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09 August 2009

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jonst

Col,

Do you buy the meme going around that we (the govt)have not had a 'full throated' debate on this strategic decision? That no senior member of the Admin, civilian or military, has made the argument to 'get out' of Afgn. i.e. there is no George Ball around today. And that the only thing discussed/disputed has been 'tactics'.?

alnval

Col. Lang:

Dang. There's that French phrase again. The one that goes, "The more things change, etc."

We've truly been unable to shed our centuries long belief that it is our moral duty to save others from themselves. The words of the rationalization may change (saving them from living in prehistorical conditions vs. saving their souls) but still it’s the thought that counts. Especially when we can jigger in the idea that it’s in our national security interest to do so.

Two billion dollars a year for 20 years to support the police and army?! Wow. That this will somehow move the Afghanis closer to civilization while making us safer and more secure? Has our world wide experience in this kind of meddling not taught us anything?

I think we’ve again managed to get ourselves stuck with that metaphorical obligation to figure out how to make lemonade. Maybe it’s our Puritan Ethic or some other overweening sense of being mistake free because God is on our side. Or maybe it’s just in our genes. Or maybe we’ve forgotten what lemons really look like.

In short, whatever happened to the Prime Directive?

On Gen Jones: I’ve watched him on the tube and have felt some dissonance between what I know of his bio and how he presents. He also appears to have a high frequency hearing loss which may inhibit his comfort with public speaking.

Patrick Lang

johnst

So far as I can see, there is no George Ball in this government.

Someone commented here that he was uninterested in comparisons to the VN era. Thst is a major mistake in thinking.

Afghanistan is not Vietnam, but we are the same. pl

N. M. Salamon

Colonel:
The USA politics is a farce, when measuring the results from the perspective of the non-elite cohort:
1., We can not afford single payer healthcare [or the present bill in Congress] for it will cost $trillion in 10 years according to the Congressional Budget Office.
2., Yet on the same date we talk of open-ended occupation, nation building in the god-foresaken country of Afganistan, which will without doubt cost over $ 1 trillion over 10 years, counting interest on borrowed funds, Veteran Affairs for the injured, and the ungodly amount which will flow to CONTRACTORS, a la Bush and Halliburton - as an added bonus opf USA blood spilled for no rational reason!.

The USA needs some adults in Congress, rather the present cohort which is purchased by big business. The USa should leave Iraq, Pakistan [note the recent Gallup poll as in Al-Jezeera today's ed], Somalia and concentrate on the economic needs of the USA [which is virtually bankrupt].

Good luck

Cold War Zoomie

Hmmm, will it end like this:

How Many Allegories?

All the treasure ends up going over the cliff before Danny does.

Serving Patriot

@Jonst,

If there is a George Ball (as the COL notes), I have neither heard nor seen him.

Besides, after the fiasco surrounding COL Reese, why would anyone stick his head into the grinder?

My sense is there are many, younger mid-level folks questioning what we are doing, why we are doing it, and how improbable "victory" (of any sort) is. Yet, none are in any position to get their voices heard, much less influence the course of policy. So, they vote with their feet.

SP

Fred

"Afghanistan's central government takes in roughly $890 million in annual revenue" And their army needs $4 Billion per year? Just how did the Taliban manage to run the show and curtail opium production at the same time?

Watcher

Daniel Dravot: Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering. The world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men.

So who Peachy and who is Danny? Good choice of pic.

As the Pincus article points out, the cost of the afghan security forces "we" envision is greater than what they can afford to pay for. If there is anywhere we will fail, I would say that is it.

F B Ali

I believe the conclusion is inescapable : The US is being led into the Afghan quagmire by a grouping of conmen who may have different secondary agendas, but all of whom have the same primary goal, namely, to milk the country of as much money as they can gouge out of it for themselves or their agendas. It is the same kind of scam that was recently played in the financial markets.

In the military ethos a staff officer who facilitates bad decision-making by his commander is either dumb or a careerist.

robt willmann

Unfortunately, I missed the appearance(s) of Gen. Jim Jones on the Sunday morning "news" shows of August 9, 2009.

Although he certainly can and should be providing input on policy, he apparently views his job as primarily staff planning, as described in the main post above. Thus, the less he has to support by public statements the disastrous policies being undertaken by the Obama administration in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the better for him.

The rollout and marketing of the propaganda devices called "terrorism" and the "war on terror", beginning in September 2001, have been remarkably successful from the standpoint of their creators and operators. Three wars, including Pakistan, billions of dollars, the enactment of authoritarian domestic laws, and eight years later, the program is still going strong, with no indication yet that sanity and patriotism will intervene to stop it.

The Washington Post newspaper, an active and ongoing promoter of the wars and the associated policies, sees a long future for the program, in the article from 9 August 2009 by Walter Pincus cited above.

However, in 2008, the Rand Corporation, or RAND -- the spelling in all capital letters it desires -- published a paper nearly 250 pages long entitled "How Terrorist Groups End". This seems like a perfectly reasonable and appropriate question to ask, and one that has been strangely absent from the chattering class on television, Congress, and the political campaigns these last eight years.

The authors claim to have analyzed 648 groups that existed between 1968 and 2006. They found that 43 percent of the time the groups transitioned to the political process, 40 percent of the time they were ended by policing, 10 percent of the time their goals were achieved, and military action ended them only 7 percent of the time.

The paper can be found and downloaded here--

http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/MG741-1/

The Washington Post article states that later this month, Gen. Stanley McChrystal "is expected to present his analysis of the situation in the country." And, "[w]e will need a large combat presence for many years to come, and we will probably need a large financial commitment longer than that," according to Stephen Biddle, a senior "fellow" at the Council on Foreign Relations and a member of the "strategic assessment" team advising McChrystal. Notice that Mr. Biddle, like all the chickenhawk promoters of the wars, uses the word "we", while a certain part of his anatomy is never to be found in the line of fire.

Some publicist got inserted into a media story on Gen. McChrystal when he was appointed to be U.S. Commander in Afghanistan that he only ate one meal a day and slept just three hours a night. I find this somewhat odd, beginning with the maintenance of blood glucose levels.

Whatever Gen. McChrystal's schedule is, I make the modest suggestion that he take a little time away from all the classified cables and briefings, find a quiet and safe enough spot in Afghanistan overlooking some of its beautiful landscape, and read the RAND paper. Then, at the same place, while overlooking the countryside, he should think about the history and culture of the people in the areas somewhat arbitrarily called Afghanistan and Pakistan, and visualize that they have families just like all other societies in the world. And then, he should get a pencil and piece of paper, and write down what the budget deficit of the federal government is now, what it will be by October 2009, for the next governmental fiscal year, and the total national debt. Finally, he should think back, or ask if he is not quite old enough, about how things were in the good old U.S.A. when my generation was growing up in an environment and economy in which one person, usually the father, could work, support the whole family, save money, have a nice car, and send the children to college, all without a credit card or 30-year mortgage. And then ask himself: what has been happening to our country, what are we really doing here (Afghanistan), and who is benefitting from the blood of the young men and women I see each day?

After that, he can have the helicopter come pick him up.

Since the subject is Afghanistan, and domestic politics, we can check out a little testimony before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 8 March 2007, from Gen. James Jones, Richard Boucher (assistant secretary of state for south and central Asian affairs), and James Dobbins of the RAND Corporation. It can be found here--

http://foreign.senate.gov/hearings/2007/hrg070308a.html

The topic was "Afghanistan, Time for a New Strategy?"

A new strategy ... question mark?

Everything old is new again. [*]

(*Apologies to the soundtrack of "All That Jazz").

William R. Cumming

PL note excerpt from your post above:

He made it clear that his conception of his role is that of the head of a staff planning agency that works out in detail the papers and briefings that support the commander in chief's decisions.

Is the word "support" utilized correctly? The reason I ask is that I always thought NSC role was to facilitate "Decision-making!" Not "Decision-supporting." If it is not the former than why have an NSC at all or is this just the "truth" enforcement arm of the White House to make sure the National Security community does not go astray from Presidential policies?

rjj
... when my generation was growing up in an environment and economy in which one person, usually the father, could work, support the whole family, save money, have a nice car, and send the children to college, all without a credit card or 30-year mortgage. And then ask himself: what has been happening to our country...

You didn't mention pay for fee-for-service medical care.

Pure Fogyism. You seem to expect something for nothing. The abovementioned had to be sacrificed in order to achieve our new improved standard of living.

Oops. Gotta go. The Home Depot guys are here to install our new Louis Quinze sauna.

Patrick Lang

WRC

A semantic difference of no real importance. "Support" in this case means to provide information and policy options to the president. pl

David Habakkuk

alnval,

'Maybe it’s our Puritan Ethic or some other overweening sense of being mistake free because God is on our side.'

In an interesting recent piece, the Yale literary scholar David Bromwich suggests that the desire to think well of oneself is a common element in many imperialist ventures -- not simply those of Puritans past and present. It is worth thinking about, at least. An extract:

'The public understanding that control of the occupied country is somehow unselfish goes a long way to legitimate staying on. By contrast, empires that actually profess their selfishness are rare. The Belgian interest in the Congo represents an extreme and not an ordinary case; and the hatefulness of such adventurism sets a natural term to its efficacy. Most people, most nations, love themselves more than that. We love the idea that we are good; that we have and practice the best way of life. (The Roman Empire held the latter belief with so unmixed a fervor that its armies could maintain its colonies in subjection without the slightest pang of remorse. The best and luckiest of the colonized might always become Romans.) Self-love feeds on and builds up amour-propre -- the sense that we are showing a good face to the world. Hence, imperial conquest naturally mingles high reasons with base motives. For the occupying power, to have gotten in, and to have suffered losses in a foreign place, deepens the tracks of collective self-love to such an extent that no counteraction can be expected from self-reproach.'

(http://dissentmagazine.org/article/?article=1405.)

William R. Cumming

Thanks PL! Do you have a past pick as which NSC Advisor did the best job? A recent book by Ivan Dalder and another NSC buff picks Scowcroft as the model for the NSC advisor. I probably would pick Scowcroft also but for the reason that he kept NSC from entering into operations and day to day arguments between the departments and White House. Except on very rare occasion of course.

Leanderthal

This is madness.

The Neocon "scum", as the Colonel calls them, continue to conspire with the military/industrial complex to keep us in a constant state of war. The Global War on Terror, was, is, by definition a perpetual war.

The Pentagon needs a practice field somewhere to experiment with its expensive toys and disposable soldiers.

Obama has drunk the Kool Aid I'm afraid, and has decided that Afghanistan is today's practice field, the stage on which this act of the unending tragedy will be performed.

Good choice if it's decades he wants. The general in the Pincus piece who called the place "prehistoric" got it right.

It's a fool's errand at best, and a tragic unravelling of our society at worst.

"Where have all the flowers gone? /Gone to graveyards every one./ When will they ever learn?/ When will they ever learn?"

alnval

Col. Lang:

re David Habbukuk’s comment:

Rationalizing the actions that flow from US foreign and domestic policy by appealing to a faith-based higher power is a convenience consistent with US history. I think this makes our politicians more comfortable about the decisions they make because they have a culturally sanctioned religious shield between them, their self-serving actions, and the people they purport to represent. For examples of this overweening investment in religious righteousness one has only to read the current events pages of newspapers or the internet. Moreover, I guess my own investment in my US citizenship makes me prone to think parochially.

That other leaders at different times or places in the world’s history have been more straightforward in their willingness to rationalize their need for power by not appealing to religion but directly to the peoples’ belief that their country is ‘the best’ merely reinforces the universality of the problem and screams that we are doomed by our biology. The Roman example is instructive. The motto SPQR (Senatus Populusque Romanus) was carried by the Roman Legions throughout their military campaigns identifying that they were there on behalf of the senate and the people of Rome.

What is really troubling in the comment is the clarity with which Bromwich points out how we get stuck in continuing to make the same mistakes over and over as implied by the old saw “In for a penny in for a pound.” We’ve been unable to do anything about this despite the fact that our society has come to understand and appreciate its importance with the concept of ‘cognitive dissonance.’ If my car were a lemon I’d never have bought it therefore my car is not a lemon. Or even in Einstein’s definition of psychosis; doing the same thing over and over again each time expecting a different result.

At a micro level this idea makes sense to most individuals. At a macro or group level, clearly it does not. Consider the example of groups of senior citizens arguing against the principle of government run health care when their own health care is provided by the government.

Following Bromwich one can only speculate that the unselfish self-love which caused our new political leaders to run for office in the first place has been so overwhelmingly reinforced by their success at being elected that they no longer are able to recognize that there may be little difference between their approach to problem solving and that of their predecessor. For one thing, the new guys seem to have lost the ability to understand the value of “cutting their losses.” During the campaign that applied to the other guy. Now that they’re in office, the new guys’ decisions don’t require that level of scrutiny.

How to escape this paradox? Andrew Bacevich writing in his book The Limits of Power (2008) says we are not likely to. He sees an end to the American Empire because, among other things, he believes that the great majority of us have been seduced (another term for self-love?) by our culture of consumption and our concomitant reluctance to even recognize the changes we must make if we are to survive.

A bleak picture indeed.

John Kirkman

"If any question why we died,
Tell them because our fathers lied."
R Kipling
------------------------
Many years ago I used to drink with an RAF pilot who flew biplanes out of a base near the Khyber Pass, circa 1930. His conversation would fit right in today.

alnval

Col. Lang:

My apologies to David Habakkuk for misspelling his last name. I'm usually more sensitive to that given how my own names are so frequently mangled. I guess the content got away from me.

Again, regrets.

Serving Patriot

@robt willman, thanks for the pointer to the RAND paper. Amazing and depressing at the same time.

SP

Ingolf

My impression (from the outside) is that the opportunity for an unforced change of direction is probably gone. The mid-term elections in 2006, and the choice of Obama (in no small part, I believe, because of his comparative antiwar stance) suggested that many Americans had become deeply uneasy about foreign adventurism.

Perhaps it was only ever a dream (as David's quote from Bromwich would suggest) but I thought Obama, with his rhetorical powers and the immense goodwill that accompanied his election, may have been able to capitalise on this implicit mandate to begin a peaceful change in foreign policy. It could only ever have been done, I think, by using the momentum of a new and fresh administration (and the disarray of his opponents) to rapidly shift the very ground of public debate. While he's made some constructive changes (albeit mostly rhetorical) on the foreign policy front, the Af-Pak albatross he's now made his own will probably drag him under.

The moment is lost, I fear, and his image well on the way to becoming irretrievably blurred. With secular economic forces likely to overwhelm his domestic agenda (such as it is), "yes we can" may soon, unfortunately, start to sound ironic. Or even worse, cynical.

As alnval suggests, it borders on the tragic.

jr786

I think Obama is trapped by his own campaign rhetoric, where he excoriated Bush for taking his eye off Afghanistan - the 'real locus of the war on terror', to paraphrase.

He can't hardly pull out or pull back now as doing so would give ammunition to his political enemies, which is all that matters, apparently.

So once again Americans - and Afghans - will be slaughtered to further domestic political agendas. Great.

Rick

The Man Who Would Be King.... Read that wonderful Kipling short story in eighth grade. And was mesmerized by the film, years later. Caine and Connery were perfectly cast for the roles. Loved the film; think I'll watch it again.

Excellent picture choice for this commentary. Afghanistan is fatal for fools.

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