Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A Glimpse of What is Wrong with US Pol. Discourse

Courtesy of Ed Morrisey of Captain's Quarters. (Just one of possible many....)

It involves a recent statement made in New Hampshire by Barack Obama concerning Afghanistan.

Here's what Obama said:
“Now you have narco drug lords who are helping to finance the Taliban, so we’ve got to get the job done there, and that requires us to have enough troops that we are not just air raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous problems there,’’ Obama said.
The "not just there air raiding villages and killing civilians" has gotten the press of course.

Morrisey writes:

The NATO troops in Afghanistan would beg to differ. They don't have a policy of bombing civilians, and the ground troops play a very important role in defending Afghanistan's villages from the depravities of Taliban control. Perhaps Obama can explain his analysis of military strategy and tactics to the ground troops that get wounded in these battles -- or to the families of the dead soldiers who died holding ground against the radical Islamists.

In fact, as posited by the Obama campaign, such a strategy would amount to war crimes. This sounds perilously close to the same kind of accusations that Vietnam War veterans faced when they came back from their service -- that they indiscriminately wiped out villages, killing women, children, and babies. And Obama offers this as a defense of his previous pronouncement that he would invade Pakistan as a positive step, presumably as an improvement on indiscriminate attacks on villages in Afghanistan.

Now does Obama mean literally there is nothing going on but air raiding and civilian death in Afghanistan? After he said in his previous foreign policy speech that he would "add brigades" to Afghanistan--adding implies some already there does it not?

So this literal-mindedness is not helpful. Of course Obama is aware of other operations than simply bombings.

What Obama does have his finger on is the view of the US from elsewhere. It seems as if that is the case elsewhere. That is how the US/NATO is seen by too many. Arguments about whether he is just another military-hating liberal (from the right-wing) aside. The US/NATO have because of reduced numbers of ground troops, had to rely on air assaults more in Afghanistan, and it has especially in the past year or two, caused a great number of civilian deaths, which make the air/internet waves and are used as propaganda by the enemy. On that point Obama is factually correct and can not be refuted. One might disagree about the extent and how negatively they hurt the image, but that it occurs (and is occurring still) is beyond doubt.

[And God forbid we actually ask---because I don't know the answer--is killing of innocent civilians a war crime? If its accidental? Or worse negligent? What constitutes negligence? When war is hell.]

Morissey never touches that point at all. He just muddies the waters through his overly literal reading of the statement. The proof is in the pudding of the President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, publicly excoriating NATO and the US on a few occasions---allies not enemies. You call out allies in the midst of a war, you are not happy with them.

Now Morrisey makes another point that Obama is tone deaf to the American audience. This may be true. The question of whether he is right or not (in terms of the negative image done by civilian deaths from American/NATO air raids) is completely ignored.

Might be good to recall it was a stump speech not say a policy report.

Another question worth asking is given the abysmal American media outlets and the pathetic nature of American discourse (a la Newt), is being tone deaf a bad thing? Maybe this is just part of Obama's approach which is not "business as usual" as he likes to say. He's given tough talk to black audiences, unions, teachers (all Democratic base elements). He doesn't like to go as much for the gotcha line, although he has used a few on occasion.

Is being a tone deaf (by American standards) a necessary but not sufficient condition for actual getting a real message across? Is it a Catch 22, where to be truly on target one must be tone deaf by American standards? (One must be insane to prove sanity? Only truly insane would respond sanely in such a crazytown environment?).

Or may EM is right---he's just tone deaf. But tone deaf is still not the question of whether he's right or not. Otherwise it's just more style/form over substance.

Semantics aside, Obama is right that the deaths of civilians in air raids is hurting the mission in Afghanistan. There's no doubt about that. EM could make an argument that he is (even within that truth claim) over-reaching with Obama's primacy on Afghanistan al-Qaeda & Pakistan over Iraq. That would be at least an actual logical argument. Obama is also right, for all the verbage of "smart bombs" than long term air raid campaigns inevitably kill civilians. Keeps the occupying/bombing country's casualty rates down, no doubt. But you lose the COIN.

If Obama were really sharp, when he gets push back on this point, he should say that he is just following the wisdom of Gen. Petraeus about COIN, about not pissing off the locals. Not killing their family members.

I'll grant this kind of talk might not win him an election. No doubt about that. But there is a question of whether if you have to become a machine establishment candidate to win, is there a separation from the real "you" and the machine (the question for Hillary).

Morissey's last paragraphs deal with a criticism of something (he paraphrases) of Obama's from the same speech about Iraq.


Another part of his speech provides an example. He claims that he will settle the Iraq War by having Saudi Arabia and China occupy Iraq. How exactly will the US convince China to send troops to Iraq -- and why would the Iraqis want the Chinese there at all? Why would we want to put Chinese troops in the center of the Middle East, with all of the critical energy interests we have there? And while some Sunni Iraqis might consider Saudi troops as allies, the majority Shi'ites will see it as another Sunni attempt to dominate them. They would almost certainly appeal to Teheran for troops, and the regional war would flash into existence.

I can't at the moment find Obama's exact words, so I have no idea whether this is an accurate assessment or not. First off, that he wants China in on security across the globe is smart. Shows he actually is thinking for the 21st century. Iraq, I don't know. Also, given a lack of a buy-in for the Chinese from the US, why would they?

Not to mention the biggest criticism (of mine) for Obama is not having a real plan for what happens after the withdrawal from Iraq. This one included (if this is what he said. I imagine he said something like a UN Presence, which btw the current UN Ambd. is pushing for).

But this does not make him an "empty suit." Nobody else (minus Biden) of either party has a good plan for Iraq. Hell even an actual alternative plan--whether or not its good being a different question. Unless Morissey is willing to say they are all empty suits. That would strike me at least as more consistent.


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