Sunday, August 29, 2010

Wild time in the North Atlantic

Hurricane Danielle (top center), Hurricane Earl (bottom center) and "97L" (bottom right). The image reminds me of those from the Hubble Space Telescope showing galaxy clusters.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Goldberg’s Bogus ‘Ticking Clock’ on Iran

The following response to Jeffrey Goldberg's Atlantic Monthly campaign to stoke anxiety over Iran's "nuclear aspirations" is posted at Rootless Cosmopolitan.

By Tony Karon

America’s march to a disastrous war in Iraq began in the media, where an unprovoked U.S. invasion of an Arab country was introduced as a legitimate policy option, then debated as a prudent and necessary one. Now, a similarly flawed media conversation on Iran is gaining momentum.

Last month, TIME’s Joe Klein warned that Obama administration sources had told him bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities was “back on the table.” In an interview with CNN, former CIA director Admiral Mike Hayden next spoke of an “inexorable” dynamic toward confrontation, claiming that bombing was a more viable option for the Obama administration than it had been for George W. Bush. The pièce de résistance in the most recent drum roll of bomb-Iran alerts, however, came from Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic Monthly. A journalist influential in U.S. pro-Israeli circles, he also has access to Israel’s corridors of power. Because sanctions were unlikely to force Iran to back down on its uranium enrichment project, Goldberg invited readers to believe that there was a more than even chance Israel would launch a military strike on the country by next summer.

His piece, which sparked considerable debate in both the blogosphere and the traditional media, was certainly an odd one. After all, despite the dramatics he deployed, including vivid descriptions of the Israeli battle plan, and his tendency to paint Iran as a new Auschwitz, he also made clear that many of his top Israeli sources simply didn’t believe Iran would launch nuclear weapons against Israel, even if it acquired them.

Nonetheless, Goldberg warned, absent an Iranian white flag soon, Israel would indeed launch that war in summer 2011, and it, in turn, was guaranteed to plunge the region into chaos. The message: the Obama administration better do more to confront Iran or Israel will act crazy.

Continue reading at Rootless Cosmopolitan

Friday, August 27, 2010

Washington Rules

The following excerpt comes from

The Unmaking of a Company Man
An Education Begun in the Shadow of the Brandenburg Gate

By Andrew Bacevich

Worldly ambition inhibits true learning. Ask me. I know. A young man in a hurry is nearly uneducable: He knows what he wants and where he’s headed; when it comes to looking back or entertaining heretical thoughts, he has neither the time nor the inclination. All that counts is that he is going somewhere. Only as ambition wanes does education become a possibility.

My own education did not commence until I had reached middle age. I can fix its start date with precision: for me, education began in Berlin, on a winter’s evening, at the Brandenburg Gate, not long after the Berlin Wall had fallen.

As an officer in the U.S. Army I had spent considerable time in Germany. Until that moment, however, my family and I had never had occasion to visit this most famous of German cities, still littered with artifacts of a deeply repellent history. At the end of a long day of exploration, we found ourselves in what had, until just months before, been the communist East. It was late and we were hungry, but I insisted on walking the length of the Unter den Linden, from the River Spree to the gate itself. A cold rain was falling and the pavement glistened. The buildings lining the avenue, dating from the era of Prussian kings, were dark, dirty, and pitted. Few people were about. It was hardly a night for sightseeing.

For as long as I could remember, the Brandenburg Gate had been the preeminent symbol of the age and Berlin the epicenter of contemporary history. Yet by the time I made it to the once and future German capital, history was already moving on. The Cold War had abruptly ended. A divided city and a divided nation had reunited.

For Americans who had known Berlin only from a distance, the city existed primarily as a metaphor. Pick a date -- 1933, 1942, 1945, 1948, 1961, 1989 -- and Berlin becomes an instructive symbol of power, depravity, tragedy, defiance, endurance, or vindication. For those inclined to view the past as a chronicle of parables, the modern history of Berlin offered an abundance of material. The greatest of those parables emerged from the events of 1933 to 1945, an epic tale of evil ascendant, belatedly confronted, then heroically overthrown. A second narrative, woven from events during the intense period immediately following World War II, saw hopes for peace dashed, yielding bitter antagonism but also great resolve. The ensuing stand-off -- the “long twilight struggle,” in John Kennedy’s memorable phrase -- formed the centerpiece of the third parable, its central theme stubborn courage in the face of looming peril. Finally came the exhilarating events of 1989, with freedom ultimately prevailing, not only in Berlin, but throughout Eastern Europe.

What exactly was I looking for at the Brandenburg Gate? Perhaps confirmation that those parables, which I had absorbed and accepted as true, were just that. Whatever I expected, what I actually found was a cluster of shabby-looking young men, not German, hawking badges, medallions, hats, bits of uniforms, and other artifacts of the mighty Red Army. It was all junk, cheaply made and shoddy. For a handful of deutsche marks, I bought a wristwatch emblazoned with the symbol of the Soviet armored corps. Within days, it ceased to work.

Huddling among the scarred columns, those peddlers -- almost certainly off-duty Russian soldiers awaiting redeployment home -- constituted a subversive presence. They were loose ends of a story that was supposed to have ended neatly when the Berlin Wall came down. As we hurried off to find warmth and a meal, this disconcerting encounter stuck with me, and I began to entertain this possibility: that the truths I had accumulated over the previous twenty years as a professional soldier -- especially truths about the Cold War and U.S. foreign policy -- might not be entirely true.

By temperament and upbringing, I had always taken comfort in orthodoxy. In a life spent subject to authority, deference had become a deeply ingrained habit. I found assurance in conventional wisdom. Now, I started, however hesitantly, to suspect that orthodoxy might be a sham. I began to appreciate that authentic truth is never simple and that any version of truth handed down from on high -- whether by presidents, prime ministers, or archbishops -- is inherently suspect. The powerful, I came to see, reveal truth only to the extent that it suits them. Even then, the truths to which they testify come wrapped in a nearly invisible filament of dissembling, deception, and duplicity. The exercise of power necessarily involves manipulation and is antithetical to candor.

I came to these obvious points embarrassingly late in life. “Nothing is so astonishing in education,” the historian Henry Adams once wrote, “as the amount of ignorance it accumulates in the form of inert facts.” Until that moment I had too often confused education with accumulating and cataloging facts. In Berlin, at the foot of the Brandenburg Gate, I began to realize that I had been a naïf. And so, at age 41, I set out, in a halting and haphazard fashion, to acquire a genuine education.

Twenty years later I’ve made only modest progress. What follows is an accounting of what I have learned thus far.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


I checked out Newt Gingrich's latest book To Save America: Stopping Obama’s Secular-Socialist Machine from the library. I had heard about it earlier in the year and put in a request.

It takes a lot for me to pick up a book and read it: irresistible reviews, an inspiring author, a favored subject. Or, in this case, an outlandish title.

I have to say, this book is tough to understand. More precisely, it is tough to understand how a person whom I regard as a seasoned representative, scholar, educator (and a Christian!) could write something so painfully deceitful and cynical. This book appears to be directed at an audience that Gingrich must judge as having absolutely no capacity for critical thought.

It is the worst, most self-serving book I can recall. (Of course I know there's an endless supply of such trash. I just won't touch the stuff.) But I certainly didn't expect this from Mr. Gingrich (even though I never really forgave him for the pall his "Contract on America" cast over this country.)

From the first words, I was astounded that virtually every paragraph could be challenged on it's bias, assumptions, incompleteness, veracity, or faulty logic. This result would be really difficult to accomplish - even if it you had set out to do so!

I'll have to offer some examples here (where to begin!), but I suggest you get your hands on a copy, just randomly open to any page and read. I think you'll see my point.

(And last night, it was a bit unnerving when I heard a couple conservatives speaking after winning in yesterday's primaries, channeling "The Newt". I'd swear they were pulling quotes right out of the book.)

Selected quotations:

P. 2

America as we know it is now facing a mortal threat.
The Left have expanded their power through their control of academia, the elite news media, union leaders, trial lawyers, the bureaucracy, the courts, and lobbyists at the state and federal levels. They share a vision of a secular, socialist America run for the interests of the members of the political machine that keeps them in power. It will be an America where government dominates the people rather than represents them. In short, they want to use government power to change who we are and how we think.

This danger to America is greater than anything I dreamed possible after we won the Cold War and the Soviet Union disappeared in December 1991. We stand at a crossroads: either we will save our country or we will lose it.

P. 2

Traditional America values hard work, entrepreneurship, innovation, and merit-based upward mobility. But the secular-socialist machine rewards its members, punishes "overachievers," kills jobs by over-taxing small businesses, and even exploits your death to tax the savings you hope to pass on to your children and grandchildren.

P. 3

For many in the secular-socialist Left, however, the only thing exceptional about America is our supposed viciousness. They believe America is an exploitive (sic), imperialist aggressor, and that the U.S. military is a nefarious tool of corporate interests. Some on the Left even hope for America's wartime defeat as a means to stop us from promoting American values across the world.

...secular socialists believe the only reliable institution is a bureaucratic, centralized, supremely powerful government....They don't believe Americans can be trusted to make the "right" decisions.

P. 4

The America in which we grew up is vastly different from the America the secular-socialist Left want to create. And that's why saving America is the fundamental challenge of our time. The secular-socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did. (Emphasis added.)

This diagnosis may strike some readers as alarmist. But this book will show just how radical, how corrupt, and how ruthless the Left have become. You will see also why the term "secular-socialist machine" is the only honest way to describe the Left's ideology and the way they operate today.

Time has not run out, but it is running short. It's up to those of us who love our country to save America from the destructive, irreversible transformation that the Left have in store for us.

This is just the opening salvo, a taste of what Mr. Gingrich has in store for the reader. Note that I did not search out passages that use the term "secular-socialist machine". The label appears profusely - a useful device in brainwashing, but not in rational discourse.

If one were to replace Gingrich's use of "secular-socialist Left" with "blacks", "Hispanics" or "Muslims", it would become clear that he attacks this perceived threat in the same way racists irrationally attack the perceived threat from those "who are different".

More from the Newt:

P. 35 (Here, Newt gives a history lesson. A clear explanation why Obama is a radical.)
The "Left" is a term stemming from the seating of political parties in the National Assembly during the French Revolution. The radicals were seated on the left and the conservatives on the right. Today, the Left comprise a range of opinion favoring various levels of state control over society and over the economy. So the Obama-Pelosi-Reid agenda is indeed leftist...

P. 37

A purely secular outlook does not acknowledge God. It does not consider the implications of one's actions beyond the impact they make within one's own life. It does not recognize any higher moral order beyond that which human beings have rationally developed.

P. 37

For example, the Declaration of Independence, America's founding political document, boldly proclaims, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among those are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

This extraordinary sentence makes some key assumptions: that God is sovereign over the affairs of the universe; that God created man; an that man must obey an order of justice God Himself has instituted.

How then can a purely secular worldview account for the original American understanding of our rights and freedoms?

It cannot.

P. 46 (Gingrich rails against radical tactics, which he himself commonly employs in his own "personal" revolution)

Perhaps nobody has been more clear about the Left's need for dishonesty than Saul Alinsky.

One of the twentieth century's most influential radicals, Alinsky is considered the godfather of community organizing...

Many of his "rules" are guideline for engaging in immoral, dangerous, political dishonesty. Echoing the maxims of Vladimir Lenin, the architect of Soviet Communism, Alinsky justifies almost any immoral act, especially outright dishonesty and hypocrisy, if it's done while pursuing revolution.

David Horowitz, in his small book Barack Obama's Rules of Revolution: The Alinsky Model, cogently explains the significance of Alinsky's teaching to the modern Left.

For Alinsky, a radical's primary goals must be acquiring power and destroying the current system. What replaces it is of secondary concern. He teaches that you amass power by organizing people based on their naked self-interest, not on any idealism or common vision of the future.

P. 62-63

President Obama hides his duplicity behind secrecy, clever language, and legalisms. Like President Reagan, Obama possesses captivating, eloquent rhetorical gifts. While Reagan used rhetoric to clarify and educate, however, Obama uses his skills to confuse and deflect. These are profoundly different models of leadership. But then, clarity was Reagan's ally, since he was a conservative who articulated the values of the American people. In contrast, as an apologist for the secular-socialist Left, Obama knows clarity is his opponent; the less the American people understand about what he is doing, the better.

P. 71-72 (As a historian, Gingrich's memory seems to fail him. Does the name Nixon ring a bell?)

Contrary to their promises to clean up Washington, the president, House speaker, and Senate majority leader have governed with a political machine mentality that is more corrupt and secretive than anything we have seen in modern American politics.

P. 129 (Another of the conservatives' arch-enemies is attacked. This one is particularly hilarious, as Gingrich attacks its one country-one vote system. Membership is even granted to despotic nations, such as Saudi Arabia! Of course, no mention is made of where most "Western democracies" sourced much of their wealth.)

In some ways, the UN machine is even worse than the machine of the American Left; first, since even the most despotic governments are entitled to UN membership, the UN is not limited by elections or the need to keep up democratic appearances. And second, lacking America's legal framework for government transparency, the organization is even more prone to corruption than is the American Left.

Despite the fact that a handful of Western democracies pay the vast majority of the UN's annual budget (the United States alone pays 22 percent), the UN's most influential voting block is a group of 130 undeveloped countries called the G-77. Using the UN's one country-one vote system, the G-77 has hijacked the UN to turn it into a mechanism for redistributing wealth from the developed to developing countries.

P. 137 (Here Newt basically expresses his outrage that the UN has the gall to criticize and obstruct some of our self-serving pursuits. In other words, that other nations have a say in the matter.)

The UN could make an immense contribution to world peace, human rights, and the spread of democracy. But it is not doing that - and that's a tragedy. Having proven impervious to all attempts at reform, we need to sideline this dysfunctional, self-perpetuating, bureaucratic machine until it stops acting as a vehicle for the world's most oppressive states to exert their will over the world's free democracies.

P. 150-151 (Newt attacks other conservation enemies - the czars and EPA. Though I guess the EPA was doing just fine under G.W., as it overturned decades of environmental protections. Gingrich loves the use of labels designed to incite and inflame.)

Consider the White House czar system. It is an unconstitutional centralization of power in the hands of the appointed, unaccountable bureaucrats. It is guaranteed to increase corruption, lead to political cronyism, and give the president unprecedented - and un-American - power to manipulate, coerce, and bribe people.

The solution is to eliminate the White House czar system, not to reform it.

The EPA has become an engine of undemocratic bureaucracy filled with people who seek to impose their fanatical views on an unwilling American population. The EPA and its entire regulation-litigation, Washington-centered, command-and-control bureacracy needs to be replaced.

That's enough. The book numbers roughly 350 pages, full of gems such as these.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

No South Afghanistan Handover for a 'Few Years': US

Allowing policy decisions to be driven by "conditions on the ground", gives military leaders undo influence over our foreign policy debate. This effect is magnified when Generals Conway, Petraeus and McChrystal (with or without their Commander-in-Chief's consent) take their "wag the dog" pitch directly to the American people.

Virtually all mainstream media (and their imbedded reporters) compliantly join the choir of voices cautioning against hasty decisions in the face of "conditions on the ground". (It has been especially sad to witness NPR move into the war booster camp whenever the government pulls their chain.) Had we yielded to such blind optimism we'd still be in Vietnam.

Foreign occupation is THE condition on the ground that is at the root of this conflict.

Published on Tuesday, August 24, 2010 by Agence France Presse
WASHINGTON - General James Conway, head of the US Marine Corps, told reporters Tuesday that Afghan forces would not be ready to take over security from US troops in key southern provinces for at least "a few years."

"I honestly think it will be a few years before conditions on the ground are such that turnover will be possible for us," General James Conway told reporters, referring to Marines deployed in the provinces of Helmand and Kandahar.

Conway, who just returned from visiting Marines in Afghanistan, said some Afghan units "somewhere" might be able to assume the lead for security in 2011 but not in the south, which he called the "birthplace" of the Taliban insurgency.

His comments were the latest sign from US military leaders that a major troop withdrawal remained a long way off, despite a July 2011 deadline set by President Barack Obama for the start of a drawdown.

Conway acknowledged that public support for the US mission was declining but appealed for patience, warning of the risks of any early withdrawal.

"I sense our country is increasingly growing tired of the war," he said.

But Conway cited a fellow commander's assessment that "we can either lose fast or win slow."

The general added that the administration needed to do a better job of explaining the mission in Afghanistan and the importance of preventing Al-Qaeda and its allies from securing safe havens in the country.
© 2010 Agence France Presse

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Circle Jerk Continues

The same Neocons and their friends in AIPAC, who brought America (and the World) the "No-End-In-Sight Iraq War" are salivating at the prospect that the U.S. and Israel may soon kick ass in Iran. These are people who get off on war - of course, in the name of their God and defense of their tribe. They defend a nation that has surreptitiously developed between one and two hundred nuclear weapons and condemn those who seek to develop nuclear power (and quite possibly a nuclear weapon) as "madmen". American taxpayers finance this insanity and American companies profit. In deals such as the purchase of F-35 strike fighters announced yesterday, tax payer dollars are bestowed upon Israel and come back as profits for the American weapons industry. Here are some examples of the "Chicken Hawks" in action:

The Point of No Return
Published in The Atlantic
By Jeffrey Goldberg
For the Obama administration, the prospect of a nuclearized Iran is dismal to contemplate— it would create major new national-security challenges and crush the president’s dream of ending nuclear proliferation. But the view from Jerusalem is still more dire: a nuclearized Iran represents, among other things, a threat to Israel’s very existence. In the gap between Washington’s and Jerusalem’s views of Iran lies the question: who, if anyone, will stop Iran before it goes nuclear, and how? As Washington and Jerusalem study each other intensely, here’s an inside look at the strategic calculations on both sides—and at how, if things remain on the current course, an Israeli air strike will unfold.
Continue reading at

In a related story, John Bolton states Israel has 8 days to hit Iranian nuclear reactor.

And, batting clean-up, we have PNAC booster Elliott Abrams: Obama Bombing Iran? Don't Be Surprised.

Finally, one of the rare voices of sanity out there: Kucinich Urges Colleagues to End 'Longest War in U.S. History'

A New Way Forward: Rethinking U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan

At nine years and counting, the U.S. war in Afghanistan is the longest in our history, surpassing even the Vietnam War, and it will shortly surpass the Soviet Union’s own extended military campaign there. With the surge, it will cost the U.S. taxpayers nearly $100 billion per year, a sum roughly seven times larger than Afghanistan’s annual gross national product (GNP) of $14 billion and greater than the total annual cost of the new U.S. health insurance program.1 Thousands of American and allied personnel have been killed or gravely wounded.

The U.S. interests at stake in Afghanistan do not warrant this level of sacrifice. President Obama justified expanding our commitment by saying the goal was eradicating Al Qaeda. Yet Al Qaeda is no longer a significant presence in Afghanistan, and there are only some 400 hard-core Al Qaeda members remaining in the entire Af/Pak theater, most of them hiding in Pakistan’s northwest provinces.

America’s armed forces have fought bravely and well, and their dedication is unquestioned. But we should not ask them to make sacrifices unnecessary to our core national interests, particularly when doing so threatens long-term needs and priorities both at home and abroad.

Instead of toppling terrorists, America’s Afghan war has become an ambitious and fruitless effort at “nation-building.” We are mired in a civil war in Afghanistan and are struggling to establish an effective central government in a country that has long been fragmented and decentralized.

No matter how desirable this objective might be in the abstract, it is not essential to U.S. security and it is not a goal for which the U.S. military is well suited. There is no clear definition of what would comprise “success” in this endeavor. Creating a unified Afghan state would require committing many more American lives and hundreds of billions of additional U.S. dollars for many years to come.

As the WikiLeaks war diary comprised of more than 91,000 secret reports on the Afghanistan War makes clear, any sense of American and allied progress in the conflict has been undermined by revelations that many more civilian deaths have occurred than have been officially acknowledged as the result of U.S. and allied strike accidents. The Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence continued to provide logistics and financial support to the Afghan Taliban even as U.S. soldiers were fighting these units. It is clear that Karzai government affiliates and appointees in rural Afghanistan have often proven to be more corrupt and ruthless than the Taliban.

Prospects for success are dim. As former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger recently warned, “Afghanistan has never been pacified by foreign forces.”2 The 2010 spring offensive in Marjah was inconclusive, and a supposedly “decisive” summer offensive in Kandahar has been delayed and the expectations downgraded. U.S. and allied casualties reached an all-time high in July, and several NATO allies have announced plans to withdraw their own forces.

The conflict in Afghanistan is commonly perceived as a struggle between the Karzai government and an insurgent Taliban movement, allied with international terrorists, that is seeking to overthrow that government. In fact, the conflict is a civil war about power-sharing with lines of contention that are 1) partly ethnic, chiefly, but not exclusively, between Pashtuns who dominate the south and other ethnicities such as Tajiks and Uzbeks who are more prevalent in the north, 2) partly rural vs. urban, particularly within the Pashtun community, and 3) partly sectarian.

The Afghanistan conflict also includes the influence of surrounding nations with a desire to advance their own interests – including India, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and others. And with the U.S. intervention in force, the conflict includes resistance to what is seen as foreign military occupation.

Resolving the conflict in Afghanistan has primarily to do with resolving the distribution of power among these factions and between the central government and the provinces, and with appropriately decentralizing authority.

Negotiated resolution of these conflicts will reduce the influence of extremists more readily than military action will. The Taliban itself is not a unified movement but instead a label that is applied to many armed groups and individuals that are only loosely aligned and do not necessarily have a fondness for the fundamentalist ideology of the most prominent Taliban leaders.

The Study Group believes the war in Afghanistan has reached a critical crossroads. Our current path promises to have limited impact on the civil war while taking more American lives and contributing to skyrocketing taxpayer debt. We conclude that a fundamentally new direction is needed, one that recognizes the United States’ legitimate interests in Central Asia and is fashioned to advance them. Far from admitting “defeat,” the new way forward acknowledges the manifold limitations of a military solution in a region where our interests lie in political stability. Our recommended policy shifts our resources to focus on U.S. foreign policy strengths in concert with the international community to promote reconciliation among the warring parties, advance economic development, and encourage region-wide diplomatic engagement.

We base these conclusions on the following key points raised in the Study Group’s research and discussions:

* The United States has only two vital interests in the Af/Pak region: 1) preventing Afghanistan from being a “safe haven” from which Al Qaeda or other extremists can organize more effective attacks on the U.S. homeland; and 2) ensuring that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal does not fall into hostile hands.

* Protecting our interests does not require a U.S. military victory over the Taliban. A Taliban takeover is unlikely even if the United States reduces its military commitment. The Taliban is a rural insurgency rooted primarily in Afghanistan’s Pashtun population, and succeeded due in some part to the disenfranchisement of rural Pashtuns. The Taliban’s seizure of power in the 1990s was due to an unusual set of circumstances that no longer exist and are unlikely to be repeated.

* There is no significant Al Qaeda presence in Afghanistan today, and the risk of a new “safe haven”there under more “friendly” Taliban rule is overstated. Should an Al Qaeda cell regroup in Afghanistan, the U.S. would have residual military capability in the region sufficient to track and destroy it.

* Al Qaeda sympathizers are now present in many locations globally, and defeating the Taliban will have little effect on Al Qaeda’s global reach. The ongoing threat from Al Qaeda is better met via specific counter-terrorism measures, a reduced U.S. military “footprint” in the Islamic world, and diplomatic efforts to improve America’s overall image and undermine international support for militant extremism.

* Given our present economic circumstances, reducing the staggering costs of the Afghan war is an urgent priority. Maintaining the long-term health of the U.S. economy is just as important to American strength and security as protecting U.S. soil from enemy (including terrorist) attacks.

* The continuation of an ambitious U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan will likely work against U.S. interests. A large U.S. presence fosters local (especially Pashtun) resentment and aids Taliban recruiting. It also fosters dependence on the part of our Afghan partners and encourages closer cooperation among a disparate array of extremist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan alike.
* Past efforts to centralize power in Afghanistan have provoked the same sort of local resistance that is convulsing Afghanistan today. There is ample evidence that this effort will join others in a long line of failed incursions.

* Although the United States should support democratic rule, human rights and economic development, its capacity to mold other societies is inherently limited. The costs of trying should be weighed against our need to counter global terrorist threats directly, reduce America’s $1.4 trillion budget deficit, repair eroding U.S. infrastructure, and other critical national purposes. Our support of these issues will be better achieved as part of a coordinated international group with which expenses and burdens can be shared.

The bottom line is clear: Our vital interests in Afghanistan are limited and military victory is not the key to achieving them.

On the contrary, waging a lengthy counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan may well do more to aid Taliban recruiting than to dismantle the group, help spread conflict further into Pakistan, unify radical groups that might otherwise be quarreling amongst themselves, threaten the long-term health of the U.S. economy, and prevent the U.S. government from turning its full attention to other pressing problems.

The more promising path for the U.S. in the Af/Pak region would reverse the recent escalation and move away from a counterinsurgency effort that is neither necessary nor likely to succeed. Instead, the U.S. should:

1. Emphasize power-sharing and political inclusion. The U.S. should fast-track a peace process designed to decentralize power within Afghanistan and encourage a power-sharing balance among the principal parties.

2. Downsize and eventually end military operations in southern Afghanistan, and reduce the U.S. military footprint. The U.S. should draw down its military presence, which radicalizes many Pashtuns and is an important aid to Taliban recruitment.

3. Focus security efforts on Al Qaeda and Domestic Security. Special forces, intelligence assets, and other U.S. capabilities should continue to seek out and target known Al Qaeda cells in the region. They can be ready to go after Al Qaeda should they attempt to relocate elsewhere or build new training facilities. In addition, part of the savings from our drawdown should be reallocated to bolster U.S. domestic security efforts and to track nuclear weapons globally.

4. Encourage economic development. Because destitute states can become incubators for terrorism, drug and human trafficking, and other illicit activities, efforts at reconciliation should be paired with an internationally-led effort to develop Afghanistan’s economy.

5. Engage regional and global stakeholders in a diplomatic effort designed to guarantee Afghan neutrality and foster regional stability. Despite their considerable differences, neighboring states such as India, Pakistan, China, Iran and Saudi Arabia share a common interest in preventing Afghanistan from being dominated by any single power or being a permanently failed state that exports instability to others.

We believe this strategy will best serve the interests of women in Afghanistan as well. The worst thing for women is for Afghanistan to remain paralyzed in a civil war in which there evolves no organically rooted support for their social advancement.

The remainder of this report elaborates the logic behind these recommendations. It begins by summarizing U.S. vital interests, including our limited interests in Afghanistan itself and in the region more broadly. It then considers why the current strategy is failing and why the situation is unlikely to improve even under a new commander. The final section outlines “A New Way Forward” and explains how a radically different approach can achieve core U.S. goals at an acceptable cost.

Continue reading at the Afghanistan Study Group's website.

"Progress" and "Success": code words for "we really don't have a clue"

A related story: Why Petraeus Can't Make the Sale

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Economics: the dismal and schizophrenic science

Reading economist Robert Reich's column today (The Truth About China As #2), followed by Joe McDonald's piece "China's Slowdown Sends A Chill Through Trade Partners," one gets a sense of the schizophrenic nature of economics.

McDonald leads off with the statement
China's abrupt growth slowdown is sending a chill through Asian economies and as far away as Australia and Africa as its voracious demand for imports fades.

Beijing is cooling its economy with lending and investment curbs after explosive 11.9 percent first-quarter growth fed fears of overheating. Growth is slowing more sharply than expected, cutting demand for American and European factory machinery, industrial components from Asia and iron ore and other raw materials from Australia and Africa.

Then Reich tells us
Think of China as a giant production machine that's growing 10 percent a year (this year, somewhat less). The machine sucks in more and more raw materials and components from rest of world -- it's now the world's #1 buyer of iron ore and copper, and close to the #1 importer of crude oil -- and spews out a growing mountain of stuff, along with huge environmental problems.

But because the Chinese consume a smaller and smaller proportion of this stuff, it has to be exported to consumers elsewhere (Europe, North America, Japan) to keep the Chinese working. Much of the money China earns by selling it around the world is reinvested in factories, roads, trains, and power plants that enlarge China's capacity to produce far more. Another big portion is lent to or invested in the rest of the world (helping to finance America's budget deficit at very low cost).

But this can't go on. China's workers won't allow it. Workers in other nations who are losing their jobs won't allow it, either.

The answer is not simply more labor agitation in China or an upward revaluation of China's currency relative to the dollar. The problem is bigger. All over the world, we're witnessing a growing gap between production and consumption, while the environment continues to degrade. The Chinese machine is fast heading for a breakdown only because it's growing fastest.
Economics routinely uses the term "growth" without qualification. But we all know there are many kinds of growth, and all aren't necessarily good (take cancer, for example.) That growth is good is an unchallenged principle of American Capitalism.

Most of us fail to question that principle. Is all growth good? Obviously not. Then what kind of growth is good? In our capitalist system, the concept of "steady state" or balance seems to be inconceivable. what would that even look like?

Yet environmentalists such as Herman Daly have for decades argued that our present growth-for-growth's sake economic model is unsustainable and that we must re-engineer our economic models to reflect the "closed system" that Planet Earth represents.

I am convinced that there is no going back to the economic model that prevailed in the United States since World War II, that "irrationally exuberant" model of endless economic growth, the "rising tide that lifts all boats". These days, only luxury yachts are riding that tide, their skippers oblivious to the masses desperately flailing in the flood. Choose your metaphor, but America must come to grips with an economic perspective that actually encourages contraction of our out-of-control consumption and financial discipline, while re-inventing an economy based upon conservation, maximum utility of limited resources, full life-cycle accountability; and environmental, economic and social justice.

That may sound socialistic or communistic or whatever. Let's not get hung up on labels. This is what it means to live in a community where everyone takes responsibility.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

America's Biggest Jobs Program -- the U.S. Military

By Robert Reich

Former Secretary of Labor, Professor at Berkeley

America's biggest -- and only major -- jobs program is the U.S. military.

Over 1,400,000 Americans are now on active duty; another 833,000 are in the reserves, many full time. Another 1,600,000 Americans work in companies that supply the military with everything from weapons to utensils. (I'm not even including all the foreign contractors employing non-US citizens.)

If we didn't have this giant military jobs program, the U.S. unemployment rate would be over 11.5 percent today instead of 9.5 percent.

And without our military jobs program personal incomes would be dropping faster. The Commerce Department reported Monday the only major metro areas where both net earnings and personal incomes rose last year were San Antonio, Texas, Virginia Beach, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. -- because all three have high concentrations of military and federal jobs.

This isn't an argument for more military spending. Just the opposite. Having a giant undercover military jobs program is an insane way to keep Americans employed. It creates jobs we don't need but we keep anyway because there's no honest alternative. We don't have an overt jobs program based on what's really needed.

For example, when Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced Monday his plan to cut spending on military contractors by more than a quarter over three years, congressional leaders balked. Military contractors are major sources of jobs back in members' states and districts. California's Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, demanded that the move "not weaken the nation's defense." That's congress-speak for "over my dead body."

Gates simultaneously announced closing the Joint Force Command in Norfolk, Virginia, that employees 6,324 people and relies on 3,300 private contractors. This prompted Virginia Democratic Senator Jim Webb, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, to warn that the closure "would be a step backward." Translated: "No chance in hell."

Gates can't even end useless weapons programs. That's because they're covert jobs programs that employ thousands.

He wants to stop production of the C-17 cargo jet he says is no longer needed. But it keeps 4,000 people working at Boeing's Long Beach assembly plant and 30,000 others at Boeing suppliers strategically located in 40 states. So despite Gates's protests the Senate has approved ten new orders.

That's still not enough to keep all those C-17 workers employed, so the Pentagon and Boeing have been hunting for foreign purchasers. The Indian Air Force is now negotiating to buy ten, and talks are underway with several other nations, including Oman and Saudi Arabia.

Ever wonder why military equipment is one of America's biggest exports? It's our giant military jobs program in action.

Gates has also been trying to stop production of a duplicate engine for the F-25 joint Strike Fighter jet. He says it isn't needed and doesn't justify the $2.9 billion slated merely to develop it.

But the unnecessary duplicate engine would bring thousands of jobs to Indiana and Ohio. Cunningly, its potential manufacturers Rolls-Royce and General Electric created a media blitz (mostly aimed at Washington, D.C. where lawmakers wold see it) featuring an engine worker wearing a "Support Our Troops" T-shirt and arguing the duplicate engine will create 4,000 American jobs. Presto. Despite a veto threat from the White House, a House panel has just approved funding the duplicate.

By the way, Gates isn't trying to cut the overall Pentagon budget. He just wants to trim certain programs to make room for more military spending with a higher priority.

The Pentagon's budget -- and its giant undercover jobs program -- keeps expanding. The President has asked Congress to hike total defense spending next year 2.2 percent, to $708 billion. That's 6.1 percent higher than peak defense spending during the Bush administration.

This sum doesn't even include Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs, nuclear weapons management, and intelligence. Add these, and next year's national security budget totals about $950 billion.

That's a major chunk of the entire federal budget. But most deficit hawks don't dare cut it. National security is sacrosanct.

Yet what's really sacrosanct is the giant jobs program that's justified by national security. National security is a cover for job security.

This is nuts.

Wouldn't it be better to have a jobs program that created things we really need -- like light-rail trains, better school facilities, public parks, water and sewer systems, and non-carbon energy sources -- than things we don't, like obsolete weapons systems?

Historically some of America's biggest jobs programs that were critical to the nation's future have been justified by national defense, although they've borne almost no relation to it. The National Defense Education Act of the late 1950s trained a generation of math and science teachers. The National Defense Highway Act created millions of construction jobs turning the nation's two-lane highways into four- and six-lane Interstates.

Maybe this is the way to convince Republicans and blue-dog Democrats to spend more federal dollars putting Americans back, and working on things we genuinely need: Call it the National Defense Full Employment Act.

This post originally appeared at