Archive for the ‘Afghanistan’ category

Afghanistan, The Middle East All Over Again?

May 13, 2017

The Trump Administration is mulling once again taking a greater presence in Afghanistan. The concern these official site is the growing Taliban strength and the clandestine support the Taliban are receiving from Russia. Government sources are leaking that increased military presence is intended to drive the Taliban back to negotiations and not to pursue nation building. Hmmm.

The Taliban resurgence should surprise no one. Afghanistan is closer to a “failed” State than an emerging democracy due to the ethnic and tribal difference reinforced by years of corruption and drug dealing. Before 9/11, the Taliban did ruled Afghanistan but only with the brute and cruel force of its boots. Is that the type of Afghan Government the US wishes to emerge?

With respect to Russian involvement, please get me a glass of water as I sit down to catch my breath. Who would have thought? When Russia invaded and attempted to occupy Afghanistan in the 80’s, it was the US who armed and covertly trained the opposition (mostly Taliban). Pay back?

On a different front, there is less but similar talk about Syria and Iraq where American advisors are helping Kurds and Iraqis to retake Mosel and Raqqa and rid those cities of ISIS control. Ending the Syrian civil war and driving ISIS out of Iraq appear clearly worthwhile objectives, most would agree. Not surprisingly, more American advisors and air support are felt necessary to provide combat help, training, and tactical advice.  Hmmm.

Of the Trump Administration senior appointees, Secretary of Defense Mattis and National Security Advisor H R McMaster are consider top shelf, experienced, principled, and capable. Both Mattis and McMaster should be expected to act prudently and with the country’s best interest in mind. Never the less, any talk of increasing American military presence in the Muslim world should worry us. Why?

There are several reasons.

  1. Increasing troop presence can easily lead to the proverbial slippery slope. One foot in will quickly lead to a second, third, and, fourth step and possibly many more steps.
  2. Greater US presence, while arguments can be made about short term objectives, really begs what are the US long term interests and goals.
  3. And most importantly, what would be the exit plan should our goals not be reached or our interests change?

Former President Obama had chosen a foreign policy based upon urging Muslim countries solve their own differences (mainly religious, Sunni versus Shiite, moderate versus radical fundamentalist) in order to earn US military support. With President Trump it is unclear whether he views the greater Middle East similarly or even whether he is capable of holding any strategic (versus tactical) views. Therein lies the danger.

Committing US forces without a strategic vision harkens memories of heroic US military efforts followed by constant erosion of any gains. Hmmm.

With a President who excels in distraction, Americans must be careful not to cheer the commitment of more young men and women to a war which cannot be won.

Leading From Behind – Year End

December 31, 2016

Every year has a beginning, and whatever has a beginning, has an end. Today is the last day of 20116, the year of the unthinkable. What will 2017 bring?

President Obama has tried his best to change several trajectories upon which the US has sailing when he became President in 2009. One of the more controversial was his “leading from behind” foreign policy.

After having inherited poorly thought through strategies, such as nation building in Afghanistan and regime change in Iraq, President Obama apparently concluded that, if given the chance, the State Department would employ military force in any and all foreign policy issues, and the Military (Defense Department) would gladly fight in any theater as the willing enforcer for State Department policy. After 8 years with President George W Bush, State and Defense thought there was not a world situation not amenable to the salvation of military force.

President Obama, on the other hand, could not find logical, fact based arguments supporting continued military investment in the Middle East and seriously questioned continuing any presence in Afghanistan. When the Arab Spring occurred, President Obama resisted intervention in Tunisia, Libya, and Syria.
Tunisia formed a new government with relatively minor collateral problems. Libya incurred NATO air intervention resulting in the capture and death of Muammar Gaddafi. The Libya regime change has been rocky and still pits rival tribes against each other, and each of them against ISIS-type insurgents. Syria regrettably disintegrated into an all out civil war and produced millions of displaced persons and civilian deaths. At this point it appears Bashar Assad will retain power and hopes for a Syrian regime change will evaporate.

President-elect Trump has voiced the idea of “Peace Through Strength”. No more leading from behind.  These are thinly disguised words harkening back to the Bush era where the neoconservative, chicken hawks gladly dispatch other American’s sons and daughters to armed conflicts.

These sweetly flavored words promise a peaceful American life by keeping the world’s thugs off our doorsteps. If the world were only that simple.

President Trump will experience the same “tell him what he wants to hear” briefings from the Intelligence Agencies and State Department. And as it should, the Defense Department will develop plans to achieve what it is asked.

President Obama learned to question toughly what each agency or department recommended. The open question is “WWDD”?

A Tortured Path To The Democrat Nomination

January 18, 2016

Last night’s Democrat debate in South Carolina underscored the difficulty Hillary Clinton will have if she is to become the first woman President. Simply stated, Clinton must win the primary process in the face of deja vu all over again. ABC’s Rick Kline described the Clinton-Sanders contest as a race between the Party’s heart and its mind. Remember Barack Obama’s appeal in 2008?

Sanders has chosen two factually sound positions (controls for too big to fail banks, and universal healthcare).  Both issues are enormously difficult to message in sufficient detail for the electorate to quickly grasp.

Banks which gamble with depositors money are inherently dangerous and enormously unfair to tax payers who must bail out the banks should their “bets” go bust. There must be some consequence for any large bank that seeks a bail out, like a complete replacement of its board and chief executives (with clawbacks on past bonuses), and the loss of complete shareholder value. Breaking up existing “too big to fail” is an option but so would a set of consequences which could minimize these death wish strategies that nearly brought the worlds banking system to collapse in 2008.

Sanders second issue, universal healthcare, could not be more founded on fact. Regardless of whether someone feels healthcare is a right or if someone feels healthcare is a privilege, the unvarnished truth is Americans spends twice as much for healthcare than another modern country in the world and receive no better health outcomes. Obamacare goes a long way in achieving healthcare as a right, but has not made a significant dent in the per capita cost. A universal healthcare system like Germany or France’s would make that correction…. but would turn the current system on its head. How can we expect a Sanders proposal to suddenly pass in Congress when President Obama can’t get Federal Judge nominations through committee for a vote?

The general election will be different. The GOP has already scoped out extreme and provocative positions with which either a Hillary or a Bernie will stand in sharp contrast. Of the two, Bernie’s passion around healthcare and the banks will fade when confronted with GOP attacks on healthcare, Medicaid, Social Security, lower taxes for the rich (leading to more budget pressure on entitlements, and a return to neoconservative policies which got America into the Iraq War and the morphed nation building role in Afghanistan.

While many are “feeling the Bern”, in a general election campaign either candidate will be judged more as the opposite of the GOP and its platform than for what they might advocate during the primaries. The months ahead will determine whether it’s Hillary or Bernie but it is doubtful that universal healthcare or breaking up the banks will decide the general election.

Memorial Day Thoughts

May 25, 2015

When soldiers returned home from Vietnam, many were greeted with boos and castigations. At its height, Vietnam was a very unpopular war and many Americans let the returning GIs know it.

In hind sight, Vietnam was a war that never needed to be fought. So what does one say to the many veterans who did serve and saw their buddies hurt or killed? Somehow “thank you for your service” just doesn’t seem appropriate.

Veterans of the last 10 years in Afghanistan plus all veterans of Iraq share a common fate. They served also in wars that never needed to be fought but without the draft most Americans never got that upset with these wars. “Thank you for your service” might seem a little more appropriate but still carries a hollow meaning. What should we say?

I suggest one should say “I’m sorry I let you down”.

I think it is about time Americans faced up to the disservice we collectively have done to military men and women. The disservice is not about the hardship of foreign duty or the mortal risks each military member was exposed to. That goes with the uniform.

The disservice, rather, relates to the dysfunctional elected leaders who sent the troops into war and the even greater avoidance of accountability on the part of American voters in not recalling or voting out of office each of these officials.

Had Americans stood up and said America fights only for its national interests, does so with all its resources, and fights only to win, then we could look veterans in the eye and truly thank them for their service.

For Iraq and Afghanistan (post 2004), Americans need to begin apologizing to veterans and opening the truth about the depth of America’s inadequate senior leadership which sent young men and women into war. Only by telling the truth, can Americans help these veterans come to grips with (what is becoming clearer every day) the waste of time and unfair huge personal risk they were asked to endure. Only the truth will help them understand why the Middle East is and will continue to be such a mess despite their sacrifices.

When I was younger, Memorial Day Parades were about veterans mainly from World War II. That was a time of horror.  Even though many mistakes were made, WWII, however, was a war where America was all in and it wasn’t necessary to thank service men and women because everyone was expected to do their part.

Today’s “thank you for your service” is short for “tough break buddy, you went and I didn’t have too”.

The more I say it the more I become convinced “I’m sorry I let you down” is far more honest and pays a much greater tribute to the vet.

11-11-11

November 11, 2014

Today is a very important day in Europe. Today is the anniversary of the Armistice which ended World War I. The great war which enveloped Europe seems today a senseless slaughter of young men. For Europeans, 11 AM on November 11 marked the end of willingly making war. At that moment, Europeans had had their fill of war.

In Europe this day is called Armistice Day while in the US, it is called Veterans Day. In history, however, it is just another day which ended one conflict and sowed the roots for an even larger one.

My first memories of WWI were family stories about my Uncles who had fought with American units. I have no idea what impression the war made upon them, at least based upon family folklore. What I do remember, however, is seeing a man walking aimless the streets of my home town. This person, who today we would call a homeless, street person, would walk along the sidewalks until he came to a parking meter. He would stop, say something to the meter, and then salute.

I asked my parents about him. They said he had been in the great war and was suffering from “shell shock”. Hmmm.

My guess is today we would label this poor soul’s behavior as symptoms of PTSD. Over ninety years later and we can still see war’s impact upon veterans.

In England at the Tower of London, a sea of glass poppies, some 880,000+, have been planted in the moat surrounding the tower. This display has prompted a national outpouring of respect and gratitude to those who gave their lives in WWI.

In the US, the 7/24 talking heads cannot say “thanks for your service” enough. If they could, I think many of these personalities would thank parking meters if they thought their ratings would benefit. Sad.

Critics of these celebratory events recalling WWI point out that the reality of the war was quite different and must be recognized as well. Simply thanking members of the armed forces for their personal sacrifices misses the bigger point of why were they ever ask to take up arms in the first place?

Should we also be thanking government leaders who followed policies which invited a military response? Should we be thanking military commanders who lead their men into sure death by specific tactics they chose? Should we be thanking scientists and business leaders who developed and manufactured ever more lethal weapons and weapon systems?

If WWI seems to far in the past to be relevant today, think about the 12+ years following 9/11. Think about the slaughters in Afghanistan in pursuit of al Qaeda. Even more to the point, think about destruction of Iraq and wholesale killing of Iraqis and Americans in pursuit… of what?

I respect the service of the many Americans who were dispatched to Iraq (and Afghanistan) but I have trouble saying the words “thanks”.

Instead, I want to say “I’m sorry” that you were asked to perform a senseless mission. “I’m sorry” so many of you were asked to follow tactics which exposed you to horrible weapons of mass injury. “I’m sorry” so many of you have returned broken and missing limbs, and so many of you with post traumatic stress disorder who may not salute a parking meter but may needlessly hurt themselves or someone else.

Veterans Day should not be a day of celebration. Rather it should be a day when Americans are reminded of what can happen when leaders decide that wars can attain national goals.

End Game, What’s That?

September 13, 2014

President Obama’s speech this week on the US intended actions towards ISIS received generally satisfactory reviews (meaning GOP leadership did not say “no way”). One criticism voiced by many pundits was “what’s the end game”? Hmmm.

When former President George W Bush went into Afghanistan in pursuit of al Qaeda, no one asked the question “what’s the end game”. When almost unbelievably, Bush then invaded Iraq without finishing up in Afghanistan, no one asked “what’s the end game”?

Brief history has now shown that that question was telling in both cases in which the US has wandered and come away with a dim view of our efforts.

Now it is more than fair to ask the same of President Obama, “what’s the end game”?

My guess is that President Obama cannot answer that question in 25 words or less. I am not sure the President see ISIS as part of the “same game” as his critics do.  The President best be careful because there are many in Washington who mistakenly think there is a peace keeper role, not to overlook nation building, for the US in the Middle East.

Post World War II when the world’s economic distribution was so much in the US’ favor, there were sometimes both a humanitarian and self interest reason to meddle in other countries’ affairs. Today the US remains the wealthiest country in the world but the advantages has dramatically narrowed.

The US must be clear when it sets expensive foreign policies in motion.

I have heard pundits say the President never wanted to make this speech in the first place. He made it, they say, due to political reasons… the mid term elections. If that is accurate, then most likely this “war” against ISIS will play itself out in 2015.  We can hope.

Americans should be alert, however. Events can change and before we know it, military actions aimed at ISIS could spread into “feet on the ground” and suddenly a focus on a new “enemy”. Murphy’s law – work expands to fit the resources available.

Americans should also be mindful that while President Obama seems averse to military engagements, he has not been as adamant about protecting individual privacy. There is nothing, through out history, any better a pretext for taking away individual liberties than a foreign threat, real or imagined.

Most of us assume ISIS is a relatively weak opponent, stronger than Grenada but weaker than Hussein’s Iraq. The US should “win” these military engagements with ease. So why should we care?  Hmmm.

What could be next? Would we invade Syria (to ensure we eliminate all other radicals)? Or would Israel convince a US President to use a base in Iraq to attack Iran’s nuclear capability (to rid the world of a menace)? Or, would the US be bound to the Middle East, what about Africa? There are plenty of radicals and outrightly nasty people there. And, and, and.

A simple answer to the question of what’s the end game might be, “Using air power (and other clandestine policies, like supporting Assad), eliminate the top lSIS leaders and render their insurgent forces incapable of occupying or controlling any geography inside or outside Syria… and then disengaging”.

If the US is not careful, it will find out that there are no end games in the Middle East.

Pandora’s Dilemma

August 26, 2014

In August 1990, some say, the US lead coalition opened Pandora’s box a bit. The first gulf war, operation Desert Storm, was ostensibly to stop Saddam Hussein’s aggression against neighboring Kuwait. The fact that Kuwait was oil rich and that Hussein’s Iraq was already suspect to American neo-conservatives, were thought to have had greater influence on American policy than Iraq’s violation of International law.

Pandora’s box was jolted ajar a second time following 9/11. American lead troops ousted the Afghanistan “Taliban al Qaeda friendly” government and then allowed their mission of hot pursuit to morph into nation building.

But the box became fully open when the US invaded and occupied Iraq for the second time in 2003. “Mission Accomplish” which boasted of Saddam Hussein’s capture (and subsequent execution) was clearly the beginning of the Middle East unraveling.

US involvement in the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Gadaffi, and most recently attempted unseating of Bashar al Assad all displayed clearly that the US had not learned from Iraq or Afghanistan.

This week, senior Administration officials are breathlessly describing potential military operations aimed in one way or another trying to close Pandora’s box. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs said yesterday that the US military were preparing contingency plans should a Afghan political deadlock prevent a “status of forces” agreement being signed before the US troop departure date.

It should be fully expected that Taliban forces will attempt to retake the Afghan government (by force, if necessary) once US forces leave. It should be fully expected that the Taliban, like the extremists in Iraq, will commit horrific slaughters under the name of Allah in order to retake the government. Hmmm.

So, when American political leaders speak of taking the war to ISIS, or keeping a sufficient residual force in Afghanistan to counter the Taliban, their motivation is probably to prevent wholesale slaughter. A humanitarian motivation one might say. Hmmm.

As the Middle East proverb goes, “if you steal one of my chickens, I will steal two of yours”. Consequently, intervening within Middle East (Afghanistan and Pakistan too) affairs can only lead to an escalation in violence.

The wisest course of action, although not pretty, will be to withdraw and allow the locals to work out a governance solution.

Oh, I bet the more insightful policy makers wish the US had not opened Pandora’s box in the first place and wonder what the Middle East might be like today?