Sunday, September 2, 2012

Things generals can't say in public, Along with the Arctic ice, the rich world's smugness will melt

While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on November 9, 2011.

As a public service, Best Defense is offering this primer for generals on their way to Afghanistan.

Here is a list of 19 things that many insiders and veterans of Afghanistan agree to be true about the war there, but that generalscan't say in public. So, general, read this now and believe it later-but keep your lip zipped. Maybe even keep a printout in your wallet and review before interviews.

My list of things to remember I can't say

  • Pakistan is now an enemy of the United States.
  • We don't know why we are here, what we are fighting for, or how to know if we are winning.
  • The strategy is to fight, talk, and build. But we're withdrawing the fighters, the Taliban won't talk, and the builders are corrupt.
  • Karzai's family is especially corrupt.
  • We want President Karzai gone but we don't have a Pushtun successor handy.
  • But the problem isn't corruption, it is which corrupt people are getting the dollars. We have to help corruption be more fair.
  • Another thing we'll never stop here is the drug traffic, so the counternarcotics mission is probably a waste of time and resources that just alienates a swath of Afghans.
  • Making this a NATO mission hurt, not helped. Most NATO countries are just going through the motions in Afghanistan as the price necessary to keep the US in Europe
  • Yes, the exit deadline is killing us.
  • Even if you got a deal with the Taliban, it wouldn't end the fighting.
  • The Taliban may be willing to fight forever. We are not.
  • Yes, we are funding the Taliban, but hey, there's no way to stop it, because the truck companies bringing goods from Pakistan and up the highway across Afghanistan have to pay off the Taliban. So yeah, your tax dollars are helping Mullah Omar and his buddies. Welcome to the neighborhood.
  • Even non-Taliban Afghans don't much like us.
  • Afghans didn't get the memo about all our successes, so they are positioning themselves for the post-American civil war .
  • And they're not the only ones getting ready. The future of Afghanistan is probably evolving up north now as the Indians, Russians and Pakistanis jockey with old Northern Alliance types. Interestingly, we're paying more and getting less than any other player.
  • Speaking of positioning for the post-American civil war, why would the Pakistanis sell out their best proxy shock troops now?
  • The ANA and ANP could break the day after we leave the country.
  • We are ignoring the advisory effort and fighting the "big war" with American troops, just as we did in Vietnam. And the U.S. military won't act any differently until and work with the Afghan forces seriously until when American politicians significantly draw down U.S. forces in country-when it may be too damn late.
  • The situation American faces in Afghanistan is similar to the one it faced in Vietnam during the Nixon presidency: A desire a leave and turn over the war to our local allies, combined with the realization that our allies may still lose, and the loss will be viewed as a U.S. defeat anyway.

Thanks to several people who contributed to this, from California to Kunar and back to DC, and whose names must not be mentioned! You know who you are. The rest of you, look at the guy sitting to your right.  

* * *


Along with the Arctic ice, the rich world's smugness will melt
The belief that Europe and America will be hit least by climate change is in ruins. Yet all we do is try to profit from disaster

George Monbiot, Monday 27 August 2012

There are no comparisons to be made. This is not like war or plague or a stockmarket crash. We are ill-equipped, historically and psychologically, to understand it, which is one of the reasons why so many refuse to accept that it is happening.

What we are seeing, here and now, is the transformation of the atmospheric physics of this planet. Three weeks before the likely minimum, the melting of Arctic sea ice has already broken the record set in 2007. The daily rate of loss is now 50% higher than it was that year. The daily sense of loss – of the world we loved and knew – cannot be quantified so easily.

The Arctic has been warming roughly twice as quickly as the rest of the northern hemisphere. This is partly because climate breakdown there is self-perpetuating. As the ice melts, for example, exposing the darker sea beneath, heat that would previously have been reflected back into space is absorbed.

This great dissolution, of ice and certainties, is happening so much faster than most climate scientists predicted that one of them reports: "It feels as if everything I've learned has become obsolete." In its last assessment, published in 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change noted that "in some projections, Arctic late-summer sea ice disappears almost entirely by the latter part of the 21st century". These were the most extreme forecasts in the panel's range. Some scientists now forecast that the disappearance of Arctic sea-ice in late summer could occur in this decade or the next.

As I've warned repeatedly, but to little effect, the IPCC's assessments tend to be conservative. This is unsurprising when you see how many people have to approve them before they are published. There have been a few occasions – such as its estimate of the speed at which glaciers would be lost in the Himalayas – on which the panel has overstated the case. But it looks as if these will be greatly outnumbered by the occasions on which the panel has understated it.

The melting disperses another belief: that the temperate parts of the world – where most of the rich nations are located – will be hit last and least, while the poorer nations will be hit first and worst. New knowledge of the way in which the destruction of the Arctic sea ice affects northern Europe and North America suggests that this is no longer true. A paper published earlier this year in Geophysical Research Letters shows that Arctic warming is likely to be responsible for the extremes now hammering the once-temperate nations.

The north polar jet stream is an air current several hundred kilometres wide, travelling eastwards around the hemisphere. The current functions as a barrier, separating the cold, wet weather to the north from the warmer, drier weather to the south. Many of the variations in our weather are caused by great travelling meanders – Rossby waves – in the jet stream.

Arctic heating, the paper shows, both slows the Rossby waves and makes them steeper and wider. Instead of moving on rapidly, the weather gets stuck. Regions to the south of the stalled meander wait for weeks or months for rain; regions to the north (or underneath it) wait for weeks or months for a break from the rain. Instead of a benign succession of sunshine and showers, we get droughts or floods. During the winter a slow, steep meander can connect us directly to the polar weather, dragging severe ice and snow far to the south of its usual range. This mechanism goes a long way towards explaining the shift to sustained – and therefore extreme – weather patterns around the northern hemisphere.

I have no idea what is coming to Europe and North America this winter and next summer, in the wake of the record ice melt, but it's unlikely to be pleasant. Please note that this record represents a loss of about 30% of Arctic sea ice, against the long-term average. When that climbs to 50% or 70% or 90%, the impacts are likely to be worse.

Our governments do nothing. Having abandoned any pretence of responding to the environmental crisis during the Earth summit in June, now they stare stupidly as the ice on which we stand dissolves. Nothing – or worse than nothing. Their one unequivocal response to the melting has been to facilitate the capture of the oil and fish it exposes.

The companies that caused this disaster are scrambling to profit from it. On Sunday Shell requested an extension to its exploratory drilling period in the Chukchi Sea, off the north-west coast of Alaska. This would push its operations hard against the moment when the ice re-forms and any spills they cause are locked in. The Russian oil company Gazprom is using the great melt to try to drill in the Pechora Sea, north-east of Murmansk. After turning its Arctic lands in the Komi republic into the Niger delta of the north (repeated oil spills are left unremediated in the tundra), Russia wants to extend this industry into one of the world's most fragile ecosystems, where ice, storms and darkness make decontamination almost impossible.

As I write, activists from Greenpeace, whom I regard as heroes, are chained to Gazprom's supply vessel, preventing the rig from operating. These people are stepping in where all governments have failed. David Cameron, who still claims to lead the greenest government ever, is no longer hugging huskies. In June he struck an agreement with the Norwegian prime minister "to enable sustainable development of Arctic energy". Sustainable development, of course, means drilling for oil.

Is this how our children will see it: that we destroyed the benign conditions that made our world of wonders possible, and then used the opportunity to amplify the damage? All of us, of course, can claim to have acted with other aims in mind, or not to have acted at all, as the other immediacies of life seemed more important. But – unless we respond at last – the results follow as surely as if we had sought to engineer them.

Stupidity, greed, passivity? Just as comparisons evaporate, so do these words. The ice, that solid platform on which, we now discover, so much rested, melts into air. Our pretensions to peace, prosperity and progress are likely to follow. "And like the baseless fabric of this vision, / The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces, / The solemn temples, the great globe itself, / Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve."

• Twitter: @GeorgeMonbiot

• For a fully referenced version of this article, visit George Monbiot's website:

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 "War's never a winning thing, Charlie. You just lose all the time, and the one who loses last asks for terms. All I remember is a lot of losing and sadness and nothing good at the end of it. The end of it, Charles, that was a winning all to itself, having nothing to do with guns."

--Ray Bradbury, from the short story "The Time Machine" 1957


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