I read an article the other day that
absolutely infuriated me. It dealt with the quandary lawmakers are having about
escalating the war in Afghanistan. Escalating the war in Afghanistan?
Our leaders should be discussing ways of getting out of there, not debating a
further surge after the additional 21,000 troops Obama ordered to the Graveyard
These days, when it comes to Washington, the
conclusions of the article were rather predictable. Subsequently, I should have not become so
enraged, but I did. The second paragraph read, "There's a significant
number of people in the country, and I don't know the exact percentages, that
have questions about deepening our military involvement in Afghanistan," Senate
Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said
Well, Senator, I know the percentages and so
should you. A recent CNN poll revealed that 57% of Americans are opposed to the
war. Astonishingly, 42% support the war. I would like members of that group to
talk to me. Why are you in support of this war? What do you hope to
accomplish by prolonging the war? Is your source of information the Pentagon or
Fox News website? The second part of Levin's statement misses the point
entirely. There should be no debate about "deepening our military involvement in
Afghanistan." The debate should center on how to get our people out of there
with a minimum of unintended consequences and some degree of grace. Not so
incidentally, support for increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan is at
I have a dream. Just once could the elected
representatives of our government, including the President, do the bidding of
the American people who hired them. I know, what a dreamer. On the other hand,
what our leaders should seriously consider is that we, the people, also have the
power to fire our elected representatives, including the President.
As I continued reading the article, I found a
faint glimmer of hope. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., a senior member of the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee will hold two hearings on Afghanistan and is urging
discussion of a "flexible timeline" for ending American involvement there. The
glimmer faded quickly. Later, Feingold said that setting a timetable for
withdrawal would "undercut the misperception of the U.S. as an occupying force."
That statement makes no sense. So, now I've got to worry about the intellectual
capabilities of a U.S. Senator.
According to McClatchy Newspapers, "The
president is weighing whether to increase U.S. forces in the country. Army Gen.
Stanley McChrystal, the commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan,
submitted an assessment of the war to the White House last month, and he's
widely expected to ask soon for tens of thousands of new U.S. troops. The three
options that are being discussed are 5,000, 21,000 or 45,000 more troops."
However, the New York Times reported recently, "The military's anticipated
request for more troops to combat the insurgency in Afghanistan has divided
senior advisers to President Obama as they try to determine the proper size and
mission of the American effort there ."
Leading the opposition is Vice President Joe
Biden. According to the Times, "Leading those with doubts is Vice President
Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has expressed deep reservations about an expanded
presence in Afghanistan on the grounds that it may distract from what he
considers the more urgent goal of stabilizing Pakistan, officials
said ." He is opposed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has been "vocal"
in favor of more troops, and some officials said they expected her to be an
advocate for a more robust force, the Times says.
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"Getting it right is of the utmost importance
to the president," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs stated. "There isn't
an imminent decision now. I think it will be many, many weeks of assessment and
evaluation." We have sent our very best to die in this hell-hole and spent our
treasure for nearly eight years, and now it is going to take "many, many weeks
of assessment and evaluation." As a friend of mine likes to say, I just want to
hurl. This sounds like we will be in Afghanistan for a very, very long time. For
what, I ask, for what?
So that is where we stand in Washington. Where
do we stand in Afghanistan? In quicksand and sinking fast as recent violence and
escalating death tolls indicate. There is no better authority on Afghanistan
than Tom Englehardt of Tom Dispatch, and he does not mince words. In writing an
article subtitled, "Measuring a War Gone to Hell," Englehardt states:
Here may be the single strangest
fact of our American world: that at least three administrations -- Ronald
Reagan's, George W. Bush's, and now Barack Obama's -- drew the U.S. "defense"
perimeter at the Hindu Kush; that is, in the rugged, mountainous lands of Afghanistan. Put another
way, while Americans argue feverishly and angrily over what kind of money, if
any, to put into health care, or decaying infrastructure, or other key places of
need, until recently
just about no one in the mainstream raised a peep about the fact that, for nearly eight
years (not to say much of the last three decades), we've been pouring billions
of dollars, American military know-how, and American lives into a black hole in
Afghanistan that is, at least in significant part, of our own creation.
He adds, Imagine for a
moment, as you read this post, what might have happened if Americans had decided
to sink the same sort of money -- $228 billion and rising fast -- the same
"civilian surges," the same planning, thought, and effort (but not the same
staggering ineffectiveness) into reclaiming New Orleans or Detroit, or into
planning an American future here at home. Imagine, for a moment, when you read
about the multi-millions going into further construction at
Bagram Air Base, or to the
mercenary company that provides "Lord of the Flies" hire-a-gun guards for American diplomats in massive super-embassies, or
about the half-a-billion dollars sunk into a corrupt and fraudulent Afghan
election, what a similar investment in our own country might have
Karen DeYoung of the
Washington Post writes, "The Obama administration is reportedly rushing to
'preempt Congress with its own metrics.' It's producing a document called a
Strategic Implementation Plan (SIP), which will include separate 'indicators' of
progress under nine broad 'objectives' to be measured quarterly... Some of the
about 50 indicators will apply to U.S. performance, but most will measure Afghan
and Pakistani efforts. These are to include supposedly measurable categories
like numbers of newly trained Afghan army recruits and the timeliness of the
delivery of promised U.S. resources." I just want to hurl. Sounds like we will
being Afghanistan for a very, very long time.
In his own inimitable fashion Englehardt makes
his own assessment, in this case regarding SIP. "... metrics in war almost
invariably turn out to occupy treacherous terrain. Think of it as quagmire
territory, in part because numbers, however accurate (and they often aren't),
can lie -- or rather, can tell the story you would like them to tell. The
Vietnam War was a classic metrics war. Sometimes it seemed that Americans in
Vietnam did nothing but invent new ways of measuring success. [This evolved
into], as the grunts sometimes said, the 'Mere Gook Rule' -- 'If it's dead and
it's Vietnamese, it's VC [Vietcong].' In other words, when pressure came down
for the 'body count,' any body would do."
He continues, "The problem was that none of
the official metrics managed to measure what mattered most in Vietnam. History
may not simply repeat itself, but there's good reason to look askance at
whatever set of metrics the Obama administration manages to devise. After all,
as in the Vietnam years, Obama's people, too, will be mustering numbers in
search of 'success'; they, too, will be measuring 'progress.' And those numbers
-- like the Vietnam era body counts -- will have to come up from below (with all
the attendant pressures). By the time they reach Washington, they are likely to
have the best possible patina on them."
In a prime time speech before the Veterans of
Foreign Wars (VFW) in Arizona recently, President Barack Obama recommitted
himself to the war in Afghanistan, saying that "this is a war of necessity" that
is "fundamental to the defense of our people." And repeated what he
characterized as a "new strategy" with a "clear mission" and "defined goals,"
namely to "disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al-Qa'idaand its extremist allies.'"
Gee, that sounds good. Trouble is, the nice
speech was riddled with empty rhetoric. Why is Afghanistan "fundamental to the
defense of our people?" What "new strategy?" Obama is using the same tried and
failed methods as his predecessor. There is nothing "new" about his tactics
except to send in more troops. Furthermore, Al-Qa'ida is no longer in
Afghanistan. Is Obama trying to bring Western civilization and democratic values
to Afghanistan? That is ludicrous, plain and simple. Even the commander in
Afghanistan, Gen. McChrystal, is pessimistic. He told his troops that the
supply of militants is "effectively
endless." He hopes to install a new approach to counterinsurgency where
troops will make the safety of villagers the top priority, above killing an endless supply of
It is at this point that Frida Berrigan weighs
in. "But whether the goal is an Afghan Marshall Plan that turns Herat into
Heidelberg or Obama's more limited but still sweeping goal, the fact of the
matter is -- as they say in Maine -- you can't get there from here." She continues
her biting rebuke. "Defining what success looks like is proving just as
difficult in the 44th White House as it was in the 43rd. As Af-Pak Special
Representative Richard Holbrooke said, 'We'll know it when we see it.' That is not an acceptable matrix for
success -- not when the price-tag is $ billion and counting. Historic elections or no, Obama finds
himself just as lost as any other would-be conqueror."
She adds, "Disrupting, dismantling, and
irrevocably defeating Al-Qa'ida and the Taliban cannot be done with
remote-controlled drones, counter-insurgency forces, NATO troops, and private
contractors training the Afghan security forces. It cannot be accomplished
through increasing the number of doctors, dentists, and nutritionists in the
country, or sending more city planners, engineers, and communication experts --
all during an occupation and a war. Democracy, education for girls, development
-- none of these laudable and critical goals can be achieved through military
operations or external efforts protected by military operations. They can be
temporarily delivered. Elections can be held, schools can be built, and girls
can be protected on the way to school. But this no more than photo-op,
a fleeting kind of change."
It is now time to review the Powell Doctrine,
a common sense approach that the U.S. must address before it commits itself to
war. Gen. Colin Powell, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said these
questions all must be answered with are resounding "yes" before the United States
takes military action. He listed his questions in the 1990 run-up to the Persian
Gulf War, Jan. 17 to Feb. 28, 1991.
1. Is a vital national security interest
2. Do we have a clear, attainable
3. Have the risks and costs been fully and
4. Have all non-violent policy means been
5. Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid
6. Have all the consequences of our action
been fully considered?
7. Is the action supported by the American
8. Do we have broad international
These questions, in turn, beg another
question. Can our Commander-in-Chief, President Obama, answer "yes" to any of
these questions let alone all eight?
Donald Rumsfeld, serving as Secreatary of Defense for
President George W. Bush, declared the Powell Doctrine "outmoded." Gen. Powell
commanded U.S. forces in the Gulf War in 1991, which ended in a heartbeat as
wars go. A fourth-ranked military power, Iraq, suddenly became the 104th, and,
from a military viewpoint, the Gulf War is considered the most efficient war in
the history of man. As Secretary of Defense, Rumsfeld led U.S. forces in the invasion of
Afghanistan, Oct. 2001, and, later, the invasion of Iraq, March
On Tuesday, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Forces Committee that "a proper
effort" to counter the Taliban insurgency "probably means more
I just want to hurl.