Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The runaway general and his war (2)

Survivors of the Charge of the Light Brigade, 1855

Michael Hastings apparently made the Establishment press madder with his story The Runaway General (Rolling Stone 06/22/2010) than he did the military!

Our corporate press is so deeply corrupt now that when someone who actually practices journalism breaks an important story that has constructive real-world consequences, they are outraged at the renegade who would dare to do such a thing. This sad self-exposure of journalistic bankruptcy is being chronicled in a number of places, including:

Barrett Brown, Why the Hacks Hate Michael Hastings VF Daily 06/23/2010
Glenn Greenwald, The two poles of journalism Salon 06/28/2010
Matt Taibbi, Lara Logan, You Suck Taibblog 06/28/2010

Fortunately, Hastings' act of journalism and the fallout of Gen. Stanley McChrystal's replacement as commander in the Afghanistan War have brought new focus to the disaster that war has long since become. One of the more intriguing observations provoked was that of House Republican Leader John Boehner (Mike Wereschagin and Salena Zito, Obama's good for GOP, Boehner says Pittsburg Tribune-Review 06/29/2010):

Boehner had praise, however, for Obama's troop surge in Afghanistan and stepped-up drone attacks in Pakistan. He declined to list any benchmarks he has for measuring progress in the nine-year war, at a time of increasing violence and Obama's replacement of Gen. Stanley McChrystal with Gen. David Petraeus.

Ensuring there's enough money to pay for the war will require reforming the country's entitlement system, Boehner said. He said he'd favor increasing the Social Security retirement age to 70 for people who have at least 20 years until retirement, tying cost-of-living increases to the consumer price index rather than wage inflation and limiting payments to those who need them.

"We need to look at the American people and explain to them that we're broke," Boehner said. "If you have substantial non-Social Security income while you're retired, why are we paying you at a time when we're broke? We just need to be honest with people." [my emphasis]
Hastings raised some important direct concernss about the war itself:

When it comes to Afghanistan, history is not on McChrystal's side. The only foreign invader to have any success here was Genghis Khan – and he wasn't hampered by things like human rights, economic development and press scrutiny. The COIN [counterinsurgency] doctrine, bizarrely, draws inspiration from some of the biggest Western military embarrassments in recent memory: France's nasty war in Algeria (lost in 1962) and the American misadventure in Vietnam (lost in 1975). McChrystal, like other advocates of COIN, readily acknowledges that counterinsurgency campaigns are inherently messy, expensive and easy to lose. "Even Afghans are confused by Afghanistan," he says. But even if he somehow manages to succeed, after years of bloody fighting with Afghan kids who pose no threat to the U.S. homeland, the war will do little to shut down Al Qaeda, which has shifted its operations to Pakistan. Dispatching 150,000 troops to build new schools, roads, mosques and water-treatment facilities around Kandahar is like trying to stop the drug war in Mexico by occupying Arkansas and building Baptist churches in Little Rock. "It's all very cynical, politically," says Marc Sageman, a former CIA case officer who has extensive experience in the region. "Afghanistan is not in our vital interest – there's nothing for us there." [my emphasis]
I've gotten jaded to any references to "Al Qaeda", because it's become an all-purpose phantom filling the same role in our perpetual-war and national-security state that the Red Menace played for decades. But whatever is left of Bin Laden's Al Qa'ida organization of 2001, Hastings' observation is right.

Part of what's going on is that there is still a carryover concept from the Cold War that sees international terrorism primarily as state-sponsored terrorism. We hear that in the gloom-and-doom talk about what will supposedly happen if the US leaves Afghanistan sometime within the lifetime of anyone now living, in which "Al Qa'ida" would return to Afghanistan and have a "safe haven" from which they could plan attacks like 9/11.

The conversation of this is painfully distanced from practicality, even from reality. Bin Laden may have been physically located in Afghanistan when he gave the go-ahead to the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. But we know the the attack was mostly planned in Hamburg and Florida, neither of which was officially a "safe haven" for Bin Laden's Al Qa'ida.

Gareth Porter in Why Petraeus won't salvage this war The AkPak Channel 06/28/2010 continues to argue his case for why Petraeus' appointment as Afghanistan War commander may offer greater hope for Obama's promised beginning of an exit in July 2011 to actually be carried out. He also speaks to the same subject in a 06/26/2010 interview with Scott Horton of Antiwar.com.

At the moment, we have an open-ended commitment to Afghanistan. Even Obama's July 2011 date is only supposed to be the beginning of a withdrawal with no timetable for completion. And our prowar elites have no real clue as to what to do other than to keep on fighting indefinitely. Meet the Pressof 06/27/2010 featured that bold Maverick John McCain talking about how we've got to stay there until we win and never even suggest that their might be a limit to our stay there, much less to our power to stay.

The panel in the second half consisted of Congresswoman Barbara Lee arguing against four guys who seemed to have no practical notion of limits to the Afghanistan commitment at all. Tom Ricks probably slipped when he admitted in answer to one of David Gregory's questions that he didn't think we could ever leave, at least not until we've stopped using oil as an energy source. These four clowns were so out there that David Gregory sounded like a critical-minded journalist by comparison - and that is not easy to do!

One talking point that comes through from the prowar advocacy I heard from TV this weekend is that it's a bad idea to set a deadline to begin withdrawal. Robert Dreyfuss in The Land Where Theories of Warfare Go to Die: Obama, Petraeus, and the Cult of COIN in Afghanistan TomDispatch 06/27/2010 calls attention to the centrality of the argument over the July 2011 date: "The dispute over the meaning of July 2011 is, and will remain, at the very heart of the divisions within the Obama administration over Afghan policy."

Dreyfuss describes how the McChrystal firing brought the warhawks screaming into the public eye:

In the Alice-in-Wonderland world of the U.S. military, however, things are rarely what they seem. Petraeus, the Centcom commander “demoted” in order to replace McChrystal as U.S. war commander in Afghanistan, seems to be having second thoughts about what will happen next July -- and those second thoughts are being echoed and amplified by a phalanx of hawks, neoconservatives, and spokesmen for the counterinsurgency (COIN) cult, including Henry Kissinger, the Heritage Foundation, and the editorial pages of the Washington Post. Chiming in, too, are the lock-step members of the Republican caucus on Capitol Hill, led by Senator John McCain.

In testimony before Congress just last week, Petraeus chose his words carefully, but clearly wasn’t buying the notion that the July deadline means much, nor did he put significant stock in the fact that President Obama has ordered a top-to-bottom review of Afghan policy in December. According to the White House, that review will be a make-or-break assessment of whether the Pentagon is making any progress in the nine-year-long conflict against the Taliban. [my emphasis]
That Meet the Presss episode was quite revealing about the current state of the debate in Congress and the mainstream press. I assume they invited Barbara Lee onto the show because in the eyes of the celebrity press, she represents the "extreme left" on the Afghanistan War. Besides Lee and Ricks, the panel featured retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, journalist and documentary filmmaker Sebastian Juner, and writer Wes Moore. All of them but Lee were emphatically prowar.

There was a tone of desperation in their arguments, though. I was struck with how much their pitches echoed those of the dead-enders arguing for continued US presence in the Vietnam War during the Nixon and Ford administrations. Junger, claiming to be "left wing", used the bloodbath argument; the transcript doesn't reflect his condemning glare at Barbara Lee while he was given this declamation:

I've been reporting from Afghanistan since '96, for the first 10 years of that, from the perspective of the civilian population. It's of incredible concern to me. I mean, human--these are human rights watch figures. Since NATO has been there, 16,000 Afghan civilians have died in combat operations. It's a horrifying number. That ended a period of violence in Afghanistan under the Taliban where 400,000 Afghans were killed. So we really do need to assess the effect of pulling out on the Afghan people, first of all. It's--people back here don't realize that. I think that, you know, the left--and I'm, I'm left wing--when they talk about withdrawal, their concern is the humanitarian impacts of war. But they do not remember the '90s. [my emphasis]
Of course, neither Junger or anyone can reasonably predict whether a new civil war will break out in Afghanistan upon an American exit, because since no American exit is in the cards, making a prediction about withdrawal conditions is almost pure speculation. We've been hearing optimistic predictions about the wonderful progress in Afghanistan for nearly 10 years now, and the war has no end in sight and the violence is escalating. Neither he nor any of the other war cheerleaders on the program had any conception that American and NATO power to shape events in Afghanistan is severely limited. What is reasonably predictable is that, much like the Russians, NATO will eventually decide we've all had enough and leave.

But our respectable experts on foreign policy, at least those facing off against Barbara Lee this past Sunday on Meet the Press, seem to be focused on conjuring victory fantasies out of the ether. Here was what Ricks said:

MR. GREGORY: Twenty seconds, Tom. How does it end?

MR. RICKS: I don't think it does. I think we have landed in the middle of the Middle East, for better or worse, in a way that none of us expected us to. I think the war in Afghanistan was made much worse by the distracting war in Iraq, which never should have happened. But we are dealing with phenomena in the Middle East that's going to be crucial to this country as long as we're dependent on Middle East oil. So the best exit strategy I can think of is emphasize alternative fuels. [my emphasis]
There you have it. This is the way our Very Serious political commentators and journalists see it. War in Afghanistant, forever and ever, amen. We can be thankful we have such serious elites to save us from the advice of people like Barbara Lee.


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