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02 December 2009


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N. M. Salamon

thank you for your excellent analysis.

You are correct that the Generals are unaware of the USA's economic problems, but then life is easy with $200000 income and perks, living in exclusive areeas or army housing.

Were the price of oil to rise in the next 12-18 months [quite probable] the renewed and deeper recession will say the end of the generals' perpetual war dream, be it Afganistan, Pakistan, Somalia. Yemen, or anywhere on earth; for a rise in price of oil will also include the destruction of the reserve nature of the USA fiat money, thereby ending all dreams of empire.


The caption most appropriate for the pix of Obama at West Point last night would be: "Would You Buy A Used War From This Man?"

Col. Lang is right. The President got rolled. 90 days of deliberation, hearing all of the pros and cons and all the intricacies of this problem left him incapable of making a decision. So by default, he chose the middle ground, satisfying no one, and asserting that the power of his presidency includes the ability to make a woman "slightly pregnant."

I thought that CNN's Michael Ware was on the mark, when he noted that there was no mention of the massive opium flows that finance the insurgency and the corrupt government, scant mention of Pakistan, no mention of India, Iran, China, Russia, Central Asia, or any of the other neighboring interested parties. This was an Afghan-only policy and that, in itself, is a recipe for failure. And, of course, just hearing the first of the endless Congressional hearings, Sen. Lindsey Graham correctly points out that the Taliban and other Pushtun enemies were listening to the speech, and all that they heard was "exit begins summer 2011." It was a no brainer that this is all about the re-election timetable, and the enemy knows that too. The leak of the McChrystal strategy paper led to a big escalation in American casualties, as the Taliban etal. escalated targeting of American troops, knowing that the generals can only lose their war escalation on the homefront in America. The Colonel is absolutely right that the authors of this strategy are totally disconnected from the genuine economic disaster that is hitting the USA, and which will further fuel the mood of opposition to the war. When the President said that the escalation of the war would be good for the US economy, he probably lost 20 percent of what remained of his dwindling popular base of support.

I am not saying that, after six years of total neglect, there are any easy or obvious options. It just seems that the President went with the worst of all options. I hope that the talent of the American military, and the fact that we truly are not an imperial occupation power, bails out the President on this mess. The Pakistani Army can go a long way towards helping, and they, despite the lack of comment by the President last night, are doing a pretty effective job. Maybe Obama will luck out of this, in the same way he is skating out of Iraq, for the time being. But this will not be a triumph of deliveration and Presidential leadership.

Not to seem cynical, but perhaps the sovereign default of Dubai will dry up some of the dope revenues stashed away there by the Taliban, and this will hurt the insurgency.



Thanks for your lucid compilation.

To me the West Point speech is a replay of the past Administration, from the audience to content. It is Totally Depressing. 30,000 more troops on the ground won’t do twat in a country with 28 million people with the topography of New Mexico and Colorado and a medieval culture and religion. A war of attrition by a colonial occupier is doomed from the start; look at America’s own history from the War of Independence to Vietnam.

Thomas L. Friedman op-ed This I Believe is a mishmash of policy errors but has at least one point right. It is in the United States National Interest to stop the flow of oil money to the Middle East by all means necessary. Instead the USA is “Kicking the can down the road”. This shows the power of the Oil Lobby, the Military Industrial Complex and the Right Wing Slime Machine. A Nation in decline is illustrated by doing the same stupid thing; contrary to the best interest of its citizens, over and over again, and expecting a different result. Sooner or later American troops will have to be withdrawn, but more treasure and blood will be spent beforehand.

I thought President Obama was better than this.


Bernanke, Summers, Geithner.

They rolled him too. And they continue to roll him.

Not that it makes a particle of difference, but I agree with every syllable Col. Lang has written here.

I used to think George Bush (the lesser) was the worst President in the history of the United States. But not now.

When will people of color rise against him? How long will they tolerate this? How long will they permit him to make a mockery of their identity, their dreams, their history, their intelligence? Bob Herbert understands this. When will the Black Caucus understand it?


Col Lang:

Cannot help but agree. But there is a relevant post at Mathew Yglesias' blog about the political fact that the military is now the branch of the executive in which the opinions of upper-level employees are taken as "the answer" by many elected officials (and a large part of the electorate). For other branches, the equivalents of the generals would be regarded by many as "just bureacrats" who might safely be ignored.

It is certainly good that the military has the respect of the citizenry--I would not wish for a rerun of the 60's on the left--but perhaps it should not get quite the adulation that it does now (I speak as a lifetime civilian).


So now we know officially that the farce will continue for the foreseeable future. The US will continue to chase Osama Bin Laden, the outlaw they had in their clutches twice but decided to let go. (Is OBL worth more to American propaganda alive than dead?) And the US will continue to act the part of the Keystone Kops, now using 140,000 NATO troops (plus various and sordid mercenaries) to trip over themselves chasing those 100 pesky bad guys.

Much of the world will let out a sigh of collective relief, for the US will be tied down in Afghanistan and Iraq. America won't be making much mischief with other "evil regimes" any time soon. So they are pretty much free to behave as they please.

You can already see the Iranian reaction--more nuclear enrichment. Russia has to be delighted, as the US becomes increasingly dependent on its supply lines.

Even the Chinese must have acquiesced (the whole point of Obama's trip?) And why not? Deciding to lend the US the $Billions it needs to fight a pointless war must have been a no-brainer for them--a cheap way to tie up its major rival and potentially even sap its aggressive tendencies and economic vitality.

And, yes, America's economic vitality will be sapped. Republicans are already calling for health care to be "postponed" in favor of more war. Legislation to create jobs by investing in infrastructure, education, etc. will arrive stillborn, deemed as "unaffordable." Next Social Security and Medicare will be deemed unaffordable. A prolonged recession will simply become part and parcel of prolonged quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan.

War has become the only thing that is affordable any more. It doesn't even matter if the war makes any sense at all, it's still "affordable," because it lines the pockets of those who control the strings in Washington.

How much longer will the American people put up with this nonsense?

R Whitman

Not enough credit is being given to the raw politics of the July 2011 commencement of withdrawal date. It is possible that if the US Military does not get the job done by then, the White House will blame the Army and withdraw anyway. Mc Chrystal and Petraeus have to perform by then with no excuses, otherwise they are responsible for the defeat.


I was reassured to see that the cadets did not look overly impressed. There were quite a few gone away into the arms of Morpheus. The cadets with a couple of rows of actual medal ribbons or a Combat Infantry Badge from prior enlisted service in the Army looked the least interested to me.

* * * *

Basically, the generals and their allies "rolled" Obama on this one. They reckon that they can do it again, because he is weak willed and they are not.

* * * *

The situation continues to be dominated by the phony "world war" atmosphere that has been generated on the basis of the "existential threat" posed by the onrushing juggernaut of the wold wide threat of the re-establishment of a CALIPHATE!!!

I was wondering just how negative your take on the speech would be. Quite bitter, I must say.

I came away with a depressing "meet the new boss, same as the old boss" feeling about the speech. When Bush announced he was invading Iraq, I remember thinking, "Man, you better be right about those WMD." After Obama's apeech my reaction is, "Man, I'm no expert, but I'm almost dead certain you're wrong."

I also took note of the many nodding cadets. Remembering my days at NAVOCS in the early 70s, I figure they were utterly exhausted from the daily routine: so much so that none of them could feign interest even when the Pres. came to speak. However, I'm sure the speech induced private "Ohh Nooo!!! Mr. Bill" reactions in more than a few.

Petraeus, by contrast, was the very picture of preening self- congratulation in his full dress uniform.

I've mentioned before that I'm an immigration attorney. This gives me a tiny opportunity to participate in public policy issues in some of my cases, and a basis to offer a different view on the destruction of core American values arising from the same "anti-terror" hysteria built into immigration law after 9/11.

The fear of "existential threats" doesn't just kill thousands in stupidly conceived external wars that gut our economy; it undermines the rule of law domestically in countless additional ways, one of which is our insane policy against asylum claimants suspected of providing "material support" to terrorist organizations.

Anyone wondering what I'm talking about should check out the Human Rights First web page at http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/asylum/asylum.aspx and their online report, "Denial and Delay" available for download here.

For those willing to get into the full report, I represented B.T., who is mentioned in the report. His grant of asylum was delayed four years on the absurd pretext that providing medical first aid to wounded Nepalese Maoists, after being kidnapped by them and threatened with summary execution if he didn't (they literally put a gun to his head), barred relief because it represented "material support" of terrorists.



Thank you for your analysis. Apparently we saw and heard the same speech. However you have more information and facts to put into your thoughts. Our President did get rolled big time and not in a good way.


RAISER William

Thanks for fleshing out some of the military pieces of what it means that the generals got what they wanted and why, from this and other pieces you've written, they shouldn't have gotten them.

Unfortunately for the generals and the US nation, pride goeth before the fall. Even more unfortunately the fall will occur not only within our military in Afghanistan but also within the American economy at home.

Sad times. When will we ever learn .....


I am often mistaken, but I got the impression that by approving McChrystal's request, Obama had provided him, and others, with just enough rope to hang themselves.

Indeed, I think he mentioned the building materials for the political scaffold: the costs and waning domestic support.

I think Obama shares the Col.'s "I doubt it" sentiment. He may feel he got rolled on this policy battle, but I would bet he likes his chances in 2011-12, especially given the utter disarray of the GOP.

I am not ready to discount Obama's sense of political timing. He just ensured that the midterms will be about domestic issues, and will likely campaign in 2012 on a pledge to end the war in Afghanistan. A pretty sharp political strategy, in my mind, given the circumstances.

Basically, I think he called their bluff and now the 'generals' have 18 months to earn their bet.

Clifford Kiracofe

Well said. Yes, the Alcibiades crowd and their bright ideas.

In ancient times, the Sicilian Expedition:

"In Athens, the citizens did not, at first, believe the defeat. When the magnitude of the disaster became evident, there was a general panic. Attica seemed free for the taking, as the Spartans were so close by in Decelea.

The defeat caused a great shift in policy for many other states, as well. States which had until now been neutral joined with Sparta, assuming that Athens' defeat was imminent. Many of Athens' allies in the Delian League also revolted, and although the city immediately began to rebuild its fleet, there was little they could do about the revolts for the time being. The expedition and consequent disaster left Athens reeling. Some 9,000 hoplites had perished, and though this was a blow, the real concern was the loss of the huge fleet dispatched to Sicily. Triremes could be replaced, but the 25,000 experienced sailors lost in Sicily were irreplaceable and Athens had to rely on ill-trained slaves to form the backbone of her new fleet.

In 411 BC, the Athenian democracy was overthrown in favour of an oligarchy, and Persia joined the war on the Spartan side. Although things looked grim for Athens, they were able to recover for a few years. The oligarchy was soon overthrown, and Athens won the Battle of Cynossema. However, the defeat of the Sicilian expedition was essentially the beginning of the end for Athens. In 404 BC they were defeated and occupied by Sparta."

The public panics, former allies turn their backs, and the power situation shifts....


Sorry, but I would like to add that if your political opposition is calling for "endless war," I don't see failure in it taking 2-4 years to get out of one theater and 4-8 to get out of another.

My apparent shilling for "the One" endeth here.


I was pretty bummed out last night after listening to the speech. It reminded me of Bush the lesser.

I think the timetable for 2011 is a signal to the generals and Karzai that they had better get this together by then, because there will be no more. I hope that is what this means.

Tom Friedman, who wanted the Islamic world to "suck on this", is tired of it. But he hasn't admitted he was wrong.


The Economist has an interesting article, dated yeserday, on Major Gant's paper...



After your post & these (as ever, excellent) comments, I watched this clip...

It didn't brighten my mood much. When raw election politics, higher oil prices, & short-term disruption of opium profits represent hope, one wonders if Medical Marijuana is soon to be the biggest innovation in our economy since credit default swaps.

At the rate things are going, we may all become ill.


As JohnH said, the Iranians must be sleeping better tonight.


I have to agree with everything Col. Lang has written. This is a tragedy.

I never gave much thought to the power of the military industrial complex, and the huge wealth transfers that accompany war, although I have been on the fringes of it, in the oil and aerospace industries.

The threat of a "Peace Dividend" after the break up of the USSR seemed to have galvanised them into action, resulting in the deliberate demonisation of Islam and that egregious "Project For A New American Century" of the AEI.

The question I must now ask, as delicately as I can, and at the risk of upsetting Col. Lang, is what are the limits of this groups power, and how long can they maintain it?


What's going to be very funny is listening to how in the midst of a "war" the inside the beltway types and many of the sheep that follow their oh so profound pronouncements from on high are going to be screaming from the rafters that yes we can too change presidents @ a time of war. The complete opposite argument that these braying arseholes made for the continued desultory presidency of W. I wish Obama fortitude and wisdom as he tries to untangle the Gordian knot that is our AF/Pak conundrum. Last point a jingoistic bellicose speech may have been more well received by our media underlords(Chris Matthews and his enemy territory remark was quite appalling) but to what purpose???
While some may have thought that the audience were not receptive of this new President I saw it as acknowledgment that blowing smoke up their hindquaters with inadequate resources and attention to detail is partly to blame for the difficult position our country is in right now, a eight year plus occupation that has to be rebooted. The generals if indeed things go further to hell in a hand-basket are of course going to fall back on that trite "If only they had let us win" frame that always works so well with the lizard brains out there and of course I'm not talking about the thoughtful people I read here. Peace


The generals do not seem to understand just how bad the economic situation of the United States really is. That is strange since so many of them end up in corporate board rooms after retirement.

True, but they tend to end up in the board rooms of weapons companies, and when was the last time the defense budget was cut? 1992? The Pentagon is the one entitlement program that won't be cut until it's far, far too late.

Obama was rolled the minute he didn't fire or punish McChrystal for insubordination for leaking his report and then going out in public and trashing Biden's position in that London speech.

As for the cadets, I can't blame any of them for nodding off. His arguments were not compelling.

John Howley

President Obama seemed sincerely to believe what he was saying last night.

He needed 90 days to talk himself into it.

Charles I

Redhand makes a fine point that answers John H's plaintive "How much longer will the American people put up with this nonsense?"

And pick your own personal nonsense. It is guaranteed that in that sphere of human experience there has been contraction of unencumbered reality and penetration of the GWOT meme that while it does not mobilize to victory, does surveil and paralyze.

The longer the GWOT goes on, the less you'll remember about the occasional need to assert civil liberty and the rule of law in face of overweening bullshit from our Guardians, until you just don't notice, care, bother, or dare to question Authority.

I've said it before. Write early and write often. Hard paper copies; here in Canada, its free to mail your MP. Make your neighbours explain to you how they tolerate such governance in their silent names.

Protesting is fun too, and its usually outdoors, always a plus. You cannot move your government from the couch, not even with wireless.

I'm relatively noisy, with lots of free time. By the time They come for You, it will be too late, unless you rear up on your hind legs and stand on any front you can. Liberty is indivisible, blah, blah, blah, any cause not your own cause per se, is ours to lose together.

Rudy Guliani loved his his police the small stuff, it'll rein in everything theory, (rebutted in Levit's highly amusing Freakanomics. It has to be vigorously applied in the civil and constitutional arenas before harebrained schemes that are too big to fail, too rich to resist, but too big to question strip you of everything but the bill.

N. M. Salamon

Interesting 2 comments by an USA expatriate [in Spain]


Nancy K

I also wish that President Obama would be bolder, would bring our troops home now, and would shove health care reform down the Republican and Blue dog Democrat's throats, however I do not see that happening. Unlike President Bush who was a decider and did not need the facts in order to decide, President Obama seems like an appeaser who lacks the courage of his convictions.
Our presidents are like the tin man and the lion in The Wizard of Oz, with one needing a brain and the other courage.


Stephen Walt posted five questions to keep in mind while listening to Obama's speech last night. Here's one of them:

"Even staunch advocates of the war concede that our task is 'daunting,' and several independent studies and reports -- including General McChrystal's own assessment -- maintain that the United States will have to stay in Afghanistan for at least five to ten years, at a cost of billions of dollars per year. Will the president say this explicitly, or will he try to convince us that these reports are wrong and that it won't take nearly that long or cost nearly that much?"

So apparently Obama thinks he knows more about the complexities of war than most military analysts who spend huge amounts of time keeping their nose to the grindstone studying about war. Otherwise, he wouldn't be going against their assessment of the Afghan War by claiming that starting in July 2011, he'll start winding down the war in Afghanistan, steering it towards a "successful conclusion."

And I must say that I don't think this is just a coincidence that July 2011 is about the time when Obama starts throwing most of his efforts into re-winning the White House. So this says to me that Obama is so damn full of himself that he's willing to sacrifice even more American blood and treasure for the sake of keeping himself at the center of power as a two-term POTUS. Because Obama has marginalized progressives, while kowtowing to Palin-style conservatives, and because he fails to see that the more he kowtows to them, the more they call him a Hitler or a Stalin, I'm adding myself to the growing list of Democrats who won't be voting for Barack in 2012!

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