Posts Tagged ‘Gen. Stanley McChrystal’

Obama: Tell Americans the Truth About Afghanistan

July 14, 2010

Eric Margolis, The Huffington Post, July 12, 2010

Goodbye, fire-breathing Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and your Special Forces “mafia,” who were supposed to crush Afghan resistance to western occupation.

McChrystal was fired after rude remarks he and his staff made about the White House were printed in the American magazine, Rolling Stone. President Barack Obama should have fired McChrystal when the loose-lipped general went public with demands that 40,000 more troops be sent to Afghanistan.

McChrystal was the second U.S. commander in a row in Afghanistan to be fired, an ominous sign that the war was going very badly. He will now likely enter the Republican ranks as a martyr and become a Fox TV critic of Barack Obama.

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US “surge” in Afghanistan in disarray

June 15, 2010

By Barry Grey,, June 14, 2010

In the midst of one of the bloodiest weeks for US and NATO forces in the nearly nine-year war in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the overall commander, announced Thursday that major military operations around Kandahar would be delayed until September.

The offensive had been slated to begin this month, but, as McChrystal admitted, the US has been unable to win the support either of tribal leaders and power brokers or of the populace in and around Afghanistan’s second largest city. The town of 450,000 in the heart of the Pashtun-dominated south is the birthplace of the Taliban and remains a key stronghold of the anti-occupation insurgency.

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The War on Afghan Civilians

March 18, 2010

By Dave Lindorff, Counterpunch, March 17, 2010

Three months after it initially lied about the murder by US forces of eight high school students and a 12-year-old shepherd boy in Afghanistan, and a month after it lied about the slaughter by US forces of an Afghan police commander, a government prosecutor, two of their pregnant wives and a teenage daughter, the US military has been forced to admit (thanks in no small part to the excellent investigative reporting of Jerome Starkey of the London Times), that these and other atrocities were the work of American Special Forces, working in conjunction with “specially trained” (by the US) units of the Afghan Army.

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Five Questions For The Afghan Surge

February 25, 2010

By Juan Cole, ZNet, Feb 24, 2010


Juan Cole’s ZSpace Page

Gen. David Petraeus, a straight shooter, admitted on Meet the Press Sunday that the Afghanistan War will take years and incur high casualties. His implicit defense of President Obama from Dick Cheney on the issues of torture and closing Guantanamo will make bigger headlines, but sooner or later the American public will notice the admission. The country is now evenly divided between those who think the US can and should restore a modicum of stability before getting out, and those who want a quick withdrawal. The Marjah Campaign, the centerpiece of the new counter-insurgency strategy, is over a week old, and some assessment of this new, visible push by the US military in violent Helmand Province is in order.

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Mercenaries and assassins: The real face of Obama’s “good war”

December 14, 2009

Bill Van Auken,, Dec 13, 2009

Reports that mercenaries employed by the notorious Blackwater-Xe military contracting firm participated in CIA assassinations in Iraq and Afghanistan have further exposed the real character of so-called “good war” that is being escalated by the Obama administration.

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Neo-Cons Get Warm and Fuzzy Over “War President”

December 5, 2009

Eli Clifton, Inter Press Service News

WASHINGTON, Dec 4 (IPS) – U.S. President Barack Obama’s plan for a 30,000-troop surge and a troop withdrawal timeline beginning in 18 months has caught criticism from both Democrat and Republican lawmakers.

But a small group of hawkish foreign policy experts – who have lobbied the White House since August to escalate U.S. involvement in Afghanistan – are christening Obama the new “War President”.

The response to Obama’s Tuesday night speech at the West Point Military Academy has largely been less than enthusiastic, with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle finding plenty in the administration’s Afghanistan plan that fails to live up to their expectations. Republicans have hammered the White House on Obama’s decision to begin a drawdown of U.S. forces in 18 months, while Democrats largely expressed ambivalence or dismay over the administration’s willingness to commit 30,000 more soldiers to a war seen by many as unwinnable and costly at a time when the U.S. economy is barely in recovery from the global financial crisis.

The White House’s rollout of the 30,000 troop surge did little to convince an already sceptical Congress, but foreign policy hawks who have accused the president of “dithering” in making a decision on Afghanistan are praising the administration’s willingness to make the “tough” commitment to escalate the U.S. commitment in the war in Afghanistan.

Indeed, their approval of the White House’s decision to commit 30,000 troops is the culmination of a campaign led by the newly formed Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI).

FPI held its first event in March, titled “Afghanistan: Planning for Success”, and a second event in September – “Advancing and Defending Democracy” – which focused on counterinsurgency in combating the Taliban and al Qaeda.

The newly formed group is headed up by the Weekly Standard’s editor Bill Kristol; foreign policy adviser to the McCain presidential campaign Robert Kagan; and former policy adviser in the George W. Bush administration Dan Senor.

Kagan and Kristol were also co-founders and directors of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a number of whose 1997 charter members, including the elder Cheney, former Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, and their two top aides I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby and Paul Wolfowitz, respectively, played key roles in promoting the 2003 invasion of Iraq and Bush’s other first-term policies when the hawks exercised their greatest influence.

The core leadership of FPI has waged their campaign in countless editorials and columns published in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and the Weekly Standard.

These articles have often been highly critical, at times suggesting that Obama’s unwillingness to give General Stanley McChrystal the 20,000 to 40,000 troops requested in his September report to Defence Secretary Robert Gates amounted to “dithering” and projected U.S. weakness to the Taliban, al Qaeda, and U.S. allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Senor described himself as, “pleasantly surprised” and “quite encouraged by the president’s decision” in a Republican National Committee sponsored conference call.

“It seems to me that Obama deserves even more credit for courage than Bush did, for he has risked much more. By the time Bush decided to support the surge in Iraq in early 2007, his presidency was over and discredited, brought down in large part by his own disastrous decision not to send the right number of troops in 2003, 2004, 2005 or 2006,” wrote Kagan in The Washington Post on Wednesday.

“Obama has had to make this decision with most of his presidency still ahead of him. Bush had nothing to lose. Obama could lose everything,” Kagan concluded.

The theme of heralding Obama as a stoic decision-maker in the face of an administration and Congress that seek to “manage American decline” – as Kagan wrote – was also echoed by Bill Kristol in The Washington Post on Wednesday.

“By mid-2010, Obama will have more than doubled the number of American troops in Afghanistan since he became president; he will have empowered his general, Stanley McChrystal, to fight the war pretty much as he thinks necessary to in order to win; and he will have retroactively, as it were, acknowledged that he and his party were wrong about the Iraq surge in 2007 – after all, the rationale for this surge is identical to Bush’s, and the hope is for a similar success. He will also have embraced the use of military force as a key instrument of national power,” wrote Kristol.

The heralding of Obama as “A War President” – which was the title of Kristol’s article in The Washington Post – is a striking change of tone from some of the same pundits who were vociferously attacking the administration for every major policy initiative as recently as last week.

“Just what is Barack Obama as president making of our American destiny? The answer, increasingly obvious, is…a hash. It’s worse than most of us expected. His dithering on Afghanistan is deplorable, his appeasing of Iran disgraceful, his trying to heap new burdens on a struggling economy destructive. Add to this his sending Khalid Sheikh Mohammed for a circus-like court trial,” wrote Kristol in the Nov. 23 edition of the Weekly Standard.

“The next three years are going to be long and difficult ones for our economy, our military and our country,” he wrote.

The hawkish Wall Street Journal editorial board – which on Sep. 10 suggested that Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize because he sees the U.S. “as weaker than it was and the rest of the planet as stronger”, and on Sep. 18 described the administration’s decision to scrap a missile defence agreement with Poland and the Czech Republic as following “Mr. Obama’s trend of courting adversaries while smacking allies” – also exhibited a noticeable change in tone in praising the White House’s decision to surge troop levels.

“We support Mr. Obama’s decision, and this national effort, notwithstanding our concerns about the determination of the president and his party to see it through. Now that he’s committed, so is the country, and one of our abiding principles is that nations should never start (much less escalate) wars they don’t intend to win,” said the Journal’s editorial board on Wednesday.

The board’s qualified endorsement of the White House’s war plan seems to reflect both the Republican concerns that Obama may use the 18-month deadline as an excuse to withdraw from Afghanistan before the Taliban and al Qaeda are defeated and foreign policy hawks – such as those at FPI – who are pleased with the administration’s decision to commit more fully to the war in Afghanistan.

Hawks, such as Kagan and Kristol, may have to argue in 18 months for an extension of the withdrawal deadline but in similarly worded statements they both expressed confidence that this would not be a problem.

“If we and our Afghan allied partners are succeeding [by July 2011], the timing [of the withdrawal] may make sense. If we aren’t it won’t. It will not be any easier for Obama to embrace defeat in 18 months than it is today,” wrote Kagan in the Washington Post in response to concerns about the timeline for withdrawal.

“[T]he July 2011 date also buys Obama time. It enables him to push off pressure to begin withdrawing, or to rethink the basic strategy, for 18 months. We’ve come pretty far from all the talk about off ramps at three or six-month intervals in 2010 that we were hearing just a little while ago,” Kristol wrote on the Weekly Standard’s blog on Tuesday.

For hawks like Kristol, Kagan and Senor who have been calling for a surge in U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan since August, Obama’s announcement on Tuesday night was a high-point in their campaign of op-ed’s, column’s and conference’s to push the Obama White House in the direction of an escalation in Afghanistan.

Kristol concluded his blog post on a confident note.

“In a way, Obama is now saying: We’re surging and fighting for the next 18 months; see you in July 2011. That’s about as good as we’re going to get.”

Matthew Hoh Speaks Grim Truth To Power

November 30, 2009

Roger Morris and George Kenney, The Huffington Post, Nov 27, 2009

The rare resignation on principle is always telling in American government. When Matthew Hoh recently left the State Department — a Marine Captain in Iraq who became a diplomat in Afghanistan — his act was significant far beyond the first reports.

Hoh speaks grim truth to power. His message is that to pursue the Afghan war policy in any guise — regardless of the troop level President Obama now chooses — will be utter folly, trapping America in an unwinnable civil war in the Hindu Kush, and only fueling terrorism.

An advisor in southern Afghanistan, Hoh knew the malignancy of want behind the war. Eight years after the U.S. invasion and a third of a trillion dollars spent, half the nation faces starvation on 45 cents a day, half the children die before five, and half the surviving young have no schools, part of a torment Afghans plead in poll after poll to be understood as the core of their conflict. He knew well the source of that scourge in the U.S.-installed Kabul regime, a kleptocracy of war- and drug-lords holed up amid American bodyguards in “poppy palaces,” while clan-based “security forces” loot the countryside, sodomize its sons, and swell insurgent ranks. “We’re propping up a government,” Hoh said last week, “that isn’t worth dying for.” So pervasive and profound is that corruption, so entwined with the private exploitation and official graft of the U.S. occupation regime — including kickbacks or extortion payments from both the American military and civilian aid programs to both the new Kabul plutocracy and the multi-layered Taliban — that the morass makes every other issue of policy moot.

The 36-year-old diplomat brings unique authority to public debate. An insider confirming outside critics dispels the myth that classified information redeems a failed policy. He also speaks to and for many in government, infusing honesty where folly feeds on wary quiet and fraudulent unanimity. “There are a lot of guys, not just in the Foreign Service but in the military, who are looking at this thing and they don’t understand what we are doing there,” he told one audience. “I get mails all the time from junior and mid-level officers telling me, ‘Keep it up. This makes no sense to us.'”

Whatever this protest says outwardly, its deeper meaning is devastating. The sheer contrast between Hoh and senior officials — seeing the same reality, the same reports — exposes some dirty little secrets of policy haunting the Obama presidency.

With the 8-year enormity of waste, venality and oppression since the invasion of 2001, ravages Hoh saw climaxed around him, went the knowing silence if not collusion of a succession of U.S. diplomats and officers responsible in the defiled occupation of Afghanistan. There is a troubling legacy, too, in the policy process. In the grip of experience irrelevant in Afghanistan, a generation of military commanders comes with a crudely recycled but promotion-rich creed of counter-insurgency, avenging what some as young officers in the 1970s saw as a false defeat if not home-front betrayal in Vietnam. They are allied with the lucrative in-and-out careerism of powerful if publicly faceless civilian Pentagon officials, what State Department rivals call the “COIN-heads” of counter-insurgency dogma. Those currents run like a murky subterranean river beneath the doomed policy Hoh silhouettes.

Most telling may be the disparity between Hoh — the serious student of Afghan culture — and Washington’s decision-makers. To deal with one of the most complex settings on earth, the Obama administration relies on key figures — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Af-Pak Special envoy Richard Holbrooke and NSC Advisor James Jones — whose careers in politics or the bureaucracy (like those commanding generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal) are bereft of any substantive knowledge of a people they are supposed to master. It leaves them all dangerously dependent on staff, and prey to the absence of dissenters like Hoh among aides whose credentials are hardly more impressive than their own.

That intellectual vacuum, a mirror of Vietnam decision-making, explains the shock and hostility that greeted recent cables of US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry opposing added U.S. troops backing an irredeemable regime. As Hoh exemplifies, actual knowledge of Afghanistan is rare — and the lack scarcely recognized — in a war council prone to flippant lines like Clinton’s recent “There are warlords and there are warlords,” or Holbrooke’s definition of success, “We’ll know it when we see it.”

At the heart of Washington’s decision-making dysfunction, of course, is always a president in thrall to the hoary fears and myths of national security, the most important realm he governs and in which most take power least prepared. For Barack Obama, only historic courage and insight can surmount the multiple corruptions of policy he is heir to.

Hoh embodies that bravery. Implored by Eikenberry to stay, he chose to forgo a prized career to speak out. We know that agony. There is no easy course ahead in Afghanistan. US policies a half century before 2001 account for much of the politics now so deplored in Kabul, a breakdown inflicted as well as inherent, and a blood debt added to the toll of occupation and war.

The gruesome truth of that history is that our sacrifices so far have been largely in vain. It is Matthew Hoh’s heroism to try to stop the inseparable casualties of lives and truth.

Roger Morris and George Kenney are both Foreign Service Officers who resigned on principle — Morris at the 1970 invasion of Cambodia, Kenney in 1991 over policy in the Balkans — both writers are award-winning authors. Morris’s Between the Graves: America, Afghanistan and the Politics of Intervention, will be published by Knopf in 2010. Kenney produces and hosts a podcast at while on the Board of Editors at In These Times.

Buchanan: The Costs of Mideast Wars

October 3, 2009

Patrick J.  Buchanan, The American Conservative, Sept 2, 2009

Impending today are two of the most critical decisions Barack Obama will ever make, which may determine the fate of his presidency, as well as the future of the United States in the Near and Middle East.

The first is whether to approve Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s request for thousands more U.S. troops he says he needs to prevent “mission failure” — i.e, to stave off a U.S. defeat in Afghanistan.

The second is whether Obama will start up the road of “crippling sanctions” to war with Iran, to prevent Tehran from moving closer to a capacity to produce nuclear weapons.

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U.S. Internal Politics and its Military Interventions

September 16, 2009

Immanuel Wallerstein, Commentary No. 265, Sept. 15, 2009

In the last few weeks, there has been a marked increase of calls, coming from both liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans, for some kind of early “exit strategy” from Afghanistan. This is coming at the very moment that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates are about to recommend formally to President Obama an increase in U.S. troop commitments there.

Nothing is certain, but the general expectation is that Obama will agree to this. After all, during the elections, Obama had said that he considered U.S. intervention in Iraq a mistake and wanted an early withdrawal. One of the reasons he gave was that it had prevented sending enough troops into Afghanistan. This was a version of the “bad war, good war” concept. Iraq was a “bad” war, Afghanistan a “good” one.

There has apparently been much debate in the inner circle of President Obama about the wisdom of escalating U.S. military commitments in Afghanistan. It is reported that the leading opponent of troop escalation in Afghanistan is none other than Vice-President Biden. Biden has always been considered somewhat of a Democratic hawk. So how come he is now opposing troop escalation? The reported reason is that he now considers Afghanistan a hopeless quagmire, and that investing troops there will prevent the United States from concentrating on the really important zone, Pakistan. So we have a new version of the “bad war, good war” doctrine. Afghanistan has become a “bad” war; Pakistan is the “good” one.

Why is it so difficult for the United States to extricate itself from military interventions it is so patently losing? Some left analysts, in the United States and elsewhere, say it is because the United States is an imperialist power and therefore engages in such military interventions in order to maintain its political and economic power in the world. This explanation is quite insufficient, for the simple reason that the United States has not won a single major military confrontation since 1945. As an imperialist power, it has shown great incompetence in achieving its goals.

Consider the five wars in which the United States has committed large numbers of troops since 1945. The biggest – in terms of numbers of troops, economic costs, and political impact – was Vietnam. The United States lost the war. The other four were the Korean War, the first Gulf War, the invasion of Afghanistan, and the second invasion of Iraq. The Korean War and the first Gulf War were politically draws. The wars ended at the exact point that they began. The United States is clearly losing the war in Afghanistan. I believe that history will judge the second invasion of Iraq a draw as well. When the U.S. finally pulls out, it will be no stronger politically than when it went in – probably indeed the opposite.

So what drives the United States to engage in such politically self-defeating actions, especially if we think of the United States as a hegemonic power trying to control the entire world to its advantage? To answer that, we have to look at the internal politics of the United States.

All great powers, and especially hegemonic powers, are intensely nationalist. They believe in themselves and in their moral and political right to assert their so-called national interests. The overwhelming majority of their citizens consider themselves patriotic, and take this to mean that their government ought indeed to assert itself vigorously, and if necessary militarily, in the world arena. In the United States, since 1945, the percentage of the population who are principled anti-imperialists is politically insignificant.

U.S. politics is not divided between supporters and opponents of imperialism. It has been divided between those who are strongly interventionist and those who believe in “fortress America.” The latter used to be called isolationists. Isolationists are not anti-military. Indeed, they tend to be strong supporters of financial investment in military forces. But they are skeptical about using these forces in far-off places.

Of course, there is a whole gamut of intermediate positions between the extremes in this cleavage. The crucial thing to see is that almost no politician is ready to call for a serious reduction in U.S. military expenditures. This is why so many of them engage in the “bad war, good war” distinction. They justify reducing the use of military in the “bad” wars by suggesting that there are other, better uses for the military.

At this point, we have to analyze the differences between the Republican and Democratic Parties on these questions. The isolationist wing of the Republican Party was very strong before the Second World War, but since 1945 it has become rather small. The Republicans since 1945 have regularly tended to call for increased investment in the military, and have usually argued that the Democrats have been too “soft” on military questions.

The fact that the Republicans have been very inconsistent in this matter hasn’t seemed to affect their public image. For example, when President Clinton wanted to send troops to the Balkans, the Republicans opposed it. It didn’t matter. The U.S. public seems to take the Republicans at their word as patriotic hawks, no matter what they do.

The Democrats have had the opposite problem. There have been large numbers of books arguing, credibly, that Democratic administrations have been readier than Republican administrations to engage in military interventions abroad (for example, in both Korea and Vietnam). Nonetheless, the Republicans have constantly denounced the Democrats for being “doves” in their military views. It is true that a large minority of Democratic voters have in fact been “doves,” but not a large number of Democratic politicians. Democratic politicians have always worried that the voters will consider them to be “doves” and turn against them for that reason.

The Democrats have therefore almost always used the “bad war, good war” line. It hasn’t done them all that much good. The Democrats seem to be stuck with the label of being less macho than the Republicans. So it’s very simple. When Obama makes his decisions on these matters, it’s not enough for him to analyze whether or not troop escalation in Afghanistan makes any military or political sense. He worries above all that he himself, and more broadly the Democratic Party, may be labeled once again as the “sell-outs,” the “doves,” the ones who “lost” countries to the enemies – to the Soviet Union in the old days, to the “terrorists” today.

Obama will probably therefore send in more troops. And the Afghanistan War will go the way of the Vietnam War. Only the outcome for the United States will be worse, because there is no cohesive, rational opposing group to whom to lose the war – one that will allow U.S. helicopters to withdraw the troops without shooting at them. When Bertold Brecht got cynical or angry at Communist regimes, he told them that, if the people were rebelling against their wisdom, they should “change the people.” Perhaps that’s what Obama needs to do – change the people, his people. Or maybe, in time, the people will change themselves. If the United States loses too many more wars, its citizens may wake up to the realization that U.S. military interventions abroad and incredibly large military expenditures at home are not the solution to their problems, but the greatest impediment to U.S. national survival and well-being.

[Copyright by Immanuel Wallerstein, distributed by Agence Global. For rights and permissions, including translations and posting to non-commercial sites, and contact:, 1.336.686.9002 or 1.336.286.6606. Permission is granted to download, forward electronically, or e-mail to others, provided the essay remains intact and the copyright note is displayed. To contact author, write:

These commentaries, published twice monthly, are intended to be reflections on the contemporary world scene, as seen from the perspective not of the immediate headlines but of the long term.]

Sinking deeper in Afghanistan

September 9, 2009

The U.S. is making an ever-greater commitment to a war that is less and less popular, either here or in Afghanistan.


Socialist Worker, September 9, 2009

Tank crews in Afghanistan wait for the order to move out (Edward Stewart)

Tank crews in Afghanistan wait for the order to move out (Edward Stewart)

FACING THE possibility of military defeat, the generals call for a massive troop escalation to turn the tide on the battlefield–and a Democratic president heeds their demands, presiding over a dramatic increase in U.S. money and manpower devoted to the conflict.

That’s a summary of how the U.S. sank itself deeper into the Vietnam War in the 1960s–and now, how the Obama administration is committing itself to the U.S. war on Afghanistan.

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