NEWS DAY | General vs. General on the Afghan quagmire / H1N1 update / No pray, no pay / Academic ethics / more

800px-Marines_train_at_Tarnak_FarmsGeneral vs. General on the Afghan quagmire Retired General Karl Eikenberry, now the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and formerly commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, doesn’t think that sending 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan is a good strategy, according to a cable he sent to President Obama last week, reports the New York Times. While the Times says that puts Eikenberry and General Stanley McChrystal, current commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, at odds, both men’s memos emphasize the difficult of achieving any kind of success in a country with a corrupt government that is not trusted by its people. McChrystal’s job is winning the war, but this war may be simply unwinnable.

McChrystal’s July memo to the president made several points that often get lost in reporting that focuses on a magic number of troops. McChrystal himself said that, “focusing on force or resource requirements misses the point entirely. The key take away from this assessment is the urgent need for a significant change to our strategy and the way that we think or operate.”

He pointed out that the allied troops face two threats: the insurgency and the crisis of confidence in Afghan government that “springs from the weakness of [Afghan government] institutions, the unpunished abuse of power by corrupt officials and power-brokers, a widespread sense of political disenfranchisement, and a longstanding lack of economic opportunity.” Fighting the insurgency will “enable success,” writes McChrystal, but “insufficiently addressing” the problems of Afghan governnance “will result in failure.”

McChrystal acknowledged (p. 12) that, “The weakness of state institutions, malign actions of power-brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various officials, and ISAF’s own errors, have given Afghans little reason to support their government.”

McChrystal describes “four fundamental pillars” of a new strategy: a larger and more effective Afghan security force, responsive and accountable governance that is trusted by the Afghan people, gaining the initiative and reversing the insurgency’s momentum, and priortiizing resources to areas where the population is the most threatened. The U.S. and allied forces can try to train more Afghan security forces and to reverse the insurgency’s momentum, but they can’t deliver change in the massively corrupt and unresponsive Afghan government.

General Eikenberry’s cable, cited in both the New York Times and BBC reports, has not been published in full, so a point-by-point comparison with General McChrystal’s memo is not possible. The New York Times described Eikenberry’s ambassadorial strategy:

General Eikenberry has been an energetic envoy, traveling widely around Afghanistan to meet with tribal leaders and to inspect American development projects.

He has been pushing the State Department for additional civilian personnel in the country, including in areas like agriculture, where the United States wants to help wean farmers off cultivating poppies. The State Department has tried to accommodate his requests, according to a senior official, but has turned down some because of budget constraints and its desire to cap the overall number of civilians in Afghanistan at roughly 1,000.

That sounds like Eikenberry has been pushing for part of the counterinsurgency effort that McChrystal says is critical — and getting turned down by the State Department.

BBC called the cable “a dramatic and last-minute intervention” and summarized:

Mr Eikenberry, a former US commander in Afghanistan, also raised concerns about corruption within the Afghan government.

He said it was “not a good idea” to send more troops, the BBC has been told.

As President Obama and his advisers move toward a decision on Afghan strategy — and that decision must be about more than numbers of troops — they should pay attention to another of General McChrystal’s admonishments: “To be effective, the counterinsurgent cannot risk credibility by substituting the situation they desire for reality.” (p. 11)

H1N1 update Our family has gotten through our first case of H1N1, and a miserable week it was, with our teenager hacking, coughing, running a fever and generally both physically miserable and despairing about a growing pile of assignments to be made up later. Despite that, neither my husband nor I caught the flu from her. We hope that means that our superannuated status means an immunity gained during the Asian flu pandemic of 1958. Time will tell.

With supplies of the H1N1 vaccine still scarce,the Star Tribune reports that it’s getting nasty out there:

The result is that anxious parents are going underground — trading tips on where to find shots for their kids, crossing state borders in search of looser rules, and cajoling, demanding or even making threats to try to get their hands on vaccine.

“We’re getting people calling the [state flu] hot line saying they’re going to sue the department because they don’t like how we’re distributing the vaccine,” said Kris Ehresmann, who is coordinating the H1N1 vaccine program for the Minnesota Department of Health.

Vaccine distribution is still limited to high-risk people, which includes pregnant women and people with asthma, heart disease, cancer or other chronic conditions. While California and some other places have had people lined up for blocks, and sometimes turned away when they reach the head of the line and are determined not to be high risk, Minnesota has doctors and clinics call in people whom they have identified as high risk.

Scientists attribute the shortage of the vaccine in large part to the unexpected slowness of the virus to grow in laboratory conditions. But the vaccine is not the only thing in short supply – MPR reports that hospitals are running out of the N95 respirator masks recommended for health care workers by the  Centers for Disease Control. The MN Department of Health said for months that hospitals could use standard surgical masks, sparking protests by health care workers. Now MDH agrees that the CDC is right in recommending the N95 masks.

For more information – lots more – check out Harvard University’s Nieman Foundation guide to covering the flu pandemic.

No pray, no pay The VFW said it won’t give scholarships to students in Bloomington schools, because the district refused to let the VFW lead students in prayer during in-school Veterans Day programs. Minnesota Independent reports:

School officials said the group led the students in prayer during the 2008 Veteran’s Day ceremony and asked the Legion not to pray this year for fear the school could get into trouble for violations of church-state separation requirements.

Just in case you had any doubts about the kind of prayer, the local VFW chief said the no-prayer decision means the country is heading downhill, because “we are a Christian-based country and a military based on Christian-based principles.”

New U ethics guidelines cover payment, prestige, and pens New ethics guidelines proposed by the University of Minnesota would cover faculty, staff and students. among their provisions, according to the Pioneer Press, faculty, staff and students would not be allowed to:

• be paid for marketing lectures or to make product endorsements.
• ghostwrite, which means putting their credible names on research papers produced by others.
• accept pens or mugs or other promotional gifts.

Pens and mugs are not a big deal, but lending the name of a professor (and, implicitly, the prestige of the University of Minnesota) to a research paper written by someone else — how could anyone ever think that was right?

Hennepin homeless program shutting down A program that serves about 60 homeless, chronically alcoholic people will end at the end of 2009, reports the Star Tribune. The 13-year-old Street Case program, which uses a combination of rewards and peer pressure to reduce drinking and keep chronic alcoholics “safe, if not sober,” was scheduled to close next year.

One of the goals was to save the county money by lessening the need for expensive trips to detox, the emergency room or jail; no tallies have been kept, but officials estimate that the program has saved several millions of dollars over the years.

SPPS superintendent search St. Paul Public Schools are about to hire a new superintendent, and five of the six semifinalists are Minnesotans, reports the TC Daily Planet. Interviews, all of which are open to the public, start Friday night and run through Thursday of next week. The six semi-finalists: Valeria Silva and Nancy Stachel from SPPS, Deborah Henton (North Branch), Stan Mack (retired from Robbinsdale), Mark Bezek (Elk River), and Charles Hopson (Portland, OR).

Former Superintendent Meria Carstarphen announced in February that she was leaving. In July, the Board of Education turned the search over to a search firm, which gave the board the names of the semi-finalists last night. Now the final decision will be made by the Board of Education.

After that – Minneapolis is looking for a new superintendent.

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