Legendary newsman Dan Rather recommended my book a little while back. As a result of his kind words, however, Amazon is running short of copies. But don’t worry! You can order autographed copies directly from me here.
The Washington Post reports that President Trump wants to go after — really, really go after — the Taliban in Afghanistan:
President Trump’s most senior military and foreign policy advisers have proposed a major shift in strategy in Afghanistan that would effectively put the United States back on a war footing with the Taliban.
The new plan, which still needs the approval of the president, calls for expanding the U.S. military role as part of a broader effort to push an increasingly confident and resurgent Taliban back to the negotiating table, U.S. officials said.
The plan comes at the end of a sweeping policy review built around the president’s desire to reverse worsening security in Afghanistan and “start winning” again, said one U.S. official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
This will not, cannot work.
Give Trump’s military advisers points for clarity. Their war aim is clear:
“The review is an opportunity to send a message that, yes, the U.S. is going to send more troops, but it’s not to achieve a forever military victory,” said Andrew Wilder, an Afghanistan expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace. “Rather, it’s to try to bring about a negotiated end to this conflict.”
Still can’t work. Americans, American allies and Afghans are going to die for nothing. Here’s why.
I’ll spare you the Afghanistan As Graveyard of Empires argument that I’ve written about before. Yes, the Afghans beat the Brits thrice, the Russians once, and us every day since 9/11. Though the time (1842) they killed everyone in the British army except one guy is well worth reading about. A “signal catastrophe,” they called it. History repeats, especially in Afghanistan, but it isn’t predestination. Theoretically, the United States could defeat the Taliban. The reason they won’t is that they don’t have the political will to do so.
Militarily? Of course the U.S. can defeat the Taliban. The Taliban don’t have planes, long- or medium-range missiles. The U.S. can bomb the Taliban (and lots of non Talibs) to smithereens with a carpet-bombing campaign the likes of which the world has never seen before. They can drone them. They can send hundreds of thousands of highly trained and well-armed troops to invade and occupy the cities and villages and roads in between. If the U.S. declared Total War against the Taliban, if the U.S. were willing to dedicate its stunning economic and military power toward the goal of defending its puppet regime in Kabul, the Taliban would be killed and captured and driven over the mountains to Pakistan.
But that would be expensive. It wouldn’t take for very long before voters, and some journalists, began asking why the U.S. was willing to take tens of thousands of deaths in Afghanistan and willing to spend billions of dollars a week to occupy the country.
Supply lines to Afghanistan are long and difficult. There is no obvious geopolitical payoff, not one worth such a high price. At this point, the U.S.’ involvement in Afghanistan boils down to (a) let’s fuck with Iran and (b) it’s a launching pad for bombing attacks on the Tribal Areas of Pakistan along the Afghan border. Not much payoff there.
Yes, there are mineral resources. But this isn’t Iraq or Libya — natural resources aren’t coming out of the ground in significant numbers for years to come. Not that the U.S. is particularly good at looting natural resources, as we’ve seen in Iraq.
What about forcing the Taliban to negotiate? First, no one figure speaks for the whole movement. It’s a diverse alliance of tribes, ethnicities and political impulses. Second, we’ve been here before. Nixon bombed Vietnam to soften up the communists before negotiating. Bush used back channels to try to talk to the Taliban. Such efforts are fruitless against an adversary with the tactical advantages that come from fighting a guerrilla war as an indigenous. They’re local. They live there. Time is on their side. They’ll wait us out.
In the end, it’s simple cost-benefit analysis: low gain, high expense. Afghanistan just isn’t worth it.
Unfortunately, Trump and his henchmen won’t figure that out before more people have died over nothing.
Most of the news media is at war with Donald Trump, and rightly so. First, journalists should always be at war with the governments they cover. Nonadversarial journalism isn’t journalism — it’s stenography. Second, Trump Administration officials’ refusal to even pretend to be interested in the truth, immortalized by Kellyanne Conway’s notorious praise of “alternative facts,” demands highly caffeinated contempt.
But let’s not forget an inconvenient truth. Pre-Trump, the watchdogs of democracy were mostly lapdogs, gently licking the blood-soaked hands of those who fed them: America’s political and corporate elites.
Media malpractice has been so sustained and widespread that it’s hard to know where to start. Opinion pages and cable news panel shows where no one to the left of Hillary Clinton is allowed? The abandonment of local news coverage? Massive social and economic upheavals ignored because they only afflict the poor and the middle-class-en-route-to-poor: the rusting of the Rust Belt, the meth and opioid epidemics, the replacement of good jobs by bad ones, the faking of low unemployment and inflation rates?
Editors and producers are guilty of many sins. For my money, however, the biggest and lying-est are the big lies of omission that leave important facts unknown to the public for years and even decades, result in many deaths, and let the perpetrators off the hook both legally and historically.
August publications like The New York Times have finally begun reporting that the president lied when he, you know, lied — as opposed to some weasel word like “misspoke” or counterquoting from an opposing politician. They’re even using “torture” to describe torture (instead of “enhanced interrogation techniques”). But that’s new, and it’s only because they’re corporate liberal and Trump is blogosphere crazy right-wing. Give them another Obama and it’ll be back to giving the people the business as usual.
The high body counts of war spotlight the staggering moral failures of a press that, day after day, fail to remind readers of fundamental truths that usually get suppressed from the outset.
For the better part of a decade, American citizens paid good money for newspapers that purported to bring them the news from Vietnam. What those papers never told them was that the reason LBJ gave for entering the war, a 1964 attack on American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin, never happened. This isn’t controversial; liberal and conservative historians alike agree the war was sold on fake news.
Imagine if the media had begun every story about Vietnam with a Trump-era-ish reference to Johnson’s big lie? “Continuing Unprovoked Attack on North Vietnam, U.S. B-52s Rain Death on Hanoi Without Reason.” Significantly less than 58,000 Americans and 2 million Vietnamese might have died.
After the U.S. lost — which they reported as a withdrawal rather than what really happened — lazy and easily cowed journalists and editors let stand the canard that returning Vietnam War vets were spat upon, insulted as “baby killers” and generally mistreated by dirty leftie hippies waiting for them at the airport. It never happened. To the contrary, the antiwar movement was supportive of vets, running clinics and other facilities to help them out. The myth of the spat-upon hippie, it turns out, began with the 1982 movie “Rambo,” when Sylvester Stallone’s character says it — probably as a metaphor.
Afghanistan’s Taliban government had nothing to do with 9/11, but few Americans know that. Even the soldiers sent to fight, kill and die there thought they were avenging the attack on the World Trade Center — and why not? Thanks to the Bush-era fake news purveyors, few of even the best read and most informed Americans know that Osama bin Laden was already in Pakistan on 9/11, that the Taliban offered to arrest him and turn him over if the U.S. showed some evidence of his guilt, that Al Qaeda had fewer than 100 members in Afghanistan (the vast majority were in Pakistan, as were the infamous training camps), and that there wasn’t a single Afghan among the 19 hijackers.
Would Afghanistan have become America’s longest war if news headlines had read something like “Bush Promises To Hunt Down Bin Laden and Al Qaeda in Country Where They Aren’t, Sends Weapons and Cash to Country Where They Are”? Doubtful.
That the media fell down on the job during the build-up to the Iraq War is well-documented. Yet, even after the WMDs failed to turn up in that country after we destroyed it, the media never applied the standard they now stick on Trump, e.g. “Continuing Unjustified Assault on Innocent Iraq, Marines Prepare For Battle in Fallujah.” Talk about fake news — even if Saddam Hussein had had WMDs, Iraq’s lack of long-range ballistic missiles meant it never could have posed a threat to the United States.
Alternative facts abounded under Obama.
Obama launched hundreds of drone attacks against Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and elsewhere that killed thousands of people. Studies showed that 49 out of 50 people killed were innocent bystanders, and that the other 1 were local guerilla fighters who hated their own local governments, not anti-American jihadis coming to kill us here. Yet story after story about drone assassinations referred to victims as “militants” or even “terrorists,” without a shred of evidence. If you’re going to let your president kill people just for fun, the least the media as a watchdog could do is call it what it is: “President Murders 14 More Muslims Cuz Fun.” Did you know the military calls them “squirters” — because their heads, you know…?
The president called out as a liar? Better 240 years late than never.
(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
Hillary Clinton’s coronation at the Democratic national convention is likely but not a foregone conclusion. Since the superdelegates won’t vote until July, and neither she nor Bernie Sanders will arrive in Cleveland with the requisite number of pledged delegates to clich the nomination, there is still the possibility that the party bosses will see sense, internalize the polls that show she’s weaker than him against Trump, and push the superdelegates to support the populist senator from Vermont.
But sense is in short supply in American politics, especially this year. So I’m preparing for the worst: Hillary versus Trump.
It’s one hell of a choice. The more I delve into Donald Trump and his past (to research my biography, which comes out in June), the more scared I get. Nevertheless, there is no way I’ll vote for Hillary. I won’t vote for her if she stops shaking down rich right-wing Republicans for donations. I won’t vote for her if she adopts Bernie’s platform. I won’t vote for her if she names Bernie her vice president. I won’t even vote for her if Bernie invites me to spend the summer with him and Jane in Vermont.
#NeverHillary. That’s me.
There are millions of us.
Many progressives are baffled by this stance. Trump is a threat to democracy, decency, peace and the economy. He acts and talks like a nut. Why not suck it up and vote for Hillary? She’s experienced, steady and presentable. Unlike Trump, she understands the issues. Plus: first woman president! That’s 225 years overdue!
Here is my reasoning.
First, a vote is an endorsement. A vote tells a candidate: “I mostly agree with what you have done.”
I agree with nothing she has done. Most egregiously, she voted to invade Iraq. At the time, everyone knew there were no WMDs. She knew. More than a million Iraqis are dead because of that war of choice, a war no one but especially no Democrat should have supported. I will not, cannot, betray those dead. Casting a vote for Hillary says: “I love that a million Iraqis got murdered.” Or, at minimum it says: “I’m cool with it.” Well, I’m not.
For me, that’s enough. What she did was monstrous. She should be in prison for life.
Do you need more? Really?
- Here’s more:
Running a close second behind Iraq are Hillary’s vote to invade Afghanistan (another mistake, unjustified, illegal fiasco that left hundreds of thousands of innocents maimed or dead), and encouraging Obama, as secretary of state, to arm and fund crazy Islamist insurgencies in Libya and Syria, reducing two modern countries to failed states. I can’t let those go.
Voting for a politician also tells them: “I agree with what you promise to do.” There is no indication — none, zero, nada — that Hillary wouldn’t continue her every-war-a-good-war philosophy were she to become president. Unlike Trump, she has never questioned the usefulness, legality or ethics of use of force as America’s go-to approach to foreign policy.
I refuse to throw good blood after bad.
She’s sleazy — a cheater and a liar. I can’t forget how she willfully misrepresented her own take on the minimum wage: she wants $12/hour, but since Bernie’s $15/hour is more popular, she claimed she wanted $15/hour too, but it would be up to the states and cities. Pressed, she conceded she’d “like” $15/hour, but wouldn’t lift a finger to make it happen federally. Incredibly, she still does this.
Then there’s her lie about the auto bailout. Factcheckers call her claim that Bernie voted against it untrue; he voted against bailouts for Wall Street, some of which was attached to aid for automobile companies. Despite being called on this whopper, she still uses it on the campaign trail.
The primary fight against Bernie saw Hillary deploy tactics that went way beyond political hardball. Her allies in the Democratic National Committee schemed to deny Bernie media coverage or a decent debate schedule. They rigged the superdelegate process. They made sure votes and caucusgoers weren’t counted and that voter registrations in Bernie strongholds mysteriously disappeared. Can’t let that go.
I am highly sympathetic with the argument that we need, and that women and girls deserve, to see a woman in the White House. We do; they do. If Hillary Clinton were merely a flawed candidate, the woman thing would be enough for me.
But Hillary is not flawed. She is a monster. A mass murderer. A warmonger.
The fact that she wears bright-colored Doctor Evil suits and has a silly laugh and twinkly eyes and is kinda smart can’t change the fact she has never voted against a war, or apologized for voting for one, or promised not to start any new ones. Her resume can’t cover up for her record: zero sponsorships or votes for a major anti-poverty proposal, and only one vote against a job-killing free trade agreement.
I don’t vote for monsters.
Let Hillary or Trump destroy the world without the endorsement that would be my vote.
Harry Truman famously kept a sign on his desk that read: “The buck stops here.” (“Buck” is a disused term for “accountability,” not money.) What Truman’s phrase meant — it says a lot about the state of things that it needs to be explained — was that he, like the captain of a ship, accepted responsibility for everything that happened under his watch.
With Barack Obama, there’s nary a buck to be found. To paraphrase the 1970 movie “Love Story,” working for the United States government means never having to say you’re sorry.
Days before Obama took office in 2009, Obama signaled that federal workers who break the law would have nothing to worry about. During his campaign he’d promised to prosecute the CIA and military personnel who tortured Afghans, Iraqis and other Muslims under orders from Bush and Cheney. People who voted for him expected him to follow through. The CIA torturers were worried sick. Their victims looked forward to seeing justice served.
Breaking his pledge, Obama issued the monsters a “get out of jail free” card. There wouldn’t even be an investigation, much less indictments. “We need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards,” he said. The new president traveled to Langley to reassure the torturers everything would be cool. (“I will be as vigorous in protecting you as you are vigorous in protecting the American people.”) He even cooperated with the Republicans who approved of torture to pressure other countries not to file charges against U.S. torturers.
After 9/11, Americans asked themselves: why do they (Muslims in general, foreigners in particular) hate us?
No need to ask that one anymore.
One telltale sign that the government is engaged in a cover-up is timing: when it releases a report just before the weekend news blackout, you know something nasty is afoot. Obama’s latest whitewash, dumped online Friday, is the Administration’s attempt to drown its responsibility for one of the most heinous acts of mass murder in years in 3000 pages of spin, dissembling and circular logic.
On October 3rd, an AC-130 fixed-wing gunship — a fearsome array of high-caliber weaponry best described as a hovering battleship — unleashed an hour of hellfire on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, northern Afghanistan, killing 42 doctors, staffers and patients, and wounding many others. The facility was completely destroyed. MSF (the French acronym for the group) pulled out. There is no longer any high-quality trauma care available in a major city in an active conflict zone.
It is now universally acknowledged that the attack was a mistake.
At the time, however, the Pentagon lied and denied. “Collateral damage,” they first said — they were aiming at something else. For an hour. Over and over. Then they said the Taliban were firing at U.S. forces from inside the hospital. (Never happened.) Next they blamed Afghan forces for calling in the airstrike. (They couldn’t have, and didn’t.) Finally, they admitted it was U.S. Special Forces.
Ultimately the new commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan issued an actual apology on March 22nd. “They hit us six months ago and are apologizing now?” spat Zabiullah Niazi, an OR nurse who lost his eye, one finger and the ability to use his hand, in the attack — and, like the other victims, has yet to receive compensation.
The heavily-redacted 3000-page report issued Friday by the Pentagon “describes a mission that went wrong from start to finish,” according to The New York Times. What stands out is the Americans’ obsession with protecting themselves at all cost, all others be damned — an attitude that has characterized the post-9/11 War of Terror.
“Even after Doctors Without Borders informed American commanders that a gunship was attacking a hospital, the airstrike was not immediately called off because, it appears, the Americans could not confirm themselves that the hospital was actually free of Taliban,” reports the Times. “‘Immediately calling for a cease-fire for a situation we have no SA’ — situational awareness, that is — ‘could put the ground force at risk,’ an American commander [said].” If you’re trying not to hurt innocent people, prudence dictates that you hold fire until your target is positively identified. Here, as usual in U.S. war zones, the default mode was to keep firing no matter what.
This is reckless disregard for human life writ large. So who will be held accountable?
“The punishments for the attack will be ‘administrative actions’ only, and none of those being disciplined will face criminal charges because the attack was determined to be unintentional… The punishments include suspension, removal from command and letters of reprimand, which can seriously damage or end a career.”
Reckless disregard for human life is a war crime. For example, former Rwandan official Clément Kayishema was convicted by an international tribunal for several counts of war crimes related to murder of Hutus in 1994, one of which was his reckless disregard for the possibility that his actions would lead to people’s deaths.
Forty-two people were murdered in Kunduz. So what if it’s just manslaughter or second-degree murder, rather than premeditated first-degree murder? Justice demands prison sentences, not letters added to personnel files.
I’d start with the guy who sits behind Harry Truman’s old desk.
(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. “Bernie” is now on sale online and at all good bookstores.)
Originally published at Skewed News:
If women ruled the world, we’ve been told for years, it would be a more peaceful planet.
Now that there’s a real possibility of a first woman president, it is no longer impossible to imagine ladies in charge. Thanks to a new Pentagon rule change, however, there is now less danger of a women-led Earth disintegrating into a devastating peace.
In a powerful statement in favor of gender equality, military officials in charge of the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, who are conducting massive drone assassination programs in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia, engaged in the bombing campaign against Syria, and who are providing most of the weapons and munitions used in the world’s wars have announced that women soldiers will be permitted to join the carnage as full-fledged combat partners to their male counterparts.
You’ve come a long way, G.I. baby.
Under new Pentagon policy, women soldiers and sailors will no longer have to stand by and watch as their male colleagues drop bombs on Muslim villages and wedding parties. They will be able to join in the fun. Similarly, when male soldiers and sailors rob, rape and go on killing sprees, female combat troops won’t have to cool their high heels at some boring forward operating base, expected to bake cookies. When there’s slaughtering to be done, lady soldiers will be invited to join in.
Some logistical questions remain unanswered. When raping local children in nations under U.S. occupation, will female soldiers be issued with rape tools, or will they have to improvise with “hillbilly” sodomizers? On the other hand, women soldiers — who are believed to have greater appreciation for art than men — may prove helpful in the looting of museums and marketing of archeological artifacts.
“It was a powerfully symbolic and sound policy move. While there will be logistical challenges as the Pentagon continues to break down barriers for women, doing so will make the military stronger and will narrow America’s gender equality gap,” editorialized The New York Times, which has endorsed most of the United States’ decisions to start the aforementioned military conflicts.
“They’ll be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars and lead infantry soldiers into combat,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter said. “They’ll be able to serve as Army rangers and green berets, Navy SEALS, Marine Corps infantry.”
Secretary Carter said the world’s most violent and aggressive military forces will be able to become even more violent and aggressive now that 50% of the population is pitching in. “Our military will be better able to harness the skills and perspectives that talented women have to offer.”
This is a period of greater openness for the U.S. armed forces, which are responsible for provoking most of the world to hate America. In July, the Pentagon decided to allow trans people to serve as soldiers. In August, a 28-year-old army sergeant became the first openly trans soldier. A symbol of trans pride, he has been on more than 400 combat missions in the illegal, undeclared wars against the people of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Both wars are viewed by most Americans as mistakes.
Political and military leaders of all genders agree that when it comes to invading and occupying and oppressing, greater gender participation means greater efficiency, particularly in an era when so few people agree with U.S. foreign policy in general or particular invasions. “I think it’s fair to say that women are a little more collaborative in their approach overall, and a little less driven to conflict as opposed to driven to working out problems,” said Janet Napolitano, former Secretary of Homeland Security. Whether you’re shooting a laser-guided missile at a hospital in Afghanistan or shoving things up prisoners’ asses in a U.S. military gulag, it’s important for everybody to be on the same page about, say, what things and how far up.
At Abu Ghraib military prison in Iraq, for example, women and men played a joint role in the interrogation, torture and murder of Iraqi prisoners. This led to a higher level of depravity than might not have been possible had the job been left exclusively to those blessed with male privilege.
“If they’re qualified to do those positions, they should be able to anything that a man can do in the military,” said a female soldier with 10 years experience in the military. She noted that bombing, shooting, torturing and sending people to concentration camps can be a bonding experience for the entire family. “My husband is security forces as well, so my children see both of us going to work as cops and my son, he’s almost four, thinks it’s awesome.”
Watching the shifting U.S. responses to criticism of the bombing of the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan makes one marvel at the gall and efficacy of changing narratives to duck responsibility. What if others used the same techniques?