Friday, July 09, 2010

Sunday morning war talk

The Independence Day Sunday-morning bobblehead shows featured another round of cheering for endless war in Afghanistan, with a special focus on defusing Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele's latest foot-in-mouth blooper, in which he got a little too blatant and a little too dumb in trying to make the Afghanistan War Obama's war.

Talking to someone in a fundraising meeting, Steele said of the war in Afghanistan (my transcript):

Keep in mind, again, ah, for our federal candidates, this was a war of Obama's choosing. This is not, this is not something the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in. It was one of those, one of those areas of the total board of, of foreign policy that you be in the background sort of shaping the, the change that was necessary in Afghanistan, as opposed to direct engagement.

The President [sound garbled] a script demonizing Iraq while saying the war should really be in Afghanistan. Well, if he's 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? All right? Because everyone who has tried, over a thousand years of history, has failed. And there are reasons for that.

If I had to guess what Steele might have been trying to say, I would guess that he was saying that Republican candidates this year in in terms of the Iraq War should keep the focus on Obama's escalation and make the case that Bush and Cheney were handling it better. But the statement mixes up so many things, it hard to even guess what he was trying to say. (Mad Annie Coulter, defending Steele's comments in Bill Kristol must resign WorldNutDaily 07/07/2010, seems to want the Republicans to gripe about what Bob Dole once infamously called "Democrat wars."

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham on CBS' Face the Nation was pounding on the July 2011 deadline Obama's set to begin withdrawal. Even that vague commitment is too much for the war-forever crowd. Graham:

Well, my view is that if the people in Afghanistan think we're going to begin to leave in July 2011 and the people in the ridge-- region think we're going to bend-- begin to leave, we have no chance of winning a counterinsurgency. Counterinsurgency depends on the population, getting off the fence coming our way. And if-- if you send a signal to your enemies you're going to leave at a certain date, they'll wait to that date and wait you out. And people begin to hedge your bets and make side deals. So it's imperative that we let the world know, let the Afghan people know, the Taliban, Pakistan, all of our allies, and all of our enemies that we're not going to leave this country in chaos. That we're going to leave Afghanistan secure and stable. And we've got to remember, John, why we’re here. We're here because it is in our about-- vital national security interest to secure this country. This is the place we were attacked from 9/11. I’m glad more Afghan girls are going to school. I’m glad that the quality of life is improving. But the reason we came here was to secure America, and it is imperative that we show to our enemies and friends alike that we’re not going to leave this country until we’re more secure as a nation. [my emphasis]
If Graham means the United States for "this" in, This is the place we were attacked from [on] 9/11," then that's true. But he clearly means Afghanistan.

The strategic sense of making a military strike in Afghanistan after the 9/11 was that at that time there were concentrations of Bin Laden's terrorist group Al Qa'ida in Afghanistan. And it went a long way in succeeding in that goal in the early months of the war. Al Qa'ida - if it can be meaningfully said to exist any more - is very unlikely to try concentrating forces like that again. And not even the most enthusiastically Islamist government in Afghanistan would be likely to welcome them if they wanted to.

The Afghanistan War has suffered from severe mission creep. Waging an endless counterinsurgency war against Afghans in Afghanistan is a radically different thing that targeting known concentrations of Bin Laden's mostly foreign fighters there. Graham also pretends there are no negative consequences of our protracted war in Afghanistan.

Again, Mohammad Atta and his team mostly planned the operational details of the 9/11 attacks in Hamburg, Germany and in Florida. They didn't hit the shores as commandos from an Afghan submarine. They got on planes inside the United States. To the extent that this argument for the war is anything more than pure propaganda, it's based on an unwillingness to give up the Cold War notion that terrorism is primarily a problem of state-sponsored terrorism. Graham talks as though state sponsorship is essential for a transnational terrorist cult like Al Qa'ida was in 2001. In that connection, it's worth remembering that the Cheney-Bush team made that connection at the time they initiated the ongoing Afghanistan War. Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay wrote in America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy (2003):

The administration's desire to invade Iraq also gave them a major incentive to link terrorism in general and Al Qa'ida in particular to state sponsorship. In the run-up to war, they repeatedly and dishonestly linked Saddam's regime to Al Qa'ida.But the fact that the concept of terrorism as a problem of state sponsorship was useful as propaganda in that instance doesn't mean that it doesn't still shape the worldview of some of foreign policy experts like Lindsay Graham and that bold Maverick McCain.

[E]ven as Bush identified al Qaeda as the specific threat, he asserted that defeating the group required targeting the states that safeguarded it and other terrorists with a global reach. "We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them," he declared the night of the attacks. He laid down this marker, which is now remembered as the Bush doctrine, without first consulting Cheney, or [Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld, or [Secretary of State] Colin Powell. Days later, [Deputy DefSec Paul] Wolfowitz pledged that the United States would focus on "removing the sanctuaries, removing the support systems, ending states who sponsor terrorism." The link between terrorist organizations and state sponsors became the "principal strategic thought underlying our strategy in the war on terrorism," according to Douglas Feith, the third-ranking official in the Pentagon. "Terrorist organizations cannot be effective in sustaining themselves over long periods of time to do large-scale operations if they don't have support from states." This dismissal of the possibility that terrorists could operate without government support reflected a view that Bush and his advisers had held long before September 11. They believed that states remained the primary forces in world politics, notwithstanding all the talk about how globalization empowered the angry few and promoted the rise of groups capable of evading and challenging government power. [my emphasis]
Graham, being interviewed from Afghanistan, was pretty emphatic in denouncing Steele's statement:

Dismayed, angry, upset. It was an uninformed, unnecessary, unwise, untimely comment. If you're a student of history, you would know that America cannot afford to allow Afghanistan to go back into Taliban control. We're not here fighting a ground war to occupy this country. We're here to help Afghans who could live in peace with us. This is not President Obama's war. This is America's war. The deadline of July 2011 in terms of withdrawal has to be clarified but I want to separate myself from that statement. And the good news is Michael Steele is backtracking so fast, he’s going to be in Kabul fighting here pretty soon.

... I am glad to see that Michael Steele is retracting his statement because it’s not the Republican Party’s position, my Republican Party position.
Anne Kornblut of the Washington Post manage to make one decent point later in Face the Nation:

There's still a lot of conflict [over Afghanistan policy] internally [within the Obama administration]. And we all hear it on the phone calls we make with the Pentagon and the White House and all the other players in this review. There's also division between the White House and the Democratic Party right now. And, in fact, it's going to be difficult for Obama to keep funding this war if the Democrats keep control of Congress, because we've seen this big debate over the last week over whether to keep funding it. It's really Republicans who are-- who are his staunchest ally at this point. [my emphasis]
Which is a big part of why the Republicans needed to blast Steele for his comments, because at the moment they are backing Obama in anything that prolongs or escalates the Afghanistan War.

Meet the Press took a break for July 4. But on ABC's This Week, Jake Tapper interviewed that bold Maverick McCain, taking the same position as his joined-at-the-hip twin on Afghanistan War policy, Lindsay Graham. The Great Maverick said:

But what I worry about more than anything else is the -- the July of 2011 firm date, which the president has not -- certainly has not been positive as far as our commitment is concerned. In other words, we need a conditions-based situation, not a date for withdrawal.

A statement like, "We're not going to turn out the lights in the middle of 2011," is indecipherable and certainly sounds an uncertain trumpet. So I'm more concerned about the perception of our friends and our enemies, as well as the people in Afghanistan, as to the depth of our commitment. Our commitment must be: We will succeed, and then we will withdraw.
And on Michael Steele's mavericky comment, the Greatest Of All Mavericks said:

I think those statements are wildly inaccurate, and there's no excuse for them. Chairman Steele sent me an e-mail saying that he was -- his remarks were misconstrued.

Look, I'm a Ronald Reagan Republican. I believe we have to win here. I believe in freedom. But the fact is that I think that Mr. Steele is going to have to assess as to whether he can still lead the Republican Party as chairman of the Republican National Committee and make an appropriate decision.

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