Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Puppet Off the String – Hamid Karzai

The Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld apocalyptic triumvirate learned the hard way in Iraq that you need native collaborators to administer an occupied country. Even after that, the incompetent trio stumbled around to the extent it cannot account for 9 billion dollars. Soldiers are engaged in insuring the country remains conquered while the collaborators run the infrastructure, act as dog catchers, pick up garbage and attempt to rebuild the country damaged by an invasion.

Apart from low-level collaborators such as Iraqi interpreters and journalist stringers, the US burn rate on high level collaborators was at a furious pace. The most embarrassing and probably the most damaging to US operations was the demented neocon sponsored Ahmed Chalabi. Chalabi ended up as Iranian collaborator with fists full of US dollars. He was show-cased by GW Bush seated near Laura Bush at a State of the Union address.

Maliki appears to be the final top-level collaborator as the US withdraws from Iraq – he too keeps a foot in the Iranian camp and moves closer to Tehran by the day. All this as Iraqi cities continue to have their hearts ripped out by insurgent bombers.

The super collaborator to watch today is Hamid Karzai, our sometimes man in Kabul, Afghanistan. He has reported to have said, If I am called a puppet because we are grateful to America, then let that be my nickname. So let us call him a Puppet Karzai. He was installed by the US after the invasion and finally elected as Afghan president in 2004. He is of the Pashtun, the tribe from which the Taliban springs. His latest election was forced into a run off by the US and UN because of massive voter fraud. The next election is slated for this November 7th.

Karzai has been a failure as a leader. His power is more or less limited to Kabul – he is sarcastically called the Mayor of Kabul. There have been three
assassination attempts on his life. Wags declare that he is protected by four US Delta Force members even when he takes a piss. There are constant reports of massive corruption and he has taken steps to protect the drug trade. Karzai simply cannot take control of areas cleared by international forces; he cannot provide security for his people even in conjunction with NATO and the US.

Karzai defends himself by protesting that his country is a young democracy with immature and fragile institutions. He explains his unpopularity by blaming US/NATO forces for indiscriminately killing and detaining innocent Afghans. Like good and bad cholesterol, he contends there are good and bad Taliban; that international forces are unable to discriminate between them.

Until the next election there is no legal president of Afghanistan. Karzai was forced by US pressure and international persuasion to accept a rerun – he blew off US envoy Holbrooke and was finally forced by Senator Kerry, Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to submit to another vote. Karsai's main opponent, Abdullah, refuses to form a unity government, so post election politics there will be strained.

US/NATO strategy in Afghanistan is at best confused. Do you defend population centers or chase insurgents in the mountains and country side? One or the other has to have priority. A tentative US plan calls for a build-up to 400,000 Afghan police and army security force. For the record in Afghan history, the maximum number of these forces ever formed was about 80,000.

After having two US remote fire bases hit hard with heavy casualties, the US appears to have redeployed. At the same time in Pakistan, the Pakistan forces have engaged in operations forcing Taliban back into Afghanistan along its borders; Pakistan army has publicly requested US block the return and destroy the insurgents – a little too late for coordinated operations.

Reports are that al Qaeda is out of Afghanistan, deployed now to tribal areas in Pakistan. If you believe the US in fighting and dying in Afghanistan to fight terror or establish democracy, you may wish to reconsider. Main terror threat to the US appears now to be home-grown in the US. Islamic law and democracy so far have not proved compatible. Troop status quo or reinforcement has reached a point of diminishing returns that brings no stability, only more casualties.

There is another explanation for remaining in Afghanistan and that is OIL. There is a long history of attempts to establish an oil pipeline: the trans-Afghanistan Pipeline. The route would be from the Caspian sea through Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Indian Ocean. The company that is promoting it is UNOCAL/Chevron, a California consortium. It recently put together the Baku-Tibilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. Karzai has been alleged to be associated with this group. The US ambassador to the United Nations, Iraq and Afghanistan under GW Bush, Zalmay Khalilzad was a consultant to the corporation. In 1996, the Taliban was involved in negotiations with UNOCAL over the pipeline, but could not come to agreement. So apparently the search still continues for a GOOD TALIBAN, one that wants a pipeline. Colonel Robert E Bartos USA Ret.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

On the Road to Hell – Afghanistan

If you press button A and button B always pops up and you hate the result, why keep pushing button A? The New Yorker magazine did a recent feature article on Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, President Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, as the US man of the hour. My conclusion after reading it, is that Holbrooke is much more the problem than solution – he is a foreign policy quack and sadly not the only one flitting around Obama’s national security apparatus.

Holbrooke cut his diplomatic teeth as a diplomatic warrior during the Vietnam War in the 1960s. Based on his record there, as projected in the article, the significance of his performance should be measured by his failures. He pretends to have learned through mistakes, but so far it is not apparent in his helter skelter, unfocused, self-absorbed behavior while performing Obama's assigned mission.

His claim to fame is his key role in the Balkan Air War where he, Bill Clinton and Madeline Albright successfully had the US garrison Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia permanently. It is still unclear to me why NATO did not assume this occupation mission in its own back yard. Whether this outcome was good for America or not, Holbrooke deserves credit for closing the deal. He used a mix bombs and tough negotiation to succeed, and the US effectively replaced the Ottoman Turks in the Balkans. For short term security, it protected and encouraged the Muslims in Europe, but in the process brought long-term instability – not too smart.

Holbrooke is the standard bearer for US formulation and execution of US policy in Pakistan/Afghanistan; at least he believes he is. He has plenty of competition with the dope dealers, UN, NATO, US Military Command, greedy contractors, Pakistan, India, China and Russia – the 19thc Great Game is again afoot. I dare you to find anything close to unity of command on a theater level. All these forces depend on a corrupt Karzai government to administer the country once insurgent forces are destroyed or neutralized by foreign military force. Karzai-the-Crook has demonstrated he cannot extend his control much outside of Kabul.

The US military is the locus of military power with flaky NATO participation; NATO is a reluctant tiger that in the main requires an attorney before it engages the enemy. Apart from UK forces, most of NATO is brooding over how it went from a cozy regional alliance to a hair-raising global projection of its forces. Bet now it would prefer tranquil Balkan occupation duties over dying hard in the Hindu Kush.

Obama’s attraction during the election campaign was that he was against the fiasco, the war in Iraq and would end it if elected – he was elected, but 120,000 US troops still remain. On Afghanistan he put on a game face said that he was prepared to fight there – still do not believe his heart was in it, but his position countered criticism from the Right that he was a pacifist. Upon election, he ordered 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan. A few days ago, he authorized another 13,000 troops under the guise that they were combat service troops for the 21,000 he just authorized.

Playing a military version of Can You Top This?, his Afghan military commander General McChrystal has requested another 40,000 troops. Obama must have figured he was being rolled by the US military lobby and called a time-out while he tried to understand the situation strategically. The military-industrial-congressional complex is playing hardball to ramp up the war in Afghanistan. It leaked the McChrystal report and Bomb Bomb McCain tried to get senate hearings with McChrystal before the general conferred with the president. McChrystal brought criticism also when he was cheerleading for the expansion of the war in London recently.

Obama really has three choices: get out; stand and die; or fight the Jihadist off shore with special operations, air and missile attacks. Only the rat-neocons believe you can win a ground war there – and they are never right. Any status quo or reinforcement is short-term jingoist gratification, but long term regret and disaster. It is clear that the military establishment with its expanding contractors is the end rather than a means to an end.

My sense is that Obama will press button A, i.e.: status quo or reinforcement, and he will get button B, i.e.: more carnage and wasted American wealth. His military advice is seriously flawed. As GW Bush stupidly said, BRING THEM ON. You would think after Vietnam and Iraq, the US would have learned something. Colonial Robert E Bartos USA Ret.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Obama Strikes Again – Nobel Peace Prize

THERE ARE STRANGE THINGS DONE IN THE MIDNIGHT SUN, words are from American Robert W. Service's poem, The Cremation of Sam McGee. To paraphrase part of the rest of his poem, ...the queerest of these they ever did see was when President Barack Obama was selected to win the Nobel peace prize.

NORTHERN LIGHTS HAVE SEEN QUEER SIGHTS, so just maybe the Norsemen on the Arctic Circle, whose Nobel prize choices are sometimes quirky, are affected by the Aurora Borealis... I spent a month in the neighborhood, in Finnish Lapland, during early summer once upon a time in my life, and came away with the understanding of why the Finns are solitary drinkers. Maybe it was their diet of reindeer hamburgers; or, possibly they were bleached by too many saunas or... detached by listening to the beautiful music of Sibelius; that, may have made the population seem different.

My dismissal of the Nobel Peace Prize as just another self-serving tutti frutti promotional gimmick came in 1973 when Hopeless Henry Kissinger received one half of the award with the other half going to Lee Duc Tho, the North Vietnamese peace negotiator involved in ending the Vietnam War.

The Vietnamese refused his award because he claimed the US reneged on the deal by refusing to pay reparations to Vietnam once Kissinger had agreed to them. Hopeless Henry eagerly took his share of the prize money despite this embarrassing situation. Uncertain what Hopeless Henry did with the prize money, but let us hope he later invested it with his kinsman, the super-swindler Bernie Madoff

So in my book Obama's selection is much ado about nothing. You can spin the selection any way you wish, but it will not persuade or influence Obama to abandon US national interest for a bauble called the Nobel Peace Prize. Obama quickly announced that he would he would donate the one million four prize money to charity. Could you imagine Democrat-Independent-Republican-Independent Senator Joe Lieberman doing that?

Behaving again as jackasses, the Republican Right, except for Bomb Bomb McCain, flew into a rage over the Obama selection for the Nobel. Their leader, over medicated Limbaugh, said he agreed with the Taliban’s and Iran's criticism of Obama as a recipient of the award. Apart from branding the right wing anti-American, this madness should scare the hell out of the Iranians and Taliban to be in the same boat with a prominent American lunatic. If you are trying to find any brains or sanity in the right wing with mouthpieces such as crybaby Beck, ditzy Palin, Joe-Joe the Plumber or the flock of honking geese at FOX news, good luck.

The religious Right, smitten with its quest for salvation, is always self-destructively searching in the wrong places.

There are plenty of policy vulnerabilities to which Obama is subject and should be attacked by his opposition. Tea-bagging with scurrilous signage and gun totting, death panels pulling the plug on grandma, birthers, and anti Americanism whether linked to the olympic selection or the President's award as a Nobel winner are pitiful. These are not the Republican route to power. In the end it will make the Left vicious in its counter attack. The opening shot was just fired by Democratic Congressmen Alan Grayson.

Grayson's Health Care Smack-down went along these lines: "The Republican health care plan: don’t get sick. If you do get sick, America, the Republican health care plan is this: Die quickly!" When an apology was demanded by outraged Republicans, Grayson called them knuckle-dragging neanderthals. Demands for apology stopped, but Grayson's attacks continue; and, they are fueled by large campaign contributions. Expect more vitriolic declamations from the Left – the Republicans foolishly have buried comity in congress.

Congratulations President Obama on the honor and the prize. At this stage, frankly, I am uncertain of the impact. The fact that it drives Bill Clinton crazy with envy is one certainty that underscores the wisdom of the choice. Colonel Robert E Bartos USA ret.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Obama goes to Copenhagen

President Obama's recent junket on Air Force One to Copenhagen and its results reminded me of a line from the Russian short story, QUEEN OF SPADES by the famous Russian 19thc author, Alexander Pushkin: NEVER RISK THE NECESSARY TO GAIN THE SUPERFLUOUS. Obama’s trip was to secure Chicago as the site of the 2016 Summer Olympics. He instead rolled snake eyes and returned empty handed.

It was a setback for Obama because it was a case of raising expectations unnecessarily, and helplessly watching them tumble. He invested his prestige, time and taxpayer money in failure. His airplane ride alone had to cost 40-50,000 USD. I learned that to play in the Olympic bidding for 2016, it cost an additional 50 million USD; uncertain whether it is Chicago money or Washington, DC funds. There is evidence of promised federal financial assistance to Chicago if construction started.

In 2006, desperate Chicago sold its city parking garages and in December 2008 accepted 1.2 billion dollars for a 75 year lease on all city parking meters. All this to stem budget deficits.

Chicago Mayor Daley claimed the Olympics would bring 13 billion into the city. Uncertain how much would trickle down to the iron worker, hod carriers and brick layers, but you can bet the the land developers, building construction companies and infra structure costs would dwarf the pay to the building trades. And remember PAY TO PLAY is a Chicago city hall pastime. Stimulus packages, no matter how you dress them up, are by nature dirty and difficult to police.

After Obama returned to Washington DC, Valerie Jarret, one of the president’s closest White House advisors, herself a Chicago real Estate developer, declared that Obama made the decision to fly to Copenhagen at the last minute because he was advised by members of the US Olympic Committee and Mayor Daley that his presence would make the difference in the selection process. This was bad information: the US was the first country eliminated in the four remaining countries. Obama's attendance amounted to throwing in the kitchen sink; he was sadly the sink.

US selection as the 2016 site was always problematic. The winter olympics at Salt Lake City was replete with scandal only rescued by Mormon Mitt Romney. The olympics at Atlanta was hit by a bomb and smacked of cheap commercialism with too much Uncle Tom Cabins and Swanee River. Listening to Michele Obama's pitch before the Olympic Committee reminded me of Atlanta with too much OLD BLACK JOE smarmy dialogue. With US travel restrictions many are reluctant to travel to the US. This mood plus the fact the US is involved in two colonial wars did not help the US candidacy.

Finally the International Olympic Committee has its own code of conduct which is not American. It is based on secret bribes and long term reciprocity – one hand eventually washes the other. Balloting in the main is secret and block voting is evident. The US olympic representatives and the Chicago contingent did not understand or misplayed it; otherwise Obama would not have so foolishly wasted his time.

The Right Wing was venomous in its glee over Obama's failure... how these jackasses call themselves patriotic Americans is beyond me. The members of this group are advocates for permanent war and wrap themselves in the flag at the drop of a hat; yet they openly prefer Rio over Chicago. They are sick puppies. Bet they cannot dance the Bossa Nova... come think of it: Are the born agains permitted dance? One thing for certain, sin abounds in Rio.

Just in case you did not know: the Socialist led regime in Brazil reciprocated to GW Bush post 9/11 visa restrictions with a sharp vengeance. If you are planning to attend the 2016 games in Rio, start your Brazilian visa application now – if the regime finds you are an American right winger, the application will get lost.

Obama is rapidly developing a perception problem as a political weakling; he starts things, but backs away when encountering resistance. He has no stomach to hit the Republicans back and has tacitly encouraged their outrageous conduct. Ironically, the only time he has stuck his neck out recently is on the Olympics; he had his head chopped off. That is what happens when you listen to cronies whose agendas reflect self interest. Colonel Robert E Bartos USA Ret