Archive for the ‘Robert Gates’ category

Role Reversals

October 1, 2009

The great Afghanistan policy debate underway in Washington shines a light on what inadequate or faulty policy decisions can mean when they mature. In this case, 8 years have been essentially wasted along with hundreds of billions of dollars. The US, as part of a NATO force, invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban government in order to root out al Qaeda. So far, so good. Unfortunately that was as far as it went and where it stopped.

The Bush Administration set the policy objective of pursuing al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents with one hand and helped set up a new central Afghan government with the other, both on a shoe string. That was a lot to do, yet early into the Afghan effort, Bush and Cheney decided to invade and occupy Iraq, and that was not necessary.  In the country where terrorists thrived,  poppies grew and government bribes were collected as a matter of daily business in Afghanistan, and life went on. Is there a question why the situation today is so fragile?

The US military command has now come forward with a policy of sorts. Focus on protecting the population or risk losing control of Afghanistan. Presumably protection includes eradicating poppy fields and ending the widespread graft and corruption too. This policy proposal raises all sorts of questions.

  • Why should the Military be recommending a policy that seems so obvious and so much the normal product of the State Department?
  • Why should we expect the US to succeed in Afghanistan when no outside force has before, including the Russians and the colonial English?
  • How can the US support an indeterminate effort while facing a $10 trillion deficit over the next 10 years?
  • Why should the US care about Afghan’s future government and most importantly, why is this America’s problem anyways?

Poppies, unbridled extremism, and regional instability are all sure to follow an American withdrawal. But aren’t these, all nation’s problems?

Graham Says Stay

September 28, 2009

Senator Lindsay Graham, in an interview over the weekend, sternly advised President Obama that the US must not only stay in Afghanistan but must insure that the Taliban does not win. He told anyone who had been sleeping for the last 8 years that if US forces left Afghanistan, the Taliban would surely return to power. Graham said this with his most sincere and serious face.

The irony of this situation is that Senator Graham is correct and you are struck by the notion of where he has been for the last 8 years. Like almost all Republican “advice” for President Obama, there is plenty of help on what not to do but little insight on what to do. There is no amount of troops that can change the ultimate outcome until there is a stable and capable Afghan central government.  This is true now, and it has been true for the past 8 years.

President Obama hopefully will take his time in making any decision on troop strength and couple it with an exit strategy. The military can delay (even for a very long time) the outcome but they can not change what is inevitable.

The path forward in Afghanistan is not very clear and it would be much more helpful for Senator Graham to cease partisan politics and offer to be supportive of the President’s decision. For 8 years, Graham’s party ran the White House and the Department of Defense and presided over a slow rot of the Afghan central government. It is time for a comprehensive plan with bi-partisan support.

A Year Later

September 26, 2009

The current discussions swirling around whether the US should increase its Afghanistan military presence, stand pat, or reduce troop strength is in itself a refreshing example of good governance. It is an important strategic and foreign policy decision.

On one side of Afghanistan is Iran. They are experiencing internal difficulties within their ruling faction.   At the same time they are apparently moving forward to join the nuclear club. Iran could become an unstable, missile possessing, nuclear threat in the Middle East.  How would the US deal with that threat if it had 200,000 troops tied down in Afghanistan?

On the other side of Afghanistan is Pakistan. This large, relatively poor country is struggling with two external threats. India with its larger Army and nuclear weapons, and the presence of the ugly religious intolerance of Hinduism and Islam, put India and Pakistan on the knife edge poised for instant battle. Pakistan, however, must also contend with Taliban and other frontier tribes on its northwestern boarders who operate across the Afghan-Pakistan boarder. Pakistan has nuclear weapons and means to deliver them.  What would the US do if the Taliban somehow destabilized the Pakistan Government?

So you have to ask, “what is the reason, again, why the US is in Afghanistan and poised to commit so many troops”?

With the Bush Administration, there was little debate about our presence in Afghanistan. Vice President, Dick Cheney, decided we should be there and Presidential Advisor, Karl Rove added his support because the war provided excellent nation security spin for political purposes. With the Obama Administration, the nature of the Administration debate is different. Vice President Joe Biden is counseling against adding more troops. He is cautioning President Obama that more troops is about nation building and to do that you must have a partner in the Afghan Government. Biden’s concern is whether the Karzai Government is credible and strong enough to be that partner.

President Obama seems confident enough to not be hurried into a premature decision. He is wisely delaying any decision and instead domestically focusing on health care and the economy, and overseas through Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, building alliances and understanding among key foreign countries.

What a difference a year can make!

General Motors of Iraq

April 24, 2008

With the nomination of General Patraeas to become the commander of US Middle East forces, effectively Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush Administration is following the General Motors unsucessful model of quickly promoting leaders far too quickly and much before anyone could assess their stewardship of their present assignment.  If someone is promoted fast enough they can escape the occurance of anything out of line on their watch. 

It seems clear that General Patraeas has brought Iraq conditions into a state of control, albeit, a controlled state of mild chaos.  Killings continue and “bad guys” do bad things on a fairly regular basis but in a controlled sort of way.  The Iraqi official Government is highly under the influence of Iran and is in constant danger from Sunnis left out of the good deals and Muqtada al Sadr’s supporters who demand even more spoils.  This may be George W Bush’s view of how democracy takes hold and flourishes.

The unanswered question in the Patraeas promotion is what will he do in the new assignment.  There is no question that Afghanistan has been ignored by Bush and company, and has deteriorated over the past four years.  But that is a policy issue, not a failure of the military.  Americans would probably support a greater effort in Afghanistan but not if the Iraq fiasco continues at the current cost and troop levels.  (Frankly, Americans would probably not consider any initiative of George W Bush as credible at this point.)  Patraeas must be given the latitude to switch troops (and $$$) from Iraq to Afghanistan in order to stabalize the situation.  Hopefully the next Administration will present a sane and feasible Afghanistan policy.  (either get out completely and let Afghanistan go as it will, or divide the country into smaller sections and bring some of section under stable rule).

Bush Does Jordon

March 31, 2008

Our gallant President is off on another foreign trip, this time to Eastern Europe.  I wonder if he thinks he is Michael Jordon and this is a farewell visit.  If he is lucky, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condi Rice have already obtained the Russian concessions to placing radar and missiles in Poland and Czech Republic.  The President can prance around, make pontifical statements, and plunge the US down another dead end path. 

What foreign country could (or would) launch a missile attack on Europe or the US and think for a minute that they would not be wiped out?  The countries most often cited are Iran and North Korea but I simply wonder about North Korea.  Is not Russian air space in the way, and wouldn’t North Korea come over the North Pole to strike the US?

When you factor in the technical difficulty of a missile hitting another missile, especially one carrying multiple war heads, you must conclude that the threat of retaliation is the only sensible (bluff-wise and economics-wise) counter measure.  (It is true that Dick Cheney and his merry men might want to invade first and ask questions later.) 

At a time when the US budget is hopeless tipped towards larger and larger deficits, and the quagmire of Iraq is adding each year to the national debt, you would think the Government would take measure of what we can afford as well as what we need.  But not this President.  He has not even considered that his 28% approval rating means something.  All Americans would be better off with George spending the rest of his term riding his mountain bike in Texas.  At least that way we could save the cost of jet fuel for Air Force One. 

Surge Revisited

February 12, 2008

Most all political leaders have acknowledged that the surge gamble has achieved its goals of reducing the level of violence in Iraq.  Critics claim that little or no political progress has been made as a result of the “space” the surge has provided Iraqi political leaders.  Supporters counter with mantra “we will not be defeated by al Qaeda”.  It is now one year and it is time to assess.  An official assessment is in the works and General Patreaus will be giving it to Congress soon.  Here is what it looks like to me.

1. One year has passed and the US is no closer to seeing an end to the quagmire we have gotten ourselves into.  There may be slightly less violence in Iraq but to say it is safe and civilized is to redefine the word civilized.

2. Secratary of Defense Robert Gates has now said that he may not recommend reducing troop levels further this summer.  Gates is by all accounts a reasonable public servant and one of the few George W Bush, and his boss Dick Cheney, have tolerated.  So you must conclude that in the context of the current situation, Secretary Gates has rendered sound advice.

Based upon Gates advice, you are tempted to conclude one of three things:

1. The surge has failed to move the ball forward and the US has wasted a year.  If we can not reduce the troops, then what good was the surge?

2. Despite my positive feelings about Gates, he may have, in fact, gone over to the dark side.  The dark side is the Administration’s (read neoconservatives and AIPAC) plan to occupy Iraq for a long time (100 years as John McCain has said).  Gates’ recommendation to leave troop strength constant is simple the first step.

3. There is a third option that is not in conflict with the first two.  The third possibility is that the Republicans have figured out that their only chance to win the White House in the election is stir up the “war fever” and spread a lot of fear around about “losing” the war.  This is a tough card to play because the whole point has to be that the US in not actually losing but through its military is beating back the enemy everyday.  How clean.  McCain is for “not losing”… and Obama and Clinton are for “withdrawing (which the Republicans define as losing)”.

This will be the American voters second chance to stand up for common sense.  Iraq is a huge mistake in any way you measure it.  We aren’t even getting the oil !  Troop withdrawal will need to be coupled with a new, more comprehensive Middle East foreign policy, and a more collaborative foreign policy towards the other great nations.

Their Finest Hour?

December 6, 2007

On a day when the Supreme Court is hearing arguments which in essence could make it perfectly legal for the US Government to go into the piracy and hostage taking business, The news was headlined by the senseless shootings by a mentally sick young man in Omaha.  TV news jumped on this incident as flies do horseshit in July.  What are the national networks thinking?

1. There certainly is a place for reporting this tragic event and it begins in Omaha and probably ends in Nebraska.  There needs to be accurate information delivered so that the public can remain calm and cooperate with what ever type of investigation is felt necessary.  There does not need to be any pretty (male or female) faces standing before the camera telling you what you are seeing or what you are about to be told (by a less pretty face).

2. National reporting is just what these sick people want.  For what ever the reasons they are losers in their own world and through the magic of media, they want a record made that they were here.  Media executives who pander to the general audience and feed this sick information are simply encouraging the next sicko to do the same.

3. The Supreme Court case could reaffirm a 600 year old right of Western Law, habeas corpus.  This would be a wonderful victory for common sense and the American way.  Or, in the end, the Court could side step that fundamental issue and simply declare that the law governing the military commissions in Guantanamo is flawed and remand the case back to the Government for further revisions.  In the worst case, where the conservative four stand, the Court could rule it has no call to be involved, and in that situation, they will validate the wholesale hijacking of our due process and probable cause tradition.

The argument that “we are at war” is laughable on its merits.  We are no more at war than a child shooing a ghost from behind a tree at halloween.  We are definently involved in two police actions, Afghanistan and Iraq, but these are not wars since Congress has never declared war.  The Guantanamo prisoners are not even classified as enemy combatants and not accorded their protections under the Geneva Convention.  Some of these people may have been or are bad people.  That is no excuse for not offering them due process.  The real losers are the American people who do not see their freedoms slipping away.