Saturday, August 30, 2008

Kumbaya, Charlie Wilson

[by Mr.Hengist]

Former Democrat Representative Charles Wilson (an Obama supporter and the subject of the engaging film, “Charlie Wilson’s War") has penned an op-ed for the WaPo, “Charlie Wilson’s Peace”, and I’d like to take a stab at it.

Wilson warms up his refried Blame America First Kumbaya Liberalism by pointing out its relevancy to present day turmoil:
“Russia's invasion of Georgia has led to a more serious foreign policy discussion in the presidential campaign. As tensions rise in the Caucasus and violence once again erupts in Afghanistan, we should recall the lessons we learned from our response to earlier Russian adventurism. We must recognize now, as we learned years ago, that a strong military alone is not enough to ensure our long-term national security.”

It’s a bad start to a bad piece as Wilson characterizes the 1979 Russian invasion of Afghanistan as "adventurism" and the August 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia as a rising in tensions. Yes, I’ll bet those adventurous Russians are making tensions rise in a lot of Georgians these days. As disappointing as it is to read this softpedaling of ruthless Russian aggression against their former slave-state, it’s downright puzzling to read that violence has “once again” erupted in Afghanistan. Since the U.S. toppled the Taliban and rooted out Al-Qaeda there has not been a year gone by in which there hasn’t been substantial violence perpetrated by those fiends; prior to that the Taliban were sporadically warring against such internal competitors as the Northern Alliance for control of the country.

Wilson then belches forth a refrain often heard from Democrats for the last few years, that military power alone is not sufficient to resolve our national security problems in the world. It’s an artfully crafted meme which implies that warfighting is the only one “recognized,” implemented, by the Bush Administration, one echoed by Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and top Democrat leadership for the past couple of years. It’s a cartoonish characterization of Bush as the ham-fisted, club-wielding brute who thinks all problems are fixable with a whacking. Liberals use the Iraq war to illustrate the point – not withstanding the months-long diplomatic effort by the Bush Administration to disabuse them of this notion by exhausting the process of diplomacy in the run-up to war. Throughout the Summer, Fall, Winter, and into the Spring of 2003, POTUS Bush warned Iraq to abide by an array of modest-but-binding U.N. resolutions to verifiably abandon its WMD capabilities and development, to no avail. Wilson gives no indication as to whether he considers our war in Afghanistan as a further illustration of this meme, but neither does he account for the counterexamples, such as the peaceful resolution of the crisis when China accidentally downed an American EC-3 spyplane in April of 2001, the peaceful diplomatic negotiations pursued by the Bush administration in spite of North Korean threats and development of WMDs, the to-date peaceful diplomacy with Iran despite much the same, just to name a few. Even the Russian-Georgia crisis is being answered by Bush diplomatically, with humanitarian aid going to the Georgians as we’re strengthening the defenses of Russia’s potential victims, so it’s hard to understand why Wilson even brings it up at all.

Wilson then makes this remarkable statement:
“If we had done the right thing in Afghanistan then -- following up our military support with the necessary investments in diplomacy and development assistance -- we would have better secured our own country's future, as well as peace and stability in the region. […] instead of intensifying our diplomatic and humanitarian efforts to help the Afghans meet their postwar challenges, we simply walked away -- leaving a destroyed country that lacked roads, schools, and any plan or hope for rebuilding.”

Had only we fixed what the Russians broke, no doubt by now unicorns would be pooping rainbow gumdrops on scampering fluffy bunnies across the lands. We did do the right thing in Afghanistan; we provided arms and assistance to them so they could kill their Russian occupiers, and then we left them to govern their own affairs. It’s not our fault that they were incapable of self-governance. Furthermore, it is highly speculative to state that developmental assistance would have been successful and could just as easily be mischaracterized as further examples of American hegemony.

I must confess that I’m unclear on what he means here by “investments in diplomacy,” but I suspect is has something to do with some kind of wealth redistribution rather than forming grand legions of State Department diplomats. Of course, we are now providing developmental assistance to Afghanistan, but for people like Wilson, the observation that problems still exist is sufficient to warrant the conclusion that it is so because we haven’t done enough.

Wilson makes an jawdropping coupling at this point:
"[...] the Afghans, with our weapons, had done nothing less than help precipitate the collapse of the Soviet Union.”
“[...] The lesson here is about more than the good manners of reciprocating a favor."

While the Afghan mujahideen did play a role in the collapse of the Soviet Union, Wilson is treading on thin ice in that the role of the mujahideen was marginal at best, but the concern I have is that his statement plays into the Al Queda retelling of this bit of history, in which they claim that their role was not only primary, but exclusive of any other. If we take his statement literally then, yes, they did nothing less than “help” – and nothing more, and it was of little consequence. The Soviet Union was bankrupt and facing both internal and external pressures, and had they never invaded Afghanistan the eventual collapse of that evil empire was not just inevitable but would have been little delayed.

What stuns me here is the statement that follows – that the mujahideen were somehow doing us a favor by fighting their Russian invaders. The reality is the inverse – it is the United States which did the Afghan people a favor, and no mistake. I would not argue that it was not in our best interests to aid their war – it was – but to characterize this as something that they did for us is gobsmackingly ahistorical if not outright revisionist, and Wilson knows better.

Wilson then doubles-down on his theme with this:
“It takes much more to make America safe than winning on the battlefield. Had we remained engaged in Afghanistan, investing in education, health and economic development, the world would be a very different place today.”

I would have accepted this as a matter of debatable speculation had Wilson made the case for it, but instead he states it as an unsupported fact. When we consider the many billions of dollars that we have been wasting in poverty-stricken third world hellholes over the past half-century, it’s hardly a given that all Afghanistan needed was for us to build their school system, build their healthcare system, build their industry – and presumably the infrastructure needed to support all this. From scratch, of course, as the Russians left little behind in their ignominious exit from that country.

Taking this one step further, Wilson goes on to say this:
“America is not immune to the problems of the very poorest countries. In today's world, any person's well-being -- whether he or she is in Kandahar, Kigali or Kansas -- is connected to the well-being of others. Yet, as we commit troops to the "war on terror," America's civilian institutions of diplomacy and development continue to be chronically undermanned and underfunded."

There we have it – Wilson has now connected the stingy warmongering of the United States to the resultant “war on terror” (complete with snicker-quotes). In the aftermath of the atrocities of 9/11 America asked itself, “Why do they hate us?” The political Left had a ready-made answer in the form of chastisement: They hate us because we’ve been bad to them, and because they are poverty-stricken and without hope for a better future. I profoundly disagree with these assertions and although the issue of our alleged transgressions against our enemies is a topic for another day, if there were a positive correlation between poverty and terrorism, or even hatred of America, then we would expect that terrorists would predominantly have been created in places like Africa, China, India, and the multitude of third- and fourth-world countries around the globe where people subsist on a dollar a month - like Kenya, where Barack Obama's brother is doing just that. Even then, it makes little sense that terrorists would target the West as opposed to their own kleptocratic rulers. See here, here, and here.

Wilson hawks up this goober because it tracks well with the Liberal/Left ideology of wealth distribution and the necessity of hobbling a vigorous American foreign policy in order to achieve their goals.

Wilson continues:
“We spend 1 percent of the federal budget on these critical elements of our foreign policy, compared with 22 percent on the military and weapons. While I have always believed in and fought for a strong defense, I know that we cannot rely on the military alone to keep us secure.”

The conclusion to which you are led is unstated but he’s drawn a dotted line for you: we should spend more on largess and less on defense. But don’t think he’s soft on defense! No sir. Yet Wilson lacks the courage to specify, even in general terms, what areas of defense should be cut, or how much he believes would be necessary to implement his vision of the United States as a sort of a Christmas morning Scrooge, tossing silver crowns down to the rest of the world that there may be a goose in every pot.

Wilson drives it home with this:
“[…] our future threats are likely to come from states that cannot meet the basic needs of their people. We can avoid the need to spend so much on our military -- and put so many of our soldiers in harm's way -- simply by investing more in saving lives, creating stable societies and building economic opportunity.”

The best way to accomplish these goals is not to throw money at them, but to give them the opportunities of freedom by overthrowing those kleptocratic thugocracies and replacing them with free democratic republics run under the rule of law, and implementing of open market economies in those freed states so that they may be prosperous as well. In other words, what we’re doing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Several times in the piece, as here, Wilson brings up the crisis in Georgia:
“This strategy won't resolve the conflict in Georgia today, but it could help America prevent similar crises in the future.”

Quite frankly, I’m puzzled by these repeated references to Georgia in relation to his prescription for an American foreign policy. Russia is not, by any measure, a poverty-stricken country bereft of educational institutions, industry, healthcare, or infrastructure. Is there an implied, unspoken argument here, or has Wilson simply chucked this war into the “failure of American diplomacy bin” by default? It’s anyone’s guess. So let that be a lesson to us all: the next time an oppressive superpower collapses under the weight of its failed ideological fantasies and the shackled slaves under its domination break free, we should be sure to send their former oppressors lots of money. No worries, China – Charlie’s got ya covered!

Wilson start to wrap it up with this:
“This is not a partisan issue. From the Marshall Plan to the Peace Corps to the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, Americans of all political stripes have always joined together to build a better, safer world.”

Ah, yes, President Bush’s AIDS program, which could run up to $48 Billion American Dollars. This would be the same POTUS who, as Wilson told us at the top of the piece, hasn’t recognized that a strong military alone can’t ensure our national security. He seems to refute himself on this point, but I’d like to help him twist the knife in his own argument. Recall that this is the same POTUS Bush who sent a fleet of naval vessels to relieve the suffering and save the lives of the predominantly Muslim Indonesian earthquake victims in 2004 at a cost of hundreds of millions of American Dollars, a figure which dwarfed the contributions of every other nation.

Lastly, Wilson makes his parting fib:
“We cannot afford to aspire to anything less than defeating poverty, disease, ignorance and despair wherever they exist. It is a relatively small but incredibly effective investment that helps ensure our future national security and economic prosperity.”

Fixing our own crumbling domestic infrastructure would be a good start, I suppose, but for Liberals not content with the nationalization of our healthcare system we have his assurance that lifting the world up out of poverty will be cheap, and it’s much more effective than, y’know, actually killing our enemies.

Kumbaya to you and your fellow travelers, Charlie Wilson.

1 comment:

Noocyte said...

Quite the tour de force, Mr Hengist!

Quick point before I crash:

Wilson's visions for what we "should" have done in Afghanistan are absurd on many levels. Talk about 'nation-building!' In Afghanistan, we would essentially have had to start from the ground up. Outside of the cities (loosely-termed), the 'Stan is less a nation than a collection of feudal fiefdoms at best. The very notion of instituting educational reforms and infrastructure programs is predicated on some sort of society which would benefit from them.

No such society seems to exist in Afghanistan, in any usable form. So what he is proposing would be the patient work of decades, and would have to start with the de-fanging of radical elements and toxic warlords, fueled by al Qaeda and stirred from across the border in Pakistan (which, at last check, is what we are doing). The idea that we "should" have shelved our other objectives in our war on global Jihadi extremism till we got Afghanistan right is sheer folly.

Wilson's plan (such as it is) would require redirecting enormous funds away from defense and into the global welfare state he appears to be proposing. What he fails to take into account is the extent to which our strong defensive (and, in key situations, offensive) capabilities act to deter those who would sabotage any such efforts, since they would undermine the brutal --and in many cases quite lucrative-- status quo. What good does it do to build schools and civic centers and water treatment plants when some medieval sumbitches decide that they can best keep their bread buttered by blowing it up, knowing there will be no consequences?

The magical thinking in this piece is, alas, all-too familiar.