Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Few Questions For PO About His War

Afghanistan's long term security depends on the education of these girls as much as on PO's notions of how to wage war.

David Sorota, Huffington Post December 1, 2009

Just a few quick questions to ponder after President Obama's speech announcing a massive escalation in Afghanistan:

- What percentage of those kids in the audience will die because of this decision?

- Why do so many pundits and pro-Obama activists continue to focus on how "hard" and "difficult" and "trying" this decision is for President Obama, rather than on how "hard" and "difficult" and "trying" this will be for the soldiers who are killed? Doesn't Obama get to make this decision, and then go home to the comfortable confines of a butlered White House, while thousands of Americans will be sent 7,000 miles from home to face their potential deaths? Isn't the latter "harder" than the former?

- Where's the antiwar movement and the marches and the organizing and the protesting? Where are all those well-funded groups that protested George W. Bush's war policy? Or was all that really just about hating George Bush and embracing blind Partisan War Syndrome?

- In the days and weeks after this speech, will the White House's cynical new spin get ever more desperate and become, hey - at least an Afghanistan escalation holds out the possibility of making sure military combat casualties start outpacing military suicides?

- Simple budget question: Should we now believe that escalating the Afghanistan War at the same annual cost of universal health care will save more than 45,000 Americans a year (i.e. the number of Americans who die every year for lack of health insurance)?

- Did CNN really turn a move to potentially send thousands of Americans to die in Central Asia into an over-stylized, hyper-marketed television show called "Decision Afghanistan?" Is the media really that soulless, or did my eyes betray me?

- Which is worse - a stupid person like George W. Bush starting a dumb occupation, or a smart person like Barack Obama following the lead of that stupid person, but actually escalating that occupation?

- The "we're going to escalate war to end war" refrain throughout the speech - have we heard that before somewhere? It sounds sorta like "we'll burn down the Vietnam villages to save them." Just curious if that's what we're talking about here - because, ya know, that worked out really well.
- Are we really expected to believe that massively escalating a war is the way to end a war? I mean, really? Like, is the public really looked at like we're that stupid? And a follow-up question: Are we really that stupid?

- If Obama's Afghan War strategy about escalating a war to end a war was a self-help strategy for, say, alcoholics, wouldn't it prescribe drinking more whiskey to stop drinking - and wouldn't we all laugh at that?

- How many pundits will insist that bowing down to the Military-Industrial complex and escalating this missionless war somehow shows "resolve" and "strength" and "toughness" and "leadership" and not embarrassing weakness?

- Would the Obamaphiles now telling us to "give President Obama a chance" with this decision and/or defending Obama's escalation - would these same people be saying we should "give President McCain a chance" and/or defending President McCain's escalation if he was the one in office making this decision?- I'm confused: Is this hope or change?


In the interests of self disclosure I admit I strongly supported President Obama fully knowing, based on some of his campaign speeches, that he would do exactly what he announced last night. He stated quite forcefully during his presidential campaign, that he would down scale Iraq in favor of escalating our presence in Afghanistan. PO believed Iraq was Bush's mistaken war and that Afghanistan represented the real threat to America. PO said he would pick up the ball Bush had dropped. Afghanistan is one campaign promise PO is keeping in spades. This is the complete reverse of his actions on his promises concerning the culture war issues. For instance gay soldiers will still get to die in the closet.

I supported Obama even though I was fully aware of this strategy because I thought it might be the best strategy. Get out of Iraq and finish Afghanistan. Two years ago I didn't know how inept and corrupt the Karzai regime was, or that the US under Bush had done nothing about the increase in the Poppy trade, or that unemployed Afghan males would flock back to the Taliban where they would be handed regular meals with their AK47's.

Two years ago Afghanistan wasn't just an American war, we also had some help from other countries. Now it's Obama's war, the war he wanted to fight, and he says we'll have more international help. I hope it's meaningful help. He also stated Pakistan will be treated as part of the problem and solution, rather than as a separate issue. That's hopeful too, because Pakistan is part of the problem and must be part of the solution. His speech was typical Obama, direct, hopeful and articulate, but I can't help but wonder why the need to give it at West Point. Why not in the Oval Office to the entire nation, rather than the already convinced and committed. This wasn't exactly a town hall audience.

Maybe it's because no one in the Obama administration really expects this surge to work and PO felt the need to rally the troops who were going to have to take all the risks. That's what really angers me. Eighteen months from now Karzai will still be president. Corruption will still flourish. The poppy trade will still finance the Taliban with the Karzai family prime beneficiaries. Illiterate young men will still flock to the Taliban for regular meals in spite of what those rifles they get with those meals actually mean for their long term health.

Here's why I think that. The single most shocking statistic for me about Afghanistan is that the literacy level is just over 10%. I don't understand how we can 'nation' build on an illiterate base. The only nation one can build on this kind of population is the one they have--totalitarian rule by either corrupt secularists or theocratic extremists. I guess PO thinks American interests are best served by the corrupt secularists rather than a Taliban theocracy. Afghans aren't served by either. They are abused by both.

There is a component of Obama's plan that is designed to help with community building, but the emphasis of the program is the training and equipping of competent security forces. I can understand the need to pursuit that strategy in the short term. In the long term Afghan security in a complex modern world is dependent on an educated population, not just an educated security force.

The Taliban knows this which is why they have invested so much in their own form of education, the midrashas. They also know something else, they can not continue to influence male thinking if women are also educated. This is undoubtedly why the Taliban target schools for girls and women. They can say it's because of fidelity to their interpretation of the Koran, but the Taliban has shown too much practical resiliency for me to buy that notion. Educated women are a huge threat to their version of theocracy.

I would have loved it if one line of Obama's speech had mentioned women and girls. I wish he would have stated that is was as important to work with and educate the women of Afghanistan as it was to train and arm their men. He didn't and because he didn't, the long term hope for Afghanistan has ironically been castrated--irrespective of when we actually pull our troops out.

In the long run books for girls and women will be more important than guns for boys and men.


  1. I am not an expert in foreign policy and am not sure what to think about Mr. Obama's speech. What I worry about is that this war is once again about oil or natural gas. Is this war, that some want to go on for an interminable time, about having a secure pipeline for movement of natural gas? If so, it would have made sense for us to let Osama Bin Laden escape when he was in Toro Bora.

    If this war is about terrorism, why are we not trying to coordinate with Pakistan to seek out and destroy the terrorists that roam the boarders of these two countries? Would it be possible to negotiate with the Teleban? I don't know the answer to these questions, but I fear that some of my suspicions are correct of motives are correct. dennis

  2. Colleen, your observations are always so astute. I listened to Obama's speech as he spoke to the very young at West Point and the thought arose of how many of them will be sent there and that not all of them will return. Rather than appeal to the American public from the Oval Office he chose to go to the leaders who will be directly involved in the fighting in Afghanistan.

    Obama's focus now seems to be short-term and focused on the nuclear threat of Al-Qaeda getting a hold of nuclear weapons. That is the real immediate threat that I believe he sees and desires to crush the opportunity. But adding more troops may just speed up the process of Al-Qaeda getting a hold of nuclear weapons. I am wondering if PO has real hard intelligence about the location of Al-Qaeda cells. It would also seem that PO is willing to strike within Pakistan to eliminate the enemy, which Bush did not do.

    It would seem that hunger and abject poverty are reasons why some are joining Al-Qaeda or the Taliban. If we were to supply food & education, instead of more military troops and bombs, we might attract more to our side.

    The point you are making, which is an excellent one, is that for long term stability in the region both boys and girls need to attend school and be literate. Perhaps the world's nations through the UN could take up this task for teaching adults and children how to read, write and to provide some meals for them, as well as provide police protection while the war goes on.

    As you've pointed out, young men are joining the Taliban because they have free food and they don't want to starve. That is the reason most people anywhere will join forces, so they have food to eat. We see this happening in the US ghettos. They choose what is culturally available, not necessarily what is the right thing to do, especially when it has to do with feeding oneself and one's family.

    I am wondering if and when man will learn to trade in his weapons for ploughshares.

  3. I also wonder about Blackwater's involvement in the war in Afghanistan. Why is it that they are not disbanded yet?

    Who are these 30,000 troops and how many tours of duty have they already been on?

  4. France left NATO in the 1960s, requiring the US to remove its military forces from French air bases.

    North Vietnam handed the US military a de facto defeat after 10 years of major warfare.

    In 1991, the Philippine Senate refused to extend a treaty with the US Navy, requiring the US to leave its massive naval base in Subic Bay, acquired in the Spanish-American War.

    These are the only places on earth since the reordering of the world after WW2 where the American military was engaged in significant numbers and isn't there anymore at all.

    The point is, Americans don't leave unless they are successfully repulsed, by either violence of political action. Since the advent of its world power status, the US has never willingly removed its military forces from one square mile of this planet in which it was engaged in large numbers.

    The idea that Americans say, "bye now, glad we could help!" and turn around and go home is a fantasy that has never been true. Obama is not the person who will overturn this precedent. If people like Obama continue to lead us, then the US will only leave Afghanistan due to bankruptcy or military defeat/exhaustion.

  5. Re: Escalating a war akin to an alcoholic drinking more.... very true, as we are indeed addicted to violence, as Fr. John Dear and I'm sure many others say.

  6. I think the Afghan war is about securing Pakistani nuclear weapons. Any other success, however defined, is gravy.

  7. Mark, I think you are absolutely right. That is the only thing that really makes strategic sense.

    The one thing which would make long term tactical sense is to educate and many Afghanis as possible--especially the women. Iran is showing how educated women can impact patriarchal theocratic societies in meaningful ways and without violence becoming a two way street.

  8. As for the paranoia, fabrication, or fantasy that the Afghan war is about securing Pakistan's nuclear weapons, allow me to point out what makes that absurd:

    The idea that Pakistan could fall to some coalition of Taliban mountain men is ridiculous. Pakistan is a huge country of 180 million people with one of the world's largest militaries (6th in the world). There's a sizable middle class in Pakistan that drives the economy. When you consider that the most popular sport in Pakistan is cricket, you can see how this country is in fact, not ready to be taken over by xenophobic fundamentalists.
    As for the nuclear weapons themselves, let's remember that the Taliban proper (as opposed to the neglectfully broad use of the term by the US media) represent an ideology that rejects education. Even if the Taliban were to somehow(?) overrun some Pakistani nuclear missile silo, what could they do? Send in their Taliban nuclear physicists and Taliban rocket scientists? But the question is irrelevant because, as mentioned, the size of the Pakistan military (which leads the world in providing troops for UN missions) would overwhelm any Taliban operation.

    The best the Taliban and other fundamentalists can do is set off the occasional car bomb or go on the occasional shooting spree.

    Still, nuclear arms pose a threat to this world and the number one diplomatic strategy for the President should not be pursuing a fantasy of safeguarding other countries nukes, but bringing countries together in an effort to reduce and eventually abolish numclear weapons (including ours).

  9. Orlando, did you somehow miss the fact that the general headquarters of the Pakistani Army was successfully attacked last month? Attacked, and hostages taken & held for something like 20+ hours, by nothing more than a determined group of people with small arms.

    Even the U.S., which has spent no small amount of money the last 70 years, securing its nuclear arms, occasionally loses them or has other problems with logistics. If memory serves the Air Force just ended the careers of a number of officers who were responsible for the most exacting care of these weapons - which were inadvertently loading on aircraft and flown over the continental U.S.

    Don't get me started on Russia. Russia has little in the way of nuclear security that the U.S. does not indirectly pay for.

    The best way I can think of to keep nuclear arms secure - besides not having them at all - is to keep the following necessary parts & pieces SEPARATE until needed (God Forbid):

    - the bomb proper

    - the fissile material in the so-called "physics package"

    - whatever parts or pieces arm the the precision, high-explosive system that turns a sub-critical mass into a super-critical one

    - the delivery system, like an aircraft or a variety of types of missiles (most likely IRBMs or cruise missiles in Pakistan's case).

    We also have no idea if Pakistan has any tactical nuclear weapons. The whole point of tactical weapons is immediate use, which implies a mostly-assembled weapon, ready-to-go on a moments notice.

    Let's use Iran as an example, an behavioral example of patience, patience, patience, patience. You don't need to succeed all at once to obtain Pakistani nuclear arms. You'd need to succeed a little here, a little there, over a long period of time. Identifying insiders, obtaining information from them, turning their behavior. Maybe a troop surge in Afghanistan will make that task harder in the short-term.

    Pakistan has nuclear arms because India does. India has them because China does. Iran wants them because Israel has them. Israel has them because 150 million people with an 8-hour drive of Tel Aviv want to "push the Zionist Entity into the sea." If the U.S., Russia, France, and Britain were to unilaterally remove their nuclear arsenals today, the nuclear calculus of Asia and the Middle East won't change.

    I think the sub-text is the actual message to the Pakistani state: clean up your mess or we will. And your nuclear command & control structure - we'll be talking about that too.

  10. Yes, and the attack on the Pakistani HQ was like I described, an example of an occasional shooting spree. What good did it achieve for the terrorists in the end? Nothing. The Pakistani military is no weaker and their nuclear weapons are no less secure.

    I do not want to reply further on this tread due to your disgusting comment:
    "Israel has them [nukes] because 150 million people with an 8-hour drive of Tel Aviv want to "push the Zionist Entity into the sea."

    Furthermore, your wonkish 'solution' to nuclear security only exposes the utter immorality of nuclear weapons, which are designed to eliminate, in military parlance, 'high value, fixed assets', i.e. cities. The idea of slowly assembling a bomb to use against some country in which a terrorist planned an attack against the US is, as you say, something that we should pray that "God forbid". If we are sincerely praying that God forbid the use of nuclear weapons, why don't we forbid it ourselves? To do otherwise would be dishonest.

  11. "Israel has them [nukes] because 150 million people with an 8-hour drive of Tel Aviv want to "push the Zionist Entity into the sea."

    I didn't say this to be disgusting (though "disgusting" is a good place to start when describing any WMD). I said it because its an accurate description of Israel's situation. If this is not an accurate description, I am happy to stand corrected.

    If Israel's existence is not threatened, then Israel's bombs would not be necessary.

  12. Wasn't a Pakistani nuclear physicist implicated in selling nuclear secrets? Securing the actual components is much easier than securing the intelligence behind their construction.

    I'm not so sure I agree with you Mark when it comes to Israel's nuclear bombs. I suspect the US would have placed tactical warheads in Israel anyway. Orlando's point about the US not being very willing to let go of military bases in other countries is well taken. As it stands right now we have seventy plus military bases in various countries through out the globe.

  13. I'm not reflexively opposed to closing American military installations abroad. I'd start by a) pulling the U.S. out of NATO, b) making what remains of NATO the military arm of the EU and c) making Europe fully responsible for its own security.

    Replace U.S. membership in NATO with a bilateral treaty between the U.S. and the European Union. If its in U.S. interest retain bilateral treaty relationships with individual European states (Britain comes immediately to mind) so be it.

    Europe can take care of itself.