Afghanistan War

Britain's Budget Cuts - Will the Bell Toll For Us?

This week, the British government announced plans to cut its military personnel by 10 percent, scrap 40 percent of the army's artillery and tanks, and withdraw all of its troops from Germany within 10 years, the New York Times reports. The plan will involve a cut of about 8 percent in real terms in Britain's annual defense budget, significantly less than the 10 to 20 percent cuts that were under discussion. The Times attributes the reduced military cuts, in part, to US government pressure.

The reduced cuts in military spending are expected to lead to increased cuts in domestic spending:

 

The more modest scale of the military cutbacks placed extra strain on the government's overall effort to save more than $130 billion through spending cutbacks by 2015, a commitment that will require other government departments to make cutbacks averaging 25 percent. [my emphasis]

This what we have to look forward to with a Republican Congress: demands for budget cuts from which military spending is largely spared and which therefore will fall on domestic spending, like Social Security.

A Robin Hood Tax to Pay for the Wars

Two weeks until Election Day, and no-one is talking about the wars, the New York Times reports. (Of course, that's not quite true: as the Washington Post reports, for example, this former Army Green Beret is running for Congress in Missouri on a platform of ending the war in Afghanistan.)

Unsurprisingly, the wars may have slipped down on many people's lists of top concerns in the face of 9.5% officially measured unemployment and the foreclosure crisis. But some people are talking about projected U.S. budget deficits and what to do about them, and since the permanent war is a major cause of projected budget deficits, that means the permanent war is on the table.

Furthermore, a key question hanging over the election is this: in America today, is it politically feasible to make the super-rich pay their fair share of taxes? So far, the answer given to this question by the election season seems to be no. Some Democrats thought that they had a winning issue politically in allowing the Bush tax cuts on the super-rich to expire, but, so far, it seems that they were wrong.

For a DREAMy, Wartime, National Service Draft

Recently, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been sounding the alarm about the fact that the burden of "our" wars is being disproportionately borne by a very small slice of the population: soldiers and their families.

Like, I am sure, many Americans, I have sharply conflicted feelings about this.

One the one hand: I strongly agree with Secretary Gates that the burden is disproportionately falling on a few, and that this is unjust, and I am glad that he is trying to use his position to call attention to this injustice and urge that it be remedied.

On the other hand: they are not my wars. I did not vote for them, I did not and I do not support them. I have worked with others to end them; obviously, my companions and I have not yet succeeded in this endeavor, but going forward, I am more seized with the urgency of ending the wars than with the urgency of spreading the pain more fairly while they continue.

Moreover, I am not a little irritated that my opinions, and those of my companions, are systematically marginalized when major decisions about the wars are made, but we are then urged to more fully share the sacrifices resulting from the decisions into which we were told that our input was not welcome.

Secretary Gates is surely aware of the paradox of his position: he bemoans the fact that the burden of the wars falls disproportionately on a few, but he is well aware that the fact that the burden falls disproportionately on a few is a policy choice that has been made by his colleagues with the goal of facilitating war politically.

If we allow ourselves to consider all possible remedies to the problem posed by Secretary Gates, including those that are politically absurd, an obvious solution presents itself: reinstate the military draft.

But this is a dead letter politically. The Pentagon doesn't want it; Congress will never approve it.

The Washington Post Wants Your Social Security to Pay for the War

For the Washington Post, there's no such thing as a war that America can't afford.

In an editorial today, the Washington Post takes President Obama to task for being concerned about the cost of the war in Afghanistan and the fact that it conflicts with domestic priorities. That the Washington Post, a knee-jerk supporter of war for empire, would slam President Obama for this is the opposite of surprising. Nonetheless, what the Washington Post actually said in its editorial is still breathtaking:

 

Mr. Obama repeatedly cites the cost of the war and the need to shift resources to domestic priorities -- though spending on Afghanistan is well below 1 percent of U.S. gross domestic product.

We have been led to believe that official Washington is seized with urgency about long-term projections of U.S. budget deficits. Yet here is the Washington Post, downplaying the cost of the war in Afghanistan on the grounds that it is "well below 1 percent" of U.S. GDP.

Logically, there are two possibilities.

One possibility is that the Washington Post is saying that in the future, we can ignore any government expenditure or savings that amounts to less than 1% of U.S. GDP as being too small to bother about.

The other possibility is that according to the Washington Post there are two standards for judging costs. One standard is for war, in which an expenditure of less than 1% of GDP is too small to bother about. The other standard is for domestic spending that benefits the majority of Americans, in which a reduction of government expenditure of less than 1% of GDP is something that should be seriously considered.

Can the U.S. Negotiate Peace in Afghanistan?

A major contribution of the "inside experts" Afghanistan Study Group report (read here ; send to your reps in Congress here), released last week to spur Washington debate towards de-escalating the war at the next fork in the road is that its very first recommendation is this:

1. Emphasize power-sharing and political inclusion.
The U.S. should fast-track a peace process designed to decentralize power within Afghanistan and encourage a power-sharing balance among the principal parties.

Predictably, there appear to have been two principal objections so far to this proposal:

1. Oh my God. How dare you suggest that the U.S. should support a peace deal with the Afghan insurgency. You must be some kind of amoral monster.

2. Ho hum. Nothing new here. Everyone already knows this. Why do you tax our patience by stating the obvious as if it were a profound revelation? This is already Administration policy. Move along, nothing to see here.

It should go without saying that these two objections are, as a matter of logic, mutually exclusive. A real peace process leading to a new political dispensation in Afghanistan that ends the civil war could be the worst idea in human history, or it could be a commonplace that everyone already knows and is already Administration policy. But it cannot be both.

Iraq/Afghanistan: A Promise Kept, A Promise Deferred

President Obama wants credit for keeping his promise to end the war in Iraq. Some credit is due: the President reaffirmed his commitment to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011, as required by the agreement between the U.S. and Iraq. But only partial credit is due, because the war-ending task is very far from complete.

The Iraq war is not over. This is not a left-wing critique. The consensus account of mainstream U.S. print media is that the 50,000 U.S. troops who remain have been "rebranded" from "combat" brigades to advise-and-assist brigades. The unfailingly pro-war Washington Post editorial board wrote yesterday:

 

For one thing, combat won't really end on Sept. 1. Fifty thousand U.S. troops will remain in Iraq, and their duties will include counterterrorism work as well as continuing to train and assist Iraqi forces....

Moreover, the United States government is still "meddling" in Iraq's internal political affairs, to use the term our media uses when countries we don't like do it. U.S. officials are still trying to determine who will be in the Iraqi government and who should not. This is a key factor in the current political impasse in Baghdad, a fact which is generally omitted in mainstream press accounts that bemoan the failure of Iraqi politicians to form a government. It's true that there is a failure on the part of Iraqi politicians, but they have enablers in their failure: the outside powers, including the U.S., Iran, and other countries, which are lobbying furiously for a government to their liking, and working to block any government that they don't like. The impasse between the Iraqi politicians is also an impasse between the outside powers, fighting a proxy political war for influence in Iraq.

Why Should the Senate Fund "Enduring" U.S. Military Bases in Afghanistan?

Much ink has been spilled over the President's pledge to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan in July 2011. The White House insists that the date is firm. But the pace of withdrawal is yet to be determined, and the White House hasn't said a word about when - if ever - a U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan will be complete.

There is a signed agreement that says U.S. troops have to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. But there is no such agreement for Afghanistan. Yet the majority of Americans have told pollsters that they think the U.S. should establish a timetable for military withdrawal.

Meanwhile, Walter Pincus reports in the Washington Post, the Pentagon is planning for years of U.S. combat in Afghanistan:

 

"Three $100 million air base expansions in southern and northern Afghanistan illustrate Pentagon plans to continue building multimillion-dollar facilities in that country to support increased U.S. military operations well into the future."

Pincus noted that "…many of the installations being built…have extended time horizons. None of the three projects…is expected to be completed until the latter half of 2011. All of them are for use by U.S. forces rather than by their Afghan counterparts."

But Pincus also reported that while the House has approved the money for this "enduring base" construction, the Senate has yet to vote on it.

Should there not at least be a debate on this issue in the Senate?

Is David Petraeus a 'Lying Liar' About the Drawdown?

"Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them" was former non-Senator Al Franken's 2003 examination of the lies and distortions of right-wing pundits and politicians.

Such a book, if it were written today, should certainly include a fair and balanced look at some of the lying liars still running our foreign policy: in particular, at Mr. David Petraeus. (Mr. Franken might not be the best candidate for writing such a book today, given that he voted recently against Senator Feingold's amendment requiring the President to establish a timetable for military withdrawal from Afghanistan, even as Democratic leaders like Senator Durbin supported Feingold's amendment.)

Harsh words about Mr. Petraeus? Yes. Justified? Absolutely.

Consider: Mr. Petraeus has been leading a campaign of "domestic information operations" to browbeat Congress and the American people to accept limiting the size of, and possibly even a delay of, the drawdown of US troops from Afghanistan in July 2011that President Obama promised when he acceded to the military's demand for a "surge" of 30,000 troops in Afghanistan last fall.

In a recent interview with NBC's "Meet the Press," Petraeus implied that he might recommend against any withdrawal of US forces next summer, causing the White House to reaffirm its commitment to the July 2012 deadline in response, saying, "The date is not negotiable."

 

Today, U.S. Afghan War Deaths Under Obama Same as Bush

575: That's how many U.S. soldiers have lost their lives in the Afghanistan war since Barack Obama became President at noon on January 20, 2009, according to the icasualties.org website, which tracks U.S. soldiers' deaths using reports received from the Department of Defense - and which is widely cited in the media as a source of information on U.S. deaths.

According to the same website, 575 is also the number of U.S. soldiers who lost their lives in the Afghanistan war during the Presidency of George W. Bush.

Therefore, total U.S. deaths in Afghanistan have doubled in Afghanistan under President Obama, and when the next U.S. soldier is reported dead, the majority of U.S. deaths in Afghanistan will have occurred under President Obama.

This grim landmark should be reported in the media, and White House reporters should ask Robert Gibbs to comment on it. It is quite relevant to Gibbs' implicit attempt to marginalize critics of the war in Afghanistan by claiming that they wouldn't be satisfied with anything less than the abolition of the Pentagon. The majority of Americans - including the overwhelming majority of Democrats, and at least 60% of House Democrats - are deeply skeptical of the Administration's Afghanistan policy not because they are knee-jerk pacifists - obviously they are not - but because the human and financial cost of the war is rising, we have nothing to show for the increased cost, and the Administration has not articulated a clear plan to reach the endgame; indeed, Administration officials, led by General Petraeus, have just launched a public relations campaign to undermine the substantial drawdown in troops next summer that Democratic leaders in Congress, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have said that they expect.

How Many Iraqis Did We "Liberate" from Life on Earth?

Is there a man or woman in America today who is willing to stand at noon in the public square and claim that demands to bomb, invade, and occupy other people's countries have anything to do with human liberation?

If such people can be found, let them answer a few simple questions about the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

How many Iraqis did we "liberate" from the companionship of their loved ones?

How many Iraqis did we "liberate" from dwelling in the houses and towns and the country of their birth?

How many Iraqis did we "liberate" from life on Earth?

If any American who claims to believe that indefinite continuation of the war in Afghanistan - or a US/Israeli military attack on Iran - is justified by humanitarian concerns cannot give a fact-based and intellectually coherent answer to the question of how many Iraqis have lost their lives as a result of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, do not that person's claims for "humanitarian" war, bombing, and occupation deserve zero credence?

To state that we cannot know how many have died is outrageously false. It is vacuously true that we cannot know exactly how many have died. But in the diverse fields of human inquiry and endeavor, there are many large numbers that are important which we cannot know exactly. If understanding the magnitude of a number is important, we do not throw up our hands and say, "we can never know." Imagine a reference book that said, "we don't know how many humans are alive on Earth today, because no-one has counted them all."

If we want to understand the magnitude of a large number that we cannot count, we estimate it.