You are browsing the archive for july 2011.

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 →

Afghanistan: No Withdrawal, No Reconciliation

2:12 pm in Foreign Policy by Josh Mull

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

Back in the summer of 2007, there was a debate in the Democratic presidential primaries over whether or not the United States ought to negotiate without preconditions with our enemies. Senator Obama said he would meet with Iranian president Ahmadinejad, among others, and Senator Clinton replied that this was naive, that it would be used for propaganda purposes, and so on.

Obama eventually won out, but the criticism of his position continued into the 2008 general election. The McCain campaign doubled down on the Bush policy of negotiations as a “reward”, and they relentlessly attacked Obama as weak on national defense, cozying up with dictators – you remember the commercials.

Despite all that, candidate Obama held firm in his position that the US should negotiate with its enemies. And not just dictators and foreign leaders, mind you, but even militant groups like the Taliban. Here Obama explains his rationale to NBC’s Brian Williams:

So far, so good. He uses some really unhelpful language (what the heck is a “moderate Taliban”?) but he admits that the process will not be easy or quick. . . . Read the rest of this entry →

No Really, We Should Abandon Afghanistan

2:21 pm in Foreign Policy by Josh Mull

photo: Josh Mull

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

Finish The Job™

One of the most obnoxious arguments for continuing the occupation of Afghanistan is what I like to think of as the “Charlie Wilson excuse”, referring to the film Charlie Wilson’s War. In one of the closing scenes, just after the character Wilson is told that his Afghan funding will be cut, he stares off warily toward a dark horizon while the viewer’s subconscious is treated to the sound of jet airliners, a nod to 9/11. The message is simple: We abandoned Afghanistan once before and the US was attacked for it. Now that we’ve gone back in, we have to stay and finish the job.

Never mind the fact that 9/11 was carried out by Saudis operating in the United Arab Emirates, Germany, and let’s not forget, US flight schools. No Afghans, no Pakistanis, and nothing at all to do with the Taliban. Ignore that stuff, we have to finish the job in Afghanistan or else we’ll get hit with another 9/11.

It’s stupid, roughly the equivalent of baby talk in terms of having a substantive discussion about the history of terrorism and Central Asia, but that also means it’s really easy for the average war supporter to regurgitate. It’s no wonder it’s the favorite of every politician, especially the White House, whenever they need an excuse for extending the occupation. It’s not as effective anymore, mind you, the majority of the country has turned against the war, but that hasn’t stopped them from hammering this childish myth into our heads. Here’s the latest version from the US envoy to Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke:

Responding to a question, Holbrooke said the United States committed a mistake in abandoning Pakistan and Afghanistan after the Soviet retreat from Afghanistan and it would not repeat the same mistake.

He emphasized that US commitment to this part of the world is long and enduring and would encompass economic development as well.

It’s nice and simple, as long as you know absolutely nothing about history. Here’s the problem: Nobody has abandoned Afghanistan in decades. It’s like they can’t be left alone! The Soviet withdrawal is one of the few highlights Afghans have in their recent history. Everything else is one long, unbroken line of foreign interference.  . . . Read the rest of this entry →

Obama playing games with the War in Afghanistan

2:51 pm in Foreign Policy by Josh Mull

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

We all know how 11 dimensional chess works: President Obama claims he supports something easily acceptable and mainstream, like removing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell or closing the illegal prison at Guantanamo Bay. His plan for doing so however, involves an ethereal, un-named bill making its way through both the House and Senate, which have almost no incentive, political or financial, to help the President out with anything, let alone an issue that would generate a huge popularity boost for Obama. It will make it through, mind you, because he believes in mythical creatures (moderates, not centaurs) who’ll reach across the aisle and work out some perfect, centrist, solution.

Anyone who dares question this strategy of wishes and high fantasy, specifically progressives, will be treated to a harsh reprisal. High-ranking government officials, including the Vice President, will be sent on cable television to fling insults and question their credibility. And wave after wave of partisan zealots shouting “firebagger!” will be deployed, plastic keys jangling around their necks, against those among Obama’s base who won’t go along with the plan. You know this story already, critics are the fringe far left, need to be drug tested, blah, blah, blah Jane Hamsher and Glenn Greenwald lost the election for Democrats. It’s exhausting, but old news at this point.

But now we’re seeing it increased in the debate over the war in Afghanistan (to the extent that there is a debate – a wide majority of Americans are against it). The President has declared that troop withdrawals will begin in July 2011. Only that’s just the start of the withdrawal, it won’t all be right away. Just how not-right-away? 2014. At least. Read the rest of this entry →

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 →

Exit Timetables, Job Creation, and a Pony for every Afghan!

11:00 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.

Spencer Ackerman is a busy guy. In addition to his blogging, tweeting, and everything else he does, he just took on new responsibilities writing for Danger Room. So I can only assume he wrote this post on civilian casualties in some sort of exhaustion-fueled dementia:

Here’s where those who base their opposition to the war its promotion of human suffering have to meet halfway as well. If the U.S. stops prosecuting its end of the war, civilian casualties will not end. What will end is the civilian casualties we directly cause. The Taliban-led coalition will continue its insurgency until victory or negotiation, with all the acceleration of civilian casualties that will entail. (I would think it’s likely that the Taliban would greet an abrupt U.S. withdrawal, in the absence of a capable Afghan security apparatus, as a disincentive to negotiate, since its coalition will perceive itself to be winning. Negotiations would become a venue for the Karzai government to capitulate.)

Regular readers of this space will recognize the problems immediately. "Until victory or negotiation?" The Taliban already think they’re winning, that’s what all this talk about breaking Taliban momentum is about. And news flash, the Taliban have been negotiating for a long, long time. I also admire his "prediction" that negotiations will force Karzai to capitulate, since that’s also been going on for a long time. But whatever, Ackerman’s probably just sleepy, so we’ll look past it.

Instead, it’s this that really jumped out at me [emphasis mine]:

Now, you can argue that such a circumstance ultimately benefits the U.S. national interest better than an indefinite, bloody and expensive war. Or you can argue that the counterinsurgents are wrong, and while civilian casualties are to be avoided in general, they don’t have strategic implications. But you can’t simply argue that a U.S. withdrawal comes with a pony for every Afghan citizen, since that overlooks the United Nations’ documented increase in the proportion of civilian casualties for which the Taliban are responsible.

Really? So if you oppose the war out of concern for civilian casualties (read: basic human decency), you’re naive and un-serious. You think ending the war is the same as giving every Afghan a pony. In addition to being stupidly ignorant and flat-out untrue, it’s also more than a little bit insulting. Read the rest of this entry →

Pakistan’s “Strategic Depth” and endless 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.

If everything works out perfectly in our counterinsurgency strategy, or if congress forces a binding timetable in line with popular support, the United States will begin slowly drawing down its forces in Afghanistan in July 2011. It’s only the start, it will be tremendously slow, and the military leadership will likely fight it every step of the way (if Iraq is any indication, that is).

July 2011. That’s one year from now – 12 months. If June’s casualty numbers remain constant, that’s over a thousand Americans who’ll die before then, at minimum another 80 billion dollars down the toilet, and then we just start leaving. After that there’s no clear evidence of exactly how long it will take before the US has completely removed its military presence from Afghanistan, and possibly Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, etc, although there’s no evidence we’re planning on leaving those places either.

As I’ve said many times before, this is a good thing. It’s good that congress is starting to listen to its constituents, and is taking action to hold President Obama to his timetable for withdrawal. Afghanistan is America’s longest war, and with such ethereal objectives as "stability" and "preventing safe havens for extremism," the war can seem endlessly un-winnable, stretching on for decades as long as we’re content to let it happen. That we have a goal in sight, July 2011, is absolutely a victory.

Unfortunately, it’s not good enough. Pakistan’s national security policy of supporting terrorist groups and militias as proxies against India, known as "strategic depth," is accelerating out of control, and they are either deliberately or inadvertently engineering a globalized religious war, a Clash of Civilizations. Both terrorist and insurgent elements are evolving, with the Taliban co-opting Al-Qa’eda’s idea of religious war to legitimize its fight against the Pakistani state, and Al-Qa’eda in turn co-opting the Taliban’s objective of confronting India to legitimize the sub-continent as the premier theater of global jihad. Hawkish India, for one, will not take these developments lightly.

If pressure on congress is not increased, if the US remains on the slow, ambiguous timetable it is on now, it will be caught right in the middle of this clash. The bloodbath of Iraq in 2006 was only a preview of what will happen if there is a civil war in Pakistan, or a (nuclear?) war between Pakistan and India. Or both. If the US does not expedite its withdrawal, as well as dramatically reform its policies toward the region as a whole, we will very quickly be sucked into that conflagration. Read the rest of this entry →

Afghanistan: Has Hamid Karzai Already Joined the Taliban?

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.

The war in Afghanistan is disintegrating before our very eyes. Our counterinsurgency strategy is broken, and the Pentagon knows it. The so-called "emergency" funding requested months ago by the Obama administration now seems destined to die a slow, bureaucratic death in congress due to overwhelming pressure by citizens. Our allies in NATO have either reached their peak of military involvement, as with the UK, or have already begun to dismantle their troop presence, as with Canada and so many others. Other countries in the region are already vying for power after the US leaves, even as the Pentagon insists its July 2011 withdrawal date will only be the "beginning of a process."

But what about Afghanistan itself? What about President Hamid Karzai, our ally and head of the "Host Nation" government? The theory put forward by the pundit class is usually some variation of the "bloodbath" theme. That is, our allies in Kabul like Karzai would be overrun and annihilated by the Taliban. This appears to be more media myth-making, however, as we see from Karzai’s political maneuvering that not only is he threatening to join the Taliban, but he may have already done just that.

Karzai is already negotiating with the Taliban and even received formal terms of a peace treaty from Taliban-aligned Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that Karzai joined them. After all, negotiations are merely the first step in any peace process, no matter the circumstances. Instead we have to look deeper inside this peace process to see the real endgame Karzai is working toward, that of a nominal, Pashtun-nationalist government in Kabul overlaying a Taliban-dominated countryside. Together they function not only as a crime family capable of exploiting Afghanistan’s resources (minerals, opium, timber, etc) but also as a highly effective proxy for Pakistan’s interminable battle against Indian influence. Read the rest of this entry →

Does an Afghanistan Exit Strategy Hurt Our Allies?

4:55 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.

Uh oh, looks like you are starting to have an effect on the war. Congress is freaking out, calling hearings, holding up so-called emergency funding, and demanding to know why it is that the longest war in US history has to go on even longer. All of this has led some to question the President’s leadership altogether. Is he an effective, or even competent, Commander-in-Chief? Serious concerns about Obama’s escalation policy are being raised, and it’s likely to severely damage his presidency. Well, rather than using this opportunity to their advantage, the opposition party has opted instead to say something stupid:

Senate Republicans on Wednesday attacked President Obama’s plan to begin withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan in July of next year, saying that the United States was sending a self-defeating message to its allies in the region. [...]

“Right now, we’re sounding an uncertain trumpet,” [Republican John] McCain said. “Our allies in the region are convinced that we’re leaving.” [...]

Ah yes, the old "exit strategy = defeat" meme. This is one of those annoying war myths that just won’t go away, no matter how stupid it looks in the face of facts. Weirdly enough, it’s often the argument made by people who claim to be "strong" on national security, when in reality it should call into question their grasp of even the mild complexities of war. This argument isn’t just wrong, it’s plainly stupid, and you only to have pay a little bit of attention to see why. Read the rest of this entry →