War in Afghanistan and lessons from Vietnam Should the U.S. send more troops or get out of Afghanistan or choose some other course? That’s the decision facing President Obama and his advisers in the next few weeks. General Stanley McChrystal, in a thoughtful, grim report, has said that more troops are needed, but that there is no hope of success without a major change of strategy, and that no U.S. strategy can succeed unless the Afghan government and security forces take responsibility adn win the support of their people.
Political debate in the U.S. has focused on whether to send more troops, ignoring the larger and more difficult question of whether there is any hope of the Aghan government and security forces turning from corrupt and repressive behavior into entities that have a chance of winning legitimacy and support from their own country.
The New York Times summarized the various U.S. voices for and against more troop commitments, and snippets of their rationales. Cautions and doubts about sending more troops come not only from politicians but also from military leaders. If you read General McChrystal’s report carefully, even his request for more troops is nuanced and conditional, leaving open plenty of space for a political decision to step back from U.S. support of a corrupt and unpopular regime. Among the voices urging careful reconsideration of the war and expressing skepticism about sending more troops and escalating the war are former Secretary of State and retired four-star general Colin Powell and Senator John Kerry, himself a Vietnam War veteran and chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. NYT columnist Frank Rich sums up some of the most intractable difficulties in Afghanistan, in a quasi-review of “Lessons in Disaster” by foreign policy scholar Gordon M. Goldstein:
While the Taliban thrives there, Al Qaeda’s ground zero is next-door in nuclear-armed Pakistan. Last month’s blatantly corrupt, and arguably stolen, Afghanistan election ended any pretense that Hamid Karzai is a credible counter to the Taliban or a legitimate partner for America in a counterinsurgency project of enormous risk and cost. Indeed, Karzai, whose brother is a reputed narcotics trafficker, is a double for Ngo Dinh Diem, the corrupt South Vietnamese president whose brother also presided over a vast, government-sanctioned criminal enterprise in the early 1960s….
How can American forces protect the population, let alone help build a functioning nation, in a tribal narco-state consisting of some 40,000 mostly rural villages over an area larger than California and New York combined? Even if we routed the Taliban in another decade or two, after countless casualties and billions of dollars, how would that stop Al Qaeda from coalescing in Somalia or some other criminal host state? How would a Taliban-free Afghanistan stop a jihadist trained in Pakistan’s Qaeda camps from mounting a terrorist plot in Denver and Queens?
Racist beatings, death threats in Brooklyn Park According to Sun Newspapers:
At about 1:04 a.m. Wednesday, police responded to a report of an assault at the intersection of 73rd Avenue North and Douglas Drive. There, they found an 18-year old black man naked with a bleeding, bruised and swollen face. A nearby resident was assisting him and gave him a blanket….
Police said the man is a vulnerable adult with the mental capacity of an 8- to 10-year-old.”
According to witness reports and the reports of the victims, the white men used racial epithets and said they would beat up any black people walking in a nearby park. They also stripped the young man, Derrick Thomas, naked after knocking him from his bike and beating him, and said they would kill President Obama and his family. The men were allegedly armed with an ax or hatchet, brass knuckles, and a gun.
According to the Star Tribune, police found the attackers as they assaulted a second black man:
Johnney Robinson, 40 … had been walking home from a bus stop after a few drinks at his brother’s home. …
In an interview, Robinson said he was nearing home when the men began screaming from the car.
“It was (N-word) this and (N-word) that; I didn’t pay no mind,” Robinson said. “Suddenly they got out, and one said, ‘(N-word), I’m gonna cut your head off.'”
Robinson, his left cheek still swollen Friday, said one of the men swung an axe. As he dodged it, he was struck in the face with the brass knuckles. Before he knew what happened police arrived.
Two white men from Minneapolis, Anthony Kipela and Bryan Westerlund, were arrested after witnesses identified their car and police found them attacking a second black man. A third suspect is being sought. Police found some of Derrick Thomas’s clothing in the suspects’ vehicle, along with two empty firearm magazines.
Pawlenty: MN has “municipal welfare system” The gloves are off in a fight between T-Paw and Minnesota mayors. The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities released an ad last week slamming Pawlenty’s cuts to Local Government Aid and replaying his 2002 campaign speech, saying “You can’t run around the state and say I’m not gonna increase taxes and then cut LGA in a way that drives up local property taxes.” Pawlenty’s campaign rhetoric is followed by film of local government officials describing the impact of tax cuts — slowdowns in service, fewer police officers, less road maintenance, higher property taxes.
Pawlenty hit back in his weekly radio address, reports the Star Tribune:
“We’ve got what some have called a municipal welfare system in Minnesota … I think when the economy shrinks this much when you have local government leaders who think they aren’t going to get their money reduced or think they don’t have to tighten their belts they’ve got their head in the sands and we should have the debate. I think we should have the debate around whether this program is really functioning the way it should,” the governor said.
Censorship at St. Thomas The latest brouhaha is brewing over an alleged order by University of St. Thomas President Dennis Dease, halting publication of an article about a Saudi alum of the university, reports AP.
Ali al-Ahmed, 42, who earned his master’s in international management from St. Thomas, is director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs in Washington, which describes itself as a nonpartisan think tank on Mideast and Islamic issues. The profile was written for B., the magazine of the St. Thomas’ Opus College of Business, and had been in the works for more than a year, al-Ahmed said.
Al-Ahmed criticizes the Saudi human rights record, saying he and his family were imprisoned for a month when he was a teenager. He was later granted political asylum in the United States.
The University of St. Thomas has various responses:
• According to an email from St. Thomas’ publications director Brian Brown to al-Ahmed, Dease ordered that the article not be published because of concerns that it would affect Dease’s negotiations with the Saudis to allow more students to enroll at UST. The email said that Dease “believes that our actions may have jeopardized his working relationship with the embassy.”
• According to St. Thomas spokesman Doug Hennes, Dease didn’t kill the story, but the university decided not to publish it without a response from the Saudi government, so that the article would be “balanced.” (The Saudi government has conveniently declined to respond to queries from the article’s author, thereby completing the Catch 22 that ensures that the article will not be published.)
The Gulf Institute advocates on human rights issues in Saudi Arabia. In August, al-Ahmed wrote a letter from the Institute asking Governor Tim Pawlenty and MN Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken to intercede with the Saudi king on behalf of religious prisoner Hadi Al-Mutif. The occasion was the king’s annual visit to the Mayo clinic in Rochester.
Twelve percent for health insurance The bill under consideration in the Senate, says NPR, would not give government help to people struggling with medical costs unless they were spending at least 12 percent of their income on health insurance premiums. A second NPR report describes a family’s struggle with medical bills that pile up because their insurance doesn’t cover everything.
Last year, they paid $6,210 in health insurance premiums for themselves and daughter Sara, plus another $13,955 in uncovered hospital bills after Rebekah’s surgery.It added up to almost 45 percent of their total income of $44,815.
“Forty-five percent! That’s just crazy! I don’t pay that much in taxes,” Martha exclaims. “So, you know, I just think there should be a health insurance plan out there that everyone can sign up for.”
She’d be happy to pay the premiums, she says, if only she could get decent coverage.
RNC redux at G20 Phalanxes of police and National Guard troops kept demonstrators out of sight and sound of the G20 meetings in Pittsburgh, while demonstrators protested that their First Amendment rights had been violated and that security forces had used excessive force, including tear gas, concussion grenades and the LRAD – Long Range Acoustic Device – capable of causing pain and hearing loss. As described in The Nation:
Concrete barriers line the sidewalks; and, surrounding the Convention Center, where the G-20 meetings are taking place, tall steel fencing has been erected behind which semi-trailers are lined front to back.
And then there are the police–lots of police: county sheriffs, local cops, state troopers, National Guard soldiers and men in dark suits who drive those ominous sedans. Police from Chicago guarded several checkpoints I visited.
This is what $19 million spent over two days has brought Pittsburgh–a tightly controlled, heavily militarized city center with little sign of protest.
One major difference from the RNC – protests against the quasi-police state in Pittsburgh are coming from both the right wing anti-New-World-Order groups and the left wing anti-free-trade and anarchist groups.
Out of jobs Job-seekers outnumber available jobs by a six-to-one margin, reports the New York Times. No one sees any improvement in the near future. Even if the economy improves, it will take much longer for the unemployment picture to improve. Companies are more likely to restore hours that were cut for current employees before looking to replace positions that were cut, or to expand the workforce.
And out of money NPR reports that Social Security is likely to go into the red next year. That’s a yearly deficit, not an overall deficit, since “Social Security has accumulated surpluses from previous years totaling $2.5 trillion.” What’s up? With the recession and the shortage of jobs, retirement benefit applications are up 23 percent over last year, and disability claims have risen by 20 percent. Many of the new retirees have no choice:
“A lot of people who in better times would have continued working are opting to retire,” said Alan J. Auerbach, an economics and law professor at the University of California, Berkeley. “If they were younger, we would call them unemployed.”
Afghanistan A suicide car bomb in the western city of Herat missed killing its target — Energy Minister Ismail Khan — but killed four civilians and wounded at least 17 others, according to the New York Times:
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. A spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, reached by telephone said that it was a car bomb targeting the minister’s convoy. Mr. Khan is a powerful anti-Taliban figure from the Herat region who supported Mr Karzai in the recent presidential elections.
Pakistan Suicide car bombers killed 16 people and wounded more than 150 in northwest Pakistan on Saturday, reports the New York Times. The first bomb was placed outside a police station in Bannu district and the second outside a bank run by an army welfare foundation in Peshawar, the largest city in the northwest. A third bomb exploded in the norther city of Gilgit. The Saturday attacks come after Thursday’s ambush of a convoy of prominent anti-Taliban tribal elders in Bannu district on Thursday, which killed nine people.
On Sunday, a suicide bomber demolished a car in the Bakakhel area of north-west Pakistan, killing a tribal elder and three others, reports BBC.