The Vietnam of our era...
George Friedman, the principal of STRATFOR, a major international strategic consulting firm, has been meticulously dissecting the reasons for - and future prospects of - our nine year quagmire in Afghanistan. Here he gets to a point I have been talking about for years:
"While acts of transnational terrorism target civilians, they are not attacks — have not been and are not evolving into attacks — that endanger the territorial integrity of the United States or the way of life of the American people. They are dangerous and must be defended against, but transnational terrorism is and remains a tactical problem that for nearly a decade has been treated as if it were the pre-eminent strategic threat to the United States....
"Nietzsche wrote that, “The most fundamental form of human stupidity is forgetting what we were trying to do in the first place.” The stated U.S. goal in Afghanistan was the destruction of al Qaeda. While al Qaeda as it existed in 2001 has certainly been disrupted and degraded, al Qaeda’s evolution and migration means that disrupting and degrading it — to say nothing of destroying it — can no longer be achieved by waging a war in Afghanistan....
"As al Qaeda has fled Afghanistan, the overall political goal for the United States in the country has evolved to include the creation of a democratic and uncorrupt Afghanistan. It is not clear that anyone knows how to do this, particularly given that most Afghans consider the ruling government of President Hamid Karzai — with which the United States is allied — as the heart of the corruption problem, and beyond Kabul most Afghans do not regard their way of making political and social arrangements to be corrupt."
I would go much farther than George. Because I have no doubt that the principal goal that Osama bin Laden had in mind, in perpetrating the crimes of 9/11, was to lure America into an extended, interminable quagmire of attrition in the "land where empires go to die." While this may seem a bold statement that cannot be proved, it is consistent with three major facts:
1) American had to react. It was predictable where we would have to strike.
2) Osama's salad days were spent humbling one superpower in the same mountains.
3) If you were a foe of the United States, you would study which past errors almost destroyed America. Those two were Civil War and a land war of attrition in Asia. (In fact, since 9/11, it appears we've been rapidly plunged into both.)
Where we surprised Osama was in the rapidly skillful way by which we allied with local enemies of the Taliban and crushed Osama's allies, in days. Had we shown the in-and-out agility that we demonstrated in the Balkans Intervention - (and if we had chosen sane and sensible ways to eliminate Saddam Hussein, instead of doing everything there in all the worst possible ways) - America would now be seen as the toughest MF bastards around. And we would be Three Trillion Dollars richer.
And if the Taliban re-established themselves after we left? Well, we could do it again. An enemy with actual assets, fixed locations an a nation to run is far more vulnerable than a guerilla force.
As George Friedman points out, the 9/11 attacks did not harm America at a deeply structural level. But our clumsy reaction to it has.
George goes on to suggest a solution: The Pakistanization of the War. Or allowing Afghanistan to fall into the Pakistani orbit, with them also taking on the burdens of dealing with the guerilla movements. But there are problems:
"The Taliban phenomenon has extended into Pakistan in ways that seriously complicate Pakistani efforts to regain their bearing in Afghanistan. It has created a major security problem for Islamabad, which, coupled with the severe deterioration of the country’s economy and now the floods, has weakened the Pakistanis’ ability to manage Afghanistan. In other words, the moment that the Pakistanis have been waiting for — American agreement and support for the Pakistanization of the war — has come at a time when the Pakistanis are not in an ideal position to capitalize on it."
Still, he foresees Pakistan brokering a peace deal... like the Paris Talks that ended the Vietnam War. Here I think he is making up a bit of a story. If this actually happens, I'll buy him a dinner.
=== The Faux Equivalence ===
One of the tricks mastered by the Murdochs (envision the Morlochs of HG Wells's The Time Machine!) is to create an impression of false equivalence. We are seeing this here in California. Every time GOP gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman is accused of favoring never-ending tax largesse for the uber-rich, she responds by calling her opponent, former governor Jerry Brown, of being in the clutches of Big Unions.
It frustrates me that she is never given the ultimate rebuttal. "Even if this is true, the unions have been plummetting in power, for decades, while the super-rich have been skyrocketing. So which should we fear?" What social force, in fact, did nearly ALL of our ancestors fear? What group ever came close to oppressing liberty, open competition, social mobility or free markets, more than oligarchy? Whether they called themselves feudal lords or commie nomenklatura, or captains of the crony-CEO caste?
We older folk grew up in an America with the flattest social strata (for white males) in the history of the world, yet that did not prevent a vibrant capitalism! In contrast, over the last two decades, the fraction of the total national income going to the top 1% doubled; the fraction going to the top one tenth of a percent tripled; the fraction going to the top 1% of 1% quadrupled - and capitalism is floundering. Can anybody parse cause and effect here?
Do the Murdochs actually believe they can prevent the chivvied and harassed and cornered middle class from noticing this trend... forever? How about when this disparity doubles? And doubles again? And again? Is there a limit where the oligarchs will conceivably say "enough"? Any limit at all?
History doubts it. Insatiable oligarchies are unable to stop, even in their own long term self-interest. But don't take my word for it. Pick a random decade and continent. Try reading history.
=== The Lords of Discipline ===
I wrote to my cousin, a speechwriter in the White House, with this suggestion:
Express grudging (and ironic) admiration for how UNIFORM and DISCIPLINED the Republicans are, hewing absolutely to a rigid party line. In sharp contrast to the democrats' perpetual disorganization. (Many recall the 1930s humorist Will Rogers said: "I'm not a member of an organized political party -- I'm a democrat.")
Heck, this portrays democrats in a way most people find endearing! (Or at least unthreatening.) As eager, well-meaning, a bit scatterbrained and unable to be tyrants, even if they wanted to. Meanwhile, the image of a tightly disciplined, collectively lockstep-obedient party on the other side is one that most Americans find instinctively chilling.
Note, all of this can be conveyed, without actually dissing anyone openly! Indeed, by praising (in ironic tones) the other side's discipline, you never have to mention other parties that were known for their discipline (e.g.fascists or communists). Your tone can be amiable and tongue-in-cheek envious! But the message will get across.
=== And Tidbits ===
With the exception of Mitt Romney, Fox now employs every major potential Republican presidential candidate not currently in elected office. With Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee all making moves indicating they may run for president, their common employer is facing a question that hasn’t been asked before: How does a news organization cover White House hopefuls when so many are on the payroll? (C-SPAN Political Editor Steve Scully said that when C-SPAN tried to have Palin on for an interview, he was told he had to first get Fox’s permission — which the network, citing her contract, ultimately denied. Producers at NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN and MSNBC all report similar experiences.)
I mean, what on Earth would some Bizarro Anti-Fox make of such suspicious goings-on? Okay, there's MSNBC. But their viewers tend to be the wishy-washy types who THINK about attending Jon Stewart's Rally To Restore Sanity... and who shrug aside conspiracy theories (and probably don't wind up going, after all!) So don't say "MSNBC" at me.
For example: Why is Rupert Murdoch buying and promoting games made by the despotic government of North Korea? Dang!
Meanwhile, those darned academics and scientists are at it again: "In this paper, we use the Moody’s Analytics model of the U.S. economy—adjusted to accommodate some recent financial-market policies—to simulate the macroeconomic effects of the government’s total policy response. We find that its effects on real GDP, jobs, and inflation are huge, and probably averted what could have been called Great Depression 2.0. For example, we estimate that, without the government’s response, GDP in 2010 would be about 11.5% lower, payroll employment would be less by some 8 million jobs, and the nation would now be experiencing deflation."
It would be an interesting item worthy of cautious consideration and engagement in the politics of the day. If today's politics had anything, whatsoever, to do with evidence, or even intelligent speculation.
=== and finally... ===
Kent Pitman writes: "There was discussion just this evening by someone on MSNBC about the fact (I think they said it was a fact—I think the alluded to some study or another—but what do I know?) that there is lately a trend toward people admiring people who don’t compromise. But that the trend is biased, with more republicans admiring this than democrats. Then they noted that if you get a bunch of compromisers together with a bunch of non-compromisers, it’s little wonder things drift in the direction of the non-compromisers. Alas. What a dilemma—to become stubborn as a self-defense against being rolled over?"
I don't think it is fundamentally about "compromise." The root is deeper... it is addiction. I have been trying to draw attention to this matter for years. I even was invited to speak about it at the National Institutes on Drugs and Addiction. See my paper: An Open Letter to Researchers of Addiction, Brain Chemistry, and Social Psychology.
THIS is what Obama should be saying, right now. It should be shouted at Jon Stewart's rally. And I would be happy to do so, in tones of ringing (if ironic) righteousness.