Posts Tagged ‘August 20’

August 20, 1968 — “Dubček, Svoboda!”

Saturday, August 20th, 2011

On this date, 43 years ago, the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies invaded Czechoslovakia, putting down with its tanks what its own broken ideology could no longer extinguish–ideals of freedom of the press and personal liberty free from the oppressive weight of a totalitarian state.

Those ideals and dreams survived, and triumphed.

See The Trenchant Observer,
“August 20, 1969 — “Dubček, Svoboda!” (Personal Takes)”
August 20, 2010

The Trenchant Observer

August 20, 1968 — “Dubček, Svoboda!”

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Alexander DubcekPersonal Takes

I had a picture of Alexander Dubček on my wall when I was a student studying international law. He represented the hope of many in Czechoslovakia and beyond that the communist party might evolve from within. He and the President of Czechoslovakia, Ludvik Svoboda (whose last name meant “freedom” in Czech), were for a brief moment during “the Prague Spring” the team that stood for the triumph of the human spirit, of freedom, within a communist party and under a communist government.

The threat was too great for the leaders of the Soviet Union, and after a summer of feints and betrayals and illusions, they sent their tanks across the frontier into the sovereign territory of Czechoslovakia, on August 20, 1968.

29 years earlier, Adolph Hitler had sent his tanks into Prague, following the betrayal of Chamberlain at Munich which recognized the annexation of the Sudetenland, an area of Czechoslovakia settled by ethnic Germans.

In March 1938, the linking together or annexation (“Anschluss”) of Austria was consummated at the barrel of a gun. The infamous Munich Pact followed on September 30, ceding the Sudetenland to Germany. On March 15, 1939 Germany invaded and took direct control of the rest of Czechoslovakia. The invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, followed months later, setting off World War II.

These events, for a young international lawyer, seemed together to define the core values of the structure and body of international law and institutions, which had begun following a terrible “world war” in the 17th century, the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), which at the Peace of Westphalia and through the pen of Hugo Grotius gave birth to the modern system of nation states and to the basic framework of principles and norms of international law.

The devastation and suffering that took place during The Thirty Years’ War underlined the need for rules governing the relations of princes and states. Three centuries later Hitler’s Anschluss and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia defined, in a sense, the core values of international law.

Those core values, which had become clear by the 20th century, included the sanctity of the human person and the principle prohibiting the threat or use of force against the political independence or territorial integrity of any state, except in self defense.

These values were defined by their utter violation, in much the same way that Albert Camus found that moral values were created by their brutal violation by Hitler’s armies and the Gestapo before and during World War II. Camus, who as editor of the French resistance newspaper Libération was a leader in the French resistance, articulated–particularly in “The Rebel” and his novel “The Plague”—a vision of how values acquired their substance and contours not through abstract logic, but more directly through the experience of the horrors of their violation.

So today, on August 20, 2010, let us salute the courage of Dubček and Svoboda in their struggle to put “a human face” on socialism. Years later, their countryman, Václav Havel, gave expression to the dream of freedom of the Prague Spring generation in a voice that resonated through Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and throughout the world. Havel became President of Czechoslovakia as a result of “the Velvet Revolution” in 1989.

I remember how in 1968, after the Soviet tanks had crushed the Prague Spring and the autonomous government of Alexander Dubček, it occurred to me that if there were ever a reform from within the Communist party led by a Soviet Dubček, there would be no Soviet tanks to crush the reform. As it turned out, I was only half right. Twenty years later, Mikhail Gorbachev, introducing glasnost and perestroika, led such a reform. Boris Yeltsin put down the reaction by overcoming tanks in 1991, leading to the breakup of the Soviet Union.

For insight into the Prague Spring, see Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984), and the 1988 American movie of the same title, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Lena Olin, and Juliette Binoche.

The Trenchant Observer

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McChrystal, Petraeus, COIN, and Fixing a Failed Strategy in Afghanistan

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

The newspapers will be filled for days with information and views regarding Obama’s meeting with Stanley McChrystal and his Afghanistan team on Wednesday, June 23, in Washington.

McChrystal’s negative comments about his colleagues as reported in Rolling Stone magazine reflect very poor judgment, as McChrystal himself and also Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have admitted. There have been previous instances of very poor judgment by McChrystal since he assumed command in Afghanistan.

A number of questions arise.

One of the most important is the question of how McChrystal can be an effective team member on a team about whose members he or members of his entourage have spoken in such disparaging terms.

How can he lead the ISAF coalition, or keep France on board with the coalition? Does McChrystal bear any responsibility for the fact that some of our closest allies (e.g., Canada) are withdrawing their forces from Afghanistan? Could our disregard for international law with our policy of targeted killings have had some negative impact in this regard?

Even more fundamental questions are raised, however.

Perhaps the most important is what the strategy of the United States and coalition forces is going to be going forward, after the abject failure of the current strategy led by McChrystal.

The official U.S. counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan is to secure and protect the population rather than focus on killing the enemy. The real policy as it is currently being implemented is one that focuses on killing leaders of the Taliban through predator drone strikes and assassination by special operations forces.

The lack of progress in Marja reveals that the much-touted concept of a “government in a box” to be installed following the military’s flushing out of the Taliban is a cruel illusion.

It is not going to happen, not under the government of Hamid Karzai.

The real policy is one of beating down the enemy through the use of the U.S. killing machine that couples real-time intelligence with the capabilities of drone aircraft and special operations forces on the ground.

The real policy, led by McChrystal, has not worked. The situation in Afghanistan has not improved since he assumed command. To the contrary, there are many indications that it has continued to deteriorate.

As for our counter-insurgency strategy, the strategy laid out by David Petraeus and his colleagues requires the presence of troops on the ground in numbers that far exceed the numbers now in Afghanistan, even after the so-called “surge”. Should the U.S. begin to withdraw troops in mid-2011, as promised, the idea that we are implementing Petraeus’ counter-insurgency strategy as enunciated in U.S. military doctrine would become even more delusional than it is today.

To be sure, the 2011 date for “the commencement” of a process of withdrawal, subject to conditions on the ground, was never more than a political fiction used to make the increase in American troops politically palatable back home in the U.S.

Now, things are going really badly in Afghanistan.

The principal men that permitted the U.S. to have some independence from Ahmed Karzai’s control of intelligence provided to the U.S. military in the South, Amrullah Saleh, the former Afghan intelligence chief, with longstanding and close ties to the CIA, and Hanif Atmar, Minister of the Interior, are gone. Saleh was fired by Karzai several weeks ago, when the Minister of the Interior in charge of the police was also sacked. These were two men viewed by U.S. officials as able counterparts.

The end result of their dismissal was that Ahmed Karzai has an even firmer grip on the flow of intelligence shared with the Americans and the allies in Kandahar and the South. Without that intelligence, U.S. forces would be operating largely in the dark.

The Karzai brothers have, in effect, “rolled” McChrystal, which may help to explain why Hanid Karzai has come out so strongly in support of McChrystal, the “best” U.S. commander Afghanistan has ever had, in his view. One need hardly ask who he thinks the worst has been, but I would wager he has a German name.

General McChrystal has earned a new assignment. The stress has obviously gotten to him, or he would not be making colossal errors in judgment. If he has made these poor judgments in speaking about his colleagues and allowing those around him to speak about his colleagues in a disparaging manner, what other errors of judgment may he have made?

His judgments affect the lives of thousands of U.S. and allied troops.

It is clear now, if it wasn’t last fall, that President Obama made a fatally flawed decision when he handed control over our policy in Afghanistan to the military in general and McChrystal and Petraeus in particular.

The much-touted policy review on Afghanistan represented no more than a delaying tactic designed to generate political support and gain time, for what in the end was an approval of McChrystal’s planned “surge” of 40,000 men. Obama authorized “30,000” which with logistical and other support became a much larger number, and with 10,000 additional promised allied troops, McChrystal’s demand was essentially satisfied.

Our nation’s strategy in Afghanistan is twisted and distorted beyond recognition. We say we are implementing Petraeus’ counterinsurgency doctrine, when in point of fact half of the forces we are sending to the country are Special Ops and similar forces, to assist in the project of decapitating the Taliban while proving our killing machine is more effective than theirs.

We have abandoned the democratic project which the U.S., allied governments and the U.N. had as their stated objective for eight years, leaving Afghan police and military and ordinary Afghan citizens with no ideal to fight for.

The war has become about how to get the U.S. forces out, even if this means returning the people of Afghanistan to the power of the warlords, and the women of Afghanistan to the warlords and the repression and abuse of a very backward traditional and tribal society.

Instead of leading the people of Afghanistan into the 21st century, we have decided that it is sufficient for our exit purposes to allow them to return to the 19th (or 13th) century.

Nonetheless, Obama now has an opportunity to begin to correct the bad decisions he has made in the past on Afghanistan.

Regardless of when McChrystal leaves, Obama should immediately reconstitute his circle of advisers to ensure that his Afghanistan team includes civilians to counterbalance the strong concentration of military advisers in his inner circle. These should include the top U.S. diplomats working in the region. The first task of this reconstituted group should be to reread Karl Eikenberry’s cables from last November, and to devise a strategy for going forward.

That strategy must recognize that Hamid Karzai is not, and never will be, a reliable partner.

It must focus on ensuring to the maximum extent possible that the elections to the National Assembly to be held on September 18, 2010 are free and fair elections. We must reconsider the democratic project in Afghanistan, so quickly abandoned by Obama, but which may alone contain the seeds of motivation that could one day lead to an effective national army and police force.

It must address the urgent need to prevent the further alienation of present and former members of the Northern Alliance, including Abdullah Abdullah, Amrullah Saleh, and others. Little will be gained if a reconciliation between Karzai and the Taliban in the South (should it ever occur) leads to renewed hostilities between the North and the South.

Should McChrystal go?

The question is not if, but when.

When will the United States reconcile the total contradiction between the facts on the ground in Afghanistan and our real strategy there, with the requirements of official U.S. counterinsurgency strategy as enunciated by David Petraeus and the U.S. military?

When will the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan shift from trying to out-kill the Taliban with our incredible killing machine to a more nuanced, informed and broad-gauged strategy?

When will the United States have a military and civilian team in place in and for Afghanistan that can work effectively with each other, and with our allies?

When will President Obama pay enough sustained attention to Afghanistan to get it right?

What is needed is not eight afternoons over a number of months, but two weeks at Camp David with a small group of advisers.

Obama could also spend a day a week working alone, without aides, on getting his own thinking straight on Afghanistan.

The United States and the world need his leadership, not his acquiescence in the failed policies of the past.

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Obama Snubs Abdullah During Latter’s Trip to Washington

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

Margaret Warner interviewed Hamid Karzai’s opponent in the August 20, 2009 presidential elections in Afghanistan, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, on the Newshour on Friday, May 21. See “Karzai Opponent Abdullah Seeks to Bolster Afghan Opposition Movement,” Newshour Newsmaker Interview (video and transcript), aired May 21, 2010.

One of the more startling pieces of information to come from the interview was that Presdient Barack Obama and his administration have been snubbing Dr. Abdullah during his present week-long visit to Washington. The following exchange occurred:

MARGARET WARNER: You’re here for more than a week. You’re meeting with members of Congress. You’re leading an opposition bloc, a movement. Yet, you’re not meeting with anyone in the Obama administration. Why not?

DR. ABDULLAH ABDULLAH: I had put a request for meetings. And the meetings with the Congress and Senate and all the speaking events are scheduled. The administration has not come back with an answer. Perhaps they are busy. I’m OK.

It is difficult to understand why President Obama’s embrace of Hamid Karzai, who committed massive fraud in the first-round elections on August 20, and whose failure to take steps to ensure that the fraud would not be repeated in the second round led Dr. Abdullah to withdraw from the race, precludes meetings by the president himself and other high U.S. officials with the second most popular politician in Afghanistan.

In fact, the United States tilted hard in favor of Karzai, and against Abdullah, long before the results of the first-round election were announced–over two monts after they were held.

The United States has never publicly explained why it is against Dr. Abdullah, who in in his public statements appears to be moderate, pro-U.S., measured in his assessments of developments in the country, and on the whole eminently reasonable.

The Obama administration owes us such an explanation.

Given Karzai’s manipulation of the electoral law in February, seizing the power to appoint a majority of Afghans to the Electoral Complaints Commission–which will have a decisive voice in the National Assembly elections to be held on September 18, 2010–Abdullah may be seen as the leading democratic politician in Afghanistan.

He is, at the very least, an important player in the developing democractic process in Afghanistan. Obama and his administration should be embracing the opportunity to meet with a leading figure in that process, the leader of the principal opposition coalition contesting the congressional elections on September 18.

Instead, they have snubbed and are snubbing Abdullah.

While Abdullah is not meeting with U.S. officials while in Washington, he is meeting with a number of other people.

See, for example, the following:

Interview with Steve Coll, “Afghanistan’s Might-Have Been,” Foreign Policy, May 22, 2010

Helene Cooper and Mark Landler, “U.S. Rolls Up Red Carpet for Karzai Rival,” New York Times, May 20,2010

On electoral corruption in the 2009 presidential elections and the forthcoming September, 2010 congressional elections, see Peter W. Galbraith, “U.S. lost in Afghan vote” Los Angeles Times, May 10, 2010.

Glabraith writes:

Will we ever learn? In 2009, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who will meet with President Obama in Washington this week, ripped off American taxpayers for about $200 million. This is what the United States contributed to support presidential elections that Karzai himself admits were massively fraudulent. Now, the United Nations and the Obama administration propose to fund Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections in September, even though new rules pushed through by Karzai — over the opposition of parliament — make fraud even more likely this time.

Obama has, fatefully, cast his lot with Karzai. But the United States cannot prevail in Afghanistan without a good governance partner.

It is time for Obama to develop a Plan B. Abdullah could be an important part of that Plan B, should Plan A with Karzai fail to work.

Plan B would also involve returning to the democratic goals for which coalition soldiers fought, and international development agencies worked, for eight years.

It is worth thinking about.

The Trenchant Observer

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Opera Buffa in Kabul — Karzai Threatens to Join the Taliban

Monday, April 5th, 2010

Farsical But Sinister

Robert H. Reid of AP summarizes the farsical but sinister events of the last week in the ever stranger opera buffa of Hamid Karzai:

Karzai has long chaffed under what he considers excessive international pressure. Those complaints escalated Thursday when he lashed out against the U.N. and the international community, accusing them of perpetrating a “vast fraud” in last year’s presidential polls as part of a conspiracy to deny him re-election or tarnish his victory – accusations the U.S. and the United Nations have denied.

Two days later, Karzai told a group of parliament members that if foreign interference in his government continues, the Taliban would become a legitimate resistance – one that he might even join, according to several lawmakers present.

“He said that ‘if I come under foreign pressure, I might join the Taliban,’” said Farooq Marenai, who represents the eastern province of Nangarhar. “He said rebellion” against a legitimate Afghan government “would change to resistance” against foreign occupation.

Two other parliament members gave the same account but asked that their names not be published to avoid problems with Karzai.

Robert H. Reid, “AP Analysis: Karzai remarks risk US-Afghan rift,” Associated Press, April 5, 2010

Defense of Honor

When will someone stand up and shout, “The emperor has no clothes!”

It could do U.S.-Afghan relations a lot of good if Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, or President Obama himself, were to take Karzai’s wild assertions, and rebut each of them with well-documented facts, point by point.

Washington needs to understand the cultural meaning and context in Afghanistan of what Karzai is doing to the United States.

Obama might start, closer to home, by studying Michael Dukakis’ 1988 response to a question about what he would do if his wife was raped and murdered, and the impact on his candidacy of his cold and analytical response.

In Afghanistan, what Karzai has said about the United States and its allies is shameful. To pretend otherwise, to be reasonable in understanding his “idiosyncracies”, to accept the canard that he needs to strengthen his domestic support, to brush it off with diplomatic language, risks losing the hard-won respect we have earned among the population over nine hard years of war.

In a word, when attacked in a shameful way by Karzai, the United States needs to defend its honor, at least in words if not in deeds.

For excerpts and descriptions of Karzai’s remarks, see the following:

Mandy Clark, CBS News broadcast story, April 2, 2010

Jonathan Partow, “White House troubled by Afghan leader’s remarks,” Washington Post, April 5, 2010

Plan B

It is time, long past time in fact, to start developing Plan B. As unpalatable as that conclusion may be, the alternatives are going to be much worse.

It is useful to recall that Karzai did not win the first round in the presidential elections held on August 20, 2009, and that Abdullah, his opponent, withdrew from the second round only in the face of a refusal by Karzai to take meaningful measures to avoid a repetition of the fraud in the runoff.

Karzai is not the legitimate, elected president of Afghanistan, and the U.S. saying that he is–while ignoring the imminent fraud in the second round–does not make him the legitimate, elected president of Afghanistan.

As The Observer wrote on March 30,

U.S. officials need to carefully review the history of their interaction with Karzai over the last eight years, and reread what Ambassador Karl Eikenberry had to say about him and his government in his cables of November 6 and November 9, 2009.

For only when the Americans and their allies have disabused themselves of their last illusions about Karzai, and stifled their last unjustified hopes that he might reform, will they begin to have the clarity of vision that they will need to extricate themselves from their present predicament.

We cannot get to the goal of a legitimate government accepted by the population, which can defeat the Taliban or even avoid defeat at their hands, with the Karzai brothers.

We had better start thinking through the implications that flow from that one simple and brutal fact, and the adjustments to strategy and operations that will be required.

In the past, when our analysis led us to an inescapable but “unacceptable” conclusion, we have resorted to further analysis, allowing things to drift and to deteriorate further.

We must not repeat that mistake. The hour is late, and much more can still be lost.

The Trenchant Observer

Comments are invited, in any language. If in a language other than English, please provide an English translation. A Google translation will be sufficient.