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!)


A collection of related unrelated things

Posted in afghanistan, pakistan, us politics, us senate, usaid by Karaka on 20 October 2009

A handful of things on USAID today. I was listening to CFR’s podcast with Charles North and Isobel Coleman on USAID’s involvement in Central Asia, particularly Pakistan. From the blurb on the page:

Currently, as North points out, USAID is required to maintain high standards of financial accountability that make it difficult for it to work with local NGOs. “So often we need to work through international organizations that provide that kind of accounting for their resources,” he says. But experts say this system of using contractors results in high overhead costs and large amounts of money being channeled back to donor countries. Coleman recommends that the U.S. Congress ease up on some of the accounting requirements. “It has to over time be able to get comfortable with losing money,” she says.

Congress, in itself, seems conflicted on that. On the one hand, you have the Kerry-Lugar bill:

The bill, which awaits President Barack Obama’s signature, would give Pakistan $1.5 billion annually over the next five years for democratic, economic and social development programs. It also allows ‘such sums as are necessary’ for military aid.

The US says the bill is aimed at alleviating poverty here and lessening the allure of militant groups in a country seen as crucial to the American fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in neighbouring Afghanistan.

And on the other you have the Franken amendment:

There were about 85 amendments proposed in this bill. One of those that has attracted a greater share of attention is Senator Al Franken’s S.Amdt. 2588: “To prohibit the use of funds for any Federal contract with Halliburton Company, KBR, Inc., any of their subsidiaries or affiliates, or any other contracting party if such contractor or a subcontractor at any tier under such contract requires that employees or independent contractors sign mandatory arbitration clauses regarding certain claims.” The Franken amendment passed: Yea-Nay Vote 68 – 30 with these Republican legislators voting “no.”

The amendment was prompted by this one who was gang-raped in Baghdad. The victim according to Mother Jones was “forced into mandatory binding arbitration, a private forum where Halliburton would hire the arbitrator, all the proceedings would be secret, and she’d have no right to appeal if she lost.” It took three years just to get the court to agree that she can sue.

Here’s why I think these two issues are related. If, as North indicates, the strictures for providing aid require the contracting out of such economic, democratic, and social programs (and to some degree military programs) to companies who can offer accounting procedures in line with congressional requirements, the financial and contractual relationships with such companies are deepened, even in the face of illegal activities by contractors while abroad. In its clippy, fantastic fashion, Jon Stewart picks apart the logic:

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It’s like arguing from inside a box: if you can only work with companies that meet certain guidelines, but those companies fail in other ways, make those other ways irrelevant by stressing those certain guidelines, so everything fits nice and cleanly in the box. (Except for that pesky rape claim, allegations of fraud, human rights violations and also that murder charge that one time.)

It seems as though it’s easier to refrain from sanctioning companies who act extralegally than it is to pursue programs that might come in at a loss, as Coleman suggests, but who do not violate the rights of their employees or the people they aim to assist. Since the US is ramping up a new aid package for Afghanistan as well as Pakistan, I wonder if Franken will get his amendment through.

The US, by far the largest foreign donor to Afghanistan, has channelled about a fifth of its spending through USAid in recent years. Much of the rest of Washington’s aid has been devoted to military assistance and counter-narcotics schemes.

USAid’s Afghan budget has been doubled this year to $2.1bn, about half of which will be spent on programmes to promote better governance, with the rest divided between infrastructure, health, education and the expanded farm programme.

…Conscious of criticism that USAid has relied too much on private-sector contractors, Mr Frej pledged to raise the proportion of his budget allocated to the Afghan government from 5 per cent last year to 40 per cent by 2010, starting with a $236m grant to the ministry of health.

“We are absolutely shifting our programme to Afghanisation, engaging more Afghans in what we do,” he said.

“I think it’s important to reconnect with the Afghan government and the Afghan people.”

Edited to add: Reading this from my rss feeder, I don’t think I made my point as cleanly as I wanted to. Essentially, this is what I think. The US awards aid packages of a significant budget to several countries of interest to the US, and more besides. The Senate places restrictions on how that money is accounted for that basically mandates the awarding of contracts only to companies who can provide that accounting. Those companies frequently foster or further extralegal activity while completing the programs it was awarded aid for. And the completion of those programs is of importance, because we keep providing money to do them. But the requirements we place on the accounting of that money solidifies the dependence on companies who can account for it, and those companies contribute to the violation of US law. It results in a situation where the violation of law is given as much weight as auditing practices, which is ridiculous.

If Congress were less committed to reinforcing contracts with those existing companies as a result of the accounting strictures, perhaps such contractors would have less power to quell claims against them; and perhaps there would be fewer situations that would lead to such claims.

A lot on the plate.

Posted in us military by Karaka on 8 October 2009

The Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, was on the Daily Show this week. In case you didn’t catch it, here it is:
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I miss Rob Riggle.

Also, I always find it funny when Stewart and I have the same reading list:

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And then Jon Stewart was right.

Posted in afghanistan by Karaka on 21 September 2009

You know, there are days when I look at this whole blogging thing, and realize that everything I want to accomplish, The Daily Show does in under three minutes.

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Man, I have to say, that is some skill to be able to articulate back the current discussion about Afghanistan into two short clips.

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