Friday, December 04, 2009

There is No War in Afghanistan

December 4, 2009, 9:00 a.m.

Why Are We There?
(brought to you by*)

It turns out that President Obama's war plan for Afghanistan is even worse than I thought.

Yesterday I hunkered down by myself and tried to think it through. I ended up concluding that, although no one had really specified exactly what the metrics would be for ever deciding whether it had been "successful," it seemed to me doomed to "failure" by any rational standard I could imagine. "Obama's Afghanistan; He Can't Win, Can't Break Even, and Can't Get Out of the Game," December 3, 2009 (borrowing, and setting forth the lyrics from Michael Jackson's version of "The Wiz"). In an effort to be more than merely critical, that entry concludes with what our policy and anti-terrorist strategy ought to be to produce better results at much, much lower cost.

In the last 24 hours I have come upon a transcript of MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show" from December 1, 2009, the evening of President Obama's West Point speech. The insights it provides into Obama's Afghanistan strategy, and the conclusions a reader is left with, are if anything even more troubling than mine from yesterday.

The entire transcript is well worth reading. It includes the text of video clips she used, and the discussions she had with, among others, Presidents Obama and George Bush, Secretary Clinton, and "from Afghanistan . . . NBC‘s Richard Engel [and] from Washington . . . Retired Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, who literally wrote the book on modern counterinsurgency theory."

Here are some especially relevant excerpts for our purposes, followed by my own take-away from them:
MADDOW: President Obama tonight spoke at the site where President Bush unveiled the Bush doctrine—the proclamation that the United States would no longer reserve the right just to wage war against countries or forces that threatened us, but that we would wage war to stop the emergence of threats in the future.


BUSH: If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long. The war on terror will not be won on the defensive. We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge.


MADDOW: Before they emerge, before they emerge. We must confront threats that might happen someday.

And thus was born not only the justification for, in the name of 9/11, attacking a country that had nothing to do with 9/11, but also the maximalist Bush doctrine concept of America at war globally, indefinitely, against anyone at our own discretion.


BUSH: Our security will require transforming the military you [i.e., West Point cadets] will lead, a military that must be ready to strike at a moment‘s notice in any dark corner of the world. We must uncover terrorist cells in 60 or more countries. All nations that decide for aggression and terror will pay a price.


MADDOW: The Bush doctrine was probably the single most radical thing about the Bush presidency, because it dropped the requirement that the United States actually be threatened before we‘d start a war with someone, instead saying that if we just thought we might be threatened sometime in the future, that would be justification enough for us now to start a war. It is a really radical concept, if you think about it, not only about war, but about us, about America.

And it may have survived the Bush presidency. President Obama tonight is explaining his second escalation of the war in Afghanistan, announcing that the 32,000 Americans who were in Afghanistan when he took office will become 100,000 by next year. A war reborn in what the president is describing as his own image, his own strategic terms, but which is justified fundamentally by what sounds like the Bush doctrine.

The administration admitting that we are not actually threatened now as a nation by Afghanistan.


GEN. JAMES JONES, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Obviously, the good news that Americans should feel at least good about in Afghanistan is that the al Qaeda presence is very diminished. The maximum estimate is less than 100 operating in the country, no bases, no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies.


MADDOW: No ability to attack us or our allies.

Afghanistan poses no threat to us, and yet, our war there is being doubled and tripled in size. Why? It‘s because we think there might be a threat from Afghanistan in the future, if a safe haven for terrorism there re-emerges in the future. In other words.


BUSH: If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long. We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge.


MADDOW: Is the massive escalation of the war in Afghanistan announced tonight President Obama‘s own implementation of the preventive war Bush doctrine that . . . no one has really been able to justify?

This war is not about threats to the United States from Afghanistan. To the extent that it is justified by preventing threats to us from emerging from Pakistan sometime in the future, that‘s preventive war. That‘s the Bush doctrine—in all its Orwellian extremism.

To the extent, though, that this war is not about some potential future threat but a real current one, like the president described tonight, a current one that—he didn‘t say it bluntly, but he meant it—one that exists in Pakistan. To the extent that our 100,000 troops in Afghanistan are there simply to backstop and contain the real war against the real threat next door in Pakistan, then tell me this—how are we fighting our war in Pakistan?

We‘re fighting it using the CIA, which effectively functions as a fifth secret branch of the U.S. military now. They even have their own Air Force. They‘re a fifth secret branch of the military now which our civilian leaders as a matter of policy do not answer for. They don‘t even bother explaining what they‘re doing.

Do you remember when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was questioned about our secret CIA drone war when she was recently in Pakistan?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At the same time, the drone attacks are still going on in Waziristan. What does madam or America in general plans to do with that, because it‘s creating a lot of frustration among our people.


HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I will not talk about that specifically, but generally, let me say that there‘s a war going on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Pakistani parliament, of course, has also requested that these drone attacks be stopped yet they continue and the Pakistani people have begun to resent them and associate them with U.S. policy towards Pakistan as a whole.

CLINTON: You know, I think what‘s important here is that there—there is a war going on, as several of you have said. And I won‘t comment on that specific matter.


MADDOW: I won‘t comment on that specific matter. I won‘t talk about that specific thing, but there is a war. That war, that secret one—because CIA actions, even when there‘s a war, are covert and deniable.

If the real war is Pakistan and we‘re fighting this war not to prevent some threat to us in the future, not as an extension of the Bush doctrine, but rather than to respond to a real threat now, why are we fighting it with our secret military that we don‘t admit to? Why are we fighting it with our CIA?

Maybe there will someday be an Obama doctrine to replace the Bush doctrine. If that‘s going to happen, then, first, the Bush doctrine needs to be ended. No more wars to prevent future threats that may or may not emerge.

But, secondly, at some point, this president will need to be able to explain and take the credit or the blame for his real wars that right now are still getting only a “no comment.”
My take-away:

1. Sources. Because I don't like it when useful source material on the Internet does not provide a full citation, I like to provide sources and links when making assertions in blog entries. Yesterday's blog entry provided no sources for the assertions that al Qaeda was probably in 60 countries, al Qaeda should be identified as the real enemy (not the Taliban), less than 100 al Qaeda are in Afghanistan, and that they and the Talaban pose no real threat to us. They were just my best estimates. The transcript, above, provides sources: President Bush: "We must uncover terrorist cells in 60 or more countries." President Obama's National Security Advisor, General James Jones: "The maximum estimate is less than 100 [al Qaeda] operating in the country, no bases, no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies."

2. True motive. The entire transcript, beyond that quoted above, creates the sense that this entire effort, with the 30,000-troop build up, may really be just a skillfully crafted, bizarre, political, public relations approach to an exit strategy. The White House, which apparently offered the President options including immediate withdrawal, may think that a build up, followed by announced little "victories" over the Taliban of one kind and another, will insure the appearance that no one "lost their life in this useless folly of a war," and that we did not "lose" the "war in Afghanistan." We can then "declare victory and come home" -- without impliedly criticizing the judgment of President Bush or his military, and with the acceptance of Congress, American veterans and their families (including the families of those who died there), the American people, and our NATO allies.

3. The Taliban are not "the enemy" of the Afghan people, the Taliban ARE the Afghan people. NBC's Richard Engel in Afghanistan: "Only about 6 percent of the people want the Taliban to come back. But they‘re not seen as occupiers, or they‘re not seen as outsiders. They‘re seen as part of the society here that should be brought back into the fold. . . . [T]he Taliban are not, by and large, attacking civilians in this country. [C]ompared to Iraq, [where] you had market bombings, al Qaeda militants that were killing civilians by the dozens every single day . . . [in Afghanistan] it‘s mostly a conflict between the Taliban and foreign forces in this country. People are hoping that there can be some sort of reconciliation between the two." There are many lessons for the U.S. in that observation.

4. Pakistan. As has been clear from the beginning, Pakistan has nuclear weapons, Afghanistan just barely has IEDs. The shared border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is almost irrelevant. There may well be very few who even know precisely where it is, and fewer still who actually care. In a region dominated by tribal loyalties and the territories they control, it wouldn't even have to be a "porous" border. But it is that, too. So it seems the real story, the real war, is the "CIA Army and Air Force's" war in Pakistan -- the war that neither the Secretary of State nor the President are even willing to acknowledge, let alone talk about and explain to the American people.

More troops to the "war in Afghanistan"? What war in Afghanistan?

Here are links to earlier entries on some of the other hot topics from the past week or so that are now getting the most direct hits, along with links to "updates" in the form of subsequent news articles, among which may be the entries you came here looking for:
UIHC, Regents and UI.

"UI's Basketball Fees Self-Defeating," November 23, 2009

I'll drink to that: "UI Has A Drinking Problem," November 18, 2009 [see "Updates," below];

If UI has become a for-profit corporation . . .: "Corporatizing the University of Iowa; If We're Going to Do It, Let's Do It Right," November 17, 2009

Strategic Communications VP position: "Strategic Communications a Failed Strategy; Actions Speak Louder," November 13, 2009 [See "Updates," below]

Executives trip to Disney World: "Mickey Mouse Patient Satisfaction; UIHC's Troubles: Is Orlando the Answer?" November 8, 2009

"Contributions from patients" proposal: "UIHC: 'Sick Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?'; A Check-In and a Check," October 31, 2009, 7:00 a.m. (with numerous updates through November 4, links to additional, related material -- and now with over 30 of the Press-Citizen readers' comments on B.A. Morelli's stories) [see "Updates," below]

Board of Regents and State universities' budget cutting: "Cutting Slack, Cutting Budgets; Regents, University Presidents, Deserve Some Thanks and Credit," October 30, 2009, 8:30 a.m. (with links to prior, related blog entries); Jason Clayworth, "Governments in Iowa now $11.6 billion in debt," Des Moines Register, December 6, 2009

Spence break-in grand jury proceedings: "UI Spence Break-In: Gazette Scoop Illustrates Issues," October 27, 2009 [See "Updates," below]

School boundaries, school boards, and the ICCSD.
"School Board Election: Now Work Begins; It's Swisher, Dorau, Cooper; Old Board 'Starting Off Backing Up' With Consultant and Tough Decisions," September 9, 2009, 7:00 a.m. (with its links to 11 prior and related blog entries including, for example, "School Boundaries Consultant Folly; Tough Boundary Questions Are for Board, Not Consultants or Superintendent, Plus: What Consultant Could Do," and "Cluster Schools: Potential for IC District?")

Nicholas Johnson, "School Board Has Work to Do," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 2, 2009 (and reproduced in blog)

"Boundaries: Only Board Can Do Board's Job; Drawing School Boundaries Made Easy," November 2, 2009

And Updates: UI VP Medical Jean Robillard says patient-donation-dunning plan "canceled a week ago"; spokesperson "clarifies," says "canceled" means "under review," B.A. Morelli, "Leaders Address Employee Concerns; UI Officials: No Decision on Job Issues," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 20, 2009, p. A3; Ashley Oerman, "UI Cancels Asking Patients for Money," The Daily Iowan, November 20, 2009, p. A1; UI's Funded Retirement Insurance Committee asks President Mason to "abolish rather than just delay" UIHC's "patient donation plan," B.A. Morelli, "Group Wants UIHC Patient Donation Plan Nixed," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 19, 2009, p. A1; B.A. Morelli, "New incentive upsets some UI employees; Change encourages employees to seek care at its hospital," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 3, 2009;

Gunnar Olson and B.A. Morelli, "Regents might rethink bonuses; 2 presidents say they are divisive," The Des Moines Register and Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 30, 2009; B.A. Morelli, "Regents delay tuition, Hancher decisions," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 1, 2009; Emily Busse, "Mason received bonus in 2008," The Daily Iowan, December 4, 2009; Gunnar Olson, "Departing University Staff Get Stimulus," Des Moines Register, December 14, 2009; Staci Hupp and Gunnar Olson, "Regents Add $100 Tuition Surcharge," Des Moines Register, December 11, 2009;

Emily Busse, "UI shuns advisers on budget," The Daily Iowan, November 30, 2009;

Two Spence break-in grand jury witnesses jailed for refusal to testify, one now indicted, "UI Spence Break-In: Gazette Scoop Illustrates Issues," October 27, 2009; Anonymous, "Davenport Grand Jury Subpoena for Scott DeMuth," Nov. 11, 2009; "Two jailed for refusing to testify before grand jury," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 17, 2009; Carrie Feldman's Web site and the new "Support Carrie and Scott!"; "Activist indicted for alleged role in Spence Labs vandalism," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 19, 2009 [in hard copy as "Man Indicted for Animal Terrorism," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 20, 2009, p. A1]; Ann McGlynn, "Activist who refused grand jury testimony now charged with conspiracy," Quad City Times, November 19, 2009; Ann McGlynn and Diane Heldt, "Lab Break-in Charge Pleases UI Officials," The Gazette, November 20, 2009, p. A1; Regina Zilbermints, "Man Charged in Spence Action," The Daily Iowan, November 20, 2009, p. A1; Ann McGlynn, "Animal rights activist pleads not guilty in University of Iowa vandalism," Quad City Times, November 20, 2009; Zack Kucharski, "Judge Orders Animal Rights Activist Held," Quad City Times, November 26, 2009; Kurt Allemeier, "Animal rights activist ordered released," Quad City Times, December 1, 2009; Regina Zilbermints, "Grad student cites protecting subjects as reason not to testify," The Daily Iowan, December 9, 2009, p. A1;

Press-Citizen editorial: Hold off on VP for Strategic Communications: Editorial, "Stakes Have Risen for UI's Strategic Communication," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 20, 2009, p. A7 ("it's wrong when UI seems to care more about finding the right way to spin its decisions than about making the right decisions in the first place. The best strategy for UI communication is for officials to be more forthright and to show more common sense.");

Press-Citizen editorializes for 21-only, Editorial, "21-Only Still an Option for Bars with PAULAs," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 19, 2009, p. A7; "Number of UI alcohol crimes rise," The Daily Iowan, December 4, 2009; B.A. Morelli, "Report: Colleges try to cover up rapes; UI incident led to policy overhaul," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 5, 2009; Danny Valentine, "The Siren Song of Alcohol," The Daily Iowan, December 7, 2009, p. A1;

Hancher Relocation: Rachel Gallegos, "Property owner for Hancher site won't sell land," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 26, 2009, p. A1; Rachel Gallegos, "Property owner for Hancher site won't sell land," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 26, 2009; B.A. Morelli, "Biz leaders: Opposition to land sale for Hancher not an obstacle," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 30, 2009 (and see related five-part series, "Hancher - Part V," September 18, 2009, with links to prior four);

School District/Board. Rob Daniel, "School district facing more budget cuts," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 4, 2009; Rob Daniel, "What will redistricting do? Little known on effect of altering boundaries," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 5, 2009.
* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source, even if I have to embed it myself. -- Nicholas Johnson
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1 comment:

Steve Groenewold said...

Despite assertions that the administration has taken into account all of the very things that concern you (and me) (an instant history article coverint the Afghanistan decision from Peter Baker:, I can't help feeling that by making this decision, Obama has torpedoed his presidency before it's even a full year old. Granted, I was wrong about the Iraq surge, but this is not a similar situation.

I fear it will end badly, or that it really won't end at all.