Bob Schwartz

Tag: Afghanistan

“Afghanistan’s Charlie Chaplin says he aims to make people smile, forget grief”

“His live performances provide respite in a city that routinely gets attacked by Taliban insurgents and suicide bombers, mainly claiming allegiance to Islamic State.”

For those who think that they have troubles in their lives and in their nation, or that laughing doesn’t help, or that one person can’t make a difference, even if just a small and temporary one, for your consideration:

Reuters:

Afghanistan’s Charlie Chaplin says he aims to make people smile, forget grief

KABUL (Reuters) – Afghanistan’s Charlie Chaplin says he has witnessed suicide attacks, explosions and threats from hardline Islamic militant groups, but is determined to waddle and bumble to fulfill the primary goal of his life.

“It is very simple, I want to give Afghans a reason to smile,” said Karim Asir, a stand-up comedian who performs across the capital Kabul in Chaplin’s trademark oversized shoes, baggy pants, cane and black bowler hat.

Asir, 25, said Chaplin impersonators are found all over the world helping people ignore grief and making them laugh, and he does the same.

Asir’s early years were in Iran, where his family fled after the hardline Taliban took control of Afghanistan in 1996. There he saw performances of Chaplin on Iranian TV.

After the family returned home, Asir started wearing make-up and recreating Chaplin’s characters in his performances, despite his parent’s apprehensions.

His live performances provide respite in a city that routinely gets attacked by Taliban insurgents and suicide bombers, mainly claiming allegiance to Islamic State.

Asir says he has been threatened by militants who say his performances are un-Islamic. But despite the threats, he performs in public parks, orphanages, private parties and at charity events organized by international aid agencies.

“I want to give my people a chance to forget their problems such as war, conflicts and insecurity in Afghanistan,” he said.

In Kabul, when Asir’s fans surround him to take selfies, he smiles but is constantly worried about attacks.

“I am afraid of getting attacked by a suicide bomber or an explosion but these issues cannot stop me from being Charlie Chaplin,” he said.

Trump Van Winkle

The U.S. just dropped the biggest non-nuclear bomb ever on an ISIS target in Afghanistan.

The president apparently believes he can “defeat” ISIS and “win” the war in Afghanistan by dropping really big bombs. The biggest. Sad that no one thought of that before.

A number of times in world situations (and in domestic situations too) it appears that Trump has been completely absent from any discussion, debate or learning for decades. It doesn’t matter, since his opinion, at least until recently, has been based mostly on what he sees and hears on the news and on his emotional gut reaction. And as with most uninformed gut reactions, subject to change at a moment’s notice

Or maybe he’s been asleep. Like Rip Van Winkle, who slept for at least 20 years, only to wake up and discover a strange but more satisfactory world. Maybe one in which he is suddenly president.

Collateral Damage in Afghanistan

In the vocabulary of war, no term is darker or more chilling than “collateral damage.”

There was last week collateral damage in our war in Afghanistan, where a Doctors Without Borders hospital was the target of aggressive American airstrikes. A number were killed and injured, including children, and the hospital was destroyed.

The few facts, besides the destruction, are these.

Collateral damage is unavoidable, though it can and should be minimized.

The Taliban has overtaken the area, though not the hospital.

We are engaged in supporting the Afghan fight against the Taliban, by, for example, air strikes.

Hospital personnel contacted the U.S. military after the barrage began, but it continued anyway.

Now for the rest of the story, which the Pentagon tried to correct this morning.

Early reports were that the U.S. itself called for the air strikes.

Not so, says the Pentagon. It was the Afghans who identified the target as a Taliban position, and then we conducted the airstrikes.

Don’t you see the difference? The difference, of course, being some sort of operational and moral distinction, being entirely responsible for a tragic and avoidable error versus being only mostly responsible for a tragic and avoidable error. Now we see.

It isn’t really about the particulars anyway. It’s about the need for unceasing realization that if you choose war, you choose its worst impacts. The calculus can’t just include the big win and big benefits—assuming there are any—so that those cancel out the ill you do. It doesn’t work that way. So when and if we choose war, it is never illegitimate to keep the costs constantly in mind. In fact, it is always immoral and ill-advised not to.

Otherwise, you might end up with millions of underserved and nearly abandoned veterans. Or a badly damaged economy. Or a dispirited and skeptical nation. Or some of the world’s most selfless health workers in one of the world’s most needy countries watching as their patients and their hospital die and burn.

The Abstract Perpetual War Is Real

Rome

Consider this: If you have a child or grandchild age 12 or younger, they have lived their lives with America at war.

And this: In six years that child will be old enough for military service, but will not necessarily have to serve because we have no mandatory universal service. So even if we are still at war, that child is probably not at risk.

And this: Why don’t we have mandatory universal service, especially if we are in perpetual war? Do we have perpetual war because we don’t have mandatory universal service?

Michael Auslin, a Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, has a fascinating piece in Politico about the prospect of a perpetual war footing, Don’t Do As the Romans Did… His politics may not be yours, but his analysis is compelling and worth reading in its entirety:

For Washington, which has already spent at least $2 trillion on relatively limited wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the prospect of decades more competition, deterrence and fighting at an unknown cost represents the greatest security challenge since the Cold War, and perhaps since World War II. It is just as much a domestic political issue, and will figure as prominently in the debates over the future direction of the country, as do the battles over Obamacare, the regulatory burden or the transformation of the economy. Yet so far, it does not seem that either the country’s political elites or ordinary citizens have fully appreciated both the scope and, more importantly, the nature of America’s new two-front conflict. They soon will, as the country’s economic health and domestic political stability will be directly affected by rising global risk. To quote Leon Trotsky, “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”

Americans must accept the fact that, while their country may not be engaged in daily fighting, neither will it know peace for the foreseeable future. The world will become far more insecure and unstable over the next decades, and the amorphous yet crucial idea of global “order” will be strained, perhaps to the breaking point.

America’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. The spirit of can-do, roll up your sleeves, and in the words of Larry the Cable Guy, “get ‘er done” is a model for the world. But a related failure to think things through, apply broad and deep vision, and act deliberately and more slowly, can neutralize or outweigh the benefits of that spirit.

Living in the moment, in the now, is a great way for people to not be mired in the mistakes of the past and not be intimidated by the hypothetical misfortunes of the future. That is, unfortunately, not a luxury that nations, particularly super powerful ones, have. When you can spend trillions of dollars of your citizens’ money, send thousands of citizens to their deaths, and have the potential to blow up cities and the whole world, we expect you to think twice or more before you roll up those sleeves and get ‘er done.

Afghanistan Loves Russia

Hamid Karzai - Congress

Karzai and Putin sitting in a tree
K-I-S-S-I-N-G

In 1979, Russia invaded Afghanistan. The U.S. supported the insurgents who eventually chased Russia out of Afghanistan. In 1989, Russia left Afghanistan.

In 2001, al-Queda attacked the U.S on September 11. That same year, the U.S. sent troops to Afghanistan to remove the Taliban from power and to eliminate their safe haven for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

In 2004, Hamid Karzai was elected President of Afghanistan. That image above shows him addressing a joint session of Congress on June 15, 2004, with Vice President Dick Cheney and Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert applauding.

In 2011, the U.S. found and killed Osama bin Laden. Plans were made to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, but not before thousands of U.S. and other allied troops died, in the longest war in U.S. history.

In 2013, negotiations began with President Karzai for an agreement that would allow some U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan in a support role after withdrawal. President Karzai, not wanting to appear to be in friendly partnership with the U.S., has so far failed to reach such an agreement.

Today, President Karzai announced that he supports the Russian position in Crimea, putting him in the same league as Syria, North Korea, Iran, and Venezuela. We still have troops in Afghanistan. The troops who died on behalf of President Karzai are still dead. The Afghans who died at the hands of the Russians are still dead. There are no reports yet about whether Dick Cheney or Dennis Hastert are still applauding.

There are no words to make sense of this. So instead, here is the Afghan flag, along with an explanation of the flag from the ever-authoritative CIA Factbook. Note especially the part about the Afghan flag having more changes in it than any other national flag in the 20th century. As always, a funny old world.

Afghanistan Flag

Three equal vertical bands of black (hoist side), red, and green, with the national emblem in white centered on the red band and slightly overlapping the other two bands; the center of the emblem features a mosque with pulpit and flags on either side, below the mosque are numerals for the solar year 1298 (1919 in the Gregorian calendar, the year of Afghan independence from the UK); this central image is circled by a border consisting of sheaves of wheat on the left and right, in the upper-center is an Arabic inscription of the Shahada (Muslim creed) below which are rays of the rising sun over the Takbir (Arabic expression meaning “God is great”), and at bottom center is a scroll bearing the name Afghanistan; black signifies the past, red is for the blood shed for independence, and green can represent either hope for the future, agricultural prosperity, or Islam Afghanistan had more changes to its national flag in the 20th century than any other country; the colors black, red, and green appeared on most of them.

Syria and Foreign Incoherence

Red Line
America may not have had a coherent foreign policy since the end of World War II. And the beat goes on.

Incoherence doesn’t mean that there haven’t been successes. It doesn’t mean that other countries have done better in that time. And it doesn’t mean that the era has been an easy one: the world is more complex and diffracted than ever.

Coherence means an open, intelligent discussion about principles, followed by an open, intelligent discussion about taking action or withholding, and about the consequences and aims of the paths we choose or avoid.

Our policy seems to be driven by overwhelming ideology, good intentions and self-interest—none of which are exceptional or indictable, but all of which should be expressed in a much bigger and more sensible and realistic context. We ought to know what we’re about and candidly tell our citizens what we’re about. And when we don’t know what we’re doing—hard as that is to admit—we ought to say so.

Harry Truman was the last President to have a foreign policy named after him, in that case the Truman Doctrine. In 1947 he warned that the U.S. and the free world could not stand for Greece and Turkey falling into Communist hands (though he never used the word Communism):

It is necessary only to glance at a map to realize that the survival and integrity of the Greek nation are of grave importance in a much wider situation. If Greece should fall under the control of an armed minority, the effect upon its neighbor, Turkey, would be immediate and serious. Confusion and disorder might well spread throughout the entire Middle East….

It would be an unspeakable tragedy if these countries, which have struggled so long against overwhelming odds, should lose that victory for which they sacrificed so much. Collapse of free institutions and loss of independence would be disastrous not only for them but for the world. Discouragement and possibly failure would quickly be the lot of neighboring peoples striving to maintain their freedom and independence.

Should we fail to aid Greece and Turkey in this fateful hour, the effect will be far reaching to the West as well as to the East.

March 12, 1947

(A digression: The reason Greece was considered vulnerable to insidious forces in 1947 is that it was broke and falling apart. Presumably, without a Communist threat looming, Greece 2013 is no longer considered as significant.)

That black-and-white view was in some ways a vestige of the black-and-white war we had just finished—and won. But soon after that speech, global gray was the new black-and-white. Empires were crumbling, new nations were being made. In the year of the Truman Doctrine alone, two of the world’s most populous nations changed course: India became independent, Mao won a revolution in China—events representing more than a third of the world population. The following year, the Middle East (and history) came unglued forever with the creation of Israel. We could pretend that all this was part of some simple monolithic history, but that really made no sense.

And yet we proceeded with a dyadic us-versus-them model for decades, mostly inexplicably and unquestioningly. Korea was supposed to stop the Communism; the military result was a bloody stalemate and status quo, the economic result a Chinese hegemon. Vietnam was supposed to stop Communism; we lost the war, and Southeast Asia is a geopolitical hodgepodge. Soviet Communism crumbled, partly because of a changing world and culture, partly because being a Russian non-Communist economic and political oligarch is much more lucrative than being a party apparatchik.

When we were attacked by the Muslim Middle East, our policy was to strike back, just as we had after Pearl Harbor. Never mind that the policy was sixty years old, and that the complexities of the world could not possibly be much affected by those approaches. Sadaam Hussein is dead, and Iraq is descending at some speed into chaos. Afghanistan is or soon will be about where we found it. Osama Bin Laden is dead, but just as with the Taliban, even if Al Qaeda is diminishing, movements with other names are already rising up to take its place.

All that is preface to our incoherence in Syria.

It is easy to see why the chemical weapon “red line” matters and why proving that it has been crossed matters.

The brutality of World War I made us rethink just far we would go and where as a ‘civilized” world we would draw the line. The Geneva Protocol of 1925 prohibits their use. The community of nations has, more or less, stood behind this and its successors.

(Another digression: If the world had considered the real possibility of atomic weapons in this period between the wars, would these also have been put in the same prohibited category as chemical and biological weaons?)

The reason for taking such care about making sure the line is actually crossed of course goes back to Iraq. Having cried wolf so recently, the U.S. could not stand having its credibility questioned, internally or externally, on the issue of weapons of mass destruction.

But as the drumbeat for “doing something” gets louder in the wake of the U.S. now being completely confident that chemical weapons were used by the Assad regime, so many questions are not being asked, and if asked, not discussed or answered.

If we are already confident that thousands are killed, tens of thousands injured, hundreds of thousands displaced, and a nation is being destroyed from inside, why was the imperative waiting for this line at all? There is a global political answer, of course, which is that chemical weapons are a bigger and less assailable common ground upon which most or all can agree. That is indeed a pragmatic strategy, but we also have to talk about moral imperatives, no matter which way the discussion goes.

What exactly can and should we do? And if we do act, what do we expect and hope will be the result? And if we do act, what are the potential consequences?

Our leaders can talk about the red line in Syria, but they should stop pretending that this amounts to coherent and deep consideration. The three questions of actions, expectations and consequences should be the topic that consumes us. If we have principles and doctrines, let’s put them on the table and inspect them and see how aspirational and practical they are. If we believe in sovereignty in some cases but not others, let’s make sure that we know what the cases are and why the distinctions matter. If we do or don’t intervene in foreign political matters or insurrections or civil wars, let’s talk about it and how we act or react.

Instead, what we get are red lines and, in the case of Egypt, the sight of the U.S. being unwilling to call a coup a coup, and otherwise being paralyzed in figuring out what to do or say, so that “subtle” back channel goings on can go on.

Subtle goings on or silence can also may mean that you don’t know what to do or say, or that you don’t want the greater citizenry to hear what you are actually thinking. Maybe our leaders really aren’t very good at being statesmen. Maybe that citizenry isn’t up to the task of having discussions about what we believe, what we can accomplish and what we can’t. The only way to know this is to have it out in the open.

We seem to be more comfortable in the black and white and red line world of the Truman Doctrine. That wasn’t even a true picture of the world seventy years ago, and it definitely isn’t today. Can we talk, without slogans, without the fairy tale that the world of 2013 is a place that will resolve to our political and moral satisfaction soon—or ever? Before we make one more mistake, we have to find out.