Joe Klein: We're Losing in Afghanistan

Howdy. I am on deadline, writing a piece that involves our current war in Afghanistan. So apologies for the low blog pace. But it means I’ve been k keeping an eye on what all the folks in media land are saying about that par particular conflict.

Here’s Time’s Joe Klein, following up on his cover story a few weeks back, saying things ain’t going well.

The adage is: if you’re not winning against a guerrilla insurgency, you’re losing. We’re not winning in Afghanistan… I must admit, again, I’m mystified about where this effort goes from here. Nothing I’ve heard from the U.S. military or other elements of our government leads me to believe we’re on the right track here. Indeed, it raises serious questions about the use of counterinsurgency tactics in a situation where there is no credible partner–and especially in a situation (unlike Iraq) where the insurgents are neighbors, not foreigners.

Klein is the second big foot type pundit to turn on the war in the past month. The other, David Ignatius at the Washington Post, recently wrote that “the underlying anxiety on both sides that the feasibility of the U.S. strategy for this war has yet to be proved.” (Ignatius criticisms are much milder than Klein’s. But, Ignatius can usually be counted on to cheer on these kinds of military adventures, as he had advised to Obama last fall to “roll the dice on Afghanistan.”)

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Afghanistan: 'Courageous restraint,' the new catch phrase

From the AP, via

FORWARD OPERATING BASE RAMROD, Afghanistan — NATO commanders are weighing a new way to reduce civilian casualties in Afghanistan: recognizing troops for “courageous restraint” if they avoid using force that could endanger innocent lives.

The concept comes as the coalition continues to struggle with the problem of civilian casualties despite repeated warnings from the top NATO commander, U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, that the war effort hinges on the ability to protect the population and win support away from the Taliban.

Will the idea of heroism that doesn’t involve pulling the trigger catch on? I have my doubts. I think it’s going to be difficult to get regular soldiers to buy into this concept–which goes against the heroic narrative so embedded in military culture–anytime in the near future. That doesn’t mean they won’t follow the instructions–ie, don’t kill civilians–but I don’t see it being embraced in the field.

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Newsweek: What Went Wrong

I’m saddened by the for sale sign that’s been put up at Newsweek.  For what it’s worth, I hope they find a buyer who can keep the magazine alive. There are bunch of good people working there, and as the magazine’s recent cover on Afghanistan demonstrated, Newsweek still has the capacity to put out really strong journalism.

But since I need to get a bit of traffic to my site this month, I’m going to weigh in with my own personal view. What I think went wrong, and why. Continue reading

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Iraq: Setting the stage for the next, smaller, civil war

The alliance between Iraq’s two key political coalitions that was announced yesterday shores up the power of the Shiite-dominated regime in Baghdad for the next four years. My guess–a wild crystal ball prediction, to be sure–is that we’re seeing what the government in Iraq will look like for not only the next four years, but for at least the next decade.

I doubt, too, if there will be much incentive for the Shiite government to start sharing more power with their Sunni rivals once the Americans leave. In fact, I expect the opposite–Maliki(or whoever else takes over) will likely continue to eliminate any political opposition, by both political(banning alleged Baathists etc) and martial(arresting, exiling, killing) means.

As the NYT points out:

That could intensify sentiment among Sunnis that despite voting in force, they remain disenfranchised in Iraq’s new democracy. “The fear is this alliance will have a sectarian color,” Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni allied with Mr. Allawi, said in a statement read by an aide after the announcement. “That is how Iraqis and the world will see it, whether we like it or not. This development will be a tragic step backward.”

The question is: how bad will the violence get? Will we get another “full blown” civil war, or will we just see a continuation of the low/high level conflict we’ve been seeing? I think the latter–the insurgency is weak, but they’re still capable of deadly attacks for many years to come. Ie, regular and significant acts of violence, or the equivalent of an Okalohoma city type bombing every few months.

Interestingly enough, if Maliki loses his job, one of the names being thrown around as the next prime minister is Mohammed Jaffar Sadr, radical Islamic cleric Moqtada Al Sadr’s cousin. I don’t know enough about Mohammed Sadr at the moment to say anything too intelligent. But it will be interesting to see how the Iraq War ‘victory’ crowd in Washington will spin the fact that the cousin of a radical Islamic cleric, who fought America tooth and nail during the seven years of occupation, represents a step in the right direction for U.S. ideals, democracy, and our strategic interest in the region.

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The Iraq election debacle

Remember all those weeks back when Iraq held its election? On March 7th, to be exact. The geniuses in pundit-land decided to declare ‘Victory at Last.’ Meanwhile, a few skeptics pointed out the wishful thinking in such declarations.

Anyway, here we are, almost two months later, and the recount of 2.5 million votes has just begun. And, in another twist, Prime Minister Maliki’s team–the guys who wanted the recount in the first place–are already saying this recount isn’t going to be good enough for them, either.

But Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s election coalition, which had demanded the recount, said it should be halted because the elections commission was using improper procedures that would produce an inaccurate result.

What does this all mean? It means Maliki is going to try his best to hold onto power by almost any means necessary. It means that rather than being on a path to democracy, Iraq is likely on a path to some kind of quasi-dictatorship. It means, most importantly, that the clueless beltway crowd yet again preferred delusional thinking to reality.

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Afghanistan: Pentagon says Karzai has little support

According to a new Pentagon report, only 1 in 4 Afghans support President Hamid Karzai in the districts considered strategically important. From McClatchy:

Opinion surveys, the report said, found only 24 percent of the people in those 121 districts sympathize with or support Karzai’s government, formed after the fraud-tainted August 2009 elections.

At the same time, more than half of Afghans blame the Taliban for the insecurity wracking the country, it said.

The report also cast doubt on the recent offensive in Marjah, says McClatchy.

“The insurgents’ tactic of re-infiltrating the cleared areas to perform executions has played a role in dissuading locals from siding with the Afghan government, which has complicated efforts to introduce effective governance,” it said.

Why does this report matter? Because it will surely be used as fodder for questions when Karzai visits the United States in two weeks.


I’m currently in Kabul, and I’ll be writing more on Afghanistan in the weeks ahead. But the Karzai/Obama relationship will certainly be a developing storyline…

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The Volcano has left me stranded

Wanted to post a note: I’ve been on assignment in Europe, and thus have been caught in the great volcano catastrophe. While in the midst of rearranging my travel plans, blogging will be nonexistent to light for the next couple of days. Hoping to resume to a normal schedule by the end of the week. Thanks for stopping by.

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