Showing posts with label Afghanistan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Afghanistan. Show all posts

Saturday, August 21, 2021

The Debacle in Afghanistan was Bound to Happen No Matter How Long We Stayed

We are hearing a chorus of shock at how fast the Taliban took control of Afghanistan a few weeks after the US withdrew its combat forces.  By contrast, it took almost 2 years for the South Vietnamese government to fall after the US withdrew.  In both cases, we had no understanding of their culture and were propping up an unpopular puppet government.  

An argument was made that the invasion of Afghanistan was more justified than the Vietnam war was because the Taliban harbored al Qaida when they attacked us on 9/11.  The Taliban did offer to hand Osama bin Laden et al. over in return for showing them the evidence of their involvement in the attack.  It was rejected out of hand by the Bush administration.  We will never know sincere this offer was.  If Bush had complied with the request and the Taliban had reciprocated, thousands of lives and trillions of dollars could have been saved.

Polls have shown that the average Afghan never heard of the 9/11 attacks.  They only knew that we were attacking them 12 years after we supported them against the Soviet Union.  After we launched our invasion in 2001, the Taliban melted away just as quickly as they retook the country.  In the meantime, we launched our invasion of Iraq and turned it into yet another breeding ground for terrorism.  The Afghanistan papers discussed above showed many of the same private doubts by U.S. political and military leaders that they had in Vietnam but they kept pushing ahead in both cases and lied to the public.

Vietnam should have taught us the limits of US military power.  It is meaningless without popular legitimacy.  The Vietnamese and the Afghans used many of the same tactics against us that we used against the British in the American Revolution.

Concerns about how women will be treated there are legitimate.  We should remember that it was only 101 years ago that women won the right to vote in this country after many years of disappointment and struggle.  In the Victorian era it was considered obscene for a woman to expose here ankles.  These things were eventually changed without dropping bombs on people.  There are far fewer hard feelings when it works out that way.

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Wednesday, December 5, 2018

George HW Bush a Paragon of Virtue?

1988 was the first year I voted.  The candidates the major parties for President that year were George HW Bush and Michael Dukakis.  I was a freshman at IUP (Indiana University of Pennsylvania).  It was my first lesson in how ugly politics can be. 

Bush won that year by falsely claiming that Dukakis was against reciting the pledge of allegiance in schools, by insinuating that African-American criminals would attack you with the Willie Horton ads, and by falsely claiming that he would not raise taxes.  As President he launched military excursions in three out of the four of the years that he was President in Panama, Iraq, and Somalia.  Bush may have been a nice man if you meet him in person but his bite was far worse than his bark.

People now blame Trump and Palin for promoting stupidity in politics but it began long before anyone took them seriously.  Bush appointed Dan Quayle as his Vice President who made gaffes that would foreshadow Trump and Palin.  He blamed the riots that happened in Los Angeles after the policeman who beat Rodney King were acquitted on the TV show Murphy Brown.  Qualye was picked to placate the Christian right who had doubts on Bush's past support for abortion rights.

Bush's military attacks in Iraq and Panama killed hundreds of thousands of people and sowed the seeds of resentment against the US in Central America and the Muslim world.  Some may have thought his attack on Iraq was justified because of Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait but he had no interested in diplomacy working.  Osama bin Laden, who first cut his teeth as a fighter against the Soviets in the 1980's with US funding, turned on the US when US troops were stationed in Saudi Arabia.  Another future terrorist, Timothy McVeigh, fought in the Gulf War where he learned his munition skills and later bombed the Federal building in Oklahoma City five years later in response to the botched Federal assault on the Branch Davidians in Waco.  

Bush lost his bid for reelection in 1992 with 38% of the vote as the economy soured.  He made one last military excursion into Somalia which led to the deaths of 18 US soldiers and the growth of an al Qaida affiliate there.  Clinton later became chummy with Bush and mostly continued his policies.

In 2001 his son George W Bush became President in a disputed election and soon faced the 9/11 attacks and sent troops into Iraq and Afghanistan.  His son blamed his father's loss on breaking his no new taxes pledge and not finishing off Saddam Hussein and took an even more aggressive stance on those issues.  He won reelection by using the Swift Boat Veterans to sow doubt about his opponent and had blanket positive coverage from Fox News. This lead to the growth of ISIS and the Great Recession.  

Trump dropped all pretenses of niceties and the Republican base loved it.  He trounced son Jeb Bush in the primaries but now must play nice with the Bushes on the senior Bush's funeral after losing the House in the midterms.  Bush was cloak and dagger.  Trump is all dagger.  It's a sad commentary of how far our politics have sunken that Bush is now a paragon of political virtue.

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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Bradley Manning and Wikileaks

This week the trial of Private First Class Bradley Manning begins for leaking information to the website Wikileaks.  I have seldom spoken of Wikileaks or it's founder Julian Assange on this blog because other topics have motivated me and because Assange being ensconced at the Ecuadorian embassy to hide from being extradited to Sweden for questioning on a rape allegation which may or may not be trumped up is not something on which I can comment.  I don't think Wikileaks is about Assange anymore than Democracy Now! is about Amy Goodman or this blog is about me.    I have no way of knowing if the allegation about Assange is true but I believe it is a distraction from the purpose that the site he founded serves.

Manning on the other hand has made the meaningful sacrifice for what he believes in just as Daniel Ellsberg (featured in the video above) did in the early 1970's when he leaked the Pentagon Papers to the press.  Ellsberg faced trial and dirty tricks by the Nixon Administration and was lucky to be acquitted.  Manning may not be so lucky.  He has already plead guilty to one of the charges where he could face 20 years in prison.  This suggests a greater sacrifice that Assange is willing to make.  It may be better in the long run for Assange to face the music.

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Friday, May 25, 2012

2012: A 2004 Election Rerun?

It's always tempting to look at past elections for signs of how this year's will go.  Republicans were hoping for a rerun of the 2008 Obama-Clinton primary cliffhanger by having proportional primaries instead of winner take all contests for delegates.  What happened instead was a sort of rerun of the 2004 democratic primary contest.  Think back to the spring of 2004, Barack Obama was an unknown State Senator from Illinois and Sarah Palin was a former sports reporter-beauty queen in her first term as Mayor of Wasilla, Alaska.  

John Kerry was an uncharismatic snooty Senator from Massachusetts with a lot of money (his wife the ketchup heiress' money really).  Like Mitt Romney on Healthcare, Kerry thought he had to play both sides of the fence of the Iraq war to win reelection and play down his past as an anti_Vietnam War protester.  His main challenger then was John Edwards, a young charismatic North Carolina Senator who gave up his first term to run for President who wasn't born rich but earned millions as a trial lawyer.  With a crowded but weak field, Edwards survived the other contenders by being charismatic and vague in just the right way (Kucinich was that year's Ron Paul, Wesley Clark that year's Gingrich, and Al Sharpton that year's Rick Perry/Gingrich/Bachmann). Edwards only won two primaries but finished a strong second in many others and was picked as Kerry's running mate against George W. Bush.

The main issues of that election were the economy, the war in Iraq, abortion, the swift boat veterans, and the surprise wedge issue, same sex marriage.  In the 2004 exit poll voters said the most important issue was 'Moral Values' as can be seen in the table below.  In 11 states (9 of which voted for Bush) ballot measures passed which banned same sex marriage.  Most of these measures occurred in the safe states for Bush and gave him higher turnouts there which in turn gave him a win in the popular vote.  Pundits saw this as a sign that voters were more concerned about this issue than the others when the term moral values is very ambiguous. War, the economy, health care, and terrorism can all be moral issues.

Taxes (5%)
43% 0%
Education (4%)
73% *
Iraq (15%)
73% 0%
Terrorism (19%)
14% 0%
Economy/Jobs (20%)
80% 0%
Moral Values (22%)
18% 1%
Health Care (8%)
77% *

This time around, Obama seems to be using support for same sex marriage as a wedge issue against the wealthy uncharismatic former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.  He was forced to pander to the tea party/Christian conservatives during the primaries because of Santorum's challenge and Obama seems to hope to keep him cornered just as he is on healthcare.  

Other issues of this campaign are the economy, the war in Afghanistan (little discussed in 2004)  the death of bin Laden (Saddam Hussein was captured and put on some kind of trial before being executed), health care (Romney did enact the beginning of Obamacare), and as always the economy.  The election looks to be close and hopefully the exit polls will provide a clue about how well the strategies work.  Romney's choice of a running mate should reflect how concerned he is about the challenges on the culture wars, especially if he picks Santorum or a clone of him.

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

We've All Neglected Our Wars (Me Too)

In all of the happy talk about Chilean miners, the important discussion about health care, national debt, and the economy, and the stupid banter about witches and Nancy Pelosi there is one issue that has been neglected, foreign policy (more pressingly the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan). There is little discussion on the news outside of the Chilean miners of events outside of the US now. Are we so numbed by the gloomy news here that, as John McCain says, we just want to "build the dang fence" to keep illegal aliens out?

Both parties basically agree on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with the exceptions of a few real "mavericks" in each. Dennis Kucinich, Bernie Sanders, and Ron Paul and son Rand have voiced some brave objections from both sides of the aisle to these and other foreign US escapades but are often easily marginalized as "flaky." Another well known real maverick who once teamed up with faux maverick McCain is Sen. Russ Feingold who is now trailing in his bid for reelection. This near unanimity continues even though polls indicate that these wars are at least as unpopular as the health care bill but for different reasons. has kept a running total of the US dead in Iraq (4,425) (combat operations have supposedly ended there but 50,000 troops and tensions remain as there is no functioning government) and Afghanistan (1,342). The number of Iraqi and Afghan dead are harder to ascertain. The website Iraq Body Count has kept a running total of civilian deaths there since 2003 that are documented in the public and stand between 98,000 and 107,000. This estimate could skyrocket as the website WikiLeaks is preparing to release about 300,000 previously classified documents from the Iraq war (all for weapons of mass destruction and an al Qaeda/9-11 connection that didn't exist and oil that did). WikiLeaks has already released about 70,000 documents detailing civilian deaths in Afghanistan which are harder to count because of the rural nature of the country. At least there, there was a real al Qaeda/9-11 connection but the principal offenders have not been caught and the country is in shambles.


Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon's secret history of the Vietnam War, discusses the upcoming Wikileaks disclosure of classified Iraq documents.

This is a short review of the two wars we are fighting. These are the longest the US has fought and need to end as soon as possible. What happens abroad does have an impact at home. These wars have cost us in the trillions of dollars (and will cost us for years to come as our past wars have, the final bills for World War I were just paid when the last vets passed away) and have generated far more debt that the stimulus ever could. Plus the suffering these wars have caused abroad could lead to retribution at home as nearly happened this year with the Times Square and the Christmas underwear bomber but were thwarted by alert bystanders.

For more authoritative analysis of US actions in the Middle East and South Asia than I can give, visit Juan Cole's blog at Informed Comment, Tom Engelhardt's at TomDispatch, and Robert Fisk's column's at the Independent Newspaper.


A new poll of Afghan citizens show that 27% of them see attacks on NATO troops as justified which is up from 8% from last year. It sampled 1,700 citizens from all regions of the country. Doing a representative survey there presents many challenges that would not be found here having few phones, little electricity and a population with a low literacy rate but these numbers, while still not a majority, are still troubling.

Poll: More Afghans say insurgents are justified

In the southern provinces of the country, where the Taliban is the strongest, a survey indicates that the vast majority of the population have never heard of the 9/11 attacks and don't understand why NATO is fighting there.

Study: Few Afghans know about 9/11, reason for war