Posted tagged ‘Afghanistan’

The Case For Afghanistan

November 24, 2014

President Obama has announced the complete withdrawal of US combat troops from Afghanistan by 2016. Unfortunately it appears that one of the phased withdrawal steps due by January 2015 will not be met. The President has agreed to allow US troops to conduct further operations in coordination with Afghan forces. Hmmm.

The decision to withdraw completely almost assuredly will set up an analogous situation in Afghan as we have just seen in Iraq. The Taliban will gain ground and continually threaten major Afghan cities. If the US has withdrawn, its capability to confront Taliban forces will severely strained.

A bigger risk, however, will not be on the battle field but at home in the political world of the 2016 Presidential election. Once again, the GOP will label Democrats as soft on defense and ineffective as leaders. Hmmm.

Afghanistan represents a difficult piece of culture and geography. From the days of Alexander the Great, each successive invader has had difficulty deciding when to leave.  What’s in it for the US to remain?

One advantage, some say, if the US keeps a sustainable Afghan force, is this presence would require an overall military size helpful in responding to flare ups other places in the world. The support infrastructure to maintain an Army in Afghanistan could also support a more rapid deployment of US troops to other locations in Asia or the Middle East, for example. And with a growing Chinese presence and a rejuvenated Russia, maintaining US military strength is a strong argument.

We must be careful, however, if any of our political or military leaders suggests that staying in Afghanistan is necessary to complete the Afghan transition to democracy. While Afghanistan does not present the Middle East “Sunni-Shiite conflict”, Afghanistan presents its own set of obstacles.

Afghanistan is a relatively recent State which has been cobbled together from dozens of ethnically different groups. The idea that modern Afghanistan can be anything other than a loose confederation of tribes for the foreseeable future is just dreaming. Poverty, corruption, and tribal jealousies will rule the day. The reason to remain in Afghanistan does not include helping to birth a democracy.

The rub in the “being ready for other contingencies” argument is an statement the US cannot make publicly.  More to the point, it will not sell well on the Sunday talk shows.

Another damaging aspect will be the budgetary considerations. How can the US support a continued war while cutting domestic spending?

Former President Johnson once said he would not be the first US President to lose a war when referring to a Vietnam withdrawal. President Obama may see that same writing on his history wall.  While leaving Afghanistan is inevitable since connecting it to US national interests any longer is too much of a stretch, President Obama may be thinking, “not on my watch”.

The case for Afghanistan is for the Afghanis to decide. We went there in hot pursuit of al Qaeda and removed the Taliban government because they tolerated al Qaeda presence. It is not our position to tell the Afghan people what type of leaders they should have. If religious conservatives like the Taliban, so be it.

The risk, of course, will remain that ISIS or al Qaeda or some other look alike will return. But frankly, a residual force of 14,000 will not be much of a deterrent anyways.

What say Chuck Hagel?

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Shameful And Irresponsible

July 29, 2014

This week we may see Congress step up and hit a single. To be clear, the bi-partisan VA fix bill is not a home run but in a Congress where rhetoric trumps commonsense or logic, the VA compromise bill has elements that make total sense, and at least count as a base hit..

What could have been so hard in finding this path forward?

The winning words, by Senator Bernie Sanders, were “I don’t care about the VA, I care about our veterans”.

Ever since President George W Bush sent American soldiers in Iraq (and thereby extended the stay in Afghanistan), the fundamental responsibilities a government has to its soldiers has been disregarded. Equipment inadequacies, shortages, and multiple/extended tours are incompatible with wars of choice.

Topping the list, however, was the decision to hold pat with the VA staffing, funding, and facilities even though Iraq and Afghanistan were sending home thousands of new patients. Both the Bush and the Obama Administrations have stood silently by as one VA horror story after another has come to light.

Congress has done no better and arguably worse. Where was oversight? Wasting time on Benghazi while Veterans waited for an appointments. Hmmm.

Fixes to the VA shortage problem has been well known. The problem was how to fund the large spending increase necessary.

Shamefully, the GOP blocked all solutions unless offsetting cuts could be identified. Irresponsibly, Democrats did not embrace the notion that government spending can be cut through retirement of unneeded programs or retooling existing spending programs and extracting greater efficiency at lower expenditure levels.

A government that spends about $3 trillion each year must have ample opportunities to cut spending and then reinvest this money in new initiatives.

Regrettably, our Congress members have been more concerned about their supporters (read defense contractors, farm owners, and those receiving social safety net benefits). Veterans just weren’t high enough on the food chain to count.

It is unlikely the VA emergency fix will initiate a fundamental change in Congressional attitudes.  We must, instead, be satisfied with the good news that, at least for a while, Veterans will receive attention they deserve.

Dysfunction Begins With Thinking

June 5, 2014

Congress has been accused often of being a dysfunctional organization. Many times this dysfunction has been correlated with individual Congress members’ personal search for financial support. Other times, the dysfunction could be more associated with blind party loyalties.  American citizens’s needs, however, has been normally vague in Congressional action (or non-action).

The current brouhaha over the swap of 5 Taliban detainees for Sergeant Bowe Burgdahl has reinforced a third reason for Congressional dysfunction. Too many simply do not think.

President Obama has pointed out (in professorial tones) that the US military does not leave behind on the battle field any of its ranks if it is at all possible to recover them. Full stop.

This position has long been a core value of our military top command and represents nothing new or modified. What’s hard to understand about that?

“Well”, say the critics, “Bergdahl is a traitor”. Hmmm. What do these people think the words “we do not leave any US military” mean?

For those who might not argue about the Bergdahl repatriation, instead mount their high horse over the release of 5 former senior Taliban detainees. Some think 5 was too many and others think that anyone of them was too many. They infer these 5 will rejoin the Taliban and create havoc for the US.

The President has pointed out (again professorially) the nature of the agreement releasing these detainees (exile in Qatar for a year and a promise to not rejoin Taliban military operations).   There is of course always a chance the promises will not hold.

But think about it. Not releasing these detainees now begs the question “when”?

Our Constitution sets the standard of rule by law and prohibits indefinite detention (except in time of war). Guantanamo Detention Facilities represent internationally a dark smudge on the US reputation, and domestically, honesty with itself is missing.

Guantanamo represents a departure form American ideals and the potential onset of a two tier judicial system. It leaves open the possibility for future authorities to detain Americans indefinitely simply because they are charged with being a terrorist threat.

Congress members might be justified in holding the position that 5 was too many or the 5 individuals were the wrong 5, but they are irresponsible (and guilty of not thinking) if they do not have an equally clear position on how these 5 and the rest of the Guantanamo detainees are to be render a law based disposition of their status.

Dealing with the Guantanamo mess will require thinking and courage. Congress appears short on both qualities.

The War Industry

May 28, 2014

Yesterday, President Obama made it official and public. He announced that he was open to US troops remaining in Afghanistan beyond the end of 2014 providing a “status of forces” treaty could be signed. The nominal 10,000 troops would continue a training mission and assist on fighting al Qaeda remnants.

A sigh of relief could almost be heard from the Pentagon. The President went on to say these troops would, however, be withdrawn by the end of 2016 and the US Afghan page would be over.

This sounded like vintage Obama negotiations. “Lay out your preferred position first and then let your opponents shoot at it”.

As with his Afghanistan “surge” where the President announced (reluctantly) a surge in troops in Afghanistan while at the same time announcing a troop reduction against a future time line, the President, in essence, said to his military and civilian hawks advisers, you get your way for this much time and then I get mine.

This morning the nay sayers were out in force questioning how anyone could set a date for withdrawal. “Why not wait and see what happens” these supporters of an indefinite Afghan presence are saying.

Certainly, there is a case to be made for staying longer. It’s called Iran and China, and maybe Russia. Keeping a presence with eyes and ears in Afghanistan would allow the US to react to any future unknown provocation.

Seem reasonable?

What we must not forget is the ability to react with the 10,000 troops will also be with other people’s children. The Bush era “chicken hawk” mentality never seemed to realize that their personal Vietnam War deferments which avoided for them military service, ought to have disqualified them from so easily sending others into harm’s way.

The utter foolishness which got us into Iraq and allowed the Afghan stay to extend so long is just what President Obama is trying to prevent. Those who point to dangerous possibilities in a dangerous world are not prophets, they are opportunists.

The world will never be without risks and imminent dangers in the eyes of those who favor a strong forceful US presence. Events of course could lead President Obama to revise his timetable.

While remaining longer in my opinion is undesirable, I would trust someone who was set on getting out to make that decision far more than one who recommended “an indefinite stay and only if the sun shined, getting out.”

A Strange World

May 4, 2014

At least 29 Muslims were killed this week in India’s northeast State of Assam. They were not members of the local tribe and the wrong religion to boot. How could there victims have picked the wrong God.

Thanks to todays New York Times, the following stories were made known.

In Indonesia, a local Muslim man spent almost two years in prison. Why? Because he professed to believe in no God. Hmmm. You are either with me or you are against me…

In Afghanistan, a young 18 year old woman who did not want to marry the person her parents had selected, was killed by her relatives. Her parents had video taped their permission for her to not marry the intended, but this did not seem to mean much.  Honor is something larger.

In the Vatican, a special commission is grappling with creating clear rules on how to deal with priest pedophiles. They were trying to make the rules on what to do when child abuse takes place. Hmmm. These church leaders were focusing on what happens after abuse, not how to prevent pedophiles from ever getting into the church priesthood in the first place.

The message in all these cases is alarmingly similar. In a large number of cases, religion has little or no relevance to how people lead their lives. An active supreme being, if that’s the god you choose. has ample opportunity to intervene yet seems to prefer not to. The watch maker god, on the other hand, if that’s your preference, has created some unfathomable behaviors to watch. Doesn’t seem like a wise watch maker.

Of course these incidents all involve human beings and display just a small scope of how inhumane man can be to fellow man. Some men choose to hide their aggression behind religion, other choose nationality or race, or tribal connection. When these terrible acts are called out, one is left being thankful there were no lions to feed or witches to burn, or any cannons that volley and thunder.

Learning From Recent History

April 30, 2014

The usual Congressional suspects are exercising their vocal cords again. These darlings of the Sunday talk shows are denouncing President Obama for lack of action in the Middle East and the Ukraine. Besides “leading from behind”, President Obama has simply been too tepid in his support of supposedly western leaning forces in these hot spots, they say. When asked to be specific, other than supplying arms to “our friends”, these critics have no response.

Hmmm.

Syria is Iraq all over again. Were the US to get militarily involved, we should expect to be stepping into a totally amorphous situation. Everyone involved in the Syrian conflict is in it for themselves. The Syrian insurrection is not about ideals like the rule of law, or human rights. Rather it is about which political group can control which source of State revenue and benefit more than the others.

Israel and the Palestinians feel better off at the point of each other’s dagger than finding difficult sharing compromises. For the Palestinian Authority, this means continued employment and ready made excuses when the average Palestinian complains about the low standard of living. For Israel, no peace agreement allows the internal political process to avoid dealing with religious extremists. On the BBC evening news last night, a Jewish Hebron settler said that he was in Hebron because god wanted Jews living there. A peace agreement would undercut to this crazy thinking.

Egypt has also prompted criticism. When the US called for “democracy” with free and open elections, they got their wish. The only problem, the Muslim Brotherhood won. Under the Brotherhood’s leadership, the Constitution was redrawn changing the rules of the game (a no no in a Democratic society). Now with the military back in charge, believe it or not, there are Congress Members calling for change again.

The Ukraine is the latest conflict zone. Again American’s sense of fair play has been injured. While the theater of the absurd plays out in Eastern Ukraine, it should be clear that at best there is ambivalence within the Ukraine residents over its central government. Ukraine has no rich history of capitalism and democratic rule There is, instead, a longing for dependable handouts from the government. The Ukraine will be a financial drain on who ever becomes its rich uncle.

So, it rang true the other day when President Obama wondered out loud what people were thinking when they advocated getting tough with Russia? He asked whether they had learned anything after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan?

It is true that these are all complex and complicated situations. Direct sustained intervention was wrong and costly in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  It would be even a greater mistake now.  For enlightenment to return to these lands, it will take a century or longer.

Arguably the US should exert light pressure in the direction of capitalism and democracy in order to guide the nations forward. Light pressure, however, is not the hallmark of the military.

Bluff Called?

February 25, 2014

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced yesterday deep cuts to the Army.  The cuts were characterized as reducing the size of the Army to 440,000 or pre-WWII size.  Hagel said that the Country could not afford to maintain its technological edge, and still keep so many Americans under arms.  I guess he was saying its guns and butter again.

There are several logical arguments to support Hagel’s recommendations.  New technology can do a lot more but it also costs a lot.  While no one can be sure of the next war, the last two (Afghanistan and Iraq) were wasteful uses of traditionally supported ground troops.  Special Operations, on the other hand, have demonstrated much usefulness as an adjunct to diplomacy.

Exactly how our future military should be structured, such as numbers of ships and types, planes, or tanks, is a matter for our Joint Chiefs.  Entering wasteful wars like Iraq and Afghanistan is the providence of Congress, and ultimately the American voters.  So, here comes the bluff.

The GOP has been on a one handed deficit death march by cutting only government spending.  Economists can debate whether the deficit needs to be zero or just some small number, but running at current levels north of $500 billion is unacceptable and dangerous.

The danger arises because the deficit is not the result of a deliberative process, that is a conscious decision to spend in excess of tax revenues.  The deficit represents a dysfunctional governance process.

In the best of light, Congress is divided over whether to balance the budget by reforming entitlements (like Medicare and Medicaid), or to cut all spending while increasing tax revenues.  In the poorest of light, Congress is divided by which tactics will benefit which party at the next election and has nothing to due with true deficit reduction.

Defense spending is a cornucopia for all Congress members.  A little or a lot (of government dollars) goes to each district.  The mere idea of reigning in Defense spending sends chills down the backs of our blustery Congress members.  How can they remain tough on spending and still find ways to puff up the military?

The next few weeks should be a treat if your fancy is political double speak.  We will hear more about unnamed enemies and geopolitical threats.  And, once again, Republican Chuck Hagel will be castigated by his former colleagues.  How could Hagel be so irresponsible?

Using only Medicare and Medicaid cuts to reduce government spending has been a bluff in hopes of maybe getting cuts or at the least, a “grand bargain” which includes large reforms and a few new taxes.  This bluff comes off the tracks if Hagel’s recommendations are shot down.  In the process of advocating no military cuts, those “bluffers” will be exposed for what they are.