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October 12, 2006

One well-placed Murder
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Is the Taliban weapon of choice in the hearts and minds campaign to win Afghanistan. I learned this at a Capitol Hill discussion yesterday with Sarah Chayes, a former NPR reporter who now runs a humanitarian organization there (check out her new book ). Seems death obeys that law of diminishing returns  you learned in Economics 101: more of something doesn't necessarily produce a better result. With political goals in mind,the Taliban has developed a ghastly set of campaign advertisements: pick off strategic individuals like a night watchman at a public school (leaving names of teachers pinned to his body) an incorruptible police chief, a Red Cross worker. Later in the day, I attended an annual Army Association conference  that is best described as the beauty pageant of the defense industry. (I counted at least three helicopters, half-dozen drones and several ginormous military personnel vehicles inside the DC convention center). After hearing Sarah talk,  though, I couldn't help thinking that the expo symbolized America's dysfunction on national security: the more political and hands-on our tasks, the more  complicated and remote the technology we create to solve problems.

I've had many conversations with people who have spent time in Afghanistan. All agree that today's violent chaos is largely the result of our own missed opportunity. Iraq sucked the oxygen out of our efforts there.   Accountable government to replace the Taliban became an afterthought as early as 2002.   Even this administration's single minded "free market" foreign policy might have done wonders if we'd paid attention. Afghans are fabulous at commerce, after all and parts of the country have un matched agricultural resources.

Today, Afghan citizens are presented with two lousy choices: a Pakistan backed Taliban or a homegrown corrupt government. Both act like organized gangs, one shakes down the newly minted citizens during the a.m. the other during the p.m. Who you choose to side with depends on two questions:

Who makes you feel safe? and Who is going to extract less personal property?  Americans who have spent time in Afghanistan over the past five years have many suggestions about how we can learn valuable lessons for our security policies. Like most important things in life, timing is vital. For example, if critical infrastructure, roads, bridges and other systems that undergird prosperity are built immediately, democracy and its proponents look pretty good. Many farmers turn to opium production based on the availability of water. Hence acqueducts are related to national security. Our personnel needs follow the same low-tech trend. One reason the National Guard is so important today is that our missions require the citizen skills of pharmacists and city planners.

The scandalous lack of preparation for the aftermath of the Iraq war has grabbed lots of headlines lately.  But the problem goes much deeper than our present conservative /clueless leaders.  This is what I saw at the Army expo. In general, America doesn't seem to be particularly interested in  the sorts of low-tech problem solving that is so urgent today. Our land invasion/airpower obsession stands in contrast to many of our western peers.  A handful of European booths occupied a distant corner of the expo hall. The only display with a crowd around it was the German "Oktoberfest" tent, where a dirndl clad girl was giving away pretzles and beer.   I spent some time talking to a man whose firm creates mine-detectors--imagine a vacuum cleaner on steroids. He mentioned how his company is located in a congressional district where the Member (a liberal Democrat) won't take appointments with him because he is a military contractor. Cluelessness, it seems, is an affliction of both the Left and the Right.  Which brings me to my final point: It is imperative for progressives to separate Iraq from Afghanistan and to not let anger about the mis-named "war on terror" confuse ideas about where we should go as a nation. We have all the military cover we could possibly need. The Defense Department, after all, issued a directive last November that made civilian reconstruction on par with combat as a mission. I wrote about this here .

But its going to take interest and a real political constituency to effect change. National security is up for grabs right now. We have a chance to take our recent experiences and frame them to create a strategy that will still allow for criticism of recent decisions--like invading Iraq, but also make the case for why we should do more to stop  genocide in the Sudan. Time is of the essence. If Congress turns over, these ideas could be out the gate in January.


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It's important to remember that to the Pentagon and their corporate and congressional friends--the military-industrial complex--"National Security" translates to "Corporate Welfare" and "Personal Gain."
Expensive weapons systems bring big bucks and war adds considerably to the bottom line. No profit equals no interest. Money talks and BS walks, to them. These people couldn't care less about the Afghanis, the Koreans, the Egyptians or anyone else.

Case in point: Donald Rumsfeld sat on the board of a company which six years ago sold two light water nuclear reactors to North Korea. Rumsfeld was a non-executive director of ABB, a European engineering giant based in Zurich, when it won a $200m contract to provide the design and key components for the reactors. The current defense secretary sat on the board from 1990 to 2001, earning $190,000 a year. Details here.

I spent some time talking to a man whose firm creates mine-detectors... He mentioned how his company is located in a congressional district where the Member (a liberal Democrat) won't take appointments with him because he is a military contractor. Cluelessness, it seems, is an affliction of both the Left and the Right.

The idea that military contractors generally don't have enough access to Democratic representatives is laughable. It may be true in a few cases, but the opposite problem is the rule.

Early on, Clinton required our diplomats to shill for arms merchants to their host countries. The results were immediate: During Clinton's first year in office, U.S. arms sales more than doubled. From 1993 to 1997, the U.S. government sold, approved, or