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Afghanistan

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Hounding Private Manning.

“I hoped that the public would be as alarmed as me about the conduct of the aerial weapons team crew members. I wanted the American public to know that not everyone in Iraq and Afghanistan are targets that needed to be neutralized, but rather people who were struggling to live in the pressure cooker environment of what we call asymmetric warfare. After the release I was encouraged by the response in the media and general public, who observed the aerial weapons team video. As I hoped, others were just as troubled– if not more troubled that me by what they saw.”

While pleading guilty to 10 of the 22 charges against him, Bradley Manning makes a long and detailed statement about why he gave classified documents to Wikileaks. “The more I read the cables, the more I came to the conclusion that this was the type of information that– that this type of information should become public. I once read a, and used, a quote on open diplomacy written after the First World War and how the world would be a better place if states would avoid making secret pacts and deals with and against each other.”

See also this on Gitmo: “[T]he more I became educated on the topic, it seemed that we found ourselves holding an increasing number of individuals indefinitely that we believed or knew to be innocent, low level foot soldiers that did not have useful intelligence and would be released if they were still held in theater.”

I’m with Glenn Greenwald on this – Bradley Manning should be considered a hero, the Daniel Ellsberg of our day, and the real crime here is how terribly he’s been treated by the powers-that-be for a justifiable act of whistle-blowing. “He knew exactly what he was risking, what he was likely subjecting himself to. But he made the choice to do it anyway because of the good he believed he could achieve, because of the evil that he believed needed urgently to be exposed and combated, and because of his conviction that only leaks enable the public to learn the truth about the bad acts their governments are doing in secret.”

And, for this stand on idealism, we’ve kept Pvt. Manning locked in a cell for 23 hours a day and are (still) threatening him with life in prison. Meanwhile, this town is overrun with glib, useless assholes who don’t care about anyone but themselves, and those guys keep failing up. We hound and imprison our Swartzes and Mannings, while coddling and venerating the Dimons and Blankfeins of this world. Some system.

The War Bubble.

An executive at a small defense contractor recently joked to me, ‘Afghanistan is our business plan.’ I asked him what he would do if the war ended. He stared at me for a moment and said, ‘Well, then I hope we invade Libya.‘”

Proving Chalmers Johnson‘s maxim in Why We Fight that “when war becomes that profitable, you’re going to see more of it,” PBS’s Joshua Foust looks at the economic implications of withdrawal in Afghanistan for our standing army of Hessians defense sub-contractors. “Ten years of war have established a discrete class of entrepreneurs, mid-level workers and administrators who are completely reliant upon the U.S. being at war to stay employed.” I somehow doubt we’ll be freezing their pay anytime soon.

The Dogs of War.


Dogs have been fighting alongside U.S. soldiers for more than 100 years, seeing combat in the Civil War and World War I. But their service was informal; only in 1942 were canines officially inducted into the U.S. Army. Today, they’re a central part of U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan — as of early 2010 the U.S. Army had 2,800 active-duty dogs deployed (the largest canine contingent in the world).

With word that a canine supertrooper helped to take down Bin Laden, Foreign Policy‘s Rebecca Frankel lets slip the dogs of war. (But don’t believe everything you read about titanium teeth. Also, in the interest of equal time, here are the kittehs.)

Mission Accomplished.


For over two decades, bin Laden has been al Qaeda’s leader and symbol, and has continued to plot attacks against our country and our friends and allies. The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al Qaeda. Yet his death does not mark the end of our effort. There’s no doubt that al Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must — and we will — remain vigilant at home and abroad.

So, yes, as you may have heard, we finally found Osama Bin Laden, fulfilling a key promise President Obama made during the 2008 campaign. While I would have preferred to see the perpetrator of 9/11 captured alive and brought to trial — cause that’s how we do justice here in the US of A — congrats to the president’s team, the analysts who did the hard work, and the men and women who executed the operation, on finally getting their man.

All that being said, the second half of the president’s statement above is troubling. The death of Bin Laden should mark the beginning of the end of the 9/11 decade. With the splinter finally removed, it is time to take a long hard look not just at our continuing war in Afghanistan — after all, Osama was eventually found in Pakistan, mainly through what the Bunk would call good po-lice work — but at all the questionable and/or extra-constitutional actions we have taken in the name of fighting the terr’ists since September 11th. (Newsflash: Torture had nothing to do with capturing OBL.) If the death of Bin Laden doesn’t move us to this reconsideration, what then ever will?

Unfortunately (and of course), that doesn’t seem to be what’s happening. Instead, Congress is laying the foundation for a wider war: “Contained in the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012 is a new authorization to use military force that would grant the executive branch the power to ‘address the continuing and evolving threat posed by these groups.’ In practice, that means the president could use military force against any suspected terrorist across the globe — indefinitely.

Indefinite war? No thanks. There’s been an eerie touch of Emmanuel Goldstein in the way Bin Laden was used to justify all manner of extraconstitutional actions and civil liberties violations under Dubya — actions that have been ratified and continued under Obama. Now that the Bogeyman is dead, it’s time to stand down. It’s time to start acting like America again.

Marshes of the Moon.

‘It’s really wet,’ said Anthony Colaprete, co-author of one of the Science papers and a space scientist at NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. He and his colleagues estimate that 5.6% of the total mass of the targeted lunar crater’s soil consists of water ice. In other words, 2,200 pounds of moon dirt would yield a dozen gallons of water.

In keeping with recent studies, NASA is set to announce that there appears to be quite a lot of water on the moon, which would greatly facilitate setting up shop there. Alas, “the U.S. likely won’t be involved in manned voyages to the moon anytime soon…But other countries are gearing up. China has pledged to land astronauts on the moon by 2025, and India has plans to do the same by 2020. Japan wants to establish an unmanned moon base in a decade.” And, hey, why go to the moon when you can spend a decade in Afghanistan?

Marjah Under Starlight.


By way of Genehack, the Big Picture’s most recent photo dispatch from Afghanistan includes images that are breath-taking (above), sweeping (shades of A Broken Frame), cinematic, poignant, and just plain sad. (I should really link to TBP more often — this shot from Glastonbury is amazing also.)

The Press in the Tank.

From the early 1930s until the modern story broke in 2004, the newspapers that covered waterboarding almost uniformly called the practice torture or implied it was torture: The New York Times characterized it thus in 81.5% (44 of 54) of articles on the subject and The Los Angeles Times did so in 96.3% of articles (26 of 27). By contrast, from 2002-2008…The New York Times called waterboarding torture or implied it was torture in just 2 of 143 articles (1.4%). The Los Angeles Times did so in 4.8% of articles (3 of 63).

By way of Greenwald and Sullivan, a Harvard study documents exactly how absurdly our national media carried water for the Dubya-era torture regime. “In addition, the newspapers are much more likely to call waterboarding torture if a country other than the United States is the perpetrator.

This story, along with Politico’s gaffetastic reaction to Rolling Stone‘s Michael Hastings doing real journalism on the McChrystal story — (“Hastings would be considered a bigger risk to be given unfettered access, compared with a beat reporter, who would not risk burning bridges by publishing many of McChrystal’s remarks” — See also Lara Logan) and Joke Line deeming Glenn Greenwald a traitor because he dared to call unrepentant Iraq war evidence-falsifier Jeff Goldberg a horrible journalist (“Greenwald…so far as I can tell, only regards the United States as a force for evil in the world.“) pretty much tells you everything you need to know about our broken and corrupt Village media. And this is all just in the past week. Rinse and repeat, over and over and over again. (Pic via here.)

Code Orange.

‘They’re snuffing out the America that I grew up in,’ Boehner said. ‘Right now, we’ve got more Americans engaged in their government than at any time in our history. There’s a political rebellion brewing, and I don’t think we’ve seen anything like it since 1776.” In case you missed GOP leader John Boehner’s inadvisable, Barton-like unveiling of his true thoughts this morning, the Minority Leader gave an interview to the Scaife-owned Pittsburgh Tribune, and it’s actually an open question what the dumbest thing he said was. Was it:

1) Arguing that the avarice and fraud-fueled Wall Street meltdown that destroyed 8 million jobs was merely an “ant” Dems were trying to kill with a nuclear weapon? (Say what you will about this financial reform legislation, I wouldn’t call it nuclear-powered.)

2) Suggesting we should fund the highly-suspect-at-this-point war in Afghanistan by forcing Americans to work five more years? or…

3) The pathetic dabbling in Tea Party self-aggrandizement posted above? From what I remember of the history books, 1861 was a pretty banner year for political rebellion. Also, here’s a tip, Mr. Boehner: Read Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland. The Tea Party is not only not a new phenomenon, it’s not even a particularly special one. The only difference now is the media covers these John Birch Society wannabes like they’re actually a real political force in America. For shame.

And I’ve even skipped over stuff like the usual “repeal health care reform” inanities. Once again, the Majority Leader proves that one of the best assets Democrats have going into the fall midterms are the Republicans themselves. They’re just not ready for prime-time anymore, if in fact they ever were.

The Deficit-Witchhunt: The Long Depression.


We are now, I fear, in the early stages of a third depression. It will probably look more like the Long Depression than the much more severe Great Depression. But the cost — to the world economy and, above all, to the millions of lives blighted by the absence of jobs — will nonetheless be immense. And this third depression will be primarily a failure of policy.

They used to tell me I was building a dream…In the NYT, Paul Krugman calls out the deficit peacocks one more time before the wheels come off around the world. “[This is] the victory of an orthodoxy that has little to do with rational analysis, whose main tenet is that imposing suffering on other people is how you show leadership in tough times. And who will pay the price for this triumph of orthodoxy? The answer is, tens of millions of unemployed workers, many of whom will go jobless for years, and some of whom will never work again.

In very related news, from the bowels of the Fed comes a taxpayer-paid response to Krugman, DeLong, and others sounding the alarm about the deficit witchhunt: Quiet, you nasty bloggers! You have not sufficiently mastered our economickal arts! “[W]riters who have not taken a year of PhD coursework in a decent economics department (and passed their PhD qualifying exams), cannot meaningfully advance the discussion on economic policy…[T]here is extremely low likelihood that the speculations of the untrained, on a topic almost pathologically riddled by dynamic considerations and feedback effects, will offer anything new.

Having spent much of the past decade in academe, I’d like to point out that this is a pretty classic overreach by the writer here. I mean, you spend all those years chasing down a degree that’s not particularly useful anymore…there must be some upside to it, right? Am I not now part of the intellectual — in this case, macroeconomic — Elect? No, Mr. Athreya, I’m afraid not. Sometimes people spend so much time examining, say, the myriad variances in an oak leaf (or worse) they miss the forest for the trees.

Update: In an attempt to move past the entitlement-cutting hysteria out and about in DC at the moment, the Center for Economic Policy and Research offers up handy tool: The People’s Deficit Calculator. “The budget options in the calculator include ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, adopting a carbon tax, reduction in the size of the health care subsidies created by the health care reform bill, progressive price indexing of Social Security, adopting a financial speculation tax and others.

Update 2: James K. Galbraith reads the riot act to the deficit witchhunt tribunal. “You are plainly not equipped, either by disposition or resources, to take on the true cause of deficits now or in the future: the financial crisis.

The New “Black Hole”: Bagram.

The bottom line is this: Current procedures under the CSRT are such that a perfectly innocent individual could be held and could not rebut the Government’s case and has no way of proving his innocence. I would like somebody in this Chamber, somebody in this Government, to tell me why this is necessary.Me too, Senator Obama, me too.

In a decisive break with his campaign stances and the best indicator yet that this administration is now happily perpetuating deeply troubling Bush-era policies, the President wins the right to hold detainees indefinitely in Bagram — the difference from the Boumediene decision on Gitmo being that Bagram is a “war zone.” (And Ben Franklin’s admonition aside, that’s an excuse you hear quite a bit these days.)

FWIW, Politico’s Josh Gerstein — while bending over backwards, as per the Village norm, not to call torture “torture” — suggests civil liberties concerns are overblown here, but check out his reasoning: “The Obama administration…has, so far, resisted seeking a full-scale preventive detention law that would apply to future captives. Instead, it has pleaded with civil liberties and human rights groups not to oppose some legal mechanism to allow the continued detention of Al Qaeda captives, at least some of whom may be untriable because of aggressive interrogations many view as torture.

Oh, please. We have to hold them forever because we tortured them? How utterly and completely effed up is that? As Stephen Colbert well put it: “It’s essentially the same stance taken by George Bush. With one important difference: Obama makes the kids like it.

Meet the iRoach.


Right now, soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have to lug around a huge amount of equipment, sometimes weighing over 100 pounds. But the soldiers of the near future may followed by a pack bot that can carry all their gear while gracefully stepping over obstacles. As for giving the robot the ability to lay down some suppressive fire, that’s something the military is understandably skittish about…You know, worldwide robot apocalypse when they inevitably turn on their fleshy masters.

With a word of warning from The Prospect‘s Paul Waldman, Popular Science takes a gander at Boston Dynamics’ LittleDog. “LittleDog doesn’t just traverse the terrain; it learns as it goes, noting what works and what doesn’t and incorporating that knowledge into its foothold scoring system.

No Joy in Kabul.

Things in that unhappy country are going badly — much worse, of course, than Team Obama had to pretend this week but quite a bit worse than even a sensible skeptic might think. And unless Karzai takes to heart the lectures he heard (someone must have given him a stern talking-to amid all the bonhomie), things are only going to get worse still.

After perusing an unclassified DoD report released last month, Slate‘s Fred Kaplan sees ominous trends unfolding in Afghanistan. “[T]he full report is a hair-raiser. The news is almost all bad; and the few bits of good news turn out, on close inspection, to be extremely misleading…[T]he report states, ‘The insurgents perceive 2009 as their most successful year.’

The Widening Green Gap.

The US military is rushing to embrace sustainability. Its primary motive is not ethical. It is trying to keep pace with China in a strategic race to harness clean energy. Any future conflict between superpowers will almost certainly feature eco-weapons and green tactics. The oil-burning Americans are starting to realise how badly they are lagging behind.

In Britain’s New Statesman, John Naish looks at the national security and job implications of our falling behind on green tech. “The more the military thinks about green technology, the more it sees how it goes hand in hand with improving operational effectiveness…Afghanistan is the principal driver for Nato nations. Resupply convoys can be eight miles long and they in effect say: ‘Please hit me with a roadside bomb.’ Up to 60 per cent of the convoys carry fuel and water. If you reduce that need for supply, you save lives.”

See also the “clean energy is a national security issue” argument made by Operation FREE (mainly in terms of Iran and its $100 million a day in oil profits): “‘There’s no greater threat to our national security than our dependence on oil.’ Marine veteran and Operation Free member Matt Victoriano told Kerry.‘” To be honest, I could really do without the implicit saber-rattling involved with some of this argument. But let’s face it, that’s how we got a space program.

The Tyranny of the Bullet (Point).

“‘When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war,’ General McChrystal dryly remarked.” By way of a friend in the office, our military at the highest levels has apparently been infiltrated and subdued by Powerpoint groupthink. “‘PowerPoint makes us stupid,’ Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, said this month at a military conference in North Carolina…’It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,’ General [H.R.] McMaster said in a telephone interview afterward. ‘Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.‘”

The first thing that came to mind when I saw that ungainly graph above: The Daughters of the American Revolution’s “spider chart” in the 1920’s, which aimed to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the women’s peace and disarmament groups of the time were in fact the fifth column of international socialism. What goes around, comes around, I guess.

The Old School Dealmakers.

[L]ong before Hollywood discovered the Texan, he cut a wide swath through the House, always playing the roguish ladies’ man and macho militarist…[His] frequent, much more sober-styled partner was Democratic Rep. John Murtha, the Pennsylvania powerhouse who chaired the defense subcommittee so important to CIA funding for the Afghan cause. And the fact that both have died now within days of each other punctuates the end of a major chapter for the House left behind.

Charlie Wilson, 1933-2010, and John Murtha, 1932-2010.

Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammo.

“‘This is probably the best example of violation of the separation of church and state in this country,’ said Weinstein. ‘It’s literally pushing fundamentalist Christianity at the point of a gun against the people that we’re fighting. We’re emboldening an enemy.'”

I like Saving Private Ryan as much as the next guy, but this, in a word, is ridicky-goddamn-diculous. Apparently, our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are routinely outfitted with sniper rifles etched with New Testament verse. “Trijicon confirmed to ABCNews.com that it adds the biblical codes to the sights sold to the U.S. military. Tom Munson, director of sales and marketing for Trijicon…said the inscriptions ‘have always been there’ and said there was nothing wrong or illegal with adding them. Munson said the issue was being raised by a group that is ‘not Christian.’

Newsflash: Given that we’re currently engaged in multiple wars and are strongly trying to avoid any appearance of being involved in any sort of anti-Muslim Crusade, arming our soldiers with “Jesus rifles” and crafting bible-thumping war reports for the Commander-in-Chief isn’t just catastrophically stupid. It’s basically writing the Al Qaeda recruiting posters for them.

Update: Also, “They started it!” is not an appropriate response to this dismal revelation.

Update 2: Trijicon stands down — Jesus rifles are hereby discontinued, most likely because of quotes like these: “General David Petraeus also addressed the scopes this morning, calling the matter ‘disturbing and a serious concern for me.‘”

Doubling Down in Kabul.

“First, there are those who suggest that Afghanistan is another Vietnam. They argue that it cannot be stabilized and we are better off cutting our losses and rapidly withdrawing. Yet this argument depends upon a false reading of history. Unlike Vietnam, we are joined by a broad coalition of 43 nations that recognizes the legitimacy of our action. Unlike Vietnam, we are not facing a broad-based popular insurgency.

And most importantly, unlike Vietnam, the American people were viciously attacked from Afghanistan and remain a target for those same extremists who are plotting along its border. To abandon this area now — and to rely only on efforts against al-Qaeda from a distance — would significantly hamper our ability to keep the pressure on al-Qaeda and create an unacceptable risk of additional attacks on our homeland and our allies.”

This is a bit late by now, but regardless: As you all know, President Obama made the case last week for sending 30,000 more troops in Afghanistan. At this point — and like Fred Kaplan — I’m conflicted about our continued involvement there…but I’m leaning toward withdrawal. Everything I’ve heard about the war lately has had that “Vietnam in ’66” sense to it: A corrupt government as our ally; trouble winning “hearts and minds”; The US stepping half-blindly into a conflict that’s been simmering for centuries (in Southeast Asia, it was the endless Vietnamese war against interlopers; here it’s long-simmering ethnic rivalries between the Pashtuns and everyone else.) And now, our new progressive-minded president tells us: If we just commit X more troops (where, now X=30,000), we can win, close up shop, and go home. Uh, really? I think I’ve already seen this movie a few times.

Obama’s shout-out above to basically token international support doesn’t assuage my fears. And, as far as the threat posed by Vietnam: True, Tonkin never happened, but obviously policymakers of that era were less sanguine about a Communist victory in South Vietnam than we are today — The threat of the Enemy can always gets unduly amplified in the heat of the moment. (Speaking of said Reds, it should sober us to acknowledge that all we’ve done so far in Afghanistan is basically manage to re-create the Soviet experience in the region. Iirc, that didn’t end so well.)

Al Qaeda is in Afghanistan, yes, and if we could weed them out and destroy their capacity to attack again, all the better. (And always remember: If Dubya, Rummy et al had just finished the job properly in 2002 rather than salivating over Iraq, we would be in a lot better position right now.) But Al Qaeda is also in Somalia, Tajikstan, Yemen, the Philippines, Kosovo…all over the place. We don’t have the resources to play whack-a-mole in all these nations anymore, particularly when every whack usually just works to create new moles. (You’d think we learn that the Hydra sprouts two more heads every time you cut off the wrong one.)

The biggest argument in favor of increasing our military position in Afghanistan would be the continued stability of neighboring Pakistan. (There’s Vietnam again — it’s another variation of the Domino Theory.) But, there’s a good amount of evidence to suggest that more troop increases by us will only inflame the situation and further destabilize Pakistan. In which case, I’m not sure what we’re doing over there, and what we could possibly accomplish in 18 months that we haven’t gotten done the last seven years.

In short, it seems to me like we had our shot in Afghanistan, and Dubya blew it. I could be wrong, of course. But, to my mind, now feels like a good time to recognize that fact and stop chasing good money after bad.

Onward, Christian Soldiers.

“To paraphrase Al Pacino in ‘Godfather III,’ just when we thought we were out, the Bush mob keeps pulling us back in. And will keep doing so. No matter how hard President Obama tries to turn the page on the previous administration, he can’t. Until there is true transparency and true accountability, revelations of that unresolved eight-year nightmare will keep raining down drip by drip, disrupting the new administration’s high ambitions.” In today’s NYT, Frank Rich makes the case for a full investigation into Dubya-era crimes (as, in a switch, does Maureen Dowd — with some unattributed help from TPM’s Josh Marshall.)

Also linked in Rich’s piece is a damning profile of Donald Rumsfeld’s tenure at Defense by GQ’s Robert Draper, which happens to include these bizarre and, diplomatically speaking, blatantly idiotic Christian-minded cover sheets created especially for Dubya’s briefings. “This mixing of Crusades-like messaging with war imagery, which until now has not been revealed, had become routine…At least one Muslim analyst in the building had been greatly offended; others privately worried that if these covers were leaked during a war conducted in an Islamic nation, the fallout–as one Pentagon staffer would later say — ‘would be as bad as Abu Ghraib.’ But the Pentagon’s top officials were apparently unconcerned about the effect such a disclosure might have on the conduct of the war or on Bush’s public standing…Rumsfeld likely saw the Scriptures as a way of making a personal connection with a president who frequently quoted the Bible.

Fighting “Fighting the Last War.”

After Gates was confirmed as George W. Bush’s defense secretary in December 2006, he gave several speeches outlining major reforms that his successor should undertake–in weapons procurement, promotion policy, and the whole careerist culture inside the Pentagon. (With only two years in office, combined with a plateful of crises in Iraq and elsewhere, he knew he wouldn’t have time to take those steps himself.) When he stayed on at Barack Obama’s request, and thus became his own successor, many wondered whether he would turn his words into action. With this budget, he has begun to do just that.

A holdover from the bookmarks of last week: Slate‘s Fred Kaplan offers a concise overview of the proposed Obama-Gates military spending reforms. (These are not spending cuts, by the way, despite what you may have heard — just some much-needed and long-overdue reprioritizing over at the Pentagon. I also like the idea of phasing out defense contractors in favor of presumably much more cost-conscious civil servants.) “This budget will not go down easily in the Pentagon or in Congress. The F-22, the DDG-1000, and the Future Combat Systems are the favored systems by much of the Air Force, Navy, and Army brass, respectively…The F-22 in particular is also a favorite of many legislators — the result of politically shrewd subcontracting that spread out production of the plane to key districts in 46 states.

A Fork in the Road.

“It’s a debate that the Bush administration never seriously had in the seven years following the post-9/11 invasion. Now, by contrast, in the wake of three major strategic reviews, Obama is extending and deepening the discussion of Afghanistan, because the outcome of this debate may set the course of American foreign policy for the remainder of his presidency.” Counter-terrorism (CT) or counter-insurgency (COIN)? In Slate, Fred Kaplan discusses the major decision on Afghanistan before Obama this week.

Update: “‘We have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future,’ Obama said. ‘That is the goal that must be achieved.’” The president announces our new Af-Pak strategy. Sounds like the COINS won out. Update 2: Or did they? Call it CT-plus.

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