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Afghanistan: A Real War Cannot Just Be Ended. It Must Be Won Or Lost

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The United States has apparently been at war in Afghanistan for over a decade, the longest conflict in US history, and has decided in its munificence that enough is enough. It’s ending the war.

Not so fast.

First of all, the Taliban – the enemy in this conflict – have not been party to the ending of this war. There has been and will be no peace treaty. The Taliban have not surrendered, unconditionally or otherwise. As far as they are concerned, the US is withdrawing its forces, some might even say retreating. We would vehemently deny this, but we’re giving ground, freely, because we don’t think the costs anymore outweigh the benefits.

But war has its own logic, which is not the same as Obama’s twisted version that suggests that its time for the Afghans to stand up and show us what they can do. Armies are cultural phenomena. You can’t just create a good one. We tried to train a winning army in Vietnam and failed. It will fail again. Training the locals is almost always a smoke screen for our strategic unwillingness to do what it takes to win.

If a war is worth fighting for strategic reasons for over a decade, why would it be strategically wise to then simply withdraw, unless the situation on the ground makes that withdrawal strategically valid.

It has not.

We’re leaving this “war” in the hands of Afghan Forces. We did the same in Cambodia, relying on South Vietnamese troops to take Phnom Penh. They were unceremoniously repulsed, desperately hanging onto Huey Skids to escape being torn apart by Montagnards and VC. The same will happen again. Untried and untested, except under the strict tutelage of US forces, the Afghans will quite simply crumble. Easy pickings against hardened insurgents, who have shown that they can easily strike at the heart of Kabul with ease.

And then where will we be? Over the next decade, the Taliban will regain ground, and perhaps choke off what’s left of the Afghan government. And when the Afghan Army has its backs to the wall, will we go back in to bail it out?

No.

So much for the President’s vaunted logic, so majestic so often, so lacking when it comes to matters of warfare.

Written by coolrebel

May 22, 2012 at 12:31 pm

Karzai Takes The High Ground. Not.

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I know he’s preaching to his own rabble, but there’s something utterly outrageous about Karzai’s “end of his rope” response to the mass-killing of Afghan citizens by a soldier who – it now seems – was himself at the “end of his rope”. That is not to excuse the soldier’s actions, but they were not those of a sane man. US and NATO soldiers have been bleeding to keep Karzai in the power-game business and keep the Taliban at bay for over a decade. In my humble view, if he wants to score political points at our expense, we should leave him to his fate – which would probably not be dissimilar to that experienced by another blow-hard in North Africa.

Written by coolrebel

March 15, 2012 at 11:43 pm

Welcome to the Bullshit Era

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In the old days, policy used to have at least some potential to become reality, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that in America at least, those days are over. Nothing anybody seems to suggest from the President on downwards seems to mean a hill of beans anymore. It’s as if the country is set on a course for planet “slow decline into mediocrity” (or worse) and there’s not a damn thing anyone can do about it. All this despite some soaring rhetoric from the President, and plenty of hot air from just about everyone else.

Here’s a rundown of the current bullshitian landscape.

Jobs.

Anyone who thinks a $30-40bn Jobs bill is going to pass without being watered down to meaninglessness is dreaming. And it’s not certain why it will fare any better than the $800bn dollar stimulus package which was supposed to rebuild the economy and create, yes, that’s right. Jobs. The problems that the US economy is facing are profound and structural. Just throwing money at the problem without deep and lasting changes to – industrial, fiscal, and budgetary policy – sorry about the ‘P word’ again – needs to rethink very, very quickly. We don’t make stuff here. Some people suggest that manufacturing in the US isn’t “cost effective”, but my question is this. Why is it cost-effective in Germany?

Any-way, moving on to…

Wall Street

The President talks a great game about beating up onWall Street, especially now he’s been sobered up to the problem by the Massachusetts debacle. But it’s a tad too late. In January of 2009 the banks were still sinking in the quicksand. That’s the time to make them an offer they can’t refuse. After we’ve pulled them out, and they’ve put on fresh $500 shirts is not the time to be making a deal with them. And yet this is what we did. We had our boot on their necks and we blew our chance to make the single most destructive force in this country pay. And now, in the cold light of day, is anyone in the 41 strong Republican Senate caucus going to vote for meaningful financial reform? Uhh, Nope. Will Wall Street be constrained from ruining the nation again? Nope.

Healthcare

What was once a burning need is now a footnote that’s about to be buried ahead of the mid term elections. The Democrats thought that Healthcare reform was a winner, but after being thoroughly outmaneuvered by GOP demagoguery that idea is now going the way of another smart idea…

Stopping Global Warming.

Let’s get this straight. The world is waiting for America to get its act together on controlling greenhouse gases. But is 41 strong Republican Senate caucus going to vote fr meaningful climate legislation? Uhh, Nope. It will die.

Education

Ah, what’s the point. Nobody cares.

Finally, on domestic policy, my personal favorite…

High Speed Trains

California just got $2bn dollars of Federal Stimulus funding to build a high speed train network. Sounds great, right? Except for the fact that the total bill (and that’s before the usual corruption, incompetence, delays and overruns) is $42 billion. Chances of this happening in a state with a perennial budget crisis? Nil.

Moving abroad now…

Iraq

At a certain point in time, the United States is going to have to face the rather unpleasant moment when our last grunt gets on the last transport plane out of Baghdad Airport. Cue the bombs. Cue the resurgence of the insurgents and the reemergence of the Mahdi Army. Hello, reality.

Afghanistan

One day conference in London. Karzai tells us he’s going to end corruption and undo a millennia’s worth of being a basketcase that’s swallowed up empires, as well as buying off the Taliban recruits without guaranteeing their protection. He’s got 18 months before the troops we’re about to land there ship out. You do the math.

Iran

Sanctions work. And if you believe that, you think Sarah Palin is a closet liberal. Will the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 be able to justify NOT attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities? Unlikely.

Haiti

Will the outpouring of aid from Americans be matched by a long-term commitment to fix Haiti? Watch the BS flow. Ain’t nothing gonna change in Haiti.

So you see, on just about every front, there’s an awful lot of talk about how we’re going to fix things.

And then there’s reality.

Welcome to the Bullshit Era.

Written by coolrebel

January 28, 2010 at 11:57 am

Haiti Commentary: Want to Get your Nation Rebuilt? Export a LittleTerror.

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Haiti. A tragic, profoundly unlucky nation, poster child of colonial brutality and exploitation – right on America’s doorstep.

Every few years or so, Haiti pings the heartstrings of the world’s wealthy nations and donations flood in – along with every journalist worth his or her salt.

The scale and magnitude of this latest catastrophe is truly appalling, but its hard to imagine that its going to be any different this time. The Presidential Palace will be rebuilt and its new found glory will no doubt be photographed as a symbol of Haiti’s resurgence. But the photographers will be less present when the shanties are rebuilt too on the same hillsides they once stood on.

It’s possible that this time it will be different, that Haiti will be rebuilt by the world community, but it’s far more likely that Haiti’s misery will likely continue when we go back to business as usual, with our own jobs and futures on the line too.

It’s all just a tad ironic. I mean, nation building is something that we’ve been getting pretty good at recently. Iraq and Afghanistan, thousands of miles away are works in progress, to put it kindly, with literally tens of billions of dollars frittered away on projects that are blown up, mismanaged, or simply abandoned as soon as the US contractors have cut their corners and pocketed their profits and then left.

What made Iraq a go-to destination for that special brand of US imperialism? Yellow cake, even if there wasn’t any. It helped that Baghdad was home to the world’s most quintessential dictator, and this his country is second to Saudi Arabia in oil reserves.

What makes the Afghans so much more deserving than the Haitians? One thing and one thing only. Terror. Afghanistan has been home to a massive attack on the US homeland, and Haiti has not. Afghanistan is a political game, played at the very highest levels, with a very special brand of lies and misinformation, Haiti is just a disaster area, no questions asked.

To put it mildly, Haiti is not strategically important. It has nothing to offer us except cheap labor, which on a global basis, let’s face it, is not in short supply. State Department policy wonks who want to move up in the world do not specialize in Haitian political machinations. It’s in the news, occasionally, not daily.

It’s easy to lob over the occasional peace-keeping mission, and get UN support for this or that move, because when a country is not strategically important to any of the permanent members of the Security Council, unanimity is suprisingly easy to come by. Politically, there are no domestic points to score by helping Haiti – except in New York. There are only downsides. In short it doesn’t rate high on the must-do list.

That could change. America could decide to get its nation-building groove on and fix Haiti once and for all. Clean water, better housing, hospitals and all that jazz, as long as the American people are happy to provide a nationalized charitable donation – at our own expense of course.  So it’s not likely.

The truth is that Haiti is not a threat. Not in the least.

If it was, Congress and the President would have an easier time fixing the place.

If only it had Jihadists, like Afghanistan, bent on laying ruin to Miami or Orlando. Why, then Republicans and Democrats would demand a force be sent to knock off the terrorists and clean out the shanties because they’re “breeding ground for Haitian terrorists”.  No such luck.

If only the Chinese were busy colonizing the place as a staging point for new waves of cheap crap to be sold throughout America, then we could at least justify going down there to ‘compete’ with the Chinese. Not gonna happen.

If only the latest Pandemic was known to be sourced in the fetid water of those self-same shanties, so in the name of humanity we could send down some guys in white suits and clean the place up. Highly unlikely.

No, for all our talk of solidarity, as sad as it is to say, Haiti, desparate, poor, tragic Haiti – is on its own.

Written by coolrebel

January 14, 2010 at 6:52 am

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed plays New York City

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Attorney General Eric Holder made the sobering announcement today that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (henceforth KSM) would be tried in New York for masterminding the 9/11 attacks.

It’s a bold move that’s been well received by progresssives as an opporunity for America to show that no matter what the crime, justice and due process will always be served.

Even though There is No Plan is a card-carrying member of the American left, it takes a very different view.There are no upsides in bringing KSM to America to face trial. Not one.

But let’s examine why many people think there are.

The argument put forward is that America will be able to show the world and in particular the Islamic street that we’re giving this guy a fair shake, so they won’t think he’s being martyred if and when he’s executed.

Think again. We can’t buy a break with Islam, literally. We build them roads, schools and institutions and they hate us. We buy their oil and accept their undemocratic and they hate us. The idea that they’re suddenly going to say, “You know America gave this guy a fair trial so if they say he’s guilty, he deserves to be executed” is total delusion. It doesn’t matter whether we drive the guy to the death house in a limo, or sentence him to death in the brig at Gitmo, he’s gonna be a martyr to Islamists and there’s not a damn thing we can do about it. And as for the rest of the world, whether we try KSM at Gitmo or in downtown Manhattan will not change anybody’s opinion of us a jot, apart from the Europeans who are sure to whine about the death penalty.

Another argument is that the crime that KSM committed took place in New York so that’s the jurisdiction that should try him. Legally correct. Let’s give this guy due process. But sadly, this is no ordinary case. Firstly, we waterboarded the guy nearly two hundred times so admissibility of evidence is going to be in doubt. Secondly, KSM will make sure that it’s a show trial, and you can be pretty sure that torture will get the headlines in this case, not American justice. Thirdly, it will take forever, draining, dragging us all down with it, and finally, we might not even get a conviction. Think about that for a second. The guy who was behind 9/11 could walk free or do jail time? That’s a risk we’re prepared to take? To say that notion is red meat to the Republicans is the understatement of the year.

There’s also the issue of timing. If the Bush team had brought KSM back to NYC to face trial in 2002 when he was captured, I’d have been all in favor. Of course, the Neo-cons had other ideas, and the result was years of built up resentment because of the Iraq war, the exposure of unauthorized waterboarding, highly radicalized Islamists, and the plenty of time for the KSM legal team to build a rearguard defence. KSM has already made clear that he wants to be martyred for his role in 9/11. His only goal is to maximize the damage to us at this trial. His goal is simple. To look like a victim of an American conspiracy. To make us look bad. Propaganda is a powerful tool, and this guy has had plenty of time to figure out how to use it.

And what about the much maligned military tribunals. They’ve been standard practice in the US for decades. There are two reasons they’re frowned upon now. Firstly, Bush and his team totally botched the use of military tribunals, discrediting them badly, and secondly, we’re not certain whether KSM or any other terrorist is a criminal or an enemy combatant. There’s no way Bush should ever have started the “War on Terror”. Labelling Islamic terrorists as enemy combatants at war with the US was the best piece of advertising they ever had.  But that boat has sailed. It’s too late to go back.  We’re right in the middle of deliberations as to whether to escalate a war that was started to expel Al Qaeda from Afghanistan, and remove the Taliban who gave them safe haven. This war is not being fought by SWAT teams from the NYPD chasing down the hoods that hit the World Trade Center. It’s being fought by the United States Armed Forces, as authorized by Congress in the aftermath of 9/11. And the reason we’re fighting this war is partly because of the guy we want to put on trial on NYC – as a common criminal. That doesn’t quite compute.

Finally let’s consider the political expediency of bringing KSM over to the US to be tried. Obama is a principled man, but this goes too far. The American people have been roughed up pretty bad over the last couple of years. The last thing they’re going to want to see is more shame about America’s embracing of waterboarding, and other borderline interrogation techniques.  Sure, the torture rationale was formulated and carried out by the Bush team, but it’s Obama who will be airing our dirty laundry when we’ve got pink-slips to worry about. And because the trial will go on for ever, the timing is guaranteed to be terrible for the White House too. And when the grumbling reaches fever pitch – Obama is going to have to tell us “it’s okay, because it’s the principled thing to do.” Rather him then me. Ouch.

Perhaps the Gitmo approach is less “principled”, but wouldn’t it be better for America, and for Obama to put KSM in front of a closed door military tribunal. The American people don’t care how KSM gets his come-uppance just as long as he does. Yes, they’re flawed, but the process would be fast, and politically far less painful. And while there would be complaints from the left, most people, perhaps even all but the most radical Islamists, would quickly forget KSM, who would not have had his months or perhaps even years to try and score propaganda points against us. America’s standing in the world would not go down, and nor would the President’s poll numbers just as his party is fighting mid-term elections.

Obama is playing with fire.  And right now, he’s got bigger fish to fry.

Written by coolrebel

November 13, 2009 at 1:28 pm

Obama’s Decision On Afghanistan – Bold Solutions Required

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Obama’s Afghan Dilemma is only vexing because it pits one conventional approach against another, when neither holds much hope for success.

Both the COIN + CT approaches are what I call “perfect world” approaches. They rely on countless variables going right, and if history in Afghanistan has taught us anything, it’s that banking on anything there is a bad idea.

So what to do. First, we need to establish the prism we’re seeing the problem through. Is it humanitarian prism? Or a principled ideological prism? Or through the prism of securing the strategic interests of the United States via realpolitik. Ideology, in the form of neo-conservative export of American Democracy was tried, and failed. After eight years, we’re dealing with a deeply corrupt prime-minister in Kabul with zero credibility at home and in Washington. As for humanitarianism, we have to examine what it is we want to achieve. There is tremendous hardship in Afghanistan, but it’s been there for millenia. The place is now and always has been essentially Medieval. A true humanitarian mission would be massive, would require a stable government in Kabul with reach across the country, and a commitment to accelerate the course of Afghan history at great cost to the United States, and with no real guarantee of success. All that would beg the question. The third world is full of desperation. Why should Afghanistan be singled out for saving, at the expense of so many other countries that need our help.

Finally, there is the prism of realpolitik. Some might call realpolitik amoral, but there is a view – and one that I subscribe to – that only America has the power and reach to keep the world stable and relatively peaceful, and this new realpolitik is built around the understanding that America’s interests are served by serving the interests of the world at large.

Sadly, America is not omnipotent. Its resources are limited. It must decide where it can best advance the cause of world stability.

So does adding to our troop levels in Afghanistan represent the best use of American resources. The answer to that is clearly no. The major threat to world stability in the Central Asian region is not in Afghanistan. It is in Pakistan to the east and Iran to Afghanistan’s west. With Al Qaeda a shadow of its former self, and the Taliban more interested in internal control than reestablishing the Caliphate, we can safely divert resources to Pakistan and Iranian wings of the theatre.

But does that mean we abandon Afghanistan? Not at all. We need to maintain Baghram AFB as a strategic garrison with at least 2 strike brigades to deal with hotspots as they emerge, and as HQ for a large Special Forces array which will be the main strike-force of our continued Afghan policy.

And what should that policy be? In a word, bribery. The key to weakening the Taliban is to hit them where it hurts. In the wallet. Without money, they’re an overstretched rump that can’t afford recruits to expand their reach. The more overstretched they become, the less able they’ll be to enforce their brutality.

The Taliban get their money from two major sources. Opium and foreign donations, mainly via Saudi Arabia ( the world’s foremost exporter of terrorist financing ). Dealing with the cash flow from Opium will require us to pay the farmers handsomely well over market price for their opium crop in order to stop them from growing, and to keep paying them so that they resist the Taliban when they come after these – wealthier – farmers. We would also throw money around to the communities that support these farmers. Those special forces units would be the bagmen – delivering the money, and would lie in wait – when intelligence presents itself – to deal with any Taliban that come after the farmers. The good news is that we’ll be waiting for them, reversing the usual search and destroy formula in our favor. And if the farmers renege, or betray us. No more cash. The Taliban return and the farmers pay tribute in lives and treasure once more. If they like it, fine. If they don’t they can make a phone call.

At the very least, we keep the Taliban occupied while we concentrate on our strategic interests in Pakistan and Iran. And the policy would have another plus. The price of opium would rise dramatically, hitting the drug traffickers hard.

As to choking off donations to the Taliban, that will be harder, but it does not involve committing troops. It involves giving our diplomats teeth in their dealings with Saudi Arabia. A recalibration of America’s relations with Saudi Arabia is critical to our Afghan and Mid-East policies as a whole, and will be impacted by countless other elements, particularly in the energy sector of policy making. But that’s for another time.

Let’s leave this discussion by saying this. Achieving success in foreign policy comes from embracing bold solutions. There is no better cauldron for testing them than Afghanistan.

Written by coolrebel

November 11, 2009 at 3:06 am

Talk To the Taliban – Obama’s Divide and Rule Strategy

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time to talk to the taliban. (eye patches are optional)
Talk To Taliban. Eye patch optional.

Talking to moderate elements of the Taliban in order to undermine its unity is a great second prong of attack – to be combined with a more money-driven attack on Taliban control of Afghan opium. Obama was wise to caution that the complexities of Afghan tribal culture made the mapping of such talks much harder than even in Iraq. There are a number of interesting points embedded in the concept and Obama’s response.

Firstly, the Taliban rose to prominence precisely because they were able to bridge tribal divisions. Clearly they are suscepible to a divide and rule strategy, but we have to get a far better of idea of how to create it. Asking Americans on the ground to accurately understand and act on the landscape of highly complex tribal rivalries might be asking a little too much. And then there’s the question of the time it will take to build this system, and whether picking off local Taliban leaders piecemeal approach is the best way (after all, from then on they will have to be protected).  The best means may be to short-circuit that with standard procedure bribery. After all, the Sons of Iraq turned on the more extreme (Al Qaeda) elements of the Sunni insurgency because they were paid to do so.

Secondly, assuming we’re successful, and we are able to fragment the Taliban, we face the same quandary we’re looking at in Iraq. What will happen when we leave? Afghan tribal relationships are extremely fluid. Alliances change all the time, so without the focus that US ability to influence events with money and troops will bring, things might simply revert to where they are now once we’re gone.

Third, if the Taliban is stymied, reconstruction has to begin.  The only solution to the quandary above may be to make a major (and private) multi-year commitment to continue our intervention in Afghanistan, because a drastic reduction of Taliban power can only be sustained if there’s such a noticeable improvement in Afghan economic and social fortunes that going back to Taliban rule would be seen as bad news to most Aghans. Afghanistan has been a basket case for centuries, so bringing discernible improvement to its people – outside Kabul is likely to take many years.

Fourthly, none of the above means anything without tackling the opium problem in a non-violent way. Only by paying opium farmers to verifiably switch to other crops and protect them from Taliban retaliation (our only serious military role apart from stopping remain opium smuggling) can we reduce Taliban payroll – which is, for the most part, what earns the loyalty of their dirt-poor recruits.

Finally, Pakistan’s recent deal with the Pakistani Taliban in the Swat Valley is a problem for our dealings with the Afghan Taliban. We need to recalibrate our policy in Pakistan to develop stronger ties with the Pakistani Army, to build support for the civilian government, and to isolate the ISI in an effort to get that and other of Islamabad’s militant friendly decsions reversed.

We can make progress in Afghanistan. The issue is whether it can be sustained.

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Written by coolrebel

March 7, 2009 at 7:29 am