Two Tuesday Links

Peter Suderman at Reason on ACA claims that the law is lowering health spending overall:

‘Obamacare may be having a small effect on health spending growth at the margins, and it’s possible it will have a bigger effect in years to come. But the bulk of the slowdown so far is more likely a result of the recession over the last few years and significantly increased adoption of consumer-driven health plans in the years prior to the economic downturn. ‘

Bob Woodward At The Washington Post on Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates new memoir.  War or continued war that is likely to bear little fruit, this blog is concerned about coming up with a strategy for Afghanistan.

Appealing to a pro-peace base, setting a timeline, and pulling-out does not necessarily meet our objective:

‘As I sat there, I thought: the president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand [Afghanistan President Hamid] Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.”

More on Gates’s career at the link.

Addition:  Another Gates quote:

‘Today, too many ideologues call for U.S. force as the first option rather than a last resort. On the left, we hear about the “responsibility to protect” civilians to justify military intervention in Libya, Syria, Sudan and elsewhere. On the right, the failure to strike Syria or Iran is deemed an abdication of U.S. leadership. And so the rest of the world sees the U.S. as a militaristic country quick to launch planes, cruise missiles and drones deep into sovereign countries or ungoverned spaces’

Pauline Baker At The American Interest: ‘Unraveling Afghanistan’

Full piece here.

‘Many Americans think that President Barack Obama’s decision to withdraw most if not all U.S. combat forces from Afghanistan by the end of this year will end the U.S. role in that country’s travails. To the extent they think about Afghanistan at all, most Americans seem to assume that when the last combat soldier has departed from what has been the longest war in American history, the United States (and its International Security Assistance Force [ISAF] allies) can close the book on Afghanistan with a mixed record of accomplishment.’

Have we met our objective?

From accounts I’ve heard, what doesn’t often reach the American public is how fierce the fighting in Afghanistan can be, how much we’ve asked of our troops in fulfilling such a broad mission, and how we still haven’t reached our objective, which is to prevent further attacks on our soil.

Corruption runs rampant, illiteracy remains high, and decades of war have ruined the infrastructure.  Under such conditions, and with so many different ethnic and linguistic groups, it’s tough to provide basic security and incentivize the good in people, allowing interested local village elders, farmers and decent folks have a shot at stability. Afghanistan was most recently headed by a thuggish gang of religious purists, warlords and opium-traffickers, and may well soon be again.

Many of these guys, whose ancestors likely fought against the British, and a few elders who fought against the Soviets, are now aiding or abetting the enemy, and/or are fighting our troops. It’s their backyard, after all, but it’d be much better not to have these local and tribal grievances become the fuel for an international fire, and the opening for the Taliban to fill back in. If so, this opens the door to the global ambitions of Islamist franchises like Al Qaeda once again.

Which means we could be right back where we started.

Interestingly, the concerns of Western secular humanists and global peace-workers actually line-up pretty well with traditional, conservative, pro-military supporters:  We’ve got to keep thinking about solutions and a larger strategy when it comes to this region.

It’s not really over, even though this is the longest war we’ve ever had:

Vice had some coverage:

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From Walter Russell Mead: ‘Hastily Leaving Afghanistan Won’t Encourage Taliban To Make Concessions:’

‘And there are still lots of countries in the region that don’t want Afghanistan to fall under Taliban rule again: Iran, Russia, China, and India all think this would be a terrible outcome. We shouldn’t assume that Mullah Omar is going to get everything he wants’

Sarah Chayes’ Essay From 03/01/2007:  ‘Days Of Lies & Roses

Canadian documentarian Louie Palu covered the Kandahar region of southwest Afghanistan, where much of the fiercest fighting has occurred, and where the British, Soviets and coalition forces have fought.

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Related On This SiteFrom March 27th, 2009 At WhiteHouse.Gov: Remarks By The President On A New Strategy For Afghanistan And PakistanStephen Biddle At Foreign Affairs: ‘Running Out Of Time For Afghan Governance Reform’

Repost-From Michael Yon: ‘The Battle For Kandahar’Dexter Filkins Book On Afghanistan And Iraq: “The Forever War”Monday Quotations-Henry KissingerTom Ricks Via Foreign Policy: ‘American General Dies In Afghanistan; An American Lt. Col. Goes Off The Reservation

Some Wednesday Links On Afghanistan

From Vice.com:  Some of the daily challenges our soldiers have faced in being asked to do so many things in Afghanistan.

From Walter Russell Mead: ‘Hastily Leaving Afghanistan Won’t Encourage Taliban To Make Concessions:’

‘And there are still lots of countries in the region that don’t want Afghanistan to fall under Taliban rule again: Iran, Russia, China, and India all think this would be a terrible outcome. We shouldn’t assume that Mullah Omar is going to get everything he wants’

Maybe only Pakistan might want Afghanistan to fall under Taliban rule again, but the fundamental poverty, decades of war, illiteracy, ethnic, linguistic and geographical barriers make any stable government in Afghanistan a long-shot at best.  Meanwhile, what we really don’t want are large groups of people trained only in war, in and out of Islamist ideology only emboldened and reverting the region back to what it was before we entered:  A haven for Islamist and terror planning.

This blog remains highly skeptical of the current administrations’ withdrawal plan and lack of strategic planning on Syria and Iran, but also remains aware of the deeper budgetary issues and divisions at home.

From Michael Yon: ‘Afghanistan: A Bigger Monster

‘If we execute a zero option, this is my basic worst-case prediction, which is not far from my most likely scenario prediction:’

Yon envisions a dark future with a direct withdrawal, suggesting it might even be get worse than what it was before we went in.

From Stephen Biddle:  ‘Ending The War In Afghanistan‘.

Biddle pushes for a negotiated settlement with the Taliban:

‘The international coalition fighting in Afghanistan has long planned on handing over responsibility for security there to local Afghan forces. But the original idea was that before doing so, a troop surge would clear the Taliban from strategically critical terrain and weaken the insurgency so much that the war would be close to a finish by the time the Afghans took over. That never happened. The surge made important progress, but the tight deadlines for a U.S. withdrawal and the Taliban’s resilience have left insurgents in control of enough territory to remain militarily viable well after 2014. Afghan government forces will thus inherit a more demanding job than expected.’

I still don’t think we’ve met our objective if we just pull-out, and this looks like trying to make the best of a pull-out.

Addition:  How do we meet our objective?

Related On This SiteFrom March 27th, 2009 At WhiteHouse.Gov: Remarks By The President On A New Strategy For Afghanistan And PakistanStephen Biddle At Foreign Affairs: ‘Running Out Of Time For Afghan Governance Reform’

Repost-From Michael Yon: ‘The Battle For Kandahar’Dexter Filkins Book On Afghanistan And Iraq: “The Forever War”Monday Quotations-Henry KissingerTom Ricks Via Foreign Policy: ‘American General Dies In Afghanistan; An American Lt. Col. Goes Off The Reservation

Stephen Biddle At Foreign Affairs: ‘Ending The War In Afghanistan’

Full piece here.

Biddle pushes for a negotiated settlement with the Taliban:

‘The international coalition fighting in Afghanistan has long planned on handing over responsibility for security there to local Afghan forces. But the original idea was that before doing so, a troop surge would clear the Taliban from strategically critical terrain and weaken the insurgency so much that the war would be close to a finish by the time the Afghans took over. That never happened. The surge made important progress, but the tight deadlines for a U.S. withdrawal and the Taliban’s resilience have left insurgents in control of enough territory to remain militarily viable well after 2014. Afghan government forces will thus inherit a more demanding job than expected.’

There’s much reluctance at home, from bitterly bipartisan politics and deficit spending battles to isolationism and war exhaustion, as to why we should still be in Afghanistan (and addressing the AfPak issue, really).  Much of the fighting there has been pretty nasty for our troops with the enemy either dug-in or easily melting away across the border into Pakistan.

The primary objective was clearly getting bin-Laden and breaking up his network.  We wanted to inflict a real cost on them.  To do that it was decided that the Taliban, with roots in the mujahideen against the Soviets in 1979, as factions of Islamically purist warlords, needed to be removed from power without making war with Afghans nor other Muslims necessarily.  The Taliban have been cleared away for awhile, and coalition forces have gotten rid of bin-Laden, and while I’ve heard the Al Qaeda network still has presence over the border in the FATA region of Pakistan, basic conditions on the ground haven’t changed that much:  The Taliban are pretty much expected to fill right back in, and groups sympathetic to bin-Laden enough to fight alongside, shelter and harbor him are still likely going be active throughout the region.

How do we prevent this region from remaining a haven for terrorist activity?

Feel free to highlight my ignorance.  Any thoughts and comments are welcome:

Canadian documentarian Louie Palu covered the Kandahar region of southwest Afghanistan, where much of the fiercest fighting has occurred, and where the British, Soviets and coalition forces have fought.

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And again here’s Zbigniew Brzezinski on a brief visit with the Taliban in 1979, in a rather ‘conspiratorial’ video.  You do what  you’ve gotta do, sometimes:

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Related On This SiteFrom March 27th, 2009 At WhiteHouse.Gov: Remarks By The President On A New Strategy For Afghanistan And PakistanStephen Biddle At Foreign Affairs: ‘Running Out Of Time For Afghan Governance Reform’

Repost-From Michael Yon: ‘The Battle For Kandahar’Dexter Filkins Book On Afghanistan And Iraq: “The Forever War”Monday Quotations-Henry KissingerTom Ricks Via Foreign Policy: ‘American General Dies In Afghanistan; An American Lt. Col. Goes Off The Reservation

Photo Series From The Atlantic-Afghanistan: May 2013

Photos here.

We’re still in Afghanistan.

Related On This Site: Form Foreign Affairs: ‘Stephen Biddle and Max Boot Discuss U.S. Afghanistan Policy’

Obama’s vision?  His Security Report here.

Alvaro Vargas Llosa At Real Clear Politics: “Pakistan’s Crooked Roots”

Full post here.

Our author suggests:

Pakistan’s original sin — the reason for its instability, its dysfunctional politics, and the penetration of its state and society by religious fanaticism — was the brutal influence of military rule in that republic’s short life. And it still is.”

Related On This Site:  From Michael Yon: ‘General Petraeus Letter’Dexter Filkins Book On Afghanistan And Iraq: “The Forever War”Greg Mortenson On Charlie Rose: Afghanistan And PakistanFrom Bloomberg: More Troops To Afghanistan? A Memo From Henry Kissinger To Gerald Ford?

From The Atlantic: Samuel Huntington’s Death And Life’s WorkA Few Thoughts On The FATA Region Of PakistanFrom The New Perspectives Quarterly: Francis Fukuyama’s ‘Is America Ready for a Post-American World?’

Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa (Alvaro’s father) won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

From The Atlantic Photo Journal: ‘Afghanistan: April 2013’

Photos here.

We’re still in Afghanistan.

Related On This Site: Form Foreign Affairs: ‘Stephen Biddle and Max Boot Discuss U.S. Afghanistan Policy’

Obama’s vision?  His Security Report here.

Some Tuesday Links-Two Foreign Fronts

Afghanistan-Have we met our objective of disrupting the Islamist terrorists that gather in Afpak?

Perhaps temporarily, but in the long run, no, probably not.  Nearly every American soldier has likely seen some good in what we’ve done.  The fighting has been very fierce at times.

From dnaindia:

‘US President Barack Obama has said that by the end of next year, America’s war in Afghanistan would be over. Obama said that the core objective, the reason America went to war, is now within reach- in ensuring that Al-Qaeda can never again use Afghanistan to launch attacks against America  ‘

There is no way around it:  Afghanistan is a mess.  The Taliban and our opposition really aren’t going anywhere.  Karzai is a notably unstable leader.  The government is corrupt, the army seems untrainable, the border porous.  Pakistan is not really an ally.  Our policy is adrift and commitment unsteady.

Afpak is a work in progress, and will require close attention.

Michael Yon says to cut losses.

The NY Times despite and because of its worldview has pretty good coverage.

About that objective of disrupting terror networks…what’s our plan for the future?

Mali-With or without Gerard Depardieu, French leaders will be raising troop levels from 750 to a projected 2,500 and are currently using airstrikes to bottle in the Islamist insurgency that controls the Northern half of the country.  These are a brutal bunch of competing warlords, really, seeking heaven on earth.

The US and UK are offering assistance.

How is this going to work, exactly?

***It’s good to see people so sure of good and evil these days:  Mali in throes of genocide by US, UK, France evil trio: Analyst

Perhaps, as in Libya, we are giving rise to neo-neo colonialism and its discontents.

About that objective of combatting the larger Islamist resurgence that seems to be going on,…what’s our plan for the future?

Addition:  Adam Garfinkle takes the NY Times to task for shallow coverage of Mali:

‘Hence, what’s going on in Mali is going to keep going on, in one form or another. It is likely to spread to Niger, possibly to Mauritania, too. I can barely wait for the next drive-by, nomad-journalism New York Times potshots aimed at trying to convey the shape of this burgeoning mess. Maybe one day they’ll even figure out how to connect the dots back to Libya.’

Ideologically speaking, it’s not about Libya, or the Tuareg, or the broader world outside.  It’s about shifting U.S. culture and politics to a more Western universalist lens: Their favored ideas and politicians and what they can see from inside that lens.

That’s a schism in our society, Mali, Syria, and Afghanistan aside.

Related On This Site: I don’t believe that we can appease Islamic extremists, which seems to be the premise of this administration’s approach…blunt American power and incentivize Muslim societies to drive the extreme elements out through international cooperation: Via Youtube-Uncommon Knowledge With Fouad Ajami And Charles Hill

Form Foreign Affairs: ‘Stephen Biddle and Max Boot Discuss U.S. Afghanistan Policy’

Obama’s vision?  His Security Report here.

Lara Logan On Afghanistan Via Youtube: ‘2012 BGA Annual Luncheon Keynote Speech’

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There are real enemies, and real dangers, facing the U.S.  The current administration has a big stake in claiming that Al Qaida and the Taliban are on the wane in Afghanistan, and that the timeline for withdrawal in 2014 is sound, even though ending the war in Afghanistan is not necessarily our objective (preventing another terrorist attack on our soil and protecting our way of life is our objective). This administration also claims that through its liberal internationalist doctrine, Libya has been a success and that the Benghazi attack wasn’t the result of an Al Qaida affiliate (it was the result of an Al Qaida affliliate). It’s conducting a lengthy FBI investigation while claiming that the persecutors will be brought to justice.

Logan, reporting from Afghanistan on the ground for many years, has been observing how that threat is very real.

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I put this up before:

Here’s a quote from Anne-Marie Slaughter, on liberal internationalism:

The central liberal internationalist premise is the value of a rules-based international order that restrains powerful states and thereby reassures their enemies and allies alike and allows weaker states to have sufficient voice in the system that they will not choose to exit’

What if you can’t even appease extreme and radical groups of violent Muslims as they murder your troops, diplomats and citizens, let alone get them on-board some sort of ‘rules-based international order’?

What if there is such a chasm between Western and Muslim civilizations that even less violent Muslims on the street have no clue as to the concepts we’re defending, and why, and have little to no incentive to expel the extremists from their own societies?

What if you go so far down this path that you are, or least appear to be, willing to bend on a key issue and core freedom for our country as well as our national security?

Addition: A State Department Background Briefing On Libya; a conference call transcript of some of what happened during the attack.

Related On This Site: From Eli Lake At The Daily Beast: ‘Exclusive: Libya Cable Detailed Threats’

I don’t believe that we can appease Islamic extremists, which is the whole premise of this administration’s approach…blunt American power and incentivize Muslim societies to drive the extreme elements out through international cooperation: Via Youtube-Uncommon Knowledge With Fouad Ajami And Charles Hill

Eli Lake At The Daily Beast: ‘U.S. Officials Knew Libya Attacks Were Work of Al Qaeda Affiliates’ From The BBC Via Michael Totten: ‘Libya: Islamist Militia Bases Stormed In Benghazi’

Via Reuters: ‘U.S. Ambassador To Libya Killed In Benghazi Attack’

Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest Online: ‘Obama’s War’From The WSJ: “Allies Rally To Stop Gadhafi”From March 27th, 2009 At WhiteHouse.Gov: Remarks By The President On A New Strategy For Afghanistan And PakistanFrom The New Yorker: ‘How Qaddafi Lost Libya’

Just how far Left is this administration anyways? Is Bernhard Henri-Levy actually influencing U.S. policy decisions..? From New York Magazine: ‘European Superhero Quashes Libyan Dictator’Bernhard Henri-Levy At The Daily Beast: ‘A Moral Tipping Point’Charlie Rose Episode On Libya Featuring Bernhard Henri-Levy, Les Gelb And Others

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