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As the entry below from today’s Writer’s Digest dramatizes, this day in 1862 was the bloodiest in American military history. But the Vietnam War, to be dissected in tonight’s debut of the new 10-part series by Ken Burns, claimed more than twice the American lives, plus 3 million Asian lives.  Yet this country of ours continues such fruitless combats, and the waste that was Vietnam echoes in our continuing crusade in Afghanistan, now America’s longest, and perhaps must futile, war ever.

It’s the anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, fought near Sharpsburg, Maryland, along the banks of Antietam Creek (1862). It was the bloodiest single day in American military history, with nearly 23,000 casualties, and it ended in a tactical draw. One regiment, the First Texas Infantry, lost 82 percent of its men.

The 12-hour battle began at dawn, in a cornfield on David Miller’s farm. It was the first Civil War battle fought in Union Territory; the second, the Battle of Gettysburg, would happen less than a year later. Confederate General Robert E. Lee had brought troops into Maryland — which was still part of the Union, even though it was a slave state — to try to replenish his dwindling supplies. Encouraged by word of Stonewall Jackson’s capture of Harpers Ferry, Lee decided to make a stand in Sharpsburg rather than return to Confederate Virginia.

Union Major General George B. McClellan commanded twice as many troops as Lee. Not only that, but he also had a copy of Lee’s battle plan. But McClellan fumbled these advantages, failing to fully collapse the Confederates’ flanks and advance his center — which meant that more than a quarter of McClellan’s men never entered the battle. In the afternoon, Union troops advanced and a victory seemed imminent, until late-arriving Confederate reinforcements held them off. By sundown, both sides simply held their own ground. A veteran of the battle later recalled, “[The cornfield] was so full of bodies that a man could have walked through it without stepping on the ground.”

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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.

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.

 

 

Williams is an excellent and committed journalist, who is also clever enough to see the irony (read: comedy) in life. What he did was nothing of significance, and those who want to make this a rorshack (sp?) test on television journalists know where they can put it. Williams is much more of a journalist than some of the ciphers on CNN and FOX and elsewhere, who barely qualify as “news readers.”

Let’s get over this, NBC, and move on.

In general, I applaud the torture report and the spirit of transparency demonstrated by self-questioning U.S,. motives and results of such horrid actions by the CIA and their contractors.. But…

1. Critics seem to have a point when they question why the report does not contain a “defense” of the actions taken by the CIA, et al. That looks like partisan politics, which is Dick Cheney’s challenge. Why didn’t the report include testimony or evidence countering the charges?

2. When one opponent pointed out that, scurrilous tough the U.S. torture was, that if it were applied as a standard universally, the U.S. actions would actually raise the level of treatment of such prisoners by many other nations. We know that is true. Why was that perspective absent in the report?

3. Most un-nerving to me is the question: If the level of mistreatment of prisoners by US intelligence agencies is so venal, then why is not the killing and maiming of militants and innocents by armed forces, in direct and clandestine combat, including by drones and bombing, not equally or more greatly condemned?

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…

The American news media have a blind eye, a lack of perspective, when they report on many things, including the Boston marathon bombing, the current gun issues before Congress, the U.S. record of foreign military adventures and international relations. There are too many exceptions to American exceptionalism. So perhaps its takes a foreigner, like Australian journalist Bill Hoffman, to see things as they are and hold America accountable. Here’s an excerpt from an article he wrote today, forwarded by a friend who also sees the big picture:

“THE Boston bombing was despicable by any measure, but whether it was the act of external terrorism or internal malcontent it should have surprised nobody.

“The language particularly of the right of US politics has become so loose and unrestrained that its capacity to incite some to extreme actions should never be underestimated.

“Equally a nation that has waged continuous war and constantly been an occupier of foreign countries for the past decade can hardly expect to be immune to bite-back.

“If 1% of the coverage afforded yesterday’s blast had been given inside the United States to the impact on individual civilians of its own military activity there may be a greater appreciation of the potential consequences.

“The United States considers itself the world’s greatest democracy. By some measures that may be true.

“But the reality of its economic system renders many of its citizens powerless.

“Trapped in poverty, the poor gamble with their lives as foot soldiers for military adventurism promoted by the arms industry and energy companies, simply for the right to decent healthcare and education.

“The US spends $711 billion or 4.7% of its GDP on its military, more than $90 billion of which funds its presence in Afghanistan and other conflicts.

“That represents 41% of military spending globally.

“Yet 15% of the American population or 46.2 million people live in poverty, including 21.9% of those less than 18 years of age.

“Limited access to quality education coupled with exposure to media and politicians who show no restraint, in a nation where there is a constitutional right to own weapons with the capacity to wipe out 26 schoolchildren in the blink of an eye, creates a potent mix.

Nobody should be unconcerned about North Korea’s nuclear capacity or religious jihadists. But we should be no less troubled by Iran’s ambitions than by the hypocrisy that ignores the truth about Israel’s arsenal.”

With CNN reporting that President Obama has secretly arrived in Afghanistan to sign an agreement for some kind of continuation of forces beyond 2014, one can honestly question whether this generation will ever see an end to U.S. involvement in the conflict there.

The only acceptable “excuse” for America‘s continued presence might be as some sort of insurance policy to keep nuclear, radical Pakistan at bay, although why that can’t be accomplished without ground forces is a mystery to me.

My concern is not just about the continued exposure of U.S. troops to what amounts to civil war, in which the U.S. serves as a political mercenary force. My concern is that the massive economic cost of our continued presence will be even more destabilizing here at home than would our total departure from Afghanistan.

Our continued presence in Afghanistan is one more reason why the next generation of Americans will not get enough education or job opportunities, that is, unless they volunteer for military service or contract service to the military. Another generation will loyally go to war, while leaders will write books about their difficult choices, and the populace will wither because of the unfortunate choices those short-sighted, narrow-minded “leaders” have made on our behalf.

I’ve been sadly reminded twice this week of political refrains that echo extremes of reaction during the Vietnam era.

Conservative political leaders have reacted negatively to the “Occupy” movement, and what I’d characterize as the excessive “police state’ enforcement in ways that remind me of the “hippie bashing” that became widespread regarding those who openly organized to oppose the Vietnam War. Of course back then, it wasn’t just the Republicans who went too far in restricting First Amendment rights of protestors — Mayor Daly’s over-reaction to demonstrators during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago was one such disgusting example.

The other conservative comment I found so evocative was in the national security Republican debate last night, when one candidate criticized the idea that the U.S. should withdraw from the Afghanistan War, after 10 years, as a “cut and run” strategy. We heard that from the politicians in the late 60s, and the Vietnam war went on until 1975, with 55 thousand American deaths.

Is there no sense of history in our leadership? Is there any sense at all?

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