State of the Union

To Surge or Not to Surge?

Led by a conflicted president of a divided party and nation, America is deepening her involvement in a war in its ninth year with no end in sight.

Only one parallel to Barack Obama’s troop decision comes to mind: the 2007 decision by George W. Bush to ignore the Baker Commission and put Gen. David Petraeus in command of a “surge” of 30,000 troops into Iraq.

That surge succeeded. Baghdad was largely pacified. The Sunni of Anbar, heart of the resistance, accepted Petraeus’ offer of cash and a role in the new Iraq. Together, Americans and Sunni began to eradicate al-Qaida. In July, the surge ended and U.S. troops withdrew from the cities.

In August and October, however, the Finance, Justice and Foreign ministries were bombed. The Sons of Iraq now say the Shia government reneged on its pledge to pay their wages and bring them into the army.

Jockeying in parliament for the inside track to power in January’s elections may force a postponement of the elections, and of the U.S. timetable for withdrawal. Kurds and Arabs are battling over Kirkuk. Iraqis seem to be going back to fighting one another.

What hope can there be then for a U.S. troop surge in Afghanistan, a larger, wilder, less accessible, more backward country, whose regime is less competent and more corrupt than that in Iraq? Read More…

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Black Humor and the Art of War

Today’s Wash Post has a headline article on Afghanistan which notes that a major offensive against the Taliban in Helmand province earlier this year was “slowed” due to “political pressure from the Afghan government.”  Confirmation that Afghanistan’s so-called government has only limited authority over a war being fought on its own territory rather suggests that Americans are dying to support a latter day Potemkin village-north-of-the Khyber Pass.  And worse is coming.  Like many other Americans I am dreading the Obama speech Tuesday night which will undoubtedly prove that even smart presidents can behave like a-holes.  It will be the first Obama speech that I will actually watch, particularly as it does not conflict with Dancing With the Stars. 

A blog site poster this weekend suggested that we Americans should begin to make preparations for an AfPak War Memorial in Washington.  He/She proposed a nice, currently vacant plot of land on the Mall next to the Vietnam Memorial.  As the Vietnam memorial is already down in a hole, the AfPak moument could be a hole that keeps getting deeper.  To enter it you have to pass under a Dantesque gateway that has “Quagmire” written across it.  There might even be enough room for a Global War on Terror monument, possibly a rendition of a stylized Washington bureaucrat shown spending large sums of money on nothing. 

The absurdity of what we are doing in so many places and the speculation about a war memorial reminded me of an awful bit of black humor circulating at my army intelligence unit during the Vietnam War.  National Lampoon had published a cartoon of a proposed Vietnam memorial that was a grand version of a McDonald’s restaurant of that era with two magnificent golden arches.  Spanning the arches was an inscription reading “We are all meat.”  The absurdity of the monument and inscription was just what we needed to cope with the prospect of shipping out to ‘Nam so we made a large copy of the proposed memorial and hung it on the wall.  But it proved unpopular with several senior officers so we mounted it on a two sided frame back to back with an approved print of General Patton’s 3rd Army Tanks breaking through to Bastogne.  Whenever we were expecting visitors we would flip over the frame to conceal the McDonalds’ war memorial.

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Send in the Marines! …Then What?

The front page of the Washington Post this morning is nothing less than steroidal. One half of above-the-fold is dedicated to a lengthy feature exploring modern USMC officer training, the other to the launch of fresh Marines into Helmand Province as part of President Obama’s soon-to-be-announced COIN strategy in Afghanistan. More boots, more firepower for clearing, holding and building. COIN in action, concentrated on long-standing trouble spots in Pashtunistan, just as Kim and Frederick Kagan had always dreamed (although they would have preferred more boots, more firepower, but alas, there is always time).

The rub of it all is that this plan cannot work in the long-term without capable, competent, semi-non-corrupt, loyal Afghan police and Army to HOLD if and when U.S Marines leave these southern areas of the country. The Post story doesn’t get to this glaring reality until the end of the piece, in which reporter Greg Jaffe quotes Army spokesman Greg Smith saying, “this will be a credibility test for the [Afghan] government to see if it can deliver.”

No, this will be a credibility test to see if COIN or Surge II can deliver, and for President Obama, who is betting the rapidly waning credibility of his presidency on a myth that was spawned in Iraq and will likely see a very troubled, if not ill-fated resolution in Central Asia.

Why? Because, as stated in the WaPo report and by numerous military analysts for and against the war,  the success of COIN in Afghanistan depends on the breadth and fitness of Afghan National Army (ANA) (supposedly an estimated 90,000 today) and the Afghan National Police (ANP) (supposedly an estimated 80,000). And it ain’t doing so good.

I wrote about this for Antiwar.com last month. I only hit the tip of the iceberg. It’s all about recruitment, retention, the quality of training and above all, loyalty to the central government. Not only is there trouble with all of the above now, Obama’s plan, envisioned by Gen. Stanley McChrystal & Co., seeks to expand the number of Army recruits to 134,000 by next October in order for this whole thing to work. It’s nothing less than a house of cards.

Intrepid Inter Press Service writer Gareth Porter has an excellent report this weekend about the rotting wood at the base of this COIN construct, and it has everything to do with the recruits themselves. More than 40 percent now are ethnic Tajiks, enemies of the Pashtuns we are seeking to pacify in the south. Pashtuns just won’t volunteer for Karzai or Kabul or for the official republican guard of “the other”:

The massive shift in the ethnic composition of ANA troops in recent years is leading to another civil war between the Pashtuns and a Tajik-led anti-Pashtun ethnic coalition similar to the one that followed the fall of the Soviet-supported regime in 1992, according to some observers…
The latest report of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, issued Oct. 30, shows that Tajiks, which represent 25 percent of the population, now account for 41 percent of all ANA troops who have been trained, and that only 30 percent of the ANA trainees are now Pashtuns.

A key reason for the predominance of Tajik troops is that the ANA began to have serious problems recruiting troops in the rural areas of Kandahar and Helmand provinces by mid-2007.

At least in the Pashtun province of Zabul, the percentage of Pashtuns in the ANA has now been reduced to a minimum. In Zabul province, U.S. officers embedded in one of the kandaks (battalions) reported earlier this year that they believed only about five percent of the troops in the entire brigade are Pashtuns, according to a report by Army Times correspondent Sean D. Naylor published in the Armed Forces Journal last July…

Meanwhile, Tajiks have maintained a firm grip on the command structure of the ANA. [Then Defence Minister] Marshall Fahim put commanders from the Tajik-controlled Northern Alliance in key positions within the Ministry of Defence as well as the ANA command.

[Chris] Mason recalled that the United States thought it had an agreement with President Hamid Karzai under which the command structure of the ANA would be reorganised on the basis of ethnic balance, starting with the top 25 positions.

But Karzai never acted on the agreement, Mason said…

Mason said the refusal of Pashtuns in the south and east to join the ANA is part of a “self-reinforcing spiral”. The more Dari, the language spoken by Tajiks, becomes the de facto language of the ANA, said Mason, the more Pashtuns will see it as an alien institution.

“The warlords have already started rearming,” said Mason.

Although the United States “has done as good a job as it could have” in trying to make the ANA mirror the broader society, Mason said, it can only “attenuate” rather than prevent such a [civil] war in the future, even with a larger troop presence.

Read the whole piece here.

Supporters of the “new” Obama/McChrystal strategy will be pointing relentlessly to the supposed “success” of the Iraq Surge to bolster the argument for Surge II in Afghanistan. Former Bush courtiers and reanimated neocon zombies are already dusting off the old rhetorical flourishes, and are simultaneously slapping Obama on the back while warning him not to go wobbly. But the whole thing is wobbly. For those of us who had hoped Obama had more intellectual and political courage to do more than “send in the Marines,” this year in foreign policy has shaped up to be nothing less then a parade of grim disappointments.

UPDATE : I forgot mention this report, also via Gareth Porter, which finds that one in four Afghans recruited into the Afghan National Army quit in 2009 — and those numbers, according to an administration source, are considered a “serious problem.” A 25 percent desertion rate? For sure.

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Coming Soon: Jack Hunter and TAC TV

Jack Hunter, columnist for the Charleston City Paper and “The Southern Avenger” personality for WTMA 1250 AM talk radio will soon be providing regular YouTube podcasts for our new TAC TV feature. Here’s a preview — Jack’s commentary for this week on Sarah Palin:

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Tripe, Inc.

For some reason, Andrew Sullivan linked to this tripe from Blake Hurst about industrial farming without further comment. Hurst is a foe of agribusiness critics such as Michael Pollanand the film, Food, Inc. But he has no arguments other than saying that cheap is good. Cheap is good so long as the cost aren’t exported elsewhere, and as Hurst wouldn’t have you know, the costs are spilling out all over from agribusiness.

According to Farmer Blake, “Critics of the food industry are upset that we feed cows corn, by the way, convinced that it’s unnatural, and gives cows a bellyache. Cows, on the other hand, routinely break down fences to get at corn. Maybe if we would have screened ‘Food, Inc.’ in the pasture, the cows would have stayed where they belonged.” No mention there of the role of corn-fed cattle in the growth of e. coli cases. Paul Roberts wrote extensively in The End of Food about the ill effects of pumping cows full of antibiotics to enable them to digest corn; an issue that if Hurst is aware of, he chooses not to enlighten his readers about it.

The more prominent critics of industrial agriculture tend to be journalists, not farmers (with the exceptions like Joel Salatin). They have produced books and documentaries filled with arguments(about e. coli, agricultural runoff, soil erosion, etc.) to which Hurst has no satisfactory response.

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Return of a Church Militant

With the House debate on health care at its hottest, the U.S. Catholic bishops issued a stunning ultimatum: Impose an absolute ban on tax funds for abortions, or we call for defeat of the Pelosi bill.

Message received. The Stupak Amendment, named for Bart Stupak of Michigan, was promptly passed, to the delight of pro-life Catholics and the astonished outrage of pro-abortion Democrats.

No member was more upset than Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, son of Edward Kennedy, who proceeded to bash the Church for imperiling the greatest advance for human rights in a generation.

Rhode Island Bishop Thomas Tobin responded, accusing Kennedy of an unprovoked attack and demanding an apology. Kennedy retorted that Tobin had told him not to receive communion at Mass and ordered his diocesan priests not to give him communion. Read More…

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Finish the Job

President Obama has told visiting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that he will “finish the job” in Afghanistan and wipe out every last lurking terrorist.  “Finish the job” is one of those expressions that politicians use a lot when they don’t know what the hell they are talking about.  It is widely believed that Obama will approve a 34,000 soldier increase for the conflict when he speaks to the nation next week.  US soldiers cost $1 million each per year in Afghanistan, which suggests that it might be cheaper to give the insurgents good jobs working for the post office or something similar to wean them from their brigand ways.  How much more surging can we afford, particularly as it doesn’t seem to be working?

I am all for finding and killing GENUINE terrorists (as opposed to farmers or wedding party guests) who threaten the United States but I have to wonder what Obama has been smoking lately.  There is no coherency to the policies that he appears to embrace, which are little more than mission creep seeking to rebuild central Asia.  There is little or no al-Qaeda presence in Afghanistan while the presence in Pakistan appears to be fairly small and largely preoccupied with scurrying from one bolt hole to another.  If the US successfully pressures al-Qaeda it will just move somewhere else and continue doing what it is doing, which does not appear to be very much.  Is it really worth 100,000 troops on the ground at a cost of $170 billion per year?  Not to mention lots of dead American soldiers.

The massive US troop presence in Afghanistan is there to fight the Taliban – which does not threaten the United States in any way, shape, or form – while shoring up Mr. Hundred Per Cent Hamid Karzai and his merry band of cutthroat thieves.  Is Obama also telling the Indians wink-wink that he will next turn on the Muslims seeking to liberate Kashmir, who also do not threaten the US?  Who’s next after that and where does it all end?  If Obama seriously wants to “finish” it in Afghanistan he would gather in all of the country’s neighbors in a latter-day Congress of Vienna to work out a security formula that is acceptable to most of them and then pull out.  Bring the troops home by Christmas.

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The Movement, The Movement and Nothing but the Movement!

Patrick Deneen relayed this little nugget from R. Emmett Tyrell Jr., editor of the American Spectator, stating at their annual dinner that “conservatism” must remain a “movement,” otherwise it becomes an “ethos.”

If this is what Tyrell said and in context, and I have no reason to doubt the statement’s authenticity, then what we have here is a true demarcation line between those who see conservatism as mere organized political, social and cultural activity, no different than say, the anti-war movement (Remember them?), and those who see it as Burke and Kirk saw as being a state of mind. For the dictionary defines “ethos” as being from the Greek meaning “character”.

Read More…

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Earning the World’s Contempt

“This state visit is … a terrible mistake,” said Rep. Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere.

“He is illegitimate with his own people, and Brazil is now going to give him the air of legitimacy at a time when the world is trying to figure out how to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons.”

Engel was speaking of the state visit of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that began Monday, at the invitation of President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva of Brazil.

Extending such an honor to the leader who hosted a conference of Holocaust skeptics and deniers, often predicts Israel will disappear from the map, stole his last election, and is stiffing the West on Iran’s nuclear program is clearly a poke in the eye of Barack Obama.

Nor is this the only dissing of Obama and America by Lula.

The Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa has, for two months, been host to Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, a Chavista, who was ousted by his own Supreme Court and booted out of the country by the army.

America will survive such irritants. But they are symptomatic of something larger: the mounting disrespect Obama and America are receiving from friend and adversary alike. Read More…

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Counterinsurgency Ops at Home

One of the ongoing themes of this column has been gangs and the role they play in a Fourth Generation world. Here in the United States they already serve as an alternative primary loyalty (alternative to the state) for many urban young men. Gangs will likely be a major player in 4GW because gang members are expected to fight. Those who won’t do not remain gang members.

The November 15 Washington Post had a story about gangs in Salinas, California, that deserves close attention from 4GW theorists. Salinas is reportedly overrun with Hispanic gangs. The Post wrote that its homicide rate is three times that of Los Angeles. It quoted a Salinas police officer, Sgt. Mark Lazzarini, on one of the classic results of state breakdown, chaos:

“Only half of our gangs are structured; the Norteños,” he said. “The southerners are completely unstructured. Half of our violence is kids who get into a car and go out and hunt. These kids don’t know their victims. How do you stop that? It’s very chaotic.”

Salinas’s new slogan might be, “Salinas: where even the lettuce has tattoos.”

But what is interesting in the Post‘s article is not the gangs themselves. It is a new response to the gangs. Salinas has brought in the U.S. military to apply counter-insurgency doctrine to a situation on American soil. Read More…

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