Informed Comment: Afghanistan Election Run-Off, Italian Scandal, Lahore Attacks on Eve of Obama Decision

  • President Obama is now said to have completed his policy review of Afghanistan and now to be moving toward making a decision about whether he will pursue a wide-ranging counter-insurgency strategy that implies substantial investment in state-building (as recommended by Gen. Stanley McChrystal and apparently by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton), or whether he will adopt the much more modest counter-terrorism strategy proposed by Vice President Joe Biden.

  • It now seems increasingly likely that there will be a run-off in the Afghanistan presidential contest between incumbent Hamid Karzai and his chief rival Abdullah Abdullah. As fraudulent ballots have been tossed out, Karzai’s margin of victory has apparently fallen below the 50% threshold that would have allowed him to avoid a run-off. Since, however, Abdullah Abdullah’s support largely comes from the Tajik (Dari Persian-speaking Sunnis) ethnic group, and Karzai’s strongest support comes from anti-Taliban Pashtuns, there are fears that the run-off might produce increased ethnic tensions and even violence. On the other hand, had Karzai been declared the victor on the basis of clearly fraudulent ballots, it would have fatally undermined the legitimacy of his government.
  • Dr. Juan Cole is among the most trustworthy of Middle Ease experts. He has amazing contacts and speaks who knows how many of the languages.

    The thing about the run-off election is the timing. It has to happen very rapidly before winter shuts down everything. It is not certain that President Karzai will certify the UN election panel’s findings, either. President Obama has no good or easy options for his long awaited Afghanistan strategy.

    Posted via web from Southwest Postings

    High profile journalists weigh in on the Afghanistan plan —

    There are a number of good reasons for the Obama administration to review the plan for Afghanistan and Pakistan.  The election of an Afghan president has yet to be settled; a runoff may be necessary.The strength of the Taliban insurgency has nearly quadrupled since 2006.  Reuters reported that, "A U.S. intelligence assessment, showing the number of fighters in the insurgency has reached an estimated 25,000 from 7,000 in 2006, spotlights Taliban gains and the tough choices facing President Barack Obama in trying to reverse the trend."  Senators are beginning to take one side or the other in the debate.  Senator Levin, chair of the Armed Services Committee, came out early as opposed to sending any more troops.  More recently Senator Inouye, heading the Appropriations Committee, is supporting General McChrystal's plan.  Glenn Greenwald, writing for Salon.com, on Tuesday effectively analyzed what is at stake in this for Democrats.

    Arianna Huffington
    led the political news headline lists on Wednesday with her provocative piece titled, "Why Joe Biden Should Resign."  Like so many other readers, my first thought was, "my goodness, what has he done now?"  And I immediately clicked on the HuffPo article.  Well, the Vice President's only transgression was to do what the man who chose him expected.  Joe Biden staked out the other end of the spectrum of the escalate-now view.  And Huffington's article calls upon Vice President Biden to resign in protest if the military's escalate-first view becomes the centerpiece of the administration's strategic plan.

    Politico.com published an excellent article about who might have leaked General McChystal's Afghanistan assessment to the Washington Post's Bob Woodward.  Ben Smith offers a wide range of plausible possibilities, but no conclusions, except that the leak highlights the divisions within the Obama administration  over a future Afghanistan strategy.  And it really does not matter who leaked the information, because the administration has no plans to focus on finding the culprit or hero, depending on your point of view.

    George Will wrote a column for the Washington Post on September 1 that recommended "Reduce troops and revamp Afghan strategy."  He concludes unequivocally:

    U.S. forces are being increased by 21,000 to 68,000, bringing the coalition total to 110,000. About 9,000 are from Britain, where support for the war is waning. Counterinsurgency theory concerning the time and the ratio of forces required to protect the population indicates that, nationwide, Afghanistan would need hundreds of thousands of coalition troops, perhaps for a decade or more. That is inconceivable.

    So, instead, forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, air strikes and small, potent special forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.

    Genius, said de Gaulle, recalling Bismarck's decision to halt German forces short of Paris in 1870, sometimes consists of knowing when to stop. Genius is not required to recognize that in Afghanistan, when means now, before more American valor, such as Allen's, is squandered.

    Roger Simon, also of Politico, wrote an excellent and very clear-eyed piece last month that discussed the evolution of the United States mission in Afghanistan over the years.  The terms used were "mission creep to mission gallop."  The pace or destination is central to the administration's current strategic planning project.  Simon's stark conclusion is one with which I tend to agree.:

    So send more troops, or lose the whole shooting match. It is easy to see why the memo was leaked. The Pentagon does not want Obama to go wobbly on Afghanistan. It wants him to stay and fight. And stay and stay and stay.

    “I don’t have a deadline for withdrawal,” Obama told David Gregory on “Meet the Press” Sunday, “but I’m certainly not somebody who believes in indefinite occupations of other countries.”

    But if Iraq was George W. Bush’s war — and it certainly was — Afghanistan has now become Barack Obama’s war. He wasn’t the president who started it, but he can be the president who finishes it.

    Or he can be the president who stays there indefinitely.

    Because I am not one of the high profile journalists featured in today's post, I am a bit reluctant to weigh in myself.  But I will.  My vote for President Obama was predicated upon his commitment to get out of Iraq and go after Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.  I believed that the U.S. needs to finish the job ignored by the Bush administration.  That does not mean replay Iraq in Afghanistan.  It is time to get back on point — pursuit of Al Qaeda.

    Posted via email from Southwest Postings

    South Asia plans keep members of the media breathless with curiosity

    Planning for next steps in Afghanistan continues — National Security Adviser former Gen. Jim Jones will brief the full House on the Afghanistan situation in a closed meeting later this week in the Capitol Visitor Center, according to The Hill.  White House advisers appear to be split on what to do in Afghanistan. Administration spokesman, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, has ruled out the option of leaving Afghanistan and also refused to rebuke Commanding General Stanley McChrystal's very public stance. Congressional leaders head to the White House on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the worsening situation , adding their input to help the President make his decision.  "President summons congressional leaders on Afghanistan strategy," is the headline from The Hill (10/5/09).  To quote:

    The meeting comes amid mounting casualties in the eight-year war and as President Barack Obama weighs a pending request for 40,000 more troops from the leading commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

    It is the first time in six months that House Republican leaders have been invited to the White House to discuss official business; Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) are both scheduled to attend. If Obama decides to send all the troops McChrystal wants, he will probably need Republican votes to sustain the escalation.

    Pakistan pushes back — Congress passed an aid package for Pakistan of $1.5 billion a year for the next five years last week. President Asif Ali Zardari acceded to the demands of Congress contained in the law.  Pakistan agreed to end support of terrorist groups in its country.  It will also make sure that its military does not interfere with civilian politics. The headline, "U.S. Push to Expand in Pakistan Meets Resistance^," is from The New York Times (10/6/09).  To quote:

    Steps by the United States to vastly expand its aid to Pakistan, as well as the footprint of its embassy and private security contractors here, are aggravating an already volatile anti-American mood as Washington pushes for greater action by the government against the Taliban.

    Short takes from others —

    Chuck Todd^ tweets (10/5/09), "Ponder this: Obama admin sees al Qaeda has an org U.S. needs to DESTROY while the Taliban is a group that needs to be DEFEATED. Thots?"

    "Gates to Army: We'll follow Obama's orders on Afghanistan," is from McClatchy News (10/5/09).  I favor McClatchy for providing the most helpful coverage of the situation in the war zones.

    "Voice of Bush's favored general is now harder to hear," is by Elizabeth Bumiller at the New York Times (10/4/09).  Her report refers to General David Petraeus.

    "Obama Meets Advisers on Afghanistan; Ismail Khan Warns against US Troop Surge," is by Professor Juan Cole at Informed Comment (10/1/09). Good analysis from my favorite Middle East expert.

    "Containing a Nuclear Iran#," is by Fareed Zakaria from Newsweek Magazine (10/3/09).  HT to my regular contributor of links, Jon for this good piece.

    Posted via email from Southwest Postings

    Thursday’s Military News Items Take Center Stage.

    A brewing split regarding whether to send more troops to Afghanistan pits Democrats against Republicans and placeds President Obama squarely in the middle of the disagreement.  Jim Lobe wrote an excellent foreign policy analysis of  the issues for the Asia Times (9/17/09).  Lobe begins by saying that the question “poses one of the most difficult political challenges faced by President Barack Obama in his first year in office,” asking how the President faces alienating members of his own party, while gathering a great deal of support from the opposition party.  Read the rest of this insightful piece to get a very good objective picture of the Commander-in-chief’s brewing dilemma.

    Senators were presented with plans for success in Afghanistan and Pakistan Wednesday, according to the Congressional Quarterly (9/16/09).  Six pertinent committees related to national security in the House of Representatives will be briefed Thursday.  The article contains interesting specifics about the military objectives in the region, as well as reactions by the key senate committee chairmen.  To quote from the Quarterly:

    . . . a draft list of U.S. objectives in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and measures of progress toward achieving them.. . [an] unclassified document, . . . shows the importance of nuclear-armed Pakistan in the administration’s approach to the regional conflict. It also shows an emphasis on soliciting support from other nations to address the problem.. . . The goal of the United States,” the document begins, “is to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future.”

    The United States is going to announce Thursday that it will drop plans to build a European missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic (purportedly against an Iranian missile attack), the Financial Times reported (9/17/09).  No doubt, the Times wrote, this “will significantly boost US relations with Russia,” who felt the “Bush era scheme . . . a threat to its national security.”  The story also opined that the decision was influenced by the idea that Iran’s nuclear program has not progressed as fast as predicted, and that the decision also will not please the European countries originally involved in the plan.

    According to the Army Times, “The Universal Camoflage Pattern” for the Army’s soldiers does not do the job as well as other patterns, a new study has reported (9/17/09).  HT to ProPublica for this and the following item: Pentagon Study Proposes Overhaul of Defense Base Act to Cover Care for Injured Contractors. T. Christian Miller’s September 16 investigative news story reveals that “Congress could save as much as $250 million a year through a sweeping overhaul of the controversial U.S. system to care for civilian contractors injured in war zones, according to a new Pentagon study.”  Just like civilians at home, the contractors often face long battles to get medical treatment and disability pay.

    (Image by Spc. Christa Martin 11-3-06)

    Related references:

    • From Behind the Lines, by David C. Morrison (9/16/09).  To quote:

    Follow the money: “Financing is the soft underbelly of terrorism, and the financiers of terrorism greatly fear transparency and financial loss. They are particularly susceptible to deterrence through risk of exposure,” a National Post op-ed propounds. A Saudi charity believed to be an al Qaeda front has provided $15 million to Pakistani extremist groups to fund terror attacks, The International News quotes a secret police report. . . .“Long after the ending of the Cold War, the chance that some nuclear weapons will [be used] may well be higher than it was before the fall of the Berlin Wall,” Daniel Ellsberg alerts in the Bloomington Alternative. Iran’s nuclear ambitions are “an existential threat to our way of life,” a retired general argues in Human Events.

    The Taliban has made roadside bombs even deadlier, The Washington Times tells — as ReportLinker offers a new study plumbing the “Counter-IED Systems Market,” priced at a mere $2,141.

    Posted via email from Southwest Postings

    David Baldacci – At it again: a reprise

    [Original post date – 11/9/07] Thursdays usually focus on the wars, the Middle East or national security. Baldacci’s books are thrillers about national security.

    Best selling novelist, David Baldacci’s new book Stone Cold came out this week, and I was privileged to read an advance copy. What fun it was to discover this new (to me, at least) author. He writes about one of my blog’s favorite fascinations, the federal government. ” Spooks, Spies – Eyes and Ears in the Skies,” is one example. I cannot imagine where I have been all this time.

    During the past ten years, 13 of Baldacci’s books have been bestsellers. They should have been familiar to me, because my blogs are often written about what is behind the door of chilling government power — spying, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, illegal domestic surveillance and threats to civil liberties, all subjects woven through the scenes in this author’s books.

    This novel’s fascinating main characters will be familiar to dedicated Baldacci fans because Stone Cold is the third in his popular Camel Club series. Traits found in lead characters were carefully woven in moral shades of gray in several previous novels; two of the best sellers were “The Collectors” and “Simple Genius.” And the new book does not disappoint; we meet people who span the warp and woof of good and bad, flawed and heroic. Baldacci uses an interesting technique; he lets his readers in on his character’s thoughts via italics. For example – a CIA man trying to find his targets reflects on his experience:

    . . . Gray’s men had checked. Still, with Carter Gray’s resources no one should be able to simply vanish. No wonder these terrorist sleeper cells were proving nearly impossible to uncover. America was too damn big and too damn free. In some ways the Soviets had had it right: Spy on everybody because you never know when a friend might turn into an enemy.

    Baldacci’s fiction tapestry is that of government. His is not the government you and I would know from mainstream media accounts. Baldacci’s is a very recognizable shadowy universe that hides spooks, spies and assassins, the CIA, the FBI, the NSA, the Secret Service, and even the Chair of the Senate Intel committee. He introduces a new character in this book, nemesis “Harry Finn.” Psychologically astute, Baldacci often lets you know what his characters think. Here is a wonderful example:

    . . . And when Gray had left the government, he had also left most of his protection behind. . . but Finn was confident he would eventually get to the man.

    When Finn looked at the life he had now as part of a family of five in a quite ordinary Virginia suburb complete with a lovable dog, music lessons, soccer matches, baseball games and swim meets, and compared it to the life he has as a child, the juxtaposition was close to apocalyptic in its effect on him. That’s why he rarely thought of these things close together. That’s why he was Harry Finn, King of Compartmentalization. He could build walls in his mind nothing could pierce.

    With this novel I walked into what seem to be very complex and realistic scenes from the high powered world of governance. I now know what I have been missing — a dynamite read, at times almost literally. Because his characters have the latest nifty gadgets and like to blow things up, a computer becomes the weapon in one of the author’s intricately interwoven plot lines. To quote from the book:

    Finn had been able to get his device past security because it didn’t have any explosive materials in it. Instead, the device had been designed to ignite a chemical reaction inside the components in the CPU. It was a reaction that would make the otherwise harmless CPU a bomb, a possibility no one in the computer industry would want you to know.

    Meet Baldacci’s well known hero, “Oliver Stone.” Asked in a Publishers Weekly interview why he named the lead character after a famous film director, Baldacci said, “Stone the film director has a reputation for taking on controversial subjects. Naming my character after him was an act of homage to a man who isn’t afraid to take unpopular positions.” To quote the author from another interview:

    Oliver Stone first entered my imagination when I was a young lawyer. I walked past Lafayette Park in the mid-1980s and saw the protesters there. Fast-forward nearly twenty years and the sign, “I want the truth,” is flying proudly in that same park, at least fictionally. Gray characters are the most interesting. They have flaws, divided loyalties, moral complexity, and internal debates about what to do. Do the ends always justify the means? We’ve seen it recently with the Bush administration where you had former Attorney General Ashcroft and his top lieutenants ready to hand in their resignations over the warrantless surveillance matter.

    To quote from Stone Cold‘s subsequent park scene from above, Oliver Stone approaches the White House:

    He would never be allowed to enter the front gates and lacked even the right to stand on that coveted side of Pennsylvania Avenue. What he could do was wait in Lafayette park across the street. He used to have a tent there until the Secret Service made him take it down. Yet freedom of speech was still alive and well in America and thus his banner had remained. Unfurled between two pieces of rebar stuck in the ground, it read, “I want the truth.” So did a few other people in this town, it was rumored. To date, Stone had never heard of anyone actually finding it within the confines of the world capital of spin and deceit.

    This skilled writer will introduce you to fast-paced and easy to follow threads of intrigue, mystery, complex twists and turns guaranteed to keep you turning the pages. In Washington D.C. for book signings on Wednesday, David Baldacci is scheduled to be in Richmond, VA on Saturday, Nov. 17. He plans to be at the Barnes and Noble store on Brook Road at 2:00 p.m., if you live in the area.

    In conclusion — and because I am also a reading advocate — I learned that Baldacci and his wife are passionate about keeping families reading. In 1999 they founded the “Wish You Well Foundation.” The organization’s mission is to support family literacy in the U.S. by fostering and promoting the development and expansion of new and existing literacy and educational programs.

    Partnering against the cold of hunger — His foundation has recently partnered with America’s Second Harvest: The Nation’s Food Bank Network, the largest domestic hunger-relief organization in the U.S. to donate books to families in need. The joint initiative is called “Feeding Body and Mind.” Donations are coming in from all around the world, and they are now seeking corporate sponsorship to continue broadening their efforts.

    My “creativity and dreaming” post today at Making Good Mondays is about Twitter.

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    Blogs: My general purpose/southwest focus blog is at Southwest Progressive. My creative website is at Making Good Mondays. And Carol Gee – Online Universe is the all-in-one home page for all my websites.