Permissible Arms

Friday Miscellany (Think long, think hard.)

Posted in afghanistan, united states, us defense, us military by Karaka on 27 August 2010

My Afghanistan in 2050 post has been cross-posted to Feminist Philosophers, which pleases me to no end. There’s been some interesting discussion in the comments of the Chicago Boyz post as well that I’m working on parsing.

Also from that discussion, see Afghanistan 2050: A Chronic Low-Grade Sameness. Or, Each Life, A Story. by Madhu.

Ours was not a typical refugee or disaster victim virtopsy. Those we had done in Africa, in Asia, in Europe, on international hospital ships in rough and calm seas both. We only needed the scans to do those. The bodies were not ours and were disposed of as the locals or families saw fit. (Presuming the families would let us scan them. This was sometimes difficult to arrange.) From the scanned images, however, we could compile data and enter it into the open database that our physician-NGO group provided to the public. We shared our conclusions with a world-wide audience of academics, the curious, the bored, the skeptics, war proponents, human rights activists, nationalists, speculators, terrorists, cranks, freaks, perverts, politicians – whoever felt like “tuning in.”

In the “things I never expected” file, Murfreesboro, TN on The Daily Show this week. I would embed, but WordPress apparently hates anything but Youtube. Murfreesboro–where we used to shop for back-to-school clothes, and maybe hit the Red Lobster. Weird.

Andrew Bacevich’s personal missive in Salon this week about the “unmaking of a company man” seems to shed some light on his point of view, light that helps to understand something of his recent pieces, I think.

These visits to Jena and Berlin offered glimpses of a reality radically at odds with my most fundamental assumptions. Uninvited and unexpected, subversive forces had begun to infiltrate my consciousness. Bit by bit, my worldview started to crumble.

That worldview had derived from this conviction: that American power manifested a commitment to global leadership, and that both together expressed and affirmed the nation’s enduring devotion to its founding ideals. That American power, policies, and purpose were bound together in a neat, internally consistent package, each element drawing strength from and reinforcing the others, was something I took as a given. That, during my adult life, a penchant for interventionism had become a signature of U.S. policy did not — to me, at least — in any way contradict America’s aspirations for peace. Instead, a willingness to expend lives and treasure in distant places testified to the seriousness of those aspirations.

Interesting. I missed an opportunity to see Bacevich speak earlier this month, which I regret.

David Wood sort of cheerleads General Conway, or at least doesn’t criticize:

But it took the Marine Corps’ blunt-spoken commandant, Gen. James Conway, who retires this fall, to name the rhetorical fig leaf that emerges from all the comments officials have made about July 2011: the White House could order an inconsequentially small withdrawal of, say, three dozen troops — and claim it had fulfilled Obama’s promise.

“I certainly believe some American unit, somewhere in Afghanistan, will turn over responsibilities to Afghan security forces in 2011,” he told reporters at the Pentagon Tuesday. But not Marines in southern Afghanistan, he said, where “it will be a few years” before any withdrawals are possible.

Seeming to call for some forthright talk from the Oval Office, the outgoing commandant added: “I sense our country is increasingly growing tired of the war, but I would remind [them] that the last of the 30,000 troops only arrived this month. I would also quote the analysis of one of my regimental commanders when asked about the pace of the war. He said, ‘We can either lose fast or win slow.’ ” The upshot of all this hedging and backtracking, together with the steady drumbeat of sobering news from Afghanistan, is that a general understanding is emerging in Washington that July 2011 may come and go without any significant troop reductions, and perhaps without any troop reductions at all.

Conway spent the last week and a half going off without a filter, for which one might rightly be wary of engaging in his claims, but I do think there’s a fair assessment here of where ISAF will actually be in July 2011. In addition, Karzai has stated that the withdrawal deadline has boosted Taliban morale, for whatever that is worth.

In the amusing-and-truthful file, this post by @laurenist on celebrity aid appeals has both edgy humor and pointed assessment. Good for a Friday afternoon read.

At least when it was Sean Penn, I didn’t care. But with Misha, I care. Misha, I want you to succeed! You seem like a smart guy, I figure maybe there’s hope.

Let’s start with the orphanages. They tug at heartstrings, the stories about Haitian orphans were all over the news cycle, I get why there is a natural desire to support and fund orphanages. One of the things Misha says in the Random Acts’ introductory video is he wants to “cut out the middleman” in aid delivery. (That was the sound of a thousand heads hitting their desks in aid agencies across the land.) That means sending funds not to an Oxfam America, Mercy Corps, or even Save the Children, but instead sending funds directly to three orphanages in Haiti.

Long story short: bad idea. Disaster relief, especially after an earthquake like the one that hit Haiti, takes years, not just months. Long-term development projects for rebuilding livelihoods, schools, and public services are essential.

Here’s the gentleman in question, give you his best brooding, smoldering stare:

People, you do not understand how much effort it takes to resist photoshopping Starbuck’s head onto this image. (It would make such a good profile picture, man!)

Not so conventional

Posted in afghanistan, japan, united states by Karaka on 4 November 2009

Nightwatch fronts Japan’s new aid package:

A draft of a foreign aid package indicates that Japan might give Afghanistan about $4 billion in civilian aid over five years beginning in 2010, Kyodo reported 3 November. The aid package, which would be implemented through the Japan International Cooperation Agency and international organizations such as the U.N. Development Program, would include assistance in vocational training for former Taliban fighters, development of Afghanistan’s farmland and a project to construct a new city north of Kabul. Japan would also help build schools, train teachers and pay for police officers.

Japanese Cabinet members are expected to decide on the outline of the aid package soon, perhaps by 5 November, according to Yomiuri Shimbun. The Democratic Party coalition government is willing to provide non-lethal assistance to Afghanistan, but will not extend the naval refueling mission in the Indian Ocean when it expires on 15 January 2010.

During this Watch, Kyodo reported Defense Minister Kitazawa said the government is considering sending Self Defense Force liaison officers to Kabul to work with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). The new government is comfortable with this arrangement because (ISAF) was approved by a UN resolution. The Self Defense Force officers also will have an opportunity to work with NATO which leads the ISAF.

It’s a shift within the nation consonant with the party-politic shift earlier this year, and acts as a soft-power way to assert separation from the previous administration’s policies while still providing support and ally with NATO in Afghanistan. Actually, despite not being a military or military support action, this could prove to be generally more beneficial to Afghanistan (if not necessarily NATO & the ANA) given the gaping need for international civilian assistance in development projects. Interesting, will keep watching.

I’ll admit I was surprised that Abdullah Abdullah withdrew from the runoff election set for this month. It seemed somewhat abrupt after the eight-week long deliberation that lead to the announcement of the runoff. There’s a lot of commentary flying about Abdullah being Tajik, Karzai being Pushtun, calls of corruption and questions about international credibility (not to mention a couple pointed asides at the Obama administration for taking too much time to deliberate).

TNR has probably my pick for best analysis of what the f*ck just happened, saying:

Abdullah’s candidacy was always a long shot. The prospect of an Abdullah presidency may have seemed attractive to some Western observers, impressed by his soft Italian leather jackets, sharp suits, fluent English, and polished manners. But to many Afghans, he is anathema, still the face and the voice of the Northern Alliance. Even during the recent election campaign, Abdullah traded heavily on his mujaheddin past: Election posters showed a young Abdullah side-by-side with Massoud in the Panjshir Valley, brave soldiers repelling the Soviet invader. An Abdullah victory would very likely have provoked a major backlash in the Pashtun south, where Massoud and his cohorts are almost universally reviled.

Karzai was the overwhelming favorite from the beginning. Given the ethnic and political realities of Afghanistan, Karzai the Pashtun was destined to triumph over Abdullah the Panjsheri Tajik, regardless of the latter’s claim to a Pashtun father with roots in Kandahar. But by depriving Karzai of a chance to redeem himself with a strong showing in a second round, Abdullah has ensured that the stigma of the August elections will shadow Karzai for the length of his presidency.

Steve Coll also offers insight:

Many lesser politicians would have handled themselves less responsibly than Abdullah in such circumstances. He has ample reason to resent Karzai; he was forced from Karzai’s cabinet a few years back in less than happy circumstances, only to have Karzai or his team try to steal the presidential election—unnecessarily, and thuggishly. No doubt this personal history had some influence on Abdullah’s decision to foil the satisfaction of an outright Karzai election victory by employing complaints about fraud to withdraw from participation. But a better explanation lies in an analysis of Abdullah’s interests and current negotiating position. He has long sought constitutional reforms to strengthen parliament over the presidency. He is almost certainly interested in rejoining the government, with some of his allies, if the deal is attractive enough. He retains ambitions and wishes to remain a viable national figure in a post-Karzai Afghanistan. He will be in a stronger position to negotiate toward all of these goals by adopting the posture he announced yesterday than he would have been if he had participated in the runoff and been defeated.

As the sense of a decision made starts to settle in Afghanistan, it seems imperative that Obama must announce the conclusions of his month-long tactical review. If he offers a deviation from the strategy he laid out in March, that too changes the game, at least on the ISAF side. Whether he announces his conclusions before his trip to Japan is still up in the air, but it is not some taunt of “dithering” that concerns me. It is that the result of his review will have an immediate effect, on our goals, on our morale, and on quelling this level of uncertainty inherent in our presence in Afghanistan right now.

Also, I am very impatient, and I want to know already.

Tuesday Errata

Posted in afghanistan, counterinsurgency, iran, iraq, israel, united states, us military, us politics by Karaka on 29 September 2009

It is, god help me for saying this, a quiet day. The President is scampering off to Denmark, weapons inspectors are being invited to Iran, and autumn has chosen to assert its presence over my city with the fickleness of a middle schooler. Rain, sun, rain, grim rainless clouds, rain again, and then sun.

A couple links have kept me entertained despite a complete lack of movement on the military-political issues of the day. First off, Andrew Bentley (who seems to be a civilian contractor for KBR) posted a nifty guide at Instructables: How to Grow Flowers on a Military Base in Iraq. The more you know.

KOW has some thoughts on the inter-related goals of COIN tactics and humanitarian aid:

What is particularly disliked by parties who claim to represent humanitarian ideals is aid conditionality–using aid as a carrot either based on ‘good behaviour’ or to encourage such good behaviour. This is a contradiction of ‘humanitarian principles’ which state the aid should be given on the basis of need, rather than political appropriateness.

Obviously, in terms of COIN, there is an immediate desire to achieve a certain effect, to reward certain behaviour, not necessarily to act according to more lofty principles.

I’m in the process of nailing down my thoughts, because this topic in particular is one of great interest to me. But initially my response is that, whatever your politics are, food should not be used as a weapon, though it can be used as a tool. Cooperation is not dependent upon hunger–a starving person will strike out just as a fed person will–but by employing a methodology that relies on compliance to receive the most basic of human needs, we run far closer to being prison guards than partners.

Still working on that.

Ricks makes a false comparison of Bush 43 to Obama that’s raising some interesting critique in the comments section. I agree that it doesn’t necessarily instill great confidence in me that the Obama administration issued the results of its review of Afghanistan, requested a document that would indicate what was needed to accomplish what was laid out in that March review, and then finds itself reviewing again based on the results of that document. But at the same time, I agree with Ricks–I’d rather he be reviewing than baldly making choices with no critique.

Coming at the same question from a different angle, Stratfor’s George Friedman published his review of Obama and current foreign policy. And Informed Comment has a guest post from Haggai Ram on Israel and Iran that’s worth your time.

Finally, I’m keeping my eye on the SWJ thread on the Army Capstone comment. Still haven’t had time to review my annotations, but I hope to get to that tonight. There’s never any shortage of reading, that’s certain.

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