Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 104 Re-run


Description: Interventions, Interference, and Invasions: Nate and Bill lead a world tour of the post-WWII history of countries entering other countries’ civil wars and uprisings, for good or ill, and what it means for the future. (We talk about Cuba, Angola, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Indonesia, Guatemala, Libya, Central African Republic, Mali, Somalia, and many others.) People: Bill, Nate. Originally produced: October 20th, 2014. Re-edited and abridged: April 19, 2017.

Discussion Points:

– Kissinger’s plan to bomb Cuba and what the future of the embargo is
– CIA history: Why arming rebels has often failed and what it means for US plans in Syria now
– What does the future hold for international and unilateral military interventions in armed conflicts and crises? Is the UN still relevant?

Episode 104-Abridged (54 min)
AFD 104

Related links
Segment 1

NYT: Kissinger Drew Up Plans to Attack Cuba, Records Show
AFD: Jimmy Carter’s Election Prevented a Disastrous War in Cuba

Segment 2

NYT: CIA Study Says Arming Rebels Seldom Works

Segment 3

AFD: Confusion in Libya as Egyptian jets bomb Benghazi
AFD: US suddenly surprised to find Mideast states acting unilaterally
AFD: Is the US-led Syria operation vs ISIS legal under international law?
AFD: France announces indefinite Sahel deployment
AFD: France: Back to Africa?


RSS Feed: Arsenal for Democracy Feedburner
iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video blog of our announcer, Justin.

AP alleges Kunduz hospital airstrike was intentional

The Associated Press alleges that US Special Forces intentionally called in an airstrike on the Kunduz hospital, knowing it was a hospital (albeit one erroneously associated with the Taliban).

And furthermore:

Also a mystery is why the AC-130 gunship would have kept firing during the course of an hour on a building that both the Air Force and the Army knew was an internationally run trauma center. To avoid civilian casualties, a gunship would typically stop firing as soon as it achieved its objective — in this case, ostensibly, protecting U.S. forces. Generally, the aircraft would require further clearance from the troops on the ground to continue firing.

An AC-130 gunship flies low and slow, often with a good view of its target and the damage it is inflicting. The pilot also would have had to know the locations of U.S. and allied forces in the area, to avoid hitting them.


We previously discussed this airstrike on a radio episode: Oct 14, 2015 – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 146

Paying “in perpetuity for the privilege of Afghanistan not totally collapsing”

A fairly stark assessment of the Afghanistan mess last week buried in a New York Times article:

“We need to have a conversation about how much we care about this place,” said Douglas Ollivant, a senior fellow at The New America Foundation in Washington.

“Are we willing to spend — the numbers are fuzzy — but somewhere between $10 and $20 billion per year in perpetuity for the privilege of Afghanistan not totally collapsing,” said Mr. Ollivant, who previously who worked in the National Security Council for Mr. Obama and Mr. Bush. “And we’re not talking about it being Xanadu — we’re talking about not collapsing.”

This phrasing, “in perpetuity for the privilege of Afghanistan not totally collapsing,” immediately called to mind a December 2009 post I wrote entitled: “Afghan Army recruitment jumps, US underwrites”

Afghanistan’s government, unlike Iraq’s, doesn’t have oil revenues to support a strong central military. The CIA World Factbook mentions very little in the way of non-poppy or foreign aid-related economic sources for Afghanistan, and notes that the poppy trade provides about $3 billion to the country’s (black market) economy.
Then, I remembered yesterday’s headline: “Karzai Says Afghan Army Will Need Help Until 2024,” referring to monetary support. Both articles are New York Times, but no mention in today’s article on pay raises. Well, connecting the dots, I made an educated guess that the US just underwrote a big pay raise for the Afghan Army, with very convenient timing. You might think this is good because now the Army will compete with the Taliban in recruiting people and thus security will improve. There’s the big problem, however. We can’t keep underwriting these pay raises forever. The United States is not going to keep fully financing the Afghan Army for fourteen years. We probably can’t afford to.
What makes 2024 the magic number anyway? There’s still no big revenue source available to the Afghan government in 2024, and so the Army would still run out of money. And then we’re back at square one.

Not much has changed then except that we’re further back now than in 2009 and many billions deeper in the hole. So when do we stop throwing good money after bad?

We created this money pit, but eventually the “remedy” is net-neutral at best and actively hurting at worst.

Oct 14, 2015 – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 146

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.


Topics: How the Reagan Revolution influenced the American Left; the US airstrike on a hospital in Kunduz Afghanistan; Perkins Loans end. People: Bill, Kelley, Nate. Produced: October 11th, 2015.

Episode 146 (54 min):
AFD 146

Discussion Points:

– Generational Politics: How the Reagan Revolution influenced the American Left
– The US blew up a hospital in Afghanistan. What now?
– Why was the Perkins Loan program allowed to expire?

Related Links

AFD: “Getting trapped in Reagan’s ideological framing”
France24: “Aid workers killed in US air strike on Afghan hospital”
AFD by Kelley: “Perkins Loan program expires after 57 year run”


RSS Feed: Arsenal for Democracy Feedburner
iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video game blog of our announcer, Justin.

NYT: “Afghan Security Forces Struggle Just to Maintain Stalemate”

Arsenal Bolt: Quick updates on the news stories we’re following.


“Afghan Security Forces Struggle Just to Maintain Stalemate” – The New York Times

And after a casualty rate last year that the previous American commander called unsustainable, the numbers this year are even worse: up more than 50 percent compared with the first six months of 2014. About 4,100 Afghan soldiers and police officers have been killed and about 7,800 wounded, according to statistics provided by an official with the American-led coalition here.
Home visits were banned after many soldiers began deserting, and in recent months in Musa Qala and a neighboring district, there have been several cases of soldiers’ shooting themselves in the hope that they would be evacuated, said Lieutenant Javed, who spoke on the condition that he be identified only by his first name.
Ahmad, a battlefield medic in Musa Qala who would only give his first name, said that he and his colleagues treated arm and leg wounds on the front lines, but that “when the soldiers got wounded on chest, head and abdomen, we cannot treat them or stop bleeding.”

Periodically cut off by the Taliban, the soldiers have not always been able to evacuate casualties out of the district.

(From my previous reading, U.S. airborne medical evacuation coverage — which used to extend across nearly the whole country — was one of the last things keeping the Afghan Army in the fight. Without that, they’re up a creek without a paddle whenever someone takes a serious wound on the battlefield.)

Previously from Arsenal For Democracy on this Topic:

“The US seems pretty optimistic about Afghanistan’s army” – January 5, 2015
“Army of the Imagination?” – December 30, 2009

We occupied Afghanistan for years (& all we got was nothing)

For those who have followed the situation even somewhat more closely than the average media outlet — which ignored the war in Afghanistan almost entirely after 2002 — there is (sadly) no surprise whenever another pillar of moral justification for the lengthy war and occupation effort collapses or becomes too tenuously thin to make the case anymore.

The twins of propaganda and profligate budget fraud have been skipping hand in hand for years around the U.S. effort in Afghanistan. We have not made the country better and most “evidence” that we did has been fabricated, exaggerated, or erased immediately by local forces we can’t control (including our own political allies).

We don’t want to talk about that because then we would have to admit that thousands of troops died and three-quarters of a trillion dollars were spent over the course of more than a decade…for nothing. Literally nothing. It was a giant, heartbreaking waste.

Now read the details from BuzzFeed News, which sent journalist Azmat Khan and others all over Afghanistan to check just the $1 billion worth of USAID and DOD funded schools alone. And weep.

Here’s a quick summary of the massive report:

The United States trumpets education as one of its shining successes of the war in Afghanistan. But a BuzzFeed News investigation reveals U.S. claims were often outright lies, as the government peddled numbers it knew to be false and touted schools that have never seen a single student.
a BuzzFeed News investigation — the first comprehensive journalistic reckoning, based on visits to schools across the country, internal U.S. and Afghan databases and documents, and more than 150 interviews — has found those claims to be massively exaggerated, riddled with ghost schools, teachers, and students that exist only on paper. The American effort to educate Afghanistan’s children was hollowed out by corruption and by short-term political and military goals that, time and again, took precedence over building a viable school system. And the U.S. government has known for years that it has been peddling hype.

BuzzFeed News exclusively acquired the GPS coordinates and contractor information for every school that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) claims to have refurbished or built since 2002, as well as Department of Defense records of school constructions funded by the U.S. military.

BuzzFeed News spot-checked more than 50 American-funded schools across seven Afghan provinces, most of which were battlefield provinces — the places that mattered most to the U.S. effort to win hearts and minds, and into which America poured immense sums of aid money.
Over the last decade, report after report has chronicled the corruption and waste that squandered taxpayer dollars across many U.S. programs in Afghanistan. But American education efforts — long seen as a shining success — have gone mostly unexamined, a truth acknowledged even by one of the U.S. officials who has investigated corruption in Afghanistan.


U.S. Marines in Afghanistan in November 2001. (US Marine Corps Photo)

U.S. Marines in Afghanistan in November 2001. (US Marine Corps Photo)

On talking with the “enemy”

In a new piece today, Dominic Tierney reflected in The Atlantic on strong American public opposition (in contrast with peer nations’ citizens) to negotiating with rival or enemy countries and non-state actors and the consequences that public resistance has had on Cold War policy, the post-9/11 wars, and the current Iran nuclear talks:

[…] according to a moralistic strain in American culture, compromising with ‘evil’ opponents sullies U.S. values. Americans tend to be deeply committed to the nation’s ideals of democracy and individual rights. Rates of religiosity are also far higher in the United States than in other rich democracies. As a result, Americans are more likely to say there are absolute standards for good and evil than Europeans, Canadians, and Japanese, who are more likely to say that ethics depend on circumstances.

American moral righteousness can make the act of bargaining seem inherently suspect. “Because we fight for values and we fight for principles,” said LBJ about Vietnam, “our patience and our determination are unending.”

Sometimes it’s appropriate not to engage enemies—particularly when they’re utterly extreme or intransigent, like the Nazis or al-Qaeda. But these are rare exceptions.

The danger is that American power and moralism triggers opposition to diplomacy that undermines U.S. interests. For all its vast resources, the United States can’t usually enforce its will against enemies—especially when a dispute is in the opponent’s backyard. And refusing to compromise American values by making concessions can mean paying a larger ethical price later on. Washington may miss opportunities for a valuable deal and end up negotiating as a last resort—when its hand is much weaker.

I would also extend the current examples beyond the Iran nuclear talks to two other big ones…

The first example is the extreme opposition to the mere concept of Israel and Hamas entering direct talks for a two-state solution (assuming you could get both of them to the table). Side note: For a number of historical and cultural reasons, the Israeli approach is heavily though not exclusively influenced by American attitudes to negotiating in abstract, and official American policy (and lobbies) has a strong effect on the situation there, so it’s as relevant as the Iran example even if the U.S. is not a primary negotiating party.

I tackled that debate last July in my big article “The Case for Including Hamas in Peace Talks.” My primary argument focused on the reality that you can’t really secure a deal unless the major actors most likely to sabotage it are on board with it, whether or not you find them distasteful or abhorrent.

But my other argument was that the concept of “preconditions” before talks have long been an obsession and constant stumbling block in the Israel/Palestine conflict. Without mentioning that situation specifically, Tierney notes the belief in preconditions as follows:

Whereas in other countries bargaining is often seen as the norm, Americans frequently view face-to-face talks as a prize that the opponent has to earn through good behavior.

And in my Israel/Hamas article I observed that this “good behavior”-then-talks approach is actually inconsistent with the most successful treaties Israel has actually signed because negotiations are where major concessions to the other side usually occur:

For example, Israel did not force Egypt to formally recognize its existence before signing the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, because one of the points of the treaty was to do exactly that. It was the first time an Arab country recognized Israel diplomatically. Similarly, Israel and the PLO did not recognize each other officially until they signed secret recognition agreements, via Norway’s government, during the Oslo negotiations that led to the Oslo Accords in 1993. The insistence now on making everything a precondition of a treaty instead of a condition of the treaty itself is a major stumbling block and a needless one. Why demand your negotiating partner make a unilateral concession before coming to the table where concessions are normally traded? Negotiations typically don’t work like that.

The second example is the extreme opposition to negotiating with Bashar al-Assad to end the civil war in Syria, particularly to any scenario where negotiations won’t automatically end (or even begin!) with his departure from power.
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