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Monday, March 29, 2010

On the Ground and At Sea

Obama visits Afghanistan as "Commander in Chief." Scott Horsley was there for the whole trip. He gives us the "highlights." Here's a bit of his nonsense coverage:
The President went into that meeting [with Karzai] determined to press the Afghan president on what he and his government need to do to match up with the military effort that the US [is] making on the ground here. Steps like rooting out corruption. Steps like doing more to root out the narco-traffickers. [..] The President was accompanied on this trip by General Jim Jones, his national security advisor who outlined what some of the goals were for the US and here on the ground he met with Gen. McChrystal [] now of course the President can talk with Gen. McChrystal via video conference and he gets weekly updates on how the US is doing with all its various efforts here in Afghanistan but this was a chance to get some on the ground intelligence and to meet face to face, both with Gen. McChrystal and with Michael Eikenberry, the US Ambassador. [] Gen. Jones says there are signs of progress here in Afghanistan, he's calling this a strategic moment [It's been six months since Jones last used that phrase, so now it's good for another go]. The battle for Kandahar will be very telling. That's what Gen. McChrystal has said will be the test for whether the strategy that President Obama has put in place is working here in Afghanistan. Kandahar is of course the city where the Taliban was born, there is still a good deal of Taliban sympathy in Kandahar and it's likely to be a bigger battle than the fight for Marjah was earlier this winter.
As cartoonish as this all seems from afar, it's oddly reverberant with the opening chapter, "Loomings," of Moby Dick. Ishmael is explaining his allure for going to sea as a sailor, in which position "head winds are more prevalent than winds from astern" (and winds from Horsley's nether parts)
so for the most part, the Commodore on the quarter-deck gets his atmosphere second hand from from the sailors on the forecastle. He thinks he breathes it first; but not so. In much the same way do the commonalty lead their leaders in many other things, at the same time as their leaders little suspect it.
Ishmael imagines his whaling story as "a brief interlude and solo between more extensive performances" such as a "grand contested election for the presidency of the united states" and "Bloody battle in Afghanistan."

The first is an allusion to the unusual campaign of 1840 where Harrison campaigned to the refrain of "Tippecanoe and Tyler too" thereby earning a 4 to 1 majority. The second is a reference to the Khoord Kabul revolt of 1841 where the Afghans killed all the officers of the British occupying army and then massacred all their retreating troops.

As Brendan Cooney noted in a Counterpunch article titled, Remember the Pequod, eight years ago, Moby Dick should be read as a cautionary tale against foolish chases. The question still rubs, now more than then: is the war in Afghanistan a (preemptive?) retaliatory venture or a commercial whaling expedition? Is it payback for Al Qaeda or a strategic foothold in the resource rich middle east? I don't know. Like most Americans, I think, I'm at sea as to why we're on the ground over there.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Good analogy.

And perhaps the saga of the Essex (which was the pattern for Moby Dick) would be an even more apt one.

In the end, the captain of the Essex and others spent months lost at sea with little food or water.

They went insane and ended up eating their own, at one point drawing lots to determine who would be 'sacrificed" for a meal...

Obama says "America never quits".

The Russians spent years in Afghanistan under basically the same circumstances (chasing a mythical whale), but at least the Russians were smart to avoid making the mistake of "never quitting". If they had, they would STILL be there.

I used to think Obama was fairly smart (I actually voted for him on that basis).

But it has become clear to me that he's a stupid parrot (just like Bush) who knows how to read a speech in front of a military crowd.

Mission accomplished!

larry, dfh said...

What a beautiful analogy! I heard the segment, and the follow-up interview with some military wife, about how she had to avoid surprising her husband, because he's a little sensitive. A neighbor just took in her daughter and young son because her son in law, a West Point grad., was a little too sensitive after returning from the M.E. Npr has almost always been too late to the discussion about the effects of endless war; they won't realize until it's too late that they are the victims, as well.

Anonymous said...

March 29, 2010 -

"From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im [sic] Noah Adams.

Iraq has entered perhaps its most uncertain period since the U.S.-led invasion. The results of parliamentary elections were announced on Friday and the political bloc of former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi narrowly defeated the bloc of current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The tally: 91 seats to 89 seats."

I'm so glad now that some NPR on-air talent are willing to identify the depth of the story to follow with opening lines like the one above.

Funny, I would have suspected a sectarian insurgency that nearly toppled the house of cards a few years back might have qualified as Iraq's "most uncertain period", but I guess I haven't been paying enough attention.

If all the NPR folk would be as accommodating, it could save me plenty of time!

-Al Hoover

Anonymous said...

I think these "tributes" to the fallen and the other crap NPR spews as part of the propaganda effort by the War Dep't is an attempt to find absolution for the support these people gave to Bush/Cheney. I have told both Simon and Hansen that: THERE IS NO absolution! The blood on our hands (it's on mine also) will not so easily be removed. And when I hear of Germans of a certain age I always want to find out what they were doing in the years 1933-1945. I fear future readers of history might wonder what we did during this period of endless war.