Band Aid on a Sucking Chest Wound

Let’s think about this before we start another war:

At the Veterans Crisis Line in Canandaigua, New York, the calls come in all day and night. Every day, 1,700 calls come in from veterans on the brink. […]

Twenty veterans take their lives every day in America, or 6,000 a year. Personal finances, broken relationships and loneliness are all factors. […]

Responder Terrence Davis, a Navy veteran himself, said he always tries to answer by the second ring.

“It’s highly stressful. Just knowing that you have someone else’s life in your hands,” Davis said.

Former Sergeant Danny O’Neel knows that feeling. Santa Cruz, California, may be a long way from the battlefield, but for him and his men, Sadr City, Iraq, is close by.

“It was hell on Earth. It was the most dangerous place at the time,” O’Neel said.

In 2006, his unit lost nine men in the fighting. But back home, 14 have died at their own hands.

“The guys started isolating and drinking and doing things that they thought were helping them cope. And it, and it led to depression and suicide,” he said.

Suicide hotline operators, and every other healthcare provider trying to heal these vets, are doing some of the hardest work there is. But their labor is a tiny fraction of what’s needed to stop these preventable deaths. We need more research, more providers, and more money spent on providing care for vets and others. More broadly, we need to expand our concept of a casualty of war, and understand the true long-term cost of wars that DC armchair warriors are constantly pushing.

Looking Ahead

The little town downriver from us scared the shit out of me about an hour ago by blasting an air raid siren I never knew existed until today. I only heard it faintly because of the distance, but it was alarming, as it was designed to be.

I’m speculating it was sounded at a noon observance of the 9/11 attacks? Here’s my personal observance of 9/11, and I think it will be the last one I ever share here or anywhere else.

Our daughter was three years old on 9/11/2001. Now she’s 21, and the war that started that day is still going on.

Our nephew was 18 years old on 9/11/2001. Today he’s 36, the father of two small children, and an officer in the US Army serving in Afghanistan. (He’s also done tours in Iraq, including leading foot patrols through Baghdad during the most dangerous period for US service members.)

Last week, Trump apparently mistook diplomats engaged for months/years in peace negotiations for an annoyingly balky reality show production crew and stepped in to personally speed things up for a glitzy Sweeps Week finish. Because he is and always has been an epic fuck-up, Trump fucked that up too, so now the war in Afghanistan will continue for at least another 14 months.

Enough of this fucking bullshit.

Sometimes I wonder how much “Never Forget” gets in the way of “Get the Fuck Out.” Fascist shit-birds like Rudy Giuliani, Karl Rove and Donald Trump will hump the 9/11 attacks until their wizened scrotums pass into dust because they (correctly) perceive it as a path to power.

Their role in extending our national trauma for power and profit has been obvious since the beginning. Joe Biden, God bless him, called Giuliani out on it more than a decade ago.

But even our good politicians feel obligated to issue solemn statements and speak in hushed tones every September 11. Here’s what I wonder: Does fixating on that horrendous day all these years later perpetuate its power and contribute to its potential to cause even more suffering?

I honestly don’t know, but personally, I’m done with “Never Forget,” at least in the prescribed way that the dishonest tragedy-humpers wallow in on this day every year.

Instead, I’ll look ahead and work toward a future where my daughter can consciously live in a country that isn’t “at war” (accursed phrase!) for the first time in her life, and my nephew can come home to his wife and children.

Open thread.

The Peace Talks With the Taliban and Secretary Pompeo’s Statement That US Forces Have Killed 1,000 Taliban In the Past Ten Days

Shortly after BettyC put up her post yesterday about the President announcing by tweet that he had first invited the Taliban to a final round peace agreement negotiation and signing ceremony at Camp David and subsequently cancelled the invitation because the Taliban killed several US military personnel last week, I texted* the following to her:

I give it 50/50 odds that there was no actual, formal Camp David invite. The Afghan president was supposed to visit the US this week to meet with the President at the White House, but cancelled that trip on Friday. The Taliban’s spokesperson tweeted out yesterday that there are lots of potential next steps, but never mentioned this at all.

Pompeo’s statement that we’ve killed 1,000 Taliban in the past week makes no sense either. There would have been wall to wall coverage and Brian Williams would’ve been airdropped into Nangahar if we’d mounted an offensive large enough to net 1,000 enemy KIA. We’d also have taken our own share of casualties. None of which has been reported.

My guess is that by Wednesday will have several articles, from WaPo, the Times, Politico, Daily Beast, and Axios, that basically shred both of these assertions. The President’s invite and Pompeo’s assertion about killing 1,000 Taliban.

We now know, thanks to reporting by The New York Times, that there was a formal invite to the Taliban, but that the entire plan for the Camp David trip had been hastily created because the President decided on an impulse or whim on Labor Day weekend that if he could get the Taliban to Camp David he could seal the deal. And while the reporting doesn’t really delve into whether this would be a good thing for Afghanistan or Afghans, it does make clear that the President thought this would be good for his campaign for reelection. Given that the negotiations are not complete, the Taliban are clearly not completely on board (more on this in a paragraph), the Afghan president and government isn’t actually involved, this wasn’t a fully baked idea.

Secretary Pompeo then went on Chris Wallace’s Fox News Sunday show and in an attempt to demonstrate how tough the administration is being on the Taliban and announced, without any corroborating evidence, that the US has killed 1,000 Taliban (fighters?) in the past 10 days. To be very blunt, if we had, as Secretary Pompeo announced on Chris Wallace’s Fox News Sunday show, killed 1,000 Taliban in the past ten days it would have made news. Even if the Commanding General of Operation Resolute Support or the Commanding General of CENTCOM wanted to keep this as locked down as possible, there would have been, as I texted BettyC, wall to wall coverage and Brian Williams would’ve been airdropped into Nangahar if we’d mounted an offensive large enough to net 1,000 enemy KIA. We’d also have taken our own share of casualties. None of which has been reported in addition to the KIAs we took in the attacks on Kabul last week.

All of this sturm and drang and equine and canine extravaganza is obscuring something even more important. That as bad as it is that the US is still conducting combat operations in Afghanistan after almost 18 years, ending this part of America’s forever war preemptively will make things worse, not better. Unless the US can reach a negotiated settlement that is able to secure the Afghan government and the Afghan citizenry, reaching a deal with the Taliban just so someone can tout “promise made, promise kept” during the 2020 campaign the US will have failed to secure the peace. The sole point of modern interstate conflict, as well as modern 3rd party participant low intensity warfare**, which is what the Afghan war against al Qaeda and the Taliban have been, is to use conventional and unconventional military power to establish the conditions to secure the peace post cessation of battlefield hostilities. Reaching an agreement with the Taliban that is solely about reaching an agreement with the Taliban, even if it returns several thousand American troops home in short order does not do meet this requirement.

The Taliban have made it very clear that they believe the Afghan government is a “stooge government”. This Taliban position has made completing the negotiations with them very difficult for Ambassador Khalilzad. The Taliban, as well as others in Afghanistan, have often remarked to US military personnel that “you have the watches, we have the time”. They know that eventually we, as well as our NATO coalition partners in NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTMA-A) have to come home. And they are simply waiting for that to happen. This is part of the reason that they’ve escalated their offensive activities over the past several weeks. Both because they perceive that the President wants out – despite assertions made about them, they’re not stupid, they read our newspapers and watch our news programs – and because it allows them to increase the pressure on Khalilzad and his negotiators. The Taliban’s recent offensive escalation is part of their negotiation strategy, not something being done in spite of it.

Any agreement we reach must include the Afghan government, not be the precursor to the Taliban negotiating with that government. A government they consider to be illegitimate. A government that they will escalate their war with as soon as we have too few troops in theater to do anything but hunker down in our fortified bases. This will not make Afghanistan safer, it will not make the region safer, and it will not make the US and our allies and partners safer. I am not arguing for the forever war. I am arguing for a strategy that uses our and our coalition allies’ combat, training, and advise and assist missions in Afghanistan to set the conditions to secure the peace. We have, several times, made progress towards doing this. Unfortunately that progress never stuck for a variety of reasons. The whole point of invading Afghanistan to depose the Taliban and root out al Qaeda was to change the dynamic. Signing a peace agreement with the Taliban simply to be able to check a box for a reelection campaign that ignores that the dynamic hasn’t been shifted, that we have not established the conditions to secure the peace, is a peace agreement that isn’t worth the paper it is printed on.

Open thread.

* We do not have a slack channel.

** I am using low intensity warfare to refer to two related types of war. The first is all forms of war short of interstate war. The first usage, all forms of war short of interstate war, refers to revolution, rebellion, civil war, insurgency, and terrorism. The second refers to types of war: irregular, asymmetric, unconventional, and guerrilla warfare (a type of irregular warfare). Insurgency and terrorism are both forms and types of ear and belong in both categories.

Rise And Kill First! Israel Strikes Iranian Military and Militia Targets in Syria

If a man comes to kill you, rise early and kill him first.

Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Berakoth

Rise and kill first is adapted from a saying in The Babylonian Talmud, quoted above, that provides the self defense justification if someone breaks into one’s home to kill them. It is also considered to be an unofficial motto, at least, of Israel’s security services, specifically its assassination teams. Which is also the focus and title of Ronen Bergman’s excellent history of Israel’s targeted assassination program. So it should be no surprise that Bibi quotes it in his tweet from earlier today announcing Israeli strikes against Iran’s Quds Force, other Iranian military and militia elements, and, based on some reports, Hezbullah militia elements. It is Bibi’s way of trying to ground what he is doing in Judaic law, which lends an element of religious warfare to today’s strikes, as well as within Israel’s history of striking before it can be struck. And I have no doubt that the Iranians received both of the messages Bibi was transmitting with the final sentence in that tweet.

The closeness of today’s strike to Israel’s upcoming election has not gone unnoticed by Bibi’s unauthorized biographer Anshel Pfeffer.

I’ve seen references on social media that Israeli drones have been brought down over Beirut by Hezbullah, but it isn’t a trusted source so take it as RUMINT for the time being. Noga Tarnopolsky has reported that the Israeli Air Force is flying extended/extra combat air patrols and that the Iron Dome missile defense system has been activated in the north of Israel, including the Golan Heights.

As was the case the last several times that Netanyahu ordered strikes, remember he is both the Prime Minister and the Defense Minister, the question will be whether for the time being these are one and done strikes or they begin a pattern of either Iranian-Israeli tit for tat and escalation or if cooler heads prevail. Given that Bibi is fighting not just for his political life, but to be able to leverage his control of the Israeli government to make the investigations into him and the charges against him go away, I would expect to see more strikes. Especially because the Iranians know this. And they know they can provoke him into attacking to prove he’s the best choice in the upcoming Israeli elections to keep Israel safe. The Quds Force commander, Major General Qassem Suleimani, is the best strategist indigenous to the region. I think he’s trying to goad Bibi into overreacting. Into doing something so over the top, so strategically risky that it backfires and blows back not just on Bibi, but also on Israel and Bibi’s US patron: the President. If this is, indeed, Suleimani’s strategy, then it is a risky one. But also one for the potential for great reward.

This could, and likely will, get much worse before it gets better.

Open thread.

The 24th Anniversary of the Srebrenica Massacre

On July 11, 1995 Srebrenica fell to the Bosnian Serbs led by Ratko Mladic. In the days and weeks prior to the Serbs taking the city, approximately 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were systematically killed, including those trying to flee the city and into and through the woods and forests to reach safety from the Srebrenican Massacre. Muslims fleeing the city sought refuge with the UN Peacekeeping contingent from Holland. Rather than protect them, the Dutch turned them over to Mladic’s forces. The men and boys were separated and massacred, while the women and girls were distributed by Mladic’s forces throughout the region.

The Srebrinican Massacre was the worst mass killing in Europe since the end of World War II and the Holocaust. The remains of many, if not most of the victims of the massacre were never found, identified, and or returned. Over a thousand Bosnian Muslims are still considered missing. Today, on the 24th anniversary, they were able to return the remains of 33 newly identified sets of remains.

More remains are found every year.

Unfortunately, in 2019, many of the Bosnian Serb officials, especially those aligned with Russia, continue to deny the massacre and the larger genocide it was a part of. Instead they continue to push the same dangerous, racist, exclusionary, and eliminationist rhetoric that their predecessors used in the 1990s.

Although the mass killings were branded genocide by international courts, Serbian and Bosnia Serb officials refuse to use the term. They did not send official delegations to the commemoration on Thursday.

Nenad Popovic, an openly pro-Russian minister in Serbia’s government, said in a statement that “there was no genocide in Srebrenica and Serbs will never accept to be stamped as genocidal people.”

He said Serbia should rethink its goal of becoming a European Union member because of such claims.

Open thread.