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.

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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?