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Category Archives: Afghanistan

Here’s the deal. American troops will not defeat the Taliban. For one, we’re a two-hundred-year-old democracy fighting a 1400-year-old religion. We stand for the Enlightenment’s progressive notions of individual freedom. They stand for the Koran’s notion of a cohesive clan obeying the one true God. But the biggest reason we will not defeat them is they live there. One day, we leave. And Afghanistan people, on the whole, are fine with the Taliban and their Koranic foibles. So calling them evil and us good is simply missing the point. They are traditional and we are modern. And to my calculations, modernity does not equal goodness. Truth will take it from here:

Bush’s religious statements constantly reflected a conviction that good is identified with the United States and evil with its enemies. His final speech to the nation said: “America must maintain our moral clarity. I have often spoken to you about good and evil. This has made some uncomfortable. But good and evil are present in the world and between the two there can be no compromise.”

Barack Obama doesn’t like the Taliban because they oppress women and attack American invaders. I don’t know what the theologians would make of justice in all this, but it strikes me as a huge, mutually culturally ignorant, self-righteous, fanatically nationalist and ideological clash of societies, instead of any war between good and evil.

True enough in principle, but there is in this a trace of something of which any good Christian should be aware, the parable of the Pharisee and the poor man. The poor man took his place in the back of the synagogue, said to God that he was a sinner, and asked forgiveness. The Pharisee placed himself in the front row and reminded God of all the good things he had done, and his rich gifts to the temple, saying that he thanked God that he was not like other men.

Both Obama and Bush were saying in different ways that we Americans are good and Taliban or jihadists are bad. But the reason we are good is that we are we, and we are justified in punishing them because they are they. But the practicalities of the matter are a little different. Americans are the avengers of the fact that the Taliban before 2001 gave hospitality to Osama bin Laden and his people, who had been driven out of Sudan by American demands on the Sudan government

The Taliban government in Afghanistan had no grievances against the United States until Washington attacked Afghanistan in 2001 because the Taliban were observing what they considered their code of honor, to give hospitality and protection. Today they are trying to seize back control of their country from the rival Tajik people (of the old Northern Alliance), to whom the United States in 2002 had awarded Afghanistan, in return for their help in taking it away from the Taliban.Barack Obama doesn’t like the Taliban because they oppress women and attack American invaders. I don’t know what the theologians would make of justice in all this, but it strikes me as a huge, mutually culturally ignorant, self-righteous, fanatically nationalist and ideological clash of societies, instead of any war between good and evil.


It’s going to be a long eighteen months. Maureen Dowd observes,

At a joint press conference Tuesday at the presidential palace in Kabul, Hamid Karzai surprised the usually unflappable Gates when he knocked down President Obama’s attempt to get out of Dodge.

Needling his American sugar daddy, the Afghan peacock observed: “For another 15 to 20 years, Afghanistan will not be able to sustain a force of that nature and capability with its own resources.”

Gates and Obama may have wanted to “light a fire,” as Gates put it, under the corrupt Afghan president and warn that the A.T.M. is closing, but Karzai called their bluff. He knows, as do the leaders in Iraq and Pakistan, that America is stuck bailing them out with billions every year, even when they dawdle, disappoint and deceive.

Gates and his generals in Afghanistan talked a lot last week about “partnering” with and “mentoring” the Afghan Army and police. But given the Flintstones nature of the country, it’s more basic. Americans have to teach the vast majority of Afghan recruits to read and write before they can get to security training. It’s hard to arrest people if you can’t read them their rights and take names.

It seems late to realize this, but Gates told reporters he had only recently learned the “eye-opener” that the Taliban were able to attract so many fighters because they paid more. Generals in Afghanistan said the Taliban dole out $250 to $300 a month, while the Afghan Army paid about $120. So Gates has made sure that recruits get a raise to $240.

Lucky thing, Karzai has a rich uncle.

Michael Moore channels Harry Truman in his open letter to the President.

It is not your job to do what the generals tell you to do. We are a civilian-run government. WE tell the Joint Chiefs what to do, not the other way around. That’s the way General Washington insisted it must be. That’s what President Truman told General MacArthur when MacArthur wanted to invade China. “You’re fired!,” said Truman, and that was that. And you should have fired Gen. McChrystal when he went to the press to preempt you, telling the press what YOU had to do. Let me be blunt: We love our kids in the armed services, but we f*#&in’ hate these generals, from Westmoreland in Vietnam to, yes, even Colin Powell for lying to the UN with his made-up drawings of WMD (he has since sought redemption).


The neo cons have a charmingly parochial view of the world. They believe that if we simply occupy more countries and build more bridges (right after we blow them up), we can defuse radical Islamic jihad and spread democracy. No more 9-11s. No more terrorism. All it takes is enough troops. The trouble is that the U.S. army apparently can’t even take an American-born Muslim, pay for his education and train him to use a gun and win his particular heart and mind to the American Way. Is there something about our view of the world and the Muslim view of the world that is fundamentally irreconcilable? Nahhh, that makes far too much sense.


Obama’s handpicked general, Stan McChrystal,  has been lionized by the right wing media as a military genius who can win the Afghanistan war. As troop fatalities rose over the past weekend conservative radio was all henny penny that we need more troops and we need them now (even when at least two of the deaths result from “friendly backfire”––one American helicopter collided into another U.S. helicopter, suggesting there are, perhaps, too many American soldiers in Afghanistan, at least at that particular moment.) So while Obama “dithers,” to quote our former Vice President, let’s consider what General McChrystal is smoking. Scott Ritter sums it up:

McChrystal operates under the illusion that American military power can provide a shield from behind which Afghanistan can remake itself into a viable modern society. He has deluded himself and others into believing that the people of Afghanistan want to be part of such a grand social experiment, and furthermore that they will tolerate the United States being in charge. The reality of Afghan history, culture and society argue otherwise. The Taliban, once a defeated entity in the months following the initial American military incursion into Afghanistan, are resurgent and growing stronger every day. The principle source of the Taliban’s popularity is the resentment of the Afghan people toward the American occupation and the corrupt proxy government of Hamid Karzai. There is nothing an additional 40,000 American troops will be able to do to change that basic equation. The Soviets tried and failed. They deployed 110,000 troops, operating on less restrictive lines of communication and logistical supply than the United States. They built an Afghan army of some 45,000 troops. They operated without the constraints of American rules of engagement. They slaughtered around a million Afghans. And they lost, for the simple reason that the people of Afghanistan did not want them, or their Afghan proxies.

Perhaps we need to listen to our historians, as much as we listen to our generals.

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Recounts have never been good for democracy. They slow down progress, create false hopes and make rigging elections…well, awkward. Fortunately, our handpick, corrupt, vote-fixing leader of Afghanistan is putting his foot down. He has found a handy foil, “foreigners.” You remember foreigners don’t you? Those were the people who gave this clown his crown. Our is that thing a fez? Very stylish, anyway.


Prosecuting the war on terror has always required a steely resolve, a heart of courage and a complete disregard for history, facts or anything approaching reality. It is a shame that the Nobel Prize committee can’t cough up a Nobel War prize. John McCain and the neo cons would be shoo ins.   Frank Rich of the New York Times explains:

Perhaps the most surreal aspect of our great Afghanistan debate is the Beltway credence given to the ravings of the unrepenant blunderers who dug us into this hole in the first place.

Let’s be clear: Those who demanded that America divert its troops and treasure from Afghanistan to Iraq in 2002 and 2003 — when there was no Qaeda presence in Iraq — bear responsibility for the chaos in Afghanistan that ensued. Now they have the nerve to imperiously and tardily demand that America increase its 68,000-strong presence in Afghanistan to clean up their mess — even though the number of Qaeda insurgents there has dwindled to fewer than 100, according to the president’s national security adviser, Gen. James Jones.

But why let facts get in the way? Just as these hawks insisted that Iraq was “the central front in the war on terror” when the central front was Afghanistan, so they insist that Afghanistan is the central front now that it has migrated to Pakistan. When the day comes for them to anoint Pakistan as the central front, it will be proof positive that Al Qaeda has consolidated its hold on Somalia and Yemen.

To appreciate this crowd’s spotless record of failure, consider its noisiest standard-bearer, John McCain. He made every wrong judgment call that could be made after 9/11. It’s not just that he echoed the Bush administration’s constant innuendos that Iraq collaborated with Al Qaeda’s attack on America. Or that he hyped the faulty W.M.D. evidence to the hysterical extreme of fingering Iraq for the anthrax attacks in Washington. Or that he promised we would win the Iraq war “easily.” Or that he predicted that the Sunnis and the Shiites would “probably get along” in post-Saddam Iraq because there was “not a history of clashes” between them.

What’s more mortifying still is that McCain was just as wrong about Afghanistan and Pakistan. He routinely minimized or dismissed the growing threats in both countries over the past six years, lest they draw American resources away from his pet crusade in Iraq.

Two years after 9/11 he was claiming that we could “in the long term” somehow “muddle through” in Afghanistan. (He now has the chutzpah to accuse President Obama of wanting to “muddle through” there.) Even after the insurgency accelerated in Afghanistan in 2005, McCain was still bragging about the “remarkable success” of that prematurely abandoned war. In 2007, some 15 months after the Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf signed a phony “truce” ceding territory on the Afghanistan border to terrorists, McCain gave Musharraf a thumb’s up. As a presidential candidate in the summer of 2008, McCain cared so little about Afghanistan it didn’t even merit a mention among the national security planks on his campaign Web site

…Americans, meanwhile, want to see the fine print after eight years of fiasco with little accounting. While McCain and company remain frozen where they were in 2001, many of their fellow citizens have learned from the Iraq tragedy. Polls persistently find that the country is skeptical about what should and can be accomplished in Afghanistan. They voted for Obama not least because they wanted a new post-9/11 vision of national security, and they will not again be so easily bullied by the blustering hawks’ doomsday scenarios. That gives our deliberating president both the time and the political space to get this long war’s second act right.

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The Holy Scriptures warn us of false messiahs promising “Peace, peace” when there is no peace. However, the Good Book says precious little about folks who receive Nobel Peace prizes when they have no peace accomplishments to merit it. President Obama has been awarded this honor after a mere nine months on the job, with America embroiled in two land wars and, most recently, having just bombed the moon. The event is rich with irony. But our President accepted the award with appropriate humility and understood it as a reminder of what he has yet to be accomplished, rather than a metric of  “mission accomplished” achievements to quote his Nobel-prizeless predecessor. Whether Obama’s over-the-top apologetic rhetoric on foreign soil has emboldened terrorists remains to be seen. What is certain is his turning sabre-rattling into multilateral cooperation has at least emboldened our European allies. Which after the last eight years , is worth, at least, an honorable mention.


Until we do. Obama has actually learned something from the Iraqi war. Negotiating with terrorists sometimes works. This from the New York Times:

The President declared in an interview that the United States was not winning the war in Afghanistan and opened the door to a reconciliation process in which the American military would reach out to moderate elements of the Taliban, much as it did with Sunni militias in Iraq.

Until we do. Obama has actually learned something from the war on Iraq. Negotiating with terrorists actually works.
Mr. Obama pointed to the success in peeling Iraqi insurgents away from more hard-core elements of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a strategy that many credit as much as the increase of American forces with turning the war around in the last two years. “There may be some comparable opportunities in Afghanistan and in the Pakistani region,” he said, while cautioning that solutions in Afghanistan will be complicated.

As McCain’s campaign drops in the polls, it’s good know that he has growing support from at least one substantial faith community: al-Qaeda. A password-protected al-Qaeda website ecnourages the faithful to support a McCain presidency. He “…would be a faithful son of Bush” who would help al-Qaeda in “exhausting ” America.

Oh, not the old dude kowtowing to the base of his party while calling that being a “Maverick.” That speech was a snoozefest. The old coot can’t give a speech to save his life. Move over John, and let Sarah take over. She rocks! No, the American hero I’m talking about is Barack Obama. Tonight he crash-landed behind enemy lines: FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor. It was quite the display of heroism and love of country.  O’Reilly may have busted his balls, but he couldn’t break his will. It is clearly the most substantive interrogation of this election. Nicely done, Mr. O’Reilly. If Obama can face down you, he can easily handle Iran.