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Monday, November 15

The Karzai-Petraeus mess: Why the USA must either become a military dictatorship or stop going to war

The Washington Post reports today:
Gen. David H. Petraeus, the coalition military commander in Afghanistan, "warned Afghan officials Sunday that President Hamid Karzai's latest public criticism of U.S. strategy threatens to seriously undermine progress in the war and risks making Petraeus's own position "untenable," according to Afghan and U.S. officials.
Petraeus hasn't outright said he'll resign his position but he's made noises to convey that he's upset enough about Karzai's statements that the thought of resigning crossed his mind. What did Karzai say to set him off?
Officials said Petraeus expressed "astonishment and disappointment" with Karzai's call, in an interview Saturday with The Washington Post, to "reduce military operations" and end U.S. Special Operations raids in southern Afghanistan that coalition officials said have killed or captured hundreds of Taliban commanders in recent months.
In addition to ending night raids, Karzai said that he wants U.S. troops to be less intrusive in the lives of Afghans, and that they should strive to stay in their bases and conduct just the "necessary activities" along the Pakistan border.

"I think it's [Karzai's] directness that really sticks in the craw," another NATO official said. "He is standing 180 degrees to what is a central tenet of our current campaign plan."

"It's pretty clear that you no longer have a reliable partner in Kabul," the official added. "I think we tried to paper it over with [Karzai's] Washington visit" in May. "But the wheels have been becoming looser and looser . . . since that." ...
Now I have a message for that NATO official, and for President Obama, and for the political and defense establishments in Washington:

You goddamn human weathervanes, you're the ones who keep doing the 180 degree turns. You've spun around so many times Karzai now reminds me of K in Franz Kafka's The Trial: it might be something he did but he's never sure what.

I understand you have the attention span of a gnat but can you remember a few weeks ago -- no, let's just see if you can remember yesterday:
As President Obama looks to further distance himself from the July 2011 drawdown date and officials insist more and more that the real “transition” to Afghan control will only begin in earnest in 2014, US Special Representative Richard Holbrooke seems to be reading from a different script, or at least one that’s a few months out of date.

Speaking today to a group of journalists in Pakistan, Holbrooke insisted that the entire war effort would be over by the end of 2014, with all US and NATO combat troops out of the nation by then. He added that the troops will begin to leave in July.

President Obama announced the July 2011 drawdown in December, an effort to underscore to the public that his massive escalation of the Afghan War was going to be short-lived. Officials were rejecting the date as a political ploy within hours of the speech ending, and President Obama himself has publicly disavowed the date several times.

Some officials had clung to the 2011 date, at least when convenient, for months after President Obama had abandoned it, but it seems now that officials are fairly unified around the 2014 date as the beginning, not the end, of a transitional phase. Barring the possibility that Holbrooke’s comments reflect a massive, previously unannounced change of thought, it seems that his speech is likely still relying on old dates which were politically useful but have since been discarded.
Now how is that you keep blaming Karzai for trying to keep up with a weathervane?

First you didn't want him to negotiate with the Taliban. Then you wanted him to negotiate with them and when he balked, you told him you were leaving Afghanistan in July 2011. Then when he reached out to the Taliban and scrambled to get on better terms with Islamabad and Tehran you pulled the rug out from under him again, as Bob Gates and Hillary Clinton assured ABC's Nightline a few days ago that the USA was staying in Afghanistan for many years. But then the magic number of a 2014 troop withdrawal was pulled out of a hat -- by what process of logic only a mad monkey could guess.

So now Karzai is scrambling to explain another new reality to Afghans, who thought the USA was leaving in July 2011. His latest statement is clearly his attempt to come up with guidelines for what might be a long U.S. haul in Afghanistan -- a long haul until maybe the next U.S. presidential election or when Bob Gates retires or whatever.

Now let me tell you what your idea of war has been since the end of World War Two, when the United States became a superpower. When I was a child I had a cousin who loved to play toy soldiers, so every time I visited I'd play toy soldiers with him. Once he was sick so we set up the battlefield on his bed coverlet. Lunchtime came around and his mother swept aside the battlefield to make room for a lunch tray. When the tray was removed we set up the battlefield again but in a different way because over lunch we'd come up new ideas for the war.

That's you. That's your concept of war. You've been playing toy soldiers only with real people. When the game runs into an obstacle you switch out not just the rules of engagement but the idea of the war.

When challenged on your weathervane behavior you shrug and say this is the way things are in a democracy where there can be a change in political leadership every four years. No. This is the way things are when the majority of citizens in a nation are so distant from the battlefields, so insulated by their vast power, that hubris is their defining approach to waging war.

But that's what leaders are for: to stand up to the crowd when it runs in six different directions. Yet since the Korean War America's ranking political leaders and military commanders have demonstrated time and again they will reduce war to a game with toy soldiers whenever the weathervane of U.S. politics spins. If an ocean of uselessly spilled blood has been the result that's simply a matter for the history books.

All this clearly indicates that the United States is a nation that is no longer able to accept the responsibility of leadership in any war waged outside its borders.

As for NATO: that's not a defense alliance; that's pretzel psychology set atop a weathervane.

I recall a documentary from a few years ago that showed never-before publicly aired footage of the Allied bombing campaign in Western Europe. We reduced that region of the world to a pile of rubble by the time we routed the Nazis. And yet the documentary showed that the attitude of the majority of people under the Nazi heel who were suffering from the bombing campaigns was one of joy.

One account I will never forget. A Frenchman told of how his wife cried when they had to leave the house because the Allied bombers were coming near. She was upset at the thought that a prized family heirloom, a chiffonier, might be destroyed.

He told her, "Don't weep for your chiffonier! Rejoice that the Nazis are being driven from France!"

People are willing to suffer a great deal to be free of tyranny. What they are not willing to suffer, what makes no sense to them, is when the rationale for war is adopted then twisted so it can be easily abrogated.

People who do such twisting cannot be trusted; their words have no value, their assurances no coin. So the NATO command should not ask why they don't receive more cooperation from the Afghan people.

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