Afghanistan: Obama's legacy

The truth of this is disheartening. But truth often is:


Hat tip reader Erin.

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I have been very disheartened as well. But let's not be ridiculous here. Holocaust? Really? WTF?

You think Obama is embarking on or is steering this country toward a holocaust?

mk: the holocaust reference is to Vietnam and how LBJ's rep went down the toilet because of it. Maybe you or I wouldn't have used that word even for Vietnam (although if you were being carpet bombed daily you might) but I think the idea here is clear enough.

Sure, the idea is clear. But your embrace of this stupid cartoon is--to me--just as disheartening as Obama's "surge" in Afghanistan. I've been following your blog for a few months now and find it a real breath of fresh, rational air.

This just sucks. I do not think I'm being overly sensitive when I say that flip uses of words like holocaust and antisemitism (not the case here) cheapen these very serious words. Words with genuine, powerful meanings. Crappy little comics like this demean them. (in my opinion)


mk: sensitivities differ. Vietnam has some very powerful resonances for me and I don't feel the use of the word in that connection is so out of line. There is nothing cartoonish about this. It's not funny and it's not meant to be funny.

"sensitivities differ"... you can say that again.

I used "cartoon" and "comics" as derisively as I could. I did not think anyone was trying to be funny.

Holocaust. Obama will only be remembered for a holocaust he's about to create. Lovely.

mk: I thought it was clear that the word was used to describe LBJ's Vietnam problem. No one thinks he is about to cause a holocaust but that his legacy will go down the toilet the way LBJ's did because of Vietnam. I am baffled by your claim that he is going to create a holocaust.

I do not think Obama's domestic agenda is all that progressive.

EH: I don't either. But it never was. His big achievement; he's not John McCain.

While the use of the word "holocaust" is doubtless intended ambiguously, in this artwork--and it is a superb graphic, and poignantly sad--the lower-cased "holocaust" is technically regarded, by most people, as generic and referring to any lives-destroying conflagration or equivalent destruction, with the upper-cased "Holocaust" referring to the Nazis' destruction of Europe's Jews. (Yes, I realize there are arguments about employ of the upper-case form, but they're irrelevant here.) Anyhow, the point of the image is all too valid--though, as EH and Revere note, there's a certain lack of progressiveness in Obama's domestic program indeed.

There are strong parallels between the Vietnam War and what we're doing in Iraq and Afghanistan right now.

I say get the hell out of Iraq. We didn't belong there in the first place.

As for Afghanistan, we're trying to be referee for groups that have been fighting a civil war for at least a thousand years. Look how well that went for the Russians. I realize that Afghanistan has certain regional appeal but is it really worth it?

"I am baffled by your claim that he is going to create a holocaust."

Good lord... that's not my claim. That's the suggested claim of that piece of crap comic. Which YOU endorse. Which. You. Endorse.

LBJ is telling Obama that he (LBJ) is now only remembered for the holocaust he created.... while Obama is signing the "Afghan Troop Request." It is the clear implication.

They are saying he is about to create his own "holocaust."

I smell a one term.

By BostonERDoc (not verified) on 16 Dec 2009 #permalink

mk, well revere is right that something is disheartening, but it isn't what he thinks it is. This sort of cheap shot rhetorical posturing and the weak defense of it as that "idea is clear enough" followed by ignoring what you have said or twisting into something that it clearly was not, or alternatively ignoring questions or responses, is something that I expect more out of the Rushes and the Becks of the world, not these quarters.

Very disheartening indeed.

Afghanistan is not Vietnam. Unlike the Vietnam war, we have good reasons to be in Afghanistan, such as, but not limited to, preventing resurgence of Al-Qaeda-esque terrorist organizations and preventing the resurrection of the Taliban (because neighboring Pakistan has nukes and is vulnerable). A lot of that involves counterinsurgency and counterterrorist strategies which require something akin to "nation building," if by nation building one means attempting to make Afghanistan capable of fending for itself. Easy? Definitely not. Do-able? Perhaps, perhaps not. Trying is still better than leaving, unlike Vietnam.

American death tolls for both Iraq and Afghanistan are very, very low in comparison with Vietnam and wars past. Additionally, there is no draft occurring. It's still a volunteer military (hence the lack of real protesting). Have lots of Iraqi and Afghan civilians died? Unfortunately, yes. Many due to American mishaps? Enough, but the scenario is certainly not black and white. One can try to pin civilian deaths (apart from Predator drone miscalculations) on America by saying that insurgents/terrorists would not be firing off IEDs if it were not for America's presence. However, America needs to be there because of the reasons stated above. In addition, it must be remembered that America is not forcing insurgents/terrorists to behave this way, they are trying to stop them.

You're probably largely concerned about the cost. Perhaps that is understandable, considering steady increase in the national debt. However, the potential impact of the growth of terrorist organizations from Afghanistan would/could be more costly. Not a risk worth taking and worth a few more years of trying.

As mentioned above, the Holocaust rhetoric is stupid and, even though I voted for Obama, if he loses in 2012 I will still feel that he did the something close to the right thing.

Throwing out a million "anti-Afghanistan troop increase" Scienceblog posts isn't changing anyone's mind.

Southeast Asian war dead, 1960-75:

2.8 million Vietnamese, .6 million Cambodians, 1 million Laotians.

Khmer Rouge genocide (a direct result of the carpet bombing by the United States in Cambodia. Read "Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia" by William Shawcross) 1,650,000.

How many deaths does it take to make a holocaust?

Queef, I wonder how old you are? Change your references to "terrorism" and "Al-Qaida resurgence" to "communists" and "domino theory" and you've got the government's rationale for the Viet Nam war knocked. Or make the change to "communists" and "we'll be fighting them in Texas" and you're hand-in-glove with Reagan on Nicaragua. Plus ca change, eh?

mk: Good grief. Look, people misread things all the time. When it happens, all you have to say is, "I guess I misread it." It's not about winning an argument. It's about people clarifying what is meant. It is pretty clear to me (and to others here; cf Paula, slovenia) what was being said. I am not endorsing what you say I am saying any more than using I am endorsing ghosts or thoughts being balloons that come out of people's heads. You made your point. Lets move on.

Don: I'm not sure exactly what your problem is, but it has come to be expressed in a Republican-like: "whatever you say here I'm against it and if you answer me your answer is an evasion." Not just that your responses increasingly ad hominem and nasty (which I can take; it's the internet and I have been on it since it was ARPANet in the early 90s), but more importantly it they are taking up a lot of time and space in the comment threads and I am being overwhelmed in my day job. I'm not interested in convincing you. When I respond it is usually to clarify my own thinking by explaining it. You don't agree with the positions we take here. That's fine. We wouldn't have to take them if everyone agreed with us. But at some point you have to accept that people come here with different experiences. mk has a special sensitivity to use of the word "holocaust." I did my best to explain but I understand it. I don't share it but I understand it and I'm not going to change it. The best I can do is clarify what is meant and we'll move on. slovenia, Paula and I lived through the Vietnam era and LBJ's presidency. What is happening now in Obama's presidency -- in a way that would be clear to someone who lived through it -- is a nightmare remake of that horror show. That's what is being said and explained. Accept that's the statement, disagree and move on. We each think the other "doesn't get it." And probably we are both each right and both wrong.

I am trying hard to find a way to say this that you won't find too "nasty" or "Republican-like" but I am afraid that there is no way to express this other than honestly.

I attempt to understand others' points of views by engaging them in honest debate. On occasion I am educated by that process in a way that causes me to change my conclusions. Minimally the process of honest debate leads me to have a greater understanding of the how and why someone has a different conclusion than me and forces me to learn some other things along the way. Having my positions challenged in an intellectually honest manner forces me to either modify my conclusions or to form a better basis for them. Either one is a desirable outcome. Finding intelligent people willing to explain their positions and to defend them is not always easy however. Some do not like to have their positions questioned. Some prefer to post in ways and places that encourage only bouts of mutual self-affirmation among those who are already like-minded, and substitute hyperbole and motto mouthing for debate. Okay, most. But I had hopes that your blog was not one of those places. I will endeavor in the future to keep my disappointment more to myself and refrain from engaging in the political side of your blog and to otherwise follow your request and "move on."

My apologies for imposing upon your time and comment space.

Don: You imply I am not willing to debate here. I think the record belies that. But there are practical limits. While all you have to do is make your points with me, I have to also reply to numerous others and while I and we do our best we can't do unlimited debate. We usually don't call a halt until it becomes clear that one side or the other isn't listening or the same things are being said over and over again without resolution or charges of bad faith start to fly (and let's be clear, those charges can come from either side; I am not accusing you alone or letting myself off the hook). Ideally you and I would sit down and have a beer together and argue and part friends. But this format or our real life situation isn't made for that and we live within its constraints. Time for us is a zero sum game, purely and simply and while you might be disappointed we don't spend unlimited time on issues you want to talk about, I hope you will admit we almost always try to engage over several cycles. As regards my complaints about your tone, if you read over your previous responses you might be able, if you put yourself in our position, to imagine how we might think and respond the way we did. If we are mistaken, as you say, we accept that.

mk is just being a troll. If he thinks the word "holocaust" refers solely to WWII he should go look in a dictionary.

Of course, he's managed to derail any discussion of the very fair and poignant message of the graphic . . . which presumably was his intention. In other words, he's used the suffering of six million and more murdered Jews in order to advance his political agenda. Nice.

By John Grant (not verified) on 17 Dec 2009 #permalink

Slovenia, I know the Vietnam war. Whether I am 44, 64, 14, or 24 doesn't change anything about what I said. Al-Qaeda operates little like mid-20th century Communists, other than the fact that Viet Cong used explosives, used and targeted civilians, and stayed out of sight. Unlike Domino "theory," the likelihood of the spread of Taliban and/or terrorist organizations within and around Afghanistan without American presence is very real. A Marxist politico-economic ideology amongst the uneducated can be a very hard sell (Soviets tried it with Afghans in the 1970s) compared to radical Islamic ideologies amongst a much more willing, frustrated population which has been Muslim since the 9th century.

Revere... fine.

John Grant... Feel free to look at my posting history in these pages... I am no troll. So please go fuck off.

Queef, the most important comparison between the Viet Cong/North Vietnamese and the Afghanis/Taliban is that they are both indigenous forces who will never give up. Afghanistan, in particular, has defeated every empire that tried to impose their "order" upon it. In the end, this time around, there will be thousands more dead, the status quo, or worse, will be in place and Obama's presidency will be in ruins. The rot already shows. The US is paying the Taliban to safeguard arms shipments which will then be used to fight the Taliban. The US is still allied to Saudi Arabia whose Wahhabi regime funds the Taliban.

If Al-Qaeda ever existed in the monolithic form the Bush administration sold to the American people, it has now splintered into a dozen different groups, each concentrated on destroying the government in their own country which they view as corrupted by the West. Are the corrupt governments of Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia worth saving? In Realpolitik terms probably yes. In human terms, no. Is there a way to prevent a nuclear exchange between Pakistan and India regardless of who is in power in each country? Probably not. That monstrous genii is out of the bottle thanks to the US, China and Russia. Would a just solution to the conflict between the Palestinians and the US client state, Israel, ease the fundamentalist Islamic threat? It sure wouldn't hurt. Will it happen in an Obama administration? Not unless Obama experiences an epiphany and boots Rahm Emanuel off the bus. Could that happen? My hope seeps away with every passing misstep.

slovenia, thanks for the nice analysis re Al-Qaeda. I hope you are wrong re Pakistan-India but, in fact, you're probably right. Would booting Rahm Emanuel (and, oh please, Peter Orszag along with!) "ease the fundamentalist threat"? Probably not, for all the other goods it would do. As has been noted for some years, removing the Israel-Palestine struggle would not change the oil issue.
mk, nice use (in #23)of vocabulary--reminds me of the good ol' street-fighting days. But your use of "holocaust" is, as John Grant notes, way too narrow.

Is there a way to prevent a nuclear exchange between Pakistan and India regardless of who is in power in each country? Probably not.

You wot?

As long as those countries remain in roughly the state they are in now, it's tremendously unlikely that they'll swap nukes. But that becomes much more likely if Pakistan ends up controlled by Taliban-esque factions, and that likelihood extends to warheads "accidentally" falling into terrorist hands.

Giving up on Pakistan is a very bad idea.

...and I'm not sure what your beef is with the Indonesian and Malaysian governments. They're not perfect, but in their present states they're actually pretty decent, and generally improving over time. I think you could point to as much corruption in the US government, or any of a pile of democracies. Ok, Indonesia has a lot of colonial-stage hangovers and an army that is a power-unto-itself in some parts of the country, but in general, not such a bad place compared with its economic peers.

And what would we even be saving Malaysia from? It's about the most stable country in SE Asia.

I r teh confused.