Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Gloomy Expectations for 2010

In only a couple of days, the politically bruising 2009 will come to a close and we will begin another year. After being severely disappointed by our freshman president in the current year, we must now assess the year that lays ahead. Unfortunately, 2010 has already been doomed by terrible foreign policy due in large part to President Obama's erroneous choice to escalate the war in Afghanistan.

The rise in troops in Afghanistan will surely bring more war casualties. Not only for our troops, but also for Afghanistan's already vulnerable civilian population. Considering that the number of civilians killed in Afghanistan jumped by ten percent during the first ten months of 2009, this is extremely frightening (a total to 2,038 during that period according to the U.N.). It is in this context that President Obama will have to ask Congress for close to $100 billion to carry out operations in Afghanistan. Getting these funds is sure to be a political struggle as President Obama will have to lobby congress himself for the funds, as Democratic speaker Pelosi refuses to do it.

Given the many political entanglements President Obama has found himself caught himself up in (i.e. the heath care fiasco, the economy), the lack of "success" in Afghanistan will not bode well for neither his presidency nor for the Democratic party. He simply does not have the political capital to afford anything but "success" in Afghanistan. Sadly, in Afghanistan, a military victory is wishful thinking.

Monday, December 28, 2009

3000 Days Later

We have now been at war in Afghanistan for 3000 days.
That is all.

Afghanistan War Notes: December 28, 2009

The American people showed off their brilliant foreign policy cred in a recent CNN poll. Put simply, Americans oppose the war in Afghanistan 55%-43%, but favor sending 30,000 more troops by 59%-39%. I suppose you could parse out what "opposing" a war means. Personally, when I oppose something I want it to stop. I've seen some bloggers and commenters try to twist the numbers to a logical conclusion, and there's some support for the notion that that Americans are fed up with the war, but willing to give it "one last try" with the troop surge. Since we know that the Obama administration is lying about the size and duration of the surge, it seems that the American people have been duped again.
Our hearts go out to Bowe Bergdahl, the 23 year old Idahoan who was captured by the Taliban six months ago. Bergdahl was captured after he fell behind the rest of his group on patrol, and on Christmas the Taliban released a video in which Bergdahl read a statement. Bergdahl is being treated well by his captors, who probably recognize the propaganda opportunity that comes with treating a prisoner of war with dignity, in contrast to what we are doing in Bagram. I know the U.S has a sometimes policy of not negotiating with terrorists, but the Taliban are not a terrorist outfit, and it seems fair to Bergdahl's family to at least consider the Taliban's offer to release him in exchange for "a few prisoners" we are currently holding.
Oh, and we are doing all kinds of crazy shit in Yemen. It was only a matter of time before the no longer called War on Terror expanded to another lawless backwater. The nation's dire poverty and authoritarian regime leads to great discontent, and easy recruiting for Al Qaeda. The U.S, for its part, has offered military aid and drones, instead of, obviously, support to improve the lives of regular people there. There is no doubt the war will continue to widen into a hard conflict, with a warmongering assist from the U.S Senate's worst person, Joe Lieberman, who yesterday called Yemen "the war of the future."

Saturday, December 26, 2009

War Notes: December 26, 2009

I hope everyone enjoyed the holidays. The war drags on, and we'll kick along with it.

Did you know that we are approaching the 3,000th day of U.S military involvement in Afghanistan? When I was a kid I remember an explosive documentary on Vietnam called "The 10,000 Day War." If you were to begin counting the "War in Afghanistan" as beginning with the 1979 Soviet invasion, the war has now lasted 11,000 days. Oh well, at the end of the day, these are all numbers. Hopefully someone will throw together some poignant analysis to commemorate the 3,000th day on Thursday.
Here's another statistic for you: zero. That's the number of floor debates about the war in Afghanistan since the invasion was authorized in 2001. That bothers Representative Eric Massa (D-NY). Massa is a rock solid progressive, and though he has called on the House of Representatives to hold public deliberations on the conduct and future of the conflict it's unclear if he's got the statute among the leadership to get any meaningful action going.
The New York Times is displeased with El Presidente:
Mr. Karzai still does not seem to understand that substantial and urgent change is needed- in policies and personnel- to fix a government that has lost credibility and is barely hanging on in the face of an increasingly powerful Taliban insurgency.
Karzai's new cabinet, unrolled to some fanfare, actually does little to address corruption and competency issues that have plagued the government since its early days. Most notably, Karzai excluded Abdullah Abdullah and his close allies, while returning 12 out of 24 members to the cabinet, and appointing several warlords with highly questionable human rights backgrounds. As far as I can tell, it's par for the course.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Dangerous U.S. Dependency on Shady Afghan Private Contractors

With the escalation of troops in Afghanistan, a surge of Afghan private troops is sure to follow. According to the Defense Department, the current number of contractors in Afghanistan (most of whom are Afghans) stands at 104,100. In December, a report by the Congressional Research Service projects that the overall number of contractors in Afghanistan could swell to 160,000. These contractors will be hired to work at U.S. bases, guard U.S. installations, and participate in expanded U.S. training programs.

Unfortunately, according a report released in the Army Times, these private security guards are "trigger-happy" and are "killing civilians and undercutting counterinsurgency efforts." According to a U.S. officer in the area, Capt. Casey Thoreen, the heavily armed guards are like "gun-toting mercenaries with probably not a whole lot of training" and are "light on the trigger-finger." The Afghan district chief has said that most of them are "heroin addicts armed with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles".

Citing the district's senior Afghan intelligence representative, the Army Times reports that on one particular road, Highway 1 in Afghanistan, where vehicles ferry supplies to coalition bases, "more than 30 civilians have been wounded or killed in the past four years by the private guards tasked with protecting the convoys."

Since locals associate these contractors with the coalition, their reckless behavior is not only morally unacceptable, but it is also contributing to the occupying forces' staggering unpopularity in the region. Ultimately, these are the factors that are lining this war up to amount to a military disaster.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Pondering Balochistan

What was once the mission to drive Al Qaeda from their sanctuary and kill their leaders has officially devolved into a question of whether we should invade Pakistan to kill the leaders of our puppet government's opponents in Afghanistan.

Every now and then you'll hear the mainstream media mention Balochistan, or its key city, Quetta, but this is no side front. What happens there over the next one to two years will determine the success of our military mission in Afghanistan, as well as the future of our relationship with Pakistan (or our relationship with the current Pakistani government).

Baluchistan has become the home of the Afghan Taliban, with much of their leadership permanently based in, or known to pass through Quetta. As the map on the left demonstrates, Baluchistan is pretty huge- in fact, its Pakistan's largest and poorest province. Quetta is pretty deep on the Pakistani side of the border, meaning any incursion into the Taliban's base would be a pretty large breach of national sovereignty, unless, of course, Pakistan allowed it. And they won't:

"We can't fight everyone, everywhere. We need to be pragmatic. And we will not be dictated to," said a senior official with Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), speaking on condition of anonymity. The official admitted that insurgents "do come and go" in Balochistan, but insisted the ISI was already cooperating with the CIA in the province, citing 60 joint raids over the past year.

Drone strikes in densely populated Quetta would be "disastrous", he said, both in terms of civilian casualties and anti-American hostility. "I think this is just pressure tactics, the Americans aren't stupid enough to [extend drone strikes]. But if their objective is to destabilise Pakistan, that would be a good way to do it."

The U.S would disagree with the assertion that Pakistan is doing everything that they can. The reality is that the U.S will not be around forever, and Pakistan would rather not trigger an endless battle with the Afghan Taliban when it could just as well become a strategic party with them down the road. Witness the difference in policy in northeastern Waziristan, "the tribal area." There the U.S and Pakistan have been launching an intense drone and ground attack against Afghan Taliban. The reason for Pakistan's enthused participation that Waziristan is the base of the "Pakistani Taliban," who have been suicide bombing Pakistani cities and truly terrorizing the region.

It is simply not in Pakistan's interest to help us properly take out the Afghan Taliban leadership in Quetta. I do not believe that national sovereignty issues would morally prevent us from taking the fight into Balochistan (though legally I'm more conflicted). If an enemy of the United States is attacking us from Pakistan, and Pakistan won't do anything about it, we have a right to act. However, in this case, it is not American interests that are at stake, but the Karzai government's. That is quite different. The Afghan Taliban will not "follow us home." That we are thinking of creating a regional and international uproar by sending troops into Pakistan goes to show how pointless and ill-fated our battle against the Taliban is.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Blackwater's Role in Obama's War

In November, The Nation magazine broke out an explosive and frightening report detailing Blackwater's previously unknown (and denied) role in Pakistan. The New York Times has now released an article reporting on the notoriously evil security company's role in Iraq and Afghanistan, thus further exposing the real character of the so-called "just war" that is now being escalated by President Obama.

According to The Times, the parameter of Blackwater's role was meant to be limited to providing "security during raids, leaving it up to CIA officers and Special Operations military personal to capture or kill suspected insurgents". However, the firm's role was more extensive than publicly admitted with its agents participating "in some of the CIA's most sensitive activities — clandestine raids with agency officers against people suspected of being insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan and the transporting of detainees." Many of these operations involved the killing of individuals suspected of participating in resistance to U.S. occupation and "occurred on an almost nightly basis during the height of the Iraqi insurgency from 2004 to 2006, with Blackwater employees playing central roles," the Times reports.

Responding to the recent negative press, a spokesman for Blackwater insisted that there was never any contract for the firm to participate in raids with CIA or Special Forces troops "in Iraq, Afghanistan or anywhere else". This disingenuous comment circumvents an ugly truth: this lack of "contract" is precisely what allows the so-called security firm to act without accountability. The lack of a defined role allows it to act without regard to any government oversight or to civil and military law.

It's clear that the use of these mercenaries has become out of control. Yes, Blackwater is particularly evil. We know its horrific history in Iraq (well, we know some of it). Remember the September 2007 event when Blackawater operatives opened fire on unarmed civilians, killing 17 Iraqis? But aside from its shady character, there is no reason why a private contractor firm should be doing the CIA's or the military's job. No reason other than the convenience of having some third party do the dirty job without having to take the responsibility. Obama has pledged transparency in Afghanistan. If we’re pointing fingers at the corrupt Karzai administration, we need to get our act straight ourselves.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Impossible Balancing Act

Remember when everyone wondered, "How can we reconcile Obama's promise to stay until we get the job done with his pledge not to make an open-ended commitment?" Funny, how sometimes the seemingly pesky little questions are actually the important ones.

Colonel Lawrence Sellin (a P.H.D, no less) painted a grim portrait of war's future by explaining Pakistan's reluctance to cooperate. Sellin notes that Pakistan is very much taking into consideration our eventual departure, calculating that it is not worth antagonizing the Afghan Taliban or tribal leaders operating on the border. Unless a group is explicitly targeting the Pakistani government, like the Pakistani Taliban, Islamabad sees no value in creating new enemies that it will have to confront down the road without our troops and money.

Republicans would take the previous point as a mean to bash the president for suggesting a withdrawal there. "Afghanistan: today, tomorrow and forever!" is their battle cry. Incidentally, that is the reason the parallel between Obama and LBJ will not end with him being driven from office as a one-term president because of the war. American support for the war is incredibly strained, but since the Republicans are only offering war, harder and longer, they will not be able to use the issue effectively against Obama. At least Nixon had a "secret plan" to end the war.

In a follow-up article for UPI, Sellin advocates for a bottom up approach to conducting the war that puts allied tribal elders in the lead, with the U.S military serving more of a supporting role. This makes sense: while the Taliban will rally locals against the occupation as long as we are in Afghanistan, their argument will carry less weight if Afghans lead the fight against them. Part of this strategy involves training soldiers locally in their tribal areas, rather than sending them to Kabul. Given the wack-a-mole nature of the insurgency, it would be wise to heed Sellin's advice by strengthening local tribal leaders that we can work with in the long run, who can hopefully be weened off our support in the near-mid future.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

With Friends Like These

Everyone agrees that NATO's pursuit of Al Qaeda and Taliban leadership will only be as successful as the cooperation the allied forces receive from Pakistan. However, the New York Times reports that Pakistani military and intelligence agencies have launched a campaign to harass American diplomats and operatives:

The problems affected military attach├ęs, C.I.A. officers, development experts, junior level diplomats and others, a senior American diplomat said. As a result, some American aid programs to Pakistan, which President Obama has called a critical ally, are “grinding to a halt,” the diplomat said. American helicopters used by Pakistan to fight militants can no longer be serviced because visas for 14 American mechanics have not been approved, the diplomat said.

There are a number of reasons for Pakistani resentment cited in the article, including local opposition to the expansion of the American embassy and the presence of Blackwater operating in the AfghPak frontier on the Pakistani side of the border. It could also have something to do with American drone attacks, which are reportedly on the rise, and destined to encroach further into Pakistani territory. Americans want to target Taliban leadership in Quetta, which is not on the border, and have expressed frustration that Pakistani forces will not pursue the Afghan Taliban there, implying that drone attacks may be necessary.

Pakistan will continue to serve as an unwieldy ally in this war, especially now that President Zardari is in danger of being impeached on corruption charges. Zardari is another one of those inadequate leaders we are doomed to support, as his opposition is full of extremist militants. Lest anyone forget, Pakistan is the nation we hope Afghanistan can become in 20-30 years...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Proud Day For Brooklyn

Today the House of Representatives held a perfunctory final vote on the 2010 Defense Budget. However, 24 Congresspersons voted against the bill due to the $130 billion it allocated for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

During the 1970s, progressive leaders like Senator Frank Church (D-Idaho, yes, Idaho) helped bring the Vietnam war and its illegal spawn wars to an end by choking Congressional funding for the wars.

It is unlikely that Congress would ever vote down a complete defense bill such as the one voted on today, but those who voted against it loudly demonstrated their dissent. Reps need constant affirming when they are swimming against the tide, particularly against a president from their own party.

What I am proud to say is that four of the twenty four votes came from Brooklyn representatives (there are six reps who cover different parts of the borough). Those votes were from Representatives Nydia Velazquez (North Brooklyn and Queens), Ed Towns (North and East Brooklyn), Jerry Nadler (South Brooklyn and Manhattan) and Yvette Clark (Central Brooklyn).

Part of the reason for their vote can be attributed to Brooklyn for Peace, which lobbied these reps heavily, and generally keeps its reps very informed of its anti-war activities. Another reason is that each of these Congresspersons represents some hard hit neighborhoods that need financial help from the government that is going to wars overseas. Finally, their votes are a testament to the strong progressive roots in Brooklyn as a whole, beyond just the anti-war movement. Though our state politics are a mess, we New Yorkers demand that our federal officials properly represent our views in Congress. If you don't, we'll primary you.

Anyways, this is a moment of congratulations. Thank you to Congresswoman Velazquez, Congressman Towns, Congressman Nadler and Congresswoman Clark for your support in ending these wars.

Why I've Always Hated Joe Lieberman

Joe Lieberman made news today by helping ruining healthcare. This deeply distressed and depressed some of the Democratic faithful, but not me. No, I've loathed the man for so long that his antics only make me mad at his enablers, in this case Obama and Reid. The man who said during the 2006 election that he was with the Democrats "on everything except the war" also turned out to be against them on the central domestic policy plank of the party over the last four decades.

I dug up an old post I wrote during the 2008 election on our sister site, Roving Storm. I'll quote only a snippet here, but if you're pissed at Joe Lieberman, the full rant is really a treat:

Let’s be clear: Lieberman was always a total loser. He was the guy so lame he made Gore look like the vibrant one on the 2000 ticket, and he was so soft on Cheney in the vice-presidential debate that people came away actually liking the Monster. In 2002, during the Lamest Presidential Campaign in History, I got to pin Smokey Joe down on why his name was listed on a statement by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a fanatical right-wing group supporting the suppression of academics and students speaking against the war in Afghanistan. Lieberman said his name had been placed on the list by mistake, and that he did not think those who opposed the war were unpatriotic. Turns out Lieberman was lying through his teeth- the motherfucker FOUNDED the organization with Lynne Cheney in 1995.

Indeed, I remember that moment like it was yesterday. Lieberman was full stride in his "strong on defense" campaign for the Democratic nomination, a quixotic journey that started with him claiming a "three-way tie for third" after he clearly came in fifth in the New Hampshire primary, and ended with a "last stand" in Delaware, where he lost to Kerry by over 30 points. I could write a whole post about what a loser he is. But that would be off topic. The point here is that he is a war monger. What makes his warmongering even worse than than the fanatics like Bush and Rumsfeld is that you can tell, due to his overwhelming transparency, that Lieberman talks the talk for cheap political points.

Yes, Lieberman ruined healthcare reform. But he's also ruined the lives of thousands, if not millions, with his remorseless bloodthirst. I asked his New Hampshire Students for Lieberman about this back in '04, and he responded, "the Senator is pro-defense." I shot back quizzically, "What does that even mean? Who isn't pro-defense?" We both chuckled.
"Whatever..." he smiled. "We all make up our own bullshit."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Out of Afghanistan Takes Off For The Weekend

We are off to Jamaica for the weekend. It should be warm and awesome.

Meanwhile, check out a piece I wrote on Tiger Woods for IndieJourno, a site run by a friend of mine.

Also, the Mayor of Kabul who was just sentenced to four years in prison for corruption is still running the city with impunity. Good to see things are really shaping up around there.

Posts will be back up against starting Sunday.

Afghan Women Protest Karzai in Kabul

In a rare display of public rebellion, the inspiring Afghan feminist group, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) led a demonstration in Kabul denouncing the corrupt Karzai administration. Several hundred women marched, with 500 men marching in support. The group opposes the escalation, claiming,

"The innocent and oppressed people will be the victims of American air and ground attacks."

Afghanistan has a long way to go before developing its civic traditions, and allowing for healthy dissent in the streets, particularly from women, is a good step.

You Gotta Pay The Troll Toll...

At a press conference a few days ago, General McChrystal somewhat surprisingly admitted that Taliban soldiers are getting paid more than the Afghan National Army soldiers for a day's work. We may be spending untold billions in Afghanistan, but when it comes to paying for the people whose training and commitment to self-governance will allow us to leave, we were being quite the cheapskates.

The Taliban are allegedly paying their soldiers $250-300 a month. Their recruits do have to go head to head with the U.S military, which has to rank among the world's toughest jobs. But when they go head to head with the Afghan National Army, the two sides are rather evenly matched, the former's superior skill balanced by the latter's better equipment. The U.S has recently increased its new recruit pay to $240 a month, from previous amounts ranging $120-180. How it took our military geniuses this long to figure out such an outstanding discrepancy is incredible. The new amount is obviously still less than what the Taliban pays, but U.S officials have explained that it comes with benefits like literacy training. Other benefits they cite, like the chance for promotions and the opportunity to fight for your country, are less unique to one side.

The obvious answer is to pay Afghan soldiers on our side $400 a month, which would be well worth the investment if it could end the war quicker by accelerating recruitment and lowering desertion rates. The main problem is that the Afghan military infrastructure, like everything in Afghanistan right now, reeks of corruption. There is no guarantee that more funding for such an effort would lead to more cash in the soldiers' pockets. Similarly, more money wouldn't guarantee that two-timing military officials wouldn't line their pockets from both sides.

Kucinich To Attempt a House Vote to Withdraw from Afghanistan and Pakistan

Democracy Now reports that Congress member Dennis Kucinich will attempt to force a House vote on withdrawing all U.S. forces from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Kucinich announced on Wednesday that his resolution will call for a "timely withdrawal" from the AfPak region. He expects to introduce the measure next month.

Kucinich said he was motivated to act by hearing Afghan President Hamid Karzai assert that his country will probably need U.S. financial aid and training for the next 15 to 20 years.

"We shouldn't be there another 15 to 20 months, let alone 15 to 20 years," Kucinich said. "We can't afford the loss of lives. We can't afford the loss of taxpayers' money. We've got to get our priorities straight."

Kuddos, Congressman Kucinich!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

2024: An Afghan Odyssey

Though it's quite dubious that Karzai himself will be in power fifteen years from now, that didn't stop Afghanistan's corrupt president from predicting that Afghanistan would not be able to pay for its own military operations until 2024.

Asked how long he would depend on NATO allies for support in pacifying the country, Karzai responded, "For another 15 to 20 years, Afghanistan will not be able to sustain a force of that nature and capability with its own resources.”

The comment was strange for a couple of reasons. First, there seemed little harm in giving a far shorter timetable, since no one in the press bothers following up on political timetables. Second, predicting what will be happening in Afghanistan fifteen to twenty years from now is completely unreasonable given not only the turmoil that has taken place there in the last two decades, but because of how dramatically things could shift in Pakistan or the United States. Most basically, it is very difficult to measure how much maintaining such an army would cost, since we have not achieved that goal yet. We can't even control all of Afghanistan with OUR OWN troops. Finally, while the New York Times took the comment to suggest that Karzai would need our cash for decades to come, "resources" can mean different things to different people. Worth clarifying that he will not need NATO military support for another 15-20 years.

If anything, this was a desperate cry for help. Karzai was basically promising that as long as he will be in power, his government will be impoverished and incompetent. Secretary Gates responded to Karzai's comments by noting that an economically stabilized Afghanistan would not have the need for such a large military force, which is true in theory. The problem is that Afghanistan will be dirt poor for decades, probably forever, unless they get massive oil pipeline revenues. In poor countries, the military is a steady paying job that will always be high in demand. Correspondingly, it will be high in supply, as poor countries like North Korea and Pakistan can feel militarily muscular and address huge unemployment problems in one fell swoop.

An inopportune comment from Karzai, who is so shady that you must always speculate about the motives behind what he says. Hmmm.............

Monday, December 7, 2009

Good luck, Rep. Mike Capuano!

Tomorrow, Massachusetts will be having a special election to fill the shoes of the irreplaceable Senator Ted Kennedy.

Win or lose, this site sends its gratitude to long-time Boston-area Representative Mike Capuano. Capuano was recently profiled by anti-war activist Ralph Lopez, who called him a "maverick who will take unpopular votes and side with anti-war forces."

Capuano most recently showed his commitment to ending the war by co-sponsoring Rep. Barbara Lee's HR 3699 which would prevent funding for an escalation in Afghanistan." Though the bill has only 24 sponsors, the Appropriations Committee Chair, Rep. David Obey, is also a strong opponent of the war.

In one his campaign ads, Capuano promised that without a clear exit plan, “I will never, ever vote to send more American troops to Afghanistan.” Capuano has also voted against PATRIOT Act, the Military Commissions Act of 2006, and is an all-round excellent progressive.

Representative Capuano, best of luck tomorrow, and win or lose, we know the anti-war movement has a strong ally in Congress.

Statement from Zoya (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan) Opposing Escalation

"I'm a representative of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), which was established in 1977 as a women's organization struggling for women's rights. But, after the former Soviet Union's invasion, RAWA got involved in resistance against the Soviets and the puppet regime of theirs. After 1992, RAWA started to focus on anti-fundamentalist struggle, which is continuing today. . . . We are still suffering in the chains of fundamentalism – from one side, the Taliban, from the other side, the Northern Alliance and the occupiers. So we have a long way to go to achieve our goals of democracy, freedom, and secularism. I think eight years is quite enough time to prove that the US-NATO occupation of Afghanistan, under the banner of bringing democracy, women's rights, and war on terror, has completely failed. . . . The Taliban have 80% of Afghanistan under their control. They are increasing, day by day, in number, and they are also getting stronger politically and militarily. So, we see that this so-called war on terrorism has just affected our innocent civilians: our women and children are being killed, attacked by US bombs, by NATO bombs. It seems that the US invaded Afghanistan not to get rid of terrorism but to punish our people who were already suffering from three decades of war. . . . RAWA strongly believes that throwing more troops in will not solve the crisis of Afghanistan. It will even make the situation worse than before." -- Zoya

Time Magazine Turns on War in Afghanistan Hard

Tony Karon's new Time Magazine defiantly denounces President Obama's call for a troop escalation. It's title, Five Flawed Assumptions of Obama's Afghan Surge, says it all, and the piece itself summarizes concisely points that this site and many others have been arguing for months:
1. Expanding the ground war against the Taliban will in no way guarantee us any greater success in finding and confront members of Al-Qaeda.
2. We cannot build an Afghan National Army capable of defending its national sovereignty within a few years.
3. We cannot work with President Karzai.
4. A an alleged withdrawal date will not exert pressure on President Karzai, who has been forging alliances with the expectation that we will leave eventually anyway.
5. Pakistan may take on insurgents that challenge its own government, but it never has, and probably never will fight members of Al-Qaeda or the Taliban on the border if they are merely using the region to launch attacks into Afghanistan.

Conducting a war under these realities is a lot harder than waging one under the false assumptions the Obama administration has presented. Surprisingly, the Time article does not even offer an "on the hand" argument. This article is firmly against Obama's Afghanistan policy, in more decisive terms than any publication of its stature. It's worth checking out.

The most recent Time issue also includes a typically wishy-washy editorial from Joe Klein, who does include a gem of a sentence in which he calls Obama's deliberations over the war:
the struggles of a highly intelligent, dispassionate man to find a rationale for a mission that is crucial but slightly crazy, a decision that will define his presidency.

Digging Deeper Into Private Contractors

One of the lessons I learned doing disaster relief in Biloxi, Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina is that the sheer fiscal irresponsibility of the Republican plan to "shrink government." By 2005, President Bush and his Republican henchmen had been running the show for five years, repeating the mantra of "small government." Then Hurricane Katrina came along. Responding to the largest disaster in American history requires certain needs, and the federal government chose to meet these needs through private contractors, including many with a history of contributing to the Republican Party, and many who received massive contracts without competitive bidding. After all, stuff needs to get done, and if the government can't do it, it has to pay someone anywhere from 4x to 10x the cost to do it. In our experience in Biloxi, we found private contractors to be every bit as wasteful as the government. Without accountability, private contractors have no need to be "more efficient" than the allegedly lackadaisical public sector.

Now, to Afghanistan. Last Thursday we noted the skyrocking private contractor surge. There are now 104,000 contractors in Afghanistan, up 40% from June 2009, representing 57% of the Pentagon's current workforce. These are the kind of numbers President Obama and Secretary Gates will avoid mentioning, because doing so would reveal the true scope and cost of the war. Because our all-volunteer army is so hopelessly depleted after nearly a decade in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S is now using a higher percentage of private contractors in Afghanistan than any war in American history.

Who are these private contractors? Well, there's DynCorp International and Fluor Corp. The two donated $400,000 to federal candidates last election. Don't worry- they covered their bases and donated to both parties. They've now been awarded contracts in Afghanistan that could come to $7.5 billion each. This after a rare instance of federal auditing in which the government found that DynCorp's contract to train Iraqi police had been so badly mismanaged that "they were unable to determine how the money was spent." The government has launched a Commission on Wartime Contracting, which will issue a comprehensive 2011. Just in time for the withdrawal! It's unclear to me why the government needs such a long time to address this issue, when the financial waste is so damaging. I suppose that's what $400k can buy you, especially during a recession.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Helpful Map from the New York Times

(Just click on it to actually read the contents- formatting is not my forte)

Death Toll Surpasses 300 for 2009

A roadside bomb over the weekend killed an American soldier, marking the 301st death in Afghanistan during 2009. This has by far been the bloodiest year of the war- in 2008, by comparison, 155 Americans were killed in combat. Expect death totals to continue climbing during the surge, especially as more dangerous combat missions are ordered.

Friday, December 4, 2009

War Notes: December 5, 2009

There are rumors that western diplomats have persuaded President Karzai to sweep out his current cabinet and replace them will less corrupt officials. The hold up, apparently, is that doing so would incur the wrath of the warlords holding the precarious country together. A real win win.
Pakistan's Prime Minister Gilani is apparently aggrieved at the suggestion that they are carrying water for us in the war on terror. Gilani said they would conduct the campaign against insurgents on their border according to their own national interests.
Add to the ranks of the pissed off President Karzai, who is offended that Prime Minister Gordon Brown could generate goals and time tables for Afghanistan. Karzai saw Brown's declaration as imperialistic, but if he could manage his country at all, perhaps he wouldn't see such heavy-handedness from the people bankrolling him.
American Seth Jones calls for a series of Pakistani police raids coupled with U.S drone strikes in Baluchistan, where Mullah Omar and the rest of the Taliban leadership appear to be based. He says that allowing the Taliban to organize and operate with impunity with allow the war to go on continuously, and while respecting Pakistani sovereignty, we must disrupt the Taliban's infrastructure.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Pelosi Puts War Tax To Pasture

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has rejected calls from Representative David Obey to levy a "war surtax" that would raise the revenues to pay for the Afghanistan escalation. Pelosi had no alternative idea for paying for the war. This is unsurprising, the rejection of Obey's proposal was always an issue of "when", not "if".

A Quick Reflection On Yesterday's Times Square Event

Yesterday I very briefly stopped by the anti-escalation in protest in Times Square. I was greeted a speaker on a megaphone declaring, "Obama wants to talk about terrorism? How about talking about the world's biggest purveyor of terrorism, the United States of America?!" I don't know who obtains the permits that allow voters to occupy small strips of sidewalk and bike lane space in the city's most congested part of town, but to be effective, the anti-war movement cannot continue to function with this type of, or lack of, leadership. The event yesterday was supposed to involve Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Against the War, Code Pink and Brooklyn Peace, all organizations I have a lot of respect for. But when I left, the speaker was railing about Henry Kissinger.

Folks, it's not the fall of 2001 anymore. A majority of Americans want this war to end, and most Americans have some reservations about it. Now's not the time to call for Rumsfeld to be indicted for war crimes, it's time to convince a lot of moderate Americans (and some liberals!) why a troop escalation is not in the best interest of the United States. And it's not a boring pitch either- just give me the mic. It is absolutely detrimental to the anti-war movement, however, to have the crazies running the megaphones if we really have any interest in turning more people against the war.

How many and for how long? Does the Obama administration think we're idiots?

It turns out that the Obama administration is not exactly being straight when it comes to troop numbers or the supposed 2011 withdrawal.

First, Democracy Now broke the following story this morning:
The Pentagon has acknowledged President Obama’s new troop deployment to Afghanistan could be higher than the 30,000 he announced this week. The Washington Post reports Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been authorized to deploy another 3,000 troops at his discretion. A senior Pentagon official said the number of additional US forces deployed under Obama’s escalation plan could ultimately top 35,000. Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gates said the first troops would begin to arrive in Afghanistan later this month.
So 30,000 becomes 33,000 becomes more than 35,000. The beat goes on.

Second, remember when Gibbs said the July 2011 date was "etched in stone." That was yesterday. Here's something else he said yesterday:
MR. GIBBS: The policy is -- let me be clear, let me be clear, because the President was clear -- our forces, in July of 2011, will transition out of Afghanistan. Again, understand what he said: This is a conditions-based drawdown, decisions made by the Commander-in-Chief, but that's -- understand where we're talking about. Let's understand where we got to July 2011 ...

Q So a drawdown will begin in July -- of some magnitude will be --

MR. GIBBS: A conditions-based --

Q -- if conditions warrant?

MR. GIBBS: A conditions-based drawdown will begin in July 2011.

We can invent a new game called "guess the conditions". I have a feeling the conditions will be based on whatever General McChrystal wants.

Finally, the real surge has already begun, as private military contractors flood Afghanistan. Contractors have increased 40% since the early summer, such that there are now 104,000 in Afghanistan, compared to 113,000 in Iraq. Private contractors are extremely expensive, often making 5-10 times what soldiers and other government employees make for the same work. They are also problematic on the battlefield, as they are unaccountable to the military command structure. We all know what happened with Blackwater in Iraq. For a president who claims to recognize the fiscal costs of war, he's sure not doing a lot about it....

More Voices Opposing The Escalation

For those of you already opposed to the escalation, articles like these are helpful to organize talking points and forward information to your friends. For those of you who are undecided on what course of action the United States should take in Afghanistan.

The first response highlighted today comes from Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY), who represents swaths of upstate New York including Rochester and Buffalo. Slaughter makes a number of arguments against escalation, but particularly focuses on how overstretched our military has become during this war.

The second response comes from Ken Silverstein at Harper's Weekly. In addition to questioning, if not outright denying Obama's claim that he will begin a drawdown by 2011, Silverstein decries the lack of focus in the so-called War on Terrorism generally. Quoting national security expert Michael Sheehan, Silverstein notes:
We have continually moved the ‘goal posts’ of our counter-terrorism success in the name of a counterinsurgency campaign. The initial objective of kicking out al Qaeda has now morphed into an ambitious program of reinventing Afghanistan as a “modern state”.

War Notes: December 3, 2009

Will keep it brief, since it is late.
Only a day after a bizarre report that the U.S State Department would support a high-ranking civilian to essentially co-manage the country with President Karzai, U.S Ambassador to the U.N Susan Rice denied that the U.S would back such a proposal. The plan had seemed to be pushed by Richard Holebroke, and it did not go well at the U.N, who saw it as undercutting the role of their man on the ground, Kai Eide.
Perhaps to make amends for all the progressive people's hearts President Obama shattered with his troublesomely hawkish speech last night, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs clarified that July, 2011 was not some vague goal for withdrawal, but in fact, that it was "etched in stone." Defense Secretary Gates testified before the Senate that the date was "a statement of strong intent." Those comments would suggest that the withdrawal date is as much to give Karzai and his crew an ultimatum as anything else, though I maintain my skepticism that Obama wouldn't push back the withdrawal date in a heartbeat if the military and Republicans howled at withdrawal. Incidentally, aren't promises usually "set" in stone, and not "etched" in them?
The Columbia Journalism Review asks why media outlets have done such a poor job asking Afghans what exactly they think of the massive escalation. Actually, they kind of just point out the poor job the media has done. I don't think people really need to ask anymore.
Though I am sure there have been many good responses to last night's speech around the blogosphere, and even a decent Tom Friedman piece that now sits on the upper right hand corner of the screen, my favorite was this piece from DailyKos, in which a diarist ably disassembled many of the "straw man" arguments supporters of the escalation have been making. To clarify, he is responding to frequent arguments made on DailyKos itself- that is, progressives and Obama supporters who support or are ambivalent about the escalation, not to Republicans, who should not have their arguments taken seriously on most issues.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Progressives Need Not Hide Their Disappointment

Let me quickly rebut the notion that the progressive base "knew this was coming when they voted him." It is true that Obama always said this was a war that required increased focus, and that he would send more troops. However, people quickly forget that President Obama already has escalated the war. In March, Obama gave a speech highlighting the importance of the war in Afghanistan, and deployed 34,000 additional troops. Now granted, they haven't all been there long enough to make a serious impact, but let's not pretend that's not a dramatic surge. Folks, that is doubling the size of U.S forces in Afghanistan from the last year of the Bush presidency. I think that would have sufficed as far as living up to campaign rhetoric.

But you know what? Instead of getting better, the situation in Afghanistan has been getting worse throughout 2009. This summer featured the highest casualty rates of the entire war for U.S soldiers. The Taliban march with impunity across vast swaths of the country. The country has largely turned against the corrupt Karzai government. Progressives, seeing Obama as either one of their own, or perhaps coming from a common ancestor, felt that maybe Obama would see the unraveling shit-show, and seriously rethink the implications of "doubling-down" in Afghanistan. We now know that even partial withdrawal from Afghanistan was never seriously discussed as an option.

Thus, Obama disappointed the progressive base that fought for him throughout the primary season when he said: "I don't want to just end the (Iraq) war, but I want to end the mind-set that got us into war in the first place." Calling this "The Obama Doctrine," the American Prospect wrote that Obama was "offering the most sweeping liberal foreign-policy critique we've heard from a serious presidential candidate in decades." This is as strong a progressive clarion call as an anti-war activist could hope for.

Then he sent 21,000 extra troops, which was somewhat expected, based on campaign rhetoric. Then he sent 13,000 more. Then he weighed a series of options on how to continue the war, but refused to consider any option that did not involve sending at least 10,000 soldiers and increasing air raids. Then he sent 30,000 more troops, making the announcement in front hundreds of young cadets for whom dissent was not a professional option. The close advisers who helped him craft this decision were all hawkish Democrats or hawkish Republicans, the pacifist wing represented by Vice President Biden, who voted for the war in Iraq in 2002 and himself supported more troops being sent to Afghanistan.

Look at that last paragraph and tell me that progressives don't have a right to be disappointed with Obama's Afghanistan war policy. Sure, there was little drama going into last night. But let's be honest- he's let us down. He'll have plenty of opportunities to make it up, be they his handling of Iraq, healthcare, or the honesty of his 2011 withdrawal pledge for this war. This, however, was not what I campaigned for, what I voted for.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Reaction to President Obama's Speech

My criticisms of President Barack Obama tonight come with love. He is a good man, and my hope is still that he can become a great president. I do believe him that he "does not make this decision lightly." But his decision, nevertheless, is mistaken.

President Obama began by taking us through the events of September 11th, and the early stages of the war. Then "we took our attention away from Afghanistan." The truth is, we have steadily increased the number of troops in Afghanistan since our initial invasion, even during the war in Iraq. It is true that we have had many more troops in Iraq, but Obama's rhetoric would have you believe that we had no presence in Afghanistan for the last seven years. That is false. Our problem has been that without a defined purpose or goal, the longer we have remained in Afghanistan, the more bogged down we have become. Local groups unaffiliated with the Taliban have turned against us, either because their family we killed in battle with our troops, or because of our support for the corrupt Karzai administration. Our presence has increasingly looked like what it is: an occupation. No, we are not ruthless, like the Soviets. Yes, we have authorization from the U.N and NATO. But it is still an occupation.

Obama went on to not just imply, but actually say that the Taliban and Al Qaeda were working together. That is simply false, even if it may have been true in the early years of the insurgency. The two organizations have separate goals, and just because we are trying to kill members of both groups at the present does not mean that they are inseparably linked.

Not all of Obama's speech was dispiriting. He did pledge that in a mere 18 months, our troops will begin to come home. Unfortunately, I cannot take him at his word. His constant comparisons between the tranquil of Iraq and the future tranquil of Afghanistan were disingenuous, and demonstrated why that timeline is false. There are still 115,000 troops in Iraq, plus about as many military contractors. They are supposed to start drawing down next year, which is what I remember hearing last year, and even then, some will be shipped straight to Afghanistan.

We don't know yet whether withdrawing from Iraq will lead to increased violence there. If it does, do we need to send more troops back in? The question may be hypothetical, but if President Obama is using Iraq as some excellent model, he needs to be honest about what we have actually achieved there.

At this point, Obama addressed the withdrawal argument. He said that this situation was not like Vietnam because 43 nations were with us. Unlike Vietnam, when we had all of our Cold War allies in support of us. Just saying. He said unlike Vietnam, there is no popular broadbased insurgency. This is partially true. There is no equivalent of the Viet Cong or Ho Chi Minh. At the same time, Afghanistan has a long history of resistance to foreign invaders, and no matter what a UN resolution says, that is how a large part of the population sees it. Finally he says we were attacked from Afghanistan, not Vietnam. Once again, this conflates the fight against the Taliban with the fight against Al Qaeda. There are 100-300 members of Al Qaeda on the Afghan-Pakistan border. Why does this require 100,000 NATO troops? Not a single soldier we send in this surge will fight a member of Al Qaeda. As I've written before, I believe that a mixture of threats and incentives can prevent Al Qaeda from ever being comfortably situated in Afghanistan again, outside of the impenetrable mountains they currently operate in.

I did agree with some of the things Obama had to say. I agree that a timeframe is needed to establish a sense of urgency (putting aside that I don't agree with the mission in the first place).
I am especially proud that Obama said, "We cannot afford to ignore the costs of these wars...I am willing to address these costs openly and honestly." This line alone immediately separates from the foreign policy of George Bush and John McCain. His calls for nuclear disarmament and diplomacy, and denunciation of torture, were stirring. One line struck me as practically a throwaway, however. He said that should terrorist cells form in Yemen or Somalia, we need to 'engage partnerships' or something to that effect. I still don't understand his rebuttal to Matthew Hoh. Why is Al Qaeda's presence in Afghanistan/Pakistan worthy of 100,000 troops, and their presence in Somalia worthy of an 'engaged partnership.' This anti-terrorism policy is not consistent or sustainable. I will add further thoughts later tonight, after more reflection.

Your comments are all appreciated.

MoveOn, a little late to the party?

Today, MoveOn announced their opposition to the troop escalation.

I've always been befuddled at MoveOn's precise role in the movement. Perhaps its because of my unpleasant experience in 2004, when I was working in Las Vegas for America Coming Together, the sharpest Get Out the Vote operation the state had ever seen (yes, we lost). MoveOn came in late, tried to steal our volunteers, and was so disorganized that most of their organizers quit or were fired in a flurry of tears.

They seem to raise a fair amount of money, which they spend on television ads. That's not exactly the most grassroots use of campaign donations, though I suppose they are sometimes necessary. Anyway, today they "announced" their opposition to the troop escalation in Afghanistan. What that entails is asking its members to call the White House. When you visit their website, all of their prominent Afghanistan links just lead you to a page giving instructions on calling the White House (not even what to say). On their policy page, the Afghanistan policy hasn't been updated since President Obama's March announcement. My main question is, where have they been? Were they not concerned about escalation since it began in the first months of the Obama administration?

I know criticizing other members of the progressive coalition is an exercise of limited utility, but MoveOn has often tried to present itself as a progressive leader. If indeed it seeks such a role, it must be at the forefront on issues this important, not lagging until literally the day of the troop announcement. Even if every one of their alleged 5 million members called the White House today, it would be too late to change President Obama's policy speech.

The anti-war movement is in dire need of strong leadership, something that MoveOn's trivial announcement reminded me this afternoon.

Americans overwhelmingly against a troop surge on eve of speech

The Washington Post may run a biased, pro-war op-ed page, but it can't hide damning poll numbers. A survey published on the eve of President Obama's speech reveal that only 24% of Americans support the McChrystal troop surge, versus 45% who want to decrease the number of troops in Afghanistan, with most of the remainder supporting keeping troop levels the same. Obama's support is collapsing among the people who worked their asses off to get him elected, with fewer than 20% of Democrats supporting the surge. But us liberals are not alone. A bare majority, 51% of all adults, say "the war is not worth fighting", up from 41% in March, when Obama's first troop surge began. In fact, 41% of Americans are "strongly opposed" to the continuation of the war. Hopefully some of them will step out of the woodwork and join us in the streets.
Let us be clear- if a poll showed these kind of numbers on any other issue, the media would be aglow with stories of "Americans rejecting" the policy. But because this is war, the media has presented this as Americans "being concerned", or having "reservations." Somehow, the American people haven't had enough evidence after eight plus years of war to decide for themselves.

Pro-War Bias from New York Times and Washington Post

The New York Times and Washington Post have saturated their opinion pages with pro-war articles, according to the a study by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, whose findings were discussed on Democracy Now. The study evaluated the so-called "liberal" institutions from January through October of 2010, and found that of the 100 op-eds published, the number favoring the continuation of the war in Afghanistan outnumbered op-eds advocating a partial or immediate withdrawal at the New York Times by 5-1, and at the Washington Post by 10-1. In fact, nearly all of the anti-war op-eds at the New York Times were published by Bob Herbert, with virtually no guest op-eds opposing the war. Instead, the debate focused on whether we should fight with more boots on the ground or more planes in the sky. Democracy in America.