Flags In Dane County Underscore Weight Of National Pain

On my way outside of Middleton this afternoon I spotted an image that matched the mood of the nation. Three large American flags audibly flapped in the brisk breeze. Heavy, sad, and a most weighted feel matched the somber atmosphere across our nation.

There is no way to escape the enormity of the moment we are living in as the nation withdraws from Afghanistan after 20 years of war. The national angst was underscored with live coverage Sunday morning as 13 dead American soldiers returned in caskets to Dover Air Force Base.

The Taliban threatened us as we entered the war in 2001 and are seen now as victors upon our defeat. No matter how it is assessed the bulk of the war was a colossal failure.

Yes, we did gain an advantage over the ones who fueled the hatred and perpetrated the heinous crimes on 9/11. We sent the remains of Osama bin Laden to the bottom of the ocean.

We did open up the ability of a younger generation of Afghans to dream and see the world outside of a burqa and a tortured reading of the Koran. Therefore, we feel deep sadness about ‘turning off the lights’ on their education as the Taliban will again reject modernity when governing.

But the nation-building and processes for building a government, and have it in any way to be self-sustaining did not succeed. There was not enough time, or the willpower on the larger part of the Afghan populace. The urban areas grew, but the tribal foundations of the countryside did not have time to turn towards the 21st century.

Meanwhile, many people in America who by their own admission find history to be boring, have no real touchstones with the past so to weigh and balance what is now happening with the chaos and death in Afghanistan. One of my childhood heroes, astronaut John Glenn, after becoming an Ohio Senator spoke in 2009 about dead soldiers, also returning to Dover from Afghanistan.

As John Glenn said: “It’s easy to see the flags flying and the people go off to war, and the bands play and the flags fly. And it’s not quite so easy when the flag is draped over a coffin coming back through Dover, Delaware.

The gung-ho mentality that too often leads a nation to war is not able to define goals, strategy, or any exit policy. As Glenn said flags fly, and bands play.

And then soldiers die.

As a nation, we will most certainly be arguing how the Afghanistan evacuation policy was created and executed during the past months. There will be those expressing that our nation only needed to maintain a few thousand military personnel in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future. A land, I need not remind my readers, which is termed the Graveyard of Empires.

Such arguments can be rebuffed with those pesky things called facts. After 19 years of our footprint all over Afghanistan, their government had seen its control seriously erode to 30% of the country’s 407 districts. Meanwhile, the depraved Taliban controlled 20% of the country, and it should be noted that was more than at any time since the U.S. started the war. As I said, 19 years previous!

We all are unpleased how this larger episode defines our nation on the international stage. After the past four years, we needed to start the restoration of our country’s image and undertake that mission by doing masterful deeds. While no defeat at the hands of the Taliban was ever going to look good the exceptional chaos and blunders (and worse) by the Defense Department, State Department, and White House–and there is plenty of blame to share–is beyond mind-boggling.

Just more reason to stand under a flag at half-staff and sadly ponder it all.

And so it goes.

Give Me ‘Your Huddled Masses’, Afghan Refugees Deserve An American Welcome

America has a chance to shine. Wisconsin has a reason to feel an uplifting mood for providing a helping hand.

Yes, the international news from Afghanistan over the past 10 days has been trying, and at times dismaying to watch and read. There are clearly questions to be answered about the process that played out in the drawdown of U.S. military forces and government employees from the war-ravaged nation. There will be enough political rhetoric over the coming weeks and months to keep talk radio chirping 24/7.

But all that pales right now when it comes to the most vulnerable who have had to flee their country out of fear of deadly retaliation from the Taliban, who have secured power in Afghanistan. Men and women who have aided our nation during the past 20 years, assisted news organizations, and participated in various governmental operations now are threatened by the medieval madness of the Taliban.

The only option for the many thousands who have given of themselves, along with their families, is to leave via a flight from the Kabul airport.

And the only moral and ethical option for the United States is to open our arms, hearts, and minds to these new arrivals.

The most dreadful in our land, however, and that would start with the talk show hosts on Fox News, have already resorted to creating a narrative for the mouth-breathers who saddle up each evening to watch hour-upon-hour of bile.

“If history is any guide, and it’s always a guide, we will see many refugees from Afghanistan resettle in our country, and over the next decade, that number may swell to the millions,” Carlson said. “So first we invade, and then we are invaded.”

I find that white nationalism and xenophobic babble to be nauseating and most un-American. Carlson spits on the foundations of this nation when he makes such racist and absurd statements.

The nation understands the war in Afghanistan was a long, brutal, bitter, and costly affair that involved four different presidents from each major political party. We understand that there is a reckoning that must be met to those we very much used and gained from as we undertook the mission there. The men and women we gained assistance from must be treated fairly.

I often write of our nation’s role in the world. I see it as an expansive one and do not agree with trimming our sails. While it was absolutely time to remove our presence in Afghanistan as modernity is not anywhere in the near-term a feasible goal, the international role we play as a superpower must never be tossed aside for those who would fail to grasp our national exceptionalism.

That power is again displayed with our concern for and acceptance of these Afghans.

I often write of values, even virtue, when it comes to those we elect. I grew up in a time when stories abounded of people returning from places far around the globe where two photos might exist in homes. A picture of the then Pope, and another of President John Kennedy. That tone might sound hokey and out-of-date for some readers, but those types of foundations about freedom and better days are how I still view the world.

In line with that thinking are the ways we honor and pay our debt on the world stage to those who stood alongside us and did their part for the mission at hand. Our moral center as a nation is as much in need of recognition as is the one that resides with each person.

It is then from that perspective that I am truly heartened that Afghan refugees have started to arrive at Wisconsin’s Fort McCoy for temporary housing. Being loyal is not only how we should act one to another, but also how nations must operate, too.

Over the past few days, the American brand name has been tarnished with leaders and commentators around the globe taking a kick at our process playing out in Afghanistan. Some of it is surely earned.

But we can now showcase the thing about our nation that has always loomed large. Folks from every land wishes to come to our shores and breathe the air of freedom. The people now who aspire to call this place home are most deserving of being accepted. They have earned it.

To the Afghan refugees, I say Welcome to America. Welcome to Wisconsin. Welcome to your new home.

And so it goes.

Fallout From Taliban Power Grab

There are countless spokes of the story to follow concerning the fall of the government in Afghanistan. From military planning to intelligence gathering, to the political ramifications on nations surrounding the Taliban’s conquest, to the temper of the times in the United States. There is no way to be bored with the world headlines this week.

I found the resolve of local journalists during a news conference in Afghanistan to be uplifting, and seemingly determined to do the job their profession demands. Which is far more than can be said for the Afghan military.

The news conference was a show pony aimed at convincing world powers and a rightfully fearful Afghan population that the Taliban have changed. Right!! One must assume that the effort was also aimed at the broader international community who know these are the same barbarians that were last in power 20 years ago. The only new thing about the ones now in charge would be the new generations of Taliban body lice.

“Taliban spokesman ZABIHULLAH MUJAHID “promised the Taliban would honor women’s rights, but within the norms of Islamic law, though he gave few details,”……Then there was this…..After Mujahid says Taliban have announced all encompassing amnesty, Afghan reporter asks — do you think the people of Afghanistan will forgive you too for the explosions and suicide bombings? Mujahid’s response: ‘[collateral] damage’ happens.”

Meanwhile back in the world of modernity, the screws are starting to be tightened on the Taliban.

“The Biden administration on Sunday froze Afghan government reserves held in U.S. bank accounts, blocking the Taliban from accessing billions of dollars held in U.S. institutions, according to two people familiar with the matter. The decision was made by Treasury Secretary JANET YELLEN and officials in Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, the people said.

Cutting off access to U.S.-based reserves represents among the first in what are expected to be several crucial decisions facing the Biden administration about the economic fate of that nation following the Taliban takeover. Afghanistan is already one of the poorest countries in the world and is highly dependent on American aid that is now in jeopardy. The Biden administration is also likely to face hard choices over how to manage existing sanctions on the Taliban, which may make it difficult to deliver international humanitarian assistance to a population facing ruin, experts say.

The United States did not need any new authority to freeze the reserves, because the Taliban is already sanctioned under an executive order approved after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, said Adam M. Smith, who served on the National Security Council and as senior adviser to the director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control during the Obama administration.”

I did read this morning a most interesting tidbit from a National Public Radio reporter, via a tweet from @DomenicoNPR

“There are a lot of comparisons being made bw the fall of Saigon & chaos in Kabul. I’m not saying this will happen, but it’s a pt to note that we don’t know everything… After Saigon fell on April 30, 1975, Ford’s approval rating went up — from 37% in March to 51% by June.”

Yesterday morning I wrote on that same track.

“There is no way to predict the fallout from this weekend, or the days to come, but the chaos of actual events, along with the heated rhetoric from the usual crowd might not be aligned with the larger mood of the country. I suspect there is a “silent majority’ who endorse our removal from Afghanistan this month.”

I make my way through the newspapers and editorial cartoons each morning. Without doubt, one drawing summed up all that the world is pondering over the past hours.

And so it goes.

“The War Logs” From NYT’s Deserves Your Time

Though this article is long, it deservers a read.    Now that I have finished reading the article I can say all Americans need to do the same.  As the story shows our national objectives in Afghanistan, along with the needs of the world community, meets the hard realities on the ground.  While President Nixon fumed the morning he found out the Pentagon Papers had hit the pages of the press, so too does President Obama find himself at odds with The New York Times and other members of the press.  In the end, however, we were well served with the release of the background on the Vietnam War, and I know that the same will result from these documents, which were released for publication today.  The reason we are in the Afghanistan is sound.  It is not easy, but it is vital.  That is how I felt when President Bush was in office, and that is how I feel now.  I had huge differences with Bush over how he fought the war, and the lack of resources that were instead wasted on the American invasion of Iraq.  But the objectives in  Afghanistan have never dimmed.  There are many who will use these documents and information to spin a reason for less funding for the war, or urging a hasty retreat.  That would be the wrong lesson to be gained from this story.  There is no less compelling reason to meet our objectives now than 24 hours before this story was published.  The Taliban are no less harmless.

A small taste of why you should read this news story.

The reports — usually spare summaries but sometimes detailed narratives — shed light on some elements of the war that have been largely hidden from the public eye:

• The Taliban have used portable heat-seeking missiles against allied aircraft, a fact that has not been publicly disclosed by the military. This type of weapon helped the Afghan mujahedeen defeat the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.

• Secret commando units like Task Force 373 — a classified group of Army and Navy special operatives — work from a “capture/kill list” of about 70 top insurgent commanders. These missions, which have been stepped up under the Obama administration, claim notable successes, but have sometimes gone wrong, killing civilians and stoking Afghan resentment.

• The military employs more and more drone aircraft to survey the battlefield and strike targets in Afghanistan, although their performance is less impressive than officially portrayed. Some crash or collide, forcing American troops to undertake risky retrieval missions before the Taliban can claim the drone’s weaponry.

• The Central Intelligence Agency has expanded paramilitary operations inside Afghanistan. The units launch ambushes, order airstrikes and conduct night raids. From 2001 to 2008, the C.I.A. paid the budget of Afghanistan’s spy agency and ran it as a virtual subsidiary.

Best Sunday Newspaper Read: U.S. Ground Presence On Pakistani Soil?

The need to widen the hunt for the Taliban being discussed.

The new pressure from Washington was characterized by both the Pakistani and American officials as a sharp turnaround from the relatively polite encouragement adopted by the Obama administration in recent months. And it comes amid increasing debate within the administration about how to expand the American military’s influence — and even a boots-on-the-ground presence — on Pakistani soil.

Though the bombing in Times Square failed, Mr. Shahzad’s ability to move back and forth between the United States and Pakistan has heightened fears in the Obama administration that another attempt at a terrorist attack could succeed.

“We are saying, ‘Sorry, if there is a successful attack, we will have to act’ ” within Pakistan, one of the American officials said.

That issue has been a source of growing tension between the countries. Pakistani officials, already alarmed by the increase in American drone aircraft attacks against militants in northwestern Pakistan, have been extremely sensitive about any hint that American ground troops could become involved in the fight. And attempts by the United States to increase the presence of Special Operations forces there even in an advisory or training role have been met with great resistance by the Pakistanis.

 

U.S. Forces Showing Resolve To Keep Taliban Out Of Marjah

One of the continuing themes that has presented itself concerning the difficulty of fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan is the lack of belief among the locals that the U.S. and NATO have long-term plans to keep the area safe.  There is no reason that locals should put themselves on the line with ‘foreign forces’ if the Taliban will only sweep in later and seek reprisals for those that supported their ouster.

Therefore it is heartening to read that we are making strong statements about our plans to stay in areas we reclaim from the Taliban.

Unlike in previous operations, NATO forces are to remain in Marjah for months to come and help Afghan authorities quickly set up a credible local administration. The idea is to keep the Taliban from simply moving back in, as has happened after past offensives.

To make the strategy work, Afghan and NATO officials aggressively courted the people of Marjah in advance of the offensive, which they advertised for weeks before its start.

Allied forces have since the start of the attack held two meetings, known as shuras, in the area; one was held in Marjah itself, the other in another part of Nad Ali district, of which the town is a part, NATO said.

More are planned in coming days, it said.

In addition to helping the locals understand the shared desire we have to see the Taliban removed for the long-term, we need to understand their desire to see Afghan corruption dealt with.

What Nato and their Afghan partners are trying to do is to convince the people of central Helmand that they are better off siding with them.

But local people have got a great deal of scepticism – and with good reason.

In many cases the symbol of Afghan national government here is the local police, who are often corrupt.

The police are badly paid, they set up illegal checkpoints, they take money from people, they are involved in the abduction of children – they have got a dreadful reputation.

So the police that they are going to bring in to consolidate security are a different force – not the usual ones.

I’ve been told that the troops will set up patrol bases in the near future in the areas that they have taken.