So, while Attackerman’s in Afghanistan, I’ll be chipping in as a guestblogger over at his pseudonymous blog. If I can defeat the evil Comcast internet-giving box tomorrow, I should be back to form; but I’ll be posting both there and here as the DSL gods allow. First post is up, on David Sanger’s piece in the NYT.
Amitai Etzioni has an article up at TNR, “Unshackle the Troops“, that I would really like to read if TNR wasn’t behind a bloody paywall.
H-War and Edge of the American West are ramping up for another Military History Carnival. Maybe I will actually have the time to finish the post I was working on for the last one. (ha.)
Aaron Ellis’ takedown of Melanie Phillips was a tour de force. Of the many things one could say about David Cameron, his lack of foreign policy credentials are not particularly salty.
I’m out with a buddy a while back. We’re talking about brands of beer. He hears a car backfire, and suddenly he’s scanning ridgelines. He’s not here anymore. He’s all the way in Afghanistan, and he takes me halfway back to Iraq with him. I think about saying something, telling him that he’s here, not there. That I’m with him. That everything is okay. But that would be the wrong thing to say. A couple of minutes pass as we walk. He keeps scanning, I just stay by him. After that, we go back to talking about beer. We don’t mention anything about the event.
A couple of days later we’re walking along and he says “you know, I really freaked out the other day.” I tell him that I know, and I was right there with him. That’s all that needs to be said. He knows my story. We don’t need any elaborate cathartic rituals or long discussions about it. It’s no different than strapping on armor and walking outside the wire. I trusted him to be able to take care of himself, and he trusted me to catch him the moment he couldn’t. We’re Ranger buddies, not baby-sitters. Giving him dignity and letting him fight the battle on his own is just as important as helping him get up when he gets knocked down.
Over the weekend, on the recommendation of Jason Sigger, I watched In the Loop, a biting political satire of the political relationship between the US and the UK contextualized through the eve of declaration of war. Satire is at its very best when it identifies the very real flaws in the thing it mocks, and In the Loop succeeds on nearly every front–from the miscommunication between departments to the backbiting and sabotage to the framing of information in the best possible light.
Though the film centers around pressing a case for war without having real, solid cause, the realities of war are divorced from nearly every character–they have the power to play with the future with stakes that never take into account the people whose lives those decisions will effect. The one line that cautions is Lt Gen Miller’s: “This is the problem with civilians wanting to go to war. Once you’ve been there, once you’ve seen it, you never want to go again unless you absolutely fucking have to. It’s like France.” His counterpart, Assistant Secretary of State Karen Clark, rightly points out that he is removed himself from the realities of war, but it is the only reality check in the otherwise head-spinning politics of it all.
I highly recommend this–the humour was superb, the satire spot-on, and it manages to find the balance between godawfulness and humanity very well.
Okay, I may have some problems with Rory Stewart’s general perspective on things, but I was taken by surprise to find that he was elected MP of Penrith and the Border in this month’s UK election.
A former diplomat, army officer and tutor to Princes William and Harry, Stewart was a deputy governor in southern Iraq after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, founded a charity in Afghanistan and has made the New York Times bestseller’s list with a book about his hike.
He’s already regarded as a possible successor to Cameron, even though he only joined the Conservative Party last summer.
Yet, only last year, Stewart thought a political career was out of reach. [AP]
A possible successor to Cameron–isn’t that something. I wonder how much influence Stewart will end up having over the Ministry of Defence.
Steve Coll wrote today about the new British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and Stewart’s advice to David Cameron going forward on the matter of Afghanistan:
During his visit to Washington, Hague spoke cautiously about Afghanistan and emphasized his government’s desire to forge unity with the United States. He said the new government saw no need to “rush into a disagreement” with the U.S. about the subject of talking to the Taliban. Acknowledging that American commanders prefer to postpone serious consideration of such talks until after they have carried out their military push into Kandahar during the next six months, he added, “You can easily see that people would have different views about timing.” Nonetheless, he made clear that “it will be a big part of our job to support the peace process” and that the British push for more politics in Afghanistan, and less fighting, would persist.
Ah, but six months will go by quickly–it doesn’t even mark the end of the calendar year. As Germany finally steps up to the plate and the infil of soldiers and civilians from US agencies continues, how long before inside opinion in Parliament becomes a matter for the floor? Particularly given recent polling that indicates 52% of the British populace are against the war. I can’t help but be chary of what this means, exactly:
Hague was asked to define success in the Afghan war. He replied, “To arrive at a point where Afghans can look after their own affairs without presenting a danger to the rest of the world.”
Not to put too fine a point on it, but that’s one long-term, large-scale project right there.
In other news, the Security Crank has returned from hibernation. Let the verbal savagery begin again.
That’s what I’m calling my life right now. I seriously do not understand where all the time goes, except being vaguely aware that it is going really, really fast.
In light of that, posting has and may continue to be less frequent; I’m not real keen on that, but such is things.
Over the weekend, I watched a couple programs worth mentioning here. The first, which I brought up on my twitter account on Saturday, was BBC2’s “The Legacy of Lawrence of Arabia.” I’d gotten it mostly to refresh my memory about T.E. Lawrence alongside a reading of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and was surprised–but only for a moment–to realize that it was hosted by Rory Stewart.
The two-part special is framed as a walk through Lawrence’s life (with fair attention paid to details of historical accuracy over common misconceptions from the 1962 Lawrence of Arabia, drawing parallels of his post-WWI through to post-WWII actions in Arabian lands to entrance of the US and Britain into Iraq (and Afghanistan, which didn’t really do him any favors in his comparison). The thesis of Stewart’s program is essentially that Lawrence himself became disillusioned with Western involvement in the Middle East after the revelation of Sykes–Picot. Lawrence had effectively promised Faisal bin al-Hussein (or Faisal I) an independent pan-Arab state, which Lawrence’s leaders did not deliver. Stewart suggests throughout that the long memory of the people of the Middle East has contributed to the mistrust, unrest, and insurgency in Iraq and other parts of the Arab world of Western nations, which doesn’t seem wrong, exactly, but certainly seems to be a broad claim.
Futhermore, Stewart takes the position that, as Lawrence came to protest European colonization and continued administration of lands in the Middle East, so too should we see parallels in Iraq (and Afghanistan). It’s well understood that Stewart thinks we should scale back our presence and influence in Afghanistan and by extension Iraq (though given the pull-out dates for troops in Iraq it may be less contentious now), and Lawrence is used by Stewart as a vehicle to enhance that argument. “If Lawrence of Arabia did not believe this could be done,” he seems to ask, “what hubris makes us think we can?”
I note above the broad claim, and having finished two hours of this program I concluded that his thought was not merely broad but sweeping. Set against a meandering sort of walk across some truly staggering landscapes–with which Stewart is quite familiar–we, the viewer, are invited to consider the implacability of the peoples by whom we are viewed only as occupiers. Since 1916 Europe (and now the United States) has been viewed as a betrayer of promises, and such are the people we must pacify.
Even acknowledging the troubling impetus for invading Iraq, Stewart’s thesis in this piece takes a deeply narrow gaze and interprets Lawrence’s words as if they are allegorical to the contemporary wars. I do not believe there is any part of the wars of the United States and Britain over the last ten years that is narrow, and they are hardly allegorical.
In Stewart’s piece last year criticizing Obama’s then-sketchy plans for what to Do About Afghanistan, he writes in the London Review of Books of another Lawrence, Sir John the viceroy of India, saying of the British Empire and Russia during the Great Game:
But he undermines the fantasy of an Afghan threat as much through the rhythm of his prose as through his arguments. His synecdoche, ‘the Oxus and the Indus’, emphasizes to a domestic policymaker the unknown and alien nature of the landscape; the archaism ‘wend’ illustrates the circuitous routes; his repetitions enact the repetitive and tiresome journey. He highlights the political and religious energies of the resistance (placing them ‘every mile’) and suggests internal divisions without asserting them (by describing Afghanistan not as a single state but as ‘countries’). His concessive subjunctive ‘let them’ reflects his attitude of uncertainty about the future. It is not an assessment of the likelihood of a Russian march but an enactment of its potential and it reduces the army by the end of the sentence to a decrepit band on the edge of the Indus, which it would be difficult to perceive as a threat.
But there is no “let them” here. There is only “we have,” and if we cannot rewrite the past we also cannot abandon that which we have started–particularly as Afghanistan (if not, exactly, Iraq and its copious oil) is not an exercise in colonialism but one in addressing a long-neglected mess.
Tomorrow, “The Fog of War,” or the curious history of Robert McNamara.
Kudos to Starbuck and the SWJ for appearing in the snarky yet appealing NYT smackdown of Powerpoint that is the new Michael Yon of milblogging. (Elisabeth Bumiller has been a favorite reporter of mine for some time now, in particular her excellent coverage of FETs.) Also, I’m amused that Guardian staffers read the NYT so closely.
Speaking of Brits lagging the Americans, UK launches competition to find cyber security experts:
A national public competition has begun to find people with a talent for keeping computers and networks secure. The competition aims to find those with relevant analytical, forensic and programmming skills using web-based games and challenges.
How long before the Ministry of Defence gets a shiny new Cyber Command of their very own? (And how soon before we get to start calling it CYCOM?)
Getting to this a bit late. Work ate me whole today, and has only just spit me out the other side.
Kyrgyzstan’s interim government has said it will demand the extradition of the country’s ousted president from Belarus once the investigation into the bloody massacre of April 7 is completed.
“The Kyrgyz people will never know rest until the bloody dictator is brought to justice,” the chief of staff of Kyrgyzstan’s new government Edil Baisalov said.
I have to wonder if the Kyrgyz people are actually that into watching the guy sit in a witness box, or if it’s a little more “hey, let’s vote for a new government now!” But I could most certainly be wrong on that call.
This report on Kabul’s restaurant raids just makes me heartsick. What a terrible, terrible thing.
I’ll admit, I’m not following the British elections nearly as closely as I would be if I were still living in Northern England, but the Guardian’s posting of excerpts of each of the major party candidate’s positions on UK national security and defence, particularly with regard to Afghanistan is worth reading, even if they’re canned. You can download a full text of the remarks in PDF here.
Via Akinoluna, these photos of a FET in action are pretty awesome. I’ve been wondering how effective the FET deployment has been since I was first reading up on them several months ago. If you have any helpful links they’d be well appreciated.
I found this post from al-Sahwa on COIN and culture to be fascinating; I’m still trying to figure out what to say in response but I found it provocative. And in mind-boggling counter information, this FP post titled, misleadingly, Lady GaGa vs. the Occupation set my eyes rolling so hard I think they’ve hit the Sisters by now.
On a far different note, the State Department is apparently looking for freelance writers (via Diplopundit). There’s a second job for you.
Even the most adorable kitten in the world can’t defeat my grump today, so here’s the stuff I’ve been reading when I haven’t been shuffling through meetings.
Ackerman covers the QDDR:
Clinton put Slaughter, senior USAID official James Michael and Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew in charge of creating the document — a process of managing five working groups chaired by top-level agency heads to produce an interim report in January and a final document by next September. Last week, in an address to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, Lew defined the nascent QDDR process as an attempt to redress “a serious imbalance” in funding over decades that has left the “military but not civilian agencies resources to support expanding international roles.”
Rajiv Chandrasekaran has reportage out of Helmand:
In the three months since the Marines arrived, the school has reopened, the district governor is on the job and the market is bustling. The insurgents have demonstrated far less resistance than U.S. commanders expected. Many of the residents who left are returning home, their possessions piled onto rickety trailers, and the Marines deem the central part of the town so secure that they routinely walk around without body armor and helmets.
“Nawa has returned from the dead,” said the district administrator, Mohammed Khan.
Diplopundit covers more on S.Amdt. 2588, which is now known as the “Anti-Rape Amendment.”
PRT-Kunar is building a bridge.
AAN has some remarkable quotes from Afghans about the run-off:
“A second round is difficult, because there are so many places you cannot vote. And if we use the same voter cards, the vote will be as fraudulent as the first time… A coalition government is also not a solution. It will have no legitimacy and it is not the people’s fault that there was so much fraud. You cannot just give them a government they don’t want… The authorities should announce the results and address the fraud. They should prosecute the people who are responsible for the fraud. But it will not happen: the people who did the fraud are also the people who were in the campaign teams. They will instead be rewarded for their work… Karzai and his people are saying that it is normal to have fraud, but it is not true. If it is normal, then why do we have laws?” – former PC candidate from Nangarhar
Britain is sending members of its Navy back to Iraq to continue training the Iraqi navy:
Mr Rammell said: “Training of the Iraqi Navy has been paused since June and it is important to resume this activity as soon as possible to ensure that they quickly develop the capacity to protect their own territorial waters and the offshore oil platforms which are so vital to Iraq’s economic revival.
And General Sir David Richards has indicated that British troop reduction would likely not occur in Afghanistan until 2014:
He called for a bridging force, to contain the Taliban, while we “much more aggressively” grow the Afghan army and police. Gen Richards said: “If we get it right, our estimation is that by about 2011, 2012 we’ll see an appreciable improvement, and by about 2014 we will ramp down our numbers as they ramp up and you’ll start to reduce the overall risks of the operation.
“It is an ambitious target, which is why… I caveated slightly by saying I’m expecting Nato to ask us to put more into the training pot to allow that force to grow more aggressively. “But if I’m half-right we’ve got five years of declining violence as we get that formula right and then we’ll go into what might be called a supporting role.”
Interesting to hear a non-US general’s perspective.
The DOD is starting a program to compensate stop-loss troops:
The Defense Department will implement a new program this week to compensate former and current servicemembers for each month they involuntarily served from Sept. 11, 2001 to Sept. 30, 2009, a defense official said. Congress approved an appropriation bill last summer, giving the department $534 million over the next year for an estimated 185,000 servicemembers affected by the “Stop Loss” authority since 9/11, said Sam Retherford, director for the department’s officer and enlisted personnel management office.
In an interview with the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service, Retherford explained that qualified servicemembers will receive $500 for each month served past their contracted end-of-service, resignation or retirement date.
Fred Kaplan does additional research into his recruitment article which kind of walks back his point, but his point was based on the released information, so this is more accurate but still kinda funny looking:
Finally, just today, I got a phone call from a lieutenant colonel who works with the raw numbers every day. (He phoned me at the request of his higher-ups; this was not a hush-hush leak.) He told me that I had good reason to be confused by the numbers in the Pentagon’s original report and in the chart I was sent later. Those numbers, he said, oversimplify the situation; they don’t really tell what’s going on.
For instance, the numbers in the Pentagon’s report and the officers’ chart indicate that the Army recruited 70,049 new soldiers in FY 2009. That’s right, as far as it goes. But this figure, he said, accounts only for enlisted personnel. It does not include 11,003 soldiers who entered active duty as officers. Nor does it include 2,212 enlisted soldiers who either entered active duty through the Army National Guard or returned to the military after a brief absence (usually for disciplinary reasons).
If you include these categories (and a few others of this sort), you find that 98,877 people joined the Army in FY 2009, while 89,478 people left. Do the math, and you find that the Army grew by 9,399 soldiers.
Tom Schaller at Five Thirty Eight turns a cynical eye to a correlative action given lack of heath care reform:
Military service is noble. But let’s be clear: It comes with housing, health care and a very generous pension earned after just 20 years of service. And that’s true whether you are on the front line dodging sniper fire and tip-toeing around land mines in Afghanistan every day, or driving a desk at a recruitment center in Albany. Wherever the Wisconsin father ends up, there is something seriously wrong with our system of government when a guy pushing 40 with three kids has to sign up for a four-year enlistment in order to save his wife’s life. At that point ours ceases to be a fully volunteer army.
Refraining from commenting, but it stuck out to me this morning, so there it is. And finally, Af/Pak had an earthquake today. 6.2 on the Richter. Buildings shook in the Pakistani cities of Peshawar and the capital Islamabad, and the quake was felt as far east as Lahore near the Indian border, Pakistani television stations reported.
I’ll admit, I’ve been a bit distracted lately preparing for some high-stakes family drama that will take place at a wedding this weekend, but I pulled myself out of the HBO spec script that is my life right now to slightly boggle at Gordon Brown’s fourth visit to Afghanistan since coming into power.
The prime minister praised the “courage, bravery and patriotism” of UK personnel in his visit to Camp Bastion, after a week that confirmed 2009 as the bloodiest year on record since the US-led invasion in Afghanistan eight years ago. He admitted it had been a “most difficult summer”. Speaking yesterday to both main candidates in last week’s Afghan national elections, the outcome of which will finally be determined next month, Brown promised them thousands more troops.
There’s even less support for British involvement in Afghanistan from Britons than there is from Americans regarding American forces in Afghanistan. It’s pretty clear that this is an attempt to show muted favor for remaining in Afghanistan, and given that Brown went on to speak with General McChrystal for a time during his visit, I would be very surprised to find that Brown doesn’t back up a troop request made to Obama with additional UK troop support as well. Interesting.