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It’s No Secret: Afghanistan Is a Quagmire

Posted on Jul 26, 2010
U.S. Air Force / Tech. Sgt. Francisco V. Govea II

By Eugene Robinson

The tens of thousands of classified military documents posted on the Internet Sunday confirm what critics of the war in Afghanistan already knew or suspected: We are wading deeper into a long-running, morally ambiguous conflict that has virtually no chance of ending well.

The Obama administration, our NATO allies and the Afghan government responded to the documents—made public by a gadfly organization known as WikiLeaks—by saying they tell us nothing new. Which is the problem.

We already had plenty of evidence that elements within Pakistan’s intelligence services were giving support and guidance to the Taliban insurgency inside Afghanistan, even though Pakistan is supposed to be our ally in the fight against the terrorists. The newly released documents don’t provide conclusive proof, but they do give a sense of how voluminous the evidence is. “American soldiers on the ground are inundated with accounts of a network of Pakistani assets and collaborators,” according to The New York Times, one of three news organizations—along with The Guardian and Der Spiegel—with which WikiLeaks shared the documents in advance.

We already knew that U.S. and other coalition forces were inflicting civilian casualties that had the effect of enraging local villagers and often driving them into the enemy camp. The documents merely reveal episodes that were previously unpublicized—an October 2008 incident in which French troops opened fire on a bus near Kabul and wounded eight children, for example, and a tragedy two months later when a U.S. squad riddled another bus with gunfire, killing four passengers and wounding 11 others.

We knew that U.S. and allied special forces units were authorized to assassinate senior Taliban or al-Qaida figures. The leaked documents sketch the activities of the secret “kill or capture” unit named Task Force 373—and in the process, according to The Guardian, “raise fundamental questions about the legality of the killings ... and also pragmatically about the impact of a tactic which is inherently likely to kill, injure and alienate the innocent bystanders whose support the coalition craves.”


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The Guardian highlights a 2007 incident in which Task Force 373, operating in a valley near Jalalabad, set out to apprehend or kill a Taliban commander named Qarl Ur-Rahman. As the commandos neared the target, someone pointed a flashlight at them; they called for air support, and an AC-130 gunship strafed the area. Later, they discovered that they had killed seven Afghan National Police officers and wounded four others.

A few days later, according to the documents, a Task Force 373 unit fired rockets into a village where they believed a foreign jihadist fighter from Libya was hiding. They killed six Taliban fighters—but also seven civilians, all of them children. One was alive when allied medics arrived. “The Med TM immediately cleared debris from the mouth and performed CPR,” the incident report states, but after 20 minutes the child died.

We knew that the Afghan government was spectacularly corrupt. The documents let us glimpse a bit of that corruption—how commonplace it is and how it destroys public trust.

The documents do tell us some things that we didn’t know—for example, that the Taliban apparently used a heat-seeking missile to shoot down a coalition helicopter in 2007, at a time when U.S. officials were pooh-poohing the threat to allied aircraft from insurgent forces. Underestimating the enemy is rarely a good idea.

And the “Afghan War Diary,” as WikiLeaks calls the documents, brings into clear focus the Catch-22 absurdity of trying to wage counterinsurgency warfare in a nation with a 2,000-year tradition of implacable resistance to foreign invaders. As the White House was quick to point out, the documents cover the period before President Barack Obama ordered an escalation and a change of strategy. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Obama’s chosen commander, tried his best to limit civilian casualties—but soldiers complained, with some justification, that they were not being allowed to fully engage and pursue the enemy. Gen. David Petraeus, put in charge after McChrystal’s dismissal, is under pressure from the ranks to relax the rules of engagement—which would surely lead to more civilians killed, and more grieving relatives transformed into Taliban sympathizers.

Overall, though, the most shocking thing about the “War Diary” may be that it fails to shock. The documents illustrate how futile—and tragically wasteful—it is to send more young men and women to fight and die in Afghanistan.

But we knew this, didn’t we?

Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)
© 2010, Washington Post Writers Group

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By gerard, July 29, 2010 at 6:10 pm Link to this comment

Can I make a few suggestions?
1. Stop the war, negotiate a treaty and bring the soldiers home.
2. Convert weapons and munitions factories into industries making materials that are used for improving housing, public transport, infrastructure, schools, hospitals, noncarbon-emitting energy equipment, For at least the first year, and as needed afterward, designate 1/2 of it for Afghanistan and Iraq, including free training institutions there to help them rebuild what we destroyed.
3.  Hire returned soldiers along with other jobless men and women as labor and management of the new factories, including costs of training programs.
4.  Provide accurate public information on how this can and will be done and at what cost and how money now being borrowed and spent on war will be transferred to civilian projects. Assure living wages and fair labor relations with provision for barganing and fair adjudication.
5.  Raise taxes on rich people and see that they get complimentary publicity for larger contributions. Make all contributions to the new system a mark of distinction and honor. 
6.  Encourage feedback from everyone involved and make access easy from top to bottom of all agencies and structures.  Solicit suggestions for improvement and guarantee open and accurate records of results, both more and less successful, and reform as needed.
  Yeah, well, I know this all sounds too naive for words, but that’s because so many people have lost faith in themselves and others.  It can be re-established, but not by doing nothing, not by watching TV, eating Happy Meals and trying to pretend it can’t be done. What did I leave out?
Take a crack at it yourselves and see what you can come up with. I dare you!

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By zaphodity, July 28, 2010 at 12:51 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Sounds like a militarized, Middle East version of Keystone Cops. Keystone Cops - World Police XD !

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By JDmysticDJ, July 27, 2010 at 5:12 pm Link to this comment

Today the house voted for an additional 60 Billion for the war. 102 Democrats and 12 Republicans voted against the legislation.

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By glider, July 27, 2010 at 3:59 pm Link to this comment


I certainly have no special knowledge.  But I do not excuse Obama’s war mongering as a lack of street smarts and a lack of understanding that war is hell.  What you are not accepting is that there are extraordinary forces at play that control our war policy.  I believe it is a lack of will, commitment, integrity, and strength that are condemning Obama to submit to these interests.  You should note that Eisenhower only warned us about the encroachment of the MIC in his farewell speech when he left government.  Daring to tell the truth at that time is quite revealing about the pressures the system puts on our presidents.

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By nemesis2010, July 27, 2010 at 1:07 pm Link to this comment

What irony that all these organizations, groups, and individuals who were so gung ho and behind the Bush/Cheney administration’s starting Bush War II are now flip-flopping when the going gets tough.

These are the same organizations, groups, and individuals, etc. that were labeling those of us opposed to Bush War II, as traitors, anti-Americans, un-American, etc. 

If they don’t finish the job it will certainly look like—or confirm for those of us that believed—the real motive for the Bush Wars was… profit for corporations and select members of the ruling elite.

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By ofersince72, July 27, 2010 at 12:06 pm Link to this comment

While JFK wasn’t such a bad egg, he certainly wasn’t
the saviour he was made out to be after his death.  I
didn’t see the Oliver Stone JFK movie , mostly because
it was based on the premise that JFK was assassinated
because he decided to withdraw from Viet Nam.  I very
much doubt this story to be so true but I sure don’t
know, don’t care either.
  JFK did not have the most liberal voting record while
he was a Senator.  In fact, he refused to go to the
Senate floor to vote on the censor of Joe McCarthy, he
used his back ailment as an excuse.  Joe McCarthy and
Joe Kennedy were close associates and friends.
  Americans at that time, just like with the election of
Obama, were looking for radical change from The Bomb
scares of the fifties.  I am sure many of you on Truth
Dig can remember the air raid drills and the bomb shelters
of the fifties.  So the first thing Kennedy does, is
take over from the French , all the responsibility for
colonializing Viet Nam.  Kind of like Obama with
Afghanistan , except Obama told everyone what he was
going to do.

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By Aarky, July 27, 2010 at 11:48 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It took over 45 years for the real story behind the Gulf of Tonkin incident to come out. It was hyped into an escalation of the Viet Nam War. Within a few more years, the US military was giving out such unrealistic information at their daily breifings that the reporters began calling them the “five o;clock follies”. Read, “Skunks, Boogies, Silent Hounds, and Flying Fish: The Gulf of Tonkin Mystery, 2-4 August 1964” which is an official NSA article by Robert Honyak.
In the summer of 2002, General Tommy Frank informed US Senator Bob Graham that they were planning for a massive invasion of Iraq but that it was secret. If the US public and Congress had known about the secret machinations behind the scenes, perhaps both quagmires could have been prevented. In the case of Iraq, too many persons came forward, after the fact, to tell the truth of what they knew. That information came too late. The most recent revelation from Wikileaks will hopefully make members of Congress re-assess our spending of additional billions in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Just yesterday a journalist was on the Rachel Maddow show and stated that the much hyped offensive in Marjah was a military and political failure. He should be testifying in front of Congress rather than the US reading about the failure from a secret document that gets released in five years.

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By ofersince72, July 27, 2010 at 11:47 am Link to this comment

General Ike had that good ole down home smile that
could melt an audience.
  He was however, imperialist through and through.
He had imperialist adventures throughout Latin America
for the United Fruit Company. He took up where Truman
left off with the very unnecessay Cold War.
  Then , after a career in the military, and eight years
of starting the Military Industrial Complex rolling,
gave that disingenuous warning about the MIC at his
farewell address.

  Little to nothing is ever mentioned of Henry Wallace
who was screaming bloody murder from the end of WWII
about the future and danger of the Military Industrial
Complex, or his pleas to both Roosevelt and Truman not
to bring the United States into the coming unnecessary
Cold War.
  We always give credit to the wrong people, thanks to
our historians and lazy suckass for power media.

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By dihey, July 27, 2010 at 11:32 am Link to this comment

Glider: I owe you an explanation for what I meant when I wrote that Obama’s intelligence may not mean a heap of beans when it comes to war or peace. Intelligence comes only in play when you are directly confronted by a new situation/experience. When you can adapt to and master that new stuff quickly you are highly intelligent and the reverse is also true.
Let me give you an example of a person who by experience had honed his intelligence on war or peace. General Eisenhower who had experienced war close up. While that was not the only reason for trying to end the Korean war it must have been a significant reason.
When Obama made his remark about “dumb wars” to the Chicago Tribune in the spring of 2008 he had not the slightest experience of war. His statement was a hollow intellectual exercise and nothing more than that.
All wars, “dumb or not so dumb” are hell.
If you have never been U. S. president before (remember that Mr. Cleveland became president twice) you meet your “potential presidential intelligence” on the day of inauguration. In my book, George Bush beats Mr. Obama in that respect by a mile. Why? Because George was inured by years of political “street fighting” from his stints as a Texas Governor.
If I would become the president of our country tomorrow I would fail miserably for exactly the same reason even though I am considered a very intelligent person by my friends.

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By REDHORSE, July 27, 2010 at 11:19 am Link to this comment

XNTRK: Your incident reports confirm other TD board rumors, about Republithug Senators looking to pass legislation, to prevent Americans from growing and consuming their own food. Any attempt at personl power and self-sufficiency by Americans is seen as a threat by the fascist/corporate state. It indicates the possibility of social organization and self education by “We the people—” and that scares ‘em.

    The financial, corporate/fascist “seed war”, Monsanto attacks on, and financial destruction of, independent American farmers, was bolstered by the US Congress, Federal Courts and the FDA. Most of the “illegals” chaos is driven for the benefit of major corporate/fascist profit and, as always, taxpayers foot the bill. Of course, the airball marijuana issue, has always been about silencing liberal thought, the dismantling of civil rights, search and seizure laws, and feeding the for profit prison industrialists.  Drug money is huge and Washington gets paid. Lots of smack in Afghanistan.

    Mr. Robinson is correct that we already know all this, but (and I keep trying to figure out why) “We the people—” don’t take action. I believe that the real power and potential of American Democracy is still potent and alive. Examples (like yours) of these insane machinations to spread fear and destroy harmless citizens makes my point.

      My best guess is: Americans project the power, of their own moral values, and best American ideals of fair play and Democracy, on Washington, the same way children, project their needs and desire for protection, on their parents. This shifts the responsibility of personal power away from the individual. Even our brightest continue to give our leadership the benefit of the doubt.

      Much of our best strength is still alive. While it is, we need to accept the reality, that much of Washington is controlled by self-interested criminals, stop being shocked and amazed at their actions, see them as such, and act.

      “Every breath you take—every move you make—I’ll be WATCHING YOU—!!”

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By dihey, July 27, 2010 at 11:13 am Link to this comment

Glider: Unfortunately intelligent persons are prone to make intelligent blunders which can be just as crushingly devastating as dumb people making dumb blunders.
As you now may understand I am always immensely tickled when people say “but Obama is an intelligent person” because that means absolutely nothing when it comes to making war or peace. Napoleon was reported to have been an extremely intelligent person and look at what happened to that imperialist. First Elba and later a barren rock somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

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By glider, July 27, 2010 at 10:21 am Link to this comment

The Afghan War clearly shows the corruption of America’s political system.  As I recall Obama began campaign comments about Afghanistan being the “right war” vis-a-vis’s Iraq after he had largely secured votes from the left base and his challenge shifted to securing centrists.  Such a policy also served to cement “big money” support needed to carry his candidacy forward.

Everyone remembers his “I am against stupid wars” and his call to only engage in smart wars with defined achievable rational goals.  Most can agree that Obama is a very intelligent and extraordinarily articulate man.  So what are we to conclude when Obama, now in his presidency puts forth the justification for his Afghan war, as a fight against A.Q. and a means of denying them a safe haven?

For me, the justification is so poor and so absurd, that it is as if Obama is telegraphing the message, look this is America and continuing large MIC spending is required to become president, and if I were to end this “stupid” war I and my presidency would be in mortal danger.  If this is what Obama is really thinking I can not say that I disagree with his conclusion.  At any rate this is just my speculation trying to work out a reasonable explanation for the insanity the current policy.

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By balkas, July 27, 2010 at 10:14 am Link to this comment

I am hoping that americans would stop using ratioanalization to oppose US-nato aggression against afgh’n.

All wars of aggressions shld be opposed only on the apodictic principle that no nation has the right to attack another nation.
And under any known circumstance! If any land shld have been attacked, it would have to be US.
It commited—by a-bombing of two japanese cities—atrocity no other nation had to date.

Thus, only an actual nuclear attack by any land on any region or country might justify an UN atack.

But even then it would be better to issue a warrant for arrest of actual perps or to hunt them dwn like dogs and not punish innocent people of such a country.

In addition had saddam a-bombed, say, iran or kuwait, i am sure that even iraqis wld want him dead.

From this analyses, war costs, soldiers killed, success-falure of the wars, 9-11, are side issues.

Issue is war or no war. Acceptance of the apsolutely certain truth that no nation shald attack another, suffices to end all wars of aggression.

If US et al keep rejecting the principle, expect more wars and more poverty for american and other peoples!

And, folks, the warlords and their supporters like media, clerics, educators know what i have said. Why i do you think there is deafening silence about it? tnx

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By Leefeller, July 27, 2010 at 8:46 am Link to this comment

The war on terror is going well as quagmires go, I have my own quagmire, attempting to pay my bills, and feed my family.  Well some people must be getting rich or keeping rich from these quagmires, it sure as hell is not me, but that must be the plan?

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By Bill, July 27, 2010 at 7:14 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“Morally Ambiguous” conflict?  Where oh where is the ambiguity?  Better yet, where
is the morality in this ‘conflict’?

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By Dave, July 27, 2010 at 7:11 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Isn’t it wonderful to see the loss of liberties,the 911 attacks,the intrusions and delays in air travel,the added debt,the growth of the military,the creation of the euphemistically named “Patriot” laws by the Zionist,dual citizen senator Lieberman all due to our sick entangling alliance with Israel?
Maybe someday us silly Goy will wake up out of our slumber and remove the dangerous parasites that have hijacked our government and most of its media.

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By balkas, July 27, 2010 at 6:17 am Link to this comment

No, afghanistan IS NOT a quagmire. It BECAME a quagmire thanks to UK which put three+ cooks in one kitchen, SU which invaded it in ?79, and now US which invaded it for chunks of land.

And as soon US wld leave [likely never] afgh’n and UN allowed three ethnic groups to separate, the quagmire wld end one day.

I think that neo-indian wars wld not end until US obtains as much of the planet as possible.
I am not surprised that US warlords do not tell us this.
But all salient facts support the notion that it is what US-nato is after.
And why wld masters of american people tell that to their own underfolk?

Hitler had been more honest. He decalerd that he wanted to gather all germans in one lamd and to defeat bolsheviks.tnx

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By AmishEcstasy, July 27, 2010 at 5:52 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“We knew the Afghan government was spectacularly corrupt” Hey Gene I love your columns but I’ve got news for you .....SO IS OURS !

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By RayLan, July 27, 2010 at 3:39 am Link to this comment

The war against terror is a hoax, fueled by 9/11. It has nothing to do either with fighting terrorism or ‘democracy promotion’. The trajectory was set since the Regan administration and its imperialist-explotative agenda. The US has strategically bedded down with terrorists and dictators throughout its international history. How much ‘leakage’ of the truth from so many sources which is now gushing like the Gulf oil spill is it going to take to expose the Tweedle-dee-dee and Tweedle-dee-dum corruption of the two party system?

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By PatrickHenry, July 27, 2010 at 3:13 am Link to this comment

Obama better get us outta there before next election.

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By Xntrk, July 26, 2010 at 11:40 pm Link to this comment

HandyMan. You say ‘What does it take for Americans to realize that other people in the world do not want our govt running their lives.’

IMO there are many of us Americans right here at home who are getting pretty sick of the govt running their lives. A couple of recent events:

The Cannabis Ministry here on the Big Island, Hawaii Hawaii [like New York, we named it twice] was raided a couple of weeks ago. the Minister has been refused bail as a threat to society, and supposedly this will put a huge dent in the local pot supply. Roger Christy, age 62, drives a 10 year old car and lives in a cheap rented apartment. He was supplying MJ for the Sacrament at his Church, and making it available to people with Medical Dispensation [legal in HI and now condoned by the VA] with no other sources.

Next, was the report out of Venice California, yesterday, of a Raw Food Coop being raided and food confiscated by the Feds, even tho it is a ‘member only’ business. Yes, they do supply raw, unprocessed milk and cheese. But the Members are share owners in the farms that supply the food, so it is a case of the owners eating their own produce, etc.

To paraphrase JFK: Don’t ask what your Government can do for you. Ask what they’ve done TO you lately.

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By MeHere, July 26, 2010 at 10:54 pm Link to this comment

Wasn’t this obscenity crystal clear since Obama announced his plans about
Afghanistan during his campaign?  And he went on to implement them with the
support of the two parties.

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By ofersince72, July 26, 2010 at 10:33 pm Link to this comment

I would say that the WAPO is the gadfly organization
Eugene.  At least you are finally commenting.

  You are right, we have known about the atrocities
inflicted on the the Iraqi and Afghanistan people for
a long time.  It is just our media has gone along with
the criminal activity of our government for many years,
well before Bush II took office.

  All Wikileaks proved is what a sham that the WAPO,
NYT, and the MSMs are.
And that you care more about the elites of the Democrat
Party than you do of the citizens in the streets Eugene.

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By zaphodity, July 26, 2010 at 9:41 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Pakistan Taliban ?....why not Eskimo Taliban ! !

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By SteveL, July 26, 2010 at 9:27 pm Link to this comment

“Afghanistan Is a Quagmire”  No kidding.  If anyone in Washington ever cracked open a history book this would not be a surprise to anyone.

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By Tesla, July 26, 2010 at 9:24 pm Link to this comment

What can anyone of conscience say but “what a loser the
U.S. foreign policy is.”

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By Revert, July 26, 2010 at 9:19 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Fighting Islam is not like fighting non-Islamic forces. Disbelievers won and managed well as long as they fought other disbelievers, but when they declared war against Islam the situation is bound to change. Now they are not just fighting the believers, but also fighting Almighty Allah against His cause and will. This time they would not just face a defeat, but would also face a total annihilation under the wrath of God Almighty. Just wait and see how this mystery unravels. We too are watching.

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By TheHandyman, July 26, 2010 at 7:31 pm Link to this comment

So all these documents were from before Obama took over and surged and radically altered our strategy. So Mr Obysmal, release the documents from the time you took over and declared this a war of necessity for us to read. Let us determine for ourselves if your escalation of the war is changing anything for the better? I do know that a group we had not heretofore heard of, the Pakistani Taliban tried to blow up something in New York again. Based on the fact you expanded the war into Pakistan this one is on your head. You have created another group of people who want to fight us here rather than there. It may not sound Patriotic, but good for them. What does it take for Americans to realize that other people in the world do not want our govt running their lives. Neither the Taliban nor the Afghani people had anything to do with 911. They are as complicit as Saddam and the people of Iraq were. Until Americans start holding their elected govt accountable for the murders committed in other country’s in their name then they are fair game for anyone who has the means to hold Americans accountable for the govt they elect. It is a Democracy after all, isn’t it?

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By Richard_Ralph_Roehl, July 26, 2010 at 3:35 pm Link to this comment

Osama Been Forgotten’s geo-politcal $trategy has been immensely successful… and the Russians are laughing. Meanwhile Rome is burning in Afghanistan-NAM.

The United $tates of Perpetual War Profiteering (a.k.a.: “Israel’s Bitch”) reaps what it $ows.

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By SoTexGuy, July 26, 2010 at 3:26 pm Link to this comment

Wikileaks = ‘Gadfly’ organization? Nice one Gene!


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By dihey, July 26, 2010 at 1:58 pm Link to this comment

Quote: “We are wading deeper into a long-running, morally ambiguous conflict that has virtually no chance of ending well”.
It might be a good idea to speak for yourself Mr. Robinson because I am not wading into anything.
And truth be told: the chief wader lives in the White House, not in my house.
And would you please explain what you mean by “morally ambiguous”.
In 2008 you enthusiastically supported the candidate and later president whom I had called on this website an imperialist who was going to start his own war once in office.
Another quote: “But we knew this, didn’t we”?
Mr. Robinson, if you have any unambiguous morality left, re-publish your public statements of the year 2008 which show unambiguously that you “did know then”. Were there any?

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