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Liveblog: New America Foundation Forum With Matthew Hoh, Paul Pillar, et al

By davidswanson - Posted on 17 May 2010

8:30 starts at 9, people filling into the Pavilion Room in the Ronald R----n building (family friendly blog, no bad words)

On the Agenda:
9:00 a.m. James K. Galbraith, Economists for Peace and Security (which is cosponsor of this event)

9:15-10:45 a.m. (but I have to leave by 10:15) "Unnecessary and Counterproductive" (about covers it, just leaves out murderous and immoral and illegal and costly)
Michael Lind
Paul Pillar
Matthew Hoh
Hillary Mann Leverett
Steve Clemons (thanks to whom for putting this together)
Tom Andrews (who will likely push Rep. McGovern's nonbinding unspecified timetable bill even as they vote on another $33 billion in that domed building down the street)

8:46 Nothing happening yet. Ray McGovern is here and looking forward to causing some trouble. Hoh is here. Pillar is here.

8:57 Also on the agenda for later, which I'll sadly be missing: Peter Galbraith (Ok I won't be too sad, but also...), "Better Uses for $700 Billion" (I can think of a few!) with Richard Kaufman, Michael Intriligator, Miriam Pemberton (who I hope will speak against the $33 B bill if nobody else does, perhaps they all will), Winslow Wheeler, Warren Mosler, Michael Lind.

9:03 Starting. Try live stream video here.

9:08 J Galbraith's opening remarks were quick and not substantive except to say that sometimes it is wise to disengage from wars. (SOMETIMES?)

9:11 Lind is doing intros. Not much needed. They're on paper, and everybody knows everybody, and there are maybe 60 or 70 people here. UNRELATED comment: CEO of BP will be in Dirksen 342 at 2:30 pm hearing today for those who have spare time and handcuffs.

9:13 Pillar speaking: war in Afghanistan is supposed to be about terrorism. Al Qaeda is no longer there except for a few operatives. But goal according to president is to prevent the RE-establishment of a safe haven. But how much is the war reducing the chance that Americans will fall victim to terrorism (of course it's actually making that more likely --DS). The nation building and the counterinsurgency are means to an end, so let's not think of them as ends in themselves. Is the cost justified? Whatever protection from terrorism is being gained is, in my judgement, nowhere close to what would merit the costs, and may even be a net zero gain or worse. (No s---, -DS). If Al Qaeda has a physical safe haven does not appreciably impact the threat it poses. 9-11 prep was in Europe and in the US. Yes, terrorists make use of safe havens, but how much incremental difference does it make to the threat posed?

9:17 Pillar: We're fighting a surrogate enemy, most of which is called Taliban, which is inward looking. We are a concern to them only in so far as we affect the ordering of things in Afghanistan. Beyond that, they probably couldn't care less about us. (Big exception, in that we are there enraging them. Think Times Square. --DS). Their main motivation is to rid the country of a foreign occupation, not the transnational goals of Bin Laden. (Wouldn't it be nice if congress members gave a damn about any of this? I don't see any or any obvious staffers here; there may be some. These experts have made their views known to Congress, but wheres the interest? Where's the corporate media for that matter, here, 2 blocks from the National Press Bldg?)

9:21 Pillar: We need to think of costs and benefits, not think of costs as investments, and not think of military victories as ends in themselves (that's a hard one for Americans). (I would add: IT'S ILLEGAL AND IMMORAL FOR F---'S SAKE.)

9:22 Matthew Hoh: Our presence in Afghanistan has no effect on Al Qeada. It's loosely organized small cells world wide, so a hundred thousand ground troops in a country it's not even in makes no sense. Karzai regime is corrupt and illegitimate. I can tell you with utter certainty that the elections were stolen. We spent a lot of money to ensure fair elections that were not. Do we want to have a monument to people who died on behalf of a kleptocracy? -- taking part in a 35-year-old civil war, if not a centuries-long conflict between Dari and Pashtun speaking peoples, a split between urban and rural, religious and secular, progressive and not, educated and uneducated, etc... (This is potentially misleading. There was not always WAR in Afghanistan.) Another split is within Pashtun society: mountain and valley, similar to urban and rural, also split between the two main tribes although that's muddled. It's a complicated society.

9:28: Hoh: The ONLY reason the people in the East and South are fighting us is because we're there. If we left, they would not fight us in Kabul or anywhere else. This is not unnecessary; it is counterproductive. If the problem is foreign occupation and a corrupt unrepresentative government, then why add more troops and support a corrupt unrepresntative govt? We need a cease fire and honest negotiations with senior leadership of the Taliban. They would probably not be supported if we were not there, but they do represent a large section of the population.

9:31: Hillary Mann Leverett: (she speaks of America's war against Al Qeada and the Taliban in Afghanistan, even though 2 previous speakers said Al Qaeda is not there) This war will never be Hamid Karzai's war, she says. At start of this war and throughout, nobody thought Afghanistan could be made a stable prosperous nation. Karzai chosen because Pashtun, not because valuable militarily or otherwise. Ministers, including him, selected for ethnic reconciliation, and ability to work with war lords, and little else, and not opposition to Taliban. Karzai has worked with the Taliban, and his talk of doing so is not new. But United States has never had the stomach to see through a reconciliation process and power sharing. (Although Obama and all US leaders always SAY "there's no military solution alone"). US needs to embrace what Karzai can offer: bringing Taliban to negotiation table with others, including most strongly anti-Taliban elements -- including Saudi Arabia and others with longstanding ties to the Taliban (Saudis were instrumental in Lebanon too). And stop criticizing Karzai's efforts to reach out to Iran, which is essential. Iran must be persuaded to allow Taliban to come to the table and to work with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

9:40 More people filling in as event proceeds.

9:43 Steve Clemons: Israel, Japan, Saudi Arabia, other key allies are rebuffing the United States (I would add Brazil and Turkey handling Iranian nuke question. --DS) And our toxic financial exports not helping. We should ask ourselves if Afghan War rebuilds American global position or adds to the damage. It traps and saps American power, doesn't rebuild it. (Not something I care about in exactly those terms, but if it will end the crime I'm for listening to it, and it is certainly true and reasonable if put in terms of friendship and respect instead of simply "power" --DS). Clemons says he's not "a pacifist" but sees no path to success for this war, says that people he knows in the military debate this more broadly than does "official Washington". (Raises concerns about self-censorship and denial of rights within the military. Our civilian leadership bows to the military even when its own experts quietly oppose and fail to strongly speak out.) Even Rep. Donna Edwards, he points out, made unhelpful war-propaganda statements upon returning from Afghanistan. The US military is not the tool for developing women's rights.

9:55 Tom Andrews: Seconds Pillar: Does it make Americans safer is the right question? (It's one of them, and should be sufficient, but another is: ARE WE MURDERING INNOCENT CHILDREN, WOMEN, AND MEN?). Russian ambassador to Afghanistan told NYTimes that US has now duplicated Russian mistakes and gone on to make its own. He said the more US troops, the more insurgency will be provoked. This escalation will take US troop levels to about the level of the height of Russian occupation of Afghanistan. Also NYTimes today on Taliban strength in Marjah. (Cf. Obama's lie last week about Taliban being gone from Marjah, which was his only claim to progress).

10:02 (Andrews goes on and on very well on hopelessness of the war and its lies, strength of Taliban, etc. But I want him to say "TELL CONGRESS TO VOTE NO ON $33 BILLION". Discussion in news today, but not here, is about Republican opposition to possibility of including $23 B in education money for US teachers in bill with $33 B to escalate this war. That could conceivably lead to Republican NO votes and the need for only 40 NO votes from Democrats to kill the escalation of a war they supposedly "oppose").

10:05 Andrews speaks of growing opposition to financial cost, but doesn't mention the looming bill. Andrews asks why polling shows a majority opposed to the war AND a majority supporting the President's policies on Afghanistan. Andrews says that's not a bad thing: "At least we're not getting beat up on this one." We, who, white man? Are "we" in this room servants of the president or of presidentialism or of US fear to dissent from presidents' military decisions? Is that helpful?

10:07 Andrews celebrates McGovern's bill of last year, but doesn't mention its current reincarnation or the funding vote.

Q&A starts now. I expect Ray McGovern will ask the best question, but I have to leave soon and may not get to ask one. I would ask: SHOULD Americans tell their Reps in the House that we will vote against them in November if they vote for the $33 billion?



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