November 26, 2009

Wherein We Gaze into Our Inerrant Crystal Ball and Espy a Deadly Rat

The mountains will be in labour; an absurd mouse will be born. -- Horace
So many meetings of the war council! So much intense deliberation over so many months! So many knowledgeable experts training their finely honed minds on the problem of Afghanistan and Pakistan! So many challenges to conventional wisdom and the policies inherited from the reviled Bush administration! So much independence of thought, sober reflection, and careful calibration of the array of competing objectives and concerns!

Truly, the operations of our government -- and if not of government generally, certainly of the Obama administration -- are a wonder to behold. We are comforted by their deliberate, subtle approach, we are bathed in the soothing liquid of their studious avoidance of easy slogans and empty rhetoric. These are profoundly thoughtful people, putting forth their best effort to arrive at the best solution for all concerned.

And so, so many people fall for this stinking load of unmitigated shit.

By way of stark and unforgiving contrast, I am a genuinely thoughtful and compassionate person. Follow along with me, and you can ignore the debate that will take place next week, when Obama gives his address on the "new" strategy for Afghanistan. There is a strategy, but it is assuredly not "new." Nor will there be anything the least surprising about the reactions to Obama's speech dribbling from the slack mouths operated by unfocused minds, and the debate, as on every other occasion, will miss every issue of significance.

Obama will offer something for everyone, although no one will be truly happy with the result. But this, we will be assured by the allegedly adult monitors of our behavior, is what real "compromise" means! In turn, this is a further demonstration of Obama's seriousness, of his willingness to make difficult decisions. No one is satisfied; therefore, he must be right! Aren't people even just slightly tired of this overused script? Not so that anyone in the ruling class need be concerned for more than a fleeting instant, if that.

Conservatives will take comfort from the fact that Obama appreciates that there are important objectives to be won. Obama fights on! They will go on to note, and to regret (or to deplore, or to condemn), that Obama isn't doing enough. Not enough troops, not on a fast enough timetable, no commitment to the clearcut, truly big victory that is required. Still, he's not retreating.

At least the conservatives exhibit a degree of consistency. They think the battle is crucial, so they are thankful Obama continues it, even if they regret (deplore, condemn) that his devotion to the cause doesn't match the intensity of theirs. The Democrats (and liberals and progressives) can't even stake a claim to minimal consistency. Some liberal groups threw their support behind the long fight in Afghanistan and Pakistan near the beginning of Obama's term. As for the others: if Bush had done what Obama will do, they would scream their protest many times a day. "Why, oh why are we in Afghanistan?," they would moan, loudly and repeatedly. "There's no reason for us to be there! Get out!"

Some progressives will say that, but their criticisms lack, shall we say, edge. After all, all this is actually Bush's problem. Bush is the one who started this business. Obama is trying to finish it, but remember, Obama is an adult. He understands that this is complicated. We need to be careful. And don't forget that Pakistan has nukes! Never mind that Israel does too, as does India, as do we (and we're the only ones who have used them, and lied about why we did).

Need I remind you that Obama is the commander in chief? It's not complicated in the least. In fact, the United States could leave, within three or six months. Announce the phased withdrawal of all U.S. personnel -- and then do it. We could do the same in Iraq. We won't do it in either case.

As I've said before about Iraq, and this is also true of Afghanistan: We. Are. Not. Leaving. As for why we aren't leaving, I'll explain that (again) in a moment. Let's first make a few notes about this New York Times story.

Obama is "determined to 'finish the job' in Afghanistan." Excellent! Perhaps we might ask an obvious question. We realize the answer must also be obvious, because almost no one feels the need to ask what it is. Exactly who gave us that "job"? Why, we did! Funny how that works. Let's briefly set that aside. What does Obama think the "job" is? This:
At a news conference in the East Room with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India, Mr. Obama suggested that his approach would break from the policies he had inherited from the Bush administration and said that the goals would be to keep Al Qaeda from using the region to launch more attacks against the United States and to bring more stability to Afghanistan.
Did Al Qaeda ever "us[e] the region to launch...attacks against the United States"? Were other regions used to launch attacks? As I recall, certain of the people involved in the 9/11 attack trained in Europe, and others trained in...wait, hmm...oh, yes, the United States. Well, it's complicated, and Obama surely has information that can't be entrusted to feeble laypersons like you and me.

And did the Afghans ask the U.S. "to bring more stability" to their backward, woebegone country? When did they do that? Have they asked recently? I may have missed it. It's hard to keep up with everything. But I understand that the United States represents "the culmination of human development" and similar kinds of good stuff. So of course we need to share the precious knowledge that is uniquely ours with others. Sometimes we have to do that even when those others don't want us to! That's how good we are. We've been doing that for a long, long time ("To conquer Mexico, in other words, would be to do it a favor.").

I appreciate that Obama is one heck of a nice guy. He cares very deeply what we think about all this:
“I feel very confident that when the American people hear a clear rationale for what we’re doing there and how we intend to achieve our goals, that they will be supportive.”
He's "very confident" that we'll all be "supportive." That's sweet. Are you "American people"? Am I? Who are these "American people"? And -- now I'm just saying this hypothetically, in an exercise of wildly fanciful imagination -- what if some of us aren't all that rah-rah and "supportive" of his plans? (Let's just assume we're "American people" for this fiction assignment.) What happens then? Back to the drawing board? Do we get invited to the White House for one of those "war councils"? That would be cool! Those meetings are in the Situation Room. That is way cool. I'm ready, Mr. President!

But hold on. What's this in the NYT story?
Though he and his advisers have drawn up benchmarks to measure progress and put pressure on the Afghan government to do its part, Mr. Obama offered no details in his public remarks on Tuesday. He was also silent on precisely what would constitute finishing the job in Afghanistan or how soon he envisioned being able to begin extricating the United States from the war there.
That sounds sort Maybe open-ended. But that can't be true! He's thoughtful, deliberate, careful Obama! And it's complicated! Besides, they've "drawn up benchmarks"! Didn't Bush have those in Iraq? I don't recall that Democrats found "benchmarks" all that consoling then. I'm probably not remembering that right. I'm sure they're completely consistent on this point, as on all the others. Surely they wouldn't say one thing when a Republican adopts a certain policy and another thing entirely when a Democrat adopts the same exact policy. That would never happen.

And I don't want to be an annoying pest -- I don't! Why would you think such a terrible thing? -- but the story points out another similarity to loathed administrations past:
One administration official involved in Afghanistan policy said the president and his top advisers were thinking in terms of “exit strategies” and not necessarily “exit timetables.” He compared the current thinking to the “conditional engagement” that President George W. Bush used in Iraq.
Exit strategies! Conditional engagement! Sheesh, this is way above my pay grade, and yours too. Only thoughtful, serious adults can handle stuff like this. That's not you, not me. We should just shut up. Well, not just yet. We're badly behaved children.

Obama is going to "put pressure on the Afghan government to do its part." I'm sorry, but there's that same nagging question again. Did the Afghans ask us to do that? They pleaded, "Hey, we're so stupid and backward that we can't figure out how to solve any of these problems ourselves. You're so fantastically smart, you have to help us! Help us, please, please, please?" I can see that if they'd said something like that, we'd have to help out. Especially since we're so good and noble and everything. Only a rotten person could say no when someone begged for help like that. We're definitely not rotten. As if!

Oh, I see that the Obama administration has "benchmarks" for Pakistan, too! I guess they begged for our help, as well. I miss a lot of news. What have I been doing? Why didn't you tell me all this? No wonder the U.S. and our economy are headed straight down the crapper. Look how many countries there are all around the world that are so much worse off than we are, and that are begging for our help! We can't be selfish and think only of ourselves! We have to do what we can. It's tragic that all those innocent civilians get killed and maimed, and it's a crying shame that things only seem to get worse. But all that only shows how miserable those countries are. It can't have anything to do with what we're doing.

Finally, after so many meetings and so much thoughtful deliberation and so many experts thinking outside the box and all that other inspiring work devoted to figuring out the very best course to take, we arrive here:
Although his aides told some allies that the troop increase would most likely be slightly below 30,000 — there are currently 68,000 American troops in Afghanistan — several officials said Mr. Obama did not appear completely settled on a final number.
Compromise! And no one is completely happy! That means this must be the right policy! And totally unexpected and unpredictable, too!

I mentioned that progressives (and also Obama himself very notably) seek to portray the Afghanistan dilemma as one created solely by Bush. That this is their view is indisputably true, as evidenced by this post. The full truth of this common progressive delusion is considerably worse than I've indicated:
Which brings us to Garry Wills' dismaying essay in the New York Review of Books about the political cost Obama will pay if he chooses, as he should, to resist the crushing domestic political imperatives to continue Bush's war in Afghanistan.

Can even someone as brilliant as Barack Obama [!!!] resolve this ghastly dilemma? Can he find a way both to avoid the bloody quagmire Bush - deliberately - left for the incoming president, and also serve for two terms? Wills seems to think it's all but impossible. Sadly, I agree.

Escalating the Afghanistan conflict will lead to disaster. Refusing to escalate it will lead to political ruin not only for Obama or the Democratic party, but for this country, which will be torn apart by the extreme right, even if there isn't a spectacular 9/11 attack after an American withdrawal.

Indeed, Digby is probably right: Obama will escalate, somehow. And countless American and Afghani lives will be sacrificed, for... what, exactly? Certainly not Hamid Karzai's corrupt government.

No. Escalation will likely have little to do with Afghanistan, or even foreign policy, but everything to do both with a sitting president's ambition as well as the prevention of an extreme right takeover in the next presidential election. Just like Vietnam. I hate the American far right as much as any liberal, but it is not worth getting people killed in Kandahar to prevent them from seizing power. If the US really is that far down the road to fascism, then escalating a pointless war will not prevent an imminent rightwing takeover.
According to this view, should Democrats be ousted from power, it is impossible that such a development could be the result of widespread dissatisfaction with the Democrats' performance -- arising out of, for example, the Democrats' refusal to do anything to alleviate in any substantial way the vast economic suffering of "ordinary" Americans even as the ruling elites increase their immense wealth and power still more, or the Democrats' (and progressives') insistence on enacting a "health care reform" bill that won't help you or me but will bring massive wealth and a forcibly guaranteed market to insurance companies already bloated by monumental wealth.

No, it couldn't be any of that -- although a person whose perspective is not deeply corrupted and distorted by the basest form of partisanship might reasonably conclude that Democratic failure on this scale is more than adequate reason to want to "throw the bums out." And even though this writer opposes "escalating a pointless war," he is entirely sympathetic to Obama's doing just that -- because, according to this blogger, Obama can't help it. Forget that he's president and commander in chief. Just like Johnson and Vietnam (nice little two-fer there), it's never the Democrats' fault. It's always the fault of someone else, and it's usually the fault of those crazy, evil rightwing fascists. They are evil, and they are responsible for all of it. This is political tribalism on an exceedingly primitive level: see, " Learning to Hate 'The Other'" for much more on that subject.

I just recently discussed this determined refusal to grant moral agency and responsibility to those in "our" tribe in, "The Plea of Helplessness, the Refusal of Responsibility, and Today's Progressives." As I wrote:
In terms of these issues, what today's progressives do is exactly what many conservatives did during the Bush years. Today, we must stay in Iraq and Afghanistan, for our enemies will not permit us to do otherwise. We must bail out Wall Street, for if we don't, our entire economy will collapse. We must provide the insurance companies a gigantic guaranteed market, a market delivered to the insurers by the threat of government force, for this is the only way we can take this necessary "first step." The Democrats and progressives repeatedly claim that they have no choice about any of it.

Precisely as was the case for many conservatives, it is now the case for the Democrats and progressives: nothing is their fault, and nothing is their responsibility. But as Tuchman and many others have proven at blistering length, not a single element of this argument is true: "[N]o matter how equal two alternatives may appear, there is always freedom of choice to change or desist from a counter-productive course if the policy-maker has the moral courage to exercise it."
To come back to Afghanistan, consider the other significant aspect of that blog entry: "Obama will escalate, somehow. And countless American and Afghani lives will be sacrificed, for... what, exactly? Certainly not Hamid Karzai's corrupt government." This raises an issue that I consider to be of special importance, one I will be discussing in further detail in some upcoming essays. This is only one example, albeit a very significant one, of a fundamental problem in thinking and analysis.

My brief label for the problem is this: compulsive avoidance and denial. I don't mean that in a "clinical" sense, as if I were improperly presuming to offer some sort of technical, "scientific," psychological diagnosis in an individual case. I mean it only in the lay sense of identifying the mechanism revealed by the analysis itself, or rather the failure of analysis.

The critical point of this extended consideration of the absurdity of Obama's concocted drama and PR campaign prior to the (hopefully) widely anticipated announcement of his "new" strategy is that the outcome was never in even the slightest degree of doubt. The mountains have appeared to labour mightily -- with strong emphasis on "appear," for image and PR is not the main thing at this stage of the disintegration of the American Empire, it's the only thing -- and they have finally produced what anyone who understands U.S. foreign policy could easily have predicted before this entirely phony marketing campaign even began. We might wish that the result was the birth of an "absurd mouse"; in fact, this process has produced a deadly rat -- the deadly rat that is U.S. global hegemony, the goal of the American ruling class for many decades.

I've written before about the common lament, one voiced by many writers in addition to this one example: "Why, oh why are we in Afghanistan?" To ask this question is to confess an astonishing ignorance of U.S. history and foreign policy. The ignorance is far more remarkable because the goal of U.S. global hegemony has been announced repeatedly by countless individuals, over a very long period of time.

I discussed this issue at length just a month ago: "The Denial Continues, and the Horror Remains Unrecognized." Both because people often don't follow links and because it appears I will have to repeat this countless times before it begins to sink in, I provide you this excerpt:
The endless appeals to "spreading democracy," fostering "stable governments," and all the rest are nothing but marketing and public relations. They are the camouflage for the actual purposes of our government's actions. You can dissect and demolish those purported justifications for U.S. policy all you wish; our leaders don't care about any of that, no matter how successful your demolition efforts are, because all of that is completely irrelevant. But our leaders and most commentators do love the marketing, so with only very rare exceptions, their analysis and even their criticisms remain on this superficial level.

The actual reasons that drive U.S. policy aren't hidden. Again, the evidence is spread before you in plain sight: all you have to do is look at and understand it. I discussed the general contours of U.S. foreign policy for over the last hundred years in a piece just the other day: "The Empty Establishment: No One's Home in an Intellectual Wasteland." With regard to our presence in Afghanistan, a presence which will continue in one form or another for decades to come barring unforeseen developments (or possibly a regional conflagration, which would most likely be set off by a U.S. attack on Iran), I direct you to an invaluable article by the indispensable Robert Higgs. The article first appeared over a year ago, and I've been meaning to discuss it ever since.

I strongly recommend you read every word of it, several times at a minimum: "CENTCOM's Master Plan and U.S. Global Hegemony."
This is perhaps the key paragraph from Higgs:
It comes as no surprise, then, that of all the unified commands, CENTCOM is the one in which, in today’s world, the U.S. empire’s rubber meets the road most abrasively. The command’s area of responsibility includes a great part of the world’s known petroleum and natural gas deposits, a preponderance of Israel’s enemies, and the places in which the George W. Bush administration has chosen to focus its so-called Global War on Terror. Of course, the region also includes Iraq and Afghanistan, where U.S. forces have been fighting for years, and, sandwiched between these two battlefields, Iran, where Dick Cheney and the rest of the neocons ardently desire to extend the fighting at the earliest opportunity.
Following the Higgs excerpt, I said:
This is the general policy that Obama continues, and that he will continue into the foreseeable future. He made his intentions clear from the beginning of his campaign, and nothing has changed. Nor will it, certainly not insofar as Obama is concerned. ...

So all of the feigned bafflement and incessant caterwauling about the supposedly indecipherable actions of the United States -- Why, oh why, did we invade Iraq?, and Why, dear God, are we in Afghanistan? -- represent only the capitulation of the purported critics to precisely those arguments U.S. leaders hope you will engage. They want you to spend all your time on those arguments, because they're only marketing ploys having nothing at all to do with their actual goals. As I said the other day, if you want to stop this murderous madness -- and I dearly hope you do -- forget about what they say their goals are (fostering "democratic" governments, “regional stability,” “security,” and all the associated claptrap), and focus on the real problem: the carefully chosen policy of U.S. geopolitical dominance over the entire globe. On the day Obama announces the scheduled closure of at least one-third of the U.S.'s worldwide empire of bases, I'll believe he's serious about altering any of this, and not a moment before. He never will, and you know he won't. (I myself would prefer the closure within three to six months of three-quarters of them at a minimum. But contrary to some of my critics, I actually do reside in this world, and not the one I would prefer.)

Higgs' argument and those I consistently make explain the U.S. presence in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in countless other places around the world.
That last link goes to one of the essays in my "Dominion Over the World" series. Two other essays in that series speak to this point, and the nature and purposes of U.S. foreign policy for more than the last half century: "The Open Door to Worldwide Hegemony," and "Global Interventionism -- A Disastrous Policy Supported by Indefensible Ideas." (All of the essays in that series are listed at the conclusion of this post.)

I will be blunt: if you don't understand this, you understand nothing about U.S. foreign policy and the considerations that gave rise to it and that drive it today. As a result, you will never grasp why we're in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Africa, or anywhere else. If you persist in asking questions that have been answered clearly and unmistakably time and again, and if your bafflement is not "feigned" but genuine, you have, as I said, understood nothing.

It may be that you think the goal of U.S. geopolitical dominance is profoundly irrational and evil, and necessarily brutal and murderous on a vast scale. If so, I fully agree with you. That is why I oppose it so deeply. But surely you should be able to see that that is a separate issue entirely. They have a plan and a goal, and they have told you what it is over and over. Believe them. You have countless reasons to credit their repeated proclamations as true, and not a single reason to doubt the veracity of what they say. Why people refuse to believe what is demonstrably true and why they continue to resist the truth with every breath are crucial questions. That is why I will discuss some of the answers in more detail.

In the meantime, Obama's Afghanistan policy will continue, in broad outline (and it would appear even in many specifics), what has been U.S. foreign policy for many awful, blood-drenched years. That isn't news; it's what we've done and what we continue to do all the time. And there will be no news made next week. Obama may offer a new marketing phrase or a nifty slogan, but to judge from the NYT story and many similar ones, even superficial unexpected developments appear unlikely in the extreme. If there is even a single significant element of genuine surprise in what Obama says and in what transpires in the subsequent public debate, I will be amazed.

So feel free to ignore next week's news, certainly as far as this story is concerned. You will miss absolutely nothing of consequence.