Accelerate The Acceleration

From The New York Times:

PANJWAI, Afghanistan — Stalking from home to home, a United States Army sergeant methodically killed at least 16 civilians, 9 of them children, in a rural stretch of southern Afghanistan early on Sunday, igniting fears of a new wave of anti-American hostility, Afghan and American officials said…

Coming after a period of deepening public outrage, spurred by the Koran burning by American personnel last month and an earlier video showing American Marines urinating on dead militants, the possibility of a violent reaction to the killings added to a feeling of siege here among Western personnel. Officials described growing concern over a cascade of missteps and offenses that has cast doubt on the ability of NATO personnel to carry out their mission and has left troops and trainers increasingly vulnerable to violence by Afghans seeking revenge.

From Bloomberg:

The fatal shootings of 16 Afghan civilians, allegedly by an American soldier, add to a series of incendiary incidents that threaten to drain remaining U.S. and European support for the decade-long mission…

Any violent backlash by Afghans to the shootings in the southern province of Kandahar may add to domestic pressure on President Barack Obama to speed troop withdrawals, ahead of the the security handover now set for 2014.

From The Los Angeles Times:

The killing of 16 civilians in Afghanistan, allegedly by a lone U.S. serviceman, is one more blow to President Obama’s hopes for an easy exit from a 10-year-old war and deepens doubts about U.S. plans to assign advisors to Afghan forces.

From The Washington Post:

The massacre of at least 16 Afghan civilians, apparently by an American soldier, forced the Obama administration Sunday to confront yet another nightmare from the war zone and fresh evidence that patience back home is increasingly wearing thin.

Cast doubt on the ability of NATO personnel to carry out their mission,” “pressure on…Obama to speed troop withdrawals,” “one more blow to President Obama’s hopes for an easy exit,” “patience back home is…wearing thin.”  Those phrases seem understatements of the sentiment here at home relative to what has so obviously become a no-win war.

In June of last year—against the advice of then-General Petraeus and then-Defense Secretary Gates—Mr. Obama prudently announced an acceleration of troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and said most of our goals there were met. “The tide of war is receding,” he declared, adding,

America, it is time to focus on nation-building here at home…We will not try to make Afghanistan a perfect place. We will not police its streets or patrol its mountains indefinitely.

Ironically, that New York Times story from last June included this:

…troops have succeeded in clearing many towns and cities of insurgents, and then keeping them safe…

And today’s Times story described the alleged shooter this way:

…he had been part of what is called a village stabilization operation in Afghanistan. In those operations, teams of Green Berets, supported by other soldiers, try to develop close ties with village elders, organize local police units and track down Taliban leaders.

Who can blame some Afghanis—especially those  in the Panjwai district of Kandahar Province where this atrocity took place— for thinking that not only are they not “safe” from the Taliban, but it may not be the Taliban they have to fear.

For all of the good we have done there, for all of the costs in  lives and dollars, our efforts in Afghanistan seem now to be doing more harm than we could ever have imagined.

It is time for Mr. Obama to accelerate the acceleration and get out soon, very soon.

I Wonder

Here is an update from Reuters on the court-martial of Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs, which just gets more disturbing with each passing day:

TACOMA, Wash (Reuters) – A U.S. Army sergeant accused of murdering three unarmed Afghan civilians casually shot one victim “with a smile on his face,” then pulled a tooth from the dead man’s mouth, a fellow soldier testified on Wednesday.

The chilling account followed testimony from several other ex-peers of Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs who recalled that he referred to Afghan villagers as “savages” and once told another soldier, “the Army needs more people who can kill people.”

[...]

The climax of Wednesday’s proceedings came in testimony from former Army Specialist Adam Winfield, 23, about how he, Gibbs and other troops searched a village for signs of Taliban activity during a routine patrol in May 2010 and encountered a family huddled inside one home.

“Just an old man, his family and a bunch of kids, just a normal house, nothing going on,” Winfield said, recounting that Gibbs gestured at the man and asked, “Is this the guy?”, then discussed how the man might have attacked them with a grenade.

Having heard Gibbs and [Army Specialist Jeremy] Morlock boast about two previous slayings, Winfield testified, he realized this was the next “guy to be killed.” Gibbs then led the individual outside and around a corner.

“It was just a matter of seconds — boom, boom, boom,” Winfield testified, adding that Gibbs ordered the others to yell, “Grenade, grenade!” as he set off an actual grenade that mangled the victim’s legs, then yelled at his men, “You guys were supposed to shoot.”

After the ensuing pandemonium, Winfield said, he moved close enough to see the victim lying on the ground and watched as “Gibbs shot him two more times with a smile on his face.”

Next, Winfield testified, Gibbs bent down and “pulled a tooth from the guy” and offered it to Winfield, who said he responded, astonished, by saying, “I’ll just get it later.”

Winfield himself pleaded guilty in August to a reduced charge of involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to three years in prison.

I think of that frightened Afghan family in their home, staring in disbelief and horror at occupying soldiers with American flags sewn on their uniforms, hearing strange and unnerving words uttered in English, and I wonder: Was there ever any way to win the hearts and minds of the people there?

Moreover: Was there ever any way that a decade of fighting wouldn’t darken the hearts and minds of our soldiers and our citizens here?

Obama Lost The War In Iraq, Don’t You Know

On the way to Springfield on Sunday I heard a BBC radio report relating how Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, who has previously flirted with joining the Taliban, said:

God forbid, if there is ever a war between Pakistan and America, then we will side with Pakistan.

Then upon returning home I discovered that Lindsey Graham told Fox “News” that President Obama made a “serious mistake” by keeping to the Bush Administration timetable of troop withdrawal from Iraq at the end of this year:

Not being able to close the deal in Iraq is a very serious mistake. Celebrating leaving with no troops behind is a serious mistake… He’s put in question our success in Afghanistan and he ended Iraq poorly. He fumbled the ball inside of the ten. I hope I’m wrong about what happens in Iraq, but they are dancing in the streets in Tehran.

Then I learned that Lindsey Graham’s Siamese twin, John McCain, also criticized—on foreign soil—Obama’s Bush-endorsed decision on ABC’s This Week:

Well, I think it’s a serious mistake. And there was never really serious negotiations between the administration and the Iraqis. They could have clearly made an arrangement for U.S. troops.

Yes, I’m here in the region. And, yes, it is viewed in the region as a victory for the Iranians.

So, clearly the Republican establishment, as represented by Graham and McCain, believe Mr. Obama, who is simply following the plan of his presidential predecessor, is turning over the region to the Iranians. 

Then we have even nuttier charges, like this one from presidential candidate Rick Santorum, appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation:

I think that’s reason people are so upset, that, you know, we’ve lost — in many respects, we’ve lost control, lost the war in Iraq because we have Iran having broadened its sphere of influence.

Lost the war?  Obama lost the war?

In the midst of all this insanity, one must ask this rather sane question: Who is it that enhanced Iranian power in the region in the first place? Yep. The neocon philosophy-drunk Bush Administration, who altered the balance of regional power by invading and occupying Iraq, making it possible for the Iranians to potentially team up with the previously oppressed Shiite majority in Iraq and cause regional mischief.

By Republican reasoning, Mr. Bush lost the war just after we fired the first shot.

But was Graham or McCain or Santorum asked about that? Nope. Nor were they asked just how long the United States should stay in Iraq.  Ten more years?  Twenty? They should have been asked how many more Americans should die in Iraq, beyond the 4469 dead to date. Or how many more thousands of American wounded, beyond the 32,213 already suffering, will it take before Messrs. Graham and McCain and Santorum want to call it quits?

Not least, how much more of our treasure should be hauled overseas to flitter in an Iraqi wind?

All of which leads me back to Hamid Karzai.  The Afghanistan leader has given President Obama every reason to send him drone-delivered Christmas greetings from America. Thus, the requisite backtracking:

A spokesman for Karzai, Siamak Herawi, said the president had not intended any slight to the Western governments that have spent billions of dollars shoring up the Afghan administration during the 10-year war that has claimed the lives of at least 1,817 American troops.

“The media misinterpreted [Karzai’s] speech,” he said, adding that the president had been trying to express solidarity with Pakistan for having taken in millions of Afghan refugees during decades of war and the subsequent rule of the Taliban movement.  

Although it would send Lindsey Graham and John McCain and Rick Santorum into irreversible apoplexy, Mr. Obama should announce that he is stepping up troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, admitting that, like Iraq, a hundred more years in that Allah-forsaken place would at best only marginally advance American interests, which used to be the primary goal of our foreign policy.

Tea Party Chickens

How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown?            

Bob Dylan

 

The following excerpt from a Jonathan Allen story on Politico is for anyone out there who thought my question for Congressman Billy Long—about the GOP’s expressed reluctance to provide Joplin with federal aid—was irrelevant or a joke:

While much of Joplin, Mo., is still under rubble from a devastating tornado, conservatives in Congress are starting to argue for a tougher approach to disaster aid, demanding that any funding be offset by cutting federal money elsewhere.

Disasters will no longer be considered “emergencies” if conservatives win this battle to redefine the way Congress funds aid packages for states and cities stricken by natural and man-made catastrophes.

Get that? Republicans are “demanding” that what once was considered by all parties to be emergency funding will now be subject to a political fight, if the GOP has its way.  Surely, now everyone can see that asking our congressional representative Billy Long where he stands on that issue might be of some relevance?

Southeast Missouri Republican Jo Ann Emerson had no trouble making herself clear.  She told Politico:

“I do not believe in offsetting emergency funds, period,” Missouri Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, a senior GOP member of the spending panel, said.*

As Politico points out, “more than $1 trillion” was added to the deficit “by designating most spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as ‘emergency’ funding.”  Yet, we have the prospect of House Republicans, and who knows about the Senate, of putting Joplin’s aid right in the middle of a protracted political fight. 

Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill said on the Senate floor:

There is no question that we have to be careful about the way we spend federal money. But with all due respect to Congressman Cantor, I have a hard time believing that if this were in his congressional district, he would be talking about how additional disaster relief would not be available unless we found some other program to take it from…We must be there for them. We all must stand with Joplin; all of America must stand with Joplin, and we will.”

Exactly.

On Morning Joe this morning, Politico‘s chief White House correspondent, Mike Allen, called the House GOP stance a “radical idea“:

This is a basic change in the way Congress does business. This is part of House Republicans effort to say “We’re gonna do things completely differently.”  In the past, when floods, terrorism, hurricanes, tornadoes, came up, and they’re in need of aid, that was considered an emergency and Congress just spent money that it didn’t have, spent money regardless of spending caps that they set for itself.

House Republicans are taking a pretty radical idea and saying if we’re going to spend on these emergencies, we’re gonna take that money from someone else…

It’s coming up with Joplin because there’s gonna be a big, big tab there and Republicans are saying, “We’re not just gonna write Missouri a check. We’re gonna take that money out of somewhere else, and President Obama, if you want to request money for Missouri, we’re gonna find cuts elsewhere.”  This is brand new, in the past it was just spent as free money. That if somebody needed aid, that it was just put out on top of whatever else Congress was doing.

For all my Joplin Tea Party friends, for all the Tea Party folks here in Southwest Missouri, this is a test of your radical Tea Party ideas. I have been to three Tea Party rallies here in Joplin and I have heard the same thing each time: Government is the problem and we need to cut, cut, cut. People are taxed too much and Obama is a socialist.

Well, that socialist will soon request emergency funds from Congress** to send to Joplin and apparently a majority of Republicans in the House are willing to play chicken with him, just as they have done on the budget and the debt ceiling increase.

So, what we are witnessing with this Tea Party-radical move by Republicans in Congress to change the rules for emergency spending—after they have spent $1 trillion on “emergency” funding for Iraq and Afghanistan and after they have approved of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans—is Tea Party chickens coming home to roost right here in the middle of Tea Party Nation, here in our beloved city.

How does it feel?

________________________________

* The Huffington Post reported this

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), a member of the Appropriations Committee, showed The Huffington Post photos of her district under 12 feet of water as a result of flooding from the storms. She said an emergency aid package shouldn’t need to be paid for with spending cuts but said she has “no doubt” that some of her colleagues on the committee will push for offsets. She guessed that none of them will come from disaster-prone areas.

“It makes me sad” that some Republicans are insisting on offsets for natural disaster of this scale, Emerson said. And in the case of Cantor, “I was disappointed. I need to take him to my district.”

Still, she said she is hopeful that some committee Republicans will side with her in not pushing for offsets, particularly some of the newer members who hail from districts hurt by the storms. People have a change of heart on spending “all of a sudden when it becomes personal,” she said. “My own constituents would be horrified if I didn’t do everything I could” to get aid.

________________________________

** In case you missed it, here is how the President ended his remarks on Tuesday about the storms across the midwest:

I know that a lot of people are wondering how they’ll get through the coming days or months or even years, but I want everybody in Joplin, everybody in Missouri, everybody in Minnesota, everybody across the Midwest to know that we are here for you.  The American people are by your side.  We’re going to stay there until every home is repaired, until every neighborhood is rebuilt, until every business is back on its feet.  That’s my commitment, and that’s the American people’s commitment.

 [Updated Claire McKaskill's comments at 12:30pm]

What To Do About Afghanistan? Beats Me

I have previously confessed that I don’t know what is the proper course to follow regarding Afghanistan and the war we launched there in October of 2001. 

Essentially, I have said that at some point—and only to some point—we have to trust that our leaders, civilian and military, have the competence to not only prosecute the war but the wisdom and will to pull back, if or when it becomes a futile exercise.  Surely our leaders have learned something from our Vietnam experience.

I know my position is not popular with many liberals, but having read and heard and thought a lot about the issue, the fact that I dither from day to day—”we should get out” or “we can’t afford to get out“—is an indication that the philosophical counterfactuals of ending the war seem to be impossible to anticipate, not to mention the repercussions of staying and fighting for God knows how long.

And an AP story in today’s Joplin Globe doesn’t make it any easier.

The story was headlined, “Moderate Pakistanis lament radicalization,” and was sub-headed, “Once tolerant, relaxed nation is now embracing fundamentalism.” 

In the story we find quotes from Pakistanis bemoaning the lack of freedom of speech in their country and the fact that the religious fanatics are “out to snatch this country from us.”  Also disturbing was this commentary on the state of Pakistani society:

“The silent majority does not want to take out a gun and shoot anyone, but at the same time they’re not appalled by it when somebody else does,” complained Fasi Zaka, 34, a radio host. “The majority are enablers.”

The story mentions the assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, who was murdered by a member of his security detail for speaking out against blasphemy laws in Pakistan.  Taseer’s “bodyguards” stood by as the assassin kept firing.

Here was Taseer’s offense against radicalism, as reported by the The Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Taseer had become a leading opponent in recent weeks of a court decision in November to sentence a 45-year-old Christian farm laborer, Asia Bibi, to death for blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad.

If these kinds of assassinations become commonplace in Pakistan, our war in Afghanistan—which has already crept into Pakistan—will necessarily have to end or expand, as a nuclear-armed Pakistan grows more unstable.

Indeed, recognizing that fact, the Obama administration has moved to help the Pakistanis “combat” the rise of Islamic fundamentalist terrorists.  In an expanded story of the AP story above, MSNBC.com added this:

The White House will combat Pakistan’s terrorist groups by offering more military, intelligence and economic support to Pakistan and intensifying efforts to forge a regional peace, The Washington Post reported Friday.

Pakistani officials have complained that the United States has failed to understand their security priorities or provide adequate support, the Post said.

The new efforts will be communicated by Vice President Joe Biden, who plans to travel to Pakistan next week for meetings with military chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani and top government leaders, the Post said. Biden will challenge the Pakistanis to articulate their long-term strategy for the region and indicate exactly what assistance is needed for them to move against Taliban sanctuaries in areas bordering Afghanistan, the paper reported.

The effort was developed in last month’s White House Afghanistan war review to overcome widespread suspicion and anti-American sentiment in Pakistan and build trust and stability.

The anti-American sentiment is growing in Pakistan.  And the U.S. is looking for ways to provide economic aid to the government so it can “fill the gap” in public services to the poor and counter the  aid given to Pakistanis by the extremists, who, according to the AP,

…provide for people’s needs, such as in education and health care…through their welfare organizations, clinics, mosques, religious seminaries and other networks.  The impoverished masses then support their philosophies and political activities.

All of this just goes to show how difficult it is to determine whether our strategy in the region is the right one, or whether it is just more wind-chasing futility.  There are a lot of variables in play, and we often don’t know what we don’t know.

But something we do know is that after a long war in Iraq—remember that one?—we are left with an unstable nation that has troubling ties to Shiite Iran, which itself has grown stronger because of the ouster of Saddam Hussein and the Sunnis.  

As U.S. troops prepare to leave (note: “prepare”) Iraq at the end of this year, we find that the American-hating “cleric” Muqtada al-Sadr, who has been cooling his jets in Iran for nearly four years, is back in Iraq and he is as fanatical as ever:

Let the whole world hear that we reject America.

He called the U.S., Israel, and Britain, “our common enemies.”  Al-Sadr’s political movement won 40 seats in parliamentary elections held last year and now holds eight leadership positions in the new Iraqi government, which is a coalition of disparate groups, many of whom don’t much like each other.  And they don’t like each other  in ways that make the fights between Democrats and Republicans look like quarrels at church camp.

No one knows how the Iraq situation will turn out—it is often prematurely characterized as a “success”—and the situation in Afghanistan, with its long history of interventionist failure—is exponentially more uncertain.

But I remain unable to figure out whether our present policy regarding Afghanistan-Pakistan is the right one or whether it is a Middle East Vietnam.

I wish I could.

Why Obama Is Not A Lefty

I expect right-wing media in this country to say ridiculous things about Barack Obama, like, say, he is a communist, a socialist, or just an average leftist who is way out of touch with “mainstream” America.  On the adult-less right, anyone slightly left of Rush Limbaugh is a muddle-headed moderate, a leftist sympathizer, or worse.

But one even hears such talk among those who are not committed reactionaries.  On Morning Joe, for instance, it is a given among many of the regular guests that Obama has governed from the far left and voters smacked him down this November for doing so.

Uh, well, no.  He has not only not governed from the far left, a good case can be made that he has, in so many ways, governed from either the center-right, or, sad to say, the right-right.

Here are some examples of Obama’s often-conservative governance:

Health Insurance Reform

Obama’s signature accomplishment to date is health insurance reform, the Affordable Care Act.  He is proud of that achievement, as all Democrats should be, since it cost them a lot to get it passed.  And Republicans say they are committed to repealing it and replacing it with God only knows what.  In fact, tea partiers absolutely hate it and give it as an example of Obama’s fondness for socialism.

Except that it’s not. It’s not even close.

I heard today that the health insurance companies, normally fond of Republican enthusiasm for exclusively protecting corporate interests, are lining up to urge Republicans to slow down in their efforts to repeal health insurance reform.  From NPR:

“No one has said what this bill would be replaced with,” said Richard Umbdenstock, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association. “But doing away with this would certainly be the wrong thing. … People have been gearing up for some time, well before this actual bill got passed, to make these changes locally, and have invested a lot.”

The truth is that the Affordable Care Act may have helped save the private insurance company from the profit-killing effects of a growing number of uninsured Americans.  According to Jonathan Oberlander at the University of North Carolina:

“Usually we think of the health industry as being in alliance with Republicans and opposing more government intervention in the health care system,” Oberlander says. But you have to ask why did the industry support the health reform law in the first place?”

He says the reason is that the more people there were without health insurance, the more that threatened the industry financially. In other words, its entire business model was about to fall apart.

So, we can conclude that the new health care law, with its insurance mandate that will drive many new customers into the arms of the private insurance industry, is far from being a left-wing dream.  And besides all that, the basic structure of the Affordable Care Act is very similar to what Republican Mitt Romney approved of when he was governor of Massachusetts.  In fact, it is more conservative than RomneyCare, as Jonathan Chait points out.

And largely forgotten is the health care overhaul legislation offered by Republicans in 1993 in response to Clinton’s attempt to reform the system.  It has striking similarities to what eventually passed this year.  For a comparison, go here and look for yourself.

There’s simply no way the new health insurance reform law can be interpreted as a move to the far left.  Sorry.  But, then, I don’t expect members of the media, especially on sound bite political shows, to mention that very often.

The War in Afghanistan

Obama has tripled the number of troops in Afghanistan and has exponentially increased the number of drone strikes in Pakistan.  He has, essentially one-upped the Bush administration, so much so, that as Politico points out, Mr. Bush had good things to say about Obama’s strategy:

“I strongly believe the mission is worth the cost,” Bush wrote in “Decision Points,” which comes out Tuesday. “Fortunately, I am not the only one.”

He expresses gratitude that Obama “stood up to critics by deploying more troops, announcing a new commitment to counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, and increasing the pressure on Pakistan to fight the extremists in the tribal areas.”

Again, sorry pundits.  Obama’s war policy is Dick Cheney on steroids.

Financial Reform

Other than health care reform, there isn’t anything the left-wing of the Democratic Party has been more upset about than the financial reform legislation passed this year.  The left claims the law won’t do much to stop the practice of using “too big to fail” as an excuse for bailing out Wall Street gamblers.  In this, they have common agreement with many tea partiers. 

Even an admittedly liberal bright spot in the reform law—the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—has received criticism because President Obama refused to fight to install Elizabeth Warren—a hero on the left—as its head.  They fear that without her in charge, the “Banksters” will have their way with Obama’s rather conservative Treasury Department.

So, even financial reform turns out to be a frustratingly moderate approach to reigning in an out-of-control financial industry.

The Stimulus Plan and Lower Taxes

The New York Times reported recently:

In a New York Times/CBS News Poll last month, fewer than one in 10 respondents knew that the Obama administration had lowered taxes for most Americans. Half of those polled said they thought that their taxes had stayed the same, a third thought that their taxes had gone up, and about a tenth said they did not know. As Thom Tillis, a Republican state representative, put it as the dinner wound down here, “This was the tax cut that fell in the woods — nobody heard it.”

The tax cut nobody heard of was in the Recovery Act stimulus plan passed by—and only by—Democrats.  It was a $787 billion bill (CBO now estimates it will cost $814 billion). Of that total some $275 billion (now projected at $290 billion) was for tax cuts for 95% of Americans. Get that?  Tax cuts.  For cutting taxes. You know, those things Republicans believe are major stimulants of economic growth, at least when Republican propose them.  When Democrats propose them, they somehow fail to stimulate growth, but that’s another subject.

Tax cuts comprised about 36% of the Recovery Act stimulus plan and it received ZERO Republican votes.

Now, it is widely known that President Obama and the Democrats took the approach of including such massive tax cuts in the stimulus bill—despite there being arguably better ways to spend the money—in order to get bipartisan support.  In other words, they made the bill much more conservative—and thus less effective—than it needed to be, since Republicans didn’t support it anyway.  Most people on the left believe the bill was too small and wrongly designed to appeal to Obama-must-fail Republicans. 

So, we can conclude that much of the stimulus package represented essentially Republican tax-cutting ideas, hardly part of any leftist agenda I’ve ever heard of.

The GM Revival

Remember last year when the right-wing told us that Obama was fulfilling his desire to socialize America by stepping in to save General Motors?  Never mind that the GM bailout begun under Bush.  And never mind that Congressional Republicans had no problems bailing out bankers.  It was just union workers they had a problem helping.  As John McCain said, the GM-Chrysler bailout, “was all about the unions.”  Except that the unions were forced to sacrifice, too. 

And in the end, yesterday’s IPO, the second largest in history, saw Obama’s socialist stake in GM drop from 61% to around 33%.  Damn! I bet he’s pissed about that:

We are finally beginning to see some of these tough decisions that we made in the midst of crisis begin to pay off.

Okay, so he’s not pissed.  Why not?  Why isn’t he furious that he doesn’t actually control GM anymore?  Because he’s not a bleeping socialist, that’s why.

Anyway, leave it to the Wall Street Journal to put in perspective the GM comeback and the government’s role in it:

The most important step may have been the government’s efforts to stock GM with a new management team, to shake up its corporate culture and refocus the company on making money.

Making money?  Obama wanted GM to make money?  Huh?  What kind of left-winger is he?

Small Business Tax Relief

Including the Recovery Act, Obama has cut taxes on small businesses eight (8!) times since he sat his socialist keister in the Oval Office.  Additionally, eight (8!) more small business tax cuts have been stalled in the Senate because of Obama-must-fail Republican recalcitrance.

The Employee Free Choice Act

Despite widespread fear among the business class, Obama hasn’t done one damn thing to get the EFCA passed. It’s hard to remember now, but when Obama-the Communist assumed office, the EFCA was the Holy Grail for organized labor. So much for Obama’s radical agenda for unions, which, the right told us, would destroy America.

Budget Deficits and Debt

Who was it that appointed the deficit reduction commission?  Oh, yeah.  It was that radical spender, Barack Obama.  And he will have to answer for it, as Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson make the rounds and explain to us that although the wealthy made off with billions and billions at Wall Street casinos, and although the financial system had to be bailed out by taxpayers, the pain of budget cuts will fall on average Americans, who will have to work harder and longer for less.  Rah, rah, Comrade Obama!

Free Trade

Despite resistance from the left, particularly unions, Obama is pursuing free trade policies and trade agreements with trading cheaters all over the globe.  

War On Drugs

California had on its ballot this November an initiative that would have legalized marijuana. Surely, every leftist in America, and most libertarians, favored the measure. Yet, the Obama Justice Department made it clear that it opposed Proposition 19 and that it would “vigorously enforce” all federal laws related to dope smoking, no matter the outcome.  No one can possibly argue that a McCain-Palin administration would have acted differently.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Despite favoring repeal of the military’s ban on openly homosexual service, President Obama had a chance to end the policy by simply refusing to appeal a federal judge’s decision last month that prohibited the government from enforcing or applying the ban.  Of course, it turns out that the administration did appeal the decision, thus irking homosexual activists everywhere. 

Why would he do that?  Because he takes his job as head of the executive branch seriously.  And the executive branch is charged with enforcing the law, whether the president likes it or not. That, my friends, is conservative governance.

Guantanamo Bay

It’s still open.  Any questions?

 

Obamaphobia: A Memetic Plague

Liberals just have to face it.  A lot of folks over there at the Republican “News” Channel are just plain sick, when it comes to hating President Obama. 

I mean, it’s not just about the right-wing political philosophy that the channel pushes 24-7.  That’s bad enough.  But that in itself doesn’t make them sick.  It’s more about the strange way in which people on that “news” channel interpret even the most innocuous events, if there is a way to interpret them to bring condemnation on Mr. Obama.

And I’m not talking about the recent hysteria caused by false claims on the right that Obama’s trip to Asia was going to cost more money than Fox spends on Glenn Beck’s hypnotist (to train him to keep a $traight face, as he $uggest$ the End of America for the gazillionth time).

No, I’m talking about this morning for instance.  On “Republicans and Friends,” the popular morning show on the Republican “News” Network, there was a segment on President Obama’s rather thoughtful answer to a question from a student in Mumbai, India.  The question:

Q: Hi, good day, sir. Hi, my name is Anna and I’m from St. Davis College. My question to you is, what is your take on opinion about jihad, or jihadi? Whatever is your opinion, what do you think of them?

Now, before we get to Mr. Obama’s answer, let’s look at a couple of screen shots from “Republicans and Friends” this morning:

 

President Praises Islam” and “President’s Remarks: Refuses to Condemn “Jihad” While in Mumbai.”  Okay.  With such captions, and given the discussion during the segment, one would think Obama had joined in on a jihad against America.  But, again, before we get to his answer, let’s look back a bit.

In 2005, President George W. Bush gave a Veterans Day speech, just one speech among many he gave during his presidency.  But remember:  This one was on Veterans Day.   The speech was commemorating our veterans.  And in that context, Mr. Bush mentioned jihad and the need to see it not as “madness” or insanity, but as “a clear and focused ideology“:

Some call this evil Islamic radicalism; others, militant Jihadism; and still others, Islamo-fascism. Whatever it’s called, this ideology is very different from the religion of Islam. This form of radicalism exploits Islam to serve a violent, political vision: the establishment, by terrorism, subversion and insurgency, of a totalitarian empire that denies all political and religious freedom. These extremists distort the idea of jihad into a call for terrorist murder against Christians and Hindus and Jews — and against Muslims, themselves, who do not share their radical vision.

Get that?  Mr. Bush, in the context of a Veterans Day speech, told us not to confuse “Islamic radicalism” with “the religion of Islam.”  He went on to say this:

Like the ideology of communism, Islamic radicalism is elitist, led by a self-appointed vanguard that presumes to speak for the Muslim masses.

Here’s how earlier this year the Associated Press reported on the difficulties of using appropriate language related to our war against radicals, who in the name of religion wish to do us harm:

But the Bush administration struggled with its rhetoric. Muslims criticized him for describing the war against terror as a “crusade” and labeling the invasion of Afghanistan “Operation Infinite Justice” — words that were seen as religious. He regularly identified America’s enemy as “Islamic extremists” and “radical jihadists.”

Karen Hughes, a Bush confidant who served as his top diplomat to the Muslim world in his second term, urged the White House to stop.

“I did recommend that, in my judgment, it’s unfortunate because of the way it’s heard. We ought to avoid the language of religion,” Hughes said. “Whenever they hear ‘Islamic extremism, Islamic jihad, Islamic fundamentalism,’ they perceive it as a sort of an attack on their faith. That’s the world view Osama bin Laden wants them to have.”

Okay.  Now, we can get to part of Obama’s answer to the jihad question and the weird but predictable reaction to it on the right:

Well, the phrase jihad has a lot of meanings within Islam and is subject to a lot of different interpretations. But I will say that, first, Islam is one of the world’s great religions. And more than a billion people who practice Islam, the overwhelming majority view their obligations to their religion as ones that reaffirm peace and justice and fairness and tolerance.  I think all of us recognize that this great religion in the hands of a few extremists has been distorted to justify violence towards innocent people that is never justified.

Wow!  How could President Obama say such things, especially since George W. Bush had already said them time and time again?  What was he thinking?

Sean Hannity:

Why couldn’t he just say, ‘Jihad killed 3,000 Americans, it is the belief or the false use of God to justify killing and murder and war’? Why didn’t he say that?

Bill-O:

So once again, Mr. Obama dodged the girl’s question and failed to answer about the jihad. Whenever, whenever the president is faced with the worldwide problem of jihad, Mr. Obama delivers platitudes.

Newt Gingrich:

I think this administration is in such total denial about who’s trying to kill us and what their motives are that it’s dangerous to the country. And the president today, in this particular performance, was following up on this continuous denial.

Continuous denial“? “Dangerous to the country?” The truth of all this is that many folks on the right-wing do have a sickness.  They hate President Obama so much that it affects everything they see and hear. 

Despite the fact that Obama is pursuing a much more aggressive war than President Bush pursued against the extremists who did us harm on 9/11; despite the fact that he is fast dissipating his moral capital through an exponential increase in drone attacks in Pakistan—sometimes killing innocents—and despite the fact that his answer to that question on jihad would be heard by countless Muslims around the world; people like Newt Gingrich can say that the President, “is in such total denial about who’s trying to kill us and what their motives are that it’s dangerous to the country.”

Well, no, it isn’t Mr. Gingrich. But what is dangerous to the country is that disturbed people like you and Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and other Obama-sick commentators are spreading a memetic plague to millions of Americans every day.

The Afghanistan War: “This Is Going To End In An Argument”

I realize that the Rolling Stone article that doomed General McChrystal is old news now, but the most disturbing thing in it, now that McChrystal is gone, is this:

Even those who support McChrystal and his strategy of counterinsurgency know that whatever the general manages to accomplish in Afghanistan, it’s going to look more like Vietnam than Desert Storm. “It’s not going to look like a win, smell like a win or taste like a win,” says Maj. Gen. Bill Mayville, who serves as chief of operations for McChrystal. “This is going to end in an argument.”

If Mayville is right, it ought to end today.

 

Obama Acts, But Doubt Remains

Now that Obama has made his decision—delivered with characteristic aplomb—about General McChrystal, and now that he has put the towering figure of General Petraeus in charge of and reaffirmed our commitment to the McChrystal/Petraeus/Obama strategy in Afghanistan, perhaps things will improve there.

But I remain highly skeptical (as do most liberals) of not just the strategy itself, which appears to require a much longer engagement than Americans will support, but of the overall goal: essentially creating an Afghanistan with sufficient strength to keep out the Taliban forever.  That doesn’t seem possible to me, unless we are prepared to stay engaged on the ground for many, many years at greater and greater cost.

Obama will be faced with a crucial decision next summer, one that will possibly determine his presidential fate.  Either he will continue with the counter-insurgency strategy and thus extend our commitment, or he will begin a substantial withdrawal and pursue the Biden course of air strikes on strategic targets, occasional special ops incursions, and other less costly (and less visible) tactics.

Either way is fraught with political difficulties from the left and right, but after listening to his speech today, I am confident that whatever he does, it will not involve the dynamic of politics.

Obama just doesn’t seem to be built that way.

Joplin Globe Owes An Apology

In a stunningly ignorant and outrageous editorial today, the Joplin Globe has criticized the “publicizing” of our intent to capture Marjah, now formerly a Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan, and suggested that “politics” was behind the military’s forewarning of its plans to retake the town.

The editorial began:

We do not understand the publicity surrounding the battle now engaged around Marjah, Afghanistan. To us it seems that our armed forces and our Afghan allies are leading with our chins in publicizing the preparations for and now conduct of that battle.

The editorial ended with this:

We ask both our political and military leadership exactly why such forewarnings were provided.

Deception is critical to military success, no matter how overwhelming the forces and technology of one side.

We condemn such political publication of military tactics and challenge the decision to sacrifice American and allied lives for politics.

Anyone paying even half attention to the reports leading up to the offensive in Marjah, understood that the purpose of the action was not to have a protracted firefight with the Taliban. Yesterday an article in the Marine Corp Times quoted Brig. Gen. Sher Mohammad Zazai, “commander of Afghan troops in the south”:

 “The aim of the operation is not to kill militants,” he said. “The aim is to protect civilians and bring in development.”

The Marine Corp Times had also reported previously:

For weeks, U.S. commanders had signaled their intention to attack Marjah in hopes that civilians would seek shelter.

So, the point of “publicizing” the offensive was—and this was made clear from the start—to minimize the risk to civilians because the whole point of General McChrystal’s strategy is to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.  That’s the only way our efforts in Afghanistan can ultimately be successful.

Again, according to the Marine Corp Times:

NATO and Afghan military officials say killing militants is not the goal of a 3-day-old attack to take control of this Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan. More important is to win public support.

They acknowledge that the rules entail risk to its troops, but maintain that civilian casualties or destruction of property can alienate the population and lead to more insurgent recruits, more homemade bombs and a prolonged conflict.

The only “politics” being played in this matter is by the Joplin Globe in its apparent rush to criticize the administration’s war strategy.

Hopefully, the paper will retract its editorial today, and apologize to our military commanders, if not the President of the United States.

How Can We “Win”?

The AP reported today the following, which demonstrates just how complicated the Afghanistan “war” is and how difficult it will be to accomplish the stated goal of our increased presence there:

Thousands of Afghans shouting “Death to America!” protested the killings of children Thursday, the latest in a string of controversial cases in which international forces have been blamed for civilian deaths.

U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal has ordered troops to use airstrikes judiciously and fire cautiously to reduce civilian casualties. Still, each new report of civilians killed unleashes raw emotions that highlight a growing impatience with coalition forces’ inability to secure the nation.

Despite the fact, as the story points out, that many more innocent civilians are killed by insurgents than by NATO or Afghan forces, the Taliban nevertheless uses the death of those accidentally killed as effective propaganda to turn the population against our efforts.

Even in situations where our side was clearly not involved in the death of innocents, we are vulnerable to such propaganda.  The story reports that Wednesday, “an explosion tore through a group of children gathered around foreign soldiers visiting a U.S.-funded road project in Nangarhar province.”  The result was:

Minutes after the blast, local residents were accusing American forces of throwing a grenade into the crowd — even though several international troops were among the wounded. The Afghan Interior Ministry later released a statement saying the explosion occurred when a passing police vehicle hit a mine.

Still, an estimated 5,000 protesters demonstrated the deaths Thursday along a road between Kabul and Jalalabad in Nangarhar. They waved a banner condemning the attack, set fire to an effigy of President Barack Obama and chanted “Long live Islam!” and “Death to Obama!”

“We are shouting ‘Death to America’ and ‘to the Afghan government,’” Sardar Wali, a university student at the demonstration. “It is the responsibility of the Afghan government to find and hand over the people who are responsible for this attack.”

It’s hard to conceive how we can “win” there, given such a situation.

Afghans chant anti-American slogans during a protest in Jalalabad, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2010. Thousands gathered to protest after four Afghan children and a policeman were killed and scores wounded, including at least three American troops when an explosion tore through a group of local residents and soldiers observing a road-construction project on Wednesday in Nangarhar province.
[Photo: Rahmat Gul / AP]

Sarah Palin, Butch Cassidy, And The Sundance Kid

Gene Lyons, in today’s Globe, discussed the “hurry, hurry” philosophy expressed by so many opponents of Obama’s think-before-you-act methodology, as applied to the Afghanistan war. Lyons criticized a comment by David Broder, who had written:  

It is evident from the length of this deliberative process and from the flood of leaks that have emerged from Kabul and Washington that the perfect course of action does not exist. Given that reality, the urgent necessity is to make a decision — whether or not it is right.

Lyons’ response to that was:

Read that again. Better to do something stupid, the man says, than for President Obama to ask too many tough questions.

Later Lyons made this observation:

Time was when Republican politicians sneered at “nation­building” — particularly in remote places like Afghanistan that aren’t nations to begin with. Today, however, to think is to “dither.”

Nothing illustrates better the metamorphosis of the conservative movement’s foreign policy, from its anti-Wilsonian roots to today’s “give McChrystal whatever he wants” philosophy, than what Sarah Palin said to Barbara Walters recently regarding the Afghanistan War:

Walters: What should the U.S. goal in Afghanistan be?

Palin: To listen to McChrystal, to listen to the appointee that President Obama asked for, the advice from, McChrystal gave the president the advice, and said, we need essentially a surge strategy in Afghanistan so that we can win in Afghanistan. That means more resources, more troops there. It frustrates me and frightens me and many Americans that president Obama is dithering around with the decision in Afghanistan.

Walters: With what goal? What should be our ultimate goal? [Since she didn't answer the question the first time.]

Palin: Afghanistan, the people there, the government there, should be able to take over and to have a more peaceful existence there for the people who live there without American interference, if you will.

Now, leaving aside the Palinesque syntax and the fact that she is merely repeating boilerplate Republican criticism, what the Wasilla Wonder is saying is that the goal—the goal!—of the war in Afghanistan is not to pursue terrorists and to protect U.S. interests, but to make Afghanistan the Bella Vista of the Middle East, or something like that. 

God, please let Republicans anoint her in 2012!

As an aside, all of this Broder/Palin nonsense reminds me of one of the great scenes from one of the great movies of all time, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid:

Dithering Dick and the Chicken Hawks

Dick Cheney, safely out of power, wants Obama to fix yet another Republican mistake by escalating the War That Bush Forgot.  After years of neglect, the Republicans have a mysterious sense of urgency about introducing 40,000 or more troops into a war drama that doesn’t seem to have a “THE END” at the end of it.

Saying “President Obama now seems afraid to make a decision,” the former Vice President, who dithered his way through the Vietnam War, has gone too far this time.  I hope the Justice Department goes after the college campus warrior for all of his crimes, large and small.

Here is how the issue was handled on Morning Joe, Thursday morning:

UPDATE:  General Paul Eaton (Ret.) released a statement that included this opening paragraph:

The record is clear: Dick Cheney and the Bush administration were incompetent war fighters. They ignored Afghanistan for 7 years with a crude approach to counter-insurgency warfare best illustrated by: 1. Deny it.  2.  Ignore it. 3. Bomb it. While our intelligence agencies called the region the greatest threat to America, the Bush White House under-resourced our military efforts, shifted attention to Iraq, and failed to bring to justice the masterminds of September 11.

He ended with this:

No human endeavor can be as profound as sending a nation’s youth to war.  I am very happy to see serious men and women working hard to get it right.

Of course, there’s no way that General Eaton knows what the hell he’s talking about.  He only served 30 years in the Army and according to the National Security Network, “oversaw the training of the Iraqi military.”  That’s nothing compared to the military expertise of Dithering Dick.

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