Thursday, November 10, 2016

Who the Hell Voted for Him?

The next four years are going to be hilarious, if not intriguing. Less so, perhaps, for Americans.

"President Trump" - kinda grabs you by the, ahem, doesn't it?

One wonders if he truly thought he would win. The photos during that point during the vote-counting when he stormed ahead suggests he was a little surprised at his surge. Melania, sorry FLOTUS, seemed exasperated by the prospect.

Mike Pence appeared genuinely shocked, pensive even. He had been so wired and prepared for a faux pas or another blunder by his running mate that he was unprepared for the one irony that he should have at least entertained the notion of; being the VP of the USA.

So many unanswered questions? Trump's inauguration. Will he rub it in. Will he hint at the long list of naysayers, haters, and enemies that he is no doubt having written up? Will he mention The Wall? Or signal how he will "bomb ISIS back to the Stone Age"? Or rescind the Iran deal? Or bring back torture worse than water-boarding?

Then there's Obama's, sorry Clinton's, concession speech. It is truly the end of the road for her political ambitions. It's also the end of the road for so many within the DNC. This was theirs to lose. In an election in which frustration and anti-establishment themes dominated, they chose the least progressive, most paid off candidate they could find.

But first, the reaction of the Twitterverse:

Poor Alfredo. All the people who he agrees with online didn't disagree with him, and yet another group who doesn't agree with Alfredo's worldview voted differently. How confusing for him.

Or these crestfallen millennials wailing, "this isn't my America":

It's the end of civilization because their views and predictions didn't carry the day.

Social media has reached its apotheosis. It isn't really a vehicle for change in the sense that if we amass a following that furiously agrees with us, then the world will change accordingly. Social media is more of a conflicted space than it is a space for conflict. We confuse preference with principle.

We prefer that people like us represent an enlightened group. Beavering away at narratives that roil in self-affirmation. And yet the principles many of us claim to uphold float on group-think.

Nothing, no clicking or winning formation of 140 characters, can trump (sorry) getting out of your comfort zone and going down to the ballot box and casting a vote. Or attending a protest. Social media is exactly what it calls itself. A social space. We hang out and converse with likeminded souls.

NYT columnist, Russel Baker, cleverly observed that in the GOP, Trump saw "the empty shell of a political machine, available for occupancy" (Nov. 10, 2016  NY Review of Books). But these authors, even when dissembling a sense of even-handedness invariably dismiss Trump as a flare-up and the inevitable result of the descent of the GOP into low-brow politics.

Politics is by definition selective. Candidates select their constituency just as their constituency selects them. The majority of Americans who cared enough to cast a ballot - that basket of deplorables - voted for Trump's anti-establishment manifesto, not Hillary's "more of the same over here and thanks for the votes".

A consensus emerged within the mainstream media that Trump was too soiled, too acrimonious with common sense, too indecorous to be president. This was not really reporting, indeed it was barely reportage. It was opinion dressed up as the news.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

This is Getting Serious: It’s Time to Write An Open Letter

Ok, this is seriously getting serious. The situation in Côte d’Ivoire has been going on three months now. Some people refer to a longer period of successive crises, but in order to simplify things, it’s easier to focus on the timeframe in which short-term diplomacy has become the main sideshow.

I was going to do a sarky timeline starting with colonization in the 19th century, but that’s crazy-boring. And anyway, this is not about the historical legacies or political fundamentals common to failed states like Côte d’Ivoire – stuff like messy colonization and messier decolonization. This is about the International Community, exploring what its needs are now and, as Obama likes to say almost as much as “let me be clear”, what its needs are ‘moving forward’.

Since my last post at the start of this crisis (see below – the one with the minstrel-meets-chocolate poster pics), the situation has unfolded. And as one report noted, the Ivorian people, not to mention the international community, are getting fed up with this situation.

And it’s not without trying on the part of The Diplomats, who have issued countless communiqués, resolutions, reports, dispatches, and press statements decrying the need for more Diplomacy. Always reluctant to engage prominent politicians and their own Former-Formers, the International Community has brought out some of its Traditional African Diplomats and Legations:

- In October 2010, Côte d’Ivoire double-billed with Mediation Matinee Hosts, President John Atta Mills of Ghana and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia;

- A month and a half later, in early December, former South African President, Thabo Mbeki represented the African Union on a mediation mission. No takers;
(Two weeks later the newly appointed Ivorian Ambassador to the UN, Youssoufou Bamba, cautioned that his country was on the verge of genocide. That means up the ante on Diplomatic Efforts)

- About a month after Mbeki’s stalled efforts, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo met with both Gbagbo and Ouattara in what he described as a "process of exploration". As far as exploration processes go, he was successful in confirming that the situation is intractable and perhaps not worth spending any more of his Politico-Diplomatic Credit;

- A week after Obasanjo AU special envoy and Mediator #3 Kenyan Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, visited Abidjan and held talks with Ouatarra and Gbagbo. Adopting an unorthodox strategy of telegraphing his intention to remove Gbagbo and effect the peaceful installment of Ouatarra, no one could work out why Odinga’s two-day whirlwind in a teacup made no discernible difference whatsoever to the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire;

- AU chairperson Bingu wa Mutharika has held talks in Côte d’Ivoire with Ouatarra and Gbagbo in the lead up to AU shindigs, but Bingu was smart enough not to use the ‘M-word’ in describing his efforts.

So now it’s time for Double Negative to weigh in and make its own demarche:

Open Letter to The Diplomats on the Situation in Côte d’Ivoire

3 April 2011


The diplomatic situation in Côte d’Ivoire is rapidly deteriorating.

We recall the Open Letters from H.E. President Louise Arbour from the Republic of the International Crisis Group dated 22 and 25 March 2011, and we take note that “civil war in the country has been reignited”. We would submit that re-ignition is not the same as ‘raging’ and that a détente between the main two rivals is not utterly hopeless.

We are dismayed that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in its resolution adopted on 24 March 2011 did not use more mild and circumlocutory language.

We urge all parties to lend their support behind the forceful recommendations of ECOWAS, interalia, " to explore all avenues of providing the Government of Mr. Alassane Ouattara all the necessary legal and diplomatic means to exercise its authority, including admitting the Government to all meetings of ECOWAS” and “establishing the joint AU-ECOWAS facilitation team to ensure the immediate transfer of power to Mr. Alassane Ouattara”.

We are concerned that the gentle pressure and ministrations of peacekeepers dispatched by the United Nations Mission in Cote d’Ivoire are being viewed as ineffective and believe that UNOCI should have the opportunity to access state-owned television and radio networks in order to address this perception issue.

We have taken note of the ongoing sensitive electoral process and the unresolved aspects of the peace process.
We are pleased to see that the number of registered and unregistered former combatants has reduced dramatically over the last three months from an estimated 32,777, but we are concerned that this reduction is attributable to the phenomenon of recruitment into militia and irregular armed forces.

We are pretty sure that all of the most brutal and unsavoury former combatants are Pro-Gbagbo.

We expressly reject all notions that because UNOCI was directly involved in supervising and providing logistical support to the Independent Electoral Commission that the UN’s refusal to hold a vote recount or question whether the election was “generally successful” that there are any conflict(s) of interest.

We eagerly await the appointment of the High Representative of the president of the AU Commission and second the assessment of H.E. President Louise Arbour that this is “the best way out of the crisis”.

We underline the need for increased efforts to assist the The Diplomats in the promotion of a climate of stability and trust in order to facilitate the return of Ivorian refugees in neighbouring countries.

We call upon the States neighbouring Cote d’Ivoire to take steps, with the aim of putting an end to factors contributing to the destabilization of Cote d’Ivoire, to ensure that such arms and materiel are not transferred to Ivorian camps within their territories.

We request the Secretary-General to consult the Governments of neighbouring countries on the possibility of holding an International Peace Conference on Cote d’Ivoire.

Artful Aid Worker

Minister Plenipotentiary, Double Negative

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Cup of Technicolor Tea, Ban?

This is way off piste. I have a habit of reading errant political analyses of Obama’s chances for a second term. I can’t work out whether I despise the man for his war-mongering or I admire him in spite of it. Anyway, the Tea Party folks have no such conflict – they loathe this guy. Being a fairly inward-looking lot, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that their appreciation of foreign policy is rather shallow. But what it lacks in depth, it makes up for in colour. Technicolor!

This is an amusing exchange of commentary under an article in the conservative monthly, American Spectator entitled, “Barbour Out On the Hustings” by the magazine’s founder and editor-in-chief, Bob Tyrrell.

I have pruned it for length but I have tried to keep the ranting (and repetitious) style and hectoring tone intact. Check it out:

patrick henry⁠|⁠ 3.17.11 @ 3:17PM

What Republicans need to seriously consider as they plan their 2012 Presidential campaign is that Obama may not be the Democrat candidate again. Candidates who base their entire campaign on that assumption are risking being completely caught off-guard by an historic blind-side political bombshell. The 2010 election seriously damaged Obama, and his on-going indifference as multiple domestic and international issues piles up will cause many Dem candidates up for re-election in 2012 to be very open to a "Savior" who can step in and rescue their party from political oblivion.

After some detailed probing and pursuit of the subject, what we find is that Barack Obama, still just in his late 40’s, has much greater ambitions than just serving two terms as President of the United States. Barack Obama is positioning himself to become the next Secretary General of the United Nations, a post with no statutory limit of terms and control of the only organization with widespread authority over all points of the globe.

Researchers contemplating Obama’s long-range master plan find that all the necessary elements are in place, or soon will be, to give Obama the opportunity to literally rule the world- possibly for as long as he wants. A brief review of the United Nations charter and history provides the eye-opening details.

The first term of Ban Ki-moon expires Dec. 31, 2011 and, according to UN tradition, if he is interested, he will almost certainly be reappointed to a second term, which will expire Dec. 31, 2016, three weeks prior to the end of Barack Obama’s presumed second term as President of the United States. Since the founding of the United Nations in 1945, only two geographic regions of the world have not had a representative serve as UN Secretary General: Oceana…. and North America. Barack Obama intends to be the first from North America.

This, of course, would explain virtually everything about Obama’s otherwise-unconventional behavior and his aggressiveness in acquiring as much control, authority and international goodwill as possible. The basic goals of the Obama Presidency are to weaken the United States as an international force in order to lessen its ability to exert influence and control over international affairs, while at the same time seek to subjugate the U.S. as much as possible to international agreements and UN control, authority, regulation and laws. This will curry favor with the international community, thus enhancing Obama’s chances at ascension to the Secretary General throne, and make the U.S. less significant vis-a-vis the UN in international affairs, so that he, as life-long UN Secretary General, will have unquestioned and unchallenged authority over the worldwide community and its affairs.

To achieve these ends, during his time as President, the Obama administration has pursued policies that weaken American strength, power and influence in every conceivable political, economic and social way possible. For example, many economists have pointed out that the Obama economic plan, loaded with unsustainable spending and debt, may cause serious long-term damage to the American economy. No problem- if his plan does happen to somehow work, fine, but the Obama economic plan is not designed to heal the economy- in accordance with Obama’s long-range master plan, it’s designed to weaken the economy, and the nation. And how does the on-going Obama international “blame America / apology tour” strengthen America’s foreign policy? It doesn’t- it’s not supposed to- it’s designed to weaken our nation’s role in international affairs. Further, Obama’s administrative and judicial appointments and nominations are people infused with a strident anti-traditional and anti-constitutional ethos, because that nudges America further toward an eventual submission to “international” ethics, laws and constraints.

The more that Obama will be able to enact this agenda and master plan now, the easier it will be for him to later wield unquestioned power as UN Secretary General, because the United States will have been severely weakened and unable to exert significant influence on international (or even some domestic) affairs.

Speculators are envisioning several alternative scenarios. For example, one option being bantered about is that Obama’s unbridled ambition will not allow him to wait until Ban Ki-moon completes a second term as UN Secretary General. Mr. Ban’s first term will conclude Dec. 31, 2011, one year and three weeks prior to the end of Obama’s first term as President, and one popular scenario envisions that, if Obama feels he has sufficiently accomplished enough of his agenda by then, he will resign as President and seek to replace Mr. Ban in January of 2012. After all, why wait another four years and risk something going awry in the meantime that could pre-empt an Obama second Presidential term or even the larger Obama long-range master plan itself?

Under that scenario, it is thought that Vice President Joe Biden’s subsequent ascendancy to the White House in January of 2012 would assure a continued passive and subordinate American role in UN and international affairs while Obama then promotes his UN Secretary General agenda, and, at the same time, assure election of Biden as President later that November.
Another variation of that scenario is that the aftermath of the 2010 election and growing unhappiness with Obama's lack of leadership, including by members of his own party, will cause key Dems, especially those up for re-election in 2012, to seek an alternative to head the Dem ticket as Presidential candidate. Hillary would then offer herself up as the "Savior of the Party" as Biden fills out Obama's term and doesn't seek the nomination. As a narcissist, Obama must be concerned about the prospect of being defeated in a re-election campaign. So, as a political safety valve, Obama could resign in late 2011 for the UN job. Under that scenario variant, everybody would win- Obama would get his UN Secretary General-for-life job, Biden would get to serve one year as a U.S. President, and Hillary would get her shot at making history as the first female President, perhaps even for two terms.
However, some feel that this scenario would be too outrageously ambitious for even Obama. Their thought is that Obama would prefer to complete the second term as President and then move on to the UN. On the other hand, this scenario would explain the “mad rush” to enact as much of Obama’s agenda as soon as possible in his first term. And it would also explain why Obama was so insistent on running for President in 2008, rather than allowing Hillary Clinton to have her shot at the job in ’08 and running after her two terms.

All very logical, except for one very revealing factor. As previously mentioned, a new UN Secretary General will be scheduled for appointment in 2016, and eligible for two five-year terms. If Obama would have let that opportunity pass by and allow someone else to become UN Secretary General, that would mean that Obama’s next best shot at the UN Secretary General position may not occur until 2026. At that point Obama would be 65 years old, with far less time to rule the United Nations. And, in addition, that would leave far too much time for something unforeseen to disrupt Obama’s long-term master plan. No, it was felt that it was a far better approach to push Obama for the Presidency in 2008 even if that meant risking the wrath of Hillary and her Democrat Party operatives. With an Obama victory in the 2008 Presidential election, his plan of ascending to the open UN Secretary General seat in 2016 was assured, and he could serve as many as four five-year terms as UN Secretary General before finally retiring at a still-robust 75, or possibly even serving beyond that. That would provide Obama with a full twenty years or more of ruling the world- a heady opportunity indeed, one that would be very difficult for an intense narcissist to let pass by.

Regardless, it is clear that the position of UN Secretary General will be open for appointment just as Obama’s presumed second term is about to expire. The Secretary General serves a five-year term and is traditionally (but not constitutionally) limited to two consecutive terms. But Barack Obama clearly sees himself as a being above and beyond traditional (if not even constitutional) constraint, and there is no provision in the UN Charter that would prevent him from seeking as many terms as he desired. By ingratiating himself to the international community during his service as American President, he could assure himself of unlimited service later as UN Secretary General. The only constraint to prevent Obama from additional terms as Secretary General would be a veto by one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. But the Obama team has very effectively considered that element as well. The five permanent Security Council members are the U.S., the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China. The U.S. is already (figuratively and literally) indebted to China, Russia is clearly pleased with Obama’s weakening of the U.S., and Obama has profusely sidled up to the European powers in his on-going “blame America / apology” tours. This should greatly diminish the prospects of one of those other four permanent Security Council nations vetoing additional Obama terms as Secretary General beyond his second term. And, with a submissive America ruled by the Democrat Party, the chances of a U.S. veto are virtually nil.

Following his act as the first black President of the United States, the Obama campaign for UN Secretary General would focus on the historic nature of him becoming the first person from North America to serve in that capacity. And, as a result of his weaken-America policies as President, the members of the United Nations would feel much more comfortable bestowing upon him the honor of serving as the first North American Secretary General. For his part, naturally, this would fit very nicely into Obama’s narcissistic persona. And, of course, the mainstream American and international media would play it to the hilt. Obama’s ascendancy to the throne of United Nations Secretary General would be virtually a coronation, not a selection or an election.

Now that the basic goals of Obama’s long-range master plan are clearly evident, his motivations and intentions are much easier to decipher. Clearly, the structure of the Obama Presidency is not about what is good for America or its citizens- it’s all about Obama. It’s all about what advances Obama’s personal agenda and objectives. If it appears that Obama is still campaigning, it’s because he is still campaigning. Obama viewed the 2008 American Presidential election as just another primary election in his broader campaign to become the UN Secretary General. During his Presidency, Obama’s policies are designed to control, not cure. The economy, the banking system, the auto industry, the health care system- the Obama administration’s energies are directed toward seizing control over all those sectors, not “curing” any real or perceived problems in them. The more that Obama can make America subservient, compliant and subordinate now, the easier it will be for him to rule later as the unchallenged United Nations Secretary General.

This fascinating insight gives us the opportunity to view Obama and his administration in a much different light. Other such alternative scenarios are being actively debated, and only his closest insiders are privy to the details of the actual plan. But one thing is very clear: the increasingly strange and unconventional behavior of Barack Obama and his administration and policies can now be seen through a much clearer lens, and it’s quite obvious that there is, indeed, a very specific method to the madness.

Habu⁠|⁠ 3.17.11 @ 6:38PM

patrick henry You have written an encompassing piece on the obama grand strategy but allow me this observation.Most Americans want the US out of the UN and with good cause. The institution that held such promise almost immediately ossified into a caricature of itself, stifled at every important point (save Korea, where the Soviets had walked out of the Security Council w wee bit too soon) but the nyets of the Soviets. There is already talk of developing a parallel institution of truly free countries committed to the rights of man to run without the interference of antithetical philosophies that would have us all back in the dark ages. That is why it is vital to defeat obama and gain a leader with the energy in the executive that Alexander Hamilton in Federalist#70 outlined: Energy in the Executive is a leading character in the definition of good government. It is essential to the protection of the community against foreign attacks; it is not less essential to the steady administration of the laws; to the protection of property against those irregular and high-handed combinations which sometimes interrupt the ordinary course of justice; to the security of liberty against the enterprises and assaults of ambition, of faction, and of anarchy. Every man the least conversant in Roman story, knows how often that republic was obliged to take refuge in the absolute power of a single man, under the formidable title of Dictator, as well against the intrigues of ambitious individuals who aspired to the tyranny, and the seditions of whole classes of the community whose conduct threatened the existence of all government, as against the invasions of external enemies who menaced the conquest and destruction of Rome. In our case we need no dictator but a leader who can create a new organization to bypass the truly pitiful UN.With the proper energy we can move the UN from it’s now illegitimate standing to its proper place in the pantheon of failed international organizations and move Obama back to Punahou School or better yet Indonesia.

I don’t know where to start. These Tea Party folks are really special.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Vote and Relax: Bring in The Diplomats

In the stakes for alarming post-conflict elections outcomes of 2010, Côte d'Ivoire could not be a more high-impact place in which to hold an election. It’s also proving to be very promising for the careers of those hard-working diplomats one so seldomly hears on the BBC.

As an aside, in terms of war potential, the Ivory Coast is way up there, or as Homer might say, "mmmm, War-Fresh". But while there are still avenues for dialogue (and therefore peace; dialogue often paves the way for peace in Africa), the basic premise of an election needs to take second place to negotiating a way towards avoiding egregious human rights abuses, and suffering of The People. Round-the-clock talks, strongly worded UN communiqués, press releases, and above all, Diplomacy is the order of the day.

One could ask what is the reasoning behind the clamour for elections in a place that so manifestly craves other equally time-critical changes? Changes like fairness in the labour market, a more equitable redistribution of public and private revenues, industrial relations reform, and those twin albatrosses that hang around the heads of so many African heads of state, health and education. But why would we do that when other pressing matters like egregious human rights abuses could occur in the absence of Dialogue?

The current Ivorian crisis is perplexing; and it already straining the immense skills and tireless efforts of The Diplomats, the UN, and a unity of other institutions and states all working around the clock to prevent further suffering of The People.

It's the mediocrity of leadership that really sets places like Côte d'Ivoire apart from other countries. For instance, the reasons advanced by third-time presidential wannabe and former prime minister, Alassane Ouattara, as to why Laurent Gbagbo should be removed by force from his perch (HIS perch!) are that "Gbagbo would become entrenched in power and become more difficult to remove". This may seem obvious to you or I, but in the Realm of Diplomacy there are subtle nuances in this statement that defy the perusal of mere bystanders (i.e. people who are not working tirelessly from capitals around the world using Dialogue to pave the way for Peace).

For poor old Gbagbo, and perhaps his international burnish is not as cultivated as Ouattara's, it was always going to be hard campaigning against a UN-sanctioned, IMF-supercharged banker. Bankers are so charismatic in Africa (and they drive nicer cars). This was a tough break for Gbagbo, who ran on an imaginative negative campaign along the lines of 'Ouattara has nothing". Ironically, or hopefully in Gbagbo’s case, mediocrity appears to be an asset when it's "a position in an international organization". So a UN or IO slot executing foreign policy is where the leadership qualities of someone like a Laurent Gbagbo can really shine. Once appointed within the UN or an IO, someone like Gbagbo might finally be able to make that difference that they tried so hard as an elected (and unelected) official to achieve.

An American Diplomat made a good point when he remarked that there is "plenty of precedent, for instance, of former African leaders who have gone on to work with regional or international institutions".

This is described as "A Sort of Consolation Prize" when a corrupt and sometimes brutal elected official loses a popular vote. In the Democratisation Calculus (a sub-department of the Realm of Diplomacy), working within the international humanitarian community is the effluent run-off for individuals who (temporarily) refuse to accede to the results of an incorrigible election that just wouldn't rig their way. Fair enough, I say.

Which brings me to meddlesome neighbours. Good fences are hard to come by in places like Africa. The Berlin Conference some 120 years ago ostensibly carved up the continent but didn't budget for fences (or 'border security' in today's vernacular). This was a serious oversight when one considers the early multiculturalist objectives of the Conference. (The Conference is often derided as 'cookie-cutter' and arbitrarily separating clans and indigenous peoples - WRONG! - why not try to cause the tribes to understand and tolerate one another more by mixing and mingling them within colonies-soon-to-be-states?)

In one sense, good fences make bad neighbours in Africa. Why? Because the nation-state is obviously more dominant in the African Psyche than clan or ethicity. This variant of nationalism makes being a neighbour an act of open hostility. That's why it's so difficult for Gbagbo to find a peaceful solution; because everyone is ganging up on him.

You know, we are all Concerned About Africa; indeed the Accra Agenda calls for African states and their Donors to let them Do the Needful. The needful could be, hypothetically speaking, taking foreign taxpayers funds and spending it on transport and housing construction instead of preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS. Brand-new Prados, opulent villas, and lavish workshops may seem unnecessary to the outside (paying) world, but in fragile spaces like Côte d'Ivoire, this is institution-building and upholding "nationally-owned and locally led processes".

Why are we so concerned about Africa? Because if for no other reason, the children. The suffering is no-one's fault, it's just something so tragic and unavoidable - we need to do something, anything, to make a difference. Those children never asked to be on UNICEF ‘spare change’ envelopes, you know.

The French have 900 or so troops garrisoned in Côte d'Ivoire. And the UN has 10,000-odd. Because they are concerned. But as events in 1994 showed us, even with a standing presence of French and UN troops, in some cases tragedy simply cannot be avoided (but we’ll try not to talk too much about that isolated example).

Earlier I mentioned working as an international civil servant as a consolation prize when a senior elected official (refuses to) accedes to an election outcome. It goes the other way too. Ouattara knows all about persistence. Ouattara served the administration of Félix Houphouët-Boigny and was even appointed as prime minister in the 90s. This is also someone who remained at the same university from his Bachelors all the way through to his Doctorate. He has twice served in both the IMF and the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO). Being hard-to-remove is Ouattara's modus operandi. So, in a sense, the effect of Ouattara replacing Gbagbo is a zero-sum gain. One space in the international civil service opens up, only to be filled by way of the African Elections Consolation Prize Doctrine. Once in, it’s almost certain that Ouattara will find leaving office just as difficult as poor old Gbagbo. But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. There are sure to be Diplomats at the ready to talk their way, our way, (?) around anomalous future election results to prevent suffering of The People. The good news for the striving Diplomats is that there is always a willingness to talk on all sides.

For now though, some very long nights await these tireless Talkers of Peace. And whilst both sides obstinately refuse to negotiate from their position as president, other avenues for peacemaking are open. From one(narrow) point of view the elections were basically about who becomes president, not jobs within the UN or an international organization, or consolation prizes, or asylum arrangements. But the Diplomats through High-Level Talks are the next best thing to enforcing an election result.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Destroy and Relax: Bring in the Tanks

Helmand needs some tanks! Not water storage tanks, tank-TANKS. Over 1,000 tonnes of M1 Abrams tankage wielded by the United States Marine Corps.

Force multiplier, force protection, forced outcome. Whatever US/NATO calls this, tanks in Afghanistan is about more force.

One poor lad described the tanking of Helmand (as if the writing wasn't already on the wall) as follows:

"You know what scares the hell out of dismounted insurgents? 70 tons of badassery that will make them dead if they mess with it...If the problem in Helmand is a highly-active insurgency that requires a firepower solution, then the M1A1 is what you want to bring to the fight."

Afghanistan is deadly riddle. Consider the following fairly straightforward conundrums:

- Is the enemy 'not winning but not losing either' (in the case of the Taliban/AQ/'Terror') a security interest?

- Does it matter if the enemy moves on - should we just stay and fight anyway?

- Counter-insurgency doctrine often demands a lot of tactical thinking into things like where to dig wells, where to build hospitals, roads, and the like. Why do we need soldiers making these decisions - aren't such matters the government's purview?

- Is counter-insurgency or COIN actually relevant or is was this a doctrine used to paper over US/NATO's unimaginative (and doomed) approaches to stabilising Afghanistan?

- If Karzai is a corrupt and ineffective ally, how can his dysfunctional government actually be the recipient ofcounter-insurgency and stabilization (or so-called nation-building) dividends?

- Can a foreign occupier even counter an insurgency as fluid and population-centric as the Taliban? Indeed, doesn't military occupation only fill their ranks?

- How many small wars waged by foreign occupation forces have had legitimate/clean/able government?

- Are the measures used to gather information on AQ/Taliban targets sufficient and reasonable to justify pre-meditated (and extra-judicial) killing? Will this chicken come home to roost in 5-15 years time? And will China exploit this double standard in U.S. committments to upholding human rights?

- Is there a correlation, or a measurable relationship, between the way US/NATO forces conduct their operations and deteriorating security? (The Afghanistan Study Group is slowly coming around to this conclusion. Essentially, they are suggesting that the occupation - in its complexity and through the force of its will - is (re)fueling the enemy.)

Of late, I have found it bewildering that some U.S. commentators think that a U.S. withdrawal will be anti-climactic. These are usually the same commentators who dismiss the release by Wikileaks of nearly half a million classified documents from war theatres in Afghanistan and Iraq as "nothingnew". Glance for a moment at all the major news wires; news on the U.S. is totally over-represented. Any withdrawal, however incremental or precipitate, will create a lot of excitement. (And whilst I am on the subject, if the deluge of war logs released by Wikileaks is nothing new, why is Julian Assange being continually harrassed and Bradley Manning being detained?)

If a withdrawal happens - and I do hold out hope - several things are very likely to happen:

- Karzai will shift allegiances faster than you can say "I am a reliable partner". Iran will get its hooks deeper into Afghanistan, at Pakistan's expense. This game is neither great nor determinative; it's theirs to play. Karzai will be ousted within months unless his contortionist ways save him.

- The UN will have a meltdown of sorts. They'll recover.

- The US economy will recover faster. Because you will have more resources for stimulus and your brighter minds can start thinking their way around this riddle, instead of an unnecessary war in Central Asia.

- The President will have a lot of explaining to do with the idiotic right castigating him for 'cutting and running'. This is the touchstone issue - can Obama afford to lose in Afghanistan? Or is the smarter money on prolonging the war and dumping it in the lap of the next President?

- Pakistan will pack its daks because it will realise that it's waterbed-cum-state is next cab on the rank. The magnitude of failure of this nation as a result of poor policy, service-delivery, and security in Kashmir, Beluchistan, FATA, now Sindh and Punjab, safeguarding the judiciary, and pursuing constructive relations with India are withering and abominable. But it's not the U.S.'s problem. It's Pakistan's. The U.S. can certainly help on the development and trade side, but Pakistan's foreign policy is neither controlled chaos or diabolical. It's infested with its leaders' self interests, which appear to be absolutely rotten.

It will take Herculean effort to pull out of this ditch; the political torque required is there. Obama is a strong leader, still with untapped reservoirs of confidence around the world. Letting Afghanistan gowould transform America's international prestige (positively), but it would also excoriate national morale.

(the photos are from the Battle of Kursk, July-August 1943)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bob Herbert on Afghanistan

The comments are just as sharp as the op-ed piece itself:

Why is there not an organised movement of similiarly minded people?