would have been in a position of any influence but for the United States.

Hamid Karzai is a good example of the old adage that if you lie down with a dog, you get up with fleas.

Secretary Clinton Stands Down

Hillary Clinton has stepped down from President Obama’s Cabinet.  After battling health problems, she has been replaced as Secretary of State by John Kerry.

With so much of international diplomacy conducted behind closed doors, it’s very difficult to gauge the performance of any Secretary of State until the years pass and secrets become public.  In Clinton’s case, we know that the United States has managed to avoid become embroiled in any new wars during her tenure and that our roles in Iraq and Afghanistan are finally winding down.  We also know that efforts to “reset” relations with the Russians haven’t made much progress, North Korea, Iran, and Syria remain rogue states, and Pakistan seems to be teetering on the brink of chaos.  And the Holy Grail of American diplomacy — brokering a conclusive Middle East peace deal — eluded Secretary Clinton just as it eluded every one of her predecessors.  Her legacy as Secretary of State may be dependent, in significant part, upon what historians conclude about how, if at all, her stewardship affected the takeover of the American compound in Benghazi and the killing of the Ambassador and three other Americans.

What we can also say about Secretary Clinton, however, is that she was a good soldier for the President.  She didn’t make any trouble, didn’t try to upstage him, and by all accounts worked hard at her job and developed good relations with the career diplomats at the State Department.  She didn’t seem to let her ego get in the way — and in these days of celebrity politicians, that’s saying a lot.  When John Kerry’s tenure at the State Department has ended, I wonder whether we will be able to say the same thing about him?

Women In Combat

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta reportedly will announce today that the long-time ban against allowing female soldiers to participate in combat operations will be ended.  The move is being made upon the recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The decision would overturn a 1994 edict that barred women from participation in ground-combat units.  It also recognizes the reality of what has happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the turmoil of terrorist-oriented wars has caused female soldiers operating in “combat support” roles to become involved in combat itself.  In those chaotic situations, women have performed coolly, competently, and with valor — like the well-trained, capable soldiers they are.

The primary objections to women soldiers in combat have been that they could create a sexually charged atmosphere that might detract from performance of the mission and might not be physically capable, from a strength standpoint, of performing all tasks that could be necessary on a particular operation.  The first excuse seems antiquated, and in any case can be addressed by proper training of soldiers of both sexes and attentive leadership.  The answer to the second concern is easy — establish the physical capabilities that actually are needed and see whether individual women, as well as individual men, can meet them.  If so, they should be permitted to participate.  What is the point of arbitrarily excluding professional soldiers who want to serve and can do their duty?

I’m all for knocking down exclusionary barriers — particularly those that arose from outdated cultural and social mores.  I’m glad we are discarding the lingering, Victorian era notions about the delicate conditions of women and giving them the opportunity to fully serve their country and pursue a military career, if that is their choice.

The Final Debate

Tonight, in Florida, President Obama and Mitt Romney have their final debate.  This debate will focus on foreign policy and — as UJ notes in his post today about the Middle East — there is a lot to talk about.

The debate will follow the same format as the first debate.  There will be six 15-minute discussion pods on topics selected by the moderator, Bob Schieffer of CBS News.  The moderator will open each segment with a question, each candidate will have two minutes to respond, and the moderator will guide a discussion of the topic for the remainder of the 15 minutes.  The six topics selected by Schieffer are:  “America’s role in the world,” “Our longest war — Afghanistan and Pakistan,” “Red Lines — Israel and Iran,” “The Changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism (I and II),” and “The Rise of China and Tomorrow’s World.”  The moderator reserves the right to change the topics depending on developments, and the order of the topics also can be changed.

It will be interesting to see if there is a change in tone for tonight’s debate.  The last presidential debate was heated, with some very sharp exchanges.  Hyper-aggressive posturing by the candidates may be acceptable when domestic policy is being discussed, but foreign policy is a different arena.  Although the candidates obviously will be thinking of how their statements will affect the presidential race, they also need to be mindful of the foreign audience that will be watching the debate.  I’m sure the people of Israel, for example, will be carefully reviewing the discussion during the “Red Lines:  Israel and Iran” segment.  The candidates will need to speak clearly and be cautious in their comments and (of course!) avoid the devastating gaffe.  I’m sure both the President and Mitt Romney have been practicing the pronunciation of the names of foreign leaders.

For those of us here in America, Libya obviously has been in the spotlight.  Every day, revelations raise new questions about our security arrangements in Benghazi, our lack of a response while the attack was ongoing, and our conflicting and misleading statements after the attack ended.  Another big topic will be Afghanistan and Iraq, where so many of our sons and daughters have served for so long and so many families have suffered devastating losses.  What can we do to make sure that the gains obtained through their service are protected, while extricating ourselves from conflicts that seem never-ending?

It’s a dangerous world out there.  In addition to the rise of Islamic fanaticism and the always unsettled Middle East, there is the ongoing, hair-trigger stand-off between North and South Korea, a resurgent Russia eager to flex its geopolitical muscle, a European Union that seems to be collapsing under the weight of its fiscal irresponsibility, and tensions between China, Japan, and Taiwan about the sovereignty of islands, among many other issues.  UJ’s post notwithstanding, I don’t think President Bush can be blamed for all of these issues — and even if he could, laying blame on a President who has been out of office for four years does nothing to solve the problems.  In tonight’s debate I’ll be listening for thoughtful discussion of these issues and reasonable solutions, not finger-pointing.

Sorry, Syria

The news from Syria is all bad.  The various UN ceasefire proposals and peace plans have been abject failures — predictably.  And while diplomats talk, and talk, and talk, the Syrian people are getting slaughtered by their own government in a series of bloody massacres.  The latest incident came last night, when Syrians in the town of Deraa were shelled, apparently by government forces, even as UN observers try to investigate an earlier atrocity.

The Syrian situation is one of those instances that reveal the remarkably cold-blooded nature of foreign policy in the modern world.  Unfortunately for the Syrians, their dusty country is one of the few places in the Middle East that lacks oil reserves.  Nor is it a place that has served as the launching ground for successful terrorist attacks.  As a result, for all the hand-wringing, neither Europe, nor the United States, nor any other country has sufficient skin in the game to do anything to depose the evil Assad regime and stop the awful civilian carnage in Syria.  And any effort to take military action under the umbrella of the UN inevitably will be blocked by the Russians and the Chinese, who aren’t fans of international interventions, anyway.

Compare events in Syria to what happened in Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan.  Life in Syria is as violent and repressive as it was in any of those countries before regime change was imposed at the point of a sword.  The difference is that the United States and other governments viewed those other countries as involving crucial geopolitical interests and had the ability, through their own resources and the NATO construct, to take affirmative steps to address those interests.  The Syrian situation doesn’t invoke such crucial interests, and therefore the Syrian people will continue to suffer and die.

I’m not advocating that America act unilaterally for humanitarian reasons; our human, financial, and military resources are finite, and I don’t think we can or should serve as the world’s policeman whenever tyrants begin campaigns of indiscriminate killing in distant lands.  I’m just noting that the sad futility of the Syrian “peace plans” and escalating rhetoric of the diplomats exposes the ultimate hollowness of most multi-national organizations, like the UN and the Arab League.  Why aren’t Syria’s oil-rich Middle Eastern neighbors taking steps to stop the bloodshed in their own backyard?  The Arab League should be ashamed.

Please Say it Ain’t so O(bama)

So now that I have a laptop at home and I am semi-retired I spend most of my daylight hours reading by the pool or working at the Windward Passage and when I come home at night I like to surf the internet.

Tonight while surfing the internet I was quite disturbed when I came across the following article US-troops-may-stay-in-Afghanistan-until-2024.html. If this article is in fact true it looks as though we are in talks with Afghanistan to sign a contractual agreement that would supposedly allow American military trainers, American special forces and American air power (estimates of 25,000 American soldiers) to remain in Afghanistan until 2024.

One of the biggest reasons I voted for the current president and the change he was offering was because I was hopeful that he would get us out of the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan once and for all. My thinking was there was a much better chance of that happening with Obama as president as opposed to McCain. To my dismay this hasn’t happened yet.

From what I have read our current cost right now to support 100,000 troops in Afghanistan is $1 billion per day. So if we agree to  keep 25,000 American troops in Afghanistan until 2024 you can do the math, we’re talking about a lot of money that we quite frankly don’t have.

I think the Russian ambassador to Afghanistan said it best when he said “Afghanistan needs many other things apart from a permanent military presence. It needs economic help and it needs peace, military bases are not a tool for peace”. Well said Mr ambassador. When I see a picture like the one above I am outraged that we are doing what we are doing, isn’t anyone else outraged ?

Can any Republican, Independent or Democrat, anyone for that matter give me a logical reason as to why we need to be in Afghanistan for thirteen more years ? Bin Laden is dead and we need to get the heck out of there as soon as possible. If this deal is signed I will have no choice but to write in Ron Paul for President in 2012 since he is the only candidate who has promised to bring all of our troops home.

Asking Marines To Withstand The (Abdominal) Pressure

We ask an awful lot of our Marines who are serving in Afghanistan.  They are working in brutally difficult conditions that may include searing heat or frigid cold.  We want them to encourage democracy while at the same fighting terrorists who are perfectly happy to hide among civilians and to put innocent lives at risk when they attack.  And now we have asked our Marines to — stop audible farting when they are in the presence of Afghans.

According to the Marine Times blog Battle Rattle, some Marines have been told to stop any audible flatulence because the Afghans find it highly offensive.  This directive comes on top of the request that Marines not curse or discuss potentially controversial topics, like politics, religion, or the opposite sex.  Heaven forbid that we would do anything to offend those tender Afghan sensibilities!

Isn’t it a bit ridiculous to ask a bunch of tough Marines to avoid farting aloud, even when Mother Nature commands the opposite?  Have our Leathernecks been trained to determine with certainty which bloated feeling might produce a silent but deadly emission versus the echoing whoopie cushion ripper?  And are we at least helping them out by serving meals that don’t include the traditional gas producing foods like, say, refried beans or White Castle sliders?  Is Beano stockpiled at every American base?

Token Drawdown

Within the next few weeks the President will make what I believe is a very important announcement as to the number of troops he plans to have brought home from Afghanistan. Currently we have approximately 100,000 troops there and we have been fighting the war there since October 7, 2001.

It is hard to believe that this October we will have been there ten years and the estimated final date of withdrawal has now been pushed back to 2014. If all goes according to plan we will have been in Afghanistan for a minimum of thirteen years, but I have my doubts and we will probably be there longer.

I saw where John McCain weighed in and said he believes we should bring home only 3,000 of our troops and that we can still win this war. I understand the fact that we don’t want the loss of life of our soldiers that have died there to be in vain, but does anyone honestly believe that we are winning anything ?

Last week the Congress held a vote which would have attached a mandate to the $690 billion supplemental defense bill spending (estimates are that being in Afghanistan is costing us $3 billion a week) for 2012 requiring the negotiation of a political solution and reconciliation in Afghanistan along with an intelligence estimate as to the number of al Qaeda we are still fighting. Its been reported that most of al Qaeda have moved into Pakistan over the past ten years.

The house vote was mostly along party lines with 178 Democrats supporting the bill with 26 Republicans joining them. All opposed were of course Republicans. Recent polls show that 70% of Americans believe it’s time for us to get out and I am one of that 70%. The frustrating thing is that if 70% of Americans believe this why can’t we get a simple majority in Congress to force the mandate I have mentioned above. The problem I think is no moderate politicians.

I was listening to a conversation last night between two individuals and one said to the other, it’s not like we are losing thousands of American lives over in Afghanistan we are only losing a few every couple of days. Have we become so callous that most of us now think this way ? I hope not.

Whenever I read in the paper of more war dead I think of the picture above, some ones mother, some ones father, some ones aunt, some ones uncle, some ones sister or some ones brother. It’s only my humble opinion, but I am comfortable that our mission / objective in Afghanistan is done so the faster we bring our troops home the better.

Enough With The Mosque, Already!

I haven’t commented on the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” on this blog because UJ has already discussed it and I’m not sure there is anything left to say.  I think the Muslims who want to establish the mosque have every right to do so, although if they truly are interested in building bridges they would be best served by honoring the wishes of many families and friends of 9/11 victims and situating the mosque somewhere else in Manhattan.

My real point in bringing up the mosque issue, however, is to urge people to move on, already! Our country is wrestling with high unemployment and a persistent economic recession that has thrown many Americans out of work and out of their homes.  Our soldiers are in harm’s way in two faraway foreign lands.  We are facing a soon-to-be-nuclear Iran that is governed by a madman.  We have a government that has racked up crushing budget deficits and is doing nothing about them.

With all due respect to the memory of 9/11 and the victims of terrorism who perished on that horrible day, I think that whether Muslims establish a mosque two blocks away from Ground Zero is not the most significant matter confronting our troubled nation at this time.  We would be better off if we put the distracting and divisive “Ground Zero Mosque” issue behind us and focused on the truly important issues that are having a huge impact on the lives of millions of Americans.

Fear Of Vietnam?

I’ve seen several articles raising the concern that President Obama’s decision to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan is likely to result in “another Vietnam.”  This article from George McGovern, the anti-war candidate who was the Democratic standard-bearer in 1972, is pretty representative of the arguments that you see in such articles.  The points of comparison include propping up a corrupt local government, fighting an entrenched opposition that enjoys local support, and spending money on a war that would be better spent somewhere else.

I respect George McGovern, who served his country nobly and well in World War II and enjoyed a long career in the Senate, but I think his argument is fundamentally misplaced.  The essential difference between Afghanistan and Vietnam is that no one attacked the United States from Vietnam, whereas al Qaeda did attack the United States, on September 11, 2001, from bases in Afghanistan.  McGovern makes the point that al Qaeda is not in Afghanistan but is in Pakistan.  Even if that is so (and no one seems to know precisely where Osama bin Laden and his number 2 are at the moment) McGovern neglects to mention that the only reason that al Qaeda is not in Afghanistan is that the United States military drove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan and thereby eliminated al Qaeda’s safe haven in that country.  I question whether the other points of comparison that are cited really are comparable — for example, I don’t know that everyday Afghan citizens view the repressive Taliban as favorably as Vietnamese viewed the populist Viet Cong — but those points of comparison really are irrelevant and ancillary.  The main distinction is that our activities in Afghanistan are defensive, not the result of abstract Cold War geopolitical considerations.

I have no desire to see American soldiers fight and die on foreign soil, but we cannot quit until we capture or kill Osama bin Laden and render al Qaeda powerless to attack us again.

Lessons Learned From A Day That Will Live In Infamy

Sixty-eight years ago, the Imperial government of Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.  The surprise attack on America’s main Pacific Ocean naval base was just one of many attacks launched by Japan that day, but it is the one that Americans remember most.  President Roosevelt called it a day that will live in infamy, and he was right.  Americans still remember the attack, still burn inwardly at the iconic photographs of tilting, sinking battleships partially obscured by smoke, and still visit the Arizona monument and think somberly of the sailors below, trapped forever in their watery tomb.

I mention Pearl Harbor not merely because today is the 68th anniversary of the bombing, but because I think our national response to the attack is worth remembering.  Under President Roosevelt’s leadership, America — which was horribly unprepared for war — geared up for an enormous struggle, fought a two-front war that featured bloody battles on virtually every continent, and eventually forced its enemies to accept unconditional surrender.  America did not ask for war, but when war was thrust upon it, it accepted that burden, made the necessary sacrifices, fought the war, and won.

I recognize that fighting an elusive terrorist network like Al Qaeda is not like fighting the Japanese Empire or Nazi Germany.  Al Qaeda’s minions do not wear uniforms or fight conventional battles.  Instead, they hide in remote, lawless areas, like the wild, mountainous territory along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and wage war through suicide bombers and other terrorist devices.  Nevertheless, Al Qaeda attacked our country just as surely, and with results as devastating and deadly, as the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  The only appropriate response to that attack is to find our enemies, engage them, and ultimately kill them on the field of battle.

This seems self-evident to me.  The first obligation of any nation must be to ensure its own security, and no nation can be secure if it allows deadly attacks to occur without finding and defeating the attackers.  The United States therefore must find and defeat Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda.  If, as our government currently suspects, they are in Afghanistan, then that is where we also must be.  For that reason, I support President Obama’s decision to send in more troops, and I think we should stay in Afghanistan — or wherever Osama bin Laden and his terrorist gang is found — until we get the job done.  This is not a war that America asked for, but it is a war that we must win.

The Chain Of Command

President Obama’s protracted consideration of a new Afghanistan strategy is a bit puzzling.  Obviously, the decision on whether, and if so how, to fight overseas is a critical decision that you would expect would command the President’s careful attention.  Nevertheless, it is odd that the President approved an Afghan strategy in March and now appears to be very publicly reconsidering that strategy. Candidly, I think Presidents are ill-served by public decision-making processes, which often make them look indecisive.  A better approach is to consider the strategy privately and then, when the weighing and balancing has been completed, to announce the new approach.

I know that General McChrystal has been criticized for a speech he gave, in which he expressed his views on options that the President may be considering.  I agree with the sentiment that the military should express its views through the chain of command — although American history is riddled with politically ambitious generals, from Jackson to McClellan to MacArthur.  I think General McChrystal can be excused his misstep, however, in view of the very public nature of the strategizing, where other participants, like Vice President Biden, are openly trumpeting their proposed alternative approaches.

I certainly hope that President Obama is not seriously considering adopting a half-baked, politically motivated “Biden strategy” over a “McChrystal strategy.”  In that regard, I agree with the conclusions articulated in this piece.  I think Joe Biden is one of the most overrated, underachieving political figures of the past 30 years –a blabbermouth, a windbag, a narcissist, shallow and unprincipled.  It is bad enough that President Obama selected Biden as his running mate; it would be an appalling indictment of the President’s judgment if he actually followed Biden’s advice.

Eyes On The Prize

Congratulations to President Obama on winning the Nobel Peace Prize.  I’m not sure that our humble blog can add much to what has already been said about this surprising announcement.  Richard thinks it is a good thing to reward someone who has announced that his Administration will be different from the last in terms of commitment to dialogue, collective action through the United Nations, and multilateralism.  I, on the other hand, am a bit suspicious that the award is not so much a tribute to President Obama as it is another slap to President Bush by the European community.

Politically, I am not sure what this means for President Obama.  I think it is not necessarily a bad thing for an American President to be popular with the citizens of other countries, but the question is: popular for what?  Winning the Nobel Peace Prize 9 months into your Administration, without a concrete peace-related accomplishment to your name, seems bizarre.  The stated reason for the award seems to be that it is aspirational and intended to be inspirational — that is, an effort by the awards committee to push American policy in a particular direction.  I hope President Obama does not let the award influence his decision-making on matters of American national interest, like how we should proceed in Afghanistan.  Those decisions should be based on a hard-headed assessment of American interests, not on concerns about the perceptions or interests of a Scandinavian committee.

Leaking Like A Sieve

It is appalling that General McChrystal’s confidential report on conditions in Afghanistan for President Obama was immediately leaked to the Washington Post.  Who was the leaker?  Someone in the White House who thinks the war in Afghanistan is wrong and wants to exert pressure on the President to stop the fighting?  Someone in the military who wants the public to know that the military is recommending more soldiers on the ground, so that there will be pressure on the President to follow that recommendation?  Or is it just someone who got a copy of the report and wants to curry favor with the Post in hopes of getting some fawning Style article at some point in the future?

Does no one in government put the best interests of the country over their own self-interest or their personal political views?  Don’t the few people who got copies of this report feel sufficient loyalty to President Obama to allow him to review and carefully consider a confidential report about a military matter?  The people who leak these important reports to the press seem to think it is all some kind of Washington insider political game.  It isn’t.  The decision on how to proceed in Afghanistan — which unquestionably was an important base for terrorists before 9/11 and still serves as a significant refuge and threat — is an important one that the President should be permitted to make after quiet reflection and consultation, without being rushed or prodded by unseemly leaks.

As a former journalist, I am all in favor of open government and vigorous press coverage of important decisions.  A government has to be able to keep some secrets, however — particularly when it comes to military and intelligence matters.  Right now, our government seems incapable of performing that essential activity.  At some point, it will cost us.