Permissible Arms

Afghanistan in 2050

Posted in afghanistan by Karaka on 20 August 2010

I am pleased to announce my contribution to the Chicago Boyz round table on Afghanistan in 2050. My piece is Back to the Future: Afghanistan in 2050.

This is Afghanistan in 2050; it looks remarkably like Afghanistan in 1950. Men and women walk the streets without fear of death by stoning; women choose to shop with uncovered heads; education is widespread and equally available for all Afghans.

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The differences between Afghanistan pre-Taliban and Afghanistan post-Taliban are challenging to conceive. From 1996 until the invasion of the United States in 2001, the world as Afghanistan knew it changed dramatically, and undeniably for the worse. The lot of women under the Taliban’s harsh regime was devastating. But perhaps the greatest hope for Afghanistan in 2050 is to look into its past.

From the ’50’s to the ’70’s, Afghanistan was a largely stable country under the rule of Mohammed Zahir Shah. The King steered his country slowly into modernization, opening it to the West and allowing his subjects greater political freedom. The culture of the time also liberalized, providing social freedoms for both men and women. Notably, women were allowed into the work force, chose whether to cover or uncover their hair and bodies, and had more substantial agency over their own lives.

This, then, is the challenge Afghanistan should undertake: undo the last sixty years of repression and throw as much weight as possible behind the cause of Afghan women. As Afghanistan pushes, and is pushed, towards control of its own destiny over the next four decades, perhaps the best hope for the country’s future lies with its female citizens.

More at the round table. Other contributors include Steve Metz, Gian Gentile, my nifty-keen blogfriend Zenpundit, Joseph Fouche, and many others. I encourage you to dive in over at CB.

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Remembered Heyday

Posted in iraq by Karaka on 19 August 2010

Captivating post in the NYT At War blog from Yasmine Mousa, highlighted as this week marks the nominal draw-down of US troops in Iraq.

While driving along 14th of Ramadan Street in Baghdad recently, I remembered that street’s heyday. It was a jubilant street, with an assortment of boutiques, cafes, and toy shops. I saw that some of the shops had been closed since the worst days of 2006 and 2007.

The driver frowned at my remark.

“You did not see what it was like during the years of anarchy,” he said. “It is a fiesta now. It is evening now, and look how crowded the streets are with pedestrians and cars. Back then it closed at noon and you did not see a bird in the highway, because snipers were on both sides of the street. It was a street of horror. We are blessed now.”

Over coffee, my friend’s face had gradually taken on a look of appalled horror. It is no surprise. She lives in a country where human life is sacred and cherished.

I think it is appropriately the Age of the Diplomat in Iraq from this point onward; but Mousa’s post suggests how far those civilians have yet to go.

Bargaining Chips

Another boring-but-informative (and potentially useful) link dump. Where are my words?

Soldiers smoked late one evening at Forward Operating Base Salerno in eastern Paktika Province.

Only Got One More Step to Go

A little bit of late night blogging; somehow Friday just slipped away from me. Posting has been light as all my blog-related brain cells have been dumped at Attackerman; normal service should resume soon as the vestiges of moving office suites fall away.

Bits and bobs:

I shall attempt substance soon. Promise.

Back to Reality

Posted in afghanistan, iraq, united states, us defense, us military by Karaka on 9 August 2010

Adam Weinsten has some good thought on Brad Manning over at Attackerman today. Also at ZIA, some of the data culled from the leak is graphically represented. I still think it’s a grey area, whether to utilize the information or not, but still interesting to see.

As I blogged at Attackerman this morning, Secretary Gates announced today some big cutbacks in the defense department budget–including the closing of JFCOM, which General Odierno was recently nominated to head. According to the Secdef, Odierno knew and was supportive of the decision (of course, he would have to be so publicly) but I wonder where he–and the many defense contractors who will be made redundant very soon–will eventually go.

Matt Gallagher at Kerplunk opined as to why the US needs to return to the draft.

Which brings me back to the Draft. I’ve become more and more convinced that a healthy republic needs conscription to keep it healthy and honest. The gulf discussed isn’t anyone’s fault, an unforeseen byproduct of the all-volunteer force – but this gulf must be filled, unless we’re intent on recreating Legions loyal to their commanders over country. (An extreme example. We’re nowhere near there. Yet.) The Draft would be controversial, debated, and very likely protested. All good things in a properly functioning people’s government. Meanwhile, the benefits of such would be twofold:

1) The citizenry would actually hold their political leaders accountable, as they’re supposed to. Apathy being a republic/democracy’s worst enemy is not a new understanding, but it remains a poignant one…

2) Wars would become a collective undertaking by the nation as a whole, rather than an isolated segment of the population. This would prove beneficial to both society and to the military. The number of sons and daughters involved would greatly increase, thus increasing personal connections and a sense of engagement, thus increasing product output.

I shrunk this down a little, to avoid reproducing his post, but I will note that I’ve had a discussion about a draft with a friend of mine several times, and we were both a little surprised to discover that the both of us–liberal Portlanders that we are–support the draft. And not solely a military draft, but a civilian draft as well. The idea being that you gave a year, two years, in service to your country either in defense or administration. We never fully worked out the weedy parts of it, but I still find it an interesting idea, analogous to Americorps or the Peace Corps or Teach for America. Worth reading, even if (especially if) you disagree. You can also catch Matt on CSPAN Books here.

I wish I’d caught this live, but the New America Foundation hosted a roundtable on civilian casualties in Afghanistan last week.

Using recently declassified data from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Jacob Shapiro and a team of academic researchers have produced the first detailed analysis of the link between civilian casualties and violence directed against ISAF troops.

I’m about halfway through, and hopefully I’ll be able to watch the rest this week if work is even slightly more placid than it has been.

MoI’s post on organized crime in Iraq struck some real chords. The U.S. invasion in 2003 removed all restrictions upon Iraq’s gangs. First, before the U.S. attack Saddam released 30,000-100,000 criminals in October 2002. Second, the Americans invaded without enough troops to secure the country. Then the government collapsed, followed by the economy falling apart. Finally the U.S. disbanded the Iraqi military. All of those factors together emboldened gangs, and the anarchic situation that Iraq found itself in created powerful incentives towards lawlessness to make a living.

Josh Keating and Mike Few ask What’s the Difference Between Combat and Noncombat Troops? in the FP Explainer; see Mike’s extended thoughts at SW Council. (That totally looks like Star Wars Council, doesn’t it?) I’m working on a brain dump, but life as I know is has still not fully returned to peaceable normal. But I have high hopes for tomorrow.

Cleaning Out and Cleaning Up

Posted in afghanistan by Karaka on 8 August 2010

The At War blog this week covered modern art in Afghanistan–not a topic you see that often. Of even more particular interest to me, all the artists are women. This summer saw a show at Kabul University featuring 18 female artists enrolled in the fine arts program there.

For one week in June two spacious auditoriums at Kabul University hosted a large exhibition on the themes of pollution and the environment.

The exhibition had two remarkable qualities: All 18 participating artists were women, and the genre was modern art, a rarity in Afghanistan. Even today Kabul and Herat are the only Afghan provinces — out of 34 — to have a faculty of fine arts in their universities.

“The curriculum at most of our arts institutions has not changed for years,” said Rahraw Omarzad, the director of the Center for Contemporary Arts — Afghanistan. “Such copying and copying only kills the creativity of our artists,” Mr. Omarzad said. “It gives them no opportunity, no room to develop a style of their own.”

The public, too, has always been skeptical of a formal arts education. “Families saw art only as vulgar song and dance and nothing more,” said Prof. Alam Farhad, the director of fine arts at Kabul University. “A fine arts degree did not lead to a job, or a prosperous life.”

I wish there were more images of the artwork–there’s just enough to tantalize, but not enough to really give an understanding of the themes and emotions of the work there.

This dichotomy–the work of these artists and the cover of Time last week–is hard to wrestle with. What art would be lost if the Taliban were in power? And what would happen to the women who created such art?

Better than Batman

Posted in islam by Karaka on 6 August 2010

Matt Lewis, who’s also guest-blogging with me over at Attackerman, tipped me off today about Fareed Zakaria’s general awesomeness. See, Fareed has posted an open letter to the Anti-Defamation League returning the Hubert Humphrey First Amendment Freedoms Prize the ADL awarded him in 2005.

That is why I was stunned at your decision to publicly side with those urging the relocation of the planned Islamic center in lower Manhattan. You are choosing to use your immense prestige to take a side that is utterly opposed to the animating purpose of your organization. Your own statements subsequently, asserting that we must honor the feelings of victims even if irrational or bigoted, made matters worse.

This is not the place to debate the press release or your statements. Many have done this and I have written about it in Newsweek and on my television show – both of which will be out over the weekend. The purpose of this letter is more straightforward. I cannot in good conscience hold onto the award or the honorarium that came with it and am returning both. I hope that it might add to the many voices that have urged you to reconsider and reverse your position on this issue. This decision will haunt the ADL for years if not decades to come. Whether or not the center is built, what is at stake here is the integrity of the ADL and its fidelity to its mission. Admitting an error is a small price to pay to regain your reputation.

No kidding. What an honourable thing to do; I’m flat shocked that the Anti-frickin-Defamation League sided against religious tolerance. But like Matt, Fareed is totally my hero.

DoD is ruining education!

Posted in afghanistan, iraq, us congress, us defense by Abbie on 5 August 2010

Thanks to Karaka for letting me guest post again!

I usually keep quiet when those with experience start debating military and foreign policy issues on blogs and elsewhere online. These issues interest me terribly, but I don’t suffer from any illusions that I know half as much as the people I choose to follow on Twitter on these matters. But on the issue of guns vs. butter–or more specifically in this post, guns vs. schoolbooks–I have an informed opinion that goes something like this: Please stop blaming war spending for diminishing the federal investment in education spending. Recent efforts to secure much-needed aid for educator job retention has reignited a long-suffering debate about funding priorities that has me banging my head against the wall.

I represent educators before Congress. Yes, I’m a lobbyist. My colleagues and I enjoy advocating on one of the few “nonpartisan” issues in Congress, if such a thing exists. We have our fair share of dramatic debates, but when it gets down to brass tacks legislators generally agree that education is a good thing. This is similar, I believe, to the widely held post-Vietnam idea in Congress that we must support the troops, regardless of personal feelings about war or defense policy.

Tough times call for tough measures and all federal agencies are preparing for Congress to allot them smaller budgets to complete their work. This includes the Department of Education. But nothing demonstrates the state of our poor economy to many Americans more than this: Even the (discretionary) federal funding juggernaut more commonly known as the Department of Defense is cutting back.

Secretary Gates has gone to great lengths to implore Congress to do away with spending of programs he calls “excess” or “poorly performing” in an effort to streamline DoD. He’s even gone so far as to call for the President’s veto of any appropriations bills that include funding for six projects he opposes (see page one of his June testimony here). He’s also called on his staff to shrink the department’s annual budget by more than $100 billion over five years. (To learn more about why, read the recent CBO report detailing DoD’s ballooning expenses, or the excellent report by Robert Haddick at Foreign Policy.)

Despite these and other efforts, my education colleagues—who I respect and work passionately along side in our efforts to expand the federal investment in education—continue to make the baseless argument that DoD is to blame for shrinking funds for federal education programs. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve suffered through one of my colleagues’ angry diatribes against spending on “the wars” or “DoD” or “the military” I probably wouldn’t be sweating my student loans payment this month. The argument simply doesn’t stand up.

To suggest that funding for any non-DoD program hangs on the funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is naive and shows extreme ignorance of the federal appropriations process. Anyone ever heard of mandatory spending programs like Social Security and Medicare? Let me assure you that these programs are having an impact on available monies legislators have to play with.

Please, let’s have reasoned debate about the benefits of war, the implications of war, even the morality of war. I find myself questioning our efforts “over there” at times, too. But let’s not suggest funding these wars is depriving states of federal education aid. Legislators choose whether or not to appropriate funds. They make choices. Legislators choose to prioritize funding and programs.

Congress has the responsibility to fund defense and education fairly and appropriately. It’s not an either/or debate. The federal government needs to do both better. Let’s face it, they need to be better stewards of taxpayer dollars, generally.

I’m hardly the first to point out the deterioration of reasoned debate and policy development in America. When Congress is involved, there is always plenty of finger pointing to go around. But on this issue, surely we can rise above and realize one priority (national defense) does not undercut the other priority (educating the nation’s youth).

Down and Dirty

Posted in afghanistan, united states, us defense, us military by Karaka on 5 August 2010

Quick link-dump of stuff I’m reading:

  • Christian Bluer, The Problem With Military Writing on Afghanistan. The problem is NOT because of any ‘unique intellectual flaws’ in the individuals. I’ve studied with enough former military in university to know that they are, on average, better students than their usually younger college counterparts…But that being said, the military is – on average – failing to produce useful quality analysis on Afghanistan for public release (and yes, I’ve heard/read the criticisms of how bad the classified analysis is as well).
  • Pentagon Starts Study of Post-Afghan Marine Corps. “We’re turning our thinking to resetting the Corps – that’s the code word – and it has to do with what do we want the Marine Corps to look like once we’re out of Afghanistan and assuming there are no infantry battalions in sustained combat operations anywhere in the world,” Navy Undersecretary Bob Work told a lunchtime audience in Washington.
  • Casey shares vision of National Guard’s future. “No one wants to go back to the Guard being just a strategic reserve,” Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr. said during a visit to the 2010 National Guard Family Program Volunteer Workshop. “We have come way too far. Half of the Guard are combat veterans. That’s a fundamentally different force and, as a result, it’s a fundamentally different Army.”
  • Adam Elkus on the above. Defense intellectuals are examining the possibilities of smaller, but more high-performing units able to operate with greater degrees of independence due to emerging technology. This is somewhat of a historical trend as well, since the division in the first Gulf War operated with the autonomy of a corps, and the brigade combat team resulted from the flattening of land forces into the Modular Force. There is also a corresponding focus on using maneuver and swarming to fight the “low-signature enemy.”
  • Canada-Afghan Blog, Afghanistan Today.
  • Marc Lynch, Arab confidence in Obama collapsing. The survey’s findings suggest overwhelmingly that it is the administration’s failures on the Israeli-Palestinian front which drove the collapse in Arab attitudes towards Obama. Sixty-one percent of the respondents say that this is the area in which they are most disappointed (Iraq, at 27 percent, is the only other issue which cracks double digits — only one percent name “spreading democracy”). Only one percent say they are pleased with his policy. Fifty-four percent name an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement as one of two things which would most improve their views of the United States (withdrawing from Iraq is second, at 45 percent , and stopping aid to Israel third at 43 percent ).
  • Michael Hancock on dealing with Afghan poppy farming. Still – why doesn’t NATO or the US put together a fund to step in as the new buyer of all this opium. Why not ask Australian or Indian farmers to plant something else, as their contribution to the Coalition war effort? If they don’t want to put their soldiers at risk, that’s fine – they can fight the Taliban so much more effectively with their checkbooks, hurting the insurgents by cutting off a primary source of funding.
  • Via DoDLive, the Forum on Women Veterans.

California, Here We Come

Posted in united states by Karaka on 4 August 2010

Cross-posted at Attackerman: Not exactly national security, but pretty darned important nonetheless: Judge Vaughn Walker overturns Calif. gay marriage ban.

A federal judge overturned California’s same-sex marriage ban Wednesday in a landmark case that could eventually land before the U.S. Supreme Court to decide if gays have a constitutional right to marry in America.

Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker made his ruling in a lawsuit filed by two gay couples who claimed the voter-approved ban violated their civil rights.

Supporters argued the ban was necessary to safeguard the traditional understanding of marriage and to encourage responsible childbearing.

California voters passed the ban as Proposition 8 in November 2008, five months after the state Supreme Court legalized gay marriage.

“Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples,” the judge wrote in a 136-page ruling that laid out in precise detail why the ban does not pass constitutional muster.

That sure made hump day a whole lot less sucky. The Big Picture also has some very moving photojournalism up on gay marriage. It’s cool if we disagree on this subject, but it’s nice not to be discriminated against in one more state.

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