Sunday, August 22, 2021

Departure Disaster - Generals Had It Right

Four days ago (April 18) The Gazette published a column of mine, "Think About the Ending Before the Beginning," The Gazette, August 18, 2021, p. A6, reproduced in this blog as, "Starting and Ending Wars; Questions We Should Have Asked Before Invading Afghanistan," August 18, 2021,

In it I said, "Before, rather than after, going to war the best and brightest of our military have 'thought a bit of the end of it.' They have a list of questions . . .. Among them are, 'What will be our exit strategy?' and 'After we leave will the people and their country be better off or worse off?'”

Knowing that about the military I could not believe that the departure President Biden pursued was something they had either urged upon him or even agreed to. But at that time I didn't have a source to cite to support my assumption.

I had even suggested in a prior (unpublished) version of that column (and included in the "Sources," under "Related") a rebuttal to the argument for leaving Afghanistan that "We shouldn't be keeping even 5000 or 10,000 troops in a foreign country." I wrote, "If true, then should we also bring the troops home from the other 150 (give or take) countries where we have even more troops -- Japan 54K, South Korea 26K, Germany 35K, Italy 12K, UK 9K?"

Today I came upon a couple of sources supporting (a) my assumption that the miliary did not support Biden's departure plans, and (b) that if we can justify 54,000 American troops still in Japan over 75 years after World War II what is so outrageous about keeping 5,000 or more troops in Afghanistan 20 years after our invasion?

Here are those sources:

The New York Times put six of its best reporters on its page one lead story today (Aug. 22) about the evolution of President Biden's approach to our troops departure from Afghanistan. After making reference to an April 2021 meeting in its opening sentence, the next sentence reads:
"It was two weeks after President Biden had announced the exit over the objection of his generals, but now they were carrying out his orders."

In other words, the generals did oppose Biden's departure plan -- while supporting the Constitution's requirement that they obey the commands of their civilian commander in chief. Michael D. Shear, et al, "Embassy in Kabul Warns Amricanws to Avoid Airport; Miscue After Miscue, Exit Plan Unravels," [Online headline: "Miscue After Miscue, U.S. Exit Plan Unravels; President Biden promised an orderly withdrawal. That pledge, compounded by missed signals and miscalculations, proved impossible.] New York Times, August 22, 2021, p. A1,

That story makes reference to an earlier New York Times report: Helene Cooper, Eric Schmitt and David E. Sanger, "Debating Exit From Afghanistan, Biden Rejected Generals’ Views; Over two decades of war, the Pentagon had fended off the political instincts of elected leaders frustrated with the grind of Afghanistan. But President Biden refused to be persuaded." New York Times, April 18, 2021, p. A1, ("The report by the Afghanistan Study Group, a bipartisan panel examining the peace deal reached in February 2020 under the Trump administration, found that withdrawing troops based on a strict timeline, rather than how well the Taliban adhered to the agreement to reduce violence and improve security, risked the stability of the country and a potential civil war once international forces left.")

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Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Starting and Ending Wars

Questions We Should Have Asked Before Invading Afghanistan;
There weren’t any good ways to leave Afghanistan, just the least-worst way. And we didn’t pick that one.

Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, August 18, 2021, p. A6

[This is how it first appeared Aug. 17 online; hard copy headline: "Think About the Ending Before the Beginning"]

“If we’d thought a bit of the end of it,” Cole Porter laments in his lyrics to “Just One of Those Things.”

It’s a caution wisely applied in both love and war, as Rita Rudner illustrates in her standup: “Whenever I date a guy, I think, 'Is this the man I want my children to spend their weekends with?'”

Now think Afghanistan.
How will we know if we’re ever “successful”? What are our metrics?

Before, rather than after, going to war the best and brightest of our military have “thought a bit of the end of it.” They have a list of questions, set forth below. Among them are, “What will be our exit strategy?” and “After we leave will the people and their country be better off or worse off?” [Photo source:, public domain]

Among the other questions are: What’s the problem, or challenge? What’s our goal? Is it sufficiently important, clearly defined and understood? Why will military force contribute to, rather than impede, its accomplishment? What more effective non-military alternatives are there?

What are the benefits and costs, gains and losses, risks and rewards? What will it require in troops, materiel, lives and treasure? How long will it take? Are the American people and their Congress supportive? For how long?

Might we be perceived as just the latest invaders? Can we protect innocent civilians? Is the area governed as a country, or as regions ruled by war lords? Are we picking sides in a civil war? Are we sufficiently informed about the territory and people where we’ll be fighting? Do we know their language, culture, history, tribal, political, and social structure? Will we be the only ones identified by uniforms, unable to distinguish friend from foe? [Photo source:]

How will we know if we’re ever “successful”? What are our metrics?

As U.S. maritime administrator I had some responsibility for sealift to Vietnam and our MARAD representatives there. Before a trip to Saigon I was asked to report my assessment when I returned.

What was my conclusion, after matching the questions above to my observations in Vietnam? “You can’t play basketball on a football field.”

Or, as the computer in the 1983 movie “War Games” concludes, after comparing its countdown to “Global Thermonuclear War” with an unwinnable game of tic-tac-toe, there are times when “The only winning move is not to play.”

[See 1:42-1:46 (1:30-1:35 on original YouTube trailer) for computer's conclusion. The rest of what's provided here gives the context for that conclusion. This is a clip from a trailer for the film, available to the public on YouTube. If anyone connected to the film War Games objects to this use, promoting the film and thus encouraging people to watch the entire movie, give me a brief email to that effect and this will be taken down.]

But we no longer have the luxury of deciding whether to play the game. That was decided by others 20 years ago. As the pottery display sign warns, “break it, you own it.” We own Afghanistan.

Paul Simon sang, “There must be 50 ways to leave your lover.” There weren’t any good ways to leave Afghanistan, just the least-worst way. And we didn’t pick that one.

Now America agonizes, like the hospitalized antivaxxer whose refusal to be vaccinated has him infected with COVID, breathing through a ventilator. He’s changed his mind. He begs to be vaccinated, only to be told, “We’re sorry, but it’s too late now.”

If only “we’d thought a bit of the end of it” in 2001 – and 2021.
Nicholas Johnson, the author of Columns of Democracy, was U.S. maritime administrator during the Vietnam War.

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Lyrics to “Just One of Those Things.” Cole Porter. “It was just one of those things/Just one of those crazy flings . . . If we’d thought a bit/Of the end of it/When we started painting the town . . . It was great fun/But it was just one of those things.”

Rita Rudner quote. “Rita Rudner Quote,” citing source as: “As quoted in: Mademoiselle: The Magazine for the Smart Young Woman, Volume 92 (Condé Nast Publications, 1986), p. 174.”; also

War Games.

50 Ways to Leave Your Lover. Paul Simon, “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” Genius,

Related (to prior versions of this column; still relevant but not necessary “sources” for this version. (a) When 911 was paid for and carried out by Saudis, why did we attack Afghanistan? (b) Yes, there were terrorists in Afghanistan. But there are well over 100 countries that could, and do, provide safe havens for terrorists. Why make Afghanistan our single major focus? (c) We shouldn't be keeping even 5000 or 10,000 troops in a foreign country. If true, then should we also bring the troops home from the other 150 (give or take) countries where we have even more troops -- Japan 54K, South Korea 26K, Germany 35K, Italy 12K, UK 9K?)

Saudis not Afghanis. Annika Kim Constantino, “U.S. reviews 9/11 documents for possible release after families tell Biden to skip memorial events,”CNBC, Aug. 9, 2021,

Terrorists in 134 countries. Global Terrorism Index, (last edited Aug. 10, 2021)

100,000 troops in Afghanistan in August 2010. “A timeline of U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan since 2001,” AP/Military Times, July 6, 2016,

Troop deployments.

“United States Military Deployments,” Wikipedia, (“The military of the United States is deployed in most countries around the world, with between 150,000 to 200,000 of its active-duty personnel stationed outside the United States and its territories.”)

“US Deployment Facts, How Many US Troops are Overseas?” VetFriends, (With more than 5000: Japan, Germany, South Korea, Kuwait, Italy, UK)

“Explained: The US military’s global footprint,” TRTWorld, March 15, 2021, (“Washington keeps troops numbered around 150,000 to 200,000 abroad across more than 150 countries, according to different sources.” citing DOD data June 30, 2021; Japan 54K, South Korea 26K, Germany 35K, Italy 12K, UK 9K)

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Friday, August 06, 2021

Protecting Animals While Evicting Humans

Protecting Animals But Not Humans

Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, August 6, 2021, p. A5

Why does the law permit evicting the mammalian species Homo sapiens from shelter, but not mammalians like dogs and cats?

Of course, I support laws protecting animals’ rights. I love and attempt communication with all creatures. (Fish and ants are the most obstinate.) Increasing penalties and enforcement for animal mistreatment are encouraging.

But an Aspen Institute analysis reveals 30 to 40 million American Homo sapiens are at risk of eviction.

This is made worse by COVID. We knew since January 2020 COVID elimination is possible (test, trace, quarantine, isolate). Some elected officials preferred the path that produced 600,000 deaths.

Vaccine creation was appropriately celebrated. But vaccine in bottles is much less effective than vaccine in arms.

Rather than vaccination, some of our “leaders” prefer our “freedom” to choose risk of death to ourselves and others. So, more die.

Meanwhile, 7000 miles away in Wuhan, China, all 11 million residents are being tested. Since May 2020 Wuhan eliminated positive cases. Recently, when three symptomatic and five asymptomatic cases popped up, they resumed test, trace, isolate and quarantine.

Evictions in China? Yes, housing is a challenge for migrants. But during the 2020 lockdown Wuhan built shelters for about 5000 persons.

Like Americans, the Chinese have even more concern for animals. Bloomberg reports they are building 13-story condominiums for hogs to protect them from disease – with on-premises vets and individually prepared and served meals.

It’s unlikely that capitalist America will ever provide the housing for humans that China provides for hogs.

But can’t our Democrats and Republicans, the religious and agnostics alike, at least agree to provide every member of our species with shelter? It’s what we insist on for our fellow mammalians. It’s what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says is a basic human right.

So how do we do that?

Start by skipping the 38 percent of Americans who own their homes free and clear. Concentrate on the 30 to 40 million who are housing insecure – starting with the homeless. [Photo credit: Creative Commons]

Iowa City’s Shelter House is building a second “housing first” facility for Homo sapiens. Housing first is a movement demonstrating why it’s more effective and cheaper to assist the homeless and unemployed with housing before addressing their other challenges. Duplicate it across America.

It’s how Finland is eliminating homelessness.

Let’s start saving life on Earth while searching for life on Mars. We spend more on military than the next 11 nations combined. It used to be 10. Cut it to five.

Explain to those devoid of compassion how much we’ll save by housing the homeless. Cost? We can’t afford not to.

Then address the housing insecure. Forbes has headlined, “Housing Shortage Worse Than Ever.”

We need the government to start creating homes, not Section 8 vouchers. Learn from the early public housing “projects” problems. Build homes tenants and communities welcome. Charge no more than 30 percent of tenants’ income.

Let’s treat our own species at least as well as we rightfully require for other animals, starting now.
Nicholas Johnson of Iowa City is former co-director of the Institute for Health, Behavior and Environmental Policy. He is the author of "Columns of Democracy." Comments:

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Tougher animal protection laws. Kat Russell, “Tougher law ‘step in the right direction’ for animal abuse cases,” The Gazette, Aug. 2, 2021, p. A1, (‘the animal abuse and neglect cases reported to Cedar Rapids police so far this year — a year that to date has seen more arrests for the offenses than in the entire four previous years.” “recent changes to the state code strengthened penalties for some of the state’s animal cruelty laws … Under House File 737, if an animal was seriously injured or killed as a result of abuse or neglect, the crime would be an aggravated misdemeanor and punishable by up to two years in prison.”) And see, Rod Boshart, “Iowa Senate adopts tougher animal cruelty law,” The Gazette, March 4, 2020,

Evicting Americans. Emily Benfer, et al, “The COVID-19 Eviction Crisis: an Estimated 30-40 Million People in America Are at Risk,” Aspen Institute, August 7, 2021 (“The United States may be facing the most severe housing crisis in its history. … in the absence of robust and swift intervention, an estimated 30–40 million people in America could be at risk of eviction ….”[101 M Americans in renter households] [“eviction risk disproportionately impacts black and Latinx renters, and renters with children”] [People at risk of eviction by state: Iowa 118,000-239,000] “Foreclosure can lead to a lack of maintenance, urban blight, reduced property values for neighboring properties, and erosion of neighborhood safety and stability. Without rental income to pay property tax, communities lose resources for public services, city and state governments, schools, and infrastructure ….” See text under heading “Proposed policy interventions avoid suffering, save lives, and prevent severe harm”

Wuhan testing 11 M. Vivian Wang, “Wuhan, where the virus emerged, will test all residents after its first outbreak in over a year,” New York Times, Aug. 3, 2021, (Wuhan in Hubei Province) “Wuhan … is planning to test all of its 11 million residents for the coronavirus …. The city … had not recorded any local cases since May of last year, after a harsh two-and-a-half month lockdown helped eradicate the virus there. But city officials said they had detected three symptomatic local cases in the previous 24 hours, as well as five asymptomatic ones.”

Homelessness in China. “Homelessness in China,” Wikipedia, (during the 2020 lockdown “The Wuhan Civil Affairs Bureau set up 69 shelters in the city to house 4,843 people.” “In 2017, the government responded to a deadly fire in a crowded building in Beijing by cracking down on dense illegal shared accommodations and evicting the residents, leaving many migrant laborers homeless.”)

Hog Hotels. “China’s Putting Pigs in 13-Story ‘Hog Hotels’ to Keep Germs Out,” Bloomberg News, August 1, 2021, (“more than 10,000 pigs are kept in a condominium-style complex, complete with restricted access, security cameras, in-house veterinary services and carefully prepared meals.” Another is “equipped with robots that monitor animals for fever, air filtration, and automatic feeding and disinfection systems.”)

Owned homes. Jonathan Jones, “Cities Whose Residents Have Paid Off Their Homes [2020 Edition],” Construction Coverage, Nov. 4, 2020, (“According to Census Bureau data, over 38 percent of owner-occupied housing units are owned free and clear. For homeowners under age 65, the share of paid-off homes is 26.4 percent.”)

Housing First. “Housing First,” National Alliance to End Homelessness,” April 20, 2016, (“belief that people need basic necessities like food and a place to live before attending to anything less critical, such as getting a job, budgeting properly, or attending to substance use issues.”)

Caleb McCullough, “Shelter House breaks ground on second ‘Housing First’ project,” The Gazette, June 18, 2021,

Finland eliminating homelessness. Tahiat Mahboob, “Housing is a human right: How Finland is eradicating homelessness,” CBC Radio, Jan 24, 2020,

US military spending. “THE UNITED STATES SPENDS MORE ON DEFENSE THAN THE NEXT 11 COUNTRIES COMBINED, Peter G. Peterson Foundation, July 19, 2021,

Housing shortage. Graison Dangor, “The Housing Shortage Is Worse Than Ever—And Will Take A Decade Of Record Construction To Fix, New Reports Say,” Forbes, June 16, 2021,

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