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Sunday, March 18, 2012

ACTION NEEDED ON WAR & GAS PRICES

It continues to amaze me that the White House can focus on the importance of illustrative actions on one topic, while at the same time not realize the importance to do the same in other areas.
To wit: on Tuesday, March 13th, the President announced a legal action against China in an effort to show that the administration is active in that area of concern. Yet, at the same time, the administration announced “no change” in the scheduled draw-down of troops in Afghanistan, in spite of overwhelming support of the people for complete withdrawal.
The latest incident in Afghanistan of the killing of innocents by a single soldier, piled on top of the burning of Korans, and urination on deceased Taliban members, produced a storm of protests in Afghanistan against our presence there.
The New York Times reported just two days ago that President Karzai joined the protests in a sense by his remarks of late:
“They claim they burned Korans by mistake, but really those were “Satanic acts that will never be forgiven by apologies.”
The massacre of 16 Afghan children, women and men by an American soldier ‘was not the first incident, indeed it was the 100th, the 200th and 500th incident.’
Such harsh talk may sound as if it comes from the Taliban, but those are all remarks either made personally by the United States’ increasingly hostile ally here, President Hamid Karzai, or issued by his office in recent days and weeks.
The strongest such outburst came Friday. ‘Let’s pray for God to rescue us from these two demons,’ Mr. Karzai said, apparently holding back tears at a meeting with relatives of the massacre victims, and clearly referring to the United States and the Taliban in the same breath. ‘There are two demons in our country now’.”
To make thing worse, President Hamid Karzai on Thursday demanded a pullback of NATO troops from rural areas as part of a sped-up overall withdrawal.  Then on Friday Karzai lashed out and indicated that he was at the “end of the rope” because of the lack of U.S. cooperation into a probe of the killing spree allegedly carried out by an American soldier. Most recently, he made the remark that the withdrawal of American troops should be sped up so they are out by next year instead of 2014, and that his government is ready to take control.
In spite of this rather widespread negative reaction against us, the administration has failed to use it to increase our withdrawal of troops on a more rapid schedule. Instead, they opted to maintain the current withdrawal schedule and moved to get Karzai on the same page. 
Such failure to realize the importance of an illustrative political action in this arena is something that is just not understandable. Rather than announcing that the schedule would be maintained and that 43,000 troops will be coming home soon, the President should have announced an increase in that number (perhaps to 45,000), and a re-consideration of the timetable, simply to signal that the administration is listening to the people. A golden opportunity has been missed to show that the Obama Administration is as concerned about the people’s opposition to continuing this war, as about taking action against China.
Let’s take a moment to look again at Afghanistan through the prism of “the mission.” What was the original mission, anyway? Michael Rubin of Commentary magazine says that the mission was basically to “fill a vacuum.”
“If one strips away the mission creep and the sheer waste which USAID calls development… the reason we are in Afghanistan is because, prior to 9/11, a vacuum developed which terrorists filled and from which they reached out and struck us. Our goal in Afghanistan is to fill that vacuum. The way both the Bush and Obama administrations chose to do it is to rebuild the Afghan government so it fills that vacuum and to recreate the Afghan army and police so the Afghan security forces can monopolize the use of force inside Afghanistan.”
On such a basis, we are probably destined to be there almost forever since the Afghans have a tribal system that seems to feed that vacuum. It certainly seems to allow the Taliban to exist and to take over whatever government is outside a particular tribal chief’s family, clan, area. When the Taliban become a threat to a tribal chief, there is either a tribal war or a negotiated accommodation. Afghanistan is not known for even wanting a central government. So a NATO or US mission that has to do with building a strong central government is undoubtedly on the wrong track. Such a government is never going to rule the whole country or attain the allegiance of certain groups. Likewise, a mission built around creating an Afghan army, police force and security force is antithetical to the way that country is organized. Michael Rubin again:
“Along Afghanistan’s periphery, locals wanted governors who looked like them and spoke like them, not one of Karzai’s cronies. This clash between the local desire for bottom-up government and (a) system of top-down government haunts the mission.”
Some say that the original mission under Bush was simply to force Al Qaeda out of Afghanistan and to root out the Taliban. When that was essentially completed, the mission changed. This is a big part of our problem: mission “creep.” What it is now, is not the same as it was to begin with. We have gone from defining and targeting the enemy that attacked us, to a nation-building scheme which we simply have no business doing when our own country is still on the ropes economically. As Wolf Blitzer reminds us: “The U.S. spends about $2 billion a week maintaining its presence in Afghanistan, or more than $100 billion a year. Spending another $300 billion in U.S. taxpayer money, so many experts now fear, probably won’t make much of a difference in the final outcome of this Afghan campaign.”
The mission has not only “crept” and changed, it has become impossible to achieve. Romney has said that we should not let an unfortunate incident change our mission or our resolve. This is not the only incident, and they are a compendium of reasons for getting out of that country: urinating on civilians; burning Korans; killing of innocents and, do not forget—the suicide rate amongst our own troops is rising! We knew going in that Afghanistan was a graveyard for occupying forces. The French found it out; the Russians were awed by the reaction to them; the British have felt the sting. Now NATO and the US get to take their turn, unless we simply get out and let the chips fall where they may.
We keep hearing from those who want to “win”; from those who fear what will happen when we leave; from those who believe in honor. Winning wars is not all it’s cracked up to be, and this country has always suffered some unseen consequence because of its many wars. The same vacuum that existed before we went in will recur as will the same chaos. It is not our destiny or purpose to save and revive every country. Afghanistan must enter the 21st century; then it can begin life anew for itself. It is a long way from that end. There is no honor in going any further because the so-called mission is without merit.
Nor is there ‘honor’ in what is happening to our returning warriors who took part in these wars. For example, some service members return from the Middle East with Constrictive Bronchiolitis; other US veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq often experience effects of war long after their return and the mental effects war can have on a soldier have risen over the years, the most familiar now known as PTSD. The most recent study from the DOD Task Force on Mental Health indicated that 38% of active duty soldiers, 31% of active duty Marines, and 49% of returning National Guard troops reported psychological symptoms.
All veterans must readjust when they come home from war. It's harder for some than others, and it can be even harder for women; there are also effects of war on spouses and children of veterans. Spouses of veterans with PTSD are at increased risk for experiencing psychological and relationship distress. The divorce rate among military couples has increased 42 percent throughout the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a recent study shows. And last but surely not least, it appears as though more U.S. soldiers have taken their own lives than have died in combat in Afghanistan (from the invasion up until this past summer). Add to this the ravages of homelessness and joblessness, and we have an accretion of horrendous unintended consequences, and horrible effects, that are overwhelming.
A recent Washington Post article by Eugene Robinson concludes on an important note:
“Public opinion in this country is increasingly fed up with the war. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that 60 percent of Americans believe the war has not been worth the blood and treasure we’ve expended. Fifty-five percent of those polled believe most Afghans are opposed to what we are trying to accomplish in their country, and 54 percent say we should withdraw our troops even before the Afghan army is trained to be ‘self-sufficient’. The poll was taken before Sunday’s massacre. Imagine what the response would be if those questions were asked today.
“This is supposed to be a period of transition from U.S. occupation to Afghan government control. But what do we expect to accomplish between now and 2014, when our troops are supposed to come home? We can be confident that the Afghan government will still be feckless and corrupt. We can anticipate that the Afghan military will still lack personnel, equipment and training. We can be absolutely certain that the Taliban insurgents will still constitute a threat, because — and this is what gung-ho advocates of the war fail to grasp — they live there. To them, Afghanistan is not a battlefield but a home. It’s their country, not ours. In increasingly clear language, Afghans are telling us to leave. We should listen and oblige.”
It is clear on many fronts that we need to get out sooner!  The current schedule of withdrawal is completely inadequate.  The administration needs to act NOW!
The White House is missing another golden opportunity in terms of the need for illustrative actions on gas prices. Of course, the President is not responsible for gas price fluctuations. On the other hand, he is perceived by many people as being responsible, and the polls show that the people think he is not doing enough about it. That perception must be addressed by steps that show he is concerned and taking action. While such actions may not totally resolve the problem of high gas prices, the people will perceive that he is trying, and that is very important. I offer a few suggestions to a White House that is going down the wrong path in trying to convince the people that the White House can’t do anything about gas prices. That may essentially be true, but the people want something to happen – almost anything – and the Administration must keep that in mind and make some moves that address the problem.
I offer the following as ingredients for such a possible plan:
-- limited use of national emergency reserves to increase the amount of gas and oil available
--curbing of Wall Street speculation on gas & oil to any extent possible
--agreements with Saudi Arabia and other countries for increased production and export to this country
--speeding up environmental study of the pipeline from Canada and accelerating its scheduled construction
--a possible freeze (June 1st until Labor Day) on federal gasoline taxes at the pumps; also get agreement from oil companies not to raise prices a comparable amount
--announce opening of new domestic drilling contracts
--speed up increase of MPG standards for cars & trucks
--suggest possibility of putting caps on gas prices in time of war
--initiate rationing for the largest users of gasoline, like corporate fleets; alternately, companies can be encouraged to actually save a lot of money by making fairly minor improvements in the way that their fleet operations are handled.
--announcement of current R&D attempts to find safer ways to extract natural gas; announce other forward movement on alternate energy sources, such as a new approach to cooling that fits the transformed workings of a compressor onto a circuitry board the size of a credit card; algae that’s been cultivated creating hydrocarbons that can be used as fuel, or the completion of a lithium-ion battery with nearly three times the storage capacity of current state-of-the art batteries used in hybrid cars.
--re-institute a national speed limit of 55 miles per hour to save on gas consumption
--encourage everyone to conserve and to use less gas, where possible
There are all kinds of actions that can be taken to exemplify concern, but they must be taken soon to demonstrate this President’s ability to rally the nation once again. We cannot allow the economy to slip back into a deep recession. Take action NOW!