In a span of just a couple of months, we have now seen video of American soldiers urinating on the dead bodies of Taliban fighters, American troops mistakenly desecrating the Koran and causing riots and now a deeply disturbed U.S. Army Sergeant appears to have systematically murdered women and children in two rural southern Afghanistan villages.
This is not us. This is not America. This is not our military. We are not represented by these acts and we shouldn’t be defined by them. But they do speak to the horrors of war and how it breaks people and causes them to behave in ways that are completely antithetical to our values. We are the good guys- not….this.
When I have met and talked to members of our armed forces, I am always impressed by their civility and decency in big ways and small. It’s always the guys in their desert uniforms on the Metro at the Pentagon station who are the first to give up their seat to a pregnant woman or an elderly person. Those were U.S. Navy men and women who rescued Iranian sailors from Somali pirates a few weeks ago. How many acts of unpublicized kindness have been committed by our troops in war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan? I would venture to say thousands.
Our fighting men and woman have rebuilt schools, distributed food to the hungry, and given hugs to children orphaned by war. And that’s when they’re not putting their own lives on the line as the target of a sniper or an IED placed on a roadway. But it is hard when confronted by the acts of broken people, hardened and twisted by tour after tour after tour of duty- to not feel a deep sense of sadness and shame over the kinds of events that have occurred in Afghanistan recently.
Polls show Americans are weary of war. Solid majorities now think Afghanistan is not worth the cost in blood and treasure. Certainly, history has taught the British, the then Soviet empire, and now us, that taming this country by military occupation is a fool’s errand at worst, and indescribably difficult at best.
How we extricate ourselves from this decade-long conflict is complicated. It was in Afghanistan that the Taliban gave shelter to Al Qaeda as the terrorist organization trained to wage war on civilized society. It’s the Taliban who have oppressed women in ways unimaginable to most of us.
It’s up to our leaders to figure this out because, surely, they are now seeing the current course seems to be completely counter-productive to our stated goals of building trust with the Afghan people so that we can train their military and their government to do what they must eventually do for themselves.
Loose talk about military action in other countries ought to be sobered by events of the kind we have seen lately in Afghanistan. There is nothing glamorous or magical about the military option. And maybe for the sake of our own brave men and women who’ve sacrificed so much over the past ten years- and for our own collective sanity and self-respect- maybe war ought to once again, become the last possible option- and no longer, instinctively, the first.
By the end of this fiscal year, the U.S. will have spent $1.3 trillion dollars over the past decade prosecuting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I propose we wrap things up now and employ that Navy SEAL-6 squad instead.
Seems to me you can spend billions and billions going after the tail of the monster, or a couple hundred million and go for a double-tap to the head of the beast. No, really. What if instead of sending hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops, we had just used good intelligence and Navy sharp-shooters eight years ago to take out Saddam Hussein?
What if instead of fighting what may become a protracted conflict in Libya, we send Muammar Ghadafi a little note hinting that some Navy SEALS may be paying him a visit shortly. Might he immediately negotiate for exile in Sharm el Sheikh where he and Hosni Mubarak could have adjoining estates?
I’m only half-kidding. It seems to me there are a lot of different ways to get to the same end. The surgical strike approach gets there faster and a hell of a lot cheaper in both treasure and human lives. Getting the leader doesn’t ensure victory but I suspect it speeds up the process.
But you can’t go around the world assassinating people, you argue? Excuse me, but did you see what we just did with Osama bin Laden? Did we ask Pakistan’s permission? Did we ask them to come along? No, we didn’t. That would have been pretty darned silly, considering the laser-sharp quality of Pakistani intelligence which couldn’t figure out what that big million dollar mansion was with the 18-foot walls and barbed wire some 50 miles from their nation’s capital.
And in total seriousness, the more I learn about these Navy SEALs, the better I sleep at night. I am so glad they’re on our side. The truth of the matter is that they have been engaged in many missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Remember the American ship captain they rescued last year from Somali pirates with pinpoint fire at a tiny target bobbing up and down in a large ocean? I believe that was the last time we know of that President Obama specifically turned to the SEALs.
For a few facts and photos about this elite squad of warriors, you might want to check out this slide-show from Slate.com entitled, “No Bark, All Bite.”
This one does require taking a stand. It’s bad enough to want to burn books, in general. But where’s the outrage over Gainesville, Florida Pastor Terry Jones and his plan to publicly burn the Koran this Saturday?
He has collected 200 of the religious books and a truck-load of firewood and has cleared a pasture so crowds can gather Saturday and applaud the destruction of the holy book that is the word of God to 1.5 billion Muslims around the world.
But while dozens of American religious leaders have condemned the Pastor’s plans; while the commanding General of the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan says the action will endanger the lives of American troops- where are the politicians who wrap themselves in the flag on Veteran’s Day but abandon the troops when it could put those politicians in the position of having to oppose anti-Muslim sentiment?
Slate’s Fred Kaplan says all that needs to be said about this cynical silence:
It is appalling enough that a growing number of Americans, caught up in the pre-election backlash against mosques and Muslims generally, seem unaware that U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are fighting not only against Muslims but also alongside them, and on behalf of governments led by Muslim parties. (Do they imagine, in their warped pictures of a holy war against Islam, that Nuri al-Maliki and Hamid Karzai are Christians?)
But U.S. senators know better (most of them anyway). So where are they? Whose side are they on? With the exception of Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, who appeared on Fox News to defend the right of American Muslims to build an Islamic community center two blocks from the World Trade Center site (on the conservative principle that owners of private property should be able to do as they please), elected Republicans—and, to be fair, most elected Democrats as well—have ducked and run.
This is not one of America’s proudest moments.
Update: Today, Franklin Graham, son of the Revered Billy Graham, Pat Robertson, and Sarah Palin…all asked the Pastor to reconsider.
I read three articles related to this terrorism business yesterday that, pieced together, offer the following perspective: This is a typically asymmetric conflict; the bad guys are nimble and adaptive; we are slow, plodding and tend to fight yesterday’s wars. Both sides have had their share of victories and failures but it is has become quite obvious that any sense this “war” was in a lull was pure illusion.
Probably the most ominous of these articles is an excellent piece by William Saletan at Slate that points out that the recent incident in which an Al Qaeda double-agent detonated a bomb, killing seven CIA officers during a meeting at a military base near the Afghanistan/Pakistan border, was insidiously clever. It was an attack on the folks who had been running the highly successful predator missions. These drone attacks have been so effective that it’s reported Al Qaeda operatives have been fleeing from the countryside and into Pakistani cities on the theory the U.S. would never send predators over highly populated urban centers.
The attack took advantage of the weakness of the predator program- its necessary dependence on fresh, actionable intelligence that is used to ascertain the location of high-ranking enemy targets. It’s reported the assailant was claiming to have sensitive and immediate information on the whereabouts of Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda’s #2 leader. He got in to the military base without even being searched because he was a trusted spy. As Saletan points out, the predator technology may have revolutionized modern warfare and given us a powerful tool in the fight against terrorism, but it’s still run by humans and that’s where they hit us- at the people who piece together the intelligence that provides the strategic map for where these drones attack.
In the New York Post, Ralph Peters writes that terrorists are outthinking us, and he too points to the clever and effective ruthlessness of the attack on the C.I.A. agents. He argues it’s part of three major tactics that are being used that have been tragically successful; the employment of suicide bombers, the deployment of improvised explosive devices (IED’s) and perhaps most importantly, the campaign to destroy the trust between U.S. forces and “locals,”- the lynch pin to our ultimate exit strategies in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Peters concludes the bad guys are totally ruthless- we are not.
Finally, there is this piece from the WCBS-TV website on the ridiculous incident at Newark’s Liberty airport Sunday night in which absolute mayhem ensued when a single individual walked into the terminal through an exit and couldn’t be located. That created a breech of the secured area of the airport, forced a massive re-screening of all passengers and ended up creating huge delays and frustrated crowds that were reported to have numbered as high as 10,000. A similar incident with the same results occurred a few years ago at Atlanta’s Hartsfield airport when a passenger who left a camera on a plane, returned through an exit to try and retrieve it. It boggles the mind that there are no simple physical barriers at these exit points. Just one more item in the growing to-do list for improving the systems we thought we had put in place to protect us.
The picture that emerges is not pretty. Terrorists are adapting to the changing landscape of warfare, continue to revisit their previous failed attempts while we forget the lessons learned (as in failed shoe-bomber, Richard Reid), and meantime, bungling government agencies like TSA do things like accidentally publishing details of their security measures on the web and being inattentive in protecting security perimeters at airports.
And let’s hope somebody in government is working on items that aren’t the current rage for discussion on Cable TV- the equivalent of fighting yesterday’s war. While we labor to fix airport security, put the right people on terror watch lists, and redouble our efforts to recruit spies we can trust, let’s keep our fingers crossed that somebody is also working on things like securing our ports and docks and sensitive targets like nuclear power plants.
It would be unspeakably tragic if, while we are running around putting our fingers into the latest leak in the dike, the bad guys decide to hit us with something totally unexpected that would dwarf anything we’ve ever seen before.
Sometimes it all goes by so fast that by Friday you forget what happened last Monday. Then when you successfully navigate all the clutter in your brain and finally remember what happened Monday…bam…Tuesday’s now been erased. Here’s a helpful guide that won’t tax what’s left of your brain cells and updates some of the week’s noteworthy events:
Monday, November 30: We all returned to reality after the Thanksgiving holidays and after four days off, it was a slow and grudging return to work (or return to looking for work as the case may be). Some of us got through Black Friday, Black Saturday and Black Sunday relatively unscathed. And we thank you for spending. Preliminary sales figures show the retail madness in 2009 was slightly better than it was in 2008. This, of course, was that imaginary Cyber Monday thing and you spent the whole day listening to the media tell you were supposed to follow your brick-and-mortar shopping with excursions to Amazon.com and LL Bean online. You forgot to do it (9 in 10 don’t according to Mastercard research) but that’s ok, because you know you still have about three more shopping weeks left.
Tuesday, December 1: It was a day for the silly and the serious. News coverage was split roughly 50/50 between the President’s impending speech on his new policy in Afghanistan and the saga of Michaele and Tareq Salahi, the couple who had crashed the White House state dinner the previous Tuesday. The day started with the Salahis showing up on the Today show, insisting they had been invited to the function. The week ended with an e-mail trail you’d have to be slightly nuts to take as an invitation to the White House. Plus, a trio of Secret Service agents is on administrative leave and in trouble for letting the Salahis in. The White House admitted it played a role in the security breech but also invoked executive privilege in refusing to allow the social secretary to testify before congress.
After no doubt high-five-ing their way through all the glory and media attention, the Salahis also conclude the week under investigation by the State of Virginia for the way they run a charity polo event that some are claiming is pretty much a Ponzi scheme. This proves there is an important addendum to Andy Worhol’s rule that all Americans will eventually receive 15 minutes of celebrity status. It could be followed by 10 to 15 in the pokey.
Wednesday, December 2: It was a day filled with reaction to the President’s war plans for Afghanistan and as one administration official after another marched up to Capitol Hill, it quickly became evident that everyone hates the plan and further proved the old axiom that if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog. Liberals think nation-building starts at home. Conservatives disliked the timetable that starts a withdrawal process in July, 2011. The week ends with the White House being highly uncertain about the specifics of the withdrawal date, further angering the left, but not enough to appease the right.
Oh, and God help us- it was Tiger Day. The greatest golfer of all time, who we all apparently thought was a candidate for the Papacy- turned out to have been very naughty and participated in a slew of infidelities which are yet to settle at a final number. Perhaps the most notable coverage of all this was the animated recreation of Tiger’s now infamous single-car accident produced by a Japanese media outlet. There was also the voice-mail Tiger left, begging one his mistresses to take her name off her phone greeting message because the wife was going through his phone contacts and apparently making systematic calls. The week ends with one of Tiger’s ladies abruptly canceling a news conference leading to the biggest flurry of conspiratorial conjecture since smoke was seen rising from the grassy knoll in Dealey Plaza 46 years ago.
Thursday, December 3: The White House holds a “Jobs Summit.” Various wise men and women, media moguls, newspaper columnists and policy experts, truck on over to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to share their innovative thinking. The President makes it quite clear Uncle Sam is tapped out and that job-creation is going to be the task of the private sector. Of course, there are things the government can do to help the private sector do this but those specifics will apparently come later.
Friday, December 4: The day is young and unfolding but rest assured Matt Drudge stands ever vigilant to find any innocuous thread of fact to prove there is no global warming, starting the morning with a large headline that screams: “Houston May See Earliest Snowfall Ever.” Well, that seals the case. Especially when you put it together with his various headlines over the summer about it being cooler than usual in some city or another. Apparently, unless the oceans are boiling over there is no threat to the planet from carbon emissions. Tell that to the polar bears and walrus clinging to a shrinking North Pole ice floe as we speak.
And finally, a sliver of unexpected good news today; unemployment dropped from 10.2 to 10% last month. It’s just possible we may have hit bottom. The Dow Jones is
very happy about this at the moment (oops- now selling off- forgot how Wall Street loves high unemployement). I think we should all be extremely impressed that the White House “Jobs Summit” produced such lightening fast results!
It’s just not a lot of fun being President of the United States right now. I cannot imagine a bigger laundry list of problems, related to both the economy and foreign policy. But it is now official: Barack Obama owns all of it.
In his somber address at West Point last night, the President charted an intricately calibrated strategy for pressing the war in Afghanistan. Part of it is designed to build his credibility with the Pentagon establishment by giving the Generals pretty much all they want- for right now- basically a year and a half to put up or shut up. And there’s the timeline that sets July, 2011 as the date for the start of withdrawal of U.S. military forces- obviously intended to appease those wary of an open-ended and protracted conflict.
He seemed to succeed in making just about everyone unhappy. From the left, there is serious disappointment and there will be significant opposition to support of the war effort. People who know this stuff, like the Washington Post’s Dan Balz , are saying the President may get half of his own party to go along with funding of his version of a “surge.” Even Illinois Democratic Senator, Dick Durbin, Obama’s closest ally in the Senate is balking. He notes the President took a long time to make this decision and now he will too; he says he needs to think about it.
The White House will get nowhere in Congress without some Republican support and we all know how easy that is to find. As voiced by the President’s 2008 Republican opponent, John McCain, the new plan is ok- except for the part about leaving. He’s strictly opposed to setting the timetable for withdrawal. But hawkish Republicans are the least of the President’s political worries. Polls are finding independent voters increasingly dovish, turning against the effort in Afghanistan and much of it on financial grounds- how the heck can we afford it?
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is being dispatched overseas to win support of wavering NATO allies. They’re supposed to be providing 10,000 additional troops. Britain says they’ll be putting in 500. Germany says it will wait for an international conference later this year before deciding. Our allies don’t seem real thrilled about helping out either.
And then there’s the not so small matter of the people of Afghanistan. Polling suggests support for the Taliban is less than 10%, but the corrupt central government has no credibility at all. MSNBC military analyst, Col. Jack Jacobs makes the point that the portion of the Obama strategy that depends on turning the war over to Afghans has a chance- if – the U.S. deals less with the Hamid Karzai government and more with local leaders.
Part of the Obama plan is supposed to involve a civilian surge too; the hearts and minds piece of the puzzle. The U.S. is going to have to make significant improvements in Afghanistan’s infrastructure so there’s a year and half to invest in nation-building and have something to show for it.
So let’s sum it all up: The President will find prosecuting the war in Afghanistan will be difficult, getting out of Iraq remains a challenge, the real problem remains Pakistan, an unstable government that is home to both a nuclear arsenal and Osama Bin Laden and meantime, record unemployment continues to wreak havoc at home, health care reform seems nowhere near to being settled, our own infrastructure could use some form of nation-building and the polar ice caps continue to melt.
Why was it again he wanted this job?