Wednesday, October 29, 2008

How We Lost the War in Afghanistan (Too Long)

Years ago in a land far away...The Taliban were helping hide Osama bin Laden. The president (ours, not theirs) gave them an ultimatum which given the then recent attacks of 9/11 seemed reasonable - Give us Osama, dead or alive, in handcuffs or in a set of shoeboxes. They stood by their man and as far as we could we blasted them to crap.

At the time, I thought this was going to be a good war to fight (as far as wars can be good). Osama needed punishing, the taliban seemed happy to suffer alongside him and, apart from their desire to help our enemy, we had all heard for years that the taliban were heartless bastards willing to execute citizens for showing their ankles, etc.

Then we screwed up the whole "Catch Osama" thing. From what I understand it was mostly because Rummy and Cheney didn't want the glory of the kill going to the CIA. Simple as that. "We could catch him, but we'd rather not. Not today. Perhaps in a week or two. Call us then."

Still, we put Osama on his heels and shook the reins of power out of Taliban hands. If we pursued them in the mountains, cut them off, kept them quiet, the (what passes for) democratic government of Afghanistan could get its bearings, grow its own army become independent. The Taliban might limp away and be confined to the mountains or even die off altogether.

Nope. So sorry. That would require a huge influx of manpower - a couple of divisions more than we had to spare.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, W. promised that only the word of his generals on the ground would guide his military approach to things overseas. Unless, of course, they happen to be generals in Afghanistan and they ask for more troops, which we don't have.

So since the beginning when we routed Taliban forces, the U.S. Army has been slowly losing control of what they fought hard to win. There aren't enough troops to do the job well, so they've done the job poorly - no knock on the soldiers, mind you, but, as a for instance, they can't pacify the locals enough to stop them from growing opium to fund the Taliban. When soldiers have to walk through poppy fields without disturbing them out of fear of local reaction, it's hard to say they control the place.

In the past year or two, in fact, they haven't been able to do the job at all in some sections. The Taliban comes down out of the mountains, recruits fighters, recoups supplies, even run some towns just like they used complete with beheadings.

Could we not simply push the Taliban back into hiding? Reclaim those villages, make nice with the locals and get them on our side? Actually, no. We can't. There isn't the political will in our country (starting at the White House). Even if the next president is able to pull ALL the troops out of Iraq, it would be difficult to send any large portion (and I'd say they need half to do the job well) to Afghanistan. We're tired of war, and the next president inherits that exhaustion.

Since war is not really an option anymore (after all, plenty of people in the country couldn't tell you why we ever went to Afghanistan) then you get what General Petraeus is calling for - let's sit with the Taliban and negotiate... something. Because, as Petraeus and others will tell you, not every member of the Taliban is all that bad though, yes, each one of them would say girls should go uneducated and flashing ankle should get you beheaded, and other "world-is-flat" nonsense like gangrape is a viable punishment for a girl who talks to the wrong guy. But let's sit down with these guys (not face to face, the White House says as though that were the crucial thing) and give them back their country. Which would mean the U.S. Army has been holding the country in trust for... the Taliban. Disturbing. American soldiers fighting and dying so we can give the Taliban the reins of power...

That sounds like abject failure and loss to me.

And again, 1 - we certainly don't have the political will to expand the war. 2- the current efforts are only losing in slow motion. So the only option is, 3- negotiating with the enemy with a view towards our leaving them in power pretty much as they were on September 10, 2001.

Of course, I'm no political maven. Didn't take Poli Sci in college (I took an extra history class instead). I'd be very happy if I can be shown how we will win this war.

Tomorrow: How We Lost the War in Iraq in 2003.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Black Hand

One of the highlights of my brief participation in this year's Bouchercon was the fact that I snagged a copy of THE BLACK HAND by WIll Thomas. Thomas is one of my favorite authors in the mystery field. His series is set in late Victorian England and has a brilliant lead detective with an assistant who actually tells the stories. Think you've heard this one before? Think this is some reheated Sherlock Holmes? You couldn't be further from the truth - not even if the truth promised to stand stock still and you got into a spaceship traveling 25,000 miles per hour on an unlimited fuel supply and you went full throttle for the rest of your life (may you be blessed with long life).

The difference between Cyrus Barker and Sherlock Holmes is like the difference between Daniel Craig's James Bond and Sean Connery's. I've never been able to watch a Sean Connery James Bond movie (though I like him enough in other projects). He always seemed more than a little ridiculous and not at all dangerous... unless you're a woman. With Holmes, while I like the tales enough, Holmes isn't much of a person to me. Watson even less so.

On the other hand, Will Thomas's characters jump to life. Barker is a bit of a superhero, but not so much that he would need a cape. In this installment, he takes on the Mafia, a secret Italian criminal society just then getting a foothold in London. Of course, the mission gets accomplished, but unlike a Holmes story, one guy gets stabbed in the face and another has his knees broken for him.

Another great read in the series.

Monday, October 20, 2008

If Obama Wins in a Landslide...

CNN seems to be projecting that if the election were held today (Please, O Lord, is there any way to have it done with?) Barack Obama would win by a landslide. He won't win Arizona and he won't win Alaska. Other than that, he seems primed to sweep about 40 of the other states. Lopsided.

Now, assume this is exactly what happens. Fine. My real question is, can we get back to normal TV programming by 9pm that night? Not that the election isn't important because it definitely is. As they say in the commercials - it's the most important election since...well, since the last one at least. But if we already know by 8pm that Obama is going to be president, then why belabor the point? Why go over the charts and graphs and electronic maps that commentators can scribble on?

On the other hand, if it happens that John McCain is the one to sweep away the opponent and come away with forty states, I'd watch that till well past midnight even though it would probably be decided by 9pm anyway. And it's not even the drama of the underdog winning the day that would keep me glued to the set. Nor would I be particularly interested to know exactly who he swayed or how. I'd just be waiting to hear about Obama being put on a suicide watch. After all, that would be one hell of an upset. One hell of a collapse. Kind of like the Mets last September, not the one that just passed, but the one before. It would be that bad. And, just like with the Mets, I'd watch...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Bouchercon Awards...

I know who won the Anthony Awards - Laura Lippman won at least two if I recall. But didn't they award the Barry and Macavity awards also? Or did they just forget those for this year in order to give out extra in Indianapolis next year? Can anyone point me in the right direction for this?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

My Bouchercon

Well, I left Connecticut EARLY on Friday morning and got back LATE on Saturday night. I suppose I spent 36 hours in Baltimore so my estimate of how things went will vary greatly from the view of others. Overall, however, I have to say I quite liked it. The travel wasn't exhausting like Anchorage was and I got to meet new people and also some of the old friends from campaigns past. Like every conference, there were also a lot of waves to people I really wanted to speak to at greater length.

Had my first ever conversation with Karen Olsen, and I got to meet Spenser "Not Hawk" Quertermous who is ten days younger than my baby

but looks like he could already eat her.

Extremely interesting conversation with Russel Mclean, Dave White, and Christa Faust about exactly how touchy Marvel Comics execs would be if you tried to make a porn video using their characters. Apparently, they know quite a bit about what would happen.

Angie Johnson Schmid discovered that the easiest way to torture one Scottish writer was to simply mispronounce the word sandwich, this while waiting to be served at SHULA'S. A lot of things happened while waiting in SHULA'S. There is time enough for empires to rise and fall while waiting in SHULA'S...

Actually had a good time at the St. Martins Press party which is not something that always happens. I happen not to be a big fan of overcrowded rooms and having to shout to be heard. I also don't drink and have never really even understood the food at events like this - usually crackers and cheese. I'd have platters of chicken wings if i were putting together one of these dos. And mini-pizzas. In any event, I actually managed to have some interesting business related conversations. In fact, it does seem like there will be at least one more book the PRECINCT PUERTO RICO series.

Had a good talk with Keith Gilman whose book, a PI novel the title of which escapes me at the moment...FATHER'S DAY...will be coming out next year. Apparently, I had reviewed one of his short stories (and now his stories are everywhere) and said some encouraging words. Ain't I swell?

Scored a free copy of the latest Will Thomas novel, THE BLACK HAND. As always, I'm loving it. Read the first 180 pages on the plane ride home.

And here's a strange thing. My panel was up against an interview of Lawrence Block. He's a pretty big name in the mystery world. So before the panel, I was in the green room and in walks Mr. Block. Now, normally I'm tongue-tied when a legend walks into the room and I haven't read a single one of his novels...or short stories. (Actually, I might have read a short story recently) But I wasn't tongue-tied this time. Instead, I asked him if he was nervous about the interview. He said "No." And we talked for a minute or two. That was nice.

Much better than when I encountered James Crumley at the last ConMisterio. I wanted to talk to him, but I kept waiting for him to be sober and so I missed my opportunity.

Plenty of other great conversations including the kind where someone came up to me saying they loved my book. Those conversations invariably go well. I've forgotten a bunch, but everything was good. Wish I could have stayed another day.

Friday, October 03, 2008

What's the downside?

Not to be partisan, but Sarah Palin hasn't impresse, really. And I've seen a commercial that's been running the past few days in CT where the words of Joe Biden when he was running have been used against Obama - he criticizes Obama's vote to cut funding to the troops in Iraq or some such.

So what would be the downside if the Obama people put out commercials of Sarah Palin sounding dumb? Preferably in some contradiction of McCain, but possibly just her talk on foreign policy in the Couric interview. Something like, "John McCain and Sarah Palin feel they're ready to take on the troubles of today's world, but listen to what they had to say a week ago..." Then have Sarah talking about being able to see Russia and end with: "McCain and Palin: Ready to lead? You decide."

Where's the downside?