Crude but this does appear to be our strategy…War on terror is in its Third Round – latimes.com, Andrew Bacevich

With over a billion Muslims in the world it is difficult to imagine this as a successful strategy since it risks radicalizing those who now bear us only suspicion, not ill-will.  It also risks eventually crossing the line at which national security interests prevail entirely over individual rights set out in the Constitution, a line I distinguish from the present regrettable situation only by the fact that the population gets excited and active about civil liberties.  (I hasten to say, I have no special knowledge of Vickers’ thinking and am relying on Bacevich to characterize it accurately here.)

With former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates gone, Vickers is the senior remaining holdover from George W. Bush’s Pentagon. His background is nothing if not eclectic. He previously served in the Army Special Forces and as a CIA operative. In the 1980s he played a leading role in supporting the Afghan mujahedin in their war against Soviet occupiers. Subsequently, he worked in a Washington think tank and earned a doctorate in strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Even during the Bush era, Vickers never subscribed to expectations that the United States could liberate or pacify the Islamic world. His preferred approach to combating terrorism is simplicity itself. “I just want to kill those guys,” he likes to say, “those guys” referring to members of Al Qaeda. Kill the people who want to kill Americans and don’t stop until they are all dead: This defines the Vickers strategy, which has now become U.S. strategy (Emphasis added)

For Vickers, this means acting aggressively to eliminate would-be killers wherever they might be found, employing whatever means necessary. Vickers “tends to think like a gangster,” one admiring former colleague comments. “He can understand trends, then change the rules of the game so they are advantageous for your side.”

Round 3 is all about bending, breaking and reinventing rules in ways thought to be advantageous to the United States. Much as counterinsurgency supplanted “shock and awe,” a broad-gauged program of targeted assassination has now displaced counterinsurgency as the prevailing expression of the American way of war. The United States is finished with the business of sending large land armies to invade and occupy countries. Instead, it uses missile-firing drones along with hit-and-run attacks to eliminate anyone the president of the United States decides to eliminate (including the occasional U.S. citizen).

This is America’s new M.O. Paraphrasing a threat issued by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Washington Post dispatch succinctly summarized what this implies: “The United States reserved the right to attack anyone who it determined posed a direct threat to U.S. national security, anywhere in the world.”

Furthermore, the president exercises this supposed right without warning, without regard to claims of national sovereignty, without congressional authorization and without consulting anyone other than Vickers and a few other members of the national security apparatus.

via War on terror is in its Third Round – latimes.com.

“American Exceptionalism,” Some facts, ruminations and clarifications…

http://tykos-wassupthisweek.blogspot.com/

The term “American Exceptionalism” has taken a real beating in our political discourse in recent years, primarily being used by the right as a club to beat the left for believing we should work with other countries and not seek international situations in which to involve ourselves militarily if we can solve the problems with other countries through diplomacy.

The idea of American exceptionalism has a real history.  It is well to know it and to know when it is being perverted or turned to partisan use.

How bad would it be to just “pull out” of Afghanistan?

KABUL, Afghanistan- Afghan President Hamid Kar...
Image via Wikipedia

Every now and then, in fact frequently, the Karzai administration takes some step or makes some pronouncement that causes me to wonder if the dire consequences of a “pull out” would, in fact, be worse than what we have now and the direction that government is going.  Today the Washington Post reports on Karzai’s efforts to limit international (read US) involvement in anti-corruption investigations.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/08/AR2010090805935.html?wpisrc=nl_cuzhead

Moral obligations to be met before we leave Afghanistan…Women and our Afghan allies

Women and the people who have truly cast their lot with us deserve some consideration before we leave Afghanistan, however much we may want to just pack up and go.

Here is a link to an NPR program on women and their current treatment by the Taliban.  Imagine what is likely to happen to them without us there.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129306237&ft=1&f=1149

Note that education of women, in and of itself, is opposed by the Taliban.  And  we’ve been prating about how we have helped secure educational opportunities for them.  If we leave messily, as we almost certainly will, we will not have lived up to our moral obligation to them.

Then remember the people who did not make it aboard the helicopters picking up evacuees from the roof of the US embassy in Saigon (and remember, there were people all over South Vietnam, not just in Saigon, who had placed themselves and their families in jeopardy if we left without securing their safety).  Some of those people suffered greatly and others did not.  In either case we did not live up to our moral obligation to them, those who escaped retribution did so without our help.

I really would like to see us out of there.  I really would not like to see women and those who have served us suffer for our leaving.  Any suggestions?

Moral choice in Afghanistan, how war aims become transmuted by war itself into moral issues…

The whole story (link below) is interesting but two points hit me hard in this story and I have added emphasis to make them visible.  First is that analysis of 76,000 WikiLeaked documents covering escalation of the insurgency 2004- end of 2009 show al-Qaeda had become an afterthought in the war.  Those documents are more compelling testimony to me than Leon Panetta and other government officials claiming it, because they are raw field stuff, not material filtered to and from officialdom.  Second is that al-Qaeda has to deal with Afghan mistrust of foreign intrusion, just as we do.

These two points make me think that, in terms of our initial war aims, we may have done as much as ever can in Afghanistan.  What remains are all those things we’ve learned (or, more correctly, progressed from “knowing” to “feeling intensely”) since arriving, i.e. the plight of women under the Taliban, the impact of the drug based agricultural system on the country, the fragility of the government we set up, the extent to which one becomes the victim of one’s best judgments as we are now bound to Karzai who is quite possibly no longer bound to us, and readers can extend the list.  But are we willing to walk away from the likely fate of women after we leave, the drug situation, a government which will almost surely reconfigure to our disadvantage if it doesn’t fall completely or fault Karzai for not wanting to give his life and fate to the United States?

The question in Afghanistan for me is increasingly not one of whether the war is now necessary but are we prepared to suffer the consequences of having gone to war there and left it to its fate when our initial purposes were met; are we able to step away from what we now know and feel intensely that we knew abstractly and from a distance before going in?

Facing Afghan mistrust, al-Qaeda fighters take limited role in insurgency

By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 23, 2010; A01

On Aug. 14, a U.S. airstrike in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz killed a Taliban commander known as Abu Baqir. In a country where insurgents are killed daily, this attack was notable for one unusual detail:

Abu Baqir, the military said afterward, was also a member of al-Qaeda.

Although U.S. officials have often said that al-Qaeda is a marginal player on the Afghan battlefield, an analysis of 76,000 classified U.S. military reports posted by the Web site WikiLeaks underscores the extent to which Osama bin Laden and his network have become an afterthought in the war.

The reports, which cover the escalation of the insurgency between 2004 and the end of 2009, mention al-Qaeda only a few dozen times and even then just in passing. Most are vague references to people with unspecified al-Qaeda contacts or sympathies, or as shorthand for an amorphous ideological enemy.

Bin Laden, thought to be hiding across the border in Pakistan, is scarcely mentioned in the reports. One recounts how his picture was found on the walls of a couple of houses near Khost, in eastern Afghanistan, in 2004.

A year later, U.S. forces also saw his likeness on a jihadist propaganda poster near the Pakistan border. In 2007, a district subgovernor in Nangarhar province informed U.S. officials that a local newspaper would print “names of personnel working for bin Laden.”

Other al-Qaeda leaders are similarly invisible figures. One report describes a botched June 2007 attempt to capture or kill Abu Laith al-Libi, a senior al-Qaeda military commander. U.S. Special Forces missed their target, instead accidentally killing seven children in a religious school in Paktika province.

There are also fleeting references to Abu Ikhlas al-Misri, the nom de guerre of an Egyptian who serves as an al-Qaeda commander in Kunar province. In 2008, an Afghan district official confirmed to U.S. officers that he had heard a rumor that Abu Ikhlas was suffering from a “sprained ankle.” But otherwise, at least in the WikiLeaks reports, the Egyptian remains in the shadows.

Change in strategy

In June, CIA Director Leon Panetta estimated that, “at most,” only 50 to 100 al-Qaeda operatives were present in Afghanistan. His assessment echoed those given by other senior U.S. officials. In October, national security adviser James L. Jones said the U.S. government’s “maximum estimate” was that al-Qaeda had fewer than 100 members in Afghanistan, with no bases and “no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies.”

Since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, al-Qaeda’s leadership and fighters have largely sought refuge across the border in Pakistan. There they have been targeted by U.S. drone attacks from the skies as they try to remain beyond the reach of U.S. forces.

The evasion marks a departure from al-Qaeda’s approach in previous conflicts. Bin Laden and other jihadist leaders recruited thousands of Arabs and other foreign fighters to combat the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Al-Qaeda also persuaded hundreds, if not thousands, of followers to travel to Iraq after the 2003 U.S. invasion, where they played a significant role in fueling the insurgency and sectarian violence.

This time, U.S. military officials and analysts say, al-Qaeda has changed its strategy, mostly limiting its role in the Taliban-led insurgency to assisting with training, intelligence and propaganda. Although the terrorist network still considers the “liberation” of Afghanistan its primary strategic objective, it is biding its time until the infidels lose patience and leave.

“The numbers aren’t large, but their ability to help local forces punch above their weight acts as a multiplier,” said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert and Georgetown University professor. “They’ve learned from their previous experiences, when their foreign fighters were front and center.”

In Iraq, he noted, al-Qaeda figures from elsewhere alienated the locals by trying to hijack that insurgency.

U.S. military officials say al-Qaeda recognizes the same risk in Afghanistan. Taliban leaders often see al-Qaeda, their erstwhile ally, as “a handicap,” according to an unclassified briefing presented in December by Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn, the top U.S. military intelligence officer in Afghanistan.

Although Taliban commanders want support from al-Qaeda and jihadists around the world, according to Flynn, they are sensitive to the idea that ordinary Afghans might view it as foreign interference.

Excerpt from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/22/AR2010082203029_pf.html

Not what I had thought, at all…

I knew Afghanistan, at least Kabul, had experienced better days, but nothing like this.  See the whole series of pictures: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/05/27/once_upon_a_time_in_afghanistan?page=0,0

Once Upon a Time in Afghanistan…

Record stores, Mad Men furniture, and pencil skirts — when Kabul had rock ‘n’ roll, not rockets.

BY MOHAMMAD QAYOUMI | MAY 27, 2010

View the photos.

On a recent trip to Afghanistan, British Defense Secretary Liam Fox drew fire for calling it “a broken 13th-century country.” The most common objection was not that he was wrong, but that he was overly blunt. He’s hardly the first Westerner to label Afghanistan as medieval. Former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince recently described the country as inhabited by “barbarians” with “a 1200 A.D. mentality.” Many assume that’s all Afghanistan has ever been — an ungovernable land where chaos is carved into the hills. Given the images people see on TV and the headlines written about Afghanistan over the past three decades of war, many conclude the country never made it out of the Middle Ages.

But that is not the Afghanistan I remember. I grew up in Kabul in the 1950s and ’60s.

Jefferson on what might have been: A Cold Man’s Warm Words – WSJ.com

There has been a “special relationship” between the US and the UK for longer than any of us now living can remember but it is important to discover touches of history pointing out differences.  Although in many ways Englishmen enjoy the same rights we do (at least technically), their path to those rights diverged from ours and Jefferson clearly found reason to regret that separation.

Peggy Noonan’s exposition of this point is welcome and I commend it to you.

A Cold Man’s Warm Words – WSJ.com.