Nation building in Afghanistan is not our job— it is theirs.
By Eugene Robinson
Friday, June 25, 2010
The good news? Nobody has to pretend anymore that Gen. Stanley McChrystal knew how to fix Afghanistan within a year. The bad news? No
President Obama was absolutely right to sack the preening McChrystal, whose inner circle, as portrayed in Rolling Stone magazine, had all the seriousness and decorum of a frat house keg party. And it was a brilliant political move to turn to Petraeus, who is made of purest Teflon. Critics who might have been tempted to blast the president for changing horses in midstream can hardly object when he has given the reins to the man who averted a humiliating U.S. defeat in Iraq.
Note that I didn’t credit Petraeus with “winning” in Iraq. He didn’t. What he managed to do was redeem the situation to the point where the United States could begin bringing home its combat troops. If the Obama administration’s aims in Afghanistan are recalibrated to accommodate objective reality, then Petraeus can succeed there, too. But this means that the general’s assignment should be a narrow one: Lay the groundwork for a U.S. withdrawal to begin next summer, as Obama has pledged.
After relieving McChrystal of his command Wednesday, Obama called in his national security team and read the riot act. No more bickering, sniping, backbiting or name-calling, the president ordered. Play nice.
But all the comity in the world doesn’t resolve the essential tension between those who believe our goal in Afghanistan should be defined as “victory” and those who believe it should be defined as “finding the exit.” Two thousand years of history are on the side of the “exit” camp, and the fact is that at some point we’re going to leave. The question is how much time will pass — and how many more young Americans will be killed or wounded — before that inevitable day comes.
McChrystal, who designed the counterinsurgency strategy being attempted in Afghanistan, didn’t disguise his opposition to administration officials such as Vice President Biden, Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and special envoy Richard Holbrooke, who questioned whether the strategy could work. Petraeus is far too good a politician to fall into that trap. He won’t allow any daylight between himself and the civilian leadership.
But ultimately, there’s going to be no way to avoid the central question: What kind of Afghanistan will we leave behind?
One answer would be that we have to leave in place a durable, functional central government that has full legitimacy and control within the nation’s borders. This would provide the United States with a reliable ally in a dangerous region and also ensure that Afghanistan would never again be used as a launching pad for attacks by al-Qaeda. But to get the country to that point, given where it is now, could take a decade or more of sustained, concentrated attention. It would mean not just defeating the Taliban but molding the regime of Afghan President Hamid Karzai into a reasonably honest, effective government. This would be a tall order even if Karzai were a stable, consistent, loyal partner. Does anybody believe that he is?
A better answer would be that it’s enough to leave behind an Afghanistan that no longer poses a serious threat to the United States or its vital interests. Nation-building would be the Afghans’ problem, not ours.
Petraeus was successful in Iraq because he realized that he couldn’t create an Athenian democracy in Baghdad. But the highly imperfect Iraqi government is light-years beyond what the general is likely to be able to achieve in Kabul. Even after the war, Iraq was left with modern infrastructure, a highly educated and sophisticated population, and a sizable percentage of the world’s proven oil reserves. Afghanistan has none of these advantages. The political culture is stubbornly medieval; the populace is poor, uneducated and wary of foreign influences. Afghanistan does have great mineral wealth, apparently, but no mining industry to dig it out and no railroads to get it to the marketplace.
In recent testimony before Congress, Petraeus was less than definitive when asked about Obama’s July 2011 deadline. Because he has such credibility and standing in Washington, his view on when we can begin to leave Afghanistan will be more important than McChrystal’s ever was. I hope that by putting Petraeus in charge of the war, President Obama hasn’t consigned us to a longer stay. His comments Thursday seem to indicate the possibility.
Oh– and I can bet you that Petraeus told the President that he would accept this position with a few conditions– Like ‘Hey I am a Battle Field General.. And I want to WIN, [ like there is such a thing as win] not mandy-pandy around. I am going to make a few changes to your rules of combat– LIKE allow the men to shoot!!!!!” “ Oh and by the way, Rolling Stone Mag, set up McChrystal!”
Human perfection just may exist–
Come on, admit it when you have seen this , that this made you say “Wow!!”
Retro Essay from ‘Letters from America’
The pledge of allegiance
Monday mornings in almost every public elementary school in America the children rise and then they recite (or they could choose to listen to the class chanting) the pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States. It’s a single sentence and this is how it goes:
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Last week it was announced in Washington that next February 2004 the nine justices of the Supreme Court will meet one morning and begin to consider the complaint of an atheist parent who says it’s against the Constitution that he should have to make his daughter listen to “a ritual proclaiming that there is a god”.
When it does come up I imagine the young atheist will have a hard time restraining himself from a cry of shame as he stands and watches the nine justices bow their heads in prayer, as is their custom.
What clause in the Constitution does he believe is being violated? Why the very first amendment, the first item in the Bill of Rights.
It is written in the most guileless English: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”.
What could be simpler? What could be also vaguer? – The moment you reflect what the 18th Century meant by “establishment” for instance.
So many words have changed their meaning drastically since the 17th and 18th centuries – much of the Bible, much more of Shakespeare, is not understandable without explanatory footnotes.
To the Founding Fathers who wrote it “establishment” meant a religious sect.
What a pity they didn’t write the sentence the other way round: “Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion. Oh but by the way, we’re not going as a nation to have a preferred sect, it’s too late for that, it would lead to endless dissension between the Congregationalists of Massachusetts and Connecticut, the Catholics of Maryland, the Quakers of Pennsylvania..
“So, to be clearly understood, gentlemen, let’s make it plain: we shall not have a national religion like the Church of England.
“That being so it must be made equally plain that no law of Congress can prohibit any man or woman practising his/her own religion freely, everywhere – in church, in the street, in Congress, at home, away – freely.”
For 150 years this reading was simply assumed by most people. As a learned history of the Supreme Court tells us: from the founding era at the end of the 18th Century, well into the 20th Century, religion was thought to be a significant and legitimate component of American public life.
By the 1940s, however, American public life had become largely secular.
One short, offhand sentence covers a tremendous fact: the decline of religious belief in the general population of the Western nations, deeper still in Europe.
In France in 1960 one family in three were weekly churchgoers. Today it’s one in eight.
In England today only six people in a hundred claim to be devoutly religious. In the United States the comparable devout figure is 65%.
But there’s been a dramatic increase in the Americans who don’t want religion to appear in any shape or form in public life.
Hence these continual appeals to the courts, from keeping religious symbols of any public building, all the way to banning the use of the word god in political speech.
To put it more formally, the atheists have gone bananas in the extent to which they misinterpret the first amendment – as you’ll see from the final appeal of this young father who wants “under God” taken out of the pledge of allegiance.
Well, let’s go back to the pledge and its invention.
It was composed by an ex-minister and published in a magazine called The Youth Companion.
When? That’s the point – 1892.
The Congress leapt at a happy idea. Since the upcoming 12th October marked the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of America, that would be the perfect day to introduce the chanting of the pledge as a daily ritual in the elementary schools.
And so it was. But no mention of under God. “One nation under God” did not appear until 1954.
Why 1954 I wondered? I never saw a story explaining why. I thought some digging was necessary and it’s turned out that a little digging produced a load of pay dirt.
In early 1954 at a conference of the four allied powers occupying Germany, the United States, Britain and France were all for reunifying Germany under one government.
The Soviets were absolutely opposed and had in Europe armies five times the size of the combined allied armies. So that was that.
Far away in French Indochina the French were collapsing against Vietnamese guerrillas fighting to be independent.
The French begged President Eisenhower to help with American troops. Eisenhower said no troops.
But he made an impassioned public assertion that the defeat of Communism in South East Asia was vital. That if one country went Communist the neighbours could fall too, like a row of dominoes.
This was a pressing fear in Washington at that time, fears for Malaysia, Indochina, for Burma and India.
Also 1954 was the heyday of a middle western senator who, after a high State Department official had been convicted of passing papers to the Soviet Union, launched an immensely popular campaign to root Communists out of American government.
He gave us alarming numbers but he never actually came up with a positive Communist who had not declared himself.
Nevertheless, such was the fear of the time that from Moscow to Asia “godless Communism” might prevail.
President Eisenhower, many public men and women, used that phrase over and over.
And it was by executive order on Flag Day 1954 that President Eisenhower ordered the pledge now to read “I pledge allegiance to the flag” and so on, “and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God indivisible.”
So far as the young protesting father’s concerned, the villain of the peace is not – as most people think – the Congress of the United States but the late, great Ike, supreme commander of the invading forces in Europe and later president of the United States.
If the young father wins surely somebody will then mount a crusade to have erased from all dollar bills of every denomination the sentence printed in brazen capital letters: “In God we trust”.
And if he wins that will entail destroying every bill and totally reprinting the United States currency.
It would cost the Treasury – the taxpayer, that is – well, it’s been figured maybe $7-8bn.
But what’s that to the average taxpayer? He’s already going to have to find 20 billions for tidying up Iraq.
A recent visitor from Europe remarked at some point how often in daily conversation here he had heard the passing phrase “just before 9/11″, or “about a month after September 11″, or “Oh, 11 September changed all that.”
I tried to explain to him how we felt personally outraged, what a traumatic event it was and perhaps one you could not feel if you saw it on television from 3,000 miles away.
To have had this feeling and find it still there deep inside, since we were never told that American intelligence agents had foiled plotted atrocities as large and murderous as the bombing of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.
How I wish I had read two years ago a piece I came on the other night when I picked up one of my standby bedtime books, Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi.
He’s writing about a recollection of life in the South where he’d spent so much time of his youth.
This passage, however, is about a sharp distinction between social conversation in the North and the South in the decade after the end of the Civil War. I imagine this piece must have been written about late 1870s or 1880.
“In the North one hears the war mentioned in social conversation once a month, sometimes once a week but as a distinct subject for talk it has long been relieved of duty.
“Given a company of six gentlemen, four possibly five were not in the field at all. Add six ladies and you will have added six people who saw little of the dread realities of the war and ran out of talk about it years ago.
“The case is very different in the South. There every man you meet was in the war and every lady you meet saw the war. The interest in the war is still vivid and constant, it’s what AD is, elsewhere they date from it.
“Things happened ‘since the war’ or ‘during the war’ or ‘about two years after the war’.
“You can’t talk pale, inconsequent matters when you’ve got a crimson fact in your head that you’re burning to fetch out. This gives the inexperienced stranger better than anything else the sense of what a vast and comprehensive calamity invasion is.”
Invasion is the key word. We felt that the bombing of the Towers and the Pentagon was an invasion of this country.
We came, as perhaps Europeans could not, to feel that this was the beginning of a war, of the Third World War and an alarming novelty of war: one against a worldwide enemy who is invisible
h/t to my buddy Brian at Memoirs of a Godless Heathen where he posted a link to the PBS interview with Ralph Nader yesterday. Ralph is a true leader and American hero. He has done more for this country than either McCain or Obama, hands down. He is more ‘presidential’ than either.
To quote Brian:
I happen to be flipping through the channels and decided to watch some news on PBS. Lo and behold I see none other than Ralph Nader giving an interview. I suggest anyone reading this download the following MP3 to hear the entire interview:
I have to admit, I almost flipped. I had almost fallen for the Obama fever. Don’t get me wrong, I like Obama, but compared with Nader’s performance tonight, his speeches are elementary mantras of little substance. Now I can see why they don’t like to let independent candidates into the debates: most of them would clean the major party politicians’ clocks.
Brian nails it. Most Americans are duped into believing that the swell words from Obama will bring ‘Change’. It won’t.
I wish you people would wake the fuck up.
My buddy Brian has a great post up today where he expresses how he handles a Christian’s insistence that God provides a person’s morals. Nicely done:
Sometimes a Christian will ask me, “how can you be a moral person without God? What’s the motivation to live a moral life if you’re not accountable for it anyway? Where do your morals come from?”
Rather than go through an exhaustive analysis of why these questions are flawed, I’m going to make a list. See, God may tell Christians not to murder or steal and all that good stuff, but really, not murdering and stealing is really basic human common sense. If we’re going to praise God for all those great rules he supposedly came up with, what about all those nasty morals he came up with? I would argue that my lack of a belief in God makes me a more moral person than someone who is religious. My moral choices aren’t made out of fear of eternal punishment. Just as I don’t have a reason to have “good” morals, I don’t have an excuse for bad ones, either.
B’Man: I find it the ultimate hypocrisy when leaders of a group of people who make up somewhere around 90% or more of Americans claim that they are being ‘persecuted’. They feign hurt and false flag events in their cause and use people who claim to be Christian, but have evil intent in their hearts.
Look at Bill O’Reilly and his ‘Christian’ protectionist identity, although he has some weird fetishes (loofas, anyone?) and was sued by Andrea Makris over his unwanted advances. But just his obvious hatred for most of America and certainly free speech and other liberties, shows he is about something more than patriotism or Christendom. As a matter of fact, anyone who suggests he is a ‘man of God’ is an obvious charlatan or imbecile.
My friend Brian (Memoirs of a Godless Heathen) has a great post up about this phenomena and it hits home…
Certain Christian elements in the media today are perpetuating a myth, a lie, that their religion is somehow under attack. Christian conservative commentator Bill O’Reilly calls it a “Culture War.” He cites the fact that businesses are not using the phrase “Merry Christmas” but instead “Happy Holidays” during winter solstice season as proof that reverence to God is going by the wayside, that Christian “values” are under attack by “secularists.” Also cited is the fact that compulsory school prayer met it’s end in the 1960′s.
One of the greatest lies ever told by these Christians is that prayer was removed from public schools. It is completely and utterly untrue. Every public school student is 100% free to express their religious beliefs, to pray whenever and however they wish, and to even hold and organize bible clubs. When I attended public school, I remember a 6th grade teacher of mine who had a Bible prominently displayed on his desk. He made the point that even though he wasn’t allowed to teach it in the context of religious instruction (although he did use it for historical purposes), the constitution allowed him to have it.
Christians lost zero freedom to practice their religion in 1963. Christian children were and are still absolutely free to pray in school. What the O’Hair case did was remove mandatory, coerced prayer from school. The case merely changed the status of prayer from mandatory to voluntary. So if what these Christians want is mandatory school prayer, why don’t they move to Saudi Arabia? Oh, that’s right! The forced, mandatory prayer in Saudi Arabia is not of the religion they prefer and it’s not to the God they worship. For some reason, it’s only okay to force children to pray if it’s to the God you happen to worship!
What these Christians are really lamenting is the systematic dismantling of the unconstitutional government sponsorship of their faith. Losing this favored position is causing them to cry “persecution!” To these Christians, it is persecution to treat all other faiths and non-faiths equally instead of giving Christianity the advantage. It’s laughable to think that Christianity is a persecuted religion when one considers that the mass media, government, and most of the business world is run by them.
What’s really happening here is that Christians are noticing their children aren’t praying on their own in school. They’re not thinking about God and they’re not thinking about the Church. These Christians now want the government to step in and force their children, along with all those who may not share their beliefs, to pray and practice the preferred religion. This is the same motivation that stops alcohol and cars from being sold on Sundays in certain places. They are trying to use the government as a moral enforcer, even against those who don’t share the same beliefs.
We’ve seen what governments are like when combined with religion, and there has never been a good result. From the Christianity-dominated middle ages to the Islamic terrorist states like Saudi Arabia; when one religion uses the government to enforce it’s rules on the rest of the population, even if that population’s majority shares the same beliefs, violence and brutality take hold and freedom dies a slow, painful death.
It’s not my problem if you can’t get your parishoners to stop drinking, or your children to pray before they eat lunch at school. Don’t make me or my children conform to your rules. I have the right to decide how I’m going to live, and I have the right to decide what rules my children will live under. My children have the right to decide if they’re going to follow those rules and I have the right to decide the punishments for breaking them. Forcing your religion on me through governmental interference to remedy your wayward followers goes against everything for which the principles of freedom and this country stand.
Our founding fathers chose “E Pluribus Unum,” not “In God We Trust” as our country’s motto. This nation was to be a haven from the state churches of Europe, where religious belief was compulsory. It saddens me that some Christians want to make their local and federal governments into a sort of modern-day “state church.” We are a nation of many ideals, many religions, many philosophies, and many beliefs, united under the banner of freedom. Never could there be a more perfect way to describe us than that motto on the great seal, a motto that means in English “Out of many, one.”