Friday, November 13, 2009

A Jack and a Joker: Obama Calls

President Obama Considers the Future of the Bush War in Afghanistan

MeanMesa has never been much of a country western music fan (a childhood in 1940's Kansas permanently cured me of that possibility ...), but when we look at the President's agonizing decision concerning what to do next with the failed war in Afghanistan, certain lyrics seem to flood into even this geriatric, Depeche Mode saturated mind.

Johnny Cash: The Gambler (lyrics -- the music isn't bad either ...)

Written by Don Schlitz.
( Writers Night Music.)
From "Gone Girl", 1978, CBS.

About 20 years ago, on a train bound for nowhere,
I met up with The Gambler; We were both too tired to sleep.
So we took turns a starin' through the window at the darkness.
Til' boredom overtook us and he commenced to speak.

He said: "Son, I've made a life out of readin' people's faces,
"And knowin' what their cards were, by the way they held their eyes.
"And if you don't mind my sayin', I would say you're out of aces;
"And for one taste of your whiskey, I will give you some advice."

So I handed him my bottle, and he drank down my last swallow.
Then he bummed a cigarette; then he bummed a light.
The night got deathly quiet and his face lost all expression.
He said: "If you're gonna play the game, boy, you better learn to play it right."

"'Cos ev'ry gambler knows that the secret to survival,
"Is knowin' what to throw away and knowin' what to keep.
"And ev'ry hand's a winner, just like ev'ry hand's a loser.
"And the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.

"You got to know when to hold 'em; know when to fold 'em.
"Know when to walk away; know when to run.
"You don't ever count your money while you're sittin' at the table.
"There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin' is done."

"You got to know when to hold 'em; know when to fold 'em.
"Know when to walk away; know when to run.
"You don't ever count your money while you're sittin' at the table.
"There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin' is done."

And when he finished speakin', he turned back t'ward the window.
Put out his cigarette; faded off to sleep.
And somewhere in the darkness, the gambler he broke even.
But in his final words I found an ace that I could keep.

"You got to know when to hold 'em; know when to fold 'em.
"Know when to walk away; know when to run.
"You don't ever count your money while you're sittin' at the table.
"There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin' is done."

"You got to know when to hold 'em; know when to fold 'em.
"Know when to walk away; know when to run.
"You don't ever count your money while you're sittin' at the table.
"There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin' is done."

"You got to know when to hold 'em; know when to fold 'em.
"Know when to walk away; know when to run.
"You don't ever count your money while you're sittin' at the table.
"There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin' is done."

(Listen to Johnny Cash sing The Gambler: )

The United States has a rather checkered history of "putting up" with unsavory characters we have encountered as "sponsored autocrats" during our global military adventures. For example, during the Viet Nam War no outrage executed by the current dictator of that unfortunate country was grievous enough to elicit so much as a momentary hesitation in our war making appetites. When the Diem brothers were captured, dressed as nuns, trying to flee Saigon after their rather brutal -- and greedy -- autocratic habits emerged into the light, our local military commanders simply waited until the next morning's dawn for the next dictator to take over the wreckage of what was left of the country. Was there a lull of "uncertainty" in the conduct of our war there? Not so much as a single minute.

Dictators everywhere knew that our national, public memory was short. If the United States military was in their country, defending it from the Red Devils, those dictators knew that we would be too busy in our infatuation with combat to be particularly troubled by anything they might do, that is, "do" to their people and usually even "do" to us. The U.S. Homeland was inundated with carefully groomed, unexamined, unquestioned media management which constantly propped up a standing justification of absolutely anything necessary to stop the Russians from taking over the world.

Questions of patriotism were not allowed. There could be precisely one foreign policy, and that single policy would dictate every international presence of the U.S. Period.

For MeanMesa visitors who were not alive to experience the period, the best lit stage was filled with H-Bombs. That terrifying geopolitical script unfolded primarily in Washington D.C. and Moscow. However, in every dusty corner of the world beyond the nuclear capitals, Soviet Bloc influences and NATO American influences met in conflict. It wasn't always soldiers, either. Every possible tactic of threat, bribery, deception and subterfuge was played out in the single minded obsession of the time. Ideology was everything.

Naturally, we found ourselves "embracing" some rather stinky governments. No matter in which dirty little corner of the world one might find himself, there were usually some equally "stinky" players right across the border -- folks like Angolans, Cubans, East German intelligence and frequently the old KGB/OGPU creepies. It seemed there was never a shortage of Cold War creepies. Never.

As such matters unfolded, the media necessity of "rehabilitating" the dictator also became a fairly common outcome. Credulous Americans demonstrated a remarkable tolerance for alliances of necessity with nasty dictatorships to start with, but the State Department and the media would occasionally have to gang up to "reframe" the most difficult cases.

A few -- easily understood -- American ideals would be trotted out as "conditions" of our continuing support or bribery. Massive news headlines would be generated for a day or two. Distant "promises" of better behavior would be extracted, then the news machine would be silenced (more likely distracted by the next crisis somewhere else) and conditions would return to "normal" in that lavish, foreign Presidential Palace. By the way, "normal" fairly often meant that more arms and legs were, once again, being routinely ripped off by our "friendly ally" there.

After all, that Palace was going to pay the electric bill in either dollars or rubles next month anyway. If it turned out to be dollars, we were winning.

The duty of "real Americans" in those days was to simply "forget" the extracted promises as quickly as possible and return to more of the famous "H-Bomb" nights. Keeping up with ideology was task enough. Keeping up with actual foreign policy was taxing, suspicious and socially, too intellectual for the martini soaked bar be que pit discussions of the day.

Our opinions were carefully lubricated. The current inhabitant of that Presidential Palace was often characterized to us as a steadfast supplicant of every Western dream. He was the very "salt" of every idea we had been taught to hold dear and close to our hearts. The courageous people of wherever it was were painted as peace loving, democracy dreaming, freedom fighters no less committed to "all that was good in the world" than the brave men at Valley Forge themselves. (The stage ws being set for Viet Nam, founded on public relations experiences suffered in Korea.)

Our job as media consumers was to quickly forget. Whatever difficulties we might have had with the practices of that old dictator were assuaged back to a state of mind numbing comfort, a state of acceptance and forgetfulness. The war was everything. Details about what was actually happening in wherever it was meant nothing.

Now, to Obama and Afghanistan.

The war mongers such as McCain and the Witch of Alaska have found a new mantra -- or at least they have resurrected an old, weary Bush mantra -- about "listening to the Generals on the ground." The chorus has been joined, of course, by drug addled gas bags, ridiculous junior Congressmen and every other half-wit with a microphone. "We have to add 40,000 more U.S. troops to the fray! Bush W's incompetence must be exonerated at any cost!"

By the way, we are supposed to forget that the W fired all the "Generals on the Ground" who dared disagree with him as he plunged headlong into one half-baked military disaster after another.

However, there is a geopolitical "fly in the ointment." Obama is clearly not satisfied with a paper mache' version of corruption fighting, war lord taming and heroin poppy replacement. He actually expects the dictator (Ooops! Mr. Hamid Karzai was a carefully chosen Chevron Oil executive picked out by the W himself to usher in a new decade of "democracy" in Afghanistan.) of that unfortunate country to make some improvements there.

However, Karzai is playing from an entirely different script. He was promised a nice quiet, profitable, lingering autocracy by the W -- one which might be able to have actual elections or, maybe not. Making a few empty "promises" to the new guy in Washington was presented as a painless matter, certainly nothing to lose sleep worrying about. The initial plan was to "promise anything" and then wait for the American tax payers to forget it and expect a war infatuated President to conveniently ignore it.

There are unquestionably many reasons for the President's delay in his decision, but this doesn't mean that we should overlook one of the brightest and most promising among them. Obama is not a "war drenched" pragmatist who sees the military combat as an exciting appliance having no consequences beyond being another domestic political advantage. He is a formidable idealist who seems quite comfortable demanding that someone like Karzai do the very best he can. Should that materialize, it would be a new component of the W war in Afghanistan.

The Cheney called it "dithering." The war junkies, both inside and outside the military, said the delay was endangering the troops. Neo-cons are circling above the decision room in the White House like vultures. Because these unlikely mouths are the ones our wholly owned media trots out for our consumption day after day -- whether we are actually interested or not -- it might seem that the "going concern" required some reckless increase in troop commitment.

MeanMesa doesn't see it this way. Obama has made a heady mix of Commander in Chief, conscience and idealism so new to Washington that these moribund pundits have no scheme to effectively attack it. Karzai will learn Obama's lesson. So will the Generals. War is real. It is expensive and tragic. The Presidential visits to Ft. Hood, Dover and Arlington reveal a new, sincere appreciation of the consequences of his decisions. Yes, veterans and military families can take heart from the gestures, but people like Karzai and the Generals also have to watch.

Apparently, that old Cold War program ain't happenin'!

This new Problem President insists that a continued American presence in Afghanistan will require actual domestic progress. Yes, the reason we are there is to somehow extract ourselves from the W's War on Terror, but Obama is not willing to entirely divorce that mission from his ambitions to improve the lot of the Afghan people and to honorably fulfill his elected duty here. Such a divorce would have been de rigeur during the old Cold War days, but now things are different.

In fact, things are becoming quite different! Obama, unlike the war oriented Presidents before him, is not hypnotized with this mythical conflict. He has no appetite to be a "Wartime President." The country he represents is broke, in debt. Its military is taxed to the breaking point after a decade of combat securing the Iraqi Hydrocarbon Treaty for, wait for it, wait for it, Chevron and its friends. Worst of all, for the McCain-Limbaugh crowd, Obama is simply not another "bullet jock!" He will not be egged into anything remotely similar to the W's lurching, rambling, global "Church of Death."

In any event, MeanMesa isn't at all that sure the W's flight suit would fit him -- with or without the cod piece!

"You got to know when to hold 'em; know when to fold 'em.
"Know when to walk away; know when to run.

MeanMesa's compliments to the President.

For a updated account of what's being said about increasing the troop levels in Afghanistan, Christian Science Monitor:

Obama Afghanistan troop surge decision may come soon

and, in Times On Line:

US ambassador warns against Afghanistan troop surge

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