Quote of the Day

The Thirty Years’ War“, Robert Dreyfuss, The Nation, 12 August 2009:

With great anticipation, I trucked over to the posh St. Regis Hotel, just north of the White House, to see Ambassador Richard Holbrooke and his team at an event sponsored by the Center for American Progress. I shouldn’t have bothered.

The weird thing about the event is that in the room were literally hundreds of the Washington foreign policy elite, current and former officials, people with lots of experience in the Middle East and South Asia, and, of course, journalists, too. And Holbrooke brought with him literally his entire team, minus a few who couldn’t be there: top regional experts such as Barnett Rubin and Vali Nasr, and about a dozen other members of Holbrooke’s Af-Pak task force. But the session was boring, pedestrian, and so mind-numbingly simplistic that it seemed like Holbooke and Co. were talking to third graders.

And their goal was to convince us that the “civilians” involved in the Thirty Years’ War in Afghanistan can rebuild that shattered nation from the ground up. They didn’t convince me.

… the Holbrooke team focused on developing Afghan agriculture, building civil society, USAID programs, creating a public health system, and so on.

… Several members of the team, including counterinsurgency expert Vikram Singh, explained that we and the Afghans may have to build an entire media and communications system that can reach down into remote Afghan villages to bring an anti-Taliban message. He said that in FATA there are 150 pro-Taliban pirate radio stations, and that in large parts of Afghanistan and in FATA there is no cell phone service. True enough, I suppose, but does the mission of defeating Al Qaeda include building a entire telecommunications system in one of the poorest areas in the world.

Listening to Holbrooke and Co., I couldn’t help thinking that the brutalized, raped and genocide-stricken people of Rwanda and eastern Congo must be wishing that they had an Osama bin Laden of their own hiding in the central African jungles, so another US special envoy would assemble a team of nation-builders and scramble up $4 billion a month to rebuild Africa, too.

12 thoughts on “Quote of the Day

  1. Sympathetic as I am with the peoples of central Africa, there is the minor matter of 50 million uninsured Americans, with whom our political system is currently playing games. ( Not to mention the countless more who are underinsured. )

    I am frankly puzzled by the willingness of those whom insurance companies deny healthcare simply to roll over and take it. Instead, we have the freak show at the town halls right now.

    Weird.

  2. Anyone who has bargained with an afghan carpet seller would have to smile. There is an art in understanding what dream to sell the tourist to extract the most money.

    Remaking Afghanistan is one dream that is an infinite money sink.

  3. And now this: “‘This War is Just Getting Started’“, Military.com, 13 August 2009 — Excerpt:

    According to Yon, a former Army Green Beret, if the U.S. is serious about winning and stabilizing Afghanistan it will not be a 10-year commitment but a 100-year mission.

    Out-effing-standing.

    I suspect that one motive for the “kill them all” mentality is fatigue. Imagine 10 years from now, we’re still fighting, still spending money at a prodigious rate, and getting nowhere. I can see why people would take a “nuke the bastards” approach to simply end it as quickly as possible.

    Doesn’t make it right, though.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Yon has trumped General Richard’s entry for “most outlandish statement about the Af-Pak war”, from “General Sir David Richards: Afghanistan will take 40 years“, The Times, 8 August 2009 — Excerpt:

    Britain’s mission in Afghanistan could last for up to 40 years, the next head of the Army warns today in an exclusive interview with The Times. General Sir David Richards, who becomes Chief of the General Staff on August 28, said: “The Army’s role will evolve, but the whole process might take as long as 30 to 40 years.”

  4. As we saw in Iraq as fatigue sets in the US basically discards strategy at all and just concentrates on tactics. This makes manipulation by other parties much easier. Just as the Shia managed the US war very successfully, the Pakistanis and Afghan warlords are waiting, they know when the US has had enough they can start running the show and the US will essentially do their bidding.
    But there is a good deal of killing that will happen before that is reached.

  5. This is a phenomenon which is almost impossible to grasp. Oblat and dosco point out the insane, nihilistic aspects of it. Why do we continue? Because everyone involved is getting something out of it: Holbrooke et al get the illusion of being world-historical figures; the generals are fulfilling their life’s dream of participating in a major war; many of the GIs, at least in Iraq (as I understand) spent their time in comfortable compounds with recreation facilities, multi-plex theaters and every kind of fast food; Congress got contributions and votes from their military provider consituents, and the chance to pontificate in public about important issues; the media got reader and viewership;; the pundits got photo-ops, and the rest of us got righteously distracted from the facts of our real lives, which otherwise might have led us to throw out the whole system.

  6. I have no problem with building out infrastructure, but that expenditure should be evaluated against proven ideas like micro-cap lending (strictly to women by the way), and other candidates for “first best use” of funds. If we want to have any credibility with the planet’s population that we deserve our ever more outrageous monetary franking fee privileges, we better start showing some willingness to “Help” in ways other than blowing shit up real good.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: To put in perspective, I read that we’re spending $4 billion per month on the Af-pak War. The cash for clunkers program, about which there was so much discussion — and which had a noticable effect on GDP — was only $1B (with another $2B coming). We’re spending serious money on these wars, money desperately needed at home. Borrowed money.

  7. This is starting to sound more and more unhinged from reality. Why not a high-speed rail link between Kabul and Kandhahar while we’re at it? Maybe Afghanistan needs a space program too.

    Shades of Hitler’s bunker in April 1945, moving imaginary divisions on the map to plan the big counterattack . . . Or Marie Antoinette building elaborate gardens while the peasants scrounged for bread outside the walls.

    I think the general mood of the public has begun to turn. When the Helmand offensive put the war back in the headlines, it reminded them that there still was a war and I think that frankly irritated them. People are trying to keep themselves and their families head above water, and in the midst of all this the war seems frivolous — the pet indulgence of a rotating cast of generals and beltway think-tankers with their endless iterations of COIN and conferences, journal articles and cocktail parties. While outside in the real world, most folks are wondering how to provide for their families’ basic needs.

    And, as we can see from this post, the thinking in their Versaille-on-the-Potomac (to borrow Lind’s excellent phrase) is becoming more and more delusional in it’s isolation.

    The people are burnt-out on endless shifting wars. They’re tired, and have more important things on their mind than to sacrifice more blood and treasure for nebulous goals. In the minds of a lot of people, the point of the war was to get Bin Laden (anyone remember him? The bad guy? Dead or Alive?). They were pretty patient for a while, as long as they had a job and a home equity loan, but after eight years (over twice as long as our involvement in WWII), in the midst of a financial clusterf*** that patience is just about gone.

  8. Keep posting. The more the experts talk the more apparent is their threadbare self-interest. Ah yes, the Great Game of Russia and Great Britain. Whatever happened to them?

    Michael Yon is a superb correspondent and photographer who has provided more hard evidence of the lunacy of our policies, the bravery of many individuals, and inadvertantly the emptiness and irrelevance of our posturing.

    Possibly we can help Pakistan stabilize itself but its doubtful. 35 million at its founding, it is now 180 million, impoverished, illiterate. Its “civil war” is the same tribal war the Brits fought. Can we help P. moderate its death spiral, stabilize itself? Unknown. But the Pashtuns have to be united without a border between them and we have to take out the sources of jihadi funding from Arabia that is fueling this murder and mayhem. Get out of A. now. Get out of Iraq now. Sure, it will have consequences. Holbrooke has an amazing fawning press, but what has he actually accomplished? Bosnia and Kosovo are seeds of more war.

  9. Phageghost: you’re saying, in effect, that the American public is in some way different from the citizens of 1984, capable of making rational decisions based on empirical information about events way outside their daily lives. Or, you’re saying the American public has realized that their earlier acceptance of post 9-11 alarms about terrorism were actually ignorant and naive, and are now ready to make more mature evaluations of what the media and their political leaders say. And finally, that they are ready to recognize that both political parties have basically the same foreign policy, and if they want to end the war, they’d better look into the Greens or something else.

    On optimistic view, IMO.

  10. Central Africa actually has surprisingly good cellphone and communications infrastructure, largely because foreign ‘adventure capitalists’ decided to take the risk, work with the locals, and sell it to them.

    If you should find yourself traveling in Central Africa, you should try fucking with a cellphone tower. The ‘simple tribals’ will stop hating each other just long enough to show you that an angry mob with pangas is at least as effective as a woodchipper, and then they’ll ‘try’ the people who chopped you to pieces on the village green, where the defense will be ‘I am a good man, but he fucked with a cell tower, and I was angry’–their sentence will be ‘community service’, specifically, feeding your remains to something that will be eaten at the next tribal gathering.

  11. Below is a link to an interview/article in SOF magazine with the former Marine who served as the PM for the embassy security detail in Afghanistan before leaving the Corps to start his own executive protection contracting firm there. Like many Marines, Lynch says a fair bit more than he probably should have about the Dept. of State and the nature of development/reconstruction… hopefully he’s still alive and kicking, because McChrystal needs this kind of guy way, way, way more than the majority of the wonks he’s dragged out there to advise him.

    “Tim Lynch served in the United States Marine Corps for fifteen years. Now, as a contractor, he has been fighting the global war on terror in Afghanistan, only to find that the worst fights aren’t with Taliban militants but sometimes with the host country’s own bureaucracy….”

    http://www.sofmag.com/wp/2009/01/american-contractor-in-kabul/

    I’ll leave this post as is, and put up a different one on the subject of Africa.

    A. Scott Crawford

  12. Obviously Dreyfuss and the Nation aren’t very informed about Bin Laden, or he’d know that while Bin Laden wasn’t in Congo or the lakes area of Africa per say, he and his organizers and bankers did have their way up and down the horn of Africa and caused a great deal of chaos and…. well, Gee, a genocide in the Sudan, which for The Nation perhaps isn’t as important as Rwanda, but for all those in Southern Sudan, as well as in Kenya and elsewhere who’ve been dealing with the refugees and fallout is sort of like comparing Pears and Apples….

    Moreover, a very very large pool of development monies have flowed into central and western and northeastern Africa under a different pretext, but with mostly the same results as in Iraq and Afghanistan. Readers might wonder how this could be, as the regions have little in common in terms of active conflict and ideological resistance to reconstruction and most of the other excuses that are offered up by the Beltway wonks for their abject failure in the reconstruction and development aspect of Iraq and Afghanistan. OH, wait. There is a very notable common denominator, namely, the American and European bureaucracies and “Development” professionals that were handed all those billions of aid dollars, in both Africa AND Iraq and Afghanistan. Another common factor is the AUDITING and accountability process used, as well as the metric standards used by Washington to gauge success.

    Writing directly for a moment… ‘The Nation’ is a typical sort of left wing rag that only sees the sins of political adversaries, and cannot bring themselves to point out that the latest Great Five Year Plan for ending “world poverty” managed and operated and overseen by their own political allies is not only an abject failure, but in many cases causes much worse long term damage in poor Countries than anything their political adversaries have done. And what have their political allies done with the vast majority of the billions they received over the decades to rebuild and develop various war ravaged parts of Africa? WHY, they spent the majority of the money on their American and European domestic operations, accounted for as “overhead” and other spurious expenses like cheese and wine fundraising events to raise even more money for their ‘non-profit’ organizations (which, by the way, pay way better than readers would imagine); money that is mainly distributed in the poor Countries where these outfits operate in the form of bribes and kickbacks and padded expense accounts. (Ironic that the friends of “The Nation” ending poverty in Africa and elsewhere seem to have adopted a twisted version of trickle down economic theory, called “Ju Ju” economics when supported by President Reagan, but not when applied to Africa).

    Likewise, it was often observed of President Ford that he amassed a huge personal fortune by his domestic critics. Yet for the sake of this thread, it’s worth noting that the great majority of President Fords billions was used to bankroll Voice of America… the idea being that his fortune could be used to build the sort of 50,000 watt radio towers needed across poor rural parts of the world. Sadly, the rise of cell phone franchises, which are just slices of the RF spectrum, turned into such a huge money maker for corrupt bureaucrats in the worlds capitals, and ready made handset markets for American and European corporations, that the development of local usage of the radio spectrum became priced out of local people in the third worlds ability to afford. As many readers probably recall from their youth, it’s a snap to put together a shortwave radio set from a kit, and even with limited power supplies, from solar panel charged battery’s say, one wouldn’t need an expensive high tech cell phone nor the money to pay a service fee, all for very little money and well suited to the sorts of conditions one finds in rural areas (which are a lot like disaster zones in America or Europe). But instead it seems that all that VOA budget has gone elsewhere into the aether, and so mainly those with wealthy foreign backers, be they Muslim sheiks exporting one religion or Jim Jones type Christian cults, end up with the towers and wattage needed to operate.

    Eventually the various U.S. military commands are going to have to gird their loins and rein in the diplomats and the Dept. of State and the “development” racketeers, or face the unyielding hostility of the poor multitudes the brass is supposed to be in this or that area to protect from chaos and anarchy, who, generally speaking, can’t survive on “alternate” crops or the whims of armed militia gangs to distribute food according to some piece of paper the gangs leader co-signed with an American diplomat 500 miles away. In this sense, it’s pretty easy to see how a terrorist organization like Hamas wins elections and popular support… because for all Hamas’ flaws, they were less corrupt than anyone else and delivered the most honest services.

    Here’s the bottom line. If any reader were handed $1 billion bucks and given four years to undertake the sub-contracting management to build basic roads, electrical generators, sewage, and etc. the reader would either be able to do it or not. It doesn’t take a genius to walk through the area the reader was paid to improve four years later and see what the reader actually did with that billion dollars. If the level of theft and corruption that the brass lets it’s civilian associates get away with was mirrored in their home towns across Virginia, it’d be pretty obvious what had been purchased with the money. In Iraq and Afghanistan, one can walk through very few areas and see much improvement that matches the funds handed out. But if one drives from Dulles Airport to the Capital, one will see exactly where those billions were spent. Given this, does anyone really imagine that yet another convention of military diplomatic wonks and think tankers talking to each other in Washington are going to do anything differently? Perhaps all future grand and high meetings and conventions about rebuilding Iraq or Afghanistan should be required to take place in those Countries themselves, rather than midst the grandeur and luxury of the St. Regis in Washington?

    A. Scott Crawford

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