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The Cost of Sentimentalizing War

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Carlos Lozada reviews a new book by Elizabeth Samet in the New Yorker:

The terrorist strikes of September 11, 2001, supposedly launched a new kind of American war, with unfamiliar foes, unlikely alliances, and unthinkable tactics. But the language deployed to interpret this conflict was decidedly old-school, the comfort food of martial rhetoric. With the Axis of Evil, the menace of Fascism (remixed as “Islamofascism”), and the Pearl Harbor references, the Second World War hovered over what would become known as the global war on terror, infusing it with righteousness. This latest war, President George W. Bush said, would have a scope and a stature evoking the American response to that other attack on the U.S. “one Sunday in 1941.” It wouldn’t be like Desert Storm, a conflict tightly bounded in time and space; instead, it was a call to global engagement and even to national greatness. “This generation will lift the dark threat of violence from our people and our future,” Bush avowed.

Elizabeth D. Samet finds such familiarity endlessly familiar. “Every American exercise of military force since World War II, at least in the eyes of its architects, has inherited that war’s moral justification and been understood as its offspring: motivated by its memory, prosecuted in its shadow, inevitably measured against it,” she writes in “Looking for the Good War: American Amnesia and the Violent Pursuit of Happiness” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). A professor of English at West Point and the author of works on literature, leadership, and the military, Samet offers a cultural and literary counterpoint to the Ambrose-Brokaw-Spielberg industrial complex of Second World War remembrance, and something of a meditation on memory itself. It’s not simply that subsequent fights didn’t resemble the Second World War, she contends; it’s that the war itself does not resemble our manufactured memories of it, particularly the gushing accounts that enveloped its fiftieth anniversary. “The so-called greatness of the Greatest Generation is a fiction,” she argues, “suffused with nostalgia and with a need to return to some finest hour.” Those who forget the past may be condemned to repeat it, but those who sentimentalize the past are rewarded with best-seller status.

The mythology of the Second World War features six main elements, by Samet’s tally: that the United States joined the war in order to rid the world of tyranny and Fascism; that “all Americans were absolutely united” in their commitment to the fight; that “everyone” in the country sacrificed; that Americans got into the war reluctantly and then waged it decently; that the war was tragic but ended on a happy note; and, finally, that “everyone has always agreed” on the first five points.

The word choices here—“all,” “absolutely,” “everyone,” and “always”—do stretch the myths to the point of easy refutability, but some of the best-known popular chronicles clearly display the tendencies Samet decries. “Citizen Soldiers,” Stephen Ambrose’s 1997 book about Allied troops in Europe, presents the reticence of American G.I.s in describing their motivations as a kind of self-conscious idealism and aw-shucks humility. “They knew they were fighting for decency and democracy and they were proud of it,” Ambrose writes. “They just didn’t talk or write about it.” But, without such oral or written records, can one really divine such noble impulses? Samet dismisses Ambrose’s œuvre, including the nineteen-nineties best-sellers, “Band of Brothers” and “D-Day,” as “less historical analysis than comic-book thought bubble.” Obsessed with notions of masculinity and chivalry, Ambrose indulges in “a fantasy that American soldiers somehow preserved a boyish innocence amid the slaughter,” she writes. If anything, the boyish innocence may belong to Ambrose himself, who admits that he grew up venerating veterans of the Second World War, a youthful hero worship that, Samet notes, “tends to overwhelm the historian’s mandate.”

For a more accurate account, Samet highlights a multivolume study, “The American Soldier,” by the sociologist Samuel Stouffer and a team of collaborators. During the war, they studied the ideological motives of American troops, and concluded that, “beyond acceptance of the war as a necessity forced upon the United States by an aggressor, there was little support of attempts to give the war meaning in terms of principles and causes.” Samet finds this real-time depiction of a nonideological American soldier to be credible. In the words of the military sociologist Charles C. Moskos, who studied the motivations of soldiers in the Second World War and in Vietnam, each man fights a “very private war . . . for his own survival.” Or, as John Hersey put it in a later foreword to “Into the Valley,” his narrative of U.S. marines battling on Guadalcanal, the soldiers fought “to get the damn thing over and go home.”

Samet argues that Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster movie “Saving Private Ryan,” from 1998, is “wholly unrepresentative” of Second World War attitudes toward the individual soldier. She contrasts the 1949 film “Twelve O’Clock High,” in which a brigadier general (played by Gregory Peck) insists that his men place collective loyalties above personal ones. After one pilot breaks formation, during a sortie over Nazi Europe, in order to assist a fellow-aviator at risk of being shot down, Peck lashes out, “You violated group integrity. . . . The one thing which is never expendable is your obligation to this group. . . . That has to be your loyalty—your only reason for being.” By focussing on the fate of a single survivor, Samet writes, Spielberg’s film “effectively transforms the conflict from one characterized by mass mobilization and modern industrial warfare to something more old-fashioned, recalling the heroism of ancient epics,” in which individual glories and tragedies take narrative precedence over the wider war.

Samet is particularly harsh on Tom Brokaw’s “The Greatest Generation,” also from 1998, with its “explicitly messianic agenda” of showing us a cohort so packed with honor and honesty and self-sacrifice that it was, as the newsman writes, “birthmarked for greatness.” In a section titled “Shame,” Brokaw acknowledges the racism that was so “pervasive in practice and in policy” in this greatest of eras, but he responds with uplifting sketches of members of racial minorities who manage to overcome it. (“It is my country, right or wrong,” one of them concludes. “None of us can ever contribute enough.”) Samet dissents, stressing, for instance, that the conflict in the Pacific, “begun in revenge and complicated by bitter racism” against the Japanese, has been overshadowed by the less morally troubling sagas of European liberation.

“Unity must always prevail,” Samet writes of the war myths. “Public opinion must turn overnight after Pearl Harbor, while the various regional, racial, and political divisions that roiled the country must be immediately put aside as Americans rally toward a shared cause.” A more complicated reality emerges in Studs Terkel’s 1984 “ ‘The Good War’ ” (the title includes quotation marks because the notion of a good war seemed “so incongruous,” Terkel explained), an oral history that amasses the recollections of wartime merchant marines, admirals, U.S.O. entertainers, G.I.s, and nurses. Their views on the war span “the sentimental and the disillusioned, the jingoistic and the thoughtfully patriotic, the nostalgic and the dismissive,” Samet writes.

To investigate cultural attitudes toward G.I.s in the aftermath of the war, she considers such novels as John Horne Burns’s “The Gallery” (1947), in which American soldiers in Italy engage in black-market transactions with locals; and such movies as “Suddenly” (1954), in which Frank Sinatra portrays a veteran turned contract killer who hopes that his war record will win him sympathy. (“I’m no traitor, Sheriff. I won a Silver Star.”) In other noir films of the era, returning G.I.s are loners disillusioned not just with the war and the years taken from them but also with what their country seemed to have become in their absence: hard, greedy, indifferent. Samet even scours military handbooks, including a 1945 one, memorably titled “112 Gripes About the French,” which admonished American G.I.s that they “didn’t come to Europe to save the French,” or “to do anyone any favors,” so they should stop stomping through the Continent as though expecting everyone’s gratitude. Not exactly “Band of Brothers,” is it?

There is a before-and-after quality to the Second World War in American political writing. The adjective “postwar” still clings to this one conflict, as if no American soldiers had wielded weapons in battle since. But if memories of one conflict shape attitudes toward the next, Samet writes, then the Good War legend has served “as prologue to three-quarters of a century of misbegotten ones.” There’s plenty of support for this quandary. In “A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam” (1988), Neil Sheehan identified the “disease of victory,” wherein U.S. leaders, particularly in the military ranks, succumbed to postwar complacency and overconfidence. Samet recalls the reflections of Rear Admiral Gene La Rocque, a Second World War veteran who retired during Vietnam, and who told Terkel that “the twisted memory” of the Good War “encourages the men of my generation to be willing, almost eager, to use military force anywhere in the world.”

Memories of the Good War also helped shape the views of military life held by the men who fought in Vietnam. Samet takes up Philip Caputo’s Vietnam memoir . . .

Continue reading. There’s more — or just read Samet’s book.

I think what the book discusses why the US is the most war-inclined nation on earth, constantly involved in formal wars and in covert military operations, nonstop.

An Air Force sergeant killed himself on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The note he left is heartbreaking.

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The US is not doing right by its veterans, nor by its armed forces.

Petula Dvorak writes in the Washington Post (and that’s a gift link: no paywall):

Kenneth Omar Santiago’s perfect smile dazzles on social media as he poses in his Air Force uniforms — flight suits to mess dress.

He accepts military awards, travels to far-off places, salsa dances and swims with sharks to oohs and aahs from friends in Lowell, Mass., his hometown.

“He’s got it all,” more than one commented.

Before Veterans Day, he posted a 1,116 word message, his longest yet.

Then, in a green T-shirt with an American flag emblazoned across his chest, the 31-year-old walked to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and shot himself.

Statistics tell us at least 16 other members of the military community also took their lives that Monday night and every night — the average daily toll — leading up to Veterans Day, when the nation thanks veterans for their service with a free 10-piece order of boneless chicken wings or a free doughnut.

At 7:09 p.m., minutes after he posted the note, his friends began responding:

“Kenny, you are loved. Do not do this!!”

“Hey, you are not alone!! Rob is trying to call you now.”

“Santi for the love of god don’t do this.”

“Call his unit.”

“Call the cops!”

“Command post is tracking.”

But by then, two nurses visiting the memorial at night were trying to give him CPR. A medevac helicopter flew in minutes later, landing next to the Reflecting Pool to take Santiago to the hospital. He was pronounced dead hours later, 1 a.m. on Tuesday Nov. 9, police said.

Naveed Shah reposted a video of that helicopter landing when he saw it on social media.

It made Shah, an Army veteran and political director of the veteran’s group Common Defense, furious.

“In the past decade that I have spent in veterans advocacy, much has been done about the veterans suicide epidemic with few results,” Shah said. “Santiago’s death in this hallowed place, at this time of reverence for veterans, perhaps should provide pause for government officials and elected leaders in Washington to consider the impact 20 years of wars have had on our armed forces.”

Veterans know it’s bad and it’s going to get worse, with the 20-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and the covid-19 death rate in the military doubling these past few months.

And when we tell them to go get help, help is hard to find. There’s a “severe occupational staffing shortage” in more than half of the psychiatric facilities veterans are sent to, according to the September Inspector General’s report on the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The struggle to get treatment has always been there for veterans. Take an equally public suicide eight years ago across the National Mall, at the other end of the cross that makes America’s most iconic space. Vietnam War veteran John Constantino saluted the white dome of the Capitol and immolated himself. At the time, his family attorney said it was the result of “a long battle with mental illness.”

Constantino’s death was public, laden with symbolism, just like Santiago’s.

“Nobody ever knows who is struggling or [waging] wars the eye cannot see. What does chronic depression even look like?” Santiago wrote in his note, which he double-posted on Instagram and Facebook, along with a slide show of him as a baby, with family, in Bali, at games, at work. “At times I think my close friends just tolerate me. Moreover, I feel truly alone. I always have. For a long time (years) I’ve known I would take my own life.”

His friends told me they wish he could’ve shared this when he was alive.

“In the military, he had to always have this front, he had to always appear strong,” said Sarah Kanellas, one of his childhood friends from Lowell, Mass. Her partner is in the military, and she knows that no matter what military officials say, there’s a stigma.

“You know how in basic training they break them down so they can build them back up? I get it, I know why they have to do that,” Kanellas said. “But they need to make mental health part of the building back up.”

Military bigwigs say they’re doing this. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin often says “mental health is health.”

And this week in his Veterans Day statement, Austin said: “We are working so hard to provide the best medical and mental health care possible for those whose military service has concluded. We must prove capable of treating the wounds we see, as well as the ones we cannot see.”

But that message hasn’t trickled down to the troops. . .

Continue reading. Gift link = no paywall.

Written by Leisureguy

11 November 2021 at 10:16 pm

No Accountability in Military Probe of Kabul Drone Strike — but Intelligence Failures Laid Bare

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Murtaza Hussein reports in The Intercept:

THE AUGUST 29 attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, that killed Zemari Ahmadi, an innocent aid worker, and his family has become one of the most notorious drone strikes of the war on terror. It is also rapidly becoming one of the most revealing, forcing the U.S. government to disclose more about how it makes decisions about killing people in foreign countries by remote control, using aircraft high in the sky. The Kabul attack generated intense scrutiny from the moment it was launched, after journalists on the ground quickly contradicted the government narrative about who had been killed. What is now being revealed is that the evidence that can be used to carry out fatal strikes — like the one that killed Ahmadi and his family — is often razor thin.

A one-page summary of the findings of an internal investigation of the strike, led by Air Force Inspector General Lt. Gen. Sami D. Said, claimed that no violations of the laws of war had been committed and did not recommend that anyone be criminally disciplined for the killing of Ahmadi and his family. Said’s report concluded that the fatal strike was executed due to a mixture of “confirmation bias and communications breakdowns” — errors that occurred during an eight-hour period when Ahmadi was under aerial surveillance. Said did not share specific intelligence that had put Ahmadi into the sights of U.S. drones but suggested that certain actions — like picking up a laptop bag and driving a Toyota Corolla, common on the roads of Afghanistan — were enough for drone operators to justify pulling the trigger and killing him and his family in front of their home.

The U.S. military has not released its own video footage of the attack, which it insisted initially showed a successful strike that had hit a car carrying a suicide bomber. Officials also claimed at first that their footage showed secondary explosions pointing to a “substantial amount of explosive material” in the car that they had hit. These claims turned out to be false. A combination of reporting from the ground, made easier by Kabul’s status as a hub for international media and open-source intelligence work carried out by foreign reporters, established that not only were claims of major secondary explosions implausible, but the U.S. had also killed a man who was a longtime aid worker for a U.S.-based NGO, just as his children were rushing to his car to greet him.

DURING A press briefing Thursday, Said was asked about reports that U.S. forces were looking for a white Toyota Corolla, considered the most common vehicle on the roads of Afghanistan, which led them to attack Ahmadi. “We actually never ended up tracking the actual Toyota Corolla,” Said said. “It certainly wasn’t the one we did track and struck. We just didn’t pick up the Toyota Corolla that we believe we should have picked up that might have been involved in something that’s worth knowing.” Said also described the strike as “unique” in comparison to the thousands of other strikes that the U.S. has carried out, citing the context of a deadly suicide bombing at the Kabul airport that had occurred days before, in the heat of a messy U.S. withdrawal, and statements from President Joe Biden at the time that another attack was believed to be imminent.

Analysts who track these strikes say that there were aspects to the Ahmadi killing that made it different from other attacks, in which drone operators have time to carry out extended “pattern-of-life” analysis on subjects to confirm their identities.

“The backdrop of this strike was that there was intelligence gathered to suggest that ISIS was threatening the airport, there was an attack there previously, and the president himself was saying that we expect another attack to take place imminently,” said Micah Zenko, a political scientist and expert on the U.S. drone program. “It created a condition where external pressures are going to lead people to think a certain way — everyone is primed to look for another car bomb. Once you prime people like that, and you reduce the timeframe to make a judgement, it can lead to all types of mental shortcuts.”

The summary report issued by Said laid out several recommendations for avoiding future such incidents, including taking steps to reduce confirmation bias in targeting, improving situational awareness through communication, and reviewing pre-strike procedures to protect civilians. Zenko says that these recommendations have been made many times before after similar incidents. The real issues — faulty intelligence and policy decisions that lead to such killings taking place — remain unaddressed.

“They never look at the big picture,” said Zenko. “It’s never a weaponeering problem and is almost always an intelligence assessment problem that leads to these incidents. That’s what makes it so hard to assess, because it deals with the part of the process that they will never talk about: the intelligence.”

The U.S. government has been militant about protecting the drone program from scrutiny, making accurate assessments about intelligence failures hard to confirm. When information has leaked, such as the classified 2015 disclosures from the program published by The Intercept, it has shown a program that is far less discriminating and targeted than has been advertised. One leaked document showed that . . .

Continue reading. There’s more

Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2021 at 4:59 pm

U.S. Absolves Drone Killers and Persecutes Whistleblowers

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The true crime is to expose a crime, at least in an authoritarian organization. Jeremy Scahill reports in The Intercept:

AFTER THE TERRORIST attack on the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, that killed more than 170 Afghan civilians and 13 U.S. soldiers, President Joe Biden issued a warning to fighters from the Islamic State. “We will hunt you down and make you pay,” he said on August 26. Three days later, Biden authorized a drone strike that the U.S. claimed took out a dangerous cell of ISIS fighters intent on staging another attack on the Kabul airport. 

Biden held up this strike, and another one a day earlier, as evidence of his commitment to take the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan even as he declared an end to the 20-year war there. “We struck ISIS-K remotely, days after they murdered 13 of our service members and dozens of innocent Afghans,” he said in a White House speech. “And to ISIS-K: We are not done with you yet.”

But the Kabul strike, which targeted a white Toyota Corolla, did not kill any members of ISIS. The victims were 10 civilians, seven of them children. The driver of the car, Zemari Ahmadi, was a respected employee of a U.S. aid organization. Following a New York Times investigation that fully exposed the lie of the U.S. version of events, the Pentagon and the White House admitted that they had killed innocent civilians, calling it “a horrible tragedy of war.”

This week, the Pentagon released a summary of its classified review into the attack, which it originally hailed as a “righteous strike” that had thwarted an imminent terror plot. The results were predictable. The report recommended that no personnel be held responsible for the murder of 10 civilians; there was no “criminal negligence,” as the report put it. The fact that the U.S. military spent eight hours surveilling the “targets,” that a child could be seen in its own footage minutes before the strike — this was written off as a fog-of-war moment. The operators conducting the strike “had a genuine belief that there was an imminent threat to U.S. forces,” asserted the Air Force’s inspector general, Lt. Gen. Sami D. Said.

They committed a mistake, he said, not a crime.

The U.S. has promised to pay restitution to the survivors of the drone strike. This is part of a long-standing U.S. tradition to treat its widespread killings of civilians in the so-called war on terror as innocent mistakes made in pursuit of peace and security. The general who conducted the review says he has made recommendations on how to tinker with targeted killing operations to reduce the likelihood of other honest mistakes (as the Pentagon regards them) that wipe out entire families.

NONE OF THIS is new. It is a cycle that got into high gear under President Barack Obama (when Biden was vice president), continued during the Donald Trump presidency, and is not relenting in the Biden era.

As the Pentagon absolves itself of this crime, the Biden administration is pushing ahead with its persecution of whistleblowers who exposed this system of killing innocents. Daniel Hale, a military veteran who pleaded guilty to disclosing classified documents that exposed lethal weaknesses in the drone program, is serving four years in prison. (Prosecutors said those documents formed the basis for The Drone Papers, a series of investigative articles published by The Intercept.) Among other revelations, Hale’s documents exposed how as many as nine out of 10 victims of U.S. drone strikes in Afghanistan were not the intended targets. In Biden’s recent drone strike, 10 of 10 were innocent civilians.

While Hale was indicted under the Espionage Act during Trump’s tenure, Biden’s Justice Department has gone after him with a vengeance. In October, Hale was inexplicably transferred to a “Communications Management Unit” at the U.S. Penitentiary at Marion in southern Illinois. CMUs are used to severely limit a prisoner’s ability to communicate with the outside world, subject them to extreme periods of isolation, and allow for intensified surveillance of their communications and visits. CMUs are regularly labeled as “terrorist units.”

And as the Pentagon’s mountain of lies about . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2021 at 4:37 pm

Just how horrible and incompetent has Joe Biden been?

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Kevin Drum has a little list:

In the space of ten months, Joe Biden has:

  • Passed a $1.9 trillion COVID assistance bill.
  • Presided over a massive vaccination campaign that’s been successful despite shameless partisan opposition.
  • Withdrawn all US troops from Afghanistan with minimal American casualties.
  • Passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill.
  • Gotten very close to passing a historic $2 trillion safety net bill.

Just sayin’.

Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2021 at 2:16 pm

Congress is an ineffectual organization

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Congress seems to be designed to not accomplish things, a problem when a bad-faith party like Republicans have a significant voice — and in the Senate, the ability to veto action (thanks in large part to Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema, two Democratic Senators who side with Republicans). Heahter Cox Richardson writes:

We are coming down to the wire for the Senate to pass the Freedom to Vote Act.

This bill was hammered out earlier in September by a group of senators trying to find common ground with conservative Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who objected to the sweeping For the People Act passed by the House. The Freedom to Vote Act pared down that larger bill but retained its most important pieces. It creates a national standard for voting rules and tries to stop voter suppression, modernizes voter registration, and replaces old, paperless voting machines with new ones that have a voter-verified paper trail. It slows the flood of money into our elections and ends partisan gerrymandering. It establishes strict rules for post-election audits.

This defense of voting is popular. A Data for Progress poll found that 70% of likely voters support the act. That number includes 85% of self-identified Democrats, 67% of Independents, and 54% of Republicans.

Manchin maintains that he can find 10 Republican senators to join the Democrats to get 60 votes, enabling the measure to overcome a Republican filibuster. But there is, so far, no sign that those votes are materializing, and every day that goes by brings us closer to having gerrymandered district lines hardened into place before the 2022 election. Indeed, the stonewalling by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) of Democratic attempts to lift the debt ceiling is wasting time that otherwise would be given to the voting rights bill.

If Manchin cannot find ten Republican votes, the measure will die unless the Senate agrees to block a filibuster on it, as it has done for judicial appointments. A simple majority cannot pass it, even though the 50 Democratic senators (who would make a majority of 51 if Vice President Kamala Harris were called in to break a tie) represent about 40.5 million more Americans than the 50 Republican senators. (The U.S. has about 328 million people.)

It is imperative that this bill become law. Without it, the Republicans will almost certainly regain control of Congress, and with new voter suppression and election-counting laws in place in 18 Republican-dominated states, they will likely command the Electoral College as well. Once installed in power, will this particular incarnation of the Republican Party ever again permit a Democratic victory?

Congress today illustrated the importance of making sure all Americans have the right to choose their lawmakers.

The media focused on the intraparty fighting of the Democrats over a $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill that is supposed to be linked to the $1 trillion bipartisan package, but it is important to remember that the only reason anyone is even discussing an infrastructure package is because voting rights activist Stacey Abrams helped so many Georgians register to vote in 2020 that they were able to overcome Republican roadblocks and elect two Democratic senators. Without Senator Raphael Warnock and Senator Jon Ossoff, the two men who gave the Democrats 50 seats in the Senate to shift the majority from the Republicans, we would not be having this discussion at all.

Both infrastructure bills are popular. Americans support the bipartisan bill by 51% to 19% (with 30% unsure). About 62% of Americans like the larger package, despite a price tag that seems larger than it really is, since it spreads out funding for ten years. Even among Republicans, more like it than dislike it, at 47% to 44%.

But it took months of negotiations to secure the ten Republican votes necessary on the smaller package to get it past a filibuster of the other Republican senators, and the Republicans are united in their opposition to the larger bill.

Our right to vote was also on the table as our most effective tool for stopping the Republican Party’s current fall into authoritarianism.

After yesterday’s hearing in the Senate, Senator Angus King (I-ME) told reporters that the Senate Armed Services Committee had had only one hearing all last year when the Republicans were in control of the Senate. Washington reporter Laura Rozen recounted the conversation on Twitter. Since the Democrats retook control of the Senate, King said, they have held five hearings. But he pointed out that senators in yesterday’s hearing spent a great deal of time asking questions about the decisions to withdraw from Afghanistan, a decision made by former president Trump and unquestioned either as he made it or as he quickly began withdrawing troops. King noted that those questions should have been asked a year ago.

In today’s hearings before the House Armed Services Committee, Republicans defended the former president and attacked the man who helped to stop his takeover of the U.S. government, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark A. Milley.

They insisted that the withdrawal from Afghanistan was “an extraordinary disaster” that “will go down in history as one of the greatest failures of American leadership,” although it was former president Trump who set the terms of the withdrawal and tried to make it happen in the dead of winter, which would almost certainly not have permitted the successful airlift of 130,000 Americans and allies that the military ultimately pulled off. (Interestingly, Milley also explained that U.S. commanders missed that the Afghan army and government would crumble because the withdrawal of tactical advisers over the past few years hurt U.S. intelligence-gathering capabilities.)

Representatives Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Ronny Jackson (R-TX) did not simply defend Trump, though. They demanded that Milley resign. Gaetz repeatedly interrupted and berated the general, who has served the United States in uniform for more than 40 years—two years longer than Gaetz has been alive.

The attacks on Milley were not simply partisanship. They are part of a longer crusade of the pro-Trump forces against the man who stood against Trump’s attempt to overturn the election. For months now,  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2021 at 12:22 pm

Snapshot of the sad state of the US

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Today, the fight over the debt ceiling continued. As Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned that breaching the debt ceiling would delay Social Security payments and military paychecks, as well as jeopardizing the status of the U.S. dollar as the international reserve currency, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) offered Senate Republicans “a way out” from having to participate in raising the ceiling, despite the fact that the Republicans had added $7.8 trillion to the now-$28 trillion debt during Trump’s term. Schumer asked for unanimous consent to pass a debt ceiling increase with a simple majority that the Democrats could provide alone.

Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) blocked the effort. “There is no chance, no chance the Republican conference will go out of our way to help Democrats conserve their time and energy, so they can resume ramming through partisan socialism as fast as possible,” he said.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that McConnell is deliberately running out Congress’s clock, and it is hard to ignore that the big item on the Senate’s agenda is the Freedom to Vote Act, which Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Jon Tester (D-MT), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Alex Padilla (D-CA), and Angus King (I-ME) have worked to hammer out in place of the voting rights bills passed by the House.

The Freedom to Vote Act protects the right to vote. It also bans partisan gerrymandering.

States have already begun to carve up districts based on the 2020 census numbers. The Texas legislature, for one, has gerrymandered its state—one that is imperative for the Republicans to hold for the 2024 presidential election—to protect Republicans and underrepresent Black and Latino voters, who tend to vote Democratic. (Growth in the Latino population is what gave the state two new representatives.) If Texas redistricting is completed by November 15, the candidate filing period will end on December 13. At that point, after candidates have filed according to established district lines, it will be significantly harder for courts to overturn those lines before the 2022 election.

So if McConnell can tie up Democrats over the absolutely must-pass debt ceiling increase and can stave off a voting rights bill, Republican gerrymandering might well survive for the 2022 election.

Indeed, the political news out of Washington must all be read with an eye to the 2022 election, including the other big story from today: the testimony of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark A. Milley, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and General Kenneth F. McKenzie, commander of the U.S. Central Command, in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Before his testimony, Milley submitted a statement that was quietly remarkable. A highly decorated career soldier, Milley was appointed by former president Trump and, after making the mistake of walking with Trump across Washington, D.C.’s Lafayette Square in June 2020 for the former president’s ill-received photo-op with a Bible, has become a principled and outspoken advocate for the military’s defense of the United States Constitution, even, when necessary, against domestic enemies.

In his statement, Milley laid out the course of the war in Afghanistan. He noted that in 20 years there, more than 800,000 U.S. military personnel served; 2,461 were killed in action, 20,698 were wounded, and countless others came home with internal scars. Milley expressed his opinion that their service in Afghanistan prevented another attack on America from terrorists based there.

Then Milley talked of our exit from the country, emphasizing that it is a mistake to focus only on our rushed exit in August. In 2011, we began a long-term drawdown of troops from their peak of 97,000 U.S. troops and 41,000 NATO troops. On February 29, 2020, when the Trump administration signed an agreement with the Taliban, there were 12,600 U.S. troops, 8,000 NATO troops, and 10,500 contractors in Afghanistan. With that agreement, known as the Doha Agreement, we agreed to withdraw if the Taliban met seven conditions that would lead to a deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban, while we agreed to eight conditions.

Milley wrote that the Taliban honored only one of its seven required conditions: it did not attack U.S. personnel. It did not cut ties to al Qaeda, and it significantly increased, rather than decreased, its attacks on Afghan civilians. Nonetheless, in the 8 months after the agreement, “we reduced US military forces from 12,600 to 6,800, NATO forces from 8,000 to 5,400 and US contractors from 9,700 to 7,900….”

On November 9, 2020, six days after the presidential election, Milley and then–Secretary of Defense Mark Esper recommended stopping the withdrawal until the Taliban met the required conditions. Two days later, on November 11, then-president Trump ordered the military to withdraw all forces from Afghanistan by January 15, 2021. Blindsided, military officers were able to talk Trump out of that rushed timetable, but on November 17, Trump ordered Milley to reduce troop levels to 2,500 no later than January 15.

So, when President Biden took office, only about 3,500 U.S. troops, 5,400 NATO troops, and 6,300 contractors were still in Afghanistan, leaving him with the problem that he would have either to leave altogether or to put in more troops in anticipation of resumed hostilities with the Taliban. Biden ordered a review of the situation and ultimately decided to withdraw from the country altogether.

Milley went on to explain . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2021 at 11:52 am

Final drone strike by US in Afghanistan War kills blameless victims

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Who is the terrorist in this situation? Certainly not the victims. I think it is the US military. 

Read the whole Twitter thread at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

13 September 2021 at 1:49 pm

After 9/11, a rush of national unity. Then, quickly, more and new divisions.

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Dan Balz had an interesting column in the Washington Post yesterday. (The gift link I used by-passes the paywall.) The column begins:

On Monday, the leaders of Congress are to gather with colleagues at noon for a bipartisan ceremony marking the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It will be reminiscent of the gathering on the night of the attacks, when members of Congress, many holding small American flags, stood on the Capitol steps and spontaneously sang “God Bless America.” But so much has changed.

Twenty years ago, members of Congress were joined in a determined and resilient expression of national unity at an unprecedented moment in the nation’s history, a day that brought deaths and heroism but also shock, fear and confusion. Monday’s ceremony will no doubt be somber in its remembrance of what was lost that day, but it will come not as expression of a united America but simply as a momentary cessation in political wars that rage and have deepened in the years since those attacks.

In a video message to Americans released Friday, President Biden spoke of how 9/11 had united the country and said that moment represented “America at its best.” He called such unity “our greatest strength” while noting it is “all too rare.” The unity that followed the attacks didn’t last long. Americans reverted more quickly than some analysts expected to older patterns of partisanship. With time, new divisions over new issues have emerged, and they make the prospect of a united nation ever more distant.

On a day for somber tribute, the man who was president on 9/11, George W. Bush, spoke most directly of those new divisions — and threats — in a speech in Shanksville, Pa., where Flight 93 went down on the day of the attacks. Bush warned that dangers to the country now come not only across borders “but from violence that gathers from within.” It was an apparent but obvious reference to the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6.

“There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home,” he said. “But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols, they are children of the same foul spirit. And it is our continuing duty to confront them.”

The question is often asked: As the United States has plunged deeper into division and discord, is there anything that could spark a change, anything big enough to become a catalyst for greater national unity? But if ­9/11 doesn’t fit that model, what does? And look what happened in the aftermath of that trauma.

For a time, the shock of the attacks did bring the country together. Bush’s approval ratings spiked to 90 percent in a rally-round-the-flag reaction that was typical when the country is faced with external threats or crises.

One notable expression of the unity at the time came from Al Gore, the former vice president who had lost the bitter 2000 election to Bush after a disputed recount in Florida and a controversial Supreme Court decision.

Speaking at a Democratic Party dinner in Iowa less than a month after the attacks, Gore called Bush “my commander in chief,” adding, “We are united behind our president, George W. Bush, behind the effort to seek justice, not revenge, to make sure this will never, ever happen again. And to make sure we have the strongest unity in America that we have ever had.” The Democratic audience rose, applauding and cheering.

Trust in government rose in those days after the attacks. Shortly after 9/11, trust in government jumped to 64 percent, up from 30 percent before the attacks, according to Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican polling firm that was closely tracking public attitudes to the attacks. By the summer of 2002, the firm found that trust had fallen back, to 39 percent.

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Five years after the attacks, then-Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), now deceased, was quoted as saying that America was “more divided and more partisan than I’ve ever seen us.” Today, after many contentious elections, political warfare over economic, cultural and social issues and a domestic attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, many Americans would say things have become worse.

As he prepared the U.S. response to the attacks by al-Qaeda in the fall of 2001, Bush made clear the United States would go it alone if necessary, assembling what was called a “coalition of the willing.” He put other nations on notice, saying the United States would hold them accountable in the campaign against the terrorists. “You’re either with us or against us in the fight,” he said.

Bush described the world in Manichaean terms: good vs. evil.

Today’s politics at home is often practiced that way. That phrase — “with us or against us” — could stand as a black-and-white expression of the way in which many Americans approach the political battles: all in with the team, red or blue, or not in at all. If you win, I lose. No middle ground.

Lack of imagination on the part of Americans had helped 9/11 to happen. No one in the upper reaches of government  . . .

Continue reading. No paywall on this one.

Written by Leisureguy

12 September 2021 at 10:35 am

After 9/11, the U.S. Got Almost Everything Wrong

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In the Atlantic Garrett M. Graff, a journalist, historian, and the author of The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11, lays out the bad decisions after 9/11 — many of which were strongly opposed at the time (for example, many (including yours truly) vociferously opposed the (stupid) invasion of Iraq):

On the friday after 9/11, President George W. Bush visited the New York City site that the world would come to know as Ground Zero. After rescue workers shouted that they couldn’t hear him as he spoke to them through a bullhorn, he turned toward them and ad-libbed. “I can hear you,” he shouted. “The whole world hears you, and when we find these people who knocked these buildings down, they’ll hear all of us soon.” Everybody roared. At a prayer service later that day, he outlined the clear objective of the task ahead: “Our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil.”

Appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press two days later, Vice President Dick Cheney offered his own vengeful promise. “We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will,” he told the host, Tim Russert. “We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful.” He added, “That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal.”

In retrospect, Cheney’s comment that morning came to define the U.S. response to the 2001 terrorist attacks over the next two decades, as the United States embraced the “dark side” to fight what was soon dubbed the “Global War on Terror” (the “GWOT” in gov-speak)—an all-encompassing, no-stone-unturned, whole-of-society, and whole-of-government fight against one of history’s great evils.

It was a colossal miscalculation.

The events of September 11, 2001, became the hinge on which all of recent American history would turn, rewriting global alliances, reorganizing the U.S. government, and even changing the feel of daily life, as security checkpoints and magnetometers proliferated inside buildings and protective bollards sprouted like kudzu along America’s streets.

I am the author of an oral history of 9/11. Two of my other books chronicle how that day changed the FBI’s counterterrorism efforts and the government’s doomsday plans. I’ve spent much of this year working on a podcast series about the lingering questions from the attacks. Along the way, I’ve interviewed the Cassandra-like FBI agents who chased Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda before the attacks; first responders and attack survivors in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania; government officials who hid away in bunkers under the White House and in the Virginia countryside as the day unfolded; the passengers aboard Air Force One with the president on 9/11; and the Navy SEALs who killed bin Laden a decade later. I’ve interviewed directors of the CIA, FBI, and national intelligence; the interrogators in CIA black sites; and the men who found Saddam Hussein in that spider hole in Iraq.

As we approach the 20th anniversary of 9/11 on Saturday, I cannot escape this sad conclusion: The United States—as both a government and a nation—got nearly everything about our response wrong, on the big issues and the little ones. The GWOT yielded two crucial triumphs: The core al-Qaeda group never again attacked the American homeland, and bin Laden, its leader, was hunted down and killed in a stunningly successful secret mission a decade after the attacks. But the U.S. defined its goals far more expansively, and by almost any other measure, the War on Terror has weakened the nation—leaving Americans more afraid, less free, more morally compromised, and more alone in the world. A day that initially created an unparalleled sense of unity among Americans has become the backdrop for ever-widening political polarization.

The nation’s failures began in the first hours of the attacks and continue to the present day. Seeing how and when we went wrong is easy in hindsight. What’s much harder to understand is how—if at all—we can make things right.

As a society, we succumbed to fear.

The most telling part of September 11, 2001, was the interval between the first plane crash at the World Trade Center, at 8:46 a.m., and the second, at 9:03. In those 17 minutes, the nation’s sheer innocence was on display.

The aftermath of the first crash was live on the nation’s televisions by 8:49 a.m. Though horrified, many Americans who saw those images still went on about their morning. In New York, the commuter-ferry captain Peter Johansen recalled how, afterward, he docked at the Wall Street Terminal and every single one of his passengers got off and walked into Lower Manhattan, even as papers and debris rained down from the damaged North Tower.

At the White House, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice called Bush, who was in Florida. They discussed the crash and agreed it was strange. But Rice proceeded with her 9 a.m. staff meeting, as previously scheduled, and Bush went into a classroom at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School to promote his No Child Left Behind education agenda. At the FBI, the newly arrived director, Robert Mueller, was actually sitting in a briefing on al-Qaeda and the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole when an aide interrupted with news of the first crash; he looked out the window at the bright blue sky and wondered how a plane could have hit the World Trade Center on such a clear day.

Those muted reactions seem inconceivable today but were totally appropriate to the nation that existed that September morning. The conclusion of the Cold War a decade earlier had supposedly ended history. To walk through Bill Clinton’s presidential library in Little Rock today is to marvel at how low-stakes everything in the 1990s seemed.

But after that second crash, and then the subsequent ones at the Pentagon and in the fields outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania, our government panicked. There’s really no other way to say it. Fear spread up the chain of command. Cheney, who had been hustled to safety in the minutes after the second crash, reflected later, “In the years since, I’ve heard speculation that I’m a different man after 9/11. I wouldn’t say that. But I’ll freely admit that watching a coordinated, devastating attack on our country from an underground bunker at the White House can affect how you view your responsibilities.”

The initial fear seemed well grounded. Experts warned of a potential second wave of attacks and of al-Qaeda sleeper cells across the country. Within weeks, mysterious envelopes of anthrax powder began sickening and killing people in Florida, New York, and Washington. Entire congressional office buildings were sealed off by government officials in hazmat suits.

The world suddenly looked scary to ordinary citizens—and even worse behind the closed doors of intelligence briefings. The careful sifting of intelligence that our nation’s leaders rely on to make decisions fell apart. After the critique that federal law enforcement and spy agencies had “failed to connect the dots” took hold, everyone shared everything—every tip seemed to be treated as fact. James Comey, who served as deputy attorney general during some of the frantic post-9/11 era, told me in 2009 that he had been horrified by the unverified intelligence landing each day on the president’s desk. “When I started, I believed that a giant fire hose of information came in the ground floor of the U.S. government and then, as it went up, floor by floor, was whittled down until at the very top the president could drink from the cool, small stream of a water fountain,” Comey said. “I was shocked to find that after 9/11 the fire hose was just being passed up floor by floor. The fire hose every morning hit the FBI director, the attorney general, and then the president.”

According to one report soon after 9/11, a nuclear bomb that terrorists had managed to smuggle into the country was hidden on a train somewhere between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. This tip turned out to have come from an informant who had misheard a conversation between two men in a bathroom in Ukraine—in other words, from a terrible global game of telephone. For weeks after, Bush would ask in briefings, “Is this another Ukrainian urinal incident?”

Even disproved plots added to the impression that the U.S. was under constant attack by a shadowy, relentless, and widespread enemy. Rather than recognizing that an extremist group with an identifiable membership and distinctive ideology had exploited fixable flaws in the American security system to carry out the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration launched the nation on a vague and ultimately catastrophic quest to rid the world of “terror” and “evil.”

At the time, some commentators politely noted the danger of tilting at such nebulous concepts, but a stunned American public appeared to crave a bold response imbued with a higher purpose. As the journalist Robert Draper writes in To Start a War, his new history of the Bush administration’s lies, obfuscations, and self-delusions that led from Afghanistan into Iraq, “In the after-shocks of 9/11, a reeling America found itself steadied by blunt-talking alpha males whose unflappable, crinkly-eyed certitude seemed the only antidote to nationwide panic.”

he crash of that second plane at 9:03, live on millions of television sets across the country, had revealed a gap in Americans’ understanding of our world, a gap into which anything and everything—caution and paranoia, liberal internationalism and vengeful militarism, a mission to democratize the Middle East and an ever more pointless campaign amid a military stalemate—might be poured in the name of shared national purpose. The depth of our leaders’ panic and the amorphousness of our enemy led to a long succession of tragic choices.

We chose the wrong way to seek justice.

Before 9/11, the United States had a considered, constitutional, and proven playbook for targeting terrorists: They were arrested anywhere in the world they could be caught, tried in regular federal courts, and, if convicted, sent to federal prison. The mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing? Arrested in Pakistan. The 1998 embassy bombers? Caught in Kenya, South Africa, and elsewhere. In Sweden on the very morning of 9/11, FBI agents had arrested an al-Qaeda plotter connected to the attack on the USS Cole. The hunt for the plotters of and accomplices to the new attacks could have been similarly handled in civilian courts, whose civil-liberties protections would have shown the world how even the worst evils met with reasoned justice under the law.

Instead, on November 13, 2001, President Bush announced in an executive order that those rounded up in the War on Terror would be treated not as criminals, or even as prisoners of war, but as part of a murky category that came to be known as “enemy combatants.”

While civil libertarians warned of a dark path ahead, Americans seemed not . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Later in the article:

Meanwhile, for all the original talk of banishing evil from the world, the GWOT’s seemingly exclusive focus on Islamic extremism has led to the neglect of other threats actively killing Americans. In the 20 years since 9/11, thousands of Americans have succumbed to mass killers—just not the ones we went to war against in 2001. The victims have included worshippers in churchessynagogues, and temples; people at shopping mallsmovie theaters, and a Walmart; students and faculty at universities and community colleges; professors at a nursing school; children in elementarymiddle, and high schools; kids at an Amish school and on a Minnesota Native American reservation; nearly 60 concertgoers who were machine-gunned to death from hotel windows in Las Vegas. But none of those massacres were by the Islamic extremists we’d been spending so much time and money to combat. Since 9/11, more Americans have been killed by domestic terrorists than by foreign ones. Political pressure kept national-security officials from refocusing attention and resources on the growing threat from white nationalists, armed militias, and other groups energized by the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim strains of the War on Terror.

FDR was right: the thing to fear is fear itself — fear leads to panic, and panic leads to bad and ill-considered decisions.

Update: But see also David Corn’s article  in Mother Jones: “It’s Not Too Late to Learn the Lessons We Didn’t Learn From 9/11.”

Written by Leisureguy

10 September 2021 at 3:57 pm

What Might Have Been at Tora Bora

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Peggy Noonan writes on her website:

A missed opportunity to get bin Laden set the stage for 20 years of frustrating, painful war in Afghanistan.
The Wall Street Journal: September 1, 2021

“For of all sad words of tongue or pen, / The saddest are these: ‘It might have been!’”
— Maud Muller, by John Greenleaf Whittier

I keep thinking of what happened at Tora Bora. What a richly consequential screw-up it was, and how different the coming years might have been, the whole adventure might have been, if we’d gotten it right.

From the 2009 Senate Foreign Relations Committee report “Tora Bora Revisited: How We Failed to Get bin Laden and Why It Matters Today”:

On October 7, 2001, U.S. aircraft began bombing the training bases and strongholds of Al Qaeda and the ruling Taliban across Afghanistan. The leaders who sent murderers to attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon less than a month earlier and the rogue government that provided them sanctuary were running for their lives. President George W. Bush’s expression of America’s desire to get Osama bin Laden ‘dead or alive’ seemed about to come true.

The war was to be swift and deadly, with clear objectives: defeat the Taliban, destroy al Qaeda and kill or capture its leader, Osama bin Laden. Already the Taliban had been swept from power, al Qaeda ousted from its havens. American deaths had been kept to a minimum.

But where was bin Laden? By early December 2001 his world “had shrunk to a complex of caves and tunnels carved into a mountainous section” of eastern Afghanistan, Tora Bora. For weeks U.S. aircraft pounded him and his men with as many as 100 strikes a day. “One 15,000-pound bomb, so huge it had to be rolled out the back of a C-130 cargo plane, shook the mountains for miles.”

American commandos were on the scene, fewer than 100, but everyone knew more troops were coming. Bin Laden expected to die. He wrote his last will and testament on Dec. 14.

But calls for reinforcement to launch an assault were rejected, as were calls to block the mountain paths into Pakistan, which bin Laden could use as escape routes. “The vast array of American military power, from sniper teams to the most mobile divisions of the Marine Corps and the Army, was kept on the sidelines.”

Sometime around Dec. 16, bin Laden and his bodyguards made their way out, on foot and horseback, and disappeared into Pakistan’s unregulated tribal area.

How could this have happened? The report puts responsibility on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his top commander, Gen. Tommy Franks. Both supported a small-footprint war strategy, and it was a bad political moment for a big bloody fight: Afghanistan’s new president, Hamid Karzai, was about to be inaugurated. “We didn’t want to have U.S. forces fighting before Karzai was in power,” Gen. Franks’s deputy told the committee. “We wanted to create a stable country and that was more important than going after bin Laden at the time.” Washington seemed to want Afghan forces to do the job, but they couldn’t. They didn’t have the capability or fervor.

Gen. Franks took to saying the intelligence was “inconclusive.” They couldn’t be sure Osama was there. But he was there.

Central Intelligence Agency and Delta Force commanders who’d spent weeks at Tora Bora were certain he was there. Afghan villagers who sold food to al Qaeda said he was there. A CIA operative who picked up a radio from a dead al Qaeda fighter found himself with a clear channel into the group’s communications. “Bin Laden’s voice was often picked up.” The official history of the U.S. Special Operations Command determined he was there: “All source reporting corroborated his presence on several days from 9-14 December.”

Bin Laden himself said he was there, in an audiotape released in February 2003. He boasted of surviving the bombardment. “Warplanes continued to fly over us day and night,” he said. “Planes poured their lava on us.”

There were enough U.S. troops in or near Afghanistan to get him, the report said. It would have been a dangerous fight on treacherous terrain in hostile territory. There would have been casualties, maybe a lot. But commanders on the scene said the reward was worth the risk.

In Washington the White House was already turning its attention to Iraq. Late in November, after the fall of Kabul, President George W. Bush asked Rumsfeld about Iraq war plans. Rumsfeld ordered up an assessment. Gen. Franks was working on air support for Afghan units being assembled to push into the mountains around Tora Bora. Now he was told an Iraq plan would have to be drawn up. The report noted that for critics of the Bush administration, “the shift in focus just as Franks and his senior aides were literally working on plans for the attacks on Tora Bora represents a dramatic turning point that allowed a sustained victory in Afghanistan to slip through our fingers.”

It changed the course of the war in Afghanistan. The most wanted man in the world, the reason those poor souls jumped from the high floors of the twin towers, the man whose capture was an integral part of the point and mission of the war was allowed to . . . disappear. The American presence descended into a muddle of shifting strategies, unclear purpose and annual reviews. The guiding military wisdom in Washington—that too many troops might stir up anti-American sentiment and resistance—was defied by the facts of Tora Bora. The unwillingness to be supple, respond to circumstances and deploy the troops to get bin Laden “paved the way for exactly what we hoped to avoid—a protracted insurgency.”

Why didn’t Washington move and get him? Maybe it was simply a mistake—“the fog of war.” Maybe leaders were distracted by Iraq. Maybe it was a lack of imagination: They didn’t know what it would mean to people, their own people, to get the bastard. And maybe this: Maybe they consciously or unconsciously knew that if they got the guy who did 9/11, killed him or brought him to justice, that would leave a lot of Americans satisfied that justice had been done. That might take some steam out of the Iraq push. Maybe they concluded it would be better not to get him, or not right away . . .

Bin Laden was found almost 10 years later, in May 2011, and killed in a daring operation ordered by Barack Obama, who was loudly, justly lauded. He made the decision against the counsel of Vice President Joe Biden.

But what if we’d gotten Tora Bora right?  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 September 2021 at 1:45 pm

“I was a combat interpreter in Afghanistan, where cultural illiteracy led to U.S. failure”

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Baktash Ahadi, who served U.S. and Afghan Special Operations forces as a combat interpreter from 2010 to 2012 and formerly chaired the State Department’s Afghan Familiarization course, writes in the Washington Post:

Like many Afghan Americans, I have spent much of the past few weeks trying to secure safe passage from Afghanistan for family, friends and colleagues, with tragically limited success. I also know that many Americans have been asking: Why is this crazy scramble necessary? How could Afghanistan have collapsed so quickly?

As a former combat interpreter who served alongside U.S. and Afghan Special Operations forces, I can tell you part of the answer — one that’s been missing from the conversation: culture.

When comparing the Taliban with the United States and its Western allies, the vast majority of Afghans have always viewed the Taliban as the lesser of two evils. To many Americans, that may seem an outlandish claim. The coalition, after all, poured billions of dollars into Afghanistan. It built highways. It emancipated Afghan women. It gave millions of people the right to vote for the first time ever.

All true. But the Americans also went straight to building roads, schools and governing institutions — in an effort to “win hearts and minds” — without first figuring out what values animate those hearts and what ideas fill those minds. We thus wound up acting in ways that would ultimately alienate everyday Afghans.

First, almost all representatives of Western governments — military and civilian — were required to stay “inside the wire,” meaning they were confined at all times to Kabul’s fortified Green Zone and well-guarded military bases across the country.

Each of my own trips to visit family in Kabul was a breach for which I could have been disciplined. But I’m glad I broke the rules. If my colleagues had been allowed to enjoy the same experiences — the scent of kebab in Shahr-e Naw, the hustle and bustle of Qala-e Fathullah — they might have developed a much better feel for the country, its people and its culture.

As it was, however, virtually the only contact most Afghans had with the West came via heavily armed and armored combat troops. Americans thus mistook the Afghan countryside for a mere theater of war, rather than as a place where people actually lived. U.S. forces turned villages into battlegrounds, pulverizing mud homes and destroying livelihoods. One could almost hear the Taliban laughing as any sympathy for the West evaporated in bursts of gunfire.

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Sometimes, yes, we built good things — clinics, schools, wells. But when the building was done, we would simply leave. The Taliban would not only destroy those facilities, but also look upon the local community with greater suspicion for having received “gifts” from America.

Second, the front-line troops were given zero training in cultural literacy. The Marines I worked with were shocked, for example, to hear me exchanging favorite Koran verses with my fellow Afghans, mistaking this for extremism rather than shared piety. When talking to Afghan villagers, the Marines would not remove their sunglasses — a clear indication of untrustworthiness in a country that values eye contact. In some cases, they would approach and directly address village women, violating one of rural Afghanistan’s strictest cultural norms.

Faux pas such as these sound almost comically basic, and they are. But multiplied over millions of interactions throughout the United States’ two decades of wheel-spinning in Afghanistan, they cost us dearly in terms of local support.

From the point of view of many Afghans, Americans might as well have been extraterrestrials, descending out of the black sky every few weeks, looking and acting alien, and always bringing disruption, if not outright ruin. We failed to understand what made sense for Afghans time and time again. No wonder the Taliban maintained such sway over the past 20 years.

Before long, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

1 September 2021 at 8:40 pm

“A Vast Criminal Racket”: Sebastian Junger on How the U.S. Corrupted Afghanistan

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Sebastian Junger writes in Vanity Fair:

The Taliban delegation to Jalalabad in the summer of 1996 was a dour bunch of old men who took their meals together at a long table in the dining room of the Spinghar hotel. They were there to negotiate the surrender of Jalalabad and I was there to document the last stand of the Afghan government, such as it was, so there were some hard stares across the breakfast buffet. Then we would all go out and face the jet engine heat of the day.

A week later I was driving through Kabul when a Taliban gunner opened up on us with a machine gun. (The Taliban already harbored Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida figures in Afghanistan, but the Islamic State was not yet in existence.) My driver cranked a U-turn and roared back up the ruined boulevard. “We hate those people,” he said, “but they promise to clean up corruption, and so we will let them into our country.” The Taliban claimed Kabul weeks after I got out, hanging President Najibullah from a streetlight for corruption and completing their three-year campaign to establish an Islamic government in Afghanistan. From there, I was told by a captured Taliban fighter, they planned to wage jihad across Southeast Asia and eventually the world.

The one part of the country that never fell to the Taliban, however, was the rugged northeastern quadrant controlled by ethnic Tajiks under the command of legendary guerilla fighter Ahmad Shah Massoud. In the fall of 2000, four years into the Taliban reign, I made my way from Tajikistan into the “free” areas of Badakhshan Province, where I spent two months alongside Massoud and his commanders. I watched Massoud play a brilliant and desperate chess game against the vastly superior Taliban forces, holding ground and even liberating new areas. Massoud warned me that Pakistan—supposedly a U.S. ally—was directly supporting the Taliban, and that al-Qaida was planning a huge attack on the West in the coming year.

Massoud repeated those warnings to the French Congress in Paris the following April, but no one took it seriously. On September 9, 2001, Massoud was assassinated by al-Qaida suicide bombers, and two days later, hijacked airplanes flew into the Pentagon and the Twin Towers. A fourth plane was supposed to take out the Capitol building in Washington and effectively decapitate the U.S. government, but passengers bravely forced it down into a field in Pennsylvania. One month later I was back in Afghanistan, and my country was at war.

After weeks of strangely lackadaisical bombing by American planes, Massoud’s Northern Alliance surged across the Shomali Plain toward Kabul. Tanks and pickup trucks and bicycles and men on foot converged on the two main roads leading into the city and streamed southwards, fighting as they went. On November 13 we walked into the city at dawn past a clutch of dead Taliban fighters who lay vacant and twisted in a pile by the side of the road, executed hours earlier. The citizens of Kabul were dancing in the streets and flying kites and carrying radios that blared Indian pop music. A young boy sailed by on a bike playing harmonica, and a man came up and hugged me when he found out I was American. I had always wanted to see a city liberated, and my wish had finally been fulfilled. Not only that, but it was my own country that had done the liberating; I felt a warm infusion of national pride.

Many Americans are now fond of saying, knowingly, that the war was unwinnable because it’s Afghanistan—graveyard of empires, a rugged land filled with proud people who are happy to fight to the death. But that kind of breezy dismissal just allows us to avoid the embarrassing conversation about what actually went wrong. America had overwhelming military superiority, the approval of over 80% of Afghans polled in 2004, and the sympathy of the entire international community after the attacks of 9/11. The scale of those attacks also gave us the kind of legal, moral, and strategic justifications that were utterly lacking in Korea and Vietnam. If there could be a sure thing in warfare, this was it—and we blew it.

To be clear, American efforts in Afghanistan can’t really be compared to the vast imperialist undertakings of the British and the Soviets; if anything, we weren’t imperialist enough. Taliban resistance collapsed almost immediately in 2001, but instead of following through with a massive infusion of troops and relief, the Bush administration moved on to a completely unnecessary war in Iraq. Afghanistan was initially allotted only about 10,000 American troops—one quarter the size of the New York City police force—and was all but abandoned by the State Department. Iraq was the place to be for ambitious young Americans in the Bush administration; Afghanistan was a backwater.

Afghans looked on in amazement: You lost almost 3,000 civilians to al-Qaida, and this is all you got? For Afghans debating whether to collaborate with American forces, this was not looking like a good bet. “We know what happened to the Kurds after the first Gulf War,” one Afghan told a friend of mine. “President Bush abandoned them after the war, and they were massacred by Saddam Hussein.” Now another member of the Bush dynasty—George W.—was offering a similar deal. Incredibly, many Afghans accepted.

Even with that small level of support, the Afghan endeavor might have worked had the Bush administration—and then the Obama administration—tackled the one thing that Afghans have always demanded, and that all people deserve: an honest and transparent government. Instead, we essentially stood up a huge criminal cartel that posed as a government. President Hamid Karzai’s brother, for example, was the recipient of $23 million in “loans” from the national bank that everyone knew he would never have to pay back. The son of the former Speaker of the Afghan parliament, Rahman Rahmani, was given millions of dollars in contracts to supply fuel and security to U.S. military bases. And a food chain of corrupt officials continued to impose a vast and humiliating extortion system that squeezed money from ordinary Afghans every time they went through a checkpoint, filed paperwork, or even applied for a job. Military commanders even dunned money from their own soldiers’ paychecks for the “privilege” of wearing the country’s uniform.

There was no reason for Afghan soldiers to fight and die for such an enterprise, and by 2005—the next time I was back in-country—the Taliban had regained control of entire districts and were largely dictating the nature of the war. Our high-tech military could win every battle but was useless against an enemy that moved with ease through a civilian population that feared and even hated them. “The U.S. is effectively trying to

Continue reading.  There’s much more.

Later in the article:

Sarah [Chayes] spent almost a decade in Kandahar, learning Pashto and embedding herself so deeply in Kandahari society that the U.S. military had the good sense to hire her as a civilian adviser. She wound up working for three top ISAF commanders and finally inside the Pentagon, reporting directly to Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. According to Sarah, some field commanders knew how important anti-corruption measures could be, because they had watched Taliban-controlled areas open up to them when corrupt local officials were deprived of unregulated development cash. Nevertheless, in 2011, the Obama administration ignored Admiral Mullen and other senior commanders and decided that U.S. policy would not challenge corrupt practices in Afghanistan.

fter that, it was game on for a cash mill that saw a total of $2 trillion spent by America in Afghanistan. Civilian officials from agencies like USAID, the State Department, and Congress continued to launch obscenely inflated development projects that could turn Afghan governors into millionaires overnight. Military contractors continued to unwittingly pay Taliban commanders to refrain from attacking supply convoys. And Afghan officials brazenly stole the paychecks, ammunition, and even food of Afghan soldiers fighting on the front line. On paper the U.S. paid for a 300,000-man Afghan army, but the actual number was much smaller—and the difference, of course, was pocketed by Afghan officials. American policies were so contradictory, in fact, that many ordinary Afghans concluded that the U.S. was secretly allied with the Taliban and just “pretending” to be at war.

Because I had spent a lot of time with U.S. troops in the infamous Korengal Valley, Senator John Kerry invited me to meet with him in late 2010. Kerry was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and said that he wanted to hear my thoughts on how the war was going. We met in Kerry’s office after he had gotten off an overnight flight, and his eyes were heavy with sleep. “The war is not winnable unless we deal with corruption,” I recall telling him, doing my best to channel Sarah’s insights. His response was that the U.S. simply didn’t have enough leverage to press the issue. If we cut off the money, I remember him saying, the government would simply revolt.

“Then tell them we’ll leave,” I said. “If the Taliban take Kabul, every minister is dead, and they all know that.”

There is a particular look that officials get when they know you are right, but their hands are tied, and Kerry had that look now. He thanked me for my insights, and I never heard from him again.

When the Taliban finally seized . . .

It may well be that the US was so accepting of corruption in Afghanistan because the US itself has become extremely corrupt and thus sees no real objection to corruption. See the next post for an example.

Written by Leisureguy

31 August 2021 at 1:01 pm

The US shows signs of breaking down

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Heather Cox Richardson, an American historian and professor of history at Boston College, where she teaches courses on the American Civil War and the Reconstruction Era, writes in her Substack column:

At 3:29 ET on August 30, 2021—early on the morning of August 31 in Afghanistan—the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan ended. It was the longest war in American history.

Among the last to come home were the 13 Americans killed in an ISIS-K attack last Thursday. They arrived at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware Sunday morning from Germany. President Joe Biden, First Lady Jill Biden, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, and 8 aides attended the dignified transfer between the plane and a waiting vehicle.

In the last 17 days in Afghanistan, U.S. troops evacuated more than 120,000 people, making up the largest airlift in our history. For comparison, as Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post pointed out, the U.S. evacuated no Americans from the civil war in Yemen in 2015, and only about 167 from Libya in 2011.

While critics have suggested that America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan will hurt American credibility abroad, President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have called for combatting terrorism through financial sanctions, bombing, and drone strikes like the one they used to retaliate against ISIS-K for the attack on the Kabul airport that killed more than 160 Afghans and 13 Americans last Friday, and by strengthening democracy at home.

There is plenty of work to do on that last front.

Last week, Peter Wehner, who served in the Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush administrations, pointed out in The Atlantic that the right wing has moved to such extremism that former president Trump, whose behavior seemed so shocking in 2015 and 2016, is now being sidelined by lawmakers and pundits who are even more extreme.

Yesterday, in an event hosted by the Macon County Republican Party, Representative Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) insisted that the January 6 rioters are “political hostages” and said he wanted to “bust them out.” When someone in the audience asked “When are you going to call us to Washington again?” he said, “We are actively working on that one…. We have a few plans in motion that I can’t make public right now.” He called for removing Biden from office under the 25th Amendment and added, “when Kamala Harris inevitably screws up, we will take them down, one at a time.” He concluded by saying: “The Second Amendment was not written so that we can go hunting or we can shoot sporting clays…. The Second Amendment was written so that we can fight against tyranny.”

Increasingly, right-wing agitators are calling for violent overthrow of the government.

Today in Pennsylvania, Steve Lynch, a candidate for Northampton County executive, said: “Forget going into these school boards with freaking data. You go into these school boards to remove them. I’m going in with 20 strong men and I’m gonna give them an option—they can leave or they can be removed.”

At a protest in Santa Monica yesterday before a vote on a mask mandate, a man held a sign with the names and home addresses of each Los Angeles City Council member and said protesters would go to the homes of anyone who voted for the mandate and, if it passed, “Civil War is coming! Get your guns!”

This sort of street-level violence is known for radicalizing individuals as they get swept up in it and then later embrace the larger political arguments behind it. It also forces more reasonable individuals out of government positions as they conclude that their position on a school board, for example,  is not worth threats against their families and their lives.

Far from trying to tamp down this violence, right-wing leaders are egging it on. Tonight, on the Fox News Channel, personality Tucker Carlson told his audience that no leader had apologized for “these terrible decisions” in Afghanistan. “This can’t go on,” he said. “When leaders refuse to hold themselves accountable, over time, people revolt…. We need to change course immediately… or else the consequences will be awful.”

The images on the screen behind Carlson were of President Biden, Secretary of State Blinken, Defense Secretary Austin, and Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Milley. Carlson often tries to undermine the current leadership of the military, suggesting that he would welcome its replacement by officers he finds less objectionable.

Republican offense may be an attempt at defense.

Today, Representative Bennie Thompson (D-MS), chair of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, announced that the committee has demanded that 35 major communications companies preserve their records from April 1, 2020, to January 31, 2021, for people involved in the January 5 and January 6 rallies in Washington, D.C., or “potentially involved with discussions” about stopping the electoral vote count on January 6 or otherwise  “potentially involved with discussions” in planning the January 6 insurrection. According to CNN, the companies affected include cell phone giants Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile, US Cellular, and Sprint. Social media companies covered under the request include Apple, Google, Facebook, Signal, Slack, YouTube, Twitch, and Twitter.

CNN reports that members of the committee have requested preservation of the records of representatives Cawthorn, Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Jim Jordan (R-OH), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Mo Brooks (R-AL), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Jody Hice (R-GA), and Scott Perry (R-PA). They have also asked the companies to preserve the records of former president Trump; those of his children Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump; and those of his daughter-in-law Lara Trump and Don Jr.’s girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle, who worked on the campaign.

Those determined to regain control of the country from the Democrats also have to contend with continuing good news from Biden’s policies. A new . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and it’s somewhat more comforting.

Written by Leisureguy

31 August 2021 at 1:49 am

Afghanistan: 3 Unlearned Lessons

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Robert Wright writes at Nonzero Newsletter:

. . .  Unlearned Lesson #1: The presence of a foreign army can strengthen the enemy by expanding its popular support.

In Vietnam, the United States underestimated the enemy’s grassroots support by misunderstanding the enemy’s nature. Many American officials saw the Viet Cong as fundamentally an incarnation of Communist ideology—and to some extent as a creation of outside Communist powers. They failed to see that it was in large part an incarnation of nationalism, of longstanding resistance against Western powers—first France and now the United States. So they didn’t appreciate that the presence of American troops was a kind of fuel for the enemy.

This misunderstanding was a central theme of Frances FitzGerald’s 1972 book Fire in the Lake. The book won a Pulitzer Prize and was a New York Times bestseller—which you’d think would be enough to keep FitzGerald’s point circulating for a long time.

Not long enough, apparently. In Afghanistan we again failed to see how a foreign military presence could energize nationalism and expand the enemy’s base. In a way our failure to get this picture is understandable; the Taliban seemed first and foremost a religious organization, and to the extent that it had a secular identity, that identity seemed rooted more in Pashtun ethnicity than in Afghan nationality. But such is the galvanizing power of a foreign army—especially one whose drones occasionally kill civilians—that unlikely carriers of a nationalist torch can wind up carrying it.

I didn’t totally get this until I listened to a recent edition of Aaron Mate’s Pushback podcast. Daniel Sjursen, a retired Army officer who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan and has taught at West Point, told Mate that “we kind of made the Taliban… What we ended up doing by our very presence was forming them into the national resistance organization they always wanted to be.” The Taliban became “the only game in town” for nationalists; the Taliban could say, “I’m a real Afghan. I’m a nationalist Afghan. Those people in Kabul, they’re working with the Americans.”

Sjursen added, “And we never got that. We thought that, well, more militarization will fix the problem of militarization being the problem.”

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2021 at 6:47 pm

Biden Deserves Credit, Not Blame, for Afghanistan

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David Rothkopf writes in the Atlantic:

America’s longest war has been by any measure a costly failure, and the errors in managing the conflict deserve scrutiny in the years to come. But Joe Biden doesn’t “own” the mayhem on the ground right now. What we’re seeing is the culmination of 20 years of bad decisions by U.S. political and military leaders. If anything, Americans should feel proud of what the U.S. government and military have accomplished in these past two weeks. President Biden deserves credit, not blame.

Unlike his three immediate predecessors in the Oval Office, all of whom also came to see the futility of the Afghan operation, Biden alone had the political courage to fully end America’s involvement. Although Donald Trump made a plan to end the war, he set a departure date that fell after the end of his first term and created conditions that made the situation Biden inherited more precarious. And despite significant pressure and obstacles, Biden has overseen a military and government that have managed, since the announcement of America’s withdrawal, one of the most extraordinary logistical feats in their recent history. By the time the last American plane lifts off from Hamid Karzai International Airport on August 31, the total number of Americans and Afghan allies extricated from the country may exceed 120,000.

In the days following the fall of Kabul earlier this month—an event that triggered a period of chaos, fear, and grief—critics castigated the Biden administration for its failure to properly coordinate the departure of the last Americans and allies from the country. The White House was indeed surprised by how quickly the Taliban took control, and those early days could have been handled better. But the critics argued that more planning both would have been able to stop the Taliban victory and might have made America’s departure somehow tidier, more like a win or perhaps even a draw. The chaos, many said, was symptomatic of a bigger error. They argued that the United States should stay in Afghanistan, that the cost of remaining was worth the benefits a small force might bring.

Former military officers and intelligence operatives, as well as commentators who had long been advocates of extending America’s presence in Afghanistan, railed against Biden’s artificial deadline. Some critics were former Bush-administration officials or supporters who had gotten the U.S. into the mess in the first place, setting us on the impossible path toward nation building and, effectively, a mission without a clear exit or metric for success. Some were Obama-administration officials or supporters who had doubled down on the investment of personnel in the country and later, when the futility of the war was clear, lacked the political courage to withdraw. Some were Trump-administration officials or supporters who had negotiated with and helped strengthen the Taliban with their concessions in the peace deal and then had punted the ultimate exit from the country to the next administration.

They all conveniently forgot that they were responsible for some of America’s biggest errors in this war and instead were incandescently self-righteous in their invective against the Biden administration. Never mind the fact that the Taliban had been gaining ground since it resumed its military campaign in 2004 and, according to U.S. estimates even four years ago, controlled or contested about a third of Afghanistan. Never mind that the previous administration’s deal with the Taliban included the release of 5,000 fighters from prison and favored an even earlier departure date than the one that Biden embraced. Never mind that Trump had drawn down U.S. troop levels from about 13,000 to 2,500 during his last year in office and had failed to repatriate America’s equipment on the ground. Never mind the delay caused by Trump and his adviser Stephen Miller’s active obstruction of special visas for Afghans who helped us.

Never mind the facts. Never mind the losses. Never mind the lessons. Biden, they felt, was in the wrong.

Despite the criticism, Biden, who had argued unsuccessfully when he was Barack Obama’s vice president to seriously reduce America’s presence in Afghanistan, remained resolute. Rather than view the heartbreaking scenes in Afghanistan in a political light as his opponents did, Biden effectively said, “Politics be damned—we’re going to do what’s right” and ordered his team to stick with the deadline and find a way to make the best of the difficult situation in Kabul.

The Biden administration nimbly adapted its plans, ramping up the airlift and sending additional troops into the country to aid crisis teams and to enhance security. Around-the-clock flights came into and went out of Afghanistan. Giant cargo planes departed, a number of them packed with as many as 600 occupants. Senior administration officials convened regular meetings with U.S. allies to find destinations for those planes to land and places for the refugees to stay. The State Department tracked down Americans in the country, as well as Afghans who had worked with the U.S., to arrange their passage to the airport. The Special Immigrant Visa program that the Trump administration had slowed down was kicked into high gear. Despite years of fighting, the administration and the military spoke with the Taliban many times to coordinate passage of those seeking to depart to the airport, to mitigate risks as best as possible, to discuss their shared interest in meeting the August 31 deadline.

The process was relentless and imperfect and, as we all have seen in the most horrific way, not without huge risks for those staying behind to help. On . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2021 at 4:54 pm

Afghanistan evacuation: How would Trump have done?

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David Fisk on Facebook quotes an email sent by Olivia Troye, a former White House national security staffer during the Trump admin., on behalf of the Republican Accountability Project

My heart breaks right now for the people of Afghanistan, and for our allies who are trapped in the country and surrounded by the Taliban. This was a disaster that never had to happen, and I hope they are evacuated quickly and safely.

I’m seeing Republicans claim that Trump would have handled the situation far better—and I know for a fact that’s just not true. Until 2020, I was a national security staffer for the Trump administration, until I quit after seeing just how incompetent and cruel he was. Afghanistan was no exception.

I sat in cabinet meetings about getting Americans and our Afghan allies out of the country. In them, Stephen Miller would peddle his racist hysteria. He and his enablers across the government undermined anyone who worked on solving the issues in getting special immigrant visas (SIVs) for our Afghan allies by undermining the system at Homeland Security and the State Department.

I tracked this issue personally in my role at the White House. I met with many refugee advocate organizations who pleaded for help in getting U.S. allies through the process.

But we got nowhere because Trump and Miller had watchdogs in place at the Justice Department, Homeland Security, State and other agencies that made an already cumbersome SIV process even more challenging.
The system wouldn’t budge, no matter how much we argued in National Security Council meetings. The Pentagon weighed in, saying we needed to get these allies through the process. Mattis and others sent memos trying to help. We all knew the urgency, but we were blocked at every turn.

Good people within the Trump Administration tried to counter Miller’s obstruction, but their fear of retaliation was palpable. Numerous closed door meetings were held, strategizing how to navigate this issue.
Trump had four years to develop a plan. We could have used that time to lay the groundwork to evacuate our Afghan allies. They were the lifelines for many of us who spent time in Afghanistan.

They’d been waiting a long time, all the while under the threat of death at the hands of the Taliban. The process slowed to a trickle for reviews and “other priorities.” Ultimately, they came to a halt.

I have one thing to say to Trump’s defenders who are making blanket statements and pushing false narratives about Afghanistan: please, just stop. Some of you were actively involved in making it harder to get our Afghan allies to safety. Your comments are uninformed and hurtful. And we see right through you.

I’m grateful for everyone now advocating the urgency of getting our allies out of Afghanistan ASAP and those who are doing everything they can to help. This is a matter of national security.

Most importantly, it’s the least we can do for these individuals. The world is watching.

Olivia Troye
Director, Republican Accountability Project

Written by Leisureguy

28 August 2021 at 10:20 am

America’s watershed moment

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Heather Cox Richardson:

America is in a watershed moment. Since the 1980s, the country has focused on individualism: the idea that the expansion of the federal government after the Depression in the 1930s created a form of collectivism that we must destroy by cutting taxes and slashing regulation to leave individuals free to do as they wish.

Domestically, that ideology meant dismantling government regulation, social safety networks, and public infrastructure projects. Internationally, it meant a form of “cowboy diplomacy” in which the U.S. usually acted on its own to rebuild nations in our image.

Now, President Joe Biden appears to be trying to bring back a focus on the common good.

For all that Republicans today insist that individualism is the heart of Americanism, in fact the history of federal protection of the common good began in the 1860s with their own ancestors, led by Abraham Lincoln, who wrote: “The legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves—in their separate, and individual capacities.”

The contrast between these two ideologies has been stark this week.

On the one hand are those who insist that the government cannot limit an individual’s rights by mandating either masks or vaccines, even in the face of the deadly Delta variant of the coronavirus that is, once again, taking more than 1000 American lives a day.

In New York, where Mayor Bill de Blasio has required teachers to be vaccinated, the city’s largest police union has said it will sue if a vaccine is mandated for its members.

In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott on Wednesday issued an executive order prohibiting any government office or any private entity receiving government funds from requiring vaccines.

In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis has also forbidden mask mandates, but today Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper ruled that DeSantis’s order is unconstitutional. Cooper pointed out that in 1914 and 1939, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that individual rights take a back seat to public safety: individuals can drink alcohol, for example, but not drive drunk. DeSantis was scathing of the opinion and has vowed to appeal. Meanwhile, NBC News reported this week that information about the coronavirus in Florida, as well as Georgia, is no longer easily available on government websites.

On the other hand, as predicted, the full approval of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine by the Food and Drug Administration has prompted a flood of vaccine mandates.

The investigation into the events of January 6, when a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, also showcases the tension between individualism and community.

Yesterday, after months in which Republicans, including former president Donald Trump, called for the release of the identity of the officer who shot Capitol rioter Ashli Babbitt, Capitol Police officer Lieutenant Michael Byrd, the 28-year veteran of the force who shot Babbitt, gave an interview to Lester Holt of NBC News.

Right-wing activists have called Babbitt a martyr murdered by the government, but Byrd explained that he was responsible for protecting 60 to 80 members of the House and their staffers. As rioters smashed the glass doors leading into the House chamber, Byrd repeatedly called for them to get back. When Ashli Babbitt climbed through the broken door, he shot her in the shoulder. She later died from her injuries. Byrd said he was doing his job to protect our government. “I know that day I saved countless lives,” Byrd told Holt. “I know members of Congress, as well as my fellow officers and staff, were in jeopardy and in serious danger. And that’s my job.”

The conflict between individualism and society also became clear today as the House select committee looking into the attack asked social media giants to turn over “all reviews, studies, reports, data, analyses, and communications” they had gathered about disinformation distributed by both foreign and domestic actors, as well as information about “domestic violent extremists” who participated in the attack.

Representative Jim Banks (R-IN) immediately responded that “Congress has no general power to inquire into private affairs and to compel disclosure….” He urged telecommunications companies and Facebook not to hand over any materials, calling their effort an “authoritarian undertaking.” Banks told Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson that Republicans should punish every lawmaker investigating the January 6 insurrection if they retake control of Congress in 2022.

Biden’s new turn is especially obvious tonight in international affairs. The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, a country we entered almost 20 years ago with a clear mission that became muddied almost immediately, has sparked Republican criticism for what many describe as a U.S. defeat.

Since he took office, Biden has insisted on shifting American foreign policy away from U.S. troops alone on the ground toward multilateral pressure using finances and technology.

After yesterday’s bombing in Kabul took the lives of 160 Afghans and 13 American military personnel, Biden warned ISIS-K: “We will hunt you down and make you pay.”

Tonight, a new warning from . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and it’s worth reading.

Her comments on how the Right has embraced malignant individualism and rejected working as a community for the common good, are IMO accurate. It’s narcissism run amok.

The War in Afghanistan Is What Happens When McKinsey Types Run Everything

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Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

I had a piece ready to go on Lina Khan’s attempt to break up Facebook, but I think it’s more important to talk about the competence problems revealed by the war in Afghanistan. There are monopoly elements involved, but there is a more basic question at work that keeps coming up, whether it’s the Boeing 737 Max, opioids, Covid mismanagement, or anything else of social importance. Do we have the competence to govern ourselves anymore? There’s also a follow-on question. Will this loss spur genuine reform of our McKinsey-ified elites who failed so spectacularly?

Also:

  • Other People’s Money, or why Wall Street itself is getting ripped off by a monopolist that charges 25 cents to send an email to investors.
  • Other People’s Money, or why does getting an email of your college transcript cost $9?
  • In Texas, hospitals are using Covid to try and suppress nurse wages.
  • What happened when the Centers for Disease Control hired Boston Consulting Group to run their vaccine rollout?
  • Sony builds an anime monopoly.

This is my first newsletter in three weeks. I was on vacation. I won’t normally have absences like this, but honestly, I was burned out. Don’t worry, I’m refreshed, and I have a good issue queued up for early next week, and some fun ideas going forward.

And now…

“The Pervasiveness of Over-Optimism”

In 2017, Netflix put out a satirical movie on the conflict in Afghanistan. It was titled War Machine, and it starred Brad Pitt as an exuberant and deluded U.S. General named Glen McMahon. A fitness fanatic nicknamed ‘the Glanimal’ by his crew of adoring frathouse henchmen, McMahon is modeled on the real-life military leader Stanley McChrystal, who ran the surge in Afghanistan before being fired for saying disparaging things about Obama administration officials (including then VP Biden) on the record to Rolling Stone magazine.

In War Machine, McMahan comes to Afghanistan with a spirited can do attitude and a frat house of hard-partying yes-men, after having ‘kicked Al Qaeda in the sack’ running special operations in Iraq. He is obsessed with inspirational speeches and weird bureaucratic box-ticking, under the amorphous concept of leadership. This kind of leadership, though, isn’t actually working with wisdom and foresight, but is more like management consulting. Prior to arriving in Afghanistan, for instance, McMahan created a system, with the acronym SNORPP to coordinate military assets. At night, he cozies down to read books on management excellence, the kind that Harvard Business Review publishes as sort of Chicken Soup for the Executive’s Soul. He is also the author of a fictional book with the amazing title, “One Leg At a Time: Just Like Everybody Else.”

And yet his mission is unwinnable, which everyone seems to understand except him and his small team. McMahan constantly makes awkward speeches that make no sense, with the tone used by untrusted executives at corporate retreats. “We are here to build, to protect, to support the civilian population,” he told his troops. “To that end, we must avoid killing it at all costs. We cannot help them and kill them at the same time, it just ain’t humanly possible.” His character reflects what the actual government watchdog charged with overseeing the war in Afghanistan called one of the central problems with the U.S. effort, “the pervasiveness of over-optimism:”

If McMahan himself is a naive fool, he is surrounded by cynical bureaucratic opponents. As he seeks support for his new strategy of putting troops in Taliban-held provinces, he is gently ignored by the President of Afghanistan, who is a drug-addicted hypochondriac, and mocked by State Department and national security aparachnicks, who are striving cynics urging McMahon to just falsify numbers to make the war look a little better and not embarrass President Obama. Troops on the ground are demoralized and confused. No one actually believes in the mission, but dammit, McMahon is gonna get it done, whatever ‘it’ is. When McMahon tries to give an inspirational speech to ordinary Afghanis in Taliban-controlled territory about how the U.S. is going to bring them jobs and schools, one responds by saying he like jobs and schools, but please go away so the Taliban won’t retaliate. “The longer you are here the worse for us. Please go.”

It’s a hilarious, and extraordinarily dark movie. It also rang true, because it was based on the work of no-bullshit journalist Michael Hastings, who was perhaps the most honest reporter about the military establishment. And, as life is true to fiction, McChrystal, the general who Hastings profiled in Rolling Stone with an embarrassing story that led to his resignation, is now a management consultant (and board member of defense contractors). He runs inspirational ‘leadership training’ at the McChrystal Group, which is McKinsey with military branding.

In fact, McChrystal and much of our military leadership is tight with consultants like McKinsey, and that whole diseased culture from Harvard Business School of pervasive over-optimism and finance-venture capital monopoly bro-a-thons. McKinsey itself had involvement in Afghanistan, with at least one $18.6 million contract to help the Defense Department define its “strategic focus,” though government watchdogs found that the “only output [they] could find” was a 50-page report about strategic economic development potential in Herat, a province in western Afghanistan.” It turns out that ‘strategic focus’ means an $18.6 million PowerPoint. (There was reporting on this contract because Pete Buttigieg worked on it as a junior analyst at McKinsey, and he has failed upward to run the Transportation Department.)

I bring War Machine up because of today’s debate over Afghanistan. While there is a lot of back and forth about whether intelligence agencies knew that the Taliban would take over, or what would happen if we left, or whether the withdrawal could be done more competently, all you had to do to know that this war was a shitshow based on deception and idiocy at all levels was to turn on Netflix and watch this movie. Or you could read any number of inspector general reports, leaked documents, articles, talk to any number of veterans, or use common sense, which, polling showed, most Americans did. (Marine vet Lucas Kunce gives a nice rundown of the problem in this interview). I mean, it’s not like a major international media outlet printed a multi-part expose, which became a handy book, detailing the fact that everyone running the show knew it was an unwinnable mess nearly a decade ago. Oh, wait

In other words, the war in Afghanistan is like seeing management consultants come to your badly managed software company where everyone knows the problem is the boss’s indecisiveness and cowardice, except it’s violent and people die.

I mean, U.S. military leaders, like bad consultants or executives, lied about Afghanistan to the point it was routine. Here are just a few quotes from generals and DOD spokesmen over the years on the strength of the Afghan military, which collapsed almost instantly after the U.S. left.

In 2011, General David Petraeus stated, “Investments in leader development, literacy, marksmanship and institutions have yielded significant dividends. In fact, in the hard fighting west of Kandahar in late 2010, Afghan forces comprised some 60% of the overall force and they fought with skill and courage.”

In 2015, General John Campbell said that the the Afghan Army had “proven themselves to be increasingly capable,” that they had “grown and matured in less than a decade into a modern, professional force,” and, further, that they had “proven that they can and will take the tactical fight from here.”

In 2017, General John Nicholson stated that Afghan security forces had “prevailed in combat against an externally enabled enemy,” and that the army’s “ability to face simultaneity and complexity on the battlefield signals growth in capability.”

On July 11, 2021, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said that the Afghan army has “much more capacity than they’ve ever had before, much more capability,” and asserted, “they know how to defend their country.”

Basically, look at this photo below, imagine them in camouflage, and that’s the U.S. military leadership. . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

27 August 2021 at 3:33 pm

The biggest military evacuation in US history is going pretty well

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Kevin Drum points out some obvious facts that some are ignoring:

I have had it with coverage of the Kabul evacuation. The plain fact is that, under the circumstances, it’s going fairly well. Both Americans and Afghan allies are being flown out safely and bloodshed on the ground is surprisingly limited. Sure, the whole operation is going to take a few weeks, but what did everyone expect?

But you’d never know this thanks to an immense firehose of crap coming from the very people we should least believe. This includes:

  • The hawks who kept the war in Afghanistan going for years with lies and happy talk, and who are now desperate to defend themselves.
  • Republicans who figure this is a great opportunity to sling partisan bullshit. Their favorite is that Biden has destroyed America’s standing in the world, an old chestnut for which there’s no evidence whatsoever.
  • Trumpies trying to avoid blame for the execution of their own plan. It is gobsmacking to hear them complain about slow processing of Afghan allies when they were the ones who deliberately hobbled the visa process in the first place.
  • Democrats who, as usual, are too damn cowardly to defend the withdrawal for fear of—something. It’s not always clear what.
  • Reporters who are sympathetic to all this because they genuinely care about the danger that the withdrawal poses for people they knew in Afghanistan.

The only real mistake the military made in this operation was in not realizing just what a terrible job they had been doing all along. Everything else flows from that. If the Afghan government had been able to hold off the Taliban for even a few weeks, everything would have been fine. But they didn’t even try. Ghani just grabbed a few suitcases of cash and took off.

All by itself, this should tell you how hopeless the situation in Afghanistan has been all along. After 20 years, the Afghan military, even with plenty of warning about when we planned to leave, was unable, and in many cases unwilling, to fight. It’s laughable to think that another few months would have made any difference. It’s equally laughable to hear from the “light footprint” gang, who think that we could have kept a few thousand troops in Afghanistan forever and avoided any kind of fighting even after the Taliban cease-fire was over.

As for all the Americans being airlifted out, I suppose it’s bad form to point out that they were told to leave months ago? If they had a lick of common sense most of them wouldn’t be stuck in Kabul and elsewhere waiting to be rescued.

The sophisticated attitude these days is to say that, of course, we needed to leave Afghanistan, but surely we could have executed the withdrawal more competently? Maybe, but I’d like to hear the plan. The problems we’ve run into were baked into the cake long ago, and the actual evacuation itself has been run with courage and guts. “There’s a whole nother story line that media could follow,” Cheryl Rofer says. “The people who are working to keep the flights running, the people who get on the flights, the people who are helping others to get to the airport, the people who are running the logistics.”

Amen to that. This is by far the biggest military evacuation in US history, and it’s being handled surprisingly well. Maybe that will change tomorrow. Anything could happen. But so far the US media has been suckered into a narrative that’s almost precisely the opposite of the truth. It needs to stop.

See, for example, “Congressman Seeking to Relaunch Afghan War Made Millions in Defense Contracting.”

Written by Leisureguy

22 August 2021 at 4:02 pm

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