Commentary: A perfect storm

By ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE, UPI Editor at Large   |   Nov. 14, 2013 at 6:44 AM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Nov. 14 (UPI) -- Jordan's young Queen Rania Abdullah, a Palestinian, put her finger on the detonator of everything from local to national to regional to global frustrations.

The constant contrast between the real world where today's youth lives and the virtual world of the Internet where they spend most of their time, said Queen Rania, has "broadened their horizons" and led to "the revolutions ... in the Arab world."

"Today," she said, "when our youth sit in front of the computer, they enter the virtual world where they develop a certain personality and identity for themselves. They communicate with others constantly; they express themselves freely and comfortably. They influence the opinion of others; they see how others live their lives and what choices are available to them."

And when they leave their computers, they return to the real world and they see nobody cares about what they have to say, that they enjoy no freedom, have no real choices and that their hands are tied. So they have a sense of sorrow and disappointment."

The queen was being as blunt as a royal is allowed to be. It isn't sorrow but scorn for elders and leaders they blame for their predicament. Acute frustration inevitably leads to violence. The priority, opined Rania, "should be to bridge the gap between the two worlds in order to make an easy transition between the two."

If it were easy, it would have been done decades ago as the Western powers did after World War II with American know-how and dollars. And the 2011 revolutions that swept the Arab world from Tunisia to Libya to Egypt to Syria to Iraq reflect the accelerated pace of change that leaders don't know how to cope with, let alone channel into constructive endeavors.

Youth want change and they want it now but now isn't available short of bloody revolutions. And revolutionary upheavals, as the world witnessed via the Internet, triggered still more misery. Syria, plunged in a civil war for the past three years, sustained 150,000 killed and probably 300,000 wounded.

And the anti-regime revolutionaries in Syria are increasingly influenced, if not dominated, by al-Qaida and its associated movements.

Fearful that any aid could fall into the hands of anti-U.S. revolutionaries, the Obama administration is determined to stay out of Syria's civil war. At this point the Assad regime, notwithstanding its close alliance with Iran and Russia, looks like the lesser of two evils for the Obama White House.

The trillion-dollar U.S. geopolitical boondoggle in Iraq, where Iran's theocracy now wields more influence than Washington, and where al-Qaida's friends appear to control much of the eastern part on the Syrian border, strengthened a growing majority among both Republicans and Democrats to sit this one out.

On top of the Iraq disaster, a similar outcome seems to be hovering over the end of next year, when U.S. troops will be going home, mission unaccomplished.

The $6 billion-$10 billion a year the Afghan army will require from U.S. taxpayers after 2014 is reminiscent of what was pledged to the South Vietnamese army following the withdrawal of the last U.S. combat soldier. He was U.S. Army Master Sgt. Max Beilke who left March 29, 1973.

The South Vietnamese army -- ARVN -- fought on bravely with its own army and air force, paid for by the U.S. taxpayer. That couldn't last and the final collapse came after the U.S. Congress shut down the aid spigot and North Vietnamese tanks clattered into Saigon two years later, April 30, 1975.

There is now a widening gap in available U.S. financial resources and the imperative need is to cut back on a conventional military establishment in favor of tomorrow's smaller, leaner, SEAL-type units that can operate globally coupled with pilotless bombers, drones and cyber warriors.

How long will the U.S. Congress authorize the several billion dollars a year needed to keep the Afghan army fighting Taliban guerrillas? Probably as long as Congress votes the funds. And no one believes that will be very long after they get the drift of largely unreported U.S. aid scandals.

Between now and then, these will keep growing.

SIGAR -- the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction -- keeps uncovering scandals involving U.S.-funded civilian construction and reconstruction projects that are now cut off from further inspection as U.S. troops withdraw toward safer zones around the capital.

In a strongly worded Oct. 10 letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Rajiv Shah, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, SIGAR chief John F. Sopko, expressed alarm over how his oversight mandate could no longer be carried out in "Afghanistan's changing security landscape."

This followed growing difficulties "in obtaining military escort to travel into contested areas."

"U.S. military officials have told us that they will provide civilian access only to areas within a one-hour round trip of an advanced medical facility ... We have been told that requests to visit a reconstruction site outside of these 'oversight bubbles' will probably be denied."

"Similarly, State Department officials have warned us," Sopko's letter continued, "that their ability to reach reconstruction sites will be extremely limited due to constraints on providing emergency medical support without assistance from the Defense Department."

Much of what Sopko's agency is mandated to inspect is shoddy work by unscrupulous civilian contractors who knew their work wouldn't be checked as U.S. troops were pulling out as part of a general withdrawal.

As Sopko's agents assessed the rate of the U.S. military withdrawal, Sopko's report added, "it is likely that no more than 21 percent of Afghanistan will be accessible to U.S. civilian oversight personnel by the end of the transition, a 47 percent decrease since 2009. We have also been told by State Department officials that this projection may be optimistic, especially if the security situation does not improve."

Virtually no one expects an improvement between now and Dec. 31, 2014. And the unraveling scenario is eerily reminiscent of Vietnam for those who witnessed the end as this reporter did.

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