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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 →

Afghanistan: Hearts and Minds and Blood and Anger

1:42 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.

Our troops have some questions about the strategy in Afghanistan. Spencer Ackerman reports:

Some considered the war a distraction from broader national security challenges like Iran or China. Others thought that its costs — nearly ten years, $321 billion, 1243 U.S. deaths and counting — are too high, playing into Osama bin Laden’s “Bleed To Bankruptcy” strategy. Still others thought that it doesn’t make sense for President Obama simultaneously triple U.S. troop levels and announce that they’re going to start coming down, however slowly, in July 2011. At least one person was convinced, despite the evidence, that firing Gen. Stanley McChrystal meant the strategy was due for an overhaul, something I chalked up to the will to believe.

But if there was a common denominator to their critiques, it’s this: None understood how their day-to-day jobs actually contributed to a successful outcome. One person actually asked me if I could explain how it’s all supposed to knit together.

I’m wondering the same thing. It’s never been clear to me exactly how a massive foreign military occupation translates to a stable, secure and democratic society in Afghanistan. How does one lead to the other, how do we get from A to B? Read the rest of this entry →

Pakistan: Diplomacy vs. Giving It All Away

3:01 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.

How are we going to deal with Pakistan when they’re openly flaunting their proxy war against the United States? How should we respond when they say stuff like "we know where the [Taliban] shadow government is"? Or this:

“We picked up Baradar and the others because they were trying to make a deal without us,” said a Pakistani security official, who, like numerous people interviewed about the operation, spoke anonymously because of the delicacy of relations between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States. “We protect the Taliban. They are dependent on us. We are not going to allow them to make a deal with Karzai and the Indians.

Again, "we protect the Taliban." Pakistan protects the Taliban. That’s in addition to them training and equipping various Taliban militias and even funding suicide attacks and IEDs against American troops. We, as in you the American tax payer, give Pakistan billions of dollars in aid and weaponry, including directly reimbursing them for their army operations (down to paying for the bullets fired). And yet they’re killing our troops and protecting insurgents/terrorists.

Our relationship with Pakistan is deeply, deeply flawed. How do we fix this?  . . . 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 →

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 →

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 →

Fresh Talking Point: Poor Afghanistan, They’re Rich!

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.

By now everyone has just about lost their damn minds about this New York Times article detailing Afghanistan’s "discovery" of vast amounts of mineral wealth. Yes, it’s way crazy old information (like the 70′s old). Yes, it’s Pentagon propaganda. If you’ve been reading us here, you already know ISAF’s counter-insurgency strategy is a flaming wreck, and you already know what they’re going to do about that. Propaganda and misinformation are all part of it.

But if your reaction has been typical, that of only sneering derision and snide condescension (guilty!), you’ve missed the point. Part of understanding propaganda is knowing its intended audience. We do this automatically when, say, Iranian President Ahmadinejad blames evil CIA spies for whatever it is that’s bothering him that day; unemployment, tummy ache, whatever. We understand right away that this is not about us, about Americans. Rather, it’s aimed at a domestic Iranian audience with very real fears about foreign interference. Only in the case of Afghanistan’s minerals, we’re personalizing it, assuming it’s aimed at us. It’s not for you, though. This propaganda has a very specific audience, and so far it’s working perfectly. Read the rest of this entry →

In Defense Of Spencer Ackerman’s Progressive Street Cred

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.

That loud noise you heard this morning was my friend Derrick Crowe delivering a spirited beating to blogger Spencer Ackerman. It was well-deserved too, Ackerman was making his usual mistake of high-fiving something horrible like civilian deaths (Now slaughtering slightly less!) and admittedly I’ve complained about this bad habit of his before.  But there is always a disturbing subtext to criticism of Ackerman. For some reason, we can’t help but attack his progressive credibility.

Here’s Derrick, emphasis mine since it’s pretty subtle:

And, I want to say at the outset that on a critical point he’s the victim of some really bad timing, and that on that point he’s made a concession, but the episode is illustrative of a larger problem within the ranks of the left-leaning national security crowd and the way they’ve handled counterinsurgency doctrine in the public debate.

See? Ackerman is in that left-leaning crowd, and so he should automatically be anti-war, right? And here’s an especially egregious one (sorry Steve), no emphasis required:

So what, I wondered, did self-proclaimed "progressive" and national security blogger for ultra-proggie website Firedoglake have to say about it all? Would this coverup of an atrocity have shaken his confidence in and cheerleading for the COIN clique at the Pentagon? Not a bit of it.

Pow! Not only does Ackerman get scare quotes around his progressiveness, but even Firedoglake, and by extension me and everyone else there, might actually be less progressive because of what Ackerman had written, or in this case not written. That is one influential blogger! And obviously that’s true in a way, because we all read his work religiously and attack it because we know it, in some way, influences the agenda for the national security blogosphere. But there’s no reason to go after his political leanings. If we’ve learned anything from the debate around the war in Afghanistan, it’s that it has absolutely nothing to do with ideology or partisan affiliation. 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 →