Tinkering with Terror

As the Global War of Terror (GWOT) winds down, desultory firing continues on both sides without significant impact. Rockets drop near U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria, but no one is hit. In return, the U.S. briefly fires back, as if neither side wants to do too much damage. It might be called tinkering with terror if any in fact still exists.

Colonel Douglas Macgregor. Photo by Wikipedia

It’s time to go, says top U.S. military strategist Colonel Douglas Macgregor. The exit doesn’t have to be as calamitous as the departure from Afghanistan. Have a clear plan, leave at night without telling anybody and don’t worry about being called defeatist. Close to two decades under arms is long enough when the cause is murky and the outcome uncertain. We won’t be missed, says the colonel. Life will carry on as before, the same groups in contention but without our participation.

There’s one grievance that a continued U.S. presence will not alleviate, the rather unheroic assassination by drone of the leading Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. Thousands recently gathered in the streets of Baghdad to mark the second anniversary of that event. The neocons had been urging his elimination for many years until President Trump finally gave his approval, doubtless under the pressure of his neocon Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Col. Macgregor, who was a senior adviser to the secretary of defense under Trump, says the President had a lot of good ideas but appointed people of the opposite view to carry them out, a failing he didn’t recognize until late in his administration.

Deputy Director Alan Heil. Photo by Public Diplomacy Council

The U.S. doesn’t have much to show for its prolonged military intervention in the Middle East, a region now in greater turmoil than before with vast numbers of civilian casualties and refugees pouring into Europe. Neocons argue that these wars have destroyed enemies of Israel, but the resulting violence and instability can hardly benefit Israel or any other country in the region. It all began with the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 in response to the 9/11 attack. Instead of targeting the actual culprits, the Bush Administration launched its war on terror -” You’re either with us or against us” – that would be boundless and endless.

The American media rallied behind the attack on Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein on the grounds he harbored weapons of mass destruction and was also involved in 9/11, neither of which was true. But in the clamor of the times, dissenters were hard to find. One notably was the U.S. Government radio, the Voice of America. Under the wise guidance of Deputy Director Alan Heil, his editors – I was one – reported both sides of the contentious issue, allowing listeners to make up their own minds instead of telling them what to think. It shows that at its best a government media can serve as a corrective to private news organizations increasingly and powerfully combining in viewpoint and even language.

Afghans Betrayed

U.S. treatment of Afghans in the unending war has been a mixture of confusion and indifference. Friends and enemies may be indistinguishable, the friend today may be the enemy tomorrow in multi-faceted Afghanistan. How is a hapless Washington bureaucrat going to keep up with all of this? That said, Major Mohammed Naiem Asadi was clearly on our side.

A decorated helicopter pilot, he has logged thousands of flight hours and is said to have destroyed more of the enemy than anyone else in the Afghan air force. In response the Taliban have threatened his life on the ground. They told his father hand over your son or we’ll kill your entire family.

Major Mohammed Naiem Asadi

Knowing the threat is serious, Major Asadi asked for asylum in the U.S. and apparently it was granted. But just before he and his wife and daughter were about to board a plane to the U.S., the decision was reversed on Washington orders. The reason? Like so much else in the Afghan war it was unclear. But orders are orders.

Now Asadi is in hiding no less a target of Taliban wrath.

Mullah Mohammed Khaksar was intelligence chief of the Taliban until its leader Mullah Omar had some doubts and demoted him to deputy interior minister, where he still had control of a large police force. When I met him in Kabul on an assignment for Voice of America a year before 9/11, he seemed friendly and hospitable but clearly the voice of the Taliban.

No so. At great personal risk, he was in contact with the CIA and was furnishing not only useful information but plans on how he and other defecting Taliban leaders could link with an anti-Taliban military force and overthrow Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden. He told Kathy Gannon, a top reporter covering Afghanistan: “There were people in the Taliban who wanted to work with the international community, who didn’t want the foreign fighters, who wanted them gone. But with no help from the outside, we couldn’t do anything, and then it was too late.”

Mullah Mohammed Khaksar

With the war underway, he offered information on where bin Laden might be found. That too was ignored. Knowing he was now an obvious target of the Taliban, he asked for some protection from the U.S. He was turned down and soon executed by the Taliban in the city of Kandahar.

Mullah Khaksar of the past and Major Asadi of today may serve as bookends for a  war that didn’t have to be, and their plight can symbolize what a beautiful country and proud people have endured.

The Biden We Don’t Know

What we know about Joe Biden is none too flattering. On his rocky road to the Democratic Presidential nomination, which promises to be even rougher on the way to the election, he has stumbled in speech and action. Critics deride his snarled syntax and lapses of thought. A former Senate staffer claims he sexually assaulted her 27 years ago. And there’s no explaining how he used his Washington influence over Ukraine to add to his wealth at the expense of this distraught nation.

Yet there is something more to the Vice President that has been hidden from view but becomes clear in Bob Woodward’s 2010 book “Obama’s Wars.” This inside look at the White House debate over the Afghan war is filled with the endless, windy pronouncements of the President, his aides and top military commanders. They circle round and round the topic without deciding why we were in the eight-year war and what it was expected to accomplish. Just continue what we’re doing. was the consensus. Only try harder.

One voice stands out for independence and freshness of thought, and that is Biden’s. The room, he complained, confuse al Quaeda with the Taliban. Al Qaeda terrorists threaten the U.S., the Taliban do not. The U.S. has pushed al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan, and they’re not likely to return. So why continue with nation-building and remaking Afghanistan when it’s not really working even with ten thousand troops on the ground.

Biden insisted the Taliban is not monolithic as commonly portrayed. There are hard core believers at the top, but down the line many others are far from committed and open to change. Their differences are exploitable as opposed to trying to kill them all. And the top echelon who will fight to the end are all in Pakistan. Yet we’re at war in Afghanistan. For what?

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden.

There were no answers to Biden at the meeting, just some shrugs and eye rolling. Obama rather condescendingly urged him on without seeming to mean it. “Verbosity” was the charge against him, as it is today, but was it the length and style of his talk that offended or the content? With consistency he went on to oppose the war in Libya as “madness” since the U.S. was already engaged in two other wars – Afghanistan and Syria. Considering the shambles of Libya today, he knew what he was talking about. He also noted that the extensive U.S aid to the rebels against the Assad regime in Syria was largely going to terrorists. Once again, a policy that made no sense.

What if Biden, instead of being ignored, had prevailed? The world would look different today – no ruined, inflamed Middle East and North Africa with a flood of refugees adding to the global burden. But sadly, this point rarely comes up in the current Presidential campaign where Biden is mainly seen to be faltering, unsure of the message he once strongly conveyed.

Extremes Unite

What could Socialist Bernie Sanders and conservative Pat Buchanan possibly have in common? They are politically poles apart with vastly different followers. In appearance and background, they are also distinct. One could not be mistaken for the other. But on one life or death issue – namely, war or rather the dubious wars the U.S. has fought since 9/11 – they are in solid agreement: stop them!  A humanitarian concern overcomes politics and ideology.

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Is War Good for U.S. Presidents?

There’s nothing better than being a wartime U.S. President as long as it’s considered a good war, e.g., the Civil War (Abe Lincoln), World War Two (Franklin Roosevelt). But more dubious wars have tarnished the reputation of the top men: World War One (Woodrow Wilson), the Vietnam War (Lyndon Johnson). So where does President Trump, conscious of his legacy, stand on the brink of a serious war with Iran?

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The President’s Man

Rudi Guliani has taken a lot of flack for bypassing established figures to pursue the President’s investigation in Ukraine. Who does he think he is? But his activity is not without precedent – a famous one with high stakes when President Franklin Roosevelt bypassed Congress and even his own cabinet to send his close confidante Harry Hopkins to various parts of the world to prepare for U.S. involvement in World War Two.

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Who’s a Russian Puppet?

In the frenzy of the Presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton singled out a Democratic candidate for a special attack:

“She’s the favorite of the Russians. I’m not making any predictions, but I think they’re grooming her to be the third party candidate.” With the vote split, that would likely throw the election to Republican Donald Trump. Continue reading “Who’s a Russian Puppet?”