Greetings! You are reading an article from The Mudville Gazette. To reach the front page, with all the latest news and views, click the logo above or "main" below. Thanks for stopping by!
August 15, 2011
More on smokin' the peace pipeBy Greyhawk
(You might want to read this earlier entry first.)
Here's the video of Secretary Clinton's June 23, 2011 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on "Evaluating Goals and Progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan." The full-length feature film can be viewed here; in these clips (you can find them at approximately the 1:30 and 1:50 marks in the full video) she answers questions on the secret negotiations with the Taliban towards a "diplomatic settlement" of the war in Afghanistan.
If you're at all confused about what you just saw, in the first clip Senator Shaheen (D-NH) asks Secretary Clinton if she thinks "that there really is a possibility of any kind of agreement with the Taliban?"
"We are committed to pursuing it," Clinton answers (in the midst of all those grass is green sky is blue war is hard statements that politicians use to demonstrate their grasp of a situation), "because it is the only path forward, there is no other path forward," because "nobody is strong enough to assert control." The significance of that statement is that making the government of Afghanistan - via training Afghan security forces - "strong enough to asset control" has been the key to Obama's strategy there for years. ("As they stand up, we'll stand down" is how I recall Donald Rumsfeld describing the same strategy applied to Iraq in 2005-2006.) Here the US Secretary of State concedes that we aren't going to achieve it in the limited time (with the limited troop levels) President Obama has allowed for it, and we've adjusted our sights downward accordingly.
The followup comes from Senator Durbin (D-Il) who - after acknowledging what a bummer it is that "100,000 brave Americans are risking their lives" in Afghanistan, and being told "you can't win this, but perform your mission" - asks what is the likelihood that we can "engage the Taliban in a meaningful discussion that will come up with a political solution?"
A four minute answer follows - but not a second of those minutes is used to refute his assertion that the current marching orders for American troops in Afghanistan are "you can't win this but perform your mission." In fact, the Secretary can't even provide a meaningful discussion of anything beyond I don't know - except it's all Bush's fault and if there's any hope at all it's because President Obama has made the best of a bad situation. I can further simplify that: in the unlikely event that things work out, thank Obama - if not, blame Bush.
In the middle of that she strikes these familiar notes: "I don't think it's a matter of winning or losing, I think it's a matter of how we measure the success we are seeking in Afghanistan."
I'd prefer to have seen our goal defined long ago, and a well-resourced strategy implemented to achieve it. I'm not convinced we're going to do either at this point - but one measure we might use was described by Steve Coll when he broke the news of the secret negotiations earlier this year:
There are many, many models of peace talks emerging in a war of this character just in the last fifty years. And in Afghanistan itself, there is a rich history of negotiating across battle lines. Probably the most direct analogy of all would be the negotiations that the Soviet Union and its Kabul proxy government undertook with various mujaheddin rebels as the Soviets fashioned their exit strategy. Those never produced direct peace talks with important sections of the enemy, but they did produce the Geneva Accords and various backchannel deals with guerrillas that eased the Soviet position as they moved back from direct combat.
Whether that or Vietnam is the batter analogy, eventually we might come up with a goal we can achieve; in her testimony the Secretary pledged she'll have a better idea of what that might be by the end of this year.
Durbin's response is that he hopes we can bring the troops home even faster than the president's (long-obviously disastrous) current plan, and if that can happen he'll support it. Honestly, at this point I'm not sure how anyone could oppose it; it's not likely we can hold out long enough for a better commander in chief to come along and un#%&k this. (But those who think they'd like the job had best first understand exactly what the job is.)
If you weren't aware those negotiations were going on, or that the United States Secretary of State had all but declared the war effort a failure in the Senate (arguably not a first for her, just the first in her current job and for this specific battlefield), and wondering why you hadn't seen something that important on television, rest assured that while leaked, this secret isn't something the administration wants all of America talking about just yet. Like the latest from Libya or the Gunwalker "scandal" it's not ready for prime time - and may never be. In fairness, however, we can't completely blame the media - news of the president's announcement that he would indeed withdraw 30,000 of the 100,000 US troops in Afghanistan in time for the 2012 elections combined with congressional failure to decide whether our participation in the civil war in Libya met with their approval or not dominated the defense-related headlines that week.
But let's give credit where due. Keeping in mind current US national security doctrine: "I'm not going to fight a war that costs me the whole Democratic Party" - as far as holding on to the White House goes, this might be, as Secretary Clinton says, the least-bad choice from a menu of bad choices. If disaster in Afghanistan can be staved off until after the next election, if we can bring 30,000 troops home in time to attend the October 2012 premier of the movie about how Obama killed bin Laden, then the problem of the other 70k becomes President Next's. If that's President Same it doesn't matter; Obama couldn't run again and Afghanistan is an impediment to many other domestic programs he (and most anyone) would rather spend that money on. If it's President Republican, then he or she can deal with it - including a long-dormant "anti-war movement" ready to take the streets. That's a win-win for Team O, but to pull it off, they'll need some cooperation from Team Mullah O.
Certainly we must negotiate with the enemy - if that wasn't a generic truth it wouldn't be part of the cover. Negotiation from a position of power (see Iraq 2007-2008 for several examples) is a mandatory prerequisite for victory - but done from weakness it leads to headlines* like "Secret peace talks between US and Taliban collapse." Conducted by fools it leads to excuses like "over leaks" - the blame for which is placed on "'paranoid' Afghan government figures" who for some reason think they're being screwed. (Don't feel bad if you weren't aware of that collapse, the loss of an Army helicopter full of Air Force, Navy, and Afghan special operations troops dominated the defense headlines last week.)
But don't feel bad doesn't mean don't feel angry. After all, we live in a world where another Senator recently asked (with a straight face) the theater commander of American forces in time of war if "keeping more forces in Afghanistan longer" (rather than withdrawing just under one third in time for the next presidential election) wouldn't have "signaled to the enemy and to our regional partners that the Taliban still possessed strength enough to warrant the full measure of our presence?" - and got an answer that you won't see on TV, either.
Instead you'll get this.
* Footnote: I suppose it should be acknowledged that we live in a world where the "talks collapse" story might not be true...
Posted by Greyhawk / August 15, 2011 10:00 AM | 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...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
Furthermore, I will occasionally use satire or parody herein. The bottom line: it's my house.
I like having visitors to my house. I hope you are entertained. I fight for your right to free speech, and am thrilled when you exercise said rights here. Comments and e-mails are welcome, but all such communication is to be assumed to be 1)the original work of any who initiate said communication and 2)the property of the Mudville Gazette, with free use granted thereto for publication in electronic or written form. If you do NOT wish to have your message posted, write "CONFIDENTIAL" in the subject line of your email.
Original content copyright © 2003 - 2011 by Greyhawk. Fair, not-for-profit use of said material by others is encouraged, as long as acknowledgement and credit is given, to include the url of the original source post. Other arrangements can be made as needed.
Contact: greyhawk at mudvillegazette dot com