Robb's Journal of Dingbat Delight
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten:
"President Obama’s bold plan is the right antidote to help solve our persistent economic problems ... President Obama is leading on this issue, and we hope Congress steps up and passes the jobs package swiftly."
AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka:
"(President Obama) showed working people that he is willing to go to the mat to create new jobs on a substantial scale. Tonight's speech should energize the nation to come together, work hard and get serious about jobs."
Teamsters President Jim Hoffa:
"(President Obama's) plan will immediately increase economic activity and generate more tax revenue. That’s how you fix the deficit. Good jobs are good for the economy ... I’m especially pleased that President Obama wants to invest in infrastructure improvements and in jobs for our military veterans. I’m also pleased he recognizes the need to put money in the pockets of working people.'
United Steelworkers president Leo Gerard:
"Calling Congress into a joint session signals that this isn't business as usual. Quick and decisive action is necessary to begin to restore our economy by rebuilding our manufacturing capacity through important investments in our country and our people as proposed by the President. The billions of infrastructure investments announced by the President will drive new jobs in manufacturing."
United Food and Commercial Workers International Union President Joseph Hansen:
"President Obama's plan for job creation, including a private fund to rebuild our roads and schools, a tax cut for companies that hire workers and help for the long-term unemployed, is a good start. The nation's job crisis demands leadership from President Obama, but he cannot revive the economy alone. Bold leadership is also needed from Republicans in Congress and the business community in order to create jobs that can support a family and rebuild the middle class."
...I will withdraw my support.
If they endorse him, I will stand with labor and work for his reelection.
Awlaki's emails to terror plotter show operational role
March 2, 2011
Awlaki's words were clearly intended to inspire Karim to action, but excerpts of the cleric's emails reveal that his role went far beyond rhetorical support. The emails and other information linking Karim to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) were discovered on Karim's laptop, which was protected by extensive cyber security.
Once authorities cracked Karim's security, they found a series of emails to and from Awlaki. Excerpts of the emails have been widely reported by the British press.
On Jan. 25, 2010, Awlaki emailed Karim, telling him that "depending on what your role is and the amount of information you can get your hands on, you might be able to provide us with critical and urgent information and may be able to play a crucial role for the ummah."
I was pleased when your brother conveyed from you salaams to myself and was excited by hearing your profession. I pray that Allah may grant us a breakthrough through you. As a starter, can you please answer these questions in as much elaboration as possible: can you please specify your role in the airline industry, how much access do you have to airports, what information do you have on the limitations and cracks in present airport security systems, what procedures would travellers
Read more: http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/201...
I don't think there's a soul among us who didn't grin and rub their hands together eagerly the first time they read about Wikileaks. The notion of anonymous whistleblowers getting a safe place to drop damning stuff from anywhere in the world, and they'd make sure it got to the right reporters? Fan-freaking-tastic. I sent money, because it sounded awesome.
But expectations are a tough thing to live up to. Ask our President, for example. Wikileaks has had more to live up to every time it scored a goal -- a sports metaphor. Julian Assange may be many things, but a keen judge of human nature he isn't. If he were, he'd have paid more attention to sports -- particularly our species' ability to move goal posts.
We saw it in a matter of hours, from both sides: those who are against the latest diplomatic cable dump have said, nearly in the same breath, that the information is trite palace-intrigue gossip, even as it threatens U.S. diplomatic efforts worldwide. Similarly, those who support Assange's latest release argue both that the transparency is critical to the very survival of a vital democracy -- and, simultaneously, that the leaks are seemingly trivial because the "real dirty stuff" the government is doing would never be written down.
And we wonder why the ball never actually moves?
Not that Assange isn't the king of irony in his own right; the ferocity with which he guards attempts to un-rebrand his own history is well known in journalism circles. Bringing up his early attempts at "hacktivism" is a great way to bring an interview to a huffy close. As rumors of countless internal fallings-out swirl, calls for transparency within the ranks of Wikileaks itself, he argues, are character assassination meant to damage the organization and chill potential leakers. In his last interview he even went so far as to chide Wikileaks spin-offs and imitators for having inadequate security measures in place, pointing out how his own organization has grown because people trust their privacy and anonymity will be protected.
...Did he really say that? Yup.
"Our pipeline of leaks has been increasing exponentially as our profile rises, and our ability to publish is increasing linearly."
Interviewer: You mean as your personal profile rises?
"Yeah, the rising profile of the organization and my rising profile also. And there’s a network effect for anything to do with trust. Once something starts going around and being considered trustworthy in a particular arena, and you meet someone and they say “I heard this is trustworthy,” then all of a sudden it reconfirms your suspicion that the thing is trustworthy. So that’s why brand is so important, just as it is with anything you have to trust."
No one in their right mind would expect Assange and Wikileaks to be held to the same standard of a government, of course. But Wikileaks has been a grand disappointment, I think, for the same reasons we find ourselves periodically disappointed in government: repeated expressions of lofty ideals raise expectations, whether they write them in press releases or stamp them on coins. The set-up in enormous, and the payoff has to match it.
The sheer volume of the latest release may be, on its surface, enough to "top" the last one. But what next? The entire operation continues to lack consequence -- no one has yet to be fired, much less indicted, for crimes revealed by any of the latest leaks. The only arrest so far has been of the alleged leaker himself. Even Assange isn't really a target, breathless "insurance file" announcements to the contrary; the feds have made is clear their investigations will continue to focus on the source of the leaked information, an avenue that will get them a conviction -- and the most bang, shutting-up-leakers-wise, for their buck. Assange is probably the safest man on the planet; no one with two brain cells to rub together would risk creating a martyr in the information wars.
No one has asked Assange the most important question about all this, and the one I would if I could: are you genuinely surprised that the world hasn't changed?
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." -- Matthew 5
This week we will pass a milestone in Afghanistan, perhaps significant, perhaps not, as with all milestones.
It will be on Tuesday (bad math from the AP notwithstanding) we will have had soldiers in that country precisely as long as the Soviets did:
An anniversary invites reflection, and a grim one such as this is no different. By the numbers, of course, the chasm that separates the two conflicts is vast by every other measure. This speaks to the weakness of numbers. To wit:
We will likely top 1,500 U.S. military fatalities in AfPak by the end of the year. That's one soldier killed every 2.2 days since we began. Soviet fatality rates were appreciably higher, some 14,000 KIA by the end of their war -- 4.2 soldiers killed every day. We are not, of course, finished yet.
The monetary cost of the war in Afghanistan has reached almost $7 billion per month for us -- about what the Soviets spent in a year fighting mujahideen.**
The take-away the numbers offer: we're spending money faster, and dying slower, than the Soviets did.
But numbers carry only so far; anecdote picks up the slack. It is nearly impossible now, after so long, to find people in this country whose lives have not been adversely affected by this war. Some Christmases ago, I learned the excruciating details surrounding the death of an old friend. The peculiar physics of love and hate can make one's blood boil and frost from visiting the same horror; but I, like most of us, now sit safely surrounded by asphalt, two oceans, and 5,000 ICBMs. Quite safe in my righteousness.
Not so in P2K (Paktia, Paktika, Khost), Helmand, Faryab, Farah, Logar. You cannot live normally under fear of sudden death. Anyone who has lived in a war zone can attest, normalcy does not return until years after the rational reasons for that fear go away.
It is the height of conceit, and in full flight from the facts, that those of us who have lost friends and family feel in any way unique in this regard, any more. Particularly as Americans. Any desire for justice in the name of our own dead pales, shatteringly, in comparison to what is felt on the ground in this conflict.
So 3,341 days later, despite myself, I have to measure Afghanistan by that metric. The first lesson of conflict resolution is, if you have been affected by the conflict, to ignore your heart -- because in its darkest places, it wants nothing less than the death of everyone who killed yours. Recognizing (and acting upon the realization) that violence begets violence is a luxury afforded chiefly to those unaffected by violence -- and cliché thought it is, to find the real heroes of civilization it is necessary only to look for those few who successfully transcend the cycle.
I do not know who those heroes will be with respect to Afghanistan and Pakistan. I have no capacity even to imagine them. I know it will not be people like me, who cheer quietly at every UAV strike, grimly satisfied with the result, and rationalize civilian death with precisely the same mental gymnastics that allowed my friend to be brutalized and killed by once-devout men.
Precisely the same. Our differences are utterly obscured by our similarities. It is people like me who fire rifles into the air to celebrate blown-up NATO outposts. It is people like me who celebrate the death of the enemy as if it were a way forward.
It is not.
Murderous hearts on all sides must begin to make overtures. 3,341 days on, it is even clear to people like me that it will not be whether we stay or go, the acts of bombs or soldiers or sanctions that will ultimately bring peace to this scarred part of the world. It will be brought only by the appearance of conflict participants who can actually turn the other cheek -- an increasingly rare breed in a region in its Nth iteration of violence and desperation.
Blessed are the peacemakers. In memory of my innocence, I eagerly, hopefully await them, ignoring the darkest places of my heart that doubt they even exist.
**It's wrong to talk about money and the Soviet war without mentioning us; some estimates (cough) put US spending in Afghanistan at some $60 million per month near the end there. Funding the mujahideen. We all know how well that worked out. Credit where due to Reagan for winning short-term strategies that fucked everything up in the long term. You want a metaphor for the 1980s, it's this.
Took some time away to think it over, first real "break" from my beloved DU in 9 years, and it's rather sharpened my focus. I joined Democratic Underground in 2001, not just because I was angry about Bush, but because I support Democrats. That's the idea.
Progressives who don't happen to be Democrats, but who want to work with the Democratic Party have always been especially awesome in my book. Free thinkers who don't want to sign the dotted line, but "get it." Awesome. There are always problems in the party that can best be solved by increasing the diversity of opinion.
But. I'm not going to let myself get slowly scooted out the door at DU because I believe in the original mission here.
• I'm not getting bullied out of DU for the blasphemy of supporting Democrats in Congress, or a Democratic President, or Democratic candidates or the goddamn Democratic platform and policies.
• I'm not getting bullied out of DU for refusing to assume the light at the end of the Reagan/Bush tunnel is an oncoming train.
• And I'm not getting bullied out of DU by a minority pack of supercilious fools who sit around all day posting every goddamn negative nontroversy about Democrats they can get their hands on.
You don't like the color of the carpet, you can leave. Looks like some of you have, many with the help of the big hook. Good. Everyone will be happier about it, in the long run.
Lately I've seen a lot of folks talk about "DU back when it began." My favorite part is how most really have no idea, because they weren't here. You know what you'd miss most today if you had been here in 2001? The same thing I do. Cogent discussion of political issues, in solidarity. See if you can find that on DU today. Good luck. It appears today to be about scoring points. (Notably, those points can't be traded in for Democratic victories. Which makes them worthless, by the by. Because that happens to be what it's all about.)
As a meme-encrusted DU old fart, there's just a handful of you out there left I don't consider "new to DU." That doesn't make your opinions automatically any less valid, or make you a GOP mole, or any of that crap. You're just "new." Like many of you are clearly "new" to politics. Hell, a lot of you are "new" to the planet, from where I'm sitting. Welcome. That newness gets you lots of rope, so go ahead and use all you need.
You want to post stupid stuff, post stupid stuff. There's no rules against stupid. You want to dance around the edge of the rules, fine. Whatever floats your boat.
But consider this:
- If you spend most of your thread thread kicking it yourself and complaining about how some evil force is unreccing your post, and refusing to give your opinion the recognition it deserves?
It ain't DU, baby, it's you.
- If you spend a lot of time pointing out that if you said what you really think, you'd get banned?
It ain't DU, baby, it's you.
The internets are a big series of tubes, there's a spot for you somewhere -- even if your particular pathology is trying to piss good people off for no reason. Go sit under a tree and discuss amongst yourselves about how it's the rest of the country, not your calamity clique, that's screwed up.
I'm not calling for lockstep agreement on all points at DU. Hell, no. Accusing me of such is a weak argument to justify unreasonable and destructive talking-point jingoism masquerading as reasonable criticism. As I mentioned, we're Democrats, most of us. I'd be worried if we didn't argue. We always have here, from Day One. But the understanding has been we come together, if nowhere else, on a single uncomplicated point: supporting the Democrats.
Cogent discussion of political issues, in solidarity. That felt so good to write, I did it again.
There are more than 72 million Democrats registered in these United States. You want to work against any of them and you draw my ire. Because it ain't about you, it ain't about me, it's about them.
I will never forget the night we won, after 8 years of darkness we old-timers DUed through. And it was so dark in the beginning. I never want to go back there, ever. You'd be amazed what I'll do to prevent it, too. But. We. Won. Democrats. From sheer goddamn work. GOTV. Phone banks. Door-to-door. Fucking bakesales. Unprecedented.
You want to work for real change? You want to work with Democrats for change? Hold their feet to the fire? Cool. You want to move the party in a particular direction? Awesome. There are real issues within the party, lots of ways we can do better. Lots.
But you want to nip at any heel you can, because of a loose wire in your head or some misguided sense of "let everything fail and we'll build a utopia together"? You want to gnash your teeth and claim you'll never vote for another Democrat as long as you live? You just want to hurl insults, name call, jingo your way into getting attention from your fellow dittoheads? You want to write post after post after post with the single goal of denigrating Democrats? You want to kvetch about how you're going to stay home next time because all the Democrats are the same as Republicans?
Fine. Start now. Quit posting. Save yourself the headache.
If you're not into cogent discussion of political issues, in solidarity, the problem ain't DU, baby, it's you.
...Now let's go get those GOP bastards.
I don't know why, but I kind of guessed this would happen, and it did. GD this morning:
4 Afghans beheaded in fierce fight with militants -- Replies: 0. Views: 28.
Boy's pet rabbit beheaded by elderly neighbor -- Replies: 40. Views: 799.
I know I've been chastised for pointing out how DUers in general are mostly interested in civilian deaths when it's NATO's fault, and I can even see the argument for it. I don't agree, but I understand the argument.
I mean, I get the news business in general. A story in the city paper about someone's chickens getting loose can outplay anything usually on A1. But beheadings?? Can someone explain to me why a rabbit beheading is more interesting than human beings getting beheaded? Is it that rabbits command headline attention, even better than chickens? Or that beheading in general is passé?
Wikileaks is apparently going to release some footage relating to Granai, so it seems important to know what was being claimed at the time.
Three stories seem important, I'll post them here.
May 20, 2009:
US says only 30 Afghan civilians died in bombing
KABUL -- Video evidence recorded by fighter jets and the account of the ground commander suggest no more than 30 civilians were killed in a two-day battle in western Afghanistan this month, the U.S. military said Wednesday, a stark contrast with Afghan claims that 140 civilians died.
The footage shows insurgents streaming into homes that were later bombed, said Col. Greg Julian, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan. He said ground troops observed some 300 villagers flee in advance of the fighting, indicating that not many could have been inside the bombed compounds.
The figures, which the Americans called preliminary, are far lower than the numbers villagers provided to an Afghan government commission days after the May 4-5 battle in the villages of Gerani and Ganjabad in Farah province.
The Afghan government has paid compensation to families who claimed relatives were killed; the U.S. contends the money could have acted as an incentive for families to inflate the numbers of victims. A list of 140 names provided by villagers includes at least 60 females and more 90 people under age 18.....
...June 3, 2009:
US military admits errors in air strikes that killed scores of Afghan civilians
A failure to follow strict rules devised to prevent civilian casualties in Afghanistan led to the death of scores of villagers last month, a US military investigation has concluded.
According to a senior military official who spoke to the New York Times, the report on the 4 May raids found that one plane was cleared to attack Taliban fighters, but then had to circle back and did not reconfirm the target before dropping its payload, leaving open the possibility that the militants had fled or that civilians had entered the target area in the intervening few minutes.
In another case, a compound where militants were massing for a possible counterattack against US and Afghan troops was struck in violation of rules that required a more imminent threat to justify putting homes at risk, the official said.
"In several instances where there was a legitimate threat, the choice of how to deal with that threat did not comply with the standing rules of engagement," the military official told the Times about the report's initial findings. The inquiry is not yet complete.....
...and finally, June 18, 2009:
US military debates release of Afghan air strike probe
The release of a Pentagon investigation into deadly US air strikes in Afghanistan has been delayed amid an internal debate about what details of the report should be revealed, US officials said on Thursday.
For days, Defense Department officials have promised to release an unclassified summary of the probe as well as video but have repeatedly postponed the move, saying the report is still being edited by top military officers and civilian officials.
Some military officers had reservations about releasing certain details in the report, saying it could compromise security by giving away too much information about how American forces operate in Afghanistan, defense officials who spoke on condition of anonymity told AFP.
The probe, ordered by the head of US Central Command, General David Petraeus, examined bombing raids on May 4 in the western Farah province in which the Kabul government says 140 civilians were killed....
So that's where we are, I believe.
"How the Census-taker knows you spend too much time on DU:"
First of all, thanks to everyone who participated in the four polls.
The polls ran over the weekend and through Monday night; I took the final tally this afternoon -- although one or two votes might've slipped through since then.
The polls were of course "flawed" in countless ways; fortunately I know no one will be making life-and-death policy decisions based on them. I see them as a snapshot of sorts, and maybe a jump-off to more discussion, nothing more or less.
Enough yammering. To the results and colorful pie charts!!
DU Demographics: Education
This poll had the highest number of participants, interestingly, at 370 votes.
...Of course, the text got cut off over there. That's "Enrolled in high school," "GED/high school diploma," "Degree-seeking student in a college or university," "Some college, no degree or certificate," "Post-graduate (but non-doctoral) degree."
DU Demographics: Age
This poll had the next highest number of participants, 352. There were no votes for "Under 18."
DU Demographics: Income
This poll received 304 votes.
DU Demographics: Race & Ethnicity
This poll was the least popular, with 243 votes. There were no votes for "Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander."
This poll may have been the most flawed, since I lazily grabbed categories (and explanations of those categories) from the 2000 U.S. Census. Probably worth repeating here:
• White. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. It includes people who indicate their race as "White" or report entries such as Irish, German, Italian, Lebanese, Near Easterner, Arab, or Polish.
• Black or African American. A person having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa. It includes people who indicate their race as 'Black, African Am., or Negro,' or provide written entries such as African American, Afro American, Kenyan, Nigerian, or Haitian.
• American Indian and Alaska Native. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) and who maintain tribal affiliation or community attachment.
• Asian. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam. It includes "Asian Indian," "Chinese," "Filipino," "Korean," "Japanese," "Vietnamese," and "Other Asian."
• Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands. It includes people who indicate their race as "Native Hawaiian," "Guamanian or Chamorro," "Samoan," and "Other Pacific Islander."
• Some other race. Includes all other responses not included in the "White", "Black or African American", "American Indian and Alaska Native", "Asian" and "Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander" race categories described above. Respondents providing write-in entries such as multiracial, mixed, interracial, We-Sort, or a Hispanic/Latino group (for example, Mexican, Puerto Rican, or Cuban) in the "Some other race" category are included here.
• Two or more races. People may have chosen to provide two or more races either by checking two or more race response check boxes, by providing multiple write-in responses, or by some combination of check boxes and write-in responses.
I'll hold off on my own thoughts and let you all have at it. Thanks again for participating!
In 30 days, 150+ civilians killed in Af-Pak conflict
KANDAHAR -- The death of a Pakistani laborer Sunday tops off what could be the bloodiest 30 days in terms of civilian casualties in recent memory.
The attack came 12 hours after multiple suicide bombings and explosions in the city, which have left at least 27 dead and dozens of others wounded. The Pakistani nationals were hit as their vehicle drove over a bomb on a road close to Pakistan's consulate in Kandahar city.
More than 150 civilians, fully one third of them children, have died instantly or from wounds sustained in the past month by a military campaign spanning two countries. Four times as many were wounded and disfigured.
Yet outrage levels at Democratic Underground remained startlingly low when it was revealed that the 150+ civilians in question were killed by the Taliban.
Jingoistic posters were quick to pile on when NATO bombs or Afghan forces killed civilians, decrying all forms of war and declaring how awful the ISAF is. Yet three times as many civilians are killed deliberately by the Taliban right now, and nary a peep. Legitimate anti-war arguments are drowned out by the insincere anti-US ranting.
All war is bad. All deaths are lamentable. These are obvious truths that are not held to heart by many here. Leap to defend your record if you can.
14 civilians killed. No outrage. Zero replies. 8 civilians killed. No outrage. Zero replies. 12 civilians killed. No outrage (although an interesting discussion on Sharia Law). 6 civilians killed. No outrage. Two replies.
Five. Five more. 11. 53. 30.
Crickets. And these are only those that one might think DUers might be interested in. There are hundreds of smaller stories every single day, every single month. It is terrible right now. It was worse in the 1990s. And it may get better if the Taliban don't return to power. If they do, however, it absolutely will not.
The unnamed Pakistani laborer, who in passing garners nary a whisper? Turns out he has a name, and I know people in his home town.
I make noise today, for him. If you want to call that "war mongering," so be it. If my noise makes you uncomfortable, that's rather the idea.
"The power of sound has always been greater than the power of sense." —Joseph Conrad
...You are NOT a censored, stifled minority on DU. You are the majority voice here.
Why some feel the need to frame their argument from a position of being under the bootheel of tyranny, rather than simply making their point, is beyond me.
"Help, help, I'm being oppressed!!"
(By request, I'm putting down my thoughts on the war. If you're looking for a short read, look elsewhere. This will take you a bit to get through, and will likely drop like a stone in GD.)
In October of 2001, I "stood" right here and told you the war in Afghanistan was about a natural gas pipeline.
That may surprise the more recent members who like to call me (and everyone who has a nuanced view toward Central Asia) a "warmonger."
For those of you who weren't around, it was an exceptionally unpopular notion at the time -- 9/11 was only weeks old. I don't have to tell you what I was called then. It sure wasn't "warmonger."
I stood here and told you we would've found some reason to "secure" Afghanistan in the near future regardless. Turkmenistan was sitting on what we figured was 100 trillion cubic feet of gas, and since August of 1998 we'd been watching it just sit there.
(That was about the time the West learned about how awful the Taliban were, and Western oil and gas interests decided they didn't need the bad press. Unocal et al had just inked a $50-100 million per year "transit fee" deal with the Taliban, but the BBC did a documentary on them cutting off women's feet and other such things, and they backed out. This is all history now, but at the time I was the only one talking about it. You can check, DU 1.0 is a searching nightmare but here's a link to a piece I wrote for Bartcop a few weeks later, boiled down for the public. If you think you have a rant that's earlier, I'd be interested to see it.)
Anyhow, the deal was simple: secure the country, make deals with Turkmenistan, get the gas flowing, pick it up in the Gulf of Oman (south of Pakistan). Say what you like about the Neocons, their agenda was painfully transparent. And, in a twisted way, I could see their point. The global economy is driven by energy and, however misguided, they probably honestly thought they were doing the right thing for the country. That it would make them rich in the process made it all the easier to believe, I expect.
It's been long enough since that most people at least agree "we" were looking at the region in the 1990s, before 9/11, and at a minimum were going to take advantage of the situation after 9/11. No big conspiracy theory needed, just a lot of energy and wealth at stake: the "energy prize" was Turkmenistan's gas, and we needed Afghanistan to tidily get it.
Cynical, eh? There it is, though. Not particularly warmonger-ish, either.
That the Bush cabal lost sight of the "prize" and got greedy is little surprise in hindsight -- I like to say they went after Iraq to secure oil for a few years, not tending to the opportunity to secure natural gas for a generation. And, in hindsight, it's also little surprise they botched even the simple task of securing Iraq's oil for American companies. In the end, in Iraq, they underestimated not only how long it would take to secure the area militarily, but also how quickly multinational oil and gas companies would swoop in and "steal" it back from them.
What did surprise me, however, was that they also botched the effort in Central Asia. While we've been frittering away lives and capital in Afghanistan, Turkmenistan's old nutjob ruler finally kicked the bucket and the new guy changed the game.
In the past, Turkmenistan was hampered by a couple of obstacles in getting its gas to market. First, the former Soviet states were crap for paying on time, but their options were limited -- they were the only ones they could get it to easily, from a strictly geographic standpoint.
Second, Turkmenistan's policy had always been to award foreigners the crap oil and gas fields for exploration, and keep the good ones for themselves. This seemed a good strategy on its face, but the problem remained lack of capital to develop the resources -- to do it right, you need money to make money, if you follow.
The damnedest things started happening in the past year or so. In December, the big board completely changed as Turkmenistan not only awarded a Chinese state-owned company exploration and development rights on its best oil and gas field, but also completed a pipeline to China's grid, through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
Leaving Afghanistan to sit like a midwest Main Street after the interstate bypasses it.
This will make a little more sense with a map:
...The blue lines are what we're talking about: natural gas pipelines. The dotted ones are "proposed," meaning unbuilt (for obvious reasons). The solid ones are done. Notice the two that would bring gas to the West -- the TAPI and Trans-Caspian -- are still sitting on the drawing board. And there's about zero reason for Turkmenistan to care if they get finished or not, they've got a fantastic buyer in China -- China will take all they can send.
So really, after December, I was pretty sure we'd see the troops leave Afghanistan with little fanfare. Politically it would've made perfect sense, economically there's no reason to be there, strategically Afghanistan's completely insignificant.
Imagine my surprise when we didn't.
Here's the thing: anyone who's studied the history of the area knows we screwed it up but good when we left in 1989, right after the Soviets withdrew. We had armed an incredibly young (demographically-speaking) and poor country to the teeth, and just split when the Red Menace was defeated. That it sank into fundamentalism, deeper poverty and despair courtesy the Taliban is completely unsurprising. There was just no compelling reason for us to "care" about it, much less send in troops or money to fix the situation.
We broke it. But we sure as hell weren't going to fix it.
But Obama seems to have a different opinion on the matter. To me, the only reason we could still be there is to actually try to fix the mess we made. Nothing else even begins to approach that as a motivation.
Even the well-heeled "feed the military-industrial-complex" theory doesn't float in Afghanistan. If you know the military, you know the money's in the fancy technology. It would've been the easiest thing in the world to continue pouring troops and dollars into Iraq to feed the MIC, and it would've cost far less political capital to do so.
But Afghanistan is a low-tech war, lots of sand and mud and boots and bullets. Not profitable for the MIC, no matter how big it gets.
What I've been left with is the impression that this administration is seizing the opportunity given it -- much as the last did, in its cynical and greedy way. But in this case it's to right a wrong we did to a country that didn't deserve it.
The irony of thinking this has become a war with a "noble" or "just" cause for fighting it is not lost on me, anyone who's followed my ramblings in the past would be hard pressed to find much jingoism. But it's all we're left with as far as motivation.
Ask any soldier who's done both whether they feel better guarding an oil derrick in Iraq, or going after real "bad guys." And they are bad guys. No one could disagree Afghanistan would be better off were the Taliban gone. We are engaged in that pursuit at the moment, at great cost of lives and treasure, with no "energy prize" at the end.
And if the effort is indeed successful by July 2011 as planned -- and at this point I see nothing but good signs indicating it will be so -- we will have done something huge, noble, and worthwhile with armed troops for the first time in a generation.
If being surprised and pleased about that idea makes me a "warmonger," then the term has no function any more, and I'll wear it -- along with "liberal" and any other labels that don't mean what they used to.
And the Newsweek bit. I just don't see a lot of "there" there on Baradar supposed behind-the-scenes work to negotiate with the West. To be fair, Afghanistan's like that. But the bulk of information doesn't support it, and I don't see where he would've found much upside to negotiations. He had too much to lose in a stable country.
My response was overly dismissive and glib, I apologize as it was unwarranted. You're of course more than free to take Dam's take on it at face value.
I'm actually working out my notions on the "way forward" as it were in Afghanistan. Like so much in this part of the world it's defined by what we absolutely must not do. Quite a number of things changed there recently, or more saliently changed nearby - Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, China.
You've got a divided Taliban operating in two distinct spheres, and Baradar was starting to lose control of the warlords he had -- witness the Chinese engineers kidnapped and still held in the Ghormach district. Talk about biting off the hand that's building roads for you to ambush travelers on. You probably know about China's huge money dump in the south to mine much-needed copper. But up north in Ghormach it's less clear what they're doing, other than building roads that don't go anywhere important.
You've got a trilateral security agreement being formed between Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, deliberately not including the West but including (drum roll) Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and China. And that's with Afghanistan's "legitimate" government.
You've got Turkmenistan telling the West to pound sand, actually completing a pipe to China and operating it. None of this vaporware stuff everyone's talking about maybe someday getting going in Afghanistan to feed Turkmen gas to Europe. Because of this you've got China backing Iran in absurd ways, politically, because their economic plans need Iran to make their energy plans work.
Viewed as another proxy war for the energy of the region, "we" already lost in December. But that's just the geopolitics. The local scene is even more screwed up.
So what should be done in Afghanistan? If I could wave a magic wand, I'd send all our troops home tomorrow. Not because it's the right thing for Afghanistan, but just that there's no percentage in it for us any more. But that's frankly not fair to Afghanistan.
Look back to the end of the Soviet days and you can't help but get to the conclusion we "broke it" when we pulled out and let the Taliban take the kind of power they did. But it didn't "matter" until Turkmenistan came on line. Midway through the fourth quarter Turkmenistan took the ball and went home. Meanwhile we've got troops there and again are a hair's breadth from leaving a transitional government weaker than when we found it, again. So the only "moral" thing to do it to rout the Taliban as much as we can, prop up a non-theocratic government until it's able to cash China's checks and start an economy we can recognize, and pray we get some crumbs in the meantime from the 'Stans in the neighborhood, energy-wise.
Not much of an answer, is it? This is Afghanistan.
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