Free Markets, Free People

Daily Archives: September 21, 2009

Back To the Real World

I‘ve been to Alaska, and seen the glaciers, bears, eagles, whales, and about 30 inches of rain.  But, now I’m back, and regular blogging about motorcycle goodness will begin in due course.

In the meantime, I leave you with this little video I slapped together earlier this evening.  It’s still a bit rough, but I put it together in about an hour.  I’ve got hours of video, so more will be forthcoming.

NEA = Ministry of Propaganda (Update)

As teased last night, Andrew Breitbart’s Big Hollywood has a bunch of new articles up today regarding the NEA efforts to push Pres. Obama’s agenda through propaganda:

Should the National Endowment for the Arts encourage artists to create art on issues being vehemently debated nationally?

That is the question that I set out to discuss a little over three weeks ago when I wrote an article on Big Hollywood entitled The National Endowment for the Art of Persuasion?”

The question still requires debate but the facts do not.

The NEA and the White House did encourage a handpicked, pro-Obama arts group to address politically controversial issues under contentious national debate. That fact is irrefutable.

But some have claimed that the invite and passages, pulled from the conference call that inspired the article, were taken out of context. Context is what I intend to establish here.

In addition to the Patrick Courrielche article above, Breitbart has a series of others dissecting and analyzing the NEA and White House actions on the Big Government site. While other than complete transcripts and audio of the conference call, not a whole lot new is revealed in these reports. There is a good rundown of the facts versus White House claims, as well as a link to some prior investigation into the money angle. However, I think Patterico cogently sums up the importance of this (still developing) story:

It would be a mistake to dismiss this story as unimportant because there is no jaw-dropping angle like ACORN staffers’ apparent complicity in trafficking in under-age children for prostitution. Consider what is happening: the NEA is encouraging artists to create propaganda for a president’s policy initiatives. This is a corrosive precedent — and what’s more, it illustrates the overarching danger of the Obama administration: government, by increasingly taking over various aspects of American society, threatens to bend society to the will of a single man.

It would also be a mistake to dismiss the story as old just because the basic contours of the story were revealed in August. Since then, the NEA and the Obama administration have denied pursuing a legislative agenda in the call; today it is clear that they lied. What’s more, they tried to cover it up with the reassignment of Sergant. And the media played right along, for the most part acting as though that was the end of it.

From a politics standpoint, the potential illegality involved here is the paramount issue, and the use of federal funds for propaganda runs a close (and closely related) second. However, from where I sit it’s the all-out assault on the traditional media that’s so interesting. Breitbart has now twice invited to MSM to look behind the curtain to see what they’re protecting, and twice they’ve passed. He forced them to cover the ACORN story. Will he do it again with the NEA scandal? Keep in mind that Breitbart has darkly hinted that there is more to come:

Everything you needed to know about the unorthodox roll out of the now-notorious ACORN sting videos was hidden in plain sight in my Sept. 7 column, “Katie Couric, Look in the Mirror.” ACORN was not the only target of those videos; so were Katie, Brian, Charlie and every other mainstream media pooh-bah.

They were not going to report this blockbuster unless they were forced to. And they were. What’s more, it ain’t over yet. Not every hint I dropped in that piece about what was to come has played itself out yet.Stay tuned.

Does that mean that there is yet more to come on the NEA promoting propaganda in support of the president’s agenda? It’s hard to say. If it turns out that some laws were broken, however, expect Breitbart to rub the MSM’s noses in it with as much publicity as he can muster (which is likely a tremendous amount).

UPDATE: While the Obama administration is busy using the tax-payer funded NEA to push its agenda, it’s also using its police powers to harass those who speak out against its agenda (via HotAir,):

The government is investigating a major insurance company for allegedly trying to scare seniors with a mailer warning they could lose important benefits under health care legislation in Congress.

The Health and Human Services Department launched its investigation of Humana after getting a complaint from Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., a senior lawmaker usually viewed as a reliable ally of the insurance industry.

“It is wholly unacceptable for insurance companies to mislead seniors regarding any subject — particularly on a subject as important to them, and to the nation, as health care reform,” Baucus said Monday, disclosing the HHS investigation.

Humana Inc., headquartered in Louisville, Ky., is cooperating with the investigation and stopped the mailer earlier this month, company spokesman Tom Noland said Monday.

Now, you can call me a conspiracy theorist if it makes you feel important and wise, but how else other than “totalitarian” would you describe “free speech for me but not for thee” enforced at the end of a gun? Does that necessarily mean that we’re headed for gulags? No, but don’t let the failure to cross that line fool you. The Obama administration is putting on a full court press to pass its agenda, and apparently has no qualms about using every resource within its power, legal or otherwise, to accomplish that goal.

[This post is authored by Michael Wade. Because of technical difficulties, it has been posted under my account – McQ]

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Afghanistan – It Is Fish Or Cut Bait Time

As someone who just said goodbye to his son this weekend as he deploys to Afghanistan, I’m much more interested in that war than I might usually be. As it happens, General Stanley McChrystal’s assessment has been excerpted by Bob Woodward in the Washington Post. It is a rather blunt assessment – he needs more forces or we risk “mission failure”.

Let me begin this by saying I don’t care if you are for or against our being in Afghanistan – we’re there. Staying or leaving are obviously the two options we have at this point. The present political leadership told everyone who would listen as they were campaigning for the job that Afghanistan was the “good war” and the “necessary war” and we needed to prosecute it with an eye on eliminating the threat al Qaeda posed and removing the country as a safe-haven. Given the circumstances and situation there that is a very difficult mission fraught with not only danger but obviously requiring a real commitment in blood and treasure.

Faced with a growing and more adept insurgent foe, a corrupt and incompetent host nation government, and a neighboring state under both duress and threat from the same enemy, the situation that confronts both the military and civilian leadership is an extremely difficult one. But, as McChrystal notes, “While the situation is serious, success if still achievable”.

Note that the word used is “success”, not “victory”. I’m not one to quibble about those words. Victory is used in a military sense. Victory is success. But we all know that while the military is an integral part of any success we might have there, ultimately it can’t “win” the day by itself. Success will be defined as leaving a sovereign nation capable of governing and defending itself when we eventually leave. We may not like that definition, we may not like the fact that we’re again engaged in nation building and we may not like the fact that such an endeavor is going to take years, possibly decades to achieve – but that is the situation we now find ourselves in. If we were to abandon Afghanistan now, we’d see it quickly revert to the state it was in 2001 – ruled by Islamic fundamentalists and a safe-haven for our most avowed enemies.

We have to decide now whether or not we’re going to commit to the “long war” to achieve the success I’ve outlined or whether we, like many nations before us, will leave Afghanistan to its fate and suffer the consequences such an abandonment may bring in the future.

It Is “Fish Or Cut Bait” Time

Our national leadership must now make that hard decision. This is no time for equivocation. It is no time for years worth of study and debate. General McChrystal makes that very clear in his assessment:

“Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.”

And he makes clear another very important point, one that the civilian leadership needs to understand.

“Further, a perception that our resolve is uncertain makes Afghans reluctant to align with us against the insurgents.”

Prior to the surge in Iraq, the same sort of perception existed within the Iraqi population. Until we made a firm commitment to stay and protect them, Iraq did not begin to improve. Gen. McChrystal is simply noting the same dynamic understandably exists in Afghanistan. He’s also tactfully saying that we must quickly prove to the population of Afghanistan that we are committed to protecting them while they do what is necessary to empower themselves, their government and their military to a level that they can protect themselves.

Step one in that process is to quickly ensure that the commitment to do that is clear and the forces necessary to do it are forthcoming. That has got to come from national leadership and it has to be said in precise and unequivocal language. Unfortunately, given this weekend’s performance, our national leadership has claimed to be “skeptical” about the need for more troops in the country.  The time for debate is rapidly coming to a close.  A decision must be made, and in relative terms, it must be made quickly.  Whatever it ends up being it should be aimed at one of the two options I’ve outlined – successs or abandonment of the effort.

What Has To Change

Obviously that is all dependent upon the decision reached by the national leadership, however General McChrystal recognizes some rather daunting problems in the situation within the country and how we’re fighting the war.

He notes:

The weakness of state institutions, malign actions of power-brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various officials, and ISAF’s own errors, have given Afghans little reason to support their government.”

All of those things, then, must change for the positive. As our experience in Iraq tells us, that’s a very difficult and time consuming job, especially when we talk about changing the culture of governance, stopping corruption and abuse of power and connecting the government to the people. As you might imagine, that’s not a job for the military, but, instead the State Department and various of our other government agencies. So the question isn’t just are we willing to commit the soldiers necessary to effectively conduct COIN, but are we willing to commit the civilians necessary to properly establish a functioning government in a nation which has never had one?

Without that sort of commitment, we can send all the soldiers we have for as long as we want too but we’ll never achieve the success necessary to leave Afghanistan.

McChrystal further notes:

“Afghan social, political, economic, and cultural affairs are complex and poorly understood. ISAF does not sufficiently appreciate the dynamics in local communities, nor how the insurgency, corruption, incompetent officials, power-brokers, and criminality all combine to affect the Afghan population.”

Our civilians must understand that too because it all combines to result in a “crisis of confidence among the Afghans” per McChrystal. Until that perception is changed, the crisis of confidence will remain the most difficult roadblock and continue to make Afghans “reluctant to align with us against the insurgents”.

McChrystal also addresses the Afghan prison system which he claims has become a breeding ground for terrorists:

In a four-page annex on detainee operations, McChrystal warns that the Afghan prison system has become “a sanctuary and base to conduct lethal operations” against the government and coalition forces. He cites as examples an apparent prison connection to the 2008 bombing of the Serena Hotel in Kabul and other attacks. “Unchecked, Taliban/Al Qaeda leaders patiently coordinate and plan, unconcerned with interference from prison personnel or the military.”

The assessment says that Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgents “represent more than 2,500 of the 14,500 inmates in the increasingly overcrowded Afghan Corrections System,” in which “[h]ardened, committed Islamists are indiscriminately mixed with petty criminals and sex offenders, and they are using the opportunity to radicalize and indoctrinate them.”

Noting that the United States “came to Afghanistan vowing to deny these same enemies safe haven in 2001,” he says they now operate with relative impunity in the prisons. “There are more insurgents per square foot in corrections facilities than anywhere else in Afghanistan,” his assessment says.

Obviously segregation of terrorists and/or terrorist suspects is the short term solution, but the fact the situation exists simply underscores how poorly run the civilian government of Afghanistan is at the moment.

The Military Plan

Gen. McChrystal bases his plan on this premise:

“Pre-occupied with protection of our own forces, we have operated in a manner that distances us — physically and psychologically — from the people we seek to protect. . . . The insurgents cannot defeat us militarily; but we can defeat ourselves.”

That has then put the ISAF in the situation that it is “not adequately executing the basics” of counterinsurgency by putting the Afghan people first. … ISAF personnel must be seen as guests of the Afghan people and their government, not an occupying army” … “Key personnel in ISAF must receive training in local languages.”

He believes that the military operational culture must change:

He also says that coalition forces will change their operational culture, in part by spending “as little time as possible in armored vehicles or behind the walls of forward operating bases.” Strengthening Afghans’ sense of security will require troops to take greater risks, but the coalition “cannot succeed if it is unwilling to share risk, at least equally, with the people.”

McChrystal warns that in the short run, it “is realistic to expect that Afghan and coalition casualties will increase.”

It is here, however, where we bump up against what is a key political point. Is the current leadership willing to accept that increase in casualties to do the necessary job? The word is there is little support for increasing the troop strength in Afghanistan within the Congressional leadership. That will only make the job harder and more dangerous for those who are there. If the operational culture is changed and we see what troops are in country outside the wire and more exposed, the casualty counts may increase anyway, with or without the additional troops.

The last and equally as important a task as protecting the population is expanding and standing up a competent Afghan army and police force:

He proposes speeding the growth of Afghan security forces. The existing goal is to expand the army from 92,000 to 134,000 by December 2011. McChrystal seeks to move that deadline to October 2010.

Overall, McChrystal wants the Afghan army to grow to 240,000 and the police to 160,000 for a total security force of 400,000, but he does not specify when those numbers could be reached.

He also calls for “radically more integrated and partnered” work with Afghan units.

As we learned in Iraq, this is an exceptionally difficult job that requires extraordinary effort on the part of our trainers.

The Broader War

McChrystal also gives a very detailed assessment of the insurgency. A couple of interesting points:

Overall, McChrystal provides this conclusion about the enemy: “The insurgents control or contest a significant portion of the country, although it is difficult to assess precisely how much due to a lack of ISAF presence. . . . ”

The insurgents make money from the production and sale of opium and other narcotics, but the assessment says that “eliminating insurgent access to narco-profits — even if possible, and while disruptive — would not destroy their ability to operate so long as other funding sources remained intact.”

Or, let’s not get sidetracked with a war on opium when all it will do is further alienate the population and make no difference at all to the war effort.

And:

While the insurgency is predominantly Afghan, McChrystal writes that it “is clearly supported from Pakistan. Senior leaders of the major Afghan insurgent groups are based in Pakistan, are linked with al Qaeda and other violent extremist groups, and are reportedly aided by some elements of Pakistan’s ISI,” which is its intelligence service. Al-Qaeda and other extremist movements “based in Pakistan channel foreign fighters, suicide bombers, and technical assistance into Afghanistan, and offer ideological motivation, training, and financial support.”

Or, Pakistan is a critical key to any success in Afghanistan and should be worked just as hard as any effort in Afghanistan.

But the most important point to be taken from the McChrystal assessment is one that is found throughout the document:

“Failure to provide adequate resources also risks a longer conflict, greater casualties, higher overall costs, and ultimately, a critical loss of political support. Any of these risks, in turn, are likely to result in mission failure.”

The ball is now in the civilian leadership’s court and the future of our effort in Afghanistan must be decided very soon if we’re going to commit to “success”.

~McQ

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Is Obama In Over His Head?

For those of us who predicted that, we may as well keep quiet because when we pointed out all the reasons Barack Obama wasn’t qualified for the presidency, we were waved off as people not understanding his exceptionalism.

Barack Obama was the one guy who didn’t need the seasoning or experience most would deem critical for such a position. Barack Obama was unique among men because he didn’t need to have “run” anything, or, for that matter have “done” anything. A stint as a community organizer, a short time as a state Senator and an even shorter one as a US Senator were all this fellow needed to pick up the reigns of the presidency and lead brilliantly his sycophants said. As for leadership, he was the editor of the Harvard Law Review, you know – even if he himself never published a thing.

Pointing that out was simply a waste of time given the reaction of his followers. They were positive none of that mattered and, many still maintain that posture today. But some of those he wooed overseas are starting to take a more objective look at the man and they’re not particularly thrilled with what they see:

Regimes in Moscow, Pyongyang and Tehran simply pocket his concessions and carry on as before. The picture emerging from the White House is a disturbing one, of timidity, clumsiness and short-term calculation. Some say he is the weakest president since Jimmy Carter.

The grizzled veterans of the Democratic leadership in Congress have found Mr Obama and his team of bright young advisers a pushover. That has gravely weakened his flagship domestic campaign, for health-care reform, which fails to address the greatest weakness of the American system: its inflated costs. His free trade credentials are increasingly tarnished too. His latest blunder is imposing tariffs on tyre imports from China, in the hope of gaining a little more union support for health care. But at a time when America’s leadership in global economic matters has never been more vital, that is a dreadful move, hugely undermining its ability to stop other countries engaging in a ruinous spiral of protectionism.

Even good moves are ruined by bad presentation. Changing Mr Bush’s costly and untried missile-defence scheme for something workable was sensible. But offensively casual treatment of east European allies such as Poland made it easy for his critics to portray it as naïve appeasement of the regime in Moscow.

I disagree on some of the particulars of Edward Lucas’ assessment but not the overall point – lack of leadership and lack of experience equal weak and clumsy foreign policy and disastrous domestic policy. The only reason I can’t at this point say “disastrous” in terms of foreign policy is the foreign policy disaster just hasn’t happened yet. But it will.

Lucas concluded:

Mr Obama’s public image rests increasingly heavily on his extraordinary speechifying abilities. His call in Cairo for a new start in relations with the Muslim world was pitch-perfect. So was his speech in Ghana, decrying Africa’s culture of bad government. His appeal to both houses of Congress to support health care was masterly – though the oratory was far more impressive than the mish-mash plan behind it. This morning he is blitzing the airwaves, giving interviews to all America’s main television stations.

But for what? Mr Obama has tactics a plenty – calm and patient engagement with unpleasant regimes, finding common interests, appealing to shared values – but where is the strategy? What, exactly, did “Change you can believe in” – the hallmark slogan of his campaign – actually mean?

The President’s domestic critics who accuse him of being the sinister wielder of a socialist master-plan are wide of the mark. The man who has run nothing more demanding than the Harvard Law Review is beginning to look out of his depth in the world’s top job. His credibility is seeping away, and it will require concrete achievements rather than more soaring oratory to recover it.

The unplesant conclusion Mr. Lucas has reached is the Obama critics were right – they’re “just words” with nothing there to back them up. The speeches are rhetorically pleasing, well delivered and substantive. But he’s never, ever had to really apply them in any concrete way during his short political career. They’ve been his passport from job to job. He has no record of substantive legislation, no legacy of hard work or leadership. He’s proving to be what every one of the critics said he was – a face man. An empty suit with one sterling ability – delivering a speech. But other than that, there’s just not much there.

~McQ

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