Weekly Letter to the President
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INAUGURATION,   January 20, 2009

Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape

To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.

The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.

Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.

--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
---  Native American proverb
October 20, 2017 (posted October 24, 2017)

Mr. President:  It has been a week of repeated insults to U.S. adventurism and Donald
Trump's ill-defined Middle East policy.  In Iraq, thanks to Iranian backing and astute
negotiation, Kirkuk province is back in the hands of the Shia government in Baghdad
halving the Kurds' oil revenues.  Iran now has a land bridge through Syria to the
Mediterranean improving the accessibility of its exports to Europe.

Mr. Barzani's premature Kurdish referendum has backfired.  It forced prime minister
Haider al-Abadi's government in Baghdad to act and it angered Turkey, always wary
of any siren calls for Kurdish independence.

Mayhem best describes the situation in Afghanistan this week.  In separate attacks
almost 180 have been killed:

On Tuesday, at least 30 died in car bombings in Ghazni.  And 41 were killed in an
attack on a police training center in the eastern city of Gardez.

On Thursday, an audacious attack on a military base in Kandahar province, cost the
lives of 43 Afghan soldiers, while in Ghazni province two police officers were killed.

Two mosques were attacked as worshipers gathered for Friday prayers when
mosques are full.  A gunman opened fire in a Kabul Shia mosque, the Imam Zaman,
and then detonated an explosive.  At least 39 died.  Another attack on a Sunni
mosque in Ghor province killed 20 including a pro-government militia commander.

Afghanistan is multi-ethnic with Pashtuns forming the largest plurality.  When the U.S.
invaded with the help of the Uzbek and Tajik Northern Alliance, their actions did not
endear them to the Pashtun population.  If the extremist Taleban were disliked by
most, they, too, have learned.  Furthermore they are Pashtun; they are neighbors;
they are friends and relatives.  Above all, they are there and will remain there, and
the Pashtun have little choice.  So the Taleban are back, with control or effective
presence in almost half the country.

The 16-year history of the war has demonstrated quite transparently the impossibility
of a military solution.  Sending a few thousand more troops, letting the Afghans rot in
their own mess while blaming Pakistan for porous borders, although callous, is one
way to skip past the problem.  It is all also a reminder of the time when Cambodia was
being blamed because Vietnamese insurgents filtered back and forth across the
border.  Cambodia paid heavily, and while not suffering that kind of horror, Pakistan,
too, has paid a hefty price in bombings and insurgencies.

Whether Donald Trump believes in a military solution or is putting on a show for his
right wing supporters is less important than an effort to end the tragedy.  For that
there is only one way ... a negotiated settlement.  Trump also fails to realize
Pakistan's dependence on the U.S. is rapidly diminishing in light of Chinese
large-scale initiatives, and excessive pressure can only backfire.  Pakistan is not the
problem; U.S. presence, as a foreign invader, is.

The Pak-Afghan border is a mountainous region difficult to police.  The British drew
the Durand separation line unilaterally, yet families live on both sides; in fact
Afghanistan lays claim to some territory on the Pakistan side.  Remember it was all
one country for several centuries before the British arrived.  Cross-border marriages,  
family get-togethers at holiday festivals and so on are not infrequent.  At least that
was the norm until the U.S. invasion.  One wonders how much Donald Trump really
knows about the area.

For that matter, how aware are we of all of Donald Trump's antics.  For example, how
many people know he has performed as himself on World Wrestling Entertainment
(WWE).  The fights of course are staged.  Once he fought his friend Vince McMahon
and at the end of the bout shaved Vince's head (he was the designated loser).  
McMahon is the majority owner of WWE, and his wife Linda is a former CEO of the
company.  President Trump appointed her head of the Small Business Administration,
a Cabinet-level position.