As we begin the third year of the #Covid-19 pandemic we continue to face the problem of getting consistent and believable information to the public. To start, I’m fully vaccinated and wear a mask when in a crowd. I do not do this because the government says so, but because it is the prudent thing to do. How do I react to those who choose not to? I don’t. It is, in my opinion, personal preference. Wearing a mask does not protect others, it will only protect you from becoming infected, same for the #vaccination. I’m not sure how effective the vaccine is but at the least it should be considered chicken soup, couldn’t hurt.
Getting to the root cause of those who do not wish to wear masks or get vaccinated is a little difficult. Coming as no surprise to anyone the American people are becoming more divided, and it would appear the middle is shrinking as the extremes get further apart. How this is manifesting itself is that on the one side we see a belief that the central government should be in control of all things and everybody. It is this collectivist concept that see the need for mandates. On the other side we see a hatred of the central government and suspicion of any regulations that come out of it.
The first, driven by a recent philosophy that, for lack of a better term, has sprung from the concept of socialism. This belief has been inculcated into the system by academics and mass media. The second goes back to enlightenment philosophy of the individual as the center of power. The United States was founded on the second.
The desire to force the population to bend to one way of thinking is opposed by the desire to resist a central control. While both sides have legitimate arguments, both sides have staked out extreme positions and have dug in. On the extremes we have “Do as your told our we are all going to die,” vs “Statistically, I have little chance of dyeing so why chance what I think is a dangerous alternative.”
There was a time that there could be discussion and compromise. Today however all we have is emotion and anger. Let’s try and return to a time of logic and reason. PleaseTHINK how your actions affect others and use facts to make critical decisions.
Recently President Joe Biden remarked that the US has no legal obligation to defend Ukraine in the event of a Russian invasion. This may or may-not be true. In 1994 the US along with Russia and the UK signed what is known as “The Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances.” In this memorandum the signatories spelled out that the territorial integrity as well as political independence of Ukraine was guaranteed. These assurances were tested in 2014 with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, support to rebel forces and annexation of Crimea, and were found wanting.
The agreement is not a Treaty, it provisions are void of any legal provisions. Following the Russian invasion the Obama administration did very little more then raise diplomatic concerns. The Trump administration increased support to Kyiv through the transferal of Javelin anti-tank missiles and other military equipment. While fighting continues in the heavily Russian region known as Donbas the world ahs lost interest, until now.
Today few in the west believe there can be a new Pan-European war, however history tells us otherwise. Russia has been testing western resolve for years not only in Ukraine but in Georgia and by pushing the cyber envelope. The west has become complacent in its ways and more concentrated on its ideological differences. Russia on the other hand has been busy laying the groundwork for a new Russian empire. Putin himself declared the fall of the Soviet Union a mistake.
How long can we ignore Russian and Chinese aggression before we realize it is to late. Had we called Hitler prior to the Sudetenland debacle. Had we faced up to Japanize actions in China and elsewhere, would history be different or a little less bloody. Had we stood up to despots in the past would we have learned. Can we stop Putin by publicly threatening him with economic sanctions? The clear answer is no. Sanctions have almost never worked on any country and they certainly will not work on Russian leadership.
The Fact is by calling Putin out like Biden did it is more likely Russia will invade Ukraine. While militarily strong the west has shown no true desire or will to use that military. Activity in the Middle East never raised to the level that would impress Putin or his generals. The exact opposite is true, what we have shown is, pushed hard and we leave.
We may learn from the cold war days, the Berlin Brigade was out in place as a trip wire. Could the same thing work in Ukraine? A small contingent of US forces placed on the ground opposite of the Russian forces would mean to invade would require a direct confrontation with the US and NATO. It might if Putin can be convinced that the West would respond militarily. Unfortunately, that is a big if.
In today’s Washington Post are front page headlines exalting President Biden for finally getting the infrastructure bill passed. In the stories it rarely mention that it was only passed with Republican Party support. When the news media does mention the 13 Republican members, who did cross over, it about other Republicans attacked them as RINOs, helping to expand socialist agendas. Infrastructure support is a legitimate role for government, both State and Federal. I do not agree with everything in the bill, such as funding electric charging stations. Things such as this are best left to private industries. This can be handled better though tax incentives for say existing gas stations to put in charging stations. The original bill sailed through the Senate as a bipartisan action with both parties backing it.
The true story here, and one that should be at the center of any discussion, is that Biden did not win. Pelosi did not win, the Democrats did not win, this was a win for both the people and the Republicans. How is this a win for the Republicans? Ignoring the rhetoric from the extreme right Biden and Pelosi have lost control of their party and will need to deal with the Republicans for future legislation. What should be pointed out to the people is that the extreme right, the so-called Progressive wing, was willing to let the country suffer in order to get their side a victory for social programs few in the population want.
Infrastructure is not a Biden cause, but a national one. President Trump and others have all tried. The Biden initiative was his build back better debacle, which the left tried to pass and could not even get it to a vote. The blockage to that bill is the Progressives not the Republicans. By ensuring that the two bill are not joined the Republicans got the needed legislation passed knowing that the other will never make it passed the Senate.
Using true conservative values we declare this as a win for the individual over big government.
Just so you know I live in Virginia and voted for Youngkin. Having said that I wish to opine on the recent analysis of the Virginia election as well as the New Jersey gubernatorial election and others. My political philosophy is conservative, and I distance that from Republican party ideology.
Many on the left have blamed the loss on several different points. Many say it is the arguments over “Critical Race Theory” being taught in schools. Others blame the low popularity of President Biden while others still point out that traditionally the governorship in Virginia has changed to the opposite party of the person in the White House. The right on the other hand claims it as a victory over big government and a return of the voice of the people. Of course, both are, in some ways correct.
The fact of the matter is that Terry McAuliffe ran a terrible campaign. He was tone deaf to the needs and desires of the “other Virginia.” By that I mean the political center. Youngkin ran on issues that resonated with the voter, Taxes, Education, and public safety. McAuliffe on the other a campaign based on Democratic National Committee talking points. In his concession statement it shows he did not learn the lesson:
“While last night we came up short, I am proud that we spent this campaign fighting for the values we so deeply believe in. We must protect Virginia’s great public schools and invest in our students. We must protect affordable health care coverage, raise the minimum wage faster, and expand paid leave so working families have a fighting shot. We must protect voting rights, protect a woman’s right to choose, and, above all else, we must protect our democracy. While there will be setbacks along the way, I am confident that the long-term path of Virginia is toward inclusion, openness, and tolerance for all. “
What killed McAuliffe campaign was not just the gaffe of saying that parents should not have a say in their children’s education but the implication that the government knows best. I think this along with campaigning on issues that did not resonate with the people indicated to the people just where and what the Democratic party has become.
The killer in NJ was the current governor saying that if you did not like taxes NJ was not the state for you. While NJ is still a toss-up, if Murphy wins it will be by around one percent. Polls just two weeks ago had him leading by 20%.
I caution the right however not to leap for too much joy but to understand this is not Democrats abandoning their party or more people joining the Republican band wagon, but just Mr. and Ms. Average declaring enough.
I would suggest that while party loyalty is hardening at the extremes, it is likely softening in the middle. These elections were decided by very slim margins. There is an old axiom in politics that any Democrat and any Republican can expect to win 40% of the vote, it is the middle 20% that decide the outcome. Democrats must understand that politics is local, and Republicans must understand that the people do expect a certain level of government in their lives.
Elections will be decided by local economic issues, and its time our political leaders understood that. It is also time for those talking heads who analyze the elections to understand that it is not race, gender and education that is the sole determinate in how someone votes, but self-interest.
After watching President Biden speak about the reasons for our withdrawal from Afghanistan it has taking me sometime to claim down enough to write. He took a victory lap to extol defeat. He praised the work of many to get out US citizens as well as others that had worked for us. But not all. He started this by declaring the United States has ended 20 years of war. Like the British Evacuation of Dunkirk was the end of the war in Europe. He pointed out the ISIS-K, which supposedly carried out the bombing at the airport, are sworn enemies of the Taliban. This does not make the Taliban good or our friends, they are just different terrorist groups. He said that the made the decision on April 1 to end the war and set the final date as Aug 31. He actually set the date as Sept, 11. He spoke of the 300,000 strong Afghan Army that failed to fight. To begin he has used that number, which is wrong, it was closer to 179,000. And failed to mention that by closing Bagram airbase we removed the air power that we had trained the Afghans to expect. They did have an air force, but we also removed the contractor support that allowed them to continue flying. He spoke of the government collapse and the president fleeing, amid the corruption and malfeasance “and turning the country over to the Taliban. The building he spoke from was once burnt by the British as President Madison fled. To my knowledge there has been no turnover of government and the Taliban are occupying the capital. When the French government collapsed, and de Gaulle fled to England did that mean everyone must accept the Nazis as the legitimate government of France. As the France resistance rose so we see a resistance movement in Panjshir under the old Northern Alliance. Are there plans to support them? We had been told there where between 10 -15000 Americans in Afghanistan. The President said they had identified early 5000 who wished to stay but now wanted out. He said that more then 5500 out, that leaves, using the lower number almost 5000 left behind. But he went on to say that only about 100 – 200 remain behind. Do the math Joe. He then goes on to say Blinken is continuing diplomatic efforts and cited a UN Security Council resolution that the international community expects the Taliban to deliver on their promises, com’on man are you that stupid, or worse do you think we are. He claimed the Aug 31 date was not an arbitrary deadline and that he original date Trump gave was May 1st. he changed it, therefore it was arbitrary and fungible. Biden then proceeded to outright lie. He said the agreement “It included no requirement that Taliban work out a cooperative governing arrangement with the Afghan government.” It did. The US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has said on more than one occasion the agreement had several escape clauses. But Biden declared that because of the agreement he had no choice, it was either leave or send in more troops. Like President Obama, who said of the Iran Deal it was that deal or war, Biden put everything out as black or white.
Biden said in the beginning of the speech that he took full responsibility then proceeded to blame everyone else. He blamed US citizens for not getting out even through they had been warned as early as March. Bagram Air Base would have been the logical point to remove these citizens but was closed 1 July. The administration continued to declare that the Taliban would not be in charge until the end of the year. He has said in the past that he followed the military commander’s recommendation on leaving to include ending the airlift, “The decision to end the military airlift operations at Kabul airport was based on the unanimous recommendation of my civilian and military advisers.” I find it hard to believe that any decision was unanimous, as Gen Patton once said, “If everyone is thinking the same someone is not thinking.” In the end he asked the same thing he has asked in the past, what was America vital national interest in Afghanistan? The answer will likely become clear in the future. The terrorist problem will not go away because we want it to. We need to stop our current habit of only looking out 5 seconds into the future and saying I don’t see anything.
Now that lives have been lost and we have withdrawn, this ill-conceived operation once again highlights the lack of US Foreign policy capabilities or our understanding of what is needed to protect American interests. Since the end of the Korean War the US has slowly lost the will to build influence and continue to lead the world. The Cold War was the last hoorah for what was left of US influence mostly based on the nuclear stand off with the Soviet Union. Much of the problem stems from the United States inability to adjust to a different world. Most of US foreign involvement since the cold war has been in Asia and the Middle East, cultures that most in Washington do not understand. This should not be the case as it is not in many other western countries and the US foreign service should be able to accept the different cultures but has always ended up trying to impose US values on the nations we get engaged with.
In 1648 the Treaty of Westphalia helped establish the countries we know today that make up Europe. There were tweaks along the way, but it established the customs of international relations we know today. It was established within the bounds of European customs and cultures and of course held little sway as countries pushed out of Europe to colonize the world. At the end of the First World War the victorious nations sliced and diced the world up to their economic and political advantage. Ignoring the wants and desires of the indigenous population they put in motion decades of violence. Many countries put together by colonial powers were countries in name only. Following the Second World War and then the Cold War many of these countries broke apart or fell under ruthless regimes that held them together at gun point.
After the creation of Israel, the US seems to have locked out any further changes, no new countries. This of course left the made-up countries like Iraq to fend for themselves. We refused to acknowledge the different ethnic, religious, and even linguistic differences. The United States has the distinct advantage/disadvantage of being one of the most heterogeneous nations in the world. Regardless of all our knowledge we refuse to accept that not all countries and people will accept our values or adhere to our customs. We are seeing this play out today in Afghanistan. A tribal nation that many have tried to forge into a single country. It will not work. We needed to arm and train tribal forces not a national army. If it was ever to change it would take generations a century or more to make it whole. The United States unfortunately maintains a five second view of the world and has no idea of second and third order effect of its decisions. We look to deal with problems on a country-by-country basis while the countries we are dealing with are acting in regional or overarching religious aspects. In the case of the Taliban, they see their version of Islam as the only correct interpretation.
Biden said that after 20 years it was time for the Afghans to take charge, but who are the Afghans? As a single entity they do not exist. Our presence did begin to push a lot of the country forward. At a minimum woman were being educated. We are now talking to a group that holds a world view front he 7th century and act as if they have changed in 20 years and are now willing to become a part of the world. But all that will end simple because our foreign policy professional has failed once more.
In his January 20th, 1961, inaugural address President Kennedy said, “we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty.” Over the years these words have rung hollow for our friends and allies. Vietnam, Lebanon, Somalia, and others, now Afghanistan. A saying I heard long ago says, “Insurgents don’t have to win they only have to wait.” Today we once again see the truth of this statement. We have been in Afghanistan for 20 years and have in fact done good things. An entire generation of woman have grown up in a society that has allowed for growth. It is not complete, but we had a start. We are now hearing stories of girls being given to Taliban fighters as war prizes. The people know what is coming as evidenced by them hanging on the wheels of departing aircraft and handing their children over to waiting Marines, so they have a chance to escape. People are bring dragged out of their homes and executed. There will be more horror stories, but we will not hear them as we withdraw and there is no information or press coverage.
The new narrative is that most people wanted us out of Afghanistan but are opposed to the way it is being handled. I am willing to bet that most people did not know or care that we were still there. But we were and had set expectations of many Afghans. This went beyond the early mission of defeating Al Qaida and removing the Taliban from power. Was that the end of it? Where we expected to then just pack up and leave, as many have said? The question of whether we should have done nation building is now being asked and the answer is clearly yes. We had a moral obligation to replace what we broke, their government. What happened is, as is often the case with the west, we tried to impose western style democracy in a non-western culture.
As we have seen in Iraq, tribal and regional loyalties out strip the concept of national identity. We had a good plan in place in Iraq that armed and trained the Sunni tribes call the Sons of Iraq. When the Shia dominated government pulled the plug on that we saw the rise of ISIS. Instead of trying to build a national army in Afghanistan, a country of little to no national identity, we should have trained and armed the tribes and worked on regional ethnic pride.
Was it time to leave Afghanistan, no it was time to reassess and change our tactics. Biden has said there was no longer a national security threat in Afghanistan, he is wrong. The Taliban control will give terrorist a safe area to grow and plot and attack the west. Make no mistake we will have to return in one way or another.
The usual distinction between diplomacy and force is not merely in the instruments, words or bullets, but in the relation between adversaries—in the interplay of motives and the role of communication, understandings, compromise, and restraint. Diplomacy is bargaining; it seeks outcomes that, though not ideal for either party, are better for both than some of the alternatives. In diplomacy each party somewhat controls what the other wants, and can get more by compromise, exchange, or collaboration than by taking things in his own hands and ignoring the other’s wishes. The bargaining can be polite or rude, entail threats as well as offers, assume a status quo or ignore all rights and privileges, and assume mistrust rather than trust. But whether polite or impolite, constructive or aggressive, respectful or vicious, whether it occurs among friends or antagonists and whether or not there is a basis for trust and goodwill, there must be some common interest, if only in the avoidance of mutual damage, and an awareness of the need to make the other party prefer an outcome acceptable to oneself. With enough military force a country may not need to bargain. Some things a country wants it can take, and some things it has it can keep, by sheer strength, skill and ingenuity. It can do this forcibly, accommodating only to opposing strength, skill, and ingenuity and without trying to appeal to an enemy’s wishes. Forcibly a country can repel and expel, penetrate and occupy, seize, exterminate, disarm and disable, confine, deny access, and directly frustrate intrusion or attack. It can, that is, if it has enough strength. “Enough” depends on how much an opponent has. There is something else, though, that force can do. It is less military, less heroic, less impersonal, and less unilateral; it is uglier, and has received less attention in Western military strategy. In addition to seizing and holding, disarming and confining, penetrating and obstructing, and all that, military force can be used to hurt. In addition to taking and protecting things of value it can destroy value. In addition to weakening an enemy militarily it can cause an enemy plain suffering.
Schelling, Thomas C.. Arms and Influence (The Henry L. Stimson Lectures Series) (pp. 1-2). Yale University Press.
It has been asked many times in the last few days, weeks, and months, why are we in Afghanistan and what is the American National Interest. The Presidents last news conference touched on this as have some of his last announcements on his decision to withdrew and news outlets have stated that polls on the American people stated that they wanted to get out of Afghanistan. Biden has also on several occasions said that our goals have been met and we should not continue to put US forces in harm’s way. I started off with the opening paragraph from Thomas Shelling’s book “Arms and Influence.” It is interesting to note that the first chapter is titled “The Diplomacy of Violence.” I could have as easily quoted George Santayana “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” Afghanistan is a wild and virtually ungovernable country. It was used by Al Qaeda to plan and launch the 9/11 attacks. Would we ever be able to work with the Taliban to bring them into the government, no. President Biden seemed to think so, as did President Trump. Both were determined to end US military presence in Afghanistan. Trump understood how difficult it would be to corral the Taliban so he placed conditions on our exit and while using diplomacy added the threat of military intervention should the Taliban not meet the conditions. Biden on the other hand Using the deal Trump hammed out as the excuse that we had to get out, regardless of conditions. As we have learned from Schelling, diplomacy with out the threat of force is useless. Carl von Clausewitz in his work “On War” declared that “war is a continuation of policy by other means.” Does all this mean that the US or any other country must engage in “Forever Wars’ of course not. What we need to understand is that when dealing with foreign adversaries diplomatically there is always going to be the knowledge of a military in the background. This is not a horrible, brutal, bulling way of existence, but a matter of human nature. Without such a threat Hitler went on a rampage that nearly destroyed the world. With the threat of “Mutually Assured Destruction” the US and the Soviet Union existed side by side in peace. Biden and his government are living in a world of Ideology not reality. With Afghanistan in the hands of the Taliban terrorist once again have a base of operations. Why did this not happen before as we wound down our force commitment? Trumps threats were believed. Currently Biden is seen as weak and ineffectual. Why is Afghanistan important? To keep the knowledge alive that the US will support its allies. What now will keep Turkey from attacking Iraq and eliminating the Kurds. What will keep Israel safe? What is going to keep China from attacking Taiwan. Second and Third order of effect must be considered in any decision that is made, not just feel good ideological rea
There will be much finger pointing and recriminations following the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban. There will be Congressional hearings and white papers from think tanks, and none will address the root cause of this and other problems that face the government and the people. The culture within the decision-making process sucks.
Much of what I am going to say can be summed up by a saying attributed to Sam Rayburn, Speaker of the House in the mid 1950s to early ‘60s. When speaking to young congressmen who told him of their ambitions his reply was, “to get along you have to go along.” This is the basic philosophy that drives career government and military leaders as they advance, don’t rock the boat.
This is not to say that there are not those who do indeed rock the boat, but they are few and do not last long. Those in the Intelligence Community are known as Cassandras, from the Greek woman in mythology who was given the gift of prophecy and the curse of never being believed. While there should be a place for different analysis, and in fact has doctrinal support, it is seldom if ever used. Those who go the route of “Red Team,” or Devils Advocate,” rarely survive, it’s a career ender.
While this mentality is less evident in the military it begins to rear its ugly head as people advance. To that end those that reach the higher command levels tend to be more politician than warrior. This was not always the case. There is an old story about a Soviet officer saying that the difficulty in planning against the Americans is that they rarely read their regulations or feel an obligation to follow it. Today strict adherence to doctrine is the road to success. George Patton would likely not have made it past captain.
I am not sure this problem will be, or can be, address. Those who write reports for the decision makers have their own form and language. If they are certain of the results, their superior wants they can structure the report to fit the desire. If not, which is more often the case, they can structure the report to be interpreted as needed. An absurd example would be a report that should read, “it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and sounds like a duck, we conclude it is a duck” would conclude more like “… we conclude with a high degree of probability that it is some form of waterfowl.”
Many have touted the results of a recent final report to congress from the Afghanistan Study Group that had listed several courses of action and the resulting consequences. Today most zero in on courses of action from the chapter of Alternative Pathways. The recommended pathway was to maximize existing US leverage to achieve an acceptable negotiated peace agreement. The most risky pathway was called a Washing of Hands and warned of the results, which we have now seen. The conclusion of the report stated that
“With the launch of peace negotiations, the conflict in Afghanistan has entered a new phase. This new phase requires a new understanding. Afghans must take primary responsibility for their own future. The United States must orient its efforts and resources toward shaping the conditions around the peace process—resetting and reframing it in ways recommended in this report—in order to give it the best chance to succeed. It should be reiterated, however, that our troop presence is a key point of leverage. U.S. troops play a vital role in ensuring the continuity of state structures, and thus their presence is essential to brokering a lasting peace. Success, it should be acknowledged, is not guaranteed. But there is a clear path forward. There is now a real possibility of the conflict winding down and Afghanistan becoming a country that needs far less help from the United States. If this happens, the United States can bring its troops home and both countries can move forward as sovereign nations with friendly relations based on shared values and sacrifices.”
The answers were given to the decision makers, not from the IC or DoD but a select group empowered by Congress. This groups membership consisted of retired politicians and retired military as well as former diplomats and academics. In other words, this group consisted of people who could speak their minds without fear of professional recriminations, and they got it right. This also shows that the information was out there for anyone willing to see it and think.
This failure of allowing the unpopular analysis to get through to the decision makers needs to be corrected and the culture of fear over being out of step with the mainstream needs to end. This needs to be a major lesson leaned or this problem will just continue.
There will be much debate in the halls of power and at cocktail parties as to the reason the Taliban were able to sweep through the Afghan National Army so quickly and why it caught the US military and the intelligence community so off guard. Having worked this problem in my years at the Pentagon I can assure you that it did not, at least not at the level of initial assessments. No one I worked with on our task force had any illusions about what Afghanistan was, a backward tribal conglomeration, not a nation in any way. As you got higher up the food chain assessments were changed to meet the desires of the decision makers, or at least the perceived desires. For what ever reason the United States spent 20 years trying to make Afghanistan a mirror image of the west. This was impossible. Afghanistan is a made-up country designed by the British to keep the Russian Empire from touching the British Empire. Even the shape of the Badakhshan province was created so that Russian did not touch India.
For a multiethnic country the United States has a hard time understanding the existence of other multiethnic countries. While the ethnic diversity in the US has grown to accept a national identity, the Afghans have not. While the Pashtun make up a plurality of the population, between 38% and 42%, they have been accepted as representative of the total population by the US. The rest of Afghanistan: Hazara, Uzbek, Baloch, Nuristani, Tajik, Hani and Kasi have different cultures and languages. There is no national identity or loyalty to a central government and for 20 years the US continued to treat the entire country as Pashtun. Afghans are tribal and adhere to their tribal cultures. The US leaders could never quite grasp this and tried to form a central government and national army. There was an attempt to make an ethnically diverse Army. Unless we were willing to accept Afghanistan for what it was, we were doomed.
Without this basic understanding of the people and culture we were never going to succeed. The only way for any success was to first let the military do what they are best at, killing people and braking things. Once that was done, we needed to accept that it would take generations to convert the people and during this time the military needed to stay in place. I feel for the people we left behind, especially for the female population. It would be interesting to read the After Action Reports and the Lessons Learned papers that will come out of this, but I doubt this will ever happen.