Posts Tagged ‘Holbrooke’

On Thursday, December 16, 2010, the White House will use its December review to try to spin the disastrous Afghanistan War plan by citing “progress” in the military campaign, but the available facts paint a picture of a war that’s not making us safer and that’s not worth the cost.

Let’s take a look at just the very broad strokes of the information. After more than nine years and a full year of a massive escalation policy:

And yet, we are told we can expect a report touting security gains and “progress,” and that there’s virtually zero chance of any significant policy change from this review. It sort of begs the question: just what level of catastrophe in Afghanistan would signal that we need a change in direction?

Insurgency Growing and Getting Stronger

This cat is already out of the bag, no matter how hard the Pentagon tries to reel it back in. In the ironically named “Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan,” published several weeks ago, the Pentagon told Congress that the insurgency’s organizational and geographic reach are qualitatively and geographically expanding. This growth is reflected in other statistics. According to USA TODAY, U.S. troops were hit with 7,000 more attacks this year compared to last year. About 3,800 troops were killed and injured by IEDs, about 1,000 more than last year. These statistics depict an insurgency with unbroken momentum, despite administration and military claims to the contrary.

As the signers of the Afghanistan Call to Reason put it last week,

“Despite these huge costs, the situation on the ground is much worse than a year ago because the Taliban insurgency has made progress across the country. It is now very difficult to work outside the cities or even move around Afghanistan by road. The insurgents have built momentum, exploiting the shortcomings of the Afghan government and the mistakes of the coalition. The Taliban today are now a national movement with a serious presence in the north and the west of the country. Foreign bases are completely isolated from their local environment and unable to protect the population.”

The insurgents’ momentum is clearly shown by the number of attacks they’ve initiated across the country so far this year. According to the Afghan NGO Safety Office (ANSO),

“The [Taliban] counter-offensive is increasingly mature, complex & effective. Country wide attacks have grown by 59% (p.10) while sophisticated recruitment techniques have helped activate networks of fighters in the North where European NATO contributors have failed to provide an adequate deterrent (p.11). Some provinces here are experiencing double the country average growth rate (p.12) and their districts are in danger of slipping beyond any control. Clumsy attempts to stem the developments, through the formation of local militia’s and intelligence-poor operations, have served to polarize communities with the IEA capitalizing on the local grievances that result. In the South, despite more robust efforts from the US NATO contingents, counterinsurgency operations in Kandahar and Marjah have similarly failed to degrade the IEA’s ability to fight, reduce the number of civilian combat fatalities (p.13) or deliver boxed Government.”

Here’s a helpful chart from ANSO’s report that shows the level of ever-escalating insurgent attacks across Afghanistan.

ANSO Chart, Afghanistan violence

The White House wants to weasel out of the implications of the data above by saying that the reason the statistics are going south is because, as Petraeus so often says, “when you take away areas important to the enemy, the enemy fights back.” So, we’re “on offense,” as President told troops few weeks ago during his trip to Afghanistan. Well, so what? The 1976 Buccaneers went on offense, too, but that didn’t mean they won games.

When the administration claims that they’re seeing “progress” in pockets of southern Helmand and Kandahar (a claim open to serious dispute, by the way, and strangely contradicted by some of Petraeus’ own spin), they’re displaying a familiar kind of confusion between the tactical and the strategic, one that seems to always pop up when we’re confronting a failed war.

“One of the iconic exchanges of Vietnam came, some years after the war, between Col. Harry Summers, a military historian, and a counterpart in the North Vietnamese Army. As Summers recalled it, he said, ‘You never defeated us in the field.’ To which the NVA officer replied: ‘That may be true. It is also irrelevant.'”

Pakistan’s Double Game

That brings us to Pakistan. According to the New York Times, two new National Intelligence Estimates “offer a more negative assessment [than the administration’s upcoming review] and say there is a limited chance of success unless Pakistan hunts down insurgents operating from havens on its Afghan border.” But that’s some serious wishful thinking, since Pakistan has long used the Taliban as a cat’s paw to combat growing Indian influence in Afghanistan. Pakistan wants the militants who threaten it internally suppressed, but it finds the militants who threaten the Karzai regime useful. Fixing that problem would requite U.S. policy follow the roots of their support of the Taliban all the way up to the India/Pakistan animosity, and nothing–nothing–in the U.S.’s military-first strategy comes close to doing so.

Troops Pay the Price

While U.S. politicians nibble at the edges of this real crisis, U.S. troops pay the bloody price, a price that’s gotten much worse with the arrival of the new escalation policy over the course of this year. At least 874 American troops have been killed in the war so far this year, compared to 317 for all of 2009. In the NATO hospital near Kandahar, doctors performed a major amputation once very other day in September.

These statistics go hand-in-hand with the huge rise in civilian casualties, which number some 2,400 this year so far, according to the Campaign for Innocent Civilians in Conflict.

Time for the White House to Get Real

The Obama administration is kidding itself if it thinks the American people will buy this attempted whitewash of the failure of the escalation strategy in Afghanistan. We are in the grips of a desperate unemployment crisis, wrapped in a larger economic meltdown. We are not ignorant of the $2 billion dollars sent per week on the war, and we want that money, and those young people, back here at home so we put people back to work.

Following the death of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the president should take a step back and realize that we all have to travel down that road some day. He should think about what legacy he wants to leave behind him. Postponing a final end to U.S. military action in Afghanistan until 2014 puts U.S. taxpayers and American troops on the hook for an enormous investment of blood and treasure in a failing enterprise with no prospects for a turnaround.

A real, honest review would objectively conclude that the enterprise is failing and that the best alternative is to start removing U.S. troops immediately to stave off continued economic and social damage caused by this war that’s not making us safer nor worth the cost.

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War Porn

Posted: August 13, 2009 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

Dick Holbrooke took some time on August 12 to let us know that there is no Afghanistan strategy.

The U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan said on Wednesday that while American forces have been making progress in the region it is still too early to tell what success might look like.

“We’ll know it when we see it,” said Richard Holbrooke, referencing the “Supreme Court test” of how to identify pornographic material.

If one does not have a definition of success, one cannot create a strategy to get there. Thus, if no definition of success exists other than a warm fuzzy feeling in the administration’s collective gut, we don’t have a strategy in Afghanistan. Like Rob says in High Fidelity:

“I’ve been thinking with my guts since I was fourteen years old and, frankly speaking, I’ve come to the conclusion that my guts have shit for brains.”

“We’ll know it when we see it” means we can’t tell you clearly why your tax dollars and your sons and daughters are killing people in your name right now. “We’ll know it when we see it” means that we’re measuring success like we’re measuring pornography–whatever turns you on, man. The difference between ill-defined standards for pornography and a directionless war, of course, is that one of these vagaries leads to a happy ending. The other leads to years, lives and treasure wasted on a pile of corpses for which we have nothing tangible to show–except the missing years, lives and treasure.

Let’s not mince words. We have indulged our policymakers’ expenditure of lives and funds for eight years now because we, a generation of Americans raised to grope wildly for a chance to live up to the example set by the “Greatest Generation”, allowed ourselves to be convinced that the 9-11 attacks were not spectacular criminal attacks, but (finally!) our new Pearl Harbor. We agreed to this adventure in The Graveyardtm because it was sold as the appropriate action to bring justice to Bin Laden and his network, along with their Taliban enablers. There was an implicit deal made between the people and the power-holders: we turn over our loved ones and our funds to you, and you go get the perpetrators of the attacks.

But here we are, eight years later, still indulging policymakers throwing more money and troops at the problem. This latest year, 2009, has seen five different policy reviews, and the best they’ve come up with so far is to (surprise!) send more troops, along with a pitifully small “civilian surge” that has the nice side effect of increasing the number of private military contractors operating in Afghanistan, plus the use of drones in Pakistan that kill ten times as many non-combatants as suspected militants. For all this money and blood, here’s what we get:

Afghan government map showing threat of Taliban attacks

Afghan government map showing threat of Taliban attacks

And now, here is Holbrooke, letting it slip that we can’t tell you what success looks like but we’ll know when we succeed by how amazingly turned on he’ll be when we get there.

Enough is enough. The American people should reject more than the likely request for more troops. We should reject the war in Afghanistan altogether, along with the worst legacy of the Bush era: the idea that war is the appropriate response to terrorism.

Or we could just go with Holbrooke’s gut while more people die. Whatever turns you on.

I was baffled by the cavalier attitude displayed yesterday by Richard Holbrooke about violence in Afghanistan. Sounding positively Dick-Cheney-ish, Dick Holbrooke waved away concerns about the potential of widespread violence to damage the legitimacy of the upcoming elections. Here he is during an NPR interview, emphasis mine:

Q: Wouldn’t the people, though, who can’t vote think maybe it wasn’t fair because their voices can’t be heard?

HOLBROOKE: Does that invalidate the election? If that’s true, the 2004 election in the United States should be questioned. Because a lot of the voters in Ohio stood in lines and the polls closed and they were left out there not voting. And that was in the world’s greatest and oldest democracy.

Elections are rarely perfect. This election, in unprecedented wartime conditions, is certainly not going to be without its rough spots. It’s the integrity of the voting process in the middle of a brutal war. How many countries would have had the courage to hold an election under these circumstances? But Afghanistan is, and they should be given credit for it.

Yes, Dick, obviously those are analogous situations. We all remember the Taliban planting IEDs in Cleveland and the women immolating themselves in despair brought on by widespread rape by government officials in Columbus. The press was full of reports of Blackwater guards brandishing guns at passers-by. Remember when John Edwards almost got assassinated? I totally get your point!

Or not:

Hundreds of polling stations could be closed in Afghanistan’s most violent regions, raising concerns that many ethnic Pashtuns will be unable to vote in next month’s presidential elections. That could undermine the legitimacy of the election, cause turmoil and possibly deprive President Hamid Karzai of a first-round victory.

Compare Holbrooke’s statement with this little gem from the other Dick (Cheney), coincidentally from 2004:

“Twenty years ago we had a similar situation in El Salvador. We had hal[sic] guerrilla insurgency [that] controlled roughly a third of the country, 75,000 people dead, and we held free elections. I was there as an observer on behalf of the Congress. The human drive for freedom, the determination of these people to vote, was unbelievable. The terrorists would come in and shoot up polling places; as soon as they left, the voters would come back and get in line and would not be denied the right to vote.”

Coincidence? Not on your life.

The timing of Holbrooke’s comments defending the legitimacy of the election, coming before the election takes place, exposes the game plan for the weeks ahead. Holbrooke is seeking to preempt questions about election legitimacy before the election takes place because the administration plans to defend the legitimacy of the election no matter what. That’s because this is what occupiers do–what Edward Herman calls “ratification-of-conquest.”  The Obama administration needs to be able to point to a “legitimate” election so they can translate that legitimacy into a perception of legitimacy for their entire Afghanistan policy.

For an example of how this works, see Dick Cheney, January 2006:

And I think we’ve had a lot of good news out of Iraq over the course of the last year. It’s hard sometimes to see through that, given the continued level of violence, obviously.

But when you look at the fact that they’ve made every political deadline that’s been set: January elections, wrote a constitution in the summer, ratified it in October, national elections in December. It’s been a — I think a remarkable success story so far.

We’ve still got a lot of work to do, but I think the president has made the point repeatedly out there that the only way we lose is if we pack is it in and go home. And we’re clearly not going to do that.

Or Dick Cheney, Feb. 23, 2007:

When asked whether the Bush administration had a failed strategy in Iraq, Cheney pushed back hard, insisting there had been significant progress.

“A failed strategy? Let’s see. We didn’t fail when we got rid of Saddam,” Cheney said. “We didn’t fail when we held elections. We didn’t fail when we got a constitution written. Those are all success stories.”

But, most infamously, see Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, May/June, 2005, emphasis mine:

On CNN’s ”Larry King Live” on Monday, Vice President Dick Cheney said of the violence in Iraq, ”I think they’re in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.”

This is after May became the deadliest month for US forces since the January elections, with 76 US military casualties.

At a press conference on Tuesday, President Bush was asked about the US casualties and the deaths of 760 Iraqis since the new Iraqi government was named April 28. A reporter asked Bush, ”Do you think that the insurgency is gaining strength and becoming more lethal?”

Bush responded, ”I think the Iraqi people dealt the insurgents a serious blow when they, when we had the elections.”

For the record, this month is already the deadliest month of the Afghanistan war so far.

Purple fingers, anyone?