Thursday, July 01, 2010

Why Are We in Afghanistan . . .

July 2, 2010, 5:55 a.m.
[For BP disaster see, "Uncanny Prediction of BP Disaster & Response," June 10, 2010; "BP's Commercial: Shame on Media," June 9; "Big Oil: Calling Shots, Corrupting Government," May 26, 2010; "Obama As Finger-Pointer-In-Chief," May 18, 2010; "Big Oil + Big Corruption = Big Mess," May 10, 2010; "P&L: Public Loss From Private Profit," May 3, 2010.]

. . . and how do we get out?
(bought to you by*)

There are some things I think you and I need to reflect upon regarding our role in Afghanistan.

It's July 1 in Iowa, and July 2 where I am, addressing policies other than war. But I've just taken a "Democracy Now!" (Amy Goodman) break, thanks to the wonders of a tiny computer, an Ethernet cable, and the global Internet.

Her July 1 show (which you can find at the link, above) is a review of Afghanistan. And bringing that show to your attention is my purpose in breaking silence on this blog. (The absence of entries -- which will continue until my return -- has been occasioned by heavier than usual obligations, and shorter deadlines on other writing projects, than usual.)

So the following paragraph, an item from her opening headlines for that show, while not the topic of this blog entry, provides an explanation for why I think her daily, hour-long program is always an important part of your news budget -- and especially this one.

Study: Media Stopped Calling Waterboarding "Torture" Following Its Disclosure as Routine U.S. Practice
A new study says the U.S. corporate media drastically altered its use of the word torture after its practice by the U.S. became widely exposed under the Bush administration. Researchers at Harvard University found newspapers almost uniformly described waterboarding as torture dating back to the 1930s. But when it was revealed as a common tactic approved under President Bush, the same newspapers stopped using the word torture almost entirely. Whereas the New York Times had previously characterized waterboarding as torture in 81.5% of articles, from 2002 to 2008 it characterized waterboarding as torture in just 1.4 percent of articles.
"Democracy Now Headlines," July 1, 2010.

Now I don't think it's a good practice for any of us, regardless of our political/ideological orientation, to limit our news and opinion sources to those most likely to re-enforce our prejudices. I wouldn't suggest anyone limit their knowledge of the world to what Amy Goodman provides. The six daily papers I examine, as well as other sources, are almost exclusively what that brief story describes as "U.S. corporate media." I look to the official line from, and BP. And I add to them dips into the unabashedly right wing sources as well.

But I also watch Amy Goodman, for news and interviews I can get almost nowhere else (including PBS/NPR). And I devote a Website to links for a random sampling of what I call "Global Media." Because, in my judgment and experience, there does seem to be disproportionate pro-government/establishment/corporate emphasis in the "U.S. corporate media."

The paragraph quoted above, regarding the media's flip-flop handling of waterboarding as torture, simply reminded me of that all over again.

Headlines of interviews from the July 1 show include:

•Michael Hastings of Rolling Stone on the Story that Brought Down Gen. McChrystal and Exposed Widening Disputes Behind the U.S. Debacle in Afghanistan

•Rep. John Conyers and Out of Afghanistan Caucus Oppose Obama Admin’s $33B Escalation of Afghan War

•Fmr. Marine, State Dept. Official Matthew Hoh is First U.S. Official to Resign Over Afghan War

All involve facts and insights at least some of which will probably be new to you.

There is also a clip from Robert McNamera, explaining what was wrong with our analysis of Vietnam as a place for "war" -- insights that are almost perfectly applicable to Iraq and Afghanistan.

I offered President Johnson a similar perspective regarding our Vietnam catastrophe -- but before rather than after that war. While the fate that my message produced was neither as severe nor public as what General McChrystal has recently experienced (nor was my confidential report as ad hominem or public as McChrystal's), I always believed it did have something to do with LBJ's deciding that his young Maritime Administrator, handling sealift to Vietnam, would make a really terrific FCC Commissioner.

President G.W. Bush received similar advice from me before the Iraq War, e.g., "Ten Questions for Bush Before War," The Daily Iowan, February 4, 2003, p. 6A; "War in Iraq: The Military Objections," International Law Talks, University of Iowa College of Law, February 27, 2003.

Similar observations were made about Afghanistan in "General Semantics, Terrorism and War," Address, Fordham University, 2006.

And for the application of the analysis to Afghanistan, and a somewhat different appraisal of General McChrystal, see especially, Nicholas Johnson, "General McChrystal: Afghan Efforts 'Not Working,'" August 31, 2009, e.g.:

The top thinkers in the military, many of whom do make their way to the top of their service, or the Joint Chiefs' staff, are well educated, bright, analytical and rational.

When left to their own independent judgment and opinions they are the ones likely to ask questions like those I outlined above.

What, exactly, is it you are trying to do in this country? How are our national interests involved? In what ways do you think a military presence could be helpful in reaching that goal (as distinguished from, e.g., Peace Corps presence and building infrastructure; cultural exchanges; or bringing their best students to our universities)? How would you describe that military mission? With what metrics would you measure our military's progress? How many troops will it take to accomplish that mission? How long will it take? What is your basis for thinking the American people, and their elected representatives, will support the cost in human life and taxes over that time? (Support for the Afghan war has now dropped below 50%.) What support is there in the international community for this action? Does that support include financial support and troops? Once in, how do we get out; that is, what is our "exit strategy"? On the assumption the military mission produces the outcome desired, why is it reasonable to assume that progress will be sustained after we leave?

Note what General McChrystal is said to be talking about. Our military efforts "have not made their lives better;" security must be provided by locals "but their army will not be ready to do that for three years and it will take much longer for the police;" and a jobs program would be more effective than continuing to shoot Afghans ("60% of the problem would go away if they could be found jobs").
Having extolled the benefits of exposure to views other than your own, above, as you may have guessed by now, you will find more from the guests interviewed on Amy Goodman's July 1 program that is consistent, than that which contradicts, my own view of our Afghanistan efforts.

But, then, a little support for one's instincts from time to time isn't all bad either.

Watch, or just listen, to the July 1 "Democracy Now!" show now, while you're thinking about it. You'll thank me that you did.

Oh, and how do we get out? That's Chairman John Conyers' contribution to the program.


* 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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