The World Today for September 28, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

AFGHANISTAN

Faltering Spirits

There’s grumbling that Afghanistan is becoming America’s second Vietnam – a comparison the Concord Monitor recently made in a column that reads at first like a review of the recently released Ken Burns documentary about the conflict that ran from 1955 to 1975.

To be sure, US troop levels in Afghanistan are a far cry from the 500,000-plus deployed at the peak of US involvement in Vietnam, which the Congressional Research Service estimated cost Washington nearly $800 billion in 2016 dollars. And far fewer US soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan. But the parallels are still plain to see.

The US intervention in Afghanistan was a response to the Sept. 11 terror attacks. It’s now become an exercise in propping up a weak government that doesn’t control its own country.

President Donald Trump plans to send another 3,900 troops to the country that had already experienced a so-called surge under President Barack Obama. Around 8,400 American soldiers are in Afghanistan today. The renewed commitment in Washington has bolstered US forces, said Trump recently.

“The spirit is tremendous,” Trump said, according to a White House transcript of the meeting.

Trump spoke as he met Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in New York, where Ghani thanked and praised the president for the help. “You made this decision on the basis of courage and determination,” said Ghani, according to the transcript. “We salute your courage.”

He should be grateful.

With US help, Kabul hopes to control 80 percent of Afghanistan in the next four years, the Associated Press reported. The Taliban rules around half the country now – and attacks continue. On Wednesday, the Taliban fired on the international airport, targeting US Defense Secretary James Mattis, who was there on a visit to meet Ghani and the NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg. It was only the latest of many such attacks, which have killed thousands of civilians and security personnel in the past year.

Those are the facts on the ground after the US has spent more than $70 billion on Afghan security forces that are still struggling since 2001.

During the Cold War, the US was in Vietnam to beat back communism. Today, America needs are more prosaic.

“They agreed that such initiatives would help American companies develop materials critical to national security while growing Afghanistan’s economy and creating new jobs in both countries, therefore defraying some of the costs of United States assistance as Afghans become more self-reliant,” the White House said in a statement to Reuters.

Many are still warning against sending more troops to Afghanistan, however.

The Nation wrote that Trump’s move shows that American strategists have learned nothing in the 16 years since the US invasion. His military advisors and chief of staff, all generals, are subject to “repetition compulsion,” the left-leaning magazine argued, citing the Freudian term for “the blind impulse to repeat earlier experiences and situations, often in the expectation that things will turn out differently.”

Writing in HuffPost, civilian US army linguist Wahab Raofi agreed, saying Ghani needed to stop depending on the US. Rather, claimed Raofi, he needs to rally the patriotism of the Afghan people so they can restore peace themselves.

Unfortunately, it’s not clear that spirit exists.

[siteshare]Faltering Spirits[/siteshare]

WANT TO KNOW

EAST AFRICA

A Ticking Clock

The global community may only have a matter of weeks to save some 800,000 people in East Africa from starvation.

The conflict in South Sudan and Somalia and prolonged drought across the region have left more than 15 million children in need of food, water, healthcare, education or protection, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, World Vision, a charitable organization active in the region, said Wednesday that Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya have witnessed a spike in hunger levels among children in recent weeks.

“More than 800,000 children remain severely malnourished and are at risk of starving to death,” a World Vision spokesman said. “We have months, maybe only weeks, to stop this from happening.”

Famine struck parts of South Sudan earlier this year, and there is a high risk that it could return there and develop in Somalia. Much of Somalia is experiencing “emergency hunger” – one level below famine on an internationally recognized scale of hunger.

[siteshare]A Ticking Clock[/siteshare]

IRAQ

Reap What You Sow

Iraq retaliated for the Kurdish independence referendum held Monday by threatening to send troops into the autonomous region, seize its oil fields and shut down international flights in and out of the area.

That’s precisely the kind of escalation that was feared by the international community, which criticized the Kurds’ move to go ahead with the referendum despite Iraqi opposition.

Kurdish officials announced Wednesday that nearly 93 percent of voters approved the referendum, which aims to create an independent Kurdistan, the New York Times reported.

Iraq has said it will ignore the results. But it threatens to destabilize an already fragile peace, as well as to galvanize Kurdish separatists in neighboring Turkey and Iran. Meanwhile, it could further fracture the US coalition fighting Islamic State, as the US force includes both Kurdish peshmerga fighters and regular Iraqi army units.

For Iraq, Kurdish independence would mean losing a third of its territory and access to areas with oil and natural gas.

[siteshare]Reap What You Sow[/siteshare]

EL SALVADOR

Lost, But Not Forgotten

Answering a decades-old demand, El Salvador finally launched a commission to search for people who disappeared during its brutal civil war – some 25 years after the conflict ended.

The commission will seek to confirm and locate victims kidnapped or killed by the military or rebels during the 12-year war between the US-backed government and the Marxist guerrillas of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) – which is now the ruling party in El Salvador.

Part of the US battle against the spread of communism in Latin America, the brutal war killed some 75,000 people between 1980 and 1992, while as many as 8,000 others disappeared.

Last month, El Salvador’s Supreme Court quashed arrest warrants against a group of soldiers wanted in Spain for their alleged role in the 1989 killing of six Jesuit priests, a notorious atrocity committed during the war, as a US judge cleared the way for another suspect to be extradited to Spain.

[siteshare]Lost, But Not Forgotten[/siteshare]

DISCOVERIES

No Laughing Matter

Unlike vampires, werewolves and ghosts, clowns aren’t meant to be scary, right?

But coulrophobia, or fear of clowns, is widespread.

Yale doctoral candidate Danielle Bainbridge conducted extensive research on the phenomenon, giving us a profound understanding of the history of unsettling clowns – which surprisingly goes back centuries.

Clowns, or fools, originally functioned as royal court jesters who were among the only ones who could poke fun at their monarchs without losing their heads. That’s why Shakespeare’s famous fool, Falstaff, was often one of the few truth-tellers onstage.

In the 16th century, harlequins appeared. They weren’t exactly scary. But they were morally ambiguous characters, or amoral, mischievous pranksters.

In the 1800s, clowns became entertainers for children. A century later, horror writers like Stephen King turned the concept on its head, bringing us the evil clowns featured in his book “It.”

That’s a sad trajectory.

[siteshare]No Laughing Matter[/siteshare]

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