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Axis of Agreement Watch: Joe Klein’s “Lucky” Strategy

2:15 pm in Foreign Policy by Josh Mull

Joe Klein's secondary strategy. (graphic: openDemocracy via Flickr)

Last month we had the phony Afghanistan strategy review in Washington, and thanks to Politico, we got a shiny new buzzword: The “Progressive-Realist-Centrist Axis of Agreement”. It’s a fancypants way of saying “conventional wisdom”, roughly synonymous with the “Establishment” or Digby’s “Village”. Whatever the out-of-touch think tankers, journalists, and politicians in DC happen to think this week, that’s the “Axis of Agreement”.

The strategy review was Washington’s way of unveiling it’s brand new Axis of Agreement on the war in Afghanistan, transitioning from last year’s platinum mega-hit “COIN” (or counter-insurgency) to the new 2011 narrative. I wrote:

[The] review is not really a review of the military strategy, it’s an act of political theater. This is not the Commander in Chief and his generals tallying up their data and fine-tuning their tactical approach, this is the whole class turning in a book report so they get an A. [...]

[This] year’s line is “effective, affordable, and sustainable”. That means 30,000-ish troops, training police, drones ‘n Pakistan ‘n stuff, and also negotiating with the Taliban (ooh, controversy!).

Well, it’s a new year, and it’s time for the media wing of the Axis of Agreement to start turning it’s Afghanistan homework. A perfect example of this is Joe Klein’s new piece for Time titled “What It Will Take To Finish The Job In Afghanistan”. Here’s the plan:  . . .  Read the rest of this entry →

McChrystal’s Revenge: Everyone Hates Karl Eikenberry

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.

Supporters of General McChrystal’s counterinsurgency policy are heart-broken over his firing. Not that they don’t agree with it, very few COINdinistas took the position that McChrystal should be permitted to undermine civilian control of policy as he did so plainly in the Rolling Stone piece. Support for McChrystal came instead in the form of "he’s our only hope" and warnings about ruining the war effort. Nevertheless, McChrystal was fired, and now his supporters want revenge.

The target of this vengeance is quite clear: Karl Eikenberry, US Ambassador to Afghanistan. Take a look at these snippets from across the blogosphere, keeping mind that this is just a sample of the anti-Eikenberry sentiment out there.

Josh Shahryar:

When McChrystal finally got troops, he had to figure out a way around Eikenberry’s meddling into what was supposed to be his operation.


So now I am waiting for that POS Eikenberry to be fired along with that ineffective Holbrooke. The relationship between the military and civilian leadership in Afghanistan is a two-way street. If the Ambassador and Special Envoy don’t get along with Karzai and cannot influence him or even get a meeting with him then they need to be FIRED asap and some people need to be put into place that can be effective at their job and get along with the military leadership.

Anonymous at Danger Room:

In fact, one e-mails: “It would be a travesty if we fired McChrystal and kept Eikenberry.”

Not only is McChrystal the “only one with any sort of relationship with [Afghan president Hamid] Karzai,” says this civilian advisor to the McChrystal-led International Security Assistance Force. Eikenberry “has no plan, didn’t get COIN [counterinsurgency] when he was the commander and still doesn’t.” Plus, the advisor adds: “The Embassy hates Eik. That’s not necessarily an indictment (I’m no fan of the Embassy). But it contributes to the dysfunction and it means that half the Embassy is focused on keeping Eik in line.”

Streetwise Professor:

Eikenberry was a backstabber from day one.

See the narrative building? McChrystal was doing a good job (they’ve leaked red meat to give pro-McChrystal progressives some lefty cover), it was that "POS Eikenberry" and his "meddling" that are really at fault. He’s a backstabber and dysfunctional. McChrystal’s violation of the relationship between civilian government and the military is no longer at issue, it’s practically ignored.  They’ve moved on to the blame game.

So McChrystal’s supporters want a scalp of their own, and they’ve chosen Eikenberry as their target. McChrystal and Eikenberry have been feuding for some time now, so it’s no surprise he draws the most wrath from the general’s dismissal. But if we actually look closer at the tension between Eikenberry and McChrystal, we see that the Eikenberry-haters are way off base. Their attacks are, at best, childish displays of sour grapes, and at worst, a fundamental misunderstanding of their own strategy. Ambassador Eikenberry is not at fault here. In fact, Eikenberry was right all along. Read the rest of this entry →

Rethink Afghanistan: Broken Government’s Body Count

7:00 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 my biggest pet peeves about war coverage is the constant flow of quasi-racist stereotypes about Afghans. You know, Afghanistan is the "Graveyard of Empires," they’re all xenophobic murderers, they’re "tribal" and backwards and illiterate and can’t handle modernity and on and on it goes. These slurs can work for either side. It’s the Graveyard of Empires, so we should pull out. Or they’re tribal, so we need to kill the bad ones and arm the good ones (great idea!). Obviously, the stereotypes are not true. After all, why is Afghanistan the Graveyard of Empires and not, y’know, the United States? Lots of great imperial powers have gotten their butts kicked there by kooky, backward white people and their slave-holding, witch-burning tribal law. They even have a violent global jihad against anyone who doesn’t willfully submit to their 18th century system of governance. But that’s a hateful and insulting perspective, perverted to the point of dangerous inaccuracy, so we reserve it exclusively for the Afghans (even Iraqis held on to the "Cradle of Civilization"). Here’s a piece, though, that I think might help cut through that, and show us just how much we have in common with Afghans.

However, more personal matters also contributed to [Hezb-e Islami MP Ataullah Ludin's] decision to step down from parliament. “People do not fully realize what our responsibilities as members of parliament are. They are actually three: the legislative function, the monitoring and opposition to government decrees that we do not accept, and the representation of our electorate, so that people’s desires and opinions can be assessed in parliament. [emphasis added]

Sound familiar? You’ve heard it before:

Bayh cited the lack of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill as his main reason for leaving, adding to skepticism that the fractiousness in Washington can be repaired and undermining President Obama’s efforts to build bridges.

"There is too much partisanship and not enough progress — too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem-solving," Bayh said in a statement. "Even at a time of enormous challenge, the people’s business is not being done." [emphasis added]

Read the rest of this entry →

Election 2010: “Lefty Insurgents” and the Phony Revolution

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.

Oh my gosh, did you hear? There’s a revolution happening today! That’s right, you the governed citizens are literally overthrowing your government, and all it took was voting in the party primaries. Here’s Chris Matthews to explain:

Sounds like a revolution all right. Really, voting for Rand Paul is just like shouting "allahu akbar" at Khameini from a Tehran rooftop or getting crushed under the treads of a Soviet tank in Black January. Just like it. But wait, how come Specter is the evil establishment because he has the support of unions, but Halter is part of the "angry grassroots" because he…has the support of unions? Does the support of Daily Kos really qualify as fringey and outsider? Isn’t Markos Moulitsas like the Green Day of activists? Don’t get me wrong, my shelves are packed with his books, but I don’t think it really counts as punk rawk anymore. And how is Rand Paul an outsider? He’s the son of Texas politician Ron Paul, who’s really more of a brand name than a person at this point. There’s too many questions that don’t fit with our absurd narrative, so let’s skip it. Instead, let’s hear about the insurgency:

Next week, if Joe Sestak defeats Sen. Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania Dem primary, and Sen. Blanche Lincoln is forced into a runoff against challenger Bill Halter, lefty insurgents will have scored two major victories against the Democratic establishment in Washington.

Neato, you’re an insurgent! Phone banking for Halter is kind of like burying an IED on your family farm, and really, isn’t the fact that you disagree with Blanche Lincoln on financial regulation kind of like she’s storming your house at night and gunning down your pregnant wife and young children? I mean you’re not just unseating Specter, you’re setting his dead body on fire and hanging it from a bridge in Fallujah. You didn’t know American politics were this hardcore did you? Thanks a lot media, it’s fun to be an insurgent!

But let’s get real. This media narrative about insurgencies and revolution is just plain bullshit. Today’s elections have nothing to do with throwing out the bum incumbents, and everything to do with affirming the status quo. Not a single candidate who opposes the war in Afghanistan is expected to win today. It will take a lot more than partisan primaries to achieve the changes we want to see. Read the rest of this entry →

Michael Moore is Rethinking Afghanistan (Updated)

7:00 am in Uncategorized by Josh Mull

I’ve been talking lately about different ways to debate Afghanistan, specifically outside the narrow boundaries of the "all-in-or-all-out" argument typified by H.Con.Res 248. Although I write about it as if it’s some revolutionary concept I’ve just thought of, there are lots of folks out there already talking about solutions to Afghanistan in very reasonable terms. One of them is director Michael Moore. Let’s look at his response to President Obama’s speech on December 2, 2009.

Watching that, there’s no way you can interpret him as anything but anti-war. But look closer at some of the arguments he made. He suggested that the US could in some way buy off the poppy growers or "outbid the heroin guys." Drug trafficking we know is one of the key interests regionally, with Russia, Iran, and China all having a stake to lose when it comes to crime and drug addiction. Moore also supports both the idea for a "war tax" to help mitigate the cost as well as re-instituting the draft in order to rile domestic opposition. He even hints that he’d be comfortable with "special forces to capture the killers," presumably in Pakistan, something even more violent and legally dubious that anything we’re going for.

Of course, you can agree or disagree with his points. I, for one, don’t support the idea of a draft, if only on the off chance that they go through with it and President Obama sends 500,000 conscripts to Afghanistan. But Moore’s interview was on the very night that President Obama announced his escalation, and even then we were willing to discuss compromises, if not alternatives to escalation. He’s one of the most high profile anti-war voices in the country, and even he’s willing to give and take. How did we get from there to 248 calling for complete and immediate withdrawal? How do we get back to the point where we can have a rational, bipartisan debate about Afghanistan without resorting to extremist all-in-or-all-out arguments?

Luckily, you can ask him. Read the rest of this entry →

Size Doesn’t Matter: Missing The Point Of ISAF’s Failure In Marja

3:00 pm in Uncategorized by Josh Mull

Gareth Porter has an excellent piece up on IPS, "Fiction of Marja as City Was U.S. Information War," in which he breaks down the media disinformation campaign on the size of Marja:

Marja is not a city or even a real town, but either a few clusters of farmers’ homes or a large agricultural area covering much of the southern Helmand River Valley.

"It’s not urban at all," an official of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), who asked not to be identified, admitted to IPS Sunday. He called Marja a "rural community".

"It’s a collection of village farms, with typical family compounds," said the official, adding that the homes are reasonably prosperous by Afghan standards.

Porter is right on, and you should read the whole thing for an idea on exactly how these disinfo campaigns are spread, but I’m afraid in the case of Marja, we might be missing the point. We’re complaining that Marja is only an excuse for a propaganda victory while at the same time complaining that the victory won’t be worth anything because it’s not a city. This food is terrible, and such small portions!

This shouldn’t be news to anyone, but Afghans live in rural communities! We’re supposedly there to protect Afghans from the Taliban after all. Rajiv Chandrasekaran described the strategy last year in the Washington Post:

The U.S. strategy here is predicated on the belief that a majority of people in Helmand do not favor the Taliban, which enforces a strict brand of Islam that includes an-eye-for-an-eye justice and strict limits on personal behavior. Instead, U.S. officials believe, residents would rather have the Afghan government in control, but they have been cowed into supporting the Taliban because there was nobody to protect them.

Great, so if the plan is to protect Afghans from the Taliban, then you’ll want to go where Afghans actually live, right? That would be in "a collection of village farms, with typical family compounds," just like the anonymous ISAF official told IPS.

Read the rest of this entry →

Elections in Iraq and Escalation in Afghanistan: Paying For A “Violent Semi-Peace”

9:30 am in Foreign Policy by Josh Mull

This weekend Iraqis turned out in the millions to vote in their 2010 parliamentary elections. By most accounts, it was a relative success. There were very few instances of fraud or polling issues reported. Several prominent religious leaders, including Moqtada al-Sadr, issued calls for Iraqis to defy "the enemies of Iraq" and cast their vote. And by mid-day, the government actually lowered several security restrictions (although security at the polling centers themselves remained tight).

Oh yeah, and 38 people were killed by violence. 73 were injured.

"Baghdad bore the brunt of the violence, with around 70 mortars raining down on mostly Sunni muslim areas as Iraqis headed to the polls in the second parliamentary vote since US-led forces ousted Saddam Hussein in 2003.

A Katyusha rocket flattened a residential building in northern Baghdad, killing 12 people and wounding 10, officials said, adding that a second blast killed four when another building was targeted by a bomb.

Eight people were killed by mortar attacks or bombs in Baghdad that between them wounded 40. Thirty more were wounded in attacks in the capital and elsewhere in the country."

And that’s only on election day. 14 people were killed on Friday, 27 two days before that. That’s what success looks like in the US occupation of Iraq. That’s what we got for the bargain price of $710 billion, 4700 dead Americans, 30,000 wounded, 100,000 dead Iraqis, and millions of displaced refugees. And that cost is still rising. We still have over 100,000 troops in Iraq until at least 2011, maybe longer, and every day Iraqis are ripped to shreds by car bombs, suicide attacks, rockets, mortars, and IEDs. This is what a New York Times op/ed piece by Michael O’Hanlon and others referred to as a "violent semi-peace."

"As 2008 and the Bush presidency conclude, Iraq has settled into a kind of violent semi-peace. The population-protection strategy initiated by Gen. David Petraeus has been a remarkable success on balance. Its logic continues even though American force numbers in Iraq have nearly returned to pre-surge levels."

So a successful "population-protection strategy" is what leads to a "violent semi-peace." That sounds exactly like the new NATO/ISAF strategy for Afghanistan, premiered in their latest incursion into the village of Marjah, in Helmand province. The Christian Science Monitor reported last month:

Read the rest of this entry →