Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Gulf of Tonkin Redux

President Obama' s speech reminded me of the political positioning LBJ took when approaching the Vietnam war and to me the lessons of history provide us with three crucial reasons for why this new escalation in the conflict will waste more American money, American prestige, and above all else American lives on a strategy that will simply not work. It is time that President Obama stops playing politics with the lives of our soldiers and begin a more cohesive and immediate exit-strategy.

There are three glaring problems with the speech as outlined:

1) This was a foreign policy speech guided by domestic politics

I think it is deplorable when lives on the line to triangulate on issues of war and peace, life and death. Clearly the President is reading the polls, he had a lot to say to those of us skeptical of continuing the war, mainly his lines that this was not Vietnam and that we are not there to occupy or nation build. Yet he also knows that he needs to do something and that being hawkish is generally a better political posture to take than being dovish. So the hawks want 45k, the doves want to leave 10k and eventually leave, he meets everyone in the middle by saying 30k and creating a timetable. The problem is the 'something for everyone' strategy is a great way to win support for domestic issues but a horrible way to win a war as I will elucidate later with my third point.

Second he gave this speech to a domestic audience, when a truly effective speech would have been to an international one. Since it was geared towards the American people it made very selfish assumptions about our allies sticking with us, abandoned promises to the Afghan people as "costing too much for American taxpayers' and ended with a bizarre logic that we are a great nation not because we have great ideals we want to spread around the world but because our economy gives us great power. An awful connotation if you ask me, and Obama forgot that the Afghan people whose future he just said 'isnt worth the cost to American taxpayers' and the allies who he is committing to our effort without their consent also have CNN and heard these words. It was very much an example of American exceptionalism but lacking the ideals that make even that dangerous fairy tale ideology so seducing. Basically he argued that we are powerful and will do what we want because we are powerful, whereas at least Bush said we will do what is right because we are powerful. Both wrong headed and unilateral statements, but ironically Bush's sounds a lot more progressive and idealistic.

2) Terrible talking points

He stated basically that Afghanistan attacked us, equated the Taliban with Al Qaeda, argued the Afghan people want us there and don't want the Taliban there, assumed our allies would stick with us, and gave up the humanitarian justifications for continued involvement. All of these statements are terrible errors.

AQ attacked us from Afghanistan, Afghanistan never attacked us. Second the Taliban is not a threat to the external security of the US homeland, only to our troops occupying their country, AQ is a threat and one that we should focus on. The Afghan people don't want us there and many of them like the Taliban, our presence has increased its recruitment levels, and it is fast becoming a 'catch all' opposition to the corrupt Karzai regime and the horrific war lords that back it. Frankly neither the Taliban nor the government we are backing can claim legitimacy as the one the people actually want, or any moral legitimacy as good governments for the people either. So why take sides in their civil war? Also our allies, especially the UK and NATO want to get out fast and will likely leave before we do leaving us to carry the burden alone like in Iraq and Vietnam. Also the humanitarian justifications are basically the only tools we have to win the war, in the sense of defeating the Taliban. Offering the Afghani's a democracy and a government free from the corruption of Karzai and the theocratic oppression of the Taliban is the only way to conceivably win over the people and Obama gave up that leverage because he gave a very selfish speech geared to war weary Americans that specifically argued that trying to rebuild their nation is a waste of our time and money.

3) Moderate Escalation is the Worst Kind

Basically Bush gave Obama a pretty bad deck of cards at the poker table when it comes to Afghanistan, the only real solution is to go all in and hope that scares/defeats your opponents or to fold and keep what you have. Instead Obama is following the strategy of making sizable, but in the short term feasible raises that make him feel proactive yet responsible while really sucking him deeper and deeper into the hole. So he will keep raising and raising until there is nothing left to do but go all in or fold, and at that point he has already gambled so much it will be even harder for him to fold even though he knows he will lose. And in the end when he finally makes that decision it leaves him with fewer chips than he had before.

LBJ made the same strategy in Vietnam. Moderate escalation which eventually created a situation where the US did not seize the initiative when it had victories and it made it incredibly hard to pull out when it was clear we were headed for defeat-the logic being we have put so much in already why not keep putting more in.

In closing:

So I would argue that this solution will only waste American lives and delay the inevitable pull-out. Obama hopes it will allow America to save face, but the reality is we would be in a much better position now to declare victory and go home then we will be after another 3,000 dead and 38 billion dollars down the hole with no more signs of victory than when we started this new strategy.

It is high time that we learn the mistakes of Korea, Vietnam, the second Iraq war, and other efforts in Afghanistan. From now one commanders and President's should commit to the Powell doctrine. Go in with overwhelming force. Get an international coalition to back you. Have the UN sanction the military action. And having done these things make damn well sure the war is worth fighting. Had we committed to fighting a truly total war in Afghanistan after 9/11 we might have won that conflict. The American people no longer have the will to wage a successful campaign in Afghanistan, short of waging a total war and committing hundreds of thousands of more troops I see no reason why this surge will do anything other than prolong the stalemate further and simply waste American blood and treasure.

Furthermore our military commanders have already shown that the terrorists that actually caused 9/11 have been conclusively defeated militarily in Afghanistan so the real question to ask is why are American lives being sacrificed to back an illegitimate corrupt government in its civil war? How many more Americans must die to protect Hahmed Karzai and his corrupt government?

President Obama once claimed he would be willing to change strategies on the basis of new facts on the ground and new information but thus far he is as stubborn as his predecessor when it comes to changing his mind on the conduct of this war. The President did not start this war but the way he ends it could determine his political fate and if the example of LBJ is any indication this doesn't look good.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Disappointed in Maine Catholics

As many of you know I am both a devout Catholic and a proponent of marriage equality, at least as the most secure method of extending full civil rights to our county's gay and lesbians. These views are not contradicting as Canon Law (essentially the rules of the Church) clearly articulated a view that civil marriage is antithetical to sacramental marriage in any way. Which is why I am disturbed my Catholic brethren in Maine disagree, having spent over $380,000 of lay collection dollars on the Yes on 1 Campaign in Maine to overturn that state's gay marriage law.

As a devout Catholic this bothers me tremendously. It seems to me that since Church doctrine clearly affirms that civil marriages and divorces are not recognized as canonically valid marriages within the Catholic church that gay marriages made in Maine have absolutely nothing to do with the Church in any way. Traditional marriage between one man and one woman, without divorce, as the Church sees it, is completely unaffected by the outside world or who the state chooses to marry. That is not my opinion as a wide eyed liberal, that is Canon law as articulated by the Holy Father himself.

This money could be going to a variety of better causes. Catholic schools, hospitals, feeding the hungry here and abroad, etc. One would hope that the Church's political advocacy would be in line with its official doctrines, i.e eliminating the death penalty, unjust war, unwanted pregnancies, and you know advocating for universal healthcare which the Bishops Conference has endorsed since the 1960s and the Papacy endorsed in its encyclical on Church, State, and Labor in 1890-Rerum Novum-which called for "state sponsored insurance societies...for the working man" modeled after Germany's social insurance system.

I can think of several encyclicals relating to just war theory, euthanasia, the death penalty, human rights, and healthcare. I can't think of a single one that argues, the frankly heretical position that civil law bears any weight on sacramental marriage. Or equates civil marriage with sacramental marriage. It seems to be that if Maine Catholics, like any Catholic, shouldn't be worried about gay marriage since civil marriage is not 'marriage' according to the faithful anyway and since Benedict won't be opening sacramental marriage to homosexuals-or heterosexual divorcees or clergy for that matter-anytime soon. Frankly the Archdiocese of Maine is making a heterodox statement with this blatant disregard for church tradition and should be duly sanctioned by the Holy See and I am just shocked that a Catholic bishop would equate laws made by fallible, worldy man with laws clearly articulated by God himself and his Vicar on Earth.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Obama's Nobel Peace Prize

It was stunning that a day after lead with a headline asking 'Has Obama Become a Joke?' the Nobel Prize Committee decided to answer with their response 'he is and we are' and awarded him probably one of the least deserved awards in the history of awards next to maybe Crash winning Best Picture back in 05'. While there have been less deserving recipients in the past, Arafat and Kissinger arguably were warmonger's rather than peacemakers when they received their respective prizes, and Al Gore won it basically for making a movie, this award was still at the very best premature and at the very worst crass and opportunistic. When asked why he was not going to run for office Martin Sheen, star of the West Wing answered "I merely play a politician on tv. You are mistaking celebrity for credibility". It is clear with its recent recipients that the Nobel Committee is making similar choices. While some could make the argument that in pursuing a more multilateral foreign policy, trying to wind down two wars, trying to stop the torture and abuses of those in US custody, working towards a Mideast peace settlement, stopping proliferation, and at least acknowledging global warming that President Obama is on the right path. Yet this argument is voided when we realize Obama won way back in February before he even had a chance to start even these basic initiatives. Basically the Nobel committee is admitting they are awarding this on the basis of hope and a hunch rather than substantial achievement.

To his credit the President seemed flustered and mortified that he won, though obviously not enough to humbly refuse the prize and its considerably cash to a more deserving nominee (Morgan Tsvangirai of Zimbabwe and Moussavi of Iran come to mind for actually risking their lives to fight for peace and justice against tyrannical regimes). Yet one also suspects he knew this reward would create more political problems without any tangible political benefits. For a guy whom everyone expects to fix the economy, end two wars, fix healthcare, all while still balancing the budget and stopping climate change, this prize is just another burden forced onto his back. One suspects the President yelling to Michelle in a rare moment of privacy 'god damn now I gotta create world peace too this job is starting to get on my fucking nerves'.

The worst part about this though is that now the President is stymied from conducting a foreign policy based in part around the ideals of realism. Obama has always had this tension between the idealistic hawkish liberals in his circle, from Samantha Power to Susan Rice to Hillary Clinton who all think American power can be applied to stop humanitarian crises and to ensure that the values of freedom and human rights are obeyed (or else!), and this sense some of us had that yes the realists are finally back in charge. Obama's inaction on Afghanistan reflects this tension with his realists like Joe Biden and General Jones arguing that we need to declare victory and cut our losses and the idealist wing which still feels that America can reverse two millenia of Afghan culture by liberating the country from extreme Islam and patriarchy. The Nobel prize will now literally and figuratively weigh above Obama as he makes these decisions possibly affecting his ability to think realistically about US policy when he has all these ideals invested in his success. It is hard to be the Machiavellian statesmen frankly a President ought to be when considering questions of war and peace when the world is declaring you the second coming and investing you with superhero like abilities to solve problems with simple willpower. The Nobel Committee might have thought they were investing in the future by granting Obama this prize, but instead they have not only placed him on a pedestal they have also shot him in the foot. And there is nothing peaceful about that.

Thoughts on Ambassador Bolton Speech

Last night I had the pleasure of attending a speech and Q&A with former US Representative to the United Nations John Bolton (he technically was never an ambassador since he was never confirmed by the Senate but we shall refer to him as 'ambassdor' since he was in all but name and no doubt in his mind since he supports the unitary executive but anyway) and while the reception where I met him and shook his hand was quite enjoyable where he appeared to be reasoned, engaging and funny, the forum at which he spoke was a little too raucous and right-slanted for the intellectual engagement that its location at the U of C merited. The reception was held at Hillel House since the event was cosponsored by the Chicago Friends of Israel and the Chicago Republicans (it seemed many of the people at the event held dual memberships) where I feasted on some corn beef and rye sandwiches and Sprite Zero. I had the privilege of meeting the Ambassador but was unable to ask him any questions either at this reception or at the event since he was surrounded and hounded by so many young neocons eager to get their picture with him. Also present were a lot of Cook County Republicans running Pyrrhic campaigns for local office and Professor Charles Lipson. A Rabbi asked me if I was a Jew or a Republican, when I answered neither he seemed a little confused but welcomed me all the same.

The event itself consisted of a speech followed by a Q&A and was in a packed Mandel Hall. Bolton was introduced by my good friend and radio show co-host Tex Dozier who is now the President of the UofC Republicans, and a young woman who was the President of the Chicago Friends of Israel. A right wing businessman and columnist was selected as the moderator for the eventual Q&A. Bolton went right into a blistering assault on the Obama administration making jokes about the peace prize (see my next blog post for my own take) and seemingly altering between calling him an appeaser and a 'post-American' president. While Bolton did not intend to be racist in that pronouncement, he claimed other Democrats from Michael Dukakis to John Kerry were also 'post-American' one still somehow felt that this was an awkward term to apply to the country's first African American president. He attacked Obama for thinking globally, for rejecting the concept of American exceptionalism, and for acting multilaterally to confront security crises. He insulted a few moves I have discussed including the administrations vacillating on Afghanistan and its capitulation to Russia in E. Europe over the missile shield (can't say I disagreed with Bolton on those points) but he was broadly off the mark on the Mideast Peace Process.

Here he claimed that Obama accepted the European viewpoint that Al Qaeda and other Islamist radicals would go away if we simply abandoned Israel. While this may be the view of some foreign policy scholars it is a view President Obama has never expressed. I was tempted to ironically yell 'you lie!' at that point in the speech but my sense of civility stayed me. He went on to argue that the disappearance of Israel would only embolden Islamic radicals and would not make America safer. He made this point in spite of the broad lack of evidence that President Obama has ever considered this an option or that anyone in mainstream American politics has ever said anything other than a consistent pro-Israel line of reasoning. That President Obama asked the Israeli's to stop West Bank settlements without really asking concessions on the part of the Palestinians was a valid point of criticism that Bolton advanced, but in no way does this prove the administration by supporting the two state solution has anything but the long-term security of Israel in mind when most long term thinkers, including most within Israel, think that a just settlement for the Palestinian people is in fact within Israel's long term security interests.

My second major reservation is this idea of 'post-Americanism', if anything President Obama is continuing the exceptionalism begun under his predecessor in far too many areas from continuing the practice of torture under rendition, moving prisoners overseas to be tortured, holding detainees illegally, approving unilateral military actions to stop terrorists, maintaining the Bush doctrine of preventative strikes in the face of terrorists threats, etc. Also 'post-Americanism' as Bolton defines it seems to be favoring collective security, working with allies, and forming a global consensus before undertaking US geopolitical action. This seems to be the strategy that FDR, Truman, Ike, JFK, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, and to a lesser extent even Reagan followed when fighting the Cold War. NATO seems to be according to Bolton's logic, a 'post-American' institution since it too is not under the jurisdiction of our constitution and is an institution we surrender sovereignty too. The UN is another such institution. Bolton contradicted himself when citing Iran's persistent violation of UN resolutions as a reason to support US/Israeli action against that nation while also mocking President Obama for trying to achieve peace through 'an ineffective security council that gives veto power to America's foes'. So what is it Bolton is the US an exceptional power that should act unilaterally and that never surrenders its sovereignty to alliances and collective security organizations or are we a leader that relies on those organizations? Are they relevant or irrelevant?

Sadly those questions were never asked since Sparticists and far out leftists asked incredibly stupid questions that gave Bolton reasonable cause to shut them down from his pulpit. Questions like 'the US has abused its exceptionalism by bombing Japan' gave Bolton the fodder he needed to paint his opponents as naive at best or anti-American at worst. A few thoughtful comments came from a Palestinian student who was nearly rudely shouted down by some woman in the audience but asked a reasonable question contradicting Bolton's assertion that Palestine has never existed ("it did in 1948 when my father lived there"-oh snap!) and his idiotic 'three state solution' whereby Jordan and Egypt absorb the Palestinians. This solution was probably the most bizarre portion of the speech generating the most critical questions. If the two state solution is infeasible and unjust how is this one any better? He basically conceded that its not any more feasible but is the better of the two fantasy scenarios for reasons he asserted but never explained. Also history seems to demonstrate that Jordon which fought a devastating civil war with the Palestinians when it occupied the West Bank and Egypt which has internal issues with the Muslim Brotherhood and would not want to take Hamas controlled Gaza in on top of that, have zero incentive to do this, thus rendering Bolton's 'bold' solution rather suspect.

Lastly the most disappointing part of the evening was that Bolton never addressed his actually interesting and innovative ideas about UN reform, never discussed his time there, the polarization of Senate confirmations, issues about his legal opinions regarding the advise and consent clause, the unitary executive, and torture. He did not address gays in the military (a question I would have asked him) or non military solutions to the Iranian crisis. Moreover the crowd was full of non-University Republicans that were quite rowdy and rude shouting down questioners they disagreed with, preventing dissenting views from being heard, and really engaging in a discussion that was partisan and skewed and not worthy of the intellectual tradition of the University. The night was certainly interesting but I was hoping for a much more engaging talk instead of an hour of right wing talking points followed by reasonable questioners being heckled into submission either by the speakers or his cronies in the audience. The moderator was hardly that but rather a right wing cheerleader that did little to keep his peers civil and in fact engaged in shouting some questioners down. This could have been a much better event and I wish Bolton had discussed those other ideas which would have made for a more interesting debate and back and forth. It was an event that I would argue changed view minds and only retrenched people in the camps they came in with. This is ironic since Tex and other College Republicans charged James Carville's appearance freshmen year with the same (equally valid) points that it was not in the spirit of the University but rather a partisan event. This too was a partisan event, not a dialogue.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

President Obama Gets a C- on Foreign Policy (so far)

I will admit to having proudly voted for President Obama over Sen. McCain in large part because I trusted then Sen. Obama and his team of advisers over foreign policy far more than I did Sen. McCain. As a voter my main concerns were that we end the needless war in Iraq in an honorable fashion that reduced the risk of civilian casualties and genocide occurring in the wake of our withdrawal, that we promptly win the war in Afghanistan, we continue to fight for free trade, we stop nuclear proliferation, we support democratic government abroad, and we repair our tattered alliances abroad. Sen. Obama had stark realists on his side, Bill Richardson, Zbigniew Brzezinsk, Gen. James Jones, Gen. Shinsheki, Colin Powell, and Brent Scowcraft not to mention foreign policy powerhouse Sen. Joe Biden as his running mate. McCain in contrast had delusional neo-conservatives from Robert Kagan to Bill Kristol to Joe Liebermen supporting him with the inexperienced Alaskan governor Sarah ("I can see Russia from my house!") Palin as his running mate. While in many respects it was intellectually dishonest to paint the more centrist McCain as 'four more years of Bush' it actually rang true on the foreign policy question. That is until President Obama took office and promptly made liberal neo-con Hillary Clinton his Secretary of State and with the exception of Gen. Jones kept realists out of his foreign policy circle.

So How Has Obama done on his stated goals. Lets look at the first one:

Honorable Withdrawl from Iraq.

Here the President has done quite well, though it has succeeded in large part due to the surge strategy that Gen. Petreaus implemented under President Bush that Sen. Obama opposed as a candidate. Still the peace has held and our timetable should be on schedule even though some violence and electoral fraud continues. A-

Victory in Afghanistan?

Under Clinton the State Department has advocated for a strategy in Afghanistan that, to quote its own internal blueprint for success will 'ensure that medieval social policies that deprive the Afghan people of gender and social equality will not be implemented by a Taliban resurgence'. It goes on to say 'we will not negotiate with the Taliban, no power sharing government with the Taliban is legitimate'. President Obama to this day claims our mission is solely to eradicate Al Qaeda, a mission General McChrystal claims is already complete, and not to nation build. Yet his own Secretary of State has a radically different vision where we alter the basic patriarchy and tribal nature of Afghan society using US troops. Candidate Obama boldly risked alienating some voters when he said we will negotiate with our adversaries from Iran to Venezuela. Yet President Obama and his Secretary of State have ruled this sensible diplomatic strategy out calling the Taliban a group we cannot negotiate with. One is reminded of the Bush mantra that 'we do not negotiate with terrorists' and 'you are either with us or against us' in these statements.

If Al Qaeda is eradicated what national security interest does the US have in Afghanistan? Americans are leery of fighting other people's civil wars for them from Vietnam through to Iraq. Afghanistan is similar in that regard. While Western women might feel that their peers in Afghanistan are living horrible lives we must also admit that their culture is ancient and much different than ours and we must respect their cultural freedom and leave their people to determine the course of their nation. So long as they no longer harbor terrorists that have killed or are planning to kill Americans, and so far there is no longer any evidence of a current Al Qaeda-Taliban connection, what business do we have determining their future? Moreover is such a mission even one the US can complete successfully without suffering mass casualties?
We have eradicated Al Qaeda but the current mission is uncertain and likely unwinnable. D+

Fighting for Free Trade

The Obama administration has also failed at its other stated goal of fighting for free trade. President Obama recently approved of incredibly stringent tariffs on Chinese tires, a move the press from the liberal New York Times to the conservative Wall Street Journal roundly condemned as an opening salvo in a trade war that will be detrimental to both countries. One can only go back to the last depression in 1929 for an example of how protective tariffs, while they might delay unemployment in the short term by artificially propping up American labor, in the long term engender a worldwide freeze on economic activities. if everyone closes their markets who can they sell to? After passing Smott-Hawley in 1931 the depression became a global one, the only export being the misery of the American economy worldwide. Starting a trade war with China, one of our largest partners and one of the best markets for our own products from movies to cars, would be devastating. President Obama should reverse his stand quickly. F

Promoting Democracy Abroad

On the issue of fighting for democratic governments the Obama administration has failed to advance the cause of democracy in Iran by refusing to assist the protesters and reformers there in any capacity less it endanger his negotiations over Iran's nukes or Iran's terror sponsorship. Such a position is counter productive, if anything assisting that population either through UN action, keeping internet and cable channels open, or covert financing will not only help democratize the country (without US bloodshed) but also help the negotiations since it will force the Iranian leadership to back peddle on its external belligerence to keep its internal state controlled. They will be much more likely to fold on nukes and Israel if they have a significant thorn in their side we can help them remove. Moreover we have failed to support democracy in Afghanistan by accepting the preliminary results of an election everyone else in the world says was rigged. The President is essentially saying do as I say not as I do when it comes to democracy. Lastly, in the most egregious example, the US has backed the claims of the Honduran kelptocrat that was ousted by his nation's military in a routine and constitutionally valid impeachment proceeding, not the coup d'etat the President and others maintain. President Zela was accused of embezzling funds and illegally tried to get a third term. Not only is the US actively intervening to subvert another countries internal government, but it is doing so to prop up a leader that has an alliance with Hugo Chavez and is clearly anti-American. I see no reason why we are doing this. F

Repairing our Alliances

Lastly President Obama has abandoned our allies in two key areas: Israel and Eastern Europe. On the Israeli front the Obama administration is pushing for an end to Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank without supporting key concessions from neighboring Arab governments or the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas. While it is refreshing to have a President that is not a lap dog of the Israeli right as President Bush was, it is still counter productive to force the Israeli's to make concessions without getting something in return. Not only does this policy fail Diplomacy and Negotiations 101, it also does so at the expense of one of America's most treasured interstate relationships, next only to Britain in terms of its closeness to the US. F

On the Eastern European front the Obama administration scrapped plans for a national missile defense system in Eastern Europe. It's reasons stated for doing so were incredibly stupid, and they came from one of the smartest members of either the Obama or the Bush administrations, Defense Secretary Gates. He stated in a NY Times Op-Ed that removing the missiles would be crucial in getting concessions from the Iranian government on the nuclear disarmament question while also securing Russian cooperation on that same question. Just as unilaterally invading a country is incredibly stupid, unilaterally retreating is just as dumb. Apparently nobody in the Obama administration actually talked to either Iran or Russia to see if this move would in fact get their cooperation. Apparently they have believed in this 'hope' stuff too much and are simply hoping this appeasement will work. At least Chamberlain secured an agreement from Hitler before he appeased him, it was a bogus agreement but an agreement all the same. We have given up something in return for nothing.

And that something was quite important. These missiles acted as both a deterrent to the Iranian nuclear program (rendering it impotent before its even deployed) and also brought Poland, Lithuania, and the Czech Republic under the NATO umbrella with actual systems to integrate them into the alliance. These new NATO members have always felt like they were second-class compared to Western Europe because while the US still has an advanced missile system and 100 thousand troops in Germany, Poland has nothing. Moreover Poland is much closer to Russia which recently scared off the potential NATO membership of Georgia by invading it, and in doing so scared W. Europe from approving Ukraine's membership. This missile system while it would have been impotent against Russia would have at least let the Poles know we cared about them and that we would not abandon them if the Big Bear attacked. Instead we took away the missile system we carefully had prepared for them (I actually played a small role in those negotiations last summer, albeit as the intern that moved the power point along). To add insult to injury the day the system was canceled was the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland. They really know diplomacy over at the Obama White House! F

So why doesn't President Obama if he is failing on all these fronts get an F? Well he has still helped repair our crucial alliances with Western Europe, he is starting to understand that Afghanistan needs to be wrapped up as our allies get restless fighting it, and there is the stupendous job in Iraq albeit by adopting the late Bush administrations strategy. Gauntanamo will soon be closed and we are getting a lot closer to an international climate change agreement. And I still like the guy and hope he learns from these rookie mistakes, but he better do it fast.

Afghanistan: The Good War Gone Bad

Andrew Bacevich, a former army colonel and a prominent self described 'catholic conservative' has also been one of the most prominent critics of American foreign policy since 9/11. His essential argument is that we should have spent all the money and resources we wasted on foreign wars and occupations instead on a reasonably functional Homeland Security Department and better border and port security which would have been just as effective if not more so at deterring and preventing terrorist attacks on US shores. In this provocative article, Bacevich argues that the US should reduce its contingency of troops to a few hundred special forces soldiers and military advisers that will work with local tribal leaders to contain Al Qaeda and the Taliban, hunt down Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants, and operate a forward area where aircraft and unmanned drones could be used to assist the military in this task.

The article makes a strong case for this action and also that there is a historical precedence of Afghanistan literally being a 'graveyard of empires' citing failures of Alexander the Great, the Persians, Rome, Mughal India, the various Russian empires, the British Empire, and the Soviet Union all as great powers that had significant technological and military advantage that were ultimately unable to achieve their strategic goals in the region.

There are a few telling quotes from the full article in Commonweal magazine ( that merit highlighting.
The first is a useful historical comparison to the domino theory and the failed containment strategy that got the US mired in another nation building quagmire in Vietnam

"What is it about Afghanistan, possessing next to nothing that the United States requires, that justifies such lavish attention? In Washington, this question goes not only unanswered but unasked. Among Democrats and Republicans alike, with few exceptions, Afghanistan’s importance is simply assumed—much the way fifty years ago otherwise intelligent people simply assumed that the United States had a vital interest in ensuring the survival of South Vietnam. As then, so today, the assumption does not stand up to even casual scrutiny."

The second posits a very useful hypothetical interchanging Mexico with Afghanistan

"any politician calling for the commitment of sixty thousand U.S. troops to Mexico to secure those interests or acquit those moral obligations would be laughed out of Washington—and rightly so. Any pundit proposing that the United States assume responsibility for eliminating the corruption that is endemic in Mexican politics while establishing in Mexico City effective mechanisms of governance would have his license to pontificate revoked. Anyone suggesting that the United States possesses the wisdom and the wherewithal to solve the problem of Mexican drug trafficking, to endow Mexico with competent security forces, and to reform the Mexican school system (while protecting the rights of Mexican women) would be dismissed as a lunatic. Meanwhile, those who promote such programs for Afghanistan, ignoring questions of cost and ignoring as well the corruption and ineffectiveness that pervade our own institutions, are treated like sages."

Indeed why is President Obama so fixated on listening to military and civil leaders from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke, UN Ambassador Susan Rice, to General McIernan when all of these policy makers have yet to specifically denounce the very ideology of Wilsonian nation building that got us into Iraq? Why is his entire foreign policy team with the exception of National Sec. Advisor Jim Jones, who incidentally most observers say feels isolated from the White House, composed of these liberal neocon's that still believe in the almighty transformative power of the US to nation build in spite of its failures in places ranging from Iraq to the Balkans and earlier to Vietnam all the way back to the Philippines?

Candidate Obama was supported by stark realists like Bill Richardson, Anthony Lake, Igbinew Brzewinski, Brent Scowcroft, General Shinseki, and Bacevich himself. Where are they now? Only Shinsheki is in the cabinet and there occupying the largely ceremonial backwater of the Veterans Affairs Department.

I find it incredibly disturbing that President Obama insists on applying the successful tactics of the surge that worked in Iraq to the failed state of Afghanistan where they will ultimately fail. How can an urban counter insurgency operation succeed in a largely mountainous country with arid terrain? I think the fact that casualties in Afghanistan are starting to dramatically outpace those in Iraq is proof that this strategy is foolhardy. With the nearly seven year quagmire of Iraq largely coming to a close as America's longest and financially most costly war with none of the original goals or objectives being met and with only the hope of stability when we're gone as the sole victory metric, why is the President choosing to continue the grave mistakes of his predecessor when it comes to Afghanistan?

Interesting Article on the Decline of the Mainline

There is an interesting article on the First Things blog (a great magazine for those unfamiliar on politics, orthodoxy within the Judeo-Christian traditions, law, bioethics, and many other topics) which discusses the dilemma facing mainline Protestantism ( and the author proposes two novel solutions. The first is to flee to the safety and comfort of the 'Mother Church' as he put it, an undertaking that many people I personally know have taken to either the Roman or Orthodox Church's. An undertaking I myself have followed having drifted out of the Catholichism of my youth into evangelical Christianity and United Methodism for a time only to find myself back in the church of my birth and baptism (possibly because of the Holy Spirit). Though the other solution is also an interesting one, one that many, including the author, finds flaws in but one that examines some merit.

The article begins by asking a question that could apply to any member of the Protestant mainline from an Episcopalian, to a Methodist, to a Lutheran (the article focuses on them) to a Congregationalist, etc. Any mainline denomination that is fracturing amidst calls for blessing homosexual unions within the realm of the church. "What is the vocation of the faithful amidst a great deal of confusion and some outright false teaching?"

The article answers that it puts faithful Lutherans into a particular bind, Scripture commands us to listen to the wisdom and advice of our elders, particularly Church elders, but what happens when that command contradicts more basic tenants of the faith? What happens when those same 'wise' leaders begin to undermine the moral teachings and authority that form the foundation of the Church? The article goes on to propose both the 'Roman' solution, a solution I favored, returning to a Church that will constantly be a bedrock of sense, tradition, authority, and Truth (Oh yeah with a capital T!) against the insanity of modernity. Or the 'orthodox soldier' solution, or essentially to be a soldier of Christ and the Word of God first and a 'good lutheran' second. While 'good Lutherans' should listen to their pastors and bishops 'orthodox soldiers' should instead chastise them as Paul chastised the leaders of the Corinthian church when they stray from the teaching of the Gospel.

The author of this article, himself a Roman convert, still disfavors this as ultimately a futile fight that either leads to more church infighting and schism amongst the mainline branches, a process he condemns ironically using a quote of Luther's (prior to his Roman separation) "We, who are bearing the burdens and truly intolerable abominations of the Roman Curia-are we too fleeing and seceding on this account? Perish the thought! Perish the thought!”, or that leads ultimately to the 'orthodox soldier' being perpetually ashamed and dismissive of his own church leadership,
as he finds himself wiser than them. A process one could easily surmise as leading down a path that altogether removes the individual Christian from 'the church' as an active participant and member if he is so alienated from the leadership.

I have of course have my own opinions about this which I have debated with my Protestant girlfriend and a good friend of mine currently in a Methodist divinity school. It seems though that the tragedy of good Christians being alienated by leaders within their own churches who are abandoning the call and wisdom of Christ over a host of issues from the protection of the unborn to the preservation of traditional marriage (to be clear within the Church, we are not talking about state sanctioned same sex union which in my view do not effect the Christian) will continue as long as those churches are governed by those forces seeking conciliation with modernity instead of obedience to Christ. The hope is either that the 'orthodox soldiers' wrest control through the internal mechanisms of their own churches, or that the leadership will learn to become as wise as its laity.