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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Is Russia Paying to Have Our Soldiers Killed?

The Daily Escape:

Sunset at McWay Cove, Big Sur, CA – 2020 photo by maxfoster098. What’s the name of the red flowers?

The NYT reported that Russia’s intelligence agency offered bounties to the Taliban for US troops killed during our peace talks with Afghanistan. The report said US intelligence briefed Trump and his administration, but for months they did nothing about it, while Trump tried to get Putin accepted back into the G7.

Those reports were backed up by the WSJ, Fox, and the WaPo.

The NYT’s Charlie Savage got very specific, including dates, which would seem to indicate that some people in the Intelligence Community (IC) or in the White House have had enough.

Calling them “bounties” raises America’s emotional hackles. It’s a word that’s useful to Trump’s enemies, implying individual incentive pay for an individual death, something that’s really personal. That doesn’t seem likely or practical: How does an individual Taliban soldier prove he’s behind an individual US soldier’s death?

Most likely, any incentive pay would go to the group for coalition casualties confirmed in the aftermath of an attack.

Russia completely denies the story. The White House doesn’t deny that the IC reported it, but it denies that Trump was in the loop.

Press Secretary McEnany’s insistence that Trump didn’t know about it can be viewed as either a damning indictment, or a lie. Either way, it isn’t a good look for a guy running for president. And it appears that this is a serious leak of classified information from within the White House.

Was Trump kept in the dark by his National Security Advisor? Did he refuse to believe the IC reporting? Or did he decide to quietly confront Putin about this episode in the continuing shadow war?

That could be a reasonable response, assuming you think Trump had a game plan for Russia. Wrongo doesn’t think that, and the words of John Bolton and all the others who have exited the administration would say Trump has no plan.

Also, some history: During Charlie Wilson’s War, in the 1980s, we supported and supplied the Afghani Mujahedin with weapons to kill Soviet soldiers while they were in the process of withdrawing from Afghanistan.

Since we did it to Russia in the 1980s, it’s difficult for Wrongo to get worked up over this Russian ploy, assuming that it happened. Of course we paid wholesale for Russian casualties, while Putin is apparently paying retail for ours.

If it did happen, it shows that Russia isn’t America’s friend. It also shows that Putin is no longer trying to be Trump’s friend.

We don’t have to go to war with each other over this, but we should realize that our relationship will require sustained improvement across many years to be normalized. OTOH, when the Commander-in-Chief sends his troops into harm’s way, he has an affirmative duty to protect them.

Some think that the Russians fed the story to the US media to discredit Trump. Perhaps we should try to understand whether the Kremlin still wants Trump to be president.

From their POV, America’s instability will surely ramp up to a higher level if he is re-elected. That might be helpful to Putin. But, any thought that Trump will improve our relationship with Russia ended long ago. Russia may be thinking that the US Intelligence Community is the devil they know.

Some history about Afghanistan: In 1979, Brezhnev thought the Russian invasion of Afghanistan would be over in 6 weeks. Ten years later, minus 118 jets, 333 helicopters and a lot of dead Russians, they withdrew as had the British before them. The recipe for ruin in Afghanistan was/is:

  • Estimate the time and resources necessary to conquer and control the region
  • Double the estimate
  • Repeat as necessary until you lose

Then countries tumble to one of two exit strategies:

  • Withdraw after significant losses, as did the British and Russians
  • Leave an army of occupation as Alexander did, and as we have done

If we are going to get upset at US service members being killed by paid proxies, then we should ask, why are we still there? Why is this worth any more American lives and treasure?

Since we have no strategy, most Americans barely know what we’re doing in Afghanistan. But that won’t stop our chicken hawk politicians from trying to gin up anger on the part of Americans.

Regardless of its truth, this story hits Trump where it hurts. He has to react.

The idea of four more years of this is terrifying.

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Monday Wake Up Call – March 2, 2020

The Daily Escape:

St. Augustine, FL – photo by Wrongo

Hot takes:

First to politics: Joe Biden rolled to a big win in South Carolina, and billionaire Tom Steyer and former mayor Pete Buttigieg both folded their tents. Some in the media say that Biden is once again the front runner, but Sanders’s win in Nevada remains significant, and he remains on track to pick up a lot of delegates in California and Texas.

The real news from South Carolina is that Biden has become the Not-Sanders candidate. For Super Tuesday, Bloomberg essentially replaces Steyer as the billionaire in the race. Super Tuesday results are less than 48 hours away, and after that, we’ll have a real idea of who really remains a viable candidate.

Second, peace in Afghanistan: After 18 years of war, we signed an agreement with the Taliban. The deal does not end the civil war, but it has placed the outcome of the conflict in the hands of the Afghan people. Heather Cox Richardson quotes Laurel Miller, the former deputy and then acting Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2013 to 2017 for the State Department: (emphasis by Wrongo)

 “There’s nothing new in the Joint Declaration signed in Kabul today. It reaffirms existing commitments and it re-states some of US-Taliban agreement. Its purpose is evidently political symbolism.”

She explained: It includes the Afghan government and its opposition in future discussions. It draws down US troops to 8600 people—the number who were there when Trump took office, and promises “all” will be gone within 14 months. The 8600 drawdown has long been planned. In exchange, the Taliban will “not allow any of its members, other individuals or groups, including al-Qa’ida, to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.”

Miller’s conclusion:

“The Taliban got a lot. It got its main goal—a clear timeline for US withdrawal—and fast removal of sanctions and prisoner releases. The US got the power to decide whether “vaguely-stated conditions are met, so that in reality can withdraw when it chooses—will be political not military decision.” The Afghan government didn’t get much, but “this deal wasn’t really about the Afghan government.”

Trump, America’s Man of Peace. This looks a lot like what he did in North Korea, a PR moment that resembles a deal, but turns out not to be much of a deal.

Finally, the WaPo features a new report published by the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, that clearly demonstrates the disconnect between the “great” economy described by economists, and the economy experienced by regular people. This chart shows the problem:

 

From the article (emphasis by Wrongo)

“In 1985, the typical male worker could cover a family of four’s major expenditures (housing, health care, transportation, education) on 30 weeks of salary….By 2018 it took 53 weeks. Which is a problem, there being 52 weeks in a year.”

Lead study author Oren Cass (formerly Mitt Romney’s domestic policy director) calls this calculation the Cost-of-Thriving Index. It measures the median male annual salary against four major household expenditures:

  • Housing: the annual rent for a three-bedroom house in the 40th percentile of the local housing market
  • Health care: the annual premium on a typical family health insurance policy
  • Transportation: the average cost of owning and operating a car driven 15,000 miles per year
  • Education: the average cost of tuition, fees, and room and board at a four-year public college

In 1985, the typical male breadwinner could cover those costs, and still have 22 weeks of pay left for other family needs, such as food, clothing, entertainment and savings. Today, the typical salary doesn’t even cover the four basics.

They also looked at female earners. The typical woman needed to work 45 weeks to cover the four big annual expenses in 1985. Today she needs 66 weeks. The most astonishing conclusion is that it was easier for a female breadwinner to provide for her family in 1985 than it is for a lone male earner today.

Remember that the study comes from a conservative-leaning institute. Here’s Cass:

“You can have a rising GDP….but if it’s in the context of collapsing families and people no longer getting married and declining fertility rates and so on and so forth, you haven’t necessarily enhanced well-being.”

Wake up America! The GOP has undone 50 years of economic gains that produced a robust middle class and vastly more economic and social justice than the country had ever known before, or since.

They have chosen candidates whose real agenda was to assist the corporatocracy in fleecing the very people who voted for them. Their candidates ran on issues like the Second Amendment, abortion, gay marriage and immigration. And then, the GOP shifted the tax burden onto the middle class. They deregulated industry and socialized corporate losses, eliminating any downside risk for banks.

We can begin undoing these things by electing Democratic majorities in the  House and Senate in November.

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Monday Wake Up Call Afghanistan Edition – December 16, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Light snow and morning fog, Yosemite NP CA – December 2019 photo by worldpins

Wrongo and Ms. Right visited the WWII museum in New Orleans last week. In most ways, it was the last war that engaged all of America. At the start of the war, we were woefully under resourced, our army had more horses than tanks. People became deeply involved in the war effort.

During the war, Wrongo as a very young boy, managed to lose our family’s sugar ration card. Businesses gave their production capacity over to the country’s war needs. President Roosevelt was on the radio each week, keeping support for the war effort high. WWII lasted for six years, from 1939-1945.

You know where this is going: Last week, we learned that our government has covered up the reality of how we were doing in Afghanistan, much like our government covered up the truth during the Vietnam War.

We learned this due to work by WaPo reporter Craig Whitlock who has given us an indispensable look into our continuing failure in Afghanistan. The documents include transcripts of interviews with soldiers, diplomats, and others with direct experience in the war effort. Excerpts:

“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers in 2015. He added: “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”

“If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction. . . 2,400 lives lost,” Lute added, blaming the deaths of US military personnel on bureaucratic breakdowns among Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department. “Who will say this was in vain?”

More:

“What did we get for this $1 trillion effort? Was it worth $1 trillion?” Jeffrey Eggers, a retired Navy SEAL and White House staffer for Bush and Obama, told government interviewers. He added, “After the killing of Osama bin Laden, I said that Osama was probably laughing in his watery grave considering how much we have spent on Afghanistan.”

The WaPo documents contradict years of public statements from US presidents, military commanders and diplomats who assured Americans year after year that we were making progress in Afghanistan and that the war was worth fighting:

“Every data point was altered to present the best picture possible,” Bob Crowley, an Army colonel who served as a senior counterinsurgency adviser to US military commanders in 2013 and 2014, told government interviewers. “Surveys, for instance, were totally unreliable but reinforced that everything we were doing was right and we became a self-licking ice cream cone.”

Bush, Obama and so far, Trump, have all failed us miserably for the past 18+ years. The war has cost America $975 billion-plus tens of $ billions spent by the VA on the wounds of Afghanistan veterans, a price that will rise for the next six decades. The most serious costs are the 2,434 US deaths and 20,646 wounded in action.

The Afghan mess was made worse by piling lie upon lie. We now know that the top brass in the military knew all along that we were losing, and that three successive White Houses also knew.

The greatest tragedy is that the losing is still ongoing.

These revelations are an indictment of our senior military leaders. We had advantages in resources and technology in Afghanistan (we often outnumbered the insurgents on the battlefield) and still lost. But beyond that, it indicts our political leaders, who need to understand our strategy, and be a check on our military.

Time to wake up America! This is also an indictment of all of us, for not paying attention. For not insisting on ending it years ago!

We’ve managed to blow through vast resources that were desperately needed at home. We’ve stood by while our government fruitlessly sacrificed the lives of many of our men and women. We grew our National Debt beyond what we needed to do, and got stuck in another foreign quagmire.

When we finally feel either shame or anger about Afghanistan and that we were lied to, we can take the first steps to political reform.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – September 15, 2019

Wrongo says this a lot: Tough week! We keep thinking it can’t get worse, but it always surprises us by getting more terrible than the week before. We had a signal event this week, the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attack on New York, the Pentagon and the aborted attack that resulted in the plane crash in Shanksville, PA. Wrongo said what he needed to say here.

On to cartoons, and there were waay too many cartoons about John Bolton. Here’s this week’s favorite:

If there’s no deal with the Taliban, it looks like we’ll have trouble leaving Afghanistan:

Rudyard Kipling said it best:

“When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Just roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
And go to your God like a soldier”

Clearly, Biden needs a yuuge cup of this:

Vaping will be heavily regulated unless…

Trump decides America can live without clean water:

Nobody knows where Brexit will land:

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9/11/2001: What Have We Learned in Eighteen Years?

The Daily Escape:

Man standing in rubble of the North Tower late on 9/11/2001, calls out in vain to possible WTC survivors – Photo by Doug Kanter

People say that they will never forget 9/11, but what Wrongo remembers is that it was the proximate cause of the war in Afghanistan, starting with our invasion on October 7th, 2001.

And now, we’ve been there for 18 years. The war in Afghanistan has led to the deaths of over 2,400 US soldiers, with another 1,100 coalition troops killed. Over 62,000 Afghan security forces personnel have died. Tens of thousands of Taliban fighters and thousands of Afghan civilians have also died. We’ve spent Trillions of dollars that could have been used here at home to make the lives of Americans better.

Eighteen years after the 9/11 attacks, it is still “wartime” in America. The War on Terror has been the primary driver for our government’s weakening the Bill of Rights. In the panic after 9/11, the GW Bush administration pushed through the Patriot Act, along with measures that permit torture, illegal surveillance, and indefinite detention without charges or trial. Our whistle-blower protections were weakened.

If these attacks on the Bill of Rights continue, we’ll have gone full-circle: back to a post-Constitutional America, sharing much with how colonial America was governed by the British King.

With this 9/11 Afghanistan meditation as background, after 18 years of fighting, what are we to make of Trump’s botched Afghan peace talks?

He was right to try. It’s past time that we exit Afghanistan. Much like when we left Vietnam, talks with the Taliban are not about ending the war, they’re about limiting US future military participation in Afghanistan.

In 1973, Nixon tried to create the appearance that we were exiting Vietnam on our own terms. We settled for the flawed “Agreement Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam.” Under that pact, American prisoners of war were freed by North Vietnam, and the last US combat troops in the south left for home, completing a withdrawal begun several years earlier.

Primary responsibility for defending South Vietnam fell to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam who we knew were incapable of holding the country. Our message to both North and South was: We’re outta here; you guys sort this out. And within two years, the Republic of Vietnam was gone.

Now, our military wants to shift its focus to China and Russia. So, here we go again, looking for a pretext that makes it seem that we’re leaving on our own terms, only this time, from Afghanistan.

Enter the Taliban talks. Trump’s “deal” relied on paper-thin assurances by the Taliban that there would be no haven for the terrorists, despite ISIS already being there in significant numbers. Al Qaeda is still active there, and is coordinating with the Taliban.

In return, the US would withdraw 5,000 of our 14,000 troops. We had no assurance that the Afghan government would agree to the deal, since the Taliban had refused to negotiate with them. Trump now says the deal is dead. Republicans think Trump’s move is an opportunity to reset the terms of the peace deal, which faced bipartisan criticism here, along with rejection by the Afghans.

Maybe.

Was much lost by walking away? Trump had planned on making a splashy announcement about bringing troops home on 9/11. He must have been channeling Camp David, where Jimmy Carter negotiated a peace agreement with Egypt and Israel in 1978, and where Bill Clinton did the same with the PLO and Israel in 2000. So, Trump’s lost something.

But he realized the meeting wasn’t going to happen. The Taliban wasn’t going to visit the US unless the deal was signed, but Trump wanted more deal-making, followed by a signing at Camp David. The Taliban aren’t fools. Getting on a plane without a signed deal could have landed them in Guantanamo, not in Washington DC.

Peace isn’t obtained by photo-op. It requires sound planning, the participation of all parties, and exacting negotiations. Offering to host the Taliban during 9/11 also shows tone-deafness. These are the very people who gave cover to Osama Bin Laden!

However and whenever the US leaves, much like in Vietnam, the Taliban will become the government of Afghanistan, despite our 18-year effort. We now seem unwilling to say: “you guys sort this out”, so our longest war will continue. It will be accompanied by more death, and more money flushed down the rat hole.

We should also expect most Republicans and quite a few Democrats will remain silent.

Have all of these lives lost, and the trillions of dollars spent, taught us anything?

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Afghanistan: Too Corrupt To Save?

The Daily Escape:

London street art by Bambi  – 2017 photo by Wrongo. Since then, she has done another version, where the bag says: “I love Meghan”.

On October 7, 2001 The US military with British support, began a bombing campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan. That mission was called Operation Enduring Freedom. So, what has endured in the 18 years since we started bombing the Taliban? Mostly corruption. The Economist has a damning report: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Last year was the deadliest on record for civilians, according to the United Nations. America’s air force dropped more bombs in 2018 than at any other point in the war. Despite that support, the government is slowly losing ground. It now controls barely half the country’s territory, albeit two-thirds of its people.”

US forces have shifted their strategy to trying to inflict maximum casualties on the Taliban, who now control more territory than at any time since its ouster from power in 2001. This is the same as the “body count” strategy that we tried in Vietnam. But the Taliban are winning, despite America’s best efforts. We’ve backed a corrupt government that the Afghan people do not trust. The Economist illustrates that point:

“A group of middle-aged drivers explain the difference between the Taliban and the government. Both groups take money from drivers on the road, says Muhammad Akram…both are violent. But when the Taliban stop him at a checkpoint, they write him a receipt. Waving a fistful of green papers, he explains how they ensure he won’t be charged twice: after he pays one group of Talibs, his receipt gets him through subsequent stops. Government soldiers, in contrast, rob him over and over.”

We started down a path of nation-building in Afghanistan 18 years ago, but the government in Kabul doesn’t provide basic services. It has a huge security apparatus, and a big bureaucracy, but where it matters, the State, in the words of the US DOJ, is “largely lawless, weak and dysfunctional”.

No place in the country is completely safe. At boozy parties in Kabul, rich Afghans share gallows humor about the impending arrival of the jihadists at their gates.

The Taliban are no prize. Their brutal attacks make them deeply unpopular, especially in Afghan cities. But The Economist says that in rural areas, they are seen as efficient and willing to challenge arbitrary government power. According to a UN study, Afghan land disputes account for 70% of violent crimes. In government-controlled areas, well-connected figures often grab land for themselves. The Taliban, in contrast, have judges who deal with such cases brutally, but with less corruption.

The Taliban expects poppy-farmers to pay taxes on their crop, but they also provide seed capital and other support. In many areas, they help to police water use, managing disputes and limiting the over-exploitation of groundwater. Over the past few years the size of the opium crop has grown remarkably—especially in Taliban-controlled areas.

Another Economist article shows that solar panels are transforming the landscape of southern Afghanistan. Farmers used to run their pumps with diesel generators, but fuel was very expensive. Now they can pump water all day using solar.

Only 12% of the country is suitable for growing permanent crops, but since 2018, 3,600 square kilometers in south-western Afghanistan were reclaimed for cultivation from the desert by using solar power to pump water to the fields. From the Economist:

“As many as 2.5 million people…now live in what used to be desert. The price of desert land has soared, from as little as $35 for a jereb (about 2,000 square meters) to over $1,000 now. That has made landowners rich, not to mention politicians and senior police officers.”

The reclaimed territory is mostly beyond government control: Many of the settlers are hostile to the State.

This has also brought a big cost for the environment. Drinking wells are increasingly contaminated with nitrates from fertilizers, which farmers have spread near the water pumps. Shallow wells have gone completely dry. If the groundwater is exhausted, millions of Afghans will have to move.

The US and the Taliban have been negotiating directly since October over a possible American withdrawal in exchange for a commitment from the Taliban not to harbor terrorists. The Afghan government has been excluded from these talks, and they are concerned that they may be forced into a coalition government with the Taliban.

The Trump administration wants out of Afghanistan, and may not care much about who in the current government survives. The latest round of talks concluded on May 9th, with what the Taliban described as “some progress”, but the pace is glacial, and may not lead to anything.

Wrongo has been saying for years that we need to leave Afghanistan. Why are we still there? Vietnam proved we could win all the battles, get higher body counts, and still lose the war.

Will we “win” in Afghanistan? No, it’s unwinnable. You can’t win when you’re on the side that’s even more hated and corrupt than our “enemy.”

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Saturday Soother – December 22, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Two Jack Lake, Banff, Alberta, CN – 2018 photo by don_wilson

A perfect photo for the end of this week: Black ice, more than a foot thick, with very large cracks. It feels like America is on ice skates, without any of us knowing how to skate, stop, or change direction. And there’s those giant cracks.

We don’t have a permanent Attorney General, Defense Secretary, or Chief of Staff. The government is likely to shut down because the president wants his border wall. Paul Ryan’s last official act of the year was to cave in to the president on his $5 billion funding demand, and kick it to the Senate.

Stocks are having the worst December since the Great Recession. And Robert Mueller has indicted multiple members of Trump’s inner circle. Trump seems to be skating, too.

But Wrongo wants to discuss Ruth Bader Ginsburg (again). She underwent surgery at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City:

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had two cancerous nodules removed from her left lung Friday at a New York hospital, the Supreme Court announced. There is no evidence of any remaining disease, says a court spokesperson, nor is there evidence of disease elsewhere in the body….In 1999, Ginsburg underwent surgery for colorectal cancer, and 10 years later she was treated for early stages of pancreatic cancer.

Apparently, the cancer was detected early because of scans taken after she fractured her ribs. Since there is no current evidence of metastasis, it’s possible that she will make a full recovery.

We’re all thinking the same thing when Ginsburg’s health takes a bad turn: That Trump could have yet another chance to alter the makeup of the Supreme Court, precisely when he doesn’t look completely in control of his administration, or his emotions.

But, America oddly seems to be ok with a government shutdown. And most people think that fewer troops in Syria and Afghanistan is a good thing. As Wrongo predicted on Friday, we will withdraw 7,000 soldiers from Afghanistan over the next few months. The Taliban rules more than half of the country and Afghanistan’s army is losing more personnel each month than they can recruit.

BTW, it was Sec Def Mattis who had urged Trump to increase the troops in Afghanistan from 10,000 to 14,000 at the beginning of his term. His retirement marks the second time in five years that Mattis has had a serious conflict with his commander in chief. President Obama fired him as Head of Central Command for urging a more aggressive Iran policy.

But, you want to get on with shopping online, wrapping gifts and decorating the tree. So it’s time for a little Saturday soothing. Start by brewing up a vente cup of Valhalla Java Odin Force Coffee from the Death Wish Coffee Company, in Saratoga Springs, NY ($15.99/12 Oz.). Death Wish has been featured here before, and says that they make the world’s strongest coffees. They also say that the Odin coffee is nutty, with a taste of chocolate.

Now settle back for a few minutes, put on your Bluetooth headphones, and listen to the “Agnus Dei” by Samuel Barber, performed without instruments by Belgium’s Vlaams Radio Koor (choir), with Marcus Creed conducting. It was recorded in Brussels in 2015, and is an arrangement by Barber of his Adagio for Strings (1936). This is typically done by a chorus with organ, or piano accompaniment, but here it is simply the chorus, and it is simply beautiful:

Wrongo thinks it is superior to the original piece with piano and strings. It must be very difficult to sing.

The lyric:

In Latin:

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem

In English:

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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September 11, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Has it been 17 years already?

A quote from Edward R. Murrow: “No one can terrorize a whole nation, unless we are all his accomplices”, describes where America is today.

As we remember the 17th anniversary of the al-Qaeda attack on the US, we should realize that most of the geo-political problems we face today can trace their root causes to the attacks on 9/11.

And 17 years later, it appears that we have become the accomplices of terror. We can’t let the Muslim world alone. We’ve continued to keep troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. We’ve beefed up our presence in Africa. The enemy has morphed from al-Qaeda only, to ISIS and al-Qaeda, with branches all across the world.

Just yesterday, Wrongo wrote about our current misadventures in Syria, where we have several thousand troops who were not invited in by the Syrian government. We said that US Syrian policy seems to be teetering on conflict with the other regional powers, Iran and Russia, because we are insisting that Iran exit Syria.

We continue to spend blood and treasure in the Middle East because of 9/11. We were meddling in the ME before 2001, and those efforts helped make bin Laden’s point that the US was responsible both for the suffering the US was causing directly through its sanctions, and the suffering we caused indirectly, by keeping Middle Eastern dictators in power.

To that, bin Laden added a decisive idea: Attack the US to end its power over the Middle East.

Seventeen years later, we are stuck in a Middle East quagmire. We cannot win militarily, but we never lose decisively. On this 17th anniversary, let’s address a few questions to our political and military leaders:

  • Isn’t it improbable that the US military has been unable to extricate itself from Iraq and Afghanistan, its two major wars of this century?
  • Was it improbable that Washington’s post-9/11 policies in the Middle East helped lead to the establishment of the Islamic State’s “Caliphate” in parts of Iraq and Syria and to a movement of almost unparalleled extremism that has successfully “franchised” itself from Libya to Mali, from Nigeria to Afghanistan?

If, on September 12, 2001, you had predicted where we are today, no one would have thought you were credible.

Since 9/11 our presidents have all tried hard to act tough on terror, as have our Senators and Congresspersons. They have all said that our young soldiers are available to go wherever the next Islamist problem arises. So, in the past 17 years, we’ve spent over a trillion dollars to protect the homeland, and while to some degree, we are undoubtedly safer, we haven’t defeated the Islamists.

The current crop of Republicans in the White House are trying more of the same: To convince us that the challenges we face in the world are simple, that we must be realists, aggressively going after what we want. They say it all comes down to “good vs evil.”

Sadly, we really live in an extremely complex world, and ignorance of its complexity is dangerous. Remember in 2006, there were reports that George W. Bush was unaware of the difference between Shia and Sunni as late as two months before the Iraq invasion. Combine that with the ongoing support for the neo-con’s Exceptionalist ideology, and we’ve all paid, and continue to pay, a huge price for their simplistic worldview.

The reality is that when tough talk is divorced from knowledge, you do dumb things, like start wars that diminish our standing in the world, that cost us terribly in lives and money, and that produce zero in the way of political results.

Trump seems ready to place a bet that his tough guy stance on Syria will cause Iran and Russia to back down. Those of us who pay taxes and send our kids off to war, should make it very clear that the American presidency is no place for bullies.

And rather than signifying weakness, traits like thoughtfulness and collaboration are exactly what we want from the Leader of the Free World.

Anyone can say “lock and load, we’re gonna fight!

We need to re-learn how not to fight, and how to exist in an ambiguous world without withdrawing, or being ineffectual. Since 9/11, when things get tough, our politicians strut around with chins out. They prefer form over substance and in the end, they’re just praying that it all works out, but it hasn’t.

Remember the 9/11 heroes and its victims.

But let’s stop listening to those who pander to our fears, and vote them out of office.

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Monday Wake Up Call – February 12, 2018

The Daily Escape:

The Three Sisters, viewed from Canmore, Canada – photo by DiscInPc

Strategy must be lost on the Trump administration. We revisit Afghanistan. Pepe Escobar reports that for the past two months, Beijing and Kabul have been discussing the possibility of setting up a joint military base on Afghanistan’s border with China. Escobar quotes Mohammad Radmanesh, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense:

We are going to build it [the base] and the Chinese government has committed to help financially, provide equipment and train Afghan soldiers…

Escobar says that the military base will be built in the Wakhan Corridor, a mountainous and narrow strip of territory in northeastern Afghanistan that extends to China, and separates Tajikistan from Pakistan. He also reports that, according to local Kyrgyz nomads, joint Afghan-Chinese patrols are already active there.

Beijing is trying to prevent Uyghur Islamic fighters, who are exiled in Afghanistan, from crossing the Wakhan Corridor and conducting terror operations in China’s Xinjiang territory. Xinjiang is an autonomous territory in northwest China that has seen years of unrest, primarily from Muslims.

China’s concerns are backed by solid evidence. In 2013, al-Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri supported jihad against China in Xinjiang. In July 2014, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, supported a move against Xinjiang.

China doesn’t want its Belt and Road Initiative, or the New Silk Road, which will connect China with Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe to be compromised by terrorists. And one of its links, the $57 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), could be hurt if terror threats abound in Central and South Asia. It could also affect China’s investments in Afghanistan’s mineral mining industry.

The Chinese are smart. Their new ambassador, Liu Jinsong, was raised in Xinjiang and was a director of the Belt and Road Initiative’s $15 billion Silk Road Fund from 2012 to 2015. He understands how the local problems could hurt the New Silk Road. The plan is to prevent terrorists from having access to Chinese territory, and work to broker a deal between Kabul and some factions of the Taliban. If this sounds familiar, it is also Russia’s strategy, and Iran’s, and India’s as well.

Compare this joint approach with Washington’s strategy. Trump’s plan for Afghanistan involves defeating the Taliban, and then forcing them to negotiate. Since the Taliban control key areas of Afghanistan, the US strategy requires a new mini-surge.

This pits the US “coalition” against all of the great powers of the region. Think we are likely to succeed?

Let’s link this up with another Trump idea, his parade. Danny Sjursen, an Army major who served in Afghanistan wrote in an article in the American Conservative, “Parade of Defeat: Trump Prefers Spectacle Over Strategy:

Remember when military parades actually celebrated victories? Those were the days, or, better yet, the day—June 8, 1991…after the US military’s 100-hour lightning ground war ejected Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait, some 8,800 soldiers marched down Constitution Avenue in Washington, DC…The White House called it the National Victory Celebration.

Sjursen adds: (brackets by Wrongo)

So, one cannot help but wonder what it [Trump’s Parade] is…celebrating. Nearly 17 years of indecisive quagmire?

He goes for the kill: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Trump…has turned the petty political appropriation of the troops into an art form. Soldiers are a pawn in the game, a very old game, in which the hawkish interventionists inspire the base and depict the opposition as dovish traitors. This is…meant to disguise what amounts to paltry policy in foreign affairs; it’s spectacle not strategy.

Linking our non-strategy in Afghanistan, which all of the region’s powers hope to solve with trade and diplomacy, to Trump’s parade, a good question is: How are our wars doing? The short answer: Badly. But haven’t we “beaten” ISIS?  Not really. ISIS has leaped across the borders of Syrian and Iraq to Africa and Asia. That’s why China is building a base in Afghanistan.

For all the talk of new strategies about “turning corners” and “breaking stalemates,” more fighting in Afghanistan will just waste more of our resources. Today, a record number of Afghan provinces and districts are under the control of, or contested by, the Taliban. Short-term success isn’t sustainable.

Trump has no exit strategy. But no worries, he has a parade strategy.

So, time to wake Trump the (family blog) up. He’s got to get focused on closing a deal with his Russian and Chinese friends. To help The Donald wake up, here is the “Unity JAM” by Tony Succar, a percussionist and arranger:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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