Tuesday, August 31, 2021


Photo by US Central Command

        US Army Major Chris Donahue, Commander of the 82nd Airborne, stepping onto a plane becomes the image of the last man leaving Afghanistan, ending a 20 year war.
        By the time this photo was taken the US had evacuated more than 122 thousand, only 5,500 of them being American citizens. 
        116 thousand were flown out in just two weeks, the largest air lift evacuation and a stunning piece of history.

        Politicians and media have been in handwringing overdrive, criticizing President Biden but have ignored the extraordinary humanitarian achievement. 
        Consider perspective.
        The media view came from crews who were for the most part inside the area of Karzai airport where the frantic were funneled into choke points, desperate to leave. It was scene after scene of a scrum, thousands trying to flee their own nation. 
        American personnel extended courtesy, process and did the best under bad conditions. What reporters did not have access to was the mostly smooth operation of other US troops getting thousands on planes and on the way to safety. It skewed coverage, and fed the criticism that lacked perspective.

      During the fall of Saigon April 29-30, 1975 Operation Frequent Wind evacuated 7 thousand, leaving 450 Vietnamese at the US Embassy. 
      The DAO, Defense Attachment Office had been evacuating US personnel when some refused to leave without their Vietnamese friends, common law wives, children and dependents. Push came to shove and the DAO gave in and flew illegally documented Vietnamese to Clark AFB.  
      Operation Babylift evacuated some 2000 orphaned children. In all some 110 thousand people were evacuated at the time of the US retreat from this ill conceived and poorly prosecuted war, also fraught with fraud and corruption.
        President Ford's exit plan was produced as a middle ground between the Pentagon's desire for a full and rapid pullout while the US Department of State wanted an orderly evacuation. 
        In the end it came down to chaos. If they could, Vietnamese bought their way out buying passports, exit visas and inflated passage on boats. The price of boats tripled as the US left. Later came the wave of the "boat people" thousands more fleeing for new lives.

        The politicians criticizing Biden for political points seem to miss the successful evacuation of more than 120 thousand people.
        The media coverage, like the protests or demonstrations or riots following George Floyd's death put more emphasis on the video and emotion. The video was not seen in a larger context or explained with an overview and ditto for the emphasis on inflammatory and hysterical. It was a deficiency of perspective. 
        That is also true for the tragic loss of 13 young US soldiers and Marines and those who have sought to make political gain on the back of the deaths.

         23 US service personnel were killed and 325 wounded in Operation Just Cause, the December 1989-January 1990 invasion of Panama to capture former Panamanian leader Noriega.
        Noriega had been a CIA asset and used his military and political leadership to become a drug trafficker and racketeer. 
        In the tense weeks of negotiations and failing relationship, Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF) stopped a group of partying Americans. Marine First Lt. Robert Paz was shot and killed, other Americans were wounded and American witnesses were assaulted. President George HW Bush ordered the invasion the next day. 
        27 thousand US troops and 300 aircraft were sent to contend with 16 Thousand PDF. Civilians and US personnel were hit by "friendly fire," two died and 19 were wounded by the US shooting of their own. At the time politicians and media treated it as a tragedy and not fodder for political gain.

       In October 1983, 242 US Marines, Soldiers and Sailors were killed in the car bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon.
       The very presence of those troops was the source of a rift in the Reagan administration. 

        The US never launched a major retaliatory strike primarily because of the feud between Reagan, Secretary of State George Schultz and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. Schultz and Weinberger were at odds and even admitted  so publicly.
        This was covered by the media and it was commented on by Republicans and Democrats but not with the shrill, opportunistic and venomous lack of perspective that has greeted Biden who oversaw the largest evacuation from a war zone and a retaliatory strike within hours.  Perspective.

        Our political culture is at a low ebb. There appears to have been no division in the Biden Whitehouse about the exit. That could not be said of Ford in Vietnam, or Reagan in Lebanon. 
         In a previous post I faulted Biden for not working to build an international exit plan, sill he has moved more than 115 thousand Afghanis. 
        A missing perspective in most of the political and media potshots and carping is why did the Afghani military collapse, why after 20 years, American lives and Trillions of dollars did most Afghani people reject the US, and the type of life and government we hoped they would adopt? Do those critics earnestly believe the US has an obligation to every Afghani who wants to leave? And ask that question of some of Biden's loudest critics who also are some of the loudest anti immigration loud mouths. They are trying to have it both ways? Where is the perspective?
        Resolutely, as he promised, Biden brought to an end a bad and fraudulent war. History will recall and reward that. All of the other carping is akin to a statement my mother used..."Your cutting of your nose to spite your face." Look around there are plenty of noseless media and politicians. 
        Another old proverb comes to mind,  "There are none so blind as those who will not see."

        See you down the trail


Sunday, August 29, 2021

Shades of Gray

        The sky interfused with the gray marine bank on the horizon and everything muted in the cast of a haze and filtered flat light.

        A "Fogust" day with a twist, more pelican squads than I have seen.

        North of Cambria the kelp beds and sea vegetation is thick, heavy and in my untrained observation, thicker than normal.

       Pelicans, cormorants and gulls gather near the kelp forest and sea grass.     

        The pelicans were dressed for a late August gray at the coast. 

        A natural display and lots of fresh air. Living, between sea and sky.

    See you down the trail

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Bad Never Ends Well


     To: Citizens of the United States
     From: History

        The present status of Afghanistan was obvious October 7, 2001, the day the US invasion began. 
        A casual knowledge of history would have reminded the President and Congress that Afghanistan is the "graveyard of empires." No less than Genghis Kahn, Alexander the Great, the British Empire and the bully Soviet Union had floundered and failed in the geographically beautiful and resource rich land of warring tribes, and trouble.
        The alleged purpose of the invasion was to get Osama bin Laden and to degrade the terrorist network. 
        From the outset there was fraud, mismanagement and perhaps most importantly, no clear view of an end or exit strategy. We stumbled into the notion of "nation building" and got stuck. We failed to learn from Viet Nam. 
        What begins as a mistake ends that way. 

        In the emotion and political blather we should remember and note a few things as a record since we live in an age of public stupidity, historic ignorance and ignorance of history, media hype, hysterical politics and the penchant of politicians to play the blame game.
        Since this post is not without ire and heartburn we'll interlace it with scenes intended to pacify or lower your blood pressure.

        In the immediate news one should look to see the valor, patience, good spirit and character of US service personnel as they maintain order, assist the exodus, soothe and assure the frightened and frazzled, and help to bring function out of brokenness.
        The optics, panic in the first hours, have changed as thousands are being evacuated, and the scene will change again.
        As always happens our attention will be diverted, our screens will be on to something else and the shutting down of a bad war will become old news and likely forgotten by most.

        Most do not know or remember that weeks before the invasion US personnel, CIA, and special forces military including Marines and Army had tracked Bin Laden to the region of Tora Bora and a series of caves. Men on the scene reported Bin Laden could have been had in September. They needed additional support to "close the back door."  Those in pursuit were told by commanders they needed authorization from the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld balked, at the insistence of Vice President Dick Cheney who was masterminding the invasion ramp up that was to become America's longest war. The Battle of Tora Bora did not come until December, and by that time Bin Laden had fled, likely to Pakistan. 
        More than the troops who had tracked Bin Laden were furious about the Cheney-Rumsfeld delay, so was CIA Director George Tenet and Secretary of State General Colin Powell. Inside sources have said Cheney and Rumsfeld blocked the CIA/Special Forces advance on Bin Laden because an early success would have endeared Tenet and Powell to George Bush. Bush already liked Tenet, who suspected the President was being "played" by his vice president.

        Despite the chicanery of Cheney, the W. Bush administration never developed an end of the war exit plan. Members of the Senate were angry that Rumsfeld blew off the request of those plans. They got away with it and they got their bad war. That bad war is now coming to a bad end.

        Afghanistan is a place of tribal loyalty and there is hardly a sense of nationhood. The Brits and the Russians learned it is a place of corrupt politicians and military leaders. It is land of poppies, the source for much of the world's heroin and is a cash rich enterprise. It is a land of deal making and duplicity. Modernity comes slowly because of old ways. Fundamentalism, wahhabism, and superstition dominate the vast number of uneducated. Even today modern Afghan women are being forced to hide, or resort to Sharia law stipulations. US troops were appalled by the brutality of man on boy sexual practices among some Afghan fighters and regional leaders. This is the place were almost 2,500 US troops were killed, part of the 3,500 Allied troops who died there. 
        20 Thousand US men and women were injured. 69 thousand Afghan fighters were killed. 51 thousand civilians died. The financial cost to US taxpayers was 4-6 Trillion for the Afghanistan and Iraq war.
        Billions upon Billions of dollars were fraudulent or wasted. 

  • In just six years, the IG has tallied at least $17 billion in questionable spending. This includes $3.6 billion in outright waste, projects teetering on the brink of waste, or projects that can’t — or won’t — be sustained by the Afghans, as well as an additional $13.5 billion that the average taxpayer might easily judge to be waste. Exhibit A for “You be the judge”: $8.4 billion was spent on counter-narcotics programs that were so ineffective that Afghanistan has produced record levels of heroin — more than it did before the war started. 
        That is from an analysis of the Inspector General's Report on the Afghanistan war.  I urge you to read the analysis published by ProPublica if you do not wish to read the full IG report

        The war that President Biden shut down needed to be ended. There is a simple minded thought being advocated  that that we could have just continued with the low troop presence of the last couple of years and have not withdrawn. How long then should we have done that? Forever?

     Afghanistan would never be ready to be weaned from the American breast. The collapse of the government and military in less than two weeks proves it. Our loyalty here is not to Afghanistan but to the US.
        Here is the kind of damage that media, Republicans and even critical Democrats will not tell you. 3 short examples of the kind of drain that comes with a continued presence. 
        --The US Dept of Agriculture funneled 34.4 million dollars to induce Afghans to grow soybeans. Soybeans don't grow well there and Afghans didn't want to eat soybeans.
        --The Dept. of Defense spent 43 Million dollars in developing a concept for a compressed natural gas station. It failed.    
        --The US, through several agencies, spent 2 Billion in building roads that will cost Afghanistan more to maintain than the nation has.
        There are scores of such costs in a "maintenance and support" of a nation that did not want us there, did not want to be pushed into a nation built in our image, that cannot support itself and that allows an old testament band of zealots to take control. Those "maintenance and support" programs were however great for the defense contractors and "beltway bandits." Shouldn't those resources be better applied to needs in the US?

        Things should have been done by the Biden administration. It is still not too late for NATO and the UN to establish an Exit Corridor for all who wish to leave Afghanistan, especially those with visas. Refugees should be escorted to resettlement centers in several nations. Saudi Arabia has facilities to handle hundreds of thousands and they should be tasked to do it. The Taliban can be traced to Saudi history.
        Few understand that when the Intelligence Community reports they offer a range of scenarios and information. Some members of the community may not be sync with others. The President and his advisors have to act with sometimes conflicting frames of information. 
        The visa process for Afghans who assisted the US should have been streamlined, but it is unclear if even the President can cut through the burdensome red tape.
        Some say Biden could have abrogated the disastrous Trump Pompeo surrender plan, they called a peace deal. But had Biden done so, after Trump's inept pulling out of international accords and straining relations with allies, the US would again look like it could not be trusted to keep a deal. 
        Biden campaigned on the idea of getting out of Afghanistan. As much as 70% of US citizens support him.

        As a father of daughters and a grand daughter I am especially sensitive to the tragedy and danger facing Afghani women. UN and world attention should be focused, assisting women to leave and monitoring the behavior of the Taliban government.
        The extension of rights in Afghanistan is not the province of the US. Women here still struggle against oppression. The fight of an American President should be here and that goes for the loudest advocate of rights in the US as well. 
        Those who are frenzied now about what a shabby thing the US and the President has done in ending the war and leaving modern Afghans in harms way, would do themselves a favor to recall how shabbily this nation has treated its own veterans, war fighters and first responders.
        During the 20 years of the Afghanistan war, fortunes have been made. Areas around Washington DC have blossomed and have become some of the wealthiest areas in the US. This war had winners, Dick Cheney and his defense contractor allies. They got the war they wanted. 

        Under the best potential circumstance, war is a failure. It is a failure of intellect, diplomacy, human decency and spiritual codes. Bad wars are a worse kind of hell and they do not end nicely, but they must end. History will reward President Biden for bringing to an end America's longest war, a war that 3  President's would not end.
        Those who got us into this war lacked it, but in ending "their" war Biden displayed a virtue, courage. 

        See you down the trail.


Thursday, August 12, 2021

Heavy Lifting in Tomorrow Land


        You can understand if they, anyone under 30, want to toss us over. We have certainly handicapped their future. 

    You can understand why we might want to toss over some of us. We, collectively humankind, have blown it, in more ways than we care to enumerate. 

    Some of us began with concern and then warnings. Some of us heard the siren and began fumbling toward correction. Some of us nailed down the science and heightened the alarm. Some of us got more serious, more ardent, more engaged and it is precisely there, on this front line between knowledge and action where "we" became frayed and then  undone. We became a DMZ between foresight and negligence, between us and them,  though we are all players in the dirty deal. 

    The planet had science, and then big money bought some of it. When scientists told an oil company decades ago fossil fuels were killing the planet and that meant ocean levels were rising, they decided to raise the level of their drilling platforms and keep the dark secret as a gift for their descendants. 

    The UN Red Warning for Planet Earth confirms what we had been told, tells us it is worse than we knew, and it is an indictment for all of us. We are all guilty of this crime; those of us who worried about the science and tried to make changes, those of us who knew the science and kept on doing business as normal, those of us who "knew in our hearts" we were doing a slow motion dance with death but still relied on legal and political means to make change, and those of us who put wealth and profit above all else! The power was in the big money and they bought lobbyists and congressmen and senators and wrote laws that were phony and ineffective.

        Edward Abbey, like all of us, was flawed, but he spoke truths and is a godfather of a strain of environmental awareness also known as Eco-Warriors. 
        He said, "sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul."
        There's been a lot of that. 
        We have done an accounting and learn we value money and material over the sanctity of life; ours, nature, the planet and the future. By thousands of actions we have all plundered the kid's future, a murder by a multitude of blows.

         All of that board room business and "economic cost" blather and all of the political mumbo jumbo got us to where we are. Humankind has been hoodwinked, seduced and is being undone by our greed. 
        As someone who has studied non-violence I am conflicted now, wondering if political guerrilla war fare might not have forced a better outcome, and drawn more attention to the selling of our soul. 
     Abbey wrote, "Better a cruel truth than comfortable delusion." 
      If there had been serious "monkey wrenching" we might have had more sway, more impact in protecting the future. My late brother John was a radical, a street fighter, while also an effective psychological clinician. I think now of some of our long and deep conversations. I might have better served my grand children if I would have stepped out of the neutrality of journalism and joined a fight. 
       As did others, I spent years reporting the story, even investigating environmental crimes. Our work informed, but being right and even being righteous doesn't guarantee success.

        As worthy as it might be to batch grind all of us of a certain age into dog food, I would urge the inheritors of tomorrow land to forget about old scores and instead go to work immediately in applying all knowledge and science to making adjustments, modifications, and new ways of living. Where and how you live, raise food, get water, cooperate, and even multiply will and should change. Yes, we need to stop doing damage, but you will have to make profound changes just to survive.
    Screw the profit motive. Find a way to value the totality of all human life. Nation's divide and create barriers including to solutions. The planet makes you all kindred, regardless of old power structures. Bridge and then diminish them. Be exhaustingly careful where you put your trust. Don't let money pimp science. Put cooperation and communitarian objectives into problem solving. Depose political and royal kings, queens, potentates, war lords, strongmen and those who rule or possess power because money bought it or made it happen. If money rules, life loses. Classism will only complicate the enormous challenges you will face.

     We fly computers into the heavens, rich men ride rockets for fun, but we can't house, feed or medicate people and we continue to poison our home. You in tomorrow land need to find better ways. 
       A few years ago some of us thought we could fix and make better. We failed, especially on the big matters.

        For those of us who will not venture deep into tomorrow land, let's get out of the way and for once begin to act in something other than our own selfish interests. Let's behave as though there is a future that has a value that exceeds our materialistic cult and age. Let's pray for the well being of future generations.    
        For those of you who will inhabit tomorrow land, respect the science, respect life, respect each other and do good, for the sake of everything.

        See you down the trail.