Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

February 9, 2009


From Meet the Press

MR. GREGORY: [We're] joined by Tom Ricks for his first interview on his new book "The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006 through 2008.". . .

MR. RICKS: I think a lot of people back here incorrectly think the war is over. What I say in this book is that we may be only halfway through this thing. In fact, my favorite line in the book is the last line. Ambassador Crocker, a very thoughtful diplomat, says that the events for which the Iraq war will be remembered have not yet happened.

MR. GREGORY: That is an amazing statement. And a lot of people have to be listening to that, thinking, "Well, what's the other shoe to drop, then?"

MR. RICKS: There's a whole lot of shoes out there. A whole lot of shoes to be thrown, actually. This, this year we're in now, '09, is going to be, I think, a, a surprisingly tough year. You've got a series of elections in Iraq. Meanwhile, you've got American troops declining. General Odierno says in the book that the really dangerous withdrawals come at the end of this year. We're doing the easy troop withdrawals now, but down the road you start taking them out of areas that aren't so secure, that aren't so safe, that you're, that you're worried about. So they're going to be holding national elections in Iraq just when we have fewer troops there.

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

MR. RICKS: And finally, none of the basic problems that the surge was meant to solve have been solved. All of the basic issues facing Iraq are still there.

MR. GREGORY: You suggested--while the administration has said the surge was successful, undeniably violence has gone down, you suggested kick the can down the road. What do you mean?

MR. RICKS: Well, basically the surge succeeded military, failed politically. And that was its purpose; not just to improve security, but to create a political breathing space in which national reconciliation, in which major change could occur in Iraq that hasn't changed. What General Odierno says in the book--he's the U.S. commander there now. What Odierno says is that Iraqis, many of them use the breathing space we created to step backwards, to become more sectarian. They've become more divided. . .

MR. GREGORY: You write in the book that Obama will be torn between what his supporters expect and what his generals advise.

MR. RICKS: I think that's right, and I think we may see a confrontation between Obama and the generals by the end of this year. American voters, many of them, think we're going to be out of Iraq in 16 months; when he talks about having combat troops out of Iraq, that somehow no more Americans troops will die. Well, the news flash for Obama here is there are not such thing as non-combat troops. We don't have a pacifist wing of the U.S. military. All our troops are ready for combat. We're going to have American troops fighting and dying there for many years to come. What General Odierno says in the book is he would like to see 35,000 American troops there in 2015.

MR. GREGORY: In 2015.

MR. RICKS: Yeah. So, which means that Obama's war in Iraq may be longer than Bush's war in Iraq. So bottom line here, I think Iraq is going to change Obama more than Obama changes Iraq.

MR. GREGORY: Where are troop levels now?

MR. RICKS: We're about 155,000.

MR. GREGORY: And when do we get to that bottom-out level of 30, 35,000 that Odierno's talking about?

MR. RICKS: Well, that's going to be the fight all year long. When do you come down? How fast do you come down? Do you come down a brigade a month, as Obama indicated on the campaign trail? Or do you plateau it out this year and then bring it down early 2010? No matter when you do it, though, you're going to come to a point where the generals are going to say, "You know, this is not something I really want to do here. This is dangerous. We're taking troops out of a place where things are going to start breaking loose.". . .

MR. GREGORY: When--it was back in July of '08 when Senator Obama went with a couple of other senators for his first meeting with General Petraeus in Iraq. And here he is, he's getting off the helicopter and first seeing him. This was a rather contentious exchange, wasn't it?

MR. RICKS: It is. And it is one of my favorite moments in the book. Here you have Petraeus and Obama, who are in many ways similar guys; lean, smart, tough and vicious, more reserved than a lot of their peers. And they actually agree on a lot of where Iraq should be, of lowering our, our sights there and, and our goals. But the meeting in Baghdad was surprisingly contentious. It goes on for about 90 minutes, and essentially the general lectures Obama. And this feeling was, "I've been to your hearings. You guys have beat up on me. You kept on asking me questions and didn't give me time to answer. Now you're on my turf." And what should have been really a general with a candidate conversation became a 90 minute lecture by Petraeus: "Let me tell you about Iraq, fellow.". . .

MR. GREGORY: So what are the biggest challenges [Obama] faces now in Afghanistan?

MR. RICKS: Well, I think the first thing is to recognize that it's not really a war in Afghanistan, it's a war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As a friend of mine said, it's hard to win a war in Afghanistan when the enemy wants to fight it in the next country over, Pakistan.

MR. GREGORY: Right. And that's the Taliban fighting and winning battles in Pakistan. This is where we went to war to take them out of power.

MR. RICKS: And that's very scary. And our supply lines through Pakistan are being challenged. Bridges are being blown up, American convoys are being attacked. So I think the first thing that Obama will do is begin to look at it as an Afghan-Pakistan war, in which Pakistan is really the more important factor. We could lose in Afghanistan. It would be unhappy, but not, you know, terrible for us. If you lose Pakistan, you end up having the mujahideen, Islamic extremists, with nuclear weapons. And that was a major al-Qaeda goal that we really do not want to see happen. . .


Anonymous Anonymous said...


From Michael Parenti, about Afghanistan

Some Real History
Since feudal times the landholding system in Afghanistan had remained unchanged, with more than 75 percent of the land owned by big landlords who comprised only 3 percent of the rural population. In the mid-1960s, democratic revolutionary elements coalesced to form the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). In 1973, the king was deposed, but the government that replaced him proved to be autocratic, mismanaged, and unpopular. It in turn was forced out in 1978 after a massive demonstration in front of the presidential palace, and after factions of the army intervened on the side of the demonstrators.

The military officers who took charge invited the PDP to form a new government under the leadership of Noor Mohammed Taraki, a poet and novelist. This is how a Marxist-led coalition of national democratic forces came into office. “It was a totally indigenous happening. Not even the CIA blamed the USSR for it,” writes John Ryan, a retired professor at the University of Winnipeg, who was conducting an agricultural research project in Afghanistan at about that time.

The Taraki government proceeded to legalize labor unions, and set up a minimum wage, a progressive income tax, a literacy campaign, and programs that gave ordinary people greater access to health care, housing, and public sanitation. Fledgling peasant cooperatives were started and price reductions on some key foods were imposed.

The government also continued a campaign begun by the king to emancipate women from their age-old tribal bondage. It provided public education for girls and for the children of various tribes.
A report in the San Francisco Chronicle (17 November 2001) noted that under the Taraki regime Kabul had been “a cosmopolitan city. Artists and hippies flocked to the capital. Women studied agriculture, engineering and business at the city’s university. Afghan women held government jobs—-in the 1980s, there were seven female members of parliament. Women drove cars, traveled and went on dates. Fifty percent of university students were women.”

The Taraki government moved to eradicate the cultivation of opium poppy. Until then Afghanistan had been producing more than 70 percent of the opium needed for the world’s heroin supply. The government also abolished all debts owed by farmers, and began developing a major land reform program. Ryan believes that it was a “genuinely popular government and people looked forward to the future with great hope.”

But serious opposition arose from several quarters. The feudal landlords opposed the land reform program that infringed on their holdings. And tribesmen and fundamentalist mullahs vehemently opposed the government’s dedication to gender equality and the education of women and children.

Because of its egalitarian and collectivist economic policies the Taraki government also incurred the opposition of the US national security state. Almost immediately after the PDP coalition came to power, the CIA, assisted by Saudi and Pakistani military, launched a large scale intervention into Afghanistan on the side of the ousted feudal lords, reactionary tribal chieftains, mullahs, and opium traffickers.

One might agree with John Ryan who argued that if Washington had left the Marxist Taraki government alone back in 1979, “there would have been no army of mujahideen, no Soviet intervention, no war that destroyed Afghanistan, no Osama bin Laden, and no September 11 tragedy.” But it would be asking too much for Washington to leave unmolested a progressive leftist government that was organizing the social capital around collective public needs rather than private accumulation.
US intervention in Afghanistan has proven not much different from US intervention in Cambodia, Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Grenada, Panama, and elsewhere. It had the same intent of preventing egalitarian social change, and the same effect of overthrowing an economically reformist government.

In all these instances, the intervention brought retrograde elements into ascendance, left the economy in ruins, and pitilessly laid waste to many innocent lives.
The war against Afghanistan, a battered impoverished country, continues to be portrayed in US official circles as a gallant crusade against terrorism. If it ever was that, it also has been a means to other things: destroying a leftist revolutionary social order, gaining profitable control of one of the last vast untapped reserves of the earth’s dwindling fossil fuel supply, and planting US bases and US military power into still another region of the world.

In the face of all this Obama’s call for “change” rings hollow.

February 10, 2009 7:03 AM  

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