Category Archives: Afghanistan

Republicans in Congress are not preventing Obama from devising a coherent foreign policy

Somebody suggested to me recently that if not for Republicans in Congress, President Obama would have a coherent and consistent foreign policy, one that would perhaps have included a long-term plan for post-Gaddafi Libya. Never mind, apparently, that the President has two quite large institutions and several smaller but still substantial ones, all headed by persons of his own choosing, to help him out on that front.

The occasion was a post by the always vivid Charlie Pierce at Esquire, reacting to a somewhat disjointed critique of the President by New Hampshire senator and Lindsey Graham mini-me, Kelly Ayotte. Ayotte is concerned that the President may have taken up the cudgel against ISIS for electoral purposes, and that once those are achieved (or not), he’ll back off from the fight and leave the other players to their own devices. By way of precedent, she mentioned the chaos in Libya, where the President participated in the destruction of the previous order without giving a lot of apparent thought to the following one. Pierce thought Ayotte was presumptuous to criticize the President. I thought Ayotte was beside the point, the point being that she may well be right. In any event this would seem a good opportunity to review the hot-spot foreign policy of this President.
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Good news: Barack Obama will not be the answer to “Who Lost Afghanistan?”

Lots of Obama supporters on Facebook during the 2012 campaign period were touting the end of the war in Afghanistan as one of the President’s larger achievements. President Obama, they said, “ended the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

This was absurd not just because the war in Afghanistan was not what one could actually call over in 2012 (neither of them were, but that’s another story), but because the President’s promise to end the war in Afghanistan was not a promise to end the war, while his exit from Iraq was the product of a failed negotiation to extend our presence. (11-dimensional chess, I’m sure: Obama pretended to want to stay in order to placate war lovers, but actually wanted the negotiation to fail so he could realize his true desire to be shed of the affair.)

Let’s review.
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Routine carnage in Boston

I was browsing through my news feed yesterday morning when I ran across a story about the US bombing a wedding in Afghanistan. I thought something like “Jeez, again?”* and didn’t click through for the full story because it was so familiar. Now I can’t find it, but I think it said 30 dead. A few minutes later I ran across this story, which I also didn’t read beyond the summary but for some reason flagged in the feed: Bombs kill more than 30 across Iraq before local poll. (That turned out to be a very low, early estimate.)

It wasn’t too long after that, maybe 20 minutes, when reports of the atrocity in Boston began popping up on the feed, and among my first reactions when I saw the early accounts of two dead was “Well, that doesn’t sound too bad.” Less than the 30 dead at the wedding and the 30 in the other bombs in the other cities, anyway. It took a little while to locate some shock, and 24 hours later I still find myself thinking the same thing — horrible but could’ve been worse — and wondering the same thing that occurred to me yesterday when I was looking at stories about it: what would the papers be like if this was happening in an American city every week or two?

I got thousands of results when I searched Google News for the bombing. Initially they were the same two or three stories and then there were more. I stopped regularly watching television news more than 20 years ago — around the time the elder Bush’s Iraq extravaganza broke CNN’s Bernard Shaw — and haven’t seen more than an hour of it here and there since so I don’t know how that went, but I know how it went.

I don’t know how it went in Afghanistan and Iraq, with the wedding and the bombs and whatever other violence they suffered. I don’t know what they have by way of newspapers or what the penetration of television is. The Newseum in Washington, D.C., has a daily roundup of the front pages of more than 400 US newspapers (more than 800 worldwide) every day, but none from Iraq and only one from Afghanistan. All but a very few US papers have a Boston story today — I didn’t look at all of them but I only noticed two that didn’t. Many of the overseas papers do too. The one paper listed for Afghanistan, the Mideast edition of Stars and Stripes, doesn’t.

The US is responsible for much of the violence in Iraq and Afghanistan. I don’t think Americans collectively are responsible; certainly some thousands of people should be in chains, and of course everyone who did their killings and kidnappings and whatever counter to the rules upon which the people who don’t go to war have settled. I don’t know what could have been done short of throwing some tens of millions of bodies upon the gears, in Mario Savio’s formulation; that is, climbing into the intakes of the engines on the troop and equipment transports, blocking the meetings of Congress, and otherwise physically impinging upon the ability of the concern to do business.

I guess that’s what we should have done, but that’s blood over the dam now. What I wonder, though, is how many Americans will wonder now what it’s like to live through a bomb at the marathon or the market or the church, or the missile attacks that may or may not be errant, every week or two or three, and whether if they get a sense of it then they might stoop to recklessness to stop the next reckless US government. Or whether we would just get used to it.

*This turns out to have been this, an 11-year-old London Daily Mail story that somehow burbled up in the feed.

From Newtown to Kabul, the sounds of freedom

Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr. doesn’t say what sounds “close-air support overhead” resembles, probably on the assumption that his audience, readers of the American Forces Press Service, do not need a description. He does say that the sounds “are often referred to as “the sounds of freedom,”” although he doesn’t say by whom.

A number of the accounts of the mass murder in Newtown featured descriptions of the sounds of the attacks. One parent said his son told him the shots sounded like “cans falling.” The office intercom was on, so teachers and children heard the murder of the school principal — screams and such. Children hidden in one classroom reportedly heard their teacher tell the killer that all her students were in the gym, and then they heard him shoot her and leave the room. Children heard doors slamming, locks sliding home, the janitor running through the halls warning of the killer.

“Cans falling;” “pop-pop-pop;” “big bangs;” “really loud pots were banging.” The New York Post is featuring a “compilation of sounds from the scene at the Newtown school shooting” derived from television news reports and raw footage in the immediate aftermath.

Probably people being bombed or strafed or missiled have their own language for what close air support sounds like, what the attacks from any source sound like, but afterward we know they will have sounded like death and doom. So Death and Doom sound like cans falling or pots banging, or thunder, or doors slamming, or some noise so loud you can only feel it.

The sounds of freedom.

Along with whatever we spent on whatever tonnage of bullets and bombs and missiles we shot at or dropped on people, the US last year sold $63 billion worth of weapons to variously questionable actors in the world to use in variously questionable activities. Second-place Russia only managed $5 billion. Americans spent more on weapons, ammunition and accessories for personal use than did Russia’s international clientele. Russia has some work to do; perhaps they should market more to Americans.

Americans — normal, generally well-regarded ones, careerists — routinely blow up children, and sometimes their schools. This is at the behest of the President — acting on behalf of the people — who said in response to the murders in Newtown that “each time I learn the news I react not as a President, but as anybody else would — as a parent. And that was especially true today. I know there’s not a parent in America who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do.”

Although there have been a number of US drone strikes and manned air strikes in which mostly women and children were killed, the President has never said about them that “[t]he majority of those who died today were children — beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old. They had their entire lives ahead of them — birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own.”

Typically the administration denies that what happened, happened; sometimes they’ll allow as how it did but was an accident. We regret the accident. The administration now says anyone old enough to hold a gun and young enough to walk with it is a valid target unless proved otherwise after we’ve killed them. More recently, more specifically, a US Army colonel in Afghanistan said that “[i]n addition to looking for military-age males, [we’re] looking for children with potential hostile intent.” He described this as an opening of the aperture. Possibly this isn’t all that different from the thought process that went into Friday’s killings; an aperture was clearly opened.

The story from Sgt. Marshall ends with a comment from the commander of the Kyrgyzstan base (which is not a base but a “transit center,” with not a commander but a “director”) that is his subject. Of the US personnel there, the commander says “They are very impressive,” he said. “Our airmen, every day, are interacting with Kyrgyz nationals … they are great ambassadors for the U.S. and help the Kyrgyz people see what democracy means.”

Yes, very likely. Very likely we’re teaching them both the sights and the sounds of freedom.

The good wars: Libya metastasizes and Afghanistan has a cobra snake for a necktie

The invasion of Afghanistan and the overthrow of Libya’s Qaddafi are supposed by liberal interventionists to have been good wars. Most of them have by now had their fill of Afghanistan and want out, but getting out is likely to be a nightmare. The Libyan adventure is still quite popular, when it is remembered, but is well on the way to becoming a classic case study in blowback. A recent story in Foreign Affairs magazine, the house organ of the Council on Foreign Relations, named some of the harsh consequences of the war for nearby countries and Libya herself.

First, there are the weapons: The neighborhood, especially Algeria, Mauritania, and Niger, was always uneasy about Libya’s civil war. Many feared that it would pry the lid off Tripoli’s sizeable weapons cache and lead to the dispersal of arms across the region. It turns out that they were right to be worried. Then, there is the money: Locating Libya’s financial assets after the war has been another complicated matter. Members of Qaddafi’s inner circle who know where the money is stashed are missing or unidentifiable. Basically, billions of dollars might wind up in the hands of individuals who could use the cash to sponsor terrorism or otherwise destabilize Libya. And finally, there are the refugees: Tens of thousands of Africans, no longer welcome in Libya, returned home this year. Besides the fact that many of them are ripe for jihadi infiltration, they will further strain the region’s weak economies. Already, food security is becoming a major issue and famine looms.

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US Secretary of War Leon Panetta ponders the human cost of the Greek financial crisis

He’s concerned that the Greeks won’t have as much money to spend on killing humans in other countries as the US would like.

“Today Secretary Panetta met with Greek Defense Minister Dimitris Avramopolous at the Pentagon to discuss a variety of mutual defense interests including the upcoming NATO Summit, the missions in Afghanistan and Kosovo, and the impact of Greece’s financial crisis on its defense posture.”

We’re all heart, or possibly Soylent Green is people.

Ain’t gonna study war … oh, never mind. Plus: torture inquiries! (Not here, of course.)

Like as not we’re now fighting three generations of Taliban in Afghanistan. Can we hold on long enough to make it four? Yes We Can!

The Department of Homeland Security just extended an ammunition contract for up to 450 million .40 caliber hollow-point rounds. That works out to something like 150 15-round clips for every DHS employee, including the IT guys. So don’t ask them to reboot the internet when your browser locks up.

Other countries actually attempt to hold people accountable for torture and stuff, even when it was on our dime. Novel!

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An epitaph for Obama: “I think we’ve all learned a valuable lesson.”

Not long after the big Republican win in the 2010 elections, the Obama administration’s best and brightest gave up on explaining that putting people to work is really good for both the economy and for people who need work. The concept was too complicated for voters, they thought, so instead the president went off to negotiate with a crew of irresolute drunks and psychotic killer termites over how best to tighten the belt of government around the necks of the poor, the sick, the old and the unemployed.

This is according to David Corn’s new book, Showdown, which is apparently meant as a generous portrait of the administration.

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Why is it bad for the right to say “Stay in Afghanistan,” but not for the president?

Charlie Pierce, whose writing I always admire and whose understandings of things I share more often than not, wrote a little bit yesterday about Marc Thiessen, one of the columnists who serve as bellwethers of the intellectual and literary rot inside the Washington Post’s editorial pages. The one-time speechwriter’s facility with the written word is a really good fit with the way his former boss, George W. Bush, handled the spoken one.

Thiessen wrote a column about the need to stay in Afghanistan. Pierce takes issue with it, highlighting a section where Thiessen says that we have to stay because if we don’t, what’s left of al Qaeda will 1) crow about it and 2) try to directly attack the US again. He’s almost certainly right on the first count, but it’s a piss-poor peg to hang a war on. He’s probably right on the second count too, although not, as he says, because our departure will have “emboldened” them, but because there’s no indication that they ever stopped wanting to attack us; it’s only that we messed them up thoroughly enough to make it really really difficult.

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“The Kipling is strong with this one …”

It’s like an epidemic. First there was David Atkins, representing from the mean streets of Santa Barbara for the liberal fans of violent empire, and now Max Boot, Dean of the Kipling School for Foreign Policy in the 21st Century, has popped his head up to chitter angrily at opponents of US military intervention in Syria.

Max Boot … I love Max Boot. He’s got the perfect imperialist name and, unlike Atkins, has both self-awareness and balls enough to proudly quote from “The White Man’s Burden” in one of his essays—America’s Destiny Is to Police the World, published in the Financial Times a few weeks before the invasion of Iraq. But more than that, he penned the single best line ever written in support of American imperialism in a piece, The Case for American Empire, that appeared in the Weekly Standard a few weeks post-911. Stand back and let it shine, o my brothers …

Afghanistan and other troubled lands today cry out for the sort of enlightened foreign administration once provided by self-confident Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith helmets.

You could make a career out of deconstructing that. It’s glorious.

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