Sunday, September 6, 2009

Growing Doubts On Afghanistan

During a national nightly news broadcast in February 1968, Walter Cronkite questioned the legitimacy of America’s continued involvement in the Vietnam War. It was a defining moment. Following the broadcast, President Johnson famously told an aide, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.” He was right. American support for the war substantially declined and, soon thereafter, Johnson announced that he was not running for re-election.

On September 1, 2009, conservative columnist George Will published an op-ed piece in The Washington Post entitled, “Time to Get Out of Afghanistan.” Although Will may not rank with Cronkite as “most trusted man in America,” his dissension from the ranks of pro-war sentiment is nevertheless significant and potentially influential. Will is a model of civil discourse, a thoughtful, intelligent, and well-respected commentator who appeals to reason at a time when the news media is filled with shouting pundits and a lack of critical thinking.

Will correctly notes that the United States has been entangled in Afghanistan for eight years – longer than its combined involvements in the two world wars of the Twentieth Century. He contends that our stated policy of “clear, hold, and build” – that is, clear various regions of Taliban control, hold U.S./Afghan control of those areas, and build effective local, district and provincial governments – is doomed to failure; “nation-building would be impossible even if we knew how, and even if Afghanistan were not the second-worst place to try.” According to the Brookings Institution, only Somalia ranks lower than Afghanistan as a weaker nation state. Will contends that Afghanistan has never had an effective, central government and, citing recent commentary in The Economist, states that the regime of President Hamid Karzai is “so ‘inept, corrupt and predatory’ that people sometimes yearn for restoration of the warlords, ‘who were less venal and less brutal than Mr. Karzai’s lot.’” We presently have 68,000 American troops in Afghanistan (bringing the coalition total to 110,000), and President Obama is considering adding thousands more; yet most experts believe that the counterinsurgency effort needed to protect the population would require “hundreds of thousands of coalition troops, perhaps for a decade or more. That is inconceivable.”

Although most Republicans, including the editorialists of Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, continue to support increased military jingoism, Will is not alone on the right in espousing a more cautious approach. Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, for one, also advocates withdrawal of U.S. troops: “Bogging down large armies in historically complex, dangerous areas ends in disaster.” Hagel contends that the United States must recognize that every great threat to our country also threatens our global partners, including former adversaries China, Russia, India, and Turkey. “We need a clearly defined strategy that accounts for the interconnectedness and the shared interests of all nations.” Hagel suggests that we should not “view U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan through a lens that sees only ‘winning’ or ‘losing.’ . . . There are too many cultural, ethnic and religious dynamics at play in these regions for any one nation to control.”

Like many Democrats, I have until recently believed that Afghanistan was the “good war” in our fight against global terrorism. Afghanistan is where the attacks on the United States of September 11, 2001, were planned and executed. The Taliban forces who supported Osama Bin-laden and provided a safe haven for al-Qaeda were legitimate targets of U.S. military might. I continue to believe that we were right to invade Afghanistan in October 2001, and that we were wrong to invade Iraq, a war which was entered under false pretenses and which diverted our military and security resources in a country that had not attacked us and that posed no direct threat to us. I agreed with President Obama when he asserted during the campaign that U.S. resources should be increased in Afghanistan and decreased in Iraq.

So it is with some reluctance that I express doubts about the President’s strategy and acknowledge the legitimacy of questions raised by George Will, Chuck Hagel, and an increasing number of more liberal commentators. As Bob Herbert wrote in Saturday’s New York Times, “We’re fighting on behalf of an incompetent and hopelessly corrupt government in Afghanistan. If our ultimate goal, as the administration tells us, is a government that can effectively run the country, protect its own population and defeat the Taliban, our troops will be fighting and dying in Afghanistan for many, many years to come.”

Although Vietnam analogies can be tiresome, and while liberals too easily equate all American military incursions with Vietnam, some comparisons between Afghanistan and Vietnam are indeed apt.

• Like President Johnson during the Vietnam War, President Obama appears eager to demonstrate his toughness by vowing to do what it takes to “win” in Afghanistan – even though what is meant by winning is far from clear. When Obama’s special representative to Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, was asked last month to define “success” in Afghanistan, he replied, “We’ll know it when we see it.”

• As was the case with South Vietnam, Afghanistan is a deeply divided, semi-failed state with an incompetent, corrupt government that is considered illegitimate by a large portion of its population.

• As with Vietnam, in Afghanistan the United States is embroiled in a nation for which we have very little understanding of its culture, history, and language.

• Similar to Vietnam, Afghanistan has an inhospitable geography, with mountainous terrain, snowy winters, and numerous caves and escape routes that provide off-limit sanctuaries across 9,000 miles of borders. It is ideal for indigenous resistance to foreign invaders, providing the Taliban in certain areas with a distinct advantage.

• As with Vietnam’s resistance of French colonialism prior to the arrival of U.S. forces, Afghanistan successfully resisted military incursions by the British and the former Soviet Union.

• As with LBJ and Vietnam in the 1960’s, the conflict in Afghanistan threatens to derail President Obama’s efforts to reshape America at home. A military escalation in Afghanistan can only serve to divert much needed resources away from the President’s attempts to reform a troubled health care industry, revive a broken economy, prevent global warming, and restore America’s standing in the world.

None of this should be taken as criticism of the brave and courageous U.S. military forces that are stationed in Afghanistan. The ability and skill of our armed forces is unmatched. But many years after U.S. forces had completely withdrawn from Vietnam, Col. Harry Summers, a military historian, said to a counterpart in the North Vietnamese Army, “You never defeated us in the field.” The NVA officer replied, “That may be true. It is also irrelevant.” The Viet Cong knew that one day U.S. forces would leave and, until that day arrived, they would outlast us. At the peak of the Vietnamese conflict, LBJ confided in Senator Richard Russell that he knew we could not win the war in Vietnam, but he felt compelled to stay the course so as to avoid being the first American president to lose a war. Johnson’s pride and political calculations cost the lives of tens of thousands of some of America’s finest young men. These should be warnings to President Obama. While the number of U.S. casualties in Afghanistan will likely never approach Vietnam War levels, President Obama is risking a commitment to a war that has no end in sight and no apparent upside.

While the goal of General Stanley McChrystal, the commander in Afghanistan, is to establish a reasonably noncorrupt Afghan state that will partner with America in keeping Afghanistan free of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, it is clear that he is talking about nation building in one of the poorest, most tribalized, countries in the world. As Thomas Friedman contends in today’s New York Times:

It would be one thing if the people we were fighting with and for represented everything the Taliban did not: decency, respect for women’s rights and education, respect for the rule of law and democratic values and rejection of drug-dealing. But they do not. Too many in this Kabul government are just a different kind of bad. This has become a war between light black — Karzai & Co. — and dark black — Taliban Inc. And light black is simply not good enough to ask Americans to pay for with blood or treasure.
Obama has framed Afghanistan as a war of necessity and not of choice. No one disputes that there are people and organizations committed to harming America and that strong measures are needed to protect us from these threats. But how and when we use force is a decision that must not be made in the mere hope that, maybe, it will succeed.

If we still have not learned that it is virtually impossible to defeat an enemy we do not understand in a terrain we cannot control, then President Obama is destined to repeat the failed lessons of history. There is much more to this debate, and the issues are complex and not easily boxed into the Vietnam analogy. But I cannot help but believe that a coordinated policy of containment and deterrence of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, coupled with strategic development, military training, and economic aid to the Afghan government, will be more successful in keeping us safe and in preventing a resurgence of Taliban influence in the Pashtun regions of Pakistan, than will a military strategy of "winning" at all costs. As Senator Hagel said, “Relying on the use of force as a centerpiece of our global strategy, as we have in recent years, is economically, strategically and politically unsustainable and will result in unnecessary tragedy – especially for the men and women, and their families, who serve our country.”


  1. Wow Mark. A LOT here. I first heard this suggestion a a week or two ago at a town hall meeting with what I thought was my overly liberal congressperson. I was shocked a few days later to read the Will column.

    And yet, while much makes sense, still really, it seems to me what you are talking about is either a more clear definition of the mission or a redefinition of the mission.

    Since I have no idea of the difference between "clear hold and build" and "containment and deterrance" I cannot really see a change in my own feelings. How would this work? Withdrawl? Well, you know who will be back on our shores within a few years.

    Total agreement on NOT fighting for a different shade of black. We have always lost when we supported a despot because he was our despot.

    All good points, but I really need a clear vision of how to defeat the Taliban before changing course.

  2. Mike,

    Thanks for commenting -- you point out the essence of Obama's dilemma: Get bogged down in an unwinnable war that will require the commitment of resources and American lives for another decade or more, or withdraw and risk blame for the next terrorist attack (regardless of any actual connection to the change in course). In my opinion, there is a middle ground, and it is the difference between the present strategy of "clear, hold, and build" and Hagel et al.'s strategy of "containment and deterrence." The problem with "clear, hold and build" is that it requires nation building in a place where that is virtually impossible, and it defines success as "winning" -- i.e., defeating the Taliban and al-Queda -- something which appears also to be impossible (for many of the reasons cited in my post). But containment of the Taliban and deterrrence of future terrorist attacks against U.S. targets, is something we do all the time, and is consistent with our approach to Somalia, Yemen, and many other breeding grounds for terrorists. Protecting our homeland and our strategic interests is something our military does quite well; nation-building is something they do rather poorly. And even if we were wildly successful in Afghanistan, what will we have accomplished (a strong corrupt government that represses its people?) and at what cost (how many American and coalition lives will have been lost, not to mention the lives of many innocent Afghans)?

    Another problem I did not even mention. On September 4, 2009, it was reported that a NATO airstrike in Kunduz province killed 90-100 Afghans, some Taliban, but at least 40-50 innocent civilians, all of whom were burned beyond recognition. One surviving burn victim being treated at a local hospital was a 10-year old boy. As long as this is the effect of American or NATO military efforts, how is this going to advance our mission? If anything, these airstrikes will push more and more Pashtuns and others into the fold of the Taliban who, while not widely liked, are respected for their efforts at resisting the foreign powers. Any which way, it does not seem like an approach that is going to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.

  3. Mark,

    Check out today's NYT for a good piece on the topic (I could not paste a link here). Gotta say, one thing I like about getting out is leaving Karzeid (sp?) to the Taliban and vice versa. In staying to "defeat" the Taliban, we de facto prop up K, which is clearly a losing proposition. I feel bad for those poor citizens of that country, but our objective is to prevent further attacks.


  4. Mark,

    You might want to get some coffee – this is going to take a while.

    First the short answer to the question you didn’t quite ask: Could Afghanistan be President Obama’s Vietnam?


    And the short reason is that not since Harry Truman – God bless his soul – has there been a Democrat who knew how to wage war. Hell, President Obama can’t even bring himself to use the “W” word. But we get ahead of ourselves.

    Using Walter Cronkite and Lyndon Johnson as gauges to determine if the Vietnam War was justified is disturbing. Cronkite was as far left as was possible and his unearned “Most Trusted Man in America” moniker stemmed from a 1974 Virginia Slims American Women’s Opinion poll that asked who they “respected” most. Cronkite was completing against, among others, Marlon Brando, Ralph Nader, Jesse Jackson and Joe Namath (a poll the year before found John Chancellor the most trustworthy and accurate newsman). The fact that Johnson put so much stock in Cronkite testifies to Johnson’s poor judgment. The revisionist media would like us to believe the American people were against the war, when, as usual, it was a small minority of unemployed, unbathed loud mouths who had way too much time on their hands (this anti-war movement, says Col. Harry Summers, was the most despised group in American society according to polls at the time). Cronkite made his Jane Fonda-esque comments in early 1968 after the Tet offensive failed miserably and our military performed heroically against fantastic odds. It was a clear victory for freedom and an utter failure for communism, so naturally Cronkrite reported that the war was over and we had lost. Ironically, for the remainder of 1968, the working “middle” America made “The Green Berets”, John Wayne’s unapologetically pro-American and pro-Vietnam war movie (you would say jingoistic), one of the top ten movies of that year.

    Two final thoughts on Cronkite and Johnson before I spit and move on: Cronkite, up until the day he died, was a proponent of a World Government, and if you want a chilling example of Orwellian thought, just watch the video of Cronkite accepting an award from the World Federalist Association, in which he is introduced this way: “World government is the structure necessary for global justice. You sir, have been a life long advocate of this principal and it is appropriate therefore that we present you with this (award).”

    Cronkite’s acceptance speech hit a frightening pitch with, “First we Americans are going to have to yield up some of our sovereignty. That’s going to be, to many, a bitter pill. It will take a lot of courage, a lot of faith, a lot of persuasion, for them to come along with us on this necessity. Our forefathers believed that the closer the laws are to the people the better… Today we must develop federal structures on a global level. To deal with world problems we need a system of enforceable world law, a democratic world government.”

    Before Hillary Clinton congratulated Cronkite on this honor, he added that the United States should sign and ratify the treaty for a permanent international criminal court. It pained me to watch the whole thing but I just had to stick around to see if he also mentioned the “United Federation of Planets.”

    So Cronkite’s opinion on Vietnam is unworthy of consideration.


  5. Johnson, as you point out in just one sentence (“...LBJ confided... that he knew we could not win the war in Vietnam, but felt compelled to stay the course so as to avoid being the first American President to lose a war.”), was one of the most vile presidents we have ever had, sending boys to die for no reason other than to save his own political neck. But it was not that the Vietnam War was un-winnable, but that our president was a politician and not a leader. (Oddly enough, Iraq was supposed to be Bush’s Vietnam, or so the Democrats prayed, yet it hasn’t turned out that way. Why? One answer is that Bush believed in the cause and did not give a rat’s ass what Katie Couric, Brian Williams or Chris Matthews thought.)

    Regarding George Will, who I hold in high esteem, it must be pointed out that the man has in the past worn bow-ties, indicating that his judgment is not always dead-on. Will, like others, makes the silly observation that we have been in Afghanistan longer than we were in the two world wars. To compare the War on Terror (as some of us still like to call it) to world wars is nonsensical. In those wars, we fought countries who valued their “stuff” – be it land, machines or men. We destroyed or killed enough of their stuff until they surrendered. I would counter that we have been in a World Terror War since at least November 4, 1979, and 30 years is a lot longer than eight years, but so what? In this war we protect ourselves, not by the ground we control or the destruction we cause, but in direct proportion to how many terrorists we kill. If we are killing terrorists on a regular basis, then we should stay as long as they are willing to fight. If we are still there twenty years later, then so be it. The second we stop occupying terrorists with the process of dying is the second they begin planning future attacks on the homeland. I agree that we should not view the War on Terror as “winning or losing” any more than we win or lose the war against drug dealers, bank robbers or murderers. We put those perpetrators in jail so they can not deal drugs, rob banks or murder. Likewise, we should view our soldiers as policemen who kill instead of arrest. The more they kill, the less chance the terrorists have to murder.

    I must admit, though, that I do not have a firm opinion on the merits of the Afghanistan War. But I never considered it the “good war” and Iraq the “bad war.” If I had to take a position, I would say we needed to go to Afghanistan to kill the bad guys who attacked us and we needed to go to Iraq to remove a monster, free a people, begin the democratization of the Middle East... and... wait for it... you’re gonna love it... because Saddam was a direct threat to America and aided, harbored and otherwise assisted al Qaeda.

    Which brings me to my craw and what’s stuck in it. If I could go back in time and change three things about President Bush and his administration it would be that George would be articulate; he would not have become a socialist in the bottom of the ninth; and his administration would have attacked and countered every lie with the viciousness of a protective mother.

    You write “...and that we were wrong to invade Iraq, a war which was entered under false pretenses and which diverted our military and security resources in a country that had not attacked us and posed no direct threat to us.” You state it and move on, as if it is accepted wisdom and not easily disputed, much like the poor New York City Democrats who couldn’t believe George Bush was elected because no one they knew voted for him. The comment is more befitting Michael Moore and the say-it-enough-times-and-it-will-become-true liberal mentality than a man who spent much of his career dealing in cold hard facts.

    So before I deal with the main thesis of your post, which is correct but for all the wrong reasons, let us take a history test. Don’t worry, it’s all multiple choice, no essay.



    A.) Saddam Hussein aided and abetted 1970’s terrorist Abu Nidal, killer of Americans.
    B.) Saddam Hussein aided and abetted 1970’s terrorist Abu Abbas, killer of Americans.
    C.) Saddam Hussein aided and abetted 1970’s terrorist, Carlos the Jackal.
    D.) Iraq declared by the Carter Administration as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1979.
    E.) Saddam Hussein aided and abetted 1980’s terrorist Abu Ibrahim, killer of Americans.
    F.) Iraqi fighter jet attacked the USS Stark in 1987, killing 37 Americans.
    G.) Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, murdering men, women and children.
    H.) Saddam Hussein attempted to assassinate President George H.W. Bush in 1993.
    I.) Saddam Hussein aided and abetted World Trade Center bomber Abdul Rahman Yasin.
    J.) Saddam Hussein aided and abetted World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Ahmed Yousef.
    K.) Iraq responsible for 100+ attacks on relief personnel & aid convoys in the 1990s.
    L.) Saddam Hussein offered bounties to anyone who assassinated UN relief workers.
    M.) Iraq Government believed by FBI SAC to have sponsored the first WTC attack.
    N.) Saddam Hussein provided training facilities for terrorists in the 1990s.
    O.) Saddam Hussein sent 30 terrorist teams around the world to attack U.S. interests.
    P.) Iraq fired 500+ missiles at U.S. aircraft protecting Kurds & Shites in 2000.
    Q.) Saddam Hussein paid $25,000 to families of Palestinian homicide bombers.
    R.) Iraq provided a terrorist training camp where aircraft hijacking was practiced.
    S.) Iraq provided a terrorist training camp for the Palestine Liberation Front.
    T.) Saddam Hussein aided and abetted terrorist Khala Khadr al-Salahat, killer of Americans (Pan Am 103).
    U.) Iraq’s chemical weapons program was active at Sudan’s weapons factory.
    V.) 1998 U.S. Indictment: Al-Qaeda & Iraq agree to cooperate in weapons development.
    W.) CIA: Iraq offered sanctuary to Osama bin Laden.
    X.) July 2001: Iraq newspaper predicted bin Laden would attack Pentagon, White House & make U.S. curse Frank Sinatra when they hear his songs (“New York, New York”).
    Y.) Saddam Hussein: only world leader to praise bin Laden after 9-11.
    Z.) CIA: Saddam Hussein funneling money thru al-Qaeda to the Armed Islamic Group.


  7. AA.) Saddam Hussein aided and abetted Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, killer of Americans.
    BB.) CIA: al Qaeda sought Iraq contacts to acquire WMD capabilities.
    CC.) Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 (public law 107-243): “Whereas members of al Qaida, an organization bearing responsibility for attacks on the United States, its citizens, and interests, including the attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, are known to be in Iraq... Whereas Iraq continues to aid and harbor other international terrorist organizations, including organizations that threaten the lives and safety of United States citizens.”
    DD.) Iraq newspaper: Iraq intelligence officer Abd-al-karim Muhammad Aswad is the contact for bin Laden’s group.
    EE.) U.S. District Judge: Iraq provided material support to bin Laden and al-Qaida.
    FF.) 2006: Barham Salih, a deputy prime minister of Iraq: Saddam’s Regime sheltered and assisted al Qaeda.
    GG.) 2008 U.S. Senate report: Prior to war Iraq provided safe haven for al Qaida.
    HH.) 2002 letter from Iraq Intelligence: intention to meet with Ayman Al-Zawahiri to plan a “revenge operation.”
    II.) Saddam Hussein killed 20,000 Iranians with mustard gas & sarin nerve agent.
    JJ.) Saddam Hussein killed 5,000 Kurds with chemical weapons in one of 40 attacks.
    KK.) Saddam Hussein threatened to destroy half of Israel with nerve gas.
    LL.) 1990: Five Iraqi agents arrested in London attempting to smuggle nuclear triggering devices to Baghdad.
    MM.) Saddam Hussein violated U.N. ceasefire resolution 687.
    NN.) Madeline Albright: Iraq admitted to producing enough WMDs to kill every man, woman and child on earth.
    OO.) Iraq admitted to producing 3.9 tons of VX nerve agent.
    PP.) Former Chief of Military Intelligence Wafiq al-Sammarrai: Saddam Hussein considered anthrax attack against the United States.
    QQ.) 1998: Senate Resolution 71: Urges the President to take action.
    RR.) 1998: U.S. House Report: Chemical weapons factory being built with help of Iraqi experts in Sudan for Islamic terrorists associated with bin Laden.
    SS.) 1998: Iraq developing unmanned aircraft capable of delivering nerve gas.
    TT.) Saddam Hussein planning anthrax attack in Britain.
    UU.) 1998: U.S. House condemns Iraq for breach of UN resolutions, urges President to take action.
    VV.) 1998: The Iraq Liberation Act passed: Policy of U.S. to remove Saddam Hussein.
    WW.) 2006: Iraqi General: WMDs moved to Syria prior to the war.
    XX.) 2006: Declassified report: 500 weapons munitions containing nerve agents found in Iraq.
    YY.) Amnesty International: Saddam Hussein killed 100,000 Kurds.
    ZZ.) 2000: Dozens of women accused of prostitution beheaded.
    AAA.) Torture used in prisons: Rape, electric drills on hands, pulling out fingernails, knife cuts, left to die in metal boxes.
    BBB.) Penalties for criminal offenses: amputation, branding, cutting off ears, tongues cut out, beheadings.
    CCC.) Red Room torture chamber.
    DDD.) Saddam Hussein murdered thousands of Marsh Arabs.
    EEE.) Saddam Hussein stole billions of dollars from the Oil-for-Food program.
    FFF.) 30,000 prisoners executed at Abu Ghraib.


  8. The answer is “H”. Only a modern Democrat President would view the attempted assassination of an American President as anything less than an act of war. But in fairness, this was a bit of a trick question, as arguments could be made that many of the choices could easily justify war with Iraq.

    (The above information and more is available for anyone with access to the Internet. Just go to: for starters.)

    Now back to the idea of Afghanistan being President Obama’s “Vietnam.”

    But first, I appreciate your recognition that a Liberal’s knee-jerk reaction to America flexing her military might is to automatically scream “Vietnam!” like a little girl who spots a mouse and jumps up on a chair (ok, so I paraphrased).

    You spend a good amount of time comparing the countries of Vietnam and Afghanistan to support your fear that President Obama may be stepping into another “Vietnam,” but you fail to understand that “Vietnam” is not a corrupt government or a strange culture or a treacherous topography. Vietnam is a mentality and nothing else matters. Every war has its insurmountable challenges; its impossible choices; its darkest moments. For America, if our leader’s vision is clear, his goals understood, and his will resolute, a “Vietnam” is impossible. But if a leader’s heart isn’t in it – then good people will die for nothing. The war in Afghanistan is filled with impossibilities, but no more than any other war and less than many.

    You come close to getting it when you mention President Obama’s efforts to “reshape America” (by the way, how do you type that without getting the willies?) and, if it wasn’t for the fact that soldiers would die, you inadvertently make a strong case for continued involvement in Afghanistan when you say it would derail President Obama’s “attempts to reform a troubled health care (not the government’s business), revive a broken economy (only cutting taxes and spending will work and that’s not in his genetic makeup), prevent global warming (non-existent problem), and restore America’s standing in the world (How is that measured anyway? Are the French the arbiters? North Korea? China? Russia? And why do Democrats always get their panties in a bunch over what other countries think?).”

    You see that is the key: Like Johnson, President Obama inherited a war and because he claimed Afghanistan was the “right” war, he has committed himself to it. But like Johnson, President Obama views this Overseas Contingency Operation thingamajig as an annoying distraction away from his real passion. Johnson had his Great Society and Obama has his Fundamentally Transforming the United States of America Program.

    You bump into the truth again when, after your obligatory Democrats-like-soldiers-too! proclamation, you relate the often told story of Col. Harry Summers’ conversation with a NVA officer who, after being advised that America never lost a battle, replied, “That may be true. It is also irrelevant.” But why was it irrelevant? Col. Summers answers the question in his column on the 30th anniversary of the Tet Offensive, when he observes that Johnson was “‘psychologically defeated’ by Tet.” Col. Summers added that “if the commander-in-chief is defeated, the nation is defeated, no matter how well military forces in the field may have performed.” The Viet Cong did not know that U.S. forces would one day leave as you write; but they certainly hoped we would leave and the “anti-freedom for those people” protesters and the media’s fawning coverage of their antics and their inaccurate reporting of the war certainly gave them reason to hope. The NVA officer had reason to hope, because he knew the superiority of the American fighting man was no match against the weapons the North Vietnamese possessed: The Most Trusted Man in America and President Johnson.


  9. You say it is “virtually impossible to defeat an enemy we do not understand in a terrain we cannot control...” What the hell does that mean? Did we understand why Japan believed the Emperor was a god? The terrorists have made themselves abundantly understandable: submit to Islam or die. What is special about Afghanistan's terrain that makes it unknowable to professional warriors with institutional experience fighting all over the world? These things will not doom President Obama. Only President Obama can doom President Obama.

    Having said all this, I have no idea if we should be in Afghanistan. I’ve always thought of Afghanistan as simply the place that bin Laden put up his tent. He has no unbreakable ties to the land, other than affection for deep caves. I don’t believe twenty years from now it will be Afghanistan that will be paying the United States dividends in peace; Iraq, if we stay, maybe, with its thriving, blue-thumb democracy, but not Afghanistan.

    I know this, though: it does not bode well for America when a president is obsessed with his legacy, thinks domestic issues are more important than preventing the next 9-11, and makes 30 speeches in 30 weeks on healthcare, compared to, well heck, I can’t remember even one speech on the War on Contingency Operations (except those comments directed towards a War on CIA Agents).

    I hope you’re wrong in what you didn’t actually say, but meant. Obama, like Bush, is unbelievably bull-headed, but whereas Bush’s stubbornness was directed at protecting this country from attack, Obama’s stubbornness seems directed towards remaking America in his own image.

    (As I put the final period on this post this morning, I learned from Fox News – Fair and Balanced! – that the first 9-11 Memorial Service of the Obama Administration finds the President in Washington and not New York. He did, however make the arduous journey to New York two days ago to speak at the memorial service for Walter Cronkite. On second thought, Mark, I don’t think you might be right; I know you are.)

    Rich R.

  10. Rich,

    First -- we need to limit the length of our comments -- but then, again, I shouldn't say that, because you will accuse me of suppressing freedom of speech and believing in world government. I do believe that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a good thing that should be followed by all countries, and that had we been part of an International Criminal Court, we would have had the ability to prosecute Saddam Hussein for the crimes alleged in your comments (I do not trust your sources and have no way of knowing how true, partly true, or false any number of them are, but I agree with the essential point, that Saddam was a really bad guy).

    As I read your comments, the first thing I notice is how much you espouse to love America but hate most Americans -- including, perhaps especially, many of the people that most Americans liked and trusted, e.g., Walter Cronkite. Your dislike of Cronkite has everything to do with your perception that all of the U.S. news media is liberally biased, and that Cronkite is somehow largely responsible. But no one delivered the news better, or moderated over major American events, from moon walks, to presidential nominating conventions, better than Uncle Walter. So he had an idealistic view of the United Nations - big deal. He was a great news man and we trusted him.

    The problem with calling it the War on Terror, is who are we fighting? What nation state are we fighting? And how does our burning to death a 10-year old boy in last week's NATO strike advance our cause? How does it advance our fight against terrorism, when our bombs kill dozens of innocent civilians? When the results of your actions are no better than the terrorists' actions, how can you possibly win the war on terror? This is partly why I believe that George Will, Chuck Hagel, and other anti-American, communist extremists (in your mind) think that we should re-consider our strategy. There are a lot of ways of fighting and preventing terrorism -- engaging in actions that tend to create terrorists is not necessarily the best option.

    Part of your problem with my Vietnam-Afghanistan analogy is that you still think we were right to go to war in Vietnam and that the only thing we did wrong was not win the war. Too bad virtually all of the architects of that war -- including Robert MacNamara -- have conceded we had everything wrong from the beginning on Vietnam. Most of the Americans who opposed the war in Vietnam did so out of a love for their country and to prevent our young men from dying there. Don't give me examples of a few high-profile jerks, I'm talking about the same people who liked and trusted Cronkite and who opposed the War because it was morally wrong. Looking back 40 years later, these "anti-American" protesters were right and the men who prosecuted the war, from Kennedy to Nixon, were wrong.

    As for Saddamn Hussein, points A-F, II and JJ all occurred during or prior to Reagan's alliance with Saddam. Recall we aided and armed Saddam to assist him in his fight with Iran. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Point G -- the invasion of Kuwait -- led us into Iraq I, a war I supported, as it was a clear case of defending an ally that had been invaded by a foreign power. As for Iraq II, George W. did not make the argument you made above -- he implied that Iraq was responsible for 9/11 (a lie) and that he was hoarding WMD (a falsehood). The real reason we went to war in Iraq II was because we wanted to promote democracy in the Middle East. Nice thought, wrong way (very un-American) to go about it.

  11. One more thing, Rich. Your constant attacks on President Obama demonstrate that you have not a clue of what he is really about. I am not sure whether you agree with President Obama's escalation of the war in Afghanistan, or whether you disagree. I see only that you dislike his domestic agenda, and believe, similar to the birthers and the black helicopter crowd, that everything Obama does is a subversive, secret attempt to socialize America and create a world government. When I say that Obama would like to "reshape America" at home, I'm talking about his efforts to make health care affordable to all Americans; to improve our nation's education system and motivate students to study and work hard (see my next post); to restore a sense of civility in American politics (an impossible task given the likes of Joe Wilson in Congress and Sean Hannity on the airwaves -- but see "American Demagogues and the Decline of Civility" in the posts below); and to revive the economy and put people to work (I know this is just too much subversiveness for you to deal with in one sitting -- sorry). But your criticism of the President would be more effective if you actually gave him some credit occasionally. Your failure to see anything good about Obama, or Hillary Clinton, or Bill Clinton, or Walter Cronkite, or Lyndon Johnson, or Ted Kennedy, shows only that the extremist is you.

  12. Mark,

    First – Am I pissing you off? How did we work together so perfectly without killing each other?

    Second – I would love to limit my post (my wife is on my...), but you give me so much to work with! For example, your first sentence: “...will accuse me of suppressing freedom of speech...” You can’t suppress my speech, only government can do that, with say the Fairness Doctrine. Now you can ask me not to post on your blog, but that doesn’t prevent me from starting my own blog. It’s that whole “negative rights” thing that a certain unnamed government official doesn’t seem to get.

    And then, in the same paragraph you mentioned how nice it would have been to have the power to prosecute Saddam Hussein. bin Laden has been under U.S. indictment for years but that hasn’t slowed him down. I have to tell you I prefer dragging Hussein out of a hole, giving him a fair trial, represented by Ramsey Clark (yes, add him to the list) and then hanging him.

    And dang if we can’t get out of the first paragraph! “I do not trust your sources and have no way of knowing how true, partly true, or false any number of them are...” But you do! It’s called research. If you visited that site, you would have seen that below each charge was a link to the source. You then backtrack the information and decide for yourself. For example, to establish the credibility of the main charge, I secured President Clinton’s own speech on the matter of the attempted assassination. Dear God! I relied on President Clinton’s credibility? Does that count as saying something good?

    Finally, we’re out of the first paragraph. Now about me “hating most Americans,” you must recognize that I am responding to your blog. Naturally as a conservative I reject liberal ideology. If this were my blog you would find argument with those I admire. And notice that until now I had let slide your previous slight: “ help elect Ronald Reagan, a man who single-handedly did more to defeat the vision of America that Mary Jo Kopechne held...”

    Nothing in my post supports that I believe “all of the U.S. news media is liberally biased.” There is Fox News, The Washington Times, talk radio (except Air America – is that still on?), National Review, American Spectator, Human Events, Commentary, etc. Taken together they do a good job of countering ABCNBCCBSMSNBCCNN, The New York Times, NPR, PBS, Slate, The New Republic and The Washington Post.

    Regarding Uncle Walt’s idealistic view of the United Nations –– I never mentioned the U.N., worthless as it is, but “big deal” is a flippant way to dismiss the horror that would be World Government.

    Moving on: The reason we call it a War on Terror is because we are fighting terrorist groups. I would also accept the War on Terrorists or the War on Islamic Extremists or even the War Against Those Who Twist the Religion of Peace into a Murderous Jihad Against Infidels. Any one of those is a better description than Overseas Contingency Operations.

    Now, about “...our bombs (killing) dozens of innocent civilians,” and burning to death ten-year-old boys. Don’t take this sarcastically, but... there has never been a war, and never will be a war, that does not include heartbreaking tragedies. That’s why they call it “war,” from the Latin phrase, “Women, children and puppy dogs will die, too.” The difference, of course, is that burning ten-year-old boys is not our objective, like it is with our enemy. No country in history has been more concerned with avoiding civilian casualties than the United States, and no country has done more to advance freedom in the oppressive Muslim world than the United States. Maybe the news media should report those stories with equal coverage.


  13. Now please highlight evidence that I think George Will is anti-American. If I recall, I said I hold him in high esteem, but disagree with him on one point. Please Mark, you know I’m quite capable of saying stupid things all by myself; I don’t need stuff made up!

    And along those lines, cite for me the evidence that I think we were right to go to Vietnam. What I said was that having chosen to go to Vietnam, we had a duty to win. The fact that we had the wrong “architects” running the war simply means we had the wrong men in charge and good men died as a result. I will say this, however, – call it a doctrine if you will: It is never wrong to fight evil. This does not obligate one to fight all evil; just that you are not wrong if you do. The only caveat to this is that it is wrong to fight evil if you do it in a half-assed manner. You believe the Vietnam War, the fight against Communism, a system of government that has slaughtered the most people in human history, was “morally wrong.” I would like you to justify that belief, without condemning our involvement in the fight against Nazism.

    Now for my main disagreement, which harkens back to my previous post. You write: “As for Iraq II, George W. did not make the argument you made above -- he implied that Iraq was responsible for 9/11 (a lie) and that he was hoarding WMD (a falsehood).” First, how do I argue against your interpretation of what Bush said (“he implied”)? And can an interpretation of an implication be proof that what he meant to say but didn’t, would have been a lie, had he said it? Nevertheless, I prefer facts:

    Bush’s actual words regarding 9/11, al Qaeda, and promoting democracy in the Middle East:

    From March 17, 2003, on the eve of the Iraq War:

    “It (Iraq) has a deep hatred of America and our friends. And it has aided, trained and harbored terrorists, including operatives of al Qaeda.”

    “Many Iraqis can hear me tonight... We will tear down the apparatus of terror and we will help you to build a new Iraq that is prosperous and free. In a free Iraq, there will be no more wars of aggression against your neighbors, no more poison factories, no more executions of dissidents, no more torture chambers and rape rooms. The tyrant will soon be gone. The day of your liberation is near.”

    “Unlike Saddam Hussein, we believe the Iraqi people are deserving and capable of human liberty. And when the dictator has departed, they can set an example to all the Middle East of a vital and peaceful and self-governing nation.”

    “The United States, with other countries, will work to advance liberty and peace in that region. Our goal will not be achieved overnight, but it can come over time. The power and appeal of human liberty is felt in every life and every land. And the greatest power of freedom is to overcome hatred and violence, and turn the creative gifts of men and women to the pursuits of peace.”

    October 7, 2002:

    “We also must never forget the most vivid events of recent history. On September the 11th, 2001, America felt its vulnerability –– even to threats that gather on the other side of the earth. We resolved then, and we resolved today, to confront every threat, from any source, that could bring sudden terror and suffering to America.”

    “In 1995...the head of Iraq’s military industries defected... the regime was forced to admit that it had produced more than 30,000 liters of anthrax and other deadly biological agents... This is a massive stockpile of biological weapons that has never been accounted for, capable of killing millions.”


  14. “We know that Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist network share a common enemy – the United States of America. We know that Iraq and al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade. Some al Qaeda leaders who fled Afghanistan went to Iraq. These include one very senior al Qaeda leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year, and who has been associated with planning for chemical and biological attacks. We've learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases. And we know that after September the 11th, Saddam Hussein's regime gleefully celebrated the terrorist attacks on America.”

    “Some citizens wonder, after 11 years of living with this problem, why do we need to confront it now? And there's a reason. We've experienced the horror of September the 11th. We have seen that those who hate America are willing to crash airplanes into buildings full of innocent people. Our enemies would be no less willing, in fact, they would be eager, to use biological or chemical, or a nuclear weapon.”

    “America believes that all people are entitled to hope and human rights, to the non-negotiable demands of human dignity. People everywhere prefer freedom to slavery; prosperity to squalor; self-government to the rule of terror and torture. America is a friend to the people of Iraq. Our demands are directed only at the regime that enslaves them and threatens us. When these demands are met, the first and greatest benefit will come to Iraqi men, women and children. The oppression of Kurds, Assyrians, Turkomans, Shi'a, Sunnis and others will be lifted. The long captivity of Iraq will end, and an era of new hope will begin.”

    “Iraq is a land rich in culture, resources, and talent. Freed from the weight of oppression, Iraq's people will be able to share in the progress and prosperity of our time. If military action is necessary, the United States and our allies will help the Iraqi people rebuild their economy, and create the institutions of liberty in a unified Iraq at peace with its neighbors.”

    “The attacks of September the 11th showed our country that vast oceans no longer protect us from danger. Before that tragic date, we had only hints of al Qaeda's plans and designs. Today in Iraq, we see a threat whose outlines are far more clearly defined, and whose consequences could be far more deadly. Saddam Hussein's actions have put us on notice, and there is no refuge from our responsibilities.

    September 12, 2002, address to the U.N.:

    “Liberty for the Iraqi people is a great moral cause, and a great strategic goal. The people of Iraq deserve it; the security of all nations requires it.”

    “If we fail to act in the face of danger, the people of Iraq will continue to live in brutal submission.”

    “The people of Iraq can shake off their captivity. They can one day join a democratic Afghanistan and a democratic Palestine, inspiring reforms throughout the Muslim world.”

    The hoarding of WMD has not been proven to be false and if you had researched some of the points listed in my previous post you would have learned that: he did have WMD; we found WMD; and the bulk of the WMD were more than likely moved. To put it in terms that we both can understand, imagine that you are preparing a warrant to search a home for evidence of a crime, but while doing so you also send a letter to the homeowner telling him that his house will be raided in six months. What are the chances that the evidence will still be found?


  15. Now some housecleaning on your last post:

    You accuse me of “constant attacks on President Obama” and that it demonstrates that I “have not a clue of what he is really about.” My criticisms are based on his words and policies. I am not attacking him, but viewing his words and actions through a conservative lens, and coming to the conclusion that his agenda is harmful to this country. Now, although I find “not a clue of what he is really about” a little creepy, I am more than willing to consider new information that apparently is unavailable to those not in his fan club. Based on what he says and does and who surrounds him, I do not “dislike” his domestic agenda, I am terrified of it. There is nothing “secret” about his desire to socialize America; when you advance socialist ideas, like Universal Health Care, you are trying to socialize America. I take offense to associating me with the “birthers” and the black helicopter crowd, of which you cannot support with evidence, and look forward to your blog critical of Van Jones and his documented membership in the “truthers” movement.

    Regarding President Obama’s desire “to restore a sense of civility in American politics,” it sure does pain me to rely on facts again but...

    “...police acted stupidly,” said while admitting that he did not have all the facts. I guarantee you Joe Wilson apologized faster to Obama than the President apologized to the police officer, if he actually did look him in the eye and say, “I’m sorry.”

    “I don't oppose all wars. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.

    “What I am opposed to is the attempt by political hacks like Karl Rove to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income, to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression.

    “That's what I'm opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics.”

    Cops are stupid and dedicated public servants are armchair, weekend warriors and political hacks who want to shove their own ideological agendas down throats. I hope he didn’t pull a muscle reaching across the aisle with these civil thoughts.

    Now regarding giving credit where credit is due: I will give it the old college try.

    President Obama: I never understood, and said so at the time, the criticism of his pledge to go after the 9-11 terrorists, even if the leader of the country in which the terrorists are hiding has a problem with it. Now don’t ask me if I think he would ever do it, but he was absolutely right.

    Hillary Clinton: You got me on this one, dude. Um, didn’t she used to be a Republican?

    Bill Clinton: He signed, albeit reluctantly, welfare reform.

    Uncle Walter: I grew up with him like you did, so I understand your reluctance to admit that his vision of the world, if realized, would create Hell on earth. But, he was very good at reading a TelePrompTer.

    Lyndon Johnson: Damn, Mark, you’re making this hard! How ‘bout I say something good about Joe Lieberman or Zell Miller instead?

    Ted Kennedy: That man knew how to party!

    Rich R.

  16. Rich,

    You need to learn to occasionally discern sarcasm -- ie., the freedom of speech and world government comments, and suggesting you implied that Will was anti-American -- were not meant to be taken literally. I certainly hope and pray that not all of your comments are intended to be taken literally either.

    I can cite to a website as well:

    "President George W. Bush and seven of his administration's top officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, made at least 935 false statements in the two years following September 11, 2001, about the national security threat posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Nearly five years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, an exhaustive examination of the record shows that the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses.

    On at least 532 separate occasions (in speeches, briefings, interviews, testimony, and the like), Bush and these three key officials, along with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and White House press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan, stated unequivocally that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (or was trying to produce or obtain them), links to Al Qaeda, or both. This concerted effort was the underpinning of the Bush administration's case for war.

    It is now beyond dispute that Iraq did not possess any weapons of mass destruction or have meaningful ties to Al Qaeda. This was the conclusion of numerous bipartisan government investigations, including those by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (2004 and 2006), the 9/11 Commission, and the multinational Iraq Survey Group, whose "Duelfer Report" established that Saddam Hussein had terminated Iraq's nuclear program in 1991 and made little effort to restart it.

    In short, the Bush administration led the nation to war on the basis of erroneous information that it methodically propagated and that culminated in military action against Iraq on March 19, 2003. Not surprisingly, the officials with the most opportunities to make speeches, grant media interviews, and otherwise frame the public debate also made the most false statements, according to this first-ever analysis of the entire body of prewar rhetoric.

    President Bush, for example, made 232 false statements about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and another 28 false statements about Iraq's links to Al Qaeda. Secretary of State Powell had the second-highest total in the two-year period, with 244 false statements about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and 10 about Iraq's links to Al Qaeda. Rumsfeld and Fleischer each made 109 false statements, followed by Wolfowitz (with 85), Rice (with 56), Cheney (with 48), and McClellan (with 14).

    The massive database at the heart of this project juxtaposes what President Bush and these seven top officials were saying for public consumption against what was known, or should have been known, on a day-to-day basis. This fully searchable database includes the public statements, drawn from both primary sources (such as official transcripts) and secondary sources (chiefly major news organizations) over the two years beginning on September 11, 2001. It also interlaces relevant information from more than 25 government reports, books, articles, speeches, and interviews."

  17. Mark,

    I know you’re probably working on you next blog, so I will try to be brief, and if you want the last word I won’t re-re-rebut.

    Your link above takes me to “The Center for Public Integrity” and to a page called “Iraq, The War Card, Orchestrated Deception on the Path to War.”

    (Let’s pause here for a commercial from our sponsor: The Center for Public Integrity has received more than 1.2 million dollars in funding from George Bush’s biggest fan, George Soros.)

    Now back to our program: Under the Orchestrated Deception is the information you used for your blog. Next to that are the Contents for the site, one of which reads, “Key False Statements.” Here I found eight such “Key False Statements,” and assuming that they would lead off with a good one, I focused on the first.

    This involved Iraq’s procurement of aluminum tubes, a fact not in dispute by anyone. What was disputed was the intended use of the tubes. The administration claimed they were for the enrichment of uranium.

    This was “sort of” disputed by the Energy Department that said, "while the gas centrifuge application cannot be ruled out, we assess that the procurement activity more likely supports a different application, such as conventional ordnance production." The State Department concurred with this assessment and then the article mentions for the first time the CIA, saying only, “but the Central Intelligence Agency's contrary view prevailed.” What was the CIA’s contrary view? The article doesn’t say, but simply ends this Key False Statement Number 1 with, “The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence subsequently concluded that ‘postwar findings’ (my emphasis) supported the assessments of the Energy Department and the Bureau of Intelligence and Research.”

    This is it. Where exactly is the Key False Statement in the above?

    And what exactly was the CIA’s contrary view? Well, according to the actual report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, it went, in part, like this:

    “Similarly, when International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors returned to Iraq in late 2002, one of their key lines of work was to investigate Iraq's claims that aluminum tubes it was trying to procure were intended for artillery rockets. The IAEA found that Iraq's claims that the aluminum tubes were intended for artillery rockets was completely consistent with the evidence on the ground in Iraq. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) responded to the IAEA's analysis by producing intelligence reports which rejected the IAEA's conclusions. Without giving many details of the IAEA's findings, CIA's analysis suggested that the IAEA was being fooled by Iraq, and reiterated CIA's assessment that the tubes were to be used in uranium centrifuges. Intelligence analysts' presumption that all dual-use activity was intended for WMD programs recurs throughout the 2002 NIE. Analysts believed that the fact that Iraq often attempted to obtain dual-use materials surreptitiously, through front companies and other illicit means in violation of UN sanctions, indicated that Iraq intended to use those materials for WMD. Analysts argued that Iraq would have no reason to hide itself as the end user of these materials if they were intended for legitimate purposes.”


  18. Now at the end of the day, meaning after 9-11 and after the Iraq War and after the invasion had produced a massive amount of intelligence not available before the war because, well because Saddam just didn’t feel like providing it, that’s why, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence agreed with the Energy Department and the State Department’s assessment over the CIA’s.

    I can’t claim to know much about the inner workings of those agencies, but if I’m the president and I know there are three holes in my country that weren’t there on September 10, and later there are bits and pieces of information here and there, dots if you will, that, had they been connected, may, just may, have put us in a better position to prevent those holes, well I’m going to err on the side of caution in the future. I’m not going to give a mad man the benefit of the doubt and I’m not going to side with the Energy Department over the CIA.

    If this is an example of a Key False Statement, then George Soros should demand his money back.

    Norman Podhoretz summarized it best in his book “World War IV”:

    “Fresh from being excoriated in separate hearings held by the Senate Intelligence Committee for invading Iraq on the basis of faulty intelligence, it (Bush Administration) now was excoriated by some of the 9/11 commissioners for not having acted on the basis of even sketchier intelligence to head off 9/11 itself.”

    Podhoretz then quotes former government official Charles Hill:

    “Intelligence collection and analysis is a very imperfect business. Refusal to face reality has produced the almost laughable contradiction of the Senate Intelligence Committee criticizing the Bush administration for acting on third-rate intelligence, even as the 9/11 Commission criticizes it for not acting on third-rate intelligence.”

    Rich R.

  19. Wish I had said it this well:

    Rich R.

  20. Mark,

    Giving credit where credit is due:

    "Officials say the incident was a model of how Washington often scores its rare victories these days in the fight against al-Qaeda inside Pakistan's national borders: It acts with assistance from well-paid sympathizers inside the country, but without getting the government's formal permission beforehand."

    As I said above, "I never understood. . .the criticism of his pledge to go after the 9-11 terrorists, even if the leader of the country in which the terrorists are hiding has a problem with it. Now don’t ask me if I think he would ever do it, but he was absolutely right."

    Damn if he didn't do it.

    Three cheers for President Obama (and our CIA and their "enhanced interrogations," our military and their men of steel, and President Bush and his enduring war strategies).

    Rich R.