Archive for the ‘Afghanistan’ Category

The Crumbling Empire

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

I had a few minutes at home today in the middle of the day and flipped on the TV.  The HBO documentary that I’ve been trying to avoid was on. 12th and Delaware  is about an abortion clinic in Fort Pierce, Florida and the Christian group across the street that accosts the women coming out of the clinic and tries to convince them not to have abortions.

When I turned it on, a black girl was sitting in her apartment looking out the window talking about how she didn’t want to be pregnant. She had tried to drink vinegar,  huff solvents and “move heavy things,” but since she was told that she could die or become infertile from an abortion, she had decided to keep her baby.

I changed the channel to David Gregory’s Afghanistan interview with General Petraeus. Interspersed with clips of American soldiers in combat operations, Petraeus was explaining that the troop withdrawal from surge levels would be based on “conditions on the ground.”

Over the past few weeks there has been discussion on the left about how cities and municipalities are cutting services that many depend on, including teachers, school days, bus service, police officers and even streetlights and police helicopters in the case of Colorado Springs, CO. This was highlighted in a New York Times article and featured by Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. Glenn Greenwald at Salon entitled his post about those cuts, “What collapsing empire looks like.” Krugman fleshed out the debate, pointng out that, as emerging countries invest in roads and infrastructure, 

a country that once amazed the world with its visionary investments in transportation, from the Erie Canal to the Interstate Highway System, is now in the process of unpaving itself: in a number of states, local governments are breaking up roads they can no longer afford to maintain, and returning them to gravel.

And a nation that once prized education — that was among the first to provide basic schooling to all its children — is now cutting back. Teachers are being laid off; programs are being canceled; in Hawaii, the school year itself is being drastically shortened. And all signs point to even more cuts ahead.

Krugman continues, explaining that these cuts are a direct result of the American aversion to tax increases and that, for all of the talk about “welfare queens” and lazy people collecting money from the public dole, we are now seeing that when tax revenues decrease, everyone suffers as streetlights are turned off, police and teachers are fired and (in the case of Hawaii) students are given shorter school years.

How did we get to this point? It’s the logical consequence of three decades of antigovernment rhetoric, rhetoric that has convinced many voters that a dollar collected in taxes is always a dollar wasted, that the public sector can’t do anything right.

The antigovernment campaign has always been phrased in terms of opposition to waste and fraud — to checks sent to welfare queens driving Cadillacs, to vast armies of bureaucrats uselessly pushing paper around. But those were myths, of course; there was never remotely as much waste and fraud as the right claimed. And now that the campaign has reached fruition, we’re seeing what was actually in the firing line: services that everyone except the very rich need, services that government must provide or nobody will, like lighted streets, drivable roads and decent schooling for the public as a whole

I’m not one who says that we should get out of Afghanistan immediately. I think that we should give it our best shot in the next couple of years and then turn over to the Afghans while keeping a much smaller presence in the country in the long term. But I think that if we’re going to spend the money to nation build in Afghanistan, then we should nation build here as well; and if push comes to shove, I would rather build America then Afghanistan.  The contrast between us paving roads and building schools in Afghanistan and Iraq while we fire teachers and unpave roads here in America couldn’t be more striking.

I don’t want to get into the moral issues responsibility, life and death, free will and government control that are involved in the abortion debate, but surely most people can agree that the girl in 12th and Delaware could have used some more education before she huffed solvents in an attempt to cause a miscarriage of the baby that she eventually decided to have. I feel for the women suffering in Afghanistan, but we have people in America that need help as well.  

The Tea Party has tapped into something powerful: people (especially Americans) don’t like paying taxes. The question is whether they would rather have their streetlights turned off, cutback on police protection and shortchange the children of America in order to keep those lower taxes….and whether they will be as upset as I am by the contrast between our nation efforts building in Afghanistan and the crumbling of our infrastructure in America. If we’re not willing to pay the taxes necessary maintain the Empire and take care of our own country, then maybe we should consider dispensing with the Empire altogether.

Petreaus to the Rescue (Again)

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

Some belated comments on the McCrystal/Petreaus/Obama High Drama this week.

Tom Ricks made a good point the day before the firing of McCrystal about the differences in opinion that he was hearing from people that have experience with the military and those who don’t. Specifically, most military types agreed that McCrystal had to go based on his actions because of the type of signal this kind of insubordination sends to the rest of the troops. Admiral Mullen expressed this sentiment even more strongly in his statements after the firing. From a similar standpoint, political columnist Mike Barnicle said on Morning Joe on June 25 that Obama had no choice but to fire McCrystal because “weakness is contagious.” If Obama allowed his military commanders to second guess him in public, it would have a cascading effect that would affect his presidency on multiple levels.

From this standpoint, the decision to fire McCrystal and replace him with Petreaus was absolutely the correct one. You can imagine that if McCrystal was left on, people from all sides would be questioning Obama’s toughness and the military brass would be emboldened to push him even harder for an open-ended commitment in Afghanistan. Alternately, if he had fired McCrystal and replaced him with someone of a lower stature, the news stories the next day would be about whether this commander was the right man to carry out the strategy that McCrystal was the architect of and whether a thin skinned Obama had cut off his nose to spite his face.

From the political perspective, Petreaus’ appointment was perfect. Petraeus is one of the most impressive men in American public life today. He brought back our efforts in Iraq from disaster and literally wrote the book on modern day counter-insurgency. He did this by gaining a much clearer insight into the way that Iraqi society operated and making strategic shifts to turn that to America’s advantage. Throughout the process, he consistently put people around him that would challenge the traditional view of the conflict. As Ricks details extensively in The Gamble (and less extensively in today’s Washington Post)

Petraeus took a much more humble stance, in which Iraqis were not told what to do and how and when to do it, but were asked their advice about what to do, and the best way to do it. It was notable that three of the most important advisers around Petraeus as he took command were foreigners — Kilcullen; a pacifistic British political adviser named Emma Sky who had been against the war; and Sadi Othman, a Palestinian American who became Petraeus’s personal envoy to the Iraqi government. A sharp contrast to the frat-boy atmosphere around McChrystal depicted in a Rolling Stone profile that led to his dismissal. 

The support for Petraeus’ appointment was swift and bipartisan. The neo-con trio of McCain, Graham and Lieberman stated strong support for the change, while also taking shots at the administration’s conditions-based withdrawal schedule and questioning some of the civilian leadership assigned to Afghanistan.

David Ignatius suggested that the appointment of Petraeus represents a doubling down on Afghanistan by Obama. Certainly, the appointment pushes the Afghanistan effort back to the front of the newspapers and puts a very credible and respected face on the effort. Whether this increases the length of our deployment remains to be seen.  The July 2011 withdrawal date has always been a vauge deadline that can be seen from different viewpoints to mean different things. What’s clear is that, in a year and a half from now, the troop levels will no longer be 3x what they were during the Bush Administration. What’s less clear is how big the remaining force will be, how much longer we will be there and how much blood and treasue Obama is willing to spend on a mission that has gone on significantly longer than the American people expected and whose outcome seems to be increasingly in doubt.

All indications are that this is a decision that Obama has yet to make. But the deadline should provide the same reminder to General Petreaus as it does for the Afghans: both of them need to show some real progress towards a credible endgame in the next year if this commitment is going to last much longer.

McCrystal Stunner

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

The news on General Stanley McCrystal’s comments in an article by Rolling Stone magazine published this week are a stunner.

In the article, both McCrystal and his subordinates talk disdainfully about not only President Obama, but also many key advisers on his foreign policy team.

An aide to McCrystal says that General McCrystal portrayed Obama as “uncomfortable and intimidated” during a Pentagon meeting with General McChrystal and several other generals and an aide criticizes him for the meeting he held with McCrystal after he had been on the job for 4 months:

“It was a 10-minute photo op,” says an adviser to McChrystal. “Obama clearly didn’t know anything about him, who he was. Here’s the guy who’s going to run his fucking war, but he didn’t seem very engaged. The Boss was pretty disappointed.”

Among other gems, subordinates refer to Vice President Biden as ”Bite Me” in front of the General, call National Security Advisor, General Jim Jones “a clown” whose “stuck in 1985″ and both McCrystal’s aides and McCrystal himself deride both Presidential advisor Richard Hollbrooke and Afghanistan Ambassador, General Karl Eikenberry.

Hard to see how he keeps his job after all this, but it’s a bad deal for Obama either way.

As Stars and Stripes said today, President Obama

faces two grim choices on Wednesday: Fire Gen. Stanley McChrystal and risk looking like he’s lost control of the war in Afghanistan. Or keep him and risk looking like he’s lost control of his generals.

Should be interesting to see how things go down tomorrow.