Daily Archives: December 7, 2009

To Avoid Old Mistakes, Obama Should Listen to New Voices

Barack Obama spent three months of intensive consultation to arrive at this foregone conclusion: The US will remain in Afghanistan for an indefinite period of time.

And for what purpose?  One of the most eloquent speakers to enter the White House could not say.

The New York Times looked back over the past three months.  

To reach his decision, the president visited Arlington National Cemetery, wandering “among the chalky white tombstones of those who had fallen in the rugged mountains of Central Asia.” 

The Times insists it got this story after interviews with many participants in the consultation, checking and cross-checking the responses.

I don’t know about you, but I see the fine hand of some skilled spinners at work in the Times defense of yet another war. It makes me feel terribly sad to realize that Karl Rove has not gone, he has just been reborn. A Texas Svengali has transformed himself into team of Chicago-honed Svenalgis.

Here is a sample of some of their best work, shaped for Peter Baker of the New York Times http://tinyurl.com/ycjzqou

How much their sacrifice weighed on [the president] that Veterans Day last month, he did not say. But his advisers say he was haunted by the human toll as he wrestled with what to do about the eight-year-old war. Just a month earlier, he had mentioned to them his visits to wounded soldiers at the Army hospital in Washington. “I don’t want to be going to Walter Reed for another eight years,” he said then.

One participant willing to speak on the record was Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who told one interviewer:

“The president welcomed a full range of opinions and invited contrary points of view,” . “And I thought it was a very healthy experience because people took him up on it. And one thing we didn’t want — to have a decision made and then have somebody say, ‘Oh, by the way.’ No, come forward now or forever hold your peace.”

But this was not a wedding ceremony open to everyone. With the possible exception of Vice President Joe Biden, the guests were all singing pretty much from the same page.

One guest who had not been invited was Boston University History Professor Andrew Bacevich, and retired US Army colonel.

In an essay written before the troop increase was announced, Afghanistan – the Proxy War, Bacevich warned the American public against approving Obama’s embrace of the Afghanistan strategy proposed by his handpicked commander, General Stanley McChrystal.  In Bacevich’s opinion, this was a strategy union that promised not change, but more, much more, of the same old. 

On the Planetary Movement website,http://tinyurl.com/yfrd35s Bacevich argues that a series of troop increases would signal Obama’s embrace of the strategy that had earlier doomed the presidencies of Lyndon Johnson and George W. Bush. Bacevich calls that strategy, “armed nation-building”.

Bacevich predicted that if Obama opted for a permanent presence in Afghanistan, which he has essentially done, he would embrace the Bush-Cheney doctrine of “open-ended war” responding to “violent jihadism”. Like Lyndon Johnson before him, Obama has decided he will confront the enemy by winning “the hearts and minds” of a people in whose hearts and minds there is no longing to grant anything but trouble to foreign power occupying their land with soldiers, drones and home invasions.

Bacevich warns that Obama is now in danger of becoming yet another warrior president. By choosing the McChrystal plan, he tells the world that the US national security policy will continue the policies employed in Vietnam and Iraq. The American global military presence will intervene any where, any time, when it decides it is in the best interest of the United States to do so. 

The enemy now is “terrorism”. In Vietnam it was Communism. You might think, and I would, that this is the Obama-McChrystal version of the “Bush Doctrine” which Sarah Palin so famously could not explain in her campaign television interview with ABC’s Charles Gibson. (“What do you mean by that, Charlie?)

In laymen’s terms, though Charles Gibson did not put it this way, we are talking here about your basic empire-maintenance project that keeps the world safe for the latest edition of the military-industrial complex President Eisenhower warned us about when he left the White House.  

The trouble with the empire maindtenance project is that it needs the agreement and the financial support of the folks at home whose young men and women are sent to distant lands for reasons not even the eloquent Barack Obama has been able to articulate.

What will those young men and women have to look forward to in Afghanistan? In addition to a rising American death toll and at a cost to the US tax payers, estimated at one million dollars a year for each US fighting man and woman, they can look forward to a future in a world of permanent bases surrounded by hostile, resentful citizens who will make life dangerous and miserable for them when they venture outside from those bases.

How do we know “permanent” is the correct term? AP writer Charles J. Hanley asked that question in the Arizona Daily Star in 2006, under this headline: http://www.azstarnet.com/news/120996 “Huge bases raise question: Is U.S. in Iraq to stay?” His story opens with these facts:

BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq — The concrete vanishes into the noonday glare, 2 million cubic feet of it, a mile-long slab that’s now the home of up to 120 U.S. helicopters, a “heli-park” as good as any back in the states.

At another giant base, al-Asad in Iraq’s western desert, the 17,000 troops and workers come and go in a kind of bustling American town, with a Burger King, a Pizza Hut and a car dealership, stop signs, traffic regulations and young bikers clogging the roads.

At a third hub down south, Tallil, they’re planning a new mess hall, one that will seat 6,000 hungry airmen and soldiers for chow.

And why do we need such a presence in countries like Iraq (currently) and Afghanistan (future)? We are now operating under the McCrystal-Obama doctrine, permanent military bases designed to fight “terrorists” who would do us harm.  

Are these bases permanent? Are they examples of an empire hunkering down for the long run? What do you think? More from AP’s Charles J. Hanley:

“In 2005-06, Washington has authorized or proposed almost $1 billion for U.S. military construction in Iraq, as American forces consolidate at Balad, known as Anaconda, and a handful of other installations, big bases under the old regime.

They have already pulled out of 34 of the 110 bases they were holding last March, said Maj. Lee English of the U.S. command’s Base Working Group, planning the consolidation.

“The coalition forces are moving outside the cities while continuing to provide security support to the Iraqi security forces,” English said.

The latest budget also allots $39 million for new airfield lighting, air-traffic-control systems and upgrades allowing al-Asad to plug into the Iraqi electricity grid — a typical sign of a long-term base.”

Empire maintenance always follows the “pacification” of an occupied land. In Afghanistan this is sold to American tax payers as a vital necessity in order to find and eliminate what a senior US intelligence official recently told ABC news was approximately 100 Al Qaeda members remaining in Afghanistan.  

(Think what an expenditure of that size could do to the Latin American drug cartels, whose daily shipments of illegal drugs into the US is an ongoing threat to America’s well being.)

Frank Rich noted in his New York Times column (December 6, 2009) that in his speech announcing the troop increase, Obama tried to sell his decision to the American people without admitting that the action lacks the commitment of its two most essential partners”, a corrupt and illegitimate Afghan government, and the American people, who do not support continued wars in distant lands. 

What possible logic led Obama to embrace McChrystalism? 

Rich writes that Obama’s speech failed to provide that logic. We are to fight a war to protect us from another attack by Al Qaeda, he asks?

We face a greater danger from security breaches at home than we do from from a second Al Qaeda 9/11 attack.

Rich points first to the White House “dinner crashers” who slipped by the Secret Service. Had they wanted to harm President Obama and his guests, they could have done so. 

“This was the second time in a month — after the infinitely more alarming bloodbath at Fort Hood — that a supposedly impregnable bastion of post-9/11 American security was easily breached. Yes, the crashers are laughable celebrity wannabes, but there was nothing funny about what they accomplished on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Their ruse wasn’t “reality” television — it was reality, period, with no quotation marks. It was a symbolic indication (and, luckily, only symbolic) of how unbridled irrationality harnessed to sheer will, whether ludicrous in the crashers’ case or homicidal in the instance of the Fort Hood gunman, can penetrate even our most secure fortifications.” 

We are waging a costly war in a distant land where the Taliban is no threat to our nation, while Washington gate crashers and a single homicidal Fort Hood army major easily penetrates a major military installation. 

In an essay in the Catholic publication Commonweal, Andrew Bacevich  http://tinyurl.com/yzoaf9l  asks the question that in Washington “goes not only unanswered, but unasked: What is it about Afghanistan, a country that possesses nothing the US requires that could possibly justify such lavish attention?
“Among Democrats and Republicans alike, with few exceptions, Afghanistan’s importance is simply assumed—much the way fifty years ago otherwise intelligent people simply assumed that the United States had a vital interest in ensuring the survival of South Vietnam. As then, so today, the assumption does not stand up to even casual scrutiny.”

In the Atlanta Constitution City Room, where I once worked, the story that came across the wire that we knew would never make it into the paper was something on the order of “Afghanistan officials race to site of train wreck.” Too far away, the editors would assume, and who ever heard of Afghanistan, anyway.

Now we know more about Afghanistan than we ever wanted to know. And if we listen to people like Andrew Bacevich we should at least acknowledge that Afghanistan has long been known as “The Graveyard of Empires”. For good reason. http://www.amazon.com/Graveyard-Empires-Americas-War-Afghanistan/dp/0393068986

The picture above was taken by Luke Sharrett for The New York Times



= Continue reading

Posted in Religion and politics | 4 Comments