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04 December 2009

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Andy

Col. Lang,

I think it's now pretty clear that domestic political considerations are driving the bus with respect to our Afghanistan policy.

JohnH

Where are Federico Fellini and Joseph Heller when we need them? Only they could Afghanistan justice.

For those who don't recall, "typical for Fellini's films is carnivalesque style and constantly shifting boundary between illusion, studio-built artificiality, and reality. Once he remarked, 'I make pictures to tell a story, to tell lies and to amuse.'"

Just like Washington--except for the amusing part.

Fellini could have had great fun exposing Washington's illusions of grandeur and making them the subject of great hilarity.

Washington's policies are totally farcical. All that's missing is for someone to hold them up for the mockery and ridicule they are begging for.

Fred

I'd join you but I think I need something stronger than tea. The key points I took from the LA Times piece was all Obama cared about was an exit date and that Gates brought up the Reagan era decision to cut off funds to Afghanistan (Mujahedeen, not clear in the quote?) after the Soviets left Afghanistan.

As to Mullens, it is clear that after all these years he (and apparently the entire joint staff) find the functions of a tribal society completely alien and even the basics of political power seem to be beyond him. "Power brokers need to be eliminated or change their ways." I've long since given up hope of 'bipartisanship' in the US Congress, why the hell should the Chairman of the JCS expect any of the multitude of Afghan warlords who's POWER helped keep Karzai in office volunteer to give up both the power and the income from graft?

Meanwhile in the US it's terror condition yellow everywhere, the Al Quada weapons of 9-11, box cutters, still available at any Wal-Mart for $2.99. National Health insurance, not worth raising taxes on our overburdened millionaires. War in Iraq and Afghanistan? Why that's not worth anyone's tax cut either. The democrats should stop taking such glee over the visceral anger of the tea-baggers and what appears to be the self destruction of the GOP. The anger over incompetent leadership within the US Government is both broader and deeper than it appears in the MSM. Our elected representatives should be explaining why these wars are worth the lives of 5,000 of our honored dead but not a single tax cut?

Dan M

Don't forget the arak for your sundowner colonel. Nicest gift i ever received was a silk prayer rug. Unfortunately, went away for a week and my kitties claws took a liking to it.

Jackie

Does this mean Kagan and Mullen will have to fight it out for the ambassador position in Kabul? I hope Eikenberry sharpens his knife and stabs them both.

I really don't understand how fighting in a small country half way around the world is in our national interest. Maybe I'm just not very bright, but I fail to see how drone attacks on strangers in another country makes Kansans any safer. Personally, it would piss the hell out of me to have members of my family killed that way.

Andy

And why is Adm. Mullen, adviser to the President on military matters, discussing Afghan politics and US policy on Afghan politics? His role should be limited to discussing how the military means will achieve the political ends as directed by the President. Where is State in all this? Mullen and Gates seem to be doing most of the interviews.

Ted in Oregon

Col. Lang --

I have admired your commentary and perspective here for years, but do you really feel the policy-making now is so unusually bad, even perhaps worse than the breathtaking and tragic incompetence achieved by Bush Administration defense and security teams?

I see Obama trying to frame defense and security in a larger context of national priorities, rather than leaving its fiefdom inviolate and unchallenged. Is that a deep error?

And what about this view from Clare Lockhart? Is this demonstrably wrong?
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article6941566.ece

Thanks for your thoughts between pistachios.

R Whitman

The July 2011 deadline is a very shrewd political move. If Mullen, Petraeus and McChrystal do not show a significant amount of progress in Af/Pak by then they will be designated failures and dismissed by the President in disgrace. This would cut the ground out from any political ambitions Petraeus might have.

This is a military "perform or else" job without the usual high level whining of why we cannot complete the effort.

david

I see your Oriental rug and raise you a JCS powerpoint:

http://msnbcmedia.msn.com/i/MSNBC/Components/Photo/2009/December/091202/091203-engel-big-9a.jpg

Hmmm ...

walrus

I listened to the interview and read the article with deepening distress.

The evidence is now conclusive that Obama has narcissistic personality disorder and this is a crippling mental condition for a President to have, especially during wartime. The import of this condition is that all decisions are about what's good for Obama, not what is good for the country.

My analysis of what has happened in this "debate" is that Obama was presented with a set of options, none of them good, and invited to pick the "least worst".

However, and this is crucial to understand, he analysed them not through the prism of what was best for the country, or even his Administration, but through the prism of what was best for Obama the narcissist, and he asked the crucial question narcissists always ask themselves: "Exactly how can I extract maximum praise and adulation out of this immediate situation?"

The only source of praise and adulation available in the room were the generals - that's why he gave them what they wanted and in return received the praise and adulation he craves. He balanced this apparent failure to deliver to his base by giving them a sop: "I've set a date!" Happy happy! Joy joy!

It is crystal clear that Obama has no interest or understanding whatsoever in Military strategy, let alone the empathy levels necessary to understand COIN. That is patently obvious by his immediate seizure of the only thing he could understand ...A Date!!!!!

Mullens interview with Al Jazeera confirms it. Basically all he said was "We have set a date, to decide to set a date to decide to make some decision about something, or perhaps we will decide not to."

Folks, hope is not a plan. Prayers should be said for the Tens of thousands of military families that will bear the consequences of Obamas blatant indecision and vacillation.

Prayers should also be said for the entire country.

If anyone asks for the tell-tale evidence of Obama's narcissism, I'm happy to post it.

Patrick Lang

TiO

It appears that the Chicago machine politician in him is running the show. pl

Patrick Lang

walrus

Thanks. Now we will hear from alnval? pl

Nancy K

Arm chair psychiatrists also diagnosed President Clinton and Bush with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Maybe it is a requirement to run for this office and should be renamed Presidential Personality D/O.

William P. Fitzgerald III

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Maybe Mullen should be ambassador in Kabul

This Al-Jazeera interview with Admiral Mullen is a revelation for all. The convoluted process of ideology driven advocacy and domestic politics behind "strategic" decision making is laid bare. Does anyone understand this nonsense? And then there is the LA Times piece below. "Max Leverage?" A military planning point in an internal document has been made into a public statement of intent? This is more like the "Gong Show" than national planning.

I am fed up with it. I just want to go sit in the bazaar somewhere and haggle over rugs. I want some tea and lots of pistachios. This is crazy. pl

http://www.latimes.com/news/nation-and-world/la-fg-obama-afghan4-2009dec04,0,4528982.story

http://english.aljazeera.net/news/asia/2009/12/200912424926404830.html

04 December 2009 in Afghanistan | Permalink
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Col. Lang,

I think it's now pretty clear that domestic political considerations are driving the bus with respect to our Afghanistan policy.

Posted by: Andy | 04 December 2009 at 12:18 PM

Where are Federico Fellini and Joseph Heller when we need them? Only they could Afghanistan justice.

For those who don't recall, "typical for Fellini's films is carnivalesque style and constantly shifting boundary between illusion, studio-built artificiality, and reality. Once he remarked, 'I make pictures to tell a story, to tell lies and to amuse.'"

Just like Washington--except for the amusing part.

Fellini could have had great fun exposing Washington's illusions of grandeur and making them the subject of great hilarity.

Washington's policies are totally farcical. All that's missing is for someone to hold them up for the mockery and ridicule they are begging for.

Posted by: JohnH | 04 December 2009 at 12:18 PM

I'd join you but I think I need something stronger than tea. The key points I took from the LA Times piece was all Obama cared about was an exit date and that Gates brought up the Reagan era decision to cut off funds to Afghanistan (Mujahedeen, not clear in the quote?) after the Soviets left Afghanistan.

As to Mullens, it is clear that after all these years he (and apparently the entire joint staff) find the functions of a tribal society completely alien and even the basics of political power seem to be beyond him. "Power brokers need to be eliminated or change their ways." I've long since given up hope of 'bipartisanship' in the US Congress, why the hell should the Chairman of the JCS expect any of the multitude of Afghan warlords who's POWER helped keep Karzai in office volunteer to give up both the power and the income from graft?

Meanwhile in the US it's terror condition yellow everywhere, the Al Quada weapons of 9-11, box cutters, still available at any Wal-Mart for $2.99. National Health insurance, not worth raising taxes on our overburdened millionaires. War in Iraq and Afghanistan? Why that's not worth anyone's tax cut either. The democrats should stop taking such glee over the visceral anger of the tea-baggers and what appears to be the self destruction of the GOP. The anger over incompetent leadership within the US Government is both broader and deeper than it appears in the MSM. Our elected representatives should be explaining why these wars are worth the lives of 5,000 of our honored dead but not a single tax cut?

Posted by: Fred | 04 December 2009 at 12:29 PM

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Pat Lang,

Your sentence, "The convoluted process of ideology driven advocacy and domestic politics behind "strategic" decision making is laid bare.", perfectly and succinctly sums up the nature of the decision-making process in the high reaches of our government.

The Al Jazeera interviewer has a very civil and polite, but relentless, B.S. detector.

As for the Prez's West Point speech, it seems to me that there must be a standard "going to war" address of well-used cliches which is dusted off and updated for any particular occasion. I've heard it before, beginning with LBJ's in June of 1965.

WPFIII


Posted by: William

JoeC

Walrus’s comment that Obama was “invited to pick the least worst option” seems correct, as reported in The Back Door is Left Open at Asia Times Online by Gareth Porter - http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/KL03Df05.html - describing early skirmishes between the White House and McChrystal and how Obama’s national security team set up his final options to box him into their consensus position.

For some further depressing details on Obama’s decision, see How the Afghan Surge Was Sold at Danger Room - http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2009/12/how-the-afghan-surge-was-sold/#more-20047 - that describes how McChrystal hired several think tank “advisors” with strong political/media ties (their think tanks all have apparently substantial defense industry support) in (large?) part to sell his plan in DC.

What hope have we if theatre commanders can essentially fund lobbyists and media figures to sell war policies that the President most likely does not agree with. Is this worse than Bush?

Norman Rogers

"I see Obama trying to frame defense and security in a larger context of national priorities, rather than leaving its fiefdom inviolate and unchallenged. Is that a deep error?"

It's a grave error because those national priorities right now are jobs and growing the economy. Spending ourselves into oblivion sort of kills any hope we have of seeing a sustained recovery.

At some point, the Federal "stimulus" that allows Federal contractors in suburban Washington D.C. to have a much higher standard of living than is found in most of the rest of this country is going to have to face a day of reckoning. We cannot sustain a state of permanent war against a scattered, disorganized adversary like we have been. We cannot have tens of thousands of contractors pulling down three figure salaries indefinitely. Northern Virginia went for the President, and Northern Virginia is sustained in part by vast Federal spending for Homeland Defense--this is the one base President Obama dare not alienate. The dirty hippies don't have any money, so they get thrown under the bus first.

We cannot continue projecting several hundred thousand soldiers, Marines, contractors and civilians into Afghanistan, but, because this President is in over his head and is drinking the Kool-Aid, don't count on anything happening until it HAS to happen.

President Obama has no "long game" and he has no deeply held, thoughtful strategy. If he did, the LAST group of people he would trust or listen to would be this group of senior generals in the COIN-denista wing of the United States Army. Good men, one and all, but definitely not strategic thinkers with the economic well-being of the United States high on their minds.

somewhere

Its a different generation colonel. Management nowadays is taught to set up a system that works in their favour. And to keep out of it while it works. I guess that is what Obama is doing. Creating conditions that will work in his favour managing a shrinking empire.

Patrick Lang

somewhere

War is still war, and defeat is still defeat. Let's see how Obama deals with that. pl

rick

If the point of this war is to stamp out governmental corruption and assure effective governance, when we are done there, could we please invade New York State?

Cieran

Colonel:

It appears that the Chicago machine politician in him is running the show.

It may be that the machine politician is running the show... off a cliff.

I increasingly believe Obama will be a one-term president. He is simply moving too far from positions of the general populace, and his record on issues of import to the Democratic party is abysmal, e.g., no public option on health care, no clean-up of the messes on Wall St, no real progress on these imperial wars, .... in short, no real change of any kind, much less the kind that we can believe in.

I think that the Obama administration is wildly underestimating the likelihood of a Democratic challenger in the 2012 primary season. Obama in 2012 will be a much weaker candidate in the primaries than he was in 2008, because Obama now has a record to run on, and so far, it's not a good record where Democratic party values are concerned.

So if it's near-term political decisions that are driving our foreign policy, then I'll suggest those political decisions may turn out to be wrong. The 2010 elections will tell us plenty more about this, but right now, it looks like many Dems will sit these elections out, while the GOP base will not. And if that is the case, then there'll be political blood in the water, and we'll start seeing other Democrats thinking about their own chances in 2012.

And just fyi... I count among my friends a host of serious Obama supporters, and lately, I've been calling him "Bush 44" -- and nobody is taking any time or effort to debate me on that front. That is a sea change from before the election, when those same supporters were full of energy and hope for his candidacy.

I don't think that Obama's people yet appreciate that his political support is rapidly becoming a mile wide and an inch deep.

N. M. Salamon

Colonel:

with great respect, the USA has won in Afganistan, excluding the capture of BOL at the time of his escape.
Since that time the USA/NATO forces were in a long drawn out study of ineffectiveness. To be truthful, in my opinion, the war was lost, NATO/USA was defeated under the Bush administration, essentially due to the ill planned war on Iraq.

This new move under the President Obama is the last kick of the cat, and will declare victory over AQ in Afganiostan, the rest is like USSR's withdrawal.

As Mr Orlov in his blog has foreseen, the same sickness undertook the USA as was suffered by USSR in Afganistan, with the same payoff, declining economy [I hope, not collapse]. The Neocon hubris has overtaken the USA armed forces, who were not trained for occupation, especially when no viablle local political leadership exists.

The mess could be blamed on many, but not the USA soliders - they done their best in an unforgiving geophysical mileau, the Hindu Kush!

William R. Cumming

Rightous indignation! Finally, PL has it correctly analyzed. Biblical in proportions is my guess. Yes, another unqualified, uniformed, narcissus, egotistic, President has been elected by the American people. The argument is going to be at least it is a change from George W. Bush but what we really are witness to is what is in fact one party government with that government being largely ignorant and corrupt. "Who Will Tell the People" the title of a book by William Greider in early 90's. What portents are in store? Hard to say but the first year of the Adminstration could not have been worse for this Administration. The tell-tale of course is the depth of feeling and strength of the documentation and arguments that he (OBAMA) could only play the hand delt! Not reshuffle the cards or play a whole new game. I live in a largely rural, largely blue collar, largely black community in the Northern Neck of VA and yes even the black voters have turned their back on the President. The argument is that well he got elected and that was historic. Now there is still no difference in the parties--well what a surprise for you "come hithers" to discovery. Again Bill Greider's analysis proves only too accurate and dismaying. President's without military experience or foreign policy experience or experience of governing add up to a tragic end game for the American polity IMO. No gravitas in the US political leadership of either party. Where do we get such men (and women)?

Charles I

What I'm interested in seeing is once these brainiacs have all these new boots on the ground, how long it takes some jihadis in a cave to figure out how draw the fighting/hunt for Bin Laden inexorably closer to the Pakistani border.

I'm no soldier, jihadi, tall forehead, maybe my meds are off, but hasn't this always been the main game - get more western soldiers drawn ever more deeply mired in the shit as Afghanistan devolves into Kabul and Pashtunistan, beachead of the new Caliphate? Isn't that basically what the buggers told us?

And what with Pakistan being our good friend, nuclear armed, how could you domestically be the guy that changed Pakistani nukes into the Islamic Bomb. Have to send in the marines then, once the surge is done, then there's the cavalry.

Seems its working. Not the Caliphate part, (Switzerland excepted), but the drawing in part.
Defeat may be a while off yet - but surely farther than 2011, after tens of billions more deflating dollars, and even more absurd political contortions.

And then you'll, well, not you, vote the GOP in. We are through the looking glass, tea and pistachios sounds about right. Where's my hookah. . . .

Redhand

I note this from the LATimes article:

Obama specifically asked [Gates] to work on the plan: more troops in faster, and a date certain for drawdown to begin. It would maximize U.S. leverage, he said.

Key White House players -- Emanuel among them -- didn't go on the president's weeklong trip so they could work on the strategy.

This is even better than "max leverage" as a signal that domestic political considerations are dictating the moves in a foreign war. The "strategy" isn't being devised solely by generals with a one-size-fits-all COIN approach: the President's chief political operative is also immersing himself in the details.

The Vietnam parallel I see is twofold. Because LBJ couldn't think of conflict outside a congressional cloakroom, the politicians in his Administration dreamed up "graduated response" as a way "to deal" with the North when they were always willing to play tit for tat. At the same time Westmoreland came up with "search and destroy" and pure attrition because (I believe) he couldn't think of anything else given the political constraints.

Neither was ever going to impress the North Vietnamese, who only negotiated our withdrawal after "Linebacker II" convinced them that Nixon was a far more ruthless adversary even when pursuing limited goals. And at least there we had an enemy state to deal with. Who are we supposed to impress with our might now: one-eyed Mullah Omar?

Why does Obama think "deadlines" and a new "surge" will work in Afghanistan in 2009-11 when dealing with tribal warlords and religious fanatics?

To me it's clear he doesn't: American lives will be lost putting on a show that will co-opt the lunatic right enough for next US elections.

I would like to have egg on my face in 2010-12 but instead I think another POTUS will have blood on his hands.

curious

It is a gong show.

-LA times is a minor regional newspaper. Huffingtonpost has bigger daily readership than that crumbling paper. So whatever "newstainment" they are putting isn't worth my clicking time. random deep google is much more fun. (Do they even have DC/afghan bureau?)

-al jazeerah show? I don't understand what he is saying. It's all word salad to me. And seriously who in afghanistan, pakistan or US watch al jazeerah? That channel is strickly middle east market. And why would anybody around the persian gulf care about afghanistan except watching US screwing up in there? He might as well show up in a cooking channel. (which bring to an important point. Does US have any credible world news channel left?. CNN credibility has been destroyed in global market. BBC smells too British-y. a decade from now, without credible global news network, there wont be any tool to voice world opinion. Maybe facebook or tweeter? yeah that'll work with the kids after they trace the traffic origin.)

I wonder what pentagon information op section is doing right now? (knowing how much leverage pentagon has in social communication process in afghanistan, I for one don't think they have a clue beyond calling up pollster and hiring advertising agent. maybe planting boring story at AP or something.) ... Al Qaeda No.2 is captured on a ship with iranian flag filled with nigerian yellow cake. ... Freedom loving countries breathes sigh of relief. [Insert picture of some arab looking guy with beard]

-----

Well they better keep it real. Not enough adult in charge and too many political hacks tweaking messaging. Somebody is going to get hurt.


Anyway the world market is fluctuating like crazy. taliban problem will be a minor inconvenience when Japanese actually goes with their threat of dumping $100B. (return Okinawa land or dollar gets it.) This will affect US debt rating for sure. Then dumping dollar move will accelerate through out asia . (there goes oil price, recovery, pakistan, eastern europe, and afghanistan.)

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