Victory Was Possible in the Afghan War

Tora Bora. The name isn’t engraved in U.S. history, but it should be, says Peggy Noonan in her weekly column for The Wall Street Journal. She writes that in this mountainous region full of caves on the Pakistan border Osama bin Laden, mastermind of 9/11, was making his last stand under heavy U.S. bombardment. It was just a matter of time before U.S. troops would seize or kill him, and he was drawing up his will. The war would be over in a few weeks. Mission accomplished.


Then, astonishingly, writes Noonan, U.S. troops were not supplied but were sent instead to fight the planned war in Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11. Bin Laden escaped to Pakistan, where he survived as an icon of error for another ten years until killed in a Navy Seal raid. Deprived of their target, U.S. policy makers assumed the larger task of conquering Afghanistan and turning it into a replica of American democracy.

What were U.S. policy makers thinking? asks Noonan. Incompetence and the fog of war may partially explain the blunder. But was there something else? There were those in Washington, she writes, who may have felt it was too soon to seize bin Laden since it might weaken support for the invasion of Iraq, their basic goal. Noonan doesn’t name them, but the so-called neocons, who figure prominently in U.S. foreign policy, wanted to remove Saddam Hussein as an enemy of both Israel and the US. The war gave them an opportunity at the cost of its lasting another twenty years.

Coincidentally, in the same issue of The Wall Street Journal, a leading neocon, Paul Wolfowtitz, says this longest war may not have been long enough. He writes that given low U.S casualties, a war can go on forever to help keep America safe.  He fails to mention how others may feel about endless wars destroying their homelands and peoples. Also unmentioned is his own role as U.S. deputy defense secretary in the Bush Administration in providing false information leading to the invasion of Iraq. Contrary to his assurances, Iraq had no link to 9/11 and was not building weapons of mass destruction. 

Oddly, the crisis of 9/11 did not lead to a concentration on strategic thinking that largely characterized Cold War policy. Rather impulse and emotion seemed to prevail. In his book “Bush At War,” Bob Woodward quotes a U.S. counter-intelligence chief predicting to a doubtful Russian: “We’re going to kill them.We’re going to put their heads on sticks. We’re going to rock their world.” Forever wars are not conducive to balanced judgment.

A Madness No More

Reefer Madness. That was the title of a popular 1936 film, one of a series depicting in grim detail all the horrors of marijuana from bad dreams and hallucinations to suicide and murder. You name it, marijuana caused it. As a result, one state after another outlawed it and Harry Anslinger, commissioner of the newly created Federal Bureau of Narcotic Control, declared it responsible for “insanity, criminality and death.”

We have come a long way from that prognosis. Today marijuana is the world’s most popular drug, a dramatic change in both attitude and law. Eighteen states in the U.S. have now legalized marijuana and 38 approved its medical use. It’s considered no worse than alcohol which is freely used, maybe a little better. It’s certainly preferable to the harder drugs like Fentanyl which is fifty times more potent than marijuana. Legalization is not entire. Prohibitions remain on excessive personal use, dealing in the drug or involving minors. But for normal everyday consumers, seeking recreation and relief, it’s time to celebrate.

Not for the Mexican drug cartels. They have said all along that legalization of marijuana is more damaging to them than law enforcement. That seems to be the case. For the moment, more drugs than ever are crossing the US. border thanks to a relaxation of rules in Washington, but in general marijuana deliveries are way down along with their price. Since marijuana amounts to about half of their business, they could be in serious trouble.

They have been scrambling to compensate, switching to harder drugs like fentanyl which was largely responsible for the record 93,331 American deaths from overdose last year. They have branched out into human trafficking and are forcing migrants to pay to cross the border which they completely control on the Mexican side.

Now they have invaded the U.S., starting hundreds of marijuana farms in southern California that will let them continue to profit from the drug. How they managed to avoid U.S.authorities in this extensive enterprise on U.S. soil is a major question. Are their farms a Mexican version of the sanctuary cities popular in California? Though they don’t make the official U.S. list of terrorists, they are terrorizing Americans the way they do Mexicans. When a couple of hikers got too close to a farm, a worker appeared with a picture of a bullet-ridden truck with a dead driver inside and warned: “This what will happen to you if you come back out again.”  

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Photo: Steve Petteway/Courtesy of the Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

Since these farms are not in Mexico but in the U.S., it’s assumed that U.S. law enforcement, once galvanized, can root them out in a timely fashion. Then as soon as possible the remaining states should complete legalization and resolve contradictions with the U.S. Government. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas notes in a recent statement, it doesn’t make sense for the federal government to continue to enforce laws against marijuana that have been eliminated by the states. “The federal government’s current approach is a half-in, half-out regime that simultaneously tolerates and forbids local use of marijuana. “

Once this is accomplished, the harried cartels will face a marijuana wall of consumerism that could enfeeble them to the benefit of both the U.S. and Mexico.

The Bidens Do Mexico

Somehow in his frequent travels around the world Hunter Biden misplaced a laptop at a computer shop in Delaware. Once it was discovered and turned over to the FBI, its contents were made available and are now being reported. Among the various business ventures disclosed was one in Mexico involving that country’s richest man, billionaire Carlos Slim. A photo shows then Vice President Joe Biden and son Hunter smiling alongside Carlos Slim at a State Dept. luncheon in Washington D.C. in 2015.

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There’s nothing new about top U.S. officials getting photographed with controversial characters. The world is full of them. But doing serious business with them is another matter, especially when Mexico is now inundating the U.S with illegal and dangerous drugs and in the process wrecking its own country. There’s no clear evidence linking Carlos Slim to the drug dealing cartels that basically run Mexico, but it’s not really possible to be a billionaire in Mexico and still be alive without making an accommodation of some kind with them.

In turn the Biden’s have made their accommodation. They are hardly alone. In 2009 Slim made a $250 million loan to the ailing New York Times and is now the company’s second largest share holder. The Times reports very little about the doings of the drug cartels and the dismal situation in Mexico. The same is true of the rest of the mainstream media, which may explain why the Biden’s went so casually into business with Slim. They weren’t aware of his background.

The question arises as to why this enormous drug traffic escapes genuine scrutiny.

One reason may be fear. The murderous cartels have a long reach and in fact these days may be right next door. They are sophisticated, increasingly global managers who may associate with their peers in legitimate pursuits. Just don’t get in their way.

Then there’s indifference. Sensitively attuned to any violation of civil rights within their borders – don’t dare call a Mexican a bad name – Americans seem mindless of the slaughter of Mexicans in Mexico. Not our problem. What’s their problem?

And last but not least there’s money, many billions of dollars available in the U.S. that has not been laundered back to Mexico. It amounts to a vast redistribution of wealth from the less affluent buyers of drugs to the more affluent who profit from them. If the mainstream media were serious, it could examine how this works and what it does to the U.S..

Given the current rush to the border, cracks are appearing in media coverage. Apparently, it’s no longer taboo to mention the cartels whose control of drugs and migrants is so very obvious. But there’s a long way to go to make plain their impact on American life.

How Many Wars and For What?

As he pledged, President Biden is withdrawing from the war in Afghanistan. It will not be easy since it has lasted twenty years and the U.S. has not had its way. The Taliban are likely to assert control not without bloodshed. Biden will doubtless take a pummeling at home for allowing this to happen. But how long can a war be sustained with its inevitable death and destruction, and one that is no longer in the national interest?

MAIN POSHTEH, AFGHANISTAN – (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

As if to make up for this avoidance of battle, Biden has now bombed Iraqi militias that are assumed to be backed by Iran. The professed aim is to deter them from attacking U.S.troops in Iraq. The question is why these troops are still there close to twenty years after the much deplored and altogether unnecessary invasion of Iraq that started the region on its downward spiral of unending war.

It’s obvious time to regroup, say many analysts. A report by the Atlantic Council notes “The core assumptions underpinning U.S. policy – ensuring oil flows, maintaining Israel’s security, preventing the rise of a dominant hegemon and countering terrorism – have been upended by new realities.” The Middle East is not so crucial to the U.S. as it once was. No polity there, including Iran, seriously threatens the U.S. It’s a local matter.

It’s one thing to understand this, another to implement it. U.S. foreign policy is fragmented among various power seekers from Pentagon to State Department to CIA to, yes, the media. Gone are the days of the so-called “Wise Men” who formed an actual establishment and were able to construct a viable foreign policy that stood the test of time. Today the divisions are daily apparent, including the murky doings of a Deep State that manages to avoid serious scrutiny.

The current greatest threat to the US. is also divided – the ever combative Mexican drug cartels that compete with one aother for control of the immensely lucrative drug trade with firepower that has devastated Mexico. But unlike the U. S. they share a common overriding goal – move as many drugs and migrants across the U.S. border in the shortest possible time for the largest possible profit. This they are currently doing perhaps more successfully than ever before.

 US-Mexico border fence in Tijuana. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images

There are simply no serious impediments to them on the border. Long stretches of its 2000 miles lack any sort of protection. You can cross freely, go back and forth without anyone noticing. A nation that is involved in protecting borders across the Middle East and elsewhere doesn’t seem to want to protect its own border. Even now in the face of an invasion of drugs and migrants, there’s a squeamish reluctance to put the manpower where it’s vitally needed and make it effective. –  on the border.

It’s not that the U.S. isn’t welcoming. A case can be made that all of Mexico qualifies for asylum given the violence that permeates the country. The root cause is the vast American consumption of illicit drugs that keeps the cartels in business. We Americans are responsible for the tragedy on the border. It’s of our own making, and we are the ones to mend it.

The Reynosa Warning

The Mexican border town of Raynosa is the pride of the Gulf cartel. It’s estimated to be the most tightly controlled of all the border towns under cartel rule. Its system of surveillance rivals any in the U.S. Whoever enters day or night is watched and followed by scouts and sensors. It’s advisable not to do anything that offends.

The disadvantage of this supremacy is that Reynosa is envied by rival cartels who are in the habit of taking what they want. Recently, assorted discontents pulled up in a number of trucks and started firing randomly. Before they had finshed, twenty-three people were dead, most of them innocent bystanders. A grim reckoning but not that unusual in Mexico with one of the highest homicide rates in the world. Violence has become contagious and – to be frank – pleasurable as the cartels kill for control of the immensely profitable drug trade. In the process anybody can perish in or around the line of fire.

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Garcia Cabeza de Vaca, governor of the state of Tamaulipas in which Reynosa is located, said this kind of “reprehensible criminal behavior” will not be tolerated. We’ll have to take him at his word since he is currently charged with criminal activities involving the Gulf cartel. In city as in state, the cartels determine justice. Their word is the law.

A manager of a hotel across the border in McAllen, Texas, says she would like to visit her grandmother who lives in Reynosa, but’s a difficult trip. Arrangements must be made and money exchanged with a cartel intermediary who then assures safe passage. She says she doesn’t want to be trapped in a cartel financial web from which there’s no escape.

There are currently other visitors in Reynosa; namely, hundreds of migrants who have been returned to Mexico from the U.S. to await their fate. Most are seeking asylum from the unceasing violence that threatens their lives back home. Many are children, entrusted by their parents to the so-called coyotes to take them to the U.S. Once they’re paid – around ten thusand dollars per migrant – these cartel agents don’t really care what happens to their charges who are at the mercy of the cartels, as their scars and bruises testify.

There’s a tendency to ignore or underestimate the cartels. That’s Mexico for you, can’t happen here, we’re told. But some cartels may have dreams beyond avarice. Could they possibly conquer the U.S. which once conquered Mexico and took half  its territory? Are they on their way to that end with the poisonous drugs like fentanyl that are leading to increasing American deaths from overdose? Do the current riots in U.S. inner cities duplicate the ones in Mexico with drug rivalry a chief cause? If so, the cartels could be be prouid of a progeny copying their ways up north. Is Reynosa then a portent?

Biden Takes Charge

Who’s up, who’s down? Who hit whom? Who looked the best? That’s one way of viewing the Biden-Putin summit, the media way. An alternative way is to credit Biden with relieving tensions that have built up between the U.S.and Russia and proposing a practical way out that’s also relevant to the rest of the world. We must take the world as it is, he says, and do businss with it on that basis. High flown rhetoric and moralizing are not needed. We’re all in this together.

It was vintage Biden. As Vice President, he was about the only adviser who argued against President Obama’s dubious wars and drone attacks. As President, he has  been prone to fumble on domestic issues or not altogether understand them. With foreign affairs he is on familiar ground. After his meeting with Putin, he spoke clearly and decisively with words that reflected firm belief.

Photo by (Mikhail Metzel/Pool Photo via AP)

What he accomplished, of course, was to stop the panicky talk about war with Russia. War is hardly possible when the leaders of the two countries are so cozily and publicly communicating. For Biden the key issue, ignored in the clamor over minor matters, is the nuclear deadlock. He and Putin agreed on steps toward a Strategic Stability Dialogue to reduce the chances of a nuclear exchange beyond which all other issues pale.

He scoffed at the notion of trusting Putin to behave the way we want. He might have mentioned President Franklin Roosevelt’s fatal error in World War Two of earnestly trying to inspire trust in Soviet Dictator Stalin, who couldn’t have cared less. He relentlessly pursued his own self-interest, as all rulers do, says Biden. Let’s deal with what we’ve got.

Biden’s summit also stopped the mindless drive to push Russa and China together by denouncing and threatening both nuclear powers, even envisioning a two-front war, a danger understood and averted by Nixon and Kissinger in their Cold War opening to communist China. Biden didn’t mention Iran, a key link in the China-Russia chain. He wants to remove it by renewing the nuclear agreement rejected by President Trump. Iran is emotional politics in the U.S. because of its rivalry with Israel. To Biden it’s geopolitics.

Will Biden be able to implement his policy in view of the opposition to such  realism? It’s anathema to the war-minded neocons, in particular, who see no trace of their influence in what Biden proposes. They have basically run foreign policy under four Presidents with the eventual goal of removing the present Russian regime and replacing it with one of their own choosing or maybe even themselves, Bolshevik style.

This they accomplished in Russia’s neighbor Ukraine by supporting a timely revolution. With followers throughout the media, they have already gone on the offensive against Biden. He is vulnerable on some grounds like the over run Mexican Border and the White Supremacy fantasy. Foreign policy is his strong point. Stick with it.

Marathon Magic

The snowbirds in Florida are apprently not going back home to snow, cold, rain and remaining masks. They are staying in Florida not only bacause of sun, sea and beaches but also, they say, because the state is more open and better governed than others as it proved during the pandemic. Hotel managers report full occupancy during the uusually abandoned summer if only they could find enough help to handle it.

A must-see for newcomers is Marathon in the Florida Keys where two sets of impassioned staffers are working to reduce the mosquito population and rescue the ever endangered sea turtles. They require far different techniques that continue to evolve for the benefit of human health and the survival of creatures that share the planet.

Marathon Turtle Hospital Photo: Bonnie Gross

The Aedes aegypti mosquito is not on view. Despite striped legs, he’s not very photogenic. But he can cause a world of trouble; that is, she can. Her bite can be poisonous while the male is harmless. To deal with this distinction, the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District is releasing tens of thousands of genetically modified males who will mate with unsuspectng females. The result: when their eggs hatch, only males willl survive to the benefit of human health.

This species accounts for four per cent of the mosquito population but is responsible for most of the disease. Dengue fever, which is highly debilitating but infequently fatal, has been increasing around the world with up to 100 million cases a year and some 20 thousand deaths. It’s rare in the U.S., though there was an outbreak of 70 cases recently in Key Largo. Whereever water is left around – flower pots, trash cans, drainage ditches – mosquitos thrive.

(Photo by Muhammad Mahdi Karim, published under the GNU free documentation license)

Genetically engineered crops are commonplace today, while similarly modified insects are new on the scene. Pesticides remain essential. Skeptics note that mosquitos are ingeniously elusive in avoiding peril. We will have to wait to see, but the Marathon modifiers are confident.

Sea turtles are much on view at their hospital. They come in various sizes, species and ages as they float in various pools for repair from injury largely inflicted by human behavior. They get entangled in fishing nets that may cost them a flipper. They devour the waste plastics that litter the sea and get trapped in their stomachs. Boats are a special hazard with propellers that easily slice through a shell. Turtle ambulances are kept busy picking up the injured when they’re spotted. People are alerted to look out for them.

The surgeons at the hospital operate with human care as they cut away bulbous tumors caused by a special turtle virus. Cures are routine. But if nothing can be done, a permanently disabled turtle can retire to a 100,000 gallon salt water pool that formerly served as a swimming pool for human guests at a motel now converted to the hospital.  

Considered living dinosaurs headed to extinction, the turtles have been given a reprieve by the hosptal. Its proudest moment comes when the turtles, now restored and fit, can be returned to the sea where of course they belong.