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Obama Can’t Control His Generals – Time for Congress to Step in

5:12 am in Uncategorized by Josh Mull

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

One of the best parts of learning about foreign countries and their cultures is the sudden realization that these places aren’t actually foreign at all. You’re not studying an opaque alien world, you’re only looking in the mirror. As Americans, it fills us with hope to look across at, say, our progressive allies in Pakistan and note that they’re working hard, just like us, to correct and reform their country’s policies. But are we also capable of seeing the negative parallels? It’s all well and good to lecture the Pakistanis about total military subservience to a strong civilian government, but what about our own weak President and our own anti-democratic generals?

American military officials are building a case to minimize the planned withdrawal of some troops from Afghanistan starting next summer, in an effort to counter growing pressure on President Obama from inside his own party to begin winding the war down quickly.

With the administration unable yet to point to much tangible evidence of progress, Gen. David H. Petraeus, who assumed command in Afghanistan last month from Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, is taking several steps to emphasize hopeful signs on the ground that, he will argue, would make a rapid withdrawal unwise. Meanwhile, a rising generation of young officers, who have become experts over the past nine years in the art of counterinsurgency, have begun quietly telling administration officials that they need time to get their work done.

When something like this happens in Pakistan, we completely lose our s**t and call them a failed state, a tyrannical dictatorship, a collapsing nuclear-armed time bomb full of apocalyptic religious fanatics and corrupt, out-of-touch plutocrats. When it happens here, it’s called a "media blitz." Oh you know, General Petraeus is just out there to "counter the growing pressure" by the American people, and hopefully force the Commander-in-Chief’s hand on war making policy. The young officer corps is simply pressuring your elected politicians to give them more time to occupy foreign lands and engage in aggressive wars. Totally normal, everything is fine.

It’s time for Congress to wake up. Petraeus needs to be reminded of exactly who he works for. The generals don’t tell us what to do, we tell them what to do. This is not Pakistan, this is the United States, and if President Obama is too weak to preserve our civilian-military order, then Congress is obligated to enforce its constitutional authority over the power – and the purse – of war. Read the rest of this entry →

Afghan Humanity Missing From Our Debate

3:15 pm in Uncategorized by Josh Mull

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

Former South Carolina senator Fritz Hollings has an excellent editorial out today calling the US war in Afghanistan "Not Necessary." It’s always good to see fiscal conservatives sticking to their beliefs and opposing the incredible cost, but Hollings also stakes his reputation and personal experience with Vietnam against the current conflict:

I was "a hard charger" on the war in Vietnam. In fact, the motion for the last $500 million that went into the Vietnam War was made by me on the Senate Appropriations Committee. I thought the Vietnamese were willing to fight and die for democracy. Some were, but a lot more were willing to give up their lives over ten years for communism. Now I have learned that people want other types of government other than democracy. I’ve been to Hanoi; visited John McCain’s prison, and the people of Vietnam are happy.

Clearly he’s not some reckless hippy, he actually supported Vietnam. But he learned the harsh realities of war, the futility and madness of it all. Unfortunately, there’s a downside to Hollings’ piece. He seems to justify part of his opposition with the orientalist smear of Afghans as xenophobic:

The one thing we learned in Charlie Wilson’s War is that Afghans don’t like or trust foreigners. President Karzai in the morning news is campaigning against the UN and all foreigners because he knows this makes him popular with the Afghans.

Yes, apparently the reason our efforts are failing is because the Afghans are just too racist to listen to our ideas. Oh, and that woman who won’t go out with you? Total lesbian. It couldn’t possibly be something we’re doing, right? It has to be those racist Afghans. After all, Americans love foreigners! When Hispanic immigrants come to El Norte, our minuteman militias are there at the border to greet them with candy and job brochures. When our factories are shipped overseas, American workers are happy just to be giving those impoverished foreigners a job. And certainly none of us would think to insult the President by calling him a foreigner. Only Afghans hate foreigners, just like in Charlie Wilson’s War!

So do I think Hollings is that delusional? No way. His remarks are just indicative of how comfortable we’ve become, on all sides of the conflict, with thinking of the Afghans as bizarre, alien creatures instead of the human beings they are. Hollings is taking a highly admirable, principled stand against the war, indeed against war itself, but he still manages to smear the Afghans for the failure of our invasion. Why? Because they "don’t like or trust foreigners."

Let’s go deeper into this alien Afghan fantasy with Michael Yon, who brings us this tale about his visit to an Afghan village:

With the Battle for Kandahar kicking off, and our troops surging in for the counteroffensive, villages previously beyond the periphery of our effective reach are becoming more accessible.  Many of them have been Taliban-controlled.  We don’t always know whether these isolated, dusty mud-walled places support, provide sanctuary, or are the native home of Taliban fighters.  The Afghanistan government remains absent from most Afghan villages.  The central government hidden away in Kabul still offers zero.  Not juice, justice or security.  The Taliban at least offers justice in some areas.

And so Charlie Company, some Afghan police, and Haji Oboyadulah Popal (the governor of Shah Wali Kot district), headed to the hills.

Just like Hollings’ piece, we’re off to a good start. Yon lays out the facts: The government in Kabul is "hidden away" and "offers zero" while the Taliban does a much better job of providing services to the locals. But that’s not the point of Yon’s post. He’s taking us on a magical mystery tour to meet alien Afghan children.

Read the rest of this entry →