Setting the Record Straight

July 26, 2008

Outside the Box: Afghanistan

 Make Bribery, Not War

     Instead of spending a trillion dollars in Iraq/Afghanistan in a fruitless attempt for a conventional military victory, what if we spent a fraction of that bribing our way to victory?
     Let’s start with bribing Afghanistan, i.e., afghanis for Afghanis.
     We cannot defeat the Taliban, Al-Queda or any other guerrilla force with U.S. boots on the ground. The problems in Afghanistan are easily identifiable. So why don’t we take what we know about them and bribe our way to victory.

     Afghanis depend for a lot of their gross domestic product on the poppy plant. The Afghan guerrillas , as well as the various warlords depend on the poppy for their financial strength. The welfare of the Afghanis logically lies with the guerrillas and not with the United States.
     What if we offered each of the 7.5 million households in Afghanistan the equivalent of $250, or one year’s average income. That would amount to less than the $2.3 billion we spend in one month now in Afghanistan short 10,000 troops on a fruitless venture.
     Naturally, we would attach strings. To receive the money, Afghan farmers would have to quit growing poppies and grow crops for human or livestock consumption, alternative energy, anything but addictive purposes. Their earnings would be on top of the year’s worth of income we already gave them. Additional support in subsequent years would be provided as needed.
     Non-farming Afghans would have other requirements, but coupled with incentives to earn additional income beyond the year’s stipend we gave them.
     We would still need a military presence to maintain order and try to fend off the cheaters. But our military presence could include a new type of warrior, one who is more sociologist than fighter and could include warriors trained at least in a semblance of other professions.
     With a new-found wealth, the populace would have a new-found strength to make new-found demands on its government. Eventually, having tasted capitalism, it is likely to embrace that system of government. It may not choose to be democratic, but as with other countries embracing capitalism, democracy likely will come with time. Until then, we would at least have a new trading partner.
     We could use the same bribery to get our way in much of the rest of the undeveloped world, if that is what we are going to continue insisting on, with less loss of life and less outlay of dollars.
     The evils of the world thrive on poverty. They are hard put to exist where there is little of it. 


     Sure. We could list hundreds; others would list 10 times more, from those fearing copiers of “The Mouse That Roared” to people citing real problems. That’s the way it is with thinking outside the box.
     For example, in Afghanistan, actually administering that bribery system (first, we would have to use a better-sounding euphe- mism) would cost far more than the $2 billion initial bribe. But we are now spending $2.3 billion a month there before we even begin to build up our troop strength.
     For example, can we guarantee making bribery, not war would work? Of course not. But we can guarantee that waging war against a guerrilla force the same old way will not work and will be far more costly in both the short and long runs.

     But first, we think.




July 19, 2008

Flip-Flop, Flop-Flip

Will the Real Flip-Flopper Please Stand Up?
          Consider the ineffable unpredictability of the presidential campaign.
          Much of it is puzzling and too much of it is personal. Bottom line: I wish the candidates would talk only about their own pro- posals to get the country out of what we on this site call “The Bush Messes.” Economy, environment, war, world standing, security, debt, housing, crime, you name it.
          Barack Obama proposed a specific timetable for with- drawal from the Iraq fiasco. Even some of his friends were uneasy. Then he “clarified,” but seemed to modify, that. His enemies were energized and derisive. Flip-flop, they said.
          Then, even Nouri al-Maliki, our puppet in Iraq, and some in the Bush administration are thinking of a timetable, albeit of varying intensity. John McCain continues to believe the U.S. presence in Iraq is a very long-term one. That position brought him considerable moans of dismay.
           McCain was ragging Obama about not having gone to the hot spots in the Middle East. The hidden message was, I have been there, even been kept in a bestial prison.
          But then, when Obama announced his several-stops trip to the region, the McCain reaction was, When I went it was to form my policies; but when Obama is going, it is AFTER he has an- nounced his policies.
          Obama said he would talk with foreign leaders, even some who are very unfriendly to the United States. The Bush adminis- tration derided the idea of talking to the “evil.”
          But now, the Bush administration has caught something of the national mood, and decided to talk with Iran. An undersecre- tary of State, in fact, just met with Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, but just to listen, his bosses said. The Bush administration still does not call the discussions free conversations; the Bush condition is: Iran must first pledge to end its nuclear enrichment that would prepare it for a nuclear weapon.
          The fact is, despite the continuing angry national debate about the wars, it seems most Americans are worried about the increasingly desperate American economy. Instead of ragging their opponents, the candidates should flesh out every day their ideas on that issue.
          McCain is wedded to a continuation, even perpetuation, of the Bush tax cuts for the rich, which largely brought us to this deep recession because the increased money in rich hands did not help across the board. The old trickle-down idea (remember David Stockman?) that the rich would invest and hire, and help us all, did not work.
          Obama makes the possibly impossible pledge that he will balance the budget in his years in office, with some new tax breaks for the middle class, but restoring some of the old tax rates for the very rich.
          Both candidates should be held to the standard: List spe- cifically how your ideas add up to your promises.
          Complicating the campaigns of both Obama and McCain is the behavior of Congress. But the argument of a selfish, do-noth- ing-good Congress ignores some of the facts of the legislative/- presidential process.
          Even with a slender Democratic majority in Congress, the president still has the veto power, which means every piece of legislation has to have a “super-majority” to get past him. So the Democrats have an argument in that way. But they still have to defend their continuing support of the greedy habit by both parties of passing “earmarks,” those special home-district projects not subjected to the usual scrutiny in the legislative process.
          And the silly sidebar of the election campaign: When you are in the Senate and running for president, you must schedule carefully so you are in the Senate at just the right moment for some very important things–and absent, campaigning, for the rest. The trouble is, your opponent is watching and can say, “Oh my; my opponent did not see fit to be in the Senate when the important Hangnail Control Act of 2008 was debated today. Shame on him.”
          And this tongue-in-cheek comment about this year’s cam- paigns: Considering the statements that have hurt the candidates the most in this interminable campaign for the presidency, I here- by propose that NOBODY with “The Rev.” before his name be allowed to utter a word, publicly or privately, when the campaign has begun.
          As Bobby Burns said, “O wad some pow’r the giftie gie us tae see oursels as others see us…. T’wad frae many a blunder free us.” The endless campaign is subject to “frae many a blunder.”




July 16, 2008

Surge, or InSURGEncy Shift?

Winning, or Moving the Game?

     Ever get the feeling the famous “surge” of troops in Iraq actually is no more than a change of venue for inSURGEncy?
     For months now, we have been hearing about how successful the “surge” of troops to Iraq has been. It sounds like a grandiose plan  en- compassing all of Iraq, but as applied by the Bush administration at the beginning of 2007, the surge of troops never was intended to do more than secure only Baghdad and the province that encompasses it.
     The figures are not dramatic, but check them out anyhow. Between January, 2007, when the Iraq surge began, and mid-2008, 1,117 U.S. lives have been lost in Iraq. During the previous 18 months, 1,258 U.S. lives were lost, meaning the “surge” has resulted in about an 11 percent decrease in U.S. fatalities.
     By contrast, during the same 18-month period in Afghanistan, 198 Americans died, compared with 136 during the previous 18-month per- iod, or about a 45 percent increase.
     Of those latest deaths, 28 occurred this past June alone, the highest U.S. fatality count since the United States attacked Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11 with the backing of most of the rest of the world.
     The U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan in mid-2008 was 32,000, the largest number since that post-9/11 attack.
     One has to wonder, if we had stayed committed to Afghanistan and seeking Osama bin Laden, and had committed just half the 160,000 troops we now have in Iraq (80,000, more than tripling the troops we have in Afghanistan now), what the situation would be like today in Afghani- stan. And what the fate of Bin Laden might have been.
     Could we still pull out of Iraq and shift our full attention to Afghani- stan and save face? Even Nouri Kamal al-Maliki, Iraq’s prime minister, wants a timetable for U.S. withdrawal from his country.
     In the spring of 1975, the United States suffered the most ignomin- ious defeat in its 200-year history. The scene is forever etched in history books and the memories of Americans over 50, one of helicopters landing on the roof of the U.S. embassy in Saigon to extract the last of the Americans and/or their Vietnamese supporters, leaving behind thousands of other Vietnamese to their fate.
     The United States not only offered no formal surrender, it never has acknowledged a surrender, let alone a defeat. More than 58,000 Americans died in that stupid war, and to what end?
     Today, it is just Vietnam; there is no distinction between north and south. In 1975, the communists of Hanoi took over the south and made one country that now is a struggling, but thriving nation. Vietnam, much as China has, embraced a form of parental capitalism that enjoys a great deal of investments from its former enemy, the United States, both the private and government funds.
     The great specter our government had before the fall was of Vietnam as the first of a series of Communist dominoes falling across South Asia. Somehow, the dominoes never fell and the great crisis of a communist takeover of all of Vietnam never became a threat to anyone. And where is the shame the United States has carried since? It only lies within, and is a fading one at that—we still have our macho image as the world’s bully.
     Fast-forward now to Iraq. If our intentions there are as the Bush administration presents them in its inimitable garbled fashion (as an effort toward democratization even though it favors undemocratic means to achieve its goal), and are not an effort to control the country’s oil riches, then what is our problem in extracting our troops.
     Yes, this is overly simplistic and likely would leave that area of the world in an all-out war from within and without. But consider it as a starting point: leave Iraq, concentrate on Afghanistan and try to make sure the ensuing civil wars in Iraq do not spread beyond its borders.
     If Vietnam and its 58,000-plus U.S. fatalities is any indication, perhaps we should send a fleet of helicopters to that vast new U.S. embassy in Baghdad now, extract the Americans and leave Iraq to determine its own fate, and probably thrive on its own, while we concentrate on finishing the job we began in Afghanistan post 9/11.



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