Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan’

What can we learn about Trump from his new Afghanistan policy?

Posted by sanityinjection on August 22, 2017

Last night, President Trump publicly announced a major shift in his position on Afghanistan. He plans to increase the number of American troops there by roughly 50% in an escalation of the campaign against the Taliban and their terrorist allies. This is a reversal of Trump’s campaign statements in which he called for a speedy withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. So what does this tell us we can expect going forward from Trump? Here are a few takeaways:

1) None of Trump’s campaign promises can be believed. This was a major plank of Trump’s foreign policy that attracted significant support from libertarians and isolationists, and he has completely reversed it. Don’t count on Mexico paying for that border wall either, on which no new work has been authorized to date. And don’t expect the recently commenced negotiations on NAFTA to end up with anything more than small tweaks. It’s been clear to long-time Trump watchers all along that Trump likes to shoot his mouth off, but feels absolutely no compulsion to align his deeds with his words.

2) Trump does occasionally listen to someone. He’s gone on record many times as wanting to give military leaders more say in decision making, and that’s what he’s done here. Trump’s generals managed to convince him that pulling out of Afghanistan would be like a winning lottery ticket for terrorist groups seeking a safe haven in that country. They also probably pointed out that as operations against ISIS in Syria and Iraq start to wind down, it will be possible to shift resources from that theater to Afghanistan, resulting in little net increase in overseas deployments and their cost in the long term.

3) Steve Bannon has left the building. If anyone wondered if Bannon’s firing was mostly for PR reasons and thought he might continue to wield influence behind the scenes, this decision puts that idea to rest. Bannon was one of TrumpWorld’s most vocal proponents of withdrawing from Afghanistan. It’s not a coincidence that the announcement of the new policy comes shortly after Bannon’s departure.

Stepping back from Trump and looking at American defense policy  over time, it is striking how consistent it has been regardless of which party controls the White House. Presidents Bush, Obama, and now Trump all campaigned on the idea of reducing our foreign commitments, then ended up increasing them. What this reflects is that American defense policy, and foreign policy more generally, tends to be driven less by ideology and more by a practical analysis of the nation’s security interests. If the isolationists ever want to make gains, they’d need to start by infiltrating the “deep state” of civil servants at State, Defense, and Homeland Security who marshal the facts, figures, and projections that go into the security briefings every President receives. These officials have little incentive to suggest policies that would result in the reduction of their funding, shrinking of their departments and possibly the loss of some of their jobs. It seems to me, however, that most Presidents perceive that it is preferable to fight dragons in someone else’s backyard than to wait until they show up in your own.

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Germany backs words with actions

Posted by sanityinjection on February 26, 2010

If you follow foreign policy, you know the drill when it comes to NATO missions in places like Iraq and Afghanistan – places where actual fighting takes place. America’s NATO allies (with notable exceptions such as the UK) usually make big promises about sending troops, but once the bleeding starts they have a tendency to cut and run.

With this in mind, I salute the German Parliament, which today overwhelmingly approved the government’s plan to send 850 more German soldiers to Afghanistan. Granted, many of these will be focused on training Afghan soldiers and won’t be serving on the front lines, but that is in fact the type of assistance that is needed at the moment. The increase represents a 19% increase in the size of the German force currently in Afghanistan.

Obviously no country likes to send its young men and women into harm’s way. But clearly Germany is committed to doing its part in the shared fight against Islamic terrorism. I hope other NATO countries will follow the German example and send their additional troops where their mouths have been.

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Rethinking Afghanistan

Posted by sanityinjection on October 30, 2009

I was struck by the recent decision of Foreign Service Officer Matthew Hoh to resign his post in Afghanistan in protest of what he believes to be a failed strategy. While disgruntled personnel or peacenik protesters are nothing new, Hoh exemplifies neither of those stereotypes. In fact, his record as both a  Marine and a diplomat is exemplary enough to earn him the right to have his comments taken seriously even by Afghanistan hawks. (It is significant that not one of the people interviewed by the WashPost who knew Hoh has anything even remotely bad to say about him, whereas normal institutional practice is to trash the reputation of anybody who steps out of line.) 

Hoh’s fear is that our current military activities in Afghanistan are doing more harm than good.  Speaking from his personal experience on the front lines of the Afghan provinces, Hoh argues that much of the rebel activity is locally based and not particularly affiliated with the Taliban or Al Qaeda, apart from being willing to take their money. He describes the Pashtun tribes as being extremely xenophobic and not at all happy about the continued presence of American and other foreign troops.

Normally, I would dismiss this sort of thinking as liberal bloviating. But Hoh isn’t a liberal, an isolationist, or a defeatist by nature: “There are plenty of [Al Qaeda and Taliban] dudes who need to be killed. I was never more happy than when our Iraq team whacked a bunch of guys.”

Hoh’s main point seems to be that we need to get the Pakistanis and Afghans to do the lion’s share of the work in eradicating Al Qaeda, and that the US’ close ties to the corrupt and ineffective Karzai government are proving to be a liability rather than a strength. Perhaps the upcoming Afghan runoff election could inject some new legitimacy if challenger Abdullah Abdullah manages to topple Karzai. But Abdullah is a northerner and even less likely to command the loyalty of the Pashtun tribal leaders.

I don’t know what the answer is. But it seems clear that pulling out of Afghanistan is not the answer any more than continuing with the status quo. The Obama Administration needs to come up with a new plan, and the time to do so was weeks ago.

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German election results may mean stronger US-German alliance

Posted by sanityinjection on September 28, 2009

This weekend’s elections in Germany returned conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel to power with a major difference: Instead of being stuck in an odd-couple “Grand Coalition” with the rival center-left Social Democrats, a strong showing by the free market Free Democrats will alow Merkel to assemble a more traditional center-right governing coalition.

This could be a positive development as far as the US-German alliance is concerned.  With British Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown widely expected to give way to Conservative David Cameron in the next British election, this sets up a situation where Britain, France and Germany will all have center-right governments.

At first glance, one might think that this might cause difficulties given that US President Obama comes from the center-left. But in fact, one of the hallmarks of the center-right in these three countries is that they tend to be more supportive of US policies generally, especially in the military arena. Gone are the days when Germany under Social Democrat Chancellor Schroeder was a vocal opponent of US policy in Iraq. 

In fact, the Free Democrats – who will inherit the key post of Foreign Minister in Merkel’s new government – are if anything more pro-US even than Merkel’s own party. They look to America as the model for the free market reforms they wish to see implemented in Germany, while also advocating the use of German military power abroad in support of its NATO allies. This could reap benefits for the US in Afghanistan, where the Social Democrats had been decidedly unenthusiastic about increasing the German mission there.

The one area that could become a sticking point is the issue of Turkish entry into the European Union – something the US supports as a way of anchoring Turkey firmly in the pro-Western camp. The outgoing Social Democrats strongly supported this as well, but the new government is more likely to oppose it along with France and Italy. The US fears this that EU rejection could drive Turkey into closer ties with Islamic states such as Iran.

Ironically, improved relations with Germany (not that they have been that bad) come at the same time that countries of Eastern Europe that have been staunch US allies are beginning to question their stance, after the embarrassing  reversal by the Obama Administration on missile defense that left the Czechs and Poles feeling betrayed. Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania have been strongly supportive of the US since the end of the Cold War when French and German support was lukewarm. We may now be witnessing a full reversal of that dynamic as Eastern Europe asks the US, “What have you done for us lately?”

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Dear Major Cook: Shut up and fight

Posted by sanityinjection on July 14, 2009

The Columbus (Georgia) Ledger-Enquirer reports that Army reservist Major Stefan Cook has filed a court motion seeking an injunction and conscientious objector status to avoid having to be deployed to Afghanistan. His argument? It would be illegal for him to serve overseas under President Obama as Commander-in-Chief because Obama was not born in the United States:

http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/news/story/776335.html

Honestly, I think we’re all pretty tired of this Obama birth certificate nonsense. Skeptics have had ample time to back up their claims that there is something wrong with Obama’s 1961 Hawaii birth certificate, without success. Like it or not, Barack Obama is the President of the United States and the Commander in Chief of America’s armed forces. And that’s not going to change for a few years.

Even if there were something in the birth certificate story, the idea that an individual soldier’s opinion on that question is of legal validity is pretty ridiculous. That’s sort of like the folks who claim they don’t have to pay taxes because of their personal interpretation of whether they are constitutional. This is why we have courts to decide these questions. You may not like the court’s judgment, but that doesn’t mean you get to substitute your own.

So with all due respect to Major Cook for your service to our country as a reservist: It’s time to shut up and fight for your country. That’s what you signed up for. I don’t blame you if you’re afraid of getting killed in Afghanistan, but that doesn’t make it OK for you to try to weasel out of your commitment on a technicality while your fellow reservists risk their lives. If you were a “conscientious objector” – a true pacifist – you never should have joined the reserves in the first place.

Posted in Domestic News, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 24 Comments »

Afghanistan: What the Left really thinks

Posted by sanityinjection on April 2, 2009

There is a common misperception that most of the Left in America supports the war on Afghanistan, and that it was only the war in Iraq they opposed. While this is true of some Democrats, most of the Left only focused on Iraq as the more obvious target. With the Iraq issue now essentially resolved, hardcore leftists are now turning their sights to Afghanistan in opposition to President Obama’s plan to slightly increase US forces there.

There is no more hallowed or respected liberal political journal than The Nation. And there is no left-winger with credentials more solid than Tom Hayden – founder of Students for a Democratic Society, member of the Chicago Seven, and former state legislator from California. Hayden is intelligent and articulate, and he cannot be dismissed as a crackpot of the Cindy Sheehan/Code Pink variety. Thus, his piece in The Nation last week deserves some attention as an authentic representation of the thinking of a sizable chunk of the American Left.

Hayden makes a number of interesting points, the first of which is his assertion that adding 20,000 American troops in Afghanistan will not prevent additional terrorist attacks. I have to say that I agree with Hayden, but only in the sense that I could agree with him that the earth will continue to revolve around the sun. The purpose of the troop buildup is not to eliminate Al Qaeda’s ability to plan a terrorist attack – there is no way to do that completely. The purpose of the buildup is to stabilize Afghanistan so that it will no longer be a haven for Al Qaeda or any other adical groups. Hayden actually undercuts his case by suggesting that Al Qaeda may be spurred by the buildup to launch an attack or “risk complete destruction, an American objective that has not been achieved for eight years. ” So Tom, if you believe that the troop buildup could finally result in the complete destruction of Al Qaeda, isn’t that a great argument for doing  it?

Apparently not. Hayden argues that the US should maintain a “deterrent posture” – whatever that is – “while immediately accelerating diplomacy to meet legitimate Muslim goals, from a Palestinian state to genuine progress on Kashmir. ” That’s a dumbfounding statement. First of all, it suggests that Al Qaeda exists in order to pursue “legitimate Muslim goals”. Al Qaeda’s objective is a worldwide Islamic state under sharia law, and even Hayden wouldn’t call that a legitimate goal. Second, it suggests that the Palestinian quest for statehood is fundamentally a Muslim issue, which it isn’t – many Palestinians are Christians. Finally, the idea that there is a unified “Muslim” political agenda – can you imagine if someone started talking about a “Christian” or “Jewish” foreign policy agenda? Ye Gods!

Fundamentally, Hayden’s position is that Al Qaeda’s terrorist attacks are provoked by our actions, so we should stop provoking them and giving them what they want – the total withdrawal of US military and economic interests in the Middle East. With bold naivete, Hayden actually suggests that this would make the world more stable than it is today.

He goes on to drag out the usual “Afghanistan is Vietnam” analogy, unfazed by having made the same argument about Iraq and having been proven wrong. He ends by asserting that the war in Afghanistan is likely to last throughout Obama’s Presidency, which I also agree with. (Hayden is way too smart to be wrong about *everything*.)

Again, let me reiterate: Hayden is not some wacko DailyKos type with no credibility. He’s practically the Godfather of the Left. So don’t be fooled – now that they have proven wrong on Iraq, the Left is undauntedly pushing the same tired arguments on the next most opportune target, Afghanistan.

Posted in Foreign Affairs, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Walking the walk

Posted by sanityinjection on December 14, 2008

I don’t often post on a Sunday, but I didn’t want to let this story slip by.

We have a tendency to view legislators as talkers rather than doers. And they often appear somewhat hypocritical to us because they are often insulated from the consequences of the laws they pass. For example, voting on wars they don’t have to fight in, or on health care bills that don’t apply to them because Congress has its own health care plan.

With this in mind, I wanted to share with you that one Senator, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, spent last week serving in the Air Force Reserve in Kabul, Afghanistan. Graham has also served in Iraq as a reservist.

Of course, Graham’s work as a military lawyer in Kabul does not expose him to the same level of danger as the troops rooting out Taliban nests in the mountains. But that’s not the point – it’s routine for reservists to be used in ways that take advantage of their civilian specialties.

The point is that Senator Graham didn’t give up his service in the Reserves simply because he got elected to office. In a way that no other federal legislator can match, Graham walks the walk when it comes to defense policy. It’s fitting that he serves on the Senate’s Armed Services Committee.

The media is quick to bring it to our attention when a legislator or governor does something shameful. Wouldn’t it be nice if they were equally zealous in telling us about the honorable things that they do? Something tells me this story won’t register as more than a blip with the major news networks, especially because Graham happens to be a Republican.

Full article: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20081214/ap_on_re_as/as_afghan_senator_soldier

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But nobody cares, because they’re black?

Posted by sanityinjection on September 4, 2008

CBS 2 Chicago reports that over the summer of 2008, more people were shot and killed in the city of Chicago than the number of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan combined over the same period. 123 Chicagoans were killed, while only about 118 soldiers lost their lives.

Where are the protesters demanding a halt to this senseless violence? Where are the Code Pink wingnuts chaining themselves to the doors of the crack houses that serve as recruiting stations for Chicago’s street gangs? Why are the lives of these victims, often women and children who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, less deserving of outraged attention? Where are the convention protesters marching with homemade signs that read “GANGS OUT OF CHICAGO”?

Surely it can’t be true that the Left is content to let our cities remain deathtraps as long as it’s just blacks, Hispanics and Asians killing other blacks, Hispanics, and Asians…can it?

Posted in Domestic News, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Iraq and Afghanistan: Not an either-or situation

Posted by sanityinjection on July 15, 2008

Christopher Hitchens, the columnist I told you recently had himself waterboarded as an experiment (crazy but impressive!), is back with a new piece debunking the idea that only the war in Afghanistan, and not the war in Iraq, is necessary, and that the war in Iraq is hurting our ability to win the war in Afghanistan. Hitchens explains the linkage between the two and even points out that counterinsurgency techniques learned in Iraq have subsequently been successfully used in Afghanistan. This is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand why we are fighting in two places at the same time:

http://www.slate.com/id/2195288/

Posted in Foreign Affairs | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »