Monday, December 07, 2009

Obama: "Just Kiddin' About That Timeline Thing, Everybody"


Rightists started barking about Obama giving away the store before he had even delivered his speech last week mentioning the idea of bringing some troops back from Afghanistan. They kept barking loud enough so that the guy who was largely nominated because he persuaded credulous Democrats that had he been in the U.S. Senate at the time, he would have opposed the war-- something that anyone who had even glanced at his Senate voting record knew was patently false-- ran for cover and went into full retreat mode. That shouldn't surprise anyone either; it's what Obama always does when conservatives bark loudly and persistently enough.

He sent the whole team out to the Sunday bobblehead shows to reassure barking conservatives that a) "American military forces would remain in Afghanistan for a long time, seeking to blunt criticism that President Obama had sent the wrong signal in his war-strategy speech last week by projecting July 2011 as the start of a withdrawal;" and b) that he is still on track to play out the Creigh Deeds strategy of destroying the Democratic Party by making sure the base is so demoralized that no one bothers going to the polls. The "administration’s top civilian and military officials marched in lockstep in insisting that July 2011 was just the beginning, not the end, of a lengthy process. That date, General Jones said, is a “ramp” rather than a “cliff.”

I wonder how many Democrats don't have buyer's remorse.

Frustrated with all the pussyfooting around, Bob Schieffer finally said, "Is there a deadline or is there not a deadline." You can watch his full response below, but Secretary of Defense Gates said, "There is not a deadline. What we have is a specific date on which we will begin transferring responsibility for security, district by district, province by province, in Afghanistan to the Afghans. The process of that and the subsequent thinning of our forces will take place over a period of time and will happen and will be done based on the conditions on the ground and the decision on that will be made by the commanders in the field." Sounds like no Change at all-- from what Gates would have said for Bush.

I've talked again and again about my two long trip to Afghanistan and I don't want to bore anyone with my travelogue again. Let me just say, however, that based on my own experience on the ground-- experience that never included a single day in a hotel-- John Hanrahan's report on the crippling, unfathomable and primitive conditions in the country is completely accurate.
• The poverty in Afghanistan is almost beyond imagining. Thirty Afghans die from TB every day; life expectancy is 43 years; per capita income is $426; only 13% have access to sanitary drinking water; fewer than one in four are literate; access to electricity is among the lowest in the world. Conditions for women are brutal...

• Afghanistan is the fifth least developed country in the world-- 174th out of 178-- according to a November 2007 United Nations “National Human Development Report (NHDR). The U.N. global human development index, which ranks countries on individual income, life expectancy and literacy rate, placed Afghanistan ahead of only the African nations of Burkina Faso, Mali, Sierra  Leone and Niger. (The next such report will be published in March 2010.)

• Afghanistan has a gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of $426 as of 2008, according to the World Bank, the lowest in Asia and the fifth lowest in the world after Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Liberia. (The CIA World Factbook puts the Afghanistan figure higher at $800 for 2008, which would be the 11th worst in the world.) An estimated 60-80 percent of the country’s population live on less than $1 a day.

• Afghanistan is the seventh most unequal country in the world, according to the ‘Gini coefficient,’ a measure of the gap separating a country’s richest and poorest citizens. The higher the country’s number on a scale of one to one-hundred, the more unequal the society. In the most recent ratings, the most unequal societies were Namibia 70.2, Equatorial Guinea 65, Lesotho 63.2, Sierra Leone 62.9, Angola 62, Central African Republic 61.3, and Afghanistan and Gabon 60.

• Life expectancy for Afghan citizens is 43 years, compared to 59 years for low-income countries worldwide, according to the World Bank. The 2007 U.N. NHD Report noted that life expectancy in the country has declined from 44.5 years in 2003.

• In a population estimated at 28.4 million, one-fourth of all Afghans “do not meet their minimum food requirements, with 24 percent of households characterized by poor food consumption,” according to the U.N. NHD Report. Almost half of Afghan children under five are underweight.

• More than 30 Afghans die from tuberculosis each day, according to the U.N. global human development index.

• Afghans’ access to electricity is among the lowest in the world, according to the World Bank, and only 13 percent of Afghans have access to safe drinking water and 12 percent to adequate sanitation.

• Afghanistan “has one of the lowest adult literacy rates among developing countries,” according to the U.N. NHD Report. Between 2003 and 2005 (the last cited figures), the report said, literacy rates for adults over 15 actually fell from 28.7 percent to 23.5 percent.

• Some 80 percent of Afghan women are illiterate, 54 percent of girls under the age of 18 are married, and 68 percent of girls ages 7-13 are not enrolled in school, according to the advocacy organization Womankind Worldwide. Only half of the schools have buildings. Enrollment rates for women in the primary, secondary and tertiary levels are almost half that of men. Violence and sexual abuse against women is widespread.

• Some 15,000 Afghan women die each year from pregnancy-related causes, and the maternal mortality rate is the second highest in the world. As bad as these figures are, the U.N. NHD Report cited Afghanistan’s “steady progress in improving its health services and reducing child and maternal mortality rates.” Mortality rates for children under five years old were down from 257 per 1,000 births in 2001 to a still-alarming 160 per 1,000 births in 2006, according to the World Bank. (The CIA World Factbook put the figure at 152 in 2008.)

• Afghanistan’s agricultural production (not including the opium trade) fell by more than 30 percent in 2008, the World Bank reported. Agriculture makes up more than 30 percent of the country’s GDP, which grew overall by 2 to 3 percent in 2008-2009.

• Afghanistan is the fifth most corrupt country in the world, according to Transparency International, a global anti-corruption watchdog organization.

Don't delude yourself that there's a feasible end-game for the U.S. in that ravaged country when we aren't seriously addressing any of this mess... other than by sending 30,000 more hapless young men and women to fight and die there for some spurious end that will only result in one catastrophe after another, the worst being the recapturing of political power in the U.S. by the forces of the reactionary right.



At 3:30 PM, Anonymous Balakirev said...

But Howie, screwing your core supporters is a hallowed Democratic tradition that has always drawn applause from the only audience that matters, DC pundits! It's well worth losing the WH to keep Broder and his ilk happy, isn't it?


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