Thursday, November 5, 2009

Quagmire Pudding

Last Thursday, Oct. 29, a U.S. think tank (RAND) sponsored a discussion in a senate office building, about what to do about Afghanistan.  Zbigniew Brzezinski was chosen to keynote the proceedings, in which he disclosed that he had advised the Bush/Cheney administration to invade Afghanistan in 2001. His recommendation at last Thursday's meeting: Withdrawal is "not in the range of policy options."[1]

Some believe that Obama's not going to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan because he fears a revolt from the military. It's Vietnam all over again. "Victory is not possible and President Obama knows it," says Daniel Ellsberg. "But he will go against his own instincts as to what's best for the country and do what's best for him ... in the short run facing elections, and cave in to General McCrystal's request for 40,000 more troops to prevent the military from accusing him of being weak, unmanly, indecisive and weak on terrorism."[2]

Er, what about all those Afghan troops we've been training now for eight years?  "Eight more years, 80 more years, will not provide the motivation to fight offensively against their own countrymen ... for a foreign power. And we are a foreign power in Afghanistan," says Ellsberg.[3]

Ellsberg--wasn't he the one who leaked the Pentagon Papers back in '65?  Gosh he's aged. And still out there trying to stir up the pot, still The Most Dangerous Man Alive.

Never mind Ellsberg, what about the U.S.-backed current President of Afghanistan, Harmid Karzai? The one we're funding to get things going again in that war-pocked country--Karzai, who just got, er, circumstantially self elected, again.  How's he doing bringing Afghanistan into the 21st century?

Well, last March he signed off on the Shiite Personal Status Law, which legalizes marital rape "by authorizing a husband to withhold food from a wife who fails to provide sexual service at least once every four days."

It also denies or severely limits women's rights to inherit, divorce or have guardianship of their own children; legalizes marriage to and rape of minors and gives men control of all their female relatives; denies women the right to leave home except for 'legitimate purposes' and in effect gives men the power to deny women access to work, education, healthcare, and voting; and treats women as property. 

"Such barbaric laws were supposed to have been relegated to the past with the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, yet Karzai has revived them and given them his official stamp of approval," according to observations by a Human Rights Watch director.  No American official said a word.[4]

But we're okay with that, I guess. The fact that Afghani girls as young as 13 are being forced to marry men four  times their age whose other wives or family beat or starve them, and who later set themselves on fire as the only means to escape their dire circumstances ... well but it's their culture; who are we to impose our Western morality?

President Karzai's brother [allegedly on the payroll of the CIA] told activist Zarghuna Kakar, a member of the Kandahar Provincial Council forced to leave Afghanistan after she and her family were attacked and her husband killed, that she "should have thought about what may happen" before she stood for election. [5]

We're okay with that, too, I guess.  "If you can't stand the heat--stay out of the kitchen." 

Perhaps, in addition to the ever-louder push for increased 'boots on the ground', the powers that be might benefit from hearing from more people who actually lived and worked there, who have seen things first-hand, who speak the language.  Like Ann Jones?  But wait, she's a woman, and she criticizes the government. (This reviewer of her book Kabul in Winter dismisses Jones's well researched, carefully presented accounts as a "furious polemic", likening them to the overly emotional spoutings of an angry, screeching banchee, calling it "a diatribe, a barely coherent rant directed at President Bush and a host of other actors, both domestic and international."  Wow.

The reviewer feels it necessary to warn the prospective reader:   "Ms. Jones views the United States as an imperialist power bent on shaping the world to its narrow interests, and with malice aforethought, imposing free-market economics on the oppressed peoples of the world.  She considers the hunt for Mr. Bin Laden a foolish adventure and, although she does not say so outright, seems to regard his criticisms of American foreign policy as quite sensible."  (Do they actually mention, much less actively look for Bin Laden anymore?).  The reviewer ends by patronising her:  But look, she [Ms. Jones] has "compassion for the plight of Afghan women" and seeks to make their voice known. (Pay no mind to what she says about American foreign policy, though--she's just ... "ranting" there.)

I read Winter in Kabul  last year and did not find Jones's observations and comments 'rantful' (if there is such a word).  Concerned, yes; upset, definitely; and yes, angry--about what she saw taking place in Afghanistan, on all sides.  Who wouldn't be, documenting some of the abuse and horrors to which she bore witness?  But "ranting?"  (Definition of "ranting":   To utter or express with violence ... (ex. a dictator who ranted his vitriol); high-sounding language, without importance or dignity of thought; boisterous, empty declamation; bombast; as, the rant of fanatics.) [emphasis mine] 

Maybe Ann Jones is merely saying what many people are thinking but might not care, for whatever reason, to articulate. An equal number of people on the other side of the Us/Them divide will react to her criticisms, whether implied or baldly stated (even if later proven to be true) by mounting an immediate ad hominem attackNothing to see here, folks.  She's obviously ranting.  Ah, labels.  Whatever would we do without them.

That poor country--Afghanistan--has been at war for what seems like Forever.  But in the 1960s and '70s, as Ann Jones reminds us, before the Soviet invasion:  "Half the country's doctors, more than half the civil servants and three-quarters of the teachers were women."  Compare that with today.  "What changed all that was not only the violence of war but the accession to power of the most backward men in the country: first the Taliban, now the mullahs and mujahedeen of the fraudulent, corrupt, Western-designed government that stands in opposition to 'normal life' as it is lived in the developed world and was once lived in their own country." 

As to sending in more troops and more money for training:

Afghans do not think or act like Americans. Yet Americans in power refuse to grasp that inconvenient point. These impoverished men in a country without work have joined the Afghan National Army for what they can get out of it (and keep or sell) -- and that doesn't include democracy or glory.[6]

How big is the Afgan army again?  By rough estimate there's about 70,000 U.S. troops over there right now (100,000 if you count NATO and allies).  If  40,000 more are sent, it will bring the total to 140,000.  Add to that the 90,000 Afghan troops already there--let's see, that would make 230,000 'military' in place, all out actively fighting the Taliban--and the Taliban's still winning. 

Ann Jones wonders what there is to show for "all our remarkably expensive training:

Although in Washington they may talk about the 90,000 soldiers in the Afghan National Army, no one has reported actually seeing such an army anywhere in Afghanistan. When 4,000 U.S. Marines were sent into Helmand Province in July to take on the Taliban in what is considered one of its strongholds, accompanying them were only about 600 Afghan security forces, some of whom were police.  Why, you might ask, didn't the ANA, 90,000 strong after eight years of training and mentoring, handle Helmand on its own? No explanation has been offered. American and NATO officers often complain that Afghan army units are simply not ready to "operate independently," but no one ever speaks to the simple question: Where are they?[7]

She does not believe such an army even exists.  Granted, many Afghan men may gone through the basic warrior training "90,000 times or more".  But when she lived in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2006 she knew men who repeatedly went through training just to get a Kalashnikov and get paid.  They'd go home for a while "and return some weeks later to enlist again under a different name."  How many commanders were (are?) collecting pay for 'phantom' soldiers: one's who have deserted or been killed?  Who is keeping track of that?

Jones cites circumstances on the ground from more than three years ago.  Is that still the case?  Is it true that 60% of the Afghan police force are on drugs?  That "no amount of American training, mentoring, or cash will determine what Afghans will fight for, if indeed they fight at all"?  Where are the voices of more investigative reporters?  We have only the word of the generals, who are are not always consistent or unbiased, some of whom are being paid handsomely by TV stations for expressing their opinions.

Sober reading, and my apologies for quoting at such great length.  It's been my experience that casual readers seldom click on footnotes to access an original source.  Who has the time?  Or interest, even, in an obscure personal blog presenting questions or expressing a viewpoint--other than a few friends or colleagues.  So consider me talking to myself here.  But what Ann Jones says makes sense.  At least to me.  No one likes to admit failure.  Or be reminded of Vietnam.  My brother in law is still struggling with flashbacks.  Wars that keep on giving ...  Trying to "do it right this time" shouldn't include following the exact same game plan, expecting different results.  It didn't work then; it won't work now.  (Don't these people study history?!!)

 Quagmire Pudding

I liken the quagmire in Afghanistan and Iraq to a recipe for a pudding.  Everybody wants it to come out, not only the chef (for his or her reputation is at stake), but the people who are going to be eating it.  Will they be able to digest it?  It's already unpalatable.  It leaves partakers with a bad taste in their mouth.  Too many toxic ingredients are mucking up the process.  What to do?  Adding more of the same  won't make it better.  Chucking the whole project and starting all over from scratch won't either because the bakers insist on following the exact same recipe.(i.e., re-baking the Vietnam Pudding, which you remember was a complete disaster).

The thing's been tried and retried so many times we've all got indigestion now.  Some of us are seriously ill, to be quite frank.  Not to mention the people who don't necessarily even like pudding in the first place being forced to ingest it against their will, and in some cases without being forewarned  (white phosporus, anyone?). 

I wonder which way Obama will go.

I wonder into which century these war-as-longterm-investments because of a country's strategic location or its enviable natural resources will continue, under the guise of bringing democracy.

I came across some interesting wording on a Tibetan prayer flag recently.  The little rain-faded ones flying over my garden shed contain the standard mantras and invocations to bring happiness, long life and prosperity, but I've never seen one addressed specifically on the subject of war:

"May the terrible weapons of modern warfare--nuclear weapons, biological weapons, and so forth--that threaten to destroy the Earth--and all our ill fortune leading to great wars and armed conflict, be utterly pacified, and may the world enjoy happiness similar to that of the golden age." -- Kamala Radza Dvipa.

Peace, harmony, stability and prosperity.  Add "health" and "happiness" and it sounds like something you'd find on a New Year's greeting card. Just my personal opinion but, I think there are too many cooks in the kitchen, all trying to direct how the pudding comes out.   People should have a say as to whether they get to eat experimental pudding or, say, uncontaminated veggies.  They should have a choice.  Maybe pudding, in the long run, will prove detrimental to their health. And it shouldn't be about the reputation of the cook, or the grumblings of those who think their recipe is more authentic, can be more forcefully executed, or would be more widely accepted. Chefs come and go. The damage to the kitchen when fires start erupting daily, when equipment is lost or stolen or rendered inoperable, or when too much smoke and cacophony interferes with the chef's ability to make decisions, clouding his/her management of the kitchen--cannot be alleviated by sending in 50 more eager but inexperienced young potato peelers or expert grill specialists.  (Are you listening, Obama?).

Stretching this metaphor to the breaking point.  Snnnnnaaaaaaaaaaaappppppppppppppp!

They probably won't listen to Ann Jones-- 'cause she's a woman.  (She "rants".)  What do women know about war?  Only a military strategist, like the retired generals they trot out from time to time on CNN, can enlighten us to what's happening "over there", except more often than not it consists mostly of pep talks and platitudes, devoid of substance. The public isn't privileged to hear the real information.  Meanwhile, back at the homefront ... more of our young lads are being recruited up for the mission.  (Remind me again:  What IS the mission?)

Rant rant.  Rant.  rant.... rant ....  rant...    

I wonder what it's like to live in a so-called "Golden Age".  But what are you gonna do--we live in the now.  It is what it is.  Doesn't mean we have to buy the pudding, though, just 'cause it's the flavor of the year (or in this case, decade).

I'm just saying ...


*I learned this afternoon about the mass shooting at the base at Fort Hood, TX.  The shooter, a mental health professional, was about to be sent for duty overseas.  My condolences to the families and friends of those who were killed.


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