The Fool's Errand

"What a fool believes he sees, the wise man has the power to reason away"

-The Doobie Brothers

First, President Obama, in office for four months, fired the top general in Afghanistan, David McKiernan and replaced him with a former special forces commander in a quest for a more agile, unconventional approach in a war gone quickly downhill. With the Taliban resurgent, Obama's switch to Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal suggested the new commander-in-chief wanted major changes in addition to the additional troops he ordered into Afghanistan to shore up the war effort.

Then in September, Kurdish independence obsessive Peter Galbraith got the ax. America's top diplomat at the United Nations mission in Afghanistan was ordered out of the country after a row with his Norwegian boss over how to respond to fraud-riddled presidential elections in that fourth world country. Weeks later it came to light that Karzai tried to rig the election with huge numbers of phony ballots and his doobie brother Wali has been on C.I.A. payroll for eight years and counting, supporting the Taliban assertion that the Afghan government is nothing more than a U.S. puppet. Very shortly after the scandal broke, the opposition resigned and Karzai "won" by default, giving him as much legitimacy as Diem in South Vietnam two generations ago.

Then poor Peter's public persona was forced to swallow a porcupine, quills and all, when Norwegian investigative journalists revealed that the illustrious US ambassador, a tireless advocate for plight of the Kurds and the partition of Iraq, cut a cool $100 million oil deal for himself when he helped the poor Kurds draft Iraq's new constitution.

Also in September, Matthew Hoh, a former Marine Corps captain with combat experience in Iraq and the senior U.S. civilian in Zabul province, became the first high U.S. official known to resign in protest over the Afghan War, which he had come to believe simply fueled the insurgency. His resignation letter is a must read. Here is an excerpt:

I find specious the reasons we ask for bloodshed and sacrifice from our young men and women in Afghanistan. If honest, our stated strategy of securing Afghanistan to prevent al-Qaeda resurgence or regrouping would require us to additionally invade and occupy western Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, etc. Our presence in Afghanistan has only increased destabilization and insurgency in Pakistan where we rightly fear a toppled or weakened Pakistani government may lose control of its nuclear weapons. However, again, to follow the logic of our stated goals we should garrison Pakistan, not Afghanistan. More so, the September 11th attacks, as well as the Madrid and London bombings, were primarily planned and organized in Western Europe; a point that highlights the threat is not one tied to traditional geographic or political boundaries. Finally, if our concern is for a failed state crippled by corruption and poverty and under assault from criminal and drug lords, then if we bear our military and financial contributions to Afghanistan, we must reevaluate and increase our commitment to and involvement in Mexico.

This month, Greg Craig resigned as White House chief counsel. Craig had been at the center of the administration's effort to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a promise that President Obama pledged to carry out within one year of taking office. The promise will be broken. While the White House line is to portray the resignation as a preplanned and personal decision by Craig to move on from White House life, outsiders and closure advocates see the announcement as the culmination of an internal White House blame game as to who was responsible for the obstacles met in implementing the president's Guantanamo policy.

Now the Japanese have called it quits. Japan's new government, the first since 1955, has ordered its navy to end its mission in support of "coalition" forces in Afghanistan. Since 2001, Japan had provided about 126m gallons of fuel to US, British and other vessels operating in the Indian Ocean. The two Japanese ships on duty - the supply ship Tokiwa and the destroyer Kirisame - returned to port in Japan.

Three days ago, German Labor Minister Franz Josef Jung, the former defense minister, resigned a day after the opposition accused him of withholding information on an air strike in Afghanistan that killed as many as 142 people. "I take political responsibility," Jung told reporters in Berlin. He's the first minister to leave Merkel's cabinet for policy reasons.

Also three days ago, a 7.0 Richter earthquake erupted in the financial nerve center of the Middle East: Dubai. The unthinkable has occurred: oil sheiks are "resigning" from their bond interest payments, putting them into default. Sixty billion dollars in Dubai World bonds lost 60% of their value overnight and the currencies of emerging market countries from Turkey to Mexico crashed. The following day, stock markets in Asia fell by as much as 5%. U.S. markets were conveniently closed for Thanksgiving. The Dubai default will weigh on Obama's ability in Afghanistan.

Now read this blast from the past (bold and italics are mine):

Last Sunday, three and a half million men and women of Algeria, without distinction of community, in complete equality, gave France and myself their vote of confidence. They did this quite simply without any constraint and in spite of the threats that certain fanatics brought to bear against them, their families and their property. This is a fact, as clear as the bright light of clay. And this fact is fundamental not only because it mutually and forever pledges, one to the other, Algeria and France, but also because it ties in with what happened that same day in Metropolitan France, in the Overseas Departments, in the Territories of the Community.

The least that can be said of this great demonstration is that the French people proved to themselves and to the entire world their determination for renovation, and that, at the same time, a hundred million men decided to build their future together in Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.

With regard to Algeria, what is the future to which France is calling her? Women and men of Algeria, I have come here to tell you what it is.

What must be achieved is the basic transformation of this country, so brave, so alive, but also so full of difficulties and suffering. This means that it is necessary for the living conditions of each man and woman to improve from day to day. This means that, for the benefit o� the inhabitants, the resources of the earth and the ability of the elites must be brought to light and developed. This means that children must be taught. This means that all Algeria must have her share in what modern civilization can and must bring to men in terms of well-being and dignity.

But the loftiest plans call for practical measures. Here are the measures that my Government intends to take in the near future covering the next five years by virtue of the full powers that the new Constitution has just conferred upon it.

During these five years, of the young people in Metropolitan France - yes, I say in Metropolitan France-that enter the service of the State, in the Administration, in the Army, in education and in the public services, at least a tenth of these young people must be recruited from the Arab, the Kabyle and Mozabite communities, and that without prejudice to an increased proportion of Algerians serving in Algeria.

In the course of these five years, salaries and wages in Algeria will be raised to a level comparable to what they are in Metropolitan France.

Before the end of these five years, 250,000 hectares [617,500 acres] of new land will be allotted to Moslem farmers.

Before the end of these five years, the first phase of the plan for the agricultural and industrial development of Algeria will be brought to its conclusion. This phase includes, in particular, the delivery and the distribution of the oil and gas of the Sahara, the setting up, on this soil, of great metallurgical and chemical complexes, the construction of housing for a million people, the corresponding development of health services, of roads, ports, means of communication-in short, the regular employment of 400,000 new workers.

Gradually in the course of these five years, two-thirds of the girls and boys will be enrolled in school and, during the three years after that, complete school enrollment of all Algerian youth will be achieved.

During these five years, the human contact that has been made especially by the French Army-by its career officers, its reserve officers, its fighting men, its young conscripts-will be continued and developed and, in Metropolitan France, the same must be true, in Paris and n our provinces.

What will be the political Consequences of this evolution which calls for very extensive and prolonged efforts? I believe it is quite useless to freeze in advance, in words, that which, in any event, is going to take shape, little by little, as it is undertaken. But, in any case, two things arc certain as of now: the first concerns the present.

In two months, Algeria will elect her representatives under the same conditions as will Metropolitan France. But at least two thirds of her representatives will have to be Moslem citizens.

The other refers to the future. The future of Algeria will in any event - because that is the nature of things-be built on a double foundation: her personality and her close solidarity with Metropolitan France.

In any case, it is absolutely essential that this fruitful transformation be accomplished. This is necessary for the good of the men of Algeria, for the good of the women, for the good of the children who live here; but it is also necessary for the honor of mankind. It is necessary for the peace of the world. For no one has any interest in the stagnation of a people, except the kind of people, who, to serve their ambitions, gamble on the spirit of revolt and the poverty of others.

This transformation, this immense political, economic, social and cultural task-who could effect this transformation, if not France?

Now it happens that France has the will and the means to do so. It also happens that the vote of the Algerians has just proved that they desire this transformation and that it should be carried out with France.

Therefore, turning toward those who are prolonging a fratricidal conflict, who are organizing lamentable attacks in Metropolitan France, or who are spreading through the chancelleries, through underground dens, by means of the radios and the newspapers of certain foreign capitals-vilifications of France, to those I say: Why kill? We must enable people to live. Why destroy? Our duty is to build. Why hate? We must cooperate.

Stop this absurd fighting and you will at once see a new blossoming of hope over all the land of Algeria. You will see the prisons emptying; you will see the opening up of a future big enough for everybody, and for you yourselves in particular. And then, speaking to those States which are throwing oil on the fire here while their unhappy peoples writhe under dictatorships, I say: Could you do what France is in a position to do here, what only France is capable of doing? Could you people do it? No. Then let France carry on, unless you deliberately decide to envenom the conflict in order to distract attention from your own difficulties. But in the present state of the world, where can these bitter incitements lead if not to a universal cataclysm? Only two paths lie open to the human race today: war or brotherhood. In Algeria as everywhere, France, for her part, has chosen brotherhood.

Long live the Republic! Long live Algeria and long live France!"

-Charles de Gaulle
October 3, 1958

By 1956 France had committed more than 400,000 troops to Algeria, a country of 10 million. Today it is estimated that the population of Afghanistan is over 30 million. Although the elite airborne units and the Foreign Legion received particular notoriety, approximately 170,000 of the regular French army troops in Algeria were Muslim Algerians, most of them volunteers. France also sent air force and naval units to the Algerian theater.

In 1958-59 the French army had won military control in Algeria and was the closest it would be to victory. During that period in France, however, opposition to the conflict was growing among many segments of the population. Thousands of relatives of conscripts and reserve soldiers suffered loss and pain; revelations of torture and the indiscriminate brutality the army visited on the Muslim population prompted widespread revulsion. Sound familiar?

The war in Algeria brought the end of the French Fourth Republic even as it exploded nuclear test bombs in the Sahara. France's nukes proved useless in its bitter Algerian and Vietnam wars. The Soviet Union folded ten months after losing a total of 15,000 men in Afghanistan, a backwards country on its own southern frontier. No logistical challenges or pesky newspaper reporters. Still couldn't pull it off.

Change the names, dates and particulars, and the history of mighty powers recycles itself in Af-Pak-Iraq.