Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Only Two More Days of Having to Be Nice Day!

Today, I'm going to actually do it. I'm going to finally come out of the closet...

...about my deep and enduring affinity for Christmas. For pure fun and good times value, nothing tops it. Not even Chanukah. There: I said it. I'm sorry, Mom.

But I should also qualify this: What I really mean to say is that I have a deep affinity for Christmas time and all its dazzling splendor, as opposed to the actual commemoration of the holiday itself, whose meaning only begins to make sense to me midway through my fourth Fat Tire. As offensive as this will sound to most devout Christians, it never ceases to amaze - and startle - me to think that a holiday with such religious heft hinges on the assumption that a baby-god was once born of a virgin. And we're not talking about some floozy from around the way who's known for doing everything but. This is Mary - a blessed woman, a veritable saint - not some frizzed-out hood rat from Paramus. And out of all the pristine women of Galilee, somehow she was the one who popped out a kid? That's right out of a John Carpenter movie, and it frightens me.

So there's that.

Also, nothing says CIRCUMCIZED PENISES STAY HOME quite like a midnight mass with an all-boys choir singing "Sweet Little Jesus Boy"

So then what is it about Christmas that seduces a cynical Jewish kid from Upstate New York into purchasing and erecting a Christmas tree in his living room a whole month before the big day? (And no, fence-straddlers, there is no such thing as a "Chanukah Bush," unless...never mind. Too easy and sleazy.) Because, as you can clearly see, the religious significance of one of the holiest days on the Christian calendar has about as much impact on me as Purim has on the Pope.

It's the season of Christmas that takes firm hold of my Star of David and yanks it off my neck with one quick, joyous jerk right around the first of every December - the Christmas season, with its unapologetic collision of unbridled sentimentality and decadent splendor, ceremoniously ushered in with the transformation of prosaic suburban enclaves into Santa's Workshops and wintry wonderlands.

Really, how can anyone with a fully intact human soul remain impervious to the mirth, pageantry, and all-too-tiny window of altruism that permeates the American psyche for no fewer than two weeks each and every year?

Even the most curmudgeonly of cynics must concede that the season's aura and energy inches us closer together, albeit temporarily, narrowing yawning divides between strangers and adversaries.

Go ahead - ask yourself:

Who's not going to hold the door for a mall elf?

Aren't you more likely to reconcile with an estranged co-worker during an office Christmas party, as opposed to an office birthday party?

Aren't you just a little less likely to come unhinged at the DirecTV customer support rep. after being placed on hold to "Silent Night" as opposed to Kenny G's rage-inducing "Songbird"?

And, finally, is there or is there not a greater likelihood of you letting that Camry into your lane upon discovery that the driver is wearing reindeer antlers?

For pure fun and good feelins' value, Christmastime is a perfect 10. Chanukah cannot hope to compete with the season's unstoppable colassus of warmth and happiness. Extract and isolate the secular aspects of Christmas day itself from the rest of the season's festivities, and it would alone remain an amazing, splendid magical force. Especially for children.

But like countless other little Jewish kids, I was an outsider looking in at a mystical realm of joy, happiness, and abundance. The lights were luminescent, the trees gorgeous, and the songs sung in English. I sought refuge not in the lighted menorahs or the harmonic redundancy of "Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel" and "Chanukah, Oh Chanukah," (Why must all Chanukah songs possess insufferably repetitive lyrics, my kid brain often wondered. Do they think I'll be convinced about the holiday's coolness by chanting the phrase "Festival of Lights" one more goddamn time?) but in the downplaying of the spirit of Christmas. Gentiles wonder how Jews can be so proficient at the arts of denial and bitterness. Easy: We start early.

Santa Claus? Who wants to be around that red, hot, drunk mess? Christmas trees? I guess they're okay - if you hate the environment. An endless panoply of presents? The embodiment of pure, egregious excess, mass consumption, and hyper-materialism. And unless Santa's workshop is in Hunan Province, those stockings just might be laced with something other than care.

And those were just the eight-year-olds talking.

Most Jewish parents find it difficult to comprehend their kids' Christmas envy. They shouldn't. Or perhaps Mom and Dad are also in deep denial:

Sweetie, why would you care about that pile of opulently-wrapped gifts - most of which conceal the newest, hottest toys of the season - beneath that majestic fir tree when you can light candles and say a prayer!

On second thought, you're absolutely right, Mom. I lost my head there for a minute. Now if you'll excuse me while I turn on the TV to watch the menorah lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Plaz - oh, wait...

...What I meant to say is I'm going to turn on the TV so that I can watch the Charlie Brown Chanukah sp - oh, wait...

And so on.

(Though, in retrospect, I do believe that the insipidly cloying tale of Rudolph could've been ramped-up a ton had the red-nosed reindeer instead been the only Jew or Muslim among his colleagues. Call him Reuben or Rachman. Just a thought.)

So for me, the Christmas season was a time of dread and isolation which was only exacerbated by being the lone Jew in Mrs. James' third-grade class.

Nevertheless, I had my suspicions about Mikey Stoneman - more commonly known back then as Messy Mikey, for the spillage of sticky matter that perpetually encompassed the area around his desk and for the permanent fudge ring that enveloped his slobbery mouth - who attempted to cast a subtle profile while partaking in all our class's Christmas festivities: Hunkered down at his desk in the back row of the classroom, Mikey devoured gingerbread men and candy canes during the class Christmas party, eagerly hung his disgraceful attempt at a hand-crafted Rudolph on the class' synthetic Christmas tree, and participated in the Secret Santa gift exchange. But there was always something amiss with Messy Mikey. First, the obvious: Stoneman. While not possessing the same cultural cache as Levi, Cohen, Abramowicz or Goldstein, for sheer Jewish-ness, you could do much worse than having Stoneman for a surname. Dr. Stoneman, Michael Stoneman, D.D.S., Mike Stoneman, PhD - yeah, it works just fine. To make matters worse, in one instance, I overheard little shiksa cutie-pie Emily Lewis ask Mikey what religion he was (she must've sniffed it out, too), and Messy responded by saying he was Christmas.

Emily: You mean Christian?
Messy: Oh. Yeah. Un-huh.
Emily: But you said Christmas.
Messy: (terrified silence)

That Mikey faked his way through the lyrics to Silent Night during music class was even more damning. And I'm sorry, but for a little Christian kid, that's just unacceptable. Hell, even I knew the lyrics to that one; it was a rare moment in which a nine-year-old boy could belt out the words "young virgin" with passion, conviction and impunity. So, of all the Christmas songs, how could a nice gentile boy who existed to annihilate gingerbread reindeer cookies not know all the lyrics to "Silent Night"? Impossible. Unless, of course, he was...JEWISH!

As Thanksgiving - with its typical absence of fun and presents - passed (From a child's perspective, Thanksgiving existed to venerate gluttony, inertia, and the banishment of everyone under the age of fourteen to an undersized foldout table in the corner of the kitchen, right beside the effusion of steaming Turkey entrails piled high in the trash) and as late-November grinded mercilessly into the holiday season, I inevitably felt that same seismic scar re-opening between my gentile classmates and me. They flooded into class each morning, their anxious eyes growing wilder by the day. They buzzed about their new lush Christmas trees or about well-apointed houses choked in labyrinthian strands of blinky lights. There was much talk about garland and tinsel and stocking stuffers, items that were as familiar to me at that moment of my life as income tax returns and Astroglide.

Mrs. James' Countdown to Santa, a homemade collage of magazine cutout Santa Clause images from back issues of Better Homes and Gardens, superimposed by a Bayer Aspirin calendar, swayed tenuously above the row of cubby holes in the back of the classroom. It just hung there, a garish, mocking reminder of my own personal countdown to jealousy and sullen introspection.

But deep inside, Christmastime was something that I exalted, yearned for, and ultimately envied with the hot intensity that no Jewish holiday could assuage. That's right. I said it. No Jewish holiday.

But what about Passover? you might ask. Well, sure: If thoughts of lamb shanks, Philistine armies, and plagues of locusts fill you with warmth and glee, then maybe it can compete. And, I'll tell you want: You enjoy gnawing on that unleavened bread and brisket; I'll be over here, helping myself to some of this action.

Okay, but what of Yom Kippur, the holiest of Jewish high holidays - the day of atonement? 'Nuff said.

Rosh Hashanah? The Jewish new year, sans noise makers, champagne, making out with strangers, Dick Clark, and Times Square. The shofar, or ram's horn, serves as our version of a noisemaker, though it takes years to learn how to properly blow into it (ahem...), thus rendering the object utterly useless for celebrants who actually want to, you know, have fun this year. For pseudo-Jews like me, the most gratifying aspect of Rosh Hashanah is the knowledge that the Jewish calendar exceeds that of the Christian's by almost four thousand years. (It's 5770.)

But unlike Messy Mikey, I had no latent desire to trade in my Star of David and yarmulke for a crucifix and communion wafer. I could care less about Christianity. But Christmas was another matter entirely.

In retrospect, I can't honestly recall the exact moment in my life when I finally let myself succumb to the ecstasy of the Christmas season, but I'm sure there was a cute gentile girlfriend or two along the way that helped ease me in that direction (my current fiance being the emphatic coup de grace). And as I grew older, I gradually realized that the joy and gratification of indulging in the holiday spirit far outweighed the white hot acid of Jewish guilt gnawing relentlessly at the frayed edges of my soul. As though that wouldn't have happened anyway.

But is it all a mirage? Is all the feel-good cheer the height of superficiality, or are does it leave a stronger, more enduring impression?

As with all questions that address the human condition, it probably depends.

The effects of Christmas cheer seem to work more as a drug of choice than an indelible cultural mindset. Like good weed, it's a mellow, pleasant, fleeting high that shouldn't be mistaken for our current national attitude toward charity and altruism. And so while the Christmas season has been known to help sew family grievances, increase the flow of money to the needy, and put a temporary halt to fierce and bloody military battles, the depth of its efficaciousness is limited by its ephemeral nature.

Rest assured, when Blu-Tooth Black Beemer Guy cuts me off on Ventura Blvd. doing fifty in late-July, clearing my front fender by mere inches, the spirit of the holiday season will be completely absent in my profanity-laced tirade, obscene gestures, and prayers for his imminent dismemberment.

Christmas cheer will also remain conspicuously dormant from my thoughts and wishes in February, while I wait a few extra moments to hold a door open for a woman at Target, only to have her dash past without any acknowledgement whatsoever.

And in April, when a diminutive blonde woman behind the wheel of a massive SUV lays into her horn as I wait for pedestrians to cross the street before taking my right hand turn, good tidings will go straight to hell as I whip around and flip blondie the angriest, most nauseous middle finger ever erected in the history of humankind. And in case, she misses the gesture, I will no doubt accompany and accentuate it with a merry FUCK...OFF!

Season's greetings.

To further belabor my point, could you fathom the driver of the Budweiser Clydesdale sleigh in this commercial yelling "Fuck off" upon getting sideswiped by the Coors dogsledding team? No? Exactly. And why not? Because it's fucking Christmas!

Disappointingly, and for whatever reasons, we humans simply haven't evolved to the point where we can collectively behave with unconditional decency and compassion for longer than three consecutive weeks at a time. Think of it as the holiday equivalent of Los Angeles County: Once you exceed its ill-defined boundaries, all bets for rationality, grace, and dignity are off. Drive too far south, and you're in gangland; too far east, and it's gun rack nation; too far west, and you're being devoured by Bull Sharks.

So, just as long as it's understood and accepted that everyone's going to be mean and nasty again come December 26th, we can move on and enjoy our holiday festivities for what they are.

For me, it's enough to supersede the holiday's darker inclinations - our slavishly Pavlovian drive to purchase the newest generation I-phone or X-Box whenever we hear Bing Crosby work his golden pipes, or the overwhelming sense of loneliness that can beset, harass, and plague people who are distanced or estranged from loved ones during a time of such ebullience.

Oh, but the lights!

And the presents!

And the crackling fireplaces, dangling stockings, sugar plums (never seen one, never eaten one, wouldn't know one if it were jammed down my esophagus - but SUGAR PLUMS!), festive caroling, and delusions of peace on earth.

Merry Christmastime, everyone!

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Friday, December 11, 2009

He's No Jesus

Okay, time for another quiz:

What does a president who is responsible for perpetuating two separate but simultaneous wars - one with no end in sight and another that was initially predicated on a pile of misinformation and lies - say when receiving the Nobel Peace Prize?

A.) "I realize how this must look (dry swallow), but I swear I really, really like peace (nervous laughter). Seriously - for the most part - I do."

B.) "If you think this is ironic, you should see my Franklin Mint White Power figurines."

C.) "War is like peace, except with rocket propelled grenades and tons of killing."

D.) "So yes, the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace. And yet this truth must coexist with another - that no matter how justified, war promises human tragedy. The soldier's courage and sacrifice is full of glory, expressing devotion to country, to cause and to comrades in arms."

You too, Obama? What in the hell happened to you? What happened to the kinder, gentler version of Hillary? What happened to the assurances of affordable health care, a cleaner environment, and vastly improved public education? What happened to the dovish commander-in-chief with the will, savvy, and moral compass to lead us out of two senseless wars so that we could get on with the business of rebuilding a flagging superpower? What happened to Black Jesus?

And, just in case you've forgotten, Oslo, it's the Nobel PEACE Prize. According to the Nobel Committee, it's supposed to be awarded " the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."

It would've been a quaint gesture had the Nobel committee followed their own instructions and given the award to someone who's actually in some way responsible for bringing peace to a parcel of the world over the past year. Or, at the very least, the panel certainly could've awarded it to an individual who hasn't authorized "drone" attacks on Al Qaeda and Taliban strongholds that have been known to errantly kill innocent civilians. Or, might they have given it to someone who hasn't also authorized the outsourcing of torture to hotbeds of human rights such as Yemen, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Oman? There were other options.

Greg Mortenson is still building schools and promoting literacy for girls in Afghanistan.

Mir Hossein Mousavi is still inciting peaceful insurrection against Iran's oppressive dictatorial regime.

Hell, and if you wanted to add a little glitzy-glammy star power to the award, Brad Pitt is probably the most underrated actor-turned-humanitarian in the world.

Or, with the absence of Mother Theresa, there's always this option, if you wanted to fill the sexy quota for this year's honor.

Or how about this simple criterion: You cannot receive the Nobel Peace Prize if you have in any way, tangentially or not, been responsible for the death of another human being over the past year. Fair enough? No? Well...fuck.

I'm not deliberately trying kick the president when he's down; but I am definitely a stringent advocate of maintaing standards. Giving a rarefied peace award to a wartime president is just stupid, and it only serves to detract from its prestige (like The Learning Channel pandering to America's dumb gene by preempting most of its educational programming with twenty-seven different versions of "American Chopper").

Here's another quote from Obama's acceptance lecture:

"We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth that we will not eradicated violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations - acting individually or in concert - will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified."

Which is a powerful, if not valid, proclamation that's worthy of debate, discussion, and circumspection. But save it for a joint session of Congress, an Annapolis graduation ceremony, or even a State of the Union, because it's also a statement that's wholly inappropriate for a venue that has witnessed the pacific entreaties of Ghandi, Andrei Sakharov, Mother Theresa, Dr. King, Elie Wiesel, The Dalai Lama, and Aung San Suu Kyi.

We're slapped in the face with the realities of human frailty, indignity, and imperfection every day, but if there exists a venue for the idealistic notion of a world that averts the moral bankruptcy of violent conflict, it should be in the halls of Oslo.

Ironically, Obama even evoked a quote from King's acceptance speech from 1964: "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones."

Note the absolutes in King's statement. Note also the absence of qualifiers and preconditions. In other words, note the absence of this:

Violence never brings permanent peace...unless, of course, you're extremely careful against whom you use it - like suspected terrorists, for instance. Then it's okay.

But King's actual Nobel speech offers no quarter for individuals like Obama, who choose to qualify or re-contextualize his words. For a man as morally intractable as M.L.K. Jr., there's no wiggle room; for politicians, statements such as these only offer value to the extent that they can be reinterpreted and ultimately stripped of their value.

Yet in his acceptance speech, Obama implied that King's words were anachronistic and borderline irrelevant to his current course of action:

"...But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince Al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms..."

Oh, no: The Hitler card.

It's disappointing that an individual with the refined historical perspective of Obama compares the Al Qaeda terrorist network to Hitler's Third Reich. It's not the same, not even close.

The Third Reich was an omnipotent, destructive behemoth, steamrolling its way through Europe. The Nazis were well on their way to annexing the entire European continent until they were choked by both the U.S. and Russian armies on two separate fronts.

Al Qaeda is a web of loosely affiliated cells, operating mostly within the shadows and crevices of largely unwilling host nations. What makes Obama's comparison even more untenable is Al Qaeda's parasitic nature: It feeds on disillusion, disenfranchisement, poverty, and a tidal wave of anti-Americanism; attempts to bludgeon it with unrestrained military force or "counterinsurgency" have yielded disastrous consequences in both Iraq and Afghanistan, doing more to arouse regional anger and therefore bolster the network's ranks than any recruiting station every could.

Al Qaeda is as much a state of mind as it is a terrorist organization. It thrives on the myth and mystique of American military imperialism. Each American counterinsurgency campaign comes accompanied by another rash of civilian casualties, giving further credence to the half-twisted belief that America is indeed an imminent global threat, which only serves to stoke the ire of future operatives.

Familial, ethnic, and tribal ties are all integral to the the success and longevity of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other loosely affiliated terrorist networks. Ignoring their significance, as we often do, only serves to strengthen their stranglehold on Central Asia.

In his speech, Obama also notes that some wars are "just wars." And if, by "some" he means approximately two (give or take) in the past century, then he's correct.

The allied response to Germany's Third Reich, the Holocaust, and Imperial Japan in World War II was eminently just; the NATO response to Serbian genocide in 1996 was justified; putting the screws to the Sudanese government's Janjaweed death squad goons - chief culprits of the Sudanese genocide - would be morally justified. But how can one designate the interminable conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan as "just" when most Americans have no idea why we're there or what's truly at stake - or what the real consequences of inaction might be?

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Morassistan Part I: Amateur Hour

All the good ones were already taken: Fuckedupistan, Whatthefuckistan, Ohfuckistan, We'refuckedistan, and so on. Therefore, in selecting a title for President Obama's latest no-win, no-way-out quagmire, I chose the name of a quagmire.

By the time I publish this, the president will likely have already given an earnest entreaty to the American public, outlining his administration's intentions and expectations for the invasion-turned-conflict-turned-war-turned-occupation-turned-crisis in Central Asia.

It's yet another perilous imbroglio for Obama, another toxic, stench-ridden carcass left behind by the most inept presidential administration in U.S. history that promises consequences global, historic, and possibly disastrous.

And it will likely be Obama's undoing.

That it's unfair to assess a first-term president whom, upon assuming office, was instantly saddled with a series of potentially cataclysmic conundrums - the global financial crisis, health care reform, a surge of violence in Iraq, a nuclear Iran, global warming, and Afghanistan-Pakistan - is beside the point. An individual with Obama's intelligence and perspicacity had to have realized that his decisions on these monumental issues would be fraught with indefinite outcomes, even in the most optimistic of scenarios. Or didn't he?

In addressing each of them, he's backtracked, preemptively compromised, and receded into the background, leaving lesser talents to fill the temporary progressive leadership vacuum. (Even the staunchest of Democrats have, by this stage, heard enough Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi sound bytes to wonder if their Green Party card from Nader's 2000 presidential push is a.) still valid and b.) still crammed inside that old O.P. velcro wallet, amidst the endless flotsam of a cluttered glove compartment.)

It wasn't supposed to be like this. This was our guy, a visionary with the perfect mix of thoughtfulness, guile, and geopolitical aptitude to actually fix things - a president with the intellectual wherewithal and intestinal fortitude to bolster America's moral standing and to assess crucial situations based on factual evidence and probable outcomes rather than political expediency or a love of Christ. For once.

But, as major office holders often do, Obama has become one of them, a mushy-middle talking point machine of the status quo. And like promising presidents before him, who sweep into office, crested upon a wave of idealism, optimism, and promises, Obama's ambitious agenda has been mutated by the realities of existing at the eye of every political storm in Washington, storms that L.B.J., Reagan, and Clinton used to their advantage but that men like Carter and Bush Sr. were ill-equiped to endure.

Nevertheless, in the final analysis, it is Obama and Obama alone who will be held fully accountable. For all of it.

In a more perfect world, Obama would've had more than a nanosecond to exhale following his tour de force, goosebump-producing, crush-inducing inauguration speech. Using his overwhelming popularity as a rallying point for supporters and a catalyst for a new era of progressive legislation, conservatives would've had little choice but to slink into the background (as they initially did), and Blue Dogs, with their ties to Big Oil, Big Pharma and Big Insurance, would've been forced to the left lest they face the prospect of irrelevance.

Consequently, I often wonder: What if instead of having to deal with all the defining crises of our generation from the outset, Obama had the chance to gain some political capital by first addressing less pressing issues?

Here's the first draft of your speech on the importance of fiber in a healthy diet, Mr President!

Here's your Stay in School speech, Mr. President: You're up right after Jay-Z and before the cast from "Stomp."

Don't forget your monogrammed yarmulke for the Tolerance Summit at Temple Beth Hillel, Mr. President!

Right over here, Mr. President, beside the shelter puppy and the formerly abandoned-in-a-Nike-shoe-box 3-legged kitten!

In the sage words of Billy Joel, it's just a fantasy.

Instead, with his hand forced tonight, Obama will futilely articulate his plan for the crisis of the moment. He will offer vague objectives and occasionally speak in abstractions, as a leader must when discussing an eight-year conundrum that has revealed a monumental dearth of preparation, aptitude, and follow-through on the part of highly-touted military advisors, past and present. He will not mention that it has lasted longer in duration than World War II or that it has already rung up a $300 billion tab. He won't mention the painfully obvious similarities to Vietnam or that even some of his closest advisors believe that it is a war that is un-winnable (or, even beyond that, one that's not worth winning).

He will, however, convey the following:

1. We must prevail in Afghanistan (whatever that means), lest it become a safe haven for Al Qaeda (which has long since departed); victory in Afghanistan means a safer, more secure America.

2. Part of the strategy for winning in Afghanistan will entail the training of Afghani military personnel. This will take time, commitment, and will require a shift in mindset among Afghani troops and military officials.

3. A "surge" of at least 30,000 additional U.S. troops will be necessary to engage "trouble spots" in mostly Southern Afghanistan's Helmond Province and the country's population centers.

3. Our commitment to Afghanistan will not be open-ended (no, really, we mean it this time).

4. Pakistan better stop playing grab-ass with the Taliban or else we're taking our ball and going home.

5. A series of platitudes to assure the American public that the deaths of servicemen and women will not be in vain, that the success of war is not measured in human casualties but in the triumph of freedom over tyranny (or some bullshit like that).

He'll say all of this and more. But it won't matter. He'll speak passionately, fluidly and forcefully; it won't matter. And he'll make numerous appeals that are alternately rational, intellectual, and visceral; but it won't matter. Because, in this world, there are disasters that can't be cleaned up, people that will never change, and riddles that aren't meant be solved. Afghanistan's one of them.

12/7 UPDATE: After listening to the West Point address, I turned out to be right regarding Obama's talking points, which proves only that I know how to read and retain information that other journalists (get paid to) research and write. One thing I overlooked, however, was the prospect of a timed troop withdrawal, a possibility I didn't think the president would have the gall to mention. But in his speech, Obama stated that a troop redeployment would commence, beginning in July of 2011 - a heartening announcement, to say the least.
"As commander-in-chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home," Obama said.
12/8 UPDATE: Never mind. Apparently, that whole troop timetable withdrawal thing that Obama outlined in his address - and that The New York Times echoed in the following day's above-the-fold front page headlines - will be contingent on too many moving parts to be of much consequence. From Monday's Times:
In a flurry of coordinated television interviews, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other top administration officials said that any troop pullout beginning in July 2011 would be slow and that Americans would only then be starting to transfer security responsibilities to Afghan forces under Mr. Obama's new plan...

..."We have strategic interests in South Asia that should not be measured in terms of finite times," said Gen. James L. Jones, the president's national security adviser, speaking on CNN's "State of the Union." "We're going to be in the region for a long time."
And now I'm really befuddled. Because, during his big West Point speech, Obama also said this:
"The absence of a timeframe for a transition would deny us any sense of urgency in working with the Afghan government."
And then this:
"This effort must be based on performance. The days of providing a blank check are over."
Which, while gratifying to hear, is evidently just more lip service being paid to the increasingly disillusioned American public. In fact, ever since Osama Bin Laden was eclipsed as America's boogyman-of-the-moment by Wall Street CEOs, the war has been devoid of any benchmarks or assessments whatsoever - which can occur in a senseless, bullshit war, er, I mean when the main objective remains mired in ambiguity and indecision. So if our occupation of Afghanistan can't be measured in terms of timetables, either (according to Jones, Gates, and Clinton), how will we ever know when we can leave? More from The Times:
During his recent inaugural address, Mr. Karzai said that Afghan forces would be able to take charge of securing Afghan cities within three years, and could take responsibility for the rest of the country within five years.
9/8 Update: Corrupt-to-the-marrow Afghan President - and former American puppet dictator - Hamid Karzai has announced that it'll take another 15-20 years for the country's military and police forces to be able to sustain themselves financially, logistically, and culturally. Defense Secretary Bob Gates agreed that it will be "some time before Afghanistan is able to sustain its security forces entirely on its own." Gates then added:
"Whether that is 15 or 20 years, we'll hope for accelerated economic development in Afghanistan."
And I'll hope for a pony who possesses a shock of silver fur through its mane and the power of song!

(Either way, neither is likely to happen and both will cost a shitload of cash. Admittedly, the pony might cost more. I still hope I get one.)

Then, on NPR's Morning Edition, after being pressed by the fearsome Steve Inskeep, the irrepressibly sanguine McChrystal finally conceded that it could take five years before Afghani forces are capable enough to handle securing their country without the U.S. military and NATO changing their diapers every ten minutes.

Five. Years. Minimum.

Why Obama insisted on announcing a hard withdrawal timetable in the first place was puzzling, unnecessary, and shockingly amateurish. Revealing his hand in such a naked way - and on such a critical issue - in front of a national audience was striking for a man who, a little over a year-and-a-half ago, emerged from a bruising primary battle with the Clinton political juggernaut, and then, six months later, elbowed his way past Republican slime machine with the wind of the world at his back.

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Stop the Inanity. by Brock Cohen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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