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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 →

The Petraeus Propaganda Tour: Who Supports the Troops?

2:30 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.


The military is working very hard to push the war on the public. US casualties were at an all time high in June, it was worse in July, and August isn’t looking any better. Still, what is General Petraeus up to? Politico reports [emphasis mine]:

After seven silent weeks, Gen. David Petraeus begins aggressive messaging on Afghanistan: David Gregory announced yesterday that he will broadcast “Meet the Press” from Kabul next Sunday, with Petraeus’ first U.S. interview since he took command in Afghanistan. That will launch a spate of appearances that are being spread out over three weeks so Americans will be more likely to hear his message, even during the August doldrums. This week, Petraeus will begin communicating with the Afghan people. Then after “Meet,” the general will do the BBC later that week. The following week, Petraeus has sit-downs with “CBS Evening News” anchor Katie Couric, then Fox News’ Jennifer Griffin, who’s returning from breast-cancer treatment. At month’s end, George Stephanopoulos will take “Good Morning America” on the road to see the general. Major U.S. and European print and radio outlets will be sprinkled in. Then in the weeks that follow, the general plans to keep up a strong battle rhythm of engaging with the media and making his case.

But Petraeus isn’t the only one doing propaganda duty for the White House. Last week, Admiral Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, was on Meet the Press pushing the war policy. Check out this heart-breaking exchange [emphasis mine]:

MR. GREGORY: But true or untrue, the big fear is that Pakistan’s working against us and not with us?

ADM. MULLEN: In many ways, Pakistan is working with us. I mean, their, their military, their intelligence agency. I mean, we’ve got a very strong relationship in the positive sense with, with their intelligence agency. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some challenges with some aspects of it.

MR. GREGORY: They are actively supporting elements killing U.S. soldiers.

ADM. MULLEN: But they have, they have shared intelligence with us, they’ve killed as many or more terrorists as anybody, they’ve captured them. And certainly, the, the focus on changing the strategic shift, if you will, in that agency so that that doesn’t happen at all, is a priority for us.

Pakistan is killing Americans, and Admiral Mullen won’t even deny it. Surreal, isn’t it? So much for "support the troops."

It’s no wonder then that so much of the opposition to the war is being led by soldiers and their families. The candidates we’ve so far spoken with have all made some very strong personal choices about their positions on the war, but they can’t hide who’s pushing them in that direction. Read the rest of this entry →

I read in the paper that you don’t care about Afghanistan

3:36 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.

I’m not perfect. I don’t get everything right, not by a long shot. For example, remember my optimistic response to Thomas Ruttig’s pessimistic report on the Kabul Peace Jirga? Turns out I was super wrong about that. I understand this blogosphere of ours is an open debate, and I’m willing to reassess how I may have misjudged whatever the situation is on any given day.

So when I see a headline in the New York Times like "In Midterm Elections, Afghan War Barely Surfaces", something that directly contradicts my analysis, I’m more than happy to take a look and see what we have to learn.

According to my reading of the facts, the movement to end the war in Afghanistan is exploding. Congress is slowly waking up it, and we’ve seen triple the votes to block the war from what we saw just last year. A few more votes like that and it’s over. Not only that, but I’m hearing directly from candidates that their constituents are very interested in the war in Afghanistan. Read the rest of this entry →

Anti-War, at Home and Abroad

5:30 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.

By now, the full implications of the data contained in the 91,000 Wikileaks files are starting to sink in. Americans have been questioning the war for some time now, and they’re finally putting their foot down and demanding an end. Thousands of calls are pouring in to Congress from around the country, all demanding a NO vote on today’s war funding vote, and thousands more are signing our petition declaring "the Wikileaks ‘War Logs’ are further evidence of a brutal war that’s not worth the cost. I vote, and I demand my elected officials end this war by Dec. 2011."

Sure, war supporters gave it the old college try. The White House and other political leadership stressed that the leaks contained no new information, incidentally clearing up once and for all the confusion we had over whether they were ignorant or merely incompetent and negligent prosecutors of US foreign policy. Some even tried to deflect the argument on to Wikileaks operator Julian Assange, as if the leak coming from him – or Paris Hilton or Spider-Man – has anything to do with the information it contained.

But their arguments are for naught, the war is now simply indefensible. The facts are on our side, and these leaks do nothing else if not confirm and validate the criticism so far levied against the war in Afghanistan. The effect is to make the IPS headline, "Leaked Reports Make Afghan War Policy More Vulnerable," seem something like the understatement of the century. Gareth Porter writes:

Among the themes that are documented, sometimes dramatically but often through bland military reports, are the seemingly casual killing of civilians away from combat situations, night raids by special forces that are often based on bad intelligence, the absence of legal constraints on the abuses of Afghan police, and the deeply rooted character of corruption among Afghan officials.

The most politically salient issue highlighted by the new documents, however, is Pakistan’s political and material support for the Taliban insurgency, despite its ostensible support for U.S. policy in Afghanistan.

You could pick just one of those things Porter mentions and it could spell catastrophe for the war. Instead we have all of it. It does more than make the war policy more vulnerable, it puts any war supporting politician in Washington in serious electoral peril. We should take this opportunity, then, to understand what exactly is happening with the anti-war movement.

If left to their own devices, the mainstream media will craft their own stupid and obnoxious narratives about "lefty insurgencies" or "anti-incumbent fever," and this will poison the eventual policy outcome. If we understand the facts now, and see this as not only a US political dilemma, but as part of a global anti-war movement now finally winding up at President Obama’s doorstep, then we can begin to accelerate our withdrawal more responsibly than the standard media narratives might allow (Get out now! No, stay forever!).

It is not simply a reaction to a failed policy, it is an articulation of an independent vision of selfish foreign and domestic policy interests. Americans, our NATO allies, and even our progressive allies in Pakistan are all working to end the war. It is not for ideology or partisan gain, it is purely in their own selfish interest, in our interest, to end the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Read the rest of this entry →

American “National Interest” and the War in Afghanistan

5:00 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.

When I originally posted my snotty response to Spencer Ackerman’s civilian casualties post, I had planned on all but ignoring his substantive arguments (which are most obviously phony) and instead focused on his ridiculous characterizations of anyone questioning Afghanistan policy as a whole ("U.S. withdrawal comes with a pony for every Afghan citizen"). But Spencer insisted that I was taking insurgents causing civilian casualties as a given whereas he considers it a more "salient point." He writes:

[...]Some of the most convincing arguments I’ve read against both the war and the prosecution of it have come from people…who start from the premises of war supporters and argue that on their own terms the war doesn’t make sense. That stuff causes me to rethink and adjust…

I’ve written about this before, that those pushing to end the war should most certainly not be accepting the premises of the war makers, and should instead articulate their own specific national interests and the policies to realize them. Provide an alternative, not necessarily a counter. But it also strikes me vaguely as something of a Celestial Teapot, the philosophical exercise wherein the burden of proof is on the person who says something amazing exists (a teapot floating in space) and not on the person who refutes it (there is no teapot).

In our sense, it is the folks arguing that war leads to peace and stability in Afghanistan asking those who say otherwise to try and work backwards from their own twisted arguments, to prove their war wrong. Once you start accepting their premises, about civilian casualties, counter-insurgency doctrine, or whatever it is, then proving your case to actually end the war becomes almost impossible.

Quite frankly, I’m not the one advocating for a decade-plus, trillion dollar occupation of Afghanistan in order to create a "stable security sector", so it’s not really my responsibility to help "adjust" and refine the arguments of anyone who does advocate for it. Rather those pushing for an end to the war are advocating their own policy to achieve their own national interests.

Cutting the trillion dollar war is because we need that money for our broken economy, job creation, and so forth. By withdrawing our military from Afghanistan we are strengthening our national security, removing our troops from an unwinnable quagmire that kills them there and at home, as well as removing the bloody occupation which provides much of the impetus for terrorist attacks and the Taliban insurgency. It’s not simply red teaming the pro-war crowd, it’s an independent political movement.

But in this case, we should take Spencer up on his invitation. Not only will he get what he wants, a discovery that on his own terms the war doesn’t make sense, but it will also help us understand exactly what it is that the United States’ national interests actually are in Afghanistan. Read the rest of this entry →

Election 2010: Afghanistan Destroys Another Candidate

3:00 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.

You know about the "horse race" in politics, right? It’s a game the media plays wherein they judge candidates on a series of meaningless garbage, like who has a "Jewish problem" or who "best represents the American dream." Basically, it’s a way for the pundits to look smart by picking a winner, the "right answer" if you will, without getting into the messy business of facts and policy. If they’re wrong about the "security moms," aw shucks, that’s the beauty of democracy, but if you’re wrong about empirical data, well, you’re just an idiot. Really it’s more like political bumper bowling than a horse race, but a horse race sounds sophisticated, so we’ve gone with that.

The problem is that candidates don’t actually run in that "horse race." They campaign on their platform of issues. McCain didn’t run against Obama by saying, "My fellow Americans, I’m running for President of the United States because Senator Obama has a Jewish problem." He campaigned on his platform, and voters decided on that. Today in North Carolina, Elaine Marshall and Cal Cunningham are facing off in the Democratic Senate Primary. So far the media narrative portray the race as some sort of insurgent, underdog candidacy by Marshall against the Beltway moneybags insider, Cunningham. But as always, the horse avoids any real issues, or in this case reality in general, and completely misses the point: It’s all about Afghanistan. Read the rest of this entry →