Imperial Lies, a Bad Trade Truce, and a Doomed Arctic
Third Cultured vol 40
|Kyle Borland||Dec 14, 2019|
Happy Saturday, y’all!
I took a bit of a birthday break to start off December and re-focus myself for the new year ahead. Looks like I may be headed in the right direction because I secured a new writing gig this week! It’s for a local, online publication but it will be great to have those deadlines and a community of writers to bounce ideas off of again.
Unfortunately, our world does not seem to be in such high spirits.
Britain handed a Thatcher-level majority to Boris Johnson and his Conservative party. Moderates and Conservatives alike in the United States jumped on the narrative that the US is doomed to the same fate unless we allow Biden or Buttigieg to save us.
Yes, that’s what we need. More neoliberal, white men educated and trained by the very institutions that got us here in the first place.
Hope we didn’t pay for that education.
Unfortunately, we the American taxpayers did pay $2 trillion of our money into a war-ridden glory hole while three successive presidents and their puppet generals lied to us about the war’s progress. Incapable of separating themselves from Lockheed’s claws, we continued to shove Western liberalism down the throats of the least developed country in the world.
The fact our Secretary of Defense publicly mocked the very idea of Afghanistan becoming a “quagmire” ensured it was destined to be one. Like the Titanic decaying at the bottom of the ocean, the empire drowned itself in the hubris of its own exceptionalism.
What horrors we are capable of when our violence is for “justice” and “peace.”
Three Things to Know
One American Thing
According to the Afghanistan Papers from the Washington Post, the United States has known since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan that it was unwinnable. 2,000 pages of interviews, conducted over 3 years revealed the last three presidential administrations have lied to the American people and wasted $2 trillion that could’ve been spent on American infrastructure, education or worthwhile international development. We should have gone in, crushed the Taliban, and left. No failed $133 billion re-development, no “War on Terror.”
In Afghanistan alone, the casualties stand:
775,000 US troops deployed | 13,000 US troops remain
2,300 died in action
20, 589 were wounded
60,000+ Afghan security forces killed (an “unsustainable” rate)
43,000+ civilians killed
If it wasn’t obvious when you visit an American airport, it is now – Terror won.
Part 1: At War With The Truth
The United States has allocated more than $133 billion to build up Afghanistan — more than it spent, adjusted for inflation, to revive the whole of Western Europe with the Marshall Plan after World War II.
U.S. officials tried to create — from scratch — a democratic government in Kabul modeled after their own in Washington. It was a foreign concept to the Afghans, who were accustomed to tribalism, monarchism, communism and Islamic law.
“Our policy was to create a strong central government which was idiotic because Afghanistan does not have a history of a strong central government,” an unidentified former State Department official told government interviewers in 2015. “The timeframe for creating a strong central government is 100 years, which we didn’t have.”
Meanwhile, the United States flooded the fragile country with far more aid than it could possibly absorb.
Part 2: Stranded Without A Strategy
Jeffrey Eggers, a retired Navy SEAL and White House official under Bush and Obama, said few people paused to question the very premise for keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
“Why did we make the Taliban the enemy when we were attacked by al-Qaeda? Why did we want to defeat the Taliban?” Eggers said in a Lessons Learned interview. “Collectively the system is incapable of taking a step back to question basic assumptions.”
Boucher, a career diplomat who also served as chief State Department spokesman under Bush, said U.S. officials did not know what they were doing.
“First, we went in to get al-Qaeda, and to get al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan, and even without killing bin Laden we did that,” Boucher told government interviewers. “The Taliban was shooting back at us so we started shooting at them and they became the enemy. Ultimately, we kept expanding the mission.”
Part 3: Built to Fail
Some said the outcome was foreseeable. They cited the U.S. track record of military interventions in other countries — Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Haiti, Somalia — over the past quarter-century.
“We just don’t have a post-conflict stabilization model that works,” Stephen Hadley, who served as White House national security adviser under Bush, told government interviewers. “Every time we have one of these things, it is a pickup game. I don’t have any confidence that if we did it again, we would do any better.”
Part 4: Consumed By Corruption
By the time Afghanistan held parliamentary elections in 2005, that perception had hardened. Lawmakers realized their votes could be worth thousands of dollars to the Americans, even for legislation they would have backed anyway, the U.S. official said.
“People would tell each other, so-and-so has just been to the U.S. Embassy and got this money. They said ‘ok now I need to go,’ ” the U.S. official said. “So from the beginning, their experience with democracy was one in which money was deeply embedded.”
By 2006, the Afghan government had “self-organized into a kleptocracy” under which people in power could plunder the economy without restraint, according to Christopher Kolenda, a retired Army colonel who advised several U.S. commanders during the war.
“The kleptocracy got stronger over time, to the point that the priority of the Afghan government became not good governance but sustaining this kleptocracy,” Kolenda told government interviewers. “It was through sheer naivete, and maybe carelessness, that we helped to create the system.”
Part 5: Unguarded Nation
“We got the [Afghan forces] we deserve,” Douglas Lute, an Army lieutenant general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar under Presidents George W. Bush and Obama, told government interviewers.
If the U.S. government had ramped up training between 2002 and 2006, “when the Taliban was weak and disorganized, things may have been different,” Lute added. “Instead, we went to Iraq. If we committed money deliberately and sooner, we could have a different outcome.”
Part 6: Overwhelmed By Opium
Meanwhile, as U.S. hopes for the Afghan security forces failed to materialize, Afghanistan became the world’s leading source of a growing scourge: opium.
The United States has spent about $9 billion to fight the problem over the past 18 years, but Afghan farmers are cultivating more opium poppies than ever. Last year, Afghanistan was responsible for 82 percent of global opium production, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
In the Lessons Learned interviews, former officials said almost everything they did to constrain opium farming backfired.
“We stated that our goal is to establish a ‘flourishing market economy,’ ” said Douglas Lute, the White House’s Afghan war czar from 2007 to 2013. “I thought we should have specified a flourishing drug trade — this is the only part of the market that’s working.”
One International Thing
Trump and Xi agreed to a “phase one” deal. (It’s just a holiday pause, y’all.)Key points after briefing: 1) there is a phase one deal 2) US has agreed to keep promise to cancel tariffs “step by step” (end part of existing tariffs, cancel tariffs to be imposed, expand exemptions) 3) China to buy more US goods “without doubt” but on market need (no target)
One Cultural Thing
The Arctic has reached the point of no return: “…permafrost ecosystems could be releasing as much as 1.1 billion to 2.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year. This is almost as much as the annual emissions of Japan and Russia in 2018, respectively.”
"I have no visibility into who the bad guys are.”
“I may be impatient. In fact I know I’m a bit impatient. We are never going to get the U.S. military out of Afghanistan unless we take care to see that there is something going on that will provide the stability that will be necessary for us to leave.”
Attorney General Barr met with Mexican officials in Mexico City last week to discuss the cartels in the country’s north who’s violence has increased. On Friday, President Trump will make a decision on whether or not to label the cartels as foreign terror organizations, which would put them in the same category as ISIS or Al Qaeda.
DC agreed to a compromise on the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (aka NAFTA 2.0). It’s a big win for both parties as updating NAFTA was a campaign promise of the president’s and the Democrats were able to update the deal to include greater labor protections and showed they can chew gum while impeaching Trump. Expect to hear a lot about the deal as both parties try to frame it was “more of a win” for them than the other side. Let’s just hope this deal actually helps American workers.
Other bipartisan moves this week, included:
Congress designated for the first time the 1915 mass killings of Armenians as Ottoman-mandated genocide.
Congress passed a defense bill increasing spending $22 billion dollars, totaling $738 billion, which will increase service member pay/benefits and creates the Trump’s sought after Space Force.
Democrats unveiled two Articles of Impeachment against the president – on the same day as the USMCA announcement – for corrupting the US election process and for obstructing Congress’ investigation. It’s now a guarantee the House will impeach the president following the House Judiciary Committee’s 23-17 vote on Friday morning, but Trump and Moscow Mitch cannot agree on tactics. The Majority Leader wants a quick trial to avoid mutually assured destruction whereas Trump believes a drawn-out process better his 2020 odds.
Even still, the USA Today endorsed impeachment, joining editorial boards at the LA Times, Washington Post, the Boston Globe, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Meanwhile, former Attorney General wrote in the Post that current AG William Barr is “unfit” for the job.
Drawings of the US’ “enhanced interrogation” have been released. Trigger warning: the visuals are graphic.
Holiday travel sucks because of machine politics and petty feuds.
Navy grounds more than 300 Saudi national pilots after Pensacola shooting.
Take a look at the National Security Surveillance program. It can spy on Americans within the United States at will.
The US sanctioned Myanmar for genocide against Rohingya people.
123 – The number of times Trump tweeted on Thursday. His personal record, which had been set on Sunday when he sent out 105.
All primary debate dates are set. There are three in February, and 10 total.
Biden has said privately that he would only be a one-term president. His campaign is currently weighing the pros and cons of announcing a one-term pledge publicly. As Twitter said, “is that a threat or a promise?”
In a rare occurrence, Biden is being praised for handling his record on Saudi Arabia while Obama continues to be criticized for not coming to terms.
Bloomberg pledged $10 million to defend vulnerable Democratic House seats; however, it must be noted that he has already spent close to $100 million in advertising after less than a month in the race. Steyer is close to $90 million.
—Billionaires should not be able to buy our elections.—
Buttigieg revealed his McKinsey clients after the firm waived his NDA. Unsurprisingly, he consulted for healthcare companies and may have advised for thousands of job cuts.
Kamala’s endorsement of Medicare for All was a bellwether moment for the 2020 Democratic nomination. Harris’ move swung the moderate lane of candidates to the Left from the start of the campaign. She also led the charge in calling for Stephen Miller’s removal from office.
The current slate of Democratic progressives shares a “rather anti-interventionist streak and see virtue served by a restrained U.S. foreign policy,” according to Stephen Pomper, the senior director for policy at the International Crisis Group and a former advisor on Africa and multilateral affairs in Obama’s National Security Council. “They are much less likely to give the U.S. a pass in order to achieve some pragmatic objective.”
Who are the major VP contenders? Harris, Abrams, Castro, Booker and Pete.
“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing.
What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”
China, Europe, Russia, and Everyone Else
A national strike in France over Macron’s proposed pension reforms are the largest the countries seen in decades, bringing the economy to a halt.
Ali Milani, a 25-year old Iranian immigrant, is giving UK PM Boris Johnson a run for his re-election.
Argentina granted former Bolivian president Evo Morales asylum.
Boris Johnson’s won a landslide victory in the UK’s General Election. It’s the biggest Conservative party victory since Margaret Thatcher’s in 1987. What’s next after Brexit? Britain and the EU will negotiate almost $650 billion in trade between them.
Finland elected the world’s youngest world leader, Sanna Marin (34).
India designated its 200 million Muslims as second-class citizens.
Delhi is securing its maritime control over the Indian Ocean.
Iran is funneling an arsenal of short-range missiles into Iraq as the country bucks under the pressure of nationwide unrest.
Israel to hold the third election of the year as neither side can form a coalition.
NATO and the High North: how Norway protects Europe against Russia’s most militarized region.
While the Norwegian government has made a decision not to overly militarize the border, Oslo has a ready force in reserve in the form of the Home Guard, a 40,000-strong civilian militia ready to spring into action if the balloon goes up. Visitors get few details, but the locals around the Finnmark region and the Norwegian town of Kirkenes would act as a guerrilla force, using local contacts and their knowledge of the terrain to harass a Russian force, blowing bridges and sabotaging roads.
The scenario is something the garrison trains for regularly. Looking at the Russian invasion of Ukraine, where they use electronic jamming to blind Ukrainian forces and turn off their ability to communicate, Nilsen said in a fight, “potentially I will not have comms, so I need to use small unit tactics and disperse, and I have to act differently from other units.”
Religion is losing ground in the most unlikely place: the Middle East.
Russia was banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency from international sporting competitions — including the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo — for four years.
The Normandy Four – Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany – met in Paris to restart diplomatic negotiations for bringing an end to the war in eastern Ukraine.
The IMF agreed to a $5.5 billion loan to Ukraine, citing progress on corruption.
Germany expelled two Russian diplomats for their roles in an assassination.
Saudi Aramco had the largest IPO ever – $26 billion – at a $1.9 trillion valuation.
The Sahel in Africa and Mali, in particular, need help to combat terrorism.
Turkey began resettling refugees in northeastern Syria, with plans to relocate the 3 million Syrian refugees within Turkey to the hostile region.
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Cities, Climate, Culture & Corporations
Alaska’s sliver of the Arctic Circle is the fastest-warming slice land on Earth. However, the people of Alaska’s North Slope are dependent on oil subsidies to live.
These changes are drowning Alaska Native towns. Twelve rural villages are hoping to relocate to drier ground, making their nearly 4,000 residents among the first climate refugees in the United States. Fourteen more are considered “high priority” for relocation.
Climate change is not something people discuss much in Nuiqsut. Instead of talking about greenhouse gas emissions and the astonishing rate of local warming, Itta and other opponents of more oil development emphasize drilling’s impact on the animals they hunt, and by extension, their cultural identity.
Amazon’s Ring cameras are not as secure as promised and may help spy on you.
Americans aren’t moving anymore. We can’t afford to, plus there’s no new land to fill.
Clean water and sanitation are some of the greatest global challenges over the next decade due to population growth and urbanization. 785 million people lack access to clean drinking water and over 2 billion lack access to a toilet.
Don’t read Quillette. It peddles race science.
ELLE interviewed Beyonce about love and purpose to ring in the new decade.
Ethiopia unearths evidence showing Christian presence pre-Constantine in Rome.
Facebook ads are spreading misinformation around HIV treatment in LGBTQ+ communities.
“I told my mentor I was a Dominatrix. She rescinded her letters of recommendation.”
Megan Rapinoe of the USWNT is Sports Illustrated’s 2019 Sportsperson of the Year.
Romance novels are a billion-dollar industry. Not “guilty pleasures.”
The FTC is moving to block Facebook from integrating its different products – Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp, etc. – citing anti-trust violations.
The West is not prepared to defend against foreign digital interference in elections.