If you asked me what publication General McChrystal, the highest ranking US military official in Afghanistan, would chose to meet with for the purpose of discrediting his Commander-in-chief, I probably wouldn’t have said the same magazine that once featured the fabulous Adam Lambert on its cover.
An article in this week’s Rolling Stone magazine depicts McChrystal as a lone wolf on the outs with many important figures in the Obama administration and unable to persuade even some of his own soldiers that his strategy can win the war.
Are we talking about the same lone wolf, who admitted to war crimes in March? I can’t imagine why people are refusing to listen to a man who admitted that the US military has “shot an amazing number of people, but to [his] knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat.”
This weird story reminded me of Sy Hersh’s statement last year that the military was “waging a war against the White House.”
“A lot of people in the Pentagon would like to see him get into trouble,” he said. By leaking information that the commanding officer in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, says the war would be lost without an additional 40,000 American troops, top brass have put Obama in a no-win situation, Hersh contended.
“If he gives them the extra troops they’re asking for, he loses politically,” Hersh said. “And if he doesn’t give them the troops, he also loses politically.”
McChrystal’s, of course, playing innocent now, and he’s apologized to the White House, but it’s hard to believe a man who spends his every waking hour plotting strategy would “accidentally” leak these kinds of whopping gaffs to the press.
Here’s a strange one. Today, Candy Crowly interviewed Senators Lieberman, Murkowski, Feinstein, and Lugar, and somehow managed to survive to tell the tale of it. Feinstein and Lugar specifically talked about Afghanistan, and Candy pointed out how the whole thing has turned into a bottomless quagmire of despair and suffering.
My words, not hers. Feinstein thinks people like me are Negative Nellies. I guess she was included in this conversation as the “liberal” answer to the Republicans’ crazies, but honestly, she sounded like a chickenhawk most of the time. The Taliban is bad. Really, Diane? I had no idea. I thought all that acid they threw in the faces of schoolgirls was part of an exfoliation regimen.
But the gold medal for “What’d He Say?” in punditry excellence goes to Dick Lugar for this exchange. My comments [in brackets]:
CROWLEY: Senator Lugar, she paints a pretty grim picture about a war that’s been going on for nine-plus years. [Again, I thought Feinstein was pretty conservative in her language, but then again, I'm a shrill, hysterical, irrational leftist agent]. If had you to say, on this day I will know that the U.S. has succeed and we can begin bringing troops home, what would that day look like?
LUGAR: Well, your question implies that we’ve defined success, and we’ve never got to that point. That’s a part of our problem, that we’re going to have, as a government, whether it be the president or the Congress, to define success in a way in which the American people find this to be satisfying. Otherwise we’ll continue to argue about the date of withdrawal or how fast, or how — whether we surge more or less, without ever having defined exactly what it is hope from Afghanistan. [What'd he say?]
Wait, what? The only barometer we have for “success,” which, btw, we haven’t even defined, is the satisfaction of the American people? So basically, whatever the American people desire shall by default become the parameters of “success.”
In 1947, President Truman signed the National Security Act, which formed the National Military Establishment, a department with the unfortunate acronym “NME,” (pronounced “enemy”). Wise men realized a name change was in order, so they rebranded NME as the “Department of Defense.” In its new role, the DoD would oversee the duties formerly handled by the Department of War and the Department of the Navy.
Department of War and “enemy” are more suitable nomenclatures for our modern wartime Chimera, the Department of Defense.
As Thom Shanker details with the cool, detached demeanor of a serial killer, the “protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are forcing the Obama administration to rethink what for more than two decades has been a central premise of American strategy: that the nation need only prepare to fight two major wars at a time.”
Of course, “only two wars at a time, boys” isn’t written anywhere in our Constitution. That may be because our forefathers were sort of wary about that whole empirical conquest thing. They’d just escaped being ruled over by a tyrannical king and were in no rush to impose their own authoritarian regime upon anyone else, though that didn’t stop them from wiping out the Native Americans and pesky Mexicans.
A senior Defense Department official involved in a strategy review now under way said the Pentagon was absorbing the lesson that the kinds of counterinsurgency campaigns likely to be part of some future wars would require more staying power than in past conflicts, like the first Iraq war in 1991 or the invasions of Grenada and Panama.
I know what you’re thinking: Surely, the only lesson to be taken out of the Iraq and Afghanistan quagmires is to NOT invade countries that pose no threat to the United States. Well, that’s why you’re not in charge of leading young men and women to their deaths. The problem isn’t ideological. It’s strategical.
Among the refinements to the two-wars strategy the Pentagon has incorporated in recent years is one known as “win-hold-win” — an assumption that if two wars broke out simultaneously, the more threatening conflict would get the bulk of American forces while the military would have to defend along a second front until reinforcements could arrive to finish the job.
Another formulation envisioned the United States defending its territory, deterring hostility in four critical areas of the world and then defeating two adversaries in major combat operations, but not at exactly the same time.
For anyone of you weak, pathetic peace-lovers out there, who thought maybe (just maybe) the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan (and sometimes Pakistan) were winding down, stick this Pentagon memo in your pipe and smoke it. This is the long-vision, people. This is perpetual war.
An inconvenient truth is that Americans get worked up at the thought of an extended, massive ground invasion of foreign lands. That’s why the future of war is small, scattered, air-oriented, and covert. Whether it’s Dick Cheney’s implementation of a secret assassination ring, or Pakistan-stationed US drones killing civilians, war no longer has to receive the blessing of Congress, or – pause for laughter – the American people.
War is an inevitability, so a public debate about whether war should be is never an option. It’s not a matter of should we be planning for multiple, simultaneous, small invasions, but a debate over technicalities and strategies for when it happens. And the media usually walks hand-in-hand with the Pentagon, somehow managing to keep a straight face on the matter, when generals and bureaucrats start spouting rhetoric about preserving freedom and democracy via cluster bombs.
The war debate (if it can be called a debate) is completely off-kilter. Even in the “liberal” New York Times, the article isn’t balanced with a pro-war participant and a serious anti-war participant. Yet again, we get a photocopied Pentagon memo crammed within a major newspaper’s margins, without analysis or journalistic insight into the consequences of perpetual war. Including an anti-war voice isn’t partisan. It’s actually doing real journalistic work, which is representing all sides of a story, and not just the loudest opinions resonating from the state.
The closest the Times comes to representing an anti-war voice is in the confusing interjection from Michael E. O’Hanlon, a senior follow from the Brookings Institution, a think tank that the Times tells me is center-left, though I wouldn’t have guessed that from O’Hanlon’s comment:
“We have Gates and others saying that other parts of the government are underresourced and that the DoD should not be called on to do everything. That’s a good starting point for this — to ask and at least begin answering where it might be better to have other parts of the government get stronger and do a bigger share, rather than the Department of Defense.”
This sounds like O’Hanlon wants to outsource killing to other departments. Maybe we can arm teachers and parachute them into Pakistan.
Yet again, the debate over our larger war policies goes unexamined by the mainstream media. The media remains compliant in the imperial conquests of our government, and then acts dumbfounded when popular support for their institution wanes, and they find themselves antiquated and bankrupted.
Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, has announced his resignation as the company’s CEO. The move comes weeks after the company changed its name to Xe in an attempt to rebrand the firm. Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, assesses the latest developments.
Video Guest: Jeremy Scahill, award-winning investigative journalist and author of the New York Times bestseller, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.
Note from Allison: I don’t get Bob Herbert. He’s wonderful, and brilliant, and everything, but I just don’t get him. I don’t understand how he got hired at the New York Times, or why he’s kept writing for them all these years. Bob Herbert working at the New York Times reminds me of Marilyn Munster living with her freak family. How did HE comes from THAT stock?
Sometimes, I imagine Bob standing around with Thomas Friedman, or (God forbid) Maureen Dowd, at a NYT staff party. Thomas is babbling about his latest trip to a golf club in East India (and how it really reminded him of the power of Globalization.) Maureen isn’t listening to Thomas (typical,) and she asks Bob, “If Hillary Clinton could be a kind of cocktail dress, what kind of dress do you think she would be?” and I imagine Bob’s face twitching as his hand slowly crushes his plastic cup of punch.
I don’t get Bob, but I’m glad he’s around to inject some sanity into the Op-Eds.
The singer Edwin Starr, who died in 2003, had a big hit in 1970 called “War” in which he asked again and again: “War, what is it good for?”
The U.S. economy is in free fall, the banking system is in a state of complete collapse and Americans all across the country are downsizing their standards of living. The nation as we’ve known it is fading before our very eyes, but we’re still pouring billions of dollars into wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with missions we are still unable to define.
Even as the U.S. begins plans to reduce troop commitments in Iraq, it is sending thousands of additional troops into Afghanistan. The strategic purpose of this escalation, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates acknowledged, is not at all clear.
In response to a question on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Mr. Gates said:
“We’re talking to the Europeans, to our allies; we’re bringing in an awful lot of people to get different points of view as we go through this review of what our strategy ought to be. And I often get asked, ‘Well, how long will those 17,000 [additional troops] be there? Will more go in?’ All that depends on the outcome of this strategy review that I hope will be done in a few weeks.”
We invaded Afghanistan more than seven years ago. We have not broken the back of Al Qaeda or the Taliban. We have not captured or killed Osama bin Laden. We don’t even have an escalation strategy, much less an exit strategy. An honest assessment of the situation, taking into account the woefully corrupt and ineffective Afghan government led by the hapless Hamid Karzai, would lead inexorably to such terms as fiasco and quagmire.
Instead of cutting our losses, we appear to be doubling down.
As for Iraq, President Obama announced last week that substantial troop withdrawals will take place over the next year and a half and that U.S. combat operations would cease by the end of August 2010. But, he said, a large contingent of American troops, perhaps as many as 50,000, would still remain in Iraq for a “period of transition.”
That’s a large number of troops, and the cost of keeping them there will be huge. Moreover, I was struck by the following comment from the president: “There will surely be difficult periods and tactical adjustments, but our enemies should be left with no doubt. This plan gives our military the forces and flexibility they need to support our Iraqi partners and to succeed.”
In short, we’re committed to these two conflicts for a good while yet, and there is nothing like an etched-in-stone plan for concluding them. I can easily imagine a scenario in which Afghanistan and Iraq both heat up and the U.S., caught in an extended economic disaster at home, undermines its fragile recovery efforts in the same way that societies have undermined themselves since the dawn of time — with endless warfare.
We’ve already paid a fearful price for these wars. In addition to the many thousands of service members who have been killed or suffered obvious disabling injuries, a study by the RAND Corporation found that some 300,000 are currently suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, and that 320,000 have most likely experienced a traumatic brain injury.
Time magazine has reported that “for the first time in history, a sizable and growing number of U.S. combat troops are taking daily doses of antidepressants to calm nerves strained by repeated and lengthy tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Suicides among soldiers rose in 2008 for the fourth consecutive year, largely because of the stress of combat deployments. It’s believed that 128 soldiers took their own lives last year.
Much of the country can work itself up to a high pitch of outrage because a banker or an automobile executive flies on a private jet. But we’ll send young men and women by the thousands off to repeated excursions through the hell of combat — three tours, four tours or more — without raising so much as a peep of protest.
Lyndon Johnson, despite a booming economy, lost his Great Society to the Vietnam War. He knew what he was risking. He would later tell Doris Kearns Goodwin, “If I left the woman I really loved — the Great Society — in order to get involved with that bitch of a war on the other side of the world, then I would lose everything at home. All my programs… All my dreams…”
The United States is on its knees economically. As President Obama fights for his myriad domestic programs and his dream of an economic recovery, he might benefit from a look over his shoulder at the link between Vietnam and the still-smoldering ruins of Johnson’s presidency.
Jeremy Scahill (h/t: Alternet)
Some anti-war analysts find hope in President Barack Obama’s address at Camp Lejuene in North Carolina on Friday, in which he appeared to spell out a clear date for withdrawal from Iraq.
“I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011,” Obama said in a speech that quickly generated headlines announcing that an end to the occupation is on the horizon. As far as rhetoric goes, Obama’s statement seems very clear. But in reality, it is far more complicated.
Obama’s plan, as his advisors have often said, is subject to “conditions on the ground,” meaning it can be altered at any point between now and 2011. Underscoring this point, a spokesperson for New York Rep. John McHugh, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said on Friday that Obama “assured [McHugh] he will revisit the tempo of the withdrawal, or he will revisit the withdrawal plan if the situation on the ground dictates it. … The president assured him that there was a Plan B.”
Despite Obama’s declarations Friday and the celebrations they have sparked on the liberal blogosphere, the Pentagon certainly seems to believe its forces may well be in Iraq after 2011. NBC’s Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszeswki reported on Friday that “military commanders, despite this Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government that all U.S. forces would be out by the end of 2011, are already making plans for a significant number of American troops to remain in Iraq beyond that 2011 deadline, assuming that Status of Forces Agreement agreement would be renegotiated. And one senior military commander told us that he expects large numbers of American troops to be in Iraq for the next 15 to 20 years.”
Some have suggested that such statements from the military are insubordination and contrary to Obama’s orders, but they could also reflect discussions between the White House and the Pentagon to which the public is not privy.
Then there’s the monstrous U.S. embassy unveiled last month in Baghdad, the largest of any nation anywhere in the history of the planet and itself resembling a military base. Maintaining this fortified city will require a sizable armed U.S. presence in Baghdad and will regularly place U.S. diplomats in armed convoys that put Iraqi civilian lives in jeopardy.
Whether this job is performed by State Department Diplomatic Security or mercenaries from the company formerly known as Blackwater (or else a corporation more acceptable to the Obama administration), the U.S. will have a substantial paramilitary force regularly escorting U.S. VIPs around Iraq — a proven recipe for civilian deaths and injuries. Obama’s speech on Friday did not even address the question of military contractors — a crucial omission given that their presence rivals that of U.S. troops by a ratio of over 1-to-1.
Finally, the Status of Forces Agreement, which supposedly lays out a timetable for U.S. withdrawal, contains a gaping loophole that leaves open the possibility of a continuation of the occupation and a sustained presence of U.S. forces well beyond 2011, “upon request by the government of Iraq.” Article 27 of the SOFA allows the U.S. to undertake military action, “or any other measure,” inside Iraq’s borders “In the event of any external or internal threat or aggression against Iraq.” Could this mean an election where the wrong candidate or party wins? What is the definition of a threat?
The Democrats’ Response
Earlier in the week, when details of Obama’s official Iraq plan began to emerge, expressions of surprise poured from the offices of the congressional Democratic leadership over his intention to keep a force of 35,000 to 50,000 troops in the country beyond 2010.
“When they talk about 50,000, that’s a little higher number than I anticipated,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was “particularly upset” according to the New York Times and did not understand “the justification.” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., exclaimed, “Fifty thousand is more than I would have thought.”
The response from the Democratic power brokers was embarrassingly disingenuous. Obama said early on in his presidential campaign that he intended to keep behind a “residual force” of the scope he laid out. Those who have long protested this aspect of his plan were marginalized and ignored in both the corporate media and the Obama campaign.
The same Democratic leaders expressing their disappointment ignored the credible voices of dissent for years while supporting the occupation through votes and funding. That they would wait to express their dissent until long after it would actually have had an impact is one of the best examples of what has been so wrong with the Democrats’ role from the beginning of President George W. Bush’s declaration of war against the world and his 2003 invasion of Iraq.
If Pelosi, Reid, et al., really had a problem with a 50,000 troop residual force, they certainly had ample time to say so when Obama was running for president.
On Friday, however, these same Democrats welcomed the announcement that combat missions would be out by 2011. Reid praised Obama’s plan, while cautioning that we “must keep in Iraq only those forces necessary for the security of our remaining troops and the Iraqi people.” Following Obama’s speech at Camp Lejeune, key Senate Republicans praised Obama’s plan as well, while reminding everyone that it was an outgrowth of the Bush administration.
“It is encouraging to see the Obama administration embrace the plan of Gen. David Petraeus that began with the successful surge in 2007, and continues shifting combat responsibilities to our Iraqi allies,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Adopting the Bush Narrative
Beyond the headline-generating news, Obama’s speech at Camp Lejeune delivered a number of lines — wrapped in laudatory rhetoric — that could have been delivered by Bush himself.
“I want to be very clear,” Obama told the military audience. “We sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime — and you got the job done.” Perhaps it bears remembering that “removing Saddam” was justification two or three offered by the Bush administration after the WMD fraud was exposed.
“We kept our troops in Iraq to help establish a sovereign government,” Obama went on, “and you got the job done.” (The idea that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki regime is either sovereign or a government is hotly debated in Iraq.) “And we will leave the Iraqi people with a hard-earned opportunity to live a better life — that is your achievement; that is the prospect that you have made possible.”
As much as could be said about this, perhaps the best response was delivered on Friday by Washington Post correspondent Thomas Ricks, who knows the situation in Iraq about as well as any journalist.
“We won’t know for 10 or 15 years whether we actually did something right, even in removing Saddam Hussein,” he said on MSNBC. “We may very well end up with a strongman, stronger than Saddam, closer to Tehran and certainly will be anti-American. That’s in some ways the best-case scenario if that country holds together.”
Regardless of what happens down the line, the world knows the truth about the lies that both Democrats and Republicans promoted in support of Bush’s war against Iraq. Rather than inspire hope among Iraqis, the U.S. occupation has devastated their country and opened Iraq’s gates for unprecedented violence and instability in their country and the region.
Obama, the candidate, used to riff on these truths on the campaign trail. The contradiction between President Obama’s speech at Camp Lejeune and his rhetoric before he was elected should serve as a warning to those who take his words at face value. But more important, combined with his plan to escalate the war in Afghanistan, Obama’s adoption of key lies from Bush’s Iraq narrative should be seen as a dangerous indicator of things to come.
Jeremy Scahill, an independent journalist who reports frequently for the national radio and TV program Democracy Now!, has spent extensive time reporting from Iraq and Yugoslavia. He is currently a Puffin Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute. Scahill is the author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.
Note from Allison: This is Joseph Stiglitz. He’s the most cited economist in the world, a Nobel Laureate, and the guy who first price-tagged the Iraq war at $3 trillion. As you’ve probably already gathered, he’s a genius. Also, he’s smart, which is different than genius because it means he possesses the gift of “breakin’ it down,” and speaking simply so we mortals can understand him.
He very clearly explains why Obama has devised a plan to help the banks, and not the bankers, and he also details what we need to do in order to change our financial system. Well worth the watching.
Watch the videos here.
Today, President Obama unfurled his shiny plan to keep 35,000 to 50,000 U.S. troops in Iraq under a “new mission of training, ” and to send 17,000 more troops into Afghanistan. This may seem like a sleight of hand artifice (removing troops from Point A, only to drop them in Point B,) but many hawkish pundits, columnists, and bloggers respond to criticism of Obama’s plan by deploying the straw-man directive for readers to “consider the alternative.”
Meaning, I guess, we’re supposed to concede the point that keeping armed forces in Iraq is better than some imagined, hypothetical scenario where all hell breaks loose the second our forces leave, the country dissolves into sectarian warfare (worse that the civil strife that has already occurred,) and some kind of apocalyptical genocide breaks out (the kind of genocide we care about, not the Darfur or Congo kind.)
Let’s set aside the points that sectarian violence may be declining because of mass exoduses from Iraq, a significant amount of the population being dead, and US forces bribing Iraqis not to shoot each other, (all of which the Washington Post described as troops “stop(ping) a sectarian civil war.”) What is this “alternative” I’m supposed to be considering?
Over at Politico, Yousef Munayyer imagines the alternative to permanent occupation as crafty foe behaving themselves only until the final US Blackhawk helicopter departs the Iraq landscape so they can then rain down terror upon the population.
The fundamental problem with measuring success in the fight against insurgency is that we can never be sure if they have stopped fighting because they have given up or because they are just laying low and waiting for us to leave. I don’t know if I would call 50,000 troops “residual” but the heart of the problem is that we simply can’t move out quicker because we just don’t know what will happen.
This is a variation of the “consider the alternative” argument. Because the US military does not yet possess the gift of clairvoyance, we have to remain committed in the region indefinitely because, gee, just consider what might happen in this hypothetical I’ve invented.
It’s like John McHugh (R-NY) said today after his meeting with Obama. We have to consider the possibility that something bad may happen, like “the situation on the ground deteriorat(ing) and violence increas(ing),” which may very well happen because, ya’ know, we totally ripped apart the Iraqi infrastructure and societal fabric. But how do US troops occupying the region convey a new era of autonomy and peace to the Iraqis? They don’t. They can’t. Their presence just delays the inevitable: US troops leaving the region, and chaos and strife following a tumultuous time, followed by (hopefully) rebuilding. That’s what will happen if the troops leave tomorrow. That’s what will happen if the troops leave in December. The only difference is less men and women of all nationalities will die if it happens tomorrow.
To be sure, Iraq and Afghanistan are tremendously volatile regions, but deploying the “consider the alternative” argument is manipulative. Sure, something bad can happen at any given moment. Something bad might be happening in Denmark right now, or rather, something bad may happen eventually. That’s a 1% chance, and Dick Cheney says that’s all we need. Shall we invade? Something bad is actually happening in Darfur and the Congo right now, so why aren’t our troops on their way there?
We don’t know what may happen, but we do know what has happened. The wars have been disastrous, and the explanations for the decrease in violence in Iraq ranges from speculative to insincere. Killing off the population and bribing those who remain isn’t a diplomatic strategy. It’s making the best of a fucked-up situation. It’s reason for shame, but it’s certaintly not a mandate to stay in the region indefinitely because a handful of hawkish pundits keep lobbing hypotheticals at the American population.
It’s just until December! comes the scream of rationalization for a new Magic Number pull-out date. We have to remain in the region until December to ensure a fair, free election. Mind you, we can’t figure out how to run our own elections, but we’re going to import democracy to the Iraqis. International organizations independently monitor elections all the time, but suddenly we need an occupying force to handle procedures. With the help of the UN, elections are held in 14 of Iraq’s 18 provinces, with about 15 million citizens eligible to vote. If we’re hanging around to see how the Iraqis really feel about the US occupation, they’ve already been abundantly clear that they want us gone. Furthermore, it’s more than a little insulting to imply that Iraqis can’t handle their own elections without Big Brother America holding their hands throughout the process. It’s also ridiculous to imply Iraqis are somehow better off with Americans in their country. In some respects, things in Iraq are worse now than they were pre-American invasion. Take, for example, the looting of museums, disappearance of electricity, and appearance of smoking craters.
“In an ideal world, the Iraqi security forces could handle the election security themselves,” says Dennis Hertel (D-MI), Vice-President of the International Elections Monitors Institute (IEMI). “Whenever there is a threat, you have to make sure the security is adequate so people can vote. Violence is intimidation for the people participating in the election.” And Hertel admits that the best possible scenario is for third party, international watch groups to monitor the elections without a military presence: “The best thing is if you don’t have to have armed forces, or even legal officers for elections.”
Surely, Iraqis may need help rebuilding, training their military, and protecting their citizens, but a unilateral occupation isn’t the answer to their problems. It is only a promise of continued strife and violence. If the United States is serious about helping (and not occupying,) they should throw full support behind the UN and look for partners in the international community to provide non-military aid.
I guess we’re supposed to take Obama’s new Iraq and Afghanistan plans very seriously because they suddenly have bipartisan support. But the fact that John McCain, the man who once said that it would be totally cool if our troops remained in Iraq “for 100 years,” now agrees with Obama’s wartime policies is a very, very bad sign. When McCain later had to explain his comment because it was tremendously awful, he cited a longstanding, ugly truth of American power: we occupy a lot of countries. It’s just part of that crazy stuff we do all the time.
There are 737 military bases scattered around the planet, which staff roughly 2,500,000 US military personnel. It’s become commonplace to send our troops to foreign countries and station them there indefinitely. It’s become so banal that the so-called Progressive candidate, Barack Obama, can admit to keeping 35,000-50,000 armed troops in Iraq (with no deadline,) toe the line with John McCain and John Boehner, and the mainstream media accepts that this is a responsible, sane plan. It’s accepted because, once again, something bad is out there…waiting.
The Taliban are bad news. Hardly anyone disputes that. They terrorize innocents (particularly women, young girls, and anyone trying to receive an education,) but unilateral military action has never nurtured diplomatic relations. America has been in Afghanistan for eight years, and all that has been accomplished is a resurgent Taliban insurgency that is busily overwhelming areas of Pakistan, a country with a nuclear weapon. But a continuation of unilateral firebombing of civilian-populated regions doesn’t work. Unlike the reasons to stay in the Middle East afforded to us by the mainstream media, that’s not speculation.
Occupying a country and terrorizing the population ensures only one thing: blowback. Yes, pulling out of Iraq may lead to bad things that will demand attention from the international community and the UN, but the United States galavanting across the region and crushing indigenous people inspires only hatred.
This isn’t some radical, new lesson we have to learn. We’ve known this since 1991 during the Gulf War, when our Saudi Arabia-stationed bases pissed off this guy named Osama bin Laden. How many little Osamas are witnessing the brute, awful strength of the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan? How many members of their families and communities have our troops killed?
This just doesn’t make sense for Obama’s administration, or for our country. Our military and money is spread preciously thin. As Paul Krugman explained in his column today, Obama’s economic plan just may work, as long as nothing bad happens (like blowback from our irresponsible and irrational actions abroad):
According to the Obama administration’s budget projections, the ratio of federal debt to G.D.P., a widely used measure of the government’s financial position, will soar over the next few years, then more or less stabilize. But this stability will be achieved at a debt-to-G.D.P. ratio of around 60 percent. That wouldn’t be an extremely high debt level by international standards, but it would be the deepest in debt America has been since the years immediately following World War II. And it would leave us with considerably reduced room for maneuver if another crisis comes along.
That doesn’t really sound like Era of Responsibility, does it? Everything will be fine as long as nothing bad happens ever again because of these stupid things we’re doing in other people’s countries, and none of the people we’re bombing remember it was us, who bombed them. I’m sure Krugman wasn’t imagining another 9/11 in his hypothetical, but it’s a distinct possibility considering we’re broke, and our military is crouched in a foreign desert, messing with the locals.
A long-term goal for this mess should be to make the Taliban and radicalism unappealing. That won’t happen if we keep bombing countries. Poor, desperate people tend to falls into the clutches of radicalism because radicals can point up to the American jets that just decimated entire villages and say, “They did it.” Militarism only fuels more anti-America fervor. Charity and multilateral efforts to help a people (not through occupation,) but through aid will gradually make such radicalism unappealing. It’s not a quick fix. It will take generations, but it’s worth adopting some patience into our foreign policy strategies.
And sure, there will always be a handful of baddies out there that hate us (and will always hate us,) and they’ll try to hurt us. But let’s consider this alternative: A surplus in the economy from the money saved not waging wars abroad, and a strong military at home (including care for veterans.) Imagine skilled interrogators, who know how to coax forth answers with a game of chess, and not waterboarding. Imagine well-trained intelligence officers networking abroad, or new, secure American infrastructure and a well-funded FDA to keep our food safe. Imagine justice and accountability, and the permanent banishment of secret prisons and tribunals so that future terrorist attacks cannot possibly be justified to the world as self-defense or “pay back.”
Even in this imagined alternative, we can never be fully protected from the possibility of something bad happening. We can only be properly equipped to deal with the aftermath in a rational way. What we certainly do not need is 35,000-50,000 troops in Iraq and 17,000 more troops in Afghanistan. No imagined alternative will justify this empirical behavior.
FORT BLISS, Texas (AP) — As soldiers stream home from Iraq and Afghanistan, the biggest charity inside the U.S. military has been stockpiling tens of millions of dollars meant to help put returning fighters back on their feet, an Associated Press investigation shows.
Between 2003 and 2007 – as many military families dealt with long war deployments and increased numbers of home foreclosures – Army Emergency Relief grew into a $345 million behemoth. During those years, the charity packed away $117 million into its own reserves while spending just $64 million on direct aid, according to an AP analysis of its tax records.
Tax-exempt and legally separate from the military, AER projects a facade of independence but really operates under close Army control. The massive nonprofit – funded predominantly by troops – allows superiors to squeeze soldiers for contributions; forces struggling soldiers to repay loans – sometimes delaying transfers and promotions; and too often violates its own rules by rewarding donors, such as giving free passes from physical training, the AP found.
Founded in 1942, AER eases cash emergencies of active-duty soldiers and retirees and provides college scholarships for their families. Its emergency aid covers mortgage payments and food, car repairs, medical bills, travel to family funerals, and the like.
Instead of giving money away, though, the Army charity lent out 91 percent of its emergency aid during the period 2003-2007. For accounting purposes, the loans, dispensed interest-free, are counted as expenses only when they are not paid back.
During that same five-year period, the smaller Navy and Air Force charities both put far more of their own resources into aid than reserves. The Air Force charity kept $24 million in reserves while dispensing $56 million in total aid, which includes grants, scholarships and loans not repaid. The Navy charity put $32 million into reserves and gave out $49 million in total aid.
AER executives defend their operation, insisting they need to keep sizable reserves to be ready for future catastrophes.
“Look at the stock market,” said retired Col. Dennis Spiegel, AER’s deputy director for administration. Without the large reserve, he added, “We’d be in very serious trouble.”
But smaller civilian charities for service members and veterans say they are swamped by the desperate needs of recent years, with requests far outstripping ability to respond.
While independent on paper, Army Emergency Relief is housed, staffed and controlled by the U.S. Army.
That’s not illegal per se. Eric Smith, a spokesman for the Internal Revenue Service, said the agency can’t offer an opinion on a particular charity’s activities. But Marcus Owens, former head of IRS charity oversight, said charities like AER can legally partner closely with a government agency.
However, he said, problems sometimes arise when their missions diverge. “There’s a bit of a tension when a government organization is operating closely with a charity,” he said.
Most charity watchdogs view 1-to-3 years of reserves as prudent, with more than that considered hoarding. Yet the American Institute of Philanthropy says AER holds enough reserves to last about 12 years at its current level of aid.
Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy, said that AER collects money “very efficiently. What the shame is, is they’re not doing more with it.”
National administrators say they’ve tried to loosen the purse strings. The most recent yearly figures do show a tilt by AER toward increased giving.
Still, Borochoff’s organization, which grades charities, gives the Army charity an “F” because of the hoarding.
The AP findings include:
- Superior officers come calling when AER loans aren’t repaid on time. Soldiers can be fined or demoted for missing loan payments. They must clear their loans before transferring or leaving the service.
- Promotions can be delayed or canceled if loans are not repaid.
- Despite strict rules against coercion, the Army uses pushy tactics to extract supposedly voluntary contributions, with superiors using language like: “How much can we count on from you?”
- The Army sometimes offers rewards for contributions, though incentives are banned by program rules. It sometimes excuses contributors from physical training – another clear violation.
- AER screens every request for aid, peering into the personal finances of its troops, essentially making the Army a soldier’s boss and loan officer.
“If I ask a private for something … chances are everyone’s going to do it. Why? Because I’m a lieutenant,” says Iraq war veteran Tom Tarantino, otherwise an AER backer. “It can almost be construed as mandatory.”
Neither the Army nor Sgt. Major of the Army Kenneth Preston, an AER board member, responded to repeated requests for comment on the military’s relationship with AER.
AER pays just 21 staffers, all working at its headquarters at Army Human Resources Command in Alexandria, Va. AER’s other 300 or so employees at 90 Army sites worldwide are civilians paid by the Army. Also, the Army gives AER office space for free.
AER’s treasurer, Ret. Col. Andrew Cohen, acknowledged in an interview that “the Army runs the program in the field.” Army officers dominate its corporate board too.
Charities linked to other services operate along more traditional nonprofit lines. The Air Force Aid Society sprinkles its board with members from outside the military to foster broad views. The Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society pays 225 employees and, instead of relying on Navy personnel for other chores, deploys a corps of about 3,400 volunteers, including some from outside the military.
Army regulations say AER “is, in effect, the U.S. Army’s own emergency financial assistance organization.” Under Army regulations, officers must recommend whether their soldiers deserve aid. Company commanders and first sergeants can approve up to $1,000 in loans on their own say-so. Officers also are charged with making sure their troops repay AER loans.
“If you have an outstanding bill, you’re warned about paying that off just to finish your tour of duty … because it will be brought to your leadership and it will be dealt with,” says Jon Nakaishi, of Tracy, Calif., an Army National Guard veteran of the Iraq war who took out a $900 AER loan to help feed his wife and children between paychecks.
In his case, he was sent home with an injury and never fully repaid his loan.
The Army also exercises its leverage in raising contributions from soldiers. It reaches out only to troops and veterans in annual campaigns organized by Army personnel.
For those on active duty, AER organizes appeals along the chain of command. Low-ranking personnel are typically solicited by a superior who knows them personally.
Spiegel, the AER administrator, said he’s unaware of specific violations but added: “I spent 29 years in the Army, I know how … first sergeants operate. Some of them do strong-arm.”
Army regulations ban base passes, training holidays, relief from guard duty, award plaques and “all other incentives or rewards” for contributions to AER. But the AP uncovered evidence of many violations.
Before leaving active duty in 2006, Philip Aubart, who then went to Reserve Officer Training Corps at Dartmouth College, admits he gave to AER partly to be excused from push-ups, sit-ups and running the next day. For those who didn’t contribute the minimum monthly allotment, the calisthenics became, in effect, a punishment.
“That enticed lots and lots of guys to give,” he noted. He says he gave in two annual campaigns and was allowed to skip physical training the following days.
Others spoke of prizes like pizza parties and honorary flags given to top cooperating units.
Make no mistake: AER, a normally uncontroversial fixture of Army life, has helped millions of soldiers and families. Last year alone, AER handed out about $5.5 million in emergency grants, $65 million in loans, and $12 million in scholarships. Despite the extra demands for soldiers busy fighting two wars, AER’s management says it hasn’t felt a need to boost giving in recent years.
But the AP encountered considerable criticism about AER’s hoarding of its treasure chest.
Jack Tilley, a retired sergeant major of the Army on AER’s board from 2000 to 2004, said he was surprised by AP’s findings, especially during wartime.
“I think they could give more. In fact, that’s why that’s there,” said Tilley, who co-founded another charity that helps families of Mideast war veterans, the American Freedom Foundation.
What does AER do with its retained wealth? Mostly, it accumulates stocks and bonds.
AER ended 2007 with a $296 million portfolio; last year’s tanking market cut that to $214 million, by the estimate of its treasurer.
Sylvia Kidd, an AER board member in the 1990s, says she feels that the charity does much good work but guards its relief funds too jealously. “You hear things, and you think, “`They got all this money, and they should certainly be able to take care of this,’” she said. She now works for a smaller independent charity, the Association of the United States Army, providing emergency aid to some military families that AER won’t help.
Though AER keeps a $25 million line of bank credit to respond to a world economic crisis, its board has decided to lop off a third of its scholarship money this year. “We’re not happy about it,” Spiegel says.
With two missile strikes over the past week, the Obama administration has expanded the covert war run by the Central Intelligence Agency inside Pakistan, attacking a militant network seeking to topple the Pakistani government.
The missile strikes on training camps run by Baitullah Mehsud represent a broadening of the American campaign inside Pakistan, which has been largely carried out by drone aircraft. Under President Bush, the United States frequently attacked militants from Al Qaeda and the Taliban involved in cross-border attacks into Afghanistan, but had stopped short of raids aimed at Mr. Mehsud and his followers, who have played less of a direct role in attacks on American troops.
The strikes are another sign that President Obama is continuing, and in some cases extending, Bush administration policy in using American spy agencies against terrorism suspects in Pakistan, as he had promised to do during his presidential campaign. At the same time, Mr. Obama has begun to scale back some of the Bush policies on the detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects, which he has criticized as counterproductive.
Mr. Mehsud was identified early last year by both American and Pakistani officials as the man who had orchestrated the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister and the wife of Pakistan’s current president, Asif Ali Zardari. Mr. Bush included Mr. Mehsud’s name in a classified list of militant leaders whom the C.I.A. and American commandos were authorized to capture or kill.
It is unclear why the Obama administration decided to carry out the attacks, which American and Pakistani officials said occurred last Saturday and again on Monday, hitting camps run by Mr. Mehsud’s network. The Saturday strike was aimed specifically at Mr. Mehsud, but he was not killed, according to Pakistani and American officials.
The Monday strike, officials say, was aimed at a camp run by Hakeem Ullah Mehsud, a top aide to the militant. By striking at the Mehsud network, the United States may be seeking to demonstrate to Mr. Zardari that the new administration is willing to go after the insurgents of greatest concern to the Pakistani leader.
But American officials may also be prompted by growing concern that the militant attacks are increasingly putting the civilian government of Pakistan, a nation with nuclear weapons, at risk.
For months, Pakistani military and intelligence officials have complained about Washington’s refusal to strike at Baitullah Mehsud, even while C.I.A. drones struck at Qaeda figures and leaders of the network run by Jalaluddin Haqqani, a militant leader believed responsible for a campaign of violence against American troops in Afghanistan.
According to one senior Pakistani official, Pakistan’s intelligence service on two occasions in recent months gave the United States detailed intelligence about Mr. Mehsud’s whereabouts, but said the United States had not acted on the information. Bush administration officials had charged that it was the Pakistanis who were reluctant to take on Mr. Mehsud and his network.
The strikes came after a visit to Islamabad last week by Richard C. Holbrooke, the American envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In a telephone interview on Friday, Mr. Holbrooke declined to talk about the attacks on Mr. Mehsud. The White House also declined to speak about Mr. Mehsud or the decisions that led up to the new strikes. A C.I.A. spokesman also declined to comment.
Senior Pakistani officials are scheduled to arrive in Washington next week at a time of rising tension over a declared truce between the Pakistani government and militants in the Swat region.
While the administration has not publicly criticized the Pakistanis, several American officials said in interviews in recent days that they believe appeasing the militants would only weaken Pakistan’s civilian government. Mr. Holbrooke said in the interview that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and others would make clear in private, and in detail, why they were so concerned about what was happening in Swat, the need to send more Pakistani forces to the west, and why the deteriorating situation in the tribal areas added to instability in Afghanistan and threats to American forces.
Past efforts to cut deals with the insurgents failed, and many administration officials believe that they ultimately weakened the Pakistani government.
But Obama administration officials face the same intractable problems that the Bush administration did in trying to prod Pakistan toward a different course. Pakistan still deploys the overwhelming majority of its troops along the Indian border, not the border with Afghanistan, and its intelligence agencies maintain shadowy links to the Taliban even as they take American funds to fight them.
Under standard policy for covert operations, the C.I.A. strikes inside Pakistan have not been publicly acknowledged either by the Obama administration or the Bush administration. Using Predators and the more heavily armed Reaper drones, the C.I.A. has carried out more than 30 strikes since last September, according to American and Pakistani officials.
The attacks have killed a number of senior Qaeda figures, including Abu Jihad al-Masri and Usama al-Kini, who is believed to have helped plan the 1998 American Embassy bombings in East Africa and last year’s bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad.
American Special Operations troops based in Afghanistan have also carried out a number of operations into Pakistan’s tribal areas since early September, when a commando raid that killed a number of militants was publicly condemned by Pakistani officials. According to a senior American military official, the commando missions since September have been primarily to gather intelligence.
The meetings hosted by the Obama administration next week will include senior officials from both Pakistan and Afghanistan; Mrs. Clinton is to hold a rare joint meeting on Thursday with foreign ministers from the two countries. Also, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistani Army chief, will meet with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Lt. Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the head of Pakistan’s military spy service, will accompany General Kayani.
Bomber Kills More Than 30
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The police on Friday blamed a suicide bomber for a powerful explosion that killed more than 30 people and wounded at least 50 in the Pakistani city of Dera Ismail Khan, according to residents and Pakistani television reports.
The bombing, aimed at the funeral of a Shiite man who had been shot, set off chaos in the city of a million people on the edge of Pakistan’s tribal areas. Mobs attacked security forces, ransacked shops and surrounded hospitals said the mayor, Abdur Rauf.
Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan.