Tag Archives: Afghanistan

Debate Du Jour

cbs-debate-screenshotAfter a long day of college football and poignant play-by-play announcer comments on the rape of children and the effect on Joe Paterno, an estimated 612 channel changes between games – each accompanied by a “where are my glasses moment,” an unrehearsed comedy segment using picture-in-picture mode on our not-wide-enough-screen-TV, and a frustrating trip to NetFlix “New Arrivals” which all pre-date the birth of the parents of our grand-children, we decided on a survivor show: the “CBS News/National Journal South Carolina Republican Debate.”

Eight candidates. Each seeking to find the heart of the Republican voter and ride their hate toward final victory in November to overthrow four long years under the iron-will of the Democrat (insert your preferred insult here) who has spent his entire time in office trying to undo the problems created by the last Republican vice-president and his henchman, George Bush.

Can Cain harass Bachmann saying “9-9-9” or by “Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan”? Can Perry remember what he’d forgotten? Can Huntsman get a question from the moderator? Can Santorum get past audience snickers? Can Newt be more sanctimonious? Can Bachmann think of anything new to say? Can Paul continue to sound sensible? Can Romney again calm the debate with the black hole of his personal charisma? And will they, one-by-one, convincingly kiss the “ring” of Jim DeMint? These were the questions we wanted answered.

The subject: national security and foreign policy. The entire debate, including commercials, was an hour and a half. You can watch it at CBS.com, read the transcript, their fact check or winners and losers. Here’s what I heard.

  • Bachmann, Huntsman and Santorum recognize that foreign policy is complicated and that it is dangerous to give simple answers to complicated questions.
  • Romney and Cain recognize that it is best not to answer questions, simple or otherwise, with specifics and that it is dangerous in politics to give answers, simple or otherwise.
  • Newt prefers to agree in general with other candidates so he’s not really on the record, while speaking as if he knows the inside jargon the others don’t.
  • Perry worked very hard this week and delivered a few carefully rehearsed lines reinforced by the extensive experience that he gained as governor of a state where he can see Mexico.
  • Paul spoke his mind clearly and saw no reason to give long answers to questions that were, inherently, absurd.

For specifics on issues, I carefully charted the candidates’ answers below. Enjoy:

Chart: How would you prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons?

Chart: Your appraisal of the combat situation in Afghanistan and how would you change it?

Chart: Sending troops into Pakistan?

Chart: Foreign Aid?

Chart: Thinking outside the box?

Chart: Listening to the right people before making a decision?

Chart: Torture?

Chart: Are we engaged in financial warefare with China?

Chart: Spending?

Chart: The Arab Spring?

Chart: Syria?

Chart: What about Gitmo?

Note: this post was updated on Monday, November 14, 2011 to correct a misspelled word in the torture chart.

The Timidity of Hope

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth. Revelation 3:15-16, New International Version.

Obama - Hope With Blood on His HandsIt should be no surprise* that our President decided to continue the 10-years war. The choice to order more thousands of our brave men and women in uniform to give their lives, and many more maimed and permanently scarred, is consistent with his presidency, his campaign promises and his life’s story. It is his war now. The choice to accept tens of thousands more innocent civilian lives to be lost or ruined as collateral damage is one that weighed the risk of peace against the advice for war against the political climate in Washington at odds with the history of Afghanistan.

Why is ordering peace so hard? The needs here at home are evident. Most Americans want the war to end. The spun reason for the conflict has been achieved. Must we stay in Afghanistan to wage clandestine war in Pakistan? Are the bordering countries of China, India and Iran not strong enough to control their neighbor? Or is it some lingering fear and presumptive need to have our forces pre-positioned surrounding Iran? Shouldn’t we be more concerned that the presence of our forces surrounding Iran may make a future conflict more likely?

Our President does not have the audacity of hope that he once so successfully promoted. The lessons of Mohandas Gandhi, Thoreau and Dr. King have been lost in his parsing compromise. Violence begets violence. Peaceful civil disobedience takes too long (suggested search terms: bombing campaign Libya). Wars not paid for and fought without the draft with the drones seem so easy. Or, is it simply that no sitting President has ever lost reelection during wartime?

This President is a pragmatist. He didn’t fight for healthcare reform because of the 40-50 million Americans without health insurance. He fought for a bill, any bill, because the GAO told him that costs were out of control, and until healthcare was reformed, our country could not have a balanced budget.

He didn’t allow green initiatives to be included in the stimulus bill because it was right for our country or our planet. He did so because it could create jobs and would make members of the House, who actually believe, placated for a while.

He didn’t promote Wall Street reform because of the grotesque change in the distribution of income in our country, or the outrageous profits made from no-interest Fed money. He supported the reform bill, any bill, in an attempt to prevent another meltdown. He has since backed away from the reform and strong rules his administration gets to write, because the economy is stagnant and banks are tanking.

Obama is also likely to accept the Republican demands to undo three-generations of Democratic achievement on social policy – even without a tax increase on the wealthy or getting rid of needless, mindless subsidies for corporations – because failure to pass the debt extension could destabilize world financial markets. That, and keeping the Republicans on track to dismantle Medicare and Medicaid increases the likelihood of winning the next election and while providing the cover to undo any budget deal in the next Congress.

There was a time that I thought that Rahm Emanuel was the force that had him compromise his beliefs for a pragmatic government. I was wrong. Obama never believed.
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* In a previous story, I wrote that he would be out of all of wars by the election. I was surprised that things in Obama’s world changed so dramatically in such a short time.

Managing for Peace

52nd Infantry Regiment Teaches the Peace SignYesterday, President Obama announced planned changes to his security team. CIA Director Leon Panetta will be nominated for Secretary of Defense. General David Petraeus, now head of operations in Afghanistan will be nominated to run the CIA. Lt. General John Allen will replace Petraeus in Afghanistan. Ryan Crocker will be nominated to be the next US ambassador to Afghanistan.Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration kept around to protect Obama from typical first-term weak-on-the-military attacks by the opposing party, is stepping down and will likely enter the revolving door into the defense industry boardroom – or several of them.

There is nothing unusual in changes. The President is running for reelection and it is smart politics to announce changes prior to the campaign. The President continues to manage government well. None of the changes will be abrupt. Gates will step down June 30 and Panetta, assuming confirmation, will take over July 1st. All are non-controversial defense insiders and should get an easy confirmation and even a few Republican votes.

Nothing unusual, except for why Obama’s really doing it — Obama’s planning to end the war in Afghanistan, and with it, cut back on military spending. You didn’t hear it here first. Obama has been saying it for two years. He could not do it with the team he had. He can do it with the new team.

Gates, has been dead-set against Pentagon budget cuts, now he won’t have to make them. Petraeus has an unfinished job and wasn’t about to tell the President to draw down troops or tarnish his reputation or ego. Now he can continue fighting in Afghanistan using the CIA and trust Allen to be a good soldier. Panetta will do what he’s always done — manage well and make the Commander-in-Chief look good. Ryan Crocker, with his experience in Iraq and Pakistan is the person to manage Karzai and his corrupt government. This is the team to end the war before election day 2012. You did hear that here first.

Things could change, but it seems perfectly aligned to happen. We’ve been at war since 2003. The men and women in service deserve to come home. Our reserve units need to be retooled. Our allies are tired and have had enough. Voters stopped paying attention when they lost their jobs and their homes.

So what’s next? How will the corporate side of our military react? Just how much clout do their lobbyists for war have? Will our private contractor army stand down? Will the neocons give up on invading Iran until after the election? How will Israel react to the idea that we would not be actively making enemies on their behalf? Could Libya or Syria heat up and be next? Have the oil sheiks enough guns, tanks and jets to fight off revolution without us?

It is all part of the plan. The political plan. If America is truly ready for peace, as defined by good poll numbers for Obama fall a year from now, we’ll finally have peace. If not, well, whatever it takes to get elected. Please tell your pollster you are ready for peace when they call.

Stimulus Hawk

In a dramatic achievement of bipartisan compromise, the Clinton-Obama administration has announced a compromise with Republicans for continued stimulus spending – deficit be damned – as long as the economy, as judged by the Chamber of Commerce, deems it appropriate. No, extending the Bush tax cuts for the superwealthy was so last week. Iraq and Afghanistan.

Stuck in the malaise of the post-prozac depression, we simply cannot afford to have hundreds of thousands of Americans return home off combat pay. The effect on Visa and Mastercard write-offs would be massive. Public relations spokespeople for virtually every economist who has ever appeared on TV, have stated that, “America needs the stimulus from combat-death life insurance pay-outs to the surviving families to keep our communities vibrant and our schools and VA hospitals open.” Were one of these wars to suddenly come to an end, every American would suffer from the effect of those laid-off in the bomb, bullet, flack jacket, tank, predator drone, helicopter, MRE, spy satellite, cargo plane and cable news industries. The effect would be enormous – we would have to go back to watching people talk about abortion and the protection of marriage.

Were the totally implausible to occur, ‘peace’, the opportunity for middle-aged former veterans to sell themselves to companies formerly known as Prince, for only five times what real soldiers make, is over. Stop. Think for a moment. Without thousands of flights per month half way around the world, what would happen to the price of oil? What would happen to community college language programs in middle eastern dialects? What would happen to the army of friendless nerds working for letter divisions of government who spend their waking hours listening in on phone conversations to and from war zones? Zeltch. Nada. Unemployment. Just imagine for a moment how long they could make it on the street as homeless.

We cannot afford to let his happen. We must support the wars. We must stand against peace. Whatever wars they want, for whatever reason, we need this. For capitalism. For free enterprise. For if we stop fighting over there, the war will leave your street and come to Wall Street.

It is cannot be about winning un-winnable wars. Look what happened to Russia when they left Afghanistan – their economy was destroyed and their government overthrown. We’ve been in Afghanistan now longer the Russians. We cannot afford to ever leave.

If you have not gotten it yet, think for a moment about the people. Awash with dollars in a country where malls are made of clay, how could they survive on poppy production alone? What will happen if the Taliban were to take over the Pakistan nukes? Preemptive strike by India? Or will Ms. Clinton invite a short Pakistani general to come back to power? Would Pakistan make new nuke sales to future terrorist states, such as Brazil or Canada or, god forbid, Mexico? Would Osama come out of his cave leaving us with no enemy to be the focus of our fear? No, we must stay the course.

The joint chiefs, in an announcement approved by Hillary Clinton, have weighed in, “No comment.” Unnamed, anonymous and/or innocuous or vague sources have confirmed that “as long as Wikileaks is plugged, you’ll have to check with the White House or, even, the State Department for an official statement that can be parroted in your blog.” China and Saudi Arabia are on board. Publicly, the EU is for peace, but not at the price of not war. The rest of the world is just too busy or hungry to care.

Perhaps, someone like Senator Jim DeMinted (T, SC) will state it best, “In this time when our very way of life is being threatened by godless people who have run out of money, I’m pro-offense spending. Especially, if we have to cut taxes and social security to pay for it.”

We need to stop thinking about war as, well, “war.” We need to cease our fixation with the sounds of explosions, the blood of innocent children and camps of refugees. We need to embrace that war is about the economy and jobs – our jobs. We need to come together and support our troops in protecting our way of life.

Violence can only be concealed by a lie, and the lie can only be maintained by violence. ~Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

No matter what political reasons are given for war, the underlying reason is always economic. ~A. J. P. Taylor

When a war breaks out, people say: “It’s too stupid, it can’t last long.” But though a war may be “too stupid,” that doesn’t prevent its lasting. ~Albert Camus

One is left with the horrible feeling now that war settles nothing; that to win a war is as disastrous as to lose one. ~Agatha Christie

No protracted war can fail to endanger the freedom of a democratic country. ~Alexis de Tocqueville

A great war leaves a country with three armies: an army of cripples, an army of mourners, and an army of thieves. ~Anonymous (German)

War is not an adventure. It is a disease. It is like typhus. ~Antoine De Saint-Exupery

Make wars unprofitable and you make them impossible. ~A. Philip Randolph

Mission Accomplished

Mission-Accomplished-Obama_in-AtlantaATLANTA — Today, President Obama announced to the National Convention of Disabled Veterans of America that he is keeping one of his campaign promises – America’s longest war will be unofficially* over on August 31, 2010. Twenty years and eight months since our Middle East invasion. More than 4,000 American lives have been lost and 30,000+ wounded or disabled. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians lost or maimed and millions more have been displaced or are refugees. An estimated five million orphaned children. Two failed Bush presidencies. Well more than a trillion dollars of treasury spent so far. No WMDs found. Thousands tortured. Untold damage to American foreign policy. One American-installed dictator hung. Oil prices back to record highs. Halliburton stock price has more than doubled. Pentagon, CIA and NSA spending above cold war highs. Record combat deaths this month in Afghanistan. Osama still has not been hunted down. The world much more dangerous than when it started. It is finally over.

Speaking for all Americans not currently running for office as a Republican**, I am relieved that our heroes can finally come home. Thank you for your service and sacrifice. We will never forget what you have done for us and your families have endured. We will try to keep our politicians from forgetting you.


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*50,000 American soldiers and, perhaps, twice that number of American private contractors will remain in one of the top two most dangerous places on the planet in “non-combat” roles until the end of 2011. The war won’t ever be officially  be over because Congress never officially declared it. They can only stop paying for it or promising for us to pay for it.

**Georgia Democratic goobernatorial candidate I-want-an-immigration-law-like-Arizona Roy Barnes, was MIA during the Obama’s visit, claiming, according the the AJC’s Jim Gallaway, “I told him that I already had a date planned.”

The Path to War

Bobby Kennedy and LBJ discuss Vietnam escalationCompeting with Thanksgiving travel, Black Friday speculation, unemployment, layoffs, budget shortfalls, the health care debate, election violence in the Philippines, the mine disaster in China, H1N1 vaccine supplies, a former governor’s book tour, the beginning of the last two years of Oprah, the American Music Awards, Kennedy troubles with the Catholic church and on-going coverage of Michael Jackson and Princess Di, is President Obama’s decision on sending more troops to Afghanistan. Bill Moyers offers (aired 11/20/09 on PBS) a prospective through the LBJ’s decision to do the same in Vietnam.

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the Journal.

Our country wonders this weekend what is on President Obama’s mind. He is apparently, about to bring months of deliberation to a close and answer General Stanley McChrystal’s request for more troops in Afghanistan. When he finally announces how many, why, and at what cost, he will most likely have defined his presidency, for the consequences will be far-reaching and unpredictable. As I read and listen and wait with all of you for answers, I have been thinking about the mind of another president, Lyndon B. Johnson.

I was 30 years old, a White House Assistant, working on politics and domestic policy. I watched and listened as LBJ made his fateful decisions about Vietnam. He had been thrust into office by the murder of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963– 46 years ago this weekend. And within hours of taking the oath of office was told that the situation in South Vietnam was far worse than he knew.

Less than four weeks before Kennedy’s death, the South Vietnamese president had himself been assassinated in a coup by his generals, a coup the Kennedy Administration had encouraged.

South Vietnam was in chaos, and even as President Johnson tried to calm our own grieving country, in those first weeks in office, he received one briefing after another about the deteriorating situation in Southeast Asia.

Lyndon Johnson secretly recorded many of the phone calls and conversations he had in the White House. In this broadcast, you’re going to hear excerpts that reveal how he wrestled over what to do in Vietnam. There are hours of tapes and the audio quality is not the best, but I’ve chosen a few to give you an insight into the mind of one president facing the choice of whether or not to send more and more American soldiers to fight in a far-away and strange place.

Granted, Barack Obama is not Lyndon Johnson, Afghanistan is not Vietnam and this is now, not then. But listen and you will hear echoes and refrains that resonate today.

PBS Links: TranscriptTimelineWatch Video



Fighting Afghan War vs. Future of America

Author, renowned war thinker and professor of international relations Andrew Bacevich talks exclusively to RT‘s Anastasia Churkina about the meaning of Obama’s war in Afghanistan, the mistakes of the past and present, and consequences for the future.

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