Reporting from Washington – U.S. officials are planning to add as many as 14,000 combat troops to the American force in Afghanistan by sending home support units and replacing them with “trigger-pullers,” Defense officials say.
The move would beef up the combat force in the country without increasing the overall number of U.S. troops, a contentious issue as public support for the war slips. But many of the noncombat jobs are likely be filled by private contractors, who have proved to be a source of controversy in Iraq and a growing issue in Afghanistan.
What exactly is our strategy in Afghanistan? And I’m not being sarcastic, I honestly do not know what we are trying to accomplish anymore.
The only thing I do know is that we’ll only hear further bleating from the Pund-idiot class about how this is turning into Obama’s Iraq, or worse, his Vietnam.
I agree with drawing down and getting out of there. I just think the folks like George Will suddenly double backing off their fear of ‘cut and run’ aren’t criticizing the Afghanistan policy in good faith. You know, just like they haven’t been criticizing much of fucking anything in good faith.
The Grand Panjandrum
Here was some great news about private contractors in Afghanistan:
Boys will be boys.
“I honestly do not know what we are trying to accomplish anymore.”
Nobody does. When the likes of George Will is saying “WTF, bail out,” you know the case for this effort hasn’t been made. Of course that didn’t stop blivid Bill Kristol from soiling himself in response.
We are trying to not look as bad as Russia.
True. But like I said, I doubt George Will and friends are exactly becoming anti-war out of some principle.
Remember, these folks are the group that never said a word about Iraq except ‘MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!’ or ‘objectively pro-Saddam’ and the like.
...now I try to be amused
I wish I knew too. I thought the original objective was to deny al-Qaida a safe haven for their camps. That’s why we backed the “Northern Alliance” against the Taliban. These were the corrupt warlords so many Afghans hated that the Taliban were able to gain power in the first place. I can understand the desire to build a (non-Taliban) Afghan state to keep the Taliban from coming back, but the raw material just isn’t there. Why can’t we just leave Afghanistan and conduct raids to disrupt and/or deter al-Qaida activity in the future?
What’s our strategy? Victory, duh! Just don’t ask exactly what victory entails.
There is an excellent article in the London Review of books by Rory Stewart (who is a sometime Obama adviser, although he’s complained of being ignored) on what it is and what is should be. I think it is where George Will’s ideas came from. It can come off as anti-Obama because he doesn’t emphasize that what he’s criticizing id Obama not reversing Bush’s policy- not admitting that he was left with an unsolvable mess.
I’d qualify it in defense of the Obama/Clinton strategy in 2 ways:
1) Stay or go, the outcome could be ugly and might involve Pakistan falling and nukes falling in the hands of radicals. I suspect this is more likely with the foreign devils there irritating everyone, but who is to really know? If a democrat hasn’t been seen to have tried, pulling back without republican support could be political suicide/
2) Surging first, to weaken the bad guys (if you can figure out who they are) the pulling back, is not an unreasonable strategy and might in part address #1.
It is very long. Here is the juiciest part:
“After seven years of refinement, the policy seems so buoyed by illusions, caulked in ambiguous language and encrusted with moral claims, analogies and political theories that it can seem futile to present an alternative. It is particularly difficult to argue not for a total withdrawal but for a more cautious approach. The best Afghan policy would be to reduce the number of foreign troops from the current level of 90,000 to far fewer – perhaps 20,000. In that case, two distinct objectives would remain for the international community: development and counter-terrorism. Neither would amount to the building of an Afghan state. If the West believed it essential to exclude al-Qaida from Afghanistan, then they could do it with special forces. (They have done it successfully since 2001 and could continue indefinitely, though the result has only been to move bin Laden across the border.) At the same time the West should provide generous development assistance – not only to keep consent for the counter-terrorism operations, but as an end in itself.
A reduction in troop numbers and a turn away from state-building should not mean total withdrawal: good projects could continue to be undertaken in electricity, water, irrigation, health, education, agriculture, rural development and in other areas favoured by development agencies. We should not control and cannot predict the future of Afghanistan. It may in the future become more violent, or find a decentralised equilibrium or a new national unity, but if its communities continue to want to work with us, we can, over 30 years, encourage the more positive trends in Afghan society and help to contain the more negative.
Such arguments seem strained, unrealistic, counter-intuitive and unappealing. They appear to betray the hopes of Afghans who trusted us and to allow the Taliban to abuse district towns. No politician wants to be perceived to have underestimated, or failed to address, a terrorist threat; or to write off the ‘blood and treasure’ that we have sunk into Afghanistan; or to admit defeat. Americans are particularly unwilling to believe that problems are insoluble; Obama’s motto is not ‘no we can’t’; soldiers are not trained to admit defeat or to say a mission is impossible. And to suggest that what worked in Iraq won’t work in Afghanistan (or that what worked in postwar West Germany or 1950s Souh Korea won’t work in Afghanistan) requires a detailed knowledge of each country’s past, a bold analysis of the causes of development and a rigorous exposition of the differences, for which few have patience.
Sober, intelligent ambassadors who were sceptical about Iraq presided over the troop surge in Afghanistan. Aid agencies, human rights activists and foreign correspondents have not opposed it. Politicians – Republican and Democrat, Conservative and Labour – have voted for it; the United Nations, Nato and Washington think-tanks support it. And finally, many Afghans encourage it, enthusiastically.
The fundamental assumptions remain that an ungoverned or hostile Afghanistan is a threat to global security; that the West has the ability to address the threat and bring prosperity and security; that this is justified and a moral obligation; that economic development and order in Afghanistan will contribute to global stability; that these different objectives reinforce each other; and that there is no real alternative. One indication of the enduring strength of such assumptions is that they are exactly those made in 1868 by Sir Henry Rawlinson, a celebrated and experienced member of the council of India, concerning the threat of a Russian presence in Afghanistan:
In the interests, then, of peace; in the interests of commerce; in the interests of moral and material improvement, it may be asserted that interference in Afghanistan has now become a duty, and that any moderate outlay or responsibility we may incur in restoring order at Kabul will prove in the sequel to be true economy.
The new UK strategy for Afghanistan is described as
International . . . regional . . . joint civilian-military . . . co-ordinated . . . long-term . . . focused on developing capacity . . . an approach that combines respect for sovereignty and local values with respect for international standards of democracy, legitimate and accountable government, and human rights; a hard-headed approach: setting clear and realistic objectives with clear metrics of success.
This is not a plan: it is a description of what we have not got. Our approach is short-term; it has struggled to develop Afghan capacity, resolve regional issues or overcome civilian-military divisions; it has struggled to respect Afghan sovereignty or local values; it has failed to implement international standards of democracy, government and human rights; and it has failed to set clear and realistic objectives with clear metrics of success. Why do we believe that describing what we do not have should constitute a plan on how to get it? (Similarly, we do not notice the tautology in claiming to ‘overcome corruption through transparent, predictable and accountable financial processes’.)
In part, it is because the language is comfortingly opaque. We can expose Rawlinson’s blunt calculus of national interest by questioning the costs, the potential gains or the likelihood of success. But a bewildering range of different logical connections and identities can be concealed in a specialised language derived from development theory and overlaid with management consultancy. What is concealed is our underlying assumption that when we want to make other societies resemble our (often fantastical) ideas of our own society, we can. The language of modern policy does not help us to declare the limits to our power and capacity; to concede that we can do less than we pretend or that our enemies can do less than we pretend; to confess how little we know about a country like Afghanistan or how little we can predict about its future; or to acknowledge that we might be unwelcome or that our presence might be perceived as illegitimate or that it might make things worse.
We claim to be engaged in a neutral, technocratic, universal project of ‘state-building’ but we don’t know exactly what that means. Those who see Afghanistan as reverting to the Taliban or becoming a traditional autocratic state are referring to situations that existed there in 1972 and 1994. But the international community’s ambition appears to be to create something that has not existed before. Obama calls it ‘a more capable and accountable Afghan government’. The US White Paper calls it ‘effective local governance’ and speaks of ‘legitimacy’. The US, the UK and their allies agreed unanimously at the Nato 60th anniversary summit in April to create ‘a stronger democratic state’ in Afghanistan. In the new UK strategy for Afghanistan, certain combinations of adjective and noun appear again and again in the 32 pages: separated by a few pages, you will find ‘legitimate, accountable state’, ‘legitimate and accountable government’, ‘effective and accountable state’ and ‘effective and accountable governance’. Gordon Brown says that ‘just as the Afghans need to take control of their own security, they need to build legitimate governance.’
What is this thing ‘governance’, which Afghans (or we) need to build, and which can also be transparent, stable, regulated, competent, representative, coercive? A fact of nationhood, a moral good, a cure for corruption, a process? At times, ‘state’ and ‘government’ and ‘governance’ seem to be different words for the same thing. Sometimes ‘governance’ seems to be part of a duo, ‘governance and the rule of law’; sometimes part of a triad, ‘security, economic development and governance’, to be addressed through a comprehensive approach to ‘the 3 ds’, ‘defence, development and diplomacy’ – which implies ‘governance’ is something to do with a foreign service.
By contrast, in 1868, Rawlinson’s views were defeated. Sir John Lawrence, the new viceroy, persuaded Lord Derby’s government that Afghanistan was less important than it appeared, that our resources were limited, and that we had other more pressing priorities. Here, in a civil service minute of 1867 (I found this in Karl Meyer and Shareen Brysac’s Tournament of Shadows), he imagines what would happen if the Russians tried to invade:
In that case let them undergo the long and tiresome marches which lie between the Oxus and the Indus; let them wend their way through poor and difficult countries, among a fanatic and courageous population, where, in many places, every mile can be converted into a defensible position; then they will come to the conflict on which the fate of India will depend, toil-worn, with an exhausted infantry, a broken-down cavalry, and a defective artillery.
I am firmly of opinion that our proper course is not to advance our troops beyond our present border, not to send English officers into the different states of Central Asia; but to put our own house in order, by giving the people of India the best government in our power, by conciliating, as far as practicable, all classes, and by consolidating our resources.
Lawrence does not predict what the Russians might want to do in Afghanistan. Nor does he attempt to refute Rawlinson’s vision of stability, his economic theories, his moral justification or his idea of moral responsibility. A modern civil servant might express such an argument as follows:
the presence of Nato special forces, the challenging logistical and political conditions in Afghanistan and lack of technological capacity, are likely to impede al-Qaida in Afghanistan from posing a significant threat to UK or US national security. Instead development in South Asia should remain the key strategic priority for the UK government in the region.
Lawrence, as viceroy of India, might have been expected to have a more confident or arrogant view of British power than policy-makers today. But in fact he believed that the British government lacked power, lacked knowledge (even though he and his colleagues had spent decades working on the Afghan frontier) and lacked legitimacy (he writes that Afghans ‘do not want us; they dread our appearance in the country . . . will not tolerate foreign rule’).
But he undermines the fantasy of an Afghan threat as much through the rhythm of his prose as through his arguments. His synecdoche, ‘the Oxus and the Indus’, emphasises to a domestic policymaker the unknown and alien nature of the landscape; the archaism ‘wend’ illustrates the circuitous routes; his repetitions enact the repetitive and tiresome journey. He highlights the political and religious energies of the resistance (placing them ‘every mile’) and suggests internal divisions without asserting them (by describing Afghanistan not as a single state but as ‘countries’). His concessive subjunctive ‘let them’ reflects his attitude of uncertainty about the future. It is not an assessment of the likelihood of a Russian march but an enactment of its potential and it reduces the army by the end of the sentence to a decrepit band on the edge of the Indus, which it would be difficult to perceive as a threat.”
Ivan Ivanovich Renko
This, IMHO, was and is the President’s first truly major fuck-up. Had he revised the expectations down (e.g., “We’re going to capture or kill Bin Laden, and then we’re going to come home and have a parade”)– its something that was doable (after the Bush-era total fuckup).
There’s a reason Afghanistan is called “the graveyard of empires,” and although we might have been successful in destroying the Taliban and actually helping create a “democratic-ish” government in Kabul back in 2002-2004… that ship has sailed. And at this point I think we’re stumbling into the graveyard…
Does anyone? Does our government? I support the war in Afghanistan but I think history has well established that when it comes to this sort of thing, our “strategy” is to keep throwing troops and money at it until it either gets good enough to say we won, or bad enough that people start demanding we leave.
@John PM: I think you’re right.
That said, there is one difference: a major attack on the United States was launched from Afghanistan, and we do kind of want to make sure that the folks who launched that attack don’t take Afghanistan over again. Of course, we had a much better chance to do that some years ago. Whatever happened to those guys, anyway?
i hate to say it, but i think part of obama’s strategy in afghanistan is domestic:
protect his right flank while he withdraws troops from iraq and tries to get the economy back on track.
as long as he can point to a build-up somewhere, and remain a “war president”, he can blunt some of the traditional charges against any democratic president (weakness, anti-military, etc.)
this is why will’s column smacks of the rovian tactic of trying to hit the democrats in their strength.
and i think rovian partisan tactics are really all that will is up to here.
The only thing I do know is that we’ll only hear further bleating from the Pund-idiot class about how this is turning into Obama’s Iraq, or worse, his Vietnam.
Garry Trudeau (who I usually respect a lot) has already started the Vietnam comparisons.
@kid bitzer: All wars are domestic.
Will is playing partisan politics with the troops — but he may also be right.
Ivan Ivanovich Renko
I think this time Vietnam comparisons are truly apt.
We’ve all heard the Napoleon Boneparte quote, “… in war the moral is to the physical as three is to one.”
As was quoted above, the Afghans are a “fanatic and courageous people,” living in a land where “every mile can be converted into a defensive position.” Like for the Vietnamese, they are fighting for their homes in their homeland- what could possibly create greater morale?
Also, like the Vietnamese, they are well and truly blooded. Some have been fighting since the Soviet invasion- what, nigh on 30 years ago?
And finally, (somewhat) like Vietnam, their territory is not conducive to armored warfare. Being mountainous, its not very conducive to heli-borne infantry operations. Being big as all hell, with poor roads, its not conducive to marching infantry.
Like I said, this is the Prez’ first and truly biggest mistake, IMHO.
Is there a strategy that can bring “victory” under these circumstances?
Cripes, I am not a fan of the Afghanistan policy either, but how the hell we do we get this stupid bleating on everything from healthcare to taxes to ‘Obama’s Vietnam’ barely half a year into the damn term?
Call me naive, but I’d thought Obama’s strategy was to appear tough in Afghanistan so he wouldn’t look soft and squishy when advocating a withdrawal from Iraq. Now that it looks like we won’t be withdrawing from Iraq anytime soon, I don’t know what the strategy might be.
Ivan Ivanovich Renko
@demimondian: George II pissed that opportunity away.
At this point, we’re fucked.
I hope like hell I’m wrong, but I just don’t see it.
Not clear either. We’ve spent a lot of money when we could have prevented another 9-11 just by making sure no Saudis could sign up for flight school in the U.S.
@wrb: Thank you for this post. Chuck Hagel and Lee Hamilton were guests on “Face The Nation” a few weeks ago and Afghanistan was one of the topics. Hamilton talked about the importance of Afghanistan to safeguarding our country from terrorism. Since he was on the 9/11 commission, I took note. I’m going to go read that transcript, to refresh my memory, if I can find it.
it IS vietnam, 1963. the US is engaged in a fantasy of nation-building in a place where it is not loved for people who don’t want it. under Obama–not Bush–the number of troops is increasing and perhaps you will remember that he put in a general who is an attacker not a peacemaker. so the strategy is once again a variant of: well yeah we did it wrong before, but this time we know what we are doing. trust us.
did you know that the US is trying to build a native army there that will cost more per year than the budget for the entire country?
this is just more US insanity. i didn’t expect Obama to be perfect, but ramping up conflict in Afghanistan is not going to end well. and it may not end, either.
No time to read comments, so my apologies if someone else has brought this up. It is my opinion that our strategy is not to look bad when we declare victory and go home.
Ivan Ivanovich Renko
@David Hunt: Which would make perfect sense, if the Prez had defined victory downward.
I think I am in favor of increasing the troops in Afghanistan because at least there our military is being honest about what they’re doing: Nation Building.
Whether or not you agree with the concept (as a whole, I do not, but there are exceptions), it’s a “you broke it, you bought it” scenario. Every argument the Bushies used to keep us in Iraq that turned out to be crap, every lie (with the exception of the original “WMD” one) told over the ever-evolving cluster-fuck that was and is that war is actually true about Afghanistan. Al Quaeda really IS in Afghanistan, they really have been all along, it really is a safe haven for terrorists, who actually DO have a beef with us (as opposed to the Iraqi “terrorists” who just wanted to kill each other), and leaving really WILL completely destabalize the region and provide a launching base against Pakistan (who, rightly or wrongly is our ally, whatever that still means any more) and other places in the region.
That’s all true. The question becomes then: “Is our blood and treasure worth the gain from an at least marginally functional Afghani state?” A second question -the one to which you’re alluding with this post- is “what IS the gain we’d recieve from obtaining an at least marginally functional Afghani state?”
The answer to the second is not a bumper sticker, so it’s not going to appeal to most. It’s marginal increases in security in the region, a weak and unstable ally, and a small victory for human rights and against despotic extremists. The gain there would not solve, nor even come close to solving, any of these problems forever and ever, amen. This leads to the answer to the first question, which is at best uncertain but it’s worth having a discussion as to whether or not they -when talked about honestly without soaring rhetoric or bumper-sticker sloganeering- are worth the lives, money, and possible loss of international good will (what little we have left) that we will suffer in accomplishing these admittadly modest goals.
I would submit that the added consideration – that of the job needs to be done and whether or not we like it we are the only ones who can, and have a responsibility to, do it. We broke it, we’ve got to do the best we can to put it back together. I find that a point worth consideration, but I acknowledge that many do not, or at least don’t think it worth enough to tip the scales either way. If it’s possible (another debate, also worth having), I would say that we have to wade into the morass and do the hard work of counter insurgency. It sucks, and it’s little more than sending my friends and family in the military (and I have many) to be body guards or occasionaly sheilds for the political work of building a semi-stable nation. This gets to the heart of your actual question, that of strategy. I hope from what I’ve said it becomes clear that the question itself is part of the problem, i.e. that looking at this solely in terms of strategy is misguided. Iraq was (and is) a quagmire for so long because it was looked at as solely a military opperation, when the task of rebuilding a nation is at best only a very short military opperation, followed by a prolonged occupation/”policing” action. This is not necessarily true of Afghanistan, as the Taliban controls a great deal of territory so it will take the form of a more traditional war in the aspect of wresting control from them. But after that the objective will morph into the same: creating a semi-stable autonomous state through political, economic and military backing. It is not simply something were we can send in the Marines to kill people and break shit. There will be some of that, but it’s at best one third of the work that actually needs to be done.
So long and short of it? Our strategy becomes “Fight the Taliban first, and buy enough time for a stable(ish) state to emerge with the help of whoever the hell we can find (local leaders, imams, tribes, whoever works). It’s a hodge-podge cluster fuck, but it (I would argue, but it’s certainly understandable if you don’t take my side on this) is better than the alternative.
There’s never been a strategery in Afghanistan, and Obama’s only goal is “not to lose it” Let the killing continue, and the destabilization of Pakistan accelerate.
The calisthenics program is going better than Iraq though:
I don’t know why a few of those sentences had the strike through line, but please ignore that. I actually DID mean to say those, even if they’re struck out.
And, as always, what Bacevich says:
Put the word Defense back into DoD.
I have some doubts about some of your points.
>it’s a “you broke it, you bought it” scenario.“what IS the gain we’d recieve from obtaining an at least marginally functional Afghani state?”
The answer to the second is not a bumper sticker, so it’s not going to appeal to most. It’s marginal increases in security in the region, a weak and unstable ally, and a small victory for human rights and against despotic extremists.<
Again I have doubts. The likely final act if we successfully build a functional unified state is that the will come together to throw the foreign devils out. The one thing most likely to bring them together is hatred of the invader.
So I figure, if we fail we get a fragmented, mildly anti-American region, and if we succeed we get a unified, virulently anti-American country.
A chunk was lost from my post above
after the “you broke it you bought it” line
was supposed to be this response:
“I’m not sure this applies in Afghanistan.
It was broken, it has always been broken (more or less tribal) and some Afghans like it that way.
Fixing it seems to mean creating something new- imposing our idea of what a nation should be”
then the second quote and response
The strategy is, SHUT UP, anyone who mentions the dozens and dozens of colonial wars ending in disaster for both the occupied and occupier are all dirty naive stinking hippies and instead we need to listen to lots of metaphorical arguments about ‘strengthening’ and ‘building up’ and so on and so forth, at least for maybe another 10 years, before then leaving, just in case any non-dirty-hippies might accuse someone of ‘enboldening’ or ’embiggening’ The Enemy.
What sparky says.
There never has been a coherent Afghanistan strategy. And Americans largely ignored it for eight years…now all of a sudden, it’s the domestic culture war all over again while everyone goes “Iraq who?”.
This will not end well.
On other comment. You suggest that we need to stay, and create a stable state to prevent Al Quaeda from re-establishing itself.
Rory Stewart made what I thought was a telling point:
Al Quaeda is now in Pakistan, not Afghanistan, precisely because it is a stable state and so we cannot enter at will. A fragmented Afghanistan, in which special forces or air power can swat any assembling Al Quaeda, might be less dangerous.
Another point: If we are in such danger from unstable states that we must fix them, when does the invasion of Somalia begin?
@Ivan Ivanovich Renko:
That was the SOLE legitimate reason for any of this, and still is. Leave it to the big bad world-dominating yanks to fuck up so badly that people turn against the one ostensibly justified action it’s taken up.
From the looks of it all we’re doing is propping up a weak corrupt regime no better than the warlords, committing random murder of civilians on the border, and generally helping al-qaeda in its recruitment efforts as a result. If we can’t get Bin Laden then why the fuck are we still there?
Oh yeah, because if Obama acknowledges this one is a failure too then he’ll be branded a pacifist hippie leftist Muslim who hates America, that’s why. Odd, I could’ve sworn he was being called that anyway, and would’ve been called that even if he had called for nuking everything between the Pakistani border & Israel, requiring Muslims to wear a yellow crescent moon symbol on their clothing in public and eat a pork chop wrapped in bacon at least twice a week, and hispanic immigrants to be put to death for speaking Spanish in public…
THAT THAT THAT THAT THAT THAT
As others have noted, there are significant problems with your premises.
We “broke” Afghanistan only in the sense that we helped drive the Soviets out and then did nothing to avert or quell the civil war that raged in that country after they’d gone. The pottery-barn model isn’t even applicable in this case, if indeed it’s ever applicable.
As a trans-national, 4GW entity, Al Qaeda isn’t necessarily in Afghanistan. For that matter, I strongly suspect that Pakistan is at greater risk of falling increasingly under the influence of radical militant Islam because of our presence in the region, not in spite of it.
AND, were that not enough, it isn’t possible to be “honest” about our prospective “nation building” in Afghanistan, as you claim. We can make that claim, but we are, at the very least, deceiving ourselves. There is no evidence that we have the time or resources to build a nation where none has existed. The Taliban were doing a decent job of nation building, and unlike us had the moral authority to do so, but we put a stop to it.
Personally, I think if the US were really concerned about regional stability, then we wouldn’t be so devoted to our unquestioning support of Israel and our continued demonization of Iran.
Quaker in a Basement
It was broken, it has always been broken (more or less tribal) and some Afghans like it that way.
Some Afghans like it that way. A great many more don’t.
And it hasn’t “always” been broken. For a large part of the 20th Century, Afghanistan was a relatively peaceful place. It didn’t become broken until the Soviets moved in to prop up an Afghan communist government and the American CIA, the Pakistani ISI, and Saudi intelligence agency started pouring money and weapons into the fight.
@Quaker in a Basement:
I was using “broken” in the sense of “fragmented.”
It has had relatively peaceful periods, yes, but was tribal.
This nation we are trying to build is a new thing. The “you broke it you fix it” justification is inadequate.
@Quaker in a Basement:
Here is a good map of the “nations” of Afghanistan
@Quaker in a Basement:
Here is a good map of the “nations” of Afghanistan
Agree with you here.
Not sure what we or anyone else could have done to avert the civil war.
Very possible. Or more accurately, the Taliban and Al Qaeda are two very separate groups, and the fate of one is not necessarily related to the fate of the other.
No. Pakistan has been propped up by the US and Britain since partition. At the same time, Pakistan has been playing (and losing) regional games with India since the partition. It’s a lot more complicated than simply “blaming” US presence.
This is very true. For a lot of complex reasons, Afghanistan resists being turned into a nation, at least as we are comfortable with the designation.
What? WTF? Moral authority? Are we talking about the same people who blew up Buddhist statues, who beat men with a stick for not having a beard or for listening to the radio, and who have blown up schools rather than allow girls to be taught anything?
Ya know, the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan is it’s own problem, independent in some ways of the Middle East conflict, in some ways a potentially greater problem.
Who outside of Neocon World has demonized Iran? And are concerns about their nuclear program unfounded?
...now I try to be amused
Sounds like our late presence in Saudi Arabia, doesn’t it?
JFK called from the great beyond, he wants to know why we haven’t learned a damn thing since 1963. Definition of insanity, expecting different results, etc.
I wanted to relive the 1960s all over again, I would have built a fncking time machine, ya know.
Bruce (formerly Steve S.)
“What exactly is our strategy in Afghanistan? And I’m not being sarcastic, I honestly do not know what we are trying to accomplish anymore.”
It’s empire inertia.
Actually, what I said was not to stay to prevent the resurgence of Al Quaeda, but the resurgance of the Taliban. I did mention Al Quaeda, but that was on an earlier point, unrelated to this. The Taliban IS still a strong, regional force in Afghanistan, and that is the group to which I was referring when saying they controlled a large swath of territory.
Further, to your point about generalizing the idea of invading unstable countries, that’s actually atopical. I’m not talking about the general ideal of Nation Building (which, you’ll note, I said I disagreed with), but this specific instance. Somalia doesn’t enter into this conversation, and shouldn’t (though it SHOULD be a different conversation).
Finally, as to your point that they might unite to throw us out. That is a real possiblity, and they did it once before with the Soviets. However, it hasn’t happened yet, and I think there’s strong evidence that it won’t. Afghans are nothing if not pragmatists. All reports tend to say that the majority of the populace is waiting to see who will provide security. They don’t trust their government (which they shouldn’t, the Afghan government as it is is very corrupt), the US hasn’t stepped up because we’ve half-assed the effort until now, and the only other options are tribal alliances (which they’re happy to abide by, but don’t provide a lot of vital services) or the Taliban. So far, the Taliban has done the best PR work, despite their brutality towards dissent and women in general, they’ve managed to provide some semblance of order and social services. But, there’s little evidence that the Afghans actually approve of their brutality, so there is an opening there.
The point is that the situation is not what it was with the Soviets, where there is a united front against the invaders, and it’s not what it was in Iraq where ethnic tensions are rampaging. There is a possibility of what I lined out, a semi-stable state (though I would hope for democracy, it may or may not be democratic) as described above that is not anti-thetical to the US if we were to step up and start providing security and services, and economic growth.
Now there’s a low bar. And one we’re pretty well certain to trip over, since we don’t have the Bear’s natural talents for murdering journalists and other troublemakers who’ll highlight our every stumble.
There’s also keeping the guys in charge of Pakistan distracted from using their nukes on India, or Kashmir, or the Islamabad precincts that voted incorrectly in the latest election. You’d think there would be more cost-effective ways of handling this, but when you’re a wargamer, every political situation looks like a hex board.
I guess it boils down to whether you think that the United States has an international role in certain interests…
I do not believe that Afghanistan itself is the target of our current policy. I believe that our policy is aimed at the geopolitical necessity of managing Pakistan with the most indirect presence possible. Pakistan (for those who still believe or care about this) plays a huge role in the geopolitics not only in the overt adversarial relationship that it has with India, but in the resource issues for the Middle East.
While I share many misgivings about our role in this war, and fully understand the risk for Obama in sustaining this venture (flash LBJ, JFK, etc)., I in the end will give him some time to bring this into better focus and meaning.
One thing I do not believe he could in good conscience do as a leader of the United States and its many interests was just to get elected and pull out – one, two three. Whether anyone thinks that we should be there, and I understand that is arguable, I don’t think the US could afford to look as though it was chased out in short order either.
It is tough because the natural reaction that most people have is to say that this is just Vietnam all over again. I do however think that the politics and imperatives are quite different and we do ourselves no good to play that game in order to have one more thing to be disappointed about.
As I said, I have my misgivings and concerns but I for the time being, am going to give this administration some time to sort this and many many other serious problems that were left on its plate by the last group in power. I would hope, given the severity of these many, many issues, that most would at least allow that the fixes are not just one, two three and that all should be done, cleaned up and tied up in a nice clean bow by now — 9 months in the first year of this administration – right?
Actually, every time that Pakistan has rattled its saber at India, Pakistan has got its ass kicked. Hard.
The worry is that fundamentalist elements might achieve a level of control in Pakistan that would lead them to attempt something stupid, and which would result in massive retaliation from India. This would not be good for anyone.
I find the argument that we didn’t “Break it”, i.e. that we didn’t create this situation unpersusasive. Whether or not someone else messed up the place in advance, we came in and destroyed what (brutal, oppressive and aweful) order had been established. This is our mess, we don’t get to get out responsiblity for our actions by saying “The Soviets did it first, so it’s really their fault so we can go home”.
Secondly, again, I was talking about the Taliban, not Al Queada. Though they’re linked, they are not the same.
I won’t address your point as to our lack of moral authority as opposed to that of the Taliban. I’m sure you didn’t mean for it to sound like it did.
Finally, your point in re: Isreal and Iran, that’s true, but again, a separate issue. People’s lives are at stake, and we can’t afford to sit on generalized intellectual principles when doing so causes us to ignore pragmatic or real world concerns. We’re hypocrites, and we’ve messed up on Israel and Iran, that’s true, but we can’t do anything about that now and we have to keep going.
101st Fighting Keyboarder
Why can’t you stuck-on-stupid idiotarian objectively-pro-Saddam fifth columnists understand that?
Re the “moral authority” of the Taliban
Yes, those dudes, the ones who also declared war on the opium growers and the war lords who kept young boys for sex toys.
Morality is relative and locally defined. Assuming that a majority of the Afghan population shares our moral and cultural values would be a serious mistake, though sadly typical.
@Quaker in a Basement:
You’ve got the ordering wrong. Zbignew brags that we actually moved against the Afg communist gov’t before the Soviets got involved, as a way to get the Soviets mired there.
You’re kidding, right?
Given that their nuclear program poses no threat to the US, yes, concerns are unfounded.
Given that Israel would turn Iran into a radioactive parking lot if Iran ever attacked Israel with a nuke first, yes, concerns are unfounded.
Your posing the second question answers the first, unless you consider yourself a neocon. LOL.
Actually, if you believe Zbig’, we did it first, not the Soviets.
Meh. Realistically, if we want to go to a “Who screwed Afghanistan up first” fight, we should all just blame the Mongol Golden Horde, and go home.
Damn you Ghengis Khan!
As it is, I’m concentrating on the situation as it is today, and our responsibilities pertaining thereto.
Personally, I think our nation is at stake. We really, seriously need to reconsider our ideal of remaking the world in our image through the projection of military force.
I simply don’t buy this notion that Afghanistan is the “right war”, as opposed to the “wrong war” in Iraq. The “right war” is a necessary war, one that we are forced to fight in defense of this nation. All other wars are a stupid waste of resources – unless of course you’re a military contractor.
Well, no. A Talib wants to beat a woman with a stick. The woman does not want to be beaten with the stick. Where do you locate the “relative and locally defined” morality?
And if it’s all relative and local, why would you care whether the Afghans sold opium or kept boys for sex toys?
I make no such assumptions. Some things are complicated, such as when any group imposes its will on a people because a deity or the Grand Dialectic tells them that it must be so. The Islamic Courts Union brought some stability to Somalia, but at also became a murderous authoritarian regime which also sought to impose its rule on non-Muslims and on Muslims who had a different view of what the law should be.
And Some things are simple. A friend has two daughters. Had not she and her family not left Afghanistan, a country they loved, her daughters would be consigned to hell, apparently with your blessing. Hell being relative and locally defined.
Personally, I think it would be better and cheaper if we just bring all the Afghan women and children here to begin their new lives under our protection, and leave those medieval hillbillies to pound goats (or each other) the rest of their miserable lives.
Actually, they declared war on uncooperative farmers who were impacting market prices because of bumper crops in previous years and selling for domestic consumption. It was a temporary price control mechanism, and dog & pony show for the foreign aid package.
RE: Who outside of Neocon World has demonized Iran?
Nope. Who in the present government has demonized Iran?
RE: And are concerns about their nuclear program unfounded?
Because of course, no one needs Iranian oil. And if Israel attacked Iran, there’s not a chance in hell that any other country or group might get angry. And besides, even if the rest of the world blowed up real good, we will always be comfy here in teh USA. Isolationist Style.
KevinD @ 57
I would not oppose that!
On another comment about “defending our nation” as the only cause for the assertion of our military or other presence internationally, I think that while your point gets a lot of general support, you oversimplify.
If at a given point in time, your “nation needed” water (as an extreme example) and you had a very diminished stockpile of clean water, would you not entertain getting some of nation x’s water? If not, would you be comfortable letting your people just die from lack of water?
I bring this point up not because I believe that is the situation exactly in Afghanistan. I am only pointing out that self interest and lines in the sand can sometimes be more complicated than your simple scenario of needing to be attacked and only defending yourself.
Also, what constitutes an attack? We live in a very complex and interrelated world. If I deprive you or make more difficult to obtain, something that you need, is that an attack? Mostly, probably not, but its not always black and white, and not always determined right here and now.
If you were responsible for our nation (having been duly elected to safequard our wellbeing and interests), would you just abrogate that responsibility based on the simple value you espoused above?
If you are eager to judge by such absolute and stripped down values, how are you any different from those who argue the opposite — that we intervene in every situation using our military? Why are you unwilling (at least in your comment), to entertain that this is not always a black and white easy thing and that if you were the President — elected to protect your people, you might have to make some tough cost/benefit decisions?
Its fine to have absolute opinions, but at least own that you are greatly simplifying issues that have many current and downstream impacts on many many people, not just your easy living room existence. You bear no risk in offering your opinion, have or own no responsibility for the consequences of it either.
Phoenician in a time of Romans
What exactly is our strategy in Afghanistan?
Avoiding comparisons to the Soviet Union.
Smack,caca,shit in other words the heroin trade.
What you said
It would appear that Obama’s strategy is to act in such as way as to avoid being called names or otherwise disparaged by the right, while entirely ignoring the left and/or the reality based community.
Feel free to copy/paste the above when asked about the reasoning behind literally every single thing he’s done in office to date.
Probably it is just to stabilize the situation while we kill Al Qaeda with Predator attacks and airstrikes. Once you have killed the big boys you have an argument for going home.
If that’s his strategy, it clearly isn’t working.
With respect to Afghanistan, neither the right nor the left are particularly “reality based.” Both sides, being typically myopic Americans, seem to have no clear understanding of the various religious, political, tribal and national interests converging on issues relating to Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and other players in the region.
As an aside, Terry Gross has interviewed a number of people who have honest insight into Afghanistan and the larger region (and the Fresh Air archives are easy to search on). There are a number of good people out of UCLA who have appeared out here (Southern California) on the excellent KPCC interview program Air Talk.
And yet these people never, or rarely appear on any of the Sunday news shows or are sought by the various pundits before they toss out their uninformed opinions. Go figure.
And the PBS program, Frontline World, did an excellent piece called “Pakistan: State of Emergency,” which is available for viewing online.
I was mostly just being a smartass.
My question is: does the administration have a clear understanding of the various religious, political, tribal and national interests of that region?
It seemed like Obama’s move to Afghanistan was nothing more than an attempt to say “Don’t worry, I’m not a pussy!” to the right, without much to back it up.
I do agree that Afghanistan is a much more worthy cause than Iraq, but Obama hasn’t done a great job explaining why that is the case to the American people imo.
I think that it is fair given what you have seen (or not as the case may be) to ask whether the administration has any understanding of the various religious, political and tribal national interests of that region. Your premise would be that we have a Bush III administration that prides itself for ignorance and is completely and only interested in our own reality? Given what little you may know about Obama, do you think that is really likely?
As for scenario 2: Obama’s administration is scared of the right and has stayed in Afghanistan because he is weak and scared to be seen not being strong enough. You think that – really?
How about 3: YOU DON”T KNOW… which is fair and does require the administration to answer valid questions about what the hey we are doing there. But points one and two are contemptuous for their own sake in order to express your displeasure and I think you are probably smarter than to seriously believe either point — I hope.
The short answer is No. I hope they are fast learners.
For example, although Richard Holbrooke was quickly named Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, an ambassador for India was not firmed up until April 2009, which slightly rankled the Indian government. The final choice was Indiana Congressman Tim Roemer. Holbrooke is a hell of a negotiator and Roemer a strong political leader, but neither man has much knowledge of South Asia. This puts a lot of responsibility on the State Department to back these guys up. And both State and the Washington Establishment in general has been wobbly on the region, often condescending or falsely believing that Pakistan and India would both make their own interests secondary to Washington’s desires.
On the diplomatic front, Obama has got to navigate through rivers of foreign policy BS to get to useful intel.
Actually, some of the military advice has been good. My wild ass speculation is that no matter what you hear in official channels, part of the strategy has been to force the Taliban to fight on two fronts, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Part of this is not to defeat the Taliban and their supporters, but to get a sense of who they are and who is willing to support them.
And the Taliban are no fools. They have been stepping up their own attacks despite the increased US military presence.
By the way, in the long run I do not see a military victory as key to resolving these regional issues. On the other hand, some of Obama’s speeches about bringing economic and social development to the region is pointless progressive snot.
I agree. But I don’t think the Obama Administration has fleshed out their own goals for the region.
Rolling back or stopping the Taliban’s war against the whole goddamned world, with “the Taliban” defined as all the armed fundies in that area who are at war with the whole goddamned world. The strategic situation is so bad because Bush had no strategy, he thought he had already won once he took Kabul, and he left the Taliban several years to regroup and reorganize. The Taliban were weakened badly enough that there have been few repeats of Beslan, Bali, and WTC since then outside of Iraq, and short memories are probably why people don’t remember the threat that they were and still are.
Sub-strategies are to support local governments in the hope that they can stand up to the Taliban (unlikely; the Taliban is too well funded and tactically organized), to extend the authority of the Kabul government to stabilize the country (this hurts more than helps in many places), to directly defend neutral/friendly communities against Taliban attack (the big troop requirement), and to make peace with individual leaders and communities currently aligned with the Taliban (which only works if they want peace or can be made to want it).
The war will be a stalemate for the forseeable future because there are not enough troops to extend the US war effort into Taliban-occupied areas and there is not enough intelligence on the Taliban to know where they’re getting their money from and how to stop it (most Taliban soldiers are paid to fight, not idealists until after their training).
Don’t anybody tell me a war in Afghanistan is unwinnable because the Taliban conquered most of Afghanistan coming from Pakistan in the first place and they were only stopped by the US getting involved in the civil war. It could be won in three months with 400,000 troops and Roman tactics. The troops don’t exist and the tactics are morally unacceptable to us, but that’s a situation where the war would inarguably be won. Now roll back the severity of the tactics to an acceptable level and it is still doable with some number of troops given some level of funding over some period of time. Now give the Army more troops and more funding than you think they need and put someone in charge who knows what the hell they’re doing. We finally seem to have someone like that, but everyone in DC still wants to follow Rumsfeld’s doctrine and try to win the war on the cheap. You don’t win wars on the cheap, you just prolong them.
“Strategy”? Am I naive to think that it’s just a bearing out of Eisenhower’s prediction that, if they are able, the “military industrial complex” will get us into wars so they can sell weapons?
Iraq was understandable–oil & Israel. Afghanistan? Just lots and lots of money to war pigs. Isn’t that all it amounts to?