23 September 2010


WAR DISSENTERS. Here is an odd trait of the Presidency -- whether one is elected as a hawk or a dove, inevitably new Presidents feel the urge to show their cojones by starting, perpetuating or escalating a war. Had John F. Kennedy lived, chances are Lyndon B. Johnson would not have been forced to seek the counsel of his military advisors, and this nation would not have been sucked into the Vietnam quagmire. (Click on the above image to enlarge the quote.)

A new book by Washington Post Reporter Bob Woodward documents another President who turned to military advisors for guidance -- Barack Obama. Sad to say, the opinions of General David Petraeus and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates prevailed, and Obama approved the deployment of 30,000 additional troops to combat the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. Our military presence in that feudal, sectarian and politically corrupt country has almost no effect on the stabilization of the country or the suppression of terrorism. Quite the opposite -- the U.S. is seen as an infidel invader, provoking ever-increasing numbers of recruits into the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Like the Soviets before us, we are caught in military quicksand, and withdrawal is the only sane option.

Woodward notes that the military advice to Obama was not unanimous, however. Three generals assigned to the White House and the State Department were "the military's toughest, most persistent and most skeptical critics." It is refreshing to note that for some in the military, truth and honor take priority over career advancement and walking in lockstep. Their reasons are crystal clear. There is not shortage of published books (not to mention classified military intelligence) which clearly map out the history of the region, and the tactics which are most successful in defeating insurgents. Jon Krakauer's Where Men Win Glory is a comprehensive starting point. What a shame that young men and women are dying daily in that harsh geography, simply because the top brass stubbornly choose to pursue more conventional, counter-productive military tactics. A much more effective approach would see us using special forces units as military advisors to friendly tribal leaders, in combination with providing the means for locals to take charge of maintaining roads, hospitals, schools, food supplies, clean water, and a stable economy. Conventional military forces, no matter who technologically well-equipped, do more harm than good -- we kill innocent civilians, and we assume that our way of life and form of government holds universal appeal. They do not. We are, indeed, intruders. There are much more effective ways of defeating fundamentalist terrorists.

BOOZY FRUIT. This one tickled me. Like many who grew up in rural areas, I have clear memories of my mother canning fresh fruits and vegetables -- a laborious project involving macerating, simmering, and sterilizing jars. Melissa Clark presents an easier alternative -- simply preserving fruits and vegetables in the appropriate alcoholic libation. After a time, "you can sip the liquid as a cordial and eat the sweet, spiked fruit over ice cream or cake." Yummy.

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