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Obama's Politics of Change: Afghanistan & Gore's Transformative Vision

08/01/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I am in almost complete agreement with Tom Hayden's article in the Nation criticizing Obama inter alia for jumping on the "good war" bandwagon by proposing to transfer troops from Iraq to Afghanistan. Hayden's essay is a very good article in my opinion, has lots of useful information, for which I'm thankful.

Afghanistan, like Iraq, is a real loser. But this should come as no surprise. In the fall of 2001, intel reports said there were between 40-60,000 Taliban, but when we quickly "defeated" them, the intel folks could only account for 6-8000 captured, wounded or killed. Nevertheless, the Pentagon brass and Bush quickly declared victory, even though it was clear at the time that the Taliban headed for the hills in classical guerrilla/Sun Tzu fashion -- when faced with superior force, disperse! That's a no-brainer in some circles but not those inside the Beltway. Now we are saying the Taliban are "regrouping" when is not clear they ever degrouped. BTW, at the time, I tried to draw attention to this with some mainstream reporters but all they wanted to write about were reports parroting Pentagon press releases which described the stunning success of hi-technology precision weapons and Special Forces on horseback executing a swift low cost victory, which was being spouted as a vindication of Transformation -- aka the Revolution in Military Affairs.

It is also is important to bear in mind that no Pashtuns were involved in 9-11... at most, the Taliban were accessories to a monstrous crime -- a crime that should have be used to energize a massive world-wide police action. Such an international police action led by the United States might have been possible, given the worldwide flood of sympathy for the US provoked by bin Laden's outrageous mass murder. We will never know if this was a real possibility, because Bush chose to immediately militarize the bin Laden problem then mutate into the open-ended so-called Global War on Terror, and use bin Laden as a propaganda prop to make war on a country that was at most an accessory to the crime, i.e., the Taliban in Afghanistan, and on a leader and country that was not involved in 9-11 at all, i.e., Saddam and Iraq.

Ironically, in the case of Afghanistan, there is evidence suggesting that bin Laden et al had worn out their welcome with the Taliban. Four months before 9-11, on June 18, 2001, Arnaud de Borschgrave wrote a very important front page story in the Washington Times describing his interview with the Taliban leader Mullah Omar. De Borshgrave quoted Omar making some disparaging comments that suggested he was fed up with Osama [see Attachment 2 below]. Much later, in January 2008, John Pilger described a reinforcing view in report published in Antiwar.com which included the following passage:

"By early 2001, convinced it was the presence of Osama Bin Laden that was souring their relationship with Washington, the Taliban tried to get rid of him. Under a deal negotiated by the leaders of Pakistan's two Islamic parties, Bin Laden was to be held under house arrest in Peshawar. A tribunal of clerics would then hear evidence against him and decide whether to try him or hand him over to the Americans. Whether or not this would have happened, Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf vetoed the plan. According to the then Pakistani foreign minister, Niaz Naik, a senior US diplomat told him on 21 July 2001 that it had been decided to dispense with the Taliban "under a carpet of bombs."

On Oct 7, 2001, Bush launched the war against the Taliban, after the Taliban refused Bush's demand to hand over bin Laden without any preconditions. On October 14, in an effort to halt the bombing, the Taliban offered to turn over Osama to an independent third country for a trial, if the US would provide evidence that he was responsible for the crime. [See "Bush Rejects Taliban Bin Laden Offer", Associated Press, October 14, 2001, "Bush Rejects Taliban Offer to Hand bin Laden Over," UK Guardian Unlimited, October 14, 2001 and Andrew Buncombe, "Bush Rejects Taliban Offer to Surrender bin Laden," the UK Independent, October 15, 2001. ]. But Bush ignored this offer and escalated the war. Today, almost seven years later, bin Laden remains at large, the Taliban are growing stronger, and Afghanistan is threatening to consume more US blood and gold as it sinks into a deepening quagmire which is spilling over into nuclear armed Pakistan.

So, even the most jaded observer has to admit that it is possible that Taliban were hunting for an escape hatch, even though a strict adherence to their moral code of hospitality made them responsible for Osama's defense, once we attacked him in their homeland. Osama may also have made a brilliant preemptive move to fend off the possibility of a Taliban handover. On Sept 9, he is believed to have engineered the assassination of Ahmed Massood. Massood, the charismatic albeit brutal Tajik leader of the Northern Alliance, was the Taliban's most bitter and capable enemy within Afghanistan. Under the strict Pashtun tribal code, that assassination made the Taliban indebted to bin Laden, particularly if he was seeking sanctuary (if indeed it was bin Laden who had orchestrated the assassination). Nevertheless the Taliban still offered to turn him over for trial by an impartial third party, if the United States provided evidence of Osama's complicity in 9-11. The story of bin Laden's deteriorating relationship with Taliban in the spring and summer of 2001 is one that has not really been fully developed, but there is enough smoke to warrant a serious investigation, especially if we are on the verge of escalating operations in Afghanistan. One thing is clear, however. Capturing Osama bin Ladin took a back seat to prosecuting the wars with Iraq and the Taliban.

Now, we see Obama and Dems rushing into the deepening Afghan quagmire. They are trying to pit a "good" Afghan war against a "bad" Iraqi war to prove they are just as "tough" on defense as the Republicans, only smarter. But this is the old pusillanimous ploy of moving to middle to capture independents in an election year. The next move Obama is likely to take, if Obama's advisers like former Senator Sam Nunn and and former Clinton Defense Secretary William Perry have any clout, will be a call to reform of acquisition management in Pentagon while we recapitalize the Pentagon's aging weapons with a shopping list of even more complex and expensive "precision" weapons. They will package this reform program in rhetoric asserting the need to increase the defense budget further in order to repair the damage Bush did to military! That will shore up the right flank and quiet the Pentagon and its allies in Congress and in the defense industry.

It does not matter that the weapons aging crisis is a self-inflicted wound has been hemorrhaging for 40 years and is a direct consequence of the bipartisan predilection (especially including that of Nunn and Perry when they were in power) for buying hi-cost weapons that do not work as well as advertised. It does not matter that this predilection has caused an out-of-control operations and maintenance budget, wherein the operating costs of increasingly complex, aging weapons have gone through the roof. It does not matter that the Pentagon's bookkeeping system is now so corrupt that it is impossible to relate the money that goes in to Pentagon to how that money is spent or what it has produced, a condition of ambiguity which itself is useful because it lubricates the incestuously amplifying decision-making process that is powering the self-destructive predilection for hi-tech weapons that don't work as advertised. The likelihood of such an appeal for higher budgets is now almost as probable in its effects as a cause and effect relationship in Newtonian physics.

Meanwhile, to make matters even worse, Obama just knee-jerked and endorsed Gore's absurd call to end US dependency on carbon for electrical power (i.e., coal, oil, gas) in 10 years by throwing money at the renewable energy programs in a crash program patterned after John F. Kennedy's Apollo program in the so-called Moon race -- which, by the way, is a ridiculous analogy. Going to the moon was a far simpler, far more narrow, engineering problem which involved only a comparatively minuscule investment in production/infrastructure facilities. Repowering all the carbon-fired power plants with solar, wind, and water generators in the United States would be a gargantuan effort requiring development of new technologies, particularly energy storage technologies, and massive investments in all sorts of infrastructure. The only near term energy technology that could be used on such a massive scale is nuclear power, and even that would be impossible to do in ten years, particularly given the problems of storing radioactive waste, location, and safety. Bear in mind that Gore's colossal feat would take place in a country that can not muster the political will to solve the comparatively simple problem of rebuilding New Orleans.

Of course, Gore packaged his transformative vision under the umbrella of national security (the politics of fear, again). Gore's proposal, if it ever gets traction, will result in a colossal boondoggle for same hi-tech companies that now take 20+ years to move an airplane like F-22 or a weapon system that doesn't work like missile defense from R&D to anything like operational status.

Now I am all for developing solar and wind technologies, etc, but a transformation of the nation's entire electrical production capabilities in 10 years is preposterous on its face. Gore's top-down ("I know what is best") proposal, which Obama (who claims to be a bottom-up politician) endorsed, is really a formula for looting the taxpayer, particularly when you consider that the techno-defense giants, like Boeing and Lockheed, are certain cash in on the Gore's golden cornucopia, should it occur. The horrors of the ethanol scam will be welcome by comparison.

Surely, high speed rail, mandating better fuel economy in cars, subsidizing more insulation in houses and office buildings, wearing sweaters, subsidizing population movements from suburbs to cities, and other proven technologies would yield far larger energy benefits in the short term.

And, oh by the way, in case Gore and Obama have not noticed in the rush to a "good war" and universal green power... there may be a slight problem with raising the money needed to implement Gore's Bush-like transformative vision: the economy is tanking, government and private debt are skyrocketing (more and more of which is being held by foreign countries), social spending demands are increasing because baby boomers are moving into social security and Medicare, the financial system may be collapsing, and the nation's physical infrastructure is deteriorating rapidly (roads, sewers, bridges, schools, etc.), not to mention the fact that US's production/technical capabilities have been going down the tubes, as is evidenced by the persistence of huge trade imbalances and the fact that production facilities that have been moving overseas.

But then you shouldn't condemn an entire program for a few little slip ups.