Afghanistan. The Fall

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On June 13th Robert Gates, who served as secretary of defense between 2006 and 2011 under Bush and Obama, wrote an article for the NYTs entitled ‘We Cannot Afford to Turn our Backs on Afghanistan.’

He speaks in favor of continued support for the existing government and for international funds to assist that nation.

He speaks of the strong likelihood that once America is gone, the Taliban will overrun the capital and eventually seek assistance from China.

So far, our share of human losses has come to over 2300 dead and more than 20000 wounded. And then there are the billions and billions poured into the effort, nearly a trillion now, not including associated costs for the care of veterans. 

Is Mr Gates asking for another 5 years, maybe 10, of continued efforts on our part and NATO?

He acknowledges that the corruption of Afghan officials and members of their security forces undermined the massive international effort to change the course of that country.

When it was happening, we could have taken a strong position on not allowing such corruption. 

We did not.

Mr Gates states that in the Fall of 2006 the president of Pakistan made a deal with the Taliban permitting them safe harbor in their land. Mind you, this was the president of a country where the US is one of the largest foreign direct investors, and for whom we are their largest export destination and to whom we provide significant assistance. 

And still we could not keep them from supporting our enemy next door in Afghanistan. 

There was a time to act and we now have to accept our losses.

If the Afghans could not refrain from undermining our efforts to help them build their nation, then we are not a good match.

We now need to invest our finite resources here at home, improving our infrastructure, our educational and health care systems and reducing inequality.

Mr Gates raises the specter that Al Qaeda will once again see an opportunity to come and bomb us.

Perhaps. But much has been learned in the last 20 years to help protect our skies and our borders. 

Threats from abroad will persist, but the threats from within cannot be ignored. And those will rise if our inequalities and disagreements are not addressed. 

I believe Mr Gates is right when he anticipates that once we leave, the Taliban will take full control of the country.

We should prepare for it.

It must include being able to clearly convey to the American people why we chose to leave and to assure them that we have taken all steps needed to provide for our safety.

We should avoid a repeat of the painful sights at our embassy in Saigon as we exited Vietnam, when local people who had assisted us rushed desperately toward the last helicopters lifting off pleading for a hand to help them up. Many were left behind.

It was a sad and hasty exit.

Surely Mr Biden watched as those scenes unfolded.

He has time to plan so we do better this time. 

Bombing the Taliban as they encircle Kabul in their effort to seize it would come at the risk of injuring innocent people.

I hear that there are plans for Turkish and Pakistani troops to ensure the safety of the airport, with us paying the bill. But they won’t be able to hold off the encroaching Taliban. Turks and Pakistanis, too, will get in their choppers and planes and wave goodbye to that troubled land.

My hope is that Mr Biden, with his long history of dealing with difficult crises, will manage this one well.

But something is wrong in America and we have to fix it.

We should not retreat from the world but our resources are not limitless and we have to choose well. 

We have lost Afghanistan and now we need to learn from it. 

As we leave, China will step in. So be it. Maybe the intolerant and repressive Taliban will find kinship with the Chinese. 

But something is wrong in America and we cannot just point the finger at the opposing party.

Something is wrong in America and there is fault in all of us. 

Let us join together to fix it.

Let us join together to deal squarely with the enemy within.

Oscar Valdes

China. When Does State Control Start Hindering Innovation?

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When it begins to restrict the freedom of its citizens. 

By that measure, China has already begun its slow decline. 

Sure, the country remains a strong manufacturer of goods and they have made much progress in the production of electric vehicles, communication technology, artificial intelligence, renewable energy and space exploration.

But the suppression of the freedom of its citizens and the pervasive surveillance of their activities have started to slowly erode the minds of the Chinese. Slowly erode their spirit.

And the reduction in their ability to innovate will soon become clear. 

Lying by the government is now the norm. That does something to the human spirit.

The large scale oppression of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang province is well documented but the Chinese government boldly denies the evidence.

If it is true that they are not guilty as charged, all it would take would be to allow a group of representatives from the rest of the world to visit the area, interview the people and see for themselves. But they won’t do it.

They won’t because their lies would be discovered.

A China that was truly confident would not object to such inspection. 

If they had an open society then the matter would be aired.

If the intent in their treatment of Uyghurs was to reeducate them so they would become better Chinese, as they claim, there are certainly other ways to do that instead of secretly, which lead to practices that are coercive and inhumane.

That China can’t be honest with the world is a sign of the corruption at the top.

The corruption of a leadership for whom the preservation of power at all costs is the main objective. Never mind the full development of the Chinese citizen – an achievement only possible when freedom of expression is preserved while respecting the rights of others to do the same.

Xi Jinping has changed the laws so he can remain in power as long as he wants.

He gets to have freedom of expression. Not his people.

And so the entire Chinese leadership has reminded us how much they have in common with despots everywhere, whether in Syria, Russia, Egypt, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, Belarus, Turkey, Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela.

Bullying behavior comes right along with massive lying.

In the South China Sea, the Chinese have made incursions into areas officially belonging to the Philippines while Duterte, their president, apparently intimidated by them, has chosen to look the other way.

When people in power are not confronted, their perverse instincts become more pronounced.

That is evident in China’s obsession to repossess Taiwan. The island went through many years of growing pains but blossomed into a democracy and now China wants it. China wants it, mind you, not to enhance it, but to diminish it, to strip it of the freedoms that have made it an economic powerhouse.

China wants to do with Taiwan what it is now doing with Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, businesses from everywhere in the world still race to have a presence in China because of the size of their markets and the profits that come with it.

And so that influx of foreign innovation helps China thrive. For now. But it will not last.

It cannot. 

Take Russia for comparison. The enormous creative potential of that country has not been realized because of their system of governance. But in their case, there are now signs of change.

The tenacity and commitment of Alexei Navalny has been spreading through Russia and reminding them of how much they are giving up by consenting to live under the controlling influence of Vladimir Putin. And although Navalny is now in prison, the world increasingly recognizes him as the true bearer of the hopes of that nation.

There is no similar figure in China because the oppression has been so complete.

But soon enough one such figure will rise. 

People who dare to take on the difficult challenges make a difference.

In Europe, Angela Merkel has been the person who came to symbolize the European Union’s possibilities. As she gets ready to step down as prime minister of the German nation, Emmanuel Macron in France will likely assume that role.

Meanwhile, from America, Joe Biden has risen to carry the vision and commitment to unite the Free World. 

There is no question that China is a repressive dictatorship. Like there is no question of its ambitions to extend their influence far beyond its borders.

That China is helping other economies with their exports and imports, should not hide the fact that as a system, it is toxic to the human spirit. 

China may be helping western companies get rich as their own companies do, but those riches are coming at a price. 

And the price is the gradual undermining of the importance of freedom of expression. 

The challenge of China to the free world is for us to address our inequalities.

They are saying to us, ‘so long as we make you rich through our markets, you will slowly value money more so than freedom, and you will become more like us.’

In answering the challenge, we must create better and fairer societies, and remind China of what is truly essential. 

Our freedoms are fundamental to the preservation and enhancement of what it is to be human.

China is trampling on those.

Soon enough, it is our hope, a person or movement symbolizing resistance to their system of governance will emerge and begin the renewal the Chinese citizen deserves, so that talented nation can fully contribute to solving the problems of the world.

We will be wise to be able to recognize and support such person or movement. 

Oscar Valdes. 

Leaving Afghanistan. Finding New Power

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Mr Biden has committed to the US exiting that nation. It was not an easy decision. But after 20 years of occupation, I think it is the right decision to make.

What has made it so hard?

We went there in pursuit of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. That has been accomplished.

An enormous commitment in manpower and investment in the Afghan people was made to attempt to rebuild that nation, at least the sectors open to it. But the Taliban has proved eminently resourceful and, with the support of Pakistan, has managed to undermine American and NATO allies’ effort.

We have been grieving for a long time the loss of our effectiveness in Afghanistan, grieving that we could not do more for their people.

But we now have to face up to the failure of our ambitions.

We wanted to persuade the potential Taliban supporter that democracy was a better option. We could not do so. For one reason or another, what the Taliban preached was able to prevail and so convert enough Afghans to their side, and thus continue bombing schools and centers of learning and killing their brothers and sisters. The Taliban were willing to sacrifice their lives in praise of their god while seeing us as the devil.

After all these years, Afghans remain a profoundly divided nation, at war with themselves and immersed in a mortal struggle for their identity and their affirmation as a people.

We cannot fight their fight.

Twenty years we were there and failed to fire up in them the drive to counter teachings that restrict the possibilities of human beings.  

Twenty years we were there and failed to impact their culture in a meaningful way.

It was a very ambitious goal to begin with, and maybe it could have been approached differently, but we did the best we could given our own level of development. 

Now we must retrench. Now we must look at ourselves squarely and examine what has gone unattended within.

Maybe we can continue to offer some measure of support and keep the Taliban from overrunning the government that we and our allies, at great cost in blood and treasure, have helped put in place.

I hope so. 

But as we pull out we grieve the limits of our power. 

And as we grieve we must confront the inequality within that has weakened us and lessened our effectiveness abroad. 

Addressing such inequality will make us more effective when we again attempt to help other nations. 

Had we been a fairer nation, had we been known for treating African Americans with respect, we probably would not have been a target for Osama bin Laden.

The Twin Towers were a symbol of White Power in America. 

Had power not been so concentrated in a group perhaps such attack would have never happened.

The image we project as a nation matters. If we project an image that all ethnic groups in our land have a seat at the table when decisions of consequence are made, then the perceptions the world has of us will be different.

And so it is critical that we integrate all of our minorities. As we do, we will project an image that we are a reflection of the world in its entirety. That because groups from all over the earth have a place in our nation, then we are the world.

If all religions and languages, all colors and types can live and prosper in our land and we can still see ourselves as one nation, does that not tell the world that we are them and they are us?

Yes, it does.

And our effectiveness as mediators and resolvers of conflicts would be multiplied twenty-fold.

And we would be seen as a place where transformative choices occur – a laboratory for human interaction – from which others can learn just as we learn from them. 

Are we up for the challenge?

I say we are.

We are because all it takes is courage, intelligence, civility, humanity and the ambition to power it through.

And we have all of it.

Oscar Valdes.

How To Best Treat the Highly Gifted

By acknowledging their talent and granting them the opportunity to develop what nature gave them. But not at the expense of those whose gifts are not as manifest or who have less ability.

Who is highly gifted? Anyone who displays an ability that makes others stop and notice.

As the exceptional gift is nurtured and expressed, the person is rewarded by further acknowledgment, thereby confirming that they are on a fruitful path. The experience is empowering even if material riches were not to follow.

The fact that a person does something well does not mean they will have enlightened opinions on other subjects. Being deft in one area and obtuse in another is a common occurrence.

The highly gifted are not self sufficient. They rely on the rest of us to further facilitate their particular talent. Interdependence is a fact of life.

When we recognize the gifted person’s ability we are saying, ‘You have something special. Thank you. May you go on to fulfill your promise.’

We then must turn to ourselves and ask, what gifts do I have? For all of us have something that, if one commits to, will likely become a source of much satisfaction.

Say that a person identifies a talent for doing electrical work. If developed, such ability will be a source of pride. Such person can say to themselves, ‘I’m a good electrician. People whom I assist are most gratified by my work.’ That person can then look at someone highly gifted in whatever area and say, ‘my gifts are not of such magnitude as yours but they are gifts, for I can solve problems and am self reliant and competent as a person.’

There is a freeing effect that comes from acknowledging that others have powers we may not have. When we say, ’you have discovered yours, I will discover mine,’ such acceptance will bring us much peace and enjoyment.

Now say that a person has marked intellectual limitations but they find they are good at cleaning offices. In fact, they take pride in it. There’s a dignity that comes to a person making an effort to contribute to the extent of their abilities. If it is something the person values and helps them contribute to the community at large, it becomes a gift.

The highly gifted should not be insulated by preferential treatment because they may then forget the plight of the less able.

Nature chooses to give a very special gift to some and not to others. A pretty woman will favor a man and not another. We have no control over that. It is the woman’s choice and nature at work. If we don’t accept it, then we succumb to envy or resentment and in doing so waste precious time needed to find what is truly ours.

For a society to be well functioning, it is essential that ample educational and training opportunities be granted to all its citizens. The highly gifted will find their way and in the process learn how to value the work of others.

Some years ago I saw a documentary on a school in a Scandinavian country, not sure which. The clip I recall showed students of varying abilities working side by side in the same classroom, and the better able taking some time to assist those who were less so.

I suppose one could say that to maximize efficiency, all the less able should be put in a different room and assigned to a teacher specializing in instructing them. But something vital would be lost. The less able are likely to be soon forgotten – perhaps even devalued.

And the very gifted may soon forget how lucky they are.

Let Us Not Have Beggars in Our Land. On Inequality.

What must we do to restore fairness in our nation?

All of us should try to do our best, always.

Some people try and fail. Some try and give up. Some don’t even try.

The obstacles can be great and sometimes they are too many.

Do those who fail or give up or simply don’t even try, deserve anything?

My opinion is that our nation can afford basic support for all our citizens, regardless.

If you were born in this land or have met the requirements to stay here legally, then you’re entitled.

Our nation can afford to give everyone a certain basic income to cover food and clothing and a place to live and essential health care and a basic cell phone and a certain amount for public transportation.

Our nation can afford that now. Today. Regardless of whether a person wants to work or not.

Does it not seem wiser to believe that most people want to do their best, considering their abilities?

If we think that some people want to get away with not making their best effort, then that’s on them. But, as a nation, we can afford to carry those folks.

We can, because there are enough productive people in our nation to make it possible, so no one has to be a beggar in our land.

We’re not rich as a nation because we have tight restrictions on those at the bottom.

We’re rich because there are many amongst us with great productive capacity.

We have not become the cradle for the many industries that have arisen in our nation because we were restricting the poor.

So why be punitive toward those who are non productive? Why deprive them of the most basic needs?

Some of them may one day want more and then they will try and make the effort. We hope so. We should help motivate them to do better, but if they don’t, so be it.

To make sure we have the funds to provide that basic sustenance for the less advantaged, we will need to tax the wealthy, the better off, the most productive, the most talented, the most enlightened, the most gifted.

And why not?

Think of it this way. Who gave you those gifts? Nature did. You worked hard to develop them, yes, and thus many riches and opportunities should go to you. But nature is not fair. It does not give everyone the talents needed to compete effectively.

Do the less advantaged in life want to be poor and miserable and beggars?


Do the less advantaged in life want to live in dangerous neighborhoods?


Do the less advantaged in life deserve their fate?


Do some people avoid work, on purpose, to live off the fat of the land? Sure. But, so what?

Will they climb to the heights of accomplishment? No.

Will they live fruitful lives?


Will they have developed their capacities and experienced the joy that comes with it?


So, I say to you, let them be.

It is a mistake, and a most ungenerous one, for a developed society to add to people’s disadvantages by instituting punishing governmental restrictions.

The gifted should not be punishing the less gifted.