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Trump last night said we would no longer be nation-building but killing terrorists in Afghanistan going forward. Oddly, several years ago I heard from a general departing to lead Americans in Afghanistan that we were failures at nation-building there, but good at killing.

Sorry folks. America has been trying to nation-build in Afghanistan for 16 years, and in Iraq (how did that go?) and in Vietnam before that (we know how that ended.) It has been about nation-building all along, and that has failed time after time. Despite what Trump said last night, it is still about nation-building in Afghanistan and Pakistan today.

Are we good at killing? Yes. Are we wasting another generation of young American troops in another fruitless war? Yes.  Are we protecting the American way of life in the process? No. Are we wasting more billions, even trillions, that could be used to rebuild our own nation? Yes.

Are we learning anything? Yes. Are we doing anything useful with that learning? Absolutely not. Thanks Trump. The one time where one of your bad ideas — getting out of Afghanistan — might have been positive, you failed us again last night.

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Yesterday, I met an authentic modern hero. Not the kind of domestic hero, who works as a volunteer at a food bank, or rushes to put out a fire, or adopts a needy child. But a modern military hero, who acted to save lives at the risk of his own in a combat zone, who accepted the role of leadership, even when it meant personal sacrifice. A living oxymoron: a French Algerian, who came to America, renounced his French citizenship to join the U.S. Army, and rose to become the newest and one of the 10 living Medal of Honor winners alive today.

Captain Florence (Flo) Groberg appeared yesterday at a small luncheon hosted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. He brought along his charming girlfriend and his Pentagon handler, a public affairs master sergeant. Groberg described coming to America from a Paris suburb, where his French Algerian mother had married an American businessman. He attended high school and college in the U.S., and after 9/11, and becoming a naturalized American citizen, joined the Army and attended Infantry Officer’s Candidate School and advanced Ranger training.

On Groberg’s second tour in Afghanistan, he was leading a personal security detail for senior American and Afghani officials walking toward a local conference, when an elaborate suicide bomber attack began. Identifying the nearest would be bomber, Groberg pushed down the assailant, taking part of the blast himself, but saving many others in the process. While four died in the attack, Groberg survived, and after 33 surgeries is back on his feet. Two weeks ago President Obama presented him with the Medal Of honor at the White House.

Captain Groberg, now a Pentagon civilian employee,  is an intelligent, personable, modest patriot. When asked to comment on national policy issues, he reminds the audience that, “I am just an Army Captain, not a talking head political commentator.” He believes the U.S. is well prepared and our forces are well trained to fight the asymmetrical battles of the 21st century. Asked what his calling was in Afghanistan, he said, “to help the villagers with their local security issues.”

Asked what military traits he thought would be most beneficial in civilian employment, Groberg smiled and said, “punctuality, and then planning. Punctuality means we should up when, where and as needed, and planning means we approach every situation with a plan of action.”

In today’s era of widespread cynicism about America’s foreign adventures, with which I can heartily relate, it is moving to meet and hear from one of hundreds of thousands  of young people who live to serve and sacrifice in the name of American principles and leadership that they trust and admire.

 

 

Snowden — here is my blog post of June 10th last year. I stand by my thesis that part of the price of democracy is transparency.

New revelations of vast NSA programs to monitor telephone use to intercept terrorist plans again raises the question of whether the effect of such whistle-blowing of top-secret security processes adds to the cleansing potential of democratic transparency or degrades the ability of our government to protect the population.

The answer is that such revelations result in both increased public oversight, or in other words, enhanced democracy, but also a possibly somewhat weaker security apparatus. In our post-1984 world, where our national politics have been accurately described as “a carnival of dysfunction,” the regular exercise of democratic oversight by the people, through intrusions by well-meaning whistle-blowers and responsible news media, is one way to preserve the fundamental principles of our democracy. My belief is that the cost of such “intrusions” into the inner sanctums of our government security establishment are justified by the balancing results of political and governmental accountability to a society of free people — a people who yearn to remain free in a complicated, dangerous information age.

Lyndon Johnson

Near the height of the Vietnam War, just before Tet in 1968, the USS Pueblo, a military intelligence ship, was captured by the North Koreans, and her crew of more than 150 Americans interred, starved and tortured. The Koreans claimed the ship was spying inside their territorial waters, which the U.S. said was not so.

The Pueblo was one of the smallest ships in the Navy, and was first built as a military freighter in Kewaunee, WI, in 1944. It was refitted as an intelligence-gathering vessel, and was very lightly armed. She was sent by the Navy in an ill-prepared condition on a dangerous mission to gather electronic info on Russian and North Korean defense systems. The crew was released after agonizing negotiations on December 23rd of 1968, just as I was flying home on emergency leave from my position as a combat press officer near Hue, site of the Tet offensive earlier that year.

The captain and crew of the Pueblo were put through the ringer of hearings and suspicion by the Navy, and never to this day heralded and rewarded for their sacrifice and loyalty to a Navy that treated they and their little ship like unwanted step-children. To this day, the Pueblo, the second oldest commissioned ship in the Navy after the USS Constitution, lies captive in the harbor of North Korea’s capitol.

That, my friends, is 46 years a captive commissioned U.S. Navy ship, a long forgotten son of Kewaunee, and a crew of brave once-young sailors, now aging veterans, that deserves at least the kind of Federal recognition afforded pro basketball and football teams.

Our decade in Afghanistan has not proven that America can “nation build,” but rather what the limitations of our cultural influence can be, even when backed with trillions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of troops and workers, and more than a thousand deaths. Now is not the time for us or Karzai to sign an agreement for the continuation of US troop presence in that country. It is time to leave, stop sacrificing lives for culture changes that are not forthcoming. We can continue economic aid. We can continue with some sort of “peace corps” presence. We can continue with some kind of military agreement, but not one that engages thousands of troops on Afghan soil. Let’s admit to ourselves, and to those who have loyally served in support of Afghanistan, that our ambitions there have been substantially inappropriate to the cultural realities, and while our intent has been good, our limitations are tangible. Let’s leave with some grace, wish them well, and refocus our efforts and resources, economic and human, on our domestic issues.

KABUL, Afghanistan –The White House threatened to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan next year, after President Hamid Karzai refused to sign a new bilateral security agreement.

The two countries remain deadlocked over future military involvement after an unsuccessful working dinner between Ambassador Susan Rice and Karzai at his palace in Kabul on Monday night.

In a statement, the White House said Karzai had outlined new conditions for a deal “and indicated he is not prepared to sign the BSA promptly.”

S. Sabawoon / EPA

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks to the Loya Jirga on Sunday.

“Ambassador Rice reiterated that, without a prompt signature, the U.S. would have no choice but to initiate planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no U.S. or NATO troop presence in Afghanistan,” the statement said.

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The dinner meeting came at the end of Rice’s three-day trip to Afghanistan to visit American troops and civilians and to assess conditions in the country.

On Sunday, a grand council of Afghan tribal leaders – the Loya Jirga – voted to accept the BSA, but Karzai has since indicated he may not sign it until Afghanistan has elected a new president in March.

The White House statement added: “Ambassador Rice conveyed the overwhelming and moving support she found among all the Afghans with whom she met for an enduring U.S.-Afghan partnership and for the prompt signing of the BSA.

“In closing, Rice highlighted the American people’s friendship and support for the people of Afghanistan as embodied in the extraordinary sacrifices of our service-men and women and the unprecedented investment Americans have made in Afghanistan.”

In Afghanistan, there are still 47,000 American forces. The U.S. has been in discussions with Afghan officials about keeping a small residual force of about 8,000 troops there after it winds down operations next year.

U.S. officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, have said the BSA must be signed by year-end to begin preparations for a post-2014 presence.

Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi said the Afghan leader laid out several conditions for his signature to the deal in the meeting, including a U.S. pledge to immediately halt all military raids on, or searches of, Afghan homes.

The agreement includes a provision allowing raids in exceptional circumstances – when an American life is directly under threat – but it would not take effect until 2015.

“It is vitally important that there is no more killing of Afghan civilians by U.S. forces and Afghans want to see this practically,” Faizi said, according to Reuters.

Karzai also called on Washington to send remaining Afghan detainees at the U.S. military detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, back to Afghanistan, saying that the Loya Jirga had endorsed the pact with this condition.

Alastair Jamieson reported from London. Reuters contributed to this report.

As a Vietnam-era veteran, I can only wonder what my counterparts would have said if Congress had proposed 11 more years in Vietnam in 1975. Now, in 2013, that is what is being proposed forAfghanistan! Yes, times have changed. Maybe wars should go on forever now. What do you think? I know what I’d do…

Just as the assassination of the archduke of Austria triggered the outbreak of what became World War I, the U.S. and other nations must not let the civil war in Syria become a sparking point for a new global conflagration, with unthinkable consequences.

Moderation, reconciliation and restraint are what is needed now, not punishment, strategic attacks and provocation. Pressure to compel Syria to destroy or surrender their chemical weapons might be appropriate. Massive, multi-national humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees in Turkey and other civilians in Syria impacted by the conflict is called for. Better to use our collective air and sea logistic power for such aid, than for missile, bomber or drone attacks. Bury the country in love, as the hippies might have said.

I hope the Congress has the courage and common sense and decency to “just say no” to useless military attacks. In the scheme of things, who cares about the domestic political consequences for Obama? He should be hoping Congress will get him off the hook on Syria.

Sarajevo

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sarajevo (Cyrillic: Сарајево) (pronounced [sǎrajɛʋɔ]) is the capital and largest city of Bosnia and Herzegovina, with an estimated population of 327,124 people within its four municipalities. The urban area of Sarajevo extends beyond the administrative city limits, with an estimated population of 452,124[7] people. In the wider Sarajevo region there are more than 650,000 inhabitants. It is also the capital of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina entity, as well as the center of the Sarajevo Canton. Nestled within the greater Sarajevo valley of Bosnia, it is surrounded by the Dinaric Alps and situated along the Miljacka River in the heart of Southeastern Europe and the Balkans.

Sarajevo is the leading political, social and cultural center of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and its region-wide influence in politics, education, entertainment, media, fashion, science, and the arts contribute to its status as Bosnia and Herzegovina’s biggest and most important economic center.[8][9]

The city is famous for its traditional cultural and religious diversity, with adherents of Islam, Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Judaism coexisting there for centuries.[10] Due to this long and rich history of religious and cultural variety, Sarajevo is often called the “Jerusalem of Europe”[1] or “Jerusalem of the Balkans”.[2] It was, until recently in the 20th century, the only major European city to have a mosque, Catholic church, Orthodox church and synagogue within the same neighborhood.[11]

Although settlement in the area stretches back to prehistoric times, the modern city arose as an Ottoman stronghold in the 15th century.[12] Sarajevo has attracted international attention several times throughout its history. In 1885, Sarajevo was the first city in Europe and the second city in the world to have a full-time electric tram network running through the city, the first being San Francisco.[13] In 1914, it was the site of the assassination of the Archduke of Austria that sparked World War I. Seventy years later, it hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics. For nearly four years, from 1992 to 1996, the city suffered the longest siege of a city in the history of modern warfare during the Bosnian War for independence.[14]

As the US seems on the cusp of beginning military action in Syria, for the humanitarian reasons being touted by the State Department and in the news media, I’m reminded that cruel treatment of human beings is going on across the globe, with no military intervention by our country. What about the political gulags in North Korea, the suppression in China, the injustices in Russia, the mayhem in our mid-eastern countries, and issues in Africa and south and Central America?

Yes, poison gas is still a vicious memory lingering from WWI. But hanging, starving, shooting and dismembering are equally vicious, as are beatings and endless imprisonment. And what, fellow Americans, about water boarding and Guantanamo?

And yes, even if the Syrian government deserves to be punished for their inhumanity, what happens after an initial attack? What new fuse do we risk lighting? And why not take out Assad? Well, leaders don’t usually do that to fellow leaders — remember when Ford forgave Richard Nixon for Watergate, and the resulting 22,000 American deaths after Nixon killed the Paris Peace talks, so he could steal the 1968 election?

So, the least we can do is think once, twice and three times before launching our un-manned missiles to kill even more Syrians, and trip another wire in the Middle East. Those who are saying our President is weak and indecisive need to weigh a lot in the balance before they render judgement. America’s vested interest may lie just as much, or more, in NOT pulling the trigger in Syria as in doing so. As anyone who has been alive and awake over the last 50 years can attest, we’ve made the wrong call more often than not.

My Facebook friends have already seen this, but I think it deserves a wider circulation on my blog, even if it means there will now be a low hum on my phone lines…

Mr. Toobin is naive. Whatever “damage” Snowden has inflicted to our intelligence system is more than offset by the benefits his transparency of the pervasiveness of our government’s monitoring capacity of private lives has revealed. If we are to be a democracy, even an awareness of our intelligence gathering processes is necessary, or we forsake that democracy for a totalitarian regime. Government’s fear of sharing too much of the truth with the people is a cancer which threatens our way of life. I choose to conclude that The New Yorker’s decision to run this ridiculous story is but a provocation to reasoned thinking.

Edward Snowden’s Real Impact
http://www.newyorker.com
The assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy led directly to the passage of a historic law, the Gun Control Act of 1968. Does that change your view of the assassinations? Should we be grateful for….

What is a gun? A means of killing game. A way to threaten, stop, and/or kill an antagonist.

A gun is a remote killing machine. It is a mechanical extension of the fist, or a club, or an arrow.

Point a gun in the direction of a living target, pull a trigger, and if everything works correctly, both mechanically and on the part of the operator, the target is engaged and terminated.

Yes, that’s right, a gun is the predecessor of the drones of today — it is a remote killing machine that dates to medieval times, and one that is still being perfected. Our fascination and horror of the flying drones of the 21st century is no greater than that felt about the rise of guns hundreds of years ago.

The wonder at the power of remote killing, with concomitant reduced risk to the killer, is a magnet for the predatory instincts of humankind.

As the world evolves its social institutions, bringing us closer and closer together through our common bonds as human beings, our predatory instincts and our arsenal of precision predatory tools remains, and even grows. It is one of the great dichotomies of the human condition.

Whether we are considering gun legislation or drawing the rules of military engagement, we must consider these critical, divergent, conflicting dimensions of our fundamental character.

 

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