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Review This: Afghan War Collapses

5:00 am in Foreign Policy by Josh Mull

Ancient History

As we discussed previously, the Obama administration’s Afghanistan Strategy Review is basically an act of political theater, a demonstration of Obama walking back his massive overcommitment to occupying Afghanistan. Today’s speech confirmed that. Obama put a happy face (progress!) on the war, which is now an unmitigated disaster though you’d never guess that from the speech, and the warmakers (very quietly) took steps toward keeping their commitment of beginning withdrawals in July 2011.

So we got something good out of it, the July 2011 isn’t completely off the table (as the generals would have you believe), but they’re still not entirely comfortable stating that. However, the mainstream media got the spin loud and clear. Immediately following this morning’s press conference, CNN went live with two correspondents, one in Kabul and the other in Islamabad, above the bold headline “U.S. troops to begin pulling out of Afghanistan in July 2011″. Sounds good!

But sadly, it’s not that simple. President Obama and Secretary Clinton talked a lot of game about 9/11 and honoring the memory of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. They wove some interesting tales about progress in Helmand and increased cooperation from the Pakistanis. They insisted that they would not be making policy based on opinion polls, and that the American people should trust that they’re working for the long term public interest. All lies.

There is no progress to speak of, Afghanistan is a nightmare, Afghan and American deaths are through the roof. Pakistan’s national security establishment is sponsoring just as much terrorism and militancy as always, and their civilian government is a joke. And the “opinion polls” don’t reflect a moment of “doubt” as Secretary Gates said, but the total collapse of public support for the war. There is no confidence in this administration; the policy has to end, not re-adjust.

Think that’s over the top? Let’s see what’s happening.  . . .  Read the rest of this entry →

The Politics of (Ending) the Afghanistan War

3:58 pm in Foreign Policy by Josh Mull

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Vince Gill (left) gives a casualty report to U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. David Gillingham after an improvised explosive device detonates on FOB Lightning, Afghanistan, Dec. 05, 2010. The explosion wounded 7 U.S. service members and killed 2 others. (source: USAF Staff Sgt. Jason Colbert at DVIDSHUB via Flickr

We understand that when it comes to making policy around, say, health care, it’s a show. But War? War we have trouble with. According to what we the mainstream media tells us, the image that most Americans get of war, the whole thing just appears confusing and frustrating.

Now there’s even more heavy stuff going down in Washington dealing with the war in Afghanistan, and if we don’t understand the politics behind it, it’s going to be just as confusing and frustrating as the mainstream media makes it appear. If we can see ourselves with the same clarity that we see Afghans however, the whole Beltway affair will make a lot more sense.

Politico lays out the story for us:

As the Obama administration prepares to release its third strategy review of the war in Afghanistan, discussion of U.S. policy focuses on three conflicts. First, the actual military campaign against Afghan and Pakistani insurgents. Second, the political jockeying among Afghan President Hamid Karzai, his countrymen and international groups attempting to get a handle on massive corruption and poor governance. And third, the Washington shadowboxing between factions supporting “double down” or “out now.”

Meanwhile, a growing progressive-realist-centrist axis of agreement has emerged. This fall, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Center for American Progress, the Afghanistan Study Group and the Center for a New American Security all issued reports on Afghanistan that share a stunning amount of agreement. As a group, they offer a way forward that could be effective, affordable and sustainable.

How do you like that phrase, “progressive-realist-centrist axis of agreement”? It’s like someone disemboweled Morning Joe and bled out all the undigested bullshit buzzwords onto the screen. 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 →

Forget the Generals, Americans Are Committed to Ending War

5:30 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.

General Petraeus began his rogue propaganda tour earlier this week, and it’s caused quite a stir among policy wonks about the crisis in civilian-military relations. Bernard Finel and Jason Fritz, in particular, have had a fascinating discussion on the origins of the civ-mil crisis. I admit the crisis is deeply troubling, certainly for a President struggling against a reputation for weakness. But I took a slightly more stubborn line to the renegade Petraeus:

We’ve heard this propaganda from Petraeus before, it’s nothing new. They’ve been shoveling this garbage on us for years. Now the majority of Americans are pushing for an exit, and no matter what any rogue general says, we’re ending the war in Afghanistan.

In other words, bring it on. Well, Petraeus did bring it, and now we have our first public poll conducted (partially) after his campaigning began. As expected, he’s failing.

A majority of Americans see no end in sight in Afghanistan, and nearly six in 10 oppose the nine-year-old war as President Barack Obama sends tens of thousands more troops to the fight, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

With just over 10 weeks before nationwide elections that could define the remainder of Obama’s first term, only 38 percent say they support his expanded war effort in Afghanistan – a drop from 46 percent in March. Just 19 percent expect the situation to improve during the next year, while 29 percent think it will get worse. Some 49 percent think it will remain the same.

Even a heavy media push by Petraeus can’t deter the movement to end the war. When they sell us war, we push back. We’re done listening to this nonsense about "oil spots" or progress or breaking Taliban momentum or whatever it is they’re hocking this week. We’re ending the war, period.

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 →

What’s worse: Steele’s Afghanistan comments or the reaction?

8:00 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.

It shouldn’t be breaking news to anyone that the Chairman of the Republican Party, Michael Steele, said something stupid, his silliness is well known. Pretty much every time he opens his mouth in public, something bad happens to Republicans.

Only this time, it’s actually somewhat relevant to us. Here’s Chairman Steele on Afghanistan:

"The [General] McChrystal incident, to me, was very comical. I think it’s a reflection of the frustration that a lot of our military leaders has with this Administration and their prosecution of the war in Afghanistan. Keep in mind again, federal candidates, this was a war of Obama’s choosing. This was not something that the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in. It was one of those areas of the total board of foreign policy [that was at least?] that we would be in the background sort of shaping the changes that were necessary in Afghanistan as opposed to directly engaging troops. But it was the President who was trying to be cute by half by building a script demonizing Iraq, while saying the battle really should in Afghanistan. Well, if he is such a student of history, has he not understood that you know that’s the one thing you don’t do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan? Alright, because everyone who has tried over a thousand years of history has failed, and there are reasons for that. There are other ways to engage in Afghanistan…"

That’s a mess, but it’s a piece of conversation taken out of context, so the incoherence is to be expected. Steele’s decision to Rethink Afghanistan is very much appreciated, especially since he’s joining the majority of Americans on that point of view, but unfortunately I’m not sure his comments are particularly helpful. It’s not a complete disaster, but Steele’s comments likely won’t change a lot of minds on his side of the aisle, if any at all.

But there’s also reaction from the left, and I’m sorry to say it isn’t any better. If anything, it’s worse, but I’ll leave that for you to decide. On the positive side, we learn once again that President Obama’s policy of war in Afghanistan is absolutely not a left/right issue at all. And that’s the most important thing we can take away from this whole affair. Read the rest of this entry →