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October 1, 2010
How to lose a war (part three: with friends like us...)By Greyhawk
At this point in our relationship with Pakistan it must be difficult to resist the urge to shout "too hard," throw in the towel, declare our original goals unrealistic and unobtainable, and instead simply acknowledge that America can always absorb the inevitable next terrorist attack. Fortunately for us, the Obama administration is composed of folks made of sterner stuff, who know how to solve any problem...
We're at war in Afghanistan. At least, Afghanistan is where the troops are - and they are at war. That's hardly news, but maybe the headline over the latest Washington Post excerpt from Obama's Wars will be a surprise to some - Obama: 'We need to make clear to people that the cancer is in Pakistan'.
Perhaps the administration has failed in that regard. If so, that's another reason it's unfortunate the White House's March, 2009 Af-Pak strategy has been flushed down the memory hole - it opened by acknowledging just that. So, no denying that the Obama administration (like its predecessor) knew from day one that our relationship with Pakistan was essential to achieving our goals in the region. As complex and difficult as that concept might be it's hardly an unprecedented geopolitical challenge; international conflicts up to and including war never actually concern just two belligerent nations. We can discuss examples without end - for many, a comparison to our relationship with the Soviet Union during World War Two is apt; for others our experience with Vietnam's neighbors is about as far back as history goes.
But I'm not offering up the longer view of history today. Instead let's look at now - the latest in our relationship with an ally every bit as uncertain as they are essential. Here's the perfect illustration of that from the New York Times this week - "Signaling Tensions, Pakistan Shuts NATO Route":
American officials pressed their Pakistani counterparts on Thursday to reopen a vital supply route for American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, as relations deteriorated after the fourth strike by coalition helicopters in a week killed three members of Pakistan's border force.
One of those officials is "C.I.A. director, Leon E. Panetta, who met Thursday with the Pakistani military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, part of a stream of American officials who have come to alternately cajole and coerce Pakistani cooperation."
Some of our other shaky allies might not appreciate our treatment of Pakistan - but fortunately (or fortuitously), a horrific credible non-specific plot against Europe with roots in Pakistan was revealed to the world just earlier this week:
US and European officials said Tuesday they have detected a plot to carry out a major, coordinated series of commando-style terror attacks in Britain, France, Germany and possibly the United States... The new threat to France, and to Germany and Britain and the U.S., is coming from Pakistan, according to intelligence officials.
ABC TV also reported that "this latest plot was personally approved by Osama bin Laden" himself, (more here) and that "The threat may help explain the increase in U.S. air strikes in the mountainous area along the Pakistani and Afghan border."
But in the meantime, Pakistani officials have other problems:
The Pakistani military, angered by the inept handling of the country's devastating floods and alarmed by a collapse of the economy, is pushing for a shake-up of the elected government, and in the longer term, even the removal of President Asif Ali Zardari and his top lieutenants.
So, nearly two years after announcing "the core goal of the U.S. must be to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its safe havens in Pakistan, and to prevent their return to Pakistan or Afghanistan" the Obama administration is confronted with a nation seemingly on the brink of collapse, with a population, military, and media increasingly hostile to a government whose support to us (up to and including helping us kill people on their soil, or at least not acting too upset when we do) is seen as weakness by its citizens but is essential to achieving our goals in the region. (Assuming our goal is to make the region into something other than a terrorist safe haven.)
At this point, it must be difficult to resist the urge to shout "too hard," throw in the towel, declare our original goal was unrealistic and unobtainable and instead simply acknowledge that America can always absorb the inevitable next terrorist attack. Fortunately for us, the Obama administration is composed of folks made of sterner stuff, who know the one magic solution that fixes any problem. Their latest "advice" to the government of Pakistan?
"Pakistan cannot have a tax rate of 9 percent of GDP when land owners and all of the other elites do not pay anything or pay so little it's laughable, and then when there's a problem everybody expects the United States and others to come in and help," Clinton said to a round of applause. She noted that Pakistan's finance minister is now presenting a package of economic and tax reforms.
If you didn't come up with that solution even before you read it, you're probably a Republican. Likewise you may wonder why Pakistan's tax structure would be Hillary Clinton's concern - or why Pakistan's government would care what Hillary Clinton thinks. The answer can be found by searching for the term "Secretary of State" in the Text of S. 962: Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009 - she's got a lot to say about US aid to Pakistan. (That US aid bill was actually opposed by many Pakistanis, who declared it a "violation of sovereignty". However, they were reassured by their government last year that their perception that it gave the US too much control over their country was mistaken.)
Secretary Clinton isn't a lone voice on this issue, nor is Pakistan a sole target:
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who was also on the same panel, drove home the message that countries who want U.S. development aid must adopt the reforms that Clinton is advocating.
But Pakistan is the immediate issue - and Geithner dismissed concerns that the Obama administration's demands for Pakistan to raise taxes "could conflict with other U.S. objectives in the region." Obama's "regional expert," Af-Pak envoy Richard Holbrooke, also seems unconcerned:
Because we can absorb terrorist attacks, we can acknowledge that "victory" is a bad word - but if there's one thing modern American government officials can't tolerate, it's tax cheats. (If there's two things modern American government officials can't tolerate, it's corrupt government officials and tax cheats. And if there's three things they can't tolerate, it's corrupt government officials, tax cheats, and hypocrites - but I digress...)
Clinton and Geithner weren't the only Obama cabinet secretaries addressing the most critical aspects of American foreign policy this week - their panel also included Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, but he seemed more concerned about Iraq...
But Iraq's a war Obama (and Congressional Democrats) always said we couldn't win - or at least that military success couldn't translate to political advances there. You can hardly blame them for refusing to support a transition that would prove them wrong while the real central front of the war on terror* is still a festering boil.
As for Charlie Wilson's War, well, there's that long view of history again. (And if there's a fourth thing most modern American government officials can't tolerate, it's those people who insist on living in the past.)
*Footnote: "War on Terror" - I'm not sure what we call it now, apologies for my use of the old term.
(This entry is part of a series that began here, with more to follow.)
Posted by Greyhawk / October 1, 2010 2:19 PM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
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